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Remember the tortoises' home

On nature

POSTED: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
One fall morning I was running on the road when nine wild turkeys crossed in front of me. Uncle Bill and the other farmers were pulling corn nearby, and the turkeys must have been gathering spillage. While I was gaping at them, anticipating their flight, a sharp-shinned hawk rushed from the woods and flew directly over me.
On good days during my runs, I flush a covey of quail, or an immature flicker, or notice a tall tulip poplar in bloom.
The presence of wild things seems miraculous because, in general, we haven’t cared for them very well. We’re worried about college money or property taxes or farm debt and we clear a whole forest, not considering the bobcat or even the ruby-crowned kinglet.
One day a beautiful functioning forest is there, full of deer tracks and warbler nests, and two weeks later it isn’t.
Some years ago, my son and I watched a forest in front of his school get cut. Silas attended Altamaha Elementary, a rural, redbrick school 10 miles from Baxley that my own mother attended.
Mid-week, I met my neighbor, a quiet, 70-year-old woman, coming down the school steps. “Used to, you couldn’t see the school from the highway,” she said. She shook her head slowly back and forth.  
Every day, as we passed, Silas and I watched tree-toppling machines snip off huge pines, loaders pile them as if they were popsicle sticks, and trucks haul them away.
The first casualty was a juvenile raccoon, hit on the four-lane road.
The next day, we noticed a turtle upside down near the yellow center lines. Pulling over, we rescued the female gopher tortoise. She was about three years old and had been hit by a car, but not fatally so. She was bleeding where her carapace was cracked, but not badly, and aside from a broken and scuffed shell, she was uninjured.
We brought her home and set her up in a box, gave her greens and an apple (gopher tortoises are vegetarian), and a saucer of water. The next day her head protruded from its carapace and she was drinking. That night, we took her to grandpa’s house and he repaired her shell with epoxy.
And then we looked for another upland forest.

Ray is a nature writer living in Appling County.
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