Turtle Tales

Laugh Tracks in the Dust

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Conversations among us oldsters at the morning Geezer Gang Gabfest recently included discussion about turtles. The recent rains prompted Flint Hills snapping turtles to begin migrating from one water source to another. Several got their migration cut short by getting run over on the local roads.

Shortly after that turtle discussion, I saw a land terrapin — specifically a Plains Painted Box Turtle — on the road. That specific terrapin is a small land-based turtle that used to be abundant, but it’s numbers have gone down in recent years.

At any rate, all the turtle talk got me to reminiscing about my encounters with turtles when I wuz growing up in southeast Kansas, close to Moran, Bronson, and Uniontown.

I recall that one year there wuz a super-abundance of Painted Box Turtles. They were everywhere. So, one of my best friends and classmates, ol’ Brosen Burgh, and I decided to see how many turtles we could collect. In no time at all, we found at least 50 of the little reptiles. We built a “turtle corral” out of used lumber to contain them.

But, then we had to decide what to do with our “turtle herd.” The obvious action wuz to have turtle races. So, for an hour or so, we each selected what we hoped would be a “fast” turtle, released our selections in the middle of a string circle “race track,” and yelled and beat on the ground to see whose turtle would cross the string boundary first.

However, we soon tired of that contest, so we dreamed up a contest to determine turtle strength. Brosen remembered that his father had a set of cylindrical metal gram weights that were used to weight small things on a balance beam scale. I can’t recall the exact weights, but the metal cylinders went incrementally from small to large.

So, Brosen got the gram weight set and found a tiny pulley, too. We attached the pulley to the clothes line and ran a string through it that went down to the ground on both sides. Next, we selected a turtle for hoped-for strength and drilled a painless tiny hole in the rear rim of its shell. Then we tied one end of the string to the turtle and the other end to a gram weight. It wuz sort of like a horse pulling contest only we were using turtles.

Naturally, we bet on our entries and the winning turtle wuz the one that could hoist the heaviest gram weight the highest into the air.

Looking back on that activity today, I doubt that such a contest has ever been duplicated. It just goes to show that back in those days, rural kids used their imaginations to entertain themselves, not electronic devices.

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I’ve got other childhood turtle memories. Another friend, ol’ K. D. Kidd, and I used to find huge old snapping turtles resting on the bottoms of the shallow limestone creeks in the area. In the early spring, when the water wuz still very cold, the snappers were lethargic and slow.

So, K. D. and I would wade into the water, grab the big snappers by the tail, and toss them out on land. We never once got bitten, but the snappers sure didn’t appreciate us.

Then during the summer doldrums we would ride our horses to the Marmaton River. We would find a high bank where we could see snapping turtles basking in the water on on logs. We used the snappers to practice our marksmanship with our 22-caliber rifles. In those days, we gave nary a thought to turtle conservation. Snappers were predators that would eat our fish from our stringers if they had a chance … they needed to be eliminated.

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Another recent geezer discussion wuz comparing thoughts on burial and cremation — appropriate topic at our ages. But, one guy had the best story. He said he had a hunting buddy who mandated that his ashes be mixed with lead shot in shotgun shells and his friends were to use the shells when hunting pheasants.

The guy telling the story said that the deceased’s friends did indeed use the ashes-loaded shells as he wished. But, when a wag asked him if he ate the pheasants he killed with the shells, he said, “No. I’m not a cannibal!”

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Here’s a true kids story. My 4-year-old great-grandson stopped by for a short visit last weekend. He loves to eat fresh veggies from my garden. So, as I watched him, he collected a big leaf of spinach, covered it with a big leaf of leaf lettuce, wrapped the leaves around two pods of green peas and announced he wuz eating a “green taco.”

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I’ve got another travel horror story about flying on American Airlines (AA). A friend and his wife in Wichita booked a flight to Europe for a Mediterranean cruise. To make their horror story short, AA failed to get them to New York on time. They missed that flight. Then the next day when they got to London, AA had no tickets for them to fly to Rome. They had to overnight in a crappy hotel. Then, AA failed to get them to Rome on time and they missed their Rome tour. After their successful cruise, AA failed to get them back in Dallas on time. They ended up in Houston. And, at the end of their trip, AA had lost their luggage.

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When you’ve lived as long as I have — 81 years — that’s sufficient time to see that a truism of life is that “what goes around, eventually comes around again.” That truism works for agriculture, as well as life in general.

For starters, here’s such a truism. When I wuz a wet behind the ears kid, crop rotations, cover crops, green manure crops, and rotational grazing was near-universally practiced by diversified farmers. Keeping a “living soil” and “sustainability” were the goals.

Gradually, those practices went out of favor and monocultures, chemical fertilizers and various pesticides came into vogue. Today, gradually the so-called experts are advising — and ag producers are following the advice — that there is modern value in the old time farming practices. It’s good to see.

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Words of wisdom for the week: “Pharmaceutical companies are researching and working hard to eliminate diseases — and to put themselves out of business.” Have a good ‘un.

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