Sunday, August 24, 2014

Turtle Presents Conundrum

Little Turtle eating in the center of the road, facing south!
Making a mad "dash" toward cover!
Leaving in a slow motion huff after being accosted by a human.  
I do not often see turtles in the road this time of year, but the other day I came upon an ornate turtle stopped in the tire tracks of a county road. She was likely safe from any traffic from the south because she could be seen in time to avoid crushing her. If she had been in the west tire track, she might have been in danger of getting hit by someone coming from the north.

Of course I had to stop to get a photo, and to move her safely out of the road. She was not technically crossing the road like 99% of the turtles I have ever seen. She was facing due south, preoccupied with eating a bug or something. It meant I did not know which side of the road to move her to! It was a conundrum. When I stepped out of the car to take pictures, she began "running" toward the west. Conditions on that side of the road were not good turtle terrain, in my decidedly uneducated assessment of what constitutes good turtle terrain. There was a very narrow and steep (for a 4" tall turtle) ditch. If she could even climb out of it in that vicinity, she would then encounter the face of an almost vertical hillside. I moved her to the other side of the road. If she walked at a steady pace, she could reach the pond on that side of the road by the next morning. I do not know enough about turtles to know if they need to live by a body of water to survive.

I am sorry to terrify these quiet, gentle creatures, but I simply cannot leave them to be crushed by a tire, or worse yet, cracked by a glancing blow and left to die a slow death, or even worse than that: kidnapped by an unscrupulous pet trader. In the wild, these creatures can live about one hundred years. In captivity they die easily. Even with the best of care, they will only live a few decades.

I have lived in Kansas my entire life but have only seen a baby ornate box turtle once. My mother was a Girl Scout leader when I was a Brownie (the neophyte stage of a Girl Scout). We were at day camp when one of the girls found a baby turtle in the grass. Everyone was delighted to see such a tiny turtle! We kept him for a few hours and then he was placed back in the place he was found. I have always hoped to see a baby turtle again. So far, no luck.

Addendum:  September 2, 2014 - Another turtle terrorized crossing country road!  
Minding his own business, heading south.

Heading into Ginger's pasture after having the pee scared out of him!  (But he was safe!)
Post Script:  A few days after the last photo was taken, I found another turtle not far from where this guy was found.  That turtle had a seriously cracked shell.  He could still close into his shell - still walk perfectly.  The crack appeared to not be immediately recent.  I debated a long time whether I should take that turtle into a wild life rehabilitation center, or leave it alone.  I opted to leave it alone.  At one time in Kansas, the public was invited into all wild life rehabilitation centers, but no longer.  No one knows what happens to the animals, how they are treated, handled or confined.  I am not even sure if they are regulated by any form of government.  So, I no longer trust that a wildlife rehabilitation is a good thing.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Relatively Speaking...

You get a little better idea of this guy's size...

This big white horse recently moved into the neighborhood. I first noticed him when he was in a pasture next to the road. I so much wanted to stop and pet him but I did not. He is enormous! He is spending the summer in a very large pasture, and I only got these pictures because I have a telephoto lens. The photos do not convey the true size of this guy. I wish I knew more about him. He is beautiful!

Going from a local giant down to one of the tiny frogs that live in my front yard:  I had to stalk this little dude with my camera for a long time before I got a good photo. He is about the size of a fingernail. He and his kin spring about a foot into the air - an enormous jump, considering how small they are! I make the effort to avoid stepping on them.

I do not know what species of frog he is - if he is full grown - why he lives around the house rather than at the edge of the creek - why I never saw anything like this around the other house? I wonder if he is one of the peepers I hear all night long. So many questions, and no where to find the answers!

The toads that live in the dirt under the porch and hang out at the dog water tub are quickly growing large. The dogs completely ignore the toads, and the toads do not seem to care that they have to share a significant portion of real estate and resources the with canines. At some point, I am sure Duke sampled a toad and knows to leave them all alone. Jake surely discovered the same bitter truth. Otherwise, there would not be a single toad living around the front steps.

Yesterday I witnessed a horrific accident when Duke mindlessly stepped on a toad right in front of me. The poor toad was laying belly up in the grass and I thought he was either dead or mortally wounded. After I got both dogs occupied elsewhere, I came back to check on the unfortunate toad. He was still belly up and motionless. Using the machete, I gently and carefully prodded the poor guy, and he came to life enough to at least right himself. His color had gone from the usual black, brown and tan to a greenish yellow. Either he was dying or toads have certain chameleon-like abilities. As I watched, he hopped to safety under the steps. I hope he was unhurt, but getting stepped on by an 80 pound dog cannot be too healthy.

It is amazing the useless things I learn simply by walking to the car every morning. A small toad produces an enormous amount of fecal matter. I see scat on the sidewalk almost every morning, and the toads are the most likely donors! I cannot imagine how many insects they have to eat in order to leave that much manure behind. The foremost question in my mind is why do they have to poop on the sidewalk? You can bet I avoid stepping on that, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Photograph the Supermoon - Poorly

Amateur Photographer's Lack of Skill Ruins Another Opportunity.  (Yes, it is an over-exposed super moon.) 

The Sacred Pond Restored

The Super Moon 30 Minutes After Moonrise  - my telescopic lens is so awesome!

Country Road Culture

Every culture produces social norms, societal rules. They cultivate stability and engender civility so we may live in relative peace. There are endless sub-cultures, and each of us belongs to various sets, whether we acknowledge them or not. There are subtle, and not so subtle, pressures for us to conform. There is a sub-culture for people who travel country roads.

The supreme rule of country roads culture is to always drive to the right when cresting a hill. There is no formal enforcement of this rule, of course. The first time you almost crash head-on into your neighbors, you thereafter pay strict attention to that rule. Continue to ignore it, and natural selection will handily cull you from the herd. I grew up on county roads. I learned to drive a car and a motorcycle on gravel roads, so I knew this, but I appreciated the friendly reminder from neighbors who took the time and consideration to first welcome my son and me to the neighborhood. They are very nice folks, but I am sure the purpose of the visit was primarily to deliver the reminder to drive right. It was an act of self-preservation.

My son ignored this cardinal rule until his little sports car met a 4 wheel drive, full sized truck, also ignoring the rule. Both went into the ditches to avoid a crash. The big truck:  unscathed - speeding sports car:  totaled. No one was hurt, though the open beer in the truck may have been spilled.

There are also rules of who pulls over first when approaching a narrow place, like a culvert or a bridge. The informal rule, as I understand it, gives the person going to work first passage. The person heading home from work yields. In case this is a rule I simply imagined, I typically yield going and coming. Tractors, feed trucks, combines and particularly slow drivers normally yield the right of way, which is very considerate. Anyone who moves from the city to the country should know to be tolerant and patient of the fact that the big equipment belongs to people making a living. I always feel a little guilty when the men pull their tractors over to let me pass. I am merely on my way to the cube farm, but they are doing real work, feeding cattle or tending their fields. Their time management is a bit more organic and natural than the 8 to 5 that rules my working life, so perhaps they take pity on all cube farmers racing to beat the clock.

Passing does not happen on county roads except in extreme circumstances.  Tractors, combines, and true lollygaggers like tourists, artists, or photographers will normally pull over and considerately allow you to pass. Unless it has rained at least a good four inches within the last twenty minutes, the dust is so bad that you simply will not follow anyone closely, even if they are driving 20 mph and you are late for work.

Most of the time, people drive as fast as they are comfortable driving, which can be surprisingly fast for the experienced. The higher the speed, the higher and denser the dust cloud. Ah, the dust cloud... destroyer of car interiors and exterior paint. If I see an unprotected and unshielded human being in time, I will slow down to a crawl so as not to engulf them in a horrible cloud of suffocating dirt. If I see my neighbors attempting to enjoy the outdoors - grandchildren riding a pony in the driveway, for instance - I will slow down. If I do not see someone in time and go roaring by, sucking tons of dust behind me, I feel so guilty. I am sure I get cussed, and rightly so. When I am trying to take photos from the side of the road and someone blasts past leaving a dust bowl behind, some cussing and obscenity might occur. Just sayin'.

There are also various forms of sign language in this subculture. The most common sign is the one or two finger wave from the top of the steering wheel. It is an acknowledgement given to just about everyone you meet. If it is someone you know (and like) you can give the fully raised hand in greeting. If a person yields, or allows you to pass, you must give the fully raised hand with a friendly wave denoting "thank you". To fail to acknowledge considerate behavior is exceedingly rude. Waving at every oncoming car is just what you do because chances are, even if they live ten miles down the road, they are your neighbors, or they are friends or relatives of your neighbors, and they will know who you are even if you do not know them.  I can still hear my mother saying of long ago country neighbors who did not wave, "They sure aren't very friendly!" or my father snorting, "Son of a bitch won't even wave!"

An ancient maxim that continues to be relevant and true, even in the 21st century on the gravel country roads of Kansas: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, if you are going home after a long day of work, and come face to face with several hundred cows being herded by men and women on horseback, just pull over and turn the car off. If you cannot occasionally spare a few quiet moments out of your busy day, you better not move to the country.
Sometimes, there is no passing!