Monday, August 23, 2010

Day of the Turtles; And, a Count

This past Saturday, we had a family reunion, at my cousin's house, about an hour's drive from Our Town. My cousin and her husband have a great place, nestled into the woods in the midst of what is otherwise mainly farm country. Her husband Mick also dug out a small pond at the lower end of their property, which is fed by no less than two springs on their land, which he diverted to fill the pond. So, when we go there, some of the folks fish from the pond; he also has a little pedal-boat, and some of the kids like to just paddle around on the pond. And, he brought in a load of sand, which he dumped on a corner of the pond, to make a little beach for the kids to swim on. So, we always have a great time at this particular reunion, which is for the descendants of my paternal grandparents. Mainly, these days, that means my cousins and their kids and grandkids (and some of my cousins, who are only a few years older than I am, but married young and got right down to the business of begetting, are getting distressingly close to becoming great-grandparents). My dad is the only one of my grandparents' children still living, but his health hasn't allowed him to make the five-hour trip to be at the reunion for the last few years. One of his brothers' widows - the mother of my cousin who hosts the festivities - is in her 80s, and still comes to the reunion, but she is the only one from her generation who can still come. When I was a kid, I always loved the holidays, when we'd all get together at Grandma & Grandpa's farm, and play in the barn, and whatever else. I just really enjoyed my cousins, and the whole extended-family thing. But around the time I was in junior-high and high school, we stopped seeing quite so much of each other, for various reasons, some of which I'm sure I don't even know. But, around ten or fifteen years ago, possibly spurred by the growing awareness that our parents' generation was passing from the scene, several of my cousins started organizing a reunion, and it has been a very good thing, even recapturing some of the relationships that we had all those years ago, when our grandparents were still alive. My cousins have gone in various and sundry directions in their lives; some went to college, some didn't. Some have strong marriages, some have been through a succession of spouses and significant-others. But, when we get together, it's just us, and it's good. ------------------------- Last year, at this reunion, Mick (my cousin's husband, and our host) created a mild sensation by passing around, as a kind of show-and-tell, the shell of a large-ish snapping turtle that he'd caught out of his pond; it was about twelve inches across. He'd killed it, butchered it (if 'butchering' is what you do to a turtle), and, in the fullness of time, ate it. It was cool to see how the turtle's backbone was integral with the shell, and just passing it around and checking it out amounted to a small science lesson. Which was very cool, all in its own right; Mick is a carpenter by trade, and one of those 'outdoors-y' guys who hunts and fishes, and just generally lives 'closer to the earth' than us more citified cousins do. He's not 'educated' in the formal sense, but he's a story-teller, and I have learned all manner of fascinating stuff just sitting and swapping stories with him. Now, the idea of killing and eating a turtle just captured Jen's imagination, and she told Mick that, if ever it were possible, she would be delighted to partake of turtle at some future date. So, this year, Jen and I, and the three of our kids who came with us (5M, 6F, and 8M; the others were all otherwise occupied in various and sundry directions) arrived early, and were standing around the kitchen, talking with a couple of my cousins, and my aunt, when one of the cousins made some mention about the oven, and how soon the turtle would be done. Which caused Jen to perk right up - "There's turtle? You made turtle?!?" Indeed. So, when we were all seated around the tables in the garage (it was raining), partaking of our potluck feast, Mick came through with a small bowl filled with bits of meat. "Who wants to try some turtle?" Of course, he came first to Jen, and she took a couple pieces and sampled them. I was sitting next to her, so the bowl came to me next. I looked into the bowl; there were bits of light meat, and bits of darker meat. Some of it looked a bit gristly, but it was otherwise unremarkable. Mick said that, in general, the lighter meat was more tender, so I grabbed a bit of that. I looked at it questioningly for a second, popped it into my mouth, and began chewing it. And guess what? It tasted just like chicken (terribly, terribly cliche'd, I know, but it did). A tad chewier than chicken, but that was pretty much the basic flavor. . . I watched as Mick took his bowl of turtle-meat around the garage, and offered it to everyone there. Some folks (maybe a quarter of them) wanted no part of it, and passed on the opportunity. Most of the 'city cousins' had a reaction similar to mine - not quite sure what to expect, and not quite sure they really wanted to try it, but they were game to give it a shot. So, a real life experience there - I've eaten turtle. And I liked it just fine. . . ------------------------- A while later, the rain stopped, and the kids headed down to the pond, either to fish or to swim. 8M wanted to swim, so Jen and I, and the parents of the other swimmers grabbed seats near the 'beach'. Suddenly, a couple of the kids were jumping up and down, all excited, and they came to show us what they'd found - a baby turtle, with a shell about an inch across. It was pretty newly hatched, too, since its shell was still leathery soft. Within a couple days after hatching, the shell would be hard, just like an adult turtle, so this was a pretty new one. As we held the baby turtle in our hand, one of the other kids came running up, with another baby turtle in his hand. And then another, and another. We had the kids take the babies down to the water, and let them swim. And before long, we saw a couple more, who were slowly making their way down the beach toward the water, with the unerring sense that has been programmed into generations of snapping turtles since the dawn of turtle-kind - get out of your shell, and head for the water. And not a one of 'em headed away from the water, either; they popped out of their shells, and they just knew where to go. And then, sitting back and taking the whole scene in, we saw a tiny movement in the sand. From a small hole in the sand, maybe an inch or so in diameter, a small head popped up. Six or eight pairs of human eyes watched in fascination as yet another baby turtle, his head the size of a pencil eraser, crawled out of the tunnel into which he'd been laid. He paused for several minutes as his head popped out of the hole. Perhaps he was adjusting to the bright sunlight; perhaps the presence of so many human creatures staring at him was the least bit scary. Or perhaps, as is the way of turtles, he just wasn't in that big a hurry. At length, he decided, for whatever reason, that he needed to get on with his business, so he pulled himself up out of the hole, turned toward the water, and crawled down to it. The parents who were on hand to view the baby-turtle spectacle, were all pretty well in awe of what they were seeing. But we were laughing because the kids, who were all 8M's age (eight) or younger, were no doubt thinking that this sort of thing happens all the time, and might even be disappointed if, at next year's reunion, there are no baby turtles going down the beach for the first time. . . ------------------------- Yesterday, I went out on my bike, as I am fond of doing during the warm-weather months (and even some of the not-so-warm ones). I planned on a 45-mile ride, which would put me over 1000 miles for the year, the fourth consecutive year I've made four-digit miles on my bike, and the earliest I've passed that milestone in at least the last 15 years. I was just past the 30-mile mark, when I ran over a sharp stone, causing my rear tire to go flat. I pulled off the road, and dug through the little gear bag on my bike, looking for the spare inner tube that I always carry with me. But alas, I had no spare inner tube. I called Jen on my cell phone, asking her to look around the house to see if there was a spare tube anywhere in the house. She looked around for a while, but there was no tube to be found. She hung up and called a couple of the local bike shops, to see if they were open on Sunday afternoon, with an inner tube she could buy for me. They were all closed. So reluctantly, I told her she might as well just come and pick me up, since my ride for the day was done. I snapped my cell phone shut, and stood by the side of the road waiting for Jen to arrive. A woman drove up in an SUV, pulling to a stop in front of me. She rolled down her window. "Do you need anything?" Not unless you've got a spare inner tube, thanks. "I've got one." You do? Well, it has to be a Presta valve (at this point, I should explain, as briefly as possible, that there are two types of air valves that are commonly used on bike inner tubes. The large majority of bike wheels are made to accept Schrader valves, which are the same as the ones on your car tires; the 'higher end' bikes tend to use Presta valves, which to the uninitiated, can seem like a fairly 'bike-snobby' thing; maybe it is, but the salient point here is that my bike needs a Presta valve, and Presta valves are not nearly so commonly found - if someone has a Presta valve, they don't have it by accident) "Yes, it's a Presta valve." And at that point, my jaw hit the ground. I don't know what the odds might be that a random person driving by might just happen to offer me a Presta-valved inner tube, but it would likely be on the order of one-in-multiple-thousands. And yet, here she was, my Presta-tube angel. She called her husband on her cell phone (it's occurring to me that cell phones are playing a rather prominent role in this story; I wonder how we managed to get home from flat tires in the days before cell phones), and within 10 minutes, he pulled up alongside me and tossed an inner tube to me. I tried to pay him for it, but he'd have none of it. We swapped a couple DALMAC stories, and he was on his way. I should mention that I was just able to contact Jen before she left the house, to ask her to bring the bike pump to me, instead of just taking me home. Because I've left myself a fairly gaping hole in my roadside-repair readiness. I carry a small toolkit with me, and a spare tube, but I don't have a frame-mounted pump. So if I get a flat (and this year, I've had at least three of them; I can't ever recall having so many in a single season; I've gone several entire years without ever having to fix a flat), I can get the wheel off the bike, remove the dead inner tube, install the new inner tube (assuming, that is, that I have one), and put the wheel back on the bike. But I can't inflate the new tube. (*sigh*) So that means that, three times this year, I've had to call Jen to bring me the floor pump that we have at home, just so I could pump my tire back up, after having done everything else. But for now, the major point is to count the incredible blessing of a passing motorist tossing me a thousand-to-one shot, just so I could finish my ride. Incredible. (And I didn't even get her name, or her husband's; if either of them happen to be reading this blog post, my gratitude knows no bounds. . .)


  1. When my last grandparent died, we stopped with the family reunions....that was in 1987! How sad is that? I'd be game about putting something together, but I'm one of the folks living nowhere near anyone else, so it doesn't seem feasible.

    I'm not sure you could pay me to eat turtle. I can barely stomach turkey.
    Amazing bicycle tire story!

  2. We've been having reunions every five years, a huge one, for all the extendeds- but this year, it wasn't to be, for various issues; too bad, it's always a great time.

    Nothing wrong with turtle, either, lol- try duck web, next.

    Wow, on the bicycle story; but, i'm struck by a side-point:

    How come Jen hasn't whacked you around to get a frame-pump? And, are you aware she's a saint??

  3. Cocotte - Well, just for the sake of saying so, it was about 20 years for us, from when my grandma died, to when we started having reunions again. . .

    Sailor - (*sigh*)

    Yes, I know she's a saint. Which probably has something to do with why she hasn't whacked me around yet. But on the bright side, I've got a pump on order. . .

  4. i missed my family reunion this year due to calypso's FIRST hospitalization (doesn't seem right that she's just had her second this summer, but i digress).

    the turtle hatching sounds positively magical! what a neat experience.

    the presta angel is miraculous indeed. really. but dude, not frame mounted pump? really? you need one of those.

  5. Lime - Oh, poor Calypso. That poor girl has had WAY more than her share of grief this summer (and as her mom, you can digress all you want). . .

    (*sigh*) OK, the pump. . . I went about ten years hardly riding at all, and when I started back up 4 years ago, I just picked up with the equipment I had on hand, which didn't include a frame pump by that time. So I just never got around to getting a new one (and with maybe one flat every other year, it was never driven home to me how much I really needed one). But, this summer, I've had ample prodding from the Universe that this is a necessary item, and, as I noted to Sailor above, the new one is on order. . .