Walking at the local track in the cooler hours of morning, I see what one would expect to see: robins splashing in a sprinkler fountain, doves cooing from overhead lines, and clouds of newly hatched gnats hovering face high. One morning, however, something unexpected distracted my exercise mission.
While my husband jogs, runs, sprints, and walks at a snappy pace, I maintain a steady four minute mile, quarter after quarter. It’s fast enough to make me sweat, but it doesn’t make me dread working out. It’s also slow enough I can notice who is driving by, which dogs are barking down the street, and the cool temp antics of hungry birds. This particular morning, I noticed an intruder in lane six when I was 100 yards away.
When I first saw the larger than a hockey puck, shell toting critter ahead of me, I assumed it was an ornate box turtle. We see plenty of them in our region, and it isn’t unusual to find them high and dry on road ways or trails. Due to the extended dry spell, I have seen more and more Kansas state reptiles traveling to look for better living conditions. When I passed this determined fellow, it’s distinctive shell and coloring informed me it wasn’t what I thought it was.
By the time, I’d finished a second lap, my slow-moving companion had cruised as far as lane four. I’d have to catch my husband when he passed to get an accurate identification of this out-of-place reptile. It looked more like a water turtle than a land dwelling tortoise.
My spouse slowed long enough to tell me it was a slider, which meant it usually called a muddy creek bank or water-side log home. Unfortunately for that traveler, the nearest creek and creek bank consisted of dried earth scabbing and peeling like someone with week-old road rash.
I realized this far-from-home visitor was looking for the nearest damp spot, which was the sprinkled grass on the football field. I gained new respect for turtle noses or hearing if this guy could smell or hear water splashing onto manicured turf all the way from Big Creek. It also gave me more respect for turtle stamina since this slow-moving, shell-lugging creature had navigated its way up hill, across a rocky drive, under a fence, and onto the track. No wonder Aesop let the tortoise win in the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable.
As I continued circling the track, this little ninja continued its journey across every lane on the track and crawled into the end zone. By the time I finished my three-mile walk, the green home-toter was at a damp 10 yard line heading for turtle nirvana under a splashing sprinkler. I could imagine a Friday night crowd cheering him on.
Every time I go to the track, I look for a pancake-size lump creeping across the football field. If it is occupying the twenty-yard line, it’s going to get the surprise of its life when practice begins.