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The Mast-Head: Watch for Turtles

Wed, 06/26/2024 - 18:08

A woman in a pickup truck pulled into the driveway Monday morning to turn around. I waved hello; she lifted a hand holding a cigarette and backed out to head east again. A little way down the road, she stopped again, put on the pickup’s hazard lights, and got out.

It is turtle movement time, and I assumed that was what she was doing: moving one of our amphibian friends from the cozy, hot pavement to the side of the road.

Time was that “Turtle Crossing” signs were seen here and there. I don’t know where they all went, but the turtles didn’t go away. Each spring, I rescue one or two from almost exactly the same spot near Promised Land. Last week, sure enough, I scooped up a juvenile from the eastbound lane and placed him in the grass in the direction that he appeared to have been going. Supposedly, if one puts a turtle on the side of the road that it had come from, it will turn around and crawl back into danger. I don’t know if this is a scientific fact or not, but it seems worth listening to.

Several days later and about a mile to the west, I had to swerve to avoid another one. This time, it was a young snapping turtle moving slowly in the direction of a freshwater marsh. I had heard that an adult snapper was in the neighborhood, too, which I thought was odd since they are mostly aquatic creatures. Until recently, this particular marsh at the side of Cranberry Hole Road had only an inch or two of standing water except after the heaviest rainfall. For it to support a snapping turtle and its offspring, it would appear to need somewhat more than that.

Also not yet scientifically shown, as far as I know, is an observation that low-lying places that cycle wet and dry have been mostly wet for the past few years. There are patches of the salt marsh near Pond o’ Pines at Napeague that now look to be bare of the former marginal vegetation there and tidally underwater. It is my understanding that fresh water will sit above salt water, and if sea level is rising, so, too, will coastal freshwater pools rise.

When I was brought home in a bassinet from Southampton Hospital in 1963 to the house that my parents had built for them on Cranberry Hole Road, the bog next door was rarely submerged, if aerial images from the period are an indication. In my childhood, I remember that rain would subside quickly, leaving mud. Now, glinting water is continually present. Over at Devon, a once-occasional puddle in the road was there all spring. At Fort Pond in Montauk, a tiny, tree-covered island on the west side is long gone, subsumed by the rising water level.

Up in the Amagansett woods, someone nailed a sign to a tree warning us to watch for turtles. I wish that there were more of these signs around. Maybe I will make a few up myself, if I can find the time. 



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