Friday, July 10, 2015

Quite A Winter For Turtles


I started this post a few weeks ago and then had to put completing it off until today.  So, yes, we are well beyond Spring now.  And I do apologize for the delay.   But the turtle story is interesting still.  So, I've left the Spring comments in.  .....Please be patient with me.  Haha!

Its good to have Spring flowers http://windandhoney.comand Spring weather.  But its even better to have Spring temperatures.  Its been quite a Winter for the turtles.  If you've followed this blog for a while, you know that I have 3 rescued box turtles.  They live in my backyard.  They live freely as if in the wild.  But they have the protection of the fence.  Each of the three has a physical handicap that makes them vulnerable in the wild, especially when crossing the road.  So, they have lived happily with us for 15 years now.  There were some years when we had babies.  But we have no males now, so there are no babies.

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Claudette with one of the previous babies
The girls have always taken care of themselves for hibernation, digging in when the weather dictated the need.  Their disappearance in the Fall always signals the first freeze.  And their reappearance in the Spring is always a surprise and a delight.  But with our recent move we have a yard made of Oklahoma red clay.  Think of those big ol' blocks of red clay at the art store.  It is just too tough for them to dig into enough to hibernate.  In normal circumstances, the girls dig in 2 feet deep to get under the freeze line.  But they can only get about 3 inches down in this red clay and even that takes a whole lot of work. 


So, this last Fall, thinking I had a great idea, my son dug a hole in the yard 2' x 2' x 2'.  We then filled it with nice top soil right into the hole.  Then we placed the girls in that soil and they dug in as the temperature was dropping.  We placed a couple of small logs beside the hole lest they come up and decide to wander around looking for a better place to sleep.  There was no better place but they aren't terribly bright to figure that out themselves.   That night we had heavy rains and storms. I didn't give it a second thought as I knew the girls were tucked into their lovely winter bed.  I was feeling pretty smug about it all.

The next morning I went outside to look around after the rain.  I was shocked to see that the hole filled with top soil was washed out and was now a swimming pool.  The clay was forming solid walls as if they were concrete.  Claudette Colbert was standing on a very small island of top soil that was quickly washing away.  I grabbed her and put her in a safe spot in the grass.  I could see Goldie Hawn in another mud hole near by.  Evidently she had found a way to crawl out of the swimming pool but she was still in quite a bit of water.  And I couldn't find Cleopatra anywhere!  You see these are box turtles.  They are not water turtles.  Like you and me, they can only survive in water as long as they can hold their breath.   I pulled up my sleeves and plunged my arms deep into that cold water all the way up to my shoulders.  I dug around thinking I would find her.    Nothing!    I looked around that area in case she had gotten out.  I worried.  I prayed.  I walked the entire yard looking into every little nook and cranny to see if she had escaped and crawled off.    Nothing.    My hands searched again in that frigid water hoping I would find her this time.    Nope!    I prayed and then gathered the other two in my two hands and took them into the house to warm up.  I didn't know what else to do.  I mean, there really wasn't anything else to do.

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Cleopatra
So, I paced....... for about 45 seconds.  And then I was back out there arms swimming in ice water hoping to find what I knew wasn't in that water.  I checked every little hiding spot in the yard once again as if I hadn't just done that moments before.  And again, I prayed.

This time before I went back into the house I thought to try one more thing.  IF she had dug in deep in the bottom of the hole....  And IF she was below the water level and therefore safe....   And IF she were to dig up and come out of her soil bed....  Then she would come up into the water and would need a way to get out.  ---Actually, I wasn't even sure if that was scientifically possible.  But, you know.... what if..... ?!  

So thinking she would need to attempt to crawl out, I pulled away the log that was on one side of the "swimming pool".  And then it occurred to me that if she came up on the other side she would not know that the log was missing on the far side.  So I reached over to remove the second log.

!!!!!   THERE SHE WAS!  She was in an air space underneath that log.   Hanging on for dear life by only her front claws in the dirt at the top of the hole, holding only her nose above the water level!   Oh no!  How long had she been clinging there trying to live?  And how much longer would she have been able to endure before she wore out?  I snatched her up and took her in the house.

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I had no idea what I was going to do with them.  Obviously they could not spend the winter in this backyard like they had done in previous yards.  I had "over wintered" a young turtle once.  Which just means keeping them in the house.  It really isn't best for them.  Their systems are made to hibernate.  And when I tried it she hardly ate all winter.  I stewed about her all those months.  I wasn't looking forward to repeating that!  I now know there is a way to prepare them for overwintering so that they adjust better.  But I didn't know that then.  Anyway...  I know this is getting long.  So, to make a long story a bit shorter, I found a wonderful site http://www.tortoisetrust.org where I learned about creating a hibernating box.  This was a great idea and they could stay in the garage.   But the next weeks would prove that our garage just didn't get cold enough for them.  They were cold enough to sleep but not cold enough to truly hibernate.  The result would be that they would sleep the winter away and starve to death before Spring because they would not be cold enough to slow down their metabolisms.

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Then I learned at http://www.tortoisetrust.org that I could refrigerate them.  Not in the house next to the dill pickles!   But in their own little fridge in the garage.   So, not a few $$$ later in this turtle project, we became the proud owners of a small turtle fridge.  And they spent their winter like this.

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As you can imagine I was really really glad when it got warm enough to get them out of that cold box.  Here they are enjoying their first Spring treat.  They don't live in this box.  But I got them out of hibernation a bit early so I needed to have them contained to enable me to bring them in during cooler nights and cloudy days until it was truly warm enough.   And now, well into July, they are enjoying their freedom and the warmth of lovely Summer weather.




As previously promised, here is another journal page.  I love the look of the graphite image layered with the watercolor and the black and white designs.  But I have to say that it is more challenging to draw over the writing than I thought it would be.  The lettering was quite a distraction.

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Wind and Honey Creations
Creative Pencils - Online Drawing Lessons

2 comments:

Brenda Lynn said...

This story is just as intriguing the second time around. But, I have to admit; I love their names the best. ;o)

oldgreymareprimitives said...

Oh my! I had to read the story twice! I had a friend here long ago that had desert tortoise- very protected here and you have to have permit and take classes. I loved watching her tool around her yard.
But your story... who would have thought? a refrigerator?
so glad I stopped by.

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