Wishing for a little more time in Neverland

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Eastern spiny softshell turtle
Eastern spiny softshell turtles can be aggressive like snapping turtles. (Julie Geiss photo)

Obviously, this summer has been strange in comparison to previous summers. We chose to make lemonade out of lemons by embracing simplicity and spending quality time with extended family and many cousins.

When our extended family comes to visit the farm, I consider it a “staycation,” which is a vacation where you stay at home. The boy cousins become “Lost Boys,” and our woods and fields are almost Neverland, a place for adventure and occasional mischief.

Snakes

Creepy crawlies and things that slither are prime targets for the Lost Boys. I’ve noticed most people fall into one of two categories with snakes — they either love them or hate them. My husband and his mom vehemently hate snakes. Like trained militia, they stand guard with a spade or shovel ready at their side.

I think I’m a rare person that is impartial towards snakes. I admit, forked tongues and rattles are intimidating. However, I like the feel of dry scales and love to watch their slithering movements.

Through a cousin’s curiosity and love of snakes, I learned an interesting fact. I was surprised to learn that not all snakes lay eggs. This cousin may have a future as a herpetologist, a person who studies reptiles.

Garter babies

Like many times before, he caught a garter snake and placed it in a habitat of grass, sticks and a small amount of water. However, this time he was in for a big surprise. The next day the box was home to not only one garter snake, but 30!

I erroneously looked for eggs all around the edges of the box. Ovoviviparous is a fun word to say that means the mother snake holds the eggs inside her and then when her offspring are born the eggs remain inside her body.

Although it is rare, some snakes have a live birth like humans called a viviparous birth. Boas, vipers, and sea snakes are some of the snakes that have a viviparous or ovoviviparous birth like garter snakes.

Parenthood was easy for the garter snake mama, as the infants were self-sufficient from birth. The skinny, writhing snakes were about the length of my pointer finger. Going from one snake to over 30 was a little overwhelming and they were quickly released back into the wild. The greatest threat to these young hatchlings was the tip of grandma’s garden shovel.

Turtle alert

Another lazy afternoon at the creek abruptly turned into excitement for two Lost Boys. My youngest son burst through our front door, completely out of breath, and shouted, “There’s a soft-shelled turtle at the creek!”

I didn’t know why we had to hurry; turtles are not known for swift and accelerated movements. Regardless, he rode his bike back to the creek lightning fast and shouted over his shoulder for me to run.

The turtle was along an embankment on the side of the bridge. Tall grasses and vines intertwined to create a blockade as effective as an iron gate. Defying gravity, my son skipped over every bramble and stick reaching the turtle quickly.

I ambled over cautiously, not wanting to plummet into the murky creek or get snagged by jaggers. I stopped, mesmerized, when I reached the turtle halfway down the embankment. A quick image search on my phone confirmed that it was an Eastern spiny softshell turtle.

I hesitated to move closer when I noticed its long, sharp claws. The pointy snout, yellow ringed eyes and spines along its shell were also very intimidating. It was wise to stop when we did because we learned later that it can be aggressive like a snapping turtle. It was most likely out of the water to lay eggs along the shore of the creek.

The sandy and muddy bottom of our creek is the preferred habitat of the eastern spiny softshell turtle. Its tubular snout was fascinating; it was easy to see how it could be used like a snorkel to breathe.

The span of time is different in Neverland. Hours turn into days in the blink of an eye. Before we realized it, we were saying good-bye to the beloved cousins. Pleading and begging ensue as the cousins were convinced we should be together for Labor Day. I keep a stoic face, but I couldn’t help but wish for another long weekend with them in Neverland.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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