On the Half Shell


Tsuga, the Yellow Lab, was holding his mouth funny–as if he were about to say something in the way of an explanation, lips not quite together and a little guilty looking.

“What do you have? DROP IT!”

And out popped a spit-covered, perfectly intact inch wide new-hatched Eastern Box Turtle. I think it is the smallest I’ve ever seen.

The dog finds adult Terrapene carolina commonly and at one time in his puppyhood considered them a kind of crunchy delicacy. We scolded him and made him feel guilty of turtle mutiliation, so now he finds the full-grown turtles, he just carries them around in his gaping mouth for a while, then brings them over to us, lowers his head, and gently places them on the ground.

We relocate them while the dog can’t see. He almost always finds them AGAIN. We hide them AGAIN. He finds them AGAIN.  You get the picture.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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