I am not a pretty turtle. Some of my cousins have a nice shell, or sparkling eyes, but not me. I am a softshell turtle with a long neck and a pointed nose that ends with what looks like snorkel gear. My legs are more like flippers, and I am usually a brown or greenish color. My shell isn’t really too soft, but it has a leathery feel.
I live in the water of course, as all turtles do, and I can swim very fast. I can also move quickly on land –for a turtle, anyway. But I stay in the water almost all the time, unless I happen to bask in the sun on a warm day. I prefer calm, still water, like a pond or a swamp, rather than moving water, such as a creek or a river. And no salt water for me – I am only a freshwater reptile.
I do love to eat, and meat is what I crave. I can eat fish, or frogs, or insects. I also like crayfish when they are in season. Once I found some duck eggs, with a couple of the ducklings already hatched, and they made a tasty treat for me. Just thinking about food makes me hungry, as I love to eat.
I live in a pond in Florida with five other softshells. There’s a fountain there that shoots water into the air, day and night. We can’t get close to the fountain because there’s a rock wall around it, but we like to swim in the area where the water cascades down and pretend it is raining. It’s actually quite eye-catching at night when the fountain lights up.
There’s a lot of activity around our pond, but we have gotten used to it. A boardwalk juts out into the center of our pond and often people walk out there. They look towards the ocean, and eventually they look down into our pond. When they see me or one of the other turtles, they stare. I guess we look different from what they were expecting, because as I said, I am not a pretty turtle.
You may wonder why I keep coming back to the boardwalk and letting these people gawk at me. Well, sometimes they bring food, and as I said, I do love to eat. So I keep coming back when I hear their footsteps, and sometimes I get lucky and get some food tossed to me that I don’t have to catch myself.
I don’t mind a little staring if there’s a tasty treat at the end.
Besides, I am not too self conscious about my looks. I am used to it, of course, plus I know how valuable my unsightly features are. My flippers help me glide through the water, and they also help me walk faster than most turtles on land. My long neck enables me to reach in holes and grab some food. That unattractive snout allows me to spend more time under the water.
My shell may not be as beautiful as some, but it protects me where I need it most. There are some scratches and nicks on it, but they are well earned, reminders of near misses and battles won. I know there are other creatures like me, not as attractive as some, but doing our part to make this world a better place.
I heard one of those people on the boardwalk read something from a book one time and I think it applies to me. She said, “Oysters are a lot like women. It’s how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.” * Exactly – except she could have said soft shelled turtles in place of oysters. Then again, it helped me know that I am not alone.
If you visit me at my pond in Florida, try not to stare. Or maybe, now that you know my story, you might see the beauty that lies behind my appearance. And please bring treats. Remember I do love meat.
* from Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman