I walked home from church along the railroad tracks. I had heard two whistles and hoped that the busy late afternoon would reward me with a third. The Chessie system did not disappoint. This time, an empty line of coal tipples flew by from the south. Oddly, it seems that empty cars make more noise that those laden with cargo.
Afterwards, I stood on the grate of a service box, looking out into the waters of the Yough. The level of the current now flows much lower than just a few weeks ago and I could clearly see the muddy bottom for a good ten or fifteen feet. My eye caught the gracefully clumsy antics of a painted turtle, paddling upstream and bobbing up for air every 30 seconds or so. It would gulp a breath and then quickly dive down to the silty bottom, becoming almost invisible. Then, the disk of its body would rise again and the little head break the surface.\
Suddenly, I saw what seemed in comparison a massive shape also coming upstream against the current. At first, I thought it was a piece of tarp and quickly realized that the shape was moving in a coordinated manner. To my surprise, it was a snapping turtle, easily five or six times longer than its little cousin (which had suddenly disappeared).
The snapping turtle showed no hurry, as it slowly paddled (can one lumber under water?) through the water. Its shape reminded me a of dinosaur compared to the almost balletic streamline of the first turtle. I watched its spikey shell with huge protruding head and tail glide for 30 feet or so on a straight path along the shore. It never rose for air, or deviated along its path, until the sun’s glare and overhanging branches obstructed my view.
I couldn’t help but think of my strolls along the tracks, occasionally interrupted by the behemoth trains. I wondered if the painted turtle looked in awe at his massive relative from the sandy river bottom. Or does instinct simply take over when senses detect a larger and more powerful creature closing in? Maybe I will contemplate this further the next time I bob and glide my carefree way along the tracks.