From Research To Written Word
I’ve seen them sunning themselves on rocks . . .
Had them lay eggs on my front lawn . . .
I researched a lot and learned cool facts. Did you know snapping turtles CANNOT pull their head and legs inside their shell like most other turtles? That’s why they get so aggressive and mean when they’re threatened.
Even with all that information, I wasn’t inspired to write about them at all. Then one day, I was kayaking with a friend, Cynthia Lord. We heard a SPLASH! and a HISS! There were ripples in the water.
We got a little bit closer.
At first it looked like a snapping turtle was thrashing around in the weeds.
Was it in trouble?
We kayaked closer still, thinking it was caught in fishing line or a plastic six-pack ring. Maybe we would have to save it!
Oh! Wait a minute! There’s two! Were they mating?
Did you see those claws! *shudder*
When I got home and studied the videos and photos I’d taken, I knew this cool, unique behavior had to be a scene in one of Cooper and Packrat’s eco-adventure mysteries. It’d all been so fierce, but so slow motion, too! So I put the behavior I’d witnessed in a file folder in the back of my creative mind. But I left it sticking out just a little, waiting for the perfect time to pull it out and use it.
A couple months later, I started rewriting Mystery of the Bear Cub. Chapter One opened with Cooper and Packrat fishing from a canoe, the warm summer sun beating down on them, cool breezes blowing. Fishing poles out, bobbers lazily floating along, the boys talked about the summer ahead and the cool things they wanted to do . . . . . for four whole pages!
So I pulled out that creative file folder in my brain, looked at the pictures and videos again, and wrote this scene starting right on Chapter Two . . . .
The sun climbed a little higher. Not a leaf twitched. Not a pinecone stirred. This cove was protected from the wind, which made it an excellent fishing spot. It was always way warmer, in this semicircle of trees, than out in the middle of the lake. And today, with the temperature hovering around 75 degrees, it felt downright hot. My eyelids got heavy. I struggled to open them, to see my bobber. They slid closed.
Probably some kind of bug, I thought, keeping my eyes closed.
HISS! Splash. Hisssssssss!
I sat up so fast the canoe rocked back and forth, making me bobble my fishing pole. It clattered to the floor as I grabbed hold of the canoe’s sides with both hands. “What was that?”
Packrat’s squinting eyes scanned the surface of the water, trying to see into the shadows of the cove.
Splash. Splash. SPLASH!
A huge claw-like thing, about the size of my palm, rose up out of the water. It was a dark brownish-green with nails about an inch and a half long.
It hung there, reaching for the sky. Packrat and I leaned forward.
A long, skinny blob the size and shape of my fist rose up next. It had nostrils, two eyes, two teeth, and a mouth. An oval shell. A turtle! But not just any turtle.
A snapping turtle!
Packrat and I slowly paddled forward as the claw connected with the turtle head.
The head, the shell, and the claw all sank under the water like a submarine. Was it in trouble? Why would it hit itself in the head like that?
We paddled a little closer. And a little closer still. Two turtle heads rose up out of the water! One opened its mouth wide, its head stretching farther and farther from its shell, all slow-motion-like. Then it lunged for the other turtle’s face.
A turtle fight!
“Whoa!” breathed Packrat. He put his pole down to dig into one of his vest pockets. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
“Never!” I replied.
Pulling out a camera, he began taping.
Both heads sunk under the water again, then rose again, higher this time. A claw came up and connected with the other head, covering its eye and dragging downward, leaving a gash.
“Ow!” Packrat winced. “That’s gotta hurt. Should we break it up?”
“It’s nature.” But if it got any worse, I was thinking I might put a paddle between them.
The underdog, or under-turtle, rose up once more. It laid a claw on the other turtle’s neck. That turtle quickly rolled and went under.
“Are you getting all this?” I cried. Roy was going to love it!
Packrat nodded. His eye on the camera screen, he zoomed in.
Up went another claw. The nails extended as far as they could go. “That,” I shuddered, “is going to give me nightmares tonight when we sleep in the tent.”
Now then, that’s a much better way to start a chapter, don’t you think?
Awesome words for the beginning new chapter! You see and capture the wildest things from Maine’s Wildlife!
Thank you! I do love photographing animal behavior. I find their actions interesting, and I know kids (and kids at heart) do, too!