Thursday, February 07, 2008

Not a gooey duck cross, after all.

(And yes, I know it's spelled "geoduck". But that's what it sounds like.)

I have been a turtle collector for many years. I started out with Mexican hand-made turtles, in pottery, onyx, obsidian and glass, then branched out into live turtles (mostly rescued from road crossings), then hand-made turtles from around the world.

So when my kids find a cute turtle somewhere, they buy it for me. My son brought me a carved wooden monster a couple of years ago.

snapping turtle carving
He had found it in a garage sale, on sale for 25 cents, probably because the wood was splitting and had rotted away towards the tail. It's a big one; just under 2 feet, nose to tail.

He's beautiful, but he didn't look right to me, somehow. Not quite turtle-ish enough. The neck is far too long, for one thing, the carapace too peaked, too rugged, too slim. He looks sometimes like a slug with a growth on his back, sometimes like a geoduck with eyes. I didn't know what to make of him.

Until today. Over at Rock, Paper, Lizard, Hugh relates his hair-raising adventure with a snapping turtle that had a whole camp terrorized. (Go read, then come back here.)

Reading his post, I realized that he was describing my geoduck/slug/turtle. Long neck, long enough to reach to his back to bite you? Check. Ugly? Check. "Formidable beak"? Check. Stegosaur tail? Check.

turtle carving
In peaceful sleep. But check out that beak!

I went to Google for confirmation. I still wondered about the carapace; after all, Hugh's photo shows a snapper with a smooth lid. Were those rounded peaks artistic license, or based on the real thing?

They were the real thing. Maybe a few too many, but the shape is right. The young turtles have ridged shells; they smooth out as they age.

In a few ways, the artist has conformed more to his branch than to the turtle he used as a model; the carapace is long and narrow, elongated still more at the tail and neck. And, though the neck is out to its full extension, the legs are still hidden. I've never seen a turtle do that.

Detail of the carving on the neck and edge of the carapace.

But I must apologize to my turtle for calling him a gooey duck all this time. Not any more: he is now to be known as a big, tough, vicious snapper. His bite can take off your thumb. His temper is uncertain. Handle with care; he may wake up. I think I'll call him Raph.

*Photo from The Turtle in Missouri Folklore.

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