So there I am, driving down Highway 39, when I see something large in the road up ahead. Thinking it’s a shredded tire or something that flew off a truck bed, I slow down. As I approach, this thing comes into focus and soon I see it’s a very, very large turtle making its way across the road.
Now, I have been friends with Candice Pace — a girl from Pikeville whose grit and tender heart landed her at Auburn University so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a vet — for quite a while now. And long ago, Candice told me she has never once passed a turtle in the road without stopping, picking it up and helping it across.
Not having come from a place where turtles commonly cross roads, the concept was foreign to me. But, out of obligation to Candice alone, I, too, have helped turtles in this manner in the past.
But this turtle, well, this turtle was a big ’un, folks. Big as the turkey platter you bring out for Thanksgiving dinner. Big as a trash can lid. Big as a baby’s bathtub. And judging from the green slime on its back and the weathered look on its face, this turtle had been places. In fact, it’s possible this turtle had been everywhere in the past 600 years it had clearly been alive. British Columbia: check. Honduras: yes. Miami: great cocktails there.
So I stop the car on the curvy, narrow, two-lane highway and put my blinkers on so people won’t bash into me from behind. I don’t have much of a plan; all I feel is Candice’s creed pulsing inside of me. Luckily, almost immediately, a silver car pulls up from the opposite direction and, seeing the turtle, its driver likewise stops and puts her blinkers on.
For a second, I think that both of us are just going to stay in our cars and, crossing guard-style, politely maintain a safe passage for our aged adventurer to cross.
Either that or (and, teenage girls, please don’t read this part) we’ll just wait until a man comes along and takes over.
But, since the driver of this silver car is a braver girl than me, she gets out and heads toward the turtle. I get out of my car, though stay within the shadow of my driver door.
This woman bends over the reptile. She is about 35, and her blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She wears a pink shirt that says, “Folly Beach.”
I hear the turtle tell her he was in Folly in 1974 but she doesn’t hear him.
“Oh god. Do you think they bite?” she calls out to me.
I make the uncomfortable face emoji.
“Maybe you’re supposed to grab him from the back?” I say, establishing the fact that while I may be willing to lend support, I’m not willing to actually touch anything.
At this point, a pickup truck has pulled up and stopped behind me, and I’m feeling the pressure that comes from stopping traffic.
Brave Girl bends over again, wills herself, is about to reach down to pick up the turtle and then shakes her head in defeat and stands again. She just can’t make herself do it.
“I feel you,” I call out.
But then a woman comes out of the red sedan that has just pulled up. She slams her door shut and then starts marching over to us. The expression on her face screams, “I ain’t got no time for this,” which, incidentally, is exactly the same as the turtle’s. She is about 65, with frosted, feathered hair and one of those bodies that makes you feel pretty sure she could lift a tractor if push came to shove.
“Don’t you touch it,” the woman warns as she walks, throwing her cigarette down into the road. “It will bite you and it will not let go.”
Brave Girl shivers. I stand there instantly mesmerized.
Frosty Woman gets to the turtle. Without even a second of hesitation, she bends down and grabs it by the tail, which is at least as thick as a forearm. Then, in a power move no CrossFit studio could possibly teach, she yanks the reptile backwards, so it becomes slightly airborne and lands in the grass with a giant thwump. Get. Er. Done.
It was possibly the most kick ass thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
The turtle said thanks in response.
Frosty Woman mumbled, “Welcome.”
They both had a raspy smoker’s voice.
Then Frosty Woman instantly pivoted and marched back to her car, every ounce of her body language emoting, “Let’s get on with it, shall we?”
And so we did.
It’s had me marveling ever since. Because you have to wonder how this would have been handled if it happened on Park Avenue. Would it have involved a woman warrior? Would the problem have been solved in under three seconds? Hard to know. But I’ll tell you one thing: rural living never stops being amazing.