The Pond and Ol’ Nessie
Nestled within a thicket of hardwood trees in the middle of the farm is the Old Pond, the nature-claimed remnant of a small gravel pit which was filled and stocked over a generation ago. If you move slowly, crouch down, and stay silent, you might see red-eared sliders sunning on a downed trunk, blue-gills or sunfish splashing out of the water after skimmers, or a great blue heron preening in the afternoon light. Crickets and cicadas chirp and buzz, and wood ducks quack softly on the banks of the nearby creek.
Even though the mosquitos are harassing you and whining in your ear, you stay still, because you see bubbles break the lichen-covered surface of the pond. Two eyes and a nose push up from the water, set on a triangular face no bigger than four inches across. It stays there for a couple of minutes before disappearing. Then you see the bow-wave rippling across the pond and the depression behind it as the water rushes close over a long, curved carapace.
The small face appears again, this time near the shore. The creature hauls itself up the gentle incline one halting inch at a time. The face becomes a stony olive head at least seven inches wide, with a horned beak and bulging jaw muscles. The carapace is so overgrown with moss, you can’t see the three rows of spiked plates arising from its back. The feet and legs bear heavy olive scales and move in measured, deliberate steps that indicate the burden of the massive body.
This is Ol’ Nessie, your alligator snapping turtle friend. Nessie’s gender cannot be ascertained from a distance. Its shell is approximately three feet long, and its mouth is wide enough to accommodate your entire hand, so you’ve learned to live with the gender mystery. Nessie has been in this pond for all of your life, and likely a generation before. Members of her species may live up to 200 years, although nobody really knows for sure. No matter if she’s 120 or 180, you get the feeling that you’re looking at living history. This reptile has managed to survive through at least one and possibly two world wars, years of industrial-age pollution, predation and hunting, and all manner of weather extremes, to peer at you from the edge of the pond. Its motion, and its stillness, give you the impression of stepping back into the Mesozoic Era.
Ol’ Nessie hears a twig snap as you lean to see over the undergrowth. It turns its hulking body around and slips back into the water, leaving a swirl of lichens in its wake. You’ll return again to visit soon.
-Writing and photography contributed by Melinda Hall