As a kid my mom would ask me when I wandered the fields of our farm and the big stream that went through it, to look for snakes and bring them to her. She loved snakes, all kinds, and I did too. Mostly mean-assed water snakes, and every now and then a stinky garter snake, sometimes the classic, elegant black racer. Just never knew what might be ahead when a 13 year old heads out for hours on end after the chores were done.
Sometimes, not all the time, but some of the time, these walks would produce all kinds of finds. Some wound up in the El Producto cigar box…a sacred receptacle for many a kid. Today that very box, El Producto Bouquets beckons a look as this piece of scribble takes shape.
On the lid is written “Please Respect Private Property” and “If your name isn’t Todd Holden keep the hell out of this box!” Damn, pretty hefty words for a kid of the farm. Ironically the first thing in the box, which is the last thing I put in it, is a little black and white image of my grand-daughter Scarlett Ann.
On the bottom of the collection is a piece of chalk from Saint Margaret school. The last of eight years there, releasing me to junior high school and a much larger school beckoned a souvenir and a piece of chalk seemed to mean the most to me. Sister Hilaire was the principal and she was great, as a person, a roll model and teacher.
A little piece of chalk, and it’s still here in the cigar box, conjuring up memories of days of learning. The lone Presbyterian in a parochial school. We always had to write “JMJ” on our homework….for “Jesus Mary and Joseph”. Sometimes that little piece of chalk was used to do math on the blackboard. The reason I kept the little piece of chalk was it was always handy when I went to the board so I didn’t have to find one on the dusty ledge with the erasers.
Back to the farm, and snakes, groundhogs, coons and praying mantis’. The world was an open book for me on this dairy farm. There was a coon that lived in the house for a long time, until it was big enough to pull the table-cloth off mom’s dining room table, sending silverware and flower arrangements crashing to the floor. That was it for Rocky…he went outside and lived near the spring house ever after.
My dad and I built little cages, big cages, and then there were the aquariums full of tropical fish from Hartley’s on Bond street and the Aquarium on Greenmount avenue in the big city. Five gallon tanks, tens, 20 longs and 29 gallon highs…nothing bigger, always afraid of ‘big is better’.
Older now it’s easy to see how kids today don’t have the opportunities that I once took for granted. Still, the parents of kids who want some adventure take the kids out for hikes and nature walks. We are told today to ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ and that’s a good thing. On the farm, whatever I found and brought back for mom and dad and brother Brian to see weren’t too far from their homes, and when released back to where they were found, to me at least there was no harm done.
Little pals today, come to visit me here at Rustica and find an occasional box turtle, baby rabbit, mantis, chipmunk or night-crawler. From the spectacular, like a pristine black snake, fresh from a shed of skin, to a stink-bug. One little guy, Joshua Holbrook would rather come over and target shoot with my old Daisy Red Ryder bee-bee rifle.
He’s game though for a trek down by the pond and the sliders and snappers that sometimes surface. One of his little buddies gave him a pair of red-earred sliders, neat little turtles and since he already had a ten-gallon aquarium he accepted them and was eager to show them to me when I visited. Not too much water, some sand and shells for them to climb on and a little glimpse of sunshine during the day.
Alas, it came to pass that Josh sometimes neglected the little pair of turtles and the stinky job of cleaning out the tank fell to his mom, Janet. When I came to the house usually I asked about the turtles. No, they weren’t named “Cuff and Link” as Rocky named his.
As Janet’s mood soured with the passing of time and cleaning, Josh lost interest in the turtles. That’s when the boy with two turtles came to me and asked in a most polite way…”Would you like two turtles?” My days of keeping turtles have long passed, everything that is given to me now is set free on the place.
Black snakes, rabbits, turtles are all welcome and find a home here. It’s too late in the year to set the turtles free down in the wetlands and pond area. Buddy Brian is ‘turtle sitting’ sixteen turtles so he can’t help me out…what to do…? Do I want to take the turtles from the boy with two turtles and over-winter them?
It could be worse…but I no longer have the corn snakes, or the tropical fish or the injured red-tail hawk (don’t worry, I hold a Federal permit for raptor rehab). No more mothering and nurturing, only the pups and sometimes Koda for a week. Best be leaving well enough alone…and that means Janet has to swab the decks of turtle ‘doo’ some more.
Or…the boy with two turtles could step up…and do the right thing…Love the turtles, take care of them…watch them…move the aquarium around the room, enjoy what was once fun…
So, if you’re reading this Josh…get on it!!!
Or the next time you visit Rustica I’ll make you pick rocks from the cornfield. It’s a lot less fun than dumping out dirty turtle water…trust me on that.
Todd Holden writes from his home, doesn’t welcome strangers or folks who’ve crossed him. His life is the ‘Walden Experiment”….living in harmony with nature and all the creatures who venture away from the developments into his space…long may it serve.