Over the years, I have developed a small breeding colony of red-bellied cooters, red-eared sliders, and painted turtles in a skypond that drains the evergreen fields at my small farm in Berkley.
Mulched uplands for egg laying and basking logs encourage the reptiles to remain here. With the help of friends, I installed a long, narrow dock from discarded Susquehanna timbers.
The Labrador retrievers and I collect at the pier termination frequently at sunset, laden with heads of lettuce and a bucket of trout chow. I settle awkwardly, stare at the sky, and await the ecosystems awareness of my arrival.
The surface oscilates with dorsal fins, nostrils, and eyes. With the first chow throw-out, the pond top is a silver fury of juvenile channel catfish, mosquito fish, koi, and perch. The wide black heads of the cooters slowly circle and congregate at the outer edge of the frenzy. The animals’ carapces are covered in algae and their eyes scope the perimeter before venturing close to the pier; with the mature specimens undeterred by Lab heads stalking from the pier above.
Eight dark heads lunge at the surface pellets, occasssionally biting each other, and circle a lettuce stalk like hyenas on gazelle. We have an unwritten agreement that I won’t attempt to touch them, adn they circle under my feet with confidence.
The canines can only be spectators for so long. After entering the water, the yellow mammals do about 20 dog-paddle circles under the pier and then proceed to bumpercar the turtles in the ead. After collisions, the Labs bite at the surface and the chelonians veer sideways. The dogs aim for the shells, jerk heads, and stare down competitors. The harmless encounters have rewarded this writer with countless moments of amusement.
Now in early October, the cooters are feeding less and have started to settle into the bottom silt, and the Labs are second-guessing daily baptisms. The mosquitoes continue to have an epic season, the stinkbugs are congregating, and I will have less to observe when I do a winter pier-squat.