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From  Issue
14 March 2002
Race To The Heart

By Arvall K Wroten - wroten_ak@vdot.state.va.us 

I was on my way to work in October of 1998 when I saw a box turtle at the edge of the road trying to cross Route 13. I pulled over and got out to move him to safety. This has been a habit of mine for years. The first thing I noticed as I walked toward him was the beautiful colors of his shell and scales. He was colored like the leaves of a fall forest -- reds, golds, and oranges lit by dappled sunlight.

I was about twenty feet away when the little guy turned his head my way, and looked at me. He must have figured that I was a threat because he decided to turn around and head back into the grassy cover of the ditch.

As he began to maneuver, I saw his right front arm was gone at the shoulder and his left rear leg was gone from about the radius downward. His little shell tipped forward and down to the right, then up, and back to the left as he hobbled around, just as quick as he could manage -- all the while trying to keep an eye on me.

His turn was wide and taking him dangerously close to the roadway and the traffic. I hurried over and picked him up. He never hissed, or pulled into his shell. He sat there in my hands and looked at me with his brown eyes, blinking. There was an awareness in his eyes. I saw it in the way his gaze flitted around my face.

He was light as a feather, even though he was obviously a full grown tortoise of some age. The edges of his shell were pitted and deeply rutted, the topmost portion looked as if he'd been dragged upside down on the gravel. His belly plate was concave which meant a male, and had been cracked in several places. There was a large diagonal gash running from the hinge to just under the missing front arm. This caused a forward-facing V which had dug in when turned.

His disabilities must have made feeding a difficult thing with his single front arm for digging out and holding down grubs and other food, as well as the V shaped crack making digging a burrow a very difficult job. Probably the only thing that kept a raccoon or opossum from digging him up at night was the proximity of the highway.

I stood there at the edge of the busy highway holding this gallant little guy, looking at his old injuries, and looking into his little face with one of his arms wrapped tightly around my thumb. I could not resist gently stroking that little head and neck. Then he did the most amazing thing. Instead of pulling his head away defensively, this old fella who had been through so much hurt merely closed his eyes.

He owned me then and there, even though I didn't know that this little sweetheart would sit with me for hours fascinated by the light and sound of the television -- his little face so intent and earnest, as his eyes follow the flicker of the screen. I didn't know how cute the little guy would be when he digs into the terrarium bedding ostrich-style, leaving his little round butt in the air, which I cover for him. I didn't know that when the weather was cold and damp outside that the little fella would huddle up against my throat -- that my body heat must feel good to his little stumps then.

But I knew that my heart was stolen.

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Arvall says, "CP stands for Couch Potato after his penchant for sitting with me in front of the television. He lives a life of leisure now -- fresh food, clean water and a quiet terrarium to explore. He gets regular vet visits and lots of TLC. I get a little fella that I can hold, which is miraculous, since my allergies prevent me from having a cat or a dog."

Go on to God's Will
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