Raymond Brassard, saver of turtles

Our first turtle of the weekend, spotted crossing Hunt Club Road southwest of Queensborough.

Our first turtle of last weekend, spotted crossing Hunt Club Road southwest of Queensborough.

Raymond and I saw a lot of turtles on the highways and byways of Hastings County this past weekend. I don’t know if turtles have a “season,” but if they do, this must be it. Wherever we drove, sleepy back roads and busy highways, we had to be careful lest there be a turtle crossing  – or trying to, at least. Imagine yourself a little turtle and how hard it would be to safely cross a busy highway!

It’s amazing how determined the turtles seem to be to cross that highway. One wonders why they don’t just stay safely in the woodland or marshland off to either side, where the risk of getting struck by a fast-moving car or truck is nonexistent. Is it the sun-warmed pavement that attracts them, I wonder? Or just a sense of adventure? I’m all for a sense of adventure (just look how much fun Bilbo Baggins had when he left the safety of home), but not when it means risking life and limb with every passing second – and it takes a turtle many, many seconds to cross a highway.

It seems a lot of drivers in the Queensborough area are, like us, pretty aware of the possibility of encountering a turtle. One day last summer we were zipping along Highway 7 and met a car with its headlights flashing furiously at us. Of course we assumed it was because there was a police speed trap, but no: the driver was warning us of a huge and prehistoric-looking turtle crossing the highway just around the bend. I’m so glad we got the warning! The headlight-flashing thing is a good practice for us all to follow when we see a turtle, big or small. Turtles are happy and useful creatures, and they deserve a good life on whichever side of the road they choose to live it.

Raymond gets readily (admittedly rather gingerly) to pick up Mr. Hunt Club Road Turtle and move it to safety on the side of the road – the side it was heading for, of course! Wouldn't want to mess up its travel plans.

Raymond gets ready (admittedly rather gingerly) to pick up Mr. Hunt Club Road Turtle and move it to safety on the side of the road – the side it was heading for, of course. Wouldn’t want to mess up its travel plans.

Anyway, Raymond seems to have developed a special soft spot for turtles, thanks I suppose to meeting so many of them – half a dozen at least, and not all happily, but I’ll get to that in a minute – this past weekend. When we suddenly encountered the first one, as we were enjoying a drive along scenic Hunt Club Road from Highway 7 north to Queensborough, he took it upon himself (well, actually he tried to get me to do it, since I was out there on the road taking a photo of the turtle, but I was chicken) to help our slow-moving friend across. Which was just as well, since there was a bit of a hill just ahead, and it would have been so easy for a car to come zooming over it and hit the turtle before the driver could have even realized it was there. So one turtle saved – as long as it didn’t decide to turn around and go back once we’d driven on.

A couple of days and several turtles later, we were driving south from a great trip to Ormsby (I’ll tell you about that in a separate post soon) on Highway 62, when up ahead we spotted what looked like a turtle off on the shoulder of the road. As we got closer we realized the awful truth: it had been hit. “It didn’t make it,” Raymond said sadly. And then, clearly anguished: “It was still alive. I saw it move.” We were in heavy, fast-moving traffic; stopping and going back wasn’t really an option, and we wouldn’t have known what to do if we had. Could we have helped the turtle?

I remembered that I had read about a place somewhere in central Ontario that helps injured turtles, and made a mental note to look it up for future reference. We couldn’t help that poor, poor creature, but perhaps in future we can help another. Meanwhile, I was so touched by how moved my dear husband was about the turtle. I always knew Raymond was the kindest of kind souls, but that was the clincher.

Anyway, here are my final words to you all this evening, and I know Raymond will echo them heartily: if you are out driving in Hastings County, mind the turtles!

10 thoughts on “Raymond Brassard, saver of turtles

  1. Yes there is a “season” for turtles – egg laying that is. The rest of the year they stay near or in the water. The new moon week in June this year is when they were laying their eggs in gravel at the side of Central Hastings roads, or in freshly dug flowerbeds in parts of my garden. At least 20 turtles dug holes on our property alone, leaving behind a tell-tale depression where not quite all the gravel was filled back in. I wrote to Terry Sprague (naturalist who has a column in the Tweed News weekly) to ask him about the gestation period for turtle eggs, and whether they hatch when the moon is full as sea turtles do, following the moonlight back to the river. He replied promptly to answer my questions and is starting work on an article about Ontario turtles tonight, as I write! If you ever get to see a turtle laying her eggs, be prepared to watch for three hours!

    • Wow – I now know 100 per cent more about turtles than I did 24 hours ago, Pauline – thank you! And I’m happy to know that Terry Sprague is working on a column on the subject; thanks to my subscription to the Tweed News, we have become huge fans of his column. So basically I guess Raymond and I bumbled into Hastings County just as turtle activity was at its peak. Well, that’s good: my husband has a newfound fondness for and appreciation of the turtles. I hope I will get to see the spectacle of a turtle laying her eggs one of these times!

  2. Katherine, we must have seen 12 to 15 huge turtles on the way to and from Ormsby on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure that same poor traffic victim that you passed – what a distressing sight. They were all along 62 and several emerging from the grass along 620 as well. We wondered the same thing as you … Why particularly now?, so will look for Terry Sprague’s article.

    • I am so sorry that we just missed you folks at Ormsby, Brenda – how funny that we both had exactly the same idea at the same time! And clearly you and Peter saw even more turtles than we did, but as residents of the area (and also people familiar with the long lonely stretches of highway in Northern Ontario), you are probably better-attuned to keeping an eye open for wildlife than we city folk are. But we’ll get there!

  3. Good on you, Raymond! As my mum would have said, your halo is shining a little more brightly. That act of compassion was very important, though; virtually every species of turtle in Ontario is endangered. And the organization you’re thinking of is the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre http://kawarthaturtle.org/blog/ . They do wonderful work, such as putting up those signs all around the Kawarthas to remind drivers to slow down in turtles’ egg-laying areas, and literally gluing turtles back together when they’ve been run over.

  4. Actually, the turtles are crossing the road to prove to racoons that it can be done. This is the same reason that the chicken crossed the road

  5. Last year, we stood within a foot or two of a prehistoric-looking snapping turtle laying her ping-pong ball eggs, oblivious to us and passing traffic,right beside the causeway leading to Presqu’ile Provincial Park. A couple of weeks ago, while I was camping there on a rainy week, a neighbour camper and I stood by as a lady turtle dug up the driveway gravel of our campground. They seem so ill equipped for digging, but dig they must..

    • It is amazing to me, Lindi, these lessons and stories from nature that one comes across so readily in places like rural Hastings County, or Presqu’ile, and that we city people just know nothing about. I am so glad I now have a connection to a place where turtles feel free to lay their eggs – in front of everybody!

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