Conservation Stories

Earth Day: Turtles

How many times? There is no way to count and more importantly… there is no measure.

While growing up, my brother and I went on many adventures with our father. Some years we were climbing into a mid 70’s white Ford “pickemup truck”. In later years, we were driving through the woods in a late 70’s burnt orange Chevelle wagon, affectionately called by our dad, “the pumpkin”. We did some fishing for sure. On the crazy hot summer days in upstate South Carolina we would head to the river for a different pleasure. We were going “tubing”.

Rubber Donuts

We did it old school style with black rubber truck-sized innertubes. Not these pool store inflatable painted up like sprinkled donuts or avocados with affixed “oh crap” handles for when you hit the Class I rapids. I mean the hot black “slippery when wet” tubes of yesteryear. We were on the Green and Chattooga rivers taking the slow float on those black rings of recreation.

Those sound like great memories right? Yeah. There are. They are special to me.

Seeds of Conservation

There is another fond memory I want to share here. As we cruised the backcountry roads away from civilization and into “the country” we would occasionally come across an animal crossing the road. I recall my father always slowing down, and sometimes stopping in the road. His words and the lesson was one of conservation and protection. Long before we even understood those words, we were learning to respect animals. The fox and the deer and the rabbit would always spring away to safety.

Call To Action

It was the turtles that were at a great disadvantage. They can do nothing fast. They sat helpless out on the county road. My dad would always stop the car and my brother and I would jump out of the back seat and race to aid. It was a sworn duty to save the turtle.

How many times did we do this? There is no way to count. Dozens and dozens and more dozens. A few times that turtle came home into a cardboard box and gnawed carrots and lettuce a day or two before being walked into the woods. I recall there being lessons from my father at these times as well in caring for it. I’d watch to see how long it took the turtle to come out of it’s shell. I’d stand back and see how it ate lettuce. I also couldn’t help myself and picked the critter up more times than I should have. Hey, to this little boy- turtles were cool.

Pass It On

I have shared the same approach to conservation with my daughters. The turtle thing was one my oldest has some fond memories from when she in grade school. We stopped a few times on the backroads in Texas and Maryland and moved a few turtles off the road to safety. I think she kept one or two in a box for a day also. The lesson stuck. She lives in middle Maryland now and at least once a year I can count of a text message with a image of a turtle she just saved from demise.

If there was a bumper sticker that said “I Brake For Turtles”, then I should probably have it.

Earth Day Turtles - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler
Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in Burke County, North Carolina

We Remember…

One day I was driving to South Mountain SP in Burke County, NC to fish a bit in some cool waters during the typical and humid heat-filled Summer days in the Piedmont. I came across a turtle in the road, and of course I stopped. I took the time to move it across the road in the direction he was meandering. He could now be on his way. He was saved.

For these memories, there is no measure. The lessons that carry us through life come from many sources. Some are big. Some are small. They all matter.

Thanks Dad.

And We Remember.

Two years ago today on April 22nd, 2020, my father left this fine Earth. The last few years were tough as his memories were fading and becoming lost. Our conversations relied on events and memories he retained from earlier in his life. That ranged from his childhood up until maybe 2010. We would talk about fishing, our time in the military, his stories as a career Teacher and the rambunctious adventures he had with Dan Upthegrove as a kid near SMU in Dallas, Texas.

We also talked about turtles.

Every year, April 22nd is Earth Day. I’m working on an appreciation for that coincidence. Jerry Sparks loved the outdoors and was right at home in the piney woods of East Texas or floating in a small boat in a calm cove on the lake. Earth Day is a reminder that this planet needs goodwill, care and conservation from it’s population. That is one of “life’s lessons” that Jerry instilled in me, and I have passed on to my children. Earth Day is now a reminder to me to heal; the planet and myself.

Remembering the turtles helps.


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1 comment

  1. I too always stop to help turtles across the road – even the snappers who just don’t seem to be very appreciative of the effort. One time I stopped for a big boy. The oncoming car also stopped and the look on the drivers face was went quickly from perturbed to horror when she realized I was holding onto about 25lbs of turtle fury that was thrashing and hissing his extreme displeasure at my having disturbed his evening constitutional. Good times!

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