Certain colors mean a lot to me. Like the special blue gray that was the color of mother’s eyes, that is a good one. But I don’t like pink. It’s all because of a strange episode involving a snapping turtle.
Where I grew up in the foothills of the Catskill mountains, the ponds were filled with creatures. Some were rainbow-beautiful, like the iridescent blue gill fish and others dull and prehistoric looking, like the brown-gray bull frogs. As a child I haunted the pond at the bottom of our valley, and loved observing both the tiniest of creatures beneath the water and the larger animals that came by to drink. My father would say I was going to be a biologist one day, but I didn’t know what the word meant at the time, it sounded like a disease.
Our pond was about seven times the size of my current apartment, not big, not small. I walked by our pond every day on the narrow strip of land that separated it from the swamp next door. The water was never clear, and depending on the weather and lighting, the shadows of fish, turtles and snakes would be visible to some degree. The snakes hung out by the north side of the pond, black, as big around as my wrist and longer than I was tall. Sometimes my father would shoot at the snakes but I don’t think he ever killed one. I thought at the time that bullets didn’t travel under water very well.
The things I could see were less frightening than the things I couldn’t, like the snapping turtle who my father said lived at the bottom of the pond. At first, I thought it was a story, the “don’t go in the pond because” story.
We all knew when we thought the snapping turtle woke up with each spring thaw, because the baby ducklings swimming behind the mother mallard would disappear one by one, pulled from the surface down below right as we watched. The spring disappearance of the mallard’s chicks made the mallard frantic and disturbed us all. Snapping turtles can get to be very large, and at the time I was still quite small. I was certain that my bare toes under water would look a lot like the sort of small fish a snapping turtle might like to eat, and so wading in the water was out of the question. Observations were from ashore.
The old snapping turtle did emerge from the pond his last summer when I was about six. He crawled up onto the strip of land beside the pond and stopped there. He completely blocked the path, as large as half the kitchen table top. Grand and prehistoric, he held his head up like a dinosaur.
There must have been only one of him in that pond for how long I do not know, possibly since it had formed as a pond separate from the other marshes in the valley. He looked surprised to see the changes on the surface of the earth after what must have been a hundred years under the mud of our pond. He moved his narrow gray head on a long leathery brownish neck extended from his huge shell ever so slowly, and his beak was a tremendous mechanical looking hook.
As I watched the fascinating aged creature from inside at our kitchen window, he jolted and then bled a lavender pink from his neck in a smooth slow stream. My father had shot the snapping turtle, who bled into a growing pool of blood, sickening pink. It was a thick medicinal blueish pink, a strange sad color unlike any I had ever seen. I don’t know how I expected the snapping turtle would live, but I had hoped it would, and watched the ancient head slowly lower to the ground.
I didn’t speak to my father for some time, but that didn’t bring the turtle back of course nor erase the experience. Ever after, when we went shopping and my mother would point out something like a sweater in pink, although I was a girl, I would think, no, not pink.
You know after turtle blood pink, pink just never looks the same.