It’s the time of year when people who drive a lot (like school bus drivers) also see way too many squashed wildlife on the roads. Right now, mid-spring in Texas, it’s turtles, particularly difficult because they really do no harm and are essentially non-offensive to pretty much everybody. How many people do you know who have ever said “I hate turtles!?”
So, today I counted 7 deceased turtles, most looked like they were once the red-eared slider type, known for traveling pre-destined pathways far from the comfort and safety of their ponds in order to lay a once-yearly clutch of fertilized eggs. I think they travel so that the eggs are laid in an area that won’t flood, thereby having a better chance of hatching. A novice theory, but I like it so I’ll stick to it.
So, there I was, driving my last 6 students to each of their stops, when I see ahead of me a telltale spot in the road. Is it alive? Is it dead already? Is it a turtle or is it trash? It is a turtle, still alive, a wet trail behind it showed me which direction it had come from. For a turtle, it was about 9,700 miles from the other side of the road. I stopped.
A stopped school bus in the middle of the road on a busy afternoon just south of a school zone has an instant effect on the traffic flow. Everybody else stopped, too. We all waited.
The rule at my company is that the driver cannot exit the bus at any time, unless on school grounds and the bus is parked and the key is in his or her hand. None of this was true at this point in time. Another rule is that students, once on board the bus couldn’t exit the bus unless they were being dropped at their own stop or they were on school grounds. So there we were, seven humans stuck on a bus, staring at a speck of a turtle in the road, who was not moving. Well heck! He/she was staring at a bright yellow, 27,000 pound forty- foot long stinky diesel machine with rubber tires the size of California. It was a stand off.
The cars stopped behind and in front of the bus were accumulating like snowflakes in a late spring Colorado blizzard. There were drifts of them. Six students, all in the 5th or 6th grade, were clamoring to be let off to help the turtle. They couldn’t have been louder than my own head and heart, 20 plus years of animal welfare response had sent me on countless rescue missions just like this, except now I was the needy one and there was no Sandy to come scoot the turtle to safety. This was most likely the first time in my memory that I was without a solution. I wasn’t about to move. I couldn’t step off and move the turtle. The students could not possible be sent to save the turtle, that would be precisely when some idiot driver would run the red lights and tragedy would happen.
And then this happened. The first car in line eased up a few notches, and the lady behind the wheel rolled her window down. “He’s under your tire” she said. When I told her I was not allowed to exit the bus, nor were the students, she put her car in park and came around to the exit door on the bus. I handed her my umbrella, (the only animal control tool I carry on a school bus, of course) She instructed me to drive the bus forward a few feet, and with the umbrella she scooted the turtle out to her hand, scooped it up, and carried it to the grassy safety of the opposite ditch. As she handed me back my umbrella, she received a round of applause from the students and a sincere thank you from me. As she pulled away, several drivers in the waiting line rolled their windows down and flashed “thumbs up” as they drove past.
Turtle victory. A small thing, but the day was definitely a shade brighter with one less deceased turtle and a few cheering students. And to the lady who stopped and rescued a small turtle using a school bus driver’s umbrella on a sunny afternoon, may you forever have a smile in your pocket, remembering the day you crawled under a school bus to save one tiny life. Thumbs up.