The Fable of One Turtle and Four Humans: A Story of Community

By     Jul 20, 2017

How did the turtle cross the road?
The answer according to Greg Milo: thanks to a cardboard box and a community.

One Turtle and Four Humans

As a former high school teacher and current organizer of community events, I feel that much of my success is contributable to the collaborative effort of an active community. Whether it’s collaborating with another teacher to organize experiences overseas for a group of engaged students or it’s facilitating community events that spark conversations among Akronites who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do so, my projects usually center on community. But I tend to use the unexpected community moments as my inspiration—moments where people unite under unorganized circumstances.

Take Sheila the Snapping Turtle for instance.

Stretching the length of Northeast Ohio, for nearly 80 miles, within Ohio’s only National Park, the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail entertains thousands of cyclists and hikers each year. It’s also home to many species of birds like the great herons, mammals like beavers, and reptiles like turtles.

Sometimes the fauna of the national park leisurely travel across their home, placing them in danger of human behavior and technology.

Roads stretch through the parks, slicing the protected lands like a grid, creating a challenge for animals who might like to visit their animal aunt and uncle on occasion.

Sheila the Snapping Turtle found herself in this predicament last year. On her slow and steady stroll from the Cuyahoga River to her cousins in the still waters of the old canal, this reptile stood shell shocked on the warm summer road that crossed her homeland.

Cars raced by, nearly nipping her pointed nose, an uppity nose more often associated with snooty humans, but in this case, it was just the simple anatomy of a snapping turtle’s upturned snout.

“What is that?” I asked my wife Terra as we approached a still Sheila. “Is that a turtle?”

I zoomed by in my car and realized it was indeed a turtle in the middle of the road. A lost reptile, confused by the lack of natural vegetation on her way to visit her family.

I stopped the car and threw the Mazda into reverse, squealing backward without a single idea as to what I was going to do when I reached the turtle.

Terra and I jumped out and stood by Sheila.

“What do we do?” I asked. Terra shrugged, expressing her puzzlement.

A car approached and roared by us, honking its horn as it did.

“Really?” Terra asked after the racing car.

Another car approached and pulled over, stopping behind the Mazda.

“What is it?” the lady asked from her car.

“A snapping turtle,” Terra called back.

“He’s trying to cross the road,” she said, oblivious that Sheila was a female.

“Hold on,” the woman called. The woman stepped from her car and joined Terra and I as we stared at Sheila in the middle of the road.

Another car whizzed by.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Can you try to lead the turtle to the other side?” the lady asked.

I stood out in front of Sheila, “Come on, buddy, let’s cross. C’mon!”


“I don’t know his name,” I said.

“I can at least watch for traffic,” the lady said.

Another car stopped. “What’s up?” a woman asked from the window.

“Snapping turtle,” the three of us said in unison.

The woman walked toward us, looked at Sheila, and walked back to her car. She opened her trunk and pulled out a cardboard box.

“I was just moving my son into his apartment,” the woman said. “If we can get the turtle into the box and take him across . . .” the woman said before taking a moment to gauge her fellow Americans and their ability in scooping up turtles into boxes.

“Wow! That’s perfect,” I gleamed.

I took the box and squatted like a catcher in front of Sheila, while my teammates strategically positioned themselves as lookouts and encouragers.

I had never picked up a snapping turtle before, and on my first attempt, Sheila hissed and snapped, sending me on my ass, startled by her antics.

My second attempt was much more successful. I lifted Sheila by her shell, and the woman positioned the box just right, allowing me to place Sheila inside.

In an awkward waddle, I raced Sheila to the other side of the street, where her relatives waited.

A car whizzed by.

The four of us humans took a comforting breath and we congratulated our teamwork. The woman took her box back, and the lady thanked Terra and I for stopping. We thanked her.

Terra and I looked back at Sheila as she crawled into the green of the Cuyahoga National Park.

“Hope the little dude makes it,” I said before driving off.

Sheila, once safely hidden by some wildflowers, looked back and said, “Could have done without that drama,” before continuing to her aunt and uncle’s place.


Photo CC Matthew Peoples