Updated: Feb 27
I had the most beautifully strange thing happen the other evening while out on the river fishing!
I had set out on the water feeling out of sorts and in a bad mood. It had been a day filled with all sorts of annoyances and now I just wanted to fish- to destress from the day. I was not catching much of anything as I made my way upriver though, and this was not helping my already aggravated mood.
As I intently cast a plastic worm toward some partially submerged fallen trees near the shoreline, something caught my eye further upriver. The river was so calm and slow-moving that evening that I could barely feel or see the current. But something up ahead, in the middle of the river, was creating ripples and movement on its surface. Something pretty big.
I had no idea what it was that I was seeing at first. It was too far away to define any real detail, but something about its movement seemed ‘off’ and unfamiliar. My mind tried to make sense of it It kind of reminded me of a seal, but we don’t have those in this inland, freshwater river. Maybe it’s a beaver, but I’ve never seen a beaver swim in the relaxed style of a seal, so maybe it was a river otter? I’ve seen a few otters on the river but they have been small and skittish, usually slinking along the shoreline. Perhaps it was a turtle. The movement was graceful and passively buoyant on the water. It appeared to be doing a slow sleepy dance of pure enjoyment, lazily bobbing, turning, and rolling creating ripples across the river’s surface. I imagined that the creature was reveling in the water’s cool current and the last of the day’s warm sun rays.
I sensed it to be a thing of its own world, it was seemingly oblivious to its surroundings.
What on earth could this creature be? In my mind, it made the most sense that it would be a beaver. It seemed too active to be a turtle and too large and noticeable to be an otter. Though I’ve since read that river otters can get quite large! If it was a beaver though, something was different about it. And that is because I have never seen a relaxed beaver! Could I be witnessing a “De-stressed” beaver frolicking up ahead? Was there a lesson for me here as I was turning what was supposed to be a relaxing fishing evening into a frustrating time of fruitless casts, stuck hooks, and cuss words?
The Never Before Seen Relaxing Beaver
On this river, beavers are commonplace. They are busy beings, industrious, with strong looking bodies that move with intent.
Brown and slick, I see them passing from riverbank to riverbank with long strands of grass hanging from their mouths. It’s seemingly endless work- the fortifying of their underwater lodges. As often as I see them, I cannot recall ever experiencing eye contact with them. They typically ignore me and seem almost ‘snobbish’. If I approach too near, they slap their thick flat tails in alarm or warning. I don’t know if they use their tails as physical weapons, but if they do, I imagine the damage would be great! I also don’t know if beavers are generally mean by nature, but once I saw a YouTube video of an angry beaver attacking a kayaker. The video really creeped me out and ever since then, I have felt ‘more aware’ when I see a beaver. I make sure to try and give them some space. I often wonder if fishing at the mouths of their underwater lodges upsets them? Lots of things to research here, but back to the mystery unfolding on the river!
A Busy Beaver at night caught on my game cam
My mind was wandering over all these scattered thoughts as I stayed focused on fishing. I glanced again at the creature still too far away to identify and wondered if there was an underlying struggle in its motions. Maybe it was a “Distressed” beaver? But this also made little sense, it did not look like it was floundering, it just seemed ‘off’!
“Nessie” flashed across my mind, as silly as that was in this little sluggish river in NH. But, here was a mystery on the surface of the water, Where Water Meets Air, and wouldn’t that legend pop into anyone’s mind?
It was an Unidentifiable Floating Object, the equivalent of a water lovers UFO I laughed to myself!
Please, please, keep in mind, that all of these musings were just shadowy things running through my mind. I was pulling them from an abstract place where thoughts come randomly and somewhat unconsciously. In fact, my observations were so subliminal that I barely paid attention to them. What I was seeing had little effect on what I was doing, which was trying to land a fish! The activity was happening yards away and, though it was odd, it was not alarming. My background thoughts were like rolling waves on the horizon. Awareness, Acceptance, I will deal with this when it gets close and real!!
I made a cast that got hooked into an underlying log. “Well, you certainly seem intent on making this evening a struggle!” I swore impatiently at myself. I knew it was not a bad cast. I had rigged weedless and cast true, but what is underwater can be unpredictable. That’s all part of the allure of fishing, right? Yes, I love that mystery. Still, I cursed at my failure.
My hook had managed to bite into the unseen log before my bait had been bitten by my much desired fish.
As I floated towards the underwater log to get my hook unstuck, I noticed that the bobbing creature upriver had come closer to my kayak. I could actually see it now! It is a turtle, and the only turtles I have seen in the river that are this big are snapping turtles! But…wait…At least I think it is a turtle?
I could not figure out why I was still having a hard time making sense of what I was seeing.
It was a big turtle, maybe about 14” across. I saw the top of the shell, then the side, then an exceptionally large turtle leg and webbed claw came up out of the water, and then slowly the golden orange bottom of the turtle appeared. The turtle seemed to be stretching its appendages, waving them around, as it rolled along near the surface of the water several feet away from me now.
But then I saw the top and the bottom of the shell at the same time, and I saw different turtle parts that logically did not come together to form one turtle!
Turtle Ball Rolling
Oh!!! I see it now! It was two turtles! They were embracing and rolling in the water creating one very big turtle ball. Was I seeing a fight or mating ritual? It did not appear aggressive, and quite honestly, they appeared to be relaxed and enjoying each other’s company very much. I thought it looked like the two turtles were in love! I grabbed my phone to take a video, but my movement startled them. They suddenly became aware of my presence. They snapped out of their reverie, disengaged from each other, and dipped down into the dark water. I lost sight of them and felt guilty that I had interrupted their seeming love affair. I wondered if they had found a place to rejoin, hidden in the muddy bottom of the river away from prying eyes. In all my time spent on this rive, never have I seen extra-large hugging turtles!
Later at home, I did some research, and although I couldn’t find much information, here is what I learned:
The turtles were definitely common snapping turtles, Chelydra Serpentina, and it is somewhat rare to see these turtles mating.
Mating takes place between April and October and happens in the water. The turtles begin their courtship by facing each other and wagging their heads. The male holds on to the female and inseminates her. The sperm can remain viable within the female for up to three years. Because the sperm lasts so long, the female can lay fertile eggs in years that she has not mated. Also, one batch of 30-60 eggs, a typical clutch laid at a time, may have several different fathers. What was missing from most of the information that I found was a visual description of what one may see when encountering the mating turtles. Yes, biting at each other’s necks was frequently mentioned, but not the swimming dance! Not the Beauty, the Gracefulness, nor the Magic and Wonder of it all!
I wished I could have taken a video of my experience. I did find one on YouTube that is similar to what I had encountered, though the turtles in this video are much more stationary than the ones I witnessed in the river. If you check out this video, I think you will see why, when I first spotted the rolling turtles, I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing!
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Sure, I realize that my thoughts about the turtles being in love would be considered to be anthropomorphism.
It would be argued that they were not and could not be in love. But do we really know what goes through a turtle’s mind? Either way, I consider what I saw to be a small miracle playing out. Life was being created on the water, from the water.