Posted by: wrmcnutt | September 7, 2010

Things That Go “Snap” In the Night

It was the last night of Pennsic, and we were tired. I camp with Tudors, and that means a large, elaborate camp.  It takes two days to pack and fold the whole came, and today had been Day One of the teardown cycle.  I’d dropped, packed, and folded three large medieval tents, a four-foot iron roaster, and about three hundred pounds of medieval carpentry tools.

The kitchen was not only packed, it was folded, crated, and loaded, as was our dining hall.   All of that expensive canvas was safely tucked away not only in its plastic, water-proof tubs, but inside the “road trailer.” That was the good news, for the sky was darkening, though it was still hours ’till sundown. We took off for dinner – seeking a Chili’s.  We wanted food that was not a) cooked by us or b) cleaned up after by us.

I should have been concerned when we passed all those animals gathered, “two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground,” all headed toward that big boat.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little.  But that was, I think, the heaviest rain I have ever driven through.  My wife and I were unable to converse for about thirty minutes, the sound of the rain on the van roof was so loud.  We couldn’t see ten feet.  Eventually, of course, we got out from under it, had dinner, and headed back to camp.

Weary, but not exhausted, I invited a camp-mate in for a game of chess, while my bride collapsed on the bed and went to sleep.  Later, after a wickedly contested chess match, I, too, hit the four-poster for some deeply-desired rest.

Some time around three AM, I heard a flapping noise.  Canvas.  flap – flap – flap It sounded like someone had staked down a canvas tarp in the neighbor’s lot, and it was flopping around in the breeze.  I barely swam up to the surface of the pool of consciousness, noted that there was no one wearing a green mohawk at the foot of my bed, and went back to sleep.

My bride, however, was convinced that someone, or something was trying to get into the tent.  After failing to dynamite me awake, she took the big flashlight and went to reconnoiter.

“Bill!  Bill!  Get out here and help this turtle!”

Okay – that’s new.


So I stumbled outside in my nightshirt and bare feet and went around to the end of the tent where  .  .  .

Jumpin’ jehosophat!

It was the biggest snapping turtle I have ever seen!

“Hey, that’s the biggest snapping turtle I’ve ever seen!”

Okay – YOU try being witty at 3:00 AM after being wakened from a sound sleep by a thrashing leviathan that’s also your wife’s totem animal.

This thing was at least eighteen inches in diameter, and had a bite radius of about an inch.  All the flapping and thrashing was because he’d attempted a close pass by our tent wall and snagged his lower shell on a tent stake. He’d done a good job of it, too.  He’d managed to wedge his shell up under the candy-cane curve of the stake and was stuck but good. To make matters worse, he kept trying to move forward, effectively jamming himself tighter and tighter on the stake.

“Are you sure that’s a snapping turtle?”

Pick up spare tent pole.  Place it next to turtle shell in preparation.



The next ten minutes were a tough tug-of-war, with me trying to dislodge the giant snapping turtle from my tent stake, and him desperately trying to commit seppuku on my stake, while periodically trying to bite the end off of my tent pole.  He wasn’t light to start with, and my leverage was poor, because of the angle I had to shove at to get his shell free of the stake.  And he kept digging in his feet and shoving against me.

But at last he popped free.  Not only was I bigger than him; I am a tool-using monkey.

He immediately headed for my tent.  So we began jousting.  He would charge my tent; I would block him with my tent pole. He’d bite my tent pole and attempt to dodge around it and head for my tent again.  (It was the nearest cover.)  Eventually I started shoving the pole under him and flipping him toward the creek.

1) If you think it pisses a snapping turtle off to pry it loose from a tent stake and thereby interruping it’s suicide attempt, try flipping it over on it’s back three or four times.

2) If you think a snapping turtle on it’s back is “helpless,” you are severely misinformed.  He was able to thrash around and flip back over faster than I could blink.

Eventually I was able to roll him into the creek, where he immediately dove like a u-boat, then popped his head up like a periscope, and glared at me.  As far as I know, he’s still glaring, ’cause he didn’t move until I had gone back into the tent to go back to bed.

My apprentice Eiberhart said that turtle was lucky it was the SCA he wandered into.  Apparently, a fur trade re-enactment would have made terrapin soup.

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  1. Great snapping turtle story. I’ve got one too.

    One day my family and I was driving down a country road and we came upon an Eastern box turtle in the roadway. Well, in my marriage contract, it clearly states that I will stop and rescue all turtles in the road. So, we stop and grab the turtle with the plan of releasing it once we got to our destination of my inlaw’s farm.

    Shortly afterward we come upon a snapping turtle about the same size as the one you described above, and also in the middle of the lane of traffic. The turtle was big enough that cars attempting to pass over top of the turtle were clipping the top of the turtle’s shell.

    Remember, marriage contract, so we stop and have a science lesson with my 7 year old whilst trying to remove the turtle from the road who is trying to take the end off of my hiking boot.

    So, in the middle of teaching our daughter the difference between a box turtle and a snapping turtle a red pick-up pulls up and comes to a screeching halt. A “good ole boy” jumps out of the truck and asks, “Y’ALL GONNA EAT THAT?!”.

    On our response of “No.” he casually grabs the snapping turtle by the tail, slings it up into the bed of the truck, jumps back in, and takes off, thus ending our science lesson and my story of a snapping turtle.

  2. Did you ever get a single sound night’s sleep this Pennsic??

    • Not if I get lucky!


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