CLASSIC: Turtles Studies by David Carroll
Video: Interview with David Carroll
Yankee Class from June 1993
In the April afternoon, the sun sinks low, coloring the wide oval expanse of the marsh. David Carroll tugs his waders to the tops of his thighs and strides into the place he calls the Route of a Thousand Spotted Turtles. He moves silently through the tea-tinted water. The bog is numbingly cold and grows deeper as he pushes farther into this vast sweep of nature near his home in Warner, New Hampshire.
It is the beginning of his year with the turtles. Carroll is here, as he is every day once the ice is off the marsh, in search of the dozens of different turtles he has acquainted himself with over the past eight years, including “13 April,” “Male Beautiful,” and “Ariadne,” a spotted turtle he favors shamelessly.
He has observed these turtles — painted turtles, box turtles, Blanding’s turtles, snapping turtles, wood turtles, musk turtles — emerging from their winter slumbers; he has measured them and marked them and brought them into his home when they have needed care. He has sketched them and painted them and lain awake at night wondering about them when they have evaded him. He has stood for hours in cold and in heat and in the silvery luminescence of midnight watching them mate. And he has crouched, stock-still, watching the wary females testily plant their eggs in the sand. And then he has done what the mother cannot: He has fastened screening over these nests that no predator can undo. In his walks, throughout the season, he passes by each nest, making sure.
The Route of a Thousand Spotted Turtles is only a part of a whole that Carroll calls “The Digs,” land he does not own. He has no clue how large it might be — perhaps 2,000 acres — but it is land he knows better, has spent more time in, than perhaps any human being since the beginning of time. He has made his own map, dividing it into little paradises: Buttonbush Swamp, Blanding’s Marsh, Moss Flats, Cranberry Hollows, Leatherleaf Islands, the Swale, the Great Swale.
He walks cautiously. In some places, one foot can ooze down 12 inches or more without reaching solid bottom. He has waded through water waist high, chest high, at all times of day and night. To save himself, he carries a walking stick and, at the urging of his wife, Laurette, a whistle, in case he should ever sink down so far he can’t get out.
He’s been out here covered with blackflies while he sketches. He’s been out here in violent thunderstorms. “Sometimes it’s wonderful to get rained on,” he says. “You feel as if you’re part of something great. That’s what I love about this turtle business. When you’re with the turtles, you really enter their world. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about finding them. I’ve always loved the places where I’ve found them.”