The August afternoon was sweet and still. Not a ripple creased the smooth surface of Lake Maria. A quiet bustle of activity centered around two picnic tables near shore. At one, "Venture North" producer and host, Karen Sunderman, interviewed lead turtle researcher Tony Gamble, while videographer Steve Ash rolled the film.
At the other table, another researcher, Krishna Vuvaraj, retrieved a painted turtle from a blue cooler of water to gather statistics for their project as Mariah, my 7-year-old daughter, watched.
"What are you doing?" she inquired as Krishna inverted the turtle.
"I'm determining whether it's a boy or a girl," Krishna said.
"How do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" Mariah asked.
"Ummmm, well, ahh......I'll show you," he said as he grabbed another turtle and pointed out the anatomical differences.
Moving on, Krishna gently dropped the turtle into a large mesh bag.
"What are you doing?" Mariah asked.
As soon as he hung the bag on the hook of a scale, Mariah figured it out. The researcher then measured the carapace and the plastron (lower shell) and examined the scutes (epidermal plates or shields) to determine the turtle's age. Next was the assessment of its reproductive status, shell condition and general health.
Mariah's eyes widened as Krishna carefully braced a small block of wood under the edge of the turtle's carapace and reached for the portable electric drill.
"What are you doing?" she whispered in near horror.
"I'm marking the turtle with an identification pattern. That way if we catch it again we'll know it's already been recorded in our database."
Krishna commenced drilling the top shell.
"Does that hurt the turtle?" Mariah asked with a major wrinkling of her forehead.
"No, it's like cutting into the white part at the end of your fingernails."
A wave of relief crossed Mariah's face and a smile formed as she uttered, "This is a cool project!"
Krishna meticulously noted all the statistical and subjective information on the laptop computer. "That's all for this one," he said, then asked Mariah if she wanted to put the turtle into a different container of water. She bounded at the chance.
"Do you want to get another turtle for me while you're up?" Krishna asked.
"Yep!" Mariah said gleefully.
With a bit of apprehension she cautiously put her hand into the blue cooler and plucked out one of the smaller painted turtles. Flipping it over, she announced, "It's a boy."
We chuckled at her quick study of anatomy. Before long Mariah was in the thick of assisting the researcher. Fetching turtles, determining sex, placing the turtles in the weighing bag, returning tallied turtles to their holding container and chattering like a life-long researcher. My heart sailed at the sight of her smiling face.
It was a fun and fascinating day of filming for all of us. I'm glad Mariah has opportunities to learn about wildlife, research and our need to care for these creatures and the environment we share. She's truly a chip off the old block and I hope to pass on to her my deep and abiding respect and reverence for nature.
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