Time Changes View Of Camp Scavenger

Sep 5, 2017

Every campsite in the Boundary Waters Wilderness between Minnesota and Canada comes equipped with a fire grate, a pit toilet, a tent site … and a snapping turtle.

These ancient creatures, some a hundred years old weighing 75 pounds, haunt the campsites, waiting for a stringer of fish to float in.

As a fisherman myself, I feel a kinship. Many times I’ve crouched on the greenstone shore, fileting my catch, listening to the nasal breath of a hungry snapper mere feet away.

I love to see these old predators lurk the shore. I love to think about their slow underwater ways. But it wasn’t always so. When I was younger, I resented them. I saw snapping turtles as adversaries rather than fellow travelers.

One time, a friend and I paddled into a campsite towing a hard-won stringer of walleye. With rain on the horizon, I said, “Let’s set up the tent quick, and then I’ll clean the fish.” Moments later, a telltale thrashing at the water’s edge revealed an old snapper with fish-full jaws.

Thoughtlessly, I reached for a small boulder at my feet and lobbed it downslope toward the turtle. It struck the granite shelf and careened into the water, where it hit the animal. When the water settled, the ancient creature sunk back into the depths, but the crimson ribbon trailing away revealed its mortal injury. The impact had driven the old turtle into the granite beneath, cracking its carapace.

I felt a deep flush of shame that I feel even now. It is decades old, yet still it lurks.

I’m Chris Fink, and that’s my perspective.