Friday, March 15, 2013

A Lesson in Honesty...(from Snapper the Turtle)

The summer before my fifth grade year was the summer my friend, Karen, and I went to church camp together...Pine Creek....close to Gnaw Bone, Indiana.  We had chosen Pine Creek because we wanted to 'rough it' in tents, eating at a mess tent, no running water, and living in the woods.   It was here I learned an important lesson in honesty.

Our time at camp was spent doing typical camp things...hiking, learning about nature, swinging on grape vines over a creek, building a 'home in the woods', and camp fires with songs and Bible lessons.  On the day before we were to go home, there was going be a scavenger hunt.  Each tent would work as a team and the tent with the most items found would be the winner.  I am not sure what the prize was...but this was a competition...and we girls wanted to beat the boys.

We had a plan....divide and conquer!   We would get the list and assign each girl a few items and then bring in our loot.  There were six of us in our tent.  We kept track of all the leaves, rocks, tree bark and anything else that might be included on the list. 

The evening before the big scavenger hunt Karen and I happened to be hanging around the mess tent when we heard the counselors planning the hunt.  They had the list...right there...if only we could see it.  Imagine the joy when one of the counselors threw her list in the trash!   Sneaking  back to our tent we gathered around that night, flashlights shining on THE LIST.  Most of the items were ones we already figured would be there...but at the bottom was the prize....worth 100 point....a turtle.!!!
Karen and I knew the hang out of a turtle.  We had seen him a number of times, sunning himself on a log in the small pool where the creek changed direction.

Scavenger Hunt Time!!!....the next day.  We waited in groups as the counselors passed out the lists.  Karen and I did not even bother to look at ours as we headed for the creek.  We had to run as it was not nearby and we only had half an hour.  Oh...that turtle better be there sunning himself like he had been the days before....and yes....there he was....but he looked bigger now.  We crept closer....the turtle seemed unaware...basking in the sun...on a log near the bank of the creek.

"This can't be the same turtle," whispered Karen.  "It's huge."

"We have to get it...this is our part of the of us can grab its tail."  That was my great idea as I measured the turtle to be a little smaller than a car's hub cap.

No time for planning...I made a quick leap and grabbed the tail.   I guess I had not figured that this would upset the turtle.  He turned his head toward me and lunged...with a snap of his mouth.  That was close....I lifted him from the log before his mouth reached my leg.  As long as I held him straight out, my leg was safe.  He would swing his body getting inches from my leg.

"Let him loose!  That's a snapper!!" Karen cried...backing away.

"I can't....he's going to bite me.  He's really mad.  If I hold him like this all the way back to the camp, maybe we can put him in the trash can and bring him back here."  I still wanted to get those 100 I knew that the second I put  Snapper  (I already named him) down he would turn on me and attack.... down deep, I thought I deserved it.  I knew I would do the same if I was him.

The hike back was lllloooonnnngggg.  My arm was getting so tired and each time I lowered it a bit, I could feel the brush of Snapper's mouth.  Karen could not get close enough to help.  I knew Snapper was mad and I wanted to let him go, but fear kept my arm perpendicular from my body.  By the time we got close to the camp my arm was shaking. We only had five minutes before time was up.  Karen ran ahead shouting that we had a turtle.   I half burst and half stumbled to the center of camp, dropping the poor turtle and running the opposite direction.  Everyone scattered...Snapper was waving his head, mouth open wide.   Finally, a couple of counselors got a broom and put the handle in front of him.   He clamped on that handle and they carried him back to the creek.

Karen and I felt quite proud... until we were informed that they had crossed the turtle off the scavenger hunt list, so the 100 points would not count.  Before I uttered the words, "Not Fair!!" I realized that it was fair.  We were the ones who had been unfair.  Shame surged through me and I could feel my face turning red.  I had not even thought that we had been cheating.  We thought we were being resourceful and clever.  If we had just played fair we would have had all the other items easily. 

Ol' Snapper flashed through my mind often while growing up...whenever I was tempted to 'bend the rules.'   Snapper taught me an important lesson about being fair and how hollow a win is, or a good grade is if it is gained by dishonesty.

But....I have to admit...that when camp was over...and we were greeting parents for rides home...I overheard a boy say to his mother as they passed us..."She's the girl that carried this big snapping turtle the size of a tire all the way into camp!!"  (I did not correct him...because by the time I let go of Snapper's tail he felt like he was ten feet long.)


  1. Competition turns even the most sane people into devious lunatics. I guess it was a lesson well learned since you still remember and have used that as a guide in your life. Funny story!

  2. Jackie,
    Another fabulous story! Once again I'm thinking this would make a delightful picture book. Imagine the conversations that could be had around this very important lesson. I can't help but wonder if you weren't set up by your counselors from the very beginning. I enjoyed the way you moved us through the events leading up to your turtle capture and the challenges you faced in getting him back to camp. You made my arms ache just reading your story. Your dialogue sprinkled within your tale really helps bring the piece to life. I think I'll have to share this one with my students.

    1. Yes,Cathy, I have often wondered if Karen and I were a bit too obvious while hanging out at the mess tent...and the list just "happened" to land in the trash. was a good lesson for us...especially at a church camp! 🙀