Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – No Bigger Than A Minute

We found this little guy up the creek and interrupted his travels to take a few pictures of him. He was no bigger than a minute. Pap calls the small turtles that inhabit our woods terrapins. I’m not sure if that’s their real name, but I always think of the way Pap says the word when I see one.

My niece, the 2nd Indian Princess ,who lives in our mountain holler used to catch her a terrapin for a pet at least once a summer. She’d build a little pen of sorts to keep it in and try to feed it grass or vegetable peelings. After a few days she’d grow tired of playing with it and let it go at the edge of the woods. Before she turned it loose, she’d paint a small streak on it’s shell with finger nail polish that way she’d know if it ever came back to her. One year we saw a pink streaked terrapin way up the creek. Knowing it was one of hers I said “It’s probably making tracks for Georgia hoping it’s never loved to death by a skinny little girl with big brown eyes again.”


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.



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  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    July 25, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Growing up in Georgia, there were land terrapins and water terrapins. In Maryland Terrapin Soup was the favorite state dish and made it to fine restaurants in New York until the population of Diamond Back Terrapins were severely impacted and restrictions established
    My father and his older friend George used to set out turtle baskets in nearby creeks baited baited with a dead chicken. They were like wire fish baskets but flatter. The chicken was tied inside the wire and we would return in a couple of days (to give the bait time to ripe).
    We would usually find a few black “water” terrapins and a snapping turtle or two. I don’t think the small black terrapins were the same as those in Maryland. We sure didn’t eat them.
    But the snapping turtles were delicious. Now my dad and George called the turtles Loggerhead Turtles. This was a local or Southern use of the word as these were not Loggerhead Sea Turtles.
    Old George (with whom I continued to set out the baskets after my father) died always called them “Turkles.” And I remember him saying often “Everybody likes turkles. They got every kind of meat in the world on them. Some parts taste like chicken and other parts like pork or beef. If you take a bite and don’t like it just give the piece a twirl and take another bite. You can find a piece you like.”
    Turkle, er, turtle was delicious. I also remember how the turtle heads, once severed from the body would continue reflexively snapping for hours. I saw one scare our cat, drawn by the bloody end and then it snapped at her.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    July 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I recall painting a few terrapin backs with pink nail polish myself!!! Nana

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Bradly, she’s just gifted like that. I think she is the clearest and purist spirit I’ve ever seen.
    I’m so sorry for your loss.
    We always called them terrapins too and I was the one who caught them and tried to make a pet put of them….I tried to make a pet out of anything I could get my hands on. LOL

  • Reply
    Roland Leveille
    July 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Great to see you still writing and keeping this blog vibrant. I enjoyed your story and look forward to more. I have some catching up to do here and plan on it. Hope to here from you soon.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Brother Tim had a turtle when he was a young’un. He took a small pen knife and carved a “T” into its shell to mark it as his. In the way of things, it got too big, and he took it to the swamp down the road to let it loose. Relatives that still live in those parts talk of a big turtle down in the swamp now with a big “T” in it. Don’t know if that’s true or not. Be cool if it was.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    July 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Tarpins aren’t real common up here in Northern Indiana. I never heard them called terrapins until I got to Indiana and read it somewhere.
    My sisters used to paint little things on the back shells of little turtles, tiny mud turtles, but usually not tarpins.
    Like lots of people, I stop and remove to safety any tarpin I see on the road. And, you know, sometimes it’s really a dangerous thing to do … cars and trucks whizzing by, and all.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    July 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Tipper, your writing always brings the gift of childhood memories for me! I was always catching crawdads and other creatures. Once, I took a baby snapping turtle to school for show and tell. I don’t think my teacher was too excited about it. I will never forget my pet eastern box turtle. I lovingly crafted a habitat for it out of our old baby bathtub. I lined it with the softest green moss and placed a sunken bowl for a pool of water. My daddy gave me a piece of old screen wire to clothes pin over the top to keep my little one secure. My turtle ate the finest the woods had to offer. One Sunday I put some sweet little wild strawberries in the pen. When we got home from church I raced around back to check on my turtle. Imagine my surprise when I discovered an enormous black snake inside the tub with my turtle! I hollered pretty loud because I was absolutely certain he was about to eat my turtle not those sweet little strawberries that had surely attracted him!

  • Reply
    Jerry M. in Arkansas
    July 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    We call them terrapins here is south Arkansas. I grew up five miles from a community called Terrapin Neck. It’s interesting that people will try very hard to avoid running over a terrapin on the highway, but will even cross over into the other lane to run over a snake.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    You feel our hearts with memories from the past we had forgotten. We love your site, but we stay so busy gardeneing and making jelly/jam . We have had blackberrie out out emo’s.God is so good to us and He send us Tipper who entrains us so much.
    Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    This tarperin brought back memories when I was small. Dad would bring them in to me and I kept them until Mama turned them free. I would paint their shell with nail polish I got from my big sister. Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

    We call them little fellows tarpins (terripins) and they are
    mostly dry land turtles. I have
    those mud turtles in my pond and
    creek and they’re bigger than a
    plate. Some folks eat these and
    say they have 9 kinds of meat
    taste. Probably tastes alot like chicken! My sister-in-law has lots
    of those big mud or snappin’ turtles in her catfish and bass
    ponds. Occasionally one of those
    dishpan size turtles wonders over
    to the bank and her 5 Rotweillers
    make a tasty meal out of him in
    just a few minutes…Ken

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Hey Tipper, I’m pretty sure it’s an eastern box turtle. He’s a cute little thing. I have one that stays around my house and she gets under my fig tree to eat the fruit that falls. You can tell their sex by their eye color; brown eyes for girls and orange for the boys!

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 10:18 am

    How cute!
    I’ve never seen one so small. It’s so dry around here we barely ever see a “tarpin”. That’s what I call them. Others call them snappng turtles.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 10:17 am

    My sister’s 3 girls had a terripin when they were young,and they took care of him all summer. When they let him go, they painted a mark on him. He came back for several seasons, and they would repaint the mark. T

  • Reply
    Barbara Johnson
    July 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

    We have a large in ground pool and regularly fish out turtles and frogs. We have kept one turtle for about 4 yrs now~he is a wonderful pet. We found him when he was the size of a quarter floating in the pool. I thought it was a plastic toy. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out of the water and it crawled all over my hand!

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I loved this story! I have noticed for sometime now that you seem to have this uncanny gift for posting a story that hits home. The interesting part is always the point in time you seem to know when to post it.
    After giving it alot of thought, I think I’ve solved it. You must be getting help from an unknown POWER. I won’t try to elaborate just what this power might be but, it has got to be higher one.
    This week I lost a childhood friend. When we were little boys we would play in the creek, catch crayfish, run from snakes, see tadpoles, and yes..there were little turtles like the picture. So, your story about the creek and “The skinny little girl” brought it all back. You see, we were two little skinny boys that also loved turtles.
    How could you have known to put this story in at this particular time?………Something gave you that thought and I am so glad you did!

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 9:15 am

    In Arkansas we called the turtles “terrapins” also. Now most people here(Missouri) call them “box turtles”. Your story about your niece brought back a memory……as children,a neighbor and I painted the back of a terrapin with our intials. Walking through the garden about ten years later,( I was all “grown -up” by then) I found a terrapin with those initials on its back. It was worn and scratched but still readable.
    I know they can live up to 50 years, but I found it amazing that this one was still going strong and had not roamed more than 100 yards or so from the painting spot(our back yard)…and was still carrying the remnants of a happy childhood day ! Thanks for the memory,Tipper.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 23, 2011 at 9:11 am

    On my last visit to NC (mid-June), I found one of the little guys like this, just about the size of an old silver dollar, but mine had died, unfortunately. We used to have a “pet” terrapin for a few weeks each summer as kids. They also loved my Dad’s tomatoes.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Several years ago my nephew left a box with a turtle in it on my patio. He had rescued it from the road then turned the responsibility of it over to this novice. I sm just not up on turtles, terrapins or tortoise, and did not want to worsen its dilemma. I called my Dad to see if I should place it near a creek or pond, or if it should be placed in an isolated setting away from the traffic. He advised me to get a stick and tap on its shell. He said if it was a terrapin it would retreat back into its shell, but if a turtle would keep its head out and may even bite at the stick. He further advised if it was a turtle I would need it near the pond. but if a terrapin i could place it in the forest. With this information I Jumped in the car with my box and drove a couple of miles out into the boonies where I dropped the little creature off. I have since realized the little fellow still had to drink, and they sure do move slowly. Also, with all the crazy laws here and the cameras posted to prevent littering, I probably broke some sort of ordinance or law.
    As a child my Grandmother once cooked a turtle and let me taste it. Growing up around these parts one could have many unique experiences!

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 8:01 am

    My daddy(Today is his 92nd birthday.)always calls them terrapins. Turtles live in the sea, terrapins on land. As a child, a terrapin lived by the little branch at the edge of our yard. We put out table-scraps and often saw it in the middle of a pile of butterbeans and collards feasting and watched him grow over the years. He was good at hiding until he was hungry and then disappeared again. When I go home now and take out the leftovers, I still look to see if that big guy is around. I hope so.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 23, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Tipper–First all, for B. Ruth, I feel your pain regarding the garden in a big way. We’ve had terrible problems with deer for years. I’ve tried maybe two dozen “remedies” and none have been fully effective. Right now I’ve got human hair, a tape called “Plot Saver” you spray with scent, and an 8-foot high fence around the garden. So far so good there, but deer ate all the buds off my huge patch of day lilies and have chowed down on other plants on our three acres. Once they get started on a garden they won’t quit. I even have a depredation permit from wildlife officials, but the deer are almost totally nocturnal. Add to that a real squirrel problem, and it’s critter headache time.
    I always called them terrapins too, but they are box turtles. They live a long, long time and actually can be decent “pets” to the degree that they do just fine in a contained situation. I’ve caught them up on their hind legs nipping on tomatoes a foot off the ground, and they are pure poison on cantaloupes. They never touch them until they are ripe and then eat the part closest to the ground right out and often the melon is rotten before you even know it has been attacked.
    Any time I see one it immediately becomes part of the removal and transportation team’s focus.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Debby Brown
    July 23, 2011 at 7:53 am

    yes, that’s what we were taught to call them too–terrapins. When I was real little I was always scared just a little bit that the turtle I would find, would be a snapping turtle. So I was always wary of them till someone told me for sure.
    I did NOT want one biting me and not letting go till it thundered! I thought that would be a hard way to go through life.. with a bit ole snappin turtle attached to me somewhere! 🙂

  • Reply
    July 23, 2011 at 7:43 am

    We used to “befriend” these little guys when we were kids. Usually kept them for a week in a makeshift pen, then would let them go. All of that came to a halt when we decided to adopt a snapping turtle. Maybe not the brightest of ideas 😉

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    July 23, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Mama always called these little guys Terrapins. She passed along to us that if we see one in the road we stop and pick it up and put it over in the grass. She hated seeing these little ones hit or worse on their back and unable to get to safety. Thanks for the memory Tipper.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    July 23, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Evidently you were posting when I read the first paragraph and now I am seeing the rest of your post..
    Could you tell me something? Did you or one of the girls paint a little Pressley brand on the back of your terrapin before you let it go?
    I remember the kids doing that very thing when we were growing up….
    Thanks for the memory,

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    July 23, 2011 at 6:29 am

    We call them box turtles here..
    We’ve relocated a few in the past especially during gardening season..just drive them down the road a few miles and let them out in a field or near the lake. We have an ‘ecology friend’ that will take all the little excess varmits on his land…
    It’s not fun to go to the garden and catch one “chomping” down on the low hanging tomatoes or feasting on the strawberries in the spring..ha
    This year we’ve had a small one hanging out by our little pond..
    We found triangle bites out of some of the low hanging cucumbers that we susupect was a large turtle. but we haven’t caught him
    yet..The worst varmit this year
    has been the deer..they were so well-behaved until the Roma tomatoes filled out and were on their way to getting ripe..
    Last Monday morning my husband came in from the garden in a fit..deer tracks everywhere,(we have been seeing a doe with a couple of fawns) had eaten his beautiful Roma tomatoes everyone…he’s sick…
    PS…My NC family always called turtles terripins..
    Thanks Tipper,

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