The rest of the family were unwitting participants in a federal crime: the capture and removal from Roosevelt Island of an adult male eastern painted turtle.
"Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints" is not just a slogan but the law on fedeal reservations. The boy, who was with me at the time, was innocent; and for me it was a crime of opportunity. Every time I slip up to try to get a good look at a basking turtle it plops in the water and disappears. There is a great sufficiency of basking turtles around the island, and I thought the gummint wouldn't begrudge me just the one.
This one had sat there like a bump on the log when twoscore of its fellows took alarm at the approach of our canoe and slid into the channel that separates the north and south islands. I thought it must be blind, for it never quivered during the several minutes it took to maneuver the boat within striking distance of the fishnet.
Later, when it was swimming around in our fish tank, snapping at guppies and goldfish, I decided it was just a dumb turtle. At length I came to understand that it was mean; it just wanted a chance to bite. l
It bit everything, including the tail of Sour Sam, the snapping turtle, who is not only bigger but has lived with us so long he thinks he owns the tank. Sam retaliated with vigor, putting a nasty hickey on his rival's delicately decorated left hind (foot? flipper?).
Once Sam had developed a taste for him the turtle had to go, a nip at a time or all at once. We drove to the island with the creature concealed in a small beer cooler, and avoided the rangers so skillfully I got lost. The girls petted him goodby and the boy held him until ordered to launch, and the turtle swam off into the murky water without so much as a backward snap.
On the way back to the parking lot, in lieu of a fine, we filled the cooler with trash from the trail.