Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Turtle time June 15, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A turtle spotted recently on a street in northwest Faribault.


YOU KNOW HOW, SOMETIMES, something sparks a memory. Or memories. Turtles do that for me.


I spotted another turtle in the grass at North Alexander Park in Faribault. The Cannon River flows through this park.


Recent sightings of turtles at three locations in Faribault took me back in time. To my youth and the “dime store.” Remember those? The long ago chain variety stores like Ben Franklin and Woolworth’s, precursors of today’s dollar stores.

Anyway, Woolworth’s in Redwood Falls, 20 miles from my childhood home in southwestern Minnesota, featured a small pet section tucked in a far back corner of the store. And the sole “pet” I remember, because I really really really wanted one, were the mini turtles. Probably imported. My sensible manager of a brood of six farm-raised kids mother never caved to my pleas. She was smart.

My other childhood memory is of tortoises. Not quite turtles, tortoises are big, with rounded shells, and spend most of their time on land. Turtles are much smaller, flatter and prefer water to land. I never saw a single turtle (outside of Woolworth’s) or tortoise in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, I encountered my first tortoise at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. I went on an elementary school class trip there once—a rather big deal to go to “the Cities” when you’re a farm kid. I remember the free-range, lumbering tortoises there and the Sparky the Seal Show.


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, photographed in the “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” Exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.


Fast forward decades later to motherhood and the birth of my two daughters in the late 1980s. They soon became fans of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Saturday morning cartoons and action figurines of the masked turtles and phrases like “Cowabunga!” and “Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!” were parts of their routine and vocabulary. One of the daughters even had a turtle birthday cake one year although I don’t recall which turtle—Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo or Raphael.


Turtles basked in the sun in the Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center on a recent Friday afternoon.


I expect if Woolworth’s sold tiny turtles at the time, my daughters would have begged for one. Instead, I bought them each a goldfish from the “dime store,” still open in downtown Faribault when the girls were young.


This turtle at North Alexander Park was digging in the grass, apparently trying to create a nest.


That takes me to my final story. On a summer afternoon when my second daughter was still in high school, or maybe college (details of time elude me), I glanced out the window to see a tortoise on our driveway. Now we don’t live anywhere near Como Zoo. But we had a neighbor who owned a tortoise and lived across our very busy street. To this day, I have no idea how that tortoise survived crossing through all that traffic. But I wanted the beast off my property. Before I could determine how we would manage that, Miranda picked up the tortoise and carried it back home. With me protesting. I had no idea whether the tortoise would turn on her, or how sharp its teeth or…


This turtle looks so small on a Faribault roadway as it moves toward a nearby pond.


This time of year, turtles are crossing roads in Minnesota, mostly to access familiar nesting locations apparently. While some people will stop to pick up and move a turtle out of traffic, I won’t. I’ll only stop to photograph, if it’s safe to do so and traffic is minimal. I’m smart like my mom and not nearly as brave as my second daughter.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Turtle time”

  1. My brother had two turtles growing up –Able and Mable. They lived in a huge aluminum (I think) washtub in our family room downstairs and lived a long and happy life. We have several huge snapping turtles in our lake here and they are the cause for the decline in baby ducks and geese I am sure. I probably would stop and relocate a turtle off the road if I could do it fairly safely—it’s funny what we will take risks for and what we won’t. 🙂

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    Uh……it’s turtle laying season and the SNAPPERS are out on our road and they are BIG. They come out of Two Drunk Creek and the Minnesota Mosquito Refuge to bury their eggs in our dirt road. I have to keep Scooter on a leash or else he might lose his nose.

    Sadly, the road grader came by yesterday and it was all for not.

  3. We have both varieties down her in Florida. Vehicles and turtles are not a good combo, especially if said turtle is the size of a hub cap or larger. We must have turtles on our minds. I have a great picture of turtles on my blog post today. Here is your question for today. What is a group of turtles called? A bale. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    We’ve seen several turtles this spring too.
    I have memories of the old tortoise at Como Park Zoo from when I was younger. I thought it was so cool!

  5. We see our fair share at the lake, not so much around our home in Rochester. My boys were into Teenage Ninja turtles too! We had Halloween costumes and birthday party themes.

  6. Walter Says:

    Despite the slowness, turtles are very skilful escapists.

  7. Washe Koda Says:

    I think the little turtles from the 5¢ & Dime bought salmonella into the home and they quit selling um ❓

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