Eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina, is a good neighbor.
He keeps a pretty low profile, really.
He probably arrived here around the same time we did, fourteen or fifteen years ago, but this is the first time we've actually met.
If he stays away from the roads, he may well be around long after we're gone.
He's not a night owl, but our paths rarely cross under the sizzling summer sun. Today's cooling shower, however, lured him from the shelter of his log in the little creek bottom down the hill.
He and his kin haunted these hills for many millenia before folks like us arrived, but with our arrival, things changed a bit.
Legend has it that some American Indian tribes favored this ubiquitous "land turtle" for food and a variety of other uses, exploiting it to the point of extirpation in some locales.
Stories from more recent years relate to box turtles' longevity and remarkably small home range of less than 250 meters diameter.
Tales are told of recording the births of children on the local box turtle's shell, with marks on some individuals spanning three generations. Thankfully, we're not aware of recent reports of this rather barbaric practice, and the only apparent markings on our neighbor's carapace are its own enigmatic gilded birthmarks.
Even more recently, the advent of the automobile and North Carolina's ascent to its status as
"the Good Roads State," has spelled plenty of trouble for these solitary wanderers. Because of their tendency toward very small home territories, they are particulary vulnerable to human development with its accompanying infrastructure of roads and rails.
Today's encounter with our reclusive neighbor occurred within less than a meter of our primary neighborhood thoroughfare, so we gave him a gentle lift across the pavement in the direction he was headed, silently wishing him safe passage should he come back this way again.
Box turtle photos by Hunter Randolph. Thanks, Hunter!