Knife Folklore in Appalachia
Lingering Beauty from the Past

Terrapins in Appalachia

Terrapin in appalachia

Every time it rains Granny's phone gets filled with static. It's been doing that for years. Pap called and complained about it way back and was told their phone line was one of the oldest in the county and there were no plans to replace it anytime soon. We no longer have a land line and our cell signal is more than a little patchy. All that together makes talking to Granny on the phone a nightmare.

Granny called Chitter yesterday all excited about something, but Chitter couldn't understand what in the world she was talking about. A quick trip down the hill revealed the cause of Granny's excitement...a terrapin on the back porch. 

Terrapin is one of the words I loved to hear Pap say. Maybe I say it the same way. At least I hope I do.

My niece 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 so that 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."


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Myra-thank you for the comments! Pap said the word like terry-pin. But I've sure heard a lot of folks say tarpin too : )

Have a great evening!

There are often a row of turtles sunning themselves along a fallen tree trunk near the edge of the pond where I walk with Piper. I only ever get to see them if Piper has run right past along the cart road - if she comes to the edge of the pond with me, all I see is rings in the water immediately after I hear the PLUNK-PLUNK-PLUNK of diving turtles.

Well we have a rescued box turtle. By rescued I mean my wife had a talk with a stray dog whose mouth the turtle was in and convinced, the dog it would be in his best interest to let it go. He did and that was 5 yrs ago. This sounds strange but he has a personlaity and is very sociable. He likes old black and white shows like gunsmoke. We moved his home and he could not see the tv and he had a fit. Moved it back and he was fine. He goes to bed about 10 if nothing good on tv, gets up about 6 or 7. I sware I'm not crazy. This is true.

I grew up 'coon huntin' in the mountains of ET+ WNC and I remember the night that I stumbled upon a tarpon (terrapin ) and in my boyish humor, I slipped it into the rear pocket of the coveralls being worn by a companion. When he reached into the hip- pocket ( as we referred to a rear pant pocket) , his reaction was one to remember. We finally did catch him.

tipper...I would love to see a little visitor on my porch....I bet granny was excited.....summer is such a wonderful season with growing vegetables, warm nights, thunderstorms...I love the sound of rain....hearing the birdsong and the crickets..along with the lightening bugs....hope you are all well...sending love and big ladybug hugs

I missed this today- probably because I was rescuing a terrapin from my dog (still a pup) Skippy, or the other way around.He just may have gotten snapped!

Remarkable! I was talking over the back fence with a neighbor today; talking about our gardens. "My tomatoes haven't done very well; small, not like the Marglobes I thought I'd be getting by now." I said to her. She said, "Well, mine would be doin' good if the tarpins would stay out of them". I said, "Jewell, I haven't heard that word since I was a kid in Hawkins County. "Tarpin". I have come to believe that they are near extinction." "Up North, they call them "box turtles" or just plain old "turtles" (little do Northerners know)."

Remarkable that you would write about tarpins the very day I hear tell of them for the first time in decades. Oh, I know they are more properly called terrapins but let us keep as much of our old wording as we can; let's not rush to leave our culture in a heap of corrected rubble.

Tarpins are in fact a threatened species now, unfortunately, as habitats important and necessary to them shrink and poisons get thrown around like so many Burger King wrappers.

I enjoyed your piece on terrapins (tarpins) today. When I was picking blackberries near my house, I use to see terrapins eating the berries close to the ground. I watched with my little dog, Whisky, and the terrapin would choose the ones that were ripe. Nice post...Ken

When I was a child in Clovis, New Mexico, terrapins were common in the summer. I used to put a strip of adhesive tape with my name on the first one I saw each year. Sometimes someone miles away would call and say, "I found your terrapin!" Sometimes I would see it again in my own backyard a few weeks after I taped it. Now I live in Roswell, New Mexico, where terrapins also used to be common, and I haven't seen even one in 15 years.

One more thing...type error...supposed to be pick a big mater..etc..

By the way, when you spoke of the pronunciation of terrapin by Pap...My Grandmother in Mars Hill and Aunt always called them,"Tar-pins" did my Dad and East Tennessee Uncle...leaving the "erra" out of the middle of the word completely...ha
Thanks Tipper

I know I posted this years ago, but it is worth a rerun. Years ago in my workaholic years, I found a gift on my back patio. My teenage nephew had found a turtle on the road near my house, and he had very thoughtfully dropped the gift off for me to figure out what to do. He could go on knowing that his Aunt would figure out the best thing to do with the lucky little turtle that had been rescued from a busy highway. I know absolutely nothing about turtles/terrapins, so I called to my Dad who was a friend to all wildlife. I needed to know what environment would be hospitable to the little fellow. Dad tried to obtain useful info from me, but was getting nowhere. Finally he asked me to peck on its shell, and tell me what it did. I advised it quickly retreated into its shell. He said it is a "tarpin", so take it out into the woods. He told me the proper way to pick up a turtle. I drove a few miles and placed the terrapin in a wooded area away from highways but near water access. I knew it was not a snapping turtle, as I used to poke a long stick at their head to watch them snap--that was many years ago. I still know little about them, but I am still enthralled by how God made a shell for protection for these slow little creatures. Not too long ago I watched as a few young men risked life and limb to rescue one from a very busy highway.

Your post this morning brought back a lot of memories...some not so good as in tortoises eating our garden tomatoes...After fighting caterpillars, cutworms, groundhogs, rabbits and deer when the plants were very young to only go to big a big mater and on the back side a big pointy chunk would be taken out of it...What was it we thought! Until one early morning there he was, standing up leaning against the mater stake, gnawing at another tomato hanging with in his reach! My husband took him way down the driveway and released him in the woods...If he had ate one tomato that might not have bothered us as much, but he went along and took the easy bite out of several...Ha We have driven them a ways if we caught them again...We never killed them for we love our tortoises and the softer shelled terrapins that live down In the neighbors pond...

When we lived in the city as a child...There was no creeks around. However we would get tortoises in my Dad's little garden and Mothers flower beds.
I think the tortoise is the dry land example of the note in the bottle one throws in the ocean. My Appalachian Grandmother actually told us to write our name on the tortoise shell with Moms nail polish...I have my initials or full name wandering around East Tennessee and Western well as my brothers and cousins...I doubt any of them are still alive...Even though, I have read that tortoises, terrapins and turtles can live over a hundred years...
Thanks Tipper for the memories...

Well, I can surely relate to the excitement of having a terrapin for a pet! We had plenty of those critters along our Branch, which flowed out of the Matheson Cove. Daddy would help me fix a place to put my unlucky terrapin. But some how it always GOT OUT of the cage. SMART Dude!

BUT the most ugly duckling you will ever see is the Tasmanian Devil! Jim and I saw one in the Zoo in Wellington, NEW ZEALAND. We did not spend a lot of time with that critter!

Hope your day is sunny! We have gentle showers off and on for the day!
Eva Nell

I love terrapins and look forward to seeing them each year. We have an aquarium that the boys use for keeping one. They'll keep it a few days then release it back to the woods. We've researched them for a homeschool project. They are eastern box turtles and they can live up to 100 years but 30 to 40 years is more common due to environmental conditions. The male tend to be a bit more colorful and usually their eyes will have a red iris.
We see them in the road a lot this time of year and if it's safe I'll stop and move it across in the direction it is going so it doesn't hit by a car.

The pronunciation I heard, and used, growing up was ' tarpin.' Is this akin to how you say terrapin? Until I saw the word in print I had no idea I was mis-pronouncing it.

I can remember when we got our first land line as a boy. We had what was called a party line. 3 families shared the same line, 3 rings was our house 2 was mamaws and 1 long ring was my Uncles. It was a nightmare, I had a long winded Aunt, and she knew it and didn't care. But bad static when it'd rain was a given.

I still hear and say tarpons. I guess they could be called mater eaters.

Pap must have pronounced it like my parents did. They called them a terrypin. I wonder how many people has seen a terrapin with pink painted on it's back and thought they were seeing one of God's rare creations.

Don't know bout you where you're at but round here its pronounced "tar-pin"!

When I was a kid the word was tarpin. We sometimes scratched the date on the shell to see if we ever found the same one again.

And if you "pet" terrapin closes his shell on your finger while you are playing with him, it takes one big sister holding you and the terrapin still while your mother prys the shell open with two butter knives to get your finger out!!

Don't ask how I know!

Tipper--I chuckled as soon as I saw the photo with today's blog, because like me, you call what is more widely known as a box turtle a terrapin (and to make things more complicated still, it is actually a species of tortoise, although the terms are often used interchangeably). Call it what you may, a terrapin is vegetarian in nature whereas true turtles (snappers, sliders, etc.) are meat eaters.

I'm guessing your niece essentially had her "pet" in a box and that may well be where the moniker box turtle comes from. For a time my granddaughter had one she named "Shells," and it ate and seemed to do just fine in the box where she kept it. Eventually she realized it would be better off free and turned it loose.

I see terrapins quite often, and there is one way they can be a real nuisance--in the garden. They'll eat every tomato they can reach and seem to delight in taking a chunk out of cantaloupes just as they ripen, thereby ruining the entire melon. You'd be amazed how high one of those critters can reach up a staked tomato plant. I've caught them on their hind legs in the act on more than one occasion, that long old neck stretched out and blissfully munching on a mater a full foot off the ground.

Jim Casada

Hello Tipper, every once in a while a turtle walks across my yard and I pick it up (I think some weigh up to 5 pounds) I take them to the lake behind my house and when the turtle sees the water, their legs get to flapping so fast it is hard to hold on to them. Put them on the ground and you think they are jet powered trying to get into the water.

The chocolate zuccini cake it fabulous. It is so good, you have to control yourself or else the whole loaf will be gone in a few minutes. Thanks for sharing that. Mike T.

I've seen terrapins all my life and tried to keep several for pets. They are good to have around the house cause they eat bugs and we sure have a plenty of bugs.
As a kid I spent lots of time in the woods and I saw lots of terrapins.
I've told folks about terrapins and most times they've never seen or heard of them. I took a poetry writing class once and wrote about a terrapin. My instructor said that I was trying to be uppity in my writing calling a turtle a terrapin. I tried to explain that a terrapin was a type of turtle that I wrote about in my poem and It certainly was not an attempt to be worldly, it's just the only thing I every heard them called. He didn't believe me but then, he was something of a jerk!

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