At the last bend in the river before my take-out spot, I stopped paddling - as I had done several times during this particular trip - and drifted with the current along the outer bank to look at the bottom that was now visible with the low water levels. This turn in the river is scoured to a greater depth by the action of swirling water during normal and high flow.
With the bright sunlight illuminating the light sand some three to four feet below the surface, I saw the unmistakable shadow of a turtle swimming slowly somewhere in the water column. It took me a few seconds, eyes focusing up and down through the transparency, before I saw it. There, about five inches below the calm surface was a snapping turtle no bigger than a silver dollar. Initially, I doubted that particular conclusion, despite the excitement of the find, as I was accustomed to snappers that were never less then a foot across the carapace and several pounds in weight. Yet there he was, moving at a leisurely pace almost at the mercy of the slow current, but still making some headway.
Curious, I slid the blade of my paddle beneath him and slowly lifted it to contact his feet fully expecting a panicked flurry of kicks and paddle strokes in an effort to escape my capture. Instead, and to my pleased astonishment, he stopped the slow movement of legs and allowed the paddle blade to lift his tiny body from the water closer to my gaze.
Testing the ferocious jaw action of this hatchling, which I foolishly assumed would be a scaled down version of his adult relatives, I moved a small piece of leaf I had plucked from the water toward his head. He didn't even so much as flinch. Calm and serene, he rested there on the yellow plastic of the blade until I decided about a minute later, out of respect for the fascination my little friend had provided, to lower him back into the water. Once again in his native element, he resumed his lethargic strokes which was how I left him as I struck out for home myself.