Sabbathday Lake is home for many little painted turtles, and a few huge snappers. But, Sabbathday does not naturally provide much underwater “structure” for the fish, turtles, and other animals that live in, on, and around the lake. In lakes, “structure” is things like fallen trees, stumps, or rocky areas where animals can find cover and concealment from their predators.
Sabbathday is simply a big 65’ deep scoop in the glacial sand deposit, like what you create on a sandy beach when you dig a hole with your hands and water seeps in. The bottom of Sabbathday looks just like a big underwater sandpit.
Turtles, Christmas tree and Winston. Photos: Tom Driscoll
For fish and turtles, seasonal docks are like trees that
have fallen into the lake. The narrower
length of the dock appears as a tree trunk, and the wider deck at the end is
similar to the crown of tree branches, both providing shade and cover.
Each summer, to lend a helping hand to the fish and turtles, I place a (repurposed) Christmas tree (balsam fir) or two under our seasonal wooden dock.
Originally my underwater trees were intended to help the little fish; but, unexpectedly about 6 to 8 turtles took up residence for the summer.
Winston (the Dog) Shedlarski is our next-dock-over neighbor. Often this past summer Winston stood underneath the dock and poked his nose here and there into the Christmas tree, perhaps thinking that he would catch one of the turtles. But alas, that never happened, despite hours of trying.
One day I dragged the tree up onto the beach. Surely, I thought, the turtles had jumped out of the branches and back into the lake.
But old Winston kept on sniffing, so I thought that he was perhaps delusional.
In the end however, I owed Winston a dog apology.
To my surprise, when I lifted the tree and gave it a shake some time later, little turtles fell from the branches and ran back into the lake. Winston the turtle watcher was right all along.
Next summer I will place two used Christmas trees under the dock, and I expect that Winston will return to his post and continue to pursue of the turtles.
Tom Driscoll has lived in, on, and near Sabbathday Lake since 1955.