What mysterious force of nature would bring Queen Mary Craton, Facebook Diva Donna Ritchie, Reel People Ron and Leigh Martel, the ghost of the late Turtle Man Vick Knight and a dozen other fair residents to this circle of life?
Are they seeking escape from the heated dialogs of political campaigns, Bylaws, Lake Lease, Golf Course and City Police Department? Possibly. But the real answer is Testudines!
Testudines is the broad category of creatures known as turtles, tortoises and terrapins, and the backyard of Ron and Leigh Martel just happens to be the habitat for a few of them. There they roam in a shangri-la of grassy lawn, tiny caves and cool pond. Under the shade of miniature canopies they feast on banquets of lettuce, apples and other treats.
The most famous of the backyard denizens is CV, an African Spurred (Sulcata) tortoise named for his previous caretakers, Carolyn and Vick Knight. CV came to live with the Martels after Vick’s passing in December 2013. The 25-pound reptile joined his new friends, a California Desert Tortoise named Scooter and a Russian (Gopher) Tortoise named Mr. Digger, who share a backyard habitat overlooking the Main Lake.
In a shaded space next to the house, a fountain burbles in a small pond inhabited by Red-Eared Slider turtles. Red-eared Sliders are a fairly common sight in and around the lake, coexisting with the waterfowl and fish that provide an endless source of delight and photo opportunities for residents.
For the fourth year in a row, the group of walkers known as Friends Out of Water (FOOW) recently made a stop at the Martels’ home to see the Testudines and learn about Leigh’s longtime passion in caring for them.
She took the visitors into the “nursery” inside a small room off their kitchen, where Leigh keeps terrariums and aquariums for new hatchlings to grow in safety before they’re exposed to outdoor weather and predators or given away to families as pets.
Leigh explains that all turtles have scales, lay eggs and are cold-blooded. They vary in size from fitting in one’s hand to about 1,800 pounds, and live everywhere from deserts to oceans to backyard creeks. They are the most ancient of all living reptiles, and their common names usually refer to differences in where the species live and how they use their habitat.
In the United States, all freshwater and marine Testudines are known as turtles. They have flatter shells and webbed feet for swimming in water. The outer layer of turtle shells peel into “scutes” that are so thin and transparent that Leigh has sometimes cut them down to fingernail-size and had her manicurist adhere them to her own nails instead of fingernail polish.
Totally terrestrial (land) Testudines are tortoises. They have clubbed-shaped feet that are well designed for walking on land. All tortoises are listed as protected in some way by state and federal regulations, so Leigh works closely with Animal Friends of the Valley in the care of her turtles and tortoises.
The FOOW walkers have enjoyed some other ordinary and extraordinary sights during their twice-weekly jaunts through and near Canyon Lake. Walking from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, the goal is to cover three miles. Sometimes there are special destinations planned by facilitator Bert Barbay, like the Martels’ home; or unexpected detours, like a walk through Don and Elinor Martins’ large property atop a hill overlooking the Main Lake.
Elinor Martin’s family was one of the original pioneers of the Menifee Valley/Canyon Lake area, and Don and Elinor ran the campground, marina and storage yard originally known as Martin’s Landing during the early days of Canyon Lake’s development. They sold several acres of their hilltop property for the construction of Summerwood Landing, also known as Canyon Lake Storage. The FOOW walkers perused the state-of-the-art storage facility on one of their recent walks.
Other walks have taken them through the Fairway Estates, along Old Newport Rd. (between Canyon Lake and I-15, along Salt Creek in the Audie Murphy development and on the Lake Elsinore Levee, to name a few. A future destination will be the trail behind the dam to the water treatment plant, a walk led by former EVMWD board member Ben Wicke.
In past years, the group has visited the site of ancient Native American village sites behind Goetz Hill and on the Audie Murphy Ranch. An attempt this year to visit a village site on the Audie Murphy Ranch, led by Paul Price, was thwarted by legal representatives of the Pechanga tribal council.
These walks are open to all residents of Canyon Lake and take place from January through May. The Monday walk is sometimes changed to Tuesday. According to the group’s website, one of the many FOOW traditions is to begin the season’s walks the first Tuesday after the Rose Bowl Parade in honor of “very special Lifetime Member Jetsy Aronson,” who served on the Rose Bowl Royal Court of 1938.
The website, administered by Bert Barbay, also points out that “spouses, dogs, cats, baby strollers, bikes, etc. are welcome; smiles and laughter are required!” And yes, the walks do provide a reprieve from the weightier matters of the community. To learn more about FOOW, visit clfoow.webs.com.