Cynical folks often say that no good deed goes unpunished, which like all cliches holds an element of truth.

Here’s a perfect example:

On Aug. 27, the day before Hurricane Irene hit Maine, Katelyn, my youngest daughter, and I were bicycling north on Route 27 and came to the “turtle crossing” just south of the old Messalonskee Lake boat launch by Belgrade Stream, apparently an ancient migration route for this reptile.

That day, a painted turtle — large, as this species goes — had hunkered in grass by the breakdown lane, pointing west toward the busy highway.

It would have been easy to miss spotting it, but I was scrutinizing the ground there because 2011 has been such a big turtle year.

This spring and summer as I pedaled along that short stretch of highway, I moved eight to 10 painted and snapping turtles across the road, hoping to save their lives for at least one more day. I also have seen 12 to 15 turtles squashed by motor vehicles.

That day with Katelyn, I stopped my bicycle, showed her the turtle and said, “Why don’t you move it across the road so no one runs over it.” I wanted Katelyn to get accustomed to doing good deeds for wildlife, but she was worried the turtle might scratch her, a good thing.

Unknown to me at that moment, aquatic turtles commonly carry salmonella bacteria. I should have known that fact after writing nature articles for the past three decades — but just didn’t.

Normally, this small species doesn’t claw people anywhere near as readily as snappers do, making me careless. When I gently grasped the carapace with my fingers and thumb between the front and back legs, the turtle immediately reached back with its right front leg and scratched my index finger hard enough to break the skin. Then later, without washing my hands, I ate a piece of pizza at a convenience store. Either incident could have given me salmonella poisoning.

By Monday morning, I was deathly sick with diarrhea, big-time nausea, headache, fever, chill and worst of all, severe abdominal pain, and it lasted through the power outage until well into Wednesday.

Because of the symptoms, I wondered half seriously about salmonella, but I hadn’t eaten chicken or uncooked fruit or salad with lettuce, a common source of salmonella. So, I dismissed my diagnosis.

It took over a week to recover fully from this illness. Then, after feeling chipper again and bicycling by the Messalonskee boat launch one sunny morning, I noticed a small snapping turtle heading toward the road. This time, I kept my fingers above the inside edge of the 8-inch shell — the equivalent of picking up a basketball with one hand, palm down.

The next day, I told William Woodward, a retired biologist, about the snapper, and he quickly said, “Be careful handling turtles because they commonly carry salmonella.”

While listening to Woodward, I instantly put two and two together about my illness and checked the topic on the Net.

The incubation period for salmonella is eight to 72 hours, and 85 percent of turtles carry the bacteria, particularly in their mouths and on claws. Typical of salmonella, my intense sickness lasted for three days, but it took over a week to recover completely.

The U.S. has 40,000 documented salmonella cases per year, and 600 people die annually from salmonella poisoning, often the result of complications.

This doesn’t mean I will give up carrying turtles across the road, but it does mean a change in my carrying technique.

I store latex gloves on my bicycle for handling the chain when it comes off a chaining or cog. When done with this messy chore, I turn the gloves inside out and put them in a plastic bag until I can trash them.

Now, I’ll wear a glove or two gloves while moving turtles across roads.

The topic of turtles reminds me of a favorite but distasteful anecdote:

Twenty-three years ago on a drizzly, foggy morning off Costa Rica’s east coast, I was casting to giant tarpon when a huge turtle surfaced next to the gunwale of our small boat.

Its back looked identical to leather. It was my first glimpse of a leatherback turtle, the world’s largest sea turtle. It grows to 8 feet and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. The carapace on that one by the boat looked as large as an average, oval dining-room table, and its head was enormous.

A moment later, the leatherback blew a fine mist all over me that I assumed was water droplets, but later research indicated it was mucous. Yup, I had traveled all the way to Central America to have a turtle blow its nose on me.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He may be reached at:

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