Lights, Camera, Action! Sharing the Story of the Wood Turtle



Authored by Cody Bliss

Wood Turtle Filming

With a steady hand, the camera remained still as a healthy mixture of black flies and mosquitoes swarmed overhead. We crouched and watched patiently as the bright orange extremities slowly extended in a way that almost resembled the delicate process of a blossoming flower. “Camera A Rolling!” was shouted and resonated throughout the forest notifying that filming had begun. Change the ISO, adjust the focus, angle the lights and repeat. It is difficult to be sure, but I would have to guess that over a period of five days, I witnessed the emergence of Shelly, Orianne’s education outreach Wood Turtle, close to 100 times as the film crew attempted to get just the right shots. In each of these occurrences, I became more intrigued by the subtleties of this process, the gentle movements of the neck and the exact moment when her eye would peer from behind her shell. It was through these moments that I quickly realized the refined intelligence and curiosity of Shelly the Wood Turtle. I mention this experience for a purpose. Up until these moments, I had viewed the Wood Turtle simply as a turtle, a rare and critically important turtle, but a turtle nonetheless. It was through these experiences that this turtle morphed from a simple reptile to a turtle chalked full of intriguing behaviors, detailed beauty, and personality, if a turtle is capable of containing such a thing. While many of us understand the importance of the Wood Turtle and other animals, it is through encounters such as these that we truly gain a better understanding, connection and appreciation of these creatures. Unfortunately, the majority of you reading today may never have the opportunity to spend as much time with a Wood Turtle as I have this past week, in fact, many of you may never even encounter a Wood Turtle in the wild. So, the Wood Turtle remains faceless, carrying about its life without notice. But what if there was a way that you too could experience the Wood Turtle the same way that I have? What if the Wood Turtle did not have to go unnoticed but instead was transported from the forests’ floor into the heart of others all over the world? Enter the Wood Turtle Film.

This past month the Orianne Society set out to the wilds of Vermont with partners and friends from Folk Hero Films to do just that. With cameras in hand, our convoy journeyed through waist deep water in floodplains, waded across swift rivers and trekked through tick-infested forests. The Orianne outpost for the week would be located within the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont. The week began with an equal dose of anticipation, excitement, and uncertainty as the late spring forecast was predicting consistent rain throughout much of the week.

CEO Chris Jenkins and Folk Hero Films Gabe DeloachThe Vermont vibes continued throughout our mountain cabin with bookshelves stocked with titles such as “The Keeper of the Earth” and “Orienting Your True North.” As we settled in we discussed the week ahead and objectives for each day. With slow going pothole-ridden dirt roads, little to no cell phone service, and the clock leering overhead, we had to work diligently. This included coordinating with several local experts and landowners from around the state of Vermont.

With Shelly sitting shotgun we set out on our journey across the varied Vermont landscapes. Over the course of five days, we accumulated more than 60 hours in the field filming what will soon be one of the only known professionally filmed Wood Turtle focused documentaries. We met landowners excited to share their land with the Wood Turtle, local experts hopeful to see such efforts from The Orianne Society and community members intrigued and surprised by the personality of a turtle, the personality of Shelly.

There are many threats to the existence of Wood Turtles: habitat fragmentation, subsidized predation and agricultural equipment to name a few. These challenges loom overhead and as the week continued I struggled to find direct values as to why someone may be influenced to go out of their way to protect this turtle from these threats. Perhaps there was economic value, cultural significance, or vital ecological functions that could be tied to the Wood Turtle? While many of these arguments may be made in a much lengthier conversation, this single week reminded of one very important lesson: Wood Turtles, like many other creatures, should be cared for and protected simply because they are here. By sharing the story of the Wood Turtle, we hope that you too may witness those first few memorable moments as her eye slowly peers out from behind her shell and head stretches skyward.

Be a part of something GREAT!

Wood Turtle

With so many wonderful organizations contributing to the conservation of wildlife around the world, it is easy to understand how the secretive lifestyles of many reptiles and amphibians get overlooked. We intend to change that! Hidden and forgotten no more, the Wood Turtle will be making its debut to the big screen this year, but first, we need your help! Interested in being a part of something great? Here are just a few ways you can become involved in the Wood Turtle film!

• Sponsor various aspects of our film premiers

• Donate items to raffle at the events

• Volunteer either at the event or remotely

• Spread the word and share our information

Learn more about the Great Northern Forests Initiative.

And before you continue on with your day, don’t forget to become a member or contribute a donation by visiting We even have a Wood Turtle membership level! These donations are the lifeblood of our organization and assist with projects such as education outreach, land protection and restoration, and important monitoring and inventory of rare and imperiled species. We thank you for your continuous support!