What a Mama Turtle Taught Me About Saving the World
A couple of weeks ago my hunny took the fur baby out for his last walk of the night about 4:30 in the morning. I had already crawled into bed and was reading as I settled down for sleep, but when they returned, James said he was headed right back out. They had come across a mama sea turtle making a nest and laying her eggs. Needless to say, I put my book down and got dressed.
The nights here on the Florida coast are already hot and heavy with humidity. I broke a sweat before I ever cleared the front porch, but the stars were bright, and I could hear the waves crashing before I left the yard. A little sweat never hurt anyone. The short walk took only minutes, and when we got to the end of the wooden walkway to the beach, we parked two well-worn plastic chairs behind the railing, and James pointed her out to me. She was just below and to the right of us, barely a lump of darkness in the surrounding night.
About twice the diameter of a round, plastic clothes basket, she was a black round lump against the gray circle of sand she had wallowed out around herself. I sneaked down the stairs to see if I could get a closer look without disturbing her, and I could just make out the glow of her left eye and a brief movement of her left front fin. She seemed so tired, though I’m not sure why. As I watched her, my heart squeezed, and I felt for her and wished I could help in some way. She would paddle her little flippers, throwing sand behind her. Then she would be still for a while. Then she would rotate a few degrees, wait, and go through the routine again. I interpreted the pauses as moments of rest.
Sea turtles return to the exact spot where they were born, often traveling hundreds of miles, to lay their eggs. I pondered this wonder as I watched her follow this ritual so deeply ingrained in her DNA. I considered whether there were any sentiment held for this patch of ground where she started and to which she had returned. I questioned whether she had any attachment to the little creatures that would make their way across the sands to the sea in a couple of short months. Did she have any emotional investment in their survival? Did she have any consciousness that the project in which she was involved was one that would perpetuate her species? Did she worry if everything would turn out well? In short, I sat and anthropomorphized a giant turtle. I have a theory that we don’t give our neighbors on this big spinning rock enough intellectual or emotional credit, and I suppose that is part of what spawned the rabbit hole my mind fell into.
While we watched and wondered, the horizon lightened, and eventually I realized I could make out the markings on the mama’s shell. I could distinguish her fins from her body, her edges from the sand. And she could tell her time was up. In my mind, sunrises are this dramatic swooping in of light from the eastern horizon, a sudden wiping out of the darkness. That morning, however, the sun himself seemed to know this little mama needed a bit more time to finish her job, and the faintest of light started on that eastern horizon then eased its way across the waters and crawled over the waves to the sand. Then, when it saw what she had done, when it lay across the mound she had so painstakingly made, and finally escorted her back to the sea, it rejoiced, and the sunrise burst upward in a kaleidoscope of light and color.
The whole hour or so was simple, but it was breathtaking. I came away speechless and teary eyed and wanting to do what I could to make this process as safe and easy for these creatures as possible. I have spent hours thinking about it since that morning. Here is my takeaway.
The key to saving the earth is loving the earth. The key to loving the earth is experiencing the earth.
While I know not everyone thinks the same, I truly believe that experiences like that morning create the connections that move people to action. For a person who has never seen a creature in the wild, that being is an abstract, one whose struggles are then also abstract. But when that same person is able to encounter the being in its natural habitat, I believe he or she can then begin to recognize it and its threats and struggles as real. That recognition, then, is key to understanding that one’s personal actions have an influence on others. If you never see the mama turtle nesting in the wee hours of the morning, you are less likely to understand the impact that your bright deck light has on her finding her way to her nesting grounds or the way your kid’s giant abandoned sand castle, complete with moat, becomes an obstacle her babies likely won’t be able to overcome.
Of course, I’m not just talking about sea turtles here. Appreciation for the outdoors and the creatures who inhabit them hinges on actually experiencing them both. If people never hear the songbird’s song, they won’t miss it when it’s gone.
Please take the kids, go outside, listen to the water lap at the shore whether it is lakeside or on the banks of a river or at the beach. Hear the wind in the leaves on the trees, feel the comfort of their shade. Take a deep breath of sunshine filled or rain washed air. Be still a while and just be. This amazing, beautiful world and all her beings depend on us clumsy, goofy humans to keep it all going. Please consider teaching others and regularly reminding yourself what we need to value and protect for none of these small pleasures in life is guaranteed.
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Unless otherwise noted, all material--written, photographic, and artistic--is the original work of Estora Adams. All rights reserved.