Nest #157

Summer 2017
Kiawah's Turtle Patrol
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Turtle Tales

Having made my evening Hajj to check the tide, I declined Kelly’s invitation to join her while she and her guests made theirs. It was late and I had guests of my own. Both the Atlantic and the beach had been there during every recent visit. It would be there in the morning. Moments later, she flew into our bedroom breathless, wide-eyed, emotional and in a thundering whisper said, "I saw the tracks! I saw the tracks and it was a turtle!"

I had missed the chance to see a loggerhead turtle in action. I hugged and congratulated her on her vision, disappointed by my decision not to go. We had tried for a LONG time to witness this endangered species' struggle to perpetuate itself but never with any luck. We had seen a few tide-deposited bodies after the shrimpers’ props had done their worst - too concerned about what they weren’t catching in safer, deeper waters to care about what they were catching in the shallows. How could I divine from that sentence fragment that it was past time to don shoes, shorts, and a shirt. "NO", Kelly clipped into my thoughts, “she's still THERE! She JUST started! The hole is only 9 inches!"

Suddenly cognizant that she may have risked missing what, for all we knew, was a once in a lifetime event, I forced myself into motion confounded by haste. Double-quick, I rousted my guests. I thanked Kelly once again while we waited for them in a calm backwater of the heady, urgent atmosphere fogging our Kiawah cottage.

Within moments, six of us were walk/jogging our way to the ocean’s edge Kelly’s tone seemed suddenly calm. Her assurances that we had plenty of time were offset, however, by the fact that the bits of story she peppered into our walk were still coming in fragments. We were breathless from our haste to vacate a building, ablaze in excitement. Also strange was the sense of some origin-less obligation to be mice quiet. Like leaving a library with it’s enforced code of silence for fear of disturbing The Turtle.

It really was a beautiful night. The full moon’s brilliance wove a perfect spider web amongst patchy, low flying clouds. The previous crew waited reverently. Mama had just finished the nest and was starting her delivery. I sat, completely calmed. Her head was every bit as big as ours. Odd though, that she was so stained by tears. Whether crying from irritants, effort or something more human was anybody’s guess, but this lent a sweet countenance to otherwise leathery, hardened, bony features. Her body didn't look so big from my vantage but grew with our eyes as she emerged from the crib.

Apparently, even Mama gets partially covered while in the nest. She would sit quietly for a moment and then work more and more of her bones from the sand. I'm guessing it was an effort to make room as the bottom of the crib filled with the eggs each female lays as often as twice, sometimes three times a season. This seemed to aid in the covering process as well. She broke from her labors with increasing frequency. Her massive head would loll into the sand for a moment and rise as she pushed free another round of younguns. The muffled sounds that issued intermittently from her could only be interpreted as exhaustion. Had they come from any of us, you would have taken us by the flipper and shown us to bed.

Unconcerned, Mama slung sand as best she could, now covering her babies in earnest. Long, adequate looking flippers seemed glued to the ground by the effort required to move the few ounces of sand each stroke took with it. The breaks were coming quickly now - two or three flips, and then a break, one flip, ...and then a break. The pattern was broken when, with electric speed, she broke for the tide-line. We were stunned both by her size and by the gouges in her shell that could only have been the work of a boat’s propeller. Her shell was two feet side to side and three feet back to front but she didn't last long. A few pulls were all that was left to someone who had probably used everything just getting to the nesting site. We fought the temptation to push at the back of her shell as she lunged for the water. She was at her business and didn’t want any help from us.

Between each wind sprint, she would lay her head in the sand; briefly and noiselessly look up, then more heads-down lunging. Finally, now in the high surf, she gathered herself.  Her head lolled again as a wave washed away some of the signs of her effort. She seemed relieved until she looked up and was overwhelmed anew by the remaining task. There was still a way before the water’s buoyancy was going to be any help to her, but she was clearly invigorated by the prospect. Longer, more sustained pulls got her to a slippery section on the sand and progress was accelerated. One more rest and she was up to her hips in water. You could almost see her hike her skirt a bit, continuing on a line that traced the moon’s reflection. We watched as the top of her slowly disappeared between the white caps.  Still completely juiced, we made our way home, like Mama, much slower than before. We proudly reported our find to the town office. Ours was nesting site number 157.

by Gregg Bragg


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