made my evening Hajj to check the tide, I declined Kellys 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!"
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
werent 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
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.
moments, six of us were walk/jogging our way to the oceans edge Kellys
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 its enforced code of
silence for fear of disturbing The Turtle.
really was a beautiful night. The full moons 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 anybodys 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.
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.
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 boats 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 didnt want any help
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 waters 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 moons 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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