It’s a scramble, crawling on backs in shifting sand
Getting out from under all that gets piled on.
Couldn’t see my way out, forgot the scent
of the sea, forgot my sea creature-ness—
That when a sea turtle mother births eggs, she sheds
tears, some say it’s just salt water, but she knows
their journey, the hazards that await them.
Remind me of my design, who I am.
Remind me of my egg tooth, to pry open what encases me.
Remind me I have what it takes to reach the open waters.
Remind me there’s light provided to guide me from the nest if
I don’t follow artificial light, but watch and wait
for moon and stars, then head to where the ocean meets
the land and breaks–
Remind me it takes fierce paddling.
Remind me I am built for swimming, for joy, not the work of moving on land,
hauling around what’s heavy.
Remind me to follow my instincts.
Remind me much can harm me, though I’ve lived a life of vigilance already.
I want the nutrient-rich currents, the deeper waters
out there where I belong. Remind me: I was made for this.
My mother-in-law lived in Ft. Lauderdale for years. We have Super 8 footage of her emerging from the Atlantic Ocean as a young woman, she is stunning, in her swimsuit with a big smile and an ocean shoreline that looks nothing like it does today.
Today, Ft. Lauderdale hoods their street lights to try to make the nesting habitats enticing for sea turtles to return to, especially because sea turtles do that philopatry, they return to the beaches from whence they came to lay their eggs. They are picky, too, about the sand. If a beach has been dredged, or sand has been hauled up from elsewhere, the turtles will emerge from the ocean, check it out, and choose not to lay their eggs there. Sea turtle moms are particular about their nests.
We take our kids to an evening program on sea turtles, because we never saw any emerge on the beach. Broward County ropes off nests with the yellow tape reserved for crime scenes, and if you enter the nesting area, you have indeed committed a crime. To get to see hatchling sea turtles, you can either watch and wait nightly, to see if you get lucky. Dates of suspected egg-laying are posted on the wooden stakes near the nests, so if you wait six weeks, you might indeed get to watch the natural progression of things. Instead, we signed up for the
This program is part of the monitoring process of turtle nests in and around Broward County. If any hatchlings are left in the nest, after the rest have hustled in sea turtle fashion, for the ocean, they collect the slowpokes and take them to their Center to collect data.
We sit through an hour program about sea turtles, learn that all seven species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and that three types lay eggs in southern Florida. Then, she shows us two buckets, one of green sea turtle hatchlings and the other of leatherback hatchlings. They are all that. Really. All that. Flipping around in the buckets, scrambling over each other, just like they’d do in the nest. Amazing.
Our instructor tells us that once they got a call that someone reported seeing a VW bug parked on a beach, but it turned out to be an enormous mother leatherback turtle laying her eggs. By now, it’s 9:30pm, toddlers in the group are crying, kids antsy and sleepy, and we are directed to go to the beach. We drive a couple miles, make our way down to a quiet shoreline, and there, under a full moon, we line up with our group of strangers and wait. The instructor takes the bucketed leatherback hatchlings, lines them up on the cool sand of the beach. They are slow moving. They have to swim over a mile, tonight, to get to the Gulf Stream in order to survive. One of my teenagers whispers to me, “Statistically, they’re toast.”
The instructor rubs the bellies of the really slow ones, to irritate them, to get them to flap their flippers. They have to do that in the sand, it seems, so they’ll know how to do it in the water. When the first one makes it into the small breaking waves, all of us erupt into a round of applause. Then she lines up the green sea turtles who are the sprinters, they are off and running in no time, gone, tossed around in the small surf, and gone, before we know it.
I wrote the poem above for a friend, thought it’s a prayer too, asking God to remind me/us of who we really are, reminding us we are meant to swim in bigger seas, to look to the vastness of God.
It felt like a holy experience, getting to watch this process. Something so small heading out into something so huge, with hopes pinned on each and every tiny little back.
Susan Baller-Shepard is an ordained Presbyterian minister, published poet and writer; editor of www.spiritualbookclub.com and its blog of over 170 interviews blog.spiritualbookclub.com, she tweets @yoursbc
About This Blog
"This is what the LORD says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls....'"
Susan Baller-Shepard explores the many roads where faith takes you: the good, the difficult, the impassable, traveling old roads and new construction. In her suitcase, Susan packs warmth, faith, good humor, healthy skepticism, a Bible, Rilke’s uncollected poems, seriously sensible shoes (much to her friends’ chagrin), and an IPOD shuffle.