The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, keep an eye open to see what washes up.
It is a little past midnight under a new moon and I am sitting astride an ATV on the beach inside Canaveral National Seashore. The only visible lights are the fishing boats off shore and the distant lights from houses outside the park. The lights on my ATV glow red, as I am out searching for sea turtles that might come ashore tonight and lay eggs on the beach.
From April until as late as December each year, a variety of sea turtles turn Canaveral National Seashore into a nursery. With 24 miles of beach on a barrier island, Canaveral National Seashore has the highest number of nesting sea turtles of any national park. Five of fourteen species of marine turtles can be found in the park during nesting season: Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and Hawksbill.
Tonight I patrol the beach slowly in the hopes of spotting one of these ancient creatures emerging from the surf and making her way slowly up the beach toward the high tide line. The sea breeze is soft and cool enough that the mosquitos are not as obnoxious as they will become later in the season. The stars are bright and amazingly clear this late at night. I stop my ATV up near the high water mark of the beach and turn the engine off. All I can hear is the roll of the surf onto the beach and the flap of my jacket as the breeze catches it and blows it around me.
I walk toward the surf with my flashlight hoping to spot some interesting shells along the tide line and to stretch the kinks out of my back and legs. ATVs are not the most comfortable vehicles ever made, and I will be out here till 7 a.m. when my shift ends. I sweep my flashlight along the shoreline spotting driftwood, washed up wine bottles from party, a few sea shells, and then I notice something large and dark in the water. Items blown over from a cargo ship, perhaps? We get all sorts of things washing up on shore these days. Whatever it is, it’s being pushed up onto shore by the surf and it’s big, at least 3 or 4 feet across.
I sweep my flashlight over the object as the ocean makes a final push to deposit it on shore. A large square yellow-and-black mottled head swings slowly toward me as front flippers begin to move its 250- to 300-pound body up the incline of the beach toward the dunes. A loggerhead turtle has shown up.
The female makes her way laboriously from water to her chosen site leaving a trail of churned up sand. When she reaches her nesting site, she throws sand in all directions in the process of digging a deep hole in which to deposit her clutch of eggs; she then covers the eggs with sand and begins the exhausting process of returning to the sea. I watch from the perch of my ATV, amazed at her determination.
When she’s gone, I go about marking the nest with stakes and tape, recording time and date of when it was laid. I lay metal mesh over the nest to protect it from raccoons, who love to raid the turtle nests. In 90 days or so this nest will erupt and hundreds of baby turtles will make a run for the ocean under a full moon. They won’t know anything about the turtle that pulled herself across the beach to lay the eggs from which they escaped, but I will be there to witness their initial encounter with the ocean, and to remember looking into their mother’s ancient eyes.
Photos by USFWS/Becky Skiba. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Kathryn Neel.
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Maureen Doallas says
To see the eggs hatching and the tiny creatures making their way to the sea must be awe-inspiring. I’ve only seen photos of the event.
When I was in South Africa, I was able to see many score of penguins massing for a huge plunge in the ocean. They were Jackass penguins and, yes, they brayed. Just an incredible sight.
Kathryn Neel says
I would love to see penguins massing for a group dive! I love how the turtles respond to the phases of the moon. Most of the turtles come ashore to lay eggs during the dark phase of the moon and most of the nests hatch under the full moon. How amazing is the precision of nature!
That last sentence tells volumes. “Ancient eyes” was a surprise ending – but oh how it makes the piece timeless.
Kathryn Neel says