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Turtle Dreams

by Jaye Lewis

I sat on the wet sand, hugging my knees, and watching the giant sea turtle. The old cow slowly meandered her way up from the water and high onto the sand. It was almost dark and I was the only one left on Flagler Beach. It was not unusual to catch a glimpse of sea turtles digging their nests in the sand, but this one came late in the year. The hot sand, baking in the sun, was a perfect incubator, but soon the sea would be roiling from winter storms, and the sun was already dipping low to the south.

My father managed a little coffee shop right on highway A1A, just a stone's throw from the ocean. The lights from the restaurant were bright enough to illuminate the surrounding area, but I was an eight-year-old dreamer, keeping my watch in the near dark. It was late enough for me to be in bed, but as usual, no one knew where I was. I was forbidden to be by myself on the beach at dusk, but I was a disobedient child, and nothing could tear me away from my quiet watch. I was about to take part in a miracle.

Hunting for sea turtle nests was a lucrative pursuit on the beaches of Florida, in 1953. There were hunters who would carry a long stick or thin metal bar to the beach. Carefully looking for wet, disturbed sand high upon the shore, they'd poke the stick deep into the sand. If the stick came up dripping with egg .EUREEKA.they'd found a stash of sea turtle eggs!

There were a lot of folks who desperately needed extra income. Many couldn't get through the winter without their egg money. In the early 1950's winter was a slow time, especially for a small, tourist community that depended upon the "Yankees" from the north, who invaded the beaches in spring and summer then slipped away to their northern homes, as soon as the air turned cool.

As I kept my watch on the beach, it became darker, and the light grew dim, but I could still see the ancient creature, as she waddled her way upon the shore. Every time she moved, I would creep closer. Trying desperately not to disturb her, I continued to steal closer, not wanting to miss a thing.

By the time the sea turtle began digging, I was very close. She seemed to be awfully slow. Turtles on the move can move remarkably fast; however, this cow was making slow progress. I crept nearer until I was nearly upon her. What was wrong?

Then, I saw that the female sea turtle had only one, useable back leg. As she dug, she made lopsided progress. I wondered what to do. All of a sudden her eye moved, and I thought she looked right at me. I felt an incredible urge to help her. I reached beneath her, and I began to dig under her maimed leg. When the hole was nearly big enough to hold me, she stopped digging, and she began to drop her eggs.

I quickly moved back to watch. One. Two. Three. Four. Each egg dropped, rapidly, like little ping-pong balls, with soft, leathery shells. There must have been dozens. Tears came to her eyes and dropped onto the sand. Not knowing that this was a natural part of the sea turtles' birth cycle, I could not help but wonder, as a little girl, why she was she crying.

Was she hurting or was she crying because she knew that her babies would not make it home. Perhaps she knew of the people who would steal her eggs, or the sea birds that would snatch them up before they reached the sea. Perhaps it was a way that God provided, so that this little girl could connect through Him, with her. When I saw her tears, I felt the tears seep from my eyes and drop to the sand, mingling with hers.

When she was finished laying, the old sea turtle began to fill the hole. I hastened to help her, and still she allowed my intrusion. Then she wandered back down the beach, into the sea, and she dove beneath the waves. I sat there awhile, pondering over this precious miracle of which I had been blessed to be a part.

The next day, bright and early, I was on the beach. The nest was easy to spot, high upon the dune, where the sand is dry and no waves reached. The sand looked disturbed because of the digging, so I set to work to disguise it. I gathered seaweed, which littered the beach. I carried dried sand from other parts of the dunes, and I gently covered that sacred spot, making it look as though nothing was there.

Every morning before school, I checked, and every afternoon, I checked again. Temperatures remained constant, and the sun shone every day. Weeks later, as I played on the beach, I saw a great trembling in the sand. I thought crabs had invaded the nest, and I hurried over to save the little ones. Right at my feet I began to see the baby sea turtles scramble their way out of the sand, and they hurried down the beach towards the ocean, totally oblivious of me.

Suddenly, the sky was filled with sea birds, who launched themselves upon the little turtles. I began to scream, running around and waving my arms, as I tried to chase the birds away. I finally began to pick up the little turtles, using my sweater as a bag. I managed to save, perhaps twenty squirming turtles, and toss them beneath the waves. Then I sat on the beach and I cried, because I couldn't save them all.

Joy and horror were over in minutes. My life had changed. Such a small event impressed itself heavily, upon my thoughts. For the first time in my life I understood how fleeting life is. How precious are the moments that we are given, and how costly life is if we neglect those moments.

When life seems to overcome me, I often think of that old turtle cow, spending fifty to a hundred years, just doing what God intended for her to do. Those thoughts comfort me, and they remind me that though I am slow and getting older, I can still do my part, faithfully and gently. And when life is too hard for me to continue alone, God will always send someone to lend a helping hand.

I was blessed to play a small part in the life of one creature and in the lives of her babies. I discovered that though nature can be very cruel, God is intimately aware of every need, and he will often send someone, just as he sent me to rescue the babies and carry them safely to their home, beneath the waves.

See Also:

The Daffodil Principle
For me that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than thirty-five years before, had begun -- one bulb at a time -- to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountain top. One bulb at a time. A powerful story you don't want to miss.

Jaye Lewis, 2003

Jaye Lewis is an award-winning writer, who celebrates life from a unique perspective, finding the spiritual and miraculous in the events of every day. Jaye is writing her first book, Entertaining Angels, which honors the angels who have blessed her life and encouraged her along the way. You can email Jaye at jlewis@smyth.net

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