Thursday, June 28, 2018

Turtle Therapy

My expectation of a smooth transition from life in "the world" to the slower life here in Grenada was based largely upon my first event after arrival.  My first full day back was filled with getting my house back in order.  No, not my HOUSE house, but my sailboat house!  The nap I had hoped to get before a night-time excursion did not happen, but excitement kept me buoyed up through most of this magical trip to the other side of the island... to see the nesting Leatherback Turtles!

Island Style take-out!
Shademan picked us up at 5:30 pm and we set off on the familiar roads across the middle of the island and down to the southeast coast on the other side.  We stopped to pick up some takeout on the way.

Thanks Rowena for the snapshot! Patiently waiting for my dinner!
These little stops are a hoot and we never know what we're going to get.  This one had some good-n-greasy fish/chicken & chips!

With hardly enough time to finish our dinner, we arrived at Bathway Visitor's Center where turtle watching tours (see their Facebook Page) are conducted during the nesting season.

Things in the islands are much more relaxed and laid back than they are in the 'States, and this tour was no exception.  A group of researchers (see their Facebook Page) spend their nights walking this beach during nesting season in an effort to increase our knowledge and help return these turtles to thriving numbers.

We listened to a short introductory and then caravanned to the beach where we would wait for the mother turtles to arrive!

Tours are conducted by knowledgeable guides who are more than happy to answer any questions we had, and there were many.  There was no caution tape, no line to stay behind.  We were able to walk along this wild and beautiful beach where the turtles were nesting and see them close up!

But I'm getting ahead of myself... let me back up!  We walked out onto a wild beach bathed in the glow of a full moon.  The light threw shadows like noon, but cloaked with a certain mystique as the moon turned night into day.

Fishermen leave their boats safe on the beach
We all settled with our thoughts as we waited for the turtles to arrive.  While the research team ran down the beach to see if there was any action, I turned my face to the balmy breeze and was sure I could actually feel the light  touch my skin.  The mental chaos of my time in the US receded and the clamp on my soul began to loosen, relaxing my muscles and allowing me to accept the full gravity of just how lucky I am to be here.  In this moment, we are worlds away from the craziness that is happening in the US.  We are here.  We are still.  We can feel nature seeping into us in waves as the clouds cover the moon briefly and then suddenly  dazzle us in brilliant silver light.  I am passing back into island life here on this beach.... and it feels right.

Ghostly red "eyes" came to show us the way.
Just as we began to drowse to the sounds of crashing waves, a trio of red lights caught my attention.  They were bouncing toward us from down the beach and I knew they must be the researchers returning with news.  Stopping just short of our position on the beach, we were quietly beckoned to approach.  A nest was found.
Our first babies!
At this time of year, we are already deep into nesting season and it wasn't certain that we would see turtles at all.  That's a chance we took by coming so late.  But we were rewarded for our patience by being one of the first groups this year to see the hatchlings surface and make their desperate dash to the sea!

The researchers were proficient at spotting the nests in the dark.  Eggs are safe under the sand and our walking over them would not harm them.  But if we were to step on the babies as they struggled to take their first unfiltered breath, we would kill them.  This first nest was just steps from where we waited and we couldn't help but ooh and ahhh as these tiny little guys dug their way into our world.

The nests were nearly invisible - their location given away only by the tiny trails of the turtles already on their way.  A thick carpet of Sargassum seaweed hindered their progress and we used red lights to find them and help them on their way to the surf.  The sight was surreal.

Ghostly parade
After the initial wave of excitement subsided, we followed our guide single file down the beach.  A momma turtle had been spotted all the way down and we hurried through the thick white sand at breakneck speed.  Walking single file lessened our chances that we would accidentally step on a baby.  I struggled to keep the pace as I was continuously distracted by some shadow thrown by wind and moonlight - was that a new baby reaching the surface?  No, just a bit of seaweed.  Carry on!

My pictures are not good, but somehow the other-worldly vision captured here supports the feel of the night.  We could not use flash, so this is what we have.  I think it more accurately portrays the sights before us.  All you're missing is the sound of waves and the warm caress of the breeze.

A researcher watches the huge Leatherback enter the waves!
Despite our haste, we were almost too late.  This momma came ashore and started her dig, only to decide that tonight was not the night.  We arrived to see her huge body heft itself to the sea and disappear in a salty splash.

There she goes!
We stood in awe as this huge creature moved her bulky body toward the waves.  One... two... three big pushes with powerful flippers and the sea came to help her along.  She disappeared with a huge crashing wave leaving us to wonder where she will go and if she will return to try again when the time is right.  Will that be tonight?

We gathered 'round another nest of babies and participated in the release of one more small batch of living miracles.  In the coming years these little guys and gals will grow from this palm-size, to rival that behemoth we just witnessed... if they are lucky.

It was getting late, but we were all game for giving it another half hour - just to see if our mamma returned a bit further up the beach.  Bruce sat in the sand while I had an out-of-body experience.

Standing on that wild beach, I imagined myself alone.  I stared out to the crashing waves and could feel the presence of so many unseen turtle mammas.  They were out there.  Waiting.  And my presence was now imprinted on some of the babies hatching tonight.  Maybe they would take some little part of me with them on their lifelong journey to who-know-where.  And it felt good.  Good to be back.  Good to be where I belong again in this slower, gentler place.  This is why the lucky few make the break and leave all that is familiar behind.  This is my new familiar.  It's my new home.  This moment has done much to ease the pain of leaving all of my treasures back in Texas.  I still feel The Big Cry coming.  But tonight it holds off.  With a little more Turtle Therapy... maybe I won't need that cry after all...

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