Season of the Turtle

The sea turtle crawled out of the waves and through the spreading foam, hesitating as she looked around, wary of predators and other disturbances. She was very tired. This was her second crawl of the night. At the first attempt, a fox had come up to her in the moonlight, sniffing the edges of her shell and pawing at one of her flippers. Nervous, she had turned and made her laborious way back to the water.

This time, in the quiet hours before dawn, she met with no difficulty except her own awkwardness on land. In the sea, she dove and turned and swam tirelessly, completely at home in her liquid environment. On land, she moved with difficulty, three feet in length and nearly three hundred pounds, and weighed down with her burden of new life. But the instinct of millions of years kept her moving, searching the beach where she was hatched almost two decades before. As she made her slow and cautious way, ghost crabs skittered away from her in the moonlight. They would return for the baby turtles later, but they were no danger to the mother.

Just over the low ridge of a sand dune, she found a likely spot and began to dig, flinging sand with her large flippers, rotating her body to create a pit. At last, it was deep enough to suit her, and she dug a smaller egg chamber with her hind flippers. She was ready.

With the rear of her body poised over the chamber, she began laying her eggs. Two, then three more, then another two or three; each rubbery egg cushioned by the mucus secreted from her body. Her craggy face awash with “tears,” she continued until more than a hundred eggs were nestled tightly together in the chamber. Then she used her rear flippers again, pushing the loose sand over the nest and all around, disguising its presence from predators.

Near exhaustion, but satisfied her work was done, she crawled even more slowly toward the waves, never to see the nest again, trusting in her progeny’s instincts to take them, in their time, on their own path to the sea.

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