Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writer's Toolkit/Reflection: The Death of a Sea Turtle

Recently during my morning walk I saw a newly hatched sea turtle walking toward the ocean.  The tide was almost completely at its ebb.  The dunes where the mother turtles build their nests were perhaps fifty yards from where the baby was. He had traveled so far for a little guy who wouldn't fill the palm of my hand, and he was so tired! He'd take about four steps, and then stop to rest.  Then he'd take a few more steps, and rest. His steps were becoming slower and slower, and his little flippers were shaking with the effort.  He looked like a bent, old man, exhausted and walking a very crooked path.

I wanted so much to help him, but it is illegal to touch a sea turtle in Florida without a special permit.  There was a seagull on the beach eying the turtle. It is not illegal to shoo birds who are contemplating making a snack of a turtle.  I managed to at least do that much, but there were a whole lot of birds around and the turtle was still pretty far from the water.

I continued to watch.  A big wave washed in and pushed him back about eight feet. (Eight feet is very far for a tiny sea turtle who is already exhausted.) The water receded and the turtle started walking again.  This time he was turned around and going in the wrong direction.  A turtle patrol person told me once that when that happens the turtle will die. Either a bird will eat it, a car will run over it, or it will die from exhaustion and/or heat and lack of water.

There was nothing I could do, and no turtle patrol person in sight.

I walked away feeling sad.  It seems cruel and unfair that baby sea turtles have to struggle so hard and undergo so much danger to get to the ocean.  However, if they're not strong and hearty by the time they get to the ocean they will die because they're not strong enough to swim in the current.  The old saying is true: that which doesn't kill us, really does make us stronger.  That helps motivate us to keep struggling in difficult situations.

What we don't like to think about is the fact that the corollary is also true:  sometimes the challenges we face are killers.

Fortunately, we can't tell the difference until it's too late.

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