We had a really interesting experience last night. We went on a Turtle Walk. During the months of May- July, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center takes people on a guided walk on the beach, along with the Turtle Patrol, to look for nesting sea turtles. The goal is educational- to teach people respect for sea turtle nests, to allow us to marvel at the instincts and power of the turtles. How they have little bitty brains, but they know exactly how to be a sea turtle. How they find just the right place to lay their eggs. How they make it safe for their little ones. To grieve at the statistics that 1 in 4000 sea turtles will live to adulthood. To marvel that sea turtles have remained essentially unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. All of this at 10:30 at night. In the dark.
And I mean dark. There was no moon last night because the sky was overcast and there is a light ordinance on Jekyll Island. I got yelled at when I turned my phone on to check the time. So, there we were- Jack and his parents, Vicki and my two, along with 20 or so others, strolling along the beach in oppressive humidity- in the dark.
I was thrilled. My senses were on high alert. I could feel how large my pupils were and how the ocean gleamed with its own light. I could hear the sound of the waves right next to us and the low rumble of thunder in the distance. I could feel the heavy feeling of humidity and the cool breeze stirring my hair. People talked in hushed tones and we were very aware that we were witnessing something that was beyond thought, something that is as old as time. It all created a wonderfully wild and magic night.
Jack and Ray walked together at times, and at time Ray came back to me to hold my hand. He was very curious and asked lots of questions. He wanted to know everything.
And Elizabeth- my poor Elizabeth didn’t understand. She didn’t know what to make of it. She was tired and she was hot and she was bombarded with sensory information that was new and different. I was struck when she sidled up to me and said “I’m scared, Mommy.”
“Oh honey- I’m so sorry,” I said, putting my arm around her. “Can you feel how relaxing this is? People buy noise machines just to have this sound. Your noise machine does this. Can you feel how calming it is?”
“No,” she said and we walked, holding hands. I learned to alert her when the sand conformation would change- when there would be a hillock or a depression- so that she didn’t trip. She could see them in the dim, but couldn’t make sense of them, didn’t realize she would have to change her footing. So, I became her eyes. After a while, she relaxed and we talked quietly about sea turtles and about how annoying the cheerleading conference attendees, also out on the beach, were being and how they were probably scaring the turtles. How anxious and excited the mama sea turtles must be. How we didn’t see any turtles and how sensitive nature is. How power conveys responsibility.
I was struck at how she needed me to translate the experience for her. How she needed to know what it was that she was “supposed” to be feeling. How she was depending on me to “see” it for her. How she relaxed when it was made safe for her. How she grasped the big ideas once she processed the sensory.
After a half hour walk up the beach, we stopped and our guide showed us some amazing “night beach” things- the sparkles that you can find on a dark beach at the waters edge when you dragged your foot across the water-filled sand. The smallest creatures that had “bioluminesence” qualities. She recreated this experience for us as we crunched wintergreen mints in the dark and watched small fireworks in each others’ mouths. On the way back, people walked more slowly and we all looked for sparkles in the water.
And Elizabeth started getting tired and overwhelmed, which made her whiny. “I’m tired. I’m hot. Do you have water? My feet hurt…”
I took her hand and said “I know you’re tired, honey. I’ve learned that if you pay attention to bad stuff, that’s all that you see. But if you pay attention to good stuff, it shoves the bad stuff out of your head, and that’s all you see then, too. You’ve told me some bad stuff. Do you see any good stuff?”
“No,” she said.
“Well, I can feel how cool the breeze is, and I think it’s kindof cool that there are sparkles in the water, and I really like the sound of the waves. Is there anything at all that you can think of that’s good right now?” I asked again.
“Yes. You,” she said.
And we walked along, hand in hand, both of us feeling the love that comes from holding hands on a hot summer night at the beach. I didn’t need to find a sea turtle to feel the bond of parent and child that is older than time.