Of Turtles and Transitions

So, today I woke up thinking about turtles. But that’s not where the story starts. It starts over a decade and a half ago when I was on a beach on the island of Zakynthos and the toothless, but nevertheless oddly handsome, man renting out beach chairs started chatting up my mom. He told us that the beach was a nesting ground for carretta carretta turtles, which swim across from Africa to lay their eggs in its sands. At night, in hatching season, masses of baby turtles hatch and climb all over each other to get out of their sandy nest. They proceed to toddle down the beach to the shore, where they will then swim to Africa and join the adult carretta carrettas, returning when and if it is time for them to lay eggs on this same, predestined beach. This strenuous migration is what the turtles do, it’s their dharma.

Anyway, the toothless hunk reminisced about turtle hatchings he’d seen in his day, and he told us it’s a very perilous toddle to the sea, because birds swoop down and eat the baby turtles, whose shells are not yet hard enough to repel the birds’ beaks, as they make their way to shore. It suspected he was just trying to impress my mom with his sensitivity in caring about the turtles’ plight. But I later had this story confirmed when I watched a video of Suddenly Last Summer, the lurid Katharine Hepburn-Elizabeth Taylor-Montgomery Clift adaptation of the Tennessee Williams one-act. Parallels are drawn between what happens to bird-ravaged baby sea turtles and the fate that befalls the Katharine Hepburn’s character’s beloved son, Sebastian. (She goes totally nutso and gives an over the top speech which involves her eerie, shaky voice repeating, “Violet and Sebastian! Sebastian and Violet!” again and again. It’s just about the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.)

So, the Zakynthian beach chair lord was telling the truth. He also revealed that, as a boy, he would pick up the poor turtles and carry them to sea, to make sure they made it aive. But he later learned that this act of mercy was harming the turtles, not helping them; they need the strenuous toddle to the sea in order to build up their leg (fin?) muscles for the long swim ahead. It’s the transition between land and sea that’s important, that prepares them for what’s ahead.

And the reason I was thinking about said turtles this morning is partly because I’m obsessed with transitions, and partly because I recently watched baby sea turtles toddle to see in Nicaragua, on another fateful beach. But I was also thinking about how I myself need a slow transition into my day. See, in New York, the sun would come through the Greek lace curtains in the bedroom of my 19th floor apartment and wake me up. Here in Miami Beach, we live on the ground floor, surrounded by palm trees and other tropical green things. The little jungle courtyard in front of our bedroom is a delight, but it blocks the sun. Being jolted awake by the chipper but evil sound of my husband’s cell phone alarm was not having a beneficial effect on my mood. So I asked Santa for a sunrise alarm clock, which mimics the effects of dawn, slowly illuminating the room, growing ever brighter, until the room is light and filled with the sound of (fake) birds chirping.

This morning I realized that the gradual alarm is my toddle to the sea. I need it before I embark on my daily swim to Africa. When I was a folk and myth major, my BFF Nathan and I used to say we were “liminal and loving it”. Thanks to my extended transition, during the fake dawn of every morning, that statement is now true again.


  1. So glad the sunrise alarm is working out! I super love your photo of the Olive Ridley turtle on the beach–her expression is priceless. I keep trying to think of a caption. What she’s really thinking is “Too many paparazzi around here, I’ll go lay my eggs on the next beach where I can have some privacy.”

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