Summer 2009: Coda

A baby sea turtle swimming out to sea

Eric Madeja/istockphoto.com

A baby sea turtle swimming out to sea

Alice Walker

Bryan Meltz

Milagros de la Vida—Turtles

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By Alice Walker

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Today, a few hours before sunset, I went with friends to place sixty-four tiny turtles back into the ocean. They had come ashore months before as embryos in their mothers’ bodies. The mothers had laid the soft, leathery eggs in deep, under-sand nests, covered them carefully, and left them to hatch, before returning to the ocean’s depths. My sweetheart and I had walked our dog along their nesting trail in May, marveling at the igloo-like bubbles that covered the beach. Now, in early December, under large plastic buckets, dozens of baby turtles wriggled and crawled, over and over each other, and into our lucky hands.

That is what I felt, incredibly lucky to be there to help them go home. Home to a giant sea that, even as we lifted the tiny dark gray milagros de la vida (miracles of life) from the sand, roared and crashed against the shore, sending foam and spray well above our heads.

I have been coming to this beach in Mexico, this same stretch of ocean, for twenty years; but never at the right time. Usually I have been writing in such seclusion I’ve missed this astonishing event. Two years ago I came to help with the turtles for the first time. It was one of my most intense spiritual experiences. Them, so dark, suede scaled, and determined; me, speechless to find them so tiny that five of them, if they were still, might fit in one hand; yet knowing their way home. Scooping them out of the bucket, we barely had a moment to prevent them from falling from our hands, before they, flippers working ceaselessly, followed the smell of the sea, the spray on their bodies, and began making a dash, their kind of dash, more like a happy waddle, to the water. Going back to Mother.

Not many of them will survive their journey to adulthood. They will fall prey to many predators before they are the huge size a few of them will attain. But some will make it, and come ashore years from now as mothers themselves, ready to start the cycle all over again. I said to my sweetheart how odd it must seem to the turtles to have lived eons without needing the help of humans to keep their numbers viable, after having been hunted almost to extinction. Then I thought of how long it would take for our intervention in the cycle to become a part of what the turtles expect; a part of their DNA. We laughed, thinking of the baby turtles to come, scrambling around in the coming thousands of years, patiently waiting for us. Where’s that human hand that’s supposed to appear around about now, they would ask themselves. We laughed more, if soberly, hoping that, with still more luck, we—as that human hand—would always, if still needed, be there.

Alice Walker is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Color Purple and more than two dozen other works. She placed her archive at Emory in 2007. "Milagros de la vida—turtles" copyright ©2008 by Alice Walker.

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