Suddenly Surrounded

“Well, there’s lightning, folks. Looks like we’ll have to clear the beach.” Pam walks up the dune to the nest to consult with John and Darrelyn, the other turtle patrol volunteers monitoring the hatch.


Susan, JD and I trade glances. Granted it has been an unusual hatch but the nest IS still hatching. We’ve witnessed six loggerhead turtles crawl out so far. Normally, after the first one appears, there’s a wild churning in the sand and it erupts with hatchlings. But not this nest. These hatchlings have arrived one by one, making a solitary march down to the surf. There are still about 49 little loggerheads in the nest based on stats recorded at the time the eggs were transferred to higher ground from their original site. Lightning or no lightning, we can’t just leave.

These turtles seem tired. They need our help. I’ve seen quite a number of hatchings. Usually the babies hit the sand and its like a race. But not these guys. They’ve crawled a few feet, stopped, rested, then crawled a few more. It’s no telling how long they’ve been trying to break free.

Last night a hard rain packed down the sand and the morning sun baked it into a thick crust. Todd, the head turtle patrol guy for our stretch of beach, stopped by around 8:30 pm and broke up the crust with his hand. Seconds later, the first hatchling emerged. Darrelyn, John and Pam guess the hatchlings have been trying to break through that crust for hours. It appears to have sapped their strength.

It is also low tide. That means a long trek to the water from the nest situated halfway up the dune. The turtle patrol smoothed out a path to the ocean to ease the journey–every bump in the sand is a hill to climb when you’re the size of a silver dollar–but the launching pad ends a good thirty feet from the surf. John hand-carried the last three turtles from the end of the ramp to the water.

And the beach is quite dark. There’s no moon and turtles find their way to the ocean by following the light along the horizon. We’ve had to guide each turtle down to the water with artificial light using special red flashlights. Without them, the only light on the beach is from houses about a quarter-mile away. Following the house lights would take the turtles off course, on a path running parallel to the ocean. The longer they are on the beach, the more likely they are to be eaten by ghost crabs.

“Todd said to cover the nest back up if we have to leave,” I hear John tell Darrelyn.

“They can’t do that!” Susan’s jaw drops. “You can see how tired these turtles are! Why don’t they just help them out?”

“Dang turtle Nazi’s”, JD mutters under his breath.

“Ok, here’s what we’ll do,” I lean in closer so only JD and Susan can hear. “We’ll take our chairs and leave the beach, but the minute the turtle patrol is gone, we’ll come back and finish helping these turtles to the water. Even if we have to dig the hole open again.”

“You’re going to get us arrested,” JD says. “Do you know what they do to people who dig up turtle nests?”

“I’m in,” says Susan.

Everyone else is folding up their chairs. Ruth and Ian are halfway down the beach to their house, when John says, “Hold up, everybody, hold up. We’re gonna help ’em out. Somebody take a red light to the end of the ramp.” Quickly we all reposition and John starts scooping turtles out of the hole.

20120908-170520.jpgIt takes every last one of us to get the hatchlings down to the surf. With no strong light at the water’s edge, the turtles keep trying to veer off path. I choose a hatchling and shine my red light on the ramp just inches ahead of her nose. Immediately, she scoots toward it with renewed energy, like FINALLY she knows which direction to take.

As I guide her to the end of the ramp, I think about my young friend M who is trying to help care for her mother who’s bipolar. M and her mom moved in together a while back. M’s mom struggles with stability despite faithfully taking her medicine. She’s on disability and doesn’t manage money well. M confided that she doesn’t know how to help other than just being there. Her mom has been in the hospital for over a month now, M is interviewing for a job in another town, and has given a 60-day notice on their lease.

“I don’t know where Mom will live when she gets out,” M said, “but I feel like I have to take care of me.”

I told her about Jerri’s housing situation and about Telecare. I explained the ACTT model and the services they provide including money-management and transportation to doctor visits. M was impressed.

“That’s exactly what Mom needs. How did you find out about all these resources?”

So I shared my story. About how Jerri’s former Narcotics Anonymous sponsor had connected me with a woman at NAMI NC. How she had shared the basics of the mental health system in Durham and told me about the NAMI Family-to-Family course. How at that course, I’d learned about support groups, education meetings, club houses, and other resources in Durham. About how one thing led to another until we discovered Telecare.

Like this baby loggerhead, it was as if someone was shining a red light just in front of my nose showing me the way step-by-step. And as I talked to M, it felt like I was also turning on a red light for her.

As I hand off my turtle at the end of the ramp to Darrelyn who then walks her out to the water, I think about the many hardships still ahead for all of us — the turtle, M, and for me. Our journeys are similar. We are on our own, abandoned by family who don’t understand mental illness and want no part of it. We butt our heads repeatedly into a crusty ceiling until we’re exhausted. We finally make headway to discover the path is quite long and the night very dark. What joy to be suddenly surrounded by concerned friends with red lights and warm hands who carry us, if only for a little while, to the next leg of our journey.

This is what you, my blogging friends, do for me.