Summer draws to an end. School begins this week across much of the state, despite the hot, humid breath of the season, almost certain to persist for another month. Still, I can see the promise of October blue skies just beyond our reach, the cooler weather hinting at the coming of the holidays, and the gathering of our precious circle around a bright blue and orange fire in our back yard. It lifts my heart, the notion of the changing weather, shortening days and the homeward-turning of our boys, however brief it might be. But it's too soon, of course. So before I trot off into the sunset on the back of my imagination, here are some things I've meant to share, little squares of summer sunshine to be sewn into this year's quilt of ideas and memory.
For instance: this enormous old gopher turtle, ambling down our road as if on his way to the corner market, as I was myself at the time. There was a time when a turtle of this size, seen finding his way along the side of a country road, would have been swept into the back of somebody's pickup truck or dumped into the trunk and cooked into a stew. He (or she) was about the size of the platter you probably use to serve your Thanksgiving turkey, or at least a big roast chicken with vegetables. He was BIG. And to my surprise, he was also FAST, so that when I tried to photograph him, his external parts disappeared into his shell a couple of times until finally he began to speed-walk away from me at quite a breathtaking speed. I stood on the side of the road, watching and photographing him for 10 minutes or so. But despite the urbanity and charm of our small city, I am often reminded that Rodney and I live in the country, among the people we grew up with, many of them still quite capable of tossing a gopher turtle into the trunks of their cars and from there into their boiling stock pots. A truck pulled up alongside me and a man stepped out. "What is it?" he asked. In a voice I recognized, to my annoyance, as the one I use when I am especially delighted with the natural world, I said, "It's a gopher turtle. I was just watching to be sure he didn't cross into the ro...", but before I could finish the man strode up to the turtle, picked him up, and hurled him into the scrub oak trees between the road and our friend Giselle's (and formerly Claude's) pasture. And then he walked back to his truck and drove away. I sighed and went to the store for a Diet Dr. Pepper and a wistful thought for my brief acquaintance with the gopher turtle.
Rodney and I had talked not long before about the contrast between our own interactions with turtles and those of our parents' generation. We've spent so much time thinking about sea turtles this summer that the topic comes up pretty often. A few weeks after my meeting with the gopher, and since I last wrote here, we ran into our friend Scott, who helps care for nesting sea turtles at our beloved Guana. Scott confirmed what we'd been hearing about the stunning numbers of nests this year, shared some other details about the science of the subject and spent some time helping educate us. I promise to tell more about this, my loves, but as I've been absent a bit and deadly boring on the topic for months I thought you deserved a break. Don't worry: it won't last. But on we go...
This almost embarrassingly flamboyant display of color was provided in late summer by a collection of bromeliads Rodney has been cultivating at the base of a palm tree. Bromeliads brush too closely to cactus for my taste, mostly. But I have a fondness for plants that work with diligence obvious even to me at their own propogation. The lovely climbing pink Seven Sisters rose we have preserved through three generations is a great example, but it's a ROSE, for crying out loud. Bromeliads? I wasn't sure. But look at this thing. It's dramatic and glamorous and sings its own song. A bit of summer under the dappled light of the oak trees.
And what ode to summer could be complete without a view of the beach? Well, at least an ode to summer in my hands...but you knew that. Here's a view of the north entrance to Guana as we found it today, scoured by a wind out of the southeast pegged by FairWeatherFriends (my preferred weather app) as being "5-10 mph". This was clearly a lie. The wind was blowing strongly enough that stinging grains of sand blasted our legs on the southbound return walk, filling in the depressions of footprints as well as dusting over shells left in by the falling tide. But the day had its own rewards. About a mile into our walk I was pulled up short by one of things we dread most to see on the beach: a baby sea turtle, motionless and beached by the tide. Flippers and all, his little body was about the size of the palm of my hand. His eyes were closed; I thought to take a photo and pulled out my phone, but Rodney was there and touched the turtle gently as he said, "Is he dead?" and to my astonishment, his EYES OPENED. The law is clear that you must stay 500 feet away from sea turtles and they are not to be interfered with, and this is a law I respect more than most. But I didn't think. I just scooped up the baby and ran into the water with him, placing him beyind the first breakers as far out as I could go. And then we watched.
It took several minutes, but his flippers moved constantly in the timeless rhythm of life with which baby sea turtles are hard-wired. He rolled in the breakers a bit, seemed to struggle, and then seemed to swim, and finally, disappeared. We watched. Finally we continued our walk, another half mile to the north and back, watching all the while for the tiny body to appear again. All the way back, we scanned the breakers and the incoming tide, watching carefully. The little turtle had disappeared, though, for good or ill. Tomorrow I'll let Scott know, and give him as a reference point the nearest nest labels. And we'll hope for the best.
So, my dears, here are some glimmers of summer as its days grow gently shorter. I hope they speak to your hearts, as they're shared from mine.