See that guy? She (or he) is a large gopher tortoise, living la vida loca at Guana Reserve, which you know perfectly well by now to be one of our most favorite places. Saturday afternoon we went for a beach walk in what had turned into a very warm late October day. It was also, of course, Florida-Georgia football Saturday, a day when most folks here are at the game, at a party, or home in front of the TV. (It's never blacked out, of course, because not only does it sell out every year, I think somebody has to die for you to inherit tickets.)
So it was quiet at the beach, relatively speaking. There were a few surfers, scanning the horizon hopelessly, and one guy walking along the beach carrying some odd-looking radio equipment. This last guy disappeared up into the dunes, which troubled Rodney a bit: the dunes constitute a discrete, delicately fragile eco-system of their own, and are protected from humans, for the most part. Since Rodney and I were guilty of much violation of this kind of protection in our misspent youths, we're watchful now, perhaps hoping no one will remember our families spending whole weekends in the 1950s and '60s, gleefully driving through these same dunes, wreaking ecological havoc out of pure ignorance and human thoughtlessness. The guy didn't reappear on the beach. "Maybe he had to pee," I said, but I thought Rodney was making a mental note about it.
As we walked toward home around 4 in the afternoon, we spotted movement in the grass around the burrow Rodney'd identified that morning. Warmed by the sun, the large tortoise moved with surprising speed to take shelter in the cool burrow. We got some photos, but they weren't great. Still, we had the pleasure of watching her eat some wildflowers and grass, sun herself, and finally move toward home, even catching sight of flying sand as she either opened or closed her burrow entrance.
Because the tide was low in the morning, we headed back in the cool of the early Sunday for a wordless worship I find immeasurably soothing, and walked up the beach. Whatever your own religious beliefs or internal language of spirituality, there can surely be no more glorious sight than this one, or the one Nature offers you wherever you live. When we arrived, there was the gopher tortoise, her neck stretched into the bright sunshine, her body perfectly still as she warmed for her daily constitutional. Perhaps she had a vague sense of pleasure, as we did, in the lingering warmth of the autumn days. We photographed her quietly and moved on. The water is still warm enough for me to walk in the shallows, bait fish skittering out ahead of me and diamonds of light dancing on the surface. Near the northern boundary of the beach, we ran into our Sea Turtle Superhero, Scott Eastman, and a helper, who seemed to be clearing away the land markers of one of the last sea turtle nests of the year. (In case I've forgotten to mention this, the number of nests this year, for reasons that are not yet understood, are nearly TRIPLE the annual average. Have I already told you this? ;))
Scott stopped for a quick word, and I told him the location of the gopher tortoise. He's the sea turtle guy, of course, and not the land reptile guy, but he said, "There's a University of Florida biologist out here, noting the nesting locations..." and about that time, my dear old person said, "Would he be carrying radio equipment?" Scott nodded, "That's him." He's marked about 20 gopher tortoise burrow sites, and of course this explained why he'd disappeared into the dunes and not returned to the beach: He's a Turtle Superhero. As, of course, is Scott, and as are all those folks like our friend Louise and many others, who get up REALLY early, take long walks looking our for the turtles, and who take stewardship of the glorious, beautiful earth and its denizens to heart. Thanks, Scott. Thanks, Louise. Thanks, U of F Biology Guy. And thanks to the daughter of my friend Jack, who takes time to observe and notice the most prosaic details about turtles and the world around her, which is slowly settling into her hands, and those of her peers, in hopes their stewardship will far exceed our own.