My wife and I spent several days on vacation recently, motoring across the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.
Three relaxing days on Bald Head Island, N.C., allowed us to reconnect with one daughter’s family. Upon our arrival, our son-in-law explained that we had missed a turtle hatching but that we would be able to witness a nest excavation.
The community and visitors support a conservancy that monitors turtle nests, keeps track of when eggs are laid and supervises hatchings to ensure people don’t interfere with the process by which Mother Nature produces her next generation of loggerheads.
Only one of thousands of hatchlings will survive the three-year odyssey and live to return to Bald Head Island to lay another batch of eggs.
We were told that male turtles never return, terminating their transoceanic wanderings in the Caribbean, where they lay in wait for females to impregnate. Leaving the mother turtles to make the arduous swim north by themselves, the males remain in warm southern waters, where they no doubt spend lazy afternoons sipping Coronas and telling tall tales to other guy turtles.
Nests are excavated three days after the initial hatching. Excavations are a last-ditch attempt to retrieve any baby turtles that might still be alive but likely could never make it out of the sand on their own.
Our expectations were already lowered then as we came up to the crowd of beach-goers gathered for the excavation. We told ourselves that even if we didn’t get to see hatchlings, the gigantic orange moon rising over the Atlantic was reason enough to celebrate.
Even so, we had to admit we were disappointed when word filtered back that only a single turtle had been found by the two young people who oversaw the digging. A rail-thin young man held the hatchling in his hand for us to see. It wasn’t much bigger than a silver dollar.
Spectators were told to stand behind a yellow plastic tape that had been stretched along the beach. We watched while a young blonde woman smoothed a path from the loose sand to the shore.
Although the distance to the lapping surf probably was no more than 60 feet, the little tyke’s journey didn’t lack for suspense. We oohed and ahhed as the hatchling – a black spot we struggled to see in the fading light – clamored out of one depression only to topple from view into the next.
By the time it reached water and was wave-tossed back to beach three or four times, before succeeding in its quest, adults and children alike were cheering like fans at a football game.
Two days later, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, we were seated at a seafood restaurant in Cedar Key, at a reunion of former newspaper colleagues, some of whom we had known since before we were married.
The luncheon had been billed as perhaps the final “Geezerfest,” a name bestowed by one of two Tampa Tribune alumni who had died in recent months and in whose honor the event was held. Given that at nearly 69, I was one of the younger geezers, it was understood that some of us might not meet again.
It’s been 40 years since my byline last appeared in The Tribune, but the pounding of Underwood and Royal typewriters and the scent of lead pots hanging on Linotype machines were fresh in my mind last week.
Another reason I came on my first visit to the quaint gulf-side village was that my great-grandmother had passed that way 143 years earlier, when Cedar Key was the terminus of a cross-state railroad. She had traveled by train from upstate New York, a young widow with two children in tow. They were headed to Clear Water, Fla., where she would become the first public school teacher in that county.
My older sister has the trunk that contained her and her children’s possessions. It’s smaller than the cooler we took to the beach.
We drove more than 1,000 miles, renewed cherished friendships and embraced a lot of memories.
And somewhere out in the ocean, I like to think, a little turtle is making its way in the world.
Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at email@example.com.