I’ve had my share of crushes before, but it was only this year that my heart was stolen so completely that I became a stalker. It was the adorable occupants of 3A. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I found excuses to cruise by their place every morning and every evening. I scrutinized the minutiae of their existence. Had anything changed since yesterday? Had they had any visitors? Who were these other women hanging around?
No, 3A wasn’t an apartment of virile young men. It was a loggerhead sea turtle nest located on Isle of Palms beach between third and fourth streets, and I was in love. I’d been floating on the fringes of Charleston’s “turtle society” for two years, introduced by friend and fellow writer Mary Alice Monroe. I arose at the crack of dawn to attend every inventory, my sleepy son in tow. I met the wonderful turtle team, formidable wielders of the Red Bucket, whose dedication and passion for these creatures is selfless. And most of all, I fell in love with the turtles. There is nothing more adorable than a hatchling sea turtle; nothing more inspiring than its determined trek across a fraught beach; nothing more heartening than the moment they catch a wave.
I loved every encounter, but I craved the zenith of turtle monitoring. I wanted the boil – hatchlings pouring out of a nest like a pot bubbling over. Then along came 3A. A convenient ten-minute walk down the beach from my house, this became MY nest. I’d find excuses to wander by (“It rained a drop . . . better check the nest!”). I sent unsolicited “updates” and photos to team members. I pestered them about the schedule. One day, my stalking was rewarded. The sand showed the first signs of emergence, kicking off a series of evenings camped beside the nest.
(concave in sand = activity)
The team indulged me. The first few nights, nothing. Then a handful.
Then came Friday.
This was the night. I was sure of it. I was provisioned like Lewis and Clark: I had my four year old, his DVD player, a beach blanket, chairs, bug spray, snacks, kindle, water. I was there for the long haul. I sat in the company of the team, chatting merrily. So much that we were startled to see a turtle crawling by. We hopped to action, shepherding seven “scouts” safely to the sea. The sun had just set. After that, stillness. Indications of emergence ceased. All the hot action was going down on Sullivan’s, a nest poised to go. 3A was a sleeper. The rest of the team headed home or to Sullivan’s. There would be no action here tonight. I decided to keep company with my nest a little longer, popped a new DVD on for my son, and settled into my kindle. At 11:30, I flashed the red light over at the nest, intending to gather my things. And saw the hole. Which became a diminutive turtle head. Then two. Then three. Small beaks poking from the sand. Waiting.
I grabbed my son and we watched the magic happen, just the two of us. Under the remnants of a supermoon, we saw a tiny army assembling under the sand. Finally, the leader crested, and turtles poured from the nest in his wake, wave after wave. It was enchanting. We were breathless when the flow stopped, then raced down the beach with the light to play false moon, luring the hatchlings to the sea. I was a proud mama when the last dove out of sight.
I didn’t think it could get more magical than that, but I was wrong. Friday had been a “half boil” of about sixty, with another sixty eggs remaining. The team continued to monitor the nest, none so zealous as I. The next day I popped up at 6AM to scrutinize the sand; loitered at sunset; and returned around midnight, prime turtle “boiling point”. And repeat, the following day. And repeat. For three days, I sat on that nest like I’d laid the eggs myself.
It was an unusual nest. Turtles ventured out in small clutches. The team fretted. I hovered. Sunday night – turtles on the beach. We all raced at the 911 call, but it was a troop of only eight. Monday no action was expected, but a humdinger of a storm. I was stuck on a call with Comcast. Knowing I’d be on hold forever, I trotted down to the nest, phone pressed to my ear, wind whipping. Team members were in situ. The signs were there. Comcast became unimportant. I dropped to the beach, and chatted. Lightening danced across the sky to the west. Our time on the beach would be abridged. We were debating how much, when I saw shadows on the sand. An endearing mini-mob of loggerheads crowding out of the nest. The last wave. By this night, the tide was miles away, so we gathered our new friends into the trademark Red Bucket.
The turtles were three-deep, teeming to go. When the last was collected, they passed the bucket to me. I, team newbie, was handed the Red Bucket. It was a reverent moment. We hastened to the water’s edge, where I carefully released my charges. I was proud and relieved as each dove into the next phase of its journey.
The next morning at inventory, the team recovered a dawdler. My son and I gathered with the usual crowd to bid our last ward farewell. The lone occupant of 3A scrambled toward the ocean, turning at the waterline to crawl over my son’s foot in farewell, before disappearing with a flap of his flipper.
It was bittersweet as the little guy disappeared from sight. Tomorrow I’ll find another nest to fuss over, but for now there’s a little hole where 3A used to be. I’ll always remember my first. See you in thirty years, my friends. After this taste of being on the Turtle Team, I know I’ll be here waiting for you.