A brilliant beam of moonlight came through the window, waking me. The clock said 4:15 a.m., but a sense of mystery afoot propelled me out of bed. It was last Tuesday, and I was staying alone in a condo on the west coast of Florida.
I looked out the bedroom window at the ruffle of surf rolling in just 25 yards away. The moonlight cut a path from the horizon to the shore. Really, it was quite beautiful. At the shoreline, I thought I saw something slowly moving out of the water, taking shape before my eyes.
Despite the moonlight, it was too dark on the beach to see anything clearly, but what I did see looked like a giant turtle. How could that possibly be? I know sea turtles can come ashore in this season, but what were the chances that one would emerge just as I looked out? I watched, but I just couldn’t quite define the shape on the beach.
Eventually I decided I was seeing things, and went back to sleep. When I woke up, I looked out the window again. Apparently, sometime during the night, volunteers from the local marine center had cordoned off a 4-by-4-foot turtle-nesting site. It was just where I thought I had seen the turtle lumbering out of the Gulf of Mexico. And it was the only nest on the beach for as far as I could see. The huge tracks of the creature were still etched in the sand.
I do believe that the nest was evidence of things unseen — some intangible connection between the mother turtle, hauling herself out of the waves, and the powerful feelings all mothers have as we bring new life into the world.
I am a grounded, practical woman, but something strange happened that night, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I learned that it was a loggerhead I saw. Loggerhead turtles, which sometimes come ashore on the Florida coast, are the largest hard-shell turtles in the world, weighing up to several hundred pounds. They mate out at sea and then crawl onto a beach to lay their eggs above the high tide mark. They dig a hole and drop 35 to 100 golf ball-sized eggs, using their giant flippers to bury them and build a mound of sand over them. Then they make their way back to the ocean.