Sometimes after a nest of tiny turtles have climbed their way up through the sand and found their way to the sea, you think your job is done -- unless you hear the faint scratching of one little hatchling still working his way toward the cool night air and the path of moonlight-on-water that beckons him home.
That's exactly what happened at Nest 7051 two nights ago on Pensacola Beach. Dozens of hatchlings had emerged from their nest and made their way to the Gulf of Mexico, but ever-so-soft scratching could still be heard below the sand.
When you are watching and waiting for a one-ounce straggler, knowing a tiny flipper could emerge any moment, it can be difficult to leave the nest alone... even when it is supper time... even when it is bedtime.
One day passed, then two days passed. Where was that tiny hatchling? Or was there, perhaps, more than one?
At twilight I sat a boxed screen in place over the nest to protect any hatchling that might emerge overnight. Occasionally I could hear scratching, but sometimes not. I could probably leave, but what if the hatchling came out after I left!
And so I sat a while and watched the sunset...
And then I watched the Blue Angels fly over...
And then I watched the waves and listened to their shush, shush, shushing on the shore...
And then I watch the moon and stars begin to light up the night sky.
The scratching noise quieted again and since I was very hungry, having skipped supper, I decided to go home for a late snack. It was very tempting to go to bed afterwards, but I had a funny feeling that a little hatchling might be waiting for me if I went back. (Turtle nannies have a sixth sense about things like that, you know.) And so I drove back down the beach and hiked my way east to Nest 7051.
Oh how beautiful it was on the beach late at night. A half-moon was shining across the Gulf of Mexico, creating a silvery pathway to the edge of the horizon. The sugar-white sand reflected enough light for me to see perfectly... Perfectly enough to see that there was one little hatchling scooting this way and that under the screen, trying to find a way to his home in the sea.
"Ah ha!" I said. "Let's get you out of there so you can catch up with the rest of your family."
I carefully removed the screen and let the little fellow scoot along for a little way. It's amazing how fast they can go! Then I picked him up gently and carried him closer to the shore and allowed him to finish the march on his own, imprinting the beach that he may return to one day.
"I christen you 'Ryan Caretta-caretta'!" I said.
['Ryan' for my four-year old friend in Minnesota who's been blowing and blowing and blowing every day to help keep the hurricanes away. And 'Caretta caretta' which is every loggerhead hatchling's last name (so to speak).]
Then, as hatchling 'Ryan Caretta caretta' reached the water's edge, he caught a ride on a foam-topped wave, out across the silvery pathway to the edge of the horizon and disappeared.
[Dedicated to Ryan Taylor and his sister Alli of East Grand Forks, Minnesota; and his cousins Marin and Nathan Taylor of Blaine, Minnesota.]