Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice and a Turtle

Okay, so we made it through the longest night of the year.  Winter has officially started, the shortest day is over and it can only be uphill from here.  Right..??  The only hurdle that I can see is January.  Could there be a longer, more dreary, endless month than January..??  No.

Beautiful shot of Stonehenge on Solstice Day...


"Sea turtles, mate."

Anyone know where that line originates..??  This isn't actually a quiz, it's a segue into my story, though if you're curious, it's a quote used in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Said by Johnny Depp (first movie), by Orlando Bloom (second), and Keith Richards (third).  Every time I hear it, I inevitably think about my own sea turtle--hence the reason for this post:  I watched one of the movies last night.

I was living in Hawaii, staying in a beautiful cabin-like place near Wai'anapanapa, in the jungle, about three miles outside the tiny settlement of Hana, in the far west end of Maui.  This was about two months before I went back to civilization (Lahaina), eventually became a crew member on the schooner, and sailed off into the sunset.  Hana back then was all Hawaiian--not a rock star or celebrity to be found--with a small general store, lots of funny cute kids, grumpy old grandmothers and not a whole lot else.  The road ended not much further past Hana making it a very isolated and wonderful place.

So.  The day started off with a walk along the lava beds as I head toward Hana to get some groceries.  There is very little sand along this part of the coast, though there was a most excellent little sandy cove right below my house, where I did lots of snorkeling.  Mostly though, the lava had piled up right to the water when Haleakala blew up ages before.  It was a pretty dicey route along those beds as the lava was sharp and jumbled and in places very treacherous, but it was also a shortcut to the village.

I do my shopping, chat with a couple of the women, talk to the kids, then head back the three miles to the house.  When I get within sight of my place, I pick a favorite flat piece of lava to sit on--one that jutted out over the water a bit, so I felt like I was floating in space.  The ocean is about 15 feet below me, the sun sparkling on the water.  It was a really beautiful late morning in Paradise.

Reaching into my small pack, I pulled out my flute and began to play an impromptu tune.  I took that flute with me everywhere back then.  It was battered, dented in a few spots, and molded to my lips and my fingers.  I loved that flute.  Anyway.  I'm sitting there, eyes closed, legs dangling, soft notes drifting, as I invent the song to express what I'm feeling in that moment.

Hearing a splash, not from a wave, I glance down while I'm playing and below me, treading water is an enormous, gnarly, grandfather of a sea turtle.  And he's looking right at me.  I stare, he stares.  I lower my flute to reach for my camera.  He hesitates for a moment than uses one huge front leg to turn away.  I quickly start playing again, and damn.  He stops and turns back.
I played my flute for that sea turtle.  The whole time his gray, old head is stretched out from his wrinkled, prune-like neck, his eyes ancient and knowing as he watched me through hooded lids, and listened to the music.  His shell was mottled, and scarred, and there wasn't--and still isn't--a doubt in my mind this was a very, very old creature.  (The Hawaiian green sea turtle can reach 3 feet from stem to stern, and weigh over 200 pounds.  This guy was every bit of that).

He paddled his legs, treading water, occasionally dropping below the water for a moment, and for about five minutes or so, I entertained him...or at the very least caught his interest.  Then suddenly, he spun one leg, turned himself about, and dove under water, and I never saw him again.  It was an experience like no other.

For days after I would go down to that flat rock of lava and play my flute.  Once I thought I saw something deep under the clear, aqua water, but if it was him, he didn't rise up to hear more music. 

Bizarrely, I actually had my camera with me, but couldn't take a picture.  The vision in my head, however, is crystal clear: I can hear the waves lapping below my perch, the notes of the flute, feel the sun on my face and legs, smell the ginger blossoms in the grove behind me...and can look into those ancient, primordial eyes and marvel that I have somehow, mysteriously, captivated a sea turtle.


  1. "Could there be a longer, more dreary, endless month than January..??"

    February. January at least greets us with the return of direct sunlight. February, short a month as it is, seems queerly unremitting.

    I liked your story. Turtles, and reptiles in general, are amazing...holdovers from the times of dragons and titans. The secrets and stories they have must be amazing, if only we could hear them.

  2. There's a wisdom in such creatures that seems to far surpass ours...more elemental and pure.

    Glad you liked the story...and let's compromise on which months are the crappiest: they both suck.