Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moon Baths and Sea Turtles

Today features Guest blogger Kelly Kittel.

"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."
~Native American Proverb

One of the 99 reasons we moved to Costa Rica  was so our children could experience the wildlife there before it’s gone. Sadly, most of the critters are, indeed, endangered and could disappear in their lifetime. I know this firsthand because in 1987, my husband and I traveled to Costa Rica where we beat the bush at Monteverde until we found the Golden Toad—a fluorescent orange beauty endemic only to that cloud forest.  Since that year, it has never been seen again. When I learned of its fate some years later, I felt I’d lost a friend.  I believe you will not miss what you have not known, so we took our kids to begin their love affairs with the likes of monkeys, scarlet macaws, and sea turtles.  

We were lucky to live near a prime nesting beach for olive ridley and black turtles with an occasional leatherback.  Many nights after dinner we checked the tide chart, strapped on our headlamps, and drove our quads through the jungle to the deserted beach with any combination of our four children who didn’t have homework.  On our playa there were one or two guards hired by the developer who owned the property and sometimes Ticos (Costa Ricans) camping under the trees, but typically we were alone with the waves and the stars. 

We’d kick off our flip-flops and head for the tide line, strolling along the warm water’s edge and sending cascades of phosphorescent creatures sparkling their bioluminescent light show before our happy feet. Whenever we spotted turtle tracks heading up the beach, we'd followed them with excitement, hoping to find a female digging her nest. 

Once we found a turtle, we’d quietly set up camp nearby.  I’d pull a cool, cotton sheet from our backpack and spread it out on the still-warm sand, then offer up some bug spray and snacks.  We’d lie on our backs and have a moon bath, picking out all the constellations we knew for up to an hour while the turtle worked, using her powerful back flippers to dig a perfect hole and rocking her shell back and forth to scoop up every last bit of sand she could reach, flinging it far and wide.  You haven’t lived until a sea turtle has flung sand in your hair.  

Once the digging was done, she'd sigh and rest for a moment.  Then we’d move in quietly behind her to watch her deposit her clutch of about 100 ping-pong ball-like eggs.  
We’d retreat to our sheet while she quickly filled in her hole, flipping sand all around her to camouflage her nest.  Unfortunately, many Ticos and animals love to eat turtle eggs and while she makes a valiant effort to hide her babies, it is impossible for her to cover the wide tracks made by her shell and flippers as she heaves herself back down the sand to her saltwater home.  

We'd usually followed her to the water’s edge, amazed by her speed and agility once she was back in the sea.

In the 8 months we lived in Costa Rica, my kids watched so many sea turtles lay their eggs, they could all give guided tours, including Bella, who was four.  I hope some day they’ll be able to bring their own kids to our beach, spread out a cool, cotton sheet under the night sky, and remember the familiar whoosh of warm waves gently kissing the sand while a mother sea turtle sighs nearby, her salty tears flowing from the effort of ensuring the survival of her species. 

Do your children love a particular natural place so much they'll miss it if it's gone? How could you deepen their connection to it?

KellyKittel currently lives on an island in Rhode Island with her husband and the two youngest of their five children where she walks or swims the beach daily but sees no sea turtles.  She was recently published in Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, which she does as often as possible, and Moose on the Loose, a travel humor anthology.  She is currently writing a travel memoir about living in Costa Rica and writes a blog, "Where in the World are the Kittels?”

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  1. looking forward to a Costa Rican moon bath in 2013. Great article!

    1. I know! The way Kelly described it made me want one, too!

  2. Beautiful Kelly - after reading this and all of the talking that Michelle and I've done on her wonderful travels and knowing how much my daughter especially LOVES to travel - I know now that I'll re-double my efforts to be sure she travels even more extensively to see more of nature before it changes so that, as you say, she can continue her various love-affairs and so that she'll know what she is missing when it changes and/or disappears.

    THANK YOU for this beautiful writing.


    Otha Day

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed the read, Otha, and maybe if we teach our children well, they will be better stewards of this amazing nest we all share! Keep up the good work!

    1. That is one of my big goals, Kelly and Otha- raise kids who will love and care for our earth. Ii brought that same value to my classroom for 10 years- I hope all of my former students will be good stewards, too!