“Alejandro, it is time. The turtles will be gone. We must go now!”
I had never seen the turtles, yet my weariness was threatening my excitement. It was very late. Maybe this was not to be a special night.
“Grandfather how do you know they will be there. Even the poachers are not sure.”
He looked at me with a smile and said, “Never mind the poachers. I know, little one! They will lay tonight.”
I stumbled behind Grandfather. The moon was past full and it was high tide. We sat upon the log drifts. As the surf slid away from the shore countless flickering blue and white lights remained on the beach.
“Grandfather, what are those lights?”
“Those are the angels of the ocean lighting the sand candles that help guide the turtles to their nests.”
I looked around but did not see any.
“Nests, where are they?”
Grandfather was intently looking at the sea when he replied. “They are under the sand, only the ocean angels, the turtles, and I know where. It is a secret.”
He wanted to tell me of the turtles. I was now wide awake and eager to listen.
“The turtles have been coming to this place forever. Each year there are fewer. It is sad that some have their fate sealed by the greedy hearts of the poachers. I have watched this every year since I was your age, young one. Things have changed for the turtles.”
Suddenly yelling and laughter came from down the beach cutting into Grandfather’s words, startling me. I moved closer.
“It is the egg thieves and turtle killers, Alejandro. They are noisy and rowdy but will not come near for they are cowards and afraid that they will be recognized. They know who I am and that I protect the turtles. We cannot stop them, but we can help some of the turtles. That is why we are here.”
“We can help them? How?”
“You will soon see, little one.”
His voice sounded different. Younger!
He stood and with a small gesture beckoned me to follow him toward the sea. We were just before the waves now and the sand candles surrounded us, brighter with each wave, leaving their light behind as the water dragged off the beach back into the ocean.
Grandfather pointed toward the sea and excitedly in that strange new voice of a young man said, “Look my child, they bounce upon the water, they are coming.”
I could see them struggling on the great surf. With the light of the moon they rode upon the white foamy crest crashing to the shore, their flippers digging into the sand as they slowly and clumsily clambered up the beach.
“Do we help them now Grandfather?”
“No Alejandro, we let them be. It is the only time that they touch the land, to lay their eggs.”
I saw those that came toward us and many more along the shore. Their journey was strained and difficult, yet determined, never wavering. Three of the beautiful creatures came within a few feet of us and dug into the sand with their front flippers. I could not speak or think, only stare. My eyes fixed upon their movements. They labored, digging the holes that hid their secret nests. They then made strange sounds, sounds of effort, sounds of release, and the eggs began to flow into the hole. More than I could count. I felt it was a dream.
Grandfather began to sing and dance about. “It is her, the lady has returned. I have not seen her for many years!”
He pointed to a turtle with a red shell right before us and then he jumped up and down, happier than I had ever seen him. He was no longer Grandfather. The magic of the turtles had made him a young boy again. I grasped his hands and we danced together.
When they had finished burying the eggs the tired mothers slowly crawled back to the ocean, leaving their children behind. Still holding grandfather’s hand I walked with him alongside the turtles as they returned to their home in the sea.
Grandfather took the bag he carried and returned to the three nests. He began to dig and fill the sack with the eggs.
“What are you doing?”, I asked.
“But you are stealing the eggs!”
“No little one, I am protecting them. We will bury them in a safe place until they hatch. When they do we will take them out to sea in the little boat and set them free. The poachers or the seagulls will not get these ones.”
That night was very special. Grandfather taught me how to help the turtles.