I saw a picture of some newly-hatched sea turtles, spread-eagled and waving their tiny, green sea wings in a slow flight across the beach. Having left the relative safely of their nest, they were making their way — unerringly as turtles always seem to do — to the sea. Their distinctive tracks in the warm night sand looked like little snow angels — like the ones children make when they dash outside at the first snowfall, gleefully throwing themselves onto the ground, waving arms and legs.
As all children know, there is something incredibly magical and enlivening about the year's first snowfall. When the temperature begins to drop, I huddle indoors in sweaters and blankets, a pile of books beside me, wishing I could hibernate throughout the winter. But when I look out my window one night to see big, fluffy snowflakes floating down through the streetlight and everything covered in white, I am enthralled. I find it nearly impossible to leave that compelling scene at my window and I try to immortalize the moment.
I was sixteen when the greatest snowstorm I remember slammed into Ohio. I remember sitting up half the night in front of my bedroom window gazing out where several inches of snow were lying peacefully, fluffed onto everything in sight. There was an unearthly mock-daylight from the street lamps which ricocheted off the dense snow clouds down to the snow and back again in a profound conversation between earth and sky which left me breathless. It was the most thrilling display I've ever beheld, and I wished it could go on forever, its innocence untouched.
Eventually, the day dawned and I was afraid the snow would melt. The sun looked askance at the snow, but not wishing to spoil its loveliness, remained behind the clouds and let it be. It allowed the snow to continue falling for several days, and the wind, wanting to participate in this frigid frolic, joined in to whip snow into drifts as high as the rooftops. The earth, like those of us in our houses, settled down to wait out the tempest of the its fellow elements. When the blizzard was all over, we began our lives again with a renewed respect for the beauty and majesty of nature.
At first, I found it strange to associate that great snowstorm with the tiny, vulnerable sea turtles. But then when I think of them tracking their way to unknown dangers through and beyond the sand, their bravery warms my heart. Surely some of them consider remaining nestled in that cozy, comfortable birthing bed, just as I want to bundle myself in my bed on cold mornings. Yet the turtles find they cannot ignore the sound of the vast oceans calling, calling, relentlessly calling.
I've seen documentaries where the tiny creatures struggle across what must seem to them miles of desert sand to reach the gently coaxing surf. Many are picked off by marauding gulls before they can reach the sea water, even though the surf repeatedly stretch its reach landward in an effort to assist the young amphibians to their new home. The beach must seem like such a hostile environment compared with the familiar, warm, safe nest from which the turtles have emerged.
On the edge of my seat, I watch them anxiously, silently cheering them on, fingers crossed and hoping they will reach the water safely and remember how to swim. When that first wave does finally break over the lead turtle, I want to laugh as it finds its true element and flies away into the great unknown — its home and its future.
I yearn for another magical snowfall like the one of ‘78 — and to make snow turtles in my yard. You never know where all that ecstatic waving of arms and legs might get you.