The other day I went to the beach, by myself.

I mean the ocean beach, not the little beach on the bay at the end of the farm lane. I am not a “beach person” in that I have no interest whatever in lying on the sand and getting tan and very little interest in swimming in those big waves (I have a serious texture thing against foam, and ocean waves are full of the stuff). But I like to watch and listen to the water.

So, as I was walking along the water’s edge, I found a turtle on the sand. It was little, it’s shell perhaps three inches long, and I thought at first it was a baby sea turtle, but it was not. It was a young snapping turtle.

Aren’t snapping turtles freshwater animals? I thought I’d heard of them living in salt marshes, too, but never the open ocean. And yet this tiny turtle was adamant about getting into the water. It kept walking directly into the sea, getting pushed back out by the waves, and walking into the sea again.

I considered carrying it to the bay side of the island we stood on. I considered picking it up and throwing it into the ocean, so it could get over those waves and swim out. But, as I told several passersby who made similar suggestions, if forced to guess who knows more about snapping turtles, me or the turtle, I’d pick the turtle. They’re reptiles; they have unambiguous instincts, they know what they’re doing.

I decided to simply stand guard against gulls and humans alike until it managed to get into the water and stay there.

I worried I might have to wait a long time. That poor turtle must have gotten thrown back out a dozen times at least as I watched. The direction of the waves ensured that every time it got thrown out it landed five or six feet north of where it had gone in–the turtle and I covered the better part of a mile together, because of this sideways motion of the waves.

The thing is, while the instincts of certain animals free them from having to learn anything, such definite instructions can become a liability. If the animal finds itself in a situation its instincts don’t address (like if a gull carries it and drops it in the wrong habitat), it can’t creatively adapt itself to its new conditions. Also, genetic mutations can alter instincts randomly and then it’s simply a matter of luck whether the animal’s inborn behavior is perfect in a new and brilliant way, or just plain dumb.

So, was this snapping turtle, bound and determined to walk into the ocean 1) a perfectly normal snapping turtle being observed by an ignorant human, or 2) a reptilian mutant genius pioneering the next stage of its species’ evolution, or 3) doomed by bad luck and an inner guiding light of no help whatever?

I rather identified with this turtle.

I am a novelist, and as such I do lots of things that other people find rather weird. Other things that seem normal and necessary to many people just plain don’t work for me. I’ve been tossed back out by the waves of life more times than I can count. Are my instincts reliable and my persistence admirable, or am I just doomed?

Of course, there’s no way for a turtle to know. Sure, you’ve been spit out by the ocean hundreds of times, but unless and until a gull eats you or a well-meaning three-year-old picks you up and sticks you in her lunchbox, you might as well just keep trying. Because you’re a turtle, you can’t do anything else.

And the next time, you just might make it.

Updates on other projects

The big news is that the publication of my first novel could be just weeks away. Keep all for fingers and toes crossed for me!

In other news, in School With No Name, the school celebrated the holiday of Beltane some weeks ago, and then Daniel spent two weeks on an (unnamed) island, teaching a workshop and exploring. Now he is back on campus, and thinking about choices and also about Greg’s cat.

In The Climate Emergency, I compared the climate records of Democratic Presidential hopefuls, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and cautiously leaned towards Bernie for reasons I did not expect. The following post, I explored the possibility of a truly climate-sane Republican candidate and engaged in a thought experiment; what would Teddy Roosevelt do?

As more new on Caroline comes in, I’ll keep you posted!


About Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.
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