I've always loved turtles, but over the last few years I gradually became obsessed with sea turtles and with the idea of seeing one. In some places and at some times of year that is not a difficult or terribly unique thing. And when we were on Oahu last year, I went to all the best places. But I only had one day to go to all the best places and it was not the right day. I had also snorkled in Kauai a couple of years earlier without luck. On my second trip to Oahu, I planned to spend a great deal of time in areas where I was most likely to see a sea turtle. I knew my odds were not great, being sick and having two kids in towe and without my husband there to help. Our odds went down when we got stuck in LAX for six days, only finally making it to Oahu when trying to get home; both because we could not afford a rental car after six days of LA hotels and airport food, and because I had used up so much energy getting there.
So, it was utterly amazing, a couple days into our trip, while walking along the crowded Honolulu beaches, when we realized the tiny shapes we stopped to watch in the distance were sea turtles surfacing for air. We watched and watched for quite a long time, hoping they would come closer. Then a stranger approached us and told me in a hushed tone that she had seen us from down the beach, thrying so hard to catch a glimpse, and that if we went to where she had been, would be a few feet away from feeding turtles. I can't believe she took the time to come over and tell just us where to go.
We joined the small throng of tourists sitting on a concrete wall reaching out from the beach, with sand on one side and a 5 or so foot drop to the ocean on the other. The wall was covered in moss that three turtles were feeding on. I had just discoverd that morning that my camera takes video, so I have lots of videos of the turtles surfacing and feeding, and of kids watching and discussing in awe, and Katie telling each new group how amazing it was that we ran into turtles when her mom had wanted to see them for such a long time. While I stood there, I got hit a couple of times by waves, getting my purse slightly damp, which was enough to completely destroy my cell phone. This upset Christopher greatly and he was very concerned that I was going to also ruin all of our money. He was upset with me for saying that it was worth ruining a cell phone to see the turtles.
Christopher lost interest, but was able to sit next to me and play in the sand. After a couple of hours, Katie finally lost interest, too, and they played in the water on the beach side of the wall, while I sat and stared for at least another hour. It was hard not to cry as I watched them. Toward the end of sitting there, as other watchers had thinned out, I ended up next to a woman my age who was quietly, privately sobbing.
The second I was close to them (without being disrespectfully close to them) I knew I had become obsessed with them for a reason. They grabbed their bites from the wall ready for each wave to toss them about without their being in full control of where their bodies moved. In so many ways I've had the magic trained out of me as a scientist. But what I see when I observe any species eventually prevails over my biological training, because the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. And I can feel that there is a real and true reason why so many people all through time have sensed that certain animal species have certain lessons or energies or connections meant for certain people. I don't know enough about each tradition to say whether I'd call sea turtles totems or guides or whether there's a more appropriate term for what I experienced. But I cried because I knew I was finding a piece of what I had been looking for. I understood why sick people travel to all ends of the earth to be healed by something they believe will help heal them, even if they don't realize that healing is what they are seeking.