In the wee morning hours, an ancient reptile left the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and trudged up a long, low stretch of beach on Sanibel Island, using a back-and-forth gait that left telltale comma-shaped marks in the sand. Once she reached the vegetation that marks the end of the beach and the beginning of the dune, the loggerhead turtle began to dig. She dug into the wet, hard-packed sand with her back flippers, scooping the sand up with a gentle curve and flinging it aside with a delicacy surprising for a 300-lb sea creature unfamiliar with gravity’s insistent pull.

Once she had sculpted the egg chamber to her liking (a pear-shaped cavity wider at the bottom and narrowing to a neck), the turtle began filling her nest with leathery, white, ping-pong ball sized eggs. She placed perhaps 100 or more tiny potential turtles into the nest. While she worked, tears streamed from each eye, concentrated salt water leaving her body to keep her internal chemistry (the chemistry of a creature descended from land-dwellers) in balance.

Finally, the turtle covered her nest, hiding the signs of her work from the myriad potential predators of baby turtles, and headed back toward the Gulf. She struggled over the land (it was low tide), but once she reached the water her powerful flippers soon had her floating, soaring, gracefully maneuvering past hidden sandbars and into open waters once more. She would likely never see any of the babies she’d left behind.

Later that morning, as the Sun was beginning to peak above the Ft. Myers coastline to the East, a volunteer turtle walker from SCCF spotted the loggerhead’s distinctive comma-shaped tracks in the sand. The volunteer placed an orange flag between the up-beach and down-beach tracks. And not long after that I showed up to take pictures, as the tracks ended almost directly in front of our condominium!

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When the next set of SCCF team showed up with their yellow stakes and yellow tape, I was there, full of questions, excited to know if this was a true nest or just a false crawl. One of the SCCF turtle experts dug into the center of the turtle’s excavation and uncovered a perfect egg right on top. (I was so excited to see the egg I forgot to take a picture!) The team of two then set to work, in between putting up with my million questions with calm and grace.

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Here’s one, placing the wire mesh over the eggs. I learned that the mesh is there not to keep out raccoons, as I had guessed, but to thwart the coyotes that have become a larger danger to turtle nests in recent years.

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Here’s the other, using a gps device to record with exacting precision the location of this, next 61 on East Sanibel this season. In about 60 days, if all goes well, 100 or more tiny loggerhead hatchlings will boil from the sand and scramble toward the surf. Finally, here’s the nest as seen from the balcony of our condo Through the screen. To think that less than 24 hours ago an enormous sea turtle was crawling across that very sand!

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Humans have always been awed by nature, and have struggled to express their feeble, but growing, understanding of it. This is the origin of science, of course, but also of so much of the world’s great art. In Southern Ohio is one such expression, called Serpent Mound:

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No one knows its true meaning, but recent evidence suggests that it may have been built around 1070 CE. Interestingly, this corresponds with a spectacular appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066, the same appearance captured in the Bayeux Tapestry. Could Serpent Mound be an artistic representation of this most famous of comets?

The human form itself is, of course, part of the natural world, and artists have often created art to celebrate and wonder at our own bodies. My favorite of these can be found in Florence, Italy at theĀ Galleria dell’Accademia. The most famous work there is, of course, David:

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But even more compelling for me are the Michelangelo works to be found in the hallway leading to David. These are the “unfinished statues” that show figures seeming to emerge, struggling, from marble.

Perhaps I am in awe of sea turtles for the same reason I am awed by these sculptures. Like Michelangelo’s figures trapped in metamorphosed stone, sea turtles emerge, as if by magic, from a nest built in sand. Like a comet in the sky, like a human growing into the world, the metamorphosis from tiny egg to majestic sea giant is the stuff of wonder.

I’m not alone in thinking so. Near another Sanibel nest, an emerging artist, agog with the wonder of sea turtles and their mysteries, has created a sculpture in sand that reminds me of both Serpent Mound and Michelangelo’s Unfinished Statues. This sculpture points directly at the nest, in the same way that Serpent Mound points toward the cardinal directions in the sky, in the same way that Michelangelo’s Unfinished Sculptures point toward his masterpiece, David. And again, I am in awe:

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