Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Hopes of a Turtle Lady



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What can we hope for in our lives? To love and be loved. To do good things. To care about the universe. To think about creatures other than ourselves. To find a passion. To have hope.


I have the infinite honor today to bring you the incomparable Mary Alice Monroe. Her biography is below, and please read that. Her books are below--including her newest New York Times bestseller--and please read them.

But read this first.




Hopes of a Turtle Lady


Mary Alice Monroe


I am a Turtle Lady.



From May to October, I join other turtle team volunteers to search the beaches for turtle tracks. I've been permitted by the South Carolina Department of Resources for twenty one years, which means I am one of the few allowed to locate the turtle eggs and mark the nest with bright orange signs declaring the nest is protected under Federal law, to move the nest to a safe location when necessary, to monitor the emergence of hatchlings and afterward inventory the nest for hatched and unhatched eggs and release trapped hatchlings to the sea--usually to the oohs and ahhs of the waiting crowd.



I began this adventure when my sister telephoned from Florida to tell me how a sea turtle crawled up the beach outside her home and began laying eggs. Marguerite is an artist and she described in colorful terms how the turtle cried great tears as she laid her eggs. Immediately metaphors danced in my head and I volunteered on the Island Turtle Team.




The first time I saw a female lay her eggs was a night I'll never forget.
We never know when or where a turtle might come ashore so seeing one is a matter of luck and God's grace. In high school I went to a strict Catholic boarding school where the nuns had us dressed and ready for mass in no time flat, so when I get a call in the wee hours that a sea turtle is spotted, I'm fast. When I arrived at the beach, the loggerhead had just begun her trek toward the dunes. Breathless and wide-eyed, I hunkered down on the cool sand beside my teammates. We are always careful not to disturb a sea turtle with noise or lights for, if we do, she'll turn around and head back to the sea without laying her eggs.





It was one of those miraculous nights when the tide was low and the full moon lit up the pristine beach like an amphitheater. To watch a loggerhead's cumbersome crawl up the beach is to sit in awe of her courage and strength of purpose. She is slow and steady, contending with the effects of gravity on her 350 pound carapace as she makes her way to the dunes. After a long silence, the scraping sound began again as the sea turtle used her rear flippers to dig a nest, a process that would take at least an hour to reach twenty inches down.



Turtles are less likely to be startled from their task at this point, so we moved like ninjas in the dark for a better view. We sat behind a clump of sea oats and watched as, one by one, the turtle dropped over one hundred leathery eggs.


While she labored, I saw the thick streams of tears flow from her beautiful almond eyes. Science explains those tears as a natural cleansing of the eyes, but as a writer...as a woman...I saw them as a mother's tears. The tears of duty, love, and commitment. The tears of resignations and acceptance. I wept with her, thinking of my own children, knowing that all young are poised for leaving and that no mother can protect her children from their fate. We were just two mothers, having a good cry together.

Perhaps that maternal instinct is why so many women volunteer to protect the sea turtles.


When finished, we watched in silence as the mother turtle covered and camouflaged her eggs. She then began the long crawl back to the sea, never to return to the nest. This is when we take over watch.



Each year as the season progresses and hatchlings start to emerge, we sit by nests like midwives. When the hatchlings at last boil out from the sand some 45-60 days later, we guide them to the sea as their turtle mother cannot. We call them babies, much to the chagrin of biologists, but that's what they are to us.



Tiny, vulnerable, three- inch babies that follow their instinct and crawl in a comical frenzy toward the brightest light. In nature, that bright light comes from the moon and stars over the ocean. In modern times, the brightest lights are usually from electricity and lead the hatchlings away from the sea toward certain death.



This is why we post signs “Lights Out for Turtles” and watch nests at night so we can guide the hatchlings home. We sit under the stars swapping bottles of bug repellent and stories. These women are not only my teammates, they're my friends. Like women have done for thousands of years, we gather together for a purpose—and we are stronger for it.


When I watch the tender three-inch hatchlings disappear into the sea, it's always a tender, introspective moment. I worry if any of them will survive the perilous journey to the vast sargassum floats in the Gulf Stream. I wonder if even one will survive thirty years to maturity and return to our beach to lay another generation of sea turtles. Only one in a thousand is likely to.


Yet I have hope.


This summer I will begin my twenty second summer as a sea turtle volunteer. I never would have guessed when I first became a volunteer that this charismatic animal would change my life and my career.


At the end of a season, when the last hatchling makes it to the ocean, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends on the turtle team staring out at the sea. None of us speak. We are all lost in our own thoughts as we bid farewell to another season, to the mother turtles and the thousands of hatchlings somewhere out in the Gulf Stream.


My hope is that one of those hatchlings will make it back to the Isle of Palms or Sullivan's Island. And that I'll still be standing here on this patch of beach, waiting to welcome her home.



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Usually, this is the place where we say something thoughtful or funny, or ask a question. So, okay. A question. This made me cry. How about you?


And let me say: Mary Alice's newest novel, THE SUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND --now a New YorkTimes bestseller--is gorgeous women's fiction, as her books always are. But it also has...turtles.







And her upcoming THE ISLANDERS does too--maybe you know a
kid who'd adore it?







Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including the Beach House series: The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons, Beach House for Rent, and Beach House Reunion. 

She is a 2018 Inductee into the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, the International Book Award for Green Fiction, and the 2017 Southern Book Prize for Fiction. 

Her bestselling novel The Beach House is also a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. She is the cocreator and cohost of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. An active conservationist, she lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina.



Author Website: www.maryalicemonroe.com

Friends and Fiction: http://friendsandfiction.com/ (show and podcast)

Long bio: https://maryalicemonroe.com/meet-mary-alice/

79 comments:

  1. Mary Alice,

    Welcome to Jungle Reds. Beautiful book covers. I remember seeing your books at the public library.

    Question: Is it true that turtles live for hundreds of years?

    Diana

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    1. Oh, good question! It seems impossible, doesn't it?

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    2. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Hi Diana, Thank you. I truly love my cover art for both THE SUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND and THE ISLANDERS. I'm glad you noticed them at your local library (how much do we all love libraries here?). Turtles are incredible aren't they? Pet turtle live between 10 and 80 years (wow!) or so...larger species can live over 100 years. Sea turtles typically live anywhere from 30 to 50 years, and according to some data they could live up to 150 years! Magnificent creatures in every way.

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  2. This is so inspiring, Mary Alice and, yes, Hank, it made me cry. The world is definitely better with turtles in it . . . .

    We live in the Pine Barrens and our much-smaller turtles don’t require someone to watch over their eggs. But we do occasionally stop the car to move them out of the road so that no one inadvertently runs over them . . . we also “rescue” the turtles from the window wells around the house since they have a propensity to crawl in but can’t seem to find a way to crawl out . . . .

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    1. Turtles in window wells? Poor critters...

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    2. My neighbor placed a branch for the frogs who got into her window wells, then added water and growing plants. Now it's a frog sanctuary . . . wouldn't work for turtles, though.

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  3. Wow! That was wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us.

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    1. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Thank you, Mark. I appreciate you reading and commenting here.

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  4. What beautiful writing about a beautiful process (yes, Hank, I also cried). You and your fellow volunteers are indeed midwives. Thanks for explaining why the babies need you to guide them.

    Am off to find your books!

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    1. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Dear Edith, Thank you. I'm moved by your comment and tears.

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  5. Welcome to JRW, Mary and congratulations on your new books. I am going to get both of them. My grandson is the perfect age to read The Islanders. He lives near the Atlantic shore, very close to a state park which probably hosts sea turtles, too.

    We are huge conservationists who support many organizations defending wildlife. We have had the opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles and it is remarkable to be anywhere near them. Your dedication to them is inspiring. Thank you for doing what you do towards their survival.

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    1. Oh, he'll have so much fun reading that!

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    2. I write for people like you and your grandson. A call to action. Thank you!!

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  6. Definitely made me cry. How beautiful! My brand new (4 days old) great-grandnephew and great-grandniece are too young to read right now, but I'm going to start stocking their library with this one for when they're ready (or ready to be read to).

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    1. Exactly--so it's there when they are ready for it!

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    2. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Hi Annette, your comment has me shedding a tear! :) One of the reasons I wrote The Islanders with Angela May is to reach younger readers early to teach them how to love reading and books and to do this by connecting these young people to a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle so that they can share together the lifelong gifts of stories, discovery, adventure, and storytelling. Thank you for the honor of being part of their library. This is a gift! --MAM

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  7. This is so sweet - what a wonderful inspiration, Mary Alice. And I love the word "hatchlings"

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  8. This was a lovely start to the morning, thank you. Now off to buy your books!

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  9. Wow. I never knew turtles cry. Wow. Very inspirational and I'm glad you and your team is there to watch the hatchlings. What is done with the turtle eggs that don't make it out?

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  10. Congratulations on your new release! What a wonderful essay on sea turtle hatchlings. Looking forward to reading your books AND reading your children's book to my grandson.

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  11. I didn't cry but it is a very moving and inspiring post. Thank you for the help you give to turtles.
    Your covers are beautiful. I'm looking forward to read The Summer of Lost and Found.

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  12. What a beautiful post! When I lived in Miami I volunteered for the turtle watch. It's wonderful and rewarding work. Those little hatchlings fin for light with single-minded purpose.

    Your covers are fantastic. I'm looking forward to The Summer of Lost and Found.

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    1. SO fascinating, isn't it? How they know what to do?

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    2. I’m lucky with the covers! The turtles on the children’s book are so adorable. I know kids will love them ❤️

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  13. This was such a wonderful way to start my day! Thank you for sharing your story. I've have read about these turtles before and the devoted people who are trying to ensure that they will be able to survive. I think I would be involved too if I lived in the right area.

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    1. We do what we can from where we are..and of course part of it is giving them a standing ovation!

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    2. We have seen a trend upward of turtles in the past 30 years and I’m convinced it is because of the efforts of volunteers who have been monitoring nests for 30 years!

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  14. A few tears here, for sure, Mary Alice. Twenty-two years! Wow! We sometimes have to do a little rescue work here, too, when the Eastern box turtles decide to cross the road near the creek.

    I'll be looking for your books!

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  15. What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Perfect post for today, Hank. Oceana just sent me an email announcing that today is World Sea Turtle Day! Did you already know that?

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    1. SERENDIPITY! I didn't--but I bet Mary Alice did. But it was not planned. How great it that??

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  17. Thank you for this post! We spent many summers at Pawleys Island, turning out the lights at night and looking out for the orange flags. What good work you are doing!

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    1. Pawleys? I speak there every year with Litchfield Books. Hope to meet you!

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  18. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Thank you, Hank. Thank you, Jungle Reds. I'm honored to be here and touched by your comments (and tears). I'll be answering questions all day here (in between events for THE ISLANDERS). Thank you very much. Gratefully yours, Mary Alice Monroe

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    1. YAY! So pleased to have you here--and wow, you are on a whirlwind of events! Hurray, and congratulations!

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  19. Lovely. I visited a hatchery in the Caymans long ago. We have turtles in our little pond, and have seen eggs laid . . . and raccoon pillaging of some. :-( A neighbor is vigilant in turtle rescue, using a show shovel to lift big snappers onto a blanket to pull out of the street (not busy, but it only takes one). One day I saw a very large injured turtle, with such a sad face. I left my car in the street next to her, and ran for his help. He took her to the pond, where she had healed, her shell a bit scarred, but otherwise fine. <3

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    1. Turtles are amazingly resilient. My novel Swimming Lessons was about the sea turtle hospital . I volunteered there and amazed at what turtles can endure, and heal !

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  20. “I saw them as a mother's tears. The tears of duty, love, and commitment. The tears of resignations and acceptance. I wept with her, thinking of my own children, knowing that all young are poised for leaving and that no mother can protect her children from their fate. We were just two mothers, having a good cry together.”
    I become an empty nester this year - so, yes, lots of tears from this passage. Thank you, Mary Alice, for the work you do and the words you write - amazing and heartwarming on both counts.

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    1. I wish we could all be together in person....

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    2. Thank you. But our human hatchlings come back and visit!

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  21. I shed a few turtle tears. I always loved turtles in the wild as a kid. We had box turtles at various times out roaming in our yard. Love your books with their slices of life in the low country.

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  22. Thank you for the beautiful post, Mary Alice, and for the work that you do. Now I want to visit the Atlantic coast, something I've never done. Now I'm going to look for you books!

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  23. Very touching and I so enjoy your books, Mary Alice! We have a creek running through our property in the Piney Woods of East Texas, with a bar ditch alongside of the road in front of our long driveway, so constantly have been on the lookout for and/or moving turtles crossing the service road. Also have ponds, where more than once encountered snapping turtles. As for sea turtles, we spotted several loggerheads once when we rented a sail boat in the Virgin Islands, but I had a most amazing experience in Jamaica while snorkeling and floating along in the warm Caribbean waters of Jamaica, and realized it was a big sea turtle paddling in front of me! Thanks for all the work you do!

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  24. Such a beautiful description of the turtles and their egg-laying process. Of course, the tears from the loggerhead mother really got me. Thank you, Mary Alice for sharing this. I will be checking out your books now, including the children's series for my granddaughter, who loves the ocean.

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    1. Oh, she will love The Islanders! Great!

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    2. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Dear Kathy, I'm grateful you will be checking out my books - especially for your granddaughter. Thank you, Mary Alice

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  25. Mary Alice, wonderful! When I walk the beach (nearly every day), I imagine the turtle eggs waiting, growing, under the sand marked by triangles of pink florescent tape and yellow signs, thinking “here be protected turtles”. And, when looking out at dawn as the turtle patrol rolls up the beach, I say “thank you”. Thank you for all your years of turtle care. Your description of laying and hatching warm my heart.

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    1. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Hello Elisabeth, This comments warms my heart. I am happy you liked my essay.

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  26. Thank you for this beautifully enthralling post and for the amazing midwifery work. My heart is happy reading this.

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    1. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Thank you, Marcia. My heart is happy, too!

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  27. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: Dear Jungle Reds, I will continue to read and reply to your lovely comments. Thank you for reading and for writing to me today. I'd like to invite you all to my free online book party for THE ISLANDERS tonight at 7pm ET on my Facebook Live Show Friends & Fiction. Please join us for the evening or for a quick hello. Hank has been a guest and she knows we have fun every Wednesday at 7pm ET. Tonight will be very special and I would love to "see" you there. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FriendsandFiction Cheers, Mary Alice (you can watch it later if you can not join our LIVE)

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  28. FROM MARY ALICE MONROE: DEAR HANK: I HOPE IT IS OK TO POST ABOUT FRIENDS & FICTION HERE. Thank you!

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    1. YES of COURSE! And it was wonderful! LOVE Sy Montgomery and I am such a huge fan of F&F!

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    2. So glad you mentioned this “new to me” group. An amazing hour. Thank you, Mary Alice.

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    3. Oh, fabulous, Elisabeth! We'll see you there next time! xooxo

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