What We Learn from Turtles


Cape Cod stretches thirty miles out into the North Atlantic, where I live. Sea turtles love our Bay about as much as I do. Each spring, they work their way north from the Caribbean for summertime feeding.

But the outstretched arm of Cape Cod acts as a giant seine that catches them in a death embrace. 

So while you and I were supping on roasted goose and flaming plum pudding this Christmas, Massachusetts Audubon Society volunteers were patrolling the beaches near my home. They rescued close to 500 “cold-stunned” sea turtles that were washed ashore by strong December winds.

The majority of these Cheloniidae were Kemp’s Ridley turtles, a critically endangered species and the rarest of all sea turtles. Most of those that washed ashore would have died except for the unseasonably warm temperatures this year. And volunteer rescuers like my daughter, Julie.


As autumn sets in, too many turtles linger too long, misled by the comfort of the Bay’s warm, shallow waters. Oblivious to the approaching winter, they miss their chance to swim for the open ocean—and safe passage south. Not only that, their instincts drive them southward when autumn approaches. They should be heading, instead, north and then east to clear the clenched fist of Provincetown.


For a long time, I’ve thought about the parallel between the numbed turtles’ plight and the paralysis many of us suffer when we wake too late to a lifetime best described as unnoticed.

Zora Neale Hurston, the noted Harlem Renaissance author of the 1920s, captured what I mean:

You don’t take no steps at all, just stand around and hope for things to happen outright, unthankful and unknowing, like a hog under an acorn tree, eating, grunting, with your ears hanging over your eyes and never even looking up to see where the acorns are coming from.

What can we learn from turtles? Here’s how I write about it in my novel—now in final edit—titled Little Flower: A Killing on Cape Cod.

Hers was the paralysis of the Ridleys on the winter beach, cold-stunned. She felt that she had been wandering without destination in an enveloping fog, like the thick fumes that flow off the Bay on winter mornings. She was confused about which direction to turn, not knowing what to do to save the remains of her life and running out of energy to do anything, like a car left parked with its headlights on. It was not her husband who had become a stranger to her. It was herself that she no longer knew. Everything was coming home to roost. Her role in the near-euthanasia of her mother. Her refusal to confront her father for his abhorrent abuse. Her capitulation to Eater. Even her career, launched by theft and fueled by sexual dabbling.

Jenny was not surprised to see the turtle’s carcass ahead. It was without predator damage, or decay. The gulls hadn’t found it yet, perhaps because the ebbing tide had left it behind only moments ago. Jenny sat on the damp sand several feet from the turtle and crossed her legs. She now knew that any decision she made would entail confrontation—with Eater, with Ryan, with herself. Like the Ridleys, she would have to betray her instincts in order to escape.

 Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at: http://www.peterwyaremko.com/mercy

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