As soon as school let out at the end of May, we hit the road and made for South Padre Island for a few days of sun and sea before the book came out and life took on the fast clip that is summer with two kids. I had never been to this particular stretch of Texas shoreline before. I knew that it is a hot (and crowded area) during Spring Break, but I really did not know what to expect during the off-season.
There were many different things to look at and wonder over during the trip. For starters, the smooth, mostly empty, highways studded with poisonous, beautiful, Oleander bushes. Then, the border patrol checkpoints. But once there at the beach, the little yellow bus. She trundles up and down the narrow stretch of beach, jiggling and swaying with dozens of oversized brightly colored inflatable flotation devices. There we so many floaties, in fact, I’d bet her tires didn’t even touch the sand. But she also offered packets of mayonnaise for your ears of elote: roasted corn dusted with mayo, chile, and cotija cheese – a combination that might sound strange but that I swear is the way corn is meant to be devoured. Through all of these wonderings, what I loved the most was the Turtle Patrol.
A little known fact about many Texas beaches is that you can drive your vehicle on the beach. With a few exceptions, most of the beach in South Padre is not open to vehicular traffic. This is partially because the shore there is quite narrow. But it is also because this strip of land and one other further South into Mexico are the only breeding and nesting grounds for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle – a critically endangered species.
Enter the bright little phenomena called the Turtle Patrol. It is volunteer run and amounts to people, from 20-something college kids to septuagenarians, driving up and down the beach in little 4-wheel drive vehicles with ice coolers and padded boxes. They prowl the beach looking for sea turtle nests and eggs. They do this because female sea turtles go back into the ocean once they have made their nests and laid their eggs, leaving the newly hatched turtlets (and yes, that is actually a real word) to fend for themselves. In happier times, this process worked just fine. But the problem is that now the beaches are not what they used to be. They are far more peopled (and trafficked), which means that all kinds of new threats – from careless pedestrians to off-leash dogs – pose danger to the turtlets bringing their mortality rate up to almost one hundred percent. The Turtle Patrol find nests, collect the eggs and then takes them to a not-for-profit rescue organization where the eggs are incubated, hatched, and then the turtlets – now bigger and stronger, are released out to sea.
As I learned about the eggs, the turtlets, and the Turtle Patrol, I was reminded of how magic shows up in the everyday and how easy it is to miss it. When we think about Holy Helpers, Divine Guidance, or spiritual allies, what often comes to mind are traditional images: a winged angel, a burning bush, a mysterious and powerful Goddess. Sometimes those are the exact Holy Helpers we need to see and commune with.
But sometimes – and perhaps even more often – the Holy Helper is different: he’s a gray-haired, seventy-year-old guy in a faded pair of board shorts who is tenderly gathering turtle eggs so that the smallest and most vulnerable of us have an actual chance. You’d miss him if you weren’t paying attention. The Turtle Patrol is the reminder that we all need – that helping is a holy act and it is not something to wait for. It is something we do.