Today was a big day in Surf City, the beach town I’m staying in on Topsail Island. Today, the Sea Turtle Hospital released three injured turtles back into the ocean, including a 250-pound Loggerhead named Oceans 11, who had been in the hospital since 2009 when her shell was torn apart by a motor boat.
When I asked where the release was, the person at the hospital gave me some general coordinates and told me to just look for the crowd. I got there a few minutes before the scheduled release time and as I crossed the bridge over the sand dune to the spot, I saw at least 200 people there for the momentous occasion. During the off season, Surf City only has 400 residents. This was the most people I’d seen in my two weeks here combined.
There were school children, residents, tourists, turtle lovers, everything but a marching band. It was cause for great celebration. Volunteers carried Oceans 11 down on a palette before setting her on the wet sand to begin her journey back into the ocean. Two other much smaller turtles, Kemp’s ridleys named Sea Star and Blue, were released as well. I’d never heard of Kemp’s ridleys before, but now know they are the most endangered species of sea turtle.
While still being carried, all three sea turtles exhibited the exact same behavior: as they got closer to the water, they began to flex their flippers. It was as if they couldn’t wait to get back home again, to get back into the water they had so dearly missed. It would start about 15 feet from the water's edge and it happened to the turtle.
I thought about their excitement at going back to their ocean home and I thought about the fact that I’d come back home again too on this trip. Way back in March when I started thinking about trying to spend a considerable amount of time at the beach, I didn’t even look in California, I immediately starting looking in North Carolina. To be sure, I knew that I couldn’t afford to rent an beachfront place for two weeks in California, but it was more than that... there was almost a longing to come back to the ocean I went to growing up in Raleigh (by that I mean the Atlantic, I’d never been to Topsail before this trip). I love the beaches on the Atlantic. The water is much warmer than on the west coast and the beach area is easier to navigate (I swear, there are times when I go to the beach in Santa Monica where I feel like I have to walk a mile to get to the water the beach is so expansive).
Maybe we all yearn to return home no matter how far away we go or maybe I just have it more on my mind than usual, but as I watched the turtles, the chorus from “Home Again,” a song on Elton John’s forthcoming album sprung to mind:
"If I could go back home, if I could go back home
If I'd never left, I'd never have known
We all dream of leaving, but wind up in the end
Spending all our time trying to get back home again"
Last weekend, one of my friends from seventh grade turned to me, as we sat on the patio looking out at the ocean during cocktail hour, and said, “You’ve been all around the world and yet you decided to come to Topsail.” It’s true. I had to leave North Carolina to make my dreams come true and I’ve never regretted that for a minute, but I hear the siren song of North Carolina calling me every time I come home. Just like the turtles felt today.
Topsail Island is in Pender County so today I’m giving back to Pender County as a small measure of all the enjoyment I’ve gotten from my time here. Today’s $10 goes to United Way of the Cape Fear Area. The local United Way helps fun 22 programs across the county here, including ones that alleviate children’s hunger, a rapid rehousing program for the homeless, programs for the elderly, and many more.
Sept. 17: United Way of the Cape Fear Area
Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.