I’ve often heard the phrase, “We’re off like a herd of turtles.” The idea, I guess, is that we’re not going to be in a big hurry — another version of my mother’s special sarcasm, as in we’re about to be late for church and us kids are just coming downstairs to the car and Mom says, “ Can you kids move any slower.”
But I’d never actually seen a herd of turtles — until one day on Hatteras, one of the barrier islands protecting the coast of North Carolina.
We’d taken the free ferry to Ocracoke for a short tour. (Ocracoke is a small island: about 12 miles of pavement from the ferry to a town that’s only a couple hundred yards long.) It was nearly sunset when we arrived back on Hatteras Island. Some pictures of the Hatteras lighthouse at sunset would be nice we thought.
A short distance up the road leading to the lighthouse, I looked left at a pond of water — and there they were — turtles. Lots of turtles.
I turned into a convenient located pullout adjacent to the creatures and we watched for a few seconds. The turtles pulled back from the shore. The pullout was nearly three feet higher than the water, and where land and liquid met was a sort of cliff — except for a rather well worn slope cut into the bank. Clearly, something, or someone, had used that point for access to, or escape from, the water.
Thinking they wanted to get out of the water for some reason (it was a bit late in the year for egg-laying, but maybe there was a movie playing at the turtle cinema), I pulled the Jeep away from the worn slope and we got out to see what we could see.
I crawled up to where I could see them. A few made individual and repeated forays onto the slope without actually climbing out of the water.
After about 10 minutes waiting for them to do something, I stood up. As soon as the turtles saw me, they began to gather at the landing. There must have been at least 100 of them.
We backed away, and so did they. We stepped closer to the slope — and so did they.
It didn’t take long to figure out they not only were not afraid of us, but they thought we had something for them — which was odd, because there was a sign nearby cautioning humans against feeding wild creatures. Apparently, turtles — at least those turtles — cannot read.
In one picture, there were 35, and that was not nearly all of them.
A few came out of the water. One, in climbing atop the others, was flipped on its back. We watched as a couple of the others tried to help the upturned turtle right itself. Finally, my friend reached in and turned it back aright.
It was a stop worth making, a great example of what can be discovered by slowing down and looking beside the road — and now I can say I actually have seen “a herd of turtles.”