“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16:11
A fitting reading for the day’s events to be sure. We truly saw the path of life play out in front of us this morning though to be sure the “pleasure” was tough to find at first. Today was marked first and foremost to us by the celebration, or more to the point, the recognition of Lucia’s 6th birthday. Since we first discussed our plans for this trip and the locations Luci has been a constant reminder of where we would be on February 19th, right here in Sri Lanka working with baby sea turtles.
After our usual continental meal of bread, jams, and tea we started out for the arduous trek of 50 feet across the road to the sanctuary. As was the case yesterday, we were not entirely sure what the day had in store for us, only that, according to Lorna and Fanny, we would be doing the unceremonious task of cleaning out old turtle nests. We were advised in advance of booking this project that there would be jobs that would leave us smelling particularly foul and feeling especially gross. This was that job.
Cleaning an old nest means excavating the dryish sand and slowly digging down to the depths of the where the eggs had been placed previously. Assuming the nest has hatched we would expect to encounter old, leathery eggs devoid of their previous occupants but ripe with the sweet aroma of rottenness. It also meant that we might encounter an egg or two or more that had not hatched and would therefore still hold its now 45+ day old contents. A 45 day old egg that has been baking in 85 degree sand and is re-exposed to free flowing oxygen is, to say the least, awful. After burying the new eggs brought in by the local fishermen, we begun our task to clean the old nests.
A group of volunteers hunched over several deepening and widening holes is a sight to be seen, especially as the excavation brings them closer to the treasure of old eggs. More than one of us gagged at the scent though I, having had my hand at field dressing deer, knew well enough to breath through my mouth or take breaths out of the hole upwind before digging deeper. As we proceeded from nest to nest the task got no easier until Sara discovered something amazing. Buried several inches below the sand surface she encountered movement. Unsure at first she dug gently around and realized she had come across a baby sea turtle, an apparent straggler who had not yet dug her way out of the sandy nest. Sara gently excavated the turtle’s face and then watched in amazement as the turtle wiggled and worked her way out of the sand and to the surface. What an amazing and unexpected gift, Luci would spend her birthday literally with a baby turtle. She seemed quite content to share her birthday this way, but the fun was truly just beginning. As it turns out, this baby turtle was merely the lead digger in what turned out to be a few dozen hatchlings. We managed to secure a video of the wigglers working their way to the surface as the kids squealed with delight. The unexpected treasure trove of turtles yielded a mad dash to and from the nesting area to the holding tanks as we carefully made sure that all turtles were accounted for and not stepped on by hurried and excited feet. Check out the video on my Instagram page.
As we finished off our cleaning duties the less than pleasant aroma seemed to subside, or at least became less perceptible, as the excitement and appreciation of witnessing the miracle of birth overwhelmed us. The rest of our morning was spent cleaning up and doing some beach cleaning as well then off to lunch and our afternoon program. The plan was to eat and then get cleaned up to do some teaching to the local school children at the Buddhist temple up the road. Sara and I gathered our kids together and asked Lorna to join along so she could guide us in what she had taught previously. When we arrived we found that we would not be in the temple this day but rather teaching on the front porch of someone’s house. We also met the five boys who would be learning with us. While their skills ranged from total beginner to novice, we found their energy and eagerness to be uplifting. We practiced some new vocabulary and played a few games and then returned home to the conservancy. Following another release of baby turtles we retreated to the volunteer house where we sat down for a nice meal, and a nice treat. Prasantha (Dudley’s lovely wife) had made a special stop to pick up a birthday cake for Luci. Lucia was thrilled to get the special comfort from home.
While there were no presents in the traditional sense, I think Luci was pretty happy with how her birthday went this year. She truly got to spend it the way she had envisioned for over 12 months, playing with baby sea turtles. This was the greatest present, an experience unlike any she had ever had and may not get to have ever again. God’s gift to her today showed her the path of life in a literal sense of course, but also figuratively. The path is one of love, new experiences, and an overwhelming sense of joy in the Lord’s presence that leaves you prancing through sand ever mindful of God’s precious turtles scampering below. For mom and dad, another lesson was evident. It is with God’s call and encouragement that we were even here. Thus it is in His presence that we experienced this joyous day of new birth and a reminder of our daughter’s. With all of our hearts we are thankful for this joy that God brought to us this day.