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I have always promoted a love of nature in my kids. It has often come back to bite me in the ass, but I still hold to the belief that everyone should appreciate, respect, and do whatever possible to care for the planet and its  wild creatures — and yes, that included some rather ‘unconventional’ misfits from the kids’ teenaged years.

It followed from that philosophy that, whenever we went on vacations, there would be outings to nature parks, bird sanctuaries, aquariums etc.– anything that might appeal to their curious, willful, unconventional dispositions. I particularly remember a trip to Florida that included a stop at an alligator farm. The kids loved it! They were particularly fascinated with feeding time at the zoo when the gators devoured chicken parts thrown into the water. Gill and Crazy D were so excited I was afraid they might jump into the water to get a closer look. L’il Sis was still too young to consider that this was even an option, but the incident taught me to be careful which nature outings I chose for these budding little ‘researchers’.

When I travel nowadays, I still love to include nature outings. In fact, when they show those ‘how to protect your kids from being lured and kidnapped’ , I can’t help but think that they could be talking about me. Offer me a chance to see an exotic bird or animal or find a missing or injured creature and I’d follow you anywhere, no questions asked.

During a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, The Man in My Life and I experienced an exciting event — endangered sea turtle babies being released into the ocean to begin their journey for survival and revival of the species. We happened on the event purely by chance. Walking the beach that morning, I had seen a utilitarian tent-like structure made largely of netting. Surrounded as it was by lavish pool complexes, swim-up bars and restaurants, it seemed oddly out-of-place. It was a research facilty dedicated to  saving endangered sea turtles. The mother turtles come on shore from the ocean, lay their eggs in the sand and return to the ocean — leaving their eggs and future offspring to the will of whatever gods look out over baby turtles. (I admit to a certain twinge of envy — I know of many human mothers who would gladly turn in their daily glass of medicinal Chardonnay to have such a deal!)

The researchers label the ‘burrows’ and protect them from predators until they hatch and are ready to return to the ocean. The main predators are not the gawking humans intent on catching a peek at the babies, but the cheeky large black birds hovering above… waiting.

The turtle release was set for that evening at dusk. The sun was just setting over the Pacific, the sky ablaze with orange, pink, and yellow streaks. Any Hollywood director would have killed for this backdrop. The actual reason for choosing this time of day was more life-and-death. The shore birds love nothing more than a fresh snack of baby turtle, so the closer to dark it is, the better the chance the turtles have of not being the entree on their dinner buffet.

The researchers brought out the plastic bucket filled with 60 squirming grey lumps, their flippers flapping every which way, trying to escape their temporary mobile enclosure. The turtles were gradually helped out of the bucket, forming clumps on the wet sand near the ocean. They sat, seemingly stunned and puzzled as to what was required of them. Then gradually, one moved forward towards the water. Then others. A wave washed over them. They were carried off into the ocean, wave after wave. As we watched them ride the waves, cheers of encouragement went up from the crowd. Children and adults alike were urging them forward. One could be forgiven for thinking this was a horserace with the spectators hoping for a windfall of cash when ‘their pick’ won the race. It was humbling to know that this ‘race’ was about more than that — it truly was about survival of a species.

As darkness fell, the turtles had all been whisked into their new ocean home and I was thrilled to have been witness to such a precious event. And I wished that my three nature lovers had been here to share the spectacle.

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