Sometimes it is the slightest touch of the breeze on a humid night, the way the sunlight filters into the room, or the golden dawn, whose silence is broken by the noisy chatter of birds, that takes me back to the summer I called Padre Island National Seashore my home. That summer, I worked as a biological technician patrolling 60 miles of remote Texas beach for endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
I smell the saltwater, coupled with the sharp odor of rotting sargassum seaweed piling ashore. I feel the humid oppressing heat and the gritty sand. While the ephemeral sands alter the look of the landscape daily, the shape of the highest dunes, covered with the creeping vines of purple morning glories, provide a sense of location in otherwise unmarked territory.
My company is the sound of the birds, the wind, and the surf. I observe countless shorebirds, sand crabs, dune lizards, and coyotes, and watch for rattlesnakes lurking in the dunes. I search endlessly through piles of seashells looking for treasures.
While Padre Island teems with life, death was ever present. In my naivety, I never recognized the seashore as a harsh habitat, where creatures struggle daily for survival. Lifeless birds with broken wings, silvery fish washed ashore, a fishing line with entangled sharks, victims of bycatch, and coyotes feeding on a fresh deer carcass right at the waters edge; daily reminders of the fragility of life.
A visitor flags me down to inform me of a nesting turtle. Awed, I watch her in her trance-like state as she deposits her creamy white eggs into the sandy nest. As she disappears into the surf, I feel deeply honored to have been a silent witness to this ancient ritual.
Suddenly, suburban sounds infiltrate my memories, and I am back in the DC metro area where I currently reside. Of all the places I’ve lived, Padre Island made the biggest impression, changing me forever. I left a piece of my soul on that beach, and in return, carry memories forever of my time with the turtles on a wild Texas beach.