Sunday, January 8, 2012
Dreaming of Turtles By Michael Vincent McGinnis
Green Sea Turtle Range
In 1780, an English vessel was sailing along the coast of Jamaica and ran aground in a sea of green turtles, millions of turtles. For a time, human beings were stopped by the sea of turtles waiting for their inevitable return to the beach to forge the next generation.
Such an abundance of turtles. Their heads are breaking the sea’s surface. Imagine the smell of turtles out beyond the horizon. Imagine the coral of the reefs blooming colors. Big fish swimming. The explosion of marine life exists along a changing depth of blue hue, under a full moon sky that exists even before the sun sets.
Today, along the most of the beaches where green sea turtles once gathered, there is a silence, a silenced sea. The British Empire mined the beaches, coastal inlets, and lagoons for the sea turtles of the greater Caribbean Isles. The turtle was a major export to England and Europe in the 19th Century. Our museums are full of the large shells of sea turtles; our western fables tell the stories of the once-upon-a-time maritime abundance and bounty of sea turtles (in turtle soup). In maritime museums, the turtle’s shell represents a soon-to-be-lost race of marine life. Shells so large you can crawl into them. Great sea turtle shells are like a great palm tree or the wings of an albatross casting a shadow along the coast.
Sharks follow the path of an albatross, and the path of sea turtles. Wolves follow the raven to the herd of elk. The swordfish is the maritime emblem of the Chumash; when they return and sail to Santa Cruz Island, there is a carved abalone shell in the shape of the swordfish on their tomol or canoe. The brown bear was followed by the children of the Pleistocene; in ice, we followed the paths of the great bear and settled what indigenous North Americans’ refer to as “turtle island.”
The green sea turtle is referred to as honu in Polynesian, and represents “a spirit of change.” Honu is a spiritual and metaphoric guide that travels the world’s oceans; a shared totemic emblem that symbolizes the diverse ways people and places co-exist. The wildness is the ecological context in which honu’s path takes place – it is the space that is not embraced or understood by the Cartesian consciousness. It is a path that reflects a material and conscious transcendence of Cartesian ways and habitats.