Sunday, February 04, 2007

There are green turtles whose feeding grounds are along the coast of Brazil, and they swim 1,400 miles to breed and lay their eggs on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, half way to Africa. Ascension Island is only five miles long. Nobody knows how they find it. Two of the turtles at the Aquarium are green turtles, a large one and a small one. The sign said: "The Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the source of turtle soup..." I am the source of William G. soup if it comes to that. Everyone is the source of his or her kind of soup. In a town as big as London that's a lot of soup walking about.

How do the turtles find Ascension Island? There are sharks in the water too. Some of the turtles get eaten by sharks. Do the turtles know about sharks? How do they not think about the sharks when they're swimming that 1,400 miles? Green turtles must have the kind of mind that doesn't think about sharks unless a shark is there. That must be how it is with them. I can't believe they'd swim, 1,400 miles thinking about sharks. Sea turtles can't shut themselves up in their shells as land turtles do. Their shells are like tight bone vests and their flippers are always sticking out. Nothing they can do if a shark comes along. Pray. Ridiculous to think of a turtle praying with all those teeth coming up from below.

Mr. Meager, manager of the shop and the source of Meager soup stood in front of me for a while. When I noticed him he asked me if I'd got something on my mind. Green turtles, I said. Was that something we'd subscribed, he wanted to know. No, I said, it was the source of turtle soup. He went away with a hard smile.

It's hard to believe they do it by observing the angle of the sun like a yachtsman with a sextant. Carr doubts it and he's about the biggest turtle authority there is. But that's what penguins do on overland journeys. They're big navigators too. I think of the turtles swimming steadily against the current all the way to Ascension. I think of them swimming through all that golden-green water over the dark, over the chill of the deeps and the jaws of the dark. And I think of the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going, the steady wing-strokes of the flippers in the water. Then it doesn't seem hard to believe. It seems the only way to do it, the only way in fact to be, swimming, swimming, the eye held by the sun, no sharks in the mind, nothing in the mind. And when they can't see the sun, what then? Their vision isn't good enough for star sights. Do they go by smell, taste, faith?

Title:Turtle Diary
Author: Russell Hoban

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