Honu

An early morning encounter with a green sea turtle elicits an ocean of thought

lightened cropped green sea turtle.jpg

Just now, in the dawn, unable to sleep, I emerged from the hot steel hull of our ship for some fresh air. It takes a second for my body to adjust to the busy world around me. It’s breezy up here. Shining street lights dance white, red, green and orange ripples on the quiet water’s surface all around the harbor. Somewhere, a rooster crows. Cars, trucks and buses are just beginning to rumble, roar and buzz down Honolulu’s highways. The gray and black sky is slowly turning purple and blue in preparation for sunrise.

I’m absorbing all of this when I notice something moving just at the edge of my sight line — down in the water just below the cockpit where I’m perched on a bench. It’s a cluster of barnacles attached to a dark, hard surface.

Honu, is that you?

I kneel on deck and peer over the side of the ship and I see a small, curious face pop up from the water. Honu. She swims closer. Just inches away now, she locks eyes with me for what seems like an eternity. She’s studying me.

I’m studying her. Every mosaic-like scute on her shell, every wrinkle on her face. I wonder how old she is, how many years she’s lived in this harbor, watching the people on the boats. How many propellers she’s had to avoid. How many pieces of trash she’s accidentally ingested. I worry for Honu.

I worry for humanity. People are causing problems for Honu. People are causing problems for people. As if on cue, an Army jet on the nearby base revs, runs and throttles itself up into the sky. War. Deceit. Death. For what?

Honu’s eyes are dark and thoughtful, as if she too is processing our interaction, as if she too is thinking about her place in the world. Sea turtles are not creating these problems but are forced to live in a world where we do. I feel love for Honu, for her innocence and thoughtfulness, for visiting my ship in the dark dawn at the precise moment I came up for air. I feel sad and guilty. I feel betrayed by humanity. We are failing this sea turtle. We are failing ourselves. We are failing all life on Earth.

While I’m still lost in thought, Honu slowly lowers her head into the water, locates some breakfast and dives below our vessel to catch it. I watch the ripples her wide shell leave on the water’s surface before I slip back down inside the ship.

Originally published to Medium on August 31, 2017.