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The Pilgrimage of Turtles

By July 7, 2021June 5th, 2023No Comments

A recent study conducted in my state found that turtles in wetlands surrounded by busy roads were more likely to be males. This finding only confirmed what I and other turtle rehabilitators already knew – during the late spring, many female turtles are hit by cars during their annual pilgrimage to lay their eggs.

A pilgrimage is a journey, usually a long one, to a place that is sacred. Often the journey itself results in transformation of the traveler. People have been making pilgrimages since ancient times, such as on The Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusina, Greece. The famous Camino de Santiago, which leads to the tomb of St. James in northwest Spain, is walked by hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The turtle’s pilgrimage is shorter, by Camino de Santiago standards, but no less sacred. The destination is an ideal nesting spot, where she will bury her eggs, the hope for another generation of turtles.

As female turtles disappear, that hope is diminished.

For humans, travel has become easy. Most will hop in a car and drive more miles to pick up a pizza than a turtle will walk to her nest site. Roads crisscross the habitats of almost every species. Cars are faster than ever and filled with distractions. Relatively few of us will make a long journey to a sacred place, especially not by foot. Perhaps our lack of experience with sacred journeys is why we cannot see the turtle’s trip as an act of devotion.

If you asked me to explain divinity, I would tell you that what is divine is the impulse that keeps life “life-ing.” The turtles, and all other non-human beings, are devoted to life. It is innate, and probably is in humans too, and available if we can drop the religious constructs that squash our animal selves.

Most humans fail to see the turtle’s journey as sacred and, as a result, value pizza over her pilgrimage. That can cost the turtle her life.

There are things that can be done to make road crossings safer for turtles and other wildlife, such as green bridges and tunnels. Humans seem to lack an appetite, however, for spending money on those who will never be able to reciprocate.

When I recognized the turtle’s nesting walk as an act of sacred devotion, I made a pledge to help them. I even started a nonprofit organization to save turtles and their wetland habitats. But the needed work is really helping others to connect with what is sacred, so they will want to help too.

On July 19, 2021, Lori Ferry’, my HEARTH project co-director, and I will be guiding an online HEARTH Circle shamanic experience with the theme “The Sacred Way.” The online HEARTHs benefit the Olympic Mountain EarthWisdom Circle, an educational 501(c)(3) that promotes a sacred and responsible relationship with the Earth. Join us (or listen to the replay afterwards) for a small donation. The HEARTH Circle is an opportunity to connect with the sacred.