Letter to Camille: 134 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 134 Months! Thankfully, I’m writing to you in less stressful circumstances this month. When last I wrote, we had evacuated to Tennessee ahead of Hurricane Irma, and weren’t sure to what we’d be returning.

We were lucky. Although there was plenty of yard clean-up to do from fallen limbs and tree debris, considering how others suffered we had no cause for complaint. With a helpful attitude, you donned your sun hat and work gloves and helped us fill lawn bags.

We rewarded ourselves with generous helpings of the key lime cake you baked and iced while we were still in Tennessee, under Nana’s watchful eye and excellent instruction.

Even though the storm had passed, you had more than a week off school as officials inspected buildings for damage and allowed time for evacuees to return home. We spent one of those days lagoon-side with your cousins, casting fishing lines.

The greatest challenge wasn’t catching fish – it was NOT catching turtles. As soon as your hook plunked into the water, ripples spread across the surface like a signal, summoning the turtles to your bait’s location. Alone and in groups, the turtles would swim toward your bobber, and then it was a mad race to reel in your line before the turtles could hook themselves. Sometimes the turtles “won,” although I am pretty sure they didn’t like the prize of a hook in the mouth. The lagoon is a popular one for fishing – you’d think the turtles would’ve learned to avoid bobbers and bait lines. Apparently not.

Despite the turtle interference,  you all still managed to catch several blue gill large enough to eat. And what a moral dilemma THAT was.

You love fishing. You love eating fish. But eating the fish you catch – that’s another issue altogether because you have to see it live and see it die.

Truthfully, I feel that if we’re going to be carnivores, it seems so much more ethical this way. It’s so easy to pick up a neatly wrapped styrofoam container of meat at the grocery and give no thought to the process that landed it there and whether or not it was a humane one.

But this fish – hopefully this fish had one bad day. It lived freely in the lagoon all its life until one day it wound up in our bucket. The end.

I say all of this with my logical brain, but I am of two minds. There’s also the sympathetic part of my brain that HATED watching the fish swimming frantic circles in our bucket of water, knowing in short order they’d be filleted and fried and on my plate. I could have easily tossed them back into their watery freedom, and I didn’t like having that power.

You were filled with these same conflicted thoughts. You wanted to eat the fish, but you didn’t want to kill them, and it just doesn’t work that way.

We took the fish home, and you and I sat inside the house trying to distract ourselves while your Daddy and Boo cleaned the fish outside. And I thought to myself, “If she becomes a vegetarian, we will trace it to this day.”

Heck, if I ever become a vegetarian, I can probably trace it to that day too.

Your Daddy brought the cleaned fish inside, battered it and fried it and put it on your plate. And despite a guilty look on your face, you gobbled it up, crispy fins and all, and declared it delicious. So at least for now, a carnivore you remain.

We spent another of those school-free days with the Skidaway Audubon Society, participating in one of their turtle release events. Diamondback Terrapins routinely lay eggs on Skidaway, but often in the golf course sand traps around the island. So, volunteers check the sand traps regularly during nesting season and excavate any vulnerable eggs. They rebury the eggs in protected hatching boxes, and then release the babies safely to the marsh once they emerge.

Fortunately for us, they often invite the public to the turtle releases. So one glorious evening last month, you, Lola and I gathered at the marsh with a handful of other people as plastic bins filled with sand, water, and teeny-tiny terrapins were placed gently on the ground. When we saw how small the baby turtles were – smaller than our palms – we all shrieked.

You and Lola scooped up the babies one by one. If you held them between your thumb and forefinger, they would windmill their arms like swimmers. Resting in your palm, at first the turtles would be still and quiet, blinking their tiny eyes, unsure of the next move.Then they’d try to scurry off your hands in the direction of the brackish water.

After giving each one a name and a nuzzle (or two), you walked to the edge of the marsh grass and placed the turtles on the ground. The sun was getting low in the sky, and the entire scene was bathed in a warm, golden glow.

There were more than 50 turtles to release, and when you were down to the last two, you and Lola lingered with them for a while. Of course you asked if you could keep them. Of course the answer was no. And as it should be, these last two turtles were released to join their brothers and sisters in the tidal marsh.

I feel very lucky to live – and to raise you – in a place that can bring us face to face with the natural world. With the food we eat and with creatures in need of our protection. You may not always live in a place like this – who knows, you may grow up to be a city girl in a skyscraper suite and that would be just fine. But I hope these experiences in nature are the kind that stay with you forever, rooting you to this world and every living thing on it.

I love you so much my sweet girl.

One Comment on “Letter to Camille: 134 Months

  1. I, too, love the sweet girl who struggles to be a carnivore like her granddaddy. I also love her momma, that one who sees all of life as God’s blessing and who artistically uses well-chosen words to paint pictures that move the soul.

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