On Wednesday, Margaret and I chilled at the beach until early afternoon, then went out to do a little shopping. We visited one of my favorite shops: the Beach Book Mart in Atlantic Beach. I love it because the books are usually at least dollar cheaper than the list price, and they have an oddball assortment. Since I’d finished the hurricane book, I picked up In the Land of White Death by Valerian Athenov, Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife by Ellen McGowan Biddle, and Surviving the Extremes by Kenneth Kamler, M.D. What can I say – I’m in a nonfiction mood.
Since it had rained hard all the night before (so hard that the beach house’s roof leaked a bit), and since more thunderstorms were predicted for the evening, I was not surprised to get a phone call from the North Carolina Aquarium regarding that evening’s Turtle Walk. The gentleman I spoke to informed me that the walk would go on as scheduled, rain or no – the only thing that would keep us indoors would be lightning and thunder, and in that case, we’d get a guided tour of the Aquarium instead. Okay by me. Margaret had brought a rain jacket with her; I decided that it might be an idea to pick up a cheap rain poncho myself. From the Beach Book Mart we went next door to a boating supply facility, where I bought a yellow rain suit for ten bucks. Just in the nick of time, too – while we were inside the skies simply opened up and there was an utter deluge outside. The boating place’s roof leaked, too, as did many of the other stores in the shopping center. We noodled around killing time until the rain let up. We went to the Crab Shack again for an early dinner (man, do they need to work on that cole slaw recipe). After dinner we headed to the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, where a nice young girl let us in and informed us that we were the first of our group to arrive. She ushered us into a classroom full of snakes and turtles in terrariums, and we had a quiet few minutes before the door swung open and a bunch of children flooded in.
To say I was surprised would be putting it mildly. The course description at the Aquarium website had read thusly:
Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Join the Aquarium for a nighttime adventure, beginning with a talk about the fascinating life of sea turtles and followed by a leisurely stroll along the beach. We may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local loggerheads.
$5 per participant — Ages 5 and up — Advance Registration Required
When I’d preregistered for the program, there was a great deal of emphasis on being able to walk a couple of miles through sand and wearing the proper footgear (closed-toe shoes required). Because of that, I hadn’t expected the entire program would be geared toward children. Our happy young guide informed us that we would, indeed, be going out for our “stroll,” but that all the loggerhead turtle nests the Aquarium staff had been monitoring had hatched out earlier that week – so we probably wouldn’t see any turtles. Instead, we’d visit a “turtle nest test site.” Well, okay – although it would have been nice if the gentleman who’d called me earlier in the day had passed on that little nugget. But there was still the problem of the children.
There were approximately six children in our group. The first four, two girls and two boys, came in shrieking and crashing into each other, clearly at home in the place (it turned out they’d been at several other classes that week). They were accompanied by several highly indulgent grownups, one of whom smiled at us (who were no doubt wearing looks of abject horror) and said “I bet you were expecting a nice, quiet evening.” I think I responded, “Yes, we were,” but she didn’t take the hint and the children continued to run riot through the classroom. One of the girls was particularly shrill and obnoxious; she climbed up the terrarium shelves, handled everything that wasn’t glued down, ran between the rows of seats and finally threw herself into a chair and kicked off her flip-flops (yes, every single one of the kids was wearing flip-flops – hardly the closed-toed shoes the staff had requested). Two more kids arrived with their parents in tow; again, all of them wearing flip-flops and the mom intently videotaping everything.
Finally our fresh-faced docent got everyone into their seats and began talking about the loggerhead turtles. Her lecture was clearly geared toward the kiddies; she even used a precious little “storytelling” voice. There were lots of oh-so-cute visual aids and unbreakable things to be handed around, but if these were supposed to keep the kids’ attention, they failed: the kids kept up a barrage of noise throughout. A man who was with the larger group of kids kept looking around at Margaret and me (seated as far in the back as we could get), as if to see if we were enjoying the children’s antics. I’m afraid I was looking pretty dour, but that didn’t stop him from giving us an apelike grin every time one of his little charges cut up.
We had noticed on entering the room that a large plastic box punctured with airholes was tucked under a table; periodically a thumping noise would come from it, prompting the Obnoxious Little Girl to scream, “There’s something ALIVE in there!” She actually ran to open the box at one point and was shooed away by the docent, but eventually the creature inside managed to bump the box open and was presented to us: a young loggerhead turtle. It was a pretty thing – about the size of a standard Frisbee, brightly colored, with large, rather wistful brown eyes. The docent carried it around so that everyone could touch it, cautioning us to keep hands away from the creature’s mouth and eyes. Naturally the OLG stuck her hand in the poor turtle’s face; it snapped but missed her fingers – unfortunately.
At the end of the program, our guide took questions; it was interesting to note how she dropped the “kiddie” voice and was completely capable of answering in an adult fashion when asked an adult question. Then she stuck in a very short videotape about the nesting procedure and went off to put the turtle back in its tank, trailed by a line of shouting children. The adults gathered around and watched the very elementary video for a few moments of blessed quiet. Then the docent returned and we piled into our respective automobiles for the trip to the beach.
I was ready to pack it in then, but Margaret wanted to see what a “test site” was, so we followed well behind the group as they made their rackety way down the beach. Had there been any turtles within five miles, I’m sure they would have turned tail and headed back into the ocean. There were plenty of ghost crabs on the beach, and our guide led the children in chasing them. Margaret and I got a few moments of amusement from a dog who was doing the same thing, but in a much quieter and more efficient manner. The turtle test site turned out to be two roped-off depressions in the beach; our guide informed us that they contained thermometers and other environmental gauges which would give the aquarium researchers information about the kinds of nest sites the female loggerheads seek out. Then we headed back the way we came. Margaret seemed to be in a fairly mellow mood, but I was extraordinarily grouchy. I amused myself on the walk back by slapping at mosquitoes and phrasing my letter of complaint to the Aquarium.