Ancient Mariner

By Andrew Turbill

Recently, after undertaking our errands in the big smoke, Floyd and I found that we needed a medicinal stroll across Muttonbird Island. The island is one of my reliable happy-places when I’m away from home. Not even the fact that it’s absolutely swarming with humanity can diminish the resolute and untamed wild beauty of the place.

As a youngster I used to peddle my brother’s crappy BMX bike across town in the wee hours of pre-dawn to fish for huge tuna from the island’s eastern rocky shelf. It was a dangerous hobby. The most significant hazard of course was the existential risk of being seen by the cool kids or hot girls as we rode our bikes home again in daylight hours. Like the kid in ET, except instead of carrying an annoying but cute alien, we hauled an odd assortment of fishing gear, buckets and sometimes, enormous tuna. It was instant dork-death to be seen like that.

So anyhow, I’ve got history with the place.

Making our way across the boardwalk to the eastern end of the island we descended to the viewing platform. It wasn’t long before a lawn-mower-sized dark shape of a green turtle broke the surface just beyond the white foam-line. In the rapidly cooling afternoon air, its fetid outbreath (I’m guessing) briefly misted white against the dark ocean and its algae-encrusted shell gleamed pale under an iron sky. For some minutes the turtle just bobbed there, its head cocked up awkwardly as if chafing against a shell that looked bigger in the catalogue.

And here we need to pay homage to the creature and reflect on its ancient journey.

Green turtles are marine reptiles. That last word can look incongruous, but nonetheless, it’s still true. They’re reptiles. And they’re eye-wateringly old. How old? Well let’s just say they’re so god-damned old that during the time they’ve been swimming in the Tasman Sea, the Tasman Sea was actually made under them. Heck, the ancestors of green turtles even witnessed the formation of the frikkin’ Pacific Ocean! Turtles are so insanely ancient that during their time on Earth the actual Milky Way Galaxy has nearly completed one entire rotation, Mount Everest went from muddy ocean sludge to roof of the world, and the full reign of the dinosaurs came and went.

Perhaps that’s what this particular turtle was reflecting on behind its inscrutable reptilian eyes? Perhaps not. Ok, almost certainly not. But what’s the point of having a family tree with roots that crazy-deep if you can’t look inscrutably at a curious ape every now and again?

I salute you, ancient mariner. May you forgive us.


Photo: Andrew Turbill

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