Myth & Lore

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The White Sea Turtle
By Earthwalker

Once upon a time, a long time ago, swimming amid the sparkling blue waters off the shores of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was a White Sea Turtle. Sea Turtles are most always green, but she was as white as sunlit snow. Her name was Paula. No one knew her age - but Paula was very old. And very wise. And Paula could talk. She didn't talk like people talk, with their mouths. She talked with her mind. If she wanted to speak with someone she could do it, just by thinking what she wanted to say. And the person or animal would hear the turtle's words inside their heads just like she was really talking - only she never moved her mouth. And do you know what? She could speak any language, human or animal. In fact, she could even talk to you. Though Paula was old, her beautiful eyes were crystal clear. If ever you were lucky enough to look into Paula's eyes, you could see all the yesterdays and all the tomorrows. You could see the stars twinkling in the sky, and bright colored rainbows. And you could see yourself, your real self, very strong and healthy, very smart, and of course, very happy. As you can imagine, it is a wonderful thing to look into the loving eyes of Paula. Even though Paula lived for probably hundreds of years near the bustling seaport of Puerto Vallarta, hardly anyone ever saw her. And fewer people ever heard her mind-voice whispering its secret message. But every once in a while, someone would catch a glimpse of Paula's beautiful white turtle shell glistening in the sun far out on a glassy sea. And sometimes, ... sometimes, Paula would speak with very lucky people in boats, or on the wooden piers where the boats were tied up at night, or she would speak with someone walking down the beach, and looking down at the sand.

Paula would also talk with her brothers and sisters of the animal family. She would talk with fish swimming in and out of the rocks at the bottom of the ocean. She would talk with the graceful birds flapping their wings or sometimes sitting on the great turtle's sparkling white back. And sometimes even deer or mountain lions or other wild animals would come down from the thick jungle to meet with Paula at the edge of the sea.

But Paula wouldn't speak with just anyone. They had to be ready to listen. Sometimes people or animals were just sort of born ready to listen. They wanted to learn because it was important and fun to learn. Other times, it took something very scary to make them want to hear what Paula's mind-voice had to say. But Paula was always there for those who were ready to listen. And she always knew exactly what to say, and how to say it - to make things better - like magic. This is the story of a giant fish, a young Mexican boy, and Paula, the White Sea Turtle.

The silver sun off the great fish's back glistened like diamonds as the Yellowtail Tuna rose from the water and tried to shake loose Carlos' hook. At the top the fish's leap, its head stood higher than Carlos was tall and it shook back and forth. It's yellow tail came completely out of the water bringing with it a waterfall of white foam. Young Carlos Sanchez could feel his heart pounding as he pulled back on his fishing pole. He knew that his family badly needed this fish for food. But even more than that, he felt that if he could catch this one giant fish, he would change from a boy to a man. Becoming a man was something that Carlos wanted more than anything else in the world; that was why his heart was pounding so.

It was the hardest of all years for the Sanchez family. Carlos' father had lost his job and had to go to Mexico City to look for a new one. The family had little to eat. So every day, all summer long, Carlos and his grandfather left their little hut on the edge of the jungle and went out on the sea in their long narrow boat called a "ponga." Every day they fished from sun-up to sun-down. And every day they caught almost nothing. They lived mostly on beans and tortillas that summer, and grandfather had grown too weak to go out in the boat to try to catch fish. Carlos' mother was quite worried about him. Grandfather needed fish to eat. So on this day, for the first time ever, Carlos' mother sent Carlos fishing ... alone.

Carlos' muscles ached with the strain of pulling back on his fishing pole. The fish was speeding away from the boat like a rocket. Carlos leaned back and pulled in his arms with all his might, but he could not even slow the fish down. Carlos knew that if he could not turn the fish before the fish pulled all the line off of his reel, the fish would break the line and get away. Carlos knew that he must not let that happen. He must not fail. His grandfather's life depended on that fish. And Carlos felt that he could not become a man unless he pulled in this fish - which was the prize of all prizes. Those thoughts made Carlos strain harder as he tugged against the weight of the great Yellowtail Tuna. The spool of line was almost empty and the fish was about to get away, when suddenly the fish stopped. It just stopped. Carlos pulled hard but it was so heavy. It was like trying to reel in a huge sunken log. It took all of Carlos' might just to move the fish a few small feet. And Carlos was tiring fast.

As Carlos battled the mighty fish, he thought about his grandfather. He thought about how proud his grandfather would be if he could only see Carlos now fighting the biggest Yellowtail in the Sea. That thought made Carlos smile. But suddenly, the fish gave a mighty twist and nearly took Carlos over the side of the boat and into the darkening water. The fish's unexpected power shook Carlos awake. He realized that he had been battling for a long, long time and that he was growing very tired. He saw that the sun was going down and knew that it would soon be dark. Then he felt the first drops of rain on his face. And as the wind began to blow, Carlos could feel icy salt spray sting his eyes. The boat began to rise and fall as the waves grew larger. And Carlos knew that if he couldn't get the mighty fish to the boat soon, he would have to cut the line or risk being caught in the dark of night during a dangerous Baja storm.

As the sun sank below the horizon, Carlos pulled back on his fishing pole with all of his might. But still the fish would not come. Carlos' arms ached. He was beginning to realize that he was losing the battle. The fish was too powerful. The wind was now blowing so hard that the waves were pouring in over the side of the narrow boat. The rain was freezing cold. And it was becoming so dark that Carlos could barely see the end of his fishing pole. Carlos' heart sank when he realized what he had to do. It was time to leave - fish or no fish. It was the hardest thing Carlos had ever done in his life. He pulled a knife from his fishing box. He bent back his fishing pole. And then Carlos cut the line.

The mighty Yellowtail Tuna made one last triumphant leap into the air before swimming to freedom. Even in the dark Carlos could see it's huge silver sides and broad yellow tail. Carlos sat down in the boat. His tears mixed with the raindrops as they ran down his cheek. With a heavy heart, Carlos pulled the starting cord on the outboard motor. The motor sputtered a few times and then stopped. Carlos tried again and again but still the motor would not start. Carlos looked up at the sky but could see nothing but the deep black of the blowing clouds. He knew that during the battle with the fish, the boat had drifted a long way to the south. Carlos realized that he now had no idea which way was his home. Carlos was lost at sea.

Carlos sat down in the middle of the boat, put the oars in the water, and began to cry. He was so afraid. He was afraid he would never see his family again. He was afraid that without the fish that got away, Grandfather would die. And Carlos was afraid that losing the fish meant that he would never be a man. Suddenly Carlos heard something that made his breath stop. At first he thought that he was just imagining it. Someone was softly, and gently saying his name, over and over. Only the voice seemed as though it were coming from inside of him.

"Carlos, Carlos, Carlos... Over here Carlos. In the water behind you." The voice was soft and soothing. It reminded Carlos of a quiet pond, or perhaps a gentle breeze through the palm trees near his home at the edge of the jungle. When Carlos turned and looked over his shoulder, he could see a white glow in the water as if the moon had sunken below the angry waves and had begun to calm them. As Carlos looked closer he could see that the glow was coming from the shell of a huge, white sea turtle with beautiful kind and knowing eyes. "Do not be afraid, Little One," the voice whispered within Carlos. "I am Paula, and I am with you."

"But ... but how can you speak? And how is it that I hear you only in my mind?" Carlos had never before experienced a talking sea turtle.

"I speak because it is my gift to you. You hear me because you are ready to listen." As Paula spoke, the wind began to fade to a gentle breeze, the rain became a warm mist, and the waves around Carlos' boat became peaceful and began to quietly rock the boat back and forth like a cradle.

Carlos looked into Paula's eyes and asked "Do you know of the fish?"


"Then you know that the fish got away."

"Yes Carlos, I know."

"And you must also know of my grandfather's need for fish to eat so that he can grow healthy and live. And that since I lost the fish, my grandfather may grow sick and die."

Paula looked at Carlos and smiled gently. "Everything happens for a reason, Little One. It was not the fishes' time to leave its body behind. It has special things to do in this world before it is his time to go. You must also understand that when your grandfather's time on earth has passed, it will be for a reason. And that reason is love." Paula paused, and listened to the gentle rain on the now very quiet surface of the Sea. Carlos listened also. The sound was like music. Then very quietly in Carlos' mind, Paula continued, "It is true that your grandfather needs fish. But though the great Yellowtail Tuna slipped from your grasp, you must never fear. Never a door closes without a greater, and more joyous door, opening. Yours and your Grandfather's abundance lies within. You must believe in that truth with all your might."

"But Paula", Carlos said quietly. "I could not catch the fish so I shall not go home a man."

"Carlos, there is no time when a boy becomes a man. Every boy has a man within him. It guides him, and protects him, and gives him confidence. But Carlos, you must never lose the boy in you. The joy of life depends on your boyish innocence and excitement, and on your looking at the world fresh and new each day. You also must understand that when you cut your fishing line, freeing the mighty Yellowtail, you did so as a man. You did what you had to do, even though it hurt."

"Paula," Carlos said softly, "I am afraid. Even though the storm has passed, it is dark and I do not know the way home."

Paula looked into Carlos' eyes and whispered to his mind, "The way is always with you. You are never lost when you listen within. Believe that ... just believe that ... and you shall find your way home."

Paula's final words echoed in Carlos mind as the great White Sea Turtle drifted below the surface of the sea. The moon-glow in the water had just begun to dim as Carlos heard, "I love you Carlos, and I am with you." The storm was gone. The sea was gentle. Carlos lay back in the boat feeling as warm and calm as the gentle sea around him. He thought about Paula's words: "The way is always with you ... just believe that." Carlos believed. He closed his eyes. And he rested. When Carlos opened his eyes again, he was looking up at the vanishing clouds. Carlos was beginning to see the stars. One group of stars he recognized was called the "Big Dipper." Grandfather had taught Carlos that the side of the Big Dipper pointed to the "North Star" which always stayed in the north. Carlos kept watching the clouds fade until he could see it quite clearly - the North Star. Now Carlos knew which way to row. Carlos rowed nearly all night. Every muscle in his body ached from pulling back on the oars. He was tired to the point of exhaustion when he saw off in the distance, the twinkling lights of Puerto Vallarta. But Carlos could make it no further. His muscles had lost their strength and sleep overtook him as he lay in the bottom of the ponga. But just before Carlos went to sleep, he believed. He believed as Paula had taught him, that the way home was within. He knew that he would somehow see his family again. As the sun came up over Puerto Vallarta, someone saw a sea-battered ponga drifting onto the beach. It had a boy in it. Or was it a man? Carlos knew that he was both.

The bright sunlight warmed Carlos awake. He slowly opened his eyes and stretched his aching muscles and thought back to the night before. It seemed like a dream. Carlos remembered that when he had fallen asleep, the twinkling lights of Puerto Vallarta were still far to the north. He wondered how his boat had made the final distance. Pulling the bow rope from the water, Carlos knew. There, imbedded between the strands of rope, Carlos found a scale that looked to be from the beak of a giant White Sea Turtle. The townspeople were overjoyed at seeing Carlos safe at home. They listened with astonishment as he told of the great Yellowtail Tuna and of the wisdom of Paula, the White Sea Turtle. In joy, the townspeople gave the Sanchez family all the fish that they needed so desperately. Forever after, Carlos knew that no matter how scary things looked, the way to safety was always with him. All that he needed to do was to listen within. Carlos also knew that he was a man but that he would always remain a boy. And grandfather? Well, he got better. You see ... he had fish to eat.
© Robert M. Holley, 1998. All Rights Rese

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