The Judge in the Bible by that name was
a powerful, solitary figure who was guided by her own lights, right? (Judges 4: 4-10)
Same with Deborah, the turtle.
Deborah begins her life on the coast of Florida, as one of hundreds of little sea turtles
who are instinctively breaking through their eggs, and then climbing up through the sand
on the seashore, scurrying as fast as they can to the sea, some 100 yards away.
But that’s a perilously long distance for a newborn sea turtle, on dry land. Many of the
hatchlings are lost to swooping pelicans and even carnivorous crabs. But Deborah finally
makes it to the open ocean, some atavistic impulse deep within her pulling her out to sea,
where she moves more easily than on land, but still has to come up for air.
Before long, Deborah finds the warm Gulf Stream, which will propel her all the way
across the Atlantic. It’s an enormous blue highway for all manner of fish, including
hammerhead sharks and dolphins, and soon Deborah finds a nice, cushy clump of
seaweed that she uses as a raft, pleasantly discovering that she can eat the Portugese
Man-of-War without being affected by its venomous sting: eons of evolution, perhaps?
There’s a huge detour: the wide Saragossa Sea, a kind of dead spot in the middle of the
Atlantic Ocean, where there’s no wind or tide or current, and many species flounder and
perish there. But somehow Deborah learns to survive on her own, and hangs out alone
there for oh, about five years. She even gains enough strength and acuity to feast on the
same type of crabs that once devoured her siblings. Then, finally, she is ready to resume
her trek across the Atlantic.
Incredibly, she rides the warm Gulf Stream all the way to where it bumps into the cold
Arctic Stream, creating an effusion of fish, which is like an incredible feast for those who
can manage to eat instead of being eaten. Then, Deborah rides the equatorial current
along the west coast of Europe, settling in the Azores, the islands off Africa which
offer her plenty of food, shelter, and security. She grows into an adult. She’s now 21,
but feels herself with a different kind of stirring within, one that drives her all the way
westward back to the coast of Florida, where she meets other loggerheads also following
their primal urges, and with barely so much as a “How do you do?” she chooses her mate.
And then promptly abandons him to recover her precious solitude.
Now there’s a different kind of natural desire: to lay her eggs in a proper nest. For
Deborah, it’s back to the very beach where she herself was hatched. It’s different
now; there are high-rises within sight. But the sand is still there, and so she traverses
it, stronger now, certain of her destination. She digs a hole, she lays her eggs one by
one, and she returns to the sea from which she came. So that the life cycle of countless
centuries can begin again.
Melanie Finn’s writing is prosaic, poetic and sometimes presumptuous. Miranda
Richardson’s polished narration is certainly a plus, and the veteran National Geographic
director Nick Stringer is certainly not afraid to let the majesty and grandeur of nature
speak for itself. This is a quietly elegant documentary suitable for all ages, though it’s
unclear why, two years after production, it’s been released to movie theaters rather than
to the Discovery Channel. It’s educational, but will be largely ignored by thrill-seeking
theater audiences everywhere.
Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas.