top of page

Turtle Breath

by Karuna Eberl

After a hurricane, life is sepia-toned. Lawns are dead. Trees are leafless. Roads are covered in debris, and anything made of steel has rusted. Churned and tossed, the water resembles weak coffee from a diner. Even the air smells brown, thick with hydrogen sulfide from a billion decaying, dull-colored organisms.

The food is also brown. In a tropical climate with no electricity, the bright greens of lettuce, the cheery reds of tomatoes, and the soothing purples of eggplants cannot exist. Instead nourishment comes from cans of brown beans and soup, except for once a day when the Red Cross food truck comes by to deliver beige chicken patties on pulpy, taupe buns, void of color, texture, condiments, and any other gastronomical enthusiasm.

It was only a couple of days after the storm when we managed to dig our skiff out from under the massive fallen buttonwood and two coconut palms. Their trunks had snapped about six feet up from the base, presumably from a tornado. The twisters inside of hurricanes don’t get much news coverage, though they deliver ample lumps of irony. For example, one removed the roof and exterior walls of a neighbor’s house, but left his kid’s crayon drawing of the house, complete with a rainbow, neatly pinned to the wall above his desk.

Against all odds, our 40-horse-power tiller outboard rumbled to life. Seeking normalcy, we packed up our disaster-assisted chicken meal and headed to our favorite place, the uninhabited mangrove islands of the Florida Keys backcountry. Six miles out, we cut the engines and drifted slowly with the current.

Stillness. No boats. No wind. No waves. No whistle of an osprey or splash from diving brown pelicans. We wondered what creatures could have possibly survived the storm, besides us, and the tiny boat we bought when we first fell in love.

So many times we had skimmed atop these waters when they were a vivid expanse of pastel blues and greens, dotted with gleaming white tidal sandbars and crowned with flaming pink sunsets. We’d anchor in the sand, then run naked through the clear surf, watching the full moon rise orange over the sea. After making love, we’d drift to sleep, gently floating under a Milky Way canopy.

But today was hot and sticky, and we were exhausted. So we just sat quietly, holding hands and reminiscing. Our laughter sparkled in the brown. And then it began.

A lone cormorant drifted by. The first sign of life. Then a gasp behind us. A green sea turtle poked her head from water, sucking in air as if it’d been a week since her last breath. Then another and another. Again and again.

Adrift on the ocean, we ate our brown sandwiches with fresh hope, listening to the sea turtles breathe.


Karuna Eberl is a freelance conservation writer from Colorado by way of the Florida Keys, Utah, Montana and California. Her literary works have been in Cold Mountain Review and Hindsight Journal/Changing Skies. Her journalism credits range from National Parks Magazine and Atlas Obscura, to National Geographic Channel and Reader’s Digest. She also writes the blog Nature Rising ( Awards include Outdoor Writers Association of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, plus many in filmmaking. She authored “Key West & The Florida Keys Travel Guide,” which she co-wrote with her husband, Steve, and the forthcoming kids’ book “All About the Everglades,” from Blue River Press.

See more about Karuna at

80 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page