Category Archives: island

How to interpret The Red Turtle

What does The Red Turtle mean? How are we supposed to interpret a movie with no dialogue and no explanations? Not easily.

The Oscar-nominated animation has not yet prompted an onslaught of online opinion. It offers a green and blue canvas for people to paint their own portraits and impose their own perceptions onto this rectangular dream. Meditative and mysterious, the film also feels allegorical. It’s an extended bedtime story for adults.

Others articles discuss the director (Michaël Dudok de Wit of the Netherlands) and the art of the animation (Studio Ghibli of Japan), but I want to explore the symbolism of the film. Let’s start with the title, which is what drew me to see it.

Why Red?

A sea turtle with a red shell is exceptional, improbable, and startling. The color red could be interpreted to indicate danger, blood, passion, and other strong emotions. But turtles are toothless. Sea turtles do not threaten humans, although this red turtle does disrupt the protagonist’s plans to escape the deserted island. A silent siren, she controls his destiny. She is a stop sign.

The Turtle of the Red Shell

Sea turtles are exceptionally ancient, amphibious survivors in the tree of life, yet they are highly threatened by human activity. They represent our connection to the past and our alienation in the present. They know things that we can’t, and they are pacific. In contrast, humans are young and violent. We’re jealous and discontent.

The nameless main character is a non-turtle, an every-man, representing a lost soul and a frustrated loner. His conscious desire is to escape, like the delicate, hatchling sea turtles that scatter into the sea, but he is a failure. He has no home, no shell. The turtle, in its shell, is always home.

Conception and Rebirth

The film’s narrative unfolds as a creation myth, with Eve eventually arising from the red turtle’s shell and giving birth to a son, creating a trinity. This expansion represents the man’s unconscious desire to create. He believed that his true life existed outside of the island, in another place and time, but his spirit conjured up new life from within. The red turtle is his tormentor, and his deliverer.

The son is a hybrid who is free to join the turtles. He achieves what the father could not, and he chooses the feminine path of his mother. Both father and son experience the same rebirthing process after falling into the cave, yet the son struggles much less. He is becoming more harmonious, more integrated with nature than the father. He is returning to the amphibious womb of the ocean.

But a Dream

The Red Turtle could be enjoyed as an extended dream sequence, like the Technicolor portion of the Wizard of Oz. There are dreams within the dream, as when the man flies over a pier or when he hears a string quartet. But he awakens to the confines of his tropical island.

turtle FKNMS

The island nurtures him with food, water, and eventually a mate. At times it turns violent and dangerous, and eventually he falls asleep on the sand, forever. He achieves peace and belonging. Just as the turtle will return to the sea, he will return to the sand.

Feeling Unsettled

This interpretation is one of many possibilities, such a this one from Paste, calling it “more impressionistic than thematic.” You could look at the silence as ambivalence; the island could be the protagonist; the turtle could be a hallucination.

My mother is a turtle.

I may find another meaning in the future, but today I see it this way: the turtle is a higher being, a more advanced consciousness, and we are struggling to connect with it, just as many people are struggling in today’s world to reconnect with Nature. We are lost. Despite our wired world, we are disconnected.

So many people today envision the world in screens. They fear peering away from their phones and their computers, lest they miss something important. They need a reminder that stories have magic and power to heal, whereas a screen is only a tool. Screens can convey stories, but only the interpreter can infuse them with meaning.

The Red Turtle, while only a film, is also a chance to meditate on a moving yet perplexing story. It’s an invitation to dream of something beyond the rectangle.

Big bay, small swimmers, tough decisions

Where should we go?

Even if you don’t swim, you can help me figure out the best place to hold an official marathon swim in Biscayne National Park, the underwater jewel just south of Miami. For a couple of years I’ve been ruminating about The Swim for Biscayne National Park, and now it’s morphed into a crowdfunding idea (http://www.gofundme.com/Biscayne). The swim’s main intention is to enlighten locals about the park’s existence, because no one will care if they don’t know it’s there.

I would love a large grant from one of the donors to the South Florida National Parks Trust, but I haven’t approached most of them, because I haven’t succeeded in drumming up much enthusiasm within my circle of influence. I’m even reluctant to talk about it, because I can’t afford to do much on my own, and I don’t have a boat to explore the park. Obviously, I could use a little boost, whether in word in in dollar.

Biscayne National Park is the large blue outline, just east of Miami (Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

Biscayne National Park is outlined as a large block attached to Miami-Dade County. (Map from Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

 

 

Swimming in Circles

As for the swim’s course, considering that you can fish nearly anywhere, and take your boat nearly anywhere, it’s safe to assume that you can swim nearly anywhere in Biscayne National Park.

Almost. A triangle in the Atlantic, directly east of Elliott Key, is off-limits to everything expect drift fishing and trolling. The Legare Anchorage holds an ancient British shipwreck, the HMS Foley, that sank in 1748.

Never mind, as there are plenty of other wrecks in the park’s Maritime Heritage Trail, and plenty of space to float around.

BISCmap1

The border of Biscayne National Park is less than a mile from Miami. (credit: “BISCmap1” by Mgreason, Public Domain, Wikipedia)

From the island of Key Biscayne near Miami, the park border lies less than half a mile from Bill Baggs State Park. Less than two miles away is historic Stiltsville, one of the most arresting sights in Florida. A group of wrecks surround the houses on stilts, and that loop would makes for a very cool, four-mile round trip swim. It is unknown if anyone has attempted this swim, and logistically it’s the easiest one to attempt. We could pull that crew together (kayaks and swimmers) in no time and at minimal cost.

Despite its huge size, most of Biscayne National Park is less than 12 feet deep, especially within Biscayne Bay. A deeper strip runs on the Atlantic side, further out to sea, but it becomes shallow again within sight of Elliot Key. Here are dozens of beautiful, shallow coral reefs.

That’s where I would love to stage a swim, and it’s where I went snorkeling in 2013 with classmates from Florida International University studying marine protected areas. Read more about that experience in an article I wrote for National Parks Traveler. We saw endangered elkhorn corals thriving here, which essentially represents their northernmost limit. That sight alone is worth the trip.

For a self-propelled visit from an island, the closest reef to Elliott Key requires more than one mile of swimming. Most reefs are more than three miles offshore, so swimming to them and back would require quite an effort. Not impossible, but challenging, and the exact course would require some consultations with experts.

Getting to the reefs by boat is not difficult, so another option involves hopping off a boat, like the snorkelers do, and finding a pathway between the patch reefs. With the right launching point, you could hit several reefs within a one-mile trek.

On the Other Paddle

Perhaps the most media-friendly challenge would be the “escape to Miami” swim from Boca Chita Key, a popular haunt for boaters with a scenic lighthouse. Either west to the mainland or north to Key Biscayne would involve about nine miles through shallow water. Definitely do-able, and it’s unlikely that anyone has tried it.

Depending on the currents, we may want to go one direction or another. Help! The Gulf Stream is nearby and pushes north, but there must be many other currents driven by the tides, especially around the sandy, grassy area known as the Safety Valve. Viewed rom above, the tidal stripes clearly run east to west.

Well, I guess I’ll keep studying the options. It would be fun to organize an inaugural, communal swim around Stiltsville by the end of May (the 31st?) as a way to kickstart this campaign.

Visit the Park, Any Way

Even if you don’t want to get wet, definitely plan to visit Biscayne National Park soon. When arriving by boat, consider using the existing mooring buoys instead of an anchor. Most buoys are in water of about 20 feet deep.

Arriving by car involves driving through Homestead to reach the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, open until 5:00 p.m. You can’t easily swim in the shallows around here, although kayaking is encouraged. There’s a boardwalk and areas for a picnic near the bay.

Not far from shore, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles are living the dream in Biscayne National Park. Join them.

Diana Nyad’s two nights at sea

“I could see the lights of Key West.”

Diana Nyad

Feeding time in between Cuba and the U.S. (from Diana Nyad’s Facebook).

On Labor Day 2013, September 2, Diana Nyad, age 64, walked ashore onto Florida after spending more than 50 hours and two nights swimming under her own power from Cuba. Watch these videos of her triumphant arrival.

She delivered three messages to the world, which I will simplify here:

  1. Never give up.
  2. You’re never too old.
  3. It takes a team.

I want to recognize her incredible courage and take a moment, as a swimmer myself, to think about the two nights she spent swimming in the open ocean. In complete darkness. Out there, civilization is gone. There are no lights. There are no landmarks to inspire you and keep you focused in the right direction. It is a place that swallows people in silence, and left alone there, you will die.

But she was not alone, as she pointed out in message number three. She had her team on the kayaks and boats, she had her doctor, coach, navigator, and many other crew members urging her onwards. The team had to keep the water dark to avoid attracting sharks, and Diana wore a red light on her cap to be identified. In the water, Diana was guided by a thin, red strip of LED light trailed underneath her from a mount on the main boat, creating a sort of bioluminescent mermaid’s tail, pointing “this way.” But little red lights in the middle of the ocean do not keep you safe or alive. Diana had to trust her team completely.

The sun rose after day and night one, and she had not slept. Another day passed as she kept swimming and willing herself forward, and the sun set again. Night number two. She had been awake for a period that would make most mortals delirious–and she had been swimming the entire time. She was entering the darkest night.

I cannot imagine how she felt on that second night. Her body had to be in survival mode from a technical standpoint, but one organ was even stronger than her body. Her mind.

In an interview today with CNN, Nyad said that for the final 15 hours of the swim, she could see lights in the distance. She knew it was Key West, her destination. After many hours of wishing herself towards those lights, there came a much greater light.

On day three, the sun rose.

Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been? Can you see it slowly peeling away the fear of darkness and ushering in the hope of day?

I could go on and on, gushing about the symbolic victory as well as the technical triumph of Diana Nyad’s swim. This feat was much, much more than a swimmer’s Mount Everest. It was one person’s dream that had died, gone into hibernation for more than 30 years, and then arose again. It was a foolish, fool’s pursuit of a gold medal in history, in life. It was impossible.

Until now. Diana Nyad proved a lesson that seems to be hitting me over the head lately. Everything is possible.

Sea Level Rising, Slowly but Surely

Good old Little Cuba, Hialeah, is the most vulnerable city in the U.S. to the effects of a rising ocean, according to a study by Climate Central. These and other interesting warnings were issued at a Sea Level Rise summit in Boca Raton, organized by Florida Atlantic University (see Miami Herald summary here).

rain forest

Rising seas will give new meaning to “rain forests.”

I’ve been writing about this issue for years now, and not much has changed in terms of awareness:

Like many effects of global warming, serious troubles from sea level rise are not expected for decades, and it will only affect areas near sea level. People are not going to wake up to this reality until they are denied flood insurance, which will happen eventually. South Florida is expected to disappear completely, but that should take several centuries.

Of course, what should happen and what will happen are two different stories. Here’s where you can learn more about sea level rise:

Many people will lose their homes to a rising sea, and some speakers at the conference said that relocation should begin now. The representative from the Florida Keys talked about how they are raising certain elements of infrastructure by two feet, which will buy some time, but her overall tone conveyed a sense of defeat. The ocean is going to win.

Sea level rise is under way, and some very flat islands are already flooded. For the world’s other flat places, the big question remains: how much time do we have left?

Iceland Not So Icy

The residents of the world’s northernmost capital city, ReykJavik, are walking around in shorts and t-shirts in the same kind of temperature that would see a Floridian covered from head to toe (about 60 degrees F). At the outdoor pool, they are sunbathing in bikinis without shivering. I saw a blond schoolgirl with her adorable little classmates get on a public bus wearing nothing but pale green leggings under her black leotard—while I wore a parka. A common refrain from my traveling companions from Florida was, ‘I don’t get it.”

Church

From the rocky bay, the city’s tallest building is always in view.

So the people are nearly as different as the landscape. Both are warmer than expected, and even my cold-phobic self has to admit that the weather is very mild. The outdoor “heat wave” this week was nearly insufferable at the indoor competition pool (the reason I’m here), because the solid structure lacks ventilation. Even I didn’t need a t-shirt.

Then there is the exuberant sunniness to deal with. People are literally gardening at midnight. The constant sunshine makes you hyper-awake, as the bright light at 10 p.m. makes it feels like 5 p.m., and walking home at 1 a.m., the hour in between sunset and sunrise, is either dusk or dawn, or both. Your internal clock is screwed.

The people are uniformly helpful and poised to cash in on the growing tourism industry, which is a much wiser investment for Iceland than its failed banking industry. Few places on earth can offer the full “National Geographic” experience like Iceland can. Geysers. Fjords. Glaciers. Waterfalls around every turn. Endless fields of moss-covered lava. The continental divide of Europe and North America. One moment you’re swimming on the moon and the next you’re flying through a rainbow. Not only have we left Kansas, Toto—we have jumped dimensions.

So far Iceland has exceeded expectations, and I’m sure the 10 days here will end too quickly. Having left the capital in the west for the fishing villages of the east, now I’m really lost in time and space. Having also lost my voice, I’m dumbstruck. Beyond breathtaking, my impression of Iceland is that it is voice-taking. Words can’t really capture it anyway, so I’ll enjoy the silence and let the elves do the talking.

Pirate Play in Biscayne

These photos supplement the Park Patrol article that reviews the Sandspur Islands and Haulover Sandbar of northern Biscayne Bay. (Quick notes: the BBQ grill was gone 3 days later; the “blob” in foreground of lake area is a living sea hare; the unbelievable spotted cornetfish was photographed from above water, next to the tree stump where you see the heron perched).

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