Every time I watch the ferry’s wide wake push Southport, and the mainland, further away, I am reminded of the world J.M. Barrie created more than a hundred years ago. Neverland. Barrie described it as a magical place in which there are not “tedious distances between one adventure and another.” Bald Head is likewise such a place. It is full of adventures, and it takes very little effort for my children and me to find them. We bike. We climb Old Baldy. We explore. We ride the waves. Sometimes we even see pirates.
And, of course, on Neverland, time permits our hero, Peter Pan, to never grow up.
On the mainland, time affords us no such luxury. It moves so much differently there, quickly and quietly robbing us of our years. We know too well that time does this, yet we are always surprised at just how easily it accomplishes its task, especially when our long ago days seem so close and the details so clear that we might, if we tried, reach out and touch them. But we know we can’t, because time has claimed those days for itself.
On Bald Head, we need not worry. Time on the island is much more kind, and it allows us to feel each moment so much more deeply. I remember well the day we took this picture and how our daughter, with her toes in the Bald Head waters, was having the time of her not fully two-year-old life. I can just make out her smile in this image, and I believe if we’d somehow been able to stay that she would have remained like this forever.
Such is how time is here on our family’s Neverland.
Anyone who visits, though, will hear a different name for Bald Head’s magic. The islanders and regulars, inspired by the endangered loggerhead turtles that nest here during the summer, and which have become the unofficial mascot for the island, call the magic “Turtle Time.” People here are proud there is no hustle and bustle, and for them “Turtle Time” perfectly equates the slow moving style of these magnificent creatures to Bald Head’s laid-back, stress-free vacations.
But I have found from my time here that there is more to it than that.
After about fifty to sixty days in their nest, baby sea turtles hatch, dig themselves from the sand, and make their slow way to the ocean. Three days after any nest hatches, staff from the Bald Head Island Conservancy dig out the nest to determine exactly how many eggs hatched. They also look for any hatchlings that, perhaps not in any rush themselves, have yet to break through the sand. These the staff help along to the water’s edge. We are fortunate to have seen many of these excavations, and we applaud at each when the turtles reach the water to begin their lives at sea. In the years to come, they will travel thousands of miles, and many of them, when they are older, will return to nest at the very spot from which they hatched.
In this is what I believe to be the true meaning of Turtle Time. Bald Head Island becomes so much of who we are. Just as it does for the sea turtles, Bald Head claims us, and it claims us so completely that no matter where our lives may take us, and no matter the many miles we surely will roam, we will always hear its call to return.
We hear it on the mainland, where time has so quickly made us older. Our two boys, not even born when we took this picture, are in sixth and third grades. Our daughter, this little girl, is now in high school.
When we answer Bald Head’s call to return, we all find so easily those same joys and smiles that we found in our first times here. On this year’s family trip, as we play together in the surf, happily greeting each wave as it comes, I give thanks for that call and the magic of this place.
Because it is as though we have never left and as though we have never grown up.
A big thanks to Bald Head Island for running this in its 2017 Haven magazine, which you can find HERE.