This essay takes place in the late 1990s, when I was an undergraduate studying wildlife biology and literature. There was a unique tension and urgency I felt during that period of my life—tension that was driven by external pressure to choose a specialty, but also internal pressure to figure out who I was and what I wanted as I crossed the threshold into adulthood. I had largely raised myself, but still longed for some external force to guide and nurture me.
It all came to a head my senior year when I took on a demanding internship caring for sea turtle hatchlings while also writing a thesis, building a creative writing portfolio, and having an existential crisis about who I was dating.
I decided to time travel a bit and write about these events in present tense, because many of the themes and questions I held back then feel relevant today.
In a sense, this essay is an experiment within an experiment. I experimented with form while chronicling the turtle-rearing process. I interrogated concepts like gender and motherhood. I tested my hypothesis that science and literature are more similar than not by weaving them together. And, I invited the reader into an experiment to see if they might feel warmer as they moved through the prose, whether they’d be distracted by the boyfriend like I was, or if I could lead them to a more grounded place by the end of the story.
In their purest forms, science and literature are born from curiosity. Biology seeks to define the world, while literature is a way of experiencing the world (or making sense of our experiences in the world). Like the laboratory, the blank page became an incubator for questions I’ve wrestled with for years: What does it mean to survive? To thrive? What do mothers really owe to their children? In the absence of parents, where do we find nurturing and guidance? Where and to whom do we really belong?
GINA DEMILLO WAGNER lives and works near Boulder, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Memoir Magazine, Modern Loss, Self, Outside, and other publications. She has a master’s degree in journalism and is cofounder of Watershed creative writing and art workshops. She recently completed a memoir and is working on an essay collection. Follow her work on Instagram @ginadwagner.