Category: Adventure

Fog and Cold Water

Fog and Cold Water

SimoneLipscomb (4)The final day of my re-wilding retreat began on Clingman’s Dome at an elevation of 6, 643 feet. The only day I chose to wear shorts and the air was literally a cloud of 50 degrees with high wind whipping it into frenzied, cotton-candy fragments. Thankfully I had fleece and a warm jacket and boots with wool socks that replaced my flip flops.

I wandered around the lower part of the trail and decided against a hike to the top. Dodging piles of bear scat deterred me, especially since it was densely foggy and I didn’t want to surprise a bear during his or her morning constitutional outing. If there had been other hikers I would have gone but there was simply too much bear energy afoot for me to venture up the steep trail with heavy camera and recording gear by myself.

SimoneLipscomb (6)But I didn’t feel cheated. I captured some sweet bird song with my new recording gear and even got some decent wind recordings. The images I took were also fun; however, it was simply the experience of being in the high elevation in a fogged-in situation that made it so lovely. Smelling the coniferous rainforest smells–the fir trees–always takes me to a higher level of experience. That smell is big Medicine for me.

SimoneLipscomb (10)I stood in the thick clouds, surrounded by white mist. My hair became drenched by the moisture and droplets could be heard falling from fir branches like rain. Blissful, sweet dawn…healing dawn.

SimoneLipscomb (7)After a while I made my way down from Newfound Gap and finally found myself under the clouds. The sun was bright and the air much warmer. I stopped at a favorite spot to send prayers of gratitude to Spirit and to the powerful presence of nature energies found in the protection of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

SimoneLipscomb (8)While wading in the clear, cold, rushing water I paused and placed my hands in the water. I felt the completion of a cleansing that began when I arrived a few days ago. With it came a renewed sense of joy. It’s amazing what these sacred mountains offer, the least of which is fog and cold water.

SimoneLipscomb (11)

Who Squealed Louder?

Who Squealed Louder?

photo 3A balmy 97% humidity made it feel as if I was paddling my SUP board through water instead of on water. So close to the consistency of liquid was the atmosphere that I was soon drenched as I got into my fitness groove.

No air stirred, and the reflective river’s surface was only broken by mullet, alligator gar and bumblebees. Two of these flying wonders were upside down creating small ripples. I love bees and always stop and lend a paddle blade to rescue them so the two fat-bodied, pollen-toting creatures flew off to gather more pollen after a little help. I then continued downriver.

photo 2It was a hot paddle even though I started at 7am. But the playlist for the morning kept me going and before long I had paddled past the ski course, my 2.5 mile mark, and turned around. I faced the sun on my return paddle and it felt like I was being steamed alive. As fast as I drank water, I sweated it out of my body. My focus narrowed to simply getting back upriver and into the shade of the narrow part of the waterway.

Alligator gars were popping the surface as they came up for air. They can breathe underwater or at the surface and in the summer I see them from my paddle board as they pop up to breathe. I’ve had close encounters with them before and one time a large one (four feet long) surfaced at my left foot and I screamed like a kid. Since my board moves through the water silently I find myself too close often.

On-line photo
On-line photo

Today I had a particularly interesting encounter with this living fossil fish species. I was digging in, paddling hard. Jackson Browne was playing on my iPod and I was singing along…of course. “Fountain of sorrow….” and BUMP! My board was knocked. I squealed at the same time the gar squealed. I swear…I wasn’t suffering from heat stroke. The fish squealed! Either that or her armored, jagged, diamond shaped ganoid scales, that are nearly impenetrable, scraped the bottom of board and made the high-pitched sound. Or perhaps it was that double-row of sharp teeth. Regardless, I heard two squeals and can only claim one as my own.

It gave me a good laugh and brought me out of fine voice form momentarily. But I quickly recovered and went back to sweating, singing, paddling and groovin’ on this fine, summer morning on the Magnolia River.

My playlist you ask? It’s listed below in no particular order:

musicnotesriverFountain of Sorrow, Jackson Browne; Keep Breathing, Ingrid Michaelson; There Will Be a Light, Ben Harper; Never Alone, Lady Antebellum & Jim Brickman; Brothers & Sisters, Coldplay; Get On Your Boots, U2; Love Someone, Jason Mraz; Best Friend, Jason Mraz; Love is the Solution, Will Kimbrough; Sugar, Sugarcane Jane; My Someday, Brigitte Demeyer; Blessed Are the Brokenhearted, Jill Johnson; Washboard Lisa, Grayson Capps; Go in Peace, Sam Baker; Lift Your Spirit, Aloe Blacc; Ocean Soul, David Wilcox; God Bless, Lisa Carver; Mercy Now, Mary Gauthier; Singing Me Home, Lady Antebellum; Lost, Jay-Z & Coldplay; Knockin’, Carolina Chocolate Drops; Gypsy Train, Willie Sugarcapps; Not Alone, Ben Taylor; People of Love, Snatam Kaur; Surround Me, Ben Taylor; A Couple Hundred Miracles, Will Kimbrough; Running on Sunshine, Jesus Jackson; Beautiful, Akon, Colby O’Donis, Kardinal Offishall; Make You Feel My Love, Adele; The Whole Enchilada, Keb’ Mo’; Belief, John Mayer; …and more that I can’t remember.

 

Zipping into Spring

Zipping into Spring

SimoneLipscomb (1)
Presenting my children’s book, The Gulf Oil Spill Story, to children at Gulf Shores Elementary School.

Over the past several years I have focused on tapping into creative energy through my writing and photography with the intention of promoting planetary stewardship. Additionally I have volunteered extensively for Share the Beach, Baldwin County Extension Service Master Environmental Educator program, Wolf Bay Watershed Watch Board, and my own environmental education programs presented to schools, libraries, scout groups, bookstores and other places. These have been some of the most rewarding years of my life with the intention of giving from my heart with the hope generating love and compassion for our beautiful planet and all life here.

Photo by Gulf Adventure Center Photography Staff
Photo by Gulf Adventure Center Photography Staff

This is all wonderful and soul-enriching work and yet….there are still expenses associated with living in our society. But how does a nature-lover, compassion-promoting, environmental gal like me find a place in the working world? I’m at a point in my life where finding meaning in the work I do is an absolute must. And I think I might have discovered a really good fit.

Working as park naturalist, circa 1985. Preparing for a hay ride for campers.
Working as park naturalist, circa 1985. Preparing for a hay ride for campers.

Gulf Adventure Center in Gulf State Park is in my old stomping grounds. As an outdoor recreation administrator and resource manager fresh out from college, I worked in Gulf State Park as the naturalist. In fact, I worked summers during high school and college there and walked into the naturalist position. It was the first professional leap into environmental education.

Photograph by Gulf Adventure Center photography staff.
Photograph by Gulf Adventure Center photography staff.

When an opportunity to work as a zip line guide came to me, I felt I had to give it a try. It was the ideal location, coming full-circle to my roots as an environmental educator, it was active and adventurous, and it presented an opportunity to empower people. The training provided me with an opportunity to get a feel for the job and now that I’m working as a guide, it is proving to fulfill my desire to do something that has meaning.

Photograph by Gulf Adventure Center photography staff
Photograph by Gulf Adventure Center photography staff

Yesterday a wonderful family went on a trip with another guide and me. I witnessed and assisted as the mom worked through a bit of fear to a point where she was comfortable and having fun zipping from tower to tower. Being outdoors, celebrating sunshine and family, the beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Shelby, dolphins leaping and playing made for a perfect trip.

Helping people have fun outdoors and get physically active is awesome! It’s hard work, it doesn’t pay six figures, but every day I am there, I have an opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives and promote environmental education and stewardship in a fun way.

SimoneLipscomb (3)In the short time I’ve been there I’ve zipped the course in pouring rain, wind, sunshine and every time it has been great. I hope to see some of you there and if not there at some other place outdoors. We’ll celebrate the beauty of our planet together!

Alive in the World

Alive in the World

Photograph by Renee Power
Photograph of me by Renee Power

White line spun off the reel as I frog kicked through the water-filled tunnel. Out of the green light of the cavern zone through limestone walled wetness, around a sharp right turn and then a sharp left turn at the well-known STOP sign and onto the gold line. The magical gold line that cave divers know as the main line in cave systems here in Florida.

Once tied in we had a continuous line out of the cave in the event of light failure. So my dive buddy Pam and I gently and with care to the cave, made our way into the inky blackness. Illuminated by our bright cave lights we enjoyed the beautiful geological formations. Swiss-cheese-like here and solid with wavy lines in other places. Layers of brown silt hung on the nearly vertical walls like cinnamon dusting a scrumptious delicacy. And in truth, these caves are delicacies and must be treated as such.

After being out of cave diving for a few years I took a side mount class several weeks ago. It’s easier carrying one heavy steel tank to the water at a time that two at once. My back has thanked me. And just this past weekend I have found my cave mojo once again and it’s a great feeling. I’ve had some great friends in the past who supported my training and skill development and this weekend I found out I still have great cave diving friends although there are new faces.

Me and my buddy Pam Wooten after our awesome dive at Orange Grove, Peacock Springs State Park
Me and my buddy Pam Wooten after our awesome dive at Orange Grove, Peacock Springs State Park

Two days ago I felt it kick in but today that cave mojo surged through me and I felt myself move past where I had been three years ago to a different place within myself about diving caves. Not in a reckless way but with a deeper respect for my own strengths and acknowledgment that I absolutely love being in an underwater cave and seeing the beauty of the Earth and her lifeblood as it courses through underground aquifers.

SimoneLipscomb (2)This evening finds me in sunset bliss awaiting two mornings of manatee encounters. After a delightful dinner of Thai curry vegetables that was orgasmic…I’m NOT kidding….(Thai Phoon has amazing, amazing food)…I walked out on the dock at King’s Bay and listened to little coots as they swam in their duck-posse making their wonderful little coot song. The orange of the sunset reflecting on the water was interrupted with mullet splashing and the last pelicans of the day finding a roost. It took me to a place of pure bliss. A place of openness and wonder and awe.

SimoneLipscomb (1)It wasn’t just the cave diving this weekend or delicious nourishment or the sunset that has my entire being humming, it is everything lovely and wonderful that has come about over the past few days that makes me feel so alive in the world. And so incredibly grateful.

 

Note: Anyone interested in cave diving or cavern diving should GET PROPER TRAINING! I am an open water instructor but I still needed extensive training to become a cave diver. People who do not get appropriate training and dive into caves put their lives at risk. If you follow the rules things can still go wrong but your training is what can help you make it out alive! 

No Ego Needed

No Ego Needed

photo
Pam Wooten, Jill Heinerth, Simone Lipscomb. Photo by Rick Crawford.

The weekend before the New Year found me in Cave Country–North Florida–once again. I was drawn there to take a course in side mount, or so I thought. It wasn’t until after the trip was over and I was home that I realized the deeper reason I made the trip.

My friend Pam and I decided to take the class with Jill Heinerth. Pam knew Jill but I simply followed the recommendation of another friend and cave instructor. I won’t go into the details of the course because that’s not my focus. But I would like to share about the women that were present that weekend.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Connie LoRe, a role model for me in cave diving.  She has led trips to the beautiful caves of Akumal, Mexico for many years. Photo by Ed Jackson.

Cave diving has progressed from a male-dominated sport to one in which women are routinely participating, instructing and exploring. I thought it was rather awesome to be in a cave course taught by a woman with a female classmate who excels in the field of dive instruction. One of Jill’s friend’s was teaching a cavern course. Renee was another outstanding woman. As we were figuring out our new gear yet another amazing woman showed up to dive. Barbara am Ende, cave explorer and writer, came over and started chatting. I was a bit distracted with all the learning to realize the powerhouse of women standing around us.

Renee Power
Renee Power

Our first day ended with a dive in the Ginnie Bowl and Ballroom. Renee accompanied us. I’m not sure if it was because Pam and I were giving Jill more challenge than she bargained for and she was about to pull her hair out in frustration or if Renee just wanted to come along for the fun. Regardless, it was a very nice dive once we got our gear situated. We played around for over 30 minutes in the cavern and it was quite lovely surfacing after dark to a beautiful sky and clear water surrounded by cypress trees. After we finished Jill left to join her husband for dinner while Pam, Renee and I chatted. I felt an immediate kinship with Renee as we shared about our experience instructing scuba with wounded soldiers. Exhaustion finally overcame me and I headed for a hot shower and food.

At lunch Jill was telling Pam and I about an expedition Barbara had been on and mentioned something about a book. I emailed a note to myself to read the book…Beyond the Deep.

Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long
Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long

The following day of class I got to chat a bit with Barbara. She was super-nice and was interested in my photography of the trees, water and light. She shared her card so we could keep in touch but we didn’t have a chance to really visit too much. And for some reason I didn’t associate her with the expedition and book Jill had referenced.

I had to end the diving a bit early due to a cold virus that had been challenging me during the course and the dives. I had no energy and had to focus really hard just to stay present so perhaps that’s why I ‘missed’ the profound women gathered together. Or maybe it was because there was no ego, no chest-beating, no race to see how far or how deep cave penetration was that day. It was friendly, supportive sharing and everyone was equally bringing her best self forward.

WAWhandLOGOwebsiteOnce I got home and was recuperating on my sofa, I watched Jill’s video. We Are Water is a beautiful story of water and the importance of it to us but more than that, it is the story of Jill’s passion and love for the planet. And that resonated deeply with me. Her words echoed my own as she described entering the caves as a spiritual experience; a kindred soul indeed. I’m not an explorer into the deeps of caves or icebergs but I am an explorer of our relationship to nature. I see that in Jill as well.

After the movie, I wanted something else to help me make the best use of my down-time so I downloaded Barbara’s book to my iPad. As I started reading I thought, Oh, my goodness! This is the woman I met? The expedition to the cave in Mexico in which Barbara participated was intense. Over a ton of gear was transported by a system of belays to sumps far below the surface. I couldn’t put the book down and so stayed up late reading in awe of such an amazing journey. It was a powerful venture into the unknown.

beyond

I emailed and chatted with my friend Pam after the trip and shared with her my disbelief that such powerful women came together that weekend. It wasn’t planned. The timing of meeting Renee and Barbara was truly profound. I think this is so because there was such friendliness and approachability with everyone present.

It wasn’t just Jill and Barbara that brought tremendous strengths and gifts to those picnic tables at Ginnie Springs. Each one of us has an authentic way of interacting with the world and we each have something beautiful to offer the world. But so does every woman…every person.

 

Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director.
Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

The weekend was made especially meaningful as Pam and I shared about our lives…openly, honestly. What a gift to experience the deepening of friendship.

 

Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson
Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson

Terry Tempest Williams said that if a woman ever honestly wrote about and shared her life story, the world would split open and be forever changed. As I reflect back to that weekend, gratitude overflows as I treasure the gift of wisdom each one shared. Perhaps the biggest gift I received was the assurance that wisdom comes with gentleness, straightforwardness, honesty, play, self-awareness in a space where no ego is needed.