Category: Animals

Two Days Before Earth Day

Two Days Before Earth Day

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Curacao…a beautiful island in the southern Caribbean

Two days before Earth Day four years ago I was underwater. The strong taste of petroleum filled my mouth with every inhale. I signaled my dive buddies to surface under the star-filled night sky. Their air was fine. I didn’t know the source of the weird taste so we submerged but I stayed rather shallow and kept the dive brief.

I remember surfacing and turning back to look over my shoulder into the dark Ocean. A wind swept across the water and I felt a chill that shook my core. It was a very ominous way to end a dive.

simonelipscomb (15)A few days later I was sitting in the Atlanta airport after the flight from Curacao and saw the footage showing Deepwater Horizon in flames. When I am in the Caribbean I unplug as much as possible so had missed the news coverage of the explosion until I was almost back to Asheville. As I sat in disbelief on the vinyl-covered seat, clarity came and I knew it was time to go home.

Years ago I had promised the Gulf that I would help but didn’t know how. I heard a very distinct reply on the inner…You will know when it’s time to come home. The summons had been given. It was time.

I tracked the oil after arriving back to my mountain home and timed my arrival on the Alabama Coast, my birth place, a few days before the brown goo arrived. I wanted to document the unspoiled marshes and shores. I could sense the menace approaching but could do nothing except be a witness.

I remember one day I had been to Fort Morgan and was driving back to my mom’s on Bon Secour Bay. I stopped by a marsh and took photographs of large, orange boom in Mobile Bay. When I got back in the car I lost it. I mean really, really lost it. I started sobbing and screaming….how could we do this to our planet? It was as if I was experiencing a panic attack for our planet. I thought that I was witnessing the beginning of the end of life as we knew it.

One day as I walked the trail to the beach at Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, I crested the top of the trail on the dune and saw before me a crime scene. Big blobs of smelly, brown goo were scattered all along the beach. I called the 800 number to report it and stayed for what seemed hours until somebody came to document it. Tearfully I sat on the sand and not knowing what to do I started singing to the Gulf of Mexico….I prayed and asked forgiveness for all humans. But mostly I grieved. My tears fell among crude oil staining the beach.

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When the oil first came ashore it was marked with driftwood and gloves…I couldn’t help but enjoy the message this glove was giving.

simonelipscomb (13)One week each month for the first year I returned to the Gulf of Mexico and documented seven areas of beach beginning at Fort Morgan and going to Fort Pickens, Florida. I remember a day in early July when I was standing at a tidal pool watching a little fish gasp in the grip of death as the bubbling crude oil, dispersant and salt water suffocated her. I was pretty close to the end of my coping skills. After days of breathing the benzene-ridden air, dealing with heat and the horrors of what I was witnessing I literally almost lost my shit, so to speak, watching that fish die.

simonelipscomb (9)Standing with tears flowing and sobbing I heard someone call my name. It jerked me out of the spiral of grief and I saw my friend Sherry, who I hadn’t seen in years, coming toward me. She gave me a big hug and we stood for a moment. I believe God or Mother Earth…or both… sent her to me that day. She was working on a clean-up crew and just ‘happened’ to be there.

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simonelipscomb (7)My spiritual practice of meditation helped me make it through that year. My friend and teacher from England pulled me aside at a workshop almost a year after the spill and asked how I was doing. I told her how difficult it was to witness such needless destruction. She told me that there was a reason I was witnessing it and to stand firm in my love of the planet. Many friends from all over the world followed my blog posts and sent support to the Gulf and all life within and around it. If my actions could bring the truth to a few people, it was worth it.

simonelipscomb (8)The process of personal healing has been long after that year. The journey back to wholeness led me to return home permanently to the Gulf Coast. While I haven’t really understood what my role here is now, I have enjoyed each moment spent with sea turtle hatchlings, manatees, ospreys, eagles….the salt marshes and river. The very things that broke my heart and spirit have been my healers.

simonelipscomb (17)Much of what I shared during the spill and cleanup was what was happening on the beaches. The personal struggle was small compared to the ecosystem and the community of relationships within it. Yet humans, too, are a part of the community of nature. We are deeply engaged in the cycle of life whether we acknowledge it or not.

simonelipscomb (23)A week with Joanna Macy in Rowe, Massachusetts, allowed a group of thirty of us, working to make a positive difference on the planet, have a safe place to facilitate our healing and help us understand the process that is happening globally. Perhaps the most important lesson learned that week was that all of us are needed to, step-by-step, be midwives to the Great Awakening or as Joanna calls it, The Great Turning.

simonelipscomb (18)We cannot afford the luxury of turning our eyes away from the horrendous abuses humans do to the planet, to animals, to each other. We are all connected…we are one family of life surviving on a living planet.

A kid's book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.
A kid’s book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.

This Earth Day, let us remember our connection to our magnificent planet…the Ocean, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, otters, rivers, osprey, eagles, the kid across the street, the massive oak trees and the tiniest flower. We are One.

simonelipscomb (21)The taste of petroleum in my regulator on the dive in Curacao couldn’t be explained. On an energetic level I believe I connected with the disaster happening in the Gulf of Mexico while I was in Curacao, in the southernmost island of the Caribbean. It showed me, without doubt, that I am connected to the Ocean…the One Ocean…and to all life. And so are you my friends

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To order my kid’s book on the oil spill or other books….please CLICK THIS LINK or visit Coastal Art Center in Orange Beach, AL or Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL.

The Sacred in the Small

The Sacred in the Small

simonelipscomb (2)Yesterday the river was clear enough from recent rains to get out and enjoy a nice SUP board paddle. Recent heavy rains had shifted a downed tree almost completely out of the way and created a nicer, whiter beach at my usual put-in spot in our neighborhood. After a leisurely warm-up paddle I was ready to turn on the turbo when I spotted a mother wood duck and her brood of over ten babies.

Who could pass up such a delightful surprise? I stood on my board watching as the little ones scooted behind their mom…peep-peep-peeping. Oh…it was great to be back on the river!

photo copyIt was a quiet morning with only  a few boats so stillness prevailed. I saw the pine tree at Devil’s Hole had three great blue heron nests in it this year instead of one. Two of the nests had the tall gray-blue birds standing in them. I sigh now remembering the joy that sight produced within me.

And so I continued downriver a bit and decided to turn and head upriver. I had to stop and greet the osprey pair and watch as one of the parents chased a large crow away from the tall nest. Across from the osprey family a large group of turkey buzzards were perched on the tin roof of a boathouse. I could hear their long nails scraping against the metal and even though I’m not afraid of them, it sort of creeped me out. They eat carrion…dead things…and so I felt a little squeamish as I kept an eye on them and told them, “Not yet boys. Not yet.”

When I got to the big bend in the river just past the Devil’s Hole, I spied a tiny baby turtle attempting to climb up on a small, round piece of floating driftwood. He kept spinning it. So I gently reached and caught him and placed him on my board. I gave him a ride to the nearest pile of floating vegetation near the river bank.

As I passed under the bridge and then through the Cold Hole I neared the narrow stretch of river that would lead me home. I heard a peep, peep, peep. Hmmm…where was that coming from, I wondered. And then, as my eyes scanned the direction of the sweet sound, I saw a single wood duck baby. Mama and siblings were apparently gone. I sat on my board and listened carefully and watched for any sign of movement along the opposite bank but saw nothing.

So I sat with this amazing, fuzzy, precious duckling and waited. I talked with her, suggested she stay clear of bass and keep on peeping for her mom. My heart ached as I could sense the anxiety of this small, sacred life…desperately wanting the comfort of her mother and brothers and sisters. I gave her space and left at one point to paddle back toward the bridge looking and then upriver a bit but never saw a glimpse of mama wood duck.

With a deep sadness that echoed throughout my being and out into the world,  I paddled onward. Thirty minutes I waited, watched and searched but knew that the best chance this young one had was to survive long enough for mom to return and gather her into the fold once more.

Innocent beings, the smallest of the small, touch me and create such compassion and honestly, such heartbreak. I was telling a friend and fellow bird-lover about the baby duck and how heart-broken I was that I couldn’t do anything but witness the baby’s dilemma. He reminded me of the cost we pay when we are empathic. It hurts to care…and yet it is a reminder that I have such capacity for love and compassion. We all do.

800_0234Driving back from Gulf Shores today I saw a tiny inch worm crawling on my leg. I carefully placed my finger in front of him and offered safety until we arrived home. This tiny, amazing worm also reminded me that all life is sacred. All is worth protecting. And yes…all life is related…connected. The smallest creatures remind us of this truth.

Children…Our Hope

Children…Our Hope

simonelipscomb (11)Tonight I spoke to my local community’s cub scout group. We gathered at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel in Magnolia Springs and I shared a video presentation I produced on endangered species of the Alabama coast…specifically sea turtles and manatees.

The boys and parent/leaders were attentive and asked questions and showed a genuine and engaged interest in the message I brought them. It always makes my heart sing to participate in these programs. But it was the closing of their meeting that deeply touched me.

simonelipscomb (14)One of the boys was asked to close with reverence and he offered a prayer. First, he expressed gratitude for the sea turtles and manatees and other animals. Then he spoke of gratitude for our beautiful world. He was thankful for me being able to come and share with them. And finally…well, admittedly I was so deeply touched by his prayerful expression of love and gratitude for nature and our planet and animals that I lost the last bit of what he was saying.

turtle bwVolunteering doesn’t offer financial rewards but having the opportunity to share video footage, still photographs and personal stories of encounters with sea turtles and manatees with children eager to learn and willing to engage with awe of our planet gives me hope. Honestly there are days when I read the news and see the horrible ways humans treat each other, animals, land, plants, the ocean and other water and I feel despair. But this night, I came away with profound hope and that is pure gold to me.

swimmingOn days when we experience sadness, grief, despair and even anger over what’s happening to our beloved planet and all life here, I think the best way to balance those feelings is to pass along our love for the planet to those willing to listen…and especially to children, our hope.

Stay Wild

Stay Wild

SimoneLipscomb (6)A whistling duck stood in the sand frantically flapping his wings while three other whistling ducks stood in a semi-circle in front of him. They gave a half-hearted attempt but he kept whistling words of encouragement. It didn’t matter that he and his friends and many other shorebirds were in a permanent enclosure due to injuries. He refused to give up hope.

I stood witnessing the exchange and felt his wild heart yearning for, hoping for freedom. He was determined to keep his flight muscles strong so if the time comes, he will be ready.

SimoneLipscomb (31)An osprey was also on the ground looking up at me. Usually they are soaring high above looking down on me. To see such a majestic bird of prey grounded due to broken wings was heartbreaking.

I pondered the wildness still found in these precious creatures. They are fed and cared for by humans and yet there is still a spark of the feral within them at a very deep level.

SimoneLipscomb (40)Later as I wandered through Florida woods with stately palm trees, palmettos, spanish moss and sweet bays, I wondered how many of us stay connected with that wild part of ourselves. How many of us feel at home in the woods or a forest? Do we maintain that spark of wildness that helps us feel at home…in the truest sense.

Whooping Crane...one of a breeding pair. These endangered birds are part of a captive breeding program....hope for the wild!

As I stood photographing an endangered whooping crane I made a soft, little whooping sound and she immediately looked skyward. I saw the kinship this regal bird still carries within her being for others of her kind that pass overhead in migration. She longs for flight. She longs for freedom. And even though she is in an enclosure, she maintains freedom of spirit.

SimoneLipscomb (7)The little whistling duck’s message will stay in my heart as a reminder. Stay wild! Stay connected. Be ready….and above all…don’t forget you can fly!

Wille Fay

Wille Fay

photoMeet Willie Fay. Her story touched my heart and I couldn’t help but invite her into my home.

Over three months ago Willie and two other cats were tied together using plastic zip ties and secured to a veterinary clinic’s door. Two survived this strange ordeal. Supposedly the owner’s wife had died and he couldn’t keep the cats. Seemed a drastic way to find help for them but regardless, the vet clinic had them for three months when my mother stopped by to purchase meds for her aging labrador, Sambo.

She told me of meeting the sweetest, cutest cat and related the story. The next day she and I stopped by the clinic. I didn’t need another cat but I felt compelled to meet the little one. She was sweet-natured with colors that were wild and oddly placed…probably the reason she wasn’t already adopted.

I had another appointment that day but asked them to get her ready (shots, check-up, etc) and I’d be back later that afternoon to take her home.

photo 3The cat friends that live with me were not over-joyed at their new sister but then cats rarely like change–especially when it involves sharing with other cats. Stanley warmed up to her very quickly with minimal hissing and now, three weeks later, they are best friends. They create general chaos and mayhem as a team. Gracie has just now realized she doesn’t have to hiss to claim her place on the porch or in the doorway. So things are good in our home now.

Willie got her name from a great super-group of musicians called Willie Sugarcapps. For a couple of days I didn’t know what to call her. She was still very anxious but super-friendly with me. I was working at my desk and listening to the Willie Sugarcapps album and my new buddy climbed up on the recliner and fell asleep…blissfully, soundly asleep. She was so relaxed and so at-peace for the first time since coming to live with me I decided her name was Willie. Her middle name is for my mom, for finding her. It’s my mother’s middle name (don’t tell mom I told you).

photo 4Willie Fay is a wonderful companion. She follows me, talks to me, enjoys time on the screened porch and always appears grateful, sweet, kind…and wild. Please join me in welcoming her to a home of love, a home where she will be treasured and appreciated as a valuable friend.

If you can, please share love today…with an animal, child, adult, elder, place. There is always room for more love to be given.