Category: Making a Difference

Goodbye to a Friend

Goodbye to a Friend

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Spirit, a few days before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge.

The bubbles switched direction as our group of twelve individuals sent our love and gratitude with each breath directed into our small wands. A chilly swirl of wind directed the bubbles down to the river where Spirit was removed and out over the river where she had spent many days in the Cold Hole. Suddenly they moved up and kept climbing into the clear, blue sky.

Spirit the Manatee crossed the Rainbow Bridge here on our river, January 1st, 2015. She was 8 feet, 3 inches long and weighed 617 pounds. She was between four and six years old.

We know that in her last weeks Spirit suffered greatly. She was 200 to 400 pounds underweight. She had severe pneumonia and skin lesions covering her belly. She had lost her way to warmer water and found the warmest place she could to survive.

While she appeared very weak and fragile, it is her strength of spirit that brought our community together and united us in an effort to save not only her but others of her kind.

Because Spirit made her presence known for weeks before a rescue was attempted, we became aware of two others that were in the river. One, her friend Magnolia, was rescued and is healing in the safety of warm water and loving care at Sea World Orlando. Nobody had seen Magnolia until New Year’s Eve. Four days later she was rescued.

So Spirit brought our attention to Magnolia and also brought our attention to the incredible heart that resides in our community. Someone called Magnolia Springs the Heart of the Universe. Clearly this was confirmed by the outpouring of support and love given to our manatee friends…and each other.

Often we yearn for a brighter outcome and want a happy ending for animals, especially those classified as ‘endangered.’ That’s understandable. But we take comfort in the absolute fact that Spirit united within our community fierce love and support that made a ripple that will continue to flow out into the world.

Let us keep the intention of love for all creatures great and small within our hearts and remember this beautiful, sweet being who graced our waterway with her presence. And let us practice love with each other.

Spirit being examined by a veterinarian from Audubon Zoology Park beside the river.
Spirit being examined by a veterinarian from Audubon Zoology Park beside the river.

Wendell Berry wrote:

“If we have no compassion,

we will suffer alone, we will suffer

alone the destruction of ourselves.”

Showing compassion, living compassion, saves not only life around us…it saves us.

With gratitude we say so long…but never goodbye. You will remain in our hearts forever sweet Spirit.


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Some of our community gathered to say goodbye to Spirit. Photo by Cheryl Towler Cowles.

Jada, a teenager from Magnolia Springs who witnessed the rescue and passing of Spirit, added this to the memorial gathering for our manatee friend:

Even though Spirit passed away, our community came together because of her. Every person made a difference in her rescue. From helping with the net to spotting to just praying, each small act came together to make something big. We the town of Magnolia Springs will always treasure this once in a live time experience. I would like to share a poem from the National Wildlife Federation entitled “Advice from a Manatee.”

“Advice from a Manatee”

Breathe deep

Glide through your day

Have a gentle Spirit

Enjoy time alone

Eat plenty of greens

Keep your whiskers clean

Live large!

I think if we can take this advice from a manatee and continue working together as a community, we will be better and stronger for it.


Remember Wendell Berry’s words….“If we have no compassion, we will suffer alone, we will suffer alone the destruction of ourselves.”




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.

Bring in the Light

Bring in the Light

photo copy 6I awakened this morning thinking of the Solstice…yesterday’s Solstice. Geez…I didn’t even mark the event, I thought but then quickly realized that I had climbed 177 steps toward the light in a tight spiral. Upwards I climbed with my daughter and son-in-law until we were almost inside the many-prismed glass sculpture that housed the light of the Pensacola Lighthouse.

photoWe had just visited the Naval Aviation Museum with my mom and decided to stop at the lighthouse and make the climb. Mom waited for us in the gift shop as we made our way up and up, winding tighter circles in the brick structure built in 1859. The wrought iron steps were chilly on my bare feet as I abided by the climbing rules and carried my flip flops rather than risk tripping on the steep stairway.

As we climbed I thought of the lighthouse keepers from years past whose jobs were vital to the safety of those traveling by ships. Before there was GPS, LORAN and other modern navigation tools, there were only charts, stars, sextants and lighthouses to keep sailors on course. The lights were illuminated by a lamp fueled with oil or kerosene instead of electricity. The rotating element was introduced in 1790’s houses and the Argand parabolic reflector system introduced in the early 1800’s. Electricity and carbide or acetylene gas began replacing kerosence around the turn of the 20th century. At that time the lamp could be automatically lit at nightfall and extinguished at dawn, eliminating the need for a keeper to climb the stairs carrying fuel and tending it during the long hours of the night.

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I tried to imagine how gallons of fuel might have been carried up the steep, tight stairway and marveled at the dedication required for those keepers all over the world whose job it was to bring light to all who needed it. As I reflect on the Solstice and the season of light, I ask this question: Are we any less in need of Light today?

photoWalking through the Naval Aviation Museum I noticed the machines of war…planes, aircraft carriers, markings on the sides of ships and planes denoting how many enemy planes, ships and other targets were destroyed. I felt such sadness that through the long history of humanity we still have not evolved beyond war. Success is still measured by some people and governments by the number of enemies we destroy. We continue to live based in fear. Fear that if we don’t destroy others, we will be destroyed.

In the spiritual tradition in which I was raised, I learned that Light entered the world through the birth of a man, a messiah, a Light that taught us to move from the Old Testament ways of an eye-for-an-eye to lives lived with compassion and love. But I ask….where is  love when decisions in our lives are based only in fear, in retaliation, in one-upping, and taking out (in one way or other) those who don’t believe like we do…dress like we do….worship like we do…look like we do.

photo copy 5By making the commitment to climb steadily toward the Light we reach greater understanding by seeing from a higher perspective. No longer operating from fear, we are able to see with new eyes, with open hearts.

We have spent far too long living with the mind-set of fear. Now is the time to bring in the Light.




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.




Making a Difference

Making a Difference

simonelipscomb (7)Several weeks ago I met my friend in the Smoky Mountains for an afternoon photography shoot. As we drove through Cades Cove we caught up with each other and shared a bit about our lives. We are both committed to our paths and want to make a difference in the world and shared our frustration at not really knowing how to do that or if what we are doing is really positively impacting the world.

A friend in Japan has been exploring how she wants to work to help make the world a better place and is frustrated as to how she can do this. She has volunteered in an elephant sanctuary and in the past has worked with marine mammal rescue but she, like others I know, wants to make a difference every day.

Over the past couple of days another friend and I have been in contact about the desire to make a difference in the world. It feels like the HID light was just turned on deep in an underwater cave. His clarity encouraged me.

A funk, for lack of a better word, has been dominating my life for the past several months. I am not sure of the origin of this downward turn. There is so much negative everything happening and the environmental issues coupled with atrocities humans perpetuate on each other have made it difficult to know what to do. After working with vigor and with passion documenting the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and before that, in creating books of beauty and inspiration, all with the goal of making a difference, I find hundreds of books in boxes in my home…their message of beauty and hope sitting tucked away from the world. A perfect metaphor of how I feel. Despondency and feeling a loss as to what I’m really supposed to be doing with my life has been the question that occupies my mind.

simonelipscomb (5)The heart-friend I recently wrote of retired from over thirty years of service to his community. He was a leader as a firefighter and trained in many disciplines so he could be excellent in his work. Rookies and seasoned firefighters alike looked up to him and his valuable skills. His career of rescue work is truly inspiring. Upon retirement he wasn’t doing what he wanted to do…making a difference. It was a terrible adjustment for him as his heart is huge and his intention of service matches the size of his heart. It wasn’t until he followed his path to serve in a war-torn country that he once-again fulfilled, in his mind, his goal. He has found what he was looking for–making a difference.

We follow little breadcrumb thoughts which lead us to decisions. We act on these decisions and make changes in our lives–some are huge, some are small. We direct our energy toward the slow-growing momentum and then hope for the best. But how do we know our efforts really are making a difference? How do we maintain trust in ourselves and in our decisions? Here’s a cave-diving analogy.

Photo by Ed Jackson
Photo by Ed Jackson of me and my buddy Ray and his light in the distance

When cave diving a diver knows that caves are dark. It seems a silly statement but I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked the question: Are underwater caves really dark? Think of the darkest, inkiest, blackest darkness and then think of it as flowing and moving around you. Yes…underwater caves are dark. So a diver takes redundant equipment into a cave–air and light. Three lights are required equipment–a primary light and two back-up lights. The primary is a very bright, strong light and the back-up lights are smaller and always contain fresh batteries.

Photo by Ed Jackson
Photo by Ed Jackson…Yes, that’s me diving with my buddy, Ray, behind me.

So if I’m diving in a cave and for some reason my primary light fails, out comes a back-up light. If that fails, out comes the other back-up light. If we apply the analogy of cave diving to our lives, think of our life’s path as the primary light. We are born, we develop and learn and find our way to our path. A natural light is emitted from it as we progress. But there comes a time when we lose faith in our path, we find ourselves far from those we love, and who love us, we retire, or move to a new area, and that light wavers and then blinks out. We are left in the dark.

It’s not a happy place, this darkness. It’s difficult to orient ourselves, find our way. Which way do we go? Where is the line? Which tunnel is the way home?

Photo by Ed Jackson
Photo by Ed Jackson….I miss these caves!!!

When this happens we can contact a friend, one of our back-up lights, to help light our way. Sometimes the path we tread must have light from another source. When our own light seems dim, there are others who can help us see the path we have chosen. Their light can help us stay true and move forward when we have lost faith in what we do. We may come to a side tunnel in our underwater cave and the extra light may be necessary to see which way leads us home.

Some may think the primary light in cave diving is the most important but ask any cave diver who has had to deploy a back-up light or two. Those little lights are the real life-savers.

I am grateful for my heart-friend that reminded me to keep working on my path of service. His light encouraged me to stay with it, even when it feels like I am not making a difference. Sometimes I stumble along in darkness and then a ray of light comes forward to illuminate the way.

simonelipscomb (6)May we all be lights unto each other.

Thanks for reading. Please comment or share as you see fit.