Category: MANATEES

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven

In Three Sisters Spring, a highly-visited spring in central Florida by manatees and people watching manatees, there are areas set aside as sanctuaries for resting manatees. Humans are not allowed to follow them past the barriers and the manatees know this. They head to these quiet places to rest and seek respite from the colder river.

I totally understand their desire to hide from massive amounts of people in this ‘warm’ water haven. In fact, I have often wanted to request a sanctuary for humans that simply want to float in stillness and quiet rather than be among those kicking, splashing, talking, yelling or crowding manatees….where is my sanctuary?

Earlier this week I found it. Two days in a row I had the spring to myself. Well….there were fish and a cormorant and maybe a sleeping manatee but there were no other humans. I floated face down watching the spring bubble up 15 feet below me and dropped into a deep stillness that comes when I’m in water, in my happy place.

There was no splashing, no loud voices…it was an amazing experience of beauty and peace.

Ripples of light reflecting off the sand created a wave of rainbows in constant motion. Bliss…delight…wonder…awe.

Suspended weightlessly, the spring and I were one.  There was nothing except those moments of harmony. What a time of renewal, of restoration.

One afternoon there was a large, sleeping manatee. I swam far away and past it to the big spring for my meditation. The manatee and I held space for each other to rest and relax with no expectations or demands. All encounters are not face-to-face. Perhaps some of the most profound are not even in close physical proximity.

I felt so alive and wonderful after spending so much time floating, drifting in stillness.

If you know me, you know I love manatees and whales and sea lions, whale sharks, dolphins….but what I love almost more than an encounter with them is giving them their space and honoring their need for rest and stillness. Cultivating respect for others…accepting their choices to engage or withdraw…and doing the same for myself leads to increased inner harmony and balance.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all could do that for each other and all species? That would perhaps be heaven. For me, it was Blue Heaven.


The Connection

The Connection


Floating motionless in the water I waited. She must have felt my invitation as she slowly turned and swam toward me. Camera ready, heart open I waited.

She approached. We hovered perhaps two feet apart and with her eyes locked with mine, she offered the connection.

Here I am, sweet one. Look into my deepest core. Find within my heart more love than words can express. One of us thought this…I’m not sure who. There is no separation. We are one.



_TSL0997The clock proclaimed sunrise but heavy clouds hung close so dawn’s light was slow to brighten the day. Silently I slipped into the water, wrapped in my dry suit and holding my heavy, underwater camera equipment. With a slow and quiet frog kick I moved toward the narrow opening of the spring.

A manatee exiting the clear water paused in passing, watched me for a few moments and then moved forward in her glacial, flowing pace. Low light and particulate matter in the open water made a shot impossible but communion was exchanged and was sweet.

As I approached the spring, a manatee laid sleeping on the white, sandy bottom. I carefully avoided splashing and went around him and into the clear water of the freshwater spring.

_TSL1000Ten manatees of various sizes lay asleep on the bottom, huddled together in a common area. I glided away from them toward the back of the small spring and turned to face them from a distance. I took a few photographs as the light increased and then felt drawn into their meditation, into their group mind of stillness and dreaming warm, saltwater dreams.

_TSL1057In the quiet, peaceful water temple I closed my eyes and floated effortlessly with heart and mind open. The beauty of their being touched my core. No thoughts, just sensations enveloped me. Cool water on my face and neck; gravity-free except for the heavy camera rig in my hands; muscles relaxed; gentle floating….total surrender and release of all stress, tension…of everything except that moment of manatee mind.

_TSL1041One woman, ten sirens of the sea communing in perfect harmony caused time to disappear. We joined in that glorious, timeless dimension of stillness and quiet.

The moments of harmony with my sisters and brothers were some of the sweetest I have ever experienced.

_TSL1061After several minutes I opened my eyes and noticed my open heart and calm mind. I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the gift of this encounter then took several photographs, hoping to be able to translate, through art, the experience that so powerfully touched my core.

Slowly, quietly I moved around the side of the rock wall toward the exit. I turned before leaving to offer my thanks to the manatees and witnessed several slowly rise from their resting place on the bottom to the surface to take a deep, full breath. So in-tune in their sleep, their meditation they breathed in unison. Humans have much to learn from these gentle beings.


_TSL1092Throughout King’s Bay and Crystal River there are official sanctuaries or areas set aside where manatees can rest without human interference. Heavy fines and penalties are imposed on anyone entering these designated safe-zones. Today in the small, clear spring, I found my own place of peace, my own sanctuary.

Image of a juvenile taken yesterday in Three Sister's Springs
Image of a juvenile taken the day before in Three Sister’s Springs
Honoring Magnolia & Manatees

Honoring Magnolia & Manatees

Volunteering for the love of manatees is amazing and life-changing experience. Thank you community of Magnolia Springs, Alabama! You are awesome neighbors and friends to manatees. Thank you Sea World Rescue Team, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and US Fish & Wildlife Service. Working together we really can make a positive difference!

To update all the supporters and fans of Magnolia, the manatee rescued on January 4th recovering at Sea World Orlando’s rehabilitation center…she is doing WONDERFUL!! All the prop scars have completely healed and she is eating and gaining weight. There is a rumor that she is showing the staff that Alabama gals know how to eat! For everyone who has sent healing thoughts, prayers, love, happy thoughts and general good wishes to Magnolia…THANK YOU! If she continues to do well there is a good possibility she will be released once the water is warmer.



SimoneLipscomb (22)I sit drinking hot tea while listening to bowhead whale song. It touches that place in me where wildness resides, where instinctual wisdom is present. Deep, deep in the inner waters that remain still, untouched by external chaos, global destruction, and consistent attempts by humanoids to pave over anything if it creates profit, I find peace.

This week has been profoundly healing, immensely wonderful. It has been a time of coming home to myself and refocusing my life’s work. And it all came about because I followed my intuition and opened my heart to doors that are open and waiting for me to walk through.

SimoneLipscomb (21)The 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach gave me a nudge to make my yearly pilgrimage to visit manatees in south central Florida. Since I’d already be two hours in that direction I decided to go. But this time rather than arrange everything in advance, I allowed the entire trip to be fluid.

In the interim of trip planning and the festival, our area of Magnolia River had a manatee rescue by Sea World so I decided to ask Sea World if I could visit our gal while she is in rehab. Wouldn’t it be neat to see her and be able to report back to our community?

SimoneLipscomb (86)All plans remained open. I hadn’t received a response from Sea World but decided to leave a day early anyway and simply head south. When I weighed the two departure dates it was obvious which day would be best. And it made all the difference.

As I neared Crystal River a huge rainbow appeared. The arch was steep, a circle of rainbow light over my left shoulder. I stopped at a traffic signal and glanced at the name of the street: Follow Your Dream Parkway. At that point I knew the trip took a deep dive to other levels of experience–the realm where spirit resides.

SimoneLipscomb (97)I signed up for the early boat trip on the way down and was one of only four people on the trip. A true rarity in Crystal River during peak manatee  season. Also on the trip was a marine biologist from Australia. As we talked it felt as if we knew each other and were picking up where we left off at some other time and place. He is pursuing a PhD in Marine Education so our conversation was immediately on track to expanding ideas and sharing concern and grief over the status of our Ocean.

SimoneLipscomb (74)While the water was murky when we arrived at the site, it was for a good reason. Manatees were so thick in Three Sister’s Springs I refused to enter. They were stacked on top of each other sleeping. It’s illegal to swim over a sleeping manatee so the only option was to quietly exit without entering the main area of the springs. Well…my only option. It’s more important to allow them rest and quiet than for me to get a photograph. When I enter their realm it is with a sense of respect and awe….reverence. Their world is a cathedral, a holy place. I listen to their whistles and squeaks as holy choruses that strike deep chords of harmony within my soul.

SimoneLipscomb (8)The following day Rich, the marine biologist, and his wife Deb and their beautiful two year old daughter and I hired a guide in Homosassa to take us out on the water. While the water is greener there, the experience of absolute quiet with no other humans in the area was amazing. We all share a deep respect for wild animals and simply laid still in the water, away from each other, and allowed any curious animal a safe, respectful encounter with us.

SimoneLipscomb (2)Immediately after entering the water I had a large animal swim under me and start rolling around on the bottom. With each roll he would stop and glance at me and pause while I took video and still photographs. I could feel ripples of love and light flowing out from my heart as I remained motionless, an observer in awe.

SimoneLipscomb (14)Two juveniles played around me, coming to my camera housing and butting noses on it. They would get hungry or miss mama and would squeak and swim off to find her. I remained floating where I was and in a few minutes they would return. With the limited visibility, it was as if a phantom gradually appeared from the green depths and slowly changed from verdant algae tint to gray as it approached.

SimoneLipscomb (26)After a couple hours of floating and relaxing in the watery bliss, I grew cold. As I was thinking of heading back to the boat a very large mother manatee swam up behind me and rested her head on my left shoulder. Behind her, a juvenile rested her head on mama’s back. I glanced back and couldn’t believe the image I saw. Tears of wonder and joy flow even now as I reflect on this encounter. In stillness I laid on the water’s surface and marveled at the love I felt, prompted by this rare encounter…one of the most sacred moments in my life.

SimoneLipscomb (18)On this trip I experienced large manatees swimming up to me and laying beside me, snuggling for lack of a better word. We floated side-by-side in stillness. I dared not move as I didn’t want to kick or in any way disturb them. So in stillness, in depths of silence, I was one with animals that weighed 1000 pounds more than me. There was no separation of spirit, of love. They taught me to go deeper, deeper into myself to find that place of stillness and quiet where perfect peace abides.

SimoneLipscomb (94)I struggle about writing and sharing these experiences as I don’t want to suggest that everyone has experiences such as this. I don’t want to create even more masses of humanity descending upon these endangered animals. But for those who are quiet and still and are passive observers of these magnificent animals…they can change your consciousness, alter your perception, bring out the best that resides within you. But it only comes on their terms. You must act as a manatee….move slowly, float calmly…observe life gently…open your heart.

Rich and I were discussing manatee behaviors after our trip to Homosassa. He mentioned that as soon as he wanted to ‘manipulate’ the encounter…by wanting the light to be this way or the animal to be in a certain place….the animals that had been with him left. He didn’t move but his thoughts changed. Surrender to the encounter, let go of what ‘you’ want and magic happens. Very keen observation on his part. And how true for life.

SimoneLipscomb (25)Since we cannot stay underwater forever, the real benefit of experiences such as these is how they create lasting change within us. After years of observing people observing manatees I am more convinced than ever before that these animals are incredibly sensitive to not only human behavior, but human thoughts and emotions as well.

Yesterday I observed two permitted photographers — #1 and #12 (professional photographers apply for a permit through USFW) harass a mother and juvenile in the springs. The mother moved three times to try and find a place to sleep and rest with her calf and the photographers followed and continued their pushy behaviors. They may have images of manatees but they will never understand the spirit of these beautiful animals, never grasp their own arrogant and aggressive behaviors as being the exact opposite of how these creatures live and move and have their being in the water.

Photograph by Richard Wylie...THANK YOU!!
Photograph of me with a juvenile manatee…. by Richard Wylie…THANK YOU!!

I take away from these days with manatees a simple yet profound realization: Open heart, open doors. As I keep my heart open, the open doors will be made known. I will feel my way to them through an open heart.

Everything is getting clear on the path before me and with gratitude for the teachings they offered, I wish my manatee friends safe journeys through the waterways of life.

SimoneLipscomb (20)As I reflect on the week I remember the rainbow arching over my left shoulder, Follow Your Dream Parkway and the mother manatee and juvenile that rested on my left shoulder. The meaning isn’t lost on me. The visceral connection of the teaching is working deep within me. I remember the mother taking my right hand off of the camera housing with her flipper and holding my hand within her flippers and then directing it to her heart.  How can I not experience long-lasting and powerful change after this?


SimoneLipscomb (11)And yes…Sea World called and I got to visit Magnolia in her med pool. She is recovering nicely and being treated for deep propeller wounds along with other manatees who are injured. The rescue and rehab program at Sea World is simply amazing. Simply. Amazing!