Category: Nature Photography

Sea Turtle Magic

Sea Turtle Magic

The first dive was amazing. We were winding through the coral caves of Palencar Reef. Sponges and corals were pristine. The arches, alive with color, were surrounded by blue…ocean blue…the color that seems to run through my veins

As I was meandering through exquisite passageways I thought it was most likely the most beautiful dive I’ve ever done. Over 600 dives in magnificent caves of the Yucatan, reefs of the Caribbean, the Pacific kelp forests….none were as deeply beautiful as this colorful swim through winding tunnels of reef.

The surface interval was relaxed and fun and then the second dive….”Duck in a canyon to get out of the current,” he said. It was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with current that wasn’t bashful. But that’s not what I remember so much. It’s the three hawksbill sea turtles that were casually munching along the top of the reef….where the current was ripping.

The first one had two friends greedily watching for tiny creatures uprooted with the amazingly strong foraging jaws of the turtle. In order to stop and take video and photographs I had to touch the sand….and thankfully with gentle kicking I was able to stay within inches of the huge turtle and capture the best video of my life. Not to mention the absolute thrill of being within inches of the strong jaws of the turtle….who completely ignored me.

The gray angelfish kept blocking the camera, swishing their tails against my mask and hands. What a problem to have…right? Photobombing fish.

The third hawksbill was massive in size. When I swung around to face the current the turtle walked on the bottom just beneath me. I could sense the sea turtle’s energy even though we never touched. My belly hovered just inches above her massive back as she munched on a sponge.

Hours later I still feel it, the strength and fortitude this being has. To survive from a golf-ball sized egg to this size took wits, strength and perhaps a lot of luck. But I’m the one that feels lucky….so amazingly lucky.

After spending five years as a sea turtle volunteer working mostly with unhatched nests and hatchlings as they crawl to water, this was a special treat. And while I’ve had nice encounters with sea turtles while diving, none have come close to any of the three connections I had today.

My mask was inches from the back of the largest turtle and the colors and details of the plates on the shell were incredible. The spotted skin of the head and flippers was brilliant and the eyes looked at me with unconcern…which made me so happy. I was an accepted part of their world, not something to be feared.

Most of what I experienced was visceral and so I reach for words that don’t seem to be there. Somehow I came away feeling the strength of these sea turtles had been shared and my bones now know a little bit more about what being a sea turtle is all about and I carry a little more of their magic in my heart.

Long Meg and Her Daughters

Long Meg and Her Daughters

_tsl9419We had directions from Keswick to the stone circle and a road atlas but I found myself pulling into a small auto repair shop in the middle of beautiful English countryside to ask directions. The SAT NAV system was no help at all and wasn’t like SIRI who will at least apologize for not being able to find something.

I asked the delivery guy leaving if he knew of the circle and he said he wasn’t local, to ask inside. The roll-up door was open and a gentleman was spray painting a car bright green. He didn’t hear me over the compressor motor. Finally I got his attention.

“Excuse me, do you know directions to Long Meg?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. You’re really close. You just passed the turn. Go back, take a right. Go across the next crossroad, then make a right and stay on the dirt road. Take a right at the fence and just keep going. You can’t miss her.”

Having been used to the SAT NAV who reminded me at every turn, I asked to hear the directions again and then repeated them to him and then thanked him and flashed my most genuine smile and did a little bow with hands over heart.

It didn’t sound that complicated but there were no signs pointing the way, nothing to suggest there was a historic stone circle anywhere around…except the red lettering on the atlas page near Penrith. I drove down the small, one-lane road onto the smaller, one-lane dirt road and glanced at sheep and cattle near the fences. Hmmm…..

A very large tractor was coming and I had to pull over and stop and the driver of the tractor did the same but was able to pull onto the shoulder and create a larger space. I waved and then stopped beside him and hopped out.

“Is Long Meg nearby?” I asked.

_tsl9403“Oh, yes love. The stone circle is just up the road. But she’s not in today. She’s gone shopping,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

I laughed and thanked him and continued driving on the farm road. That’s the best way I can describe it. In a few minutes we pulled under a very large tree and parked. The road went right through the circle.

_tsl9413Long Meg and Her Daughters has one of the largest diameters of any stone circle in the U.K. At 300 feet long, it’s quite impossible to photograph the entire circle at once.

Walking around the circle was challenging. Not so much from the size of it but from the number of piles of slippery sheep and cattle poo. Evidently, they loved the circle of ancient stones.

_tsl9401I felt immediate joy and laughter at this circle. It had a very different energy than Castlerigg. I walked up the slight hill to Long Meg and stood beside her. She seemed to emit the sound of women singing. When I stood in the vast space at circle’s center, I still ‘heard’ women singing and felt laughter and joy vibrating around me.

_tsl9523After about half an hour, a small school bus pulled up and several children emerged with two adults. They had on colorful stocking hats which caused the world to waver a bit. Just two days before, after visiting Castlerigg and having a very powerful experience there, I had drifted off to sleep with a vision of children running and playing in brightly colored hats among standing stones. Here was the exact scene manifested in physical reality.

_tsl9521I paid very close attention to their energy since they embodied a vision. They walked around the circle in pairs counting the stones. Then their teacher gathered them around Long Meg as I knelt among the cow paddies and began talking about the circle, teaching them the known history. How amazing to be a child and grow up among ancient stone circles over 5000 years old. That must add to their human experience a great deal.

_tsl9502After listening, I wandered away to take more photographs. The sun finally decided to show up after four days of gray skies. I had been struggling with gray light for days. To have warm, sunny light to work with made me incredibly happy.

_tsl9461It was very cold and windy and even the sun’s appearance didn’t keep me from wanting to retreat to a warm coffee shop. We decided to try Ed’s route, a scenic drive near Grasmere after leaving Long Meg. But that’s another story for another day.



Sweet is the Light

Sweet is the Light

_TSL3846On this Mother’s Day I am especially grateful to loggerhead sea turtle mothers who give me incentive to awaken before dawn, drive to the beach and walk along the Gulf just before, during and after sunrise. It gives me opportunities to photograph pure, rich color.

_TSL3886There are a very few moments in which to capture the richest, most precious light. Between the pre-dawn gray and post-dawn white there is a sweetness where color bursts forth from the water, earth and sky and everything the sacred sunrise kisses. The muted, soft pastels are transformed momentarily into rich colors of incredible depth. Then the harshness of daylight washes them into a faded expression of what they once were reminding me of the impermanence of life.

_TSL3929Ambitious architects from the day before provided a perfect surface for the perfect light to illuminate and I arrived at their castle at the perfect moment, when the light was at its richest. Some times things work out exactly as you would hope.

_TSL3925There were no sea turtle tracks on the section of beach I patrol but that’s only part of the reason I volunteer. I go for the sunrise because sweet is the light.



5 O’s, FedEx and Technical Gadgetry

5 O’s, FedEx and Technical Gadgetry

SimoneLipscomb (8)When my morning Scrabble game took a turn for the worst I should have paid more attention. It was as if my iPad had turned into a Ouija board spelling out the potential for the day’s happenings. And yes…the device won…THAT game.

After Scrabble and a crossword puzzle with my cup of tea, I headed upstairs for my workout. It was great and the meditation that followed was very good. Nice breakfast, clean-up and then shower. I thought I would have time before FedEx arrived with my package from Canada (that I would have to sign for). I was doubly excited because yesterday I averted a hold-up in US Customs with some email/scanner/PDF technical savvy. My Aquatica underwater housing was coming…today!

After preparing myself for the day with actual clothes (instead of Yoga pants…you know one state senator wants to outlaw them in public somewhere) I felt pretty good. Jeans, Smartwool base layer and a hoodie. I was dressed up for the day. I waltzed out and glanced at the front French door. DANG!!!! A notice from FedEx was taped to it. SERIOUSLY! Ten minutes and they came! I may have screamed a few obscenities. The cats scrambled out of the room.

I snatched the notice off the glass and glanced at it. Dang it! Another day waiting at the house tomorrow…or drive to Mobile and pick it up after 6pm. Then a little voice inside my head said, Look at the time…only five minutes have passed. Go catch him!

I grabbed keys and shoes and purse and headed to the car. We’ve had gate issues in our community with the exit gate not opening for people with an exit code (instead of a remote) and I hoped the FedEx guy was caught at the gate. Alas, the entry gate, which has been melting down recently and opening whenever it wants to and staying open, was open. AH!!!

So I zoomed to US Highway 98 and stopped. Which way? I heard a distinct, right. So off I went and within a quarter mile the FedEx Express van was pulling onto the highway from a delivery up a wooded driveway. I sort of floored my Volvo and got close enough to see where his next turn was and followed him through a neighborhood.

Thankfully I had grabbed the notice and started waving it as I exited my car. I smiled and laughed so he wouldn’t think I was a crazed stalker and he laughed and knew my street because it was the only notice he had left. He thought it was sort of amazing I had tracked him down. I thanked my guardian angel.

SimoneLipscomb (1)I got back home, apologized to my cats and began opening the boxes. It looked harmless at first. One big box and lots of beautiful white boxes tucked inside it. I even took a photo with two ocean books I’ve been reading lately. Ah, this was my next step into Ocean love.

Disclaimer: My brain is wired for right-brained activity. Absolutely no doubt. I used to go out and photograph with my friend Jen who was a mechanical engineer. She read the Nikon manual and when we shot together she would summarize cool things she had learned. I learn from doing..seeing…feeling how something works, not from reading technical manuals.

SimoneLipscombAnd the underwater housing for a big camera? It’s a technical piece of dive equipment really. As a cave diver, our gear is sort of technical…well…not really. For sidemount it’s just a special harness, two steel tanks, two regulators, two computers I wear on my wrists…some reels. And lots of training. But this housing for my Nikon…my brain started to balk. I could see myself back-pedaling…no no no no no!! Too complicated. UGH! At one point I felt an aversion to all of the gear I had just received. My brain was overloaded.

I have always wanted to improve my underwater photography by taking a really awesome camera down with me instead of the point-and-shoots with housings…but the expense was my excuse. Today I learned the thing that held me back all these years was not expense. It was fear. Fear of complications, fear of flooding my camera, fear of feeling like I was starting over with photography and diving as this is no small rig. Fear of losing my love of diving because of how much I have to remember to make sure everything is in place. Fear of getting out of my comfort zone.

SimoneLipscomb (6)This housing is forcing me to take my work seriously. (Pause for effect). I realize I like to play underwater and enjoy the beauty and float along communing with my sea creature friends. And that’s fine and good and it inspires me to write. But it isn’t accomplishing what I want to do with my art, my work. I see things underwater that my point-and-shoot cameras and housings could never capture. The only way to do it is to make the leap to new gear, new learning.

SimoneLipscomb (4)Lately I’ve felt a really big push to get on with the work. I even told a couple of friends last week that I must have gotten too comfortable and was getting kicked to the edge of the cliff. It’s like my Higher Self pushing me to the edge and then smiling as a spiritual foot plants in my backside and I leap. We never go forward if we stay comfortable…do we?

If the payoff is equal to the confusion, frustration and discomfort I’m overcoming, expectations are high to make huge leaps in the work of loving the Ocean, documenting its beauty and sharing with others. This is a big girl’s toy. And there’s no question of whether or not I’ll learn to use it…it’s coming. I will not let fear keep me from my soul’s work.

SimoneLipscomb (12)Just today I progressed from confusion over bits and pieces of gear scattered on my kitchen bar–as captured by a confused look when I accidentally triggered the shutter–to taking photos of a curious ‘catfish.’

SimoneLipscomb (9)Who knows, tomorrow I might even fill the garden tub and test the housing (without the camera). But…the strobes are coming tomorrow and I expect I’ll be reading more technical manuals and trying to stay untangled from the long arms of the strobes.

FullSizeRenderWhen I look at pages filled with tiny lines pointing at hard-to-see-diagram bits, I feel overwhelmed. But when I take it one step at a time and follow the directions, it comes together. It works. And I think that’s true about life. It can be overwhelming if we look at everything that’s going on but if we take it piece-by-piece then it becomes more manageable. We can see the small progression of successes.

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Knowing is the Key to Caring

Knowing is the Key to Caring

SimoneLipscomb (25)Sylvia Earle wrote, “Knowing is the key to caring, and with caring there is hope that people will be motivated to take positive actions. They might not care even if they know, but they can’t care if they are unaware.”

SimoneLipscomb (23)My wish is for every human to know the beauty of the Ocean, the importance of it to human survival, and how simple actions can help right the degeneration humans have caused.

SimoneLipscomb (16)Beauty feeds our soul. Without the magnificent wonders of the planet would we find joy? Would we feel happiness? Could we find motivation?

SimoneLipscomb (22)The plankton in our seas create the majority of oxygen on our planet. Trees are important but up to 85% of the oxygen we breathe is produced in the Ocean. Think about that as you inhale. What goes into our streams, rivers, and bays enters the Ocean and affects the growth of plankton….if we want to continue to breathe we must consider the Ocean.

SimoneLipscomb (13)Simple actions we can do to help:

-Recycle all plastic

-Reuse plastic bottles and never purchase bottled water

-Reuse bags and forget plastic shopping bags

-Turn off all lights not in use

-Consolidate trips using your vehicle

-Walk or ride your bicycle when you can

-Join a conservation group that helps protect watersheds or other water resources

-Eat only sustainable fish if you must eat seafood

-Participate in water clean-ups

-Walk along the beach or shore, take photographs, share with friends

-Read a book on the Ocean

-Write a poem about the Ocean….or paint a canvas

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