Category: Nature

Blue Dawn

Blue Dawn

Today’s sea turtle nest patrol didn’t yield a new nest or crawls but it yielded over 100 pounds of trash in a mile and a half stretch of beach. My regular patrol volunteer buddy couldn’t walk today so I walked by myself. I arrived at the beach before 5am and took time exposure photographs of the Gulf. The water looks magically calm and surreal in the images but in reality it was quite rough.The high seas add to the regular beach trash by dumping all manner of junk along the shoreline.

When I got to my turnaround point I saw another volunteer and she had ‘mistakenly’ walked the beach looking for nests. I was busily picking up trash, as I made the return trip, with a bag I had secured from the kind folks at Gulf State Park Pier. Lu and I filled the bag to the point where we had to empty it three times. A 30 minute walk to over 2.5 hours to do while picking up litter. Here’s a sample of what we found:

Plastic drink bottles, plastic water bottles, glass beer bottles, been cans, soda cans, two disposable diapers, a plastic tampon applicator, over 100 plastic bottle tops, plastic bins, plastic tubs, oil containers, balloons, kites, string, monofilament fishing line, fishing leaders, latex gloves, flip flops, broken sun glasses, cheap snorkeling masks, wool sock, countless kids plastic beach toys, plastic floats, candy wrappers, foil drink (Capri sun) plastic straws, styrofoam cups and plates and pieces, plastic cups, pieces of large plastic ‘things,’ large plastic water bottle (for a cooler), half an Otterbox brief case encased with all kinds of ocean life, food wrappers, foil, unidentifiable plastic things…..and on and on and on. There were also cigarette butts by the thousands that we didn’t pick up. The problem with EVERYTHING we picked up and the cigarette butts is that none of it degrades, decomposes…goes away. At least not for a VERY long time.

Here’s the time frame of decomposition for some of the trash we found:

Wool sock–1 to 5 years, cigarette butts–10-12 years, foamed plastic cups–50 years, plastic containers–50-80 years, aluminum can–200-500 years, plastic bottles–450 years, disposable diapers–550 years, monofilament fishing line–600 years, plastic bags–200-1000 years.

Take a minute and think about this….breathe it in and sit with it. (Pause).

Just yesterday I read an article on recycling cigarette butts. Did you know they are made of plastic? They don’t decompose as some may think. A cigarette tossed on the ground is there to stay for a LONG time.The filter is made of the same material as plastic bags. One company is making guitar picks and other happy things from cigarette butts instead of the butts being put into land fields or worse, ending up on the ground. Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter found.

Yesterday I read an article by a favorite reporter of mine, Dahr Jamail. Oceans of Pollution, is an important read for all concerned about the health of our planet. Jamail quotes a study that warns, “without profound and prompt changes in human behavior, we will cause a ‘mass extinction in the oceans with unknown ecological consequences.'” He also quotes Alanna Mitchell, “Every tear you cry…ends up back in the ocean system. Every third molecule of carbon dioxide you exhale is absorbed into the ocean. Every second breath you take comes from the oxygen produced by plankton.”

If our plankton dies in the ocean, we die. It’s as simple as that. The ocean produces the majority of oxygen we breathe…even if you happen to live in the center of a continent with no access to the ocean, the ocean is what gives you oxygen. As plastic gets more deeply rooted into our ocean food chain, we are seeing more ill effects and consequences from the toxins used to create it. We are quite literally killing our ocean and therefore, killing ourselves.

As Lu and I walked, several people came up and thanked us, one guy expressed his love of the planet, another young man expressed his frustration at how people can be in the presence of such beauty and completely miss it and trash it. A few people actually helped us along the way. Some hung their head in shame as we carried the heavy bag, filled with human-generated pollution and as I made eye contact, I saw their grief at what, collectively, we are doing to our planet.

It was no coincidence that two strong articles came across my desk yesterday and today I found myself surrounded and astounded by a mountain of trash in just a mile and a half of Gulf of Mexico beach. We no longer have the luxury of turning away when we see places like this. We must breathe deep and connect with our compassion for all life and do whatever we can to make a positive difference. We can no longer luxuriate in anger, frustration, hopelessness. Now is the time to be active stewards of our Ocean.

Dairy of a Wild Heart–Part Five

Dairy of a Wild Heart–Part Five

I sat in a tidal pool after finishing the last dive of the day. The sun was setting the clouds assured a stunning sunset. Still in my wetsuit, I plopped down and sat in the bubbling Ocean as it washed over coral rock. The sunset was magnificent and everything a nature-lover could want–saltwater, beautiful sky, sunshine and warm air–was present.

As I stood up after completing my tidal jacuzzi, I noticed an eel had entered into the shallow pool and was hunting. I was concerned it was trapped so I pointed at it to encourage it to leave and head back to open water before becoming stranded.

With mouth open, the chain moray leapt toward my outstretched finger causing me to run backwards through the tidal pool. Luckily I didn’t trip on any of the coral rock nor did I get a nasty eel-mouth bite. I learned something valuable–eels can leap out of the water and scare silly humans who think they’re doing eels a favor.

When I don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I wish the human species could get this truth on a deeper level. Maybe we wouldn’t harass each other so much.

Diary of a Wild Heart–Part One

Diary of a Wild Heart–Part One

“I feel overwhelmed with love and respect and compassion for all creatures of the sea. Tiny creatures, camouflaged to all who pass in haste, I stop and hover motionless awaiting the moment our eyes connect and we acknowledge the sacred light within each other.”

The above passage was taken from my journal after my first dive back on my “second” home–the home of my water heart–Bonaire. As I was transferring all the data into my dive log back home, I realized that first dive of the week was my 500th dive. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate and to connect with my favorite place to be–under water.

Over the next several days I’ll be posting parts and pieces of, Diary of a Wild Heart. Below find Part One.

As I was walking along the shore in front of the resort this morning I felt my heart open, my soul open, to the elements. Water, wind, earth, fire of the rising sun. In the whispers of the wind I heard that I have a choice each day–connect with my wild nature or not. My wildness, my instinctual self, is calling me. Hello! Bon jour! Wake up! Time to play with nature.

So  on the first morning I drove south while the rest of the group went on boat dives. The wind got wilder, as did the waves, the further toward the southern tip of the island I traveled. Earth and wind and water are crazy there. That rough-in-your-face-and-blow-right-through-you wind howls there and so the carry-your-soul-away ocean wave action resides there as well.

I exited the truck and stepped onto the ironstone, ancient coral rock with incredibly sharp edges. The clink-clink of tumbling coral could be heard amid the rush of huge waves crashing onto shore. Such rugged beauty blasted me powerfully, completely. I breathed deeply, inhaling the salt smell I craved. From the center of my being I whispered, Thank you. I had come home to my wild heart.

Beauty Expanding

Beauty Expanding

I left the house at 5.30am, destined for the Gulf beaches. A short 20 minute ride later I was standing at Gulf State Park watching the sun rise over the sugar-white dunes. An hour spent walking this undeveloped beach started my day off in a state of beauty. Clear blue-green water lapping at my feet, warm breeze blowing from the southwest bringing salty air from across the water onshore. This balmy hug created a joy within me and so I left the beach ready for breakfast and more beach time. I had an appointment at 11am with a special someone.

After breakfast overlooking the Gulf, I motored down to Alabama Point, another part of Gulf State Park, and sat on the beach for about thirty minutes. I got out my pad and wrote a few notes….

“Sitting on snow-white sand watching blue-green waves roll onshore. A school of medium-sized fish are jumping and leaping about 50 yards offshore. My mind moves to wonder…what is chasing them?

A sanderling wanders toward me from the west and just east of me a family has arrived. The little boy ran to the water with his mask and has already called for a net so he can catch fish he is seeing. I don’t understand the need to capture and control nature. Isn’t it enough to be a quiet observer? This has been a struggle throughout my life…why must we dissect, catch, control all the beauty surrounding us? Why can’t we appreciate beauty for its own sake without destroying it?

Ten feet from my foot the sanderling rests on a mound of sand preening in this early morning sun. Running brown and white speckled feathers through her beak she glances over at me occasionally and then she is done and scurries off to peck among the seaweed for tasty breakfast morsels.

The sand is still cool from the night’s respite. Starlight is still embedded in the crystalline sand. It lingers as the heat of our golden sun star warms it and imbues it with wild, hot solar energy.

An osprey is gliding overhead, freshly caught fish tucked streamline under her white belly feathers.”

And onward to Gulf Islands National Seashore.

I stopped for water and then visited this narrow strip of sand that is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the bay on the other. Nine a.m. and I still had two hours before my appointment back at Alabama Point so I meandered through blue sky, blue-green water and white sand beauty that continued to expand from my sunrise walk. It felt as if the amount of salt water-induced bliss was getting out of hand. It was glorious and wonderful and the best was yet to come. I still had to meet Freddie.

One final stop at the National Seashore to breathe in a nearly perfect water and sky-scape and it was time to leave for the meeting.

Many of us had been summoned to this gathering at 11am. A special guest was arriving and we wanted to be there to see her off.

Freddie had been in rehab a few months, rescued from the pass at Alabama Point. She (or he…the sex was unknown) had been found floating, unable to submerge due to an intestinal blockage and other issues. After being assisted medically, this loggerhead sea turtle was ready to be returned to the Gulf, not far from where she had been found ailing.

Once our volunteers and the NFWS had gathered and the media had arrived, the walk to the water began. It’s probably the most exciting steps I’ve ever walked. Not just because Freddie was returning back to the Gulf but because so many humans cared and were there to cheer her on. Beauty…it was indeed expanding and not only in the outer scenery but in the hearts I saw wide-open surrounding this precious ocean friend.

Freddie crawled from the place her bearers placed her. She got to the water’s edge and stopped. The sand was moist and wet with surf but she just stopped. People formed two lines on either side of her and left the pathway to the water open. Even as I write this tonight, hours after the release, I have to pause and catch my breath. Tears come again as I reflect on the beautiful souls there to welcome her home.

She waited and watched, looking at children and adults cheering her on and finally a wave washed over her. She lifted her head in recognition of the glorious saltwater and who knows what else….for sea turtles don’t share their innermost thoughts. As I knelt on the sand taking photographs I saw in her eye a spark, a light that ignited as the wave called her home. And then….she scurried into the water.

I know what it feels like to come home, to have been away healing, learning….and to find myself back on my home beach watching a sea turtle crawl back into her home….there are no words. There truly are no words. All I know is this–I, too, am home.

Standing Up to a Big Blow–Lesson in Life from My SUP Board

Standing Up to a Big Blow–Lesson in Life from My SUP Board

Yesterday morning started with a visit to Gulf State Park before the sun peeked above the horizon. I arrived early for my first sea turtle volunteer patrol walk because I wanted to take a few photographs before meeting my walking partners. It was serene and lovely and the Gulf of Mexico was gently rolling like it sometimes does. No shore birds were out yet so the only sound I heard was the shuuusshing of sand and water and shells tumbling together.

I met my walking partners and we headed out for our walk to the Gulf Shores Public Beach. We immediately met a group of giggly young folks drinking beer and smoking….yes….before sunrise. We had been warned that we might see left-over partiers from the pre-Hangout Music Festival day. And it only got worse as we neared the music festival staging area. Never mind sea turtle crawls…we were busy dodging condoms floating in the tidal pools, beer cans, liquor bottles, articles of clothing, half-burned cigarettes…not the usual sight on these white sand beaches.

The once ‘public beach’ was fenced off so as to not allow the public inside. Or sea turtles that might not have received the press package about the festival and thus altered their egg-laying plans. We carefully watched for sea turtle tracks as we tiptoed through all manner of human nastiness. Almost two years ago I was tiptoeing through volatile crude oil on the beach but today I felt volatile. A few days earlier the City of Gulf Shores bulldozed sand dunes with sea oats growing on them to make way for this parade of the worst of humanity. If you or I had picked a sea oat on our own property we’d be ticketed. If we had bulldozed a dune full of sea oats we might be in jail. I guess it just depends on who you are and who you know and how much you pay the right people. I don’t know what to think after witnessing this and hearing loud diesel generators and buses running non-stop. Talk about your green festivals!

After completing the turtle nest patrol I walked in the opposite direction, into Gulf State Park. Shores mostly untouched by development called to me as I walked in the soft, cool sand. I reflected back to when I worked in the park as naturalist–over 30 years ago–and the frustration I felt by the encroaching development and the political demands placed on the resources within the park. I remembered something I wrote in my first book, Sharks On My Fin Tips: “I left the Gulf Coast many years ago feeling hopeless in my efforts to help the land amid hungry developers yet on that day (a visit after Hurricane Ivan) I felt a renewed sense of commitment. I could use a tool that might truly make a difference–my words.” (p. 11).

Another quote from the book also haunted me as I walked back to my car, “Did I abandon this land when I left it many years ago? Had I left home, in the truest sense of the word?”

This morning I needed to be on salt water, away from the crowds and connected with the elements to ponder the questions that were raised within me yesterday. I am not a grouchy, un-musical person. I love music and play piano, guitar, flute, drums….it’s part of me. But profit at any cost? Had I left 21 years ago and returned to find that profit and money–greed–were still the determining factors along the coast? The dune is in the way….just bulldoze it. Never mind that it’s against the law! And fence off the public beach and don’t allow people to visit it unless they pay the $150+ to attend the festival. Does anyone else feel frustrated at this kind of behavior? These double-standards? This profit-at-any-cost mentality?

So…..I drove to Johnson Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. After showing my annual pass and I.D. I drove to a boardwalk and couldn’t help noticing that both the Gulf and Sound were very much affected by the strong and steady ESE winds. Oops…so much for a calm, contemplative morning.

After unloading my board and gear, I walked to the Sound and was nearly knocked off my SUP board as soon as I stood up. The wind was really kicking. Rather than paddle against it with no warm-up, I decided to just do a downwind paddle and then deal with the paddle back after my body was ready for the assault of wind against woman.

The downwind run was screaming. I was flying and my thoughts were far from the anger and frustration of the previous day. Concentrating on staying balanced with a wicked back and cross-wind was my only focus. In 15 minutes I covered an amazing distance. How awesome that I’d get to paddle against that crazy blow to get back to my take-out point. Honestly, that’s not what I was thinking.

As soon as I came out of the calm canal I had drifted into and faced the wind, it caught my body and tried to push me back into the serene water. Who wouldn’t like that? But I really wanted to get back to my car. The breeze (ha…breeze) was so strong that I dropped to my knees. That helped but I was still making little progress. Finally, I sat back on my heels and finally my blade starting generating forward motion.

Being in this prayer position, I decided to say a prayer to gain understanding about the struggles I was having emotionally from yesterday’s experiences. I started thinking about the land and water and wildlife still being exploited for human greed. I felt weary of the entire human-dumb-ass behaviors which was exacerbated by the weariness I began to feel as I paddled into the wind. As I struggled to paddle, I thought how 30 years ago I struggled to make a difference along the coast. How I’d given up and let the ‘human wind of development’ push me away and relinquish my dream to help people appreciate and care for this beautiful place. It was relatively easy to just let go and forget the developers and others who always put wildlife and the Earth last–dead last. I let myself go into ecological numbness. I didn’t know how to deal with the grief about the planet so I just shut down.

But that oil spill…remember THAT oil spill? It’s what called me home.

It’s not easy standing up against strong forces that want to push over everything in their path to make a buck. It’s sometimes almost impossible to stand and fight greedy humans. So maybe I can alter my approach and drop lower and catch less ‘wind’ but still keep going, keep going forward. Or maybe I might have to crawl a while and make seemingly little progress like I did at Johnson Beach when I sat on the back of my board in shallow water and used my toes to crawl along the bottom as I rested my arms and shoulders. The key is to keep moving and keep working to spread the beauty of this place and speak up against those who truly do not care for anything but money and power. They will fall…eventually. Nature is more powerful. Ask Hurricane Ivan. Or Katrina. Humans have no power compared to the power of nature. Okay….I understand, I thought.

I got back to my take-out point and sat on my board for a long time contemplating life….watching the endangered Least Tern feeding just a few feet from my board, wondering if they knew they were endangered (no…of course not) and thinking how they go on regardless and continue to live and enjoy life. I watched families playing along the water’s edge and Great Blue Herons waiting for fishermen and women to reel in their breakfast. I realized, in those long, blissful moments spent bobbing up and down on my board, that I don’t have to stand up to power and money-hungry humans alone. Many of us feel the same way. We can proceed little by little to speak out, write, work…whatever we have to do…to save this amazing place from annihilation at the hands of those who fail to understand and appreciate the treasure it is…just for the beauty and life it contains. Not because it can generate a profit.

Stand Up 4 The Gulf…something you might find interesting and might like to help build!