Category: plastic pollution

To Listen, To Connect….To Love

To Listen, To Connect….To Love

800_4167It was below freezing when I arrived at the farm. Frost dusted delicate tendrils of dried wildflowers in open fields and glistened in the early-morning light. Everything it touched was transformed with crystalline beauty.

Many years ago I stopped bringing live trees into my home for Christmas. Instead I purchased a fake tree manufactured in China….made of plastic. Three years ago I made the decision to support local tree farmers and remove the toxic tree from my life. I realized that trees raised on farms support local farmers and can be recycled. I also thought that when harvested and put in a place of honor, they are fulfilling their destiny. But being a sensitive soul I have to harvest consciously–with appreciation and love….with tenderness.

800_4116Weeks ago I planned the excursion to Boyd Mountain Tree Farm in Waynesville, North Carolina. I would be visiting my friends in Asheville over Thanksgiving so the fraser fir farm would be on my way home. When I made the decision to invite a living tree into my home, it was Boyd Mountain that called me. I was living in Asheville at the time so it was an easy morning’s outing then. The lovely energy of the land as well as the family and staff that cares for the trees stayed in my mind so I was excited to visit once more.

Last year I went to a local tree farm near my home in coastal Alabama but found out, the morning after bringing the Leyland Cypress into my home, that I was allergic to it and had to drag it, fully decorated, out the French doors on to the screened porch where it remained over the holidays. It graced my courtyard with beauty but I missed the closeness of it.

mitchellblogI remember vividly the smell of fraser firs when I would drive up to Mount Mitchell or other high elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway for sunrise photography excursions. The intoxicating aroma was amazing and I felt changed, altered from it. Scents can do that and each of us has special ones that trigger delightful memories. For me, the smell takes me back to North Carolina and I see myself standing on a high ridge overlooking mountains with fog-filled valleys. The air is crisp and I feel as if I have wings that are strong and can carry me anywhere life calls me to go.

800_4131Many emotions filled me on the frosty walk up the mountain at the tree farm. Early morning sunlight filtered through dark green branches, some still dusted with snow. The beauty touched me deeply. I felt intense gratitude for the trees and those who care for them. The frozen earth, hard beneath my boots, seemed to pull me up and up as I was drawn further into the lush limbs that reached out to brush me as I walked past.

Rather than look for a ‘perfect’ tree I simply opened my heart and listened. Letting my mind quieten, I was guided to a snow-covered tree and knew it was the one when tears began to trickle down my face. I didn’t choose the tree, it chose me. I felt the connection strongly.

800_4119I gently touched its soft, snow-covered needles and offered gratitude and a blessing for the sacrifice it was making. But very clearly I heard in my mind that fulfilling a destiny requires a sacrifice. Later I pondered the idea and realized we sacrifice our ego, a direction we were headed, a relationship, a place of residence, a job, or any number of ‘things’ as we move through life, honoring our path.

Perhaps Christmas trees have a sense of their purpose as they grow in long rows hugging the mountain. Maybe they feel the joyful emotions of children and adults who weave trails across the slope. I wonder if they know something special awaits. Do they swoon a bit after being cut and then awaken later to find something similar to the stars of heaven resting on their branches, sometimes in bright colors. And maybe then, on some level of tree consciousness, they recognize the fulfillment of their destiny as they stand as the focal point of joy and love in their chosen home.

1412515_10152027915954214_382559382_oWhen we open ourselves fully to life, we cannot help but fulfill our ever-unfolding destiny. Perhaps it isn’t one, final event that gives evidence of success in life but each step along the way, each opportunity we take to open our hearts to listen, to connect….to love.


Some facts about farm-grown Christmas trees:

-They are grown on American family farms and make an important economic contribution to many rural communities.

-One acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people. There are 500,000 acres of Christmas trees grown in the U.S. which collectively provide oxygen for 9 million people each day. Young, fast-growing trees release more oxygen than mature forest trees.

-For every tree harvested, another one is planted to ensure a steady supply.

-Christmas tree farms support wildlife such as turkey, quail, songbirds, rabbits and deer.

-Christmas trees are an all-American renewable, recyclable resource. They can be chipped for mulch and used for building dunes at beaches.


A Lightness of Being

A Lightness of Being

simonelipscomb (1)Sunday mornings, prior to sunrise, find me traversing an empty beach lot to the dune line. A short climb over ever-growing dunes and a quick walk across flat, sugar-white sand beach and voila! Wrack line. My target for the 1.5 mile search eastward.

I walk toward the rising sun. I’m looking for sea turtle tracks but this time of solitude at sunrise gives me space to be with the ocean, to open myself to the day and what life presents. Sounds great, right?

simonelipscomb (10)Today like most all other days I opted to carry my heavy camera, heavy super-wide angle lens and my carbon fiber tripod…not so heavy but after 3 miles it all starts to feel rather burdensome. I can’t help it though. Try as I might to leave the sturdy gear at home, the artist in me wants to see dawn through my lens. The environmentalist in me wants to pick up trash on the walk back. So a heavy trash day, like today, leaves me exhausted.

As I trudged back west picking up trash, the wind was blowing strongly against me. Lots of plastic in various forms littered the beach and so I was constantly bending over while trying to keep tripod and camera cases from falling off my tired shoulders. It was very frustrating….the trash, the soft sand and the heavy gear. I felt so weighed down.

simonelipscomb (7)Truthfully though, all of the stuff I was carrying was light compared to the inner burdens that were weighing me down. I struggled with my anger over trashy humans who throw garbage off of fishing boats, with tourists who leave plastic bottles, plastic caps, fireworks, plastic bags, and cigarette butts behind. After a mile and a half of gathering up the wastes humans left behind I felt weighed down with anger, frustration, feelings of hopelessness for our collective future and the health of our planet. And any other heavy emotion lingering about seems to pop up when I am tired. So hello my little friends….good to see you remember me. (Not!) Weary walking, this day. Very weary walking.

I was so exhausted toward the end of my walk I tried to push past trash rather than stop and put it in the already-heavy bag. But I couldn’t. I wanted to weep with fatigue and dehydration yet my love for the planet strengthened me to stop and collect the bits of garbage. I had to deal with it. I don’t want to do this! I’m tired, I silently whined. I wondered how long it would take the ghost crabs and other scavengers to pick my bones clean if I collapsed. And yes, I have a vivid imagination with a flair for the dramatic. Don’t artists always suffer for their work?

simonelipscomb (11)In spiritual studies, which are really studies in healing inner wounds, psychic debris and ego-driven living so our highest self can shine forth, I have sometimes wished for amnesia. Once a personality flaw is unearthed and brought to consciousness it won’t go away or get fixed by ignoring it. I thought of this as I picked up plastic garbage from the beach. Try as I might to walk past it I just couldn’t. My commitment to wildlife is to pick up this 1.5 mile stretch of beach every Sunday morning. Like my commitment to personal growth and healing leads me to keep working on myself no matter how tired or weighed down I feel. Oh, happy day. Right?

simonelipscomb (12)When I reached my car the feeling of letting everything go was amazing. The struggle had been great this day. Strong wind, soft sand, lots of trash…heavy gear. But the payoff…oh, the payoff. Feeling my heart and mind connect through my art. Knowing that the trash I collected will not harm innocent creatures…hoping that something I do will make a positive difference for the planet…this and singing to the sea gave me an incredible lightness of being.

The struggles? I still think it’s all worth it. Just look at this beautiful planet. Look at the sea!! And if you dare, look into my ever-lightening heart.

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

I hadn’t heard the term in a while but it came up the other day–survival of the fittest (SOF). It has always made me cringe, especially when it is applied to new life arriving on the planet, be it sea turtle, squirrel, dolphin, whale or human. It seems so cold, so removed from compassion. So I decided to do a bit of research.

Herbert Spencer coined the phrase as an alternative to natural selection after reading Charles Darwin’s book and Darwin, in the 5th edition of On the Origin of Species published in 1869, credited Spencer with the phrase.

Biologists today don’t really use the phrase but rather use the term natural selection to reference differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. SOF is inaccurate because survival is simply a normal prerequisite to reproduce (duh) and fitness in biology has a different meaning than the way pop culture uses the term. It’s not about how strong or big or fast something or somebody is in biological circles. What Darwin meant by fitness was ‘better able to adapt to changing environments.’

Extinction of various species happens because of large shifts in the environment. So truly, fittest means those animals most suited to their environment.

If we ponder the sea turtle on the coast of Alabama, we see the natural environment has been substantially altered in most locations. Dunes have been bulldozed or significantly altered, light pollution abounds and roadways criss-cross what used to be natural habitat. So sea turtles, in essence, would become greatly reduced due to human alteration of the environment (they have already been greatly reduced in numbers). NOT because of weak hatchlings, but because the environment has been altered to the point where the turtles simply cannot survive there.

And if we look offshore, we see the environment has also been significantly altered through use of nets and fishing practices that have harmed large numbers of turtles. Even though some commercial fisheries vessels use TEDs (turtle excluder devices), not all do. Onshore and offshore, the environment has greatly changed and thus made it difficult for sea turtles to live and reproduce.

I think of cancer rates in humans and mysterious diseases and see that natural selection is playing out in our own species. We alter the environment, fill it with toxic waste produced by corporations, we purchase products by said corporations and invest in the very culprits altering our ecosystems to the point where we cannot survive.

Corporations can donate endless funds to politicians. This opens the proverbial door to the rape and destruction of our planet on a scale unimaginable to us. Profit-at-any-cost is how corporations operate. There is never enough wealth to fill their coffers. So profit-hungry corporations buy more and more into our government (contributing to campaigns), elected officials then ‘owe’ the contributors and therefore legislate to please whoever donated the most money. And no matter what ‘side’ you may lean, the Earth is going to lose and that means you, me, children, wildlife, wild places….all of these precious, sacred elements of this water planet will become expendable as corporate control of our country expands.

People ask why spend so many hours and put so much effort into a nest of sea turtles. Share the Beach was originally formed because sea turtles were not able to adapat to the human-created changes in the coastal environmental. That’s why they ended up protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We have to move beyond the idea that species that cannot adapt to human-created changes (over-fishing, lights, destruction of habitat, pollution) are not worth saving. Otherwise the human species would be extinct…there would be no need for doctors, nurses, medical researchers.

Because we have the ability to be compassionate and recognize value in all life, we can move beyond human arrogance and the belief that altering the ecosystems to suit our own needs is okay. We can refuse to buy into the belief that corporations have the right to continue their pillaging of the planet. For every hour spent holding a space of compassion and light in endeavors to help others, whether its humans or wildlife or wild lands, we magnify the spirit of unity and love that is the answer to healing our wounded world, to healing our own woundedness.

“There are plenty of sea turtles” and other misconceptions

“There are plenty of sea turtles” and other misconceptions

I posted a photo of a sea turtle caught in a net on Facebook today and it had a link supporting TED’s or Turtle Excluding Devices. Two people connected with the commercial seafood industry cried out in anger saying shrimpers didn’t hurt sea turtles and they loved nature and besides (and I quote) “There are plenty of sea turtles.” After my blood pressure came back to normal and I got really depressed about nature’s continued destruction by humans I decided to do a little research.

First of all, all sea turtles that visit or live in US waters are on the endangered species list. National Marine Fisheries Service cites the following reasons: Destruction/alteration of nesting and foraging habitats (coastal development), incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries, entanglement in marine debris and vessel strikes. So while the shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico may love nature, their nets do kill sea turtles and finned fish and other marine life that cannot escape. This is a known fact.

In 2011 more than 3500 threatened and endangered sea turtles washed up dead on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Only 5 to 6% of dead turtles wash ashore…do the math on the total estimated number of sea turtles killed just last year.

Nets properly equipped with TED’s are proved to be 97% effective in releasing sea turtles. And this comes after trials and rebuilds on the equipment. Very few shrimpers voluntarily used TED’s so laws were put into practice to require some shrimpers to use TED’s.

According to the person that replied to my post, the government is lying about all this. He went on to say that coastal development hurt sea turtles as did other fishing boats who don’t use TED’s and he’s right on both accounts. But I  know of shrimpers that used to shoot sea turtles, years ago, because they would get in their nets. I actually even found one shot and dead on the beach many years ago. Times have changed for sure. Hopefully that kind of behavior is no longer practiced. Now, if someone does that and gets caught they go to prison and lose their boat.

We think that kind of atrocious behavior is in the past but actually on June 21st of this summer, a bottlenose dolphin was found with a screwdriver sticking in its head. It had been reported in Perdido Bay and was still alive but was later discovered dead. So much for humans acting appropriately. Even the fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail doesn’t deter people who, for whatever reason, cannot temper their inclination for seriously stupid and cruel behavior.

I find myself overwhelmed with emotions of sadness, grief and anger at what we humans are doing to this planet and each other. There are people that care and there are people that refuse to accept responsibility for their behaviors and call it the Will of God if a species goes extinct. So…should we not have doctors and let the problem species of the planet die off? Then everything else would come into balance. Of course not. But oh for a magic pill that would help us all see how our behaviors, thoughts, intentions and actions are destroying the planet and each other.

When I found myself deep in dark emotions this afternoon, I lit and candle and said a prayer for understanding. A few minutes later, while folding clothes, I heard these words: Those that don’t care about the planet and are only concerned about how much wealth they can amass, want you to quit, to give up. They want everyone who is bringing awareness, practicing compassion and love–to wildlife, wild places, and people who are hurting–to give up. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Love deeply, have compassion for all life and continue with the Work.

I replied back to the gentleman and let him know I heard his frustration about developers getting away with anything because they have money. I understand and agree. I also agree that some commercial and recreational fishermen and women follow the rules and some don’t. What I suggested was a dialogue between fishermen and women and National Marine Fisheries and NOAA. Rather than fighting each other and both sides claiming the other is lying, find common ground. Start healthy, sane dialogues. Otherwise we are destined to repeat and perpetuate the same old dysfunctional way of being.

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.