Category: Gulf Oil Spill

Loving the Earth

Loving the Earth

photoLoving the Earth: Creating a Conscious Relationship with Our Planet

A slight breezed carried my SUP board downriver as I stopped paddling to watch a pair of bald eagles drag their talons along the surface of the water. Nearby great egrets crowned cypress trees, their white plumage dazzling against the background of blue sky. A mullet splashed in the mud-tinted water of the Magnolia River and brought my attention back from sky to earth. As my gaze turned downward a brown pelican folded her wings, as if in prayer, and dropped from the sky close to my board. All around life expressed in a beautiful ballet of balance with this lone patron admiring the dance. Bliss seemed shared by all but perhaps it might be better named communion.

Osprey...image taken in Florida last winter

One never knows what will be the call that brings us to our heart’s work. While I loved nature since childhood, I never felt the commitment…the calling…to dedicate my life’s work to it until the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It felt as if everything in life stopped so I could focus entirely on the Gulf Coast and the amazing life in our coastal ecosystems. During the first days of oil washing ashore I remember thinking the end of the world had arrived. How could this happen?

This should never happen anywhere on our beautiful planet...let's unite in love and compassion and create the world we want to live in and leave for generations to come.

It’s easier to believe everything is okay than to pay attention to what’s really happening. I shared my book containing oil spill images with a cousin the other day that lives in Pensacola and she was shocked to see the reality I documented. There are people who live in Gulf Shores who still believe it wasn’t bad…that there wasn’t oil mixed with dispersant and it wasn’t fizzing in tidal pools of tiny fish gasping to their last breath. I know because I saw it first hand and stood on the beach weeping for every life I saw pass.

simonelipscomb (18)The most difficult thing I have ever experienced was witnessing the spill and its effects on innocent life which included small children playing in oily waters…so polluted that the benzene burned my eyes and throat. Video and photographs in my library document everything I saw but they can never share the true experience of grief beyond anything I’ve known.

A friend and mentor reminded me, during the first year of the spill, that there was a reason I was being called to witness the horror even though I might not understand why. Over four years have passed and I am more convinced that the only way to heal our broken planet is to heal our relationship with It and to heal our relationship with each other. That means healing our own lives.

SimoneLipscomb (8)The only solution I have found is to practice love…love as compassion…love as respect…love in the purest form of opening to surrender, to service.

When wild animals make contact with me I always feel so joyful!

Love for the planet requires opening the self. When we risk the deep opening of human heart to planetary heart we know the elation of unspeakable joy, of the heart’s expanding in answer to beauty. We also know the experience of grief and heartbreak when places, wildlife and humans we love are destroyed or profoundly injured.

One of my favorite places to celebrate life is under the Salt Pier on the island of Bonaire

Celebrating the beauty of the Magnolia River and other places of natural beauty relieves the grief that comes from being aware of the trials our planet is experiencing. There is resilience in nature and my hope is we will practice better stewardship before a non-reversible tipping point is reached.

SimoneLipscomb (25)As I remain engaged with nature’s rhythms through simple, daily observation and intention, I am drawn more deeply into partnership with the Earth. If we collectively open our hearts to loving this sacred planet, we can create a bond with each other that will transform darkness and create positive, lasting change.



The box of books came yesterday, filled with Wendell Berry works. It was like opening a little treasure chest.

As I carefully took them out I noticed there were three copies of a book of poetry he wrote called Leavings. Oops…did I order three? Obviously I was supposed to pay attention to this book.  So…today I simply share Wendell Berry’s words and my images. May they bring you peace…joy…beauty. And some things to ponder.

SimoneLipscombLIKE SNOW

Suppose we did our work

like the snow, quietly, quietly,

leaving nothing out.

SimoneLipscomb (1)LOOK IT OVER

I leave behind even

my walking stick. My knife

is in my pocket, but that

I have forgot. I bring

no car, no cell phone,

no computer, no camera,

no CD player, no fax, no

TV, not even a book. I go

into the woods. I sit on

a log provided at no cost.

It is the earth I’ve come to,

the earth itself, sadly

abused by the stupidity

only humans are capable of

but, as ever, itself. Free.

A bargain! Get it while it lasts.

SimoneLipscomb (2)GIVE IT TIME

The river is of the earth

and it is free. It is rigorously

embanked and bound,

and yet is free. “To hell

with restraint,” it says.

“I have got to be going.”

It will grind out its dams.

It will go over or around them.

They will become pieces.

SimoneLipscomb (4)XII.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.Hosea 4:6

We forget the land we stand on

and live from. We set ourselves

free in an economy founded

on nothing, on greed verified

by fantasy, on which we entirely

depend. We depend on fire

that consumes the world without

lighting it. To this dark blaze

driving the inert metal

of our most high desire

we offer our land as fuel,

thus offering ourselves at last

to be burned. This is our riddle

to which the answer is a life

that none of us has lived.

Wendell Berry from the book entitled, Leavings. Published by Counterpoint 2010.

When Technology Outgrows Conscience

When Technology Outgrows Conscience

simonelipscomb (6)In my cross-training efforts the elliptical trainer provides an opportunity to catch up on TED talks. While I whirl and sweat I watch videos from these amazing talks and recently I’ve been viewing those related to oceans.

I watched three today and each one nurtured a perplexing subject that has been surfacing in my mind over the past few years. Today I heard a clear question whispered from the ethers: Is it really good to discover new sources of life and potential material wealth when human consciousness has not evolved at the same pace as technological development?

Shark caught and left to die on the beach. I asked the fisherman why he allowed the shark to die...'because they are dangerous' he said.
Shark caught and left to die on the beach. I asked the fisherman why he allowed the shark to die…’because they are dangerous’ he said.

As a species on the planet, we appear to be more at war with it than stewards of it. This is evidenced by the conflicts we wage on each other in our neighborhoods, in oil fields, in mountains hiding gold and other valuable metals, in our oceans. Exploitation is still the collective mindset of our species.

Machinery at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge trying to remove a large, sunken mat of oil during the BP Oil Spill
Machinery at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge trying to remove a large, sunken mat of oil during the BP Oil Spill

Billions of dollars are spent on cancer research yet we haven’t understood and acted on the realization that what we are doing to the water, air, food sources are all contributing to the increase of cancer. The toxins we dump onto and into our planet are killing us and all life. But we, as a whole, stick to the mindset that more is better and profit at any cost is acceptable. The disconnect is clearly destroying us.

We have tried to conquer, control, manipulate our oceans, soil, energy resources and have failed with this mindset. Only when we apply principles of cooperation and respect toward each other, the planet, animals, plants, air, water do we create opportunity for balance and plenty for all.

Our group from a week with Joanna Macy, our mentor who teaches how to stay sane while working to help the planet
Our group from a week with Joanna Macy, our mentor who teaches how to stay sane while working to help the planet

My hope is that before we discover marvelous, new, wondrous places, resources and animals to exploit that we step back, take many breaths and allow our sense of ethics and conscience to catch up with technology that we use daily to destroy the very thing that gives us physical life. It is time for us to learn a heart-centered approach to living and allow the blossoming of love within us to guide us rather than our ego-driven and self-centered desires.

simonelipscomb (5)When we collectively can reach across the self-created constructs that divide us related to race, religion, politics, and more then perhaps we will be ready to care for new and marvelous discoveries on our planet. Until then, let us cultivate responsible stewardship and unconditional love.

A First-Grader Teaches Me

A First-Grader Teaches Me

laughing gull
laughing gull

I left my home early this morning on my way to Fort Morgan Ferry via a stop-over at a beach between here and there to check for Least Tern courtship and nesting behavior for NFWS. My ultimate destination was the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Discovery Day. I was volunteering at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network table and display.

I did indeed see the endangered species of Least Terns frolicking over the Gulf and having seen at least 30 of those beautiful birds, I drove on to Ft. Morgan.

simonelipscomb (7)Waiting in line as a pedestrian at the ferry dock I met a couple from Quebec cycling to Austin, Texas and then on to Europe. I suddenly had an urge to do something crazy like they were doing. They had sold everything and were living and traveling via recumbent cycles pulling small trailers. Reminded me of the guy who sold everything to follow his dream of creating life-size prints of whales. These folks are doing something BIG! And I like it!!!

simonelipscomb (4)Meanwhile, I rode the ferry as a pedestrian and made the short walk to the Sea Lab. It was awesome seeing so many families out enjoying the day and learning more about our coastal treasures.

After helping store our display, I walked through the Estuarium and sat for a while with a nurse shark and hopefully somehow communicated my appreciation to him and his cousins all over the globe. That quiet moment sitting nose-to-nose with this beautiful little shark was precious. Then it got crowded so I moved on and walked back to the ferry dock and waited over an hour for the next ferry.

During this time I met an amazing young man who is a first grader. He and his grandmothers had walked on the ferry and visited the Sea Lab’s Discovery Day. We chatted and then, when the ferry arrived, boarded together. The young man and I visited more as we made the trip across Mobile Bay. He expressed his dislike of drilling for gas and oil in the bay and Gulf. He told me of his love for ‘mother nature.’

simonelipscomb (6)Just when I felt as if humans had reached the bottom of environmental and social concern, I met this amazing young man who is a volunteer for Share the Beach…Alabama’s sea turtle volunteer program. He without hesitation expresses his love for mother nature and is clear about his distaste and concern over drilling for oil and gas in the water.

simonelipscomb (5)On this three year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster–when I stopped counting gas rigs in the bay at over 30 in the crossing from Ft. Morgan to Dauphin Island–and when my hope for humanity had reached a new low, this boy reminded me of the generations that are rising up to lead us. Suddenly I didn’t feel hopeless any more.

April Fool?

April Fool?

I was beginning to think it was a bad April Fool’s joke. I was standing on the beach asking the lifeguard if he knew where the dead dolphin was that had been reported. He didn’t but rode west three miles down the beach on his three wheeler looking….nothing. I called our stranding coordinator and told her the lifeguard reported that someone said there had been a dolphin with rope on its tail…but no dead dolphin materialized. Not sounding good….could we be getting pranked by spring breakers?

A little nudge from my intuition sent me walking east. It was looking pretty hopeless but my intuition nudged me again…ask the fisherman. I did and he said…”Yes, I know exactly where it is. Can’t you smell it?”

simonelipscomb (5)
Recovered dolphin last week

Great. And I thought last week’s dolphin carcass was challenging. The bloating was significant and so was the smell. But I was observing a necropsy of a very large, adult male dolphin inside a facility. Some decomposing and a lot of blood…the smell of blood was what wore on my stamina. Tissue samples were taken, counting of teeth, and all the other data that must be collected from a marine mammal death. Hours upon hours of locating, loading, hauling, photographing, and bit-by-bit taking the dolphin apart and taking samples from organs, blood, eyes…a very intensive effort on the part of several people.

Thankfully it wasn't another dead dolphin
Thankfully it wasn’t an uncounted dead dolphin

But today, I witnessed another large dolphin…this time in the final stages of decay. The body had been dragged with a rope and there were parts missing….the lower right mandible, the dorsal fin…and even in the ragged state this dolphin was in, I could see where tissue had been removed. Between our coordinator, my on-scene eyes (and nose…significant putrid smell) and another biologist via telephone, we pieced together the story.

simonelipscomb (2)This dolphin was found in December, processed by the other biologist and dragged up in the dunes by the resort gardener and buried. It had been recently unearthed by someone or something and the smell created a curiosity in spring break celebrants who reported to the resort management there was a dolphin on the beach with a rope around it. They forgot to mention the fact that it was nearly skeletal….but that’s okay. We want to be sure it is a dolphin that has already been counted….and not an unreported death.

I had nothing to measure the length of the carcass except my flip flops.... x 9 lengths
I had nothing to measure the length of the carcass except my flip flops…. x 9 lengths

Perhaps I did feel like an April Fool….but in a good way I suppose. Not another dolphin death, just a resurrection…of sorts….VERY ‘of sorts.’

Every marine mammal that washes onshore  (bays and rivers included…not just the Gulf) and is reported has to be confirmed, measured, tissue samples taken and a lot of paperwork completed by the coordinator at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She is working to build the volunteer program so our state can do its part in reporting dolphin and manatee mortality and stranding.

It’s not a pleasant job as most ‘strandings’ are really recovery and examination of dead dolphins and manatees. But it is very necessary to gather the data and samples so the reason behind the nearly 900 dolphin deaths since the BP Oil Spill can be determined. Everyone isn’t capable of this kind of ‘death’ work…but there are different jobs you can do to help the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network. It’s one way you can make a difference.