Tag: Crystal River

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.




_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
Finding Eden

Finding Eden

IMG_8881Two days ago I passed the tunnel. Actually, it was a large culvert, partially filled with water, that goes under a road but it called out to me. I thought about it then but paddled on, intent on getting a good, physical workout.

Today, I paddled my SUP board for serenity, to find balance, to find center. The wind wasn’t as intense as before but it was still moving the water and me around enough that quiet, still channels were my goal.

IMG_8876The tunnel….so inviting. I paddled past it, to the end of the canal, and turned around. I almost decided against paddling through but the emerald green on the other side called to something deep within and so I slowly glided into the darkness.

Once inside, I felt contained and safe and marvelously happy. The verdant reflections on the other side called me onward and after pausing to take a couple of photographs, I slowly moved forward, reluctant to emerge as the feeling of containment was medicine. Big medicine.

It’s been a wild week. Intensely, insanely wild. Off-the-charts, ape-s*@t crazy wild. Was it only Monday–two days ago– I was emerging from a shower to awaken me at 4.30am and thought I should check my email in case news of a potential trip arrived. It did. And so I had to arrange air fare before leaving for Crystal River so I could be assured of a place on a humpback whale trip. A spot had opened up.

Then I wanted to order a hydrophone so I can record the singing of my whale brothers and so on the way south I was talking with sound-folks and trying to get everything ordered that would work with my current nature-sound recording equipment.

SimoneLipscomb (17)But back up a moment. Just days before I was invited to photograph the release of a manatee that I had helped rescue in the Magnolia River on January 4th. I felt lucky just to attend and watch quietly from the shore. Never did I imagine I would be asked to photograph Magnolia’s release. So of course, I had quite a buzz going from that upcoming event.

Add to that the humpback trip, finding a flight, ordering equipment, paying for the humpie trip and attending to all the details that trip involves while focusing on photographing the release of a manatee and documenting the Alabama Manatee Sighting Network’s tagging efforts….I think brain-fried is possibly as accurate a description as I can find.

And not sleeping well thrown into the mix..it has been an incredibly intense few days.

SimoneLipscomb (26)Magnolia’s release went well but within a few minutes time I was trying to stay clear of the manatee yet photograph and video her release and acclimation to the spring, try not to run over Sea World photographers who were running after the manatee and remember to adjust the settings on my camera when she went into a very bright part of the spring while clearing my snorkel, remembering to make sure the GoPro was actually underwater….you get the idea. Not easy but rewarding. And feel so grateful for the invitation. Profoundly grateful…thank you Ivan.

SimoneLipscomb (27)Rush back to hotel and try to pull video footage for the wildlife refuge and media here and in Alabama along with still images…..cram lunch so sweetly provided by the Sea Lab folks and then go out with three of the researchers into the Gulf tracking one of their manatees. Actually two but we won’t count the first one which led us on a very long, bumpy ride around grass beds resulting in Cas not being found. But finding Brody on the way back to the boat ramp and getting observation data on him. Late night…grunge dinner and hoped for sleep that was put off by insane partiers next door who had security called on them by their grumpy, tired neighbor.

IMG_8849Early morning to Homosassa River to track Cas with the gals from the Sea Lab. The tracking wasn’t working so well but we did hear his ping so we knew we were close. I spotted the satellite tag at the entrance to a canal and he was there with several friends exhibiting, shall we say, playful cavorting.

SimoneLipscomb (18)Kayla did an amazing job switching out his tag considering she had manatees on top of him, rolling on him and playing with the belt as she worked to attach a temporary tag, remove the old tag, attach a new tag and then remove the temporary tag. I watched in the water from a distance and had manatees swimming under my legs, nibbling my exposed ankles as I stood in shoulder-deep water, swirl around me checking me out. I got some very good photo ID shots of a very scarred manatee that made my heart hurt.

SimoneLipscomb (12)After observing Cas and his friends for a while longer from the boat, we headed back and were at the hotel by 1pm. I said goodbye and sat in my room looking at images and processing them, checking emails and social media. I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight then realized by 3pm that I had forgotten to eat.

Food helped revive me and I went back to the room to rest a while and ready myself for another SUP board paddle. I read an article on recent solar flares and a solar storm that was disrupting all sorts of human-related activities including sleep, health, radio signals and creating a lot of challenges for humans. Who knows how it affects animals.

And yesterday was the final of seven squares between Pluto and Uranus that began in 2012. Pluto is the bringer of change. My friend Steffan says, “Pluto is like the irresistible force, sweeping all before it. The only beneficial approach to this planet’s energies is to move in the direction it indicates. To do otherwise is to invite disaster.” Amen to that.

After reading the articles on Pluto and the solar storm, I thought back to the recent flurry of activity in my life and remembered that at the first of the year, in my new year’s eve meditation, I felt a strong wave of change coming into my life and knew this year was a year of intense and positive expression of my life’s work. January 1st found me in my dry suit helping with the rescue of a very sick manatee that died after being captured. But as I looked around at the large crowd of volunteers gathered on new year’s day, I knew that the meditation just hours before, was already coming true.

SimoneLipscomb (20)My life is quiet and lived in near solitude. My greatest love is to be in nature and to document the beauty I find there. I feel more animal than human and find animals so much easier to communicate with yet humans are the ones who hold the key to creating lasting, positive change. I knew this year was about putting myself and my work out into the world. It scared me as I looked around at the crowd gathered on new year’s day as I had asked them to come…and they responded with heart’s full of love. Why scared? Because I knew I could no longer hide and stay secluded in my quiet, peaceful world. I had to engage with others of my own species.

The adjustment hasn’t been easy. I have surrendered myself to the work, asking Spirit to open doors and promising to step through when they open. This all got going strongly just a few weeks after Magnolia was rescued on January 4th in Crystal River…where I met a marine biologist and his wife who invited me to Tonga. That was the trip I wrote about that started with a rainbow sky so powerful as I arrived in Crystal River that I had to stop just to take it in…and yes…and pulling up to Follow That Dream Parkway as the rainbow surrounded me.

SimoneLipscomb (30)Somehow that connection with Rich and his family and the rainbow experience opened doors that have continued to fly open. New camera housing for my D800, another manatee visit a couple weeks ago, meeting Ivan at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge who has helped with photographic opportunities, the humpback trip to the Dominican Republic, the two tagging trips with the Sea Lab. Finally, after so many years of very diligent, hard and sometimes frustrating work, a shift is happening. It feels like I was laying a very deep and strong foundation for a long, long time and now the structure is beginning to be built. And from where I stand it’s pretty amazing to see.

SimoneLipscomb (29)The passion I have, the love that runs so deep within for our Ocean Planet and all life here is at times very painful to experience for I see not only the beauty but the destruction. Documenting the oil spill helped me refocus on what is right and good and beautiful with our planet and so that’s my journey, my focus…my intention with every breath.

All of this forward movement in just a few months has been quite overwhelming. For three years after I moved back to the Alabama coast I felt as if I was awaiting instructions. It was maddening for me to sit and feel I was being told to wait…be still…be patient. But I had no other choice. And now I have three books lined up to produce. The first one is laid out and a Kickstarter campaign is about to launch to fund the printing of it. The second one is a children’s book on manatees and the third one has a title and I know the subject but am not yet sharing details…but I can say it’s about working together to generate positive change.

IMG_8886So after all of this, especially the intensity of the past three days, I found myself exhausted mentally and physically this afternoon but determined to get out on my board and just breathe with the wind and find that magical rhythm of stroke, pull, glide…stroke, pull, glide.

So the tunnel that called me was really a birth canal of sorts. When I emerged on the other side it was as if I entered another realm of green and water. The canal rested along side an alley sort of road and I could hear the sounds of traffic nearby but on the other side was palm trees, thick vegetation and wet, dense mats of lushness. It was surreal to slowly glide through the tucked-away surprise.

IMG_8892For me, it was Eden. I felt myself drop into a deep inner stillness where my core connected with nature strongly. Time evaporated into the warm air and once again I was in that sacred space where there is no separation between nature and me.

During the past couple of weeks I have met some of the nicest people who share a love of wildlife, the environment and humans, too. It feels as if my family is growing with brothers and sisters whose hearts are shiny and open. I am profoundly grateful…beyond words grateful.

I am ready.


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.

Water & Light

Water & Light

SimoneLipscomb (68)Translating nature’s beauty is why I do what I do. The reason I do this is two fold. First, it is what makes my heart sing. Second, if I can help others see the beauty of nature perhaps it will inspire them be good stewards of our water planet.

SimoneLipscomb (55)The recent scattering of manatees from the warm water springs has given me an opportunity to capture the beauty of their watery home. I have paid closer attention to the subtle beauty of the underwater world of fresh water springs.

SimoneLipscomb (48)Previously, through cave diving, I’ve been into the earth and felt the strength of springs as they push the life-blood of the planet through limestone; however, I’ve never taken the time to explore the open water around the springs. The past two days have given me the opportunity to explore little ‘caverns’ of dark roots and the secrets they have shared touch my life gently. It’s as though the beauty here is shy, bashful. Manatees are the rock stars yet surrounding them is an amazing wonderland.

SimoneLipscomb (31)Perhaps when we are open, we find bliss in other ways than those expected. Communing with tiny fish hiding among roots created joy within me. As I floated perfectly still on the surface, camera extended in front of me, fish came over to say hello in their fishy way. Gaining the trust of wild animals, whether manatees or fish, creates such peace within me.

SimoneLipscomb (60)Instead of feeling disappointed by not seeing manatees, I feel profound peace. They are out feeding after a long, cold winter. I am exploring realms of water and light. There is something to be said for simply going with the flow and allowing the day to bring beauty.

SimoneLipscomb (17)Open mind. Open heart. Bliss.