Tag: Gulf Oil Spill

Deepening with Nature

Deepening with Nature

I wrote a friend tonight about the correlation between my connection with nature and feeling at home in myself. Being with humpback whales, spotted dolphins, manatees….all have given me vast experiences of connection to Oneness with the Universe and help take me deeper into relationship with my Self.

Other moments photographing nature in the mountains or in wild places in nature, such as Ireland and England, have opened doorways to inner realms of vast expanse that changed my life. I also realized, as I wrote to her, that I haven’t had a really profound, ah-ha type, nature connection since returning from Ireland last February and that’s partly why I’ve been out of sorts lately.

Connection with nature is my rock, my anchor to deepening the connection to my inner realms. And really, there isn’t an outer and inner anything. It’s all One. The truth is simply this….when I align deeply with nature I feel Oneness, the lines of separation vanish and I am at peace.

I go outside daily and cycle often at sunrise but it’s different to go outside and be outside. What keeps me from being with nature?

Empathic distress probably has a lot to do with my unrest of late. If what I value most is in danger of disappearing, I am at risk for anxiety and stress and separation from Oneness….all of us who love our planet face those same risks…humans, animals, plants….all life is at risk. If the places and animals I love the most deteriorate and disappear, then what? It is a very stressful time to be alive because we see what is at risk–everything.

What is this environmental and social nightmare we are collectively creating?

While I can be active and make socially and environmentally good choices, the most important action I can take is to develop a strong practice that takes me into Oneness, into nature…deep into Nature.

John Muir, my favorite naturalist and nature writer reminds me… “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

And Black Elk reminded us, “Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”






A few decades ago I stood on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and listened to Her through the waves and wind. “I feel like I should be here helping you,” I said aloud. You will know when to return. With that answer, I returned to the Piedmont of North Carolina.

April 20, 2010 I was leading a night dive in Curacao, 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, and tasted an oily flavor in the air I was breathing. I stopped and surfaced and asked others if they had similar experiences with their tanks….none were noted. I continued leading the dive being very cautious and diving relatively shallow just to be safe.

Upon returning to the Atlanta airport two days later, I learned of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The night of the dive was the night the rig exploded and sank…and the nightmare of the largest oil spill in US history began. Sitting in the airport I remembered the sea’s answer…You will know when to return.

And so, for the next year I spent a week of nearly every month back at the Alabama coast documenting and writing about the disaster. I traveled back and forth from Asheville, where I lived at the time. And finally, the work led me to live along the coast.

Within a couple weeks of moving here I found sea turtle volunteer opportunities and a bit later, manatee volunteer training and volunteering. Both became very important in my life. But after six years here, and two children’s books and two photography-inspirational books, it felt like my work here was coming to a pause….a long pause….a very long pause and I knew it was time to open to the next chapter.

The sunset….oh, yes. The sunset.

I walked along the beach a couple nights ago and found myself at the water’s edge asking Her permission to wrap up the work here and move back to the mountains. Well done, daughter. Return to the mountains to be nurtured in the lush green and fresh running waters, I felt more than heard.

Nearing the end of the walk I was on the boardwalk leaving the beach when the western horizon drew my attention. Perhaps a pause before leaving wouldn’t hurt.

Little-by-little the most amazing sunset I have ever seen began to illuminate the sky. My heart opened with deep gratitude. I have witnessed such sadness here….oil covering animals and beaches–the smell burning my eyes and throat years ago and recently a critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and a huge loggerhead sea turtle washed ashore dead on my last two sea turtle patrols. But the sky reminded me of the gift of beauty that has also been experienced during my six years here.

It seemed to be a thank-you…a gift that will remain burned into my memory.

As I write this my dog is running in his sleep as he lays beside me on the bed. He’s off adventuring in his dreams. I welcome the next adventure as I don my hiking boots and walk into the welcoming arms of the oldest mountains on the planet…camera in hand, note pad ready and heart open.

Truth…Where Are You?

Truth…Where Are You?

SimoneLipscombToday I was reminded of how a lack of clarity can be brutal to a person’s psyche. It’s just been a strange day. I got an email that ripped the understanding of my world apart, saw a person dead, passed out or asleep in a ditch in front of a tavern, and pushed myself hard cycling for 25 miles hoping it would burn off the crazy. It didn’t work. I finished the ride and was just hot, sweaty and still crazy.

Another email supposedly clarifying the first one left me more confused and more crazy-feeling. Just speak plainly. Just tell me the truth. Thank you.

IMG_2333But truth is in short supply.

People are sorting through half-truths all over the planet. Who can tell a lie from the truth when words are coming from a politician’s mouth? Is the government lying about how much oil leaked from Shell’s pipes in the Gulf a few weeks ago. Do corporations lie to avoid fines or criminal charges? Shot a gorilla in a zoo because their tranquilizer gun was where? Pesticides are safe. GMO’s are safe.  It’s okay to destroy the planetary ecosystems because….what is the ‘truth’ today? In your life? In mine? For our planet?

People seem to say anything that will get them what they want, regardless of the percentage of fact included. Why is honesty such a skittish commodity?

SimoneLipscomb (1)Telling the truth may create reactions in others that are scary. If we really knew how much harm we do to our bodies by ingesting pesticide-ridden food would we rise up and grow our own? Would we ditch medical practices that are more harmful than good? The atmosphere itself seems congested with lies that protect corporations, governments, the 1%….. and damn all other life on the planet.

SimoneLipscomb (6)What started as a simple question, early this morning, snowballed into this thesis–or rant–on half-truths and created a wave of crazy in me that longs for truth, even if it hurts, even if its scary. I want all things hidden to be exposed. I want the government, corporations, politicians and every single one of us to let go of the fear of speaking the truth. Or is the fear that we simply cannot handle the truth?

Photograph Summer 2010...Shell Oil
Photograph Summer 2010…Shell Oil

Let’s start with honesty and build on that. Shall we? I can handle the truth. Can you?



The Bottom Line is Love

The Bottom Line is Love



Eva Saulitis
Eva Saulitis

Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas, was written by Eva Saulitis. It’s a very personal story of over twenty-five years of connection with transient orcas in Alaska. In this touching account Eva shares the life and death of a pod of orcas that lived near the Exxon Valdez spill area. While it is beautifully written, it’s also incredibly sad for not only does she tell the story of their death, she tells the story of her untimely death due to cancer.

And it makes me wonder…..what about the Gulf Coast? What will happen to those of us who worked to clean up the spill or document its affects? 

The BP Deepwater Horizon spill was far worse in volume that Valdez. The coverage area, humans exposed, wildlife exposed….what will be the long-term story that unfolds along the Gulf Coast?


Internet image of orcas
Internet image of orcas

While reading Into Great Silence, there were many times I paused to contemplate the profound love Eva had for the whales and their waters…the forests surrounding them…the bears….salmon….seals….dolphins. Here’s a excerpt from page 92:

9 July 1989–Yesterday, Mary and I hiked on Crafton Island, not realizing it had been heavily oiled. We found an oil-coated river otter skull. Even the grass above tide line was black. I told Mary about the first time I’d come there. One spring day in 1987, a fisherman friend had invited me for a skiff ride. It was an old, wooden skiff, and he’d perched atop the outboard’s cowling so the engine wouldn’t fall off. Here, I told Mary, was where we’d searched for glass balls among bleached driftwood. Here’s where we’d found wild irises. here’s where we’d sat on the wreck of an old boat and talked all afternoon. I’d never met anyone so earthy, so entirely of a place, embodying an all-out, organic love for the Sound. I’d only begun to recognize that in myself. “Why aren’t you married to him?” Mary asked. I told her I was married to the place.

SimoneLipscomb (4)I remember walking on a beach at the Alabama coast that was heavily oiled– my eyes and throat burning from the smell of crude oil and dispersant– asking myself why I was there. For a week of each month for a year I left my home in Asheville and my husband to travel to my place of birth to document through photography and writing the effects of the disaster. Why am I doing this? I asked.

SimoneLipscomb (3)It was grueling, depressing, hot, horrible work. I had the freedom to leave whenever I wanted to escape the black death that coated the beaches and the stench of hot fumes filling the air. Every time I began to drive into the mountains of North Georgia, on my way back to North Carolina, I remember feeling relief, feeling I could breathe again. It felt as if a weight lifted off of my chest as I made my way home. To safety. To clean air.

Adjusting to being away from the disaster was difficult though. I was so depressed it was almost impossible for me to invite laughter or pleasure into my life. I felt guilty for enjoying myself given the dire circumstances at the coast. It felt as if the world was ending and life as I had known it was gone due to a needless, careless catastrophe.

SimoneLipscomb (6)So back to the question: Why am I doing this? 

The only answer that ever came was….someone needed to witness the disaster with an open heart and mind. Not as scientist or politician or oil company representative….just a witness that loved the place.

So I visited seven beaches for a year and walked them, photographed, took video footage of them and wrote about them. My tears mixed with the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico and I stood as witness to the pain and suffering of life there.

SimoneLipscomb (23)This kind of experience changes a person. Something happens within the mind and heart that shifts the perspective so completely that life can never return to how it was before. A person cannot return to ‘not knowing’ what they know. They can’t un-see or un-feel the multitude of visual images and emotions that were experienced on those wounded shores.

My heart broke for the ghost crabs and blue crabs, the flounders, shrimp, fish, dolphins, string rays, sea gulls, terns, osprey, pelicans….for the humans that would eventually become sick from exposure to such high-levels of toxicity. Nothing is the same after witnessing this.

_TSL1859 1.08.19 PM-2I was certain that humans would awaken and create immediate and lasting change after the spill, but it didn’t happen. This was incredibly disappointing to me.

After documenting the spill and its aftereffects I noticed people responded strongly to images of beauty and stories of nature depicting the profound relationship experienced with wild places and wild life. It felt like a natural evolution of my work and efforts to shift from death and destruction to beauty, specifically the beauty of the Ocean.

I haven’t forgotten what awakened my own sense of urgency to protect our planet, our Ocean. And the deep sense of place it instilled.

Eva reminded me of the love we develop for places that touch our lives. We become a part of these places and the more we invest our time, energy and work into them, the deeper the connection we have with them. Their wounding becomes our wounding. Their health, our health. Their death, our death…metaphorically and literally.

Why do we risk our own safety to help? The bottom line is love.

SimoneLipscomb (4) copy
Photograph by Brent Durand of me diving in the Sea of Cortez.


This is Why I Cried

This is Why I Cried

IMG_3140Driving to the state park to walk with Buddy, I was listening to the Eagles Long Road Home. Glenn Frey is gone? He wasn’t a personal friend but the music of the Eagles was the soundtrack of my youth. Peaceful, Easy Feeling is probably my favorite of their earlier songs and brings back the innocence of younger days. The song that spoke to me this morning was one from their more recent work and tears flowed as it played….”I’m not gonna say a word. I know I can’t change your mind. You know where you need to go. I know I’ll be left behind. I won’t hold you back, I won’t stand in your way. If you need to make a new start…But I still wanna know when my arms let you go…what do I do with my heart.” I was sitting in my husband’s blue truck when I first heard this song and realized our relationship was slipping away. Nearly four years have passed since I last saw him and when this song plays that memory rushes in.

800_1368But it wasn’t just a love song and music from my young adult years that touched me the past few days. David Bowie died of cancer. Then Alan Rickman (Snape…Harry Potter). But Eva Saulitis died, too. She was a marine biologist that documented the decline of an transient orca population in Alaska that has never produced a surviving calf since the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. As Krista Langlois said, “Her own life and those of the orcas were spiraling into the sea together.” Eva died of cancer. Bowie died of cancer. Rickman….and countless others whose name we will never know died of cancer….are dying of cancer. Epidemic?

Photograph Summer 2010...Shell Oil
Photograph Summer 2010…Shell Oil…Courtesy BP 

Recently President Obama said he was forming a new initiative to cure cancer. I appreciate your work Mr. President but it’s not a cure we need…it’s prevention. It’s cleaning our polluted waters and sky. We are poisoning the planet and therefore we are poisoning ourselves. Orcas are at the very top of the food chain and therefore consume the highest level of toxins. It’s the same with humans.

Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman's body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth
Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth

Times like this morning, when death and planetary challenges seem so evident, are a knock on my inner door. When I was a teenager we knew fossil fuels were problematic yet nothing changed. We were told to turn off lights back in the 1970’s to conserve energy but solar and wind development took a back seat for decades. There have been improvements…remember Erie Canal being so polluted it caught on fire? Thankfully the EPA tightened restrictions on much of the industrial processes.

Gulf State Park Summer 2010
Gulf State Park Summer 2010

Given all this…how can anyone suggest lessening EPA standards and regulations? We know that corporate industry will do anything to save money, to make more profit. Deregulation would increase already polluted waters and land and air. Why is this even a political battle? Anyone with an active, healthy brain can easily see the link between cancer and human-created environmental pollution and toxins. How could anyone who cares about their health or the health of children vote for candidates who lobby against the environment?

_TSL1690My heart breaks over pollution and toxins that are killing our wildlife….killing us. Take that Eagles song and sing it to our Earth Mother and all life on this sacred planet…”Tell me you’re not leavin’ now, Tell me you’re not leavin’…..Tell me that you’re gonna stay, Please say you’ll stay with me, baby….For this and this alone I pray, Fall down on my knees and pray…I’ll do anything. Yes, I would to save what we have, To keep you by my side…I’ll love you ’til death do us part….But what do I do, what do I do when I’m still missing you? What do I do…what do I do with my heart?”

SimoneLipscomb (1)Innocent no longer….the carefree days of youth have passed. The loss we face is much greater than a lover or music icon or actor or even a diligent marine biologist. We are at the brink of losing much more than we can even imagine. This is why my heart breaks. This is why I cried today.