Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday

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I was standing at Lulu’s Homeport in Gulf Shores, Alabama, listening to a band play a traditional Mardi Gras tune and felt a subtle, inner shift. A small glimmer of something started to awaken within me and it made me smile.

When embarking on a course of action it’s not necessarily easy because you (finally) found your path–your direction. When I answered an inner call to document the Gulf Oil Spill in my home state, I never imagined the emotional wreckage that would occur within me. I remember days before the oil began washing up on the Alabama beaches fervently trying to photograph as much of the Gulf beaches and marshes as possibly and while doing so sobbing, sometimes uncontrollably. Then when it began coming ashore and coating animals, beaches and filling the air with toxic fumes I was in a state of near exhaustion from anger, sadness, grief and the physical challenge of exposure to the toxic soup in the water and air.

It changed me. I remember going back to my mountain home for a few weeks each month and finding it very difficult to connect with anything pleasurable. I was numb from what I was seeing. Traumatized. And in some sort of cosmic disbelief that humans could destroy our planet…not just by an oil spill…but by endless sins committed against this beautiful planet and its inhabitants. Nothing touched me. Beauty was painful to see. Yet I couldn’t look away from the environmental destruction because finally I felt I was doing my legacy work.

Sometimes the cost of that commitment is high.

There was healing during the many weeks spent along the coast. Realizations, moments of inspiration but it was a week spent with Joanna Macy, in a Work That Reconnects workshop that truly helped me understand and process what I had been going through. And healing continues since my move back to the Gulf Coast.


Yes, I enjoy SUP boarding and walking the beaches and diving in the Caribbean. I’m not walking around in a constant state of gloom and doom. Yet finding a space for personal pleasure….just the inkling of fun for no particular reason…has continued to be challenging for me. The burden of our planet’s plight is heavy.

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But yesterday, while riding my sea turtle volunteer team’s float in the Gulf Shores Mardi Gras parade and hanging out at Lulu’s with my friend and her family provided a little spark of fun for the sake of fun….with the intention of fun. Imagine that.

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Gratitude for a day of fun runs deep within me. It helps to balance the deep grief that fuels my work to share the beauty of our planet…in the hope that people will realize the beauty of Earth and will do everything they can to help heal it. And heal the human relationship to it…and each other.

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Curious about the SUP board, the juvenile says hello.
Curious about the SUP board, the juvenile says hello.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that my best friends are finned or flippered, feathered or furred. My heart is touched by an encounter with wild dolphins or a gentle nuzzle of a manatee in ways that surpass any human connection. Maybe that’s why men I’ve shared my life with have moved on…never content to come second after my love of wild animals. Connection with all creatures wild is my Communion, a way to rise above the mundane and connect deeper, more fully with beings more evolved than humans. (Personal bias).

Today I received an early-morning call from a friend and she tearfully expressed her love of the woods surrounding her home was about to be logged, destroyed so the landowner could purchase a vehicle for his son. How can you put a price like that on a sacred woodland? When will humans learn that the planet is not a commodity to be pillaged, a land to rape for spoils but rather a sacred cathedral?

The mentality of profit at any cost is not a luxury we can afford any longer.

Joanna Macy’s teachings come to mind. She explains the necessary evolution from a life-taking society to a life-sustaining society. We are in a time of moving from a profit-at-any-cost world to a life-sustaining world. We are in the middle of the dissolution of the old way and are awakening to the reality of the mess we’re in economically, socially, environmentally. And within the mess, within the reality of how we have treated the planet and each other, we find positive change occurring. Many, many people are choosing to act from a place of responsibility, a place of compassion and love. We are waking up to the idea that it is possible to live in balance with respect for all life.

simonelipscomb (5)Wildlife reminds me of the connection we have to the whole. The manatees scarred by propellers remind me that humans still have a huge impact on fragile species, that we have done great harm to our planet. And when I see volunteers paddling their kayaks, overseeing interactions with these gentle beings and acting as protectors, hope is refueled.

While snorkeling recently, a juvenile manatee came to me and demanded my attention. My goal is passive observation, in or out of the water, but while filming them, one insisted on connecting face-to-face and drew me out from behind the camera. He swam in front of me, stopped and I felt his gentle spirit guiding me to remove the camera from between us and commune, one wild heart to another. I gently placed my hand aside his face and channeled as much love as I could to him and his kind. And I listened in silence to him.

In those moments we were one with each other. There was no me, no him. In that neutral stillness was birthed understanding. Deep, profound understanding.

simonelipscomb (4)As we parted, sobs wracked my body and soul for the trust demonstrated by a species so abused and wounded by humans. The future of this planet is in our hands. That is both frightening and empowering. What will we do to create a better world?  Will we do anything?

It can start with daily communion with the natural world. Let it show us our next step each day.

He checked out my dry suit, my fins, my snorkel, my camera...always learning more about humans, these little ones.
He checked out my dry suit, my fins, my snorkel, my camera…always learning more about humans, these little ones.
The Wisdom is Within

The Wisdom is Within

Lilly in her glory.
Lilly in her glory.

A dear friend of mine gifted me with an Amarilla kit for Christmas. When I opened the box to dig out the pieces…the container, growing medium and bulb….pale yellow shoots greeted me. It was ready to grow. Without roots planted, without water or sunlight…this bulb was ready. It knew exactly what to do.

I felt the excitement of the bulb as I surrounded its dry roots with moist soil. I packed it and placed it on my back porch to enjoy warm winter temps and filtered sunlight. And less than a month later, it has exploded with color and blossoms that appear to sing with joy.

During the past month I have sent snapshots created on my phone to Eydie to let her know how Lilly is progressing in her growth. But this morning, Lilly wanted to be photographed.

Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful?
Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful?

So I pulled out my big Nikon and micro lens, set up the tripod and gave Lilly my undivided attention. Due to recent cold weather she bloomed inside, beside an antique plate of my grandmothers and a watercolor done by a former mountain neighbor. She sits atop an antique table my grandmother treasured.

This morning’s meditation brought a message from a native grandmother. She reminded me to contemplate the Triple Goddess archetype…Maiden–where I was wounded. Mother–where I lived out the wounds and worked hard to heal them. Wise Woman–where I live a more whole expression of all that I am and work  now to help the Earth and Her children heal.

With the grandmothers
With the grandmothers

Lilly has three blossoms that fully opened…just this morning. Coincidence? Perfect timing? I’m beginning to understand that everything somehow miraculously works in perfect timing and the wisdom we need to guide us in our life is within us all along. Life is a journey of discovering, uncovering that wisdom and daring to tread the path that unfolds before us.

Animal Teachers

Animal Teachers

Two days ago I launched  my SUP board at a small, sandy beach on the river and noticed otter tracks. Native traditions speak of the otter as teaching playfulness. The water is an ancient symbol for the feminine, creative forces and emotions in life so otter’s play reminds us that we all need to allow our creative side a chance to come out and play and to not take life so seriously.


As I paddled I thought about the tracks and was excited to know that an otter had visited our little beach and reminded me to lighten up. Life had been very serious and heavy for the past couple of weeks so the otter’s visit was a little nudge to play a bit.

The otter tracks were still present when I launched my board this morning. It was foggy and cool, the dampness permeated everything. The cypress trees stood as silent centennials along the river bank. The absence of wind made paddling especially enjoyable as my board sliced through the mirror-like surface.

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I rounded a bend in the river and to my horror saw a pelican floating head down in the river. It was obviously dead but I wanted to remove it from the water to offer respect and to acknowledge its life….and death. I knelt down on my board and grasped a wing and pulled. It hardly moved. I looked closer and saw its neck was fully extended with the bill potentially stuck in the shallow bottom. I grasped both wings and pulled very hard. Nothing. I tried several times but made no progress.

How was this possible? In over 50 years of life spent enjoying the water and especially pelicans, I had never seen anything so strange. What happened? I wanted badly to free the bird but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help. Finally I gave up, said a little prayer and paddled on, still thinking about this strange occurrence. Still disturbed by such a strange accident. And determined to understand the teaching being offered.

I thought of the native teachings about pelicans–renewed buoyancy. “Being able to be buoyant and rest on top in spite of the heaviness of life circumstances. The pelican teaches that no matter how difficult life becomes, no matter how much you plunge, you can pop to the surface,” writes Ted Andrews in his book, Animal Speak.

Well…unless you miscalculate your next move and get yourself stuck…deadly stuck… like my poor friend did.

This strange occurrence, along with the traditional meaning, spoke to me quite deeply.


I pondered the teaching all day, especially the feeling of giving up and feeling heartbroken that I couldn’t free this magnificent bird from the entrapment of mud. Eventually the application became obvious.

No matter how much we want to help a friend or loved one who is trapped in their misery, sometimes we have to let go. We are powerless to change another’s situation, powerless to free them from their stuckness. We can be supportive, can pray for them and offer to help, but ultimately their freedom comes from their own willingness to dive into clarity and love and let the lightness of their being lift them up. We are powerless to save them from themselves.


Such grief and sadness comes with the realization that letting go is the only choice, the only thing left to do.

What a feeling of powerlessness….yet what a beautiful point of surrender. And for that lesson I am deeply grateful.

Rest in peace my friend.

The Gap

The Gap

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There’s a place within each of us where all is quiet and still. Where thoughts cease and worries are set aside and there is silence. Photographing nature brings me to The Gap more than anything else I do. And today I was lucky enough to find myself in this neutral place of stillness twice.

First, while kneeling on the beach photographing the waves all thoughts ceased and whatever I am was at one with the water, the sand, the air. What an exquisite experience.

simonephoto (28)Then while sitting on a concrete piling, crossed legs bracing my elbows to support my telephoto lens….it happened again. Completely lost in the moment, empty and yet full because of the complete oneness with the moment.

My path for this year is a journey into full immersion of the beauty of planet Earth. And to share what I experience with others. Today I celebrate the oneness of all life and the understanding that we truly are one with it.

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