Tag: Magnolia River

Miracles Amidst the Flood

Miracles Amidst the Flood

SimoneLipscomb (28)My muddy boot bumped the bulkhead as I stepped up. It sounded like a bubble escaped from the soggy soil at the base of a piling. I put my foot down and looked. In a tiny puddle, less than an inch deep, a baby brim struggled. The receding water left the little fish in a quickly-disappearing pool.

It was a long reach but I managed to gently grasp the fish and walk it to the river. A few minutes more and the fish would have died. As I walked home I thought about the stories from our neighborhood and the surrounding area that seem like miracles to me.

photo 3First, one of my neighbors happened to wake up Tuesday night. He looked outside and saw that their home was surrounded by water. He awakened his family who quickly evacuated and proceeded to call everyone in the neighborhood. He still doesn’t know what awakened him.

His actions saved another neighbor’s car from being lost in the flood. It saved his family a lot of anxiety. Had they been in their home just a few minutes more they would have been trapped or worse, if they had tried to leave it once the water was a torrent of white-water they could have drowned.

One of our neighbors was trapped in her home. We called 911 but the fire department and sheriff’s heavy-duty rescue vehicles began to float in the current so they had to turn back. My car was parked away from the sheriff departments monster truck but somehow the driver nearly crushed my car. I say nearly because it was a mere three inches from backing over my car. He had already backed over a small tree because he couldn’t see.

Marine Resources officers arrived by a large flat-bottomed jet boat once the fire department and sheriff department couldn’t’ make it. They launched at the Magnolia River bridge trying to rescue our neighbor and others who live nearby. They checked on some people who were already in their second story and didn’t want to evacuate so they found our neighbor’s home. From a place of relative safety in her attic she saw them but couldn’t get to the window in time to get their attention. This probably saved three lives.

The current was outrageous and the river was up 12 to 15 feet above normal level. When the officers left her house they were losing control of their boat. The jets were taking in debris and becoming clogged so they were losing power and steering. They followed the lights of another neighbor’s home and as they were making their way to the porch got swept by the raging current into a tree. Their boat was pinned between the massive current and the tree and had no power or steering. It began to fill with water.

They managed to get it to a grassy area on the other side of my neighbor’s home and stood on the front porch after wading through two feet of water to land on the relatively dry porch. Had my trapped neighbor been in the boat it could have over-weighted it and they all could have entered the raging water.

SimoneLipscomb (22)The next morning at dawn another Alabama Marine Resources officer navigated his way via flooded roads to our neighborhood with a boat designed for swift water rescue. They launched it on our flooded street and made a successful rescue. Even though she spent a terrifying night in her attic, fearful her entire home was about to wash into the river, she made it out safely. During the dark night with an ailing boat she might not have been so lucky.

SimoneLipscomb (39)During the middle of the night I called my brother to let him know of the danger as he and his family live near a creek. Also, I wondered if he knew anyone with rescue equipment that could help our neighbor. I told him not to come out but he did anyway. The bridge was flooded so he couldn’t cross it. By now it was 1.30am.

He noticed a friend of his that lives near the bridge. He was trying to get his truck to higher ground. My brother gave him a tow. He saw him today, after the waters had subsided. His friend asked him why he happened to be there at exactly the right time to help him….at 1.30 in the morning. If he hadn’t been there, his friend would have lost all three vehicles. The truck they got out was the only thing that wasn’t flooded. Their home and two other cars were ravaged by storm water.

SimoneLipscomb (27)When I arrived on a neighbor’s porch as the water was rapidly rising, one of my neighbors wanted to attempt a rescue of our trapped neighbor. I recalled some of my basic swift water rescue training: 1) 6 inches of rapidly moving water can float a vehicle; 2) debris in flood waters can trap a person walking and thus cause them to fall and drown; 3) massive flood waters rushing as they were and at the depths they were would basically guarantee drowning; 4) we had no suitable vessel to attempt a rescue; 5) none of us had proper equipment or training (if you are not trained properly you put yourself and others–who would then have to rescue you–in serious and deadly danger); 7) it is totally unreasonable to contemplate a rescue in the circumstances in which we were experiencing. Sadly, people do not understand these basic rules and it leads to deaths. Needless deaths.

One more miracle before closing. Our community is a gated community. We have two large main gates that open with a keypad or remote. Our back gate, the one closer to the river, goes to Van Wezel drive. That particular gate opens only with a remote.

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This image was captured after the water level had dropped several feet.

The night of the flood one of our Van Wezel neighbors awakened to water filling his home. He got in his truck knowing that the wooden bridge exiting his street would be unsafe but also knowing the gate coming into our neighborhood might not open because of the water. When he got to it, the gate was already open and so he could drive to safety. His house was completely flooded. Had the gate not been open he could have drowned.

SimoneLipscomb (19)My mind is fatigued with lack of sleep and attempting to grasp the magnitude of the flood. I paddled my kayak down the Magnolia River from our neighborhood past the osprey nest this afternoon and saw homes that had been flooded, one that was completely gutted and enormous damage to homes, boats…trees. I heard two people arguing and crying as they tried to clean their property. I heard others laughing and joking as they surveyed their destroyed home. So much loss and damage and so many emotions. Neighbors were checking on neighbors and trying to help them find missing boats and other property.

SimoneLipscomb (23)Amidst the elemental power of water that raged people were drawn together in support and concern for each other. And while we couldn’t physically rescue our neighbor, perhaps the prayers that were lifted through the torrential rain and never-ended lightning helped create little miracles. We were clear when we prayed aloud…We need help. Bring your angels to those in need. Protect our neighbor and give her strength. Let her feel the embrace of angels this night as the flood waters surround her. Protect the rescue workers who brave the storm to save others. Help us all know the power of love and strength.

SimoneLipscomb (10)We are all stronger from the experience. We survived. Everyone on the Magnolia River did as well…and that truly is a miracle considering none of us suspected the fierceness and level of the flood.

SimoneLipscomb (29)As a P.S. I would like to advocate for our marine resources officers and fire departments to be equipped with advanced swift water rescue training and gear that keeps them safe. The two officers that arrived soggy and cold came very close to overturning in flood waters. They had a boat that wasn’t equipped to handle flood waters, they had no swift water rescue gear. This needs to be a priority for them as first responders. The fire department guy said they were swift water rescuers but had no safety gear and no rescue equipment. I want our first responders to have the training that will keep them safe and enable them to help others. How can we start a push for this to happen in our state? Who can lend support to them? Thanks for helping.



Two Days Before Earth Day

Two Days Before Earth Day

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Curacao…a beautiful island in the southern Caribbean

Two days before Earth Day four years ago I was underwater. The strong taste of petroleum filled my mouth with every inhale. I signaled my dive buddies to surface under the star-filled night sky. Their air was fine. I didn’t know the source of the weird taste so we submerged but I stayed rather shallow and kept the dive brief.

I remember surfacing and turning back to look over my shoulder into the dark Ocean. A wind swept across the water and I felt a chill that shook my core. It was a very ominous way to end a dive.

simonelipscomb (15)A few days later I was sitting in the Atlanta airport after the flight from Curacao and saw the footage showing Deepwater Horizon in flames. When I am in the Caribbean I unplug as much as possible so had missed the news coverage of the explosion until I was almost back to Asheville. As I sat in disbelief on the vinyl-covered seat, clarity came and I knew it was time to go home.

Years ago I had promised the Gulf that I would help but didn’t know how. I heard a very distinct reply on the inner…You will know when it’s time to come home. The summons had been given. It was time.

I tracked the oil after arriving back to my mountain home and timed my arrival on the Alabama Coast, my birth place, a few days before the brown goo arrived. I wanted to document the unspoiled marshes and shores. I could sense the menace approaching but could do nothing except be a witness.

I remember one day I had been to Fort Morgan and was driving back to my mom’s on Bon Secour Bay. I stopped by a marsh and took photographs of large, orange boom in Mobile Bay. When I got back in the car I lost it. I mean really, really lost it. I started sobbing and screaming….how could we do this to our planet? It was as if I was experiencing a panic attack for our planet. I thought that I was witnessing the beginning of the end of life as we knew it.

One day as I walked the trail to the beach at Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, I crested the top of the trail on the dune and saw before me a crime scene. Big blobs of smelly, brown goo were scattered all along the beach. I called the 800 number to report it and stayed for what seemed hours until somebody came to document it. Tearfully I sat on the sand and not knowing what to do I started singing to the Gulf of Mexico….I prayed and asked forgiveness for all humans. But mostly I grieved. My tears fell among crude oil staining the beach.

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When the oil first came ashore it was marked with driftwood and gloves…I couldn’t help but enjoy the message this glove was giving.

simonelipscomb (13)One week each month for the first year I returned to the Gulf of Mexico and documented seven areas of beach beginning at Fort Morgan and going to Fort Pickens, Florida. I remember a day in early July when I was standing at a tidal pool watching a little fish gasp in the grip of death as the bubbling crude oil, dispersant and salt water suffocated her. I was pretty close to the end of my coping skills. After days of breathing the benzene-ridden air, dealing with heat and the horrors of what I was witnessing I literally almost lost my shit, so to speak, watching that fish die.

simonelipscomb (9)Standing with tears flowing and sobbing I heard someone call my name. It jerked me out of the spiral of grief and I saw my friend Sherry, who I hadn’t seen in years, coming toward me. She gave me a big hug and we stood for a moment. I believe God or Mother Earth…or both… sent her to me that day. She was working on a clean-up crew and just ‘happened’ to be there.

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simonelipscomb (7)My spiritual practice of meditation helped me make it through that year. My friend and teacher from England pulled me aside at a workshop almost a year after the spill and asked how I was doing. I told her how difficult it was to witness such needless destruction. She told me that there was a reason I was witnessing it and to stand firm in my love of the planet. Many friends from all over the world followed my blog posts and sent support to the Gulf and all life within and around it. If my actions could bring the truth to a few people, it was worth it.

simonelipscomb (8)The process of personal healing has been long after that year. The journey back to wholeness led me to return home permanently to the Gulf Coast. While I haven’t really understood what my role here is now, I have enjoyed each moment spent with sea turtle hatchlings, manatees, ospreys, eagles….the salt marshes and river. The very things that broke my heart and spirit have been my healers.

simonelipscomb (17)Much of what I shared during the spill and cleanup was what was happening on the beaches. The personal struggle was small compared to the ecosystem and the community of relationships within it. Yet humans, too, are a part of the community of nature. We are deeply engaged in the cycle of life whether we acknowledge it or not.

simonelipscomb (23)A week with Joanna Macy in Rowe, Massachusetts, allowed a group of thirty of us, working to make a positive difference on the planet, have a safe place to facilitate our healing and help us understand the process that is happening globally. Perhaps the most important lesson learned that week was that all of us are needed to, step-by-step, be midwives to the Great Awakening or as Joanna calls it, The Great Turning.

simonelipscomb (18)We cannot afford the luxury of turning our eyes away from the horrendous abuses humans do to the planet, to animals, to each other. We are all connected…we are one family of life surviving on a living planet.

A kid's book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.
A kid’s book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.

This Earth Day, let us remember our connection to our magnificent planet…the Ocean, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, otters, rivers, osprey, eagles, the kid across the street, the massive oak trees and the tiniest flower. We are One.

simonelipscomb (21)The taste of petroleum in my regulator on the dive in Curacao couldn’t be explained. On an energetic level I believe I connected with the disaster happening in the Gulf of Mexico while I was in Curacao, in the southernmost island of the Caribbean. It showed me, without doubt, that I am connected to the Ocean…the One Ocean…and to all life. And so are you my friends

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To order my kid’s book on the oil spill or other books….please CLICK THIS LINK or visit Coastal Art Center in Orange Beach, AL or Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL.

Muddy Toes…Happy Heart

Muddy Toes…Happy Heart

simonelipscomb (3) copyAs soon as I stepped onto my SUP board, a large shadow passed overhead. Wings gliding through air were so close the rush of air through feathers sounded like soft music. I watched the pelican navigate upriver as I turned my board around to head down…down river.

Those first few paddle strokes felt amazing. Weeks had passed since my last visit with the river and so I found myself unable to resist her call after my Pure Barre workout. A hearty breakfast and I was out the door after grabbing my cap and waist-wrap PFD. It only took a few minutes to strap the wheels on my board and begin the short walk to the water.

photoBliss began to fill me as my mind expanded through the sky reflected in the still water. And then, having paddled less than 100 yards, a large tree blocked my progress. At some point during the past five weeks a maple tree fell from the eroding bank and blocked the narrow passage of the Magnolia River headwaters.

Not to be deterred, I turned around, exited the water, re-strapped the board to the wheels and walked further down river to another put-in point. It wasn’t the white, sandy beach I am used to but it worked.

SimoneLipscombThe black mud oozed between my toes as I gingerly walked my board over submerged tree limbs. It wasn’t ideal but finally…ahhhh….I was free.

The wind picked up so once I was into the Cold Hole it gave me an immediate challenge. It didn’t really matter. I felt like I was getting reacquainted with an old friend.

The new floating dock in the Cold Hole had been whitewashed by grateful pelicans who discovered it as the perfect perch from which to sit and hunt. All the way past the bridge and onward the splashes of pelicans dropping from heavenly realms created wondrous music that blended with the steady dip and splash of the paddle blade as it sliced the surface.

Osprey...image taken in Florida last winter

An osprey cried overhead as I disturbed her morning’s reverie in the high pine tree just before Devil’s Hole. Cormorants swam and pattered on the surface of the water as they gained momentum to fly.

heron7Another large bird flew beside me with a large branch in his beak. The great blue heron flew up and over my head to the pine tree where he and his gal had raised a baby last year. Patiently waiting on the new nest was his mate.

Because the wind was quite brisk I hadn’t planned to go very far but the river was like a magnet for my soul and I was unable to resist her attraction. So on I went.

Past the snowy egret….past the snag where I saw the bald eagles last autumn. Past the double tree snag that was now filled with buzzards…past the last house and into the place where the river is wilder, more feral. My turning point would be the bend in the river where the sandhill cranes mesmerized me with their haunting calls during the migration last year. I wanted to peek around the bend and see marsh grasses further on…those sacred rushes where amazing nursery habitat for so many fish and sea creatures hugged the banks of the widening river.

SimoneLipscomb (2)Clouds grew darker and began to organize into layers of gray-blue puffy formations. It was the nudge I needed to turn homeward. With the wind pushing me now, I paddled steadily back to the muddy beach but my mind was lost in geometries of elongated ovals of dark blue ringed with purple, reflections on the surface, distorted by wind.

SimoneLipscomb (6)Too soon my board nosed into the submerged limb and the black ooze welcomed my toes as I stepped over otter footprints and climbed the sandy bank with my board. Some of my human friends are hunkered down for another North Carolina snow storm. Another is recovering in a hospital after being hit by a drunk driver and air-lifted to a trauma center. Other friends are recovering from serious surgery and on the list grows. So today…on this beautiful day…I feel blessed that somehow grace has touched my life and given the gift of the river.

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Eagles, Sandhill Cranes….Abundant Beauty

Eagles, Sandhill Cranes….Abundant Beauty

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Pelican flying nearby

It was a most glorious day here along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Sun was abundant and the temperature may have reached 70 degrees. This is my favorite time of year here and makes up for those humid, 90 degree summer days.

After an early morning Pure Barre workout followed by hedge clipping from a ten foot ladder, I wasn’t sure about SUP boarding today but even after the yard work and intense workout, I simply couldn’t miss some river time.

photo copyI hadn’t planned to paddle hard given that I felt my workout needs were met for the day, but the wind–blowing upriver–caused me to dig deep from the beginning and so I resigned myself to finishing the day with another intense workout.

Just past the bridge an osprey sat silhouetted in a tall pine tree. At the corner before Devil’s Hole, two brown pelicans floated along the surface.  Even though I gave them a wide berth they flew off a bit grumpily. As I paddled past the beach at Devil’s Hole, the tree with the heron nest caught my eye as a huge bird moved. The juvenile bald eagle from two days ago was still hanging around. Sweet! This was exciting. Perhaps he or she will be making the river home.

photoDownriver I paddled, digging against the wind but not complaining. Pelicans were floating and fishing on both sides of the river as it widened. When I got to Bemis Bay an abundance of the large diving birds were feasting on my juvenile mullet friends. I was so caught up in watching the pelicans that I nearly missed two bald eagles flying together, touching, grabbing talons briefly and then flying away. Did I just see that? I was in nature-rapture.

photo copy 4Continuing my downriver paddle I came across another bald eagle in solo flight and one more off in the distance. I felt as if I was in a shamanic journey and a new spirit animal was coming to befriend me. I stopped paddling and stood laughing hysterically. What else could I do? It was beyond my ability to take in, to even believe.

Then I looked up, toward the sun, and there was a huge gathering of large birds riding the thermals over the river. No matter how much I paddled, I never got as close as I wanted to. They were very high and gliding air currents in large circles. White wing feathers glistened in the brilliant light and were visible against the blue sky. Sandhill cranes in migration. I have seen this in Florida before but never here.

photo copy 7Could my ability to take-in more beauty expand any more? Then SPLASH! A pelican landed maybe fifteen feet from my board. When I glanced back he was swallowing a fish. Then on a few more minutes and a huge mullet landed less than a board length away from my board after making a big leap.

Great egrets, shining white in their fine feathers, crowned several of the cypress trees as they sat observing the river happenings. I drifted under them on my way back upriver as the breeze gently pushed me.

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Pelicans perched at the no wake zone.

I sit now, reflecting on the abundance of life and extraordinary experiences that happened during my paddle. When I got back to the wide area of the river we call Bemis Bay, I knelt down and watched the two eagles play…or whatever they were doing. Not that many years ago this would not have been possible but thanks to reintroduction efforts, the bald eagle is beginning to thrive here. And come to think of it, so am I.

Thanks for reading. Comment and/or share as you wish. May your day be filled with abundant beauty.

Paradise Awaits

Paradise Awaits

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Adult Bald Eagle. Image taken last winter in Florida

I glanced up as an eagle snatched a fish from the water and flew away. Did I just see that? I thought to myself. Ospreys are common companions on the river but a bald eagle? I was ecstatic! As I glided in raptor-bliss a snowy egret flew overhead and then a brown pelican nearly collided with me as his six foot wing span overshadowed my SUP board. “Dude!” I said aloud. Smiling, I paddled on.

Crisp air and clear blue skies, filled with beautiful birds, felt like paradise. The entire four miles was one continuous flow of beauty–an experience that opened my heart with awe and gratitude.

Osprey...image taken in Florida last winter
Osprey…image taken in Florida last winter

The river time started with huge schools of juvenile mullet circling and moving together as my board gently glided through their watery home. The water was so clear I could see them glancing up at me as I paddled. Occasionally one of their scales would sparkle in the morning sun and this display of rainbow light caused giggles to explode from my core. Precious life. Sacred life. So holy, so amazing.

simonelipscomb (4)As I paddled downriver alligator gars surfaced to breathe, turtles sunned on logs, floating pelicans carefully watched my antics. Quietness, stillness was so evident–so appreciated by this soul. When the bald eagle caught my attention by grabbing a meal, I was already blissed-out as just a few minutes earlier an osprey had passed overhead with a fish. Life was evident with every turn of my head.

The paddling meditation continued as I moved further downriver. Reaching with each stroke of the paddle, engaging my core, pulling myself to the paddle blade as it resisted the water, I felt my physical core engage like never before. Training in the Pure Barre classes I take has helped me learn to isolate core muscles and work to strengthen them. Applying what I learn in the studio to my stand up paddle board workouts feels amazing. A light bulb flashed overhead.

simonelipscomb (8)It was easy to see the parallel between fitness endeavors and life’s journey. By applying something I learned in a studio class to my SUP boarding, I saw how my work paid off on the river. Each stroke produced an explosion of forward momentum. Likewise, when I explore my inner life by going deeper into my emotional core, I clear out and heal old wounds thus leading to big leaps of forward momentum in life.

When we gain courage to go deeper, work deeper, the payoff is greater awareness, greater freedom. This morning I was able to see beauty and allow it to go deep within to touch my most vulnerable self. Had I been focused on worries and fretting about anything I would have missed the tremendous blessing of abundant life along the river.

simonelipscomb (3)Pema Chodron writes, ” The armor we erect around our soft hearts causes a lot of misery. This shield, this cocoon is just made up of thoughts that we churn out and regard as solid. In fact, this shield is made out of passing memory.” These passing memories of things that happened in the past can close us to life. As she writes, “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” No matter what struggles and disappointments we have experienced on our life’s journey, only by choosing to let go of these painful memories can we lighten up. Letting go of ego, of the storyline of being wounded, helps us move into the present moment, the only place where happiness is found, the only place where paradise awaits.