Tag: Magnolia River

Flashes of Insight Come as Floods

Flashes of Insight Come as Floods

It is usually difficult to see a current or flow in the Magnolia River
It is usually difficult to see a current or flow in the Magnolia River

Today I’ve been reflecting on the river I paddled on yesterday morning. I usually walk my SUP board from my home down to it regularly so yesterday morning I thought I’d get in a paddle before rain moved into the area. I checked the radar to make sure and we were in a wide-enough window of clear skies so I excitedly donned my PFD which is a unique contraption folded at my waist and inflatable when needed by pulling a handle at my right hip. Also, since I started later than normal I grabbed a hat, sunshades and of course my paddle and board.

The river was higher than normal but not flowing so fast as to cause much concern
The river was higher than normal when I put in but not flowing so fast as to cause too much concern

After the short walk to the river I scouted it prior to unsaddling my board from the wheeled carrier and had some concerns. The river was definitely flowing much higher than normal but it wasn’t unmanageable. Of course I would be paddling against current when I returned so I stood and watched it for a few moments before scampering back to my board and going for it.

The narrow part of the river where I live has a lot of overhanging trees. They were much closer to my head and two unsuccessfully tried to knock me off my board. But the muddy water cleared up when I got to the Cold Hole, not far from my put-in beach so I was happy. Of course, had I really thought about it, I would have realized that the water had just started to rise. That bit of inspiration came later.

A mile and a half down river and marvelous sights to behold filled me with raw joy.  When I arrived at the Devil’s Hole a juvenile great blue heron flew back to the nest with a parental unit who then regurgitated breakfast for said youngster after a full-blown hissy fit was acted out by the hungry bird. I stopped paddling and watched the drama with keen interest and then continued down river.

Both juvenile ospreys had flown away from their nest overlooking Bemis Bay. I was excited to know of their graduation from standing on the edge of the nest and flapping their large wings to being able to soar over the beautiful cypress forest, river and bays.

The skies started to look dark and heavy so I turned back toward home and picked up my pace. It felt great to dig deep and move my Yolo Cruiser speedily upriver.

Not something to paddle in....given the trees floating past and nasty water
Not something to paddle in….given the trees floating past and nasty water

When I arrived back at the bridge the water level had increased so I couldn’t do my usual hand-exchange with the long paddle. I had to use care not to hit the bottom of the bridge.

The Cold Hole was looking rather interesting by the time I got back. The flow on the narrow part of the river had significantly increased in the hour since I left. I looked around and realized I could take my board out on a neighbor’s dock and walk back home if need be but that would mean leaving an expensive carbon fiber board at the mercy of honest (hopefully) people. I checked out the flow and decided to chance it. My only concern was the small beach still being there when I arrived back at it.

The beach was non-existent not long after I exited the water.
The beach was non-existent not long after I exited the water.

It was a very tough paddle. All manner of debris was floating past but mostly small items so I dodged them. And I knelt down on my board to add a bit of insurance to my safety. Falling into flood water,besides being a health hazard, could cause serious injury and stress. The sphincter factor was definitely there but I made it to the almost-disappeared beach which had evolved into a tiny bit of sand.

Great job, I thought. Whew! That was a rush.

Magnolia Springs Fire Department in our 4th of July Parade
Magnolia Springs Fire Department in our 4th of July Parade

An hour later, after eating breakfast and showering, I walked with my mom to the July 4th parade in Magnolia Springs and we walked along the Cold Hole. I looked up river, to where I had struggled not long ago, and witnessed a raging river. The Cold Hole had become a swirling mass of logs, trees and debris. Just upriver there were muddy, standing waves. I realized how very lucky I had been but also how very reckless I had been with my safety.

Several years ago I did some swift water rescue training in North Carolina and in reflecting on the river and my decision to paddle it, I realize I made serious errors in judgment. First, flash flooding brings water from other areas to streams and rivers. We had very little rain in our area but just east of us they had torrential rainfall. Why did I forget that? And water levels can rise quickly….what was I thinking? It takes less than 6 inches of moving water to knock a person down. Moving water is a powerful force. So what’s with my lapse of judgment yesterday?

I cave dive and scuba dive in the ocean, I’ve rappelled and done other outdoor activities that others might consider high-risk. I have never thought of them as high-risk because I have always trained well and applied my brain power to the safety rules. Yesterday I made a decision that wasn’t smart. Had I gone an hour later I could have gotten seriously stressed and possibly injured. But it was a reminder that sometimes people don’t think about the power of water.

I realize I was careless with my safety yesterday. It wasn’t intentional yet it was reckless. Two other times in my life flood waters have challenged me. In one case my younger brother and I had to free our horses that were trapped in our stable when a flash flood occurred at night. We were terrified yet we donned our PFD’s and held on to each other and helped our horses to safety. The other was when I was fifteen and drove through a flooded dirt road in my dad’s truck. No cell phones, deserted dirt road with an old wooden bridge. Water was up past the door….I didn’t know how dangerous it was and only by the protection of my guardian angels did I make it through that one. I’m still dancing with flood waters and hopefully learning from mistakes. Today, I’m having flashes of insight but yesterday they were no where to be found. I am grateful for my life….so I want to be careful and aware of potential and real dangers. Sometimes its difficult to separate imagined from real dangers…and sometimes it’s not.

Here’s a few precautions to keep in mind when we have heavy rains. First, if water is covering a roadway, turn around…don’t drown. The road could be washed out and what you think is a few inches of water could be several feet. If you have to walk in flood waters, do NOT walk in rushing water. Remember it only takes 6 inches of rushing water to knock a person down. Less than two feet of water can float a large truck or bus. NEVER try to drive through a flooded roadway. And last of all, flood water can contain raw sewage, industrial toxins, pesticide run-off from farms and lawns, and dangerous debris. If you come in contact with it wash immediately with hot water and soap.

Breakfast with the Ospreys

Breakfast with the Ospreys

simonelipscombI’ve been watching the Osprey family on Magnolia River raise their young. Two beautiful fledglings are the result of loving care provided by their amazing parents.

When I paddle my SUP board I always give them plenty of distance. Now that the chicks are flight-ready the parents create a wider buffer between potential harm and their young by keen observation and threatening fly-bys if there are curious visits that get too close.

Mostly the adults sit in a near-by tree instead of on the nesting platform but the other morning one of the adults was overseeing breakfast of fresh fish as both juveniles devoured the tasty sushi. It made for a nest full of large birds of prey.

Mom or dad sit in the nearby pine tree and the kids watch with wonder at every passing thing from their nest, high on top of a pole…birds flying by, mullet splashing and of course a strange woman on a large, flat board with a long stick in her hand…that deserves a cry from the older babe who is reassured by a loud response from the parental unit. I interpret it to mean….’She’s okay. Just don’t share your breakfast with her.”

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On days when the planetary problems seem too much to bear, I think of breakfast with the Ospreys. My heart lightens and I breathe deeply into the beauty.

Letting Go Versus Giving Up

Letting Go Versus Giving Up

simonelipscomb (4)The past two mornings on the river paddling my SUP board brought unexpected encounters. Two days ago I was squatting down on my board as it glided under an overhanging oak tree limb. An owl hooted directly above my head. And later the same (I suppose) owl flew across the river in front of me. A messenger perhaps.

That same day I officially met the osprey chicks, one of whom is now adult-sized and almost fledged with adult feathers. I also met her sibling, a week or so behind in development. Both perched with their parent on the nest as I paddled by them.

Today I heard a splash as I paddled by a pier and glanced over to see a rather large, brown triangular head swimming for shore. I felt a little shudder as I quickly moved past, thinking it was a water moccasin, but I decided to turn around and peek. I saw a squirrel, sopping wet, sitting on the dock shaking water from his fur. My laugh echoed from the banks of the river. It was a good, belly laugh.

And later, as I was headed upriver and nearing home, I heard a most raucous noise. I stopped paddling and looked high up in a pine tree from where the noise originated. The source of the noise was three great blue herons in a brawl. Evidently the nearly adult-sized baby was throwing a hissy-fit and was hysterical…another encounter that made me laugh.

simonelipscomb (2)This has been a difficult week of frustration, grief….sadness over the course humanity has set regarding the health of our planet. No matter what those of us working for change do, it never seems to be enough to create positive change that will truly make a difference. I see apathy and greed growing while suffering increases in humans, wildlife, and wild places.

At one point this week I realized it was time to let go. Not give up, but let go. This came after working on a design for a new business card. In the process I realized I really didn’t know what to call the work I do and this led me to go deeper within myself. It seemed as if the pent up frustration and grief needed space to simply be.

DSC_0179The Unknown can be a scary place. Several of my friends commented that they too are struggling with direction and a feeling of treading water, not knowing what to do next. Maybe it’s time to let go, not in an attempt to give up but simply as a way to listen and let the space bring answers and guidance.

My time in nature nurtured me so deeply as I dealt with big emotions and important questions. The soggy squirrel, the fussy teenage heron and the ospreys and owl gifted me with laughter and beauty. The experiences gave me hope that all is not lost on our water planet…not yet.

The message of the owl? Owls see in the dark so perhaps it’s time to look into the darkness happening on our beautiful planet and know that there is a way through. Even though we cannot always see, we will find our way as we open our hearts and minds to nature and reconnect with it. Perhaps nature itself will guide us if we listen, observe and then take action.

Staying Present with the Big Picture

Staying Present with the Big Picture

simonelipscomb (4)It was absolutely still when I pushed my SUP board out into the slowly flowing river. No wind stirred the air. There was not a ripple on the water’s surface. The warm, humid air hugged me as I began my warm up.

simonelipscomb (1)Clouds and blue sky reflected underneath me in the mirror-like surface of the river.  It was as if I was paddling within the clouds and sky. This phenomena has happened before and it always puts me into a meditative state. Today I felt as if I was steering a barge in Ancient Egypt, working magically to travel through the sky on a boat.

And yet I was very present this morning. The slight hum of water as it curled around the carbon fiber blade and shaft was felt in my hands. Droplets of sweat formed at the base of my skull and followed every vertebrae down my spine. Somehow, in this altered state of meditative paddling, I was deeply aware of my body as well as the little turtle sunning on the stump, the pelican flying beside me, the osprey arranging a stick in her nest….the mullet splashing to my right. And then it hit me: I was paddling a straight path.

Now this might not sound like a big deal but over the past several months I have struggled with zig-zagging and noticed that one side zigged more than the other. I changed my board fin and changed it back. I micr0-analyzed my paddle stoke–entry, position, pull…everything and it got worse. The more I focused on it the more pronounced it became until I felt like my board was possessed by a drunken spirit.

simonelipscomb (3)In this morning’s state of hyper-awareness I thought to myself, what’s different? Why am I going straight NOW? And then I knew. I had been gazing into the far water and horizon as I paddled this morning…keeping my head up. Before I was watching my stroke, keeping my vision very close to the board and surrounding water and it created a ‘situation.’

Then I realized that my paddling mirrored my life quite perfectly. I have been frustrated and felt like I was going in circles with my work. I kept focusing on the many environmental issues of destruction, death, neglect without plugging into the bigger view. I believe it is important to own our grief and sadness and allow it to prompt us to take action. But we must keep the whole picture in mind so we don’t become overwhelmed or lost.

Then I had a dream where my friend Ray told me he would help me see the sea turtle tracks in the dark, that he’d walk with me. Since he’s working out of the country I chalked it up to it being just a dream. But then he emailed me writing that he was purchasing a set of night vision binoculars that I, along with the turtle team I’m a part of, could use. This is helpful when babies are hatching since we can’t use any lights and our job is to ‘see’ them safely to the water. If any wander off over the beach we can more easily find them now.

simonelipscomb (7)Later this afternoon, many pieces came together for me. I’m not alone in the environmental work coming through me. There is support that will help me see through the dark unknown. It may come in the form of a stranger commenting on a blog post or a friend providing fiscal support, book selling, photographs used to educate the public, a pair of night vision binoculars that will help me ‘see in the dark.’ The metaphor is definitely not lost on me.

The work of writing and photography is by nature a solitary business. It takes a tremendous amount of time to organize, stay clear and focused and now…complete a photography book I started a while back. It’s easy to get myopic vision and see only this little space and time around me. But when I take the time to look up, to look out, I see the big picture. The key is to dance in both places at once.

Afternoon on the River

Afternoon on the River


My SUP boarding workout is usually early in the mornings. It is like meditation and a core workout at the same time. For some unknown reason, I decided to paddle this afternoon amid boats and boat wakes and loud music pouring from large speakers aboard boats. What was I thinking?

But after over three miles downriver with chaos, I decided to paddle upriver from my launch beach, where motor boats cannot go.

It was the right decision. Calm water, warm afternoon light, not a human around….no houses. Just me and my board and a pair of wood ducks.

I felt myself open to the beauty of the quiet part of the river. It was magical and delightful. The only thing that could have made it not so great was seeing a big alligator. I have seen small ones downriver where it is wide and there is plenty of space for us all. But up here in the very narrow part it might present a problem. So I am practicing my scary face just in case. Do you think it will scare them away?