Tag: Nature’s Teachings

Around the Bend….

Around the Bend….

“What I love most about rivers is:
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
But people, I guess, can’t live like that
We all must pay a price
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What’s around the riverbend
Waiting just around the riverbend”

–Disney’s Pocahontas

IMG_4340The year was 2002. Lots of stressful craziness was happening in my life and without warning I met a man who changed my life for the better. I remember thinking of the song from Pocahontas often. You never know what’s around the river bend. Something wonderful can happen in one moment and life changes forever. 

In April I visited a dear mentor and friend in Atlanta from the UK. She shared how she loves life, even with the aches and pains of an 87 year old, she loves the adventure of life because you never know what’s going to happen that will suddenly change everything for the better. I thought of the Pocahontas song as we chatted.

IMG_4343Today I was on the backcountry trail by 6am. At 6.33am I received a telephone call from our sea turtle team leaders. We have a nest! Of course, I was at the furtherest point from my car on the trail unless I wanted to exit onto the beach road and cycle to the nest location. Since I refuse to ride in traffic, I opted to be safe and head back to my car.

I shaved 10 minutes off the return trip and got an excellent cardio workout. Thankfully it was sprinkling rain which made for a cool ride.

IMG_4353Just barely over 30 minutes from the alert message, I was pulling up at the nest site on west beach. I took a few photographs of the crawl and teammates finishing up processing the nest and then went down to another section of our beach and took a few photographs of a false crawl.

IMG_4356What an amazing surprise to have not only a nest but a false crawl in the same day! And an added bonus was breakfast with a few team members to celebrate our first nest of the year. I expected to simply cycle and return home to paint another Buddy portrait.

FullSizeRenderOn the way home I called my mother to say good morning and found out one of her squirrel friends had crawled inside a feeder yesterday and was still stuck this morning. I made a detour to free the little goober and said a quick hello to mom and Salty dog before getting back to Buddy and the cats.

IMG_4384WOW! A simple dawn cycling trip had turned into a series of surprising events. Isn’t it amazing! It’s true…we never know what’s just around the bend.

“I look once more
Just around the riverbend
Beyond the shore
Somewhere past the sea
Don’t know what for …
Why do all my dreams extend
Just around the riverbend?
Just around the riverbend …”


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.


In Defense of Place

In Defense of Place

_TSL4000Experiencing a sense of place helps us connect who we are to the land, water, wildlife…all life…in an area. It gives us a eco-spiritual sense of Oneness with life. “A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines, ” is how Kent Rydon describes it.

Wallace Stegner says we love, value and invest our labor and emotions into a particular area and that gives us a sense of place. Wendell Berry said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” The human being’s deep connection to a particular area or place is how we form a deep bond with the planet and in particular a familiar place on the planet.

_TSL3998The human experience of the landscape grows from identifying oneself in relationship to a particular piece of land.

JB Jackson said, “It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense, that gives us our identity.”

The beginning of this sea turtle nesting season is the fifth season I’ve volunteered with Share the Beach, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping sea turtles. This is the third season I’ve walked one particular section of the beach. I dream of it weeks before the sunrise walks begin. I crave its beauty throughout the year and especially when the walking patrols end.

_TSL4093When I attended our team’s first meeting this year I was shocked to see my section had been switched. I felt panic and got defensive. WHY can’t I walk ‘my’ section? It was simply an error on the schedule but I was surprised to see how upset I got.

Today was the third Sunday morning of walking the section I have come to call Friend. When another team member dropped me off at my car, after we each finished our respective sections, this person suggested we switch sections throughout the summer. Without taking a breath I replied, “Why would I do that?”

_TSL4059As I was driving home I was once again bewildered by the stance I took, protecting the time I have with this section of beach. Precious time….sacred land and water. I began to explore my feelings and the shield I am erecting between anyone who dares come between this mile and a half stretch of beach and me. I realized a deep sense of place has formed between my heart, my being and this area.

One of the reasons cited for humans lack of care and concern about our planet is poor development of a sense of place. If we aren’t connected to the land and water and all life within it, we are much less likely to safeguard it from development, pollution and other assaults against it.

_TSL4079At first I was self-critical of my reactions and then I realized that the deep love I have developed for this small stretch of beach has enriched my life profoundly. I recognize the great blue herons that hunt in the shallows. Last year a pair of oyster catchers foraged along the shore for several weeks and every time I saw them excitement stirred within my heart. Various tracks leading from the protected wildlife refuge onto the areas of human foot traffic tell stories each morning I visit and its always sweet to see evidence of the daily lives of the creatures who inhabit the dunes and marshes.

A sense of place is vital to not only the health of the planet but to our health as well. As Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”

IMG_4326The small stretch of shoreline has been a friend who has aided in my growth and healing. To not show up for Sunday morning visits would leave a dark emptiness within me. I want to see if it’s okay, if there are injured wildlife or trash or holes that could injure or kill a sea turtle. I take ownership for the well-being of the creatures that live here. I feel connected to it.

“I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” Thank you Wendell Berry for writing exactly what I feel.

_TSL4092Join in communion with a place that is sacred, special. Develop a relationship with it, get to know its residents. When we have a clear sense of place, we can then stand in defense of place.


Cottontails, Cardinals and a Cottonmouth

Cottontails, Cardinals and a Cottonmouth

IMG_4299The air was heavy with thick fog hovering over the marsh. Spider webs glowed silver in the pre-dawn light, shining with water droplets. Cottontails were foraging for breakfast and would hop away as I passed. Cycling at dawn is the best.

IMG_4286Through live oak forests, sandy pine forests and marshlands I pedaled into the day. The orange orb of fire hung momentarily over the marsh before gaining altitude in its daily climb……..actually it’s the earth moving isn’t it? (Pause to contemplate). If I think too much about the fact that the earth is spinning on its “axis” the idea of my spinning wheels and feet spinning on the pedals makes too much spinning in my brain. So…the earth seemed to pause before continuing in its rotation giving the impression that the sun had paused. (I think the sun rising is more fun).

Anyway….it was pretty awesome being there and not thinking about what was rotating where.

IMG_4302Cardinals were in abundance peeping from the shelter of small trees along the trail and darting in front of me. Their brilliant flashes of red added sparks of color to the mostly gray light of the foggy morning.

IMG_4294A juvenile cottontail hopped straight up as I pedaled past. A loud, unrestrained laugh echoed from my depths. Several small cottontails breakfasted along the trail and each one received a greeting though not a belly laugh.

The iPod was on shuffle so each change of song was a surprise. As I began the steady climb back to the main road, Prince’s song, Let’s Go Crazy, began to play. It was a great song to help me dig in and push myself as the coastal hill tried to halt my momentum. “Let’s go crazy, let’s go nuts.” Of course I was singing along and pushed replay. On the second time through, as the hill got steeper and my voice got louder….I saw a snake.

IMG_4303Feet clipped in, couldn’t tell what kind due to lack of light, going too fast to stop anyway….”LET’S GO CRAZY….LET’S GO NUTS!!” shouting as I sped by a nice-sized cottonmouth. “WOO HOO! Good MORNING!!” She stayed on her side of the trail, I stayed on mine.

As I rode with the multitudes of cottontails and cardinals, I thought of writing about the ride and wanted a third “C” to use in a blog title. No cougar, no Cat Man,* no cormorant…no “C” anything until Ms. Cottonmouth appeared. Perhaps I shall be a little more discerning in my wishes next time. The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for….or be specific in your dreams.


IMG_4296*The legend of the Cat Man goes back to when my mother grew up on the island of Gulf Shores. A road (now part of the trail) was called Cat Man Road because of its isolation, wildness and a guy that used to sneak up on couples parking on the roadway at night to enjoy stargazing….um…well, you know.