Tag: wildlife

The New Normal

The New Normal

SimoneLipscomb (10)The usual situation of having at least three books going at once gave a strange coincidence last week. On the sofa I was reading, Telling Our Way to the Sea, by Aaron Hirsh. The book is about two college professors who take students to the Sea of Cortez via the Baja Peninsula. The quote that caught my eye? “We live amid wreckage yet we hardly notice that something has changed. Why are we so blind to the destruction–so forgetful of what was here? Knowing only the natural world we’ve encountered in the short interval of a life, we fail to notice the substantial transformations wrought by previous generations; and so we over look the absence of all that was already gone when we ourselves first arrived on the scene.”

SimoneLipscomb (5)Then migration to the bedroom and the book on the bedside table about the Amazon River, Mother of God, by Paul Rosolie, presents this quote on the same evening: “I have witnessed a kind of generational amnesia to ecological abundance. It is a sinister phenomenon whereby members of each generation seem to accept what they see around them as the way things ought to be. It is a problem of shifting baselines, a lowering of the standards by which we judge the condition of our environment. Over generations and across continents, this collective inability to accurately assess environmental change has become a serious problem.”

SimoneLipscomb (4)From May 1st through August 31st I walk one morning a week at sunrise looking for sea turtle tracks–evidence of a nest—as a sea turtle volunteer. The mile and a half section I walk begins at the wildlife refuge and goes eastward. The first part is in an exclusive, gated development but it isn’t immune to litter. And not just a plastic bottle here and there. Metal tent frames are abandoned here just like all along our Alabama beaches. People leave tents, ice chests, beer bottles and cans, plastic water bottles, chairs, plastic toys, cigarette butts, kites and string, fireworks, balloon remnants, diapers, condoms….it’s an endless list of nasty human waste and the weird thing is people walk by like it’s not even there.

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

Tar balls, oil containers, gas containers, antifreeze containers….doesn’t seem to faze our tourists or those that live on the beach.

simonelipscomb (1)Drilling in ocean water too deep to be safe…drilling in sensitive environments like the Arctic…fracking shale near homes, schools, playgrounds…clearcutting forests….overfishing…dumping sewage in the sea…violence against the planet, wildlife, humans….yet we seem numb, immune.

simonelipscomb (6)Are we so used to trash, pollution and rape of the planet as the norm it no longer affects us? S.N.A.F.U. I suppose. Seriously S.N.A.F.U. Sadly so. I don’t like this new normal. How about you?

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 during the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth



Paradise Right Here*

Paradise Right Here*

SimoneLipscomb (1)It was still dark as I pulled onto the highway and turned east. There, in the lightening sky hung venus while Dreamer’s Sky, Will Kimbrough’s song on the new Willie Sugarcapps CD eased me into the morning. The last sea turtle patrol of the season begins here, in my car, with music carrying me toward the Gulf of Mexico.

A turn south and another song, another turn east and there’s Venus again with Anthony Crawford‘s song, Love Be Good to Me, sweetly sung by Savana Lee Crawford. The planet of love and these lyrics…..”Love be good to me, Fill my heart again. Love, can you still hear me calling out to you?…..Everything happens in its own time.”

SimoneLipscombAnother turn south and more wonderful music. Grayson Capps, Love, surrounds me with soulful words and notes. And finally, a turn west at the beach and the full moon hangs in a perfect square notch in a massive cloud as Will Kimbrough’s, Paradise Right Here, begins to play. For less than a breath the moon is cradled by the towering cloud and then it disappears.

The words of the song touched me deeply the first time I heard it at the Frog Pond. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Will’s lyrics. Today, they touched me again as I thought of daily abuses to our planet that take more of the paradise away….the paradise that literally is in the palm of our hand, as Will sings. It is totally up to us if it remains or is destroyed.

MagnoliaSophiaI reach the beginning of my sea turtle patrol at the edge of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and grab my camera as I exit the car. The full moon is still bright in the sky and the sun not yet risen. As I reach the water’s edge my faithful dolphin friend swims up and we journey east, toward the rising sun. He, swimming just offshore, and me, walking close to the water’s edge. The past several Sunday’s we have shared the sunrise together and the thought of not seeing him next Sunday saddens me.

_TSL5715The sky is in full sunrise celebration with crazy clouds and colors of phenomenal beauty. Joy leaps up within me as I frolic along the shore which seems to excite my cetacean buddy. As Will sings, “I’m glad to be alive and I’m thankful for this paradise right here, paradise right here. Right here, by the warm inviting water, right now with my bare feet in the sand, right here share it with your sons and daughters, paradise in the palm of your hand. Paradise in the palm of your hand. Paradise in the palm of your hand.”

_TSL5769So grateful for the paradise of this shoreline, the Alabama coast and the greater Gulf of Mexico….all life here…and hopeful that we can make it even better with efforts to be good stewards and approach our walk on this planet with love and compassion for all life.

_TSL5711The end of my walk neared and I saw two of my teammates approaching from their section. We celebrated the beauty of the morning and a successful patrol season and sea turtles. We remembered our loggerhead friends who lure us out each Sunday morning from May 1st through August 31st to chase the sunrise and re-discovered paradise…in the palm of our hand.

_TSL5808*Paradise Right Here is Willie Sugarcapps new CD title and the title of Will Kimbrough‘s fantastic song. Check it out!

Eye Contact

Eye Contact

SimoneLipscombWhile hovering over a coral reef in the Caribbean, I spot a blenny. The small fish, perhaps an inch long with eyes the size of a pin head, makes eye contact. In the Sea of Cortez, hovering over a rocky outcrop a juvenile puffer fish, also very tiny in size, approaches my mask and makes eye contact. No matter the size of the species, it always feels as if a real connection of some sort is made when eyes of one connects with eyes of another.

SimoneLipscomb (1)One of the most satisfying experiences enjoyed in my life is making eye contact with wild animals. Perhaps not all wild animals would accept it as a peaceful action but those who choose to interact with me like this help me to feel accepted into that other’s life, if only for a moment.

SimoneLipscomb (7)While interacting with a juvenile humpback whale, there was definitely eye contact. Considering the cetacean was over 15 feet in length, she wasn’t the one intimidated. I offered a quiet mind and peaceful heart to this sister and the encounter changed my life. Maybe it changed her for the better in some way, too.

SimoneLipscomb (5)And manatees…they seem to love making goo-goo eyes with me or my camera housing dome port. (Perhaps they are really making goo-goo eyes with the manatee they see reflected in the port). I like to think that when we make eye contact with others…be it wildlife, our domestic non-human friends or even humans…we are making an agreement to connect.

SimoneLipscomb (9)
Sampson, a bobcat that lives indoors in a wildlife rescue center after being surrendered by a human who declawed him and kept him illegally as a pet.

It has been said the eyes are the window of the soul. That’s how I gauge if someone is ‘home’ in their body. It’s how I communicate with other species and with other humans. There is much to learn from looking into another’s eyes.

Cath Steel & Will Kimbrough
Cathe Steel & Will Kimbrough

What about you? Are you willing to take the risk to make eye contact?

SimoneLipscomb (3)Or will you live with blinders, refusing to connect with others around you?

Sea of Cortez IV…Beware the Inner Kraken!

Sea of Cortez IV…Beware the Inner Kraken!

IMG_0372Tuesday July 21st, 2015

The second largest sea lion colony in the Sea of Cortez is located at our current location. The island is dark brown rock and covered with bird droppings that make it appear as thick icing on a cake. Strange metaphor perhaps.

Isla San Pedro Martir is one of the most remote islands in the Sea of Cortez. There are little stone walls built  in the ‘V’ areas of the mountain and after inquiry I find that in the late 19th and early 20th century the bird guano (poop) was mined and shipped as far as Europe to be used as fertilizer. No kidding…there is a LOT of ‘white icing’ on this mountain island.

_TSL5051Diving Pacific waters, even a body of water like the Sea of Cortez, is so different from Caribbean diving. There is no hard coral reef but rather rocks and underwater cliffs. It looks very different yet supports an amazing variety of life, including soft corals and colorful fish.

_TSL5075Taking it easy another day by snorkeling on dive two. I bring along my GoPro instead of The Beast, my big Nikon/Aquatica camera and housing, and finally give up the GoPro to just play with sea lions. As I float and frolic in the 86 degree water in shorts and a rash guard, I am blissed to the max.

_TSL5142Turning somersaults, doing barrel rolls and other silly antics lights up the already playful pinnipeds. The more I play, the more they come play with me. They come so close that our eyes make contact. Beautiful, round, big eyes gazing into mine creates a lot of joy within this two-legged gal.

I watch divers ten feet or so below me for a while as they interact with the marine mammals and decide to leave the protection of the cove and swim along the wall of the island. As I do, nine (yes…9) sea turtles greet me. Because I’m not making bubbles on scuba they come incredibly close and of course my GoPro is on the boat. In pairs, trios or solo they cruise by me. One green sea turtle doesn’t hear or see me and comes within inches of my mask…until I giggle. The sound scares her and she jumps and moves away from the giggling flotsam.

Gil, our dive master, greeting the sea lions.
Gil, our dive master, greeting the sea lions.

The final dive of the day is epic. It’s near the end of the hour-long submersion and the huge male sea lion that has barked the entire dive, rushes our dive master and makes a couple of us gasp at the aggression. No biting or contact but it is an intense rush of big male sea lion energy. We settle ourselves and become very still and the girls dive in to play.

_TSL5156I cannot EVER recall having this much fun. Female sea lions twirling and zooming right up to me, within inches of my own twirling hands and barrel rolling self. I think Zoom is the only speed they know. Completely hilarious and crazy fun. And I am in awe at the lightning fast speed and agility of these creatures. I feel like a complete klutz compared to them.

Photo bombed by a sea turtle
Photo bombed by a sea turtle..well, I never!

Since I’m feeling better I got to do three dives today. While that’s wonderful, I saw bad diver behavior that is worth mentioning…if only to pass along the stories for divers that might be tempted to misbehave.

A good dive buddy, Eladio, checking his Aquatica housing for video perfection.

Cruising along a wall on dive two, I glance up to see a huge sea turtle swimming very hard and she looked upset. I’ve never seen a sea turtle so angry-looking. And she was flying…never seen one go so fast. What in the world could have scared that turtle? I wonder. A few moments later a guy that had been aggressively swimming after everything that moved came behind the turtle. No excuse for that kind of harassment. Why is it that some humans think because they have two legs and a camera they can behave atrociously toward wildlife? (The remaining comments about his behavior are safely recorded in my journal and not printable).

Never found out which diver this is but she was crushing soft coral without concern...grrr.
Never found out who this is but she is crushing soft coral without concern.

On an earlier dive today I photographed a woman laying on soft coral seemingly without a care as she attempted to photograph some poor creature. I’ll finish my mini-rant with this: If you can’t control your buoyancy, leave the camera on the boat until you can hover without squishing soft coral and the homes of other creatures…or the creatures themselves. Hone your dive skills so you don’t kill more than you photograph. And if you think it’s okay to pull, tug, chase or otherwise harass marine creatures…it’s NOT! But don’t listen to me….one day, when one takes a bite out of your hand or your neck or your leg, please don’t whine or complain.

Me and the Sea...the Sea of Cortez
Me and the Sea…the Sea of Cortez…before releasing my inner Kraken.


My main concern about coming on this trip was it was advertised as an underwater photography trip. Photographers who take their craft underwater can be notoriously destructive and aggressive. I saw those behaviors but I also saw very caring, loving individuals who have total respect for ocean life and have good dive skills as well. Never, ever should ‘getting a shot’ outweigh decent and respectful underwater behavior. I am generally a very peace-loving, laid-back person but don’t mess with sea life because you will awaken my Inner Kraken.


Sea of Cortez I

Sea of Cortez II

Sea of Cortez III





Sea of Cortez–Part Three

Sea of Cortez–Part Three

_TSL5004Monday July 20th

We are motoring south. The engine started at 4am. It’s 7am and we are still near Angel de la Guarda. Two seal gulls are riding on the bow of a panga. A nice way to travel from one place to the next if you are a bird…a smart bird.

The mountain that is this island is persistent in its beauty. More gradual slopes toward the sea on this eastern side of it but still very craggy and tall. Unbelievably tall. The color of rock is more even here with red standing out strongly. There is some striation but not the rainbow colors of the mountains yesterday.

_TSL5006As we draw closer to the southernmost tip of Angel de la Guarda its massive face affects me deeply. Again I am struck with awe…to my core. There is a V in the face that reminds me of open arms.

We move closer and it feels as if we will be consumed by this beautiful mountain. I need to go eat breakfast but find myself unable to leave my perch on the deck. I watch the massive mountain come closer and closer.

Stones and dust fade into wrinkles and colors of earth, sacred Earth, whose face is marked with smile lines created when She laughs at wind, sea lions frolicking and tides kissing Her beautiful self.

These bones bake in the sun and cleanse me in Her reflective glow. Her white-chalk, pock-marked bones  are whiter still from nesting shore birds. Red, pink, salmon, rust, orange, roughened, weathered, ragged by forces beyond control…lay bare these bones.

Layers and layers of color and texture open to elemental forces so powerful only mountains such as this could behold them and manage a wrinkled grin.

_TSL5016The vast, ragged peaks stretch all around me. At first glance they are barren in red, rust and white-stained splendor yet upon closer observation the details emerge. Green patches of life exist in this magical place following lines of finely-ground particles of rock. Tufts of tender, determined vegetation cling to fissures and slides and their roots go deep causing even more breakdown of hard substrate, creating a welcoming home for their offspring. Whether they consciously plan for the future or it it is just the genius of their living matters not.

Only 36 hours after torrential rains fell and already the mountain slopes grow greener. By the hour, these rugged, rocky slopes become robed in verdant softness.

Could it be that I, too, soften as my dry bones greedily suck nourishment from the life-giving waters and the blue heart of the Sea?

_TSL5042A sea lion barks the entire second dive and I learn that they can bark underwater…incessantly. Like a controlling man bellowing at his wife, the males are very protective and territorial with their harem of females. When a female or two escapes his control to play with us I am as happy for the free sea lions as I am for myself witnessing their agile playfulness.

The faces of the female pinnipeds are so sweet. I roll and play underwater and the more I play, the more playful they become. I think how lucky they are that few humans come here to spoil the pristine and peaceful place…and how lucky I feel to be one of the few given the chance to frolic with them.

IMG_0360I’m in the panga now with Juleo…the small-boat captain…while divers are on the night dive. The canopy of stars is brilliant with no light pollution. The Milky Way is breathtaking and grows steadily brighter as the sky darkens. Layers and layers of stars shine like gemstones flickering with stellar fire.

The sea is mostly quiet and still so the black water mirrors the sky as tiny phosphorescent dots drift on the surface. Greenish globs extend into the dark water until they merge with the glade of the crescent moon and disappear into its brilliance.

_TSL5143Nearby the exhalation of a sea lion catches my attention and my heart as she swims around the panga looking at us. Sweet words pour from my heart as I send love her way.

It may take a while to understand how this magnificent sky of stars and galaxies will change me, but without a doubt it will. I feel it deeply in my bones.

The small rock reaching from the sea floor to the heavens, frosted white with bird droppings, is only a silhouette against the setting moon. I, too, reach for the heavens and with a grateful heart bid goodnight to the Sea, stars, moon, krill and sea lions. Sleep well dear ones.


Sea of Cortez–Part One

Sea of Cortez–Part Two