Tag: wildlife

Five Years Later

Five Years Later

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010

I stood on the shore of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, early summer 2010 with tears streaming down my face. I had just called the hotline to report oil on the pristine, sugar-white sand. I thought that finally people would awaken and forge a new path of care and love for this Ocean planet. Five years have passed and the fervor to find and extract oil, at any cost, has escalated. And there are more spills worldwide, more toxic wastes generated by fracking operations and more earthquakes near fracking zones. The Atlantic coast is being opened to offshore drilling. The Arctic is open for drilling. Politicians are systematically trying to dismantle protected areas in states and federal lands.

Gulf of Mexico today
Gulf of Mexico today

As I sit on the sandy, Gulf beach watching the chocolate-colored waves, at least there is no benzene smell or globs of fizzing crude oil washing ashore. The dark water is from recent heavy rains. The salt breeze carries the smell of incense, an offering to the spirits of this magnificent body of water. I ask for forgiveness on behalf of all humans.

Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon
Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon

I reflect on John Muir’s life, one that was dedicated to preserving sacred places of unparalleled natural beauty and the success that came from his unrelenting love of nature. He saw the Divine in nature and viewed it as a direct reflection of God. Places like Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rainer, Petrified Forest are a small sample of areas Muir helped preserve. He petitioned Congress for a National Park bill and in 1890 it passed.

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

“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling, keen lance rays of every color flashing, sparkling in glorious abundance, joining the plants in their fine, brave beauty-work–every crystal, every flower a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.” John Muir.

Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier
Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier

“Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air….Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.” John Muir.

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. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth

Lately, as I’ve read about seemingly endless assaults on nature and attempts to sell it to the highest bidder for fossil fuel and about sonar testing that deafens cetaceans, sentencing them to death, I have become increasingly disturbed. The grief and despair I felt during the year I documented the oil disaster has been touched and the wound opened again and again.

Photography taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama
Photograph taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama

I wrote this in August 2010:

“This morning I sat weeping for the birds, oysters, shrimp, crabs….for us all. As I breathed in the stillness of the dawn I felt sadness that we have collectively created such imbalance on this beautiful planet. Inhaling, exhaling…pausing to touch the grief within me….how did it get so messed up?

We have become so dependent on practices that destroy our world, there is no easy way to stop them. The oil industry is woven into the fabric of life in Louisiana along with the Gulf’s bounty. Maybe the problem began when we considered only what could be produced from the Gulf.

But it goes beyond the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis–way beyond to the collective intention to consume, to conquer without regard for what it does to the planet that, quite literally, gives us life. Where did this short-sighted way of thinking begin?

I weep for our ignorance and the destruction it keeps in motion. I weep for political polarization that puts power on a pedestal over compassion and caring. We are lost in fighting battles that pull us apart and weaken us.

When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?”

Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years
Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years

Today, almost five years later, the same questions still haunt my mind every day. When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?

Yet there is hope for there are still people who care, who love Nature and understand that humans are part of it, not above it. There are many who understand the necessity for living in balance and who grasp that the mindset of ‘more at any cost’ is no longer a valid way to successfully exist. We sell our own souls when we auction nature to the highest bidder.

Photograph from Summer 2010
Photograph from Summer 2010

So how can we stay positive? Hopeful? By reaching out to each other in love and by treading as gently as possible on this sacred Ocean planet. And practicing simple, yet collectively powerful steps such as these: turn off lights not in use; don’t use disposable plastic bottles; use water sparingly; adjust the thermostat two degrees and save energy and money; recycle; re-use; opt out of the mindset that new electronics must be purchased each time a new version is released; get by with less ‘stuff,’ buy locally-grown foods’ celebrate the beauty of nature each day; participate in efforts to make a positive difference.

Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge
Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge

Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to celebrate beauty found in nature and in human hearts everywhere.

Saying Goodbye to Whales

Saying Goodbye to Whales

SimoneLipscomb (207)April 3rd

We left our mooring on the Silver Bank early this morning and it feels as if my heart is being torn from my chest. I sit on the flying bridge listening to Whales Alive through my headphones. A rainbow arcs across the sky. So many emotions, so much love and gratitude course through me. The building music mixed with whale song and poetry narrated by Leonard Nimoy matches the graceful and powerful movements of the whales in the distance.

As our ship moves ever-closer to land I see lob tailing by a baby and mother whale. How precious to see life expressed in these gigantic gentle beings so beautifully.

SimoneLipscomb (67)Now an adult begins fin slapping with the brilliant white of the fifteen foot long pectoral fins acting as beacons of light against the cloudy sky. It was as if two angel wings reached for the heavens and each thunderous slap on the Ocean’s surface a call…but for the whale I am unsure of the meaning. For me each fin slap is an explosion of energy and a reminder, “See this! Hear me! Pay attention! Goodbye! Thanks for visiting! Come again!”

SimoneLipscomb (98)Off in the distance a whale is breaching repeatedly…over and over and over…joy exploding from the depths and I am sobbing now. The music of Paul Winter builds as the whale song crescendos and I find myself lost in a world of music of humans and whales. Such harmony, such power.

Flying fish glide silver against the indigo, liquid light of the Ocean. They go bouncing from wave to wave, sailing through troughs of the moving sea. Such beauty.

SimoneLipscomb (41)This experience of being with my humpback sisters and brothers has taken me to a place within myself that is deep and silent, still. After a week with whales I still find myself at a loss for words for the depths of emotions they have brought forth from my depths. I don’t know how I will integrate this week with my life. Of this I’m sure, I am changed. Transformed.

The sky at the horizon is light blue and grows in intensity of blue as my gaze wanders upwards. Small, white clouds dot the sky–puffy delights of cottony, flat-based moisture-laden beings.

I hear a shout from the bow. DOLPHINS!

I carefully hurry down the two flights of stairs to find several of my two-legged friends from the past week cheering as 10 spotted dolphins ride our bow wake. We stand and gaze over the side and watch the acrobatics of these sleek and lovely creatures as they leap, surf and frolic. This lifts us all as each of us has expressed feelings of sadness at our magical time together with whales and each other comes to an end.

SimoneLipscomb (157)It feels as if my life suddenly makes sense but I have no idea where it goes from here. I simply know that something is happening that was unlocked that came from surrender to childhood dreams. Perhaps as children we remember the path we dreamed with angels, while floating in that amniotic sea.

The song of the humpback called me many years ago and finally I heard it in real time, in person. It is my intention to listen deeper to what they are singing. Not with a scientific mind but with the eyes of my heart.

SimoneLipscomb (146)

——–

Even though words frustrated me as I wrote each day of my experiences with humpback whales, I hope in some way I was able to convey to those interested readers the sacredness of this experience. It is my desire to return often as a friend and support to the whales that call the Silver Bank home…and to think of them daily with respect and love.

Special thanks to Tom Conlin whose dedication to the humpbacks of the Silver Banks helps them remain safe and protected in their calving and breeding waters. And to his crew of Aquatic Adventures.… Lorenzo, Denise, Brandt and Lisa thank you!! And to the Crew of the Turks & Caicos Explorer II…JF, Mark, Jane, Pipa, and Mia thank you!!

Whale Diary One

Whale Diary Two

Whale Diary Three

Whale Diary Four

Whale Diary Five

Whale Diary Six 

 

 

Rainbow Thursday-Part 2

Rainbow Thursday-Part 2

SimoneLipscomb (13) First Encounter April 2nd

Mom and Baby…. O. M. G. !!!

The juvenile came right up to me…have no idea if I got photos or video but it was so close I saw the soft, gray of the face, the deep folds of skin and the eye looking into my eyes. It was within ten feet of me. So beautiful. So deeply profound.

SimoneLipscomb (7)Then later lob tailing by mom and baby, breaching with both, fin slapping. Amazing….AMAZING!

There was such a sense of profound peace when floating above the mom and calf. It is as if all the secrets of the deep are carried within her and I can witness these truths, this wisdom that is beyond anything I’ve ever known.

As I watched exhalations carried by the wind I smelled the fish wondrous whale breath. Perhaps I’ve slipped over the edge…over and over the edge.

SimoneLipscomb (44)
Mother and juvenile humpback practicing their lob tailing

I stood on the small boat photographing mama and baby with rain softly running down my face mixed with salty tears. I thought, I am loved (lob tail from whales) I am cared for (another lob tail). I am supported (thunderous SLAP!! with those flukes). Such sweetness.

SimoneLipscomb (39)This morning as I stood on the dive deck observing the rainbow, mother and juvenile humpbacks, tears also came. So deeply did I feel that everything in my life is moving in the right direction. I realized the more I surrender, the more opportunities arise. My love for the Ocean is deep and has been a guiding spark since I was a child and begged my parents to allow me to order (for free) the Jacques Cousteau book (which I still have).

SimoneLipscomb (18)
Mother whale fluke with our boat, Turks & Caicos Explorer II, in the background

Afternoon

We saw one mother and baby briefly in really deep, rough water. It was an in-water encounter but wasn’t long as mama didn’t settle and it was difficult for us to hold a position in the rough seas. We were outside the protection of the reef so I don’t think anyone complained when we re-boarded the tender and headed back inside the reef.

Our sister boat with the other half of our group.
Our sister boat with the other half of our group.

The rest of the afternoon I stood on the side of the small boat and watched for whales. Deep in thought, I rode. It gave me time to reflect and prepare for leaving this magical place tomorrow morning. I kept hearing the first part of D.H. Lawrence’s poem, Whale Weep Not. “They say the sea is cold but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest and the most urgent.”

Soft-encounter with mother and baby
Soft-encounter with mother and baby

I stood riding the waves from my perch on the boat with tears pouring down my cheeks and the ocean splashing on my left foot. I felt in perfect balance and so happy, so incredibly happy and joy-full. Such yearning within to spend more time on the Ocean, in the Ocean in the presence of whales.

__________

Whales Notes: A soft-encounter is where humans are allowed to float quietly in the Ocean observing humpback whales. Touching is not allowed. The quieter and more still, the better the encounter. Mothers rest and sleep suspended in the water column and babies come up to breathe. If the group of humans stay together and within sight of mama whale, it’s best. Juvenile surfaces, breathes, circles and goes back down to tuck under mama. Because their buoyancy isn’t perfected, the babies need mom’s stable body to help them stay submerged.

SimoneLipscomb (53)Entanglements are deadly to whales and other sea life. Some fishing practices use large lines and traps and once a whale is entangled in these heavy lines, it can cause major problems for them. Notice the large scar on this mother whale’s tail. Luckily she was freed and now has a happy, wild baby born this year. Other whales are not so lucky.

Whale Diary One

Whale Diary Two

Whale Diary Three

Whale Diary Four

Whale Diary Five

Notice the entanglement scar that goes around the entire tail. The dorsal side has the deepest scar....
Notice the entanglement scar that goes around the entire tail. The dorsal side has the deepest scar….
SimoneLipscomb (81)
Mother fin slapping with juvenile lob tailing

 

 

Rainbow Thursday–Part One

Rainbow Thursday–Part One

SimoneLipscomb (80)I awakened around 5am and climbed to the upper deck of the boat to await the dawn. A dark rain cloud was hovering in the eastern sky and a wall of rain soon began to move across the Ocean toward the boat. I moved down to the first level which is covered but open on the sides. The loud shuuuu sound of the rain on the sea was beautiful music.

Past the small boats that were tied behind the mothership I saw a fluke slap the surface…then another…and another! And then a baby fluke appeared beside the mother whale and joined in the tail-slapping fun. It was obvious the juvenile was still learning as the control of the large fluke was a bit wobbly.

SimoneLipscomb (74)A couple was standing just inside the salon of the boat so I ran to get them. The whales were pretty close to us. I commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow with the sunrise and the clouds.” Suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared in the sky, arched over the mother and calf and the calf breached. We looked at each other in disbelief.

The whales continued their lob tailing, fin slapping and the juvenile played in the rainbow as the pastel colors kissed the surface of the sea. I was thankful there were others to witness this phenomena as who would believe this? One of the crew members, who was summoned to the otherworldly event by this invitation: “There’s a baby whale playing in a rainbow,” later said “Who says that?” Exactly. Who says...there’s a baby whale playing in a rainbow?

SimoneLipscomb (81)After people wandered away I stepped down on the dive platform so I could see the full arch of the rainbow. The mother and baby humpbacks were still there, but quiet now, coming up to breathe and then resting. Their white, misty exhalations a stark contrast to the dawn sky.

As I stood level with the Ocean, saltwater washing over my feet, I felt the immensity of this vision. Not just the vision of this incredible experience but the vision that guided me here, to this place…to this life. The support of those unseen forces that guide my life wrapped around me powerfully. I could quite literally feel their touch. And from unseen realms I heard clearly: “Your work is supported, your life is guided. This is the promise we give…you will always have our support.”

SimoneLipscomb (73)Remnants of the rainbow linger as I sit, writing about this experience. The mother whale and her baby just surfaced and exhaled. The mist from their breath lifted upward into the soft, pastel colors of promise. The Crystal River trip in January comes to mind where I was making a voice memo about following my dreams and the intense rainbow appeared…and the cross-street, Follow That Dream Parkway. Meeting the marine biologist who operates a humpback whale research station in Tonga who planted the idea and reminded me of my life dream to be with whales. This all seems so surreal. Rainbows and whales and life dreams.

SimoneLipscomb (83)Mom and baby whale are still there, literally at the end of the rainbow. And I know with certainty that I am guided, supported and loved, beyond anything I can imagine. I am so incredibly grateful.

Note: I didn’t have my camera on deck when the whales were playing in the rainbow. And I didn’t want to risk missing a moment of the experience to run downstairs to get it. These images are from later in the day with a mother and calf…I think it was the same one as this behavior continued for a long time. Regardless…the magic of it still moves me. And the rest of the day was amazing…stay tuned.

Whale Diary One

Whale Diary Two

Whale Diary Three

Whale Diary Four 

Wednesday at Sea

Wednesday at Sea

SimoneLipscombApril Fool’s Day

The sun rose from a calming sea. Purple-blue rain clouds hung low in the sky as light begin to be birthed from behind the low cloud bank in the east. Before the ball of fire emerged from its hiding place it began to illuminate the western sky and the puffy stacks of cumulus clouds took on a golden hue that grew in intensity until a cathedral of light surrounded us. Those few, early-morning risers who seek the peace and hope of the dawn received an Anointing of Light. And then….the rainbow. Each of us, in our own way, was transformed as our hearts and minds accepted, with gratitude, the gift of the day.

No camera to document it. Some moments are best captured with the heart.

First Half of the Day

SimoneLipscomb (4)Mother and Calf–in water watching them sleep. As I floated on the surface in the blue water, I was overcome with the sweetest peace. Was unsure of how I would react with such intimate closeness with creatures I have longed for my entire life. Would I be over-excited? Instead a deep, profound peace filled me. There were no thoughts in my mind. I was calm, present and one with the whales.

Mother whale slept and baby tucked under her chin. Then baby would come up for a breath, go back down and rest under mama. Precious. Sacred.

The first time in I didn’t take my big camera housing but rather my little GoPro. And that’s all I needed. I wanted no distractions so I simply watched…observed…allowed myself the experience.

Eighty miles offshore. Twenty feet from a 45 foot humpback mother whale and her calf. How can ANYthing compare with this?

As I wrote Sunday after the experience with the rowdy group, I have never felt so comfortable in my skin. I still feel the same way. Only more so.

SimoneLipscomb (154)The Ocean does this to me but the humpbacks make me feel at home in my body. Finally.

I reflect at the strangeness…that I wasn’t overcome with crazy, wild emotions but rather taken deeper, deeper…deeper still into my core, to the heart of who I am. This is their gift to me.

After our time with the mother and calf, we were slowly motoring and looking for blows, fin slaps, or dark, shiny backs when we came upon another mother and calf and yet another mother and calf that converged. Each had her escort and a challenger. Seven whales weaving and moving very fast, answering the call of love.

Afternoon

SimoneLipscomb (143)I set the intention today of capturing a photograph of a breaching whale. Shazam! Not only did I get one but several are in focus. The manual focus effort is working but making me sweat. As I was reviewing my images in the room I went completely wild. If anyone was walking in the hallway they probably wondered if I had officially lost my mind. Well, sure. That’s a given. Finally!

SimoneLipscomb (156)I called him or her Grasshopper. The juvenile breached for probably 20 minutes without stopping. Scientists can study and surmise but if they simply observe with open minds there is no other conclusion as to why this juvenile was breaching: IT WAS FUN! The joy Grasshopper felt was contagious as everyone on our small boat was filled with light and laughter. Transformation…with whales leading the way.

SimoneLipscomb (127)So grateful! So very grateful!

SimoneLipscomb (125)So profoundly grateful!

SimoneLipscomb (137)Water splashes against the hull and brings me back to the present moment. I was lulled into a slight trance as I unwind from a day filled with whales…blissful whale peace…fathomless peace. Deeper into myself I go, tapping channels of profound peace and love that run deep to the Heart of the Planet.

———–

Whale Notes: Scientists have tried to figure out the mysteries of humpback whales for decades and are probably no closer to finding a scientific explanation for their behaviors than they were in the 1970’s. Some scientists tend to look only at animal behaviors of lesser beings and so their work is inclusive. The mistake science makes is that it places humans at the top of everything. Because humankind has the ability to destroy anything and everything we must be more intelligent. Right? Or we have opposable thumbs. That’s we’re so smart. We’re also the only species that destroys the environment necessary for our survival. Whales have brain cells wired for emotion so, as I mentioned about their singing, why wouldn’t they frolic, leap for joy and experience bliss? My dream is to be funded to study humpback whales without the restrictions of science and to begin with a neutral baseline where no assumptions of intelligence pollute the information gathered. Perhaps we will find our kinship with them and all life when we stop elevating our own species above all others.

A female humpback whale and her calf commonly have a male with them called an escort. If another male approaches he is seen as the challenger. A rowdy group is a mixture of this combination and can include more than one challenger. 

Photography Notes: Manually focusing on a breaching whale is almost impossible. I checked the location and direction of the whale, thought about his likely emergent path and focused ahead of him on the Ocean’s surface.Using continual shoot with my shutter, I blasted several shots off with each press of the shutter button. Not all were in focus but several were sharp. I was bruised at the end of the day from leaning on the rail and bumping into it with the bouncing of the boat. Holding the heavy camera and lens up for long periods of time was also tiring…thank goodness for my workouts! This was undoubtedly the most challenging photography I have ever done.

Whale Diary Day One

Whale Diary Day Two

Whale Diary Day Three