Friday, August 19, 2011


TOUCHING THE WATERS: In the Woman's Boat (art by Hallelujah Truth)

Dear PILGRIMS welcome to the WOMAN’S BOAT. Climb aboard our “boats” and JOURNEY with us to commune with our dear FELLOW PILGRIM Sally Wylde, who died last year at this time. We miss her here on MOTHER EARTH, for Sally was one of us—CREATIVE SPIRIT, ARTIST, and SEEKER of the GREAT MYSTERY.

We SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIMS respond to LIFE’S CHALLENGES—physical death being one of the greatest challenges of them all—by making ART.  Yes, it is healing to CREATE from the SOURCE—the very act of digging deep into our SOULS and SEEING what is there asking to be EXPRESSED. We chose to honor Sally by responding to Toni Childs' album, “The Woman’s Boat,” since this was the music Sally used in her performance, “The Lump Journey,” which was her creative response to being diagnosed with breast cancer. That was three years ago.  

At that time, we ART PILGRIMS, Robey Tapp, Jesse Bathrick, and me, Hallelujah Truth, danced weekly with Sally as she symbolically structured her LIFE into a dramatic community performance. In our circle of writers and visual artists, we floated in and out of Sally’s studio and backyard yearning to express both the dark and bright aspects of our JOURNEYS while moving to songs in “The Woman’s Boat,” a collection of songs expressing the complexity of women’s lives from birth to death. Together, in our circle of women, we were

…in the woman’s boat
on the woman’s sea…

In the months following the performance of “The Lump Journey,” we began our group, SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIMS and were joined by Cecelia Kane (featured in my first SAP interview). How befitting then for us to revisit the epic lyrics of “The Woman’s Boat,” and to BE PRESENT with Sally on her JOURNEY in the UNKNOWN. PILGRIMS! We have one another ALWAYS—in our HEARTS, IMAGINATIONS, and the UNIVERSE BEYOND this bountiful EARTH.

We SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIMS (Robey Tapp, Cecelia Kane, Jesse Bathrick, and me, Hallelujah Truth) have made ART to connect with SALLY on the first anniversary of her death. Each us has made our own version of “THE WOMAN’S BOAT” for you.  JOURNEY with OUR SOULS to visit Sally! Hallelujah!



CECELIA KANE WRITES: These small paintings and drawings are dedicated to the life and memory of my friend, Sally Wylde. Each boat encounters something dark and menacing below the surface, on a separate plane or inside itself.

They have been inspired by Toni Childs’ song “The Woman’s Boat, and Rumi’s 13th century poem below. These little boats make their appearance in response to  Ruth Schowalter’s  (Hallelujah Truth) vision of  a creative response on the first anniversary of Sally’s death.

Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
No light and no land anywhere,
Cloudcover thick. I try to stay
Just above the surface, yet I’m already under
And living within the ocean.



RIPE IN THE JOURNEY: When I began to draw my WOMAN'S BOAT, I let my SOUL direct me. How surprised I was that I created a ripe fruit, a red hole, a vessel for JOURNEYING on the WATERS of LIFE and AFTERLIFE! HALLELUJAH!

Well it’s time to say goodbye
And all the things we’ve said and cried
Through our lives
You will be on my lips
It’ll be a long time coming, boy
Till we meet again

Into the earth we go and we dive
Into the spirit world
Where our hearts lie
We go down into the sea
Of eternal life….

Lyrics from Toni Child’s “Long Time Coming” on the album “The Woman’s Boat”
SALLY DANCING: In her performance, Sally danced in celebration to the lyrics: "How do you love? And how do care? And how do you live and believe?" Good, good questions!


Monday, August 15, 2011

HOMAGE TO AN ALL AMERICAN BIRD: The American Oystercatcher

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: ALL AMERICAN BIRD (art by Hallelujah Truth based on photos by Jen Hilburn)

HALLELUJAH to the American OysterCatcher in recognition of its bright, oblong orange bill, circular red-rimmed eyes, striking black and white feathers, and long salmon-colored legs. Citizens of the United States take note of this All-American bird that spends its 30-40 year life-span traversing our eastern coastline from Maine to Florida. This bird may be flying into extinction.

At the end of July 2011, I was lucky enough to see this “patriot” bird in its natural habitat. I left the city streets and congested interstate of the Atlanta Metropolitan area, with my Chiboogamoo to voyage out to St. Catherines, a barrier island along the Georgia coast. While Chiboogamoo was examining gopher tortoise burrows, I was fortunate enough to be taken out on a boat to monitor the local American oystercatchers. 
ST. CATHERINES AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER MONITORING: Jen Hilburn, ornithologist at St. Catherines, waits while Rachel shows me what a "scrape" nest looks like on this "rake," a place where American oystercatchers dig a shallow depression in the oyster shells to lay their eggs. You can see how vulnerable a ground nest would be to tides, wakes from boats, and sea storm surge.
Along with Jen Hilburn, the island ornithologist, and her assistant, Rachel Harris, we visited three locations: Grass Island, Cedar Flat, and Condo Corner. Condo Corner received its funny name from Jen because of the way three pairs of oystercatchers nested in a row this past season. At the time I visited these nesting sights, the breeding pairs had already broken up and were moving about the St. Catherines area. We saw one mom and dad with their fledgling at Condo Corner. When the tide is high and their food sources like oysters, bivalves, lettered olives, and moon snails are submerged, Jen explained to me, they have nothing to do but lounge around.
GRASS ISLAND: Another American oystercatcher nesting site. Vulnerable?
LOUNGING AROUND: An American oystercatcher pair and their fledgling hanging out until the tide goes down and they can forage for food.

You might ask why this magnificent bird is dying out. Well, sadly, its enemies are many. Global warming and its resulting sea level rise is causing shorelines and these small sanctuaries of land to disappear under water. These ground nesters are then left without a place to “scrape” a shallow nest into sand or oyster shells. Predators also take their toll on these easily accessible ground nests. Hungry and plentiful raccoons, minks, feral hogs, ghost crabs and other avians eat both eggs and baby birds.
SEE THE SCRAPE NEST?: Rachel Harris stands next to the scrape nests that are barely visible except to the expert eye.

Added to these alarming consequences of sea level rise and animal predation is human development. People are building homes and hotels in places that used to provide sanctuaries for American oystercatchers to nest. In addition to having fewer places to nest, when these birds do make their ground nests on the remaining undeveloped shorelines, they are inadvertently disrupted. Unwittingly boats and cars disturb these almost invisible nests. If the nests escape human destruction, they may not survive the dogs that accompany the people.

These causes that prevent the American oystercatcher from successfully producing young are persistent. The end result is that the disruptions in their life-cycle is that this stately American bird will cease to exist. Scientists are doing what they can to try to help this bird survive.

For four years now, Jen has monitored the nesting habitats of the American Oystercatcher on St. Catherines and along the intercoastal water way, counting nesting pairs, incubating eggs, and banding fledglings and any adult that is not nesting. The more birds are banded, Jen told me, the more you can learn about the pairs and their breeding habits.  For two of these four years, she has participated in the American Oystercatcher Working Group, a nationwide organization, which is keeping count of all American oystercatchers along the eastern coast and doing what they can to assist their longevity.

But the success at St. Catherines is dismal despite their efforts. Just look at the statistics from the 2011 breeding season. Jen and Rachel observed 22 nesting pairs. They incubated eggs from 50% of these nests because so many eggs left in the nests are predated or washed away by the sea. If I understood them correctly, from their efforts, none succeeded in making it to the stage where it could “fledge” or fly away. Only one pair of American oystercatchers on St. Catherines succeeded in producing one fledging naturally. A species can not continue if it cannot reproduce more abundantly.

How noble it is of these naturalists to perpetuate life, to study life, and to honor life. Hallelujah for avians and the ornithologists who study and assist them. Hallelujah for St. Catherines, an island sanctuary for the American oystercatcher, a beautiful of the United States’ eastern shores!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am so thankful to my Chiboogamoo! His paleontological interests challenge me to grow. It is by accompanying him on his scientific investigations that I broaden my own interests in this bountiful and rich EARTH. Jen Hilburn is an inspiration! How fortunate is St. Catherines to employ this woman who breathes life into every action she takes! She infuses her love into everyone who willingly steps into her intellectual path! No one is left unimpacted by this very force of nature and intelligence. Jen Hilburn wants “buy in” to saving this earth. She is all SCIENTIST in her investigations. She is all ARTIST in embrace of others and extension of knowledge. Halleljuah! Thank you Rachel Harris for being so knowledgeable, patient, and kind when answering my questions.

ABOUT MY PAINTINGS IN THIS BLOG: Many of you might already know that I call myself a visionary painter because I rely on an inner feeling or "eye" to guide me as I do my work. As a SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM, I have been journeying in new directions artistically. Because I adore NATURE and have the good fortune to travel with my brilliant paleontologist husband on his forays to study modern and ancient ichnology (traces), I have welcomed the richness of NATURE  pervading my SPIRIT. I absorb, think, feel, wait, contemplate, and yes--draw without judgment. The drawings you see on this blog resulted as a process of daily meditation. The "new" aspect of this work was for me to use a specific outside stimulus like a photograph to translate inward. If I had a goal or ambition in these works, it was to express my relationship to the American oystercatcher. You see, I BELIEVE that the process of making ART connects us to the world and through that process we begin to "OWN" our role in taking care of MOTHER EARTH. We "buy in" as Jen Hilburn might say. HALLELUJAH FELLOW PILGRIM!

SOUL BLOG with Hallelujah about your response to the all-American bird, the American Oyster Catcher! Take a moment to investigate the SCIENTIST and ARTIST in you. What do you know? What do you love? What action can you take today to sustain this awesome EARTH that we inhabit?

PRAYER FOR THE AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: Hope springs eternal and it is necessary to keep a positive attitude when scientific facts predict that the American oystercatcher will die out as a species and the ornithologists are measuring how long it will take even though they have made efforts to preserve this beautiful American bird. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

SEA TURTLES NEED US: Relocating Nests on St. Catherines Island, Georgia

SEA TURTLE HATCHLING (art by Hallelujah)

Hallelujah for SEA TURTLES and SEA TURTLE EGGS! Aren’t they mysteriously fascinating creatures? Hallelujah for SCIENTISTS like Gale Bishop, who are passionately dedicated to assisting SEA TURTLES survival by monitoring their nests on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, four-and-a-half months every year. 113 precious sea turtle eggs were laid in the 159th nest on Friday night, July 30, 2011, when I was there with my Chiboogamoo. And I got to help protect them!
Gale Bishop

While my Chiboogamoo was researching alligator dens on the island’s inland ponds, I accompanied Gale and a visiting team of paleontologists from Montana State University (MSU) to the coastal dunes to relocate the eggs from this 159th nest. The focus of the MSU scientists was to study modern sea-turtle nest structures in order to increase their understanding of fossil ones. On this sizzling hot day with temperatures soaring into triple digits Fahrenheit, we were glad to guided by an expert. Gale has been monitoring sea-turtle nesting for 21 years through the St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program.
Dan Lawver

Once we were at the site of nest 159, Gale guided Dan Lawver, an MSU paleontology graduate student, to carefully remove its surface sand. This nest had been discovered and marked earlier in the morning at sunrise when Gale and his intern patrolled the beach looking for the iconic trackways made by a mother sea turtle. To lay eggs, she must leave the safety and fluidity of her ocean home to pull herself forward with her flippers on this foreign land of her birthplace. Her movements recorded in the sand look cumbersome, persistent, and rhythmic. Dan worked slowly with the shovel edge, eventually revealing the damp oval outline of the place where the mother turtle had deposited her eggs, then compacted the sand on top of them. Tentatively, with his fingers, Dan loosened and removed handfuls of the sand until he uncovered the bevy of more than 100 eggs.
AN EASILY RECOGNIZED PATTERN: Sea turtles leave a distinctive trackway.  This particular sea turtle did not succeed in making a nest. Imagine her pulling herself along the beach, using her flippers, only to turn around and leave mission unaccomplished. (photo by Gale Bishop)

Successful Sea Turtle Trackway: The mother sea turtle who journeyed from the ocean to the dune succeeded in making a nest. (photo by Gale Bishop)

These eggs must be moved for two primary reasons. First of all, mother sea turtles are laying eggs too close to the shoreline, and the forces of the ocean will erode the nest away. Then there are the predators. In addition to moving nests to higher ground away from the surf, protective screening is placed over the nests to protect them from persistent predators such as raccoons, ghost crabs, and feral hogs.

Predator Raccoon: This opportunivore was captured at the site of a sea turtle nest. (photo by Gale Bishop)

Predator Ghost Crab: Eating is essential for every living thing. Ghost crabs prey upon sea turtle nests. (photo by Chiboogamoo)

Predator Hogs: Hogs do not belong on the Georgia barrier islands. They destroy habitats and love to eat turtle eggs. Reproducing at such rapid rates, hog populations on the islands are impossible to control. (Photo by Gale Bishop)

Urged on by Gale to participate in this magnificent conservation effort—even though I was slightly nervous about damaging the eggs—I began scooping them out of the nest by twos and putting them in a large, red three-gallon bucket. Each time I touched an egg, I worried that my fingers would puncture it. Instead, the egg yielded to my touch, allowing me to ease it out of its earthy sandy womb. How did the yolk of the unborn turtle stay intact? Each egg seemed a tiny miracle of Mother Nature!

WOW!: Hallelujah holding a sea turtle egg! (photo by Gale Bishop)

ELEMENTAL LIFE:  Sea Turtle Eggs Re-nested. (photo by Chiboogamoo, photoshopped by Hallelujah)

Once reburied in a much safer location in the dunes, these white durable leathery eggs, a little larger and softer than ping-pong balls, will hatch in approximately 54 days. The hatchlings will erupt from this human-made “protected” nest with a clear and direct sense of how to reach the sea. Each newly minted sea turtle will leave a small undulating trackway perpendicular to the beach, something that won’t be repeated again until its reproductive maturity twenty years later. And that will only happen if the 3-inch-long female hatchlings escape all the hazards of being a small animal in a very large and competitive ecosystem. Is it really possible that out of every ONE THOUSAND sea turtle hatchlings, just ONE survives to reproductive age?
SEA TURTLE LIFE! (photo by Gale Bishop)

Of the 113 eggs from nest 159, one egg was collected for DNA testing. Gale calls this a necessary “sacrifice” so that the mother turtle can be identified. For example, on one short stretch of the beach, the DNA testing revealed that the same mother sea turtle had nested six times. Do the math! One mother, six nests, each nest comprising approximately 113 eggs—that’s 678 hatchlings from just one turtle ambling towards the sea! Perhaps one of them might make it to maturity! But then again, what percentage of the nested eggs will actually hatch? That’s another story, for another time.

Has the sea turtle always faced such great odds at survival? Who knows! When we consider deep time—sea turtles have been in existence since the Early Cretaceous, for more than 100 million years. If they have survived this long, won’t they continue? Simply answered, NO! Today, their nesting habitats are severely threatened by human development, invasive species, and the changing environment, such as global warming. Because of these conditions, all species of sea turtles are on the endangered list. Sea turtles need our assistance if they are to continue being on this glorious and wonderful planet.
HATCHLING CRAWLWAY: The babies knew which direction to go. Did they feel the call of the sea? See their trackways? (photo by Gale Bishop)

Over the 21 years that Gale has been monitoring the sea-turtle nests on St. Catherines Island from mid-May to the end of September, he has come across and relocated 2,355 nests and thus assisted approximately 142,672 sea turtles at the beginning of their life cycles. He has helped train 256 teachers in St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program, therefore impacting the sea turtle conservation knowledge of 270,227 students.

Hallelujah for EDUCATORS and SCIENTISTS like Gale, and the SEA TURTLES they serve. Hallelujah for STUDENTS who are our FUTURE SEA TURTLE CONSERVATIONISTS. Food for thought—if it takes ONE    THOUSAND or more hatchling sea turtles for ONE to become a mother, how many students educated in sea turtle conservation does it take to produce a sea turtle protector?

That’s COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH! Write me and tell me why so many of us just absolutely love sea turtles and feel connected to them! SOUL BLOG with me and explain to me the mysteries that entwine us with these magnificent creatures of the sea!

SUNRISE AT ST. CATHERINES ISLAND: Sunday morning on July 31,  Chiboogamoo and I went out with Gale on his morning patrol to check for newly made nests or hatchling crawlways to the sea.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Hallelujah sings praises of Gale Bishop, professor, paleontologist, ichnologist, educator, and turtle conservationist extraordinaire. He is generous and gentle in his science instruction. He really loves people as much as he loves sea turtles and his black cat, Abbie. And, he can bake the best dinner rolls ever! Thanks to the Montana State University crew, who let me tag along. And, as always, thanks to my Chiboogamoo, who takes to me the Georgia Coast. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Penetrating Gaze of a Lemur (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for RING-TAILED LEMURS—primates with extravagantly long black-and-white tails and amber eyes set in impish triangular faces! Hallelujah for ring-tailed lemurs in Georgia! Yes, Georgia! After Madagascar, the second largest community of free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs in the world exists on St. Catherines, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, about 50 miles south of Savannah. It was my good fortune that my brilliant paleontologist husband, Chiboogamoo, had research matters on this incredible island and asked me to accompany him. As the wife of a scientist, my JOURNEY brought me to a 10 mile-long island, with its magical marshes, wetland meadows, ponds, maritime forests, and beaches. And I asked myself, “What does Hallelujah Truth, my creative persona, want to gain from this barrier island SOJOURN?”

Saw palmettos in the foreground and live oaks with Spanish moss in the background.(photos by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)

View of the ocean from the maritime forest.

Marsh surrounded by maritime forest. This pathway was established by alligator traffic.
I decided I would be CURIOUS and SEE what I could LEARN and be INSPIRED by. The next question was, “How could I enlist others in my QUEST?” I found that the island’s intelligent and well-educated naturalists were not only supportive of my endeavor to learn and capture my experience creatively, but they were also passionate! One of my pursuits involved BEING with the ring-tailed lemurs!
Visual beauty! Draping lemur tails and Spanish moss!

Lemur Buddha pose! Lemurs love to sunbathe!

Imagine these devilish looking primates peaking around trunks of pine trees and lounging on the bosoms of ancient live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Researchers who have the privilege of conducting studies on this privately owned barrier island experience delightful encounters as they happen to drive by at feeding time.

Who's conducting the research here?

Because of conditioning that a truck at a certain time equals food, lemurs, small, medium and large ones, bound toward research vehicles. The babies ride piggyback, tucked on their mothers so tightly that their hold is referred to as the “death grip.”
Baby lemur "death grip" on mama.
On the last Friday in July, I accompanied Susan Inman, the lemurs’ caretaker for the past three years, on her daily routine of feeding them. As our truck laden with buckets of food arrived at the first site, the lemurs jumped on the truck hood, then catapulted to the side mirrors, and next on top of the vehicle to the back of the truck. We sat quietly observing them. Each time the lemurs paused on the truck, they rubbed their hindquarters on it, looking through the window at us and smiling clownishly. Susan talked knowledgably about their behavior. “Lemurs are very scent-oriented,” she explained. Since scenting is one of their important methods of communicating, each one leaves an individual mark. Males are known to have “stink fights,” Susan continued to explain to me. They depress glands on their chests with their paws, rub the scent on their long beautiful tails, and then whip them around dispersing individual “stinks.” Females, apparently, use scent differently--more for attracting than repelling.

Susan Inman at work, getting food from the lemur truck.

As we sat in the truck watching the lemur antics, Susan talked about the lemurs by name and pointed out individual characteristics of some. Identification is simplified for researchers by the collars worn by the lemurs. Each lemur--except the infants, which are still rapidly growing—is adorned with a differently colored radio collar that is then associated with a carefully chosen name. Great attention and fun is given to naming these St. Catherines’ primates. This breeding season, the babies were given names from Greek mythology such as Zeus, Orion, Morpheus, Celine, Hera, and Pleiades. The previous season, newborns were named after characters from the old west, for instance, Butch (male newborn twin), Cassidy (female newborn twin), and Annie Oakley.
Lemur antics at meal time.
Once we were out of the truck and as Susan distributed the food, the lemurs actively meandered around these treats, which are placed in several different locations either on the ground, on a stand under the pines and oaks, or in their pen, which they use in winter.  A large female lemur named Jen is the first to move toward the metal bowl filled with carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries and protein biscuits. Lemur societies are matriarchal and the females feed before their male counterparts. The babies eat alongside their mothers, feeding happily but not completely because at the end of July, the time of my visit, they are still nursing. Later during the day the lemurs will supplement this meal with muscadine, palm berries, wax myrtle, and grapevine leaves.
Yum! Fresh carrots, sweet potatoes, and blueberries.

As Susan and I moved from feeding site to feeding site, the dense green undergrowth of the saw palmettos, the draping Spanish moss swaying overhead, and the golden sunlight filtering through the tree canopy awed me. Life can bring us on brief and intensely beautiful JOURNEYS if we are present to our experience!

Over the course of an hour or more, Susan and I visited each one of the six troops that the lemurs have established in the island’s maritime forest. I learned that each troop’s name is somehow poetic in its practicality, revealing something about the troop’s location. The first established troop is named Windmill because it is located near an old windmill. Its society now consists of 21 lemurs. It is from this Windmill troop that the others have “splintered” to form new families or troops.
This deer is waiting for the lemurs' leftovers.

This past spring, the total population of lemurs on St. Catherines increased to 83 when twenty-four infants were born between the beginning of March and the end of April. The names and numbers of the other troops are Yankee Bridge (21); Engineers (9): Terry Lynn (5): East Road (8); and Picnic Bluff (9). Three younger male lemurs are without a troop now because they have splintered off and been unsuccessful in joining a new troop.

As we finished the morning feeding rounds, I asked Susan, who also works with the exotic birds and hoof stock on the island, how she would describe her experience caring for the lemurs.  “It’s unique to manage an exotic population without boundaries,” she answered modestly. “The lemurs manage themselves. I just have to be there for them.”
Susan distributing food at one of the lemur stands.
And what did, I, Hallelujah, find from this visit with Susan and the ring-tailed lemurs to feed my creativity? I love the incongruity of these impish primates’ presence amongst the pines, oaks, Spanish moss, and saw palmettos. I feel positively connected with Susan through her careful tutoring about the lemurs’ behavior and the research being done on them about their breeding and feeding habits, as well as, how they figure out complex problems.

I have lived this JOURNEY to St. Catherines fully because I was TRUE to myself and my curiosity, resulting in a new understanding so that I can write, take photos, make watercolor images, and share my knowledge with you, my SOUL BLOGGERS.

That’s COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH! Soul blog with me and tell me how you stay true to yourself on your JOURNEY. What do you think about ring-tailed lemurs free-ranging on a Georgia barrier island?

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: To Susan Inman, I am so grateful for your patience and ability to communicate clearly what you know. Thanks to all of the knowledgeable people who work on St. Catherines and make it so easy to learn about the island’s wildlife. And, very importantly, thank you Chiboogamoo for being my life companion and taking me on JOURNEYS to the barrier islands of the Georgia coast!
Chiboogamoo with curious scent-marking lemurs.

Hallelujah Truth photographing lemurs on her first visit to St. Catherines Island in 2008 (photo by Chiboogamoo, aka Tony Martin).