A short bio about the face behind the blog
(and a rather lengthy story about the the bird that inspired me to Simply Begin)
My name is Ty F. Webster. I’m a free-thinking, freelancing writer and photographer from Trempealeau, WI, USA, in the beautiful heart of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. My home-away-from-home is Shankill, County Dublin, Ireland, where I take my role as “The Best Unkel Ever” (the title to a story by my then-7-year old niece, Abby) very seriously. My home-away-from-home-away-from-home is the Richview Hostel, village of Keel, Achill Island, Ireland. It is there, in the midst of the stunning scenery and mystical mists of Ireland’s west coast, that I seem to be able to connect most deeply with my inner artist. The rest of the time, home is wherever my backpack, my cameras and I happen to be at the moment on this great, blue planet of ours.
Obviously, I have an incurable case of wanderlust. I also hold a deep reverence, respect and love for our planet. I am distressed by the troublesome state of affairs in the world and depressed by the profusion of negativity, turmoil, greed, fear, and general disregard for our planet’s health – and therefore our own survival.
However, I’m also keenly aware that there is an abundance of positivity and peace in the world – if only we make the effort to find it – and plenty of inspirational people doing amazing things to make a positive difference – if only we make the effort to find them.
I strongly feel that there is time to save this seemingly sinking ship of ours. And I suggest that the time is NOW. For a long time, I questioned what I could do to assist in this process. Simply Begin is my attempt at an answer.
And now for the story about that bird:
At its heart, Simply Begin is a tribute. An ode to a sea bird; a cormorant, to be exact. A sickly cormorant, struggling for life on a quiet Pacific Ocean beach somewhere south of Monterrey, CA, one soft spring evening in 2015.
I encountered that poor avian soul late on the last day of a short but splendid adventure around the elegant environs of Northern California south of San Francisco. My only companions were cameras; my main intention was to photograph that beautiful corner of the world.
On the first day of the trip I picked up my zippy little rental car at the San Fran airport, then headed seaward and south to explore the region the laid back locals have aptly termed the “Slow Coast.” I dipped my toes in the ocean at a remote beach with soft, golden sands. I paused at a roadside farm stand for a slice of delectable pie (at the Pie Ranch, if ever you’re in the area and desirous of pie). I went for a serene hike on a state park trail offering sylvan silence and a communion with tall trees. And I ended the day at another quiet beach, atop a massive rock — accessible only at low tide — where I was serenaded by the softly-shattering surf as the sun dropped slowly to the sea. The slanted sun rays highlighted misty puffs of water — the exhalations of migrating grey whales who, I imagined, were watching the sunset too.
The next three days were equally enjoyable and exhilarating and equally full of the priceless moments that come a dime a dozen when you’re immersed in the unfathomable beauty of earth’s pristine places. I took a long, rambling hike in a state park at the northern end of Big Sur, ascending a big hill for big views of the jagged, rocky coastline before descending through redwoods and ferns for a candid conversation with the babbling river in the valley below. I drove along that impossibly scenic, winding stretch of Highway 1, stopping countless times to photograph coastal scenes — each more “Wow!”-ful than its predecessor.
I witnessed one of those sunsets that proves that whatever else God is or isn’t, she at the very least is one helluvan artist with a flair for the dramatic. It was a cornucopia of color. A riot of light calming slowly but surely until sky, clouds and sea were all a soft, monochromatic, blue-grey blanket you could just about wrap yourself up in to watch the stars twinkling on one-by-one.
I headed inland to spend a day rambling around the rocky inclines of Pinnacles National Park, which I didn’t even know existed until I spotted it on the map. What a discovery! I felt the joy a Medieval knight may have known when his quest brought him for the first time within eyeshot of Camelot. Indeed, the precipices of Pinnacles rise up out of the rolling Central California plain like a giant castle, and I was thrilled to explore its parapets and rocky towers. I shared the airspace with hundreds of turkey vultures and (oh my!) one of the giants of the ornithological world: the California condor. It was an impressive sight, and a park ranger informed me I was lucky to spot one of these rare, back-from-the-verge-of-extinction, winged creatures. I’m forever grateful it revealed itself to me. But that’s not the bird for this ode.
However, it does lead us back to the one — that poor, struggling cormorant on the quiet beach somewhere south of Monterey.
I left the parking lot at Pinnacles with the sun slanting downward, thinking that if I were lucky, my route would intersect the coast in time to watch the sun set over the ocean. Fortune was friendly. I found a beach, kicked off my shoes and let the cool, white sands soothe my bare, hike-weary soles while the serene scene soothed my soul.
The sun — a massive orange orb on the horizon of a cloudless sky — appeared to settle softly into the water far beyond the shore, where the waves carried on their timeless conversation of ‘hiss’ and ‘splash’ and ‘splish’ and ‘sploosh’ with those eternal sands. And once again, here-and-there, the wondrous sprouting of seaspray from whale spouts. Perfect.
A perfect end to a perfect adventure.
Until I encountered that bird.
I was walking back along the beach toward the parking lot where I’d left my zippy little rental car when I encountered the creature floundering helplessly in a small pile of seaweed. Flapping its wings and thrashing about. I thought it had gotten tangled in the weed and stranded when the tide retreated. Thought maybe I could free it and send it on its way. No such luck. It wasn’t tangled at all.
My next thought was that it needed to return to the water. That being a diving bird, it couldn’t manage to take off from flat ground. I hoisted it with my hands over its wings so it couldn’t flap and escape my grasp. Tossed it as far out into the surf as I could manage. And watched in horror as the waves tossed it about like a forgotten rag doll dropped by a too-cute toddler with ice cream on her mind.
It washed back up onto shore. Floundered and flapped its wings some more. Thrashed ungracefully about. Flipped itself upside down in the process. And lay there, gasping for breath.
I begrudgingly surmised there was nothing more I could do beyond gently placing it back on that bed of seaweed, where at least it might be a little more comfortable. I did so and — with a grave sadness that seemed somehow too heavy for the situation (after all, it was just one hapless bird!) — retreated to my car and journeyed on to the cozy inn where I would spend the night (The Davenport Roadhouse, if ever you’re in the area and desirous of a night in a cozy inn).
After a delicious meal in the top-notch restaurant, I retreated to my room, pulled out my laptop and prepared to re-enter the ‘real world.’ The one I’d so happy-go-luckily retreated from four days before. I checked emails and replied to a few, then checked out a few news sites. As usual, there was plenty of news. Not much of it good.
I realized I’d be better off leaving the real world alone for another evening, so exchanged my computer for my cameras. I scrolled slowly through all the photos I’d taken and reflected on the incredible beauty I’d been blessed to experience during my adventure.
It put me in a peaceful, pleasant mood as I crawled into bed. But then I remembered the cormorant. Sadness returned, even heavier than before, and I started to wonder why. Why did that poor, hapless bird have such a profound effect on me? And why did it cross my path at the end of such a perfect day? Such perfect days?
I was nearly asleep — in that hazy space between consciousness and dreaming — when the answer dawned on me. It came in a flash. A revelation. That bird was a messenger; and its message was this:
“I am you. And everyone else on that beach this evening. And everyone else on this spinning-blue-dot in space. Floundering helplessly. Struggling for life… Unless.”
I sat up, wide awake now. Turned on the light. And wondered out loud: “UNLESS WHAT?!”
A hint came to my mind in a whisper, as if from the cormorant itself, newly crossed over to that eternal ocean where the water is the perfect temperature and teeming with fish: “The Lorax!”
Ah yes, Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s story. About all the trees getting chopped down and the river and sky polluted and fouled, all in the name of progress (spelled “G-R-E-E-D”). And, of course, its climactic message: “Unless…”
And right then and there I determined to honor that Loraxian messenger, my cormorant friend, by figuring out some way to simply begin to show that I do care. To find some way to make a positive impact on this spinning-blue-dot, for all of the people who call this dot “home.”
And that, in the end, is what Simply Begin really is. One man’s attempt to make a difference. To care.
It is a meditation. A prayer for peace. A ray of light in the darkness. A soothing song amidst a cacophony of chaos and conflict. A seed of hope that will hopefully sprout into a garden of optimism giving rise to a full harvest of inspired action. And it is an urgent call to take that action — to follow the lead of those who are already taking the steps, the big ones and the small, that offer the only real hope we know.
I welcome you to join me in this process. I invite you to Simply Begin.