We visited the Tennessee Aquarium January 3 with our two Alabama grandsons (Jack, 11; Sam, nearing 5). They were enjoying the holiday break from school; we remain in retirement’s continuing holiday! What better time to visit Nature indoors following December’s 10.72 inches of rain and the inch-plus that we recorded for January’s first two days — a foot of rain over 33 days! The Chattanooga aquarium features two major exhibit buildings. We started with River Journey and transitioned after lunch to Ocean Journey. The first presents rivers broadly (lower right) even as it focus great attention on the Tennessee River (flowing through Chattanooga) from its Appalachian headwaters (lower left) to the Ohio River.
I watch movies that are set in nature with daunting skepticism. As a lifelong nature enthusiast and doctoral-level applied ecologist, I am quite critical. For example, my wife and I faithfully watched The Walton’s, yet I could never quite get over that producers filmed the family’s Blue Ridge Mountain home in California! I so often witness movies where the rain is pouring under bright sunshine. Or when what is obviously a stroke of lightning at distant claps its on-screen thunder simultaneously with the flash. Or the scene with snow so fake that I am insulted; for example the poor cowpoke whose skin must be so thoroughly frozen that the snowflake resides on his bare skin for many minutes without melting. Or when the majestic eagle in flight makes the call of a red-tailed hawk!
Blessedly, nothing fake about the River Journey, which flawlessly withstood my scrutiny. I felt as though we were actually walking in the Appalachian cove hardwood forest (exhibit below right and left). The magnificent yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) beckoned me to throw my arms around it and gaze up into its heights. The boys thrilled to the deep and ancient forest setting. Of course, we all knew we were in a man-made “forest,” yet we marveled at how true-to-life the designers had constructed what is among my favorite ecotypes across my four-and-one-half decades of practicing forestry.
From the massive poplar to moss-encrusted rocks, we felt the Great Smoky Mountains, where 60-plus inches of annual rain keep summer slopes moist and verdant. I reminded the boys that we were experiencing Nature from the inside-out. They understood and agreed. I am convinced that the moss and other plants are real. A huge indoor terrarium within which we were strolling and learning.
The exhibit made clear that these upland forests accept, filter, and release life-giving waters to the waiting Tennessee River. The indoor walkways lead the visitor ever-downstream, inspiring and explaining with each step. Detail and fidelity to the portrayed action and reality are striking. The waterfall, downed and decaying log, rock ledges, and accompanying vegetation (lower left) transported me into the mountains. And the magic of the split screen lower right; above and below the water line. Native fishes below and natural vegetation above. I felt as though I was touring the real thing and at the same time moseying appreciatively through a fine museum with exquisite works of art.
Slipping below the Headwaters
We descended from the trout streams (above right) into the main Tennessee River valley where great blue herons (below left) and snowy egrets (below right) hold avian sway, and bass, catfish, bream, crappie, and bass dominate waters and wetlands. The heron is a photograph; the egret is real! What a nice touch for the boys (and their grandparents)!
Into the Estuary
We left the specific confines of the Tennessee River, descending toward the coastal environments where inland waterways entered the coastal swamps, estuaries, and bays. Where roseate spoonbills feed.
Where rivers slow and spread. Where brackish water and mangrove swamps provide ideal habitat for yet another ecosystem, all beautifully represented by created display habitats and real fauna. We walked the spectacular exhibits feeling one with our exotic environment yet remaining dry-footed. Again, the Tennessee Aquarium treated us to a grand excursion through Nature… from the inside out!
The interpretive signage perfectly complements the lifelike exhibits.
We entered the estuaries, typical of the Gulf coast’s Mobile Bay or Pascagoula Bayou. I wondered whether I might arrange some not-too-distant future air boat exploration with the boys on the lower Mobile River. I have read of some charter pilots who specialize in touring and interpreting these rich natural features.
And, yes, we were there in the bayou, face-to-face with the American alligator and other denizens who share these brackish waters.
Turn to the left and you’re standing waist-deep, eyeball to eyeball with a gator at the base of a mammoth bald cypress. Ninety-degrees to the right and return to dry feet and the exhibit route. What kid (of any age) doesn’t relish wading among the gators?!
We soon exited the River Journey building, found a place to eat lunch, and returned to spend a few more hours on our afternoon Ocean Journey. Perhaps I’ll offer a future Great Blue Heron Blog Post on our marine tour. It, too, proved worthy of the time and cost. I must admit, as a terrestrial (forest) ecologist, a personal and professional bias toward our River Journey. I love the Great Smoky Mountains and our passage through the headwater forests in which we began our trip to the coastal ecosystems.
Our grandsons are among the many satisfied river and ocean journeyers. Nothing surpasses smiling faces and our satisfaction in sharing their journeys of discovery.
Isn’t this what Nature-Inspired Life is all about? Such a day-long outing (inning?) is just one step in fulfilling my vision that people of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. My own mission is to employ writing and speaking (AND grand-parenting) to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners (AND grandchildren) to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. Whether hiking local greenways or sharing a River Journey from the inside out, we are committed to sowing seeds of adventure, learning, as well as Earth stewardship understanding and responsibility.
As Horace Mann (1796-1859) observed, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Every time I can inject a few lumens of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe into a young mind (a young mind of any age!), I have accomplished a victory, even if modest. And, I have followed the advice that Robert Louis Stevenson implored: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Every day can be a journey of discovery and inspiration, a day of sowing seeds for a brighter tomorrow… a tomorrow that is in the hands of generations ahead. Our obligation is to till the soil, prepare fertile ground, and sow seeds that will sprout understanding, appreciation, and embrace of Earth stewardship. These young people stand at the dawning of a new day… one that we view from our sunset perspective.
May Nature enrich your life and living… Nature-inspired living! And may you pass it forward.
Thoughts and Reflections
I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.
Here are four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:
- In more ways than literal, a journey out into Nature can entail a journey within.
- Every day can be a journey of discovery and inspiration, a day of sowing seeds for a brighter tomorrow… a tomorrow that is in the hands of generations ahead.
- Every time I can inject a few lumens of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe into a young mind (a young mind of any age!), I have accomplished a victory.
- Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/
And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause
If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:
Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.
- People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
- Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.
Tagline: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!