My Winter Term Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Class Visits DeSoto State Park
March 20, 2019, staff at DeSoto State Park (DSP) welcomed members of my Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI at University of Alabama in Huntsville) winter term course on Northern Alabama State Parks. The 35 or so registrants elected to visit DSP on this supplemental field trip from among the Parks we brought to OLLI during the six-week term. And what a great day we chose to visit — perfect weather on the first day of spring! I intend for this Blog Post to hit a few highlights and celebrate the course and this capstone field tour.
Park Superintendent Ken Thomas oriented us at the entrance to ADA-accessible Azalea Cascade Boardwalk Trail, and then led us back to the cascade. I will not attempt to identify folks in the photos, except for Ken in the uniform below.
Three months of more-than-ample rain assured good flow in every spring, brook, and creek. Full sun reached the forest floor in advance of the leaf-out yet to arrive.
One of our classmates paused to absorb the sun, lean on one of the many rock ledges, and enjoy Nature’s bounty.
Pleasant Wildness at the Park
Moss and lichen find purchase on most every surface, transforming tree trunks and raw rock to elevated non-flowering plant gardens.
I admit that as a former wood products industry forester, I still see trees in terms of merchantable height, board feet, and sawlog quality, but not exclusively or even primarily. I saw a different kind of quality in the white oak below. Imagine with me, if you will, the oak as a sapling struck by a larger nearby tree falling on it, bending and breaking it 20-feet above the ground. The sapling sprouted above the break, growing once again skyward. Now 50 years later, the sapling has developed a nearly perfect goose head! Artistic quality in this fine feathered oak far exceeds the tree’s worth for forest products. Notice the bill closed tightly and the eye located anatomically exactly where it should be! The upper neck is flawless. I pledge to never jettison the timber beast that lies within me or abandon my youthful zest for tree whimsy.
Spring ephemerals had begun to awaken, taking seasonal advantage of the full sunlight flowing through the still leaf-free canopy. Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooms from last year’s foliage (lower left), as does solitary pusseytoes (lower right; Antennaria solitaria).
And we saw the refreshing spring yellows of halberd-leaved violet (lower left; Viola hastata) and trout lilly or yellow fawn lilly (lower right; Erythronium americana). Common names are often so descriptive. Pusseytoes flowers resemble a cat’s paw. The yellow violet leaf is, quite simply, halberd-shaped. The yellow fawn lilly leaves are spotted like a new spring fawn!
And bluets (Hedyotis caerulea) could not be more aptly named. White, yellow, and blue replacing the drab cloak of winter. Yet another reason to celebrate!
The Zest of Seasoning
Indian Falls, a short walk from the Cascade Trail head, supplied visual and audio reward as it dropped perhaps 20 feet over a rock ledge. Because I was there to shepherd our OLLI flock, I chose to capture our enrollees enjoying the falls from both above and below. Early in my professional life, I would have thought that retirement was for the aging (maybe even the aged), and that heading into the woods beyond a stroll in the garden was for other than those deep into their seventh and eighth decades (60s-and-70s year-old ancients). By definition and from the website, “OLLI at UAH is designed specifically for your lifestyle and interests, with no grades or tests. Become an active member of OLLI today! … OLLI is designed for lifelong learners age 50+ seeking intellectual stimulation, self-expression, and the opportunity to explore new ideas with peers.” While OLLI invites lifelong learners 50-60, most everyone in my course can see that decade only over their shoulders. None among us thought about our age that day. Sure, although we ventured forth on a fine spring day, I no longer feel the spring in my knees. Yet, like the expanding leaf and flower buds, I felt my heart and spirit swell with the season. In fact, at this age of chronological seasoning (aging), I feel the Nature-inspired surge of life within me more now than ever!
Aldo Leopold offered a quintessentially relevant quote: “When I call to mind my earliest impressions, I wonder whether the process ordinarily referred to as growing up is not actually a process of growing down; whether experience, so much touted among adults as the thing children lack, is not actually a progressive dilution of the essentials by the trivialities of living.” So true, especially now 70 years beyond his offering that insight, as we Homo sapiens in modern society too often abandon the essentials in pursuit of our digitally-based trivialities of living. March 20 at DeSoto, we stayed with the essentials, immersed in Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. We observed, appreciated, and relished the experience through the eyes, heart, soul, and spirit of youth. Perhaps retirement marks a threshold from which we grow up… and re-enter the world of essentials!
Leopold also noted:
- “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?”
- “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”
I observed our group of OLLI participants remaining aware and going blind only to the distractions and trivialities of living. I think that to a person we relished the day together… with Nature and with each other.
I’ve quoted John Muir multiple times — his wisdom is timeless: “In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” We all appreciated the indoor elements of the six-week course as we brought the Parks to the classroom, but nothing matched the exquisite gifts we received from our visit to DeSoto State Park.
Another of Muir’s gems of Nature rewards and benefits: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” We spent far less than a week, yet performed a bit of spirit-cleaning!
Most of us made a fitting side trip to nearby DeSoto Falls. Yet another treat — nothing of lesser worth here!
And also nearby, a human history and archeological jewel: Howard’s Chapel and cemetery. The Chapel, wedged into and built alongside a fifteen-foot sandstone ledge that serves as a backdrop for its pulpit, was built in 1937 by “an obscure former Hollywood lead man and candidate for U.S. President.” A curiosity that is somewhat whimsically spiritual. We are one with Nature, in life and in death. Ashes to ashes… dust to dust. Howard, I am certain, viewed the nearby falls with deep appreciation and felt the Spirit move in him 80 years ago. How many generations of Native Americans sensed a strong spiritual connection to this land now protected, managed, and preserved as one of Alabama’s 22-pearl necklace of State Parks?
I am honored and privileged to have co-taught this OLLI course with the Park System’s Northern Alabama Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Tim Haney. Tim knows the Parks and exudes a reverence for them that infused every presentation and interaction. I am grateful for the essential and pivotal role he played.
Life Lessons and Wisdom from Our DeSoto State Park Visit
I’ll offer broadly and succinctly that venturing into Nature is reward in itself. Follow my advice and urging:
- Keep close to Nature’s heart
- Embrace Nature’s essentials
- Jettison the trivialities of living
- Know, notice, and rejoice that winter’s drabness will yield to spring’s whites, yellows, blues, reds, and greens
Retain the youthful innocence and child’s appreciation for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.
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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:
- Life will reward those who keep close to Nature’s heart.
- An ounce of Nature’s essentials outweighs a ton of digital distractions and trivialities.
- Grow up without shedding awareness.
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.”
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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.
- They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.
Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!