I returned to Cheaha State Park October 20, 2021, for an Alabama State Parks Foundation evening reception and dinner, and next day Board meeting. I am pleased to offer photos and reflections from explorations that afternoon with Mandy Pearson, Park Naturalist. We visited the recently opened Interpretive Center and hiked parts of two new trails. I’ve published eight previous Great Blue Heron Posts on Cheaha. The most recent: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/20/non-flowering-plants-atop-the-mountain-at-cheaha-ee-aa-annual-conference/ For the other seven, go to my web site Blog tab (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) and search for ‘Cheaha.’
Having grown up in the central Appalachians, those ancient mountains live deep in my body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Among Alabama’s 21 State Parks, Cheaha acts as a beacon calling me back to what feels like my roots. These southern Appalachians soothe and comfort me, restore my sense of well-being, and rekindle memories otherwise dormant.
Judy and I checked into the Bald Rock Lodge at a little after noon (below).
We rendezvoused with Mandy at the Interpretive Center at Lake Cheaha, which sits 800 feet below Cheaha’s 2,407-foot summit.
The Interpretive Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, had served as the lake’s bath house before being converted this past summer to its new use. The “CCC Boys,” who also built the Bald Rock Lodge, sure mastered the craft of exquisite stone masonry! Little could they imagine that more than eight decades hence their stonework, backdropped by a cerulean sky, would inspire visitors from all fifty states and beyond.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the CCC, memorializing his intent:
I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work…More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.
Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.
The balance of men and nature FDR sought lives on resolutely today at Cheaha State Park.
The new Interpretive Center will serve park visitors for generations to come.
The Lake and its Cheaha backdrop, as I hinted above, transport me back in time…and 600 miles northward along the spine of the Appalachians. My third book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits (co-authored with Jennifer Wilhoit), carries an apt subtitle: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. Cheaha is one of those special places for which I feel deep passion. Muir foreshadowed my own sentiments:
We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.
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.
Tim Haney Sensory Trail
Tim Haney retired in 2021 from his post as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region. He began his State Parks career in 1977. Cheaha recently established a trail in Tim’s honor. The Sensory Trail focuses hikers on understanding and connecting to multiple facets of Nature along the way. I’ve hiked with Tim, and I have admired and appreciated his own intimate harmony with trees, flowers, fauna, soil, rocks, water…the entire ecosystem.
Among many other highlights along the trail, this station reminded us that living forests…vibrant ecosystems…include both life and death, a continuing cycle of carbon, water, organic matter, and nutrients.
Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy Trail
From an online National Library of Medicine site:
Current literature supports the comprehensive health benefits of exposure to nature and green environments on human systems. The aim of this state-of-the-art review is to elucidate empirical research conducted on the physiological and psychological effects of Shinrin-Yoku (or Forest Bathing) in transcontinental Japan and China. Furthermore, we aim to encourage healthcare professionals to conduct longitudinal research in Western cultures regarding the clinically therapeutic effects of Shinrin-Yoku and, for healthcare providers/students to consider practicing Shinrin-Yoku to decrease undue stress and potential burnout.
This new trail introduces hikers to the Shinrin concept, also known as forest bathing, a form of nature therapy. Because our afternoon window permitted only skimming the interpretive signage along both new trails, I will dedicate time to full immersion on my next Cheaha visit.
My routine forest strolling pace allows plenty of time for seeking the Nature-magic that lies hidden in plain sight. However, what I gleaned from the signage suggests ratcheting down the pace another notch. My own Nature wanderings involve close observation. Observation, I’ve found, requires concentrated effort.
Observation and perception are two different things; the observing eye is stronger; the perceiving eye is weaker (Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings).
A Shinrin-Yoku forest bathing walk consists of a series of activities & sits, designed to help the participants to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest, allowing them to slow down, breathe, and refocus on their body, while connecting to their various senses.
Admittedly, slowing to the Shinrin forest pace may not be easy for me. However, as I contemplate the notion, I may already practice a variant of forest bathing. I do observe deeply, capture photographs, then do my contemplative forest bathing at home as I sort and organize images, reflect upon the images, and then develop a cogent tale…a story of the visit that draws connections, illustrates Nature in action, and offers lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading.
I did pay a lot of attention as I traversed the Shinrin-Yoku trail. In all honesty, I trundled along at my standard pace, except stopping to read a sign or two. Lichen-coated rocks and emerging fall yellows caught my eye.
I suppose the true Shinrin practitioner would have found a spot to lie flat, gazing into the high-canopy foliar show (left). No such spot below right among the pavement of shattered stones and downed woody debris!
The Shinrin Trail brought us to the rimrock looking west some 800 feet above Cheaha Lake.
Another perfect spot, within the context of forest bathing, to sit awhile, encouraging me to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest…to slow down, breathe, and refocus…while connecting to…various senses. I cannot argue with the wisdom of Shinrin. In fact, I often do just that…sit and quietly absorb the essence of special places. Yet, here is where I fall short of the Shinrin ideal. Normally, I sit in contemplation with my senses alert to keen observation, until I urge myself to get back to my feet in search of the next focus of concentration and observation. My shortfall? I fail to sit in relaxed absorption, resisting the urge to forge ahead, allowing myself to become infused within the place…to permit me to free my body, mind, soul, spirit, and heart to float among the elements of Nature…to experience where I wander on a level unfamiliar to me.
And now, I must concede that I might not be able to take that next Shinrin step. I may not be willing to give my subconscious free reign, allowing myself to float among the forest vapors. In fact, I know that given the kind place I would choose to sit in Shinrin reflection, a near-certain result would be Steve slipping into nap time! Okay, I won’t know until I try. I commit to you that I will push myself in the Shinrin direction. I’ll report back to you.
With or without Shinrin, I will always take time to notice things as simple as this dead and decaying tree along the Shinrin Trail, emblematic of the ongoing cycle of life and death.
In Defiance of Fall
Death and renewal, year after year after year, is a forest ecosystem theme now and forevermore. The yellow beyond the shattered stump above and below right is golden aster, still flowering, an act of renewal in a season of senescence. Likewise, a purple aster is flowering in defiance of the imminent autumn.
I find magic in our forests whenever and wherever I roam. Even without practicing Shinrin-Yoku, I believe I experience our forests far deeper and more meaningfully than the average hiker I encounter. I attribute the difference to employing what I term my Five Essential Verbs for maximizing benefit from my Nature wanderings: Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act.
- I find Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe because I know they lie hidden within view — belief enables me to look and see
- Really look, with eyes open to my surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
- Staying alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
- See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
- Feel emphatically enough to spur action
Alabama State Parks Foundation
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- Cheaha Mountain State Park is a special gem.
- We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us (John Muir).
- Two new interpretive trails at Cheaha spotlight the System’s mission element to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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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 the filters I employ. 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!
Steve’s Three Books
I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) 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.
I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:
- I love hiking and exploring in Nature
- I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
- I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
- I don’t play golf!
- I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
- Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
- And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future
All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.