In concert with my October exploration of Alabama’s Lakepoint State Park and the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, I slipped over to Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park October 14, 2022. I found a paradoxically attractive consequence of man’s irresponsible and poorly informed treatment of fragile soils for crop production. Scarred by agriculture in the mid-19th century, erosion canyons now reach 150 feet deep. The landscape bears testament to Nature’s unforgiving response to abusive land use.
Vulnerability to Nature’s Forces
Interpretive signage describe the chronology of land use history and unforeseen consequences.
The canyon and this single sign capture the consequence of ignorant land use practice.
Leaving the visitors center I hiked the canyon loop trail counter clockwise, descending toward the outlet stream. Immediately, the erodible tendency of the soils expressed clearly with severe trail gullying. I pondered whether a park established to remind visitors of Nature’s harsh reaction to man’s torment can manage its own trails through season after season of southwest Georgia rains. These photos suggest a losing battle.
Several hundred feet down the trail (below left) an erosion finger reached above the trail into the forested hillside. The active gully continued below the trail, where a wooden handrail protects hikers from slipping into the growing ravine.
The stream outlet (below left) leads up into the canyon. Water flowed across a firm sandy bottom. The flow continued downstream (below left).
Trail signs alert hikers to hazards and warn of dangerous consequences.
Power of Erosion at the Hand of Man: Beauty and Beast
As I hiked along the canyon rim, I stood spellbound by the strange beauty. I often thrill to Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I overheard many fellow hikers remarking, “Isn’t it beautiful!” or like exclamations of appreciation. I could not bring myself to that level of exaltation. After all, I could not distance myself entirely from the cause. Sure, the canyon resulted from natural processes…yet the trigger was man’s. I shuffled between revulsion and inspiration. Were this a canyon known to Native Americans, accorded tales of spirits and generational escapes and adventures, I would have embraced without reservation. Admittedly, however, there is palpable, undeniable beauty in these two images.
My 2:17 video captures the remarkably harsh elegance of the place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TMQYXOvRdE
The layers of sand, silt, and clay paint the canyon sides. However, I observed evidence of still-active expansion. At a number of places along the rim, fence posts stood right at the edge, evidencing that a former rail had been consumed by the advancing cliff face (below left). I felt a bit unnerved as I exposed the image below right from behind the current rail, looking nearly vertically into the abyss.
The canyon edge is raw…obviously active (below left). The close up (below right) shows a fissure opening, portending a three-foot slab that will soon yield to gravity. How long: day; a week; a month; a year? The canyon is not expanding on a geologic time scale. This is happening in real time.
Here is what was once an overlook that is failing, eroding at the surface even as the canyon expands into the rim.
Fascinating Sidebars along the Way
The 20-inch diameter sweet gum tree stood trailside near the canyon rim picnic area, where I paused to eat a granola bar snack. I wondered how many other hikers noticed its old lightning scar running from its base well into the crown. The sweet gum surely has a story to tell…the afternoon that a thunderstorm tossed a lightning bolt at the tree, heating the inner bark cambium to surface-of-the-sun level. The tree survived; the seared cambium did not. The stalwart tree battles on, effectively callusing over the wound in place. Yet, heart rot will continue to weaken the sweet gum. I wonder about its fate. Will gravity exceed the strength of the weakened tree before the canyon reaches laterally to deposit the sweet gum into its gaping maw. Either way, the sweetgum eventually loses.
Also nearby, a walnut tree graced the picnic area, its branches sill heavy with walnuts and the ground under it rich with the fallen nuts in their green husks.
On the far side of the canyon, interpretive signs explained the deep forest presence of long-abandoned cars, field equipment, and building residue. From the canyon to the old homestead, the prior land use and failed domestication created a multi-faceted wasteland, land abused the the point of no economic value and only severely limited natural productivity and utility. I’m pleased that the State left the old human debris, helping to tell the tale of domestication, abuse, and abandonment.
I’m always on the lookout for tree form oddities and curiosities. On the far canyon rim, near the old homestead, a cedar pointed the way toward the canyon outlet. The pointing is only a matter of chance, occurring when a tree crown or stem crushed the then younger, smaller, and more supple cedar. The impact killed the top, fifteen feet from its stump, yet the tree survived to send stems vertically. There are some who would call this an Indian marker tree. Native Americans had long since departed southwestern Georgia when this cedar suffered its injury and recovery.
These two oaks (actually one oak forked at the stump) embraced warmly, grafting their intertwining and intersecting branches. Yet another tree form oddity.
This yucca marked my way, standing green and bright in an otherwise drab upland oak forest.
The photos below show the top (left) and bottom (right) of a single sign. This canyon and others in the Stewart County cotton production area drew the attention of Franklin D. Roosevelt and other New Dealers to create and sign the 1935 Soil Conservation Act.
I’ve often repeated that over the course of my career I’ve seldom learned by doing things right. Stated differently, experience is that thing we get right after we needed it. The nation learned through its agricultural mis-practices and land use mistakes and abuses. I view it as sad that the Act was necessary 73 years after Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which established a Land Grant University (LGU) in each of our states. The LGU mission included advancing the science and practice of agriculture. The Soil Conservation Act passed 21 years after Congress passed the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which enabled the Land Grant Colleges to create statewide Cooperative Extension Services to extend the science and knowledge of LGUs to rural communities, including agricultural practices. Successive legislative actions created a system for encouraging informed and responsible Earth stewardship. So much of what is right and appropriate in the way we treat our land seems to entail common sense, but that kind of sense has seldom been common!
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- Common sense in our treatment of Nature and land is seldom common.
- Too often our past land use has tracked from domestication to abuse to ruin and then to abandonment.
- Observing the man-triggered canyon, I shuffled between revulsion and inspiration.
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 email@example.com
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.