January 31, 2023 I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary early afternoon following a night of steady rain. Saturated forest and field, streams and the Flint River running full, and deep overcast gave the Sanctuary an air of solemn spirituality. This Post offers observations, reflections, and photographs relevant to the mid-winter waterworld I encountered that day and on subsequent visits February 14 and 21.
I’ll begin with a 2:56 video that I recorded at the Sanctuary’s east entrance, highlighting the saturated environment.
Within a hundred yards of the entrance, the trail crosses a bridge over a creek entering the Flint River, which at bankfull has filled the small creek to the brim. Below right the Flint is within a few inches of level with the forest floor.
This yellow poplar, marked with two horizontal lichen strips, stands near the water’s edge. I can at best only speculate the cause of lichen colony patterns on this or any other tree trunk. However, like so much in Nature, competition for resources so often plays an important, if not fundamental, role in determining which individuals, species, or life forms hold at least temporal custody and dominance of a particular habitat niche. Yes, a patch of bark stands as a niche. The lichen competes for the truf with other lichens, algae, and moss, among various life forms vying for the space. I include this photo within the Sanctuary’s water world because even five feet high on a tree trunk, moisture is among the life-resources enabling lichen to thrive. I can also say this photo belongs here because the river appears as background. Regardless of my written rationale, I feel compelled to point out that all elements of Nature and ecosystem function represent a fiercely competitive world, where diverse life forms vie for finite resources. Nature provides no assurance of equal outcomes. Even a lichen must earn its place through performance.
Hydric soils dominate the meadows. Fingers of standing water reach into the fields from channels draining into the nearby Flint River. I sloshed through the grass and sedges beyond the filled channel. Water ankle deep welcomed each footfall. Even the “high” ground felt spongy, springing as I lifted to the next step. The Natural Resources Conservation Service defines hydric soils:
A hydric soil is a soil that formed under conditions of saturation, flooding, or ponding long enough during the growing season to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part.
Hydric soils, according to Wikipedia, the universal font of all knowledge and wisdom, hydric soils express their saturated nature with a grey color:
Gleying is essentially the process of waterlogging and reduction in soils. In waterlogged soils where water replaces air in pores, oxygen is quickly used up by microbes feeding on soil organic matter. The removal of iron leaves the soil a grey or bluish colour.
Again, these soils are seasonally very wet, a fact expressed by wet feet when trundling across, even absent the evidence of soil gleying!
I recorded a 2:50 video at this very same flooded arm:
Within 100 yards of this wet area, just north of the woods-edge where I stood, a tupelo stand occupies an old slough of the Flint River, offering literal and symbolic reflections of trees…and of life and living.
The tupelo pond merited recording this 2:04 video:
A miraculous experience, exciting deep spirituality and lifting my mind, heart, soul, and body. Yes, such special places and everyday Nature buoy my emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. What human-made art matches the magic of tupelo trees, moss-cloaked, and fern-bedecked…rising buttressed from the calm waters? I’m reminded of Joyce Kilmer’s immortal verse:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I can’t top the wise depth of Kilmer’s more-than-a-century-ago rhymes and spiritual insights.
Because I always feel that my own words fall short of expressing my incalculable connection to Nature, I like turning to the timeless wisdom of Muir and da Vinci:
As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. John Muir
Water is the driver of nature. As man has a pool of blood in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its ocean tide which likewise rises and falls every six hours, as if the world breathed. Stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind. (Leonardo da Vinci)
Wetland Restoration Project
Far into the western end of the fields, much closer to the Sanctuary’s western entrance, a “forest” of white tree shelters marks a two-acre wetlands restoration project, where the city of Huntsville has contracted an environmental engineering firm to restore original, pre-agriculture hydrology.
If your eyes do not detect the vertical cylinders, please accept my word…and watch for a subsequent Post highlighting the resotoraction.
I’ve often stated that most images of land, water, forest, and meadow are incomplete without complement of the accompany firmament, in this case, a patterned alto-cumulus stretching to the horizon on Valentine’s Day. Oh, yes, here is a closer view of the seedling tree shelters within the two-acre restoration project. See, I wasn’t fooling about their existence!
The sky is often its own focus, particularly on the Valentine’s Day visit.
A week later, mid-afternoon altostratus offered a different, yet just as lovely, ceiling above the meadows and forests.
I can’t get enough of Nature’s gifts. All required of me is venturing into her warm embrace.
Paraphrasing John Muir, I’ll learn the language of flood and storm, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. My visits to the Sanctuary…and any number of other special wild places…transport me to the vibrant heart of Nature, where her blood courses and flows into me, renewing and energizing my own heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul.
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- Snowscape and ice-locked waterways are rare in northern Alabama; instead, Nature’s water-worlds reign!
- Water is the driver of Nature. (Leonardo da Vinci)
- Nothing in Nature is more dynamic than her endless, restless, life-giving cycle of water.
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: “©2023 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.