Four Natural Tree Sculptures at Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

May 26, 2023, I lectured at the Residences at WellPoint Community in Hampton Cove, Alabama. I wandered the nearby Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary after lunch for 2.5 hours. I present four special trees…three of which I had not previously photographed. Each is unique, standing as Nature-created sculptures worthy of award and acclaim.

I observe often that I most appreciate photographs that remind me of paintings, and the reverse…paintings that look like photographs. The four trees I present stand as superb creations of Nature…not because the photographs excel, but because the subjects are so extraordinarily photo-worthy. I include 4-6 still photos and a roughly 90-second video of each.

Dead Elm Sculpture


This first individual is a long-dead elm stem, spotlighted by the morning sun. I saw it from a distance, beckoning me as a beacon would signal a seafarer. She called to me with her warm light. I wandered closer, immediately deciding to capture first a series of stills, then follow by circuiting the trunk with with my video camera.

I see little need for reflections and observations beyond these stills and the respective video — enjoy while you marvel at the incredible creative power of life, death, and time. Know that the images capture merely a point in time, which marches on one hour/one day/one week/on and on. The creative work will reduce these particular sculptures to rubble and dust…new marvels will emerge over and over again, whether a future retired forester will ever see them. Nature cares little about who appreciates her handiwork. She does little for the cause of appearance.


Leonardo da Vinci saw Nature through eyes practiced in art and science. He observed flawlessly the essence of Nature’s ways:

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Nature’s artwork is a byproduct of her endless cycle of life, death, decomposition, and renewal. My own appreciation for Nature’s creative magic stems from lucidly understanding her fundamental purpose.

1:30 elm video:


The snag will soon lie flat, yielding to the inevitable bugs, larvae, fungi, and physical agents. We’ll have caught it at its temporal artistic peak (and peek).


Dead Eastern Red Cedar Sculpture


A tortured dead eastern red cedar beckoned next as I wandered north through the riparian forest…a forest formerly farmed, abandoned, and naturally regenerated 70-90 years ago. Red cedar accounted for the early forest invasion troops, its berry-like seeds disseminated by marauding jays and other avian seed-eaters foraging in the brambles within the abandoned farmland transitioning from meadow to forest. Dead cedar, a short-lived pioneer species, stand throughout the now maturing forest.


A cedar trunk sculpture worthy of a prominent feature position within a Nature museum.

1:45 cedar video:


Objects in art museums often beg the question, “What did the artist have in mind?” The answer in this case is simple. Grow the best functioning cedar possible; enable it to reproduce at least one next generation; allow it to decompose to fuel the next cycle of life.


Living Hickory Sculpture


A contorted still-living hickory emerged along my woodland rambling as sculpture number three. The tree suffered a severe blow decades earlier when it was a sapling or pole-sized stem in the developing forest. Another tree top or large branch crushed it at about the height of my trekking pole. Its multiple stems sprouted, securing its place in the intermediate canopy. This ugly duckling will never reach into the upper canopy. It won’t produce bushels of hickory nuts. Perhaps it will throw off a few viable nuts and through some stroke of good fortune aided by a wayward squirrel or Jay, find itself cached where it may germinate and succeed forward.


The tree is a jumble of stems, burls, and decay. A horizontal hollow stem is particularly artsy!

I recorded this 1:41 hickory video, providing a 360-degree perspective on this odd treasure.


Its magic requires sparse narrative.


This tree expresses a distinct personality…a tortured aspect reminiscent of ogres and gargoyles. Imagine being helplessly lost in this near-swamp part of the forest at evening’s glaoming, coming face to face with the branch-head below right!


Living Sweetgum Sculpture


My fourth specimen is a large living sweetgum tree adjacent to the Sanctuary’s main tupelo swamp. Beavers are the chief instrument creating this piece. Decades ago, beavers chewed the base of the sweetgum attempting to fell it for access to canopy stems, twigs, and buds. The tree prevailed, but not without permanent scarring and deep heart decay.


1:35 sweetgum video


Eventually the decay will lead to structural weakness combined with wind and the relentless forces of gravity that will bring the sweetgum to the ground.


The snaggle tooth, gaping mouth in this image may somehow echo the long ago chewing action of the rodent’s chisel-like incisors!


Nature exploration is fun, especially when science intersects with art.


Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • Human ingenuity will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does. (da Vinci) 
  • Forest images capture merely a point in time, which marches on one hour/one day/one week/on and on.
  • Nature’s artwork is a byproduct of her endless cycle of life, death, decomposition, and renewal.

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.”

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:

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


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 grandkids, 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

Steve's Books


All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.


My fourth book, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story, is fresh from the printer. Its 58 pages, with my observations, reflections, many of my own photographs, tell the remarkable Earth stewardship tale of a dedicated family resurrecting abandoned strip-mined land to premium beef production and luxury off-grid lodging!