Late Spring at Oak Mountain State Park

Such a pleasure to spend two full days at Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham. April 25 engaged me through early afternoon with the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting and the official public launch of the Foundation: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/29/launching-the-alabama-state-parks-foundation/

Late May I issued another Post on the value added to a State Park visit by our wonderful Park Naturalists: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/22/oh-what-a-difference-a-naturalist-can-make/ Lauren Muncher, Oak Mountain SP (OMSP) Naturalist toured me by vehicle and extensively by foot over the nearly 10,000-acre Park the afternoon of the 25th and most of the day April 26. What a privilege to see our Parks through the eyes of our committed, capable, passion-fueled on-site environmental ambassadors!

Via this 32-photo portfolio, come along with Lauren and me as we introduce you to some of OMSP’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Don’t expect to see a full display of the many wildflowers we encountered. I’m saving those for a subsequent Post. A “spoiler alert,” I offer just a single flower in this Post — a beautiful bloom from one of my favorite Alabama main canopy tree species.

First Afternoon Exploration

Okay, allow me to start my reflections on our first afternoon with an excuse (no, a suite of excuses). The Park comprises a little more than 15.5 square miles. This was my first visit. I focused on natural features and plants, some of them new to me. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. I did not take enough notes. Details slipped from the synapses over the intervening seven weeks (I’m drafting this Post the second week of June). Why all this explanation? I simply could not remember the name of the trail that this shelter introduces. I emailed Lauren, who informed me that this is Glade Trail. However, this one comes with a caveat… the trail is closed to general public access and is open by scheduled arrangement only. Below this photo of Lauren standing at the shelter I will explain the rationale for controlled access. Regardless of this special access limitation, the Park offers countless infrastructure amenities to complement the wholesale hiking, biking, and touring opportunities available without restriction.

Glade Trail leads directly to an area of special ecological significance. As we headed out beyond the shelter we passed through a sandstone glade, a rare ecotype normally limited to the southern Appalachians. See a more detailed description in my Blog Post focusing on this ecotype at DeSoto State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/05/sandstone-glades-at-desoto-state-park/  Glades are typified by shallow soils and a xeric growing season environment as rainfall rapidly sheds. The exposed bedrock and stunted plant life give the impression of a high Appalachian Mountain bald, usually found above 4,000-feet. Here on Oak Mountain we are no higher than perhaps a little over 1,000-feet. Still, I like the look and feel of these ecosystems.

And there are certainly no longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) in the highland Appalachians.

Pardon my leaping ahead with this next photo of another longleaf pine we found the following day within another ecotype, rocky, and in its own way just as harsh as the glade, craggy cliff-like terrain near Peavine Falls. Notice the clear blue sky as backdrop, far different from the showers and clouds of the prior day.

Had Lauren not introduced me, I would not have met this Boynton oak (Quercus boyntonii), a rare North American species of oak, endemic to only six Alabama counties. From the US Forest Service website, “It is commonly called the Boynton sand post oak or Boynton oak. Quercus boyntonii is a rare and poorly known species.” Thanks to Lauren, I now know it!

 

 

Again, the trail passed through some unforgiving terrain and nearly-barren soils, yet its very nature creates its charm. My notes (yeah, I took a few) described this image below as a tree and stone natural monument. Sandstone blocks and a longleaf standing amid the hilltop boulders spoke to me. I sensed something of reverence and significance. I felt as though I should pause, even kneel, and give thanks for a place of sanctity and solace just 20 miles from Birmingham. Could this be a natural tribute to those who envisioned our State Park System, preserving this 15.5 square miles for perpetuity?

I commend OMSP for its array of interpretive signage and its special attention to birds, including many and diverse bird houses and, as you’ll see later in this Post, the raptors of the Hilltop Nature Trail. I had not previously seen one of these Chimney Swift Nest Towers, of which the Park has at least two. From the road, I deemed it some kind of odd cooking chimney. Lauren gave me a closer look and explained its function and purpose. These swifts are voracious insect-consumers.

I am grateful to Lauren for availing her expertise for several afternoon hours. We met again first thing next morning, covering a lot more ground.

Tree Form Oddities and Peculiarities

As you can tell, I don’t spend much time reporting on our Parks infrastructure. My intent, instead, is to focus on natural features. In fact, I devote my energies to seeing, cataloging, reporting, and translating the unusual and odd, as well as the amazing, when I visit our Parks. Trees (and clouds, weather, waterfalls, rock formations, and much else) fascinate and intrigue me. I’ve come a long way since my timber-beast forester days. I get more excited (well, at least as excited) by tree form oddities as I do with a three-log veneer-quality red oak! These Oak Mountain State Park hickories (Carya sp.) bear defects that would deter the sawyer’s interest. No fine wood products will these individuals yield. Such large canker wounds and scars (fungal infections) provide woodland art that I appreciate. So much beauty lies hidden within plain sight. The forest gallery awaits those willing to search with new eyes. One man’s tree defect is another’s object of admiration and wonder! We discovered these two along a prominent road within the Park.

We discovered this interesting union of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) along a well-used Park trail. Hiding in plain sight! Just another among what I would presume to be hundreds, if not thousands, of woodland gallery displays within OMSP’s nearly 10,000 acres. Perhaps there is a budding (I couldn’t resist the pun) Birmingham photographer who would consider a coffee-table style book of OMSP’s top 100 forest gallery images? Or a challenge the Park might sponsor for Park users to submit their own photos (accompanied by GPS coordinates), eventually leading to an online inventory of special tree form oddities at Oak Mountain.

I relish seeing trees like this beech clinging to Earth with obvious embrace. The image is both literal and symbolic. Don’t we all, in our own unique way, cling to Earth’s bosom?

We found yet another hickory with an eye-level canker perfect for squirrels to perch while shelling hickory nuts (below left). That’s a large burl (another defect for all but wood-turning enthusiasts) on the lower right hickory concealed in large part by the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) leaves.

Judy and I watched two Tlingit Indian craftsmen carving a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) totem several hours one afternoon in Southeast Alaska. No hand of man involved in creating this living hickory totem, lined vertically with unknown visages of forest spirits past, present, and future. Given time, I believe I could weave an appropriate tale! So many of the character trees I photographed at Oak Mountain are hickories. Perhaps some dynamic fungal agent specific to the genus Carya swept the region decades ago, infecting and precipitating the bizarre tree responses creating the woodsy artwork I so enjoy and appreciate.

Along another internal Park road atop a ridge, we spotted two main canopy oaks within a hundred feet of one another, both lightning scarred from treetop to root collar. Callousing adjacent to the scars suggest that the hit occurred a couple of years ago, likely concurrently from a combination of primary and secondary strikes from the same bolt. Neither tree appears to be dying. The scars will be permanent. Life isn’t always easy in Nature, yet lightning has been striking trees since the first thunderstorm passed over the first forest. Nature adapts and life goes forward or, in the case of a tree-shattering strike, does not. As a Nature-reading sleuth, I appreciate seeing and interpreting the evidence of Nature’s power written in the forest.

Big Ones

Lauren promised to show me Oak Mountain’s big tree. We visited its grove the second afternoon, where we found it standing regally within a fertile, bowl-shaped cove protected from harsh winds and blessed with deep soils and ample bottom-of-slope, season-long abundant moisture. We measured this yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) at 38-inches DBH (diameter breast height; 4.5-feet above ground). The prior afternoon’s rain and wind had gifted us with a fresh flower.

 

 

 

The poplar was not the only big tree we encountered. This 34-inch loblolly (Pinus taeda) also towered above us. Lauren and I talked about the Park cataloging its big trees. Perhaps offering a challenge to Park visitors similar to our idea of likewise noting the Park’s special tree form oddities. Over time, the 21-Park System would have a full inventory of Big and Special trees. Is Oak Mountain home to the System’s largest poplar, its largest loblolly? Who knows? What education and interpretive value lies in knowing. How significant an education factor is curiosity and a desire to know and discover. My experience as an educator tells me that perhaps nothing is more important to learning.

I know, too, from what motivates me, that I would love being the one who finds the biggest, most unusual, unique of anything in Nature.

Treetop Nature Trail

Lauren had previously worked at the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain. We visited the Center and its associated Treetop Nature Trail that same second afternoon. Visit the Center’s website (https://alabamawildlifecenter.org/), and then make a special effort to go there in person.

 

 

 

 

 

I simply cannot do justice in this Blog Post to this extraordinary Nature education facility and the spirit it embodies. Even the Center and Trail’s cove hardwood setting thrilled me.

The signage is phenomenal, as are the aviary at each species location along the Trail. These enclosures are the avian equivalent of a five-star hotel. Lauren greet each bird, or set of inhabitants, as though she knows them personally. Well, she does! I have said many times that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Lauren CARES!

 

 

 

 

 

I won’t attempt full explanation and comment for each. View this as a teaser… a prompt to encourage you to go there.

Were I better equipped, camera-wise, and more skilled as a photographer, I would have more clearly captured the essence of the towering forest within which the Trail is located. Perhaps with a little imagination you can get a sense of the cathedral forest above the Trail.

Again, what wonderful signage… a Park Naturalist’s delight.

A Little Naturalist Whimsy

Our Alabama State Parks Naturalists take what they do quite seriously, even as they don’t take themselves at all so seriously. Why not mix and bit of mirth and whimsy into what they do!

I thoroughly enjoyed my two-day venture at our state’s largest Park. I want to go back… and I will. As an applied ecologist, I have a hard time resisting the urge to write, and write, and write about each Park’s magic. Instead, I limit myself to presenting this overview and teaser for OMSP. I will present another Blog Post from this April visit showcasing the spring ephemerals we saw while touring and hiking.

Thoughts and Reflections

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, 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 the four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Rare, isolated, and unusual ecosystems (like Oak Mountain’s glades) provide vast windows for understanding and appreciating the peculiar mechanisms and wonders of Nature.
  • Open your eyes to the special in Nature, whether tree form oddities or Big Trees.
  • Enter the forest knowing that magic and wonder lie hidden within.
  • Maintain a never-ending sense of curiosity for Nature’s secrets and her common-place, plain-sight gifts.

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.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.

Vision:

  • 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!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative.

 

Sandstone Glades at DeSoto State Park

One Photo Says it All!

I could begin and end this Post with just one photo — a full-color mosaic of life on a sandstone glade at DeSoto State Park:

What is an Alabama Sandstone Glade?

Dr. R. Scott Duncan, professor of biology and urban environmental studies at Birmingham-Southern College, published Southern Wonder in 2013. Subtitled Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity, his book chronicles Alabama’s rich floral and faunal life from the Gulf to the Tennessee Valley. Only four other states, all west of the Mississippi River, are more biologically diverse.

One of the enabling factors for our state’s life-richness is the many unique eco-sites across the state. Duncan describes among those unusual habitats glades:

“Glades are open ecosystems where bedrock exposure and extreme soil conditions keep trees away. They are rare in the Southeast, but Alabama has glades of sandstone, limestone, granite, and dolomite. All have thin, dry soils and provide little rooting space and few nutrients. These ecosystems harbor unusual plants that handle brutal extremes but cannot survive alongside more competitive plants dominating milder environments. Their adaptations for survival are manifold.”

Duncan offers that “very few sandstone glades survive in Alabama; most are in the Southern Table Plateaus…” Such glades serve as examples of “the Cumberland Sandstone Glades and Barrens ecosystem. Both are treeless, but glades have extremely thin soils or none whatsoever.” See Duncan’s wonderful book for more information, presented in an easy-to-read, welcoming prose, rich with science accessible and digestible to an interested layman. No self-respecting Alabama Nature-enthusiast should do without a copy of Southern Wonder!

As I’ve reported in a prior post, I visited DeSoto SP April 18-20: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/ . We found several sandstone glades at DeSoto, painted spectacularly with multiple hues deepened and intensified by the prior night’s frog-strangling cloudburst. Var-riotous (my new word combining var-iety and riotous profusion) lichens and mosses flourish in spring’s abundant moisture. What a joy it would be for a non-flowering plant specialist to drop to the knees with hand-lens and notebook to journal what lies unknown to my forester’s eye and mind. I can merely marvel at the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of an other-worldly ecosystem.

Duncan notes, “The shallow slopes of the Cumberland Plateau’s glades may be what allows them to support a more diverse flora.” Of one particular glade nearby, Duncan said, “Water seeps from the woodland margin at the top of the glade and slowly trickles across its surface. The water pools in scattered rounded depressions etched in the bedrock over millennia by the acidic groundwater. Such pooling is possible only because the slope is gentle.” His description matches perfectly what I observed below on the orange and blue trails Saturday morning:

Whether spring-rain-sodden grasses (above) or thick pads and clumps of lichens and mosses, and a few shrubby trees, the site shouts impoverishment and harshness. I felt joy and privilege to witness the glades at full-glory, high tide, maximum esthetic register. A sandstone glade cathedral … a magic-carpet stroll through a rare ecosystem. Serendipity and fortuity blessed me with a naturalist’s winning lottery ticket!

A Power-Ball jackpot of pure spiritual goodness cushioned with reindeer moss!

Duncan said of the spring-wet glades, “In the water are semiaquatic plants that grow for only a few weeks each spring. The most conspicuous is Elf Orpine, a small, bright-red succulent forming thick mats.” Again, Nature gifted me with the winning numbers. Well, actually DeSoto Naturalist Brittney Hughes picked the numbers, intentionally timing her invite for my visit to coincide with peak spring floral richness. The Elf Orpine (Diamorpha smallii) ceremoniously reached zenith for my visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such an incredible gift!

Duncan continued, “This layers of saturated, gritty soil sustains mosses, grasses, and wildflowers. Among the latter… gaudy Yellow Sunnybells display panicles of bright yellow flowers…” Again, my timing yielded sunnybells (Schoenolirion croceum) in full flower, as well as rich admixtures of mosses and grasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana) along the trail near the glades. One internet source said, “hill cane, is a woody bamboo native to the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States. The plant was elevated to the species level in 2006 based on new morphological and genetic information and was previously treated as a variety of Arundinaria tecta.” I am accustomed to seeing the more common cane in lowlands of central and southern Alabama.

I had no clue as I listened to the overnight deluge, that hiking the following two days a DeSoto State Park would reveal multiple treasures, the Park’s sandstone glades among them. I am thankful that my first direct exposure to sandstone glades proved so fruitful. Again, for further insight to my DeSoto discoveries, see my earlier Blog Post on The Magic of Water’s Thunder at DeSoto State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/

Also, watch for a subsequent Post (likely in June) on A Spring Day at DeSoto State Park focusing on the Park’s spring features beyond the tumbling waters and sandstone glades.

I learn so much on these sojourns into Nature. Writing these Posts and offering resultant reflections and lessons sharpen my powers of observation. I’ve often said that conversation demands a great deal of the engaged conversant. However, nothing requires so much of our mental capacity as writing. No, not the “labor” of writing. Instead, it is the concentration of believing, looking, seeing, and feeling demanded by my hikes, knowing that I must translate my woods-treks to these Posts. I suppose that is why I greet completion of each Post with relief, satisfaction, and no small measure of exhaustion. However, if I can win just one reader over to the side of the Earth stewardship angels, my labor is more than rewarded.

My efforts are driven by passion, purpose, and love of Earth. For many years I have observed, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I CARE. Although I aim to be scientifically correct, I am not intent upon showing you how much I know. Instead, I want you to know how much I care. Incidentally, the more writing I do, the more I realize that I know so very little, even as my CARE expands exponentially.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, 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 the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Rare, isolated, and unusual ecosystems (like Alabama’s sandstone glades) provide vast windows for understanding and appreciating the peculiar mechanisms and wonder of Nature.
  • To every time there is a season… in life and for each and every ecosystem.
  • Know Nature’s multifarious seasons… and her times to every purpose under heaven.

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.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.

Vision:

  • 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!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to rare and unusual Park ecosystems.

Rickwood Caverns State Park

Below Ground at Rickwood Caverns

I began my April 24, 2019 introductory visit to Rickwood Caverns State Park (30 miles due north of downtown Birmingham) in the main cavern with Superintendent Amanda White, entering through the controlled-entrance yellow door. Here’s Amanda with keys in-hand.

Like Cathedral State Park, it’s the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe below ground that primarily attracts visitors. Above ground geology, landform, vegetation, views, water, and fauna compose the draw to our 19 other State Parks. I learned pretty quickly at Rickwood that my iPhone cannot do justice to what lies hidden within the cavern. Please see the Rickwood photo gallery online to gain a sense of what I saw: https://www.alapark.com/rickwood-caverns-state-parkgallery

We spent several hours touring — two Canadian tourists joined Amanda and me. We were under no deadline pressure. Amanda kindly gave us as much time and attention as we wished. Ours was the deluxe education tour! A handful of my photos passed my screening. Here are two examples of flow-stones:

And two more of stalactites and stalagmites.

We even found fauna. Here’s a cave cricket, poorly focused. Not even rising to poorly-focused, we also spotted a cave spider and a tri-color bat. Please give me a little slack — I’m a tree guy accustomed to being above ground in broad daylight. Yes, it may get a little dusky in deep woods on cloudy days. However, at the appointed spot during our cave tour, Amanda hit the light switch, bringing absolute, complete, total, and blinding darkness to us. It’s a different world down there. Amanda knows the subterranean at Rickwood from the cavern’s history to geology to its hydrology to ecosystem elements. She tells its tale with wonder, understanding, and passion. She cares. Our Canadian friends found magic through Amanda’s skillful interpretation. I did as well.

We found a bit of magic before entering the cave when we stopped by the nature center. A luna moth (Actias luna) welcomed us from its door-frame perch. I viewed it as a positive omen, a spectacular exclamation of beauty and promise!

The Upside of Rickwood Caverns

Following our cavern trek, we emerged into full sunlight. Amanda had other duties to attend. She turned me over to Bridgette Grace, Assistant Superintendent. The two of us circuited the Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail. Like so many others of the Parks System staff I’ve met, Bridgette brought knowledge, enthusiasm, and cheer to the task.

Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail

I found it rather incongruous that I had just covered the same footprint below ground. I sensed no hollow footfalls to reveal the cavern beneath. We found a different suite of beauty and magic. Some rather rough terrain of bouldery limestone. A few deep crevasses and lots of places for water to find its way without delay into the limestone depths. This was no forest of rich soils, straight boles, and towering tree heights. Easily read through my forester’s eyes, this forest spoke the language of xeric conditions. Although ample annual rainfall wets the site, most of it passes quickly into the limestone as the stunted trees quench their thirst only sparingly. A sprouted acorn, cached by a sated squirrel,  can aspire to be the Mighty Oak, but the aerial rodent chose poorly for enabling such acorn-dreams.

Perhaps poor site-quality-related, this deformed oak presented an image of internal distress. Tumor-like and probably fungal-rooted, burls, gnarls, swells, and hollows defined the main lower trunk and extended up the bole to the live crown. A good tree to feature on a Halloween trail, highlighted with special lighting and spooky music!

Another oak, while also not Mighty, wore a showy resurrection fern skirt. I imagined a slight curtsy as we approached.

Many deceased Eastern red cedar (Juniperus viginiana) stood (or lay prostrate) throughout the Park. This 15-inch-diameter cedar has retained vigor. The species is a pioneer, one of the first, courtesy of birds eating and then gut-stratifying its fruit-bound seeds, to occupy abandoned pasture and agricultural openings across sweets soils (high pH limestone-derived soils).  I can’t picture any self-respecting cow grazing the coarsely-bouldered landscape, yet I am somewhat certain that the site was cleared a century prior for some settler-designated purpose. The cedar captured the site and mixed hardwoods have since replaced the evergreens.

Fire pink (Silene virginica) brought a welcoming red brightness along the way. Its color earns its name.

The same for pale blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum) — jeepers-creepers, check out those gorgeous blue-eyed-peepers!

I had not yet this season seen four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), another handsome spring ephemeral

When I first issued this Post, I admitted the following: “I failed to field-identify this one, and likewise did not capture leaf or stem details. The flowers appear in this only image to be spurred. Perhaps someone can toss me an i.d. life preserver?” My friend and Lake Guntersville State Park Naturalist Mike Ezell came to my rescue May 30, 2019. He identified this one as Dwarf Larkspur (Delphium tricorne). Thank you Mike!

We didn’t find many Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginia), yet the ones we discovered gave us rich color.

This was my first find of cross vine (Bignonia capreolata), a peculiarly showy flower that I saw several times during my next two-day explorations at Oak Mountain State Park. These are real beauties, vessel-like with a nice blend of striking colors. Below right is literal evidence that we are in Good Hands with our Alabama State Parks professionals — thank you, Bridgette!

Rickwood Caverns State Park occupies just 0.6 square miles, 380 acres. Small but chocked full of special natural features, above and below ground. I’ve said repeatedly that we don’t require Grand Canyon-scale Nature to find beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Nor do we need Yellowstone’s 3,468 square miles (or the 1,640 miles to drive there) to inspire our lives and expand our imagination and insight. A half-a-day was all I needed to convince me that Rickwood Caverns is a worthy gem on our Alabama State Parks necklace.

 

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 2020 (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 the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Oak Mountain’s nearly 10,000 acres or Rickwood’s 380.
  • We don’t require Grand Canyon-scale Nature to find beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.
  • Nor do we need Yellowstone’s 3,468 square miles to inspire our lives and deepen our appreciation of our natural world.

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative.

 

 

 

Oh What a Difference a Naturalist Can Make!

Twenty-one State Parks totaling 48,000 acres constitute the Alabama State Parks System… from the Gulf coast to the Tennessee River Valley. The Parks Mission is succinct and compelling: To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, 0perate, and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. This Post addresses the final Mission element, to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. Five of the Parks have an assigned, on-site Naturalist: Gulf SP, Oak Mountain SP, Cheaha SP, Guntersville SP, and DeSoto SP. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of spending at least one full day with each Naturalist touring the respective Park.

I earned my bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in western Maryland and central upstate New York, where ecotypes far different from Alabama predominate. Although I practiced industrial forestry across the six southeastern states for 12 years, I focused on timber production and not Nature at large. Over the intervening 35 years (serving nine universities from faculty to senior administrator) my interests have broadened to encompass all elements of our natural systems, albeit still mostly forests, although no longer riveted to timber production and commercial value.

Cheaha State Park

Cheaha State Park encompasses Alabama’s highest point, 2,407-foot Mt. Cheaha, an ecosystem that most closely resembles my western Maryland, central Appalachian home. Most closely, yet still far different. I grew up at latitude 39.65 degrees north. Cheaha State Park is at 33.5 degrees north, some 424 miles south (and many miles west) of my Maryland home. Spring moves northward at roughly 120 miles per week, reaching my home 3.5 weeks after passing through Cheaha. I visited my home region Mother’s Day weekend. Oaks above 2,500-feet had not yet leafed. However, I will not quibble over season length; I draw great satisfaction from having the southern Appalachians  proximate to my Alabama home, along with their associated most-closely-resembling ecosystems!

I am grateful, too, that Cheaha State Park has a resident Naturalist, Mandy Pearson, a seasoned professional who graciously shared time and expertise on-site with me. I watched her on more than one occasion interact with Park visitors, intent upon sharing her knowledge and “extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.” Cheaha also has excellent interpretive signage (see below), along with a full catalog of workshops, camps, and presentations. Check the individual Park websites for listings and descriptions.

Here I am with Mandy at the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama 2019 Annual Conference, hosted by Cheaha State Park in late February. What a great way to showcase Cheaha and the entire Park System for its education mission. Lower right Mandy leads one of the Conference hikes on an exquisitely dark and foggy mid-afternoon.

You will see as I highlight these five Parks, that we’re in Good Hands with our State Park Naturalists!

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park hosted the State Parks Foundation Board in January. I tacked on an extra day to tour this Gulf Coast gem with Park Naturalist Kelly Reetz. Gulf Shores does not have ecosystems that remind me of home. To the contrary, I felt as though I had wandered onto foreign land. Sure, I recognized many trees, yet far more seemed exotic. Without Kelly’s informed guidance I would have been ecologically adrift. I’ve written in Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration (a book that I will soon submit to a my publisher) a chapter about spending two weeks in China (2010) without any host who could interpret native ecology. Total frustration for me to see Nature at-hand without so much as a simple children’s tree manual in English! Not so the case at Gulf State Park. Kelly knows her stuff. The Park, like Cheaha, has first-rate interpretive signage. Regrettably, of the Parks I’ve visited, these two stand alone in that regard.

Thanks to Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery funds, the Park has enjoyed investments sufficient to enhance all Park elements in furtherance of its mission, education included. Our day-long ramblings ranged from seaside to interior upland, xeric oak forest. If only such a competent naturalist had toured me through parts of China!

Again, and I will repeat the refrain, we’re in Good Hands with our Alabama State Parks Naturalists. Here’s Kelly making sure I can identify turkey oak!

Lake Guntersville State Park

July 2018 I spent a great day afield with Park Naturalist Mike Ezell at Guntersville State Park.  As with the prior Parks, I issued at least one Blog Post for each visit. Go to my Great Blue Heron Blog page (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) and type the respective State Park into the search box, directing you to relevant Posts. For example, here’s the one for Guntersville: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/08/08/lake-guntersville-state-park/ The entrance signage is worthy, but not much in the way of interpretation within the Park.

However, when seeing the Park through Naturalist Mike Ezell’s eyes and heart, who needs signage!? As you can see from the fog along the Tennessee River, we started early, covered a lot of ground, and visited secretive spots along the way.

 

 

 

 

We found a persimmon tree dropping fruit by the hands-full! And Mike demonstrated clearly that we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists!

DeSoto State Park

Mid-May I toured DeSoto State Park with Naturalist Brittney Hughes on a soggy day after a nighttime deluge. See the Post that I issued just last week: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/ In the spirit of full disclosure I must confess that I snapped this entrance sign photo on a prior dry-day visit.

Brittney knows DeSoto State Park, from its ubiquitous sandstone outcrops and ledges to its trees and non-flowering plants, as well as other ecosystem elements. She knows the Park like the back of her hand. We spent a full day without her referring once to a trail or road map, except as we completed our day together and she guided me by map to her recommended trails for my trek the next morning.

Based upon my time seeing DeSoto and the other four Naturalist-staffed Parks, I will compile a list of recommendations (through my own naturalist-lens) applicable to the Parks System broadly relative to education and interpretation.

As I made clear for each of my Naturalist-tours, we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists! Brittney is holding a spring wildflower new to me, Shrub Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima).

Oak Mountain State Park

I visited Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama’s largest, April 25, 2019 for the official launch of the Alabama State Parks Foundation (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/29/launching-the-alabama-state-parks-foundation/), and then stayed for the afternoon and the entire next day touring and hiking with Naturalist Lauren Muncher. Watch for at least two future Blog Posts with photos, observations, and reflections from our explorations. Please note that the North Trailhead photo below is from the Park System’s archive; all others are mine.

I relished being on the ground at Oak Mountain!

I’m sure we could have spent many days seeing the wonders of this nearly 10,000-acre Park just 20 miles south of Birmingham, our state’s largest city. Lauren is new to this role, yet she brings a wealth of related knowledge and experience to the task, including service at the on-site Alabama Wildlife Center and its Treetop Nature Trail. She knows the resident raptors as old friends! We measured the Park’s largest tree (or so we think), a 38-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) trail-side in a rich cove setting. I’m impressed with Lauren’s full and passionate immersion at Oak Mountain and her tireless dedication to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

No doubt about it, we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists! Likewise, this Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) is safe a secure in Lauren’s hands, lifted from a trail surface and placed lovingly back in its natural habitat. Like all of our State Park Naturalists, Lauren cares. I recall many times over my education career observing, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” Kelly, Mandy, Mike, Brittney, and Lauren CARE!

 

Other Helping Hands

So, I applaud the Alabama State Parks System for housing naturalists at five of our largest and most-heavily used Parks. Those five account for roughly a third of the System’s 87,000 acres, and I’m sure greater than half of user-days. As an environmental educator at-heart, I’d like to see every Park served by a naturalist on-site or a professional shared among several regionally-aggregated smaller parks. I’m inclined toward natural resources disciplinary graduates (two-year, four-year, and Master’s level). I’ve seen other types of interpreters (below) who are a little more difficult to recruit (and even tougher to train and control). More of a novelty perhaps, but in the long run not nearly as effective, reliable, and caring as our team of five wonderful humans.

Nevertheless, applying any tool of the trade helps sow and embed the Earth stewardship and Nature appreciation message in the hearts and minds of Park visitors.

Recommendations

I offer some ideas of my own (in part inspired and informed by my interactions with the Park Naturalists) for expanding and enhancing the System’s education mission. I know full well that the Parks operate primarily by use-generated revenue. I am not suggesting that the System reallocate existing financial resources. Instead, I am advocating that gifts, grants, and donations may be sources for deepening the education thrust.

And, as a lifelong Nature enthusiast, like our Parks Naturalists, I care.

In addition to expanding statewide Parks Naturalists staffing, I see other elements complementing the education mission:

  • Enhanced interpretive signage on par with Cheaha and Gulf State Park’s
  • Trail pamphlets identifying trees, plants, geology, seasonally anticipated birds, and other features of nature and environment
  • Permanent photo points. Watching any landscape element day-to-day reveals little. Change occurs gradually yet inexorably. Only over time can we detect the tremendous change that sweeps past us without detection when we are present day-in-and-day-out. I included a chapter on time travel (No, not of the Back to the Future type) in my still-evolving third book (Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration). Here’s a relevant excerpt referring to our 2017 re-visit after 15 years’ absence the neighborhood where we lived for five years: Let us return to our recent time travel to Auburn. As we drove back along the road with the new school, we looked at the roadside forests with open eyes. Yes, what had been a pole-sized stand now appeared to be much taller, populated with sawtimber sized trees (large enough to be sawn into lumber). Our time travel had brought us to a place far different from what we had left. I suggest placing 5-20 permanent photo-points on each Park, marking the points with vertical rebar at recorded GPS coordinates, retaking the photos every five years or so. Future Park visitors will be able to retrace change back in time via the permanent photo record.
  • Motion-triggered trail cameras at key locations throughout each Park. Visitors both on-site and by internet can see what roams and inhabits the Park at night when generally we humans are not not up and about.
  • These are among the many imaginative ideas available to leverage and expand existing education ventures.

 

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 2020 (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 the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; we deepen the public’s understanding when we effectively tell the Parks’ environmental tale!
  • Knowledge inspires and spurs stewardship and appreciation.
  • Passion and purpose drive effective education; knowing and caring matter.

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you will think about supporting the Parks System education imperative. Here’s a nice article about the Foundation: https://280living.com/news/foundation-formed-to-help-state-parks521/

 

 

The Magic of Water’s Thunder at DeSoto State Park

Water, Water Everywhere 

I returned to DeSoto State Park Thursday-through-Saturday April 18-20, exploring on my own Thursday and Saturday, and hiking with Park Naturalist Brittney Hughes Friday. This will be the first of three Blog Posts from my visit. The other two, in turn, will offer photos and reflections on 1) a spring day at DeSoto and 2) a close examination of the Park’s extensive sandstone glades. Two-to-three-inches of rain Thursday night generated this first Post. As of April 14, 2019, I had already recorded 30-inches of rain in Madison (65 miles from DeSoto SP) since January 1. The few runs and creeks I encountered Thursday evening carried water volume far greater than what I saw during my July 2018 hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/08/13/a-cycle-of-death-and-renewal-at-desoto-state-park/

The April 18 overnight deluge brought water courses to bankfull and beyond. I awoke in my Lodge room to the soothing sound of water rushing past my back door (below left). The stream, which occasionally dries during the summer and fall, approaches Lodge Falls over a series of step-ledges, flows under a foot bridge (below right), and prepares to plunge.

Dropping about 20-feet, Lodge Falls tumbled noisily into the forest (below left from above; below right from below). Water saturated every surface: mist from the falls, constant tree canopy drip, and light rain continuing. The dark skies and drizzle persisted all day. I could not have been more pleased. After all, this is a Park blessed by flowing and tumbling water, sitting atop the plateau. We spent the entire day Friday from 1,500 to 1,800 feet above sea level, the terrain tapping the moisture-laden stratus cloud deck as it kissed the tree tops from time to time. We didn’t mind the rain. As I often observe, over my 65-plus years of life, my skin has yet to leak. I am waterproof! Also, the day helped me save a penny or two — no need to apply sunscreen.

Even where the trail map designated no named waterway, we encountered rivulets, miniature cascades, gurgles, and turbulent runs (both photos below).  Water-in-motion sounds filled the forest. No wonder — think about this! A cubic foot of water weighs 62.3 pounds. If our overnight rainfall totaled mid-point of my 2-3-inch estimate, every 4.8 square feet of ground surface accepted 62.3 pounds of rain during the night.

Pardon my penchant for math, but I must tell you that 56,537 pounds of rain fell on each and every acre of Desoto State Park that night!  Twenty-eight and a quarter tons! The Park covers 3,502 acres. That’s just under 99,000 tons of rain. No wonder DeSoto Falls (104-feet vertical) thundered and roared! Yet what a rewarding sight to accompany the pounding water (below left and right). My heart raced. I was in no danger; my heart beat rapidly from exhilaration not fear. As I stood marveling at the falls, I recalled last winter reading Candice Millard’s River of Doubt, her account of Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. After his post-presidency defeat running as an independent in 1912, he assembled an expedition to descend a wild, unmapped tributary of the Amazon. He nearly died during the daring exploration. One passage reminded me how benign DeSoto Falls is relative to the Roosevelt team’s terrifying ordeal:

“At around three-thirty that afternoon, the men heard a low roar that traveled upstream like distant thunder before a rainstorm. Over the ensuing weeks, this roar would become for them one of the most alarming sounds in the Amazon: the sound of rapids.”

My mind retains a bit of Amazon trivia. The Amazon carries more volume than the next eight largest rivers of the world combined. It has ten tributaries larger than the Mississippi. If we were to empty the Lake Ontario basin and dump the Amazon into it at flood stage, the basin would fill in three minutes! Regardless, I am still impressed by DeSoto Falls’ beauty, magic, wonder, and awe! Thank goodness I don’t require a death-defying descent of a river of doubt to charge my batteries and deepen my appreciation of Nature. In tribute to his daring adventure and to his remarkable life, the 472-mile Brazilian river of doubt now bears his name, Roosevelt River.

When I took my OLLI State Parks course participants to DeSoto State Park March 30, the Falls seemed much tamer (photo below; Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/11/my-winter-term-osher-lifelong-learning-institute-class-visits-desoto-state-park/).

Indian Falls (July 2018 below left) provided a soothing sense of late summer ambience. I prefer the torrent from Friday April 19.

Azalea Cascade, a quarter mile upstream from Indian Falls offered absolute tranquility March 30 (lower left). Still a peaceful setting with at least ten times greater flow (below right), the Cascade setting shouted aqueous abundance, the promise of profuse plant growth, summer afternoon deep shadows, and flashing minnows.

Saturday April 20 I hiked the Orange and Blue Trails. Deep laurel thickets framed Laurel Falls, yet another cascade fueled by Thursday night’s rain.

A bit further along the trail I found Lost Falls. Well, it wasn’t really lost. The map clearly identified its location. Still drizzly with plateau-draping stratus, I loved the absolutely diffuse light, with neither source nor destination apparent, and the sodden darkness of rocks, soil, tree bark, and all other surfaces. I could not have ordered better weather for a watery forest wonderland!

Even the sandstone glades, areas of extremely shallow sandstone bedrock across the plateau, carried water flowing downward-bound. No soil to absorb the soaking precipitation. In fact, simply no soaking into fertile loam, just overland flow soaking the nearly-barren rock!

Rain and Life

Our southern forests teem with life… life enabled by ample rainfall across the seasons. And rain teams with life to create rich ecosystems. Rain is life; life is rain. Too often we modern-day humans view rain (and other elements of weather) as matters of convenience (and inconvenience) affecting our lives and well-being. I view weather as a matter of study, science, poetry, and inspiration. I see weather as central to my life, not peripheral to it. The weather and its nuances of beauty and fury serve as my own Game of Thrones entertainment.

For example, just this morning (May 15) as I drafted this Post, I watched radar early morning as a cluster of showers and thunderstorms began dropping southeastward from the Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee tri-state area. Forecasters included a 40-percent mention of showers for us, and less than a tenth-of-an-inch of rain. The little bowling ball of rain still held together at 10:00AM, giving forecasters reason to up the rain percentage to 60 and the amount to a couple of tenths. A few drops began falling by 11:00. By noon, with steady rain and pockets of moderate-to-heavy rainfall, the forecast showed a 100-percent probability with in excess of a quarter-inch to come. By 2:00PM my landscape plants frolicked in just under a quarter-inch. Yeah, I know, plants don’t frolic! In their own plant-way, let’s say they celebrated yet another gift of life, this one from a rainmaker spinning in from the northwest, an unlikely direction here where delivery from west and southwest predominates.

I muse often on rain and weather. So many people anticipating a day afield, say, “I sure hope the weather cooperates,” signaling their wish for fair skies and dry ground. Not me. Give me an overnight 2-3-inches. Shake the rafters with peals of thunder and howling gale. Let the waterfalls roar. Immerse me in Nature’s power. I have enough sense to seek shelter if threatened. Or stay indoors if too nasty. Nothing nasty about tree top stratus, dripping canopy, and full stream flow. Fair weather seldom strokes the spirit, soul, and heart the way that a day like April 19 does. My Nature experience memory portfolio is rich with wind, rain, thunder, snow-bursts, and blizzard. I’ve been caught outdoors occasionally by the pleasurable terror of wild weather. Wouldn’t trade the memory for a thousand days of brilliant blue. I don’t go searching for foul weather, yet I breathe deeply of its feel, sound, richness, taste, and, yes, peace.

I am grateful that my days at DeSoto coincided with a drenching nighttime rain, filling all waterways to full beauty and magic. Our Alabama State Parks are reservoirs of experience and memory. Whether fair or foul skies, they offer Nature at her best, whatever her mood. I urge you to venture forth whenever the mood suits — your mood or Nature’s.

Perhaps not intended for my deep-woods spiritual treks, the old saw that a rising tide lifts all boats does indeed apply to my mid-April DeSoto journey. Pardon the pun, but a bit of rain does not dampen my spirits. Thursday night’s rain literally lifted the freshwater tide of DeSoto’s flowing waters. And that overnight gift lifted the tide of my heart, soul, and spirit. Every current in the river of my life furnished greater buoyancy to the many boats I am navigating downstream. Nature powers my core, fuels my purpose, and stimulates deep passion and inspiration for life and living. I feel the surge as I harness these thoughts and type these words.

Saturday mid-day I descended the plateau en-route home into breaking sky and drying pavement, leaving the magic of DeSoto State Park behind. I saw water in some fields and noticed some waterways remaining at bankfull. However, nothing from a windshield can match feet-on-the-ground for appreciating Nature. I might carry the thought a step further. Nothing from a windshield can ever match wet-feet-0n-the-ground! I urge you to experience our state’s rich tapestry of public lands, including our 21-pearl-necklace of State Parks encompassing 87,000 acres of Alabama wildness.

 

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 2020 (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 the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages, in weather fair and foul!
  • Just 65 miles from my Madison home, DeSoto SP is within reach — deep Nature therapy at my fingertips. What lies within fingertip reach for you?
  • What we may normally consider as inclement weather can, in fact, amplify our understanding and enjoyment of Nature. Venture forth if you dare.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir, or brush it from your damp forehead. 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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/

 

Launching the Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ve been writing and issuing these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts on Nature-Inspired Life and Living for about two years, issuing to-date approximately 150 Posts. I have focused at least three dozen based upon exploring our Alabama State Parks. My hope is to have visited all 21 State Parks by the end of 2021. I have written with absolute reverence and unbridled enthusiasm for what I’ve called our 21-pearl-necklace of State Parks from Gulf State Park to Wheeler, Monte Sano, Cathedral, and Desoto State Parks along the northern tier. Because of my evidenced passion for the Parks, the just-launched (April 25, 2019) Alabama State Parks Foundation named me among its 15 founding board members.

Aligning Mission and Vision

I’m honored. I’ll selflessly serve the Parks and pledge to continue my Alabama State Parks pilgrimage. Watch for periodic individual Park Posts as I make the rounds. We’re talking about a lot of land, totaling nearly 140 square miles (88,000 acres). Imagine a strip of land four-tenths of a mile wide stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee border! Here’s a brief tour from Oak Mountain State Park April 27 (below left) to Gulf State Park in January 2019 (below right).

 

And from Cheaha (with Bigfoot) in August 2018 to Lake Guntersville earlier in summer 2018. John Muir said, “In every walk with Nature, a man receives far more than he seeks.” Muir so clearly articulated 130 years ago what I so powerfully feel today! With every Alabama State Parks walk, I receive far more than I seek… and I intend to continue sharing my reflections, feelings, and observations via these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts.

Our Foundation exists exclusively to serve our Parks. The mission reads: The Alabama State Parks Foundation hosts a community of people who love our State’s parks. A philanthropic partner of the Parks Administration, the Foundation seeks gifts that will support and enhance park programming, park facilities, and park experiences. Members of the Foundation are people dedicated to building and sustaining a great, statewide park system.

The Foundation tag line: Parks for People, People for Parks.

We enjoyed good media coverage at the launch.

Here is the Alabama State Parks mission: To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate, and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

My own personal and professional mission interweaves perfectly with the Foundation and Parks’ missions: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Serving as a Founding Board Member comes without financial return, yet the dividend in satisfaction, fulfillment, and inspiration is immeasurable! I am grateful for the chance to participate in some small way through the Foundation to make tomorrow better for Park users and future visitors.

Here are just a few of the reasons why our Alabama State Parks are worthy of gifts and donations that will support and enhance park programming, park facilities, and park experiences:

View from the Rock Garden at Cheaha State Park

Sunrise at Gulf State Park

Ecosystems from Sand Dunes (GSP) to Cove Hardwood at Wheeler State Park

 

 

 

 

Clouds Below (Lake Guntersville) and Above (Cheaha)

 

 

 

Rickwood Caverns State Park Above and Below Ground

Actions to Ensure Parks for People and People for Parks

I urge you to visit the Foundation website: https://asparksfoundation.org/

Consider becoming a First Friend and Founding Member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation.

Please view me first and foremost as a dedicated champion of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I see my role with the Parks and the Foundation in full resonance with my personal mission, vision, and values. The Parks and Foundation provide yet another vehicle for me to spread the gospel of Earth stewardship and make tomorrow better. My own goal does not stand as a destination, nor do the Foundation and Parks’ objectives. Instead, our individual and collective goals represent a journey. As he so often managed to accomplish some 130-years-ago, John Muir captured the essence of our journeys in a reflection on Nature: “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” (John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir.)

 

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 2020 (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 the four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages.
  • We collectively share an obligation and opportunity to understand, preserve, and enjoy these gems of Nature.
  • The Foundation provides a mechanism for each of us to enhance our Parks for now and on behalf of generations to come.
  • Earth stewardship is a multi-generational commitment of passion and action (volunteering, gifting, and donating).

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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!

 

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!

Nearby Attractions

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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!

 

Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty: My Keynote Atop the Mountain

This is the fourth and final post from my February 28-March 2 visit to Cheaha State Park. I joined some 120 environmental educators attending the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama (EE AA). The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely.

My first EE AA meeting post provided a broad conference and Cheaha overview: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/05/magic-and-wonder-on-the-mountain-an-inspiring-conference-at-cheaha-state-park/ (Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park). My second EE AA blog post explored a conflicting set of  reactions and reflections to something we observed from the Rock Garden overlook during an interpretive hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/11/scars-upon-the-land-thoughts-stirred-by-a-view-from-cheahas-rock-garden/. The third post presented the exhilarating diversity of non-flowering plants I encountered during the limited time I ventured outdoors at Cheaha in intermittent rain and nearly continuous fog: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/20/non-flowering-plants-atop-the-mountain-at-cheaha-ee-aa-annual-conference/.

This post summarizes and highlights my keynote address: Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty. One hundred thirty years ago John Muir wrote, “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” I love the phrase, the ultimate descriptor of my own sentiments toward Nature. I believe that Muir, as do I, viewed the infinite storm of beauty as both literal and metaphorical.

Who could not accept that term to describe the sunset from Bald Rock February 28! I shared with the audience my emotional exhilaration as I walked the trail just hours before the keynote, the heart-pounding thrill of being back atop Cheaha. I mentioned the spiritual dimension of Nature’s power and influence over me. We discussed my secular bible, Aldo Leopold’s 1949 A Sand County Almanac. Several excerpts from his Almanac are at least as relevant today as 70 years prior:

  • “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
  • “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers”
  • “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”
  • “…the most fun lies in seeing and studying the unknown.”
  • “The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands.”

My Mission and Theirs

For the first time in my life I have written an actual self-mission statement: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth stewardship. Ironically, I discovered as I prepared for the keynote, that EE AA’s mission is uncannily similar: Our mission is to enhance the abilities of formal and informal educators to connect people to the natural world in order to foster responsible stewardship. I had come to the right group to share my message to encourage and seek a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

I related one such literal storm of beauty, from my first book, Nature Based Leadership, describing my attempt to summit New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak at 6,288-feet (January 2015). The lower elevations, covered in dense northern hardwood and white pine forests, held a two-foot snowpack. Scudding clouds, brisk breezes, and upper teens greeted us at the base (perhaps 1,500-foot elevation). We could see Washington’s east face to 4,500-feet clearly.

Above, spindrift raced across the upper slopes and summit, obscuring our view. We slowly ascended into spruce-fir forest, the trees shortening as we climbed to shrub spruce-fir, to tundra above 4,500 feet. There, the wind howled, and the blowing snow spurred donning our goggles and securing our arctic clothing. By 5,000 feet, visibility dipped in and out of zero; the ground blizzard blasted us; gusts knocked us from our feet more than once. Another two-to-three hundred feet vertical marked our apogee. We encountered fresh ten-foot drifts. The summit observatory reported winds in excess of 100 MPH and ambient temperatures well below zero. We risked life and limb by choosing other than to turn tail.

Just three days before my address, friend and colleague Will Broussard, who serves as Director of Education at the Mount Washington Observatory emailed me, “Update: We’ve reached 171MPH!! New Feb record! 8th windiest day in history! Highest winds in 33 years! So lucky and terrified to be on the summit right now.” Will and I had spoken more than once about what I call Pleasurable Terror! How strikingly similar that he referred to his experience February 25, 2019 as combination good fortune and terror — an infinite storm of beauty! The ambient air temperature that afternoon on Mt Washington reached a high of only 14 degrees Fahrenheit below zero!

I shared other photographs, most from the past year, depicting Nature’s ubiquitous infinite storms of beauty, these two from my January visit to Gulf State Park (golf course lower left; pine savanna lower right):

 

 

 

 

Nothing beats a Gulf-shore sunrise during that same visit:

Or a lone slash pine silhouetted against a squadron of cirrus puffs at Gulf State Park (lower left). Nature’s magic and wonder take infinite shape and form. Lying on my back I captured cypress crown shyness above me on the boardwalk at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR; lower right). Like so many of us humans, we stand in our work-a-day worlds seeming shoulder to shoulder, yet never touching beyond the superficial. Crown shyness is both metaphorical and magically aesthetic, rich in magic and wonder in many dimensions.

Magic and wonder bless all seasons and every location we have called home, from winter-burdened (and decorated) spruce along the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska (lower left) to our narrowing driveway in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire (lower right).

 

 

 

 

To summer sunset in my Madison, Alabama neighborhood (lower left) to fall-planted longleaf pine bordering a Greenway and a cotton field near my current home (lower right).

John Muir wrote, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Aldo Leopold observed, “Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.” The cypress swamp (lower left) and flooded fields (lower right) near the WNWR visitors center corroborate Muir and Leopold’s wisdom.

Nature’s infinite storms of beauty know no bounds. Wendell Berry offered his own variation on Nature’s infinite storms of beauty, “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” A reality expressed below in two fall images at Camp McDowell and Conference Center.

And on that same McDowell visit, a frosty morning field and a glorious fall afternoon at an interior beaver pond.

 

 

 

 

 

Storms of beauty also come at many scales, from a lichen festooned musclewood (lower left; Carpinus carolinia) to a rain-water-soaked American beech (lower right; fagus grandifolia).

I could have gone on for scores more examples! Nature is indeed a source for infinite storms of beauty! My EE AA audience agreed. I reminded all of us that we are beauty-storm-stewards. Carl Sagan implored us some 20 years ago to recognize that we are alone on a mote of dust, a pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space. That no one will come from without to save us from ourselves. The burden of absolute responsibility is ours alone.

Earth Ethic

Aldo Leopold again enters the picture. We cannot survive indefinitely as a species and society unless we accept an Earth stewardship obligation. Leopold expressed prescient views in A Sand County Almanac, and offered them as eloquently 70 years ago as anyone since:

  • “Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.”
  • “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” For Leopold, a life-changing moment. What is yours?
  • “I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written’… It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.”
  • “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

All of Leopold’s  land ethic quotes correspond to my mission and EE AA’s. We are at one with Leopold. That leads me to my own purpose and passion. May 3, 2012, while taking an evening stroll in Urbana, Ohio, where I served as President, Urbana University, a motorist ran a stop sign as we were crossing an intersection, plowing into us and catapulting us scores of feet forward. We recovered, vowing to recognize that life is fleeting and fragile, and committing to make a difference with the remaining years of our lives. Novelist and playwright Bernard Malamud had the lead character in The Natural (his book and the resultant movie) say, “We have two lives to live. The one we learn with, and the one that comes after that.” Alabama’s own Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.” And finally, Horace Mann, the mid-twentieth century education scholar, said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I offer these quotes to buttress my personal mission statement (my second life; my daring adventure; my victory for humanity): Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth stewardship.

As a result, all that I do is purpose-driven, passion-fueled, and results-oriented. I lean heavily upon the perspective that Louis Bromfield, best-selling mid-twentieth century author and playwright, applied to the “old worn-out” farm he purchased in the 1930s. He devoted his life to rehabilitating the soil at Malabar, his name for the farm. He said in his non-fiction book about his devotion, Pleasant Valley, “The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.”

I must repeat Wendell Berry’s sentiment that echoes his own version of Nature’s infinite storm of beauty: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.”

My Final Thoughts on Alabama Environmental Education

  • A Noble Calling
  • High Purpose
  • A privilege
  • A gift
  • A Professional Obligation

I expressed our shared mission and vision – to pass the torch of:

  • Nature awareness and Appreciation
  • Responsibility for Earth stewardship
  • Boundless Enthusiasm and Joy for Nature – Deep Passion
  • Discovering, Revealing, and Celebrating Nature’s Infinite Storm of beauty, magic, wonder, and joy!

May We Rise to the Challenge!

May this continue to be our Daily Bread!

May we all leave a Legacy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • There is indeed magic and wonder atop the mountain… and everywhere in Nature we choose to look.
  • Wendell Berry: In Nature we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence.
  • John Muir: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and boutique Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

 

Non-Flowering Plants Atop the Mountain at Cheaha: EE AA Annual Conference

This is the third of what will be four posts from my February 28-March 2 visit to Cheaha State Park. I joined some 120 environmental educators attending the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama (EE AA). The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely. This blog post presents the exhilarating diversity of non-flowering plants I encountered during the limited time I ventured outdoors at Cheaha in intermittent rain and nearly continuous fog. In the fourth post I will summarize and highlight my keynote address: Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty.

My first EE AA meeting post provided a broad conference and Cheaha overview: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/05/magic-and-wonder-on-the-mountain-an-inspiring-conference-at-cheaha-state-park/ (Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park). Last week’s blog post explored a conflicting set of  reactions and reflections to something we observed from the Rock Garden overlook during an interpretive hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/11/scars-upon-the-land-thoughts-stirred-by-a-view-from-cheahas-rock-garden/ .

I begin with a caveat; I am a tree guy. I fully understand the role that non-flowering plants play in our Alabama forests, yet I am convincingly inept at identifying beyond the simple characterization among lichens, mosses, and fungi. I can tell you that I took all of the photos in this post atop Mount Cheaha above 2,000 feet. The two below are views to the WNW (lower left) and N (lower right) from the Rock Garden and Bald Rock, respectively, snapped during one of two times when the views were not cloud- and fog-obscured.

Conditions atop Cheaha are harsh (wind and ice storms). Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) and chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) dominate the upper elevation forest. Individuals are often battered and broken. Non-flowering plants colonize virtually all bark (dead and living trees) and stone surfaces. Cloudy skies following a rain-soaked morning seemed to intensify the lichen color and contrasts. In fact, the lichens brought vibrancy to the otherwise overwhelmingly drab and dormant scene.

Not just color, but intricate, delicate, and masterpiece-grade patterns, textures, and species admixtures. As I sorted these images I wondered whether anyone has assembled a coffee table quality collection of photographs (taken with a camera several quality steps above my iPhone), complete with detailed identification. I see and appreciate the exquisite beauty, yet that simply reminds me how little I know about these magnificent living organisms. As I enter my second year beyond full-time employment (believe me, university CEO gigs demand 24/7!), I am learning continuously, even as I am constantly learning how little I know about so many things that draw my interest. Non-flowering plants among many such topics. I am not sure, for example, whether the darker green (lower left) is a moss or alga. I believe the rock at lower right supports both crustose and foliose (at top of photo) lichens, with at least two species of the latter. I fear my knowledge is a millimeter deep and kilometers wide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foliose lichen below could be a toad skin lichen, one of the rock tripes, yet don’t take that as a firm identification! Or is it possibly a liverwort? Regardless, I find great fascination in examining the non-tree, non-flowering plant life atop Cheaha.

I mentioned the tortured tree forms, savaged by exposure and ice storms. These chestnut oaks epitomize their tough existence. Although one is a ‘V’ and the other a ‘4,’ both play host to lichen cloaks. Again, how drab they would be without their lichen garb.

I presume the fructose lichens below represent two species of distinct coloration. I’m also surmising that very slow tree growth and frequent moisturizing fog keep the lichens vibrant. Slow-growing trees severely minimize the rate of bark shedding, allowing lichen colonies to reach greater thickness and extent.

The tapestry of life begs inspection, study, and learning. The stem at lower left presents, again, both crustose and foliose. The old branch stub (lower right) reminds me of a ram’s head adorned in its lichen fur.

Lichen in combination with moss increments the aesthetic factor, in my view, a minimum of an order of magnitude. The wise person who first observed that nature abhors a vacuum could have been hiking atop Cheaha! Imagine, a bare rock providing such security, anchorage, and nourishment to a living work of art.

Our 11-year-old Alabama grandson said the lower left image appeared to him as a mountain lake (lichen) surrounded by deep forest (moss) sloping away. I can’t argue with his perspective. A true nature enthusiast must have a vivid imagination and be willing and able to see the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe hidden within. “The power of imagination makes us infinite” (John Muir). Reindeer and crustose lichen and moss populate the rock island (lower right). I considered what adventures (and dangers) I might encounter on the island if reduced to one-inch height.

Moss cushions gathered at the base of this chestnut oak (lower left). The fish moss (below right) confirmed for me that we were in the midst (or mists) of an extended period of excessive precipitation! The fish is perched (I couldn’t resist!) on a rock of roughly the same size among the leaf litter. Again, imagination is an essential vehicle for truly enjoying a walk in the woods. Recall Muir’s observation, too, that “In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

What a treat to find witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) on a dead pine branch. This orange jelly fungus, like all the mosses and lichens proliferating atop Cheaha, seemed to relish the wet conditions.

A non-flowering plant specialist could spend hours examining and inventorying the life-richness occupying the standing dead oak sapling and the rock ledge: beard, foliose, and crustose lichens, little tan fungal bodies, and moss. A macro lens in capable hands (with expert knowledge) could reveal mysteries and magic far beyond my simple (and ignorant) aesthetic admiration.

Even we Nature enthusiasts too often focus at landscape scale, seeing only the hills and forests. We sometimes don’t see the trees for the forest, a flip on the old saw about not seeing the forest for the trees. And within the forest we may restrict our sight to the trees, missing the richness, for example, of Cheaha’s incredible palette of non-flowering plants. Imagine the poor soul who stops at the lower elevation scenic overlook (below) and has no hint of the diverse forest life within the forest captured by the few frames within this post. What would I have discovered if I had visited the Park, expecting blue skies and unlimited vistas, and bemoaned the rain and fog. My assumption is that we had few such disappointed visitors among my environmental educator colleagues. They represent the choir of Nature’s sanctuary. Their mission, and mine, is to spread the word and convert more citizens to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

I witnessed and enjoyed spiritual lift from the grand scale (sunset the first evening on Cheaha below) to the witch’s butter on a dead pine branch to the cushion moss fish on the floor of an otherwise drab and colorless, bruised and battered stand of chestnut oak.

I urge all would-be naturalists and Nature enthusiasts to open your eyes and seek the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that lie hidden within. To those willing to seek, Nature offers unlimited reward. “There’s gold in them thar hills” (Mark Twain), but not of the spending kind. The gold I saw is the inward-investing kind. Gather it through all five portals (body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit), store it internally, and harvest the dividends of enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment!

 

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:

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • So much of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight.
  • There’s gold in them thar hills (Mark Twain) — gold of the inward-investment kind!

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and boutique Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Scars Upon the Land: Thoughts Stirred by a View from Cheaha’s Rock Garden

This is the second of what will be four posts from my February 28-March 2 visit to Cheaha State Park. I joined some 120 environmental educators attending the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama (EE AA). The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely. This blog post explores a conflicting set of  reactions and reflections to something we observed from the Rock Garden overlook during an interpretive hike. In subsequent posts over the next several weeks I’ll pursue two other themes:

  1. Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty: My Keynote Atop the Mountain
  2. Non-Flowering Plants Atop the Mountain: Observations While Attending the EE AA Conference

Last week’s post provided a broad conference and Cheaha overview: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/05/magic-and-wonder-on-the-mountain-an-inspiring-conference-at-cheaha-state-park/ (Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park).

Irony and Perspective from the Rock Garden Overlook

Friday morning I accompanied the interpretive hike group from the Lodge to the Rock Garden overlooking Lake Cheaha (lower left) and the sprawling Talladega National Forest beyond. The view is to the WNW, encompassing thousands of acres of mostly National Forest. I stood among two dozen fellow environmental educators. We marveled at the landscape below us. Someone nearby, however, pointed out an apparent blemish, terming it an unfortunate scar upon the land. My iPhone camera shows the scar only faintly at about two-o’clock beyond the lake (photo left), a tawny opening in the forest. Enlarging the photo, with the resultant reduced resolution (lower right), reveals the scar as a 30-40 acre disturbance (my term for the moment). I will explain more fully as we proceed.

The USDA Forest Service website expresses the Talladega National Forest’s rich history: “The National Forest Commission created the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit, located south of Centreville, January 21, 1935. The area was first settled in the early 1800’s. At that time, stands of timber were cleared for agricultural purposes and to build homes. What is now known as the Oakmulgee Ranger District was about 60 percent cut-over land.

On July 17, 1936, President Roosevelt, by proclamation, created the Talladega National Forest out of the Talladega and Oakmulgee Purchase Units. The Talladega National Forest, at one time, consisted of four ranger districts: Oakmulgee or the Cahaba Working Circle, Tuscaloosa or the Pondville Working Circle, Shoal Creek and Talladega. The Talladega Unit was divided into two districts October 1, 1945, with the northern district, Shoal Creek Ranger District, headquartered in Heflin and the Talladega Ranger District. Thirty percent of the Shoal Creek/Talladega land was cut-over, cultivated and vacated farmland.”

Had we been standing at Rock Garden 80-85 years ago, some 30-60 percent of the viewscape would have been “cut-over, cultivated, and abandoned farmland.” Much of the other 40-70 percent would have constituted previously cut-over or abandoned farmland, by then supporting second-growth forest. The only non-scarred and unblemished land would have been too steep to log or domesticate. In effect, the 1935 viewshed stood as a vast, nearly unbroken scar!

I found it a bit incongruous that some of my Alabama environmental educator colleagues were so quick to bemoan and lament the scar, as though it signaled some aberrant behavior by the Forest Service. And they missed the irony of demonizing National Forest management practices (timber harvesting to facilitate ecosystem diversity, wildlife habitat, and forest renewal) while enjoying the rich wood flooring, paneling, ceiling, and table in the upstairs boardroom (lower left) and the magnificent flooring and timber beams in the auditorium (below right).

The created opening we spotted may have evidenced a pine bark beetle salvage sale, or a regeneration harvest to create early successional habitat for dependent wildlife, or provide additional edge for other species of birds or mammals. Forest management entails many such deliberate actions to achieve desired outcomes. Many designated outcomes require harvesting to affect stand density, species composition, forest structure, and successional stage.

The view north from Bald Rock shows a rich mosaic of Talladega forest stands, including pine plantations, streamside management zones, and hardwood patch regeneration. I’m not sure whether those same colleagues would have found this view so offensive. My forestry practitioner inner-self viewed it as delightful.

Our US National Forest System (193 million acres) operates “to provide the greatest good for the greatest amount of people in the long run” (first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and founder of the Yale Forest School, Gifford Pinchot). The Forest Service mission: “To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Its motto is “Caring for the land and serving people.” From my own forestry undergraduate days I recall the fundamental role of the National Forests to produce wood, water, wildlife, recreation, and aesthetics. Professors emphasized the distinction between National Forests and formal Wilderness lands. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” That is in sharp contrast to the vast bulk of the Talladega National Forest (393,000 acres), exclusive of its 7,400 acre Cheaha Wilderness area. The view below is typical of the Forest Service’s management that cares for the land and serves the people. We foresters refer to it as multiple use management. Such management occasionally leaves scars and blemishes.

Seeing and Understanding the Land

We environmental educators must understand the underlying reasons and explanations. I cherish many Aldo Leopold quotes. His wisdom is timeless. What he wrote in A Sand County Almanac (1949) is at least as relevant today as 70 years ago. I offered this quote during my welcoming keynote atop Cheaha: “The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands.”

I remind you that all who consider ourselves environmental educators are both teacher and student. We cannot teach the student until we first see and understand the land. We must understand that the scar can be a means… far more than a blemish or insult. That every mark on the landscape tells a tale that we must understand and interpret. Every scenic overlook provides a palette of teachable moments. Our role is to engage passion and avoid its potentially evil sister — emotion that obscures and taints understanding and interpretation.

Please know that I am not casting shadows upon those who termed the management activity as a scar. Instead, I am taking advantage of what I saw as a teachable moment. I remain steadfastly impressed with the degree to which my fellow environmental educators demonstrated that they are well-informed, purpose-driven, passion-fueled, and resulted-oriented. Perhaps at next year’s annual meeting I’ll have an opportunity to expand on this theme addressing passion, emotion, and interpretation.

I’ll close with another photo, this one I took last summer at a second-growth cove hardwood site on Monte Sano State Forest. Eighty to 90 years ago, this magnificent stand was a harvested scar. Today one might view it as a “wilderness, where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Or mistake it for virgin “old growth.”

Again, our role is to see and understand… and then interpret and facilitate enjoyment: “The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands.”

 

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:

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands (Aldo Leopold).
  • Environmental education should be passion-fueled, yet absent emotional bias.

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.”

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: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and boutique Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

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.

Vision:

  • 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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!