August Revelations at DeSoto State Park

My late August trek at DeSoto State Park enlightened and rewarded me with more than just a set of April-to-August ecological comparisons: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/09/15/desoto-state-park-april-and-august-2019/. I offer in this subsequent Post my observations and reflections on non-flowering plants, the native black birch’s propensity to cling like hell to its rock, some great sandstone glades late summer flowering gems, and the early signs of summer stepping gently aside for autumn even in late August.

 

August Non-Flowering Plants

The following photographs simply capture what struck my eye and offered captivating images in August. The cluster of little brown mushrooms (sorry I can do no better with identifying them) exploding to life on an otherwise barren-looking sand flat near a stream under full forest cover. And fungal and lichen life stacked vertically on a standing dead hickory. I’ve said often that Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe pay no attention to scale. Whether its the planet-level glory of Earth captured by a lunar orbiter, or these up-close views of life exploiting a niche in a late-summer southern hardwood forest, majesty is within reach and sight. Nature’s coffee table style book comes in both macro- and micro-print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what a rich palette she chooses. I’ve said before that I prefer paintings that look like photographs… and photos that can be mistaken for paintings. The brown and beige-fringed shelf fungus among lichens, hanging above balls of moss, could be either.

 

Myriad lichens fashion this aerial Eden on a standing dead birch bole. Once again, the prior night’s rain enlivened this diverse community.

 

Although I could not identify the host with certainty, this long down and dead Virginia pine (I think) sported a gorgeous coat of crustose lichen. The old ashes to ashes dust to dust is always at play in Nature. Recycling is the ultimate guarantor of life.

 

Cling Like Hell to Your Rock

I frequently quote Robert Service’s Security when I’m on the stump (the figurative speaking stump) talking about leadership and lessons from Nature. His poem chronicles the travails of a limpet (a crustacean filter-feeder of the intertidal zone that holds tight to rock surfaces) who tires of her fate as a clinger. She bemoans her lot, saying “It isn’t I who clings to the rock, it’s the rock that clings to me.” The sea tells the limpet of a beautiful sandy beach, saying to the limpet, “Set off tonight when the moon is bright, and I’ll swing you there on my tide.” She does as the sea offers and finds herself in deep trouble, unable to survive on the sandy beach:

“She cried till she roused a taxi-crab
Who gladly gave her a ride;
But I grieve to say in his crabby way
He insisted she sit inside. . . .
So if of the limpet breed ye be,
Beware life’s brutal shock;
Don’t take the chance of the changing sea,
But – cling like hell to your rock”

Security is a parable suggesting to me the imperative that each of us embrace a set of core vales, tenets, principles, and ethics that guide us through life and living. I thought of Service’s Nature-bound and derived wisdom when I walked DeSoto’s forests, spotting the ubiquitous black birch, a species that often finds seedling anchorage upon the sandstone boulders, germinating on the rocks’ elevated surface and then sending roots to exploit true mineral soil below. The lower left birch appears as though it walked two-legged, pausing to half-lean and half-sit on the ledge, catching a well-deserved break. I knew the feeling as I trekked water-logged that August morning! Its mossy thigh and the moss-bedecked hummock beyond merited a closeup (below right).

 

The two birch trees below did more than rest against their boulders. They are secured there for the long haul!

 

Flowering Sandstone Glade Plants

This August glade-flower beauty is a species of Liatris, know commonly as blazing star, offering a nice splash of lavender to the cloud-darkened day.

 

 

 

Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nuttallii) graced the glades, standing tall and stunning against the backdrop of summer drawing to a close. I had not previously seen (or do not recall seeing) this species. DeSoto Naturalist Brittney Hughes provided an immediate i.d. via email. She reminded me, too, of the tremendous reference available online through a partnership of the Alabama Herbarium Consortium and The University of West Alabama: Alabama Plant Atlas at http://www.floraofalabama.org/

 

Brittney also came through with another flowering glade inhabitant identification: Sandstone tickseed (Coreopsis pulchra). Another common name, suggesting its restricted home range, is Lookout Mountain Tickseed. We in Alabama are blessed with extraordinary diversity of micro-habitats and the resultant vegetation that has specific site requirements.

 

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) likewise seemed at home on the glade. According to the US Forest Service, This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often on calcareous rock or thin soils. It can be found in or on fencerows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes, and prairie. The roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary. In contrast to the tickseed’s restricted range, the prickly pear grows from Montana to Florida and from New Mexico into Ontario. An interesting set of facts from the same USFS website: This species is a typical cactus with a photosynthetic stem that acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern and middle states. So much to learn about diverse life within our State Parks.

 

I can only imagine what I could learn from even a monthly down-on-my-knees visit to DeSoto’s sandstone glades over the course of a full annual cycle! I would not be surprised to learn that somewhere in the scientific literature there is such a calendar-year chronicle of life on our sandstone glades.

 

Fall’s Early Advance

As I commented in the prior DeSoto Park Post, I’ve lived elsewhere (up north!) where fall barges into summer’s final parties, guns blazing, winds whipping, and northerlies portending first frosts and freezes, sleet and freezing rain, and howling blizzards. Leaves turn with glory because the trees over the sweep of time have learned what’s coming… and soon. Here in the south, I contend, summer just tires of heat, late summer drought, and shortening days. Summer simply gives up and wears out, retreats, backing out the door, refusing to confront autumn with any resistance.

Near the lodge where I stayed, I found Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) in seed, finished for the season, ready to sow their seed and rest before the still weeks-away frosts.

 

After an unusually wet spring and early summer, little rain had fallen since late June. Reduced soil moisture, and eons of adapting to frequent late season dry spells, triggered some tree species to begin shutting down, dropping leaves rather than engaging in net negative production. Evolution favors action that conserves energy and adds value. The forest had engaged productively for at least four months. Its trees had performed as designed.

 

This 30+ inch yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), even with deep roots along a perennially moist drainage-way, had begun to let go, dropping a few deliciously yellow leaves along the trail.

 

 

 

I had not seen this wonderful signage on previous DeSoto wanderings. I could not resist capturing its apt message.

 

May your own treks through Nature gather only photos and memories… and may your steps be light!

 

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 (co-authored with Dr. Jennifer J. Wilhoit; 2019) 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. All three are available on Indiebound and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Autumn in the South seldom rushes; summer slowly fades, yielding as much to heat and seasonal drought as it does to impending cold.
  2. Each season in life and every place in Nature offers special treats and predictable, yet sometimes surprising, nuances.
  3. Beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await every venture into Nature — be prepared to discover what always lies hidden within!

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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our first co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

DeSoto State Park: April and August 2019

Nothing in Nature is Static

Beginning July 12, I embarked upon a 12-day five-state tour of National Parks, and an eight-day, three-National Parks tour of southeastern Kazakhstan. Three days after returning to Madison, Alabama I met with ten Alabama State Parks Naturalists, assistant Naturalists, and staff at DeSoto State Park. The next morning I ventured forth on several trails that I had hiked most recently in mid-April, the morning after three inches of rain during a period when spring rains had already been ample: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/

We had discussed the prior evening that some visitors assume that a single visit is sufficient for them to “know” a particular Park and its environs. Such is not the case. Nothing in Nature is static… not for a day, a week, a month, a season, a year, a decade. The rate of perceptible change increases exponentially with extended time. Aldo Leopold wrote exquisitely of the seasonal fluxes on his Wisconsin farm (A Sand County Almanac, 1949). Many other environmental writers have done same, although not exceeding Leopold’s prose. I don’t intend to challenge Leopold’s nearly-lyrical supremacy, yet I do dare to demonstrate with text and photos the sweeping differences between my April 18-20 visit to DeSoto and my August 27 trek. On both hikes my boots grew soggy, my clothes saturated, and camera lens foggy. The big difference was that very little rain had fallen at DeSoto since the first of July. The half-inch that had fallen the night before and continued occasionally that morning had wet the vegetation and trail surface without generating surface flow.

Indian Falls ran full in April; nothing flowed over the foreground ledge in August. Water roaring versus near-silence except for canopy drip. Light levels the same.

 

Above Indian falls the August stream bed carried only the early leaf-drop promise of fall and its autumn rains. Trees here in the south are accustomed to late summer and early fall droughts. They don’t need cool nights and shortened days to trigger leaf senescence, abscission layer forming, and leaf-drop. The April canopy had not yet fully developed; August crowns had already begun to thin.

 

Even Lodge Falls carried good discharge in April. Not a drop beyond rain-dampened bed-stones in August.

 

Lost Falls pounded in April; a trickle dripped over the ledge in August. Who says a single visit reveals a Park, much less the hundreds of nooks and crannies within!

 

Azalea Cascade sits at the end of a several-hundred yard boardwalk through a tunnel of mature hardwood forest. April gifted me with a clear-water pool amidst the boulders, fed by the cascade tumbling from above. August offered bare rock with just a bit of pooled water… a refuge for minnows, crawdads, salamanders, and frogs.

 

Sandstone Glades

I wrote at length about the very special sandstone glades (from my April visit) in this June 5, 2019 Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/05/sandstone-glades-at-desoto-state-park/ The April glades literally flowed with the prior night’s rain (below left), the shallow bedrock generally blocking percolation and forcing surface flow. The August glades (below right) show wet rock, faded vegetation, and an absence of lush growth.

 

Again, the lower left photo demonstrates surface water and rich greens; the lower right rock surface carries a burden of shed maple leaves. I think of my stints in the more northern eastern US (Upstate New York; Central Pennsylvania; New Hampshire), where fall kicks in the late summer door, ejecting those lazy, hazy, days without quibble or resistance. Here in the south, summer simply begins letting go, backing out the door, exhausted from months of luxurious growing, extended periods of heat, and now diminishing rains… long before fall threatens to enter the neighborhood.

 

I celebrated seeing lush patches of elf orpine (Diamorpha smallii) in flower (below left; pinkish cluster at rock’s edge). Below right most April vegetation had long since senesced. The prior night’s rain, pooled on the rock, reflects a Virginia pine beyond.

 

Little difference in lichen and moss growth and luxuriousness appears between the April and August photos (left and right, respectively below). The August overnight rain had freshened both of these non-flowering plants, which are well-adapted to these sites and the associated periodic droughts. The August image evidences the new leaf fall.

 

Nature’s Weathering of a Trail Marker’s Handiwork

I noticed the handiwork and humor a trail maintenance person had employed re-marking the orange trail, creating a pumpkin on a pine cronartium scar. I retook the photo in August, remembering the artwork and curious to compare the images for any visible four-month weathering. Sure enough, Nature had exacted her own handiwork. Nature, even in her most gentle manner, is relentless. Nothing is static. Nothing escapes her persistent ways. I have become a tireless proponent for the Alabama State Park System to seek funding to begin a systematized plan to establish permanent photo points, GPS-located, azimuth-controlled, and scheduled for re-taking on some routine schedule, perhaps every 3-7 years. People generally believe that forests are unchanging, static forevermore. Photo comparisons tell no lies… and evidence changes, often rapidly, in most cases predictably, and always convincingly. Simple words never match the power of images.

 

Without the above photos, I would not likely have observed a difference.

 

Non-Flowering Plants

Although certainly not the same lichen (both appear to be of the genus Usnea), I see little difference between April (left with newly emerged grape leaves and rhododendron flowers as backdrop) and the late August rain-soaked tandem of lichen and moss (right with a backdrop of dry leaves and needles). I believe the freshening rain served as the great equalizer.

 

I loved the algae-greened bark furrows on the April bole (left) and embraced seeing the same look in August (right). Common on both is the prior night’s stem-flow sufficient even in the less intense August rain to wet the entire trunk. Nature abhors a vacuum, filling even the most seeming unlikely places with life.

 

My August trek enlightened with more than just this April-to-August ecological comparison. I’ll save for a subsequent post my observations and reflections on non-flowering plants, the native black birch’s propensity to cling like hell to its rock, some great sandstone glades late summer flowering gems, and the early signs of summer stepping gracefully and graciously aside for autumn.

 

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 (co-authored with Dr. Jennifer J. Wilhoit; 2019) 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. All three are available on Indiebound (https://www.indiebound.org/)  and other online sources. 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.

Here are the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nothing in Nature is static; change is constant, usually predictable, yet difficult to see.
  2. A single visit to any Alabama State Park opens a glimpse in time… a single snapshot of the wonders that shift day-to-day, week-to-week, season-to-season, and year-to-year.
  3. To experience a Park deeply, visit time and time again

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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our first co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

July Return to Joe Wheeler State Park

I returned to Joe Wheeler State Park mid-day July 10 for an extended afternoon Park orientation with Superintendent Chad Davis in advance of our evening and next morning State Parks Foundation Board meeting. I had spent several hours exploring a couple of trails in June 2018. See the Post I issued last July: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/05/joe-wheeler-state-park/

The Park website says of Joe Wheeler SP: “Whether you arrive by land or water, there’s no mistaking the beauty and serenity of this 2,550-acre resort park. On the shores of Wheeler Lake, the resort features a stunning waterfront lodge with restaurant and convention facilities, championship 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, full-service marina with permanent and overnight docking slips, modern and primitive camping, lakeside cottages, cozy cabins, and a rustic group lodge.” Visit the website: https://www.alapark.com/parks/joe-wheeler-state-park

The main entrance hints at the sylvan environment lying within.

 

Before I report on our afternoon wanderings, allow me to leap ahead to the next morning.

Sunrise at the Lodge along Wheeler Lake

Joe Wheeler is a resort park. I spent the night at the Lodge, a full service hotel and restaurant. I can’t remember when I last awakened after daybreak. Morning is my preferred (cherished) time of day. I know that I regularly awoke in full light years ago during our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska at nearly 65-degrees north latitude. Although the sun dipped below the horizon even on the summer solstice, its very shallow arc kept 24-daylight with us for some 80 consecutive summer days. So, for 10-11 weeks there was no rising before dawn!

Judy and I enjoyed our early morning walk along the Lodge waterfront as the sun broke the eastern horizon, back-lighting sailboats docked at the Park’s 140-slip marina.

 

We saw no cabin cruiser (my term for some rather large boats) human passengers up and about so early. Yet avian boarders found convenient perches as they caught their insect breakfasts above the lake surface. I wondered whether the boat owners anticipated the necessary hosing and scrubbing that awaited them… courtesy of the swallows.

 

The resort pier extends far enough into the First Creek arm of the Lake to permit this view of the Lodge. What a gorgeous place to call home for an early July escape!

 

An Afternoon in the Woods

So much of the Park’s forests are within a few hundred yards of the Lake. Chad and I examined several segments of Park’s new eight-mile trail that should be open and ready to hike this coming fall. Here’s just one place where the new trail drops to shore level.

 

It also comes near this Lake-facing signage advising boaters of their proximity to the resort park.

 

And likewise to near this wall-blind intended for dormant season visitors to observe waterfowl without tree foliage interference.

 

Here’s Chad with the trail crew we intercepted doing the hard labor of clearing and grading. I am eager to schedule another visit to trek the full length… once fall delivers more tolerable temperatures.

 

As I’ve often observed, I am a tree-junkie who entered forestry studies at university fifty years ago in August! I am so fortunate to have merged vocation and avocation. Growing up in the Central Appalachians, I love trees… and I am in love with oaks. The red oak below left, graced with a characteristically hairy-stemmed poison ivy vine, measures two-and-a-half feet diameter breast high (DBH). Chad stands beside another nearby that we measured at 33-inches. Most of the lowland forests at Wheeler State Park are rich former agricultural sites abandoned when TVA acquired the land in advance of dam construction and flooding.

 

An even larger white oak stands at the base of a steep bluff. Not willing to risk falling into the Lake, I did not descend the slope with my diameter tape. Call me chicken! I estimated its DBH at north of three-feet, with a massive crown (below right). I find inspiration in these forest denizens.

 

Although not nearly so large as the red and white oaks above, this bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) reigns as the State Champion, the largest of its species in the entire state!

 

It joins two other species state champions located at the Park: chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) and September elm (Ulmus serotina).

I’ve offered just a glimpse of the Park’s magic, beauty, wonder, and awe. I’m blessed that this gem lies just a little more than an hour from my home. I will endeavor to further explore this fall. Occasionally visit the Park’s website for announcements about the trail’s opening: https://www.alapark.com/parks/joe-wheeler-state-park

 

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:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Cheaha in the heart of our Alabama Southern Appalachians, or Joe Wheeler’s lake-shore forests near Rogersville.
  • The Tennessee River impoundments provide rich regional recreational value, furnish electrical power, enable navigation, and serve as perfect lake-side locations for both Joe Wheeler and Lake Guntersville State Parks.
  • In my humble view, daybreak is one of Nature’s finest 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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

 

 

 

Late April Wildflowers at Oak Mountain State Park

I made my first visit to Oak Mountain State Park (20 miles south of Birmingham) in late April. See my June 6, 2019 Post on my general impressions from Oak Mountain: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/17/late-spring-at-oak-mountain-state-park/ I’m sure I will visit again in the fall. A single point in time does not do justice to the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of our State Parks or any place in Nature. For this Post I will focus on the flowering spectacle that is spring in central Alabama.

Spring Ephemerals

Because I have squeezed so many destinations (and subsequent Blog Posts) into my spring 2019 wanderings, I will not burden the reader with lots of text, electing instead to run through the many spring ephemerals I encountered at Oak Mountain State Park April 25-26, 2019. An absolute wildflower enthusiast’s delight!

Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Ragwort (Senecio anonymous):

Lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata). I’ve noted in previous Posts that we are in Good Hands with our Alabama State Park Naturalists. That’s OMSP Naturalist Lauren Muncher’s hand assisting below!

Butterweed (Senecio glabellus):

Two-flowered Cynthia (Krigia biflora):

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens). I’ve known this plant my entire professional life, yet there is so much I do not know or remember. Occasionally I’m well-served to learn more. Here’s a paragraph from a USDA Forest Service online article:

Partridge Berry is a native perennial, a small, woody, trailing vine with 6 to 12 inch, slender, trailing stems that does not climb but lays prostrate on the forest floor. The trailing stems root at nodes which come in contact with the forest surface and may spread into colonies several yards across. The dark-green, evergreen leaves are simple, opposite, ovate, with a pale yellow midrib, are ½ inch across, with a short stalk. In late spring, a pair of white flowers (with a single calyx) appears. Each small, fragrant flower has four brilliant white petals that are pubescent and unite into a funnel-shaped tube that is also fringed with hairs. The pair of flowers occur in two forms (dimorphous). In the first form the pistil is short and the stamens are long; in the second form the pistil is long and the stamens are short. This structure prevents each flower from fertilizing itself. Both flowers must be pollinated to obtain a single scarlet berry. Each berry is the result of the fusion of each ovary of the pollinated pair of white flowers. As such, each berry has two bright red spots on its surface.

Wow, an amazing story rich with detail… and peculiarities. A single berry from two flowers! Leonardo da Vinci offered an apt observation:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

Carolina Climbing Milkweed (Matalea decipiens) is one I had not previously encountered (or remembered). I love the deep color, the velvety leaf, and the royal appearance. I am now a big fan!

VA Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana):

Spiny Thistle (Cirsium carolinianum) is a plant commonly referred to as a weed, often growing on disturbed sites. I find it delightful with its large spiky blossom. I refuse to diminish its beauty by calling it a weed — I consider this beauty a valid and distinguished spring wildflower!

Eastern White Beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus):

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) has been among my favorites for decades. It flourished in the Central Appalachians where I first wandered the ridge and valley region. Whether a full plant in flower (below left) or an individual cluster (right) its magic is incomparable.

In some ways I’m sad to be issuing this Post mid-summer. I won’t have another chance to experience the wonderful spring blooms again for some eight months, yet anticipation is thrill and reward in itself. To every thing there is a season… and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Yet I take solace from John Muir’s wisdom: “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.”

 

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:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Gulf State’s coastal richness or Oak Mountain in the backyard of our state’s largest city.
  • Enter our rich forests with eyes wide open for seasonal blessings and gifts.
  • Spring ephemeral wildflowers and our ubiquitous flowering shrubs reveal priceless 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 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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

 

 

 

Spring Day Color at DeSoto State Park in Northeastern Alabama

This is my fourth Great Blue Heron Blog Post from my mid-April visit to DeSoto State Park. See my earlier Posts describing 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/ and DeSoto’s Sandstone Glades: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/05/sandstone-glades-at-desoto-state-park/ and Special Features at DeSoto: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/24/special-features-at-desoto-state-park-in-northeastern-alabama/. I stayed at the Park April 18-20; rain fell in torrents the night of the 18th, and light rain and drizzle persisted until I departed mid-day on the 20th. Although I snapped this photo on a prior visit and used it in a previous DeSoto Post, it seemed fitting to repeat it!

The world is alive with the sound of music — flowing and dripping water! And, the woods abound with the hues and shades of spring!

Spring Ephemerals

Because I have squeezed so many destinations (and subsequent Blog Posts) into my spring 2019 wanderings, I will not burden the reader with lots of text, electing instead to run through the many spring ephemerals I encountered at DeSoto State Park April 18-20, 2019. An absolute wildflower enthusiast’s delight!

Appalachia Milkwort (Polygala nana) and Downy Phlox (Phlox pilosa), below left and right, respectively. Note the water droplets on many of these floral photos, bearing testament to the persistent drizzle and dripping.

Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia lyrata) basal leaves and flower stalk. All three (above and below) species grew along a utility right-of-way (see lower right).

Four Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) and most every other photo I captured depict interior forest species.

Shuttlesworth Ginger (Hexastylis shuttlesworthii) is a new find for me. I admit to being a sentimental sucker for any jug-like flower!

 

 

 

 

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) and Shrub Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), below left and right, respectively. Both are dainty and delicate, especially appealing and beckoning in the low-light sodden understory. I’ve said in prior Posts that we are in Good Hands when guided by our Alabama State Parks Naturalists. That’s DeSoto Naturalist Brittney Hughes’ hand — she led me through a full day of plant discovery and identification. I am grateful.

Deerberry (vaccinium stamineum) and Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), below left and right, respectively.

Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda) and Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).

Catesby’s Trillium (Trillium catesbaei).

Flowering Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

We found far more than spring ephemerals. We selected a perfect time to be afoot at DeSoto to achieve peak (and peek!) discovery; well, actually Brittney recommended the mid-April time frame. Again, rather than weigh you down with prose, let’s review a portfolio of what the Park presented to us and our wet feet.

Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus).

Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), which in my humble opinions is among the season’s most precious gifts!

Mountain azalea (Rhododendron canescensis) is another that rises to the level of woodland exultation!

Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), another flower of exquisite beauty in the wet and cloud-deepened forest light.

I could not have planned for better weather, highlighting the beauty and emphasizing the springtime palette.

Non-Flowering Plant Delights

Allow me now to switch to our non-flowering jewels, a realm about which I know far too little. Mosses and lichens offer a rich mosaic in the Park’s sandstone glades.

I love seeing jelly fungi when they are moisture-gorged. Wikipedia offers some reminder to me of how little I know: “Jelly fungi are a paraphyletic group of several heterobasidiomycete fungal orders from different classes of the subphylum Agaricomycotina. There is so VERY much I do not know. Reminds me of an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” And of lyrics from some old song I recall, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

Even the whites seemed more intense, whether as complement to the freckled upper surface or the gilled underside.

The resurrection fern stood in moistened resplendence… at peak vitality following the deluge.

Twig-festooning bearded lichen added its own element of glory.

Google dictionary describes a spleenwort as “a small fern that grows in rosettes on rocks and walls, typically with rounded or triangular lobes on a slender stem and formerly used as a remedy for disorders of the spleen.” Prior to touring DeSoto with Naturalist Brittney Hughes, I would have identified this rosette as an unknown (to me) fern. Now, I will accept it as a spleenwort.

Dead and down woody debris supports rich life… life whose principal function is to return the dead cellulose and lignin to the soil. It’s ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Forget about the life cycle. Instead, it’s the life and death cycle. The lower left photo shows two kinds of lichens, algae, and at least two species of fungal fruiting bodies. Below right life is also robust.

 

 

 

 

 

So, too, on the elevated downed woody debris below. Same roles… different species. Similar function; the same ultimate purpose and function.

A Trail Marker and Tree Bark Route Guide

At first glance, I see below just a loblolly pine with trail marker. But look a little more closely. Loblolly bark grows as flat plates, breaking into fissures as the tree expands in circumference. Life, as this sodden dark bark evidences, flourishes in the furrows. Algae expresses vividly under these moisture-saturated conditions. I’ve looked since at dry-barked loblolly. The algae is hidden from immediate view. This one tells the tale once more that Nature tolerates no vacuums. And reminds me of the magic, beauty, wonder, awe that lie hidden in plain sight. I’m also reminded that if we limit our Nature excursions to “good” weather, the exceptional may escape our notice.

 

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:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Gulf State’s coastal richness or a water-logged day on Sand Mountain at DeSoto.
  • Don’t deny yourself the gifts afforded by what we may call unpleasant weather.
  • Spring ephemeral wildflowers reveal priceless beauty, but don’t ignore the magic of ubiquitous non-flowering plants.

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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

Special Features at DeSoto State Park in Northeastern Alabama

See my earlier Posts describing 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/ and DeSoto’s Magical Sandstone Glades: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/05/sandstone-glades-at-desoto-state-park/

I stayed at the Park April 18-20; rain fell in torrents the night of the 18th, and light rain and drizzle persisted until I departed mid-day on the 20th. Although I snapped this photo on a prior visit, it seemed fitting for this Post!

Stone Formations

DeSoto State Park sits atop Lookout Mountain. The “mountain” is a flat-topped 50-mile linear erosional remnant (up to ten miles wide) of the broader Cumberland Plateau that lifted during the Appalachian orogeny some 225-260 million years ago. Lookout Mountain, Sand Mountain, and Blount Mountain are three of the ridges that together with erosional valleys constitute the eight units of the Cumberland Plateau. The Plateau-topping sandstone lies at the surface of DeSoto’s sandstone glades (below left). Sandstone likewise provides the shelves, cliffs, and ledges over which DeSoto’s multiple falls tumble (below right).

This one photograph is emblematic of the marriage of rock and forest at DeSoto.

Powerful forces shape and sculpt Earth’s features. Stand at any number of Cumberland Plateau scenic overlooks and imagine the peneplain that stretched to the horizon eons ago, level with your current perch above the broad valley. All that was there has long ago entered the Tennessee River–to the Ohio–and on to the the mighty Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. And still, the process continues inexorably. Lichens and algae on rock faces exact chemical and physical tolls. The foot-wide fissure separating the two large sandstone blocks (below left) certainly felt the unfathomable pressure of freezing seepage, as well as expansion and contraction from diurnal and annual temperature fluctuations from 0-to-90-degrees F. Tree roots also join the assault. The nearly prostrate sourwood (Oxydendrum aboreum; lower right) and the many other tree, shrub, and herbaceous species anchoring nearby pull their share of the weathering load. There will come a day when these rocks, too, will feel the tropical warmth of Gulf waters. After all, time means nothing to a grain of sand.

Allow me a postscript on the sourwood, one of my favorite southern trees. I’ve noted in previous Posts that sourwood pays scant attention to both the laws of gravity (it disdains growing vertically) and it refuses to be a slave to sunlight. Most trees species are either positively phototropic (grow toward the sun) or negatively geotropic (grow opposite gravity’s pull). Sourwood plays by its own rules. The tree above, shall we say, is true to form. It did not fall to this position — it grew that way! I admire its spirit of independence and its rebel demeanor. It seems to literally chart its own path and destiny.

I puzzled over this two-foot circular hole about half-way up the side of a 20-foot high rock face. Man made? An accident of Nature? Some explainable physical phenomenon? Worth a photo and a bushel of curiosity. I may never know. Perhaps the answer is clear to you.

I leave the mystery for now to Park Naturalist Brittney Hughes who led me through a full soggy day at DeSoto.

Park Oddities

Nature’s portfolio is rich with wonder as well as special features. I have yet to venture into Nature anywhere I’ve trod, to include on several continents, and not found additional oddities to add to my photo collection and memory. I like this yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) kissing the tilted, lichen-encrusted sandstone block. Animate and inanimate reside proximal and interactively.

While I admitted a special fondness for sourwood, Brittany feels deep reverence for black birch (Betula nigra). This species, whether in upstate New York or here in the southern Appalachians, is adept at dropping seeds that seem to germinate and find purchase in the most unusual places. These two found anchorage on the side of a mossy rock and dropped roots along the rock to find true soil and suitable substrate on the forest floor. They are resilient and opportunistic, an admirable character for true forest entrepreneurs… or, for that matter, for human business entrepreneurs.

Clouds, drizzle, and mystery enveloped us. I glanced up to find an Ewok village. As a reminder to those of you who are Star Wars enthusiasts, “Ewoks were a diminutive species of furry bipeds native to the forest moon of Endor. They were most notable for helping the Rebel Alliance defeat the forces of darkness…” They inhabited deep forests and lived in high-canopy tree crowns. Well, I’m allowed a flight of fancy. The above-ground structures at DeSoto have little to do with the furry little Ewoks. Instead, DeSoto’s zipline opened this past spring: https://www.alapark.com/zipline-adventures. Not sure I’m ready for that!

 

 

 

Appropriately, the Park traces the Orange Trail with, you guessed it, orange paint. Perhaps the painting crew passed this way during the Halloween season, showing creativity and demonstrating mirth on a trail-side Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) canker face. Not limiting themselves to orange, the crew even added a green stem stump (below right)! Such a delight on a dark and sodden hike, warming my heart and brightening the day.

And no fungal agents at work on this tree near the Lodge!

Puzzling Spiral Grain

Over my entire forestry career, I have noticed that trees grow with spiral grain. And I’ve puzzled over the cause and expression. I am not alone in such pondering. From the online Gymnosperm Database: “Spiral grain is the helical form taken by xylem tissues in their growth along a tree trunk or limb. Spiral grain is often conspicuous in snags that have lost their bark, as shown in the photos on this page, and people love to speculate about it. You will hear, for instance, that it is caused by the Coriolis force or that trees always spiral one direction in the northern hemisphere and the other direction in the southern hemisphere.

The phenomenon and causes of spiral grain have received considerable study, perhaps because it affects the commercial value of wood. Kubler (1991) provides an extensive (though somewhat dated) bibliography. He noted that spirals “are commonly observed in both directions (left-handed and right-handed), and that the direction of spiral can reverse several times during a tree’s life. I have seen that attested in a decaying alpine log of Engelmann spruce.” Kubler also noted that trees can spiral for many different reasons.

Don’t look for me soon to Post an answer or solve the mystery. The spiral grain I photographed in de-barked dead Virginia pine (a sample of four below expressed as right-handed.

I’ll accept the online wisdom, which continued, “Spiraling can also occur (and this is probably more common) in response to stress: there is a helical stress imposed on any tree that is exposed to prevailing wind and has an asymmetrical crown, which is common in trees growing on exposed sites. Gravity can also impose a helical stress on a leaning tree. It has also been noted that spiral grain may make the tree stronger and better able to withstand stresses caused by wind, particularly if the direction of the spiral is periodically reversed. This concept was developed in some detail by Skatter and Kucera (1998) who studied wind effects on trees with asymmetrical crowns and showed that ‘spiral grain is an optimized growth feature when the trees are exposed to combined bending and torsion.’ They also assert that most conifers spiral at the same rate (called the grain angle) and show a change from left-handed to right-handed spiraling as they age.”

 

Again, if experts who have studied this phenomenon are able only to speculate, I will not attempt to advance the frontiers of knowledge and understanding. Instead, I may simply continue to ask others for an explanation. I may generate some wild flights of fancy from those who are never at a loss for words and likewise seldom pass up an opportunity to express their perspicacity and infinite wisdom!

DeSoto State Park is a place of special features.

 

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:

  • Nature’s magic manifests in ways often least anticipated — not always in towering trees and cathedral groves.
  • Enter the forest with open mind, probing eyes, and a sense of childlike wonder.
  • Always seek what lies hidden within… and you will find it.

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 exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

 

 

 

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/