A Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama — An Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 9, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

The Core Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post

Our daughter invited us to a social affair in Gadsden Saturday evening September 22. Because it’s a two-hour drive, we spent the night, reserving Sunday morning for getting a taste of Gadsden area Nature. We walked at dawn along the Coosa River’s upper end of Lake Neely Henry, some 90 miles from Chattanooga and nearly 60 miles from Birmingham. The Coosa’s headwaters tap far southeastern Tennessee and the northwest corner of Georgia. The Coosa begins at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia. It joins the Tallapoosa River just south of Wetumpka, Alabama above Montgomery to form the Alabama River, then merges with the Tombigbee to create the Mobile River as they empty into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Coosa reaches some 280 miles from Rome, Georgia to the Wetumpka area. The total distance from headwaters to the Gulf is 808 miles (Mobile River, 45; Alabama River, 319; Coosa River, 280; Etowah River, 164).

Imagine how many wonderful dawns and sunrises greeted other observers along those 800+ miles that mid-September morning. Lower left and lower right, respectively, look upstream and down from a fishing pier near our accommodations from our west-bank vantage point.

A tighter view southward captures the shore-side mats of vegetation, harboring all manner of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other critters. Again, imagine the menagerie of life finding shelter and food along those 1,600 (two shores) miles!

A perfect walking trail extended south along the shore. A departing fishing boat brought corduroy reflections of the brightening eastern sky. The view is a little south of due east.

A bit further along the trail I was too slow with my camera to catch the stilt-legged great blue heron fishing at the end of this storm-water drain-way. The bird had just lifted when I snapped the shutter. The view is directly east. I thrill at every great blue heron, especially one backlit by the dawn of yet another incredible late-summer day. I know, I’ve seen far better photographs, yet being the one who pressed the shutter, I recall the magic of the moment every time I peek at the magnificent bird’s first-light flight. I accept this encounter as the gift that it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve recounted many times the story behind my considering the great blue heron as my deceased Dad’s avatar. In form of a great blue, Dad wished me farewell on a bitter cold mid-February sunrise in the central Appalachians… the day of his memorial service. Still today, when a great blue makes an appearance, I consider it a visit from Dad. It is he who planted the lifelong seeds of my Nature passion and deep appreciation.

The trail also passed through a fertile floodplain forest of mixed hardwood and loblolly pine. The trees expressed the rich site via their height. Height of dominant and co-dominant trees at a selected base age is a common forestry metric for gauging inherent site quality. We used height at base age 25 years to register site quality in the forests of central and south-central Alabama when I managed forestland for Union Camp Corporation back in the early 1980s. For the 100,000 acres we owned north of Montgomery site quality averaged 60-65 feet at age 25. For the 220,000 acres below Montgomery, site quality averaged 80-85 feet. Those are some of the South’s most productive pine forestlands. Sure, southern bottomland along the Mississippi River, for example, is more productive, yet generally those bottomland sites do not support pine forests. Here’s Judy, my early morning (and lifetime) companion, along the trail in the Coosa mixed pine and hardwood stand.

After a leisurely breakfast, we toured our daughter, her two sons, and son-in-law along the same river-side trail. We all enjoyed our Coosa River explorations.

Noccalula Falls

We departed our hotel and headed to Noccalula Falls Park. I had no idea what to expect.

From Wikipedia: Noccalula Falls Park is a 250-acre public park located in Gadsden, Alabama, United States. The main feature of the park is a 90-foot waterfall with a trail winding through Black Creek Gorge at its base past caves, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, pioneer homestead, and Civil War carvings.

We purchased tickets (senior discount — one of the advantages of getting older!) and posed with the boys at an autumn-decorated display tree.

We spent a couple hours exploring the Park via a ride on the narrow-gauge railroad and walking within the petting zoo, viewing various other wild animals on display, strolling through an evolving botanical gardens and pioneer village, and stopping at the falls overlook. Because the this late September day presented near record heat, we elected to save the Gorge trail for another day. I relented reluctantly, knowing that I was foregoing the kind of photos I normally take to populate these Blog Posts and stimulate reflections on Nature.

Another factor contributed to my willfully postponing a hike into the Gorge. The brochure photo below right shows the Falls in full glory with the stream at bank-full. Below left is the photo I snapped during our visit — a mere trickle! A persistent Bermuda high had limited August rainfall to below average, and essentially blocked significant precipitation during the first three weeks of September. I want my drop into the Gorge to pay dividends in form of visual, tactile, and auditory rewards. So, another day, perhaps mid-winter once the rains return, when we venture back to Noccalula Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Ruminations

Philosophical Musings on Wonder, Awe, and Magic — I have seldom witnessed a new day dawning that did not serve to inspire and humble. That morning along the Coosa was no exception. The simple power and beauty of night retreating to make way for a rising sun. I puzzled over what I had just witnessed: darkness racing westward, leaving a photon-vacuum in its wake… or light rushing in from the east. I recall the sage who explained that there is no such thing as darkness, which instead is only the absence of light. The same person observed that cold is merely the absence of heat. And hate simply the void left when there is no love. I presume that the great blue heron had not pondered these things. He (the pronoun I employ for all great blues given the aforementioned avatar explanation) simply felt hunger… the absence of breakfast in his belly. Hew noticed only that darkness had retreated sufficiently for shore-side fishing.

I absorbed the dawn colors and warm glow of promise for a fresh day’s start. I mused about how many dawns would greet the raindrops that fell at the Etowah’s headwaters before they detect a hint of salt at the foot of Mobile Bay. I suppose that time means nothing to raindrops and rivers. I recall the lyrics in Jimmy Webb’s Highwayman (performed by Johnny Cash and others):

“I fly a starship
Across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again”
I wondered, too, about the scale of watersheds, that is, contrasting the trickle at Noccalula Falls to the apparent full pool at Lake Neely Henry. The Falls quite clearly manifests the August through mid-September local rainfall deficit. The Coosa at Gadsden reflects a much larger drainage basin, far longer time period, and several hundred miles of flow. Local deviation from average precipitation means little to the larger Coosa. Ample August rains in northwest Georgia could have compensated for the local shortfall. I see the same relative implications and consequence for our lives. Day to day the local impacts us. Only over the longer haul do the ebbs and flow equalize and attenuate. The river that is our own life eventually completes its journey to the sea, whatever its length and character happen to be. Droughts and deluges may alter the flow, yet the journey is defined and shaped by aggregate influences. Our charge is to optimize, to the extent we can, our individual wanderings and the flow of those who share the life journey with us, even if only fellow travelers who are with us for just some stretch of the way.
Nature instructs that whether we are the Coosa or the creek at Noccalula Falls, we have a journey and destination. Unlike the drop of rain, driven and directed only by chemistry and physics, we have dimensions that give us will, passion, purpose, and alternatives. Ours is a higher cause, if only because we can choose. The raindrop falling on a northwest Georgia hill top has no way to choose. What I want us to do is understand the magic, wonder, beauty, and awe of Nature and appreciate that we share an obligation to steward this Earth sustainably.
Applicable Lessons
I distilled ten lessons from my first book and thirteen from my second. One lessons emerges from both books and is drawn from all my writings about Nature:
From Nature Based Leadership — Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
From Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading — Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises.

We have this one chance to get it right. If we don’t, the Coosa will continue to make its way to the Gulf of Mexico again, and again, and again, and again, and again… absent human appreciation for daily dawnings along its beautiful shoreline. A river doesn’t care who stands at its banks — never has and never will.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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

 

The Alabama State Park Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for daybreak Magic!

Rainfall near DeSoto had been adequate when I visited, permitting one of many small streams to tumble a minor waterfall with as much volume as the advertised Noccalula Falls. Timing is everything.

Joe Wheeler — Not all beauty derives from dawn’s special colors and warmth, nor from water’s trek to the sea. Here’s a well-adorned hackberry, sporting a fine green coat of algae.

And there’s the water of Lake Guntersville from the forested bluff where a DeSoto hiking trail skirts the highland!

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. And the image is burned and lodged in my vault of pleasant Alabama State Parks memories. A fine dawn without a palette of colors.

And the warmth of a welcoming sign!

Monte Sano — The sun’s gift to us extends from dawn to dusk, even here at its midday zenith.

So many of our Alabama State Parks have stories to tell. Whether like the old mill at Noccalula Falls (not a State Park) or the hotel atop Monte Sano, we are not the first to experience the exquisite joy of visiting special places.

 

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

Cloud Inspiration — Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 3, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Cloud Inspiration Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum at the end of this Post with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks.

Cloud Inspiration Core Blog Post

I admit to having a life-time addiction to weather, manifest in part by a deep fascination with clouds. I offer with reflection and interpretation a series of photos I’ve taken from my patio December 2017 through September 2018. Before I depart with you for this backyard cloud tour, allow me an excerpt from Nature Based Leadership, my first book (available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership):

My elderly mother tells me that her older sister, Geraldine, tried to frighten the toddler me of thunderstorms. Perhaps she feared them herself. Although I do not remember at all, Mom says Geraldine would exclaim with a sense of alarm, “Dark clouds, rain hard, Stevie; time to hide.” Nor do I recall ever being frightened by lightning, thunder, ominous clouds, wind, or any other manifestation of nature’s more threatening moods. Instead, Aunt Geraldine may have unintentionally ignited my lifelong love affair with weather, even adverse conditions.

I have a vague recollection (from sixty years ago) of sitting in my high chair, watching the sliver of sky that I could see through the kitchen window, rapidly (dizzyingly) transition from blue to very dark as clouds raced across. Even then, I puzzled over what I had seen. Nothing else emerges from the memory. Did a storm follow, or did the blue return? Perhaps Mom placed food in front of me, and the window view—with its curiously rapid cloud covering—slipped into a lower priority. Regardless, the memory is clear. I still puzzle over how nearly-instantaneously the clouds advanced. Given how much more deeply I now understand weather, I suppose that the visual memory is flawed or far too blurry to interpret. I observed and interpreted then through the visual and intellectual lenses of a three-year-old, and through those same lenses, stored the memory. How closely does what I recall seeing six decades later match the actual image visible through the parted curtain? The image I carry now is remarkable, like nothing I have seen since. I close my eyes, and the memory is vivid and real, yet it makes no sense through the perception of a sixty-five-year-old weather fanatic. What we see depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation. And time adjusts the memory of what we see.

Docile Beauty

The seeds sown early in my youth, the plant grew strong, and has to a large degree shaped my life and profession. I am a scholar and student of Nature. Clouds and weather stand as a central element of what I’ll characterize as a calling and a hobby. Some close to me have classed my obsession as spiritual, a religious attachment. Fitting then that my first photo is a cross framed by the chapel that is my patio roof!

A winter cold front soaked us all day before departing to the south and east as the sun dipped below the western horizon. The visuals could not have been more striking and inspirational. Think about the metaphorical implications of magical light and reawakening after the storm. With only a little imagination I see distant mountains in the field of view (both photos). I’m transported back to my Central Appalachian roots. Those mountains are remnants of the sinking storm cloud banks modified by the special light. I’m sure you’ve gazed at the warm flickering glow of a campfire or fireplace. I find similar solace, tranquility, and therapy in cloud-watching. Nature serves as my elixir.

The above images evoke  winter’s harshness — a feeling of a cold approaching darkness. The sunset (below left) photo seems warm and docile, yet it occurred on December 26, 2017, within a week of the photos above. I can’t recall the temperature conditions of either sunset. The images carry the warmth and chill, regardless of reality. The December 28, 2017 sunrise (below right) likewise feels warm. Was it? Here at this latitude late December can range from highs of 20s to 60s. Does it matter to our appreciation of the image?

Here’s a soft August dawn. August in northern Alabama — we don’t need to wonder whether this warm image matches reality. We know that we are likely no cooler than the upper 60s.

And from my patio October 2, 2018 — this time, a gentle sunset. Nature’s beauty and magic stay within reach. Seek the moments; grasp them; feel the inspiration; taste the humility of knowing our place in the world.

Gentle Precipitation to Impending Violence

And now to what I view as an unusual dawn, this one from early September 2018. My wife and I had just completed our 30-minute pre-dawn walk in the neighborhood. So quiet this time of year. Only an occasional protesting killdeer sounds alarms if we draw too close. At one point we felt a fine mist hitting our faces, lasting less than a minute. Only after we returned to our house, poured a cup of coffee, and found our way to the patio did we see the cause of our brief misting. As the east brightened, we saw this lovely virga under lit by the breaking first light. From my online dictionary, virga is “a mass of streaks of rain appearing to hang under a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground.” Funny that I’ve know this term since undergraduate meteorology, yet few people know the term or can identify those tell-tale streaks that I see often… no matter where we’ve lived. I had never before, however, witnessed such an early morning display. The eastern-sky glowing to reveal the virga served up a visual treat — an uncommon spectacle. I accepted this gift with full appreciation. I feel sorry for the poor souls among us who in sequence:

  1. Never beat dawn to their patios
  2. Seldom venture onto their patios even after the sun has made its full set of morning greetings
  3. Wouldn’t know virga if it came with sub-titles
  4. Seldom look, see, or feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe

Virga normally signals tame weather. Air dry enough that falling rain (or snow) evaporates before hitting the ground. Sure, we felt a brief mist from the few tiny droplets completing their fall to ground level. There is nothing calm, tranquil, and docile in the following photos. I’ve presented the first two could photos in a previous Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/01/late-june-derecho-natures-fury/ This derecho roared in from the north back in June. The clouds are angry, turbulent, and speeding southward at a furious clip. Strong winds and heavy rain soon followed the screeching passage of this tortured shelf cloud bottom.

Tumultuous yet profoundly inspirational. Had I been on foot in open country (not in my backyard) this storm would have reached pleasurable terror level. This magnificent beast reached deeply into my head and chest. Its visage struck me as beautifully sinister. I was not frightened intellectually, yet its approach and passage struck a raw chord… a nerve taunt with some hard-wired message that raised the hair on the back of my neck. The wind and deepening thunder added to the near-harrowing and instinctive response I could not completely jettison.

Here are another two cloud photographs from a prior Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/24/a-reverse-rainbow/ Again, see the Post for a full explanation and more photographs. What’s so special about this storm? Simply that most rainbows in my experience follow a storm or shower, as the cell move away from the sun that is breaking through the now clearing sky. This storm advance from the east with evening skies still clear to the west. The rainbow, in this case, is preceding the storm!

 

 

 

 

 

And lastly among these storm clouds, this shower held a special charm. An August afternoon generated a few widely scattered showers. I watched a single cumulus begin reaching vertically just south of us. It dropped a cylindrical rain shaft no more than a quarter-mile wide. It rained itself out within ten minutes as it drifted slowly to the east.

Clear Sky Danger — Judging a Book by its Cover

I snapped all the photos above from my backyard over the eight-month window beginning end of December 2017. The two photos below are from February 2015. Will Broussard, Education Director at the Mount Washington Observatory, back-framed me with New Hampshire’s White Mountains on an afternoon after weather halted our morning Mount Washington summit attempt at ~5,300 feet. The spin-drift streaming from the mountain’s 6,288-foot summit adds an element of beauty, yet the casual observer sees nothing of the fury the photo signals. Think of the clear-sky as a book cover… a cover that reveals little of the tale’s violent content. I relate that day’s adventure in the Mount Washington Summit Attempt essay in Nature Based Leadership. We aborted the venture when ten-foot drifts, 80-mile per hour winds, and a persistent ground blizzard placed us at great risk. Our snow-cat transport could go no further. Conditions were bad enough at this mile-high point. Staff at the summit Observatory reported winds above 100-mph and the actual temperature at negative ten F. Wind chill at the summit — absolutely deadly!

Here we are at Five-Mile Flat, just beyond where we turned the snow-cat. Ryan Knapp, one of the Observatory’s meteorologists,  took this second shot. He was unable to report for his week-long shift; the meteorologist whom he was to relieve would spend at least another day on top. So much in Nature is hidden within plain sight. Ryan’s photo could be interpreted as six folks in arctic gear calmly walking a trail. To those of us who experienced those conditions, we know that during this 200-foot venture beyond the snow cat, several of us were thrown to the ground by powerful gusts. We covered every inch of exposed flesh when we walked back into the violence. In those few minutes, the wind filled and obliterated our out-bound footsteps. The mountain can be lethal, boasting the world’s most extreme weather. An outdoor novice would not have guessed at the ferocity we encountered from the brilliant blue sky and gentle spin drift we saw from the base. An experienced observer and student of the mountain would have known. From the moment we climbed into the snow cat that morning, we knew we could very well be thwarted.

I have distilled thirteen distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, my second book. Among those thirteen, these six hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Nature can serve as an essential life focus.
  2. Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey.
  3. Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion.
  4. Enter your zone of courage; abandon your zone of comfort; Nature can show the way.
  5. Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within.
  6. Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathon Swift

“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”

Marcel Proust

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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

 

The Alabama State Parks Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for Cloud Inspiration Magic!

 

Joe Wheeler — This massive trail-side white oak is reaching for the clouds… and, that in itself is magic!

 

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. So, we have a top-down view of clouds of a different sort, reminding us that all things are a matter of perspective. Even the darkest storm clouds are sun-illuminated, belying the ferocity that rages below.

 

 

Monte Sano — Nothing beats the could inspiration from a scenic overlook, this one rich with plateau highland topography and fair-weather cumulus.

 

 

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

Sunshine Magic — An Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post September 25, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Sunshine Magic Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

The Core Sunshine Magic Post

August 29, Judy and I walked pre-dawn in our neighborhood. Why so early? We prefer 71 degrees over the upper 80s and lower 90s that the sun will deliver by mid-morning. We always head to the patio after our morning wanderings. Nothing beats watching and hearing dawn swell and seeing sunrise. We witnessed a special treat.

Sunshine Magic

The photo view is to the west. Notice three prominent features. The one-day-beyond-full moon in the upper left. The Earth’s shadow clearly retreating several degrees above the horizon. And the magnificent rays appearing to radiate from that same horizon. Not so. These are anticrepuscular rays, converging at the antisolar point 180 degrees opposite from the rising, but still below-the-horizon sun in the east. Crepuscular rays are simply the sunbeams we see emanating from the horizon at dawn and sunrise, or shining through breaks in the clouds any time of day. The solar point (the origin) is the sun. The antisolar point at any time of day is easy to spot. It’s always in the center of the shadow of your head. In the photos above and below, the sun is still below the horizon… thus no shadow of your head!

Below are crepuscular rays, beaming from the below-the-horizon morning sun over the Student Center last summer at Fairmont State University.

Isn’t it striking that both crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays appear identical? That is, with one exception. The rising sun rays photo does not include Earth’s retreating shadow on the horizon. All sun rays play visual games. The crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays neither diverge or converge. They are parallel, simply appearing to be otherwise based upon our respective distance from them. We are much nearer those passing overhead and can actually discern their broad parallel bands. And like standing on two distinctly parallel railroad tracks, they fade to a vanishing point at distance in either direction (either the solar or antisolar point).

Mid-September I asked 4.5-year-old-grandson Sam to kneel at the center of an incomplete fairy ring (see the semi-circle of white mushrooms). Little did I know that I was capturing the antisolar point just inside the magical fairy ring! Take a moment to search the internet for fairy ring images — some wonderful examples will pop-up.

Much in Nature inspires awe and seems magical and wondrous. However, so many of our historical figures of special intellect are taken more by what they don’t know or can’t imagine than by the depth of their knowledge and understanding. I recently found this Sir Isaac Newton image and quote — the “great ocean of truth” surely does “lay all undiscovered” before us!

Funny thing that the older I get… the less perfect and complete my knowledge of Nature, the focus of my undergraduate and doctoral degrees, and of my life’s pursuit and passion. Consider the irony. I recognize more and more how less and less I know of what is knowable. Each day I’m reminded of the great ocean of truth that lay all undiscovered before me. And that is not all bad. The generated strong sense of humility does inspire me to learn more; to look deeper; to question with greater intensity; to appreciate all that I do see and know; to reach beyond my grasp.

Mixed Messages

I now seek nuance, correspondence, and lessons in that ocean around me. I search for serious revelation, even as I look for the lighter side. For example, many of us have beseeched from time to time when we face dilemmas, “Lord, please give me a sign. Show me the way.” The signs are there before our eyes. A person seeking such guidance can interpret the sky-message below as a cross bestowing blessings on a decision… or as an ‘X’ signaling, “No, don’t do it!”

I recount in the final chapter of Nature Based Leadership (my first book; available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership) such competing meanings that I drew from an appearance by a peregrine falcon on a seventeenth-floor hotel window ledge in January 2016, as I awaited a job interview. The omen I discovered could be interpreted as liberally as the cross or ‘X’ above! The job did not pan out, yet I found unlimited satisfaction in ruminating on the message and thoroughly enjoying the up close and personal falcon visit.

I accidentally captured the sun-streaks creating a sacred aura for the bench and rock ledge below on March 15, 2018. Here is a relevant GBH Blog Post from that visit to Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/03/20/cane-creek-canyon-preserve/

“Once Faye had left us, I rode in the back of the ATV, snapping an occasional photo between jostles and bounces. This photo revealed what I did not see. I simply intended to capture the nice bench placed at a ledge overhang along the trail. Instead, the sun’s rays gave this image a sacred appearance, leading me to dub this as The Altar. The entire Preserve expressed an ethereal character. I felt the spiritual in multiple places that day. Too, I sensed in Jim and Faye a connection to the land of a sacred nature. They do obviously love the land and draw as much from it as they give to it. I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s remark about caring for the land: We can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in. I feel certain that Jim and Faye are guided by understanding and love for the Preserve, which is itself in whole an altar of sorts.”

The mixed message? A spiritual sign… or, bad photography! I’ll accept it as Divine Providence, yet I recognize unintentional good fortune from photographic practice ineptitude when I see it! In any case, I’m grateful for the result.

The Play of Light

Twilight at 32,000 feet northbound from a port-side window seat makes for great light play. Six and one-half miles below us darkness with emerging stars prevails. Likewise, at this altitude the dark sky above signs a final farewell to the sun’s closing sliver of day. This was mid-February somewhere over Missouri. The ground-level temperature would have been mid-twenties. Outside the window this thin air would have been some 80 degrees less hospitable.

Weather performs light-play as well. From my back patio late December 2017. A long day of cold-frontal rain came to a clearing-sky close. The front sagging beyond us to the east and south, its trailing stratus already dark beneath the sun’s last reach still kissing cirrus far above. I could not resist capturing the drama and beauty. I admit that I felt a bit of remorse that here in the south such systems do not leave a foot of fresh powder to reflect and enhance the light-play. However, I did not fell compelled to shovel 1.35 inches of rain!

Shortly after my heart pumps its last beat, I expect my ashes to be spread on Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virinia’s Highland. Yes, I know that it’s illegal. But what do I care — try cuffing a tin of ashes! I revisited this spiritual place early September 2017 during my Fairmont State University tenure. Here at ~4,000-feet, the low broken clouds raced across the plateau. Sunbeams splayed this holy place. I felt renewal, peace, and acceptance. I take comfort knowing that one day my earthly remains will cycle through the magic of this special place.

Here is one of the stock images from my Great Blue Heron website. I think of it as a portal to eternity. I imagine strolling such a pathway on my final trek. I want to do my own small part to ensure that such pathways remain for my grandchildren and theirs… thousands of generations removed. The light-play along this tree-lined portal is both literal and metaphorical. The sun’s light… and, the light of wisdom, knowledge, responsibility, and stewardship action. We must keep the light of tomorrow burning intensely.

Perhaps nothing is more heavenly than a vertical view into this cypress forest canopy. Every stem reaching skyward, branches up-stretched. Again, metaphorically, I think of us as Earth residents and stewards reaching beyond our frail planet to secure a future that we are collectively placing at peril. Like the cypress, we must reach high to secure our future footing. aside from its symbology, the photo expresses so eloquently the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of a northern Alabama Cypress swamp on a late winter afternoon.

Reflections and Ruminations

I have distilled ten distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature Based Leadership, my first book. Among those ten, these five hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
  2. We operate most effectively and live with greater reward when we accept that we are part of something larger and more permanent.
  3. Nature demonstrate that nothing is without meaning and purpose; if only we operated in similar fashion.
  4. We can all change a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.
  5. Learn from Nature each day… and apply her lessons time and time again.

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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

The Alabama State Park Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for Sunshine Magic!

Whether illuminating the DeSoto morning clouds or back-lighting an oak trail sentry, the sun supplies magic at every turn.

Joe Wheeler — Some photos need little explanation. This massive trail-side white oak is basking in the sunlight that has fueled its growth for well over one hundred years.

Who is not moved and spurred by a sun-dappled trail!

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. And the image is burned and lodged in my vault of pleasant Alabama State Parks memories.

Normally it is impending darkness that accents the spookiness of woods creatures like this one! This big fellow is braving the bright sunlight to attend his duties at trail’s edge.

Monte Sano — The Japanese Garden portal provides a view into the sun-kissed collections, walkways, and special features.

And speaking of sun-kissed, this full-fruit spice bush, also trail-side, greets every visitor with the fruits (visual and actual) of its growing season labor.

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

 

 

 

Monte Sano State Park — Exploring an Addition

August 28, 2018, I toured Monte Sano State Park with Park Manager Brian Moore and Parks Northwest District Superintendent Chad Davis. As a new and permanent Alabama resident, I am beginning my quest to officially visit and eventually hike all 22 Alabama Parks. Our end-of-August date oriented me broadly to a Park that I have hiked numerous times, covering a few of its 31 trail miles. Beyond the official overview, Brian and Chad wanted me to see the 40-acre parcel recently donated by Huntsville’s Robert Wells (https://outdooralabama.com/node/2258).

We three hiked the newly-dedicated William Arthur Wells trail, named in honor of Robert’s older brother, “one of 253 American sailors who died aboard the destroyer USS Hoel when the ship sank in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in 1944.” Prior to WWII the fallen sailor had worked as a Civilian Conservation Corpsman (CCC) to construct cabins, the lodge, and other Monte Sano Park facilities. I hope soon to meet benefactor Robert Wells to learn more about him, his brother, and his passion for the Park, and to offer my appreciation for his generous gift to the people of Alabama. I will develop a subsequent Blog Post based upon that yet-to-be-scheduled conversation.

The William Arthur Wells Trail

I could not have had better hosts than Brian and Chad — a delightful hike with two gentlemen absolutely dedicated to the spirit and cause of our Alabama State Parks:

Mission: To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

Goals: 

  • To manage and operate the park system in an economically sound and efficient manner on the most self-sustaining basis possible.
  • To provide and maintain high quality facilities and services to meet the needs of visitors; to provide an opportunity for personal growth and development of individuals through outdoor experiences. 
  • To promote use of state parks facilities. 
  • To preserve unique natural features and integrity of state parks for future generations.
  • To promote good will and enhance the public image of Alabama, and the Alabama State Parks through dedicated, courteous employees.

The memorial signage welcomes hikers to the legacy trail and gifted parcel. I am pleased that on such a hot and humid day my younger guides maintained a civil pace. We all agreed that our intent was to walk within these woods rather than rapidly hike through them. I savored every step, as did Brian and Chad. Borrowing shamelessly from one of my core Nature-Inspired Learning, Living, Serving, and Leading sermons, I spoke as we strolled about my five essential verbs for Nature immersion.

  1. Believe — hold firm to anticipating that beauty, wonder, awe, and magic lie hidden within any such parcel
  2. Look — join the mind and eyes and focus toward discovering those hidden gems
  3. See — we actually see only when we believe and scan with open mind and clear vision
  4. Feel — and when we see deeply, we feel Nature’s aura, breathe its essence, and swallow its elixir to the point of feeling it with mind, body, heart, and soul
  5. Act — that deep feeling leads to commitment… and commitment to action. Action aimed at supporting the mission, achieving the goals, and to changing some small corner of this Earth for the better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

As I reflect on our entry to the Wells Trail, I see it now as a portal into a special place, a sacred memorial to a selfless WWII hero, and a physical manifestation of Robert Well’s own noble service and loving gift to the future.

No small wonder why I employ such high words of praise and gratitude. These 40-acres contain a cathedral forest. Lower right we have Brian looking skyward into the main canopy, flanked by magnificent yellow poplar. We saw massive red oaks just as majestic. I told Brian that if I could, I would slip into this cove grove at least once a week. I view myself as a spiritual ecologist. How could I not feel the spirit of this special place?!

Our conversations and reflections reached beyond this sense of emotion and exaltation. Brian and Chad probably grew weary of my applied ecologist’s explanation for the reasons these trees are fat and tall and the forest so densely stocked. I’ll share a little of that with you. From these Cumberland Plateau forests well north into southern New England, these ancient highlands have weathered patiently and similarly across the ages. I performed my doctoral research (mid-80s) on the Allegheny Hardwood forests of southwest NY and northwest PA — a soil-site analysis relating forest productivity to factors of site (slope steepness; aspect; slope position; soil depth; etc.). Across the 800 miles from Monte Sano to my NY/PA field plots, the sites of highest quality face north or east, occupy the lower one-third of the slope, and are concave. The Monte Sano cathedral fits the bill. Add in the 80+ years since clearcutting, and we have had time for this stand to begin developing its old growth characteristics.

I will revisit this special grove time and time again. Once fall invades northern Alabama I will take our two Alabama grandsons… to enjoy the hike and to perhaps sit quietly in reflection and admiration.

Again, Brian and I plan to meet soon with Mr. Wells. Watch for a subsequent Blog Post.

Civilian Conservation Corps Heritage

My late Father-in-law, himself a WWII combat veteran, made his living laying brick, stone, and block… an accomplished mason. He admired the exquisite craftsmanship of the CCC, which is evident on many parks near where we lived in western Maryland. He was not one to be generous with his praise — if he complimented the work, its was truly good. The Monte Sano CCC structures have stood an 85-year test of time. I had not been to this CCC Museum, built by the CCC and now housing photos and period tools of the trade.

We have some current Monte Sano employees who combine their trade with a sense of humor and a healthy imagination. Why else would we have a faucet on a bird house?! Nearby, Nature adorned this chestnut oak with a couple of burls. Why not a couple of faucets to collect oak sap?

Also near the Museum, additional signage and an interpretive trail, well-suited to extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

A Huntsville Japanese Heritage

Huntsville’s defense and space industries have for decades drawn Japanese corporations and researchers to the area. Although a surprise to me, the plateau-top Japanese Gardens offer a nice view to another culture and botanical realm. Yet another educational feature at Monte Sano.

A different species of cathedral; another spot for Natural meditation.

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain of Health Hotel

The historical marker hints at the rich history on this plateau top:

“Monte Sano” – Spanish for “Mountain of Health”

Site of Hotel Monte Sano, built in 1887 by the North Alabama Improvement Company with the assistance of Michael and James O’Shaughnessy. The 233-room hotel opened on June 1, 1887 and served as a health resort and haven for famous visitors including Helen Keller, the Vanderbilts, and the Astors. Guests arrived via the “Tally Ho” stagecoach or the Monte Sano Railway, which served the mountain community. The hotel closed in 1900, and the W. W. Garth family later purchased it for their summer retreat. It was demolished for salvage in 1944. All that remains of the hotel is the brick chimney.

ALABAMA HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION – 2007

Seeing that Helen Keller visited the hotel reminds me of my favorite Helen Keller quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” I find my daring (and not-so-daring) adventures through Nature. Imagine living in or near Huntsville, Alabama and never visiting the cathedral along the Arthur Wells Trail! The trail may not require great effort or constitute a daring adventure, however, not experiencing it is most assuredly NOTHING.

Another CCC structure, the Monte Sano State Park Lodge is yet another treasure. I am eager for the day when some occasion invites me to experience refreshments in this fine monument to the CCC workers. I am sure that their service to Great Depression America constituted a great adventure. You can see from the lower right view from the Lodge why I have no trouble feeling as though while at Monte Sano I am back to my Appalachian childhood home.

Spicebush Fruit

I can’t take a hike without capturing some special interest plant feature. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) stood in full berry glory. Not only visual, a few crushed leaves added a little olfactory spice to our hike!

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Off the Overlook!

I suppose the same person who placed the faucet on the bird house may have added some folksy charm to this sign. What do you do at an “overlook”? Well of course, you “look off” into the distance. So, why not call this place a “lookoff”? Well, the term was new to me… yet somehow fitting.

Reflections and Observations

I’ve distilled 13 succinct Nature-Inspired lessons from my second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Here are those that directly apply to my half-day at Monte Sano:

Lesson One: Nature can serve as an essential life focus.

Lesson Three: Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you.

Lesson Five: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey.

Lesson Nine: Nothing stands apart from Nature.

Lesson Ten: Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises.

Lesson Eleven: Use whatever bully pulpit you have to change some small corner of the Earth for the better.

Lesson Thirteen: Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within.

I will close with a reminder that we Alabamians are blessed with our magnificent State Park System. I will continue my daring adventure to visit all 22, and in so doing chronicle my experiences through these Blog Posts.

I am hopeful that there are others like Robert Wells among my future contacts who might help us strengthen our Parks through similar selfless acts of generosity.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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

 

 

I’ll look for you on Alabama State Park trails. May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

 

A Cycle of Death and Renewal at DeSoto State Park

See my August 1, 2018 post for a look at “What Lies Hidden Within” from a July 19 hike at DeSoto. I focused on non-flowering plants, and the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that to many visitors lie hidden within plain sight. View this post as Part-II of that July 19 visit, with a focus other than non-flowering plants.

Nature’s Cycle of Death and Renewal

Most hikers see the forest and perhaps the trees. Few pay much attention to the non-flowering plants. I saw the forest, the trees, the non-flowering plants, and an abundance of evidence telling me that nothing in Nature is static. I walked the Boardwalk Trail back to Azalea Cascade twice that day, the first in pre-4:00AM total darkness, flashlight in-hand. I came to a place where recent railing and deck repairs brought me to a halt. My light revealed a massive white oak blow-down, having fallen from uphill, obliterating the boardwalk, but quickly and masterfully repaired. A full canopy of now dry and brown leaves suggested that the tree had toppled within the past 30 days. The stump diameter looked to be about three feet. The up-turned root mass and soil stood at six-feet, exaggerated in the darkness. I snapped the photos below during my afternoon return stroll, looking uphill at the root-mass.

Lower left below looks into the downed crown, beyond the boardwalk, and includes some of the smaller trees the oak brought down with it. At lower right, I am looking back at the main boardwalk from where I had taken the lower left photo. The oak just missed this side-spur that leads out to a gazebo. What a frighteningly close view that would have been during the big wind, which park personnel revealed to me had accompanied an afternoon thunderstorm two weeks prior. Weather and climate patterns can be global, yet impacts can vary over a matter of feet. Picture the storm damage that leaves one house intact and its neighbor destroyed. A boardwalk is nothing to a multi-ton, 100-foot oak. So much in Nature is random and chaotic. A three-degree shift in angle of fall would have crushed 70-feet of spur boardwalk and the gazebo.

Nature will fill the gap left by the mighty oak. Neighbors will extend branches and foliage into the opening. Individuals in the intermediate canopy will reach vertically for the light above. The forest floor’s vegetative carpeting will respond to the new light. The opening will be evident to only the most astute and aware observer ten years hence. Nature abhors a vacuum. A summer thunderstorm with damaging winds is nothing to a forest. The forest is a living system designed to respond to blow-down and fill resultant vacuums… at any point in time, and over the long reach of centuries and beyond.

Not all wind bursts uproot living trees. The 15-inch diameter Virginia pine (below left) broke with a wrenching twist three feet from its base. I’m estimating 12-24-months ago, given the progress since of canopy breakdown (lower right). The standing pines are fading, with crowns thinning (again, below right). The residual stand is doing what Virginia pine is designed to do — fill an ecological gap (an abandoned pasture, or the aftermath of severe disturbance like fire or area-wide blowdown), and then 50-90 years hence pass the torch through succession to mixed hardwood. This Virginia pine stand is passing the baton, slowly and inexorably.

The two-weeks-ago storm tore the top from another oak, blocking a trail and making the punch-list of necessary trail work. Perhaps no one knows Nature’s dynamism better than trail maintenance crews! Again, nothing in Nature is static.

Gradual Change and Subtle Processes

Not all trees die from a catastrophic uprooting or trunk-snapping. Many die standing, victims to insect, disease, competition, or wind or ice taking out the crown. Again, nothing in Nature is static. The 18-inch-diameter oak (lower left) is decaying in-place. Fungi, insects, small mammals, and birds are feasting on the cellulose… or on critters consuming the cellulose. A vertical smorgasbord! Eventually (and always) gravity will pull it ground-ward, where the decay pace will accelerate with the gift of more reliable moisture and ground-dwelling consumers. The horizontal, former 24-inch trunk (lower right) is heading toward humus. Roots are likely already exploiting the richly decaying ground-contact decay zone on the log’s underside. In the blink of a forest’s eye, molecules from the decaying log will find themselves once more 50-feet up in the canopy of an oak now still in acorn stage.

Perhaps a squirrel recently cached that acorn in the loose soil and organic matter along the old trunk. It could be a banner acorn year and she may not find this particular hidden morsel. It may germinate next spring, and eventually survive deer browsing and ultimately reach into the main canopy… and someday feel the fury of a summer thunderstorm, yield to the tempest, crash to the ground, decay, and serve as as a hiding place for yet another acorn. Nature never stands still. And time is nothing to a succession of forests, century after century. The story of death and renewal is there for those willing to read Nature’s language.

Again, over the long reach of centuries, even the forest soil turns and churns. The Boardwalk oak blowdown brought up many cubic feet of Nature’s precious rooting medium, much as a farmer may turn his field. Nature’s process mixes soil from 2-4 feet deep with rich surface soil. Even the upturned soil mound tells a tale. The star of the tale is a super-power we’ll call Raindrop. The exposed soil has little protection from the force of rain falling through and from the canopy. Small rocks serve as shields, standing on pedestals below. Vertical columns support each shield, and even they will weaken and yield. The mound will soften and become a shallow hummock covered by forest litter, mosses and lichens, and understory plants. Many of our Alabama forests evidence centuries of windthrow with signature “pit and mound” topography. Watch for it. If not apparent, the site likely supported agriculture at some point, smoothing away the former forest blowdown evidence. The resultant agricultural abandonment opened succession’s door to forest again occupying the land. Static does not exist in Nature, which loathes a vacuum.

I’ve observed repeatedly in these posts that time means nothing to Nature — it is only we humans who pay attention to time’s relentless passage. It is only we who are conscious of our race into tomorrow at 60-seconds per minute. My long-time good friend and mentor, retired NC State Forestry Professor Bob Kellison, sent me a note in response to last week’s post wherein I mentioned finding lots of persimmons on the ground at Lake Guntersville State Park. Bob and I share kindred appreciation for both Nature and subtle, country humor. Here is what he sent me: An old mountaineer was holding a pig in his arms while it was feeding on persimmons from a low-hanging branch. A passerby remarked to the mountaineer that it would take a long time to fatten the hog on persimmons in such manner. The mountaineer’s response was “Aw, time don’t mean nothin’ to a pig.” Bob has planted a seed — I will strive to insert a little more levity into future posts.

Reflections and Lessons

I’ve often observed that some people walk through the woods, intent on transiting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ focused on miles logged, and destinations. I’ve been guilty as well. However, I have come to accept that I most enjoy walking within the forest. Some folks live for overlooks — scenic views. Granted, I relish such vistas as well. Yet if an overlook were my sole focus, there is way too much that I would, in fact, overlook. Regrettably, we are a society dedicated to overlooking the obvious, the wondrous, and the inspirational. Doesn’t that apply too often as well to life in general? We tend to walk through life, rather than journeying within life. Are we conscious of life cycles… of process and flow? Do we simply transit from one static moment to the next, without appreciating the flow?

Do we read the story? The tale of passage… of integration over time? Do we understand and learn from what the journey reveals? Do we realize that absolutely nothing is permanent — in our lives or in Nature? The cycles of life, decline, and renewal apply to Nature, business, economies, societies, and to humanity as a whole. There are no guarantees, but only that change and progression are inevitable. We serve ourselves best when we understand the cycles, anticipate change, and do all in our power to influence and deal with the flows and processes.

How does humanity fit in Earth’s cycles of death and renewal. Are we doing all we can to assure that humanity is more than a footnote in time? Humanity serves itself best when we understand the cycles, anticipate change, and do all in our power to influence and deal with the flows and processes. Humanity’s fate is in our hands. I want my hikes and these Great Blue Heron blog posts to serve as reminders that we are blessed with Nature and Earth’s abundant beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

We as individuals and in our aggregate humanity must view our place locally, where we live, work, and play, and ultimately, globally. I can influence only locally… through my writing and speaking, one individual at a time. My role is to inspire and persuade all who will read and hear. My intent is to use the local as a means of lifting others to appreciate the global context… and our imperative to steward our One Earth.

And so I will focus on where my wanderings take me. This essay took me back to DeSoto State Park. Through these words and photos I am planting my acorn of inspiration and reflection. May the acorn germinate, find traction, and grow to be The Mighty Oak of your understanding and commitment. Our Alabama State Park System is invaluable salve for my soul and fodder for these clarion calls for action.

Our Alabama State Park system is a necklace of 22 pearls; 48,000 acres of natural treasure. One of my bucket list items is to visit all 22; hike their trails; chronicle the visits; and tell their land legacy stories. And use them to educate, develop, and inspire future generations of aware Nature enthusiasts. May your own vision be realized through Nature’s lessons and inspiration.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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/

 

Official Alabama State Parks photo of DeSoto Falls

 

A Final Lesson for the Day: Time don’t mean nothin’ to a pig!

Lake Guntersville State Park

July 26, 2018 I drove the 62 miles to the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge, where I met Park Naturalist Mike Ezell. Such a blessing to live so close to a 7,000-acre Alabama treasure. And such a pleasure to have a Park naturalist to dispense wisdom and boost my confidence in plant identification and natural interpretation. My prior solo ventures into northern Alabama’s natural environs left me with not a little uncertainty. I am grateful for Mike’s time and expertise.

Here’s the view over the Tennessee River valley from the Lodge patio 300-feet above water level. We could not have created a better fog-enhanced scene! The rising sun dissipated the fog within ten minutes of the photograph. Glad I left my home at 6:30 AM; otherwise I would have missed the show.

Hitting the Trails

The Park has 35 miles of trails. We devoted some four hours to exploration. We both insisted on walking within the forest… not through it. We refused to allow time or destination to distract us from a deep Nature dive along the way. If something drew our attention, we took whatever time we needed to understand and appreciate. These are two of the signs along the way. The name Graveyard Road doesn’t foretell hazardous conditions or a zombie village; it simply leads to the old King’s Chapel Cemetery! I thought of other names like Deadman’s Curve and Breakneck Road, one from where I grew up! These forests along the lake are rich with history and pre-history. Cherokee occupied these hills and flats for millennia. Hernando de Soto is said to have visited the site in July, 1540. Eighty years ago, TVA’s Tennessee River project displaced thousands of residents and scores of settlements here and elsewhere along the river. The land has many stories to tell.

This 30-inch diameter white ash could likely relate a tale dating back 70-90 years. We examined an American beech of even greater diameter, and likely 200-plus years old. It grew on a lower concave slope on what appeared to be a long-abandoned pasture now supporting mature forest and still evidencing old erosion gullies, long-since healed. The beech’s massive crown suggested that it had stood alone in the pasture long before the new forest invaded the abandoned grazing land. I simply failed to snap a photo — shame on me!

Ah, what a relief to find several specimens of an intermediate canopy tree that had eluded my 100-percent-identification the prior week at DeSoto State Park. Like the elusive trees at DeSoto, we found this individual (12-inch diameter) exhibiting a vertical growth form that is NOT negatively geotropic, a term reserved for vertical tree growth opposite gravity’s pull. Our native loblolly pine and most other main canopy species simply extend leaders 180-degrees from the pull of gravity… hence negatively geotropic. Yes, they are influenced by crown openings and the pull of light, but they remain predominantly driven by gravity’s influence. This species appears to be predominantly positively phototropic, its vertical growth drawn to available sunlight and mostly ignoring gravity’s command. What is this tree? It’s sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). Ironically, during my nine years on the forestry faculty at Penn State, whenever I encountered a species I could not immediately identify, I jokingly declared it sourwood.

A Natural Truth Nothing is Static

The massive loblolly twin (below left) blew down during the severe storm outbreak of April 27, 2011, pulling up an eight-foot-tall root ball. This is a rich lower slope with deep soil. Dominant canopy trees exceed 100 feet.

The cycle of life and death is perpetual. Nothing in Nature is static.

Along the same trail we found a two-foot diameter poplar similarly toppled from its perch above the spring where Mike is pointing.

Death is not limited to windthrow. This 12-inch diameter persimmon succumbed to other cause, dying in place while vertical. At least two kinds of fungi are feasting on its still vertical carcass. I believe these are fruiting bodies from saprophytic fungi feasting on dead wood. I saw no forensic hints of the cause of the tree’s demise.

The dead persimmon will eventually yield to gravity, as did the two well-decayed logs below. As I’ve said often, nothing in Nature is static… and every single cell (living or dead) is edible to something else!

The lower left log symbolizes Nature’s ultimate truth — ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven! I’m fascinated by the lower right subject. All that remains of what had been a tw0-foot diameter loblolly pine are its lower still-intact bark and a core of resin-soaked core-wood (fat wood) resistant to decay and standing ramrod upright.

A Spooky Side for Those Who Seek a Scare

Some early Europeans described America’s forests as foul and repugnant, dark and foreboding. Perhaps they saw trees like the ancient white oak below, misshaped and contorted by some agent of infection, almost cancer-like. Even in broad daylight, one doesn’t need much imagination to see face, shoulders, arms, torso, and legs in frontal view. Imagine passing through during the gloaming, already fearful of wild animals and unfriendly Natives, and seeing the nine-foot-tall tree aberration! A northern Alabama Sasquatch!

And a Dimension of Bounty and Fruitfulness

Okay, not all is foreboding. We found a quite happy and vigorous 14-inch persimmon near the dead one from above. Hundreds of fallen immature persimmons drew our interest along the trail. Trees often produce more fruit than they can bring to maturity and ripeness. We wondered how many remained above us and when the tree might begin dropping ripe persimmons.

Questions Unanswered

We pondered what story The Cave might tell. Some prior wanderers/residents had expended considerable effort to transform a deep overhang to a rounded-roofed cave. Native Americans? Settlers? Some CCC workers?

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying a Rare Acquaintance

I direct my wildflower enthusiasm to the spring ephemerals. I just don’t pay a lot of attention to those that follow main canopy leaf-out. Mike drove me to a nearby location I will not disclose, where threatened/endangered Appalachian (or Cumberland) rose gentian (Sabatica capitata) appeared in a cluster of a dozen-or-so plants. This lovely species grows only in isolated populations in TN, AL, GA, and NC. I viewed the entire day as a rare opportunity to venture into Nature’s domain with a competent and enthusiastic naturalist. It’s only fitting that we capped such a day with seeing a beautiful rare flowering plant.

I’ll come full circle to the morning image. We found beauty, magic, and awe wherever we ventured. Lake Guntersville State Park is a treasure trove. Anyone and everyone can access Nature’s wonders. here and at any of Alabama’s other 21 State Parks.

Lessons and Reflections

The morning patio view served as the gift wrapping (and a wonderful element of the gift itself). We spent only 4-5 hours ripping away the wrapping and exploring a tiny part of what lies hidden within. The package within varies across the hours of the day and from season to season. Robert Service in The Spell of the Yukon observed, “There’s a land — oh it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back — and I will.” I share his sentiment… right here in northern Alabama. And I suspect the feeling will follow me across the State Park System.

If only we humans were more aware Nature’s wisdom, power, lessons, and blessings.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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/

Note: Official Alabama State Parks photo of the Lodge at Lake Guntersville State Park