Late November Tree Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post yesterday evening, December 11, 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 Tree Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from several of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original. My overall message is that we can find tree magic and forest enchantment as we explore and enjoy Nature.

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic (Original Text)

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge occupies 35,000-acres along the Tennessee River, its nearest access point just seven miles from my home in Madison, AL; the visitors center is twice that far from me. We and our two Alabama grandsons went to the further point November 25. Forget, for the purpose of this GBH Blog Post, about the thousands of sandhill cranes that greeted us (I’ll issue that Blog Post later) — instead, we discovered magic among the trees at Wheeler during this period of fall-to-winter transition. The cypress (Taxodium distichum) swamp adjacent to the visitors center never fails to inspire me. The boardwalk trail is no longer in deep summer shade. Sun dapples the ferny, coppery-bronze cypress leaves carpeting the walkway! Four-and-a-half-year-old Sam enjoyed scuffling his feet to plow mounds of the feathery leaves.

The canopies still held perhaps a third of their leaves… enough to demonstrate a common misconception about forest trees. Lying on my back, I snapped the vertical shot below. Most people imagine that forest trees interlace their branches to form a solid shield of canopy above, one tree interlocking with another. Such is not the case. These cypress canopies may touch when wind blows them back and forth. Certainly, a squirrel would have an open highway leaping from one to another. Yet, in this stand with no understory nor intermediate canopy, the trees occupy unique aerial columns. Reminds me how in this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand isolated. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. Unlike Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond, most of us, too, living alone would soon topple.

This hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and the same-species smaller tree beside it find themselves in some form of mutual agitation. With the grandkids in tow and distracted by trails, birds, and mischief, I could not fully investigate this unusual growth. Clearly the larger hackberry evidences a burl from which adventitious branches emerge, oddly growing horizontally from the swelling. Is there a fungal or viral infection at play? Or just a physical trigger of contact between neighbors? Next time on this trail I will try to find this peculiarity again for deeper examination and more photos. I’m reminded how often in life and enterprise we find ourselves too late in difficult relationships and circumstances, with consequences suddenly appearing as intractable, with causes nearly impossible to explain and solutions out of reach. Too deep into the agitation to easily extract ourselves from it. I’ve been coached and counseled in such management/leadership situations to first identify the real problem. In this case, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem. Such is the complication and working of trees… and of life and human enterprises.

We found a standing, not-too-long-dead hackberry sporting some lichen finery (below left) and beginning to evidence the fruiting bodies of the saprophytic fungi feasting upon the recently deceased tree.

And more lichens on this trail-side beech (Fagus americana). Note its poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) still clinging to a leaf.

Unlike poison ivy, which clings directly to tree bark by aerial rootlets, scuppernong (Vitis rotundifolia) vines depend upon vines wrapping around trunks and stems. Two vines achieve mutual support via inter-twining (lower left) and a single vine by spiraling around the white oak (Quercus alba) trunk (lower right). Is it magic? No, not literally. But to the grandkids and me… YES!

And back to the poison ivy and its profusion of aerial rootlets — no need for intertwining or spiraling around this black cherry (Prunus serotina). Magic? You BET!

For a moment, I forgot we were in the deep south. This 20-foot sugar maple (Acer saccharum) offered a burst of New England color. Sam carried one of its leaves back to the car. He also looted a much smaller, long-dead bamboo (Bambusoideae) stem to the car. You never know when you may need to blast a woods-resident ghost (he’s a consummate Ghost-buster)!

Sam and I found a hiding place behind a twin white oak. I wonder how many more years until the two stems become one. Magic — from Sam’s perspective… absolutely! Confirmed for me when I saw the wonder in his eyes! Magic, too, that the entire time we strolled through this enchanted forest, we heard the nearby incessant clangor, clamor, and clatter of sandhill cranes feeding, dancing, and flying.

We drove a half-mile to another Wheeler NWR trail north of the highway. What could be finer than this bronze-beauty-cypress framing the view across the Tennessee River backwater?! Again, who can deny the magic and enchantment?

My iPhone camera colludes with my psyche, on multiple occasions willing me to photograph hackberry’s distinctive corky-ridged bark, this one beckoning irresistibly. Who can argue with magic?

Will I ever tire of Nature’s inspiration? So long as I breathe, especially with the grandkids along, I think not. My torch burns with compelling passion, heat, and light. I want to ignite theirs… to spur their torches to burn long after mine dims and sputters. For the future is theirs. And their sons’ and daughters’. I thank God for this chance to pass the torch, just as I am grateful for those wise souls who saw fit to preserve these 35,000 acres as a Refuge… an eternal flame. Yes, a flame of magic and inspiration!

Rachel Carson said of the National Wildlife Refuge symbol:

Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.

Feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 four powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) This lesson applies to almost every Great Blue Heron Blog Post that I issue!
  • In this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand alone. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. So too, standing alone, would we topple.
  • In any situation, first identify the real problem. In the case of the hackberry peculiarity, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem, whatever it may be. Such is the magic of trees… and of life and human enterprises.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Tree Magic and Woods Enchantment.

Again, feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. 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/

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

 

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Tree Magic Post. No matter whether you’re exploring an Alabama State Park or walking in your neighborhood, remember to seek tree magic and forest enchantment. Nature’s gifts beauty, wonder, and awe often require looking, seeing, and viewing through a child’s lens. I often jettison my professional lens (PhD in applied ecology) and view through my grand-kid-level filter. Oh, the fairy-dusted view is unbeatable!

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park human skull embedded in a Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). Pardon my flight of fancy — you know better than to accept these Addendum photo captions as the scientist speaking. What is true is that I snapped the photo on the Cheaha Lake Trail in mid-October.

 

And that same day at Cheaha State Park, I snapped this photo of a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum aboreum) refusing to accept the laws of gravity! Perhaps its under the spell of a woods-troll!

 

Lake Guntersville State Park offered this special introduction to Big Foot (below right)! Remarkable fidelity to the life-size replica of the beast at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens (below right). The Guntersville version displayed no signage nor was it accessed via spur trail. I wonder now whether I had stumbled onto it at just the right moment, and it has now long-since abandoned its tree apparition form. Magic and enchantment — you betcha!

 

Such fantasy does in fact come to life, especially, yet not exclusively, through our filters retained from youth. I’ve heard the sage advice to die young, even if it takes many decades. I plan to keep that youthful lens (visual and interpretive) young for yet another decade or three.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable tree magic and forest enchantment of your life. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature brings fantasy to life… and offers inspiration at every twist and turn in our forested paths… in every visit to our State Parks.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post earlier today, December 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 Special Skies Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from several of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original. My overall message is that we all should occasionally glance skyward as we explore and enjoy Nature.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December (Original Text)

What a blessing that our home planet tilts 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane. We in the northern hemisphere lean toward the sun in summer; Earth stands vertical to the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes; we now tilt away from ole sol at the fast-approaching winter solstice, our shortest day(light). Without the tilt, we would have no seasonal changes. I love the summer/fall/winter/spring swings and pay close attention to their relation to our sun. I’m fascinated by the science, and find that understanding the orbital and seasonal relationships enhances my appreciation of the beauty and magic of Nature’s displays.

Within five weeks of the solstice (November 17 sunset below), the sun sets at about 24 degrees south of due west; by December 21, it sets a full 30 degrees from west. By mid summer, the sun sets at 30 degrees north of due west… far past the right margin of the photo. A remarkable 60-degree swing over just six months. As we approach either solstice, both sunrise and sunset have shallower angles of ascent and descent, thus increasing the duration of displays like this one. During our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun rose and set at the solstices 80 degrees plus or minus from due east or west (a six-month 160-degree swing!), spectacular colors could last for 30-40 minutes! Again, knowing the science boosts my appreciation for Nature’s wonder and awe.

I’ll focus most of these remarks and photographs on Nature’s artistry. Again, this is our November 17 sunset:

Here’s the next morning’s (November 18, 2018) dawn. I suppose no words required beyond these implied 1,000 (recall that a picture is worth a thousand words)!

More wonderful dawn images from November 23. I can’t imagine how empty life is for those who never awaken before daylight!

Fitting that I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I have tried Walden several times previously, each occasion thwarted by Thoreau’s 180-year-old style and thick language, and perhaps owing in large measure to the demands of whatever job I happened to hold and family commitments of one sort or another. In this semi-retirement stage, I’m still struggling with Walden, working hard to mine gems from his difficult text. Here are some rich words regarding his predisposition to morning:

For my panacea… let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.

I think by morning air, Thoreau meant the entire experience of a new day dawning — the actual air, the sounds, the sky, and the darkness retreating westward. Cat Stevens likewise celebrated the morning air in Morning Has Broken:

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

I speak with so many acquaintances for whom morning does not include dawn. An unimaginable fate for me. I refuse to allow the day to begin without me! I don’t want to risk missing something worthy that might be springing fresh from the world. Aldo Leopold spoke of how in these modern times (for him that was the mid-20th century… 70 years ago), Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another. I cannot fathom going blind to the dawn!

Evening’s Farewell Salute

Sunset often trumpets a day well-lived. Why else would Nature end the day with displays like December 3, 2018, when cirrus offered several thousand words of glory and brilliance as the sun neared the evening horizon? I snapped these between passes as grandson Jack and I tossed a football in the street at the front of my house. Jack enjoyed the display as much as I, and what better way to share Nature’s generous gifts than with an Earth Steward of tomorrow!

The same evening and the same magic!

And a few minutes later as the sun dipped below the west by southwest horizon:

I have said often that I prefer paintings that look like well-taken photographs… and I love photographs that look like paintings. These few sky images fit the bill. Nature is not selfish nor selective. She gifts equally to all who care to look… and rewards those who make the effort (as though it should require any effort at all) to see… and graces those who see deeply enough to feel the power, passion, and inspiration infused in and bursting from the image.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 three powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) 
  • Pay heed to Leopold’s implied lesson: Do not allow your own Education to devolve to learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Earth Stewardship as an obligation and  lifetime calling.

Again, may Nature inspire your life. Pay attention to what daily springs fresh from the world

 

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 AL State Parks Addendum to Special Skies as Fall Yields to December

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Special Skies Post. No matter whether you’re exploring an Alabama State Park or walking in your neighborhood, remember to glance skyward. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe often require tilting our heads toward the vertical.

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park vertical wall at the Rock Garden. View the wall as simply foreground; focus instead on the wonderful cirrus display beyond.

And that same day at Cheaha State Park, these cirrus burst above the mixed pine/hardwood canopy.

Lake Guntersville State Park offered this special view of the clouds (fog) from the Lodge above!

At Monte Sano, how much more captivating are the old hotel remains with the puffy cumulus floating above the Tennessee River Valley beyond?
A DeSoto State Park dawn brought its own greeting to the day I started in the dark by hiking (flashlight in hand) the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable learning environment of your life, whether on the ground at your feet, within the forest along the trail, or in the myriad other sights, sounds, and fragrances of Nature’s beauty and bounty. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature may not desire that you learn and enjoy, yet she offers inspiration at every twist and turn in our forested paths, along every creek-side mile, and in every visit to our State Parks.

Cheaha State Park — Special Trees and Plants

This is the fourth of my Great Blue Heron Blog Posts from a mid-October visit to Alabama’s Cheaha State Park. That’s Alabama’s highest point (2,407 feet) and the State Park at the center of the photograph. Lifts my spirits squarely back to my central Appalachian roots!

These observations are less about the Park and its Appalachian setting, and more about the special trees and plants I noticed and enjoyed while there.

Form and Character

Near the old Civilian Conservation Corps stone reservoir, this chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) has stood guard along the Park perimeter summit road for decades. Just as a psychologist uses facial expression markers to gauge personality, what might branching form and character reveal about our tree friends? From Simon and Garfunkel’s America:

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera

No bowtie on this Cheaha denizen, yet its massive horizontal face feature must surely reveal something about its past and its location along the road where plenty of light reaches the oak from the road clearing. I wondered how many Park visitors stopped to play games with its face? Paused to climb and then walk or perch on its sturdy limb?

I wrote in a prior GBH Post of this likewise horizontal main stem of a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) I encountered on Cheaha’s Lake Trail. I won’t repeat the reflections I previously offered on the sourwood and its adjacent chestnut oak. If you missed that Post from November 14, please take a moment, visit that Post, and learn more about my reaction and explanation.

 

Among other things, I speculated that the sourwood, because it pays little heed to gravity, inclined toward horizontal to escape from under the sun-robbing canopy of the chestnut oak standing above it.

I had paused lower on the same trail to appreciate the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) to lower left and its carpet of long-needled pine straw (lower right). I offer no special story for that pine, other than I simply adore longleaf pine, which to me epitomizes the South… just like magnolia, live oak, pecan, and, unfortunately, kudzu!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Nature, We Humans Seek Balance and Equilibrium in Our Lives

The Bald Rock ADA-accessible boardwalk trail passed above the shallow/stony hilltop soil supporting a stand of mixed hardwood and Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). A 2014 ice storm broke many pine crowns and brought lots of the pines to the ground; a subsequent severe 2016 drought killed many surviving pines that had been top-damaged by the ice storm. Standing dead trees and downed tops now border the trail. The downed tops are richly colonized by lichens, living luxuriously on stems and twigs still bearing nutrients and providing anchorage for the lichens. All part of the process for recycling living matter back to the soil — Nature’s never ending carbon cycle. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. Like our own lives, all things in Nature are cyclical.

 

Midway up the Lake Trail I had to step over the white oak (Quercus alba) tree that had fallen perpendicular to the path (the downed log is in the photo lower right). I did not puzzle long over why this long-hollowed tree had crashed to the forest floor. Instead, I wondered how it had stood as long as it had! A narrow rim of sound wood had somehow kept it alive and erect. Imagine this tree, riddled with heart rot, in an ongoing mortal combat with the internal fungal infection. Eventually, the pathogen weakened the tree beyond the equilibrium threshold, to a point where weight exceeded the weight-bearing load limit. The tree and fungus engaged in a decades-long battle. But who had won that ongoing dispute? The active fungus lost its host; the tree its life. Truth be told, there are no winners and losers… excepting the forest ecosystem that will live on untold generations of fungi and trees forward. And also like our own lives, all things in Nature strive for balance. Life is a delicate dance of ebbs and flows, forces and counter forces, joy and sorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near the hollow stump, this Virginia pine manifest its own fungal infection, a perennial target canker which, like the oak fungus, has lived with the tree for many decades. Similar to the oak heart rot/oak serious engagement, the pine and its pathogen are in some kind of physiological and physical balance. A standoff of sorts. The fungus drawing its own form of lifeblood from the tree. The tree growing at a pace sufficient to “feed” the fungus, build annual layers of wood in an attempt to compartmentalize the pathogen, and boost its own supporting super structure. Again, life is a balancing act… as is every endeavor in Nature. Think of the Himalayas as the Asian subcontinental plate slams (in this case, slam applied over deep time at geologic pace) into the Asian continent, thrusting the mountains to Everest’s greater-than-29,000-feet elevation. Yet there are equally powerful counter forces at work. The constant crushing force of massive glaciers grind the range in an effort to return the marine limestone high plateau back to the sea.

No, allow me an adjustment to that statement. Neither the mountain-building nor the glacial-scouring occur with intent. The glaciers do not excerpt their force in an effort to accomplish anything. They simply do what glaciers do. They follow Nature’s laws of physics, acting on gravity’s powerful pull to Earth’s center. A mountain is nothing to a glacier. How long will it take to reduce the Himalayas to Appalachian dimensions? It doesn’t matter. Time means nothing to a glacier, nor for that matter, to a mountain. Time matters, it seems, to only us humans.

I’ve examined this canker photo dozens of time. However, not until I am making these final text edits did I observe the smiling, toothless skull within the canker, somehow clenching a clay pipe! If nothing else, this discovering leads me to conclude that this will be (must be) my final edit!

Nature’s Complexity and Beauty

Not every element of Nature communicates apparent deep meaning for life and living… that is, unless I delve deeply for messages just beneath the surface. Quite simply, I like the looks of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). It’s content occupying the understory — no need for full sunlight; often satisfied with shallow, stony, dry, and exposed sites. Attractive shredded bark texture; contorted (and visually pleasing) branching pattern. Beautiful spring and early summer flowers. Persistent leaves — a broad-leafed evergreen; a member of the heath family. A tough semi-tree that has appealed to my aesthetic sensibility and ecological appreciation since my undergraduate forestry days. I think of it as a signature shrub of my Central Appalachian home, yet here it is thriving and common in Alabama’s Cheaha State Park. So, allow me to admit that part of the attraction is sentimental.

However, as I admired this specimen mid-October along the trail, I noticed an embedded lesson (actually two lessons — one ecological; the other for our lives and living) that had avoided me over my entire applied ecology career. Notice the lush moss carpet surrounding both the base of the laurel and the Virginia pine beyond it (above right photo). I have long observed the common phenomenon of stem flow. Rainwater reaches the forest floor via two pathways. One is considered through-fall, passing through the crown onto the forest floor. The second pathway involves canopy interception and redirection from leaf to stem to branches and then to the trunk. The second route is termed stem flow, which in flowing transports organic debris sloughed from its journey. The moss is flourishing at the laurel’s base from the delivered water and nutrients. I will pay more attention the next time I am on such an impoverished site. Was this a matter of coincidence, or a pattern I will observe routinely? I will let readers know.

The lesson for life I draw from this? Simply, such collaborative and synergistic relationships exist in our lives and enterprises. For example, individuals in long-term happy marriages live longer generally than those who are not. They draw sustenance from each other. We hear often in the world of business and real estate the long accepted wisdom that success distills to “location, location, location.” Such is the success of the lush moss.

While I attribute that moss vibrancy to basal location, not all vibrant mosses are so located. The moss clump below is lower on the trail under a longleaf pine… on a much more fertile and moist site. The equation for success and fulfillment, whether in humans or mosses, entails many variables.

The moss (lower left) seems quite happy on the impoverished plateau along the Bald Rock Boardwalk. To my surprise as I examined this photo more closely, the moss appears most vibrant at the base of the oak! Again, I will pay much more attention in the future to my developing hypothesis. Also near the boardwalk, dense lichens suggest that the shallow surface soils offer little in way of available nutrients and moisture. I suspect that the trees are gathering their necessary fertility and moisture from soil-filled crevices between rocks and not within reach of the lichens. Location matters… whether to trees or lichens.

Often, lichens’ needs are quite simple. They survive because they need less and are extraordinarily well-adapted to wide daily, weekly, and seasonal swings. They are adept at shutting down during periods unfavorable for active growth, and quite accomplished at reviving when things turn for the better. A deep drought (as in summer 2016) can kill a Virginia pine on the same site where the lichen simply turns off to weather the extended dry period. The rain, when it arrives, brings the lichen to full vibrancy. People and businesses, too, express variable tolerance for adverse conditions. Some are much more adaptive than others.

The lichen below seems content on the surface of a rock. Henry David Thoreau thrived happily for a little over two years on his version of the surface of a rock at Walden pond. I’m re-reading Walden at the moment. Thoreau was more lichen-like than the rest of us. He derived far more than physical sustenance from the experience — he harvested bushels of wisdom unavailable in conditions of plenty.

Are we demanding richness (material, emotional, spiritual, physical) beyond the Earth’s ability to provide it long term? Are we heeding the signals? Are we alert to our species and Earth’s limitations? Are we adequately caring for our common home? The lichens will be resident whatever humanity might do to foul our common home. Will we survive our actions. It is time we awaken. What can we learn from the lichens? What can we learn from a walk in the woods?

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) Even I, a lifelong student of Nature, had not noticed or appreciated the apparent link between forest floor mosses and stem flow.
  • Our lives, as in all things natural, depend upon continuing struggles seeking balance and equilibrium. Critical thresholds determine the course of our lives and enterprises.
  • Few things in life, enterprise, and Nature matter more than location, location, location! In part, I find my joy in communicating these stories of passion for place and everyday Nature. Are you making the most of your location?

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

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

 

Mid-November Camp McDowell Land Legacy Orientation — Alabama State Parks Edition

Camp McDowell invited me to visit November 15 & 16, 2018. Our purpose — to explore developing a Camp McDowell and Conference Center Land Legacy Story for the 1,140 acre property. In operation on-site since 1947, this Winston County treasure “shows the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play in the beauty of God’s Backyard.” McDowell is “the Camp and Conference Center for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama. We are also home to the Alabama Folk School, McDowell Environmental Center, and the McDowell Farm School.”

The property sits smack dab in the midst of the Bankhead National Forest’s 181,000 acres. I’m astounded that these 283 square miles of exquisite forestland came to the Forest Service under the movement 125 years ago to deal with and manage the huge swaths of abandoned and spent eastern forestland (as well as abandoned farms) referred to broadly as the lands nobody wanted. I drove through miles of the Bankhead as I headed south to McDowell. I’m a softy for unbroken forest. Only someone as I, familiar with the eastern National Forests and their history, along with my perception of the roadside forest as even-aged, second-growth, would see this unbroken cover as anything but forest primeval.

Some might say, “How boring; there is nothing to see!” Au contraire, this was heaven to my appreciative professional forester’s eyes! Rolling hills of mature pine and mixed hardwood forest… some thinned, some periodically burned to control understory vegetation. The Camp McDowell entrance sign appeared as I was still appreciating and admiring the forests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nourishing Body, Mind, Heart, Soul, and Spirit

I’ve visited McDowell a half-dozen times over the past couple of years, first as guest of then McDowell Director Mark Johnston and Environmental Education Center Director Maggie Johnston. The St. Francis Chapel is emblematic of the Camp’s devotion to Faith, Nature, and the future. What better lens to view the Chapel than the dawn’s first rays of sun on a frosty mid-November morning.

McDowell greeted my Thursday morning arrival with a dusting of snow and 30-degree temperature.

I stayed overnight this most recent time at the far lodge above Sloan Lake (lower left photo). A perfect setting to appreciate the Camp. The day remained cloudy, breezy, and unseasonably cold, never reaching 40. The average daily high for the date is low 60s. I have not confirmed that we set a record low high temperature for the date; I am sure we at least approached a new record. Lakes, streams, and falling leaves don’t mind the early cold. People complain a bit. After an uncommonly warm September and October, I saw the chill as overdue, and found joy in the November look and feel of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDowell tugs at my heart. When in this extraordinary Natural setting, I engage with the place, its mission, its staff, the campers, and spirituality with all five of my life-portals: mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit. The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. McDowell reignites some fundamental tenets and principles that guide my life and profession. I want to make some small corner of this world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. Perhaps McDowell is one element of that small corner I can influence.

The Eppes Dining Hall at the Environmental Camp along Clear Creek fed some 200 fifth and sixth graders (and their teachers/chaperones) Thursday evening. Participants are fully engaged and totally immersed in Nature’s wonders.

I saw lots of places in the Camp core for relaxing and reflecting. Each special location has its story — memories, donors, and wisps of history and meaning. Even as these infrastructure elements tell a tale, the surrounding wildness and Nature have legacy components awaiting exploration, interpretation, and translation… leading to developing McDowell’s comprehensive Land Legacy Story. I would welcome a chance to memorialize McDowell’s Story. I want to help McDowell translate the record written in the land and forests, combine it with key interviews of current and past players, and add bits of history residing in available archives, including old photographs (aerial and land-based), and individual recollections. Oh, if only we could literally wander back in time.

When would have been the ideal time to begin weaving the story? Perhaps 1847, one hundred years prior to McDowell’s formal on-site beginning. Or, if only the Clear Creek rock ledges could talk!

Or the massive loblolly pine (flanked by former Camp Director Mark Johnston) along Clear Creek at Tiller’s Beach. This magnificent specimen (yes, the tree!) likely stood there in 1847 as a sapling.

Or the resurrection fern-festooned oak that shaded the front yard of a long-since gone farm house or outbuilding along the Camp entrance road near the current Camp store. The oak certainly predates the Camp’s origins and may have been planted in the late 19th century. I wonder when the first fern sprouted from the now deeply-furrowed bark. Think about how appropriate it would have been if the first floral resurrection occurred in 1947! In effect, its sprouting could symbolize “the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play in the beauty of God’s Backyard.” Here was Camp McDowell rising from an old worn out farm in the midst of 283 square miles of the lands nobody wanted! We can core the oak with an increment borer to determine the tree’s age. Dating the fern’s appearance will take the luck of a chance photo from the Camp’s early days.

If only we had begun detailed chronicling of McDowell’s natural components in 1947. Yet we really cannot begin such deliberate and detailed monitoring and record keeping until now. And begin we must. Who among future campers in 2118, 100 hundred years hence, wouldn’t enjoy seeing the Camp’s first solar photo-voltaic panels? A literal example of “Harnessing Nature’s Power”!

Who would not appreciate seeing the November 17, 2018 sun rising from behind the barn, illuminating a frosted field? Or seeing the Farm School pigs relishing the mud within their enclosure?

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine a permanent photo point capturing this view to the north from the embankment along the beaver pond dam? A snap shot repeated routinely every ten years demonstrating changes the 2118 fifth grader can observe back through time.

What might a permanent ten-year-interval photographic record reveal from Tiller’s Beach? Here are Friday’s view upstream (left) and downstream (with former Camp Director Mark Johnston contemplating the view and reflecting on his five decade love affair with McDowell, beginning with student seasonal engagement). Mark is among those who can fill voids and inform the Land Legacy Story. There are others (in addition to Mark) we must transport virtually via the Legacy Tale to 2118 and beyond. If only I could bottle the elixir-essence of our November 2018 morning stroll along Clear Creek.

Special Vegetation

How many tree and shrub species does McDowell host? No one I asked in mid-November knew the answer or could recall seeing a species inventory. I’m hoping that over the Camp’s 71 years some intrepid botanist has assembled such a list. Legacy Story research will entail scrubbing the archives to rediscover such a list. If one does not exist, developing the inventory will fall to my Land Legacy Story recommendations section.

Longleaf pine is one of my favorite Alabama trees. It’s one of the state’s ten native pines. How many others of those ten are on-site? I saw loblolly, Virginia, and shortleaf pines as Mark and I hiked several trails Friday morning. Mark and associates planted hundreds (thousands?) of longleaf seedlings on cleared land surrounding the beaver pond and at other locations on the property. I was surprised to see direct evidence that the intrepid pond rodents harvested the sticky sap-rich saplings (chewed-off stump in foreground lower left). Easy to see how longleaf earned its moniker (standing tree lower left and the dense foliage lower right).

That’s Mark’s hand (for scale) on a Tiller’s Beach farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum). Another common name: sparkleberry. It’s the only tree-form member of the blueberry genus. Its deep black fruit shines and sparkles this time of year; the term farkle implies a combination of sparkle and function. According to The Flora of North America, “Sparkleberry grows on sand dunes, hammocks, dry hillsides, meadows, and in rocky woods. It also grows on a variety of moist sites such as wet bottomlands and along creek banks.” This specimen occupies a sand bar site moistened from within the sandy soil by Clear Creek seepage.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) “is noted for its huge oblong-obovate leaves (to 30 inches long) which are the largest simple leaves of any tree indigenous to North America. Leaves are green above and silvery-gray below. This unusual tree is rarely found in the wild, being limited mainly to a few rich wooded areas in river valleys and ravines in the southeastern United States.” Carolina Nature describes bigleaf magnolia as a “rare deciduous native.” I saw nothing rare about bigleaf magnolia at McDowell. I’ve never seen such abundance in my travels across its range. By the time I departed Friday afternoon, most leaves had fallen. Thursday morning some trees still held fast to their yellowing leaves (lower left). My boot (size 12!) gives some sense of leaf scale. Oddly, nearly all leaves fell top-side down. A mystery for another day. A future assignment for Environmental Camp sixth-graders?

I couldn’t get over the impressive leaf size — the longest on the sofa below is 26-inches! So, on-site during those two days, we discovered individuals of the only tree-form blueberry (genus Vaccinium), North America’s longest-leafed indigenous tree species, and one of Alabama’s largest loblolly pines (record is ~4.5-feet diameter). McDowell’s Story begs to be told!

We encountered a willowlike-leaf shrub in what I at first surmised was in full flower along roads and field edges. No one I asked could identify it. When I originally posted this essay November 27, I noted, “I am still investigating. I suspect it is an invasive. Because it is so common and spectacularly showy for the season, it is worthy of a mid-November floral highlight for one of the state’s premier environmental education centers. Just another component of the Camp’s Land Legacy Story, which is both a look back… and a careful and deliberate view ahead identifying needs critical to Camp relevance and excellence.” Today, December 5, 2018, with the help of Cane Creek Canyon’s Jim Lacefield, we have identified the shrub as groundsel-tree (Baccharis halimifolia). How on earth did I not properly identify this species that is native to North America from Massachusetts south to Florida and Texas!? I admit total embarrassment. Once Jim led me to identification, I revisited my photographs. What I mistook (sloppily) as flowers were in fact seed heads, the silky seed appearing to my lazy examination as flowers. A big wake-up lesson for me — I sat for far too long in my higher education executive offices, growing dull in my field skills. I pledge to be more diligent, systematic, and persistent — to pay attention to field tools lost to pencil-pushing!

Now, what about the non-tree and shrub flowering plants — a McDowell inventory? My favorite paintings look like photographs (Yes, I am a man of simple tastes); my favorite photos look like paintings. Nature’s frosty brush painted the Friday morning image below. Sedges and goldenrod, frosted pine seedlings, and foreground frost-silvered grass with mixed fall hardwoods providing background. A nice painting!

I’m a sucker for bark encrusted with non-flowering plants. An admirable moss community coats the Virginia pine stem (lower left); lichen adds a nice pattern to the otherwise slate grey of the American beech near the lodge where I stayed. Nature tolerates no vacuums in these well-watered southern temperate forests. Do the Camp archives contain inventories of McDowell non-flowering plants — ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi?

Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom, Inspiration, and Power through Knowledge and Recognition

Even something as simple as a weathered fence rail can inspire. Soaking rain, transitioning to snow before ending Thursday dawn, had saturated the wood. Friday morning’s 24 degrees drew frost-sickles from the wood… a hoar frost decoration. Add in remnant snow around the old knothole, and the adornment is complete (lower right). Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are wherever we choose to seek and discover. The rewards are ours!

A frosty field and a leaf-strewn woods path at dawn soothe the soul and elevate the spirit. McDowell’s Nature portfolio begins fresh with every new day.

This dawn photo epitomizes the spirit, promise, and hope of a new day in God’s Backyard.

And, again, the Chapel symbolizes “the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play” in Nature.

Even if my mid-November McDowell visit does not lead to preparing the Camp and Conference Center’s Land Legacy Story, I will have lived richly in McDowell’s inspired glow for two days. Whether I compile the Story or not, the tale will remain within the land. Every parcel has a Story. Camp McDowell has touched and changed lives for seven decades… thousands of lives. Its Land Legacy Story is all the more powerful owing to the Camp’s mission and cause in service to humanity. If asked to proceed, I would accept the challenge with great humility, and a heartfelt gratitude for a chance to make a positive difference for tomorrow. I would seek inspiration from the mission, the land, and the people who lead (and led) the way.

What an honor and privilege it would be. My efforts would be purpose-driven and passion-fueled. I believe in the noble cause that guides McDowell.

Thoughts and Reflections

I may offer nothing new to Camp McDowell. Sure, I see the 1,140 acres through a composite lens comprising a bachelors in forestry, a doctorate in applied ecology, lifelong Nature enthusiasm, former industrial forestry practice, 35 years in higher education, four university presidencies, author, speaker, and advocate for Nature’s lessons for Life and Living. I believe earnestly in McDowell’s commitment to enable people young and old to employ five essential verbs:

  1. BELIEVE that all of Nature’s wisdom and power are hidden within plain view
  2. LOOK with intent beneath the superficial; LOOK deeply without the distractions that too often obstruct vision
  3. SEE what lies hidden within
  4. SEE deeply enough to evoke emotion; that is… FEEL
  5. FEEL acutely enough to inspire and stir ACTion… ACT to make tomorrow brighter

Although these are my five verbs, I see them implied in all that McDowell does. The Environmental Center mission “is to connect people to the environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning.” I watched the Camp in action in form of a Thursday evening Radical Raptors program at the Chapel. I did not need to reach far to witness my five verbs in practice.

The Environmental Center flier states its role clearly: To provide “an experience impossible to find in a classroom. Students are taught by seeing nature up close: wading into a stream to catch invertebrates, touching sandstone canyon walls, identifying trees using a dichotomous key, and solving group challenges with their teammates. While creating self-confidence, students explore the outdoors firsthand, building lifelong awareness and respect for the natural world.”

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/

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

 

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Mid-November Camp McDowell Land Legacy Orientation

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this McDowell Camp and Conference Center Land Legacy Post. Allow me to apply the McDowell  principles, mission, and operating tenets to our Alabama State Parks. Consider the Parks as a type of quasi environmental education center. Paraphrasing from above, each Park’s role is to provide an experience impossible to find in a classroom. Visitors learn by seeing nature, Park by Park, up close; hiking its trails; wading into a stream, lake, or the Gulf; observing wildlife; touching canyon walls; identifying trees, shrubs, and wildflowers; spotting birds; enjoying scenic overlooks; and simply absorbing Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. All that while developing a sense of comfort and fulfillment. Visitors explore the outdoors firsthand, building lifelong awareness and respect for the natural world.

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park vertical wall at the Rock Garden. We learn by seeing, feeling, and knowing the real thing. Nature’s Cheaha classroom covers the entire Park and the adjoining Talladega National Forest.

 

Lake Guntersville State Park offers lots of shoreline for wading, swimming, boating, and fishing. Have you ever encountered a more effective learning and enjoyment laboratory?

 

A field laboratory for seeing and studying the carbon cycle presents itself clearly at Cheaha State Park. Here I borrow from an earlier Cheaha State Park Blog Post: The annual carbon cycle in our native pines is actually biennial. The Cheaha State Park longleaf pine (lower left) holds green needles for two growing seasons. The fresh pine straw (below right) constitutes needles that emerged with the 2017 spring flush. Their chlorophyll-based factories performed through summers 2017 and 2018. They completed their work by mid-October their second year. When I hiked the Lake Trail to the summit, longleaf had just recently mulched the forest floor.

And Cheaha has a wonderful interpretive sign (This is a State Park image; not one of my own photographs) to explain the full carbon cycle:

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us wherever we seek it. Discover Nature’s Truths near your doorstep. Here is one of my fundamental lessons from Nature:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. Life rewards those who believe, look, see, and feel Nature’s magic and glory… wherever you are.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable learning environment of your life. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature may not desire that you learn, yet she offers lessons at every twist and turn in our forested paths, along every creek-side mile, and in every visit to our State Parks.

Early November on Bradford Creek Greenway — Alabama State Parks Edition

I’ve often observed over the years that Southern summers only reluctantly yield to the dormant season. November 5, 2018, the morning after a night of rain, we hiked five miles on the Bradford Creek Greenway in Madison, Alabama. Summer held tightly through September and into mid-October this year. Only over the past ten days had our deciduous trees begun to turn and shed. Our colors cannot match the Central Appalachians and New England’s burst of absolute glory, yet I find soothing comfort in summer’s relaxed grip and fall’s dormancy advance. Our autumn involves less of color exploding… more of green retreating internally. Deciduous trees simply go dormant without a lot of hype and fanfare.

As this day progressed through afternoon, our skies remained dark and foreboding, eventually yielding to night and a wee-hours squall line (the National Weather Service termed it a QLCS — a quasi-linear convective system) in advance of a cold front. Strong winds and a little over an inch of additional rain, I am certain, brought a lot more leaves to the trail and forest floor. Nature’s annual above ground organic matter cycle will soon draw to closure. It’s all part of the grand carbon cycle… whether in New England or here in the South.

The southernmost leg of the Greenway (between Mill and Palmer roads) had been closed since mid-July for laying larger diameter sewer lines in the Greenway right-of-way. It had just reopened the week prior. Hence we walked on straw blown in to facilitate grass reseeding of the rehabilitated trail shoulders where the pipes lie. With an imaginative reach for this latitude I visualized snow cover.

The prior night’s rain had wetted this trail-side beech with stem flow, bringing a cloudy-sky glisten to its smooth bark. I photographed this coarse individual for its character — wet, shiny, and darkened stem; low branching; forked trunk at 3-4 feet; and its once-damaged, now healed-over base. All of it back-dropped by fallen leaves and yellowing foliage beyond.

I pointed out to our hiking companions that this entire riparian forest had once been tilled (or pastured), its deep and fertile soils producing fine crops when lowland flooding permitted access, planting, and harvesting. Too often, however, the stream that assured fertility and moisture interfered with reliable production by either preventing access or actually flooding the crop. The forest regenerated naturally… I’m estimating some 30 to 50 years ago. Here and there along the trail we encountered individuals that stood within the fields long before agricultural abandonment. This remnant oak’s massive girth and crown evidence that it was once open-grown, enabling it to reach for sunlight vertically and horizontally without competition from adjacent trees. The old forestry term for such an individual is a “wolf” tree, as in the lone wolf standing sentry in a field its own.

How could I resist inspecting and photographing this musclewood (Carpinus carolinia)? Lichens and mosses have painted the bark’s canvas with a pattern worthy of museum display. And the background — who could have chosen better? Nature never misses an opportunity to inspire. I wondered how many hikers passed by that day blind to the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe within plain sight?

Because this is the Bradford Creek Greenway I feel obliged to include the creek in this gallery. Even during the driest days in mid-October, the creek never failed to flow with confidence. As we enter fall and winter, vegetation and evaporation will make no demands on the creek, and rains will be more reliable. The creek will swell its chest with pride. Occasionally it may even pop its banks and cover the trail. I will plan to be there as witness.

These two water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) found happy anchorage in the stream itself. The typically buttressed trunk and stout structural roots are engineered to withstand the occasional floods that wash creeks such as Bradford. Again, I’d like to bear witness.

A single red, three-lobed sweetgum leaf countered the otherwise drab oak leaves that littered the trail and shoulders. Can a wet and cloudy day along a sewer line right-of-way meet my threshold for beauty, magic, wonder, and awe? You betcha! In aggregate, the entire package (the whole) far exceeds the sum of its component parts. The pieces do not simply compile arithmetically. They combine as multipliers, quotients, and powers to reach levels incalculable. Add in the loud laughing of a pileated woodpecker we did not see. The several scurrying squirrels gathering and storing acorns. The two jays fussing at who knows what. Horses grazing trail-side in the pasture near Mill Road.

And how can we measure the compounding value of the emotional joy in knowing Nature is placing so much at rest, preparing for the winter. No, not bitter cold, extended snows, and howling winds. Instead, a long season of occasional Canadian and Arctic intrusions punctuated by gorgeous periods of reliable sun, comfortable afternoons, and perfect hiking. I have a snow shovel we brought south from New Hampshire. I don’t intend to use it!

Nature teaches that breaks are restorative. I know that firsthand from how good a bit of afternoon shuteye feels. I am certain that the grand old oak, the wolf tree, welcomes in its own way the longer, cooler nights that signal its RNA to prompt recovering chlorophyll and sugars from leaves and forming abscission layers to release leaves to gravity’s tug. I could imagine the wolf tree sighing relief with a winter nap just days away. So apt is the wisdom from Ecclesiastes and The Byrds: To every thing there is a season… and a time to every purpose under heaven.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. I am grateful that community leaders found reason to marry a utility right-of-way with a recreational preserve along a lovely urban stream. Whether intentional stewardship or serendipity, Bradford Creek Greenway serves a noble purpose and important cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) I’m reminded of the musclewood — its exquisite canvas of mosses and lichens. The glistening beech. How many actually realize they walk or bike through the art museum corridors of the Greenway?
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. Our two-hour stroll paid tremendous dividends to body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Funny how most of my time on this Greenway has passed at 12-14 miles per hour by bicycle. Admittedly, even at that modest pace I miss a lot. Ratchet the speed up or down — the attractions shift in response.
  • Nature demonstrates that nothing is without meaning and purpose. Not a single action or endeavor we witnessed along the trail happened by chance alone.

In her (nature’s) inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Leonardo da Vinci

 

Bradford Creek Greenway is just four miles from our house. I have often observed that Nature is where we seek it. So much is within easy reach. Were I to visit the Greenway alone and not impose a time limit for exploration other than the hours of daylight, who knows what wonders I might discover. Perhaps I will do just that some day. As it was, the furthest I wandered from the paved surface was some 50-feet.

I fear that for much of my life I may have stayed too close to the trail. Have I ventured often enough from the metaphorical paved surface? Another of my lessons from the two books: Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion. Can such be my mantra for the remaining years of good health that lie ahead? I suppose that is entirely up to me. I know that during the course of 4.5 decades of professional and executive career, I did not often enough choose a pace slow enough to believe, look, see, feel, and act at the musclewood-canvas scale.

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/

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

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Early November on Bradford Creek Greenway Post

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Bradford Creek Greenway Post. I will remain true to the themes of Nature as an essential life force and focus, and Nature providing multiple attractions for enhancing Life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Here’s a late August Monte Sano State Park photo of a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) in full fruit. Certainly not yet summer in full flight as we witnessed in early November along Bradford Creek, the spice bush is signalling its final summer act. The last push to sustain the species and extend the line before its own season of rest and dormancy.

Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred my passion for seasonal ebbs and flows. Like the Monte Sano spice bush (Lindera benzoin), the late summer persimmon fruit drops at Lake Guntersville State Park hinted at the growing season culmination:

As I write these words, I am sure that persimmon tree made its final summer 2018 forest floor deposits of ripe fruit last month. Sure, a few may be persistent and remain tree-secured a bit longer. Our several nights of lows in the 20s will have left its branches bare of leaves. Until next spring, may she (yes, most persimmon trees are either male or female… not both) rest, renew, and recuperate.

The annual carbon cycle in our native pines is actually biennial. The Cheaha State Park longleaf pine (lower left) holds green needles for two growing seasons. The fresh pine straw (below right) constitutes needles that emerged with the 2017 spring flush. Their chlorophyll-based factories performed through summers 2017 and 2018. They completed their work by mid-October their second year. When I hiked the Lake Trail to the summit, longleaf had just recently mulched the forest floor.

 

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us wherever we seek it. Discover Nature’s Truths near your doorstep:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.
  • Nature demonstrates that nothing is without meaning and purpose… and so go the seasons, without end year after year.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. Life rewards those who believe, look, see, and feel Nature’s magic and glory… wherever you are.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Cheaha State Park — A 1,200-foot Vertical Ecological Transect

We visited Cheaha State Park October 17-19, issuing two Great Blue Heron blog posts prior to this one: first my broad impressions then my musings on the Cheaha sky and clouds. I will focus now on an ecological transect as I hiked October 19, from Cheaha Lake (visible on the valley floor in the photo below) to the summit, passing up through the Rock Garden (the overlook location for the same photo) then on to the summit.

I learned long ago that a top-down-view always amplifies the elevation perspective. That is, looking down at Lake Cheaha seemed far higher than the lakeside view (below left) toward the ridges. The relatively flat terrain around the lake belied the steep topography awaiting me. Nature is like the layers of an onion. Peace and serenity greeted me when Judy dropped me at the lake. Who could ask for a more perfect 60-degree morning start? An RV campground and primitive camping are near the lake, yet I saw just one other person. The lower right photo shows a CCC-constructed building used now as a bathhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The relatively flat and fertile bottom-lands were soon to transition to, as the sign warns, a very steep one-mile ascent. I did not have the luxury of past land-use maps or a naturalist accompanying me. Nor did I take the time to scour the land to thoroughly read the signs of past-use. I presume that some portion of the valley saw tillage and certainly served as pasture. It’s hard to believe that over some 200-years of European settlement so many of these seeming remote nooks and crannies in the Appalachians (from here to Pennsylvania, New York, and into New England) saw intrepid pioneers scraping a living and sustenance from the land. However, even the boldest among them would not have attempted to plow or graze much beyond the trail head sign!

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), “The only conclusion I have ever reached is that I love all trees, but I am in love with pines.” He mentioned the three species of pine native to Wisconsin, where he lived and wrote his signature book. I am teaching a Huntsville LearningQUEST (“informal education for adults of all ages”) course on A Sand County Almanac. I reflected on how many species of pine are native to The Heart of Dixie. As I write, I will try to name them, and then I will check my references to confirm, add, or subtract. I pledge to honestly assess my performance. Here goes: loblolly (Pinus taeda), slash (P. elliottii), longleaf (P. palustris), Virginia (P. virginiana), shortleaf (P. echinata), sand (P. clausa), spruce (P. glabra), and pond (P. serotina) pines. Before I verify, I want also to mention table mountain pine. I will not — I think it does not range naturally this far south. I’ve researched. I’ll begin with table mountain pine (Pinus pungens). From the US Forest Service: “its range extends from central Pennsylvania, southwest to eastern West Virginia and southward into North Carolina, Tennessee, and the extreme northeast corner of Georgia.” So, count me lucky on not including it as native to Alabama. All eight of the ones I listed are, in fact, native to Alabama. However, I am embarrassed at having missed the one that I did — eastern white pine (P. strobus), which is native to just five Alabama counties.

My lake to summit transect passed under four pine species: loblolly, Virginia, shortleaf, and a few longleaf around the lake and on the lower slope (below left). My forester friends up-north (and I don’t mean the Tennessee Valley region) have never encountered this signature species of the deep south. I hold its long needles, erect posture, and huge cones in high esteem. Its coarse broom-tipped upper branches stand out nicely against the early autumn blue. Its dropped needles accent the pine litter moss below right. Beauty and magic from tree crown to forest floor!

It’s perhaps inconceivable to readers that I could cherish both sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) and Longleaf pine. On one hand, longleaf pine’s indomitable negative geotropism (geotropism from my online default dictionary: “the growth of the parts of plants with respect to the force of gravity. The upward growth of plant shoots is an instance of negative geotropism; the downward growth of roots is positive geotropism.” The longleaf pine does not know from vertical! Ramrod straight, refusing to twist or bend to seek or secure more sunlight. Sourwood seems oblivious to Nature’s insistence that the law of gravity is universal. Instead, sourwood shuns even the theory of gravity, disdaining any thought of verticality. Still on the lower slope, I wanted to embrace this individual sourwood revolutionary (below), rejecting and rebelling against the predominant rule of law. Even I could have climbed this nearly horizontal arboreum. Odd that its Latin species name should suggest something more intent upon reaching into the canopy.

Why do I relish sourwood? First, I grew up well within its northernmost range in the central Appalachians. I liked its deeply-fissured bark, its fragrant spring flowers (makes great honey!), and its curvaceous form from which a two-by-four will never be sawn. I liked it, too, because once I departed for my bachelors degree in upstate New York, none of my fellow students knew my southern friend. Years later when I served for nine years on the Penn State forestry faculty, I often answered queries asking me to identify understory species I did not recognize with, “It’s a sourwood,” knowing full well that we were out of its range. So now back within its range, I enjoy encountering sourwood frequently. This specimen grows trail side on the lower slope.

It’s adjacent to a 30-inch diameter chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), a massive specimen on a site richer than the shallow upper slopes where we most often find this species. See the sourwood escaping horizontally beyond the oak. The oak crown is fully dominant (lower right)… and has been for many decades. Perhaps reason enough for the gravity-defying sourwood to retreat at little more than 20 degrees above horizontal.

As I began ascending toward the very steep intermediate slope, the boulder-strewn dry stream-bed (below left) drew my attention. The trail paralleled the drainage-way, which obviously carries considerable and forceful flow on occasion. Appalachian-wide, these old mountains are products of erosion. They have long since lost their rugged, towering heights. From my ultimate (translates to lazy and convenient for the purpose of these blog posts) source of internet research, “Cheaha Mountain is part of the Talladega Mountains, a final southern segment of the Blue Ridge Mountains, unlike other elevations of the Appalachians in north Alabama, which are part of the Cumberland Plateau. The mountain is the highest point in the eastern portion of the Sun Belt (east of the Mississippi River, south of Interstate 20, and north of the Gulf of Mexico). Geologically it is composed of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates of the Cheaha quartzite, of Silurian/Devonian age, and stands high topographically due to the erosional resistance of these rocks.” A bit further along, I found a trickle of water riding the exposed bedrock (below right).

I’ll venture an untested (by me) hypothesis: I’ll call it Steve’s 99:1 rule of landscape-scale erosion. Simply, 99 percent of erosional impact results from one percent of the storms. And among those impactful storms, think about the relative magnitude and erosional consequence of a hundred-year-storm. Or even more powerful, a thousand-year deluge. Water’s force operates logarithmically. Epic storms carved these valleys. I would like to return when this now-dry channel carries enough volume to tumble a few stones, yet I believe my chances are slim. Such first-order streams are not perennial. From the Geologic Society of America, “A first-order stream is the smallest of the world’s streams and consists of small tributaries. These are the streams that flow into and “feed” larger streams but do not normally have any water flowing into them. In addition, first and second order streams generally form on steep slopes and flow quickly until they slow down and meet the next order waterway.”

Of interest, the Mississippi River is a tenth order stream; the Amazon is twelfth order. The Geologic Society adds, “First through third order streams are also called headwater streams and constitute any waterways in the upper reaches of the watershed. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the world’s waterways are these first through third order or headwater streams.” Somewhat of a footnote, I successfully navigated an upper level undergraduate watershed management course and a graduate hydrology offering, both with three weekly lectures and weekly three-hour labs. I recall a weekend field trip in the graduate course to Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (with its calibrated watersheds) in New Hampshire. Since then and perhaps prior to this formal education validation, I have been fascinated by weather and stream/watershed behavior. Four and one-half decades since that field trip, I am still captivated by watershed hydrology when hiking an Alabama mountain trail at Cheaha State Park.

I soon climbed above drainage ways meriting a stream order rating. Rainwater from here and points above does little more than percolate into the thin soil and find its way among the rocks to the defined channels below. I turned my focus back to plants. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) seems quite content throughout its range finding purchase on shallow rocky soils. This specimen fits my image of its stereotypical site. Notice the mossy cushion at its base, the moss luxuriating from the incremental moisture (and accompanying nutrients) delivered via rainwater stem flow from the laurel. The same benefit accrues to the moss at the Virginia pine base (below right; beyond and to the right of the laurel). I see a few chestnut oak leaves under the laurel, yet another affirmation of thin rocky upper slope position.

Steep stony rubble (moss and lichen adorned), upper slope position, lots of direct sunlight on the forest floor, an aspect facing southwest, and sparsely-stocked forest of small diameter in aggregate signal poor site quality. What I encountered differed little from what I expected.

Likewise, I would not have expected healthy, vigorous individuals. I wondered how the hollow white oak (below left) stood as long as it apparently had, with only a thin band of intact wood ringing its base. It had only recently (within months) fallen across the trail. The Cytospora canker on the Virginia pine (below right) results from a fungal infection. Such target cankers weaken the stem and interfere with translocation. Yet, and I think such is the case with this individual, such fungi can co-exist with the host tree for decades. Perhaps the longevity in this case is owing to the poor site and the tree’s slow growth.

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac; November) spoke reverently of the tree disease/animal (from bees to birds to mammals) interdependency on his Wisconsin woodlot: “Soon after I bought the woods a decade ago, I realized that I had bought almost as many tree diseases as I had trees. My woodlot is riddled with all the ailments wood is heir to. I began to wish that Noah, when he loaded up the Ark, had left the tree diseases behind. But it soon became clear that these same diseases made my woodlot a mighty fortress, unequaled in the whole county.” He then devoted five pages to the nature of such ecosystem interplay.

The mountain sheds boulders on its higher, steeper reaches. What are the mechanics of these relics from above? Have they rolled and slid downward from The Rock Garden ledges above? I think not. From my experience elsewhere, I’m led to believe these sometime house-sized remnants of the most resistant strata have actually weathered from vertically above, the softer stone weathered from beneath them. That is, these rocks have not slipped from current uphill positions, sliding down and outward, but instead have their origin directly above… an above that no longer exists. Regardless of their origin, they provided steps and handholds for my old-guy ascent, somehow steeper than these photos suggest. The Virginia pine with blue trail blaze (below left) must have had the good fortune of sinking roots deep into fertile soil nestled among the piled boulders. The tree has no equal nearby. The good tree-fortune of chance, fortuity, and serendipity.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose the same luck of the draw applies to this blazed red oak. An acorn just happened to find security, purchase, and sustenance lodged in the right boulder-pile fissure. To my knowledge trees have no intention and are absent a strategic plan. Instead, by evolutionary design, they produce enough acorns to advantage the chance (perhaps likelihood) that some such fortuitous site lies within reach of gravity, squirrel caching, or bluejay drop. And now, in duty to the species, this oak is producing acorns to secure the future of the line… and to do its part to biologically, chemically, and physically sustain this old mountain ecosystem. Meantime, in a tiny increment of the tree’s life, I hiked upward past it, pausing only to snap its photo and then lean against it to catch my breath. It served me well… without intent.

And ever upward into an area where serendipity furnished few high quality micro-sites. Still a forest, this stand is hard-scrabble. No sylvan-cove cathedral here. The bent and shattered Virginia pine (at lower left in the photo) evidences the ravages of a 2014 ice storm at this elevation. And I scrambled onward.

Suddenly a view from immediately below of The Rock Garden. Picture these nearly horizontal strata reaching out over Cheaha Lake. Time and the inexorable forces of Nature have weathered and transported many cubic miles of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates to the Gulf of Mexico. I had taken the photo of the valley and lake at the beginning of this blog post the afternoon prior from atop this ledge.

I found something special and moving in the dark silhouette of the rock backlit by the wispy cirrus.

And I add this photo to demonstrate how tenaciously Virginia pine find purchase on the very ledge. Is the view wasted on them? Or do they simply appreciate the abundant, unimpeded access to the sunlight that fuels them? They have no need to strive vertically among competitors to secure full sun.

I insert that first photo. My reward for having traipsed ever-upward.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) I saw what I could on this Friday morning ecological transect. Yet I only scratched the surface of the stories unread and untold.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. The snippets I read along a two-hour transect are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every tree, rock, and dry stream bed may be mine alone, this one (among a thousand such transects just here on Cheaha) and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the sourwood/longleaf pine posture and form contrast and not feel humility or a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

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

 

Postscript Cheaha Photo from the Official State Park Archives

Picnic pavilion at Cheaha Lake, near the trail head where I began my ascent.

 

 

 

 

Cheaha State Park — Mid-October Sky and Clouds

October 17-19, 2018 brought me to Alabama’s highest point, to 2,407′ Mt. Cheaha crowning Cheaha State Park. I wrote last week about some of my general observations at Cheaha. I admit to having a low threshold for declaring Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Even a broken mid-October altostratus deck, sunset-viewed to the northwest from Bald Rock, stirred feelings of deep appreciation. Not spectacular… yet soothing, assuring, and promising a clear and cool autumn day tomorrow.

By morning two days hence, the fall high pressure center had drifted east of us, pivoting the chilly northwesterly breeze to southeast. I took both photos below from the west-facing restaurant deck. The strong SE breeze lifting some 1,500 feet from the valley floor had capped Cheaha with stratus, placing us in cloud-shadow. The lower left view to the SSW shows cloud streamers descending and evaporating, revealing clear skies above the valley beyond. The lower right view to the WNW shows more descending streamers and the sunlit valley floor. Even a mountain of Cheaha’s relatively small stature generates micro-climate phenomena that are fascinating and quite predictable. I could have sipped coffee and watched the streamers race downhill and westward for hours. However, even if I had chosen to sit tight, the sun-warmed morning air would have soon taken the lifting condensation level higher than Cheaha’s summit.

 

Here’s the deck-view to the west 35 minutes earlier… before the sun had fully illuminated the valley floor and brought deep blue to the western sky. The streamers then were more pronounced and descended further into the valley. Nothing in Nature (or in our lives and enterprises) is static. Change rules the day (and night) and we must learn to anticipate and adapt.

Mid-afternoon on the 18th I hiked the quarter mile from the old CCC reservoir to Rock Garden, overlooking Cheaha Lake to the southwest. I would ascend the rough trail from the lake to Cheaha’s summit the next morning. Watch for my Blog Post soon reflecting upon the ascent and Nature’s treats along the way. This shot shows the deep blue and thin cirrus typical of the season’s first intrusion of cool high pressure from the north.

Clouds can mesmerize me. This burst of wispy cirrus blossoming from the trees greeted me as I ascended Friday late morning from the continuous forest canopy into the scattered trees tucked within the massive stones and ledges of Rock Garden. An ice crystal bouquet at >20,000 feet… temperature at least 20-degrees below zero from my 60-degree point of observation! Even without the exquisite beauty, the magic of physics excites wonder. Once again, I feel humility and inspiration knowing that relative to these grand scales and epic contrasts I am nothing. Compared to a single cirrus burst, what am I? Yet a simple moment in the life of one cloud formation among ten million worldwide at this instant elevates my heart rate, and yields deep gratitude that I am privileged to witness this gift. A gift that is there for me not because I am anything special, but because I believe that if I look, I will see. And when I see, I will feel its power. And when I feel, I will continue my mission (to act) to remind all that we Earth residents carry the burden of informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. My five essential verbs: believe; look; see; feel; act.

How different (and lesser) would this Rock Garden silhouette be without its blue and cirrus backdrop? Again, we are blessed by Nature’s infinite art forms… renewed and rearranged every minute of every day.

Where would an October Cheaha cloud and sky tour be without a couple photos from atop the tower? A late Thursday afternoon view to the west (lower left) and to the southeast (lower right). All peace and tranquility, soft and gentle. Above 1,500-feet, the Park lost thousands of Virginia pine trees during a January 2014 ice storm. Guy wires thick with ice, a crystal wonderland, and the rifle crack clamor of trees snapping in the frozen wind, the tower deck would have been a frightful perch. Again, nothing in Nature is static. We prefer our first visit to have been this quiet time.

We returned to our restaurant deck a bit later to enjoy dinner as we watched the sun dip below the horizon. The views below are to the SSW (lower left) and directly to the setting sun (lower right).

A perfect backdrop for our first visit to the highest point in Alabama.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) So many people neither see nor appreciate sky and clouds.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. Sky and clouds are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every cloud may be mine alone, the cloud and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the cirrus burst without feeling humility and a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

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

Postscript Cheaha Photos from the Official State Park Archives

View of the restaurant perched on the ridge… a cloudless winter’s day.

Another winter day, less benign, with clouds from a cold front retreating to the ESE.

And a Final Photo from a Day of Pleasurable Terror on New Hampshire’s Highest Mountain

I reflect briefly on another state’s highest peak — New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Clear sky and ground blizzard; temperature at summit negative 20 and wind above 100MPH! We’re at 5,300-feet, preparing to re-board the Mount Washington Observatory’s Arctic-Cat and return to the base. That’s me second from the rear.

(Photo by Meteorologist Ryan Knapp, Mount Washington Observatory staff.)

Cheaha State Park — A Broad Look

We’ve lived in Alabaman three times: Prattville 1981-84, with Union Camp Corporation (UCC); Auburn 1996-2001, with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Auburn and Alabama A&M universities); Madison 2016-present, semi-retired. I served as Alabama Land Manager for UCC, managerially responsible for the company’s 500 square miles of forests across 32 central and south-central counties. As Director, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I directed Cooperative Extension statewide, with offices and staff in all 67 counties. I recall being in the vicinity of Cheaha several times, yet never took the time to visit the state’s highest point. Semi-retirement provides far greater flexibility for purposeful side trips. Such side trips are now the primary destination and focus.

How surprising that this is my first visit to Cheaha. I’ve been to the highest points in NH, VT, NY, OH, MD, PA, NJ, WV, VA, TN, NC, and perhaps one or two others. Why not the single state where I’ve lived three times? Okay, now I’ve summited.

We arrived on-site Wednesday afternoon, October 17, 2018. The Civilian Conservation Corps built much of the Cheaha State Park infrastructure more than 80 years ago. The tower itself would be worth visiting architecturally even if it did not afford a 360-degree, 62-stair view of the surrounding forests of the Park and the Talladega National Forest’s 392,000 acres.

Our UCC company forestland occupied coastal plain and piedmont physiographic provinces. My experience then did not encompass the southern Appalachian image afforded this view of Mt. Cheaha from a public-road overlook several miles from the Park. These old Appalachians change little in appearance from here to New England except for scale (to Mt Mitchell’s 6,683-feet) and the forests (along with some high elevation scrub and tundra) that vary with elevation and latitude.

The Bald Rock Boardwalk extends 0.3 miles along a NNE-trending ridge to a 2,300-feet overlook at (you guessed it!) Bald Rock. The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk also offers several opportunities for hikers to descend to the rocks and trails alongside. Lower right is the sunset cloud deck to the WNW our first evening, October 17.

Our second evening view to the NNE in mostly clear skies and full sun. Anniston, Alabama lies behind my right shoulder some 1,600-feet below us at the valley floor adjacent to I-59. The daylight view evidences little but unbroken forest; after dark, Anniston, Oxford, and other communities show as a ribbon of lights along the Interstate.

Here’s the Thursday afternoon southwest view from the Rock Garden (2,050-feet) to Cheaha Lake at 1,250-feet. I hiked Friday morning from the Lake trailhead to the summit, nearly 1,200-feet. I know what you’re thinking — no big deal. During my days as a distance runner, I could have sure-footedly made short shrift of the challenge. I now see the effort and accomplishment worthy of a separate Great Blue Heron Blog Post. Watch for it. I’ll chronicle Nature along the way, from gentle beginnings and fertile toe-slope at the Lake through the steep upper trail where trees struggle to thrive on the thin soils and rocky terrain.

The CCC Stone Tower is magnificent. The CCC quarried the stone nearby. Wikipedia describes the Cheaha geology as “weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates of the Cheaha quartzite of Silurian/Devonian age… high topographically due to the erosional resistance of these rocks.” What good fortune that young Great Depression-era craftsmen performed their works of service (and architectural genius) that have stood the test of time.

My compliments to the visionaries who incorporated an observation deck for 360-degree appreciation. The second evening, witness the low-angled setting sun hitting our lower left side.

The CCC applied their masonry skills to build a reservoir that once impounded water to gravity-feed serve as the supply for the entire Park development.

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed two nights at the Bald Rock Lodge, bearing witness yet again to the CCC intrepid CCC workers.

How fitting that the Park serves as a monument to those young men who helped bring our country back from economic collapse, and then (many of them) rushing off with the onset of WWII to save our country (and the world) from the twin terrors of The Third Reich and Imperialist Japan. So nice that the Park formally pays tribute to the CCC (and the Boy Scouts).

The Park successfully and artfully integrates human and natural history into its displays and stories.

In the spirit of Bigfoot, the Park urges visitors to “Leave No Trace.” Bigfoot, like Smokey Bear, is a useful messenger for responsible Earth Stewardship.

We enjoyed Thursday dinner at the Park restaurant as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. We plan to enjoy many more sunsets and dawns at Alabama’s wonderful State Parks. This marks the fifth we have visited since semi-retiring to the Heart of Dixie. I plan to publish at least one GBH Blog Post on each Park. I plan perhaps three more from this one visit to Cheaha: Lake Cheaha to Summit Transect; Special Trees and Plants Encountered; Cheaha’s October Sky and Clouds.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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 succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • We operate most effectively and live with greater reward when we accept that we are part of something larger and more permanent. Standing on the observation deck or at Bald Rock reminds us that we are but a nodule of something far larger and infinitely greater.
  • We can all change a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. The CCC walked that talk more indelibly than anything I might accomplish through my meager words.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion. In no small way, I am daring to test my limits in drafting these Blog Posts (passion-fueled, purpose-driven, results-oriented) in an attempt to spread the gospel and practice of Earth Stewardship.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

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

Postscript Cheaha Photos from the Official State Park Archives

Quite simply, no words required — just quiet contemplation!

 

Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 24, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks (as of October 17-19 I’ve added Cheaha to my tally) and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from five of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

Original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post

My second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, offers 13 primary lessons for life, living, and enterprise. Its first lesson applies to the way I approach living: Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force. I immerse in local Nature whenever I can. Judy and I participated with a hiking group Friday morning, October 12, 2018 at Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve, right in Huntsville, on the east side of Monte Sano Mountain. We enjoyed full Nature-immersion over a gentle five miles along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… right where we live. Lesson five from that same book rings true: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where we are. Big Cove Creek and Hays Nature Preserve furnished all the attraction necessary for an early fall immersion!

I won’t offer excess commentary. My intent is to provide a broad introduction via limited text and lots of photographs. View this as a six-part glimpse into what local Nature-immersion can yield in way of beauty, awe, magic, wonder, and life fulfillment via Nature. The six parts:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

Big Cove Creek Greenway

The Greenway provides a paved surface along Big Cove Creek. We lived in Ohio along the Simon Kenton Rails to-Trail, giving us direct access to a network of ~250 miles of similarly paved surface. The greater Huntsville, Alabama area offers several paved utility rights-of-way trails that unfortunately do not constitute an interconnecting network. Yet these are wonderful wildland escapes within the otherwise urban and urbanizing landscape.

Big Cove Creek Greenway offers plenty of shade even at mid-morning. With fall at long last here in northern Alabama — we started the trek with light jackets!

Our group focused on reveling in the sights along the way. That’s Judy at center; we had stopped to view some fall flowers trail-side. I like this Friday morning group because the participants are more interested in immersion than they are in racing from point-to-point. I tend to fall behind even the slow hikers — witness all the photos I stop to take. I find few lessons from Nature in simply logging the miles. Life’s far too short to focus on the destination — my competitive distance running days are far behind me.

Deep forest and deep shade, even with some fall foliage-shedding already underway.

I could have developed a greater-depth Blog Post for only the Big Cove Creek Greenway… same for the other five segments of this week’s offering. Nature presents so much. I will fight the urge to digest and synthesize the detail. Again, I offer this Post as a broad sweep and overview.

Water Features

It’s named Big Cove Creek Greenway for a very good reason — this is Big Cove Creek. The Greenway is a paved and maintained utility (sewer line) right of way along the creek. I am grateful for creeks, wetlands, and rights-of-way, without which many urban greenways and preserves might be sprouting houses instead of providing escapes to wildland! I’m told that this limited flow is typical of September and October, our two normally driest months. This late summer and fall have certainly met our low precipitation expectations.

The stream flows lazily toward its imminent rendezvous with the Flint River, at this point less than a mile away. Then on to the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. How infinitesimally small its contribution to the Mississippi’s average 600,000 cubic feet per second flow! Yet each small tributary, converging in aggregate, enables the Mighty Mississippi to reach exalted status among North American rivers. Our little Big Cove Creek does its work admirably… and serves its purpose with aplomb… through drought and deluge!

I always enjoy a little humor tossed in to accent my Nature musings. Nothing beats good word play. How well I know — I wear people to exhaustion with puns and “grandad jokes.” No, not jokes aimed at grandads, but humor that only Pap can use to good end with our five grandkids. I like a well placed groaner!

Here at Hays Preserve the Flint River stands only a small hierarchical stream-basin increment above Big Cove Creek in terms of scale and stature, especially during this seasonal period of light flow. Still, the Flint even during this dry period is at least an order of magnitude larger than Big Cove. Regardless, who can dispute the beauty and serenity of the Flint reflecting a deep blue sky and quiet summer-green riparian forest canopy?

 

Hays Nature Preserve

The Greenway led us to the Preserve: https://www.huntsvilleal.gov/environment/green-team/nature-preserves/hays-nature-preserve/. The site offers a brief description: The Hays Nature Preserve hosts several miles of paved trails that follow the Flint River and its associated oxbow lakes through low riparian habitat, old fields, and a golf course. And that, unsurprisingly, is what we encountered.

Nice signage and an apparently flammable forest! I suppose there is some story behind the moniker. This is obviously at least second growth forest, regenerating after agricultural abandonment. Perhaps at some earlier stage of stand development the younger densely-stocked stand appeared to resemble match sticks. I’ll seek to find an answer. Back in my active forestry practice days we employed the term dog-hair thickets to describe young growth at very high numbers of stems per acre. An apt name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I commend the Preserve managers for effectively incorporating interpretive signage. I contend that we will properly steward this One Earth only if we are equipped with Nature-based wisdom and knowledge, and embrace a willingness to engage with passion and purpose in hard work on Earth’s behalf. Our actions and decisions must be informed. The Preserve is making an effort to inform visitors — my compliments!

Although I did not see a brochure describing features like the Ancient Beaver Dam, I assume some such documentation exists. This one puzzled me with the term ancient. Beaver dams are of necessity ephemeral. They come and go as habitat ebbs and flows with inundation, death of the flooded forests, flushes and over-browsing of sprouts and brush. Eventually the beavers seek a new dam site, the original recovers, and the cycle goes on along the creek/river over time. I wonder what constitutes ancient. I’m approximating abandonment of this dam as within the past century, a time period that is nothing in the life of a stream… or to a species of stream-habitat rodent. From the internet: The beaver (genus Castor) is a large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent.

 

Life Along The Way

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe come in many packages. These two 15-18-inch diameter oaks serve as towering arbors for lush poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and other vines I did not identify. The hairy vines of poison ivy eliminate any doubt about its identity — no leaves required. Interestingly, Poison ivy and wild grape, while capably of climbing fences, trees, and buildings, they seldom climb into the canopies of large trees from the ground. Instead, both grape and poison ivy, long-lived woody vines, normally accompany the seedling as it reaches vertically through sapling, pole, and mature sizes. The tree and vine grow in tandem. The vine relies upon the tree for aerial support. The tree must compete with its viney companion for sunlight and soil resources. I’m curious whether the tree takes some advantage from the relationship. Something for me to ponder and seek an answer from the internet. The more I learn about Nature… the less I really know.

Burls are common in our southern hardwood forests. This oak burl is 8-10-inches in diameter. Burls are abnormal woody tissue often in the lower four-to-ten feet of the trunk, triggered by some stressors like fungus, virus, or physical wound. I’ve heard tree pathologists compare burls to a mammalian tumor. This one grew at some eight feet above ground, and is adorned with a lovely vine necklace. My guess is that within this burl, a beautiful turned wood-bowl awaits revelation by a talented eye, skillful hands, and a sharp lathe.

Even without vines, a shagbark hickory is a sight to behold. Who could not have named this species with such fidelity to appearance!? Perhaps as simple as some well-known and easily identified critters: cardinal; black racer; rattlesnake; snapping turtle; black bear.

A thirty-inch-diameter white oak greeted us along the Flint River. Rich alluvial soils make for Mighty Oak anchorage.

We also found Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) on these floodplain soils. It’s a genera-cousin to common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which is ubiquitous along our north Alabama streams and rivers.

Hays Preserve boasts two state champion trees, including this shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa). Whether Mighty Oak or shellbark hickory, nothing beats these riverine sites.

Same for this state champion water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), which prefers wetter feet, found commonly in sloughs, oxbows (like this one), and in slack-water along streams.

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

And anywhere that life is full, death is nearby and concomitant, for there is never one without the other. Too far gone for to identify species, this tree is inexorably returning to the soil… courtesy of micro-organisms and invertebrates, and aided by birds and small mammals excavating the buffet of tasty edible grubs and insects.

Not nearly so completely decayed, this still-standing dead shagbark hickory has caloric content sufficient to satisfy the most discriminating fungi. I’ve noticed that there is a distinct threshold beyond which decaying wood no longer bears fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms). I’m sure that mycologists have carefully determined that threshold by region, type of tree, and mushroom species.

There are those readers able to identify the following portfolio of mushrooms. Remember, I am a tree guy who is re-discovering every day how little I know about so much! Here’s a six-inch diameter, fallen hickory providing nourishment to a fungus with lovely mushroom. We hiked at just the right period, encountering many fresh ‘shrooms.

This gill fungus is enjoying a downed yellow poplar. I did not spot the snail feasting on the mushroom until I viewed the photo on my computer screen! Life depends upon death and death upon life, again and again and again…

Fresh and pure.

The left fork of this twin musclewood tree (Carpinus carolinia) yielded to death while its right side remains vibrant. The left side is rich with saprophytic life. An old hollowed branch stub even serves as pot for some grass and a broad-leafed plant.

I believe (not at all certain) that the lower left organism is a crustose lichen. Lower right is a form of shelf mushroom — a conk. Both seem quite content on the dead musclewood.

Downed Sugarberry sported lots of fresh fruiting bodies, again evidencing that our timing was good.

Some day I will be better equipped with knowledge about these essential organisms that signal the interplay of life, death, and ecosystem vitality and renewability.

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

And this is the 12-foot Sugarberry snag whose crown furnished the colonized fallen pieces above.

Again, the cycle of life and death and life spins without end.

Fall Flowers

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are my ken, yet in this life-stage I term semi-retirement I am blessed to extend my seasons. I’m finding reward in paying heed to our fall flowering friends. Here’s white snakeroot (Ageratina altissma) along the Greenway. Were this open in April, I would declare it extraordinary. My enthusiasm requires a higher threshold in October. However, once I stopped to admire and photograph, I gave it high marks.

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus) is another that I would have paid scant attention to in prior years. Yet, upon closer inspection, it’s now a winner. I am becoming a believer in fall’s floral splendor. I’m looking…. seeing… and feeling. There’s much to be appreciated in the rapidly waning summer. The kind of beauty I ache to see in early spring is hidden now within plain sight. I had simply failed to notice.

Wild Sensitive Plant (Chamaecrista nicititans) continues to flower trail-side. I’ve been seeing it at various locations for some six weeks. Until I just checked my reference book to confirm Latin name, I had been calling this plant Partridge Pea, which it turns out is of the same genus, but has five uniform petals. Wild Sensitive Plant has irregular petals. I’m learning, seeking a knowledge assimilation pace greater than my information ablation rate! The battle is tightly contested.

Another species attracting our attention — Wingstem (Verbesina alternafolia).

Although a fruit and not a flower, Heart-a-Bustin (Euonymus americanus) rivals the beauty of any showy flower. What a gift to find trail-side!

Like most such beauties, the gift is best observed up close and personal.

Another fruit, this Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) seed head adds a splash of fall color. The winged moniker draws from the flanged compound leaf stem between the leaflets. See lower right photo.

We’ll end with ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), in flower locally since August, which may be another explanation for my spring ephemeral bias. Spring species flowering windows are so much shorter. Skip a weekend and the freshet of display has already headed north. Skip a couple weeks late summer and we miss nothing!

Reflections and Observations

That completes my six-part tour of Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

I close with two applicable lessons from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

And from my opening for this Blog Post, I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… it’s right where we live. What’s near you… within your reach? Are you treating yourself?

Enjoy your autumn — cherish Nature wherever you are. Nature is a smorgasbord; may you be hale and hearty in her embrace!

 

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 AL State Parks Addendum to Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Hays Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post. I will remain true to the themes of Nature as an essential life force and focus, and Nature providing multiple attractions for enhancing Life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Here’s a late August Monte Sano State Park photo of a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) in full fruit. Like the winged sumac and Heart-a-Bustin fruits along Big Cove Creek Creek and the Flint River, Spice-bush strives for beauty well beyond its spring flowers.

 

Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred my own life force and provided diverse attractions and inspiration. First, the Azalea Cascade Boardwalk at DeSoto:

 

 

And at Joe Wheeler, the State Champion chinkapin oak:

 

And this complex burl-like growth (Bigfoot!?) on a Lake Guntersville, trail-side oak:

 

And from Cheaha, a steep segment of the Lake Trail ascending 1,200-feet vertical from the lake to the summit. A trail that tested these old knees in ways far different from our paved Greenway hike along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River!

 

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us wherever we seek it. Discover Nature’s Truths near your doorstep:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 16, 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 Original Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post
I wrote this essay in June 2018, holding it until now, awaiting the right moment to publish as a Great Blue Heron Blog Post. I’m still not certain what might define the right moment. This Post is far more reflective and philosophical than others more immediate have been. It does not pertain to any particular venture I’ve made into a wild place. I don’t chronicle the emergence of a new burst of wildflowers. I’m not reporting on a first visit to one of the State Parks remaining on my three-year check-off quest. I simply reflect upon the essence of my own relationship with Nature. Allow me to excerpt from these June musings:
I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity.
So, I’ve chosen to offer these early summer thoughts at a time when the pace of my Natural ramblings (and yours, too, I suppose) have slowed with the season.
Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature (June 2018)
I belong to an interesting and provocative group that discusses (mostly by email) the integration of Nature, philosophy, religion, ethics, and Earth stewardship. The group believes that our endeavors and deliberations are best guided by the wisdom found in such human traditions as science, art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
I love an Albert Einstein quote from the group’s homepage: In every true searcher of Nature 
there is a kind of religious reverence. I’ve felt that same reverence since I first fell in love with wildness as an adolescent… a sense of passion and addiction that deepens daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Make no mistake, my relationship to Nature is both spiritual (lower case ‘s’) and Spiritual — its depth and intensity rise within me to religious.
Scholarly and Philosophical Exchanges — At A Depth Barely Within My Intellectual Reach
I’ve quietly read and appreciated exchanges over the past several months since joining the group. I’m impressed with the depth of thinking and scholarship… to the point of reluctance to weigh into discussions that are clearly beyond my scholarly ken. I am a forester (BS 1973) who later returned for a PhD in applied ecology (1987). Although spending 30+ years since in higher education, I consider myself a practicing naturalist — boots on the ground, and over time evolving to embrace what I’ll call spiritual ecology.

I like the flow of a series of recent posts, encouraging members to list and categorize practices they employ individually to further the concept and discipline of spiritual ecology. However, these deep and rather esoteric exchanges serve to remind me palpably that my own related practice is soil-rooted. I offer a participant’s late May category-structure immediately below (italics); taken directly and in-full from that person’s shared communication:

Physical/psychological

  • A daily ritual consisting of an amalgam of yoga, QiGong, and aikido
  • A weekly QiGong class
Psychological/spiritual
  • A daily meditation sitting (reflecting the influence of an eclectic group of Buddhist teachers)
  • Occasional Buddhist meditation retreat (usually at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies)
  • Focusing exchanges with several partners (a practice based on the work of Eugene Gendlin)
  • Occasional reflective journal writing
Intellectual/spiritual
  • Periodically following/occasionally contributing to [exchanges among this group]
  • Frequent listening to the weekly “On Being” interviews conducted by Krista Tippett
  • Frequent reading of novels (e.g., Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers)
  • Sporadic reading of emerging findings from physics (e.g., the work of Carlo Forelli)
  • Occasional reading of Buddhist writings (e.g., Stephen Batchelor, “After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age”)
  • Occasional reading of poetry (e.g, “Beannacht by John O’Donohue)
Spiritual
  • Occasional ritual of viewing visual images on the web that inspire wonder (e.g., Steve Axford’s photographs of fungi,  Camille Seaman’s’ photographs of “supercell” storms, or images of galaxies or other cosmic formations
  • Occasional reading of a daily prayer at Prayer Wheel
  • Occasional reading of Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
  • Very occasional ingestion of the (illegal) psychedelic drug psilocybin (which happens to be the subject of a new book by food-writer Michael Pollan
Political
  • Leadership of [a State] chapter of Elders Climate Action and participation in the national leadership team of that group
  • Participation in The Environmental Voter Project

Please don’t misinterpret; I am not making light of such an approach. I admire the intellectual sobriety, the metaphysical rapture, and the intense pursuit of spiritual ecology. I have chosen a different path. Or might I say an alternative path has chosen me.

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

Allow me to illustrate my woods and Nature orientation using my own examples from earlier in June:

Physical/psychological

  • A nineteen-mile greenway bicycle ride this morning (see photo; relax — no snakes and only rabbits, squirrels, and birds!)
  • Daily spinning bike when I can’t venture outside
  • Resistance routine at the gym 2-3 mornings per week
  • Lots of yard and garden engagement

Psychological/spiritual
  • Connecting spiritually along the trail this morning — nothing beats the elixir of breeze, birdsong, stream gurgle, and deep shade
  • Walking in the neighborhood at dawn this morning — watching distant lightning far to the WSW
  • After daybreak observing the mammatus clouds (under-lit by sunrise glow) from the storm’s anvil streaming toward us, even as the cell lost steam and energy, fully decayed before reaching us

Intellectual/spiritual
  • Posting weekly (plus or minus) essays to my website (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) — core theme: Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading
  • I posted the most recent essay this past Tuesday (May 29), offering reflections on a rehabilitated surface mine I visited in Ohio two weeks prior (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/29/idyllic-pastoral-earth-stewardship-surprise-exemplar/e )
  • Just yesterday I completed my next-to-last chapter of a book I am co-authoring with a Puget Sound-based colleague. The chapter: Nature’s Islands — Physical and Metaphorical. I’ve discovered in my semi-retirement that thinking requires far less energy and stamina than writing. I do not think to write; I write to think.
  • I read and re-read (frequently Aldo Leopold, Leonardo da Vinci, and Robert Macfarlane (among others)) to inform and lift my writing
Spiritual
  • Weekly hikes with area retired professionals — I took the photo Friday of the 30-inch diameter shagbark hickory between thunderstorms. What could be more spiritual than this magnificent organism standing tall in a second-growth forest?
  • This morning along the greenway I found a so-termed lesser denizen — a plate-size mushroom. Certainly not lesser spiritually (see photo)
  • I tend to discover the spiritual in Nature whenever I look for it. Friday’s active atmosphere rich with moisture and instability served up the visual gift of a roll cloud created by down-drafts from a mature cell (see photo)
 
Political
  • I avoid political engagement. Instead, I volunteer teach for a local university and a lifelong learning center — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I urge participants to make informed decisions whether at the ballot box or the grocery store. I do not tell them what is right.
I cannot match the intellectual and scholarly bent of my spiritualism in Nature colleagues. Perhaps my more pedestrian reflections offer a counter-point of value. Again, I am a foot-soldier for the cause of applying Nature’s Power, Wisdom, and Spirit to Life and Living.
 Reflections
I recognized long ago that I am at root a practicing forester who stumbled into higher education administration. Nature is simple, direct, and compelling. I speak Nature’s language best when immersed in full Nature-contact with my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.
Certainly, I benefit from reading the group’s rather esoteric exchanges. Yet I revel in Nature’s fundamental essence. I prefer taking my medicine straight. I know what makes my heart race… what prompts an involuntary sharp inhalation… what generates deep gratitude for life and living… what inspires me daily to be functional long before daybreak.
Again, I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity. Nearly 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed:

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.

I find satisfaction, reward, fulfillment, and inspiration in Nature. I seek to learn her lessons applicable to Life and Living, for in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous. I am a practitioner of Spiritual Ecology. I am not a Spiritual Ecology academic.
I urge my readers to lace up your boots; open your eyes and hearts; visit some level of nearby wildness; taste the sweet elixir of Nature’s Power and Wisdom! Do your part to change some small corner of this Earth for the better… through knowledge, wisdom, and hard work.
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/

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

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Spiritualism in Nature essay I penned in June. My August 28, 2018 photo captures a Natural Cathedral forest within Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park — the spirit (and Spirit) lies within. I felt the magic and joy… and sensed the complementary forces of humility and inspiration. Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred the spirit within me. First, DeSoto:

And Joe Wheeler:

And Lake Guntersville:

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe express the spirit and stir the passion that lies within us.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

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.