Fungi and Non-Flowering Plants, Mid-December 2020 at Monte Sano State Park

December 15, 2020, I hiked several trails at Monte Sano State Park with two naturalist friends, Mike Ezell and Jesse Akozbek. We sought whatever Nature might reveal to us as we trekked in the forest examining anything that caught our eye. We explored the remarkable cove forest along the Arthur Wells Memorial Trail (photo of trailhead below right from an early summer visit), one of my favorite haunts at the Park. Returning to the new Bikers Pavilion, we spent several hours circuiting the South Plateau and Fire Tower Trails, enjoying the flat and smooth surface. Reviewing my recollections and photographs, I partitioned our findings into two categories: tree form oddities and curiosities we encountered, each one with a compelling story; fungi and non-flowering plants that caught our attention. I issued the Post on oddities and curiosities the first week of January: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/01/07/tree-form-curiosities-mid-december-2020-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

This subsequent Post offers reflections and photos of the array of fungi and non-flowering plants that brightened the otherwise drab winter forest. Wikipedia offered the most descriptive and apt definition of drab:

Drab is a dull, light-brown color. It originally took its name from a fabric of the same color made of undyed, homespun wool. The word was first used in English in the mid-16th century. It probably originated from the Old French word drap, which meant cloth.

Allow me a point of clarification and emphases. After our long growing season of green and hot days, I love the drab dormant season cool weather and ecosystems at relative rest and tranquility.

Regardless of my own feelings about seasonal fluxes, our subject organisms are anything but drab!

Fungi Kingdom

Cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae) is a woody bracket fungus that is most easily identified by its habitat. This fungus grows almost exclusively on locust trees. In fact, the fungus is such a common pathogen of locusts that nearly every Black Locust tree has at least one bracket (FungusfactFriday.com). Throughout our northern Alabama forests, which commonly range from 70-100 years old and regenerated naturally from past disturbance, black locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia) is a common component. A pioneer species that exploits forest disturbance and effectively colonizes abandoned farm and pasture, the species is relatively short-lived, dropping from our forests, yielding crown space to more persistent species like oak, hickories, sweetgum, and poplar. I see dead and dying main canopy black locust within most of the stands I hike. The bracket below still clung to the trunk of a locust that had not long ago fallen to the forest floor. Moss covers what had been its top surface, the rusty underside (spore-bearing) is visible in the third image. Immediately below are the side-view and topside perspectives.

Monte Sano

 

The species is both parasitic and saprobic. One might wonder whether the pathogenic infection kills a healthy and robust live tree, or does it infect an aging, weakened locust that is nearing the end of its life. I suspect the latter. The scientific and historical records are rich with reference to this American species. I urge you to explore at your leisure online. Some tantalizing examples: black locust honey is indescribably delicious; its fence posts insurmountable; its nitrogen-fixing bacteria invaluable; wooden locust nails gave American naval ships superior strength in dealing with the British naval forces in the War of 1812!

 

We found a single small patch of enoki mushroom (Flammulina velutipes) on a downed dead branch. This is an edible, yet one that is easily confused with deadly galerina (Galerina marginata), also native to our woodlands. The two are distinguishable, but not without careful study and considerable due diligence. So, if you see a mushroom resembling this photo, don’t harvest and consume unless you are 100 percent certain. The moniker “deadly” is a stern signal to make sure you know!

Monte Sano

 

My iNaturalist struggled with identifying this wrap-around fungus. I simply refer to this coating as a mycelial mat. That is, I believe this is the vegetative structure of a fungus consuming the dead stem. Hence, it is not a mushroom (the fungal fruiting body); it is a fungus. I am once again evidencing my shallow position on the mycology learning curve.

Monte Sano

 

I am somewhat confident that this specimen below is crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), yet another saprophyte consuming dead and down stemwood. MushroomExpert.com offers an effective description of this fungi’s ecology: Saprobic on the dead wood of hardwoods, especially oaks; growing densely gregariously, often from gaps in the bark; fusing together laterally; causing a white rot of the heartwood; often serving as a host to algae; sometimes parasitized by jelly fungi; spring, summer, fall, and winter; widely distributed in North America but apparently absent in the Rocky Mountains. The same source, based in Illinois and its review applicable here as well, states that Stereum c. is the most common, ubiquitous, ever-present, lost-all-its-luster fungus among us.

Monte Sano

 

False turkey tail (Stereum ostrea) is another ubiquitous fungus. Wikipedia offered: called false turkey-tail and golden curtain crust, is a basidiomycete fungus in the genus Stereum. It is a plant pathogen and a wood decay fungus. The name ostrea, from the word ‘oyster’, describes its shape. This colony occupies all exposed surfaces of a 24-inch-plus-diameter, wind-thrown hickory that has now spent three summers prostrate. When I hiked this section of the trail mid-summer, a lush crop of summer oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius) occupied this log. The oysters had aged and withered beyond the point of harvesting for human consumption. So, both Stereum and Pleurotus are sharing the hickory feast. The oysters consume lignin, leaving the whitish cellulose behind. Thus, oysters are white rot fungi, as is Stereum. I suppose this multi-ton hickory offers plenty of wood to satisfy both fungi species. I ponder the hierarchy of life. The mighty hickory, some may conclude, is the higher order in this cycle, dominating the high canopy and, with the wind, thundering to the forest floor. Others may assume that the fungi, the more recent actor in the cycle, is preeminent owing to its function in restoring the tree to duff and organic debris. Still others who see the ultimate life members as the microorganisms decomposing the remaining tree constituents to nutrients available to plants, including the next generation of hickories. In my view, there is no hierarchy.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes monikers tell the tale and shape our impressions of a thing… or even of a person. As CEO of a small private university in Ohio, I envied another Jones heading a similar institution. Why the envy? Simple, his first name was Rock, Rock Jones. How could I not feel inferior when in the presence of Rock Jones? Perhaps it would have been my own seeming superiority had his first name been Tinker… Tinker Jones. Well, I immediately passed judgement when iNaturalist revealed the identity of this mushroom, the stinking orange oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans). It certainly stood out in orange splendor from its drab surroundings!

Monte Sano

 

MushroomExpert.com offers these words: Saprobic on the deadwood of hardwoods and conifers–often those fairly recently dead, with bark still adnate; causing a white, stringy rot; growing gregariously or in overlapping clusters; fall and spring, or over winter in warm climates; widely distributed in North America. This beautiful but often stinky mushroom is orange from head to toe, and densely hairy on the cap surface. It grows in shelf-like clusters on the deadwood of hardwoods and conifers across North America. The foul odor of Phyllotopsis nidulans is sometimes lacking, but fresh collections usually manage to work up a pretty good stink. Imagine the degree to which we form a preconception of a thing or person if the introductory bio carries the words: the foul odor is sometimes lacking, but in time manages to work up a pretty good stink. Certainly not a descriptor suitable for a eulogy.

 

Sometimes the magic in our words matches the enchantment in our woods.

A jelly fungus, witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) offers a different persona from preceding wood decay fungi: Parasitic on the mycelium of species of Peniophora (a genus of crust fungi); growing alone or in amorphous clusters on the decaying sticks and logs of oaks and other hardwoods (usually when bark is still adnate); usually appearing in spring, in temperate areas, but also appearing in summer, fall, and winter; widely distributed in North America, but possibly less common in western North America. Oh, the complexity of life and its cycles. Here’s a mushroom that parasitizes a wood decay fungus! No living organism is inedible… by some other organism.

Monte Sano

 

Another jelly fungus, amber jelly roll (Exidia recisa), resides on a dead hardwood sapling. The species is common across North America, almost always found on dead hardwood sticks and small branches on the ground or on small standing saplings like this one. The species is among the jellies considered edible by foragers, However, beware the cautions I have noted with other so-called edibles. Make sure… MAKE SURE!

Monte Sano

 

I fell flat in my attempts to identify this specimen. I referred to it simply as unknown even though it has a distinctive shape, a chambered disc-cylinder. Nearly two inches across, it clings tightly to the sawn end of an oak that had wind-blown across a trail. It reminds me of some kind of rock-clinging intertidal organism. I searched fruitlessly in hard copy and online reference sources. I eventually posted the photo on the Mushroom Identification Facebook Group, generating a positive I.D. as Hypomyces tremellicola, a saprobic fungi. However, I am unable to find an online description of its range and ecology.

Monte Sano

 

I think that I shall never see… a poem so lovely as a fungeeee. Okay, a slight twist to Joyce Kilmer’s classic. Fungi, worthy of time and attention year-round, are especially noteworthy during our blessed cool season of dormant forest drabness.

Non-Flowering Plants

 

Nothing dull or drabby about these trees, proudly wearing their trunk-carpet of American tree moss (Climacium sp.). These two trunk shots are along the sloping side of a large sinkhole along the Sinks Trail. The sinkhole is somewhat active, with slow side slope slippage away from the base. I’ve often seen such exposed roots of streamside trees where bank erosion is active. The sink micro-climate is moist, encouraging this dense lower stem moss.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The same for this stem. Nature really does abhor a vacuum. Plants (and moss is a plant, albeit non-flowering) require nutrients, moisture, anchorage, and light. Bark continuously sheds from the outside; the moss feeds on the sloughing and decaying outer bark. Additional nutrients transfer with stem flow as rain falls on the crown and is shuttled down the stem. Moisture comes from stem flow, dewy mornings, humid days and nights, and the relatively still, protected micro-climate of the sink hollow and cove forest. Anchorage is easy — the coarse bark offers a foothold for the moss. And moss doesn’t require full sunlight; in fact, it abhors the heat and dryness of direct sunlight.

Monte Sano

 

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) is common on the forest floor across northern Alabama. Reminds me of the moss carpet in Miss Suzy Squirrel, a book I read forty years ago to our kids. I love the look, feel, and comfort of our native forests, accented here and there by cushion moss..

Monte Sano

 

This is the second time you’ve seen this photo. Above I highlighted the crowded parchment mushroom. With this one I draw your attention to the tree moss matrix. I view it as an ecosystem community. Toss in the false turkey tail mushroom for some additional variety. This is a work of art that I just happened to capture with my shutter. Imagine the emptiness of walking in the woods and missing this beauty trailside at your feet.

Monte Sano

 

Likewise, you’ve seen this image previously. This time I direct your attention to the mossy top hat on this cracked cap polypore. Another piece of Nature’s artwork!

 

And here’s the moss-bedecked rock ledge at the large sink I mentioned earlier. I want to return this coming spring. I am certain that spring ephemeral flowers will be flourishing in such a moisture- and nutrient-rich site.  Nature is pure magic in multiple dimensions across the seasons.

Monte Sano

 

Enter our forests believing (knowing) that there is magic within. Look deeply enough to discover what lies hidden in plain sight. Look deliberately to actually see what awaits your discovery. And see at a depth of realization and understanding to generate feelings… in your mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit. And finally, translate those feelings to action… informed and responsible Earth stewardship. I embrace those five verbs with respect to all that I do in Nature: believe, look, see, feel, and act.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Any walk in Nature provides lessons for life and living when you employ my five core verbs:

  • Believe
  • Look
  • See
  • Feel
  • Act

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Tree Form Curiosities Mid-December 2020 at Monte Sano State Park

December 15, 2020, I hiked several trails at Monte Sano State Park with two naturalist friends, Mike Ezell and Jesse Akozbek. We sought whatever Nature might reveal to us as we trekked in the forest examining everything natural that caught our eye. That’s me below with a 34-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the remarkable cove forest along the Arthur Wells Memorial Trail, one of my favorite haunts at the Park. No tree form oddities with this magnificent specimen! We also explored intersecting sections of the Sinks and Keith Trails.

Monte Sano

 

Returning to the new Bikers Pavilion, we spent several hours circuiting the South Plateau and Fire Tower Trails, enjoying the flat and smooth surface. Rather than present a sequential catalog of what we found of interest, I give you some of the tree form oddities and curiosities we encountered, each one with a compelling story.

Monte Sano

 

Decades ago this white oak (Quercus alba) suffered a blow (falling large branch or tree) that bent and nearly broke it to 90-degrees about six feet above the ground. Mike is leaning against what was then the bent-over trunk. He’s holding at the point where the damaged stem broke clean or suffered damage sufficient to encourage a dormant bud to take over the terminal growth, sending a shoot vertical, now reaching into the main canopy. We are left with a zig at five feet, a four-foot horizontal zag, and a re-zig to vertical (the terms are my own; I do not recall any formal forestry words of description!). I have heard fellow woods explorers refer to such trees as Indian Marker Trees, suggesting that Native Americans long ago bent the then-sapling to direct others to something of importance. However, based upon land use history and my own experience, I peg this stand at roughly 75-95 years old. The callousing stub Mike is holding was probably no more than four inches in diameter at the time of the causal incident, leading me to conclude that the injury occurred no more than 50 years ago. Also, consider that in 1970 (50 years ago) there had been no trail-blazing Indians hunting and gathering on this mountain for more than a century.

Monte Sano Monte Sano

 

Indian Marker Tree makes a nice story, but Nature tells her own tales. Trees falling on other trees is routine. Those crushed, in full or partially, have honed the craft of recovering from injury. This then young white oak was genetically hard-wired to respond, recover, and reach reproductive age. The two photos below complete the 360-degree view.

 

I cannot speculate on what agent created this grotesque protuberance 20 feet up the trunk of a white oak. An old injury? Branch stubs from many years ago still callousing over long after the wound had healed? Antlered branches tufting atop the growth trigger my impulse to find a face, identify a creature, or offer a name.

 

Perhaps with the inspiration of a rum-fortified New Years Eve eggnog, I could discern the two eyes of the long-necked creature facing down (below left)… or the eyes and snout of the dog-face above it (below right). I suppose no future-naturalist youngster tires of seeing shapes and stories with summer cumulus. I  continue the cloud-fascination with tree form curiosities well into the youth of my late 60s!

Monte Sano

 

It’s funny how perspective alters our perception of these tree form oddities. I photographed this same peculiar growth from 180-degrees. The result is as different as night and day. Because I do not apply any kind of age-appropriate warnings or cautions to my Posts, I offer this positionally-adjusted image without comment. I leave any interpretation to the discerning, mature reader.

Monte Sano

 

Okay, let’s quickly move to the next image lest I offend anyone… or embarrass myself even more! This eight-inch diameter sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), not long dead, suffered a blow years ago that bent it 180-degrees. Persevering, the tree responded by sending a shoot skyward.  It fought a valiant battle, its conducting tissue maintaining some level of flow between crown and roots. I’ll term this a pump-handle tree, resembling its moniker… and continuing for years after injury to pump water and nutrients up and bring manufactured carbohydrates down to its roots.

Monte Sano

 

This corkscrew loblolly pine suffered a significant physical insult long ago, breaking its terminal stem and transferring the vertical growth to the side branch on our left. The damaged branch on our right managed to survive… corkscrewing its way upward and outward. Importantly, the tree’s hard wiring enabled it to respond and live competitively into the cone-producing years with its head still in the main canopy.

Monte Sano

 

I have often said in these Posts that I have never had a truly original thought. Others before me noticed and recorded observations and conclusions that I have laboriously rediscovered. Five hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci commented on Nature’s ways and her own laws:

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.

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

Nature never breaks her own laws.

Perhaps da Vinci had pondered tree form oddities and curiosities?

Not all unusual tree shapes derive from response to injury. Some species find competitive advantage in growing other than vertically. Farkleberry (Vaccinium aboreum) is the only tree-form member of the blueberry genus. Tree form stretches the term. I view farkleberry as a taller bush, its branches layered and contorted, gnarled and twisting. I conjecture that its comparative advantage as an understory inhabitant is its ability to capture as much of the crown-penetrating sun flecks as possible. And to live long and prosper without direct full sun. It has no need to grow scores of feet tall or achieve a girth measured in feet. Like all living organisms, it needs only enough to assure a next generation, to sustain the species.

Monte Sano

 

Farkleberry (also called sparkleberry) knows not to live beyond its means. Will we humans realize before its too late the wisdom inherent in this tree-form blueberry?

Monte Sano

 

Will we open our eyes to Nature’s wisdom? Leonardo’s revelation is worthy of repeat:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Leonardo da Vinci learned lessons from Nature applicable to us 500 years hence:

  • Nature is the source of all true knowledge
  • She has her own logic, her own laws
  • She has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Destination: King’s Chair, Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest State Park at approximately 10,000 acres. I took this entrance sign photo on a prior visit, returning November 11, 2020 to hike the North Trail to Kings Chair, an overlook worthy of the four-mile round trip.

 

North Trailhead to King’s Chair

 

I often hike wildness alone, seldom finding anyone who tolerates my methodical Nature-explorations. I prefer walking IN Nature, generally disdaining trekking THROUGH the forest just to reach an endpoint. For me the journey is the preferred destination. This trip, three like-minded individuals shared the hike with me. Lauren Muncher (center) is Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist. This was her home turf — she knows her Nature-stuff! Mike Ezell (red headband) is Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus. I value Mike’s friendship and consider him my go-to guy for species identification and north Alabama shared hikes. That’s Brent Cotton wearing the hat. Brent is with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Brent had invited me to speak the next day to the Vestavia Hills Sunrise Rotary Club. My topic: Highlighting the Nature of Alabama’s State Parks. I combined the Rotary engagement trip with the Oak Mountain hike.

The morning rain quit just a half-hour before we parked at the trailhead. Note the puddles; the rain did not restart until we were back in our vehicle several hours later. Good fortune, good planning, or, more likely, dumb luck!

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Park trail signage is superb. I had not previously seen the Park System’s new vertical signposts describing surface, steepness, difficulty, typical grade, maximum grade, typical cross slope, tread width, intended use (hike, bike, horse, ORV), and other characterizations.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

We encountered no surprises with respect to trail conditions.

Tropical Storm Zeta’s Signature

 

Retaining tropical storm strength, Zeta raced across central Alabama (bullseye Oak Mountain!) October 28, 2020. I measured ~3.5-inches of rain at my home along the northern tier of Alabama counties, breezy but shy of TS-force winds, and no damage reported. My hiking companions pose below against a greater than two-foot diameter chestnut oak near the ridgeline. We saw hundreds of downed trees, nearly all toppled or broken by winds from the south and southeast. At one point late that late October evening the Birmingham area had a quarter-million customers without power.

Oak Mountain

 

This oak likewise fell uprooted, scarring a Virginia pine trunk 60-feet downwind. The fallen oaks leave large canopy vacancies, a process timeless and ageless. Forests know disturbance… and will respond accordingly. Understory vegetation (woody perennials and seedlings) will exploit the sunlight that next spring will fuel the regrowth. Adjacent main canopy occupants will muscle-up and reach into the opening. Nothing in Nature is static. Tropical systems (and tornadoes) do not destroy forests… instead, they afford opportunities for renewal.

Oak Mountain

 

Sometimes a wind-throw reveals secrets. This nearly three-foot diameter American beech not far from the trailhead shattered at its stump. Behold its woody rind protecting and hiding a perfectly hollow core. Lauren kindly accommodated my request that she add some measure of scale to the cut section! Lauren is planning to have crews transport the six-foot cylinders to the playground. I am in awe that the decay fungus and tree stand-off persisted for many decades, maintaining an equilibrium between decay deterioration and annual wood accretion… until Zeta broke the tie. I have said hundreds of times that every parcel of land and even every tree holds a compelling story within. This single beech tree could fill a volume with its tale. What was the wound many years ago that opened the then young stem to fungal infection? What manner of invertebrate and diverse animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other critters) found refuge and cover within the hollow?

Oak Mountain

 

Like the beech, these two Virginia pines snapped near ground level, the wood literally shattering. I imagined a forest-located microphone anchored as Zeta powered across central Alabama. Wind howling; trees creaking; cannon-fire trunks breaking; branches falling to the ground; trunks thundering, slamming to earth; rain pounding. All sounds terrifying to us that for eons have resounded untold times through whatever forests have come and gone. Forests know disturbance.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Virginia pine holds its cones over many seasons., evident with these two crowns brought to ground level by Zeta. Virginia pine is a pioneer species, colonizing old fields, burned over areas, and large scale blowdowns. The single-tree canopy openings created by Zeta are too small for the pine to replace itself. Hardwoods will prevail, many of them already in-place in the understory, awaiting just such opportunities. We saw lots of dead Virginia pine, mortality occurring prior to Zeta over the preceding ten or more years. I commented during our ascent that the stands dominated by Virginia pine had perhaps originated when previous landowners abandoned poor quality pasture.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could have devoted an entire Post to Zeta and its lessons about disturbance and renewal. Instead, let’s shift to the undamaged forest condition.

Undamaged Forest and the Annual Signature of Autumn

 

I estimated that, as spectacular as the wind damage was, fewer than five of every 100 main canopy occupants suffered. The oak bearing the Shackleford Overlook sign stands tall and secure. Fall yellows dominate the slope and ridge beyond. A tint of orange here and there. We witnessed the peak of central Alabama hardwood forest fall color. I am careful not to gauge my appreciation and marvel-level relative to the unsurpassed (albeit brief) magic of New England’s northern hardwood forest color explosion. I relish the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of our southern forest autumns. My appreciation is strengthened by the knowledge that our long hot summer is behind us. The wind would have had a hard time toppling the lower right chestnut oak securely sheltered by the sandstone boulders around it.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

This stand of oaks is on the lee side of a large outcrop. These individuals, too, enjoyed protection from the south-southeast gale.

Oak Mountain

 

As we crested the ridge beyond the outcrop, we had gained 400-feet elevation from the trailhead to King’s Chair, a plateau rim at about 1,150 feet.

What a View!

 

Our moderate climb proved well worth the effort! Lauren called this first overlook Queen’s Chair, just south of our intended destination. Within just a few minutes from the Birmingham area, wildness stretched into the distance behind our crew. Local newspapers recently reported that some 1,600 adjacent forested acres (much of it included in this view) will be added to the Park. I look forward to exploring new and extended trails.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few minutes later we arrived at King’s Chair. Our view spanned from due south (below left) to ENE (below right). Had the visibility been better, Mt Cheaha, Alabama’s highest point (2,407-feet) would have appeared center-horizon in the second photo.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Lest you doubt whether I summited, see below left, a photo that Mike snapped with my camera. That’s Belcher Lake off-property (below right; lower right side of photo). Beyond the evident cleared right-of-way leading from the lake, we saw light poles of the Chelsea High School athletic fields, and the town water tower (off-photo to the right). Regardless, wildness is the dominant landscape feature. Alabama has 23 million acres of forestland… 70.6 percent of the state’s 31 million acre area. Only Vermont (77.8 percent); West Virginia (79); New Hampshire (84.3); and Maine (89.5) are more heavily forested.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Forests prevail across our state from the Gulf coast to the northern tier of counties. Not a bad place for an old forester to retire!

Some Additional Observations

 

We paused on our return to the trailhead at a colorful sugar maple… mostly because we needed a break!

Oak Mountain

 

I photographed this young longleaf pine that was one of the few individuals we saw indicating that the species could be part of the next forest generation. However, without some intentional silvicultural treatments (prescribed fire among them), longleaf will not persist on this ridge.

Oak Mountain

 

Moss- and lichen-covered rocks add elegance to what would otherwise be unglamorous. The old axiom that Nature abhors a vacuum is evident. Any surface (rock, dead branch, tree trunk) is a home for some life form.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Moss created a work of fine art on this exposed dead tree root.

Oak Mountain

 

And same for the lichen and fungi decorating this dead branch. As I’ve often observed, Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight.

Oak Mountain

 

I relish any chance to enjoy Nature’s manifold gifts, whether here in Alabama or wherever my travels take me.

Final Reflections

 

In retirement, my travels allow tremendous opportunities (and time) for immersing in wildness. I recall prior business trips (to exotic places like Japan and China) that left me hungry and aching for even a few hours to explore and learn Nature, luxuries not afforded by the press then of time and business. Although I ostensibly ventured to the Birmingham area to speak at the November 12 Rotary meeting, my real and pressing business was to experience more of Oak Mountain State Park’s wildness… and to share with the Rotarians my message of informed and responsible Earth stewardship. And to extoll the virtues of our Alabama State Park System. Immediately below is my retirement business attire.

Oak Mountain

 

Occasionally for events like speaking with the Rotarians, I will don a sports coat, but rarely sport a tie. I jumped at the chance to once again share my message. I am grateful that Brent invited me.

 

I remind all readers that my retirement mission is: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. If you read these words, don’t hesitate to call upon me for speaking engagements: steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

A First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Upland Forest

This is the second of two Posts from my October 14, 2020 hike of the Ridge Loop Trail at Lake Lurleen State Park. The first of the two focused on the mesic lower slope forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/19/a-first-visit-to-alabamas-lake-lurleen-state-park-moist-lower-slope-forest/

I direct this Post to the more xeric upland forest half of the loop.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The upland forest (below) is more open, composed heavily of chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), noticeably shorter than the predominantly yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and red oak on the lower slopes. Convex-shaped upper slopes, especially those facing south and west, simply cannot support dense stands of towering trees. Soils are more shallow, less fertile, and drier. Crown heat often rises above a threshold for stomates to remain open, shutting the photosynthesis operation down often late morning through mid-afternoon. Were I to be reborn as a tree, my preference is to be a red oak on a lower slope cove site, deeply concave, facing to the northeast.

Lake Lurleen

 

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) competes effectively and grows well on the upland sites. Fire-dependent, longleaf-based ecosystems have adapted over the eons to the harsher environment and occasional natural fires that sweep the more xeric uplands. I admire this species that once dominated some 90 million acres here in the southeastern US, and is now relegated to fewer than five million acres. Public land managers are implementing intentional management practices on state and federal lands, and assisting private landowners (individuals and forest industry) to restore the longleaf forests over much of its natural range. Although the species occurs in a wide variety of upland and flatwood sites, it is common on sandy, infertile, well-drained soils, mostly below 660 feet elevation (USDA). I appreciate longleaf pine’s ability to make the best of poor sites, producing straight thick boles on relatively infertile sites. Thick pines needles covered the trail under the longleaf pine canopy, softening our steps and muting our footfalls.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

I include this photo to highlight the very effective signage the Park employs… and to evidence that I made it the the trail’s midway point. Note the open understory, widely-spaced overstory, and patchy sunlight penetrating to the forest floor.

Lake Lurleen

 

We encountered many individuals and a thicket or two of farkleberry (also known as sparkleberry), the only tree-form species of its genus (Vaccinium arboreum). From Texas A&M University online Native Plant Database: Farkleberry is a small, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved tree or large shrub found on acid, sandy, well-drained soils in fields, clearings, open mixed forests, dry hillsides and wet bottomlands in east Texas west to the Bastrop area. It has small, bell-shaped, drooping white or pinkish flowers in loose racemes followed by small, black inedible fruit that matures in the fall. The leathery, glossy green leaves turn rich red in autumn. I have yet to run across farkleberry other than on similarly impoverished sites. Nevertheless, I appreciate its tenacity, its courage in claiming such sites as its preferred domain, and its rugged toughness of stem-wood. No need to attempt walking through a stand of sparkleberry…it does not yield to casual passers-through! 

Lake Lurleen

 

Whether on deep, moist, rich site or shallow upland, forest life and death dance a steady waltz. The pine stem (below) toppled 5-10 years ago, judging from its state of decomposition. The downed trunk supports an algae-green coat. Note once again the sparse forest… and considerable sunlight reaching the forest floor. The stand is sparsely stocked. The site is relatively dry and infertile, yet the algae is indifferent, drawing what it needs to flourish.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nearby I photographed this foot-tall black oak (Quercus velutina), a member of the red oak group. I almost referred to this individual as a seedling. Very likely it is not a seedling in the truest sense of having sprouted from an acorn within the recent 2-5 years. Instead, under a full canopy with limited sunlight infiltration, this individual may have persisted for a decade, perhaps several. Black oak’s successful renewal relies upon such advanced regeneration sinking roots, storing carbohydrates, and awaiting disturbance, which for many of our oaks could even be a fire that would burn the leafy top and reduce overstory density enough to bring sunlight to the forest floor. Robust roots and adventitious buds, just below the soil surface, where it is safe from fire, respond with vigorous new growth.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience. Necessary capabilities are honed through untold generations of adaptation. Resilience requires a manifold toolkit. Quite simply, a species occupying a somewhat xeric, fire prone ridgeline must have exigent measures at-hand to survive and capitalize on periodic fires.

Ghost Pipes

 

The gardeningknowhow.com website offers an easy description for a plant that has fascinated me for at least a half-century: For obvious reasons, Indian pipe is also known as “ghost plant” – or sometimes “corpse plant.” Although there is not an Indian pipe fungus, Indian pipe is a parasitic plant that survives by borrowing nutrients from certain fungi, trees and decaying plant matter. This complicated, mutually beneficial process allows the plant to survive. For as long as I can remember I have known this odd plant as Indian ghost-pipe. Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has no need for true leaves, complete with chlorophyll. It’s small white scales are a residual derivative of its long-ago forbearers that were not parasitic. This was the first time I’ve seen ghost plant in 2020, yet it is widespread enough that I see it frequently every fall across my forest wanderings.

Lake Lurleen

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

We found indisputable evidence that these rocky upland soils are shallow, in this case 12-15-inches deep. This oak toppled downhill. I recall from my doctoral research observations and literature review that most trees (some 90 percent) fall downhill. At least two reasons:

  • The physical strength of the root anchorage on the downhill side is strongest
  • The crown is heavier on the downhill side — the canopy extends further (more branches; more weight) into the down-side canopy opening

Tree-throw is a not so-subtle act of erosion, slowly and inexorably over time, tree by tree, delivering soil in episodic violent crashes from up-slope to down. Imagine a million years of such action…a million Earth-sun circuits is nothing to Nature. Nor are the ancient alpine Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

From this point on I’ve slipped back into the lower slope forest. I’m intrigued by tree form oddities. The hollowed sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) stump is trailside near our end point. That the stump continues to grow callous tissue indicates that its wood yet lives. Its trunk fell many years ago away from the camera. The union with its roots enabled the fallen stem to sprout buds and branches, one of which is now the 14-inch diameter trunk about 15 feet beyond. That tree reaches into the main canopy. Nature is prepared for contingencies. Had the individual not had the ability to respond with dormant buds and send a new shoot vertically its genetic line may have abruptly ended. Instead the 14-inch surviving tree is dropping seeds… and may continue to do so for many decades.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

A two-foot diameter yellow poplar tells a related tale. Early in this poplar’s life another tree crashed down upon it, See the 45-degree orientation of its lower trunk, and the abrupt terminal to the right, where the original stem broke, ending life from that point to whatever stem extended beyond. Damaged but far from destroyed, the poplar devoted its energy and life to a new shoot, now the dominant canopied yellow poplar. Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life.

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ve published enough of these Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts that occasionally I can’t resist the temptation to repeat something. Now I’m committing a very obvious repetition. I’m a sucker for sourwood… to the point that here is a photo I placed in last month’s first Lake Lurleen State Park Post. And here is the verbatim text: Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range. Sourwood is special, perhaps because I’ve always been anything but a free spirit!

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ll drop you back at Lake Lurleen, a place to ponder and reflect. Find a tree upon which to lean. Contemplate what John Muir wrote a century ago about the Nature of our Earth:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

Lake Lurleen

 

Without a doubt, Lake Lurleen State Park offers much that I will yet again explore. So many mysteries and secrets within reach…hidden in plain sight.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

My mid-October circuit of Lake Lurleen State Park’s Ridge Loop Trail revealed two Nature-Truths:

  • Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life
  • Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksLake Lurleen

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Moist Lower Slope Forest

I admit to an addiction to Alabama’s 21 State Parks. I added Lake Lurleen State Park to my checked-off list October 15, 2020, hiking the four-mile Ridge Loop Trail with Park Manager Dee White. Encompassing 1,625 acres, the Park is about nine miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, home to the Crimson Tide.

Lake Lurleen

 

The 250-acre man-made lake presents an open invitation upon entry to the Park. From the Lake Lurleen website: The main attraction at the park is the 250-acre Lake Lurleen. The lake measures nearly one and a half miles in length, one-half mile wide, and at its deepest is 48 feet. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie so anglers are sure to reel in a nice-sized catch. Boat-launch areas and ample pier and bank fishing are available.

Lake Lurleen

 

The Park offers 23 miles of maintained multi-use trails winding across forested hillsides and around the lakeshore. That’s Dee below left beside the trail directory signpost, and a map of the trail system below right.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Trails are well-maintained and trail signage excellent, below marking both the Ridge Loop beginning and its end.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

At first blush I questioned the purpose of the two caution signs below. However, as I wondered, a mountain biker slipped past. The signs are for bikers, not this old trail-trekker.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Lower Slope Forest Vegetation

 

I viewed the Loop Trail as a tale of two forest types, each one accounting for roughly half the four-mile distance. We’ll cover the lower slopes with this first Lake Lurleen Blog Post. A subsequent Post will address the drier upland forest type. Mixed oaks and yellow poplar, straight and tall, dominated the moist sheltered hollow we entered at the outset. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) occupied the understory from ground to 12-15-feet, much like rhododendron and laurel grows in dense thickets on similar slope positions in the Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range.

Lake Lurleen

 

Two other understory shrubs appeared within these lower slope forests, neither reaching much beyond six feet: Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata; below left) and Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana; below right). Winterberry holly ranges widely in the eastern US from Florida to Nova Scotia; the buckthorn grows only as far north as Pennsylvania.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) likewise appeared across these more mesic sites, growing into the lower mid-canopy to 15-20 feet. This southeastern US species has the largest simple leaf (and flower) of any native North American tree. A girl scout troop posted hand-printed and painted interpretive signs near the Ridge Loop Trail end, including this one below right. The signs are helpful, accurate, and charming.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The flowering dogwood sign is for the tree just to the right and off-camera except for its base.

Lake Lurleen

 

Only 19 more miles of Lake Lurleen State Park trails to explore on future visits. The four-mile loop trail amounts to an easy stroll, one we could have covered far more rapidly had we chosen to walk through the forest… rather than within the diverse sylvan cover. That’s me below at trail’s end, offering evidence that I visited the Park.

Lake Lurleen

 

As I indicated earlier in this Post, I will develop a second photo-essay chronicling our trek through the more xeric upland portions of the Ridge Loop Trail.

An Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting (reference to the Foundation under the heading below) the next day brought me to Lake Lurleen State Park. Several of us enjoyed a campfire the evening after my Ridge Loop hike. I’ll call this the Nature of friendship and shared service to a good cause.

Lake Lurleen

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksLake Lurleen

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Wonder Below Ground: Cathedral Caverns State Park

July 10, 2020, Judy and I took our two Alabama grandsons (Jack, 12, and Sam, 6) to Cathedral Caverns State Park. No hiking the forest trails for this State Park visit. There are trails there that I’ll save for a subsequent trip.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I won’t devote a lot of text to this Post. The Caverns offer a different kind of Nature from my general forest-oriented photo-essays. I include this Post as a sidebar evidencing that my normal forest ecosystem immersions stand as a rather narrow slice of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. A secondary point I wish to make is that Alabama’s State Parks offer variety beyond imagination. Cathedral Caverns is a world-class below-ground treasure. Also consider the incredible above-ground diversity as I’ve demonstrated from Gulf State Park to Cheaha, Monte Sano, and Joe Wheeler. I still have so much to explore and discover in the forests across the Alabama State Parks system.

Cathedral Caverns

 

So, let’s consider this a brief break from my forest wanderings. Besides, we cherished the cool temperatures within Cathedral Caverns on a tough mid-summer afternoon. The cavern is massive. I gazed back at the entrance and saw the ghosts and heard the echoes of ten thousand years of Native Americans finding shelter within the mouth.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I had no idea that my iPhone-11 would capture the cavern images so well. I won’t burden the reader with extensive (endless) explanations. Suffice it to say the caverns offer incredible sights.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The cavern derives its name from the soaring columns, massive sanctuary vaults, and towering pipe-organ structures. I felt sacred connections to the place and to the adventurous souls who entered this silent world for many centuries.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I can’t recall what moniker our tour guide gave to this formation. It strikes me as a parapet, an elevated balcony with low walls overlooking the trail below.

Cathedral Caverns

 

This thin column reaches from ceiling to cavern floor. A bearded guard stands with broad shoulders to the right side of the photo.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Our tour guide referred to this 15-foot-high flowstone as The Waterfall, an apt moniker.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Here’s another cathedral room, with people and the lighted walkway as an indication of scale.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The grandsons and I sensed beings within the cave, drawing strength we presumed from its perpetual darkness (absent the artificial lighting). Although we did not actually see The Grinch (or even fathom why he might be present), there is no doubt that we saw his shadow, peering from behind the massive column.

Cathedral Caverns

 

We just can’t seem to escape Covid-19 reminders. This Park mannequin-guide stood (literally and symbolically) to remind us to maintain social distancing and wear a mask otherwise.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I recommend Cathedral State Park to all who pass through north Alabama. It’s a natural wonder, a great escape from the heat, and another splendid example of The Nature of North Alabama!

Cathedral Caverns

 

As I indicated above, I have yet to explore the Park’s above-ground woodland trails. I know I’ll discover at least a little magic and wonder there.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

We occupy a dynamic planet rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, both living and non-living:

Nature’s wonder is where we seek it… whether along a Gulf coastal estuary, atop Cheaha Mountain, or hidden deep underground.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksCathedral Caverns

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Four-Year Tornado Forest Recovery at Monte Sano State Park

November 29, 2016, a weak tornado (EF-0; winds 40-72 mph or EF-1; 73-112 mph) touched down briefly at the northern bluff-edge of Monte Sano State Park’s North Plateau Trail. I hiked the trail circuit August 27, 2020 to assess forest healing and recovery after nearly four full growing seasons since the November storm. I include in this Post State Park file photos taken November 30, 2016 and my own photographs from March 22, 2018 (one growing season later), and from my recent examination. I am never surprised to see how well and rapidly Nature moves beyond disturbance, quickly filling voids to assure that the ecosystem closes ranks, recaptures site resources, and reestablishes equilibrium (such as it is in our dynamic forests). I’ve said time and again that nothing in Nature is static. Disturbance is one of Nature’s constants. The miracles of rebirth and recovery are honed by millennia of practice. The genotypes and ecosystem components that adapt to disturbance, whether subtle or catastrophic, are the ones that persevere. This bluff-side oak-hickory forest obviously knows the drill.

Monte Sano SP

 

Taken November 30, 2016, the day after the tornado, this Park file photo shows the narrow strip of wind-thrown forest. Many stems are uprooted while others snapped near the ground. Most seem to have fallen to the east.

Monte Sano SP

 

Also from the Park files, this view is a 180-degree panorama. The view east is on the right; west on the left. Some trees remain leaning, not thrown completely to the ground. Note that the trail is at the plateau edge.

Monte Sano SP

 

Although I accept the Park staff assertion that the storm had been verified as a tornado, I could not rule out, from my own observations, that the cause could be attributable to straight-line winds, a thunderstorm microburst that can be quite damaging. The National Weather Service describes microbursts:

It all starts with the development of a thunderstorm and the water droplets/hailstones being suspended within the updraft.  Sometimes an updraft is so strong it suspends large amounts of these droplets and hailstones in the upper portions of the thunderstorm. There are many factors that can lead to evaporational cooling (sinking air) and therefore weakening of the updraft. Once this occurs, it is no longer capable of holding the large core of rain/hail up in the thunderstorm. As a result, the core plummets to the ground. As it hits the ground it spreads out in all directions. The location in which the microburst first hits the ground experiences the highest winds and greatest damage. Wind speeds in microbursts can reach up to 100 mph, or even higher, which is equivalent to an EF-1 tornado! Winds this high can cause major damage to home and other structures.

So, whether a weak tornado or a localized microburst, the storm exacted forest damage along a narrow one-quarter-mile stretch parallel to the bluff edge, just 100 to 200 feet north of the campground. Talk about luck of the draw! I wondered how many people occupied the campground that evening… and how many would have suffered dire consequences had the transect shifted just a short distance southward. Here again, is a Park file photo, this one from an occupied campsite.

Monte Sano SP

 

March 22, 2018 Photos

I first hiked the North Plateau Trail March 22, 2018, just a couple of months after establishing permanent residency in nearby Madison, Alabama. I did not know in advance that such a storm had impacted the Park just 16 months (one growing season) prior. Park crews had cleared the trail. I recognized the storm damage immediately, still raw…with healing not yet apparent. Sure, I saw limited evidence of seasonally-dead herbaceous vegetation and some woody sprouting that had begun to fill the void, but my overwhelming impression was of a raw wound.

Here’s the view to the west showing windthrow mounds and downed logs. The campground is just out of view to the left. The larger trees are down; ragged mid-canopy residuals remain.

 

This view is downhill through the foreground rubble. The undamaged forest stands several hundred feet below the narrow storm path.

Monte Sano SP

 

Note that debris on the ground is clearly visible, unlike what I could see in late August three growing seasons later.

Four Growing Seasons of Healing

 

August 27, 2020 I once again circuited the North Plateau Trail. What a difference three additional growing seasons make! Nothing raw about Nature’s response to disturbance. A nearly solid wall of green obscured all ground debris (below left). Remnant mid-canopy trees are flush with foliage expanding into the full sunshine. The standing snag of a tornado-destroyed oak appears only through the view-window rapidly closing (below right).

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano

 

One of the remnant trees (mid-opening below left) appears as a green column, having sprouted shoots from adventitious buds responding to full sunlight along its entire height. A Chinese princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), an escaped ornamental landscape species from central and western China, is growing explosively in the disturbed area (below right).

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano

 

This species is a dreaded competitor. From the EcosystemGardening website:

Paulownia Trees are highly invasive and are destroying native ecosystems from Maine to Florida and Texas, as well as the Pacific Northwest. However, open almost any gardening magazine and you’ll find adds touting this tree as an “amazing, fast-growing, shade tree.” It is this fast-growing nature that is causing so many problems for native ecosystems. Growing up to 15 feet in a single year, this invasive tree shades out and out-competes native plant communities for resources such as water and nutrients. It thrives in disturbed soils, is drought and pollution tolerant, and easily takes over riparian areas. Every spring when it blooms, I am dismayed at how many more of these trees have gained a foothold along the wooded stream as I drive through my neighborhood. It can reproduce from seed or root sprouts, which grow very quickly. A single tree can produce up to 20 million seeds each year, which are easily dispersed by wind and water. Even though the light purple blooms are quite pretty, I have learned to hate the sight of them.

Perhaps fodder for a new horror movie” Unleashed by Tornadic Winds… The Evil Princess Tree!

I’ll end with a few more photographs with little explanation. Below left another opening rapidly filling, framed by a snag and remnants. Looking east, the view below right shows the undamaged stand to the right of the trail and a line of untouched trees along the path’s north edge. Nature dances along narrow lines separating devastation from untouched.

Monte SanoMonte Sano SP

 

Below left depicts the place north of the trail when the beast began touching down. From there eastward it left its mark. Below right, just 50-feet westward, the forest is mostly intact.

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano SP

 

Nearby, just a single top broken hints at the storm that just 200 feet away nearly leveled that narrow strip of forest.

Monte Sano SP

 

All of us in northern Alabama know that tornadoes are a significant thread (and threat!) in our weather fabric. We are aware that tornadoes range from mild (this November 2016 storm as an example) to catastrophic. An EF-3 (maximum is EF-5) struck the Joe Wheeler State Park campground last winter (December 19, 2019; below). Damaging, yes, but not catastrophic; the foreground disturbance is from debris clearing with heavy equipment. I recall flying in a private plane in the late 1990s over the track of an EF-5 tornado on the west side of Birmingham. The one-half-mile-wide swath left bare concrete pads where houses once stood. Even lawns had been wind-scraped to bare brown soil. The fury of Nature unleashed! Devastation! Horror beyond words for those who bore its brute forest.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

The November 2016 winds along the northern bluff merely hinted that in the face of Nature’s absolute power we mere humans are nothing.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

My late August trek along the narrow track of a weak tornado spurred several observations:

  • Nature’s power and fury equilibrate with her beauty and inspiration
  • Nothing in Nature is static
  • Nature can heal even the worst of her wounds

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano SP

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Multi-Use Trail at Joe Wheeler State Park

Bear with me as I repeat some of the introductory paragraph from my August 12, 2020 Post about Nature reclaiming an 80-year-abandoned recreation area on the Joe Wheeler State Park bluffs above Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/12/long-abandoned-recreation-area-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/ July 7, 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I hiked the Park’s 2.5-mile Multi-Use Trail. I focused that prior Post on the ruins of the recreation area that had operated during the heyday of Wheeler Dam construction when thousands of workers lived nearby. I take a different tack with this Post.

Trailhead and Riparian Forest

We parked near the trailhead sign (below left), hiked the sweeping loop-trail counter-clockwise, taking us first through riparian forest, briefly along the lake shore (below right), then rising onto the bluffs and the abandoned recreation site. I focus this Post on the forest, tree oddities, fungi, and flowers we encountered as we made our way to and beyond the recreation area ruins.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The riparian and lower-slope trail sections crossed land cutover during the same period when TVA crews were clearing towns, homes, churches, other structures, fences, and forests from below the projected high water shoreline for the designed impoundments behind both Wilson and Joe Wheeler Dams. On what is now State Park lands, forests regenerated naturally (we saw no evidence of planted stands) from the cutover forests and from cropland or pasture abandoned at the same time… 80+ years ago. Large grapevines (below) drape from high in the canopy. Try to visualize this rich riparian area in the 1930s as recently cutover… dense with stump sprouts (trees and grapevines), seedlings, woody shrubs, blackberries, and herbaceous growth, nearly impenetrable. Picture ten years later the better-positioned, faster growing individual saplings muscling the competition, reaching skyward, overwhelming the slower growing individuals and species. By age fifteen most of the herbaceous vegetation and briers are disappearing from the shaded understory. The grapevines grow tenaciously, step by step and year to year, with the trees ascending to dominance. Many people believe mistakenly that grapevines climb our forest trees, winding and grasping from the forest floor lifting along the trunk into the canopy, finding light where they can. Instead, the vines ascend with the tree, always within the treetops whether the tree is a twenty-foot sapling at age 15 or a mature 110-foot, 80-year-old dominant oak.

Joe Wheeler

 

Aerial roots (see below) hang from a crook in the vine where my hand rests above. I recognized these ever-ready roots immediately, understanding from my long-ago forestry education that such adaptations await some potential stress or force of nature that may not be apparent. Leonardo da Vinci offered explanation for any such just-in-case physical attribute:

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

A Mississippi State Cooperative Extension online reference sheds some light and a shade of uncertainty to these intriguing protuberances: Aerial root formation in Vitis has been documented on different grape species; however, the driving forces behind the formation of adventitious roots are not well understood. In tropical areas and greenhouse situations, aerial roots in the grape family (Vitaceae) are common. In these regions, roots that form adventitiously on aerial portions of the vine may provide an adaptive response mechanism to avoid drought or flooding or provide other unknown functions. Regardless of the expressed doubt as to function or need, I side with da Vinci’s 500-year-old wisdom — these fine red tendrils have real purpose in the vast sweep of the life of grapevines on Tennessee River riparian flats. Nothing in Nature is superfluous. Their form, function, and purpose are curious only to us who have never felt the wrath of a wild river free of Corps of Engineers containment, in full-flood slamming the towering tree to the ground, transporting it ten miles downriver, and depositing it in the silty debris from the thousand-year flood. Its trailing grapevine companion thrust into the rich new soil, exciting the ever-ready adventitious cells of the aerial root to exploit the fertile new location. It quickly generates shoots to vegetatively propagate the vine that will accompany another oak as it reaches toward the heavens on the newly flood-scoured and refreshed riparian terrace above the river. Nothing is superfluous!

Joe Wheeler

 

No grapevine managed to ascend with this white oak (Quercus alba) beauty. As I continue to write these Posts, each one reminds me that I should have an instrument for measuring height. I estimated this one at 110-feet. In my field of forestry, nothing represents site quality (inherent fertility and site productivity) better than height over time-certain. The tree below signals a rich site… offering firm footing, abundant moisture, and a full diet of soil nutrients.

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike stood in awe and with a  dose of humility gazing into the crown of this towering monument to rich soils, long growing seasons, abundant annual rainfall, and 80-90 years without major disturbance. Pausing by such monarchs offers sufficient reward for venturing forth in the midst of our southern summer. I think of traveling a major toll road, stopping periodically to pay for the limited access privilege. I viewed our passage along the Multi-Use Trail as the toll road mirror image. Occasionally we stopped to collect direct payment in form of a regal oak, aerial roots on a grapevine, colorful mushrooms, or summer floral riches. Memories and a photo-record serve as receipts… a record of our passage.

Joe Wheeler

 

I remain on the lookout for what I classify as tree form oddities during my woods ramblings. Combine some peculiarity with large tree stature and I’m immediately sold. Mike stands beside a mossy-bottomed white oak with a coarse seam spiraling clockwise up the trunk. I speculate that this healed scar resulted from a relatively weak lightning strike that deadened a narrow strip of cambium without dealing an explosive blow. I’ve seen the result of powerful strikes shattering even large trees. I’ve pondered whether trees already wet with torrential downpours conduct the strike along the surface without serious damage. A dry tree strike perhaps travels through the wood with far greater, sometimes fatal, results. This one offers a nicely (and naturally) welded callous seam. Nature is adept at handling any and all eventualities.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Yet another massive white oak demonstrated its mastery of the high canopy. We puzzled over how many nearby neighbors lost the battle for sunlight and soil resources, succumbing over the eight decades as this superior competitor took all the room it needed to thrive. Poison ivy vines accompanied its skyward journey. Better to climb with the tree than to compete with it for the precious high-canopy sunlight. I’ve heard people pontificate on the peace and serenity of the forest, asking why can’t we humans live in the same mode of absolute tranquility as we see in the deep forest? This individual tree commands nearly one-quarter of an acre, its canopy spreading some 50 feet in radius. Just 5.5 oaks this size occupy an area equivalent to an acre. The first 2-3 years after the new forest began to develop in the mid-1930s, hundreds (maybe thousands) of mixed woody plant individuals occupied that same area. Fierce competition defined the days, weeks, months, and years; nearly all stems present at the outset met with demise. The brutal competition continues.

Joe Wheeler

 

I’ve focused on the survivors, the successful main canopy competitors. Let’s switch focus now to a wider cycle that includes but is not limited to the main canopy surviving giants.

Forest Life, Death, and Decay

This 30-inch diameter white oak appears healthy at first glance, yet a sixth of its circumference evidences death and decay within. Fungi fruiting bodies proliferate on the bark as the mycelia feed on the woody fibers within. A violent windstorm or catastrophic lightning strike can bring an otherwise vibrant tree to immediate demise. Other forces, like our ubiquitous decay fungi, act over time and co-survive for decades reducing vigor and weakening structural soundness. I remind readers that even the mighty oak will one day enter the ongoing, never ending cycle of life and death, returning its carbon to the soil.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Fungi don’t limit their activity to standing trees, dead and alive. The Coprinopsis (genus) mycelia (below left) are exploiting the visible fallen branch. The rounded earthstar (Below right; Geastrum saccatum) caught my eye and captured my imagination. MushroomExpert.com described this fascinating fruiting body as a small but beautiful mushroom that features a round spore case sitting atop a star with 4-9 arms. When ripe, the spore case erupts from its center-top spewing contents for dissemination to other dead woody material.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Amanita is another common genus. Mushroom Expert.com reports 113 Amanita species in the US and Canada. Wikipedia added some language that will dissuade me from attempting to collect any Amanita for personal consumption: The genus Amanita contains about 600 species of agarics, including some of the most toxic known mushrooms found worldwide, as well as some well-regarded edible species. This genus is responsible for approximately 95 percent of the fatalities resulting from mushroom poisoning, with the death cap accounting for about 50 percent on its own. I will not be seeking those well-regarded edible species anytime soon!

Joe Wheeler

 

I am seldom confidant with my mushroom identification, yet this white cheese polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) seems reasonably certain. This pure white polypore must be very fresh, showing no smears, fading, or other signs of aging. Its mycelia are feeding on a several-years-dead fallen log, the wood bark-less, and seeming to me too far decayed to support such a spectacular specimen. Who am I to gauge what dead wood is best suited for a particular saprophyte. Nature knows best. I am simply an ignorant and arrogant interloper, thinking far too much and assuming I have the wisdom and knowledge to assess and evaluate organism/host relationships.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I believe this is a wood ear fungus (Auricularia) on a dead hackberry or sugar berry (Celtis sp). I’m told these are edible. However, I will need greater confidence before I harvest and saute! More recent rain would have encouraged a jelly-like consistency. These have desiccated and lost that soft feel and appearance.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Mushrooms are the reproductive structure for fungi. So, allow me to segue thusly to the summer flowers (reproductive structures) we encountered along the Multi-Use Trail.

Summer’s Woodland Flowers

 

Tall bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum) added its blue hue occasionally at woods edge. It’s an unusual bellflower in that its flower is flat rather than ballooned. Neither Mike nor I could recall a prior sighting.

Joe Wheeler

 

Blackberry (or leopard) lily (Iris domestica) surprised us along the trail in deep shade, suggesting a long ago residence landscaped with this showy eastern Asia ornamental import.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hairy wood mint (Blephilia hirsuta) likewise blessed our mid-summer passage with unexpected delicate white. We both are more accustomed to the flush of forest understory spring colors and absolute abundance and variety from late March through mid-May in northern Alabama. Each summer understory bloom came with welcome surprise. To every season — a flowering inhabitant. The woodland flowering plant species frequency curve tales precipitously in these parts after the solstice. We embraced hairy wood mint as a gift.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Interestingly, the trail crossed a several-hundred-foot-wide power transmission line (passing through the Park… originating from the Wheeler Dam hydro-turbines) in full sun. We saw summer blossoms in diverse abundance, stopping only to photograph this purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). The open-land flower frequency curve peaks mid-summer. We crossed the power line during the apex period. Why the seasonal disharmony? The sun hits the forest floor only prior to canopy leaf-out — the window of opportunity is short-lived in deep woods. It’s either bloom during spring… or generally not at all. The power line provides full summer sun.

Joe Wheeler

 

We strolled in the woods, savoring every moment, examining anything that caught our interest, and looking deeply enough to truly see. Our intent crossing the power line in full hot July sun was simply to reach the forest shade on the other side!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s timeless wisdom applied once again… this time along Joe Wheeler State Park’s Multi-Use Trail:

Human ingenuity will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Long-Abandoned Recreation Area at Joe Wheeler State Park

Straddling Twin TVA Lakes: Joe Wheeler and Wilson

Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park has shoreline along both the lower reaches of Joe Wheeler Lake and the upper end of Wilson Lake. July 7, 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I hiked the Park’s Multi-Use Trail along the bluffs above Wilson Lake. I focus this Post on the ruins of a long-abandoned recreation area active some 85 years ago during the heyday of Wheeler Dam construction when thousands of workers lived nearby. We walked the trail in amazement at how quickly Nature reclaims man’s intrusions and domestication. We parked near the trailhead sign (below left), hiked the sweeping 2.5-mile counter-clockwise loop taking us first through riparian forest, briefly along the lake shore (below right), then rising onto the bluffs and the abandoned recreation site. Although we walked at least a mile to the old site, I later learned that an access road at the time (1930’s) ran directly to the former concentrated-use area.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all seen photos of deep Mexican jungles draping and consuming 1,000-year-abandoned Mayan ruins. The contrast between imagining the vibrant Mayan civilization and seeing those ruins is sobering. Nature reclaims without hesitation or fail even the urban glory that the Mayans conceived, planned, constructed, and occupied… never giving thought that their days were numbered. From History.com: Most famously, the Maya of the southern lowland region reached their peak during the Classic Period of Maya civilization (A.D. 250 to 900), and built the great stone cities and monuments that have fascinated explorers and scholars of the region. That’s 650 years during the very heart of the European Middle Ages or Medieval Period. What happened to this vibrant civilization with advanced engineering, art, and architecture? Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) offers deeply researched conjecture on the causes of Mayan collapse.

Collapse

 

Among those causes that Diamond suggests is unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices leading to diminished soil fertility, erosion, disappearance of forests, and related local climate impacts (desertification)… a collection of non-sustainable practices. Add in a propensity for tribalism and intersectional warfare, and the ingredients are there for decline and collapse.

An Insert — Steve’s Firm Admonishment to Steward Our One Earth

Sound familiar? Where are we as a global society headed? Are we caring responsibly and thoughtfully for this one Earth, Our Common Home!? Are we placing ourselves at global risk of collapse, just as the Mayans did regionally on the Yucatan Peninsula in the prior millennium? With or without our Johnny-come-lately, so-called intelligent species, Nature will prevail… either with us harmoniously and respectfully learning and falling in-step, or with Nature in rebellion to our ill-conceived insistence to dominate, domesticate, and reduce. A few millennia mean nothing to the long sweep of life on Earth. If (or when) we lose, Nature will erase any evidence of our fleeting and ill-fated existence in a matter of scant millions of Earth orbits. John McPhee (Basin and Range) observed that were an adult to stand with arms extended to either side, the full reach representing the span of life on Earth (~3.8 billion years), a simple swipe of a medium-grain fingernail file across the recent end of the time scale would erase all of human history. We are everything, yet we are nothing. There is no alternative to informed and responsible Earth stewardship for our species.

Back to the Abandoned Recreation Tour

We need not visit Central America to see evidence of Nature’s inexhaustible, persistent power to overwhelm and reclaim the human-built environment. Construction crews completed Wheeler Dam in November 1936, three full years after construction began. During the peak construction period, 4,700 workers labored on the massive project (Wheeler Dam with view upstream to right; Wilson Lake to left).

Wheeler

Tennessee Valley Photo Archives

 

The three-year construction project brought more than 10,000 residents (workers and families) to the immediate area, many living in TVA-built dormitories and prefabricated housing. The TVA also built and provided the recreation facilities that Mike and I examined along the Multi-Use Trail, now 84 years after Wheeler Dam completion, when most of the workers and their families relocated elsewhere. We presume (yes, we need to research to be certain) that the recreation area fell into dis-use about the same time, especially with the onset of WW-II. The forests across the State Park fall within the 80-90-year range, including the forest now occupying this formerly intensively used recreation area.

The TVA appears to have spared no expenses. Below left I am examining a concrete picnic table, its wooden plank benches long since decayed completely, leaving not a fiber of visible wood. The tables stand in deep forest, suggesting collapse of the vibrant human community responsible for these historical artifacts. We stood wondering how many meals families shared on these breezy open bluffs above the valley that at the time had been cleared of residents, towns, fences, outbuildings, gravesites, churches, and forests awaiting dam completion and valley inundation.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The trail passes through closed forest. A carpet of English ivy hints at the area’s past life when the European-imported landscape ivy accented the built environment, likely including some living quarters on the bluffs. The trail itself (below right) is  smooth and well-maintained… easy to hike. The forest hush occasionally delivered faint, 80-year echoes of children playing and laughing, old story-telling, outdoor toasts, and a tall tale or two. We felt the spirit of kindred souls and sacred connections to the land. Imagine a young adult worker or spouse from those days being transported to accompany Mike and me on our hike. Oh, how they could have informed our journey!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

A university I know incorporates five pillars into its fundamental tenets for living and learning. One is applicable to our hike and is germane to current societal issues. I’m paraphrasing: View the future through the lens of history. We can’t understand, appreciate, or effectively live today and into tomorrow unless we know where we’ve been. Mike and I knew enough about the time-of-construction history to interpret what we saw on the ground. Sadly, we are going through a time now of societal stress and tension, a time when there is a movement to rewrite history to conform to the way we wanted (in retrospect) it to have been. We cannot change history; we can only learn from it. That is my approach to viewing the intersection of human and natural history. My Land Legacy Stories tell the tale as it happened, even if that history involved abusive agriculture, rapacious natural resource extraction, and seeming disregard for future generations. The greater sin is failing to learn from mistakes, whether or not intended. When Mike and I hiked the Park’s new Awesome Trail June 8, 2020 (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/07/06/joe-wheeler-state-parks-new-awesome-trail/), we found 80-90-year-old forests growing on land still erosion-scarred from careless agriculture. Again, we cannot undo the scars. we must, instead, vow to never repeat the insults.

We noted that the bluffs during dam construction had not been fully open and treeless. We found many large trees that would have even then provided comforting shade in places. This towering white oak (Quercus alba) predates the period of construction. We mused on what it had witnessed and pondered the stories it could tell.

Joe Wheeler

 

A Land of Druids, Dryads, and Wood Nymphs

We felt the presence of others as we explored in bright mid-day sun. I wondered what we might have seen and felt had we journeyed along the trail at twilight’s gloaming, accompanied by the conditions Alfred Noyes described in The Highwayman:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas

This is a bath house that 80 years ago stood in the open, high on the bluff. Below right Mike peers from within the dogtrot between male and female sides.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Who knows when vandals first began destroying the structure. Nature can handle what remains of the demolition project.

Joe Wheeler

 

Stone masons practiced their craft with great skill. The stonework on this picnic pavilion remains strong long after the wooden upper walls and roof collapsed. Still serviceable, the foundation might one day support a new shelter.

Joe Wheeler

 

We could only speculate that these twin fireplaces stood within a large picnic shelter. Again, any trace of structure except for the stonework has succumbed to the forces of decay. The chimneys appear to emerge from the embracing forest vegetation.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The large chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) centers the stone arc of the old observation area above Wilson Lake. On our summer visit we saw only what the full forest cover permitted, a mostly impenetrable viewshed. We decided to repeat our hike during the dormant season when vegetation relaxes its grip on the bluff, to extract a clearer image of the time-fading intersection of human and natural history.

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike and I hiked the trail filled with the wonder of Nature, fascinated by what we could read from the land, and luxuriating in the freedom of retirement. The workers who visited the recreation area some 80 years ago likely performed hard physical labor six long days a week. No freedom and flexibility of retirement for them!

Joe Wheeler

 

Nature reveals so much to those willing to explore her mysteries, learn from past human interactions with our natural world, and apply lessons learned to our essential obligation to practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. Ultimately, the power of natural processes combined with unlimited time will heal any and all human-induced injury. Certainly, we cannot resuscitate species we have extinguished (including our own), yet Nature will eventually fill the resultant ecosystem voids.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I draw three simple truths from exploring an 80-year-abandoned TVA recreation area:

We humans are everything (to ourselves), yet we are nothing.

There is no alternative to informed and responsible Earth stewardship for sustaining our species.

We cannot undo or rewrite history; we can only learn from it.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

State Champion Trees at Joe Wheeler State Park

A personal confession. I am a nemophilist: One who is fond of forests or forest scenery; a haunter of the woods. I did not know the word until recently. Shortly after seeing the term and definition on a very attractive poster with a sylvan scene, I heard a newscaster with respect to some impending catastrophe say, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” I object — I prefer being in the woods! I suppose such sentiment is why folks look askance when I now admit to being a nemophilist! Their expression conveys, “I always knew there was something wrong with you!” I confess, and I shall remain an unapologetic nemophilist.

You who actually read these Posts may also share my affliction. In fact, I hope that is the case! If so, you may even enjoy reading this photo-essay reflecting on the four State Champion trees at Joe Wheeler State Park.

Joe Wheeler State Park’s Four State Champion Trees

July 7, 2020, State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I revisited the four Alabama State Champion trees resident to Joe Wheeler State Park. Visit the Alabama Champion Tree website: https://forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Management/Champion_Tree.aspx. The opening paragraph tells the tale:

Alabama’s Champion Tree Program began in 1970, when 28 trees were listed. In 2017, there were 159 Champion and Co-Champion trees of 143 different species. Modeled after American Forest’s Big Tree Program, it is designed to discover, recognize and preserve the largest of each native tree species in Alabama. Once a champion is declared, its owner and nominator receive certificates, and a permanent marker is placed at the base of the tree. A Champion Tree is the largest of its particular species in Alabama. The Forestry Commission uses a formula developed by American Forests to determine the points assigned to a tree based on three size measurements. The point system is figured as follows: one point for each inch of circumference, plus one point for each foot of height, plus one point for each four feet of average crown spread. Instructions for using this formula can be found on page 12 of the Champion Tree publication.

September Elm

I admit to surviving more than four decades past my forestry bachelors degree without consciously knowing that September elm (Ulmus serotina) existed. Sure, I may have stumbled across a reference to the species in my freshman forest dendrology course. However, I doubt it. From the USDA Forest Service:

September elm grows sporadically from southern Illinois across Kentucky and Tennessee to northern Georgia, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. It is most abundant in Arkansas and Tennessee.

The species is not abundant, and it is foreign to Maryland’s central Appalachian forests where I studied dendrology. I am obviously familiar with the genus Ulmus. And, the species name (serotina) is identical to the black cherry (Prunus serotina), the primary species in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of northwest Pennsylvania and southwest New York where I conducted my doctoral field research. The champion September elm, when registered in 2011, measured 18.77-inches dbh (diameter at breast height; 4.5′ above the ground); 94-feet tall; crown spread at 49-feet. Mike and I did not carry the gear to measure height or crown width, so we simply measured diameter as a crude estimate of growth since 2011. Our July 2020 diameter (21.64″) indicated nearly three inches of diameter increment in just nine years. I declare the tree healthy and vigorous, growing at a pace of six rings per inch. No slowing down this champion. Perhaps it will defend its champion status for many decades to come!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Bitternut Hickory

Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) extends its range across most of the US east of the Mississippi River excepting the deepest South and northern New England. I know it well dating back to freshman forestry. We measured this specimen at 28.67-inches dbh, compared to 21.64-inches in 2011. Seven inches in nine years strikes me as beyond the edge of credulity for a tree in closed-canopy forest. That is, for a tree growing in a fully-stocked forest. Mike and I puzzled over the apparent too-rapid-to-be-true rate of growth. Then we realized the conundrum. The tree separates to three stems within six feet of its base. Although the directory of champion trees lists the diameter, it does not footnote whether the 2011 measurement varied from the traditional point at breast height. This tree is considerably larger at 4.5-feet than even at its base. What we encountered is a point-of-measurement difference and not a growth-beyond-compare super-tree!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Too bad the identifying sign is broken. Mike will report it to the Forestry Commission. Below left Mike is reviewing the Alabama Champion Tree Directory as he prepares to record a video of our encounter with this individual. Below right is just one more image of this triple-forked champion, with its 82-foot height and 46-foot crown spread. There’s something special about the largest of anything. Alabama boasts some 23-million acres of forestland… that’s roughly 23 million football fields. I just can’t imagine that we’ve accounted for every potential champion tree. In fact, I would place good money that out there somewhere, awaiting discovery, are many new champions.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Chinkapin Oak

Another damaged sign greeted us at the state champion chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii). The USDA Forest Service offers a species snapshot:

Chinkapin oak, sometimes called yellow chestnut oak, rock oak, or yellow oak, grows in alkaline soils on limestone outcrops and well-drained slopes of the uplands, usually with other hardwoods. It seldom grows in size or abundance to be commercially important, but the heavy wood makes excellent fuel. The acorns are sweet and are eaten by several kinds of animals and birds.

Joe Wheeler State Park lies upon limestone bedrock, with rich alkaline soils. Where better to expect our Alabama state champion?! The species’ range covers most of the central and eastern US with the exception of the lower Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, and much of the northeast. Registered in 2011, this champion measured 21.64-inches dbh, stood 82-feet tall, with a 133-foot crown spread. I didn’t think on-site how truly impressive that spread is. Upon doing the math, I sat at my desk, checking and rechecking my math. The area of a circle is pi (3.1428) times radius squared, right? An acre is 43,560 square feet, again roughly football field size from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone. Only 3.19 trees this size would fill an acre equivalent!

The diameter had increased to 23.55-inches, nearly two inches in nine years, evidencing once again a healthy individual prospering on the limestone soils on the bluff above Wheeler Lake.

Shingle Oak

The fourth of Joe Wheeler’s champions is an open-growing shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) near the cabins at Wheeler Dam. As one might expect from a tree not engaging in fierce site resource competition from adjacent forest trees, this champion has little need to fast-forward vertically (height only 68 feet); instead, it gathers additional sunlight by reaching outward (crown spread at 102-feet). Its 2004 diameter has increased from 48.36-inches to today’s 51.22-inches. Were the tree vigorous and in good health the growth would have been far greater. Instead, the crown shows clear evidence of decline; branch dieback appears across the crown. Many decades of soil compaction take a toll on vigor. Eventually, like all living organisms, this tree will succumb to age and other factors. Another shingle oak will assume the champion mantel.

Joe Wheeler

Photo Credit — Mike Ezell

I am a forester, pure and simple. Sure, I like big trees in lawn, street, and landscape settings, yet it is the forest champions that I relish, located in settings where they must compete for limited sunlight, moisture, and nutrients with nearby main canopy occupants. The chinkapin oak’s stature is all the more impressive in that it rose above competitors and muscled out those adjacent trees, effectively claiming their space for its own purposes. Many individuals that fought hard yielded to a tree-equivalent of fatal malnutrition. Their skeletons are scattered about the forest floor. The shingle oak did battle with nothing, accepting only space gifted to it by humans maintaining the open landscape. I accept its champion status, but only reluctantly. I most admire the champions that have earned their place in the Alabama big tree annals.

Learning from Timeless Wisdom

We have all heard verbal elements of antiquity, referring to old truths as wisdom for the ages. Leonardo da Vinci offered such wisdom 500 years ago… wisdom that has stood the test of time. As a once-in-a-millennia artist, he saw the invisible; inferred the improbable; peered with clarity into life, reality, and deep time yet to come. Leonardo da Vinci, 500 years ago, understood the requisite for action.

  • I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
  • Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

These four Alabama tree champions had no option other than to act with urgency day in and day out. Life and death endeavors demand urgency and doing each and every minute 365 days per year.

As did John Muir (1838-1914), applying persistent action through his relationships with Teddy Roosevelt and other notables, power brokers, and influence-peddlers. Muir was a consummate doer. Fifty-six years after Muir’s death, Alabama conservationists created the Alabama State Champion Tree Program, an example of modern-day doing. Muir would approve — he once observed, “The big tree is Nature’s masterpiece, and so far as I know, the greatest of living things.” Muir focused on the western US where the march of settlement had not yet claimed all wilderness. The eastern forests had already suffered the scythe of industrialization, settlement, and domestication. He would not be surprised to know that each of the four Joe Wheeler State Champions is a second-growth tree, growing now after such sweeping original forest disturbance as domestication, conversion to agriculture, and abandonment… Nature reclaiming, healing, and persistently doing what must be done to reach tomorrow.

Protected from future disturbances, true eastern forest giants may arise again… in Alabama on land now protected for posterity: State Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, Land Conservancy property, and other lands sheltered in conservation easements.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

John Muir entered this earthly domain 113 years before I entered the world. North America west of the Mississippi was little scarred then by the hands of man, yet he saw the handwriting on the wall, fighting valiantly to sustain some modicum of wildness for future generations. I am grateful for his dedication to the cause of wilderness and wildness. Muir died at age 76 106 years ago. Some of his timeless wisdom:

  • The big tree is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and so far as we know, the greatest of living things.
  • In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

My books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.