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.

 

Blue Trail Loop at Joe Wheeler State Park

July 7, 2020 I hiked Joe Wheeler State Park’s Blue Trail with State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell. Together we explored at a leisurely pace, not willing to race through the forest at the price of missing any of Nature’s magic.

The Parks do a good job with signage at Joe Wheeler. I hope that the interpretive signage at least slows a few people, encouraging them to learn as much as they can about the wildness through which they trek. Mike and I likely were among the few hikers who paid any attention to the tree upon which this trail sign is posted. Both of us know and appreciate the distinctive blocky bark and dark complexion of persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Wikipedia offers some useful insight: The persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros. The most widely cultivated of these is the Asian or Japanese persimmon, Diospyros kaki. Diospyros is in the family Ebenaceae, and a number of non-persimmon species of the genus are grown for ebony timber. Below right Mike is holding an early season drop, fruit aborted by the tree for some reason, perhaps a bumper crop (too many fruit to support through the summer) or insect damage. Persimmons turn a bright orange when ripe, and generally are too bitter to eat and enjoy until after the first frost. Many people wonder how we naturalists can be so adept at identifying tree species by bark alone. Mike and I have decades of practice, which lifts recognition to a level of second nature. Persimmon is simply an easy species. No other tree in our forest can be confused with persimmon.

 

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Some Delightful Discoveries

I’ve mentioned before that I am aching to know more about our north Alabama fungi, a life-kingdom unto itself. I am further stimulated by colleagues these past couple of years introducing me to our native edible mushrooms. I limit my actual harvesting and consumption to only those species that do not have similar local species that might make me ill… or worse. I ask that you read my comments without rushing into the woods to collect and prepare your own repast unless you first conduct considerable research. In other words, don’t risk your health and life using me as your only guide. I refuse to be responsible for what you place in your skillet and on your plate! These dandies below are summer oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius). They fry up nicely with butter, olive oil, and a few spices — delectable! We found these growing on a deceased hackberry or sugarberry (genus Celtis); we are both fuzzy about distinguishing these two common species.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Also on a dead Celtis, we found these now-desiccating jelly ear mushrooms (genus Auricularia). The forest along the Blue Trail proved to be rich with mushrooms for several reasons. The forest is 80-90 years old, reaching a stage in development when many main canopy individuals are dying, leaving considerable dead or down woody debris standing or fallen to the forest floor. Keep in mind that stasis does not exist in living systems; life and death are in continuing balance. More than average rainfall had fallen month after month for the preceding one-half year, sustaining an environment perfect for decay and mushroom development. And a third reason we found so many fungal fruiting bodies is that we were consciously searching for them. As I’ve said often in these Posts, so much in Nature lies hidden in plain sight. So true is my statement: When we know where to look and how to see, we often find what we seek!

Joe Wheeler

 

Ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), from Wikipedia, is a fern native to North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It takes its common name from its dark, reddish-brown, glossy stipe and rachis, which support a once-divided, pinnate leaf. Our north Alabama forests are rich with fungi and other nonflowering plants. I enjoy immensely having the leisure to stroll through the woods with eyes tuned to the life and variety at my feet. Imagine what I would miss if I were intent simply on passing through the forest to reach some destination, blind to what lies underfoot.

Joe Wheeler

 

I don’t recall previously seeing these small columnar mushrooms (below left). Because that photo does not do justice to the peculiar nature of Xylaria, I borrowed the closer image (below right) from MushroomExpert.com. Detail from the same website: The genus Xylaria consists of funky, club-like decomposers of wood or plant debris that become black and hard by maturity, reminiscent of carbon or charcoal. The mushrooms are “Pyrenomycetes,” which means they produce spores in asci that are embedded in tiny pockets called “perithecia”; the asci take turns growing into the narrow opening of the pocket so that they can shoot spores  away from the fungus and into the air currents. I found comfort on the web site, which emphasized that differentiation among species is almost impossible without a powerful microscope at hand, and the knowledge to see and discriminate. I will leave such detailed identification to the experts. My simple hope is that I can remember the genus Xylaria!

Joe Wheeler

The Genus Xylaria (MushroomExpert.Com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonflowering plants, in this case mosses, colonize every surface in some of our damp, well-watered shady groves. The leprechauns surely decorated this sylvan setting — every elevated surface of wood, whether dead, down, or standing, supports a moss-mat. I expected to see a crew of woodland nymphs (of legend and folklore) tending the moss garden! Perhaps we should have returned at dusk when the evening gloaming blessed and encouraged such non-human affairs.

Joe Wheeler

 

An Alaska Mid-Summer Interlude!

As with everything in Nature, where we are defines relative values for scale, beauty, productivity, and other comparisons. The so-termed mossy glen along the Blue Trail at Wheeler pales to insignificance to the lower-slope rain forest on the Mount Verstovia Trail rising above Sitka, Alaska (below). Sitka averages 120 inches of rain annually, well over twice our north Alabama average. Add in Sitka’s lower temperatures, frequent cloudy days, and seasonally nearly constant fog… the result is WET! The mid-June day I snapped these photos in 2012 as I ascended the trail, I reluctantly turned back when I encountered a coarse residual snowpack more than three feet deep. Conditions are relative. What would be considered extreme in one location is the norm elsewhere. Because I have made 13 interstate moves as an adult, I have learned to appreciate Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe wherever I am. I refuse to allow, for example, my memories of southeast Alaska wanderings to diminish my appreciation for a mossy glade at Joe Wheeler State Park.

Sitka June 2012

Sitka June 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will never tire of seeing the marvel of a mature beech’s bark wearing a full-color palette of moss and lichen… the beech extending its roots from a buttressed base, holding tight to Mather Earth, exploiting moisture and nutrients from soil with reach. Again, below right, southeast Alaska’s rainforest likewise offers tree-form inspiration of a different sort. I can admire and embrace both without one diminishing the other. Yes, I would like to spend a future week exploring the Sitka forests once more… with my retirement-honed eye for Nature (quite matured over the intervening eight years) and with the camera I now carry. However, Sitka requires at least three commercial flights, months of planning, and considerable expense. In contrast, I can drive the 47 miles to Joe Wheeled in under an hour without pre-planning. I have long ago resolved to seek satisfaction, enjoyment, fulfillment, and inspiration from Nature within reach of where I am.

Joe Wheeler

Sitka June 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Joe Wheeler State Park

Our ubiquitous grape vines scribe a special signature of form and artistry to our local forest images. Perhaps one day I will sit leaning against a nearby oak tree for hours to admire this particular vine… attempting to recreate the 80-90-years of growth, form, and stresses that forced…or permitted…its looping architecture.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Or maybe I could just assume Mike’s version of Rodin’s The Thinker pose to ponder the life of a grape vine!

Jow Wheeler

 

No thinking required to interpret the scene below. Some force of Nature (wind, lightning, ice?) split and brought a pole-size tree to the ground, split-side up. Decay and falling leaf and tree-litter detritus has created a fertile and welcoming seed bed for loblolly seed to germinate creating conditions for a potential nurse log. However, I remind myself that ample rains had fallen regularly to-date through this initial growing season for these first-year seedlings. Abundant rains have now yielded to our normal summer season of hit and miss showers. Here at my residence I have measured just a tenth of an inch over the past 12 days. If a similar drying period has affected the Blue Trail, these tender seedlings will desiccate and die, putting an end to their brief flourish on what seemed a perfect garden spot. I draw an important lesson for life and living — things aren’t always what they seem. A perfect germination bed becomes inhospitable over the normal flow of the seasons.

Joe Wheeler

 

The Blue Trail offers an enjoyable hike through maturing second-growth forest, rich with stories of succession, death and dying, life-richness, and renewal. You need not worry about ascending mid-summer into snowpack too-deep to navigate. We discovered so much by paying focused attention, looking closely, and finding delight well within reach.

 

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

 

Here are some simple truths affirmed by our couple-hours stroll:

I have long ago resolved to seek satisfaction, enjoyment, fulfillment, and inspiration from Nature within reach of wherever I am.

When we know where to look and how to see, we often find what we seek!

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.

 

Re-Opening Buck’s Pocket State Park

June 15, 2020 I re-visited Buck’s Pocket State Park, approximately 75 miles from my residence, this time for the ribbon cutting re-opening the campground after a three-year major rehabilitation project.

I had first visited the Park in mid-October 2019, viewing the Park only from the overlook, some 800 vertical feet above the campground: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/04/bucks-pocket-state-park/

Here are two images from that late summer/early fall observation point, which only hinted at the wonders of this special niche Park.

Buck's Pocket

Buck's Pocket SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Opening a Special Park

I’m drafting these words July 12,  a month beyond entering the deep pocket for the ceremony. I’ll begin with a brief taste of the ribbon cutting. The Park’s name could just as well have been, Ends of the Earth State Park. The feeling of isolation pervades. Even passing commercial air traffic seemed worlds away. Both from the overlook and within the pocket, the depths seemed absent outlet — a sense that water enters and drains into a vertical sink…to an underworld! I was pleasantly surprised to see more than one hundred daring souls find their way into the pocket. Surely they hadn’t consciously entered a zone of no return!

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Covid-19 dictated either masks or appropriately distancing. As I so often do, I attempted to capture the moment by focusing on a tree, in this case a black walnut (Juglans nigra) gracing the spot where we gathered, towering above us, back-dropped by cerulean firmament.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

We stood within 150-feet of the pocket’s chief architectural force. No, not the mostly-dry creek-bed, but by the hand of the fierce occasional  current evidenced by facets of the scenes below. The bare rocks, a bed without vegetation, suggest that the current flushed through the pocket at least seasonally, and from what I heard from first-hand observers, every time a frog-strangling deluge sends torrents through the narrow valley toward Lake Guntersville. The gnarled sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis; below right) somehow found anchorage at stream center, and has paid the price of repeated batterings for enjoying ample moisture. This view faces the upstream side of the tree, from about ten feet above the bed.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Swinging the camera to stream-bed level, reveals the scars of multiple batterings by water-born boulders, logs, and other debris. How much longer can it withstand its torturings? Its roots cling tightly, holding fast against the tremendous force of water and its burdens. I wonder how many other predecessor trees have likewise attempted to beat the relentless pressures affecting life and living. What are the human stress equivalents to what this sycamore survives? I am fortunate to have found fertile soils, firm anchorage, and relative safety from the ravages of harsher life and living. Let this tree stand as symbol and model for how life can survive seeming unbearable hardship.

Buck's Pocket SP

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Buck’s Pocket State Park ORV (Off Road Vehicle) Trail

 

The Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew created and upgraded 6.3 trail-miles for off road vehicle use. The ORV Trail represents the Park System’s commitment to serving recreationists of diverse pursuits. Although I am exclusively a hiking enthusiast, I did hitch a ride with a northern region Parks employee out and back, sampling at least four one-way miles of the total route. Signage is exemplary with plenty of information on laser-routered wooden placards.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

This is my trail transportation paused at the former primitive campground within sight of the Lake Guntersville Buck’s Pocket stream outlet.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

The Dirt Pass Trail Crew created stretches that ranged from gentle six-foot wide dirt roads (both images below) to boulder-strewn hairpin turns that had me hanging on, white-knuckled. I failed to capture those hairier sections. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Near the old primitive campground, the Lake backed up the outlet creek, providing pleasant lakeside settings, promising peaceful fishing, and ensuring quiet nights.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Approaching the main Lake, we stopped where we had a good view ahead (below left). At the far end of this vista is Morgan’s Boat Ramp (below right), from which we looked across the water at the shoreline we had just a few minutes prior passed from left to right to the ramp. Without a lot of text I am communicating that we have progressed from a seeming bottomless pit of no return (The Pocket) to the bountiful shores of Lake Guntersville.

Buck's Pocket SP

Buck's Pocket SP

 

We continued beyond the ramp to where we turned around (below right), looking toward the main body.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

That’s a quick introduction to the ORV Trail. I am pretty sure that I would not want to hike this route and risk being shaken from my wildness experience by the whine and roar of high-powered engines. But to each his own. The intent is not to encourage such mixed use. There are options at Buck’s Pocket for hiking purists. Perhaps on a cooler fall day I will ascend the trail from the headquarters up to the overlook.

Nature’s Visual Treats

 

We encountered two species of hydrangea along the trail. Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia; below left) and wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

I spotted other delights. Respectful of my driver’s intent to cover the distance and return us to the headquarters for the ceremony, I chose to avoid requesting additional stops.

Instead, I spent some time exploring on foot after the ribbon cutting. The current primitive campground sits just 100 yards from the ribbon cutting site. Here’s the fire pit and concrete picnic table for P-9, a flat spot at the base of the sloping forest.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

;

Within a five foot radius adjacent to P-9 I found three fern species: northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum; below left); broad beech (Phegopteris hexagonoptera; below right); and Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides; center below the first two).

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Christmas fern, a lovely evergreen, particularly festive during our dormant season.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Also at P-9, chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii; left trunk and right leaf) is a species of the white oak group. The leaf reminds me of chestnut oak (Quercus prinus); its bark differs in many respect from chestnut oak.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The campsite American beech (Fagus grandifolia; below left) carries a vertical scar, is hollow to the core, and consists of a three-quarters-circumference shell of wood and living cambium. I wondered whether the scar originated from lightning or perhaps from a long-ago campfire that burned this side of the tree, killing the cambium from ground level to several feet above. The chinkapin (below right) likewise evidences the campsite tough life. Hollow (see cavity below the swollen mid-lower trunk) with multiple burl-like wounds and gnarly growth, the tree has endured who knows what physical insult over the years. Regardless of cause, these character blemishes offer campfire story fodder as the evening shadows fall and spookiness takes hold among the more youthful campers.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The pocket sees sunrise mid-to-late morning; dusk arrives not long after dinner when the sun seeks the western horizon. Dampness persists; moisture seldom fully departs. Moss grows thick in these shady groves, carpeting this stem near P-9.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Alabama State Parks stand as a treasure for all of us to enjoy. I am pleased to have been among the first to see the result of incremental state upgrade investment, as well as the secured grant funding to design, locate, and construct the ORV Trail. Many Alabama State Parks enthusiasts and users do not realize that the bulk of revenue supporting the Parks derive not from State coffers but from fees.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

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

Alabama’s Parks furnish windows to the incredible richness of life, topography, and waters across our state from the Gulf to the Appalachians. Upon reflection, my trip into The Pocket reveals that:

We are blessed by Nature with limitless beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Nature offers multiple benefits, a variety to suit multiple interests… from hikers, mountain bikers, birders, anglers, ORV enthusiasts, and many more.

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 BooksBuck's Pocket 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.

 

Fungi Reign along Joe Wheeler State Park’s New “Awesome Trail”

See the Great Blue Heron Post chronicling my June 8, 2020 introduction to the new Awesome Trail at Joe Wheeler State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/07/06/joe-wheeler-state-parks-new-awesome-trail/

That single Post was not sufficient to chronicle all the Nature-magic we encountered. We also saw some spectacular mushrooms as we hiked our four-mile segment, justifying this second Post highlighting the fungi.

The Fungi Kingdom — Ruling the Forest

 

I’ve admitted often that I am a novice-at-best when it comes to our ubiquitous forest fungi inhabitants. While it’s the trees my education directed me to see, understand, and admire, I have long known that no living creature exists in isolation. The trees would amount to nothing were it not for their co-dependent mycorrhizae, fungi that grow symbiotically on and within tree root hairs aiding by orders of magnitude the absorption of soil moisture and nutrients, and in turn feed on carbohydrates produced by the tree. Many species of fungi act as primary agents of decay, returning dead and down woody debris to the soil, and thence to subsequent life. And some species act as tree pathogens. No wonder fungi stand as an Earth-life kingdom unto themselves.

Because I am in the early stages of my quest to learn more about our woodland fungal neighbors here in north Alabama, please view this Post as an exploration… not as a definitive recitation of genus and species. Most of the names (common and scientific) come with less than full confidence from iNaturalist. Please view this Post as a catalog of photographs and a celebration of the diverse, colorful, and mysterious collection of mushrooms we encountered on an early summer four-mile hike through the 80-90-year-old forest.

Riches on the Forest Floor

Green dominates our June forests, from understory through main canopy. For that reason, I train my eyes to seek other-than-green. These yellow patches mushrooms (Amanita flavoconia) vividly proclaimed their presence.  Tiny in comparison to the mighty oaks, these two stand at about three inches, yet they act as visual beacons. Funny that once I see one, my eye imprints, and others suddenly appear. From MushroomExpert.com: This beautiful mushroom is one of the most common species of Amanita in the Midwest and in eastern North America, where it usually begins to appear in early and mid-summer. Yellow patches is a micorrhizal fungi, common in oak forests throughout our region.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tremellodendron Wikipedia: Tremellodendron is a genus of fungi in the family Sebacinaceae. Its species are mycorrhizal, forming a range of associations with trees and other plants. Basidiocarps are produced on soil and litter. The fruit bodies are clavarioid and leathery to rubbery-gelatinous. The genus is restricted to the Americas. Regardless of whether my identification is correct, this individual strikes me as very coral-like. Just inches away is what I can identify with certainty as an LBM (little brown mushroom)!

Joe Wheeler

 

Again, had we been rushing from boat launch to marina, we likely would have missed the splashes of red on an old stump (below left) and a long-fallen log (below right). May I introduce you to red raspberry slime mold (Tubifera ferruginosa)? Because we were nearing the noon hour, I contemplated a red raspberry slime mold smoothie and a peanut butter and red raspberry slime mold sandwich. I don’t recall ever seeing this delightful fungus before now. I discern from the advanced state of decay of both the stump and the log that this fungus prefers that others perform the primary work of early decomposers.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

From red raspberry to green cheese polypore (Fomitopsis spraguei). Were this one edible (I don’t know for sure that it’s not), this red oak basal mushroom would have been a full meal. Unlike the red raspberry slime mold (a saprophyte), this fungus is parasitic.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Reading the Forested Landscape

We came across this wind-toppled red oak and its outer-ring polypore (Trametes sp.) growing on the exposed face where the crew had cut to bring the levered, elevated top to ground level, a trail-user safety measure. Interesting that the outer annual rings, the more recently functioning xylem and phloem, would appear to be more attractive to early-stage saprophytes. Of course, eventually fungi will inhabit and consume the entire log.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

The sawed-through downed oak revealed a fact we had pondered since we entered the trail — how old is this forest along the Wheeler-dammed Tennessee river? I rough-counted the exposed rings, arriving at 80-90 years. I would have needed sand paper and a hand lens to be more precise. Dam construction extended from 1933 to 1936. Crews would also have been clearing the designated (and TVA-bought) inundation acreage during that period. TVA had also purchased (eminent domain) the adjoining 2,550 acres that the state acquired from TVA in 1949, and dedicated to Joe Wheeler State Park. Production agriculture likely ceased on the imminent Park land by 1935, 85 years ago. The naturally regenerated forest we traversed, therefore, would now be 80-90 years old. I enjoy forest sleuthing! Every tree…every stand…every forest…every State Park has a story to tell. A Land Legacy Story wherein human and natural history inter-weave.

 

I have often observed that all once-living tissue is edible by something else in every Earth ecosystem. Trametes aesculi (top view and bottom, respectively, left and right below) mycelia are performing their duty on a downed oak branch. The elegant dance of life and death!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

 

I have found the quite common false turkey tail (Trametes cubensis) across north Alabama. In fact, I can say that they are everywhere I trek.

Joe Wheeler

 

I heard for months that our June would bring an abundance of chanterelle mushrooms… delectable, easy to identify, and simple to harvest and prepare. However, I have found little more than none. We did find a handful of smooth chanterelles (Chanterllis lateritius), but not enough to collect, even if we had not been on a State Park, where collecting is prohibited.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Stories Aplenty

As a forester bearing down on his 69th birthday, I had mixed feelings about discovering an old man of the woods (Strombilomyces floccopus)! I suppose it takes one to know one. Wikipedia offers a brief description:

Old man of the woods, is a species of fungus in the family Boletaceae. It is native to Europe and North America. Fruit bodies are characterized by very soft dark grey to black pyramidal and overlapping scales on the cap surface.

Joe Wheeler

 

MushroomExpert.com offers a more entertaining explanation:

“. . . for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber or plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with weak hams . . .”

This is Hamlet’s description of his girlfriend’s father, Strobilomyces polonius, but it works reasonably well for the “Old Man of the Woods” as well.

How this mushroom got its oddly appropriate common name is unclear to me. I can find no one using it in turn-of-the-century mushroom treatises, or in the first half of (what has just become) the last century. The scientific name, Strobilomyces floccopus, roughly translated, means “woolly mushroom that looks like a pine cone”–rather more accurate as a descriptor, perhaps, but less interesting. As late as 1936, mushroom authors are using interpretations of the scientific name as “common” names; Krieger calls it the “cone-like boletus” in The Mushroom Handbook, and William Thomas calls it the “pine cone mushroom” in Field Book of Common Mushrooms. The first reference to the “Old Man of the Woods” I have seen is in the 1963 edition of Smith’s The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide.

I remind you, every element of Nature has a story, including old man of the woods.

 

These little beauties could not be better named, for they do indeed resemble a collection of helmeted soldiers. They are trooping crumble caps (Coprinellus disseminatus). The moniker crumble caps owes to their tendency to disintegrate when touched. Ah, the incredible diversity of form, function, and appearance of living organisms within the fungi kingdom. Who could have anticipated the extraordinary range we discovered along a four-mile hike through an 80-90-year-old forest.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

We found several small groupings of black trumpet (Craterellus fallax), a curious species Mushroom Expert.com described as:

Common and easily recognized–but hard to discover. The mushrooms are small and black, and something about their shape and fruiting pattern can make them extremely difficult to see. The vase-shaped fruiting bodies have finely scaly, gray to black upper surfaces and smooth or very shallowly wrinkled outer surfaces that are initially blackish but develop yellowish to orangish shades as the spores mature.

The great thing about the black trumpet is that any of us, given the chance, would have named these mushrooms “black trumpet”! They look like their name, pure and simple. I learned doing research for this Post that mushroom enthusiasts consider these beauties as superb culinary delicacies! From this day forward I shall imprint their image deep within my optical cortex, urging me to be ever alert through our long growing season. I’m eager to collect and simmer a few in butter, olive oil, and seasoning salt!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Once again, I think of Seuss, Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll — the magic world of black forest trumpets, trooping crumble caps, and old men of the woods!

 

From First Nature online: Peeling oysterling (Crepidotus mollis) is also referred to in some field guides as the Soft Slipper Mushroom; it is a rubbery, fan-shaped fungus that grows on the trunks, large branches and stumps of dead broad-leaf trees.

Joe Wheeler

 

Fungal Identity Crises

Ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) surfaces as the preferred iNaturalist identity for this truly spectacular mushroom. However, none of the reference sites or photos seem to fit the image I recorded. I will leave it as ruby bolete, even as I will query applicable Facebook groups for verification. What a shame to not be certain of the identity for what I consider our best find of the day in terms of beauty, intrigue, and uniqueness.

Joe Wheeler

 

And, sad to say, iNaturalist also calls this companion find a ruby bolete (Boletus sp.). I shall remain stymied for the moment.

Joe Wheeler

 

I started this Post with yellow patches mushrooms (Amanita flavoconia). Have I come full circle, or is this something different? I have confidence that this is a member of the Amanita genus, but neither I nor iNaturalist confirms a species. I suppose it is fitting that I end the Post with a bit of identity spinning and confusion. Suffice it to say that we encountered a full palette of mushroom colors, forms, and functions.

Joe Wheeler

 

So, rather than end with uncertainty, I’ll close with a simple white bracket fungi. This time I turn to Wikipedia: Ganoderma megaloma is a species of bracket fungus in the family Ganodermataceae. Described as new to science in 1846 by mycologist Joseph-Henri Léveillé, it is found in the eastern and Midwestern United States. My iNaturalist app declared the identity without hesitation.

Joe Wheeler

 

What a joyful day as amateur (novice) mycologists chronicling the mushrooms we encountered with photographs and less than reliable identification. I do have a strong desire to learn more, matched by powerful curiosity and absolute admiration for the complex roles of fungi in our north Alabama forest ecosystems.

Thoughts and Reflections

I draw two simple truths from diving into the forest fungal kingdom at Joe Wheeler State Park:

Wonder awaits those exploring our forests with an eye to the ground and an insatiable hunger to learn.

The forest is a complex interconnected and continuous cycle of life, death, and diversity.

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.

 

 

Joe Wheeler State Park’s New “Awesome Trail”

Allow me to set the stage for this Post with a simple quote from Wendell Berry:

Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

The Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew completed the eight-mile Awesome Trail spring of 2020. I hiked the four lakeside miles June 8. Rain prevented covering the return leg that runs more interior from the water’s edge.  The trail moniker fits, yet keep in mind that I am easily persuaded and seduced by things Nature. I seldom meet a path through wildness that I deem routine, ordinary, and uninspiring. This new trail did not flirt with dull… rising to truly awesome for those who read the landscape, appreciate subtleties, and look deeply enough to see the wonder lying in plain sight. So, join me as I introduce the physical trail, reveal evidence of past human land use, highlight some special trees and tree anomalies, and give you a glimpse of animal friends we encountered. I urge you to watch for a subsequent Blog Post reviewing the spectacular array of fungal inhabitants presenting their own aesthetic magic along the trail.

The Magnificent Awesome Trail

 

I offer a photograph of the recently printed map in lieu of what I am confident will, in due time, be handsome trailhead signage.

Joe Wheeler

 

We parked Alabama State Parks Emeritus Naturalist Mike Ezell’s vehicle at at the Park’s boat ramp, four miles from the Marina and Lodge, where my car awaited us. The boat ramp end of the Awesome Trail begins at the Jimmy Sims Birding Trail. The small wood-routered “Marina 4 Miles” sign with anchor is new, itself an implied welcome to the Awesome Trail.

Joe Wheeler

 

The milepost signs along our route hint at the quality we will in time see at the trailheads. I add these photos in part to evidence that we did indeed traverse the distance… a leisurely stroll through diverse forest, reading the topography, land use history, and delightful stories of clearing, erosion, healing, and the passage of time.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I had visited Joe Wheeler this past July 10 (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/08/09/july-return-to-joe-wheeler-state-park/), seeing the Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew in action (below). The Crew is superb, led by Ken Thomas, State Parks Trails Coordinator, who never met a trail challenge he doesn’t embrace and resolve.

Joe Wheeler

 

Our July visit revealed just one of the many “opportunities” facing the crew… a too-wet drain capturing this piece of heavy trail construction equipment. We watched a Park tractor come to the rescue, extracting the bogged tracked vehicle. You’ll see an example below the stuck machine of the beautifully-engineered wooden bridges the Crew installed to go over the drainage-ways crossing the trail to reach Joe Wheeler Lake.

Joe Wheeler

 

There’s something about the feel and aesthetic of a well-designed wooden bridge or walkway that amplifies my appreciation of Nature. Note the steel cables securing the bridge at its near, upstream end (below left). The placid water (below right) belies the torrents that winter and spring rains generate.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trail occasionally drops very close to the Wheeler Lake high water elevation of 555-feet. We embraced the cloud cover and below-average high temperature for the date. North Alabama summers can dissuade vigorous mid-day hiking, especially for a couple of geezers!

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike reminded me several times that Joe Wheeler State Park soils are limestone-derived. Here we found direct evidence at the surface.

Joe Wheeler

 

The new trail is wide, well-graded, and generally easy to trek at whatever pace one chooses. Below left finds me posing in a copse of yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) at an intersection with a trail departing to the left. That’s Mike below right back-dropped by the gentle path fading toward the marina.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Although the trail passed through 80-90 year-old deep forest, we found evidence that the forest condition followed prior intensive land use. Below left the trail crosses an old embedded road at right angles. Imagine what is now Lake Wheeler as gentle tributary streams and the Tennessee River flowing through wide fertile bottoms, transected by roads, and occupied by homes and farming communities. Thousands of people populated the 69,000 acres (104.6 square miles) inundated by Wheeler Dam. The now abandoned transecting road entered the rich bottomland at waterline just below the trail. Who knows what commerce its traffic of trucks and wagons performed. Within a hundred feet of where it crossed Mike stands among debris (several old barrel hoops, some rusted drums, and other hardware and stones) we think may have been associated with a still. Ah, yet another agriculture-based form of commerce!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The forest we traversed helped to heel the scars of abusive agriculture from a time when agriculture pushed and exceeded the limits of land clearing and over-grazing. Deep gullies washed precious topsoil from fragile hillsides to the Tennessee River, and from there into the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. What Nature took eons to build, careless agriculture loosed to the sea in a mater of one or two generations. Nature is resilient, yet even she will require centuries or millennia to fully heal.

 

Clouds thickened as we drew within the final mile of the marina. In fact, a hard shower caught us before we reached my vehicle.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Special Trees and Tree Anomalies

 

I seldom enter forested wildness without seeing and photographing worthy sylvan subjects. I’m standing at a 45-inch diameter (measured at the standard 4.5-feet above ground-line) southern red oak (Quercus falcata) below left. The 30-inch yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) drew my attention both with its dimension and its notably mossy feet.

Joe Wheeler

 

I’m reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s America:

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

I suppose that I’m performing the tree equivalent of playing games with the faces. Each tree has a story to tell… and I focus on the richest tales, a full library of which we met along the trail. I took the two images below along what appeared to be another old erosion-embedded road crossing the trail at right angles. The two trees, American beech (Fagus grandifolia) below left and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), had perched for many years on the embankment rim along the road. The beech still clings in position, grasping laterally and into the undisturbed forest floor. At some point following road abandonment, the sweetgum sagged 30 degrees into the road, retaining enough anchorage to remain viable and apparently yet thriving. Both tell a tale of persistence. I estimate that both trees are well over a hundred years old, having seeded and secured life long before the forest on either side of the road sprouted from the adjoining pasture or fallowed field.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Theodor Seuss Geisell (aka Dr. Seuss) could likewise weave compelling verse around these sentinels and the magical creatures living among their roots and toppled mass. Perhaps each offers a gateway to Tolkien’s Underworld… or to Alice’s Wonderland. Were Mike not awaiting my return to the trail to continue our hike, I might have sat quietly to see who or what would peek from the mysterious portals!

There is no naturalist among us who has not been cautioned about lightning and tress. The new admonishment is, “When thunder roars, stay indoors.” The advice is easy to heed when an approaching storm disturbs a patio gathering, but what would we have done that day if one of the showers that dampened our final half-mile push to the marina had sent bolts of static in our direction? Below are a white oak (Quercus alba, left) and an American beech that decades ago could not scurry under roof. Each bears nearly full-height scars of the searing heat of a direct hit. Neither suffered mortal injuries. Tree-dwelling critters today give thanks for the homes provided. Funny how variable lightning is with respect to tree damage. I recall seeing a 100-foot tall and two-feet in diameter white ash (Fraxinus americana) struck the day before I strolled near it. I found the ash completely shattered, long wood shards and slivers thrown 50-100 feet in all directions. Yet the oak and beech below retain life and vitality many years after their unfortunate encounter.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

We found this red oak (below) still very much alive, leaning 15 degrees away from us, supported in part by the crowns of neighbors. What loosened its hold to the ground? As it is for all things in Nature, explanation awaits discovery. The apparent bowl and gnarly base facing the camera hint that the tree once had a twin stem that for some reason died or broke away leaving the old wound-scar. The seam running vertically on the live bole is seeping, indicating rot within, which likely advanced from the dead twin. The view under the leaning trunk evidences that on this side of the tree base, roots have decayed, leaving little anchorage. Were it not for supporting neighbors this individual would be prostrate, sprouting mushrooms and making way for new life. So much in the forest (and for our own lives as well) is a matter of chance… and, some may suggest, divine providence.

Joe Wheeler

 

Here’s an eastern red cedar (Juniperous virginiana) that long since found a horizontal position. The forest along our route had many more dead cedar than living. This species is a pioneer, describing its propensity to occupy abandoned agricultural (tilled and pastured) land. Birds consume its waxy fruit. Avian digestive fluids secure nourishment from the fruit and merely stratify (chemically weaken the seed coat without damaging the seed within) the seed. The foraging birds, in time, drop the seed from developing herbs and forbs sprouting in the fallow fields. Like the early Europeans pioneering west of the Appalachians, cedar advances into areas where the more persistent and longer-lived pines and hardwoods will follow. This cedar captured my attention with its old skeleton lying pitifully at the hole where its decayed and now absent trunk once stood. Nature’s library contains volumes. Most people walking through the woods will never know that the tales exist. I admit to being nearly consumed by the countless stories at my feet and above my head.

Joe Wheeler

 

This red cedar persists, adding an element of character and mystery. I’m certain this senior citizen could reflect on those early years when it fought fiercely with brambles for soil moisture and nutrients, even as it struggled to find sunlight beyond the reach of competitors. Pioneering life is tough, yet this one persevered and remains 80-90 years beyond its valiant efforts to pave the way for the forest where it resides so comfortably.

Joe Wheeler

 

Yet even the forest that succeeded those pioneers deals with adversity… one individual at a time. Lightning is just one of many agents of death and destruction. Adversity can come in form of a companion supplejack vine (Berchemia scandens), as this shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) so painfully discovered (below left).  The troubled white oak (below right) can only dream of its glory days before the forces of life and adversity dealt it a hand of heart rot and destined it to playing house and home for critters of all ilk. Easy for me in my forest products industry forester days to cast aspersions on all but the straight and fat defect-free trees of select hardwood species with high commercial value. I would have viewed both these individuals as culls, needlessly taking up space and consuming valuable site resources. Yes, I still sense a certain gleam in my eye when I see a tall veneer quality oak, but I delight in these special trees and tree anomalies. I no longer derive remuneration based upon board footage and timber grade.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Mike is pointing to another of those timber value defects on a 30-plus-inch white oak. Neither of us viewed it as a defect. Instead, we saw a squirrel-maintained portal to the tree’s hollow interior. The tree and squirrel are at a stalemate. The tree attempts year after year to callous over the opening; the squirrel is intent upon keeping ingress and egress available. For how many millennia have squirrels and oaks done battle? So good that Nature is content with a permanent stalemate between players producing acorns and critters consuming them.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Both oaks and squirrels win across the vast sweep of time. The tree provides shelter and acorns. Squirrels disperse and plant far more acorns than they will ever collect and consume. Its a settlement meant for the ages… a reciprocal draw.

Reptiles, Mammals, and Insects

Just fifty feet from the lake, we found a map turtle (Deirochelyine turtle; Graptemys geographica), an aquatic resident probably seeking a place to deposit eggs. I will never lose my fascination with and appreciation for turtles. Talk about Covid-19 social distancing and sheltering in place!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

An ambitious beaver gnawed on a too-large yellow poplar lakeside. We saw lots of beaver chews whenever we neared the water.

Joe Wheeler

 

We believe that mamma had just that morning dropped her fawn. I could have touched this little guy. Instead I gently persuaded him to join his mother within sight fifty feet away.

Joe Wheeler

 

Jeepers, creepers, where’d ya get those peepers! We found this eastern eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus). I suppose that a hungry bird may have second thoughts before chomping down on an animal with such big eyes!

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike and I are now set, weather permitting, to spend another day at Joe Wheeler State Park July 7. As I place the finishing touches on the Post, that’s tomorrow! Mike assures me that more beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us.

The Awesome Power of Nature’s Fury

December 19, 2019 a late fall squall dropped a twister into the park, destroying the campground and this restroom facility. Trees across a wide swath jack-strawed. Fortunately, no visitors were in the path. We shudder to think what would have been the loss of life and limb had the twister appeared during a packed summer weekend. Nature is always in control. Her power is almost sometimes beyond comprehension. A terror to behold.

Joe Wheeler

 

The old saw offers tremendous insight and wisdom: Don’t mess with Mother Nature. We should heed that advice. Unless we societally accept and practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship, our species is doomed. We will reach thresholds beyond which Nature will not forgive. Importantly, she will persist. It is we who will suffer the consequences of irreparable harm.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I borrow a simple quote from Wendell Berry relevant to our trek along the Awesome Trail:

Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

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.

 

Earth Day Visit: Wildflowers along the Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park

May 19, 2020 I issued a Post reflecting my Earth Day hike on the Monte Sano State Park Wells Memorial Trail: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/05/19/earth-day-visit-to-the-cathedral-forest-along-the-wells-memorial-trail-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Here is the opening paragraph from that Post: Earth Day (April 22, 2020) Judy and I (along with 12-year-old grandson Jack) hiked Sinks, Keith, and Wells Memorial Trails at Monte Sano State Park. Because we were continuing to deal with Covid-19 restrictions, Jack sat in the third-row SUV seat and all of us wore face masks while in the vehicle. On the trails we peeled our masks and maintained social distance. I’ve written and published several times on the Wells Memorial Trail…my favorite Monte Sano trail because of its special quality and rich cove site and cathedral forest. Here is my December 4, 2019 Wells Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

I chose not to lengthen that Post with a review of the wildflowers I photographed on Earth Day. Because I am such a spring wildflower advocate, I reserved my wildflower reflections and photographs for a separate Post.

I draw one simple truth from this Earth Day 2020 visit to the Wells Memorial Trail:

Spring ephemerals have fueled my soul and stirred my passion for many decades… and will continue to do so!

Wildflowers

I present these spring lovelies in about the same order we encountered them along the trail. I love traipsing our north Alabama woodlands before the onset of full leaf-out and deep forest shade. Spring ephemerals own the shoulder season between the onset of spring and overstory foliation. Temperatures are perfect for hiking; insects have not yet awakened; and flowering surprises await discovery everywhere. Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis), although not boldly announcing its presence, does offer a show to those who look hard enough to spot its tiny white flowers and are willing to bend closely to appreciate its elegance.

Monte Sano

 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Is one of our more common north Alabama wildflowers. You might wonder why we dub it a spring ephemeral. The answer is simple. I revisited the Wells Trail May 12, finding mayapple in early senescence, yellow-spotted and within a week or two of seasonal dormancy. Spring ephemeral definition from an online dictionary: Spring ephemeral describes the life habit of perennial woodland wildflowers which develop aerial parts (i.e. stems, leaves, and flowers) of the plant early each spring and then quickly bloom, and produce seed. The leaves often wither leaving only underground structures (i.e. roots, rhizomes, and bulbs) for the remainder of the year. This strategy is very common in herbaceous communities of deciduous forests as it allows small herbaceous plants to take advantage of the high levels of sunlight reaching the forest floor prior to the formation of a canopy by woody plants.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Wild comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum) is not uncommon, yet falls short of mayapple’s abundance and forest floor density.

Monte Sano

 

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), as one might suppose, resembles Solomon’s seal, which suspends its single flowers from the stem at leaf axes while the false version offers a showy white plume at its terminus. The leaves are nearly identical. I tend to think the false moniker implies lesser or inferior, yet I prefer that version’s aesthetic. Call me a Solomon’s seal heretic.

Monte Sano

 

I’ve loved trilliums since my first-year college systematic botany course when our field trips led us into the spring woods searching for ephemerals along elevation gradients in western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. I’m still hooked! This drooping trillium (Trillium flexipes) is a species I don’t often encounter. Perhaps it is shy or reverent, denying eye contact with passersby. Lift its face to see its full beauty.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I recall the ubiquitous wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) greeting me across my moves from Ohio to New Hampshire to here. We have its cousin, cultivated geraniums, accenting our landscaping at home. I find dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) every spring locally and, like wild geranium, everywhere we’ve lived across the eastern US. I find special attraction in its distinctive spur.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

My friends and former colleagues up north (PA, OH, NY, and NH) think of the deep south as another world… a foreign ecosystem. Yes, the transect south to here evidences significant climatic zone continua, variations in ecosystem composition, and shifting local accents and vernacular. However, I tell them that most familiar overstory and forest floor herbaceous species range the Appalachians from New England to our Mount Cheaha. Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is another of my favorite ephemerals that I first met in the central Appalachians and found it well up into NY and NH. Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) also ranges north to CT, but I never developed a relationship with it — it failed to catch my eye. I note it when I see it, yet it does not stir my passion.  Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, I admit to another beauty-bias. I melt when a woodland orchid presents herself. Although we saw just this one individual, a yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum), my heart skipped a beat and my face flushed. I recall with relish encountering showy lady’s slippers during my doctoral field research in NW PA and SW NY. I can’t imagine a more beautiful lass. Are those angel voices I hear!?

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

After presenting the yellow lady’s slipper, I risk presenting these next two with less excitement than they likely merit: yellow woodland violet (Viola pubescens) and star chickweed (Stellaria pubera). However, even I, while smitten with the orchid, still salute the least of our spring ephemerals. All of them symbolize Nature’s insistence that every vacuum (in space and time) be filled. As da Vinci observed 500 years ago:

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

And as John Muir concluded:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

Everything in Nature has purpose, value, and function… and enjoys intimate interdependence with everything else. The yell violet and star chickweed with the lady’s slipper and the entire forest ecosystem. There’s the old saw about the greenhorn who insisted that his entire deer be cut into tenderloin. Things don’t work that way. Nor does Nature carpet her woodlands with lady’s slippers. Its the aggregate that functions… all the gears acting in concert.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Cross Vine (Bignonia capreolata) is a woody vine that may reach 50-feet into the forest canopy. I don’t recall identifying this species up north. I appreciate its flowers, which I mostly see as drops on the forest floor. I place them high on my aesthetic preference list. Nature sees them as just one more cog in the glory of life.

Monte Sano

 

I still marvel at squawroot or bear root (Conopholis americana), a parasitic plant growing on oak roots. Like so many other plants, this one grows northward throughout the range of oaks, from WI to Nova Scotia and south to FL.

Monte Sano

 

Non-Flowering Plant Reproductive Organs

I must admit that when I attended university, fungi fell within the plant kingdom, hence this subtitle declaring them as non-flowering plants. I’ve recently learned that these organisms now fall into their own separate group — The Fungi Kingdom! Pardon me if I stumble now and then, referring to them errantly as non-flowering plants. Fungi fascinate me, yet I know them so superficially. I loved my forest disease classes as an undergraduate. Virtually all forest tree diseases are fungal. Now I am captivated by the richness of fungal life I see locally, evidenced by mushrooms of wide variation. I won’t attempt to offer detail in my quick presentation of the more memorable fruiting bodies I encountered on the Earth Day Wells Trail hike. I find the names endearing and entertaining.

Green cheese polypore (Formitopsis spraguei)

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae)

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

From the Fungi Kingdom — unknown!

Monte Sano

 

I am committed to learning our region’s most significant edibles! Progress otherwise may be slow.

Thoughts and Reflections

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

I draw one simple truth from this Earth Day 2020 visit to the Wells Memorial Trail:

Spring ephemerals have fueled my soul and stirred my passion for many decades… and will continue to do so!

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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksSteve Jones at Monte Sano State Park

 

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.

 

Earth Day Visit to the Cathedral Forest along the Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park

Earth Day (April 22, 2020) Judy and I (along with 12-year-old grandson Jack) hiked Sinks, Keith, and Wells Memorial Trails at Monte Sano State Park. Because we were continuing to deal with Covid-19 restrictions, Jack sat in the third-row SUV seat and all of us wore face masks while in the vehicle. On the trails we peeled our masks and maintained social distance. I’ve written and published several times on the Wells Memorial Trail…my favorite Monte Sano trail because of its special quality and rich cove site and cathedral forest. Here is my December 4, 2019 Wells Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

You’ll see below why I feel a sacred connection to the Wells Trail. I’m a softy for rich sites, towering hardwoods, and a throwback to old growth forest conditions. My doctoral research in the mid-eighties evaluated soil-site conditions in the ninety-or-so-year-old second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests of southwest New York and northwest Pennsylvania. That is, I related forest productivity to a suite of quantifiable soil and site factors, such as slope steepness, slope position, slope shape, aspect, and soil depth and texture. Now 470 miles south of my research area, some of the same site quality relationships hold. Here are a few that relate to the Wells site richness:

  • Concave slope shape
  • Lower slope position
  • Deep soil
  • Sheltered location

Let’s examine the photo evidence.

Cathedral Forest

 

I recall the little guy when he stood barley taller than knee-high; I no longer tower above him. He’ll reach taller than I soon enough. So much, including tree tops more than a hundred feet above us, to remind me of my relative insignificance in the sweep of time and the grandeur of place. Such a powerful lesson in humility… watching a grandchild pass so quickly from toddler to near-teenager, and standing together within a forest cathedral.

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We stroll through the forest… and race through time. I’ve often quoted Bernard Malamud (The Natural), “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that.” I admit that I am in that second life. Though still learning, I am busy sorting, applying, and reflecting upon what I learned during those first six decades. Life seemed to be all-consuming when we were living the child-raising and career-advancing period. We focused on what lay ahead, each day taking us closer. Today, in this second life, now is what matters most. I tend more toward the brake and less on the gas pedal. Acceleration to what lies ahead is of no interest. I want to sit in the forest, inhale its essence, dream a bit, and marvel at its supreme beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

And who could not feel sacred connection to these towering yellow poplars? Sure, I’ve been to the redwood groves, the coastal Douglas fir Pacific Northwest rain forests, and stood shaken beneath Yosemite’s giant sequoias. Admittedly even our grandest eastern hardwood forests pale in comparison to those globally significant ancient forests. However, I’ve disciplined myself to partition those impressions, refusing to hold those exemplars as the scale against which I gauge forest appreciation.

I recall standing along the track during practice rounds for a pro-amateur track meet during my Penn State faculty days. I watched and listened as D-I university high-hurdlers blasted past, with heavy breathing, pounding footfalls, and heels tipping the hurdles. I then stood in awe as former world record holder for 110-meters Renaldo Nehemiah approached at full speed… silently and without apparent effort, floating over the hurdles, feet seeming not to hit the track surface. How could I ever enjoy another hurdles competition if I judged all against the super human Nehemiah?

Similarly, I consumed fresh world-renowned salmon and halibut often when we lived in Alaska. Upon returning to the lower 48, we did not eat domestic, non-Alaska salmon and halibut for a couple of years, our standards too discriminating. However, after a period of re-calibrating, I once more enjoy eastern USA salmon and halibut.

So it is with our eastern USA hardwood forests. I stand among the Wells Trail poplars and oaks, absorbing their magnificence, transported emotionally and spiritually, lifted to full appreciation and reverence. My connection is sacred. My soul soars. I thank god for Nature’s exquisite inspiration. I apply Teddy Roosevelt’s wisdom to appreciating Nature, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I accept what they are… their glory where they are… without holding them to a redwood or sequoia standard.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

These lofty sylvan citizens are right here at Monte Sano State Park, just 30 minutes from my home. The nearest redwoods, sequoia, and Douglas fir are a continent away.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I consider the Wells cathedral forest as transitioning into old growth status, yet I know these are second-growth forests. The wind-toppled hickory below blocked the trail within the past year. The trail crew cut through the trunk this past winter to reopen the path without diversion. I stopped to make a very rough ring count, difficult without a hand lens. Some squirrel buried the source hickory nut 150-200 years ago, a point in time when the General Sherman (a sequoia, the world’s largest living tree) was already 2,000 years old. Now that’s old!

Monte Sano

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: I interrupt this Post with an Alert. I revisited Wells Trail May 12, 2020 and discovered yet another large hickory (three-foot diameter) uprooted, within 200 feet of the one above. This second individual stood just 15 feet off the trail. It has fallen since my prior visit, likely toppling with the high winds that passed through north Alabama just a week or so ago. It fell parallel (withing 10 degrees) of its predecessor. In fact, I wondered whether the huge canopy vacancy left by the other may have contributed, the void allowing this new victim to lean further in that direction absent the physical support of the first, surpassing a leverage threshold beyond which the roots could hold.

Monte Sano Wells TrailMonte Sano Wells Trail

 

 

 

 

As I’ve repeated time and time again, nothing in Nature is static. Now back to my Earth Day photos and reflections:

In the Wells stand, even chestnut oak, more commonly a scruffy ridge-top resident, grows fat, straight, and tall.

Monte Sano

 

But all along the Trail  is not towering trees. As I’ve commented often, I do not limit my discoveries to the regal few. Instead, I seek the unusual… the tree form oddities that catch my eye and stimulate my imagination. I offer a little sleuthing to explain the peculiar.

Tree Form Oddities

Sugar maple, the New England species of Maple syrup fame, persists into our north Alabama Appalachian forests, but not often as a main canopy occupant. I see it mostly as an understory component, occasionally reaching into the intermediate canopy. Such individuals aren’t younger trees newly developed in the forest shade. They are likely the same age as the dominant upper story poplars, oak, and hickories on Monte Sano. They are shade tolerant, persisting for decades in deep shade, awaiting some main canopy disturbance to afford greater sunlight and an opportunity to reach skyward. This gnarled, twisted, and tortured sapling will never reach toward the heavens. Perhaps a tree or large branch fell from above scarring this individual. The damage is clearly physical. Not a grave wound, just one that will mark it for life and limit its future.

Monte Sano

 

Imagine the yellow poplar below left with an adjacent twin perhaps two decades ago. Now picture the twin breaking away about two feet above ground from wind or an ice load. Due to its living union with the remaining twin, the stump’s distal side remained alive without benefit of its own canopy. It continues to grow, and in combination with the residual tree is callousing over the wound. Within the next decade, the surviving twin will have an oddly-seamed base, but will otherwise appear intact, the scar and damage hidden from view. Only the astute aware observer will read the external evidence to trace a history written in the foreign language of scar tissue. Similarly the two-foot diameter, calloused stump ring below right belies the reality of a long-broken-off yellow poplar individual. The stump remains alive courtesy of root union with the poplar three-feet out of view beyond the photo’s right margin. See the yellow poplar stump suckers on the left rim. Every thing in Nature tells a story to those who know the language of interpretation.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I slipped a leafed-twig of this redbud at the branch union to serve as tree identification. This gnarly burl evidences a somewhat benign infectious agent. I say “somewhat” because while the burl itself is not fatal, it is modifying structural strength and may ultimately lead to breakage at what I suppose is a point of weakness.

Monte Sano

 

This twin sugar maple has collected enough organic debris in the fork that three violet plants have sprouted. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I discovered my first African mask along the Wells Trail. From the Artyfactory website, “African masks should be seen as part of a ceremonial costume. They are used in religious and social events to represent the spirits of ancestors or to control the good and evil forces in the community. They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion. Some combine human and animal features to unite man with his natural environment. This bond with nature is of great importance to the African and through the ages masks have always been used to express this relationship.” I already felt united with this natural environment… the union deepened and strengthened when I read the description. I am obsessed with (and possessed by) the spirit of the Wells cathedral forest.

Monte Sano

 

I can imagine that all of the Monte Sano burls contain elements of spirit-essence. I may return some dark night to witness whether “They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion.”

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I know I’ll not be visiting these woods on a snowy evening, yet I see some of the same level of mystery and even a touch of foreboding that Robert Frost hinted in his often-quoted poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy winds and downy flake.

The woods are lovely dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the two succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are place-sensitive.
  2. Magnificence draws from a relative scale — the sequoia forest is not the standard for appreciating all forests.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Reward, and Heal 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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.