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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!?

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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.

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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)

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Cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae)

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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.

 

 

 

 

Memory and Legacy for a Sailor and Hero

The Making of a Legacy — A Hero Enters Adulthood

September 2018 I posted my photos and reflections from hiking the William Arthur Wells Trail at Monte Sano State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/09/17/monte-sano-state-park-exploring-an-addition/ I snapped a few of the photos below on that 2018 hike. I vowed then to meet the gentleman responsible for the memorial trail. William Arthur Wells (Arthur) died October 25, 1944 when his Navy ship went down in the Battle Leyte Gulf (the largest naval engagement of WWII) in the Philippines. I met with Robert (Bob) Wells, Arthur’s 15-year-junior brother at his home exactly 75 years later. The internet is rich with information about this definitive US Naval victory.

I enjoyed my visit with Robert and Catherine, married in 1964. Robert, with significant verified Native American heritage, served six years in the US Army. Robert and Catherine filled in many of the blanks important to the story of Wells Trail, and gave me copies of photographs from Arthur’s pre-WWII days. That’s him below wearing his high school letter sweater flanked by his proud parents. I imagined a toddler Robert standing somewhere nearby witnessing his brother’s graduation celebration.

 

Arthur’s next step in life took him into the Civilian Conservation Corp (October 3, 1939, two months shy of his 18th birthday), ushering him quickly into responsible adulthood. Hard for me now to accept that some universities are teaching credit-bearing courses on something called adulting, defined by an online dictionary as the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. I am sure that Arthur began wearing his big boy pants without benefit of three such college credits! Options remain available today for young men and women to enter adulthood without spending $10,000 or more per year on tuition for such higher education. Among other alternatives are getting a job or enlisting in military service. Okay, as I am now within just 18 months of turning 70, I admit to a bit of cynicism and intolerance for how certain elements of society believe we need to treat our youth as helpless, hopeless, hapless, and dependent snowflakes. Arthur stands atop Monte Sano at his CCC Camp in his dress uniform (below). Did he miss his mom and dad, and his younger brothers Robert and Charles, and sister Nancy? I am certain he did. Was he contributing materially and responsibly to the family’s welfare? Absolutely. Was he adulting? Yes, the young man was now fully engaged as an adult. No safe space and crying rooms for him, nor any of his generation.

Monte Sano

 

The fact that Arthur is pictured at the Monte Sano CCC Camp is a major component of the William Arthur Wells Trail tale.

Arthur exited the CCC September 20, 1941 (three months shy of age 20), heading soon for WWII service in the US Navy, fully grown, mature, and adulted (below left). He served his country faithfully for three years in the Pacific theater. The recognition of service and death-in-combat certificate (lower right) hangs in Robert and Catherine’s home, beautifully glass-encased. Arthur’s presence there seemed real and palpable. I felt deep humility and full gratitude for America’s greatest generation.

 

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own Dad likewise served in the Pacific theater… in the Army Air Corps. That’s Dad and Mom lower left with six-year-old Steve snug between them, just 12 years after the War ended. I am grateful for Dad’s service and blessed that he served and survived. Obvious to the point of absurdity, I would neither have entered this fine Earthly oasis nor developed my passion for Nature without Dad. I believe he would have enjoyed reading my three books and my weekly Blog Posts. Makes me wonder what future generations and achievements sunk into the Pacific 75 years ago in Leyte Gulf. William Arthur Wells gave his last full measure that Robert, Catherine, me, and all Americans would stand free and independent.

Steve Jones Miscellaneous Family

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Memorial Legacy for Future Generations

Robert and three investment partners acquired a large property in 2007 along Dug Hill Road, including the 40 acres “up there on the mountain,” too steep and isolated to develop for commercial or residential purposes. Besides, that ’40’ supported “some of the last virgin forest in Alabama.” Why did the partnership donate the land to the adjoining Monte Sano State Park? Robert did not hesitate in answering — the “tax write-off” sealed the deal. Yet he also admitted to a deep emotion for its continued stewardship. And he made the gift of land contingent upon dedicating the trail to his long-gone but never forgotten brother. The Trail stands as a memorial legacy for a genuine hero. Arthur lives on in these sacred woods — a cathedral forest. I snapped these two photos in 2018. Having visited with Robert and Catherine, I felt William’s spirit when I returned a year later. Although he lives in and will always reside in this special, spiritual, sacred place, I wonder whether Arthur ventured close to this area when he served in the CCC? I like to think that he did.

 

Monte Sano SP

 

I will work with Monte Sano State Park staff to see that mementos from Arthur’s life are displayed at the Park’s CCC Museum.

 

Again, from my 2018 hike, this cathedral grove is a fitting home to the Trail, and for Arthur’s spirit and memory.

 

Benefactors Extraordinaire

Robert and Catherine welcomed me warmly into their lovely home. By the time I departed two hours later, I felt part of the family. I presented them with my second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=nature-inspired+learning+and+leading). The William Arthur Wells Trail Legacy epitomizes what my books and writing extol and urge. Their beaming facial expressions below speak volumes of the kind of people I believe they are. I am convinced that Arthur would be proud of his little brother and Robert’s soul mate. I wonder, how many more Robert and Catherine Wells individuals own property adjacent to one of our 21 Alabama State Parks, potentially rising to legacy donation significance? Through my membership on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, I hope to encourage such legacy awareness and action. Robert and Catherine are land legacy poster exemplars for my own mission statement and the core mission of the AL Parks System.

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

 

I proudly shook the hand of that fine citizen who lost his older brother 75 years ago in a War that saved the world. Arthur gave his life to that noble cause. Robert never forgot, and chose to leave his and Catherine’s own gift of land treasure to the future. Somehow that handshake passed a little, but still significant, essence of Arthur’s lifeblood into my own veins.

 

Nature’s Lessons Along the William Arthur Wells Trail

I took that spirit along with me weeks later when I once again hiked the Trail, this time in fall-yellowed cathedral glory. The fall color altered my perception, yet that was not all. I viewed the cathedral through a new set of filters. I had since come to “know” William Arthur Wells. I “saw” him standing in CCC and Navy uniforms as I strolled the Trail. I took him along with me. I experienced the grove in multiple dimensions… inhaling the forest’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… channeling those inhalations to Arthur as though he were there with me.

Wells TrailWells Trail at Monte Sano

 

Funny how life courses ahead. The forest is now 75 years older than when Arthur drew his final breath. The forest holds little resemblance to what it was like in 1944. The basswood (Tilia americana) stump cluster below would have been a grouping of sapling-size sprouts growing from the base of the parent tree, likely cut by lumbermen or snapped by wind near its base.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

The Trail serves as a segment for an annual 50K (31 miles) ultra-marathon. I’ve run marathons (26.2 miles) in my younger years, but never through the woods. I know that by mile-mark 20, my level of cognition began to suffer. Simple math required to calculate pace took great concentration. I’m certain that the 50K runners, provided this segment came beyond the 20-mile mark, would deeply appreciate the natural wonders they encountered along the way, but that they likely experienced as a cognitive blur. Instead, I hope their passage drew them back another time in hiking boots, far more ready to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. This Trail, along with hundreds of miles of State Parks trails statewide, serve as ports of entry and transit through our 47,000 acres of Alabama State Parks.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

Trails provide direct access to untold wonders of Nature. The yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) below left bears the vertical scar of a powerful lightning strike, traveling down the trunk hotter than the sun’s surface, searing the cambium. The scar is now healing over with callous tissue, sealing the wound and perhaps permitting the tree to live decades more. The blown over hickory below right fared less well. Wind tipped the entire tree, including its massive root ball downwind. Yet life in the forest goes on — ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Arthur, too, lives on in this forest as the circle goes round and round. Robert and Catherine’s selfless act of love and memory made sure we all remember.

Wells Trail Monte SanoWells Trail Monte Sano

 

On a less melancholy and somber note, the weeping poplar burl, covered by black sooty mold, brought to mind an evil alien egg preparing to loose some terrifying creature on the next passerby. Okay, I’m just having a little fun. Nevertheless, I would like to know more about this spiked protuberance.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

The forest terrain reveals much about local geology. Dr. Callie Schweitzer, US Forest Service Research Scientist who accompanied us, is standing in a sink hole, evidencing the limestone beneath us and expressing the karst topography typical of such limestone under-pinning.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

I close by once more acknowledging the legacy of William Arthur Wells and the generosity of Robert and Catherine Wells. Every place in Nature has a story. We are blessed by the heroes and fine citizens who have acted selflessly to make tomorrow brighter.

 

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) 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Every place in Nature tells a story… of both human and natural history
  2. Memories and emotion enrich our appreciation and understanding of Nature
  3. There is no better legacy than land preserved and protected in honor of those gone or soon to go

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

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Co-authors Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit and I share great fulfillment in celebrating the publication and release of Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had previously published two similar collections of stories inspired by Nature and told through my deep passion for this Earth and its special places. Here I stand with all three books by a large white oak (Quercus alba) along the Wells Trail. Please think about the books as Holiday gifts.

 

Photos of Steve

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps most importantly, help us identify potential land legacy benefactors.

Lake Guntersville State Park — The Glory of Sunrise and Sunset

I returned to Lake Guntersville State Park October 16-18 to attend our fall meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board. Always ready to take advantage of every opportunity to further explore our 21-pearl necklace of State Parks (covering 47,000 acres), I arranged to spend two half-days on park trails with Lake Guntersville State Park Naturalist Mike Ezell. See my prior Post describing our wanderings along a newly reopened trail through a portion of the Park ravaged by the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak.

An Everyday Place — Extraordinary Expressions of Nature’s Inspiration

Join me now for a quick immersion in the glory of the simple, ordinary twice-daily phenomena as our Earth spins east into the morning sun, and hours later continues to spin out from under the setting sun. Dawn and dusk, day after day, year after year. Visual magic fit for royalty–each day potentially (and usually) different from the prior. I write these words at dawn October 29, sitting in my home office. Dense fog obscures any hint of color; a monochromatic black and white morning. No early brightening to the east. The entire world slowly draws into focus; cardinal directions indistinguishable. I love both ends of the day, whether crisp and clear or damp and foggy.

What a privilege to enjoy two sunsets and sunrises at the LG SP lodge atop Sand Mountain, overlooking the Lake. I’ll begin with the entrance sign upon my late morning arrival. Entering any of our Parks gives me a sense of peace, satisfaction, and anticipation.

 

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Because I neglected to take a photo of the Lodge, here’s one from the official Park website. Next time I will strive to remember to snap an image. Even as I write those words, I am reminded of the sage Yoda, who said “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Lake Guntersville SP

Official AL Parks Photo

 

From my July 26, 2018 visit, here is yet another morning at the Lodge overlooking the Lake as morning burned away the thick fog that had earlier obscured the valley. I include the photo here to represent just another special morning that left indelible visual memories. See my Blog Post from August 2018.

 

I can’t remember the last time the sun brightened the morning before I awoke. I know many people who might observe the reverse, “I can’t recall the last time I awakened before dawn.” The mornings are mine; I belong to the new day’s dawning. Forget the midnight oil; even in my youth nothing about midnight attracted my attention. I’ve often set the alarm for 11:45PM on New Years Eve!

October 16 sunset from my Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge room balcony could not have been more satisfying. I’ve said often that I prefer paintings that look like photos… and photos that look like paintings. Nature expresses herself beautifully… a view that paints ten thousand words! Heaven on Earth… Heavenly Earth. Soul-soothing, begging the question, “Did I put this day to good use? Am I prepared to make tomorrow meaningful? Am I worthy of the gift of Nature’s wonder?”

Lake Guntersville SP

Lake Guntersville SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The October 17 sunset matched its predecessor’s elixir dosage. Imagine being unaware of what lies within plain site. Imagine being blinded indoors by some shallow digital distraction while this glorious scene passes unobserved right outside the door. Imagine some banal message self-imposing a sense of urgency upon our lives. Missing this for what? Better be much more important than it probably is. Relax, reward, renew, refresh, resplendent — Nature dazzles even when she wears her everyday garb. It’s there for the taking. Deep breaths, studied visual inhalation, and perhaps a bit of 18-year-old Scotch to sip. The elixir deepens life, even if not extending it.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Morning Has Broken

The October 18 dawn added its own touch of life-renewing and refreshing intoxication. Who could not but be positive about the day ahead! A still-shadowed near-shore; the western sky returning the sun’s greeting from behind me. The morning’s fog rolling along the lake, soon to burn away with the day’s heat.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Sunrise and sunset, in October the two growing closer and closer beyond the September equinox in anticipation of December 21, when the separation begins once again. I draw spirit-strength from dawn and dusk, the transition periods that twice a day signal both beginning and end. Either a night ending (or beginning) or a day (ending or beginning). My time on this Earth has extended across more than 25,000 dawns. I hope many more remain. Until I experience one fewer than the other, I will cherish each day, celebrate each gloaming, and long for each new day.

Cat Stevens sang so eloquently of the day’s dawning in Morning Has Broken:

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

I echo the lyrics: praise for the singing, praise for the morning… God’s recreation of the new day!

July 10, 2019 sunrise at Joe Wheeler State Park. Every Park a jewel; every sunrise a gift!

Joe Wheeler SP Sunrise

 

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) 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Never has a new day begun without a dawn breaking; the same applies to all human endeavors
  2. Nature presents two gifts every day — sunrise and sunset (with the exception of latitudes above the polar circles)
  3. Something so ordinary (and twice-daily) as a sunrise or sunset can lighten our burden, lift our spirit, and strengthen our resolve to live each day fully

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

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

 

Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, whether Lake Guntersville or Buck’s Pocket:

Every sunrise tells a tale of Nature’s Passion.

 

 

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

 

Buck’s Pocket State Park

I stopped by Buck’s Pocket State Park mid-October… a side excursion from my primary destination at Lake Guntersville State Park (LG SP). What a great stroke of good fortune. My first visit and an unanticipated thrill. We entered via a short 20-minute drive from LG SP across the plateau of Sand Mountain. The Buck’s Pocket moniker? My State Park hosts could not be sure whether the “buck” referred to a male deer or a person’s name. I have not researched to determine for myself.

The “pocket” part is self-evident. The topography is clearly a sunken “pocket,” its canyon floor lying 800-feet below the plateau rimrock. I will return another time to explore the Park far more intimately than our quick walk to the Jim Lynn Overlook allowed.

A Pocket of Beauty Atop Sand Mountain’s Plateau

I did not know what to expect, yet I must admit whatever I anticipated fell far short of what appeared! This is a magnificently surprising landscape. We emerged from the unremarkable plateau with mixed farm and forest to a spectacular vista. Far below we spotted a small lake, where our State Park host, Superintendent Michael Jeffreys, told us we would find the camping area. I can only imagine what lies in some of those hidden coves and protected lower slopes. I visualize some rich sites with fat oaks and poplars reaching skyward. And some great natural spring wildflower gardens. As Robert Service observed in his Spell of the Yukon: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back–and I will.”

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The simple overlook view ignited a passion for this place, where I’ve not yet ventured with boots on the ground. Perhaps I am blinded by seeing far more from the overlook than I had anticipated, yet I feel certain I will not be disappointed. I am learning more about my northern Alabama, southern Appalachian neighborhood. I am eager to descend into the pocket; I see it as a full-day hike and exploration. I will carry notepad and camera… and share my impressions and reflections with readers. I am thrilled that anticipation fills me with joy for tomorrow. Recall from John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High… “going home to a place I’ve never been before.” So, watch these Posts for what I find and how I react. I’ve said often that every acre of every parcel of God’s green Earth tells a tale.

 

A Hard-Scrabble Life

Even the rimrock tells tales. The dead Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) signals the hazards of life at the edge (literally and metaphorically). Life is exposed; conditions are harsh; there are no guarantees for extended bliss and happy days. What is scenery to a tree — likely not sufficient to cover the cost of living in shallow soils, standing firm against persistent wind; bearing the brunt of ice storms and scalding sunlight. I am grateful for the tree’s valiant efforts… and for the photo-frame and contrast of its dead standing skeleton. Its gift of a focal point. Its expression of existence as conflict in the ongoing succession of life and death.

Buck's Pocket SP

Somehow this smaller, yet still very much alive, Virginia pine perseveres, finding purchase on the edge in a fissure… fully exposed on bare rock, yet somehow tapping sufficient life forces (soil medium and moisture) year after year. It provides a point of rimrock focus, and a wonderful foreground for the pocket falling away beyond it.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

And the pine stands as a nice backdrop to NE District Superintendent Mike Jeffreys.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

With or without Mike and the lone pine, the Buck’s Pocket scenery is exquisite, especially as we neared sunset.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is one of my lifetime favorites. It’s an intermediate canopy occupant, rarely reaching into the overstory. Its sweet blossoms are coveted by beekeepers. Its honey commands premium prices. The persistent seed heads decorate this sourwood on the rimrock.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

This dead Virginia pine is, in my mind, the Jim Lynn Overlook standard-bearer. Its story is told in annual rings. I wonder how many years ago the newly germinated seedling grew it first needles. I feel certain that its much younger self furnished a little shade to a CCC crew as they labored with stonework at the overlook. Does it date back to Native Americans gazing over the valley. I think not, but I won’t flatly rule our the possibility.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Again, I feel great curiosity for the multidimensional stories of passion for place and everyday Nature. Contemplating the rich human and natural history of this spot and so many more stirs my soul and stimulates my imaginings. I am eager to return to Buck’s Pocket: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to back–and I will.”

 

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) 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Some places stir love at first sight
  2. We each define special places through our own subjective lens
  3. Robert Service nailed it: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back–and I will.”

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

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

 

Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, whether Lake Guntersville or Buck’s Pocket:

Buck's Pocket SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

Mid-October Lake Guntersville State Park: Special Small Trees and Shrubs

I spent two half-days at Lake Guntersville State Park on the trails with Park Naturalist Mike Ezell, October 15-16, 2019. I never tire of this State Park pearl, just one hour twenty minutes from my home. My intent is to share photos and reflections from this early fall point-in-time exposure. Each immersion in Nature, even at a single place, reveals features, images, and realities different from the last… both because things have changed over the time interval or because closer inspection yields what previously had been hidden within. And each visit uncovers new impressions through fresh eyes, altered attitude, or since-acquired knowledge. Every journey into any wildness, local or international, heightens the senses and leads me to stronger belief in and understanding of Nature’s ways.

I have written often in these essays of my five essential verbs for discovering and appreciating Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… compelling me to practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship. I hope that they apply to your orientation to Nature as well. From my Great Blue Heron website:

  • I find Nature’s Lessons because I know they lie hidden within view — to believe enables me to look and see… to discover
  • Really look, with eyes open to your surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
  • Be alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
  • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
  • Feel emphatically enough to spur action

I begin with two photos I took late last summer at the Park when Mike and I trekked several trails (July 26, 2018) some seven weeks (and a year) prior to the recent visit. I offer it in simple contrast to evidence the inexorable seasonal progression, year after year, week after week. Below left is the distinctive blocky bark of an overstory persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana). That’s Mike’s hand holding seven dropped still-green persimmons. I’ll keep you in suspense for a couple of photographs and two or three paragraphs to show how ripening altered the look of this year’s persimmon crop over that seven week period. Bear with me.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

We did not revisit the undisturbed forest trails we hiked last year… so we did not encounter the same tree or even another overstory persimmon tree.

 

Tornado-Disturbed (April 27, 2011) Mid-Slope Forest

An outbreak of three tornadoes crossed the Park during an historically violent day here in Alabama April 27, 2011. The National Weather Service reported 62 tornadoes in Alabama alone: https://www.weather.gov/bmx/event_04272011. Mike and I focused our wanderings within the very large tornado-disturbed acreage. We walked a two-mile trail recently relocated and cleared of debris from those storms, soon to be reopened to public use. Here’s Mike standing in the hollow of a large blow-down. Wind toppled the tree lifting the roots and associated soil matrix. The resultant micro-topography goes by at least two monikers: pit and mound; hummock and hollow. Nine growing seasons after the outbreak, a young forest is developing beyond the mound, which is now softening from its sharp features immediately after the trauma… roots are decaying, raindrop impact is eroding the mound, and leaves and organic debris are accumulating in the pit.

Guntersville SP

 

We strolled past massive jackstrawed heaps of trunks and tops. I failed to successfully capture an image good enough to include in this Post. Here’s the oddly re-sprouted stump of a 15+-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) sheared fifteen feet above ground by the wrenching winds. The seven-inch diameter sprout is reaching for the sky along with many other sapling-size hardwoods, the various species evolved over eons to recapture sites leveled by wind, ice, or other elemental forces of Nature. So closely associated with the decaying stump, this sprout will likely succumb to the more routine force of wind and ice.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Okay, you were patient — I’ve returned to persimmon. No longer green, these fruits are nearly ripe. We tasted, and found them disappointingly stringent. We estimated another two weeks before they would be human-edible and desirable. Rewarded by the tornado with full sunlight, this tree now bears a full fruit burden, bending the branches and promising lots of goodness for foraging wildlife. Tornado devastation? To hikers along the rehabilitated trail for the past nine years — yes! To wildlife flourishing from the rich persimmon fruit harvest this year — no! To the forest itself? Forest stands ebb and flow over time. One year… a vigorous maturing mixture of overstory hardwood species. April 27, 2011… a powerful tornado violently leveling the stand to near-ground level. Nine years later… yet another stage, this one of violent recovery. Powerful forces of rebirth. It’s Nature’s way. Let’s project to 2069… a half-century hence. Hikers will enjoy the deep summer shade, will marvel at the arching canopy, the towering trunks. That is, an old-growth forest… until the next tornado, hurricane, or ice storm. Nothing is static in Nature… she does not know…or prefer…stasis.

 

Even day-to-day, nothing remains the same. A week later, this leaf will have gone to burgundy, and a week later will be transitioning to forest floor, fueling future forest growth and renewal.

 

We discovered multiple species that are new to me… or, at least unfamiliar. Mike identified them, yet admitted that they seemed to be uncommonly plentiful in the tornado recovery zone. Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana) seemed vigorous, thriving in those disturbed areas. I suspect they are still responding to the overstory removal and their new life in plentiful sunshine. Deep dark green leaves, with the species’ distinctive parallel lateral venation, and a good fruit crop, in this case already ripened from red to black. Birds will soon make short work of them.

 

Again, the deep venation is a distinguishing feature.

 

The winged elm (Ulmus alata) threw me for a loop. I immediately thought of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), quite common and likewise bearing the corky wings on small branches. Yet these seemed far more prominent… and, most importantly, bearing leaves clearly not sweetgum. Mike quickly introduced me to winged elm. A few leaves remained (below left) despite our prolonged late summer and early fall drought. I could not stop admiring the pronounced wings and greenish twigs (below right). I will never again mistake this understory and intermediate canopy occupant for sweetgum. Once again, here is a species flourishing in the uber-disturbed tornado path. I am becoming more confident that certain species that occupy the understory of our regional hardwood forest, almost invisibly lie in wait for the apocalyptic disturbances that afford them a brief (decade or two) period of explosive growth and reproduction while the main canopy forest species recapture the site. The species like Carolina buckthorn then lie patiently in wait… until the next major disturbance. The game is termed forest ecology and succession. Nothing in Nature is static; Nature is prepared for any and all eventualities.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is common across northern Alabama; its cousin yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) according to Mike’s experience at Lake Guntersville State Park, is not. From Auburn University’s Trees of Alabama and the Southeast, “Leaves are opposite, deciduous and palmately compound with 5-7 obovate leaflets. Stout light brown twigs show prominent terminal buds and shield shaped leaf scars. Bark is gray-brown and smooth on small trees and becomes scaly and plated, sometimes with “bull’s-eye” grooves in the bark, on large trees. Flowers are pale yellow. Fruit is a smooth capsule enclosing two poisonous nuts. Form is up to 26 m (85 ft) in height and 1.5 m (5 ft) in diameter. Yellow buckeye is a large tree found in rich mesic woods in northern Alabama.” I’ve always been a buckeye tree fan, collecting the dark brown “eyed” nuts enthusiastically as a kid in western Maryland. To this day I can’t resist gathering them.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I must admit, too, that I’ve never been an Ohio State University Buckeye fan. Nine years on the faculty at Penn State, a faithful Nittany Lion fan, I view the “Luckeyes” (yeah, the spelling is intentional) as a major rival… one that beat us too often! My love of the nut, however, still stands undiminished.

Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) is another of my formative-years favorites. I grew up 28 miles upstream (along the Potomac River) from Paw Paw, West Virginia. This under- and mid-story forest species flourishes in the central Appalachians, seeming quite content on the more xeric mid- and upper slopes. From a National Park Service website, paw paw are shade tolerant “trees in the forest understory. With leaves and branches that deer avoid, and fruit that is loved by all, the pawpaw… is a fascinating native tree. It’s the only local member of a large, mainly-tropical plant family (Annonaceae), and produces the largest edible fruit native to North America.” When ripe, its yellowish to near-brown fruit is quite sweet with a dollop of banana taste and consistency. When I encountered fruit for the picking and eating I considered myself fortunate indeed. I worked as a Forester’s Aid both sophomore/junior and junior/senior summers on Green Ridge State Forest in Maryland’s Appalachians, the heart of paw paw country. Since then my encounters with ripe paw paws have been far too infrequent.

Tornadic winds brought a main canopy tree from vertical to horizontal, flattening the paw paw sapling below that now supports the four visible vertical saplings that have since sprouted and now reach for the light above. Nature prepares all of her denizens (plant and animal) to deal with adversity.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I love the shape, size, texture, tropical-nature, and color of paw paw leaves (below). I thrilled with each new and unanticipated secondary species we encountered in the recovering tornado-disturbed forest. Who knows how long this paw paw had patiently persevered in the forest understory shade, evolutionarily prepared to exploit the tornado-delivered gift of light. One man’s bane is another’s boon. Nature does not pass judgment on phenomena that we humans might class as good or bad, favorable or catastrophic. The paw paw knows only that when forest floor light increases, its role is to act… produce more leaf surface; grow and prosper; accelerate flowering and fruiting; reproduce. The window of opportunity will be brief. The overstory forest will likewise respond, reach above the paw paw, and once more relegate the paw paw to its proper place in the shade.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

So, persimmon, Carolina buckthorn, winged elm, paw paw, and yellow buckeye… already five species accounted for on the tornado-disturbed hillside. And yet two more secondary species caught our eye. The first is eastern Bumelia (Bumelia lycioides), a shrub to small tree with thorns at buds. Once more, Mike immediately identified this sharp-thorned and angular-stemmed tree-shrub.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Peterson’s Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs nailed the leaves: “Leaves narrow to elliptic or even parallel-sided  or egg-shaped, without teeth, tips short-pointed or rounded, either hairless or somewhat silky. Leaf blades 2.5-6 inches. Height to 30′.” It takes a special knowledge and talent to write these wonderful descriptors.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

And the seventh hillside canopy-subordinate species we identified is rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum). From a University of Florida website: “A native of the well-drained, upland woods of southeastern North America, Rusty Blackhaw forms a multiple or (occasionally) single-trunked small tree or large shrub, reaching 25 feet in height with an equal spread. The dark bark is blocky, resembling older Flowering Dogwood bark. Trunks usually grow no thicker than six inches and arch away from the tree, forming a pleasing, vase-shaped crown. Leaves are dark green, three inches long, leathery, and extremely glossy. The tree is covered in springtime with striking five-inch-wide clusters of small, white blooms. These flowers are followed by clusters of dark blue, waxy, one-half-inch-long fruits that are extremely popular with wildlife and will occasionally persist on the plant from September throughout the autumn, if not eaten by wildlife. In fall, Rusty Blackhaw puts on a brilliant display of scarlet red to purple foliage.”

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Had I seen this specimen following leaf fall (and without Mike), I would have declared dogwood (Cornus florida). The bark is a dead-ringer for dogwood.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Although not typically a secondary species, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is shade tolerant and would have been content in the understory of the pre-tornado forest, opportunistically biding time, positioned and poised to spring into the overstory in the event of main canopy removal. This one caught our eye with its circumferential yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) bird peck. Another element of Nature’s bag of tricks and special visual treats.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

 

Away from the Tornado Track

Even if one of the tornadoes had tracked across this place on the map, the cave would have cared not a single iota. This geologic feature is clearly mapped and openly accessible. My interests reach beyond Nature’s biological wonders.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I am always alert for tree form oddities — see my related Post from January 2019: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/01/14/our-lives-mimic-nature-lessons-learned-from-tree-form-oddities/. We spotted this white oak (Quercus alba) near the Cave Trail (see above). These massive burls flank both sides behind me, earning my declared moniker of angel-winged oak! Perhaps in the Halloween gloaming I would lean more toward a more ghoulish characterization!

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Mike guided me off trail to another cave, purposely off the beaten and publicized track, where the entrance is more dangerous (a 20-foot vertical drop) and the resident bat colony meriting protection.

 

The limestone ledges surround the sink-hole near the cave entrance. The hole, now sediment and debris filled to level, supports a vibrant stand of mixed hardwood reaching skyward with straight and clear boles. The soils are rich… and the trees demonstrate their gratitude in height and girth.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

This white oak and partnering grape vine grow at the lower slope just a few feet above sink’s ground level.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

And this two-foot diameter black walnut (Juglans nigra), also at the ledge base and tapping the fertile sink soil, expresses the site’s richness.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I am partial to high quality hardwood forests on deep, well-drained, fertile sites. I am pleased that tornado steering currents protected this special place. What I don’t know is how many such special places the spring twisters ravaged. I cannot even be certain that 60-80 years ago a similar weather day did not rip through a previous stand in this very spot… leading to the forest I am now admiring, even revering, viewing it as a forest cathedral, deeply spiritual and awe inspiring. Remember, Nature makes no judgement with respect to forest beauty… or human life and limb.

 

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) 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature is magnificent in both beauty and violence, acting without judgement or prejudice
  2. Disturbance, whether catastrophic or gradual, is the rule; nothing in Nature is static
  3. Deep time has prepared all life for disturbance; an F-3 tornado is but a perturbation in the life of a forest ecosystem… extending across millennia

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

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

 

Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, whether Lake Guntersville State Park or a Local Greenway!

 

Lake Guntersville SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

August Revelations at DeSoto State Park

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

 

August Non-Flowering Plants

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cling Like Hell to Your Rock

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

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

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

 

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

 

Flowering Sandstone Glade Plants

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fall’s Early Advance

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

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

 

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

DeSoto State Park: April and August 2019

Nothing in Nature is Static

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sandstone Glades

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nature’s Weathering of a Trail Marker’s Handiwork

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

 

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

 

Non-Flowering Plants

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

July Return to Joe Wheeler State Park

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

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

The main entrance hints at the sylvan environment lying within.

 

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

Sunrise at the Lodge along Wheeler Lake

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

An Afternoon in the Woods

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Cheaha in the heart of our Alabama Southern Appalachians, or Joe Wheeler’s lake-shore forests near Rogersville.
  • The Tennessee River impoundments provide rich regional recreational value, furnish electrical power, enable navigation, and serve as perfect lake-side locations for both Joe Wheeler and Lake Guntersville State Parks.
  • In my humble view, daybreak is one of Nature’s finest gifts.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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