Local Greenways — The Blessing of Urban Floodplains!

I’ve enjoyed many hours biking and walking along our local Madison, Alabama greenways: Bradford Creek; Mill Creek; and Indian Creek. Note the commonality — each bears a creek moniker. One might assume city planners wanted us to experience the peaceful streamside environment, the gurgle of flowing water, and the shade of the riparian forests. Not a bad assumption. However, other reasons prevailed. Here in northern Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, Nature blesses us with an annual average of 55 inches of rainfall. Our streams overflow their banks several times each year. So, their floodplains are not suitable for residential or commercial development. Five-and-a-half-year-old grandson Sam and I visited Indian Creek and Bradford Creek greenways January 3, 2020. I had measured eight inches of rain over the prior 13 days. That’s roughly 15 percent of our annual precipitation! Light rain continued as we walked. The heaviest rains had fallen the prior evening; the streams had begun to fall.

Indian Creek Greenway

I asked Sam to stand by the Indian Creek Greenway sign. Ever-ready with appropriate armament, he decided to aim back with his trekking pole. Beyond him the trail dips into Indian Creek, flooded impassably.

Local Greenways

 

Seen from the highway bridge above the trail and at water’s edge, the creek gives little deference to the paved greenway. As always, Nature holds sway. We are wise to know and respect her ways. What better application of land use than to dedicate a riparian zone to recreation.

Local Greenways

 

But there is more. Bradford Creek and Indian Creek greenways serve another purpose. Both are rights-of-ways for public sewer lines, a conscience and deliberate effort to place utilities where they do not interfere with commercial and residential development. I accept and applaud the complementary uses of utility right-of-way and recreational corridor. As I pedal I pay no heed to the surface manifestation of the underground utility (photo below from a week later (January 12) along the Bradford Creek trail), the flood waters long since subsided.

Local Greenways

 

Where the water rose above the trail surface, a crayfish scurried across the pavement. Sam and I picked him up, avoided his pincers, said hello, and placed him back into his watery realm.

 

Bradford Creek Greenway

Because Indian Creek was so completely underwater Sam and I drove the three miles or so west to Bradford Creek. Indian Creek was two or three hours past peak flood flow. Bradford Creek is a lower order stream, having reached maximum flow around midnight. Stream order describes the hierarchical sequence of streams within a watershed. Small headwater streams are first order. Their flow peaks while the deluge is falling. Bradford Creek is probably second order, formed from several first order streams draining Madison City neighborhoods. Sam is sitting on and standing by a log that washed over the culvert during the night. The creek has already fallen a couple feet below peak flow. Indian Creek, a higher order stream, was still close to peak.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

Stream order classification rises to a high of 12. The lower Mississippi rates a 12. The peak flow at New Orleans may lag several weeks behind the spring dousings and snowmelt that inundated farmlands of the upper Midwest. I wonder, how many Bradford Creek watershed equivalents would it take to furnish the Big River’s flood-flow at its Gulf outlet. And then compare that to the world’s largest volume river, the Amazon. The Amazon carries more volume than the next eight largest rivers in the world combined. It has ten tributaries larger in volume than our Big River. If we could redirect the Amazon’s outlet flood-flow into an empty Lake Ontario basin, the lake would fill in three minutes. As I marvel at the force of Bradford and Indian creeks in flood, I once again feel overwhelming humility knowing that this is nothing to the Amazon and our own Mississippi. All things natural are relative.

 

The Special Magic of Wet Tree Trunks

Forest hydrology stood among my top five favorite undergraduate courses. According to the US Forest Service, Forest hydrology studies the distribution, storage, movement, and quality of water and the hydrological processes in forest-dominated ecosystems. Forest hydrological science is regarded as the foundation of modern integrated watershed management. Our spring-break field trip that semester took us to Hubbard Brook Watershed, a world famous calibrated, monitored US Forest Service hydrological research station deep in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I felt as though I were heaven-bound as I drove the university van north and east through the Adirondacks toward northern New Hampshire. Spring break at a Florida beach — not for me! I would have traded the Hubbard Brook trip for nothing… neither fame, nor fortune, nor warm ocean breezes.

The forest hydrological system begins in the tree canopy, where raindrops (and snowfall) first meet the forest. Let’s stick with rain. The fate of rain in the canopy: evaporation from twigs and leaves; throughfall to the forest floor; stemflow. Tree crown geometry for many species funnels canopy water along twigs, stems, and branches toward the trunk. A little over three-inches of rain fell during the 36 hours prior to Sam and me hitting the two greenways. This American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), a species with widely-spreading dendritic branching pattern, is particularly skilled in drawing water to its trunk. This one is soaked, every nook and cranny thoroughly wetted. Its bark supports rich communities of algae and lichens, much of it far less visible on dry bark. Sam and I marveled over the beech bark palette of life.

Local Greenways

 

We also saw magic in the beech fingers clinging tightly to the riparian forest floor. Don’t we all cling fiercely…and lovingly…to those things, places, and people we hold dear. Security comes in many forms. I know from my training as an ecologist and soil scientist that all terrestrial life on Earth begins and ends with that fragile layer we call soil. This beech symbolizes our universal dependence on this thin layer of weathering rock, organic matter, rich microbiological life, water, and gas (oxygen, carbon dioxide). Sadly, the vast majority of humanity is excruciatingly oblivious to our need to cherish, tend, and protect our One Earth and its life-sustaining soil. Let this beech teach us to be informed and responsible Earth stewards.

Local Greenways

 

 

A Footnote

I offer another tribute and appreciation to our Land Trust of North Alabama for its partnership in creating the Bradford Creek Greenway and other special places locally. I love the Land Trust’s tagline: Conservation in Action! As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, we as humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space (between ‘in’ and ‘action’) changes the entire essence. Talking by itself can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.

The Land Trust donated a 112-acre easement to the City of Madison (2006) for the Bradford Creek Greenway. The aerial photo shows the property lines (green) and the 2.5-mile trail (red) from Heritage School to Palmer Park. I have spent many hours biking along the creek under its welcome riparian forest cover and shade. A wonderful gift to future generations.

North AL Land Trust

Land Trust of North Alabama

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; with co-author 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nothing in Nature is static… from peaceful stream to raging torrent
  2. An urban riparian zone presents both a land use restriction and a wonderful recreational opportunity
  3. Land Trust organizations can be essential partners in conserving Nature close to home

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: “©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://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!

 

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Three 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. The 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.

Longleaf Pine along Bradford Creek Greenway

Autumn Serenity along Bradford Creek

Hard to believe that this is my last Great Blue Heron Blog Post of 2019, a very fulfilling year for my semi-retirement ventures to spread the gospel of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. This Post returns me to nearby Bradford Creek Greenway.

Our first autumn weather at long last arrived overnight October 11, 2019. Saturday the 12th dawned cloudy with temperature in the upper 40s. I pedaled 19 miles along nearby Bradford Creek Greenway beginning at 7:00AM. So nice to don long pants and my biking jacket, the first time since April that I needed more than my summer gear:

 

Here below are two special images of the creek just off the trail… without the distraction of the old guy in the foreground! What’s so special you might ask. I loved the lighting… dark overcast and deep riparian forest. The placid creek after two-and-a-half months with little rain. The clear water and the leaf-fall lining the sand and gravel bar.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenway

 

Summer’s New Growth on Planted Longleaf Pine

The Bradford Creek Greenway is an urban sewer line right-of-way, managed as a recreational trail for its 2.5-mile length in Madison, Alabama. Utility crews lifted and increased the line’s capacity over the trail’s southern 0.70-mile length during the summer of 2018. Crews completed the upgrade late summer. Regrading, repaving, and seeding the right-of-way finally permitted biking that south end by early autumn last year. I took the two photos below in December 2018, showing the double rows of planted longleaf pines in a 50-foot wide construction staging area between the trail and an agricultural field. The forester in me cannot resist this opportunity to tell a tree tale (fact… not a tall tale). Read-on below these two images.

 

Longleaf begins its seedling life resembling grass, and sends its first vertical growth candle only after several years. From the Longleaf Alliance website: This stage is an inconspicuous yet unique stage of a longleaf pine’s life history where the seedling resembles a clump of grass more than a tree, hence the name. During the grass stage, the growing tip (bud) of the tree is protected under a thick arrangement of needles at ground level. When fires sweep through, the needles may burn but the tip of the bud remains protected. New needles quickly replace those that were burned off. During the grass stage, longleaf pine seedlings are virtually immune to fire. At this stage, although the tree will not be growing upwards, the seedling will be putting down an impressive root system underground. Also during this stage, longleaf may become infected with a fungus called brown spot needle blight. Brown spot causes the needles to brown, fall off, and hamper growth. Repeated defoliation will cause the seedling to die. The grass stage may last anywhere from one to seven years depending on the degree of competition with other plants for resources. Rare instances of 20 years have been documented.

Here’s my grass-stage photo from a prior outing at one of our Alabama State Parks. The trees in the above December 2018 photos grew at least two summers in nursery transplant beds, evidencing two vertical candles.

 

The photos below are from October 13, 2019. The longleaf seedlings obviously enjoyed a great first summer in their new location. Last summer’s (2018) candles now have the second year needles downcast, preparing to shed them this winter. Longleaf needles perform for just two growing seasons. This year’s growth includes the seedlings’ first lateral branches (see the tuft above last summer’s candle) as well as another vertical shoot. Summer 2020 will see vigorous lateral branching… growing up and out.

 

I’ll try to retake the longleaf pine images every fall to chronicle each subsequent summer’s growth. Photos are unmatched for demonstrating Nature’s dynamic progress. Ten years from now people will not be too impressed if I tell them that I remember when those trees were just planted. But show them the ten-year images. Their eyes will widen and their jaw will drop! Ten years out I picture breast high diameter at 5-7-inches and height at greater than 20-feet. Nothing in Nature is static.

Local Greenway

 

I took the images below a day earlier, October 12, 2019. I often showcase in these Posts my fascination with weather, sky, and clouds. These are the same trees, yet their appearance is radically different, almost night and day. Dense clouds in contrast with deep blue. Which image is more striking? Neither — both are superb. I’ll take Nature’s glory however it presents itself! My ride this morning (October 13) covered 29 miles. Three extended loops, each one further opening my eyes and deepening my fulfillment and satisfaction.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

I’ve said frequently that understanding the science magnifies my appreciation and multiplies Nature’s inspiration. The image is only part of the magic. Would it mean as much without knowing about the species’ grass stage and its growth patterns? Clearly not. I see a point in time along a trajectory deep into the future. Nature rewards those willing to believe, look, see, and feel. I am grateful I chose a career and education path that led to understanding and appreciating Nature.

Local Greenways

 

A not-so-pleasant surprise greeted me November 23 when I rode loops on the trail. One of the longleaf pines had died. I had seen no signs of impending demise on prior rides. It is now clearly dead. Cause of death — undetermined. I see no evidence of mechanical stem damage. Nothing has chewed or disturbed the cambium. No obvious stem cankers or signs of fungal infection. Perhaps the seedling had not been well-planted… big air pocket or roots J-shaped (stuffed into the hole so that the longer roots bent back on themselves). During my time (1981-85) as Alabama Region Land Manager for Union Camp Corporation, we planted 16,000 acres annually to mostly loblolly pine. We conducted seedling survival surveys the winter following the first growing season. I don’t recall many sites with greater than 95 percent survival… and none with no mortality. I fought the temptation to pull this one to see whether the cause of mortality was discernible. One fatality out of 16 out-plants is not bad; 94 percent survival. I will continue to monitor, hoping that we lose no more next year and beyond.

Local Greenways

 

A mid-December Postscript

I biked 19 miles on Bradford Trail December 12. The low temperature had reached 28 degrees; the high nudged 55. The average for the date: 35 and 54. The coldest average low and high (mid-January) is 32 and 51. My point? We are enjoying mid-winter mildness here in north Alabama. I enjoy getting out this time of year. I see more now than I can with full foliage. I’ve been bike-cruising Bradford Trail for three years. Yesterday was the first time I’ve noticed this trail-side honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). Formidably beautiful! My three books include tales of pleasurable terror — stories of times when I’ve been caught in rather scary weather, survived it, and took great memories of withstanding the ferocious onslaught. So, just another of Nature’s many ironies. Pleasurable terror and formidable beauty. Nature is rich with irony.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

When I stopped to photograph the thorny specimen, I noticed several sapling buck-rubs, also at trail’s edge.This one will not survive; the buck has stripped cambium 360-degrees. I had hoped to find a cause of mortality as obvious on the dead longleaf — not so.

 

Nature…everyday Nature…fuels my passion and purpose in life. Death is natural. The dance of life and death is ongoing. Everyday Nature, whether we like it or not, includes both death and renewal. Life giving death — yet another of Nature’s ironies.

A Footnote

I love the Land Trust of North Alabama’s tagline: Conservation in Action! As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, we as humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space (between ‘in’ and ‘action’) changes the entire essence. Talking by itself can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.

The Land Trust donated a 112-acre easement to the City of Madison (2006) for the Bradford Creek Greenway. The aerial photo shows the property lines (green) and the 2.5-mile trail (red) from Heritage School to Palmer Park. I have spent many hours biking along the creek under its welcome riparian forest cover and shade. A wonderful gift to future generations.

North AL Land Trust

Land Trust of North Alabama

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; with co-author 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature rewards those willing to look closely, whether in a bucket-list National Park or along a local Greenway
  2. Everyday Nature can amaze and inspire with her stories of magic and wonder
  3. Every element of Nature has a story to tell — whether an entire ecosystem or a single species of tree (i.e. longleaf pine)

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!

 

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Three 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. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

Suddenly Summer is Gone — Bradford Creek Greenway

December 4, 2018, three days after a 48-hour rain dropped over two inches, I bicycled a relaxing 15 miles on the Bradford Creek Greenway, just four miles from my home in Madison, Alabama. I dubbed this my summer is officially gone ride. The morning low had entered the mid-20s; almost all leaves were down; Bradford Creek was at winter flow; and flowering plants had either dispersed or were shedding seed. I offer these photos as evidence announcing summer’s departure, fall’s deepening, and winter’s arrival. The paved trail is leaf-carpeted (below). I would have ridden the day before but I delayed to give the slippery leaves a chance to dry in that day’s wind and bright sun. The loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stands tall and full-crowned among its leafless neighbors, back-dropped by a magnificent blue sky.

Likewise, a loblolly border frames the fair-weather blue below. Shrubs and herbaceous trail-side plants have long-since given way to the 18-degree morning a week prior. Winter’s announcement is not awaiting some cold blast with snow; this is pretty much our standard winter look. Sure, we may see a snow-dusting or two… perhaps even a little accumulation. Of note, the New Year’s Eve Storm of 1963 dropped a record 17.1 inches on Huntsville, the most since 1889. Our average annual snowfall is 2.4 inches.

Bradford Creek crosses the trail under the bridge ahead (below). The sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) stands sentry silhouetted by the the royal blue mid-day sky and the flotilla of stratocumulus. These are distinctly rich fall/winter hues. Beyond the tree and bridge, the fields and pasture reach to the distant woods edge marking Mill Creek.

The wetland below gathers water and releases it to Bradford Creek just upstream of the Greenway. Occasionally, robust cold domes of high pressure will freeze the standing water for 2-3 days before back-side southerly winds return. Again, this is our winter scenery — cold enough to bring full dormancy until late February or early March when this wetland will announce spring with red maple (Acer rubrum) flowering and spring peepers in full throat.

Even during the driest period of 2018 (September and October), Bradford Creek maintained flow. By this December 4 photo, nearly eight inches had fallen since November 1.

Soils are saturated and likely will remain so in this floodplain until leaf-out in late April to early May. Again, typical winter condition.

Two months ago, goldenrod (Solidago sp.) blessed the trail with its rich yellow. I find beauty still in its seed that is ready for flight. To every thing there is a season… and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

I did not take time to identify this plant. I believe it is an aster. Like the goldenrod, it is at dispersal-flight-ready seed maturity. I like its subtle winter beauty.

Wildlife also signal the season. A buck, irritated by its itchy antler velvet, has declared war on a two-inch-diameter trail-side willow. Squirrels took advantage of a picnic table to feast on acorns and hickory nuts. Why not?! ‘Tis the season for gathering… a time to reap.

Just upstream from the bridge, the utility crew that laid new pipe and reconstructed the trail during the late summer had brought materials to the trail along this now-harvested cotton field. The crew repaired the ingress/egress damage by leveling, harrowing, seeding, mulching, and planting two 150-foot rows of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). I am eager to watch these signature southern pine individuals grow. What could be more southern than longleaf pine and cotton!?

Across our 13 career-driven interstate moves, we’ve lived both where winter arrives with certainty and holds fast (upstate NY; central PA; southern NH; interior AK), and also where winter not so much arrives as summer departs (southeastern VA; coastal GA; coastal plain NC; and three times in AL). I’m writing this text December 19, two days from the solstice. I just returned from a 21.5-mile bicycle ride on Bradford Greenway under partly cloudy skies at temperatures in the upper 50s. Were I living in one of those more northerly locales, my bike would be winterized and hanging in the garage. Not so here where winter visits but does not stay long enough to be more than an occasional nuisance.

No matter where we’ve lived, we’ve chosen to blossom and bloom. I’ve learned that we can accommodate to any kind of weather. And that we can optimize best when we know what to expect. I know the seasons and norms here in northern Alabama. I relish the gradual transitions and the ebbs and flows of life across the landscape and with the seasons. I believe life is better lived and enjoyed when we likewise anticipate our own seasons across time, distance, family, career, and this thing we call aging (or, if you prefer, seasoning).

Nature instructs that we recognize and enjoy the seasons of our life, even as we anticipate and enjoy the seasons of the year. May Nature Inspire all of your seasons, whether of life or the calendar. I find richness, joy, and fulfillment by chronicling these stories of my own passion for Place and Everyday Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and 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.

My Mission for all that I do: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Here are two succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Blossom and bloom wherever you are.
  • Recognize and enjoy the seasons of your life, even as we anticipate and enjoy the seasons of the year.

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: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

Early November on Bradford Creek Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Here are succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

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

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

Leonardo da Vinci

 

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

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

May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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