Back to Camp McDowell

I returned to Camp McDowell and Conference Center December 19-20, 2019 following a year’s absence and two prior Posts:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/27/mid-november-camp-mcdowell-land-legacy-orientation/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/01/08/mid-november-skies-at-camp-mcdowell/

On the recent December trip I focused on completing plans for conducting a comprehensive Land Legacy Story for McDowell. Published books and internal documents already chronicle the Human History of the Camp since its 1946 establishment. My volunteer project will develop and publish the corresponding Natural History for the Camp’s 1,138 acres. My purpose with this Post, in large part and in full disclosure, is to help me gather my thoughts for the full-blown data-gathering and story-drafting that I will undertake beginning in mid-January.

McDowell

 

The McDowell Environmental Education Center Mission guides and informs this project: To connect people to their environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning. I will prepare the Land Legacy Story to meet the objectives of and beyond the Environmental Education Center… for the Camp, Farm School, Folk School, and Conference Center. Environmental education and our relationship to our Earth home is critical to all Earth citizens and their obligation to be informed and responsible Earth stewards.

McDowell sits within the southern third of the 181,230-acre (283 square mile) Bankhead National Forest. The Forest Service focuses on longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) in that southern third. The Camp has longleaf (below), along with loblolly (Pinus taeda), Virginia (Pinus virginiana), and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) across the property. Among the pines, loblolly predominates. I’ll describe the species composition and forest types across the property, and discuss the relevant land use history for each parcel assembled to constitute the current mosaic.

McDowellMcDowell

 

All water bodies at McDowell, excepting the free-flowing springs, creeks, and stream, are man made, including Sloan Lake (below).

McDowell

 

I can’t help but include some human reflections in the Land Legacy tale. I photographed this metal sign looking out through a window somewhere at McDowell. Judy and I adopted our comparable Bloom Where You Are Planted philosophy years ago, taking it along as we made 13 interstate moves over our nearly 48 years sharing our lives. The Camp is clearly growing where the Episcopalian Diocese planted it in 1946. Did it work because the founders selected the right spot… or are McDowell’s mission and purpose so powerful and timeless that the Camp would have flourished in almost any location in Alabama? I’ll explore that question with the Land Legacy Story.

McDowell

 

Relic hardwoods link the human and natural histories at McDowell. I’ll attempt to discover and explain how these old specimens made their start and survived the decades, and speculate on their fate. I often observed, wouldn’t it have been nice if we had a series of photos showing every ten years since property acquisition how these special individuals have grown and changed? We cannot reach back in time to establish such permanent photo points, yet we can do it now.

McDowellMcDowell

 

Whether we are examining those stalwart hardwood sentinels or the young pine stand (below left), we can and should chronicle what lies ahead. Everything will change over time; nothing in Nature (or in human life) is static. The same holds true for the pond and its life.

McDowellMcDowell

 

The Camp began in 1946 when the Diocese acquired the first 160 acres from the Summers family. The total Camp now comprises some 25 individual parcels, the most recent 40 acres purchased in 2009. The sign below denotes an internal line separating parcels within the Camp. I intend to examine the individual units for evidence of differential land use history and how that might be expressed by the present forest.

McDowell

 

Tree Form Oddities

And then there are the curiosities of tree form oddities. Some have their own stories to tell. This one one bears closer inspection! They are all part of the tale.

McDowell

 

This oddity on a big leaf magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) resembles an elephant seal. I view tree form oddities as opportunities for explanation, story telling, and fun in environmental education. I want to identify all that I can; mark their location; and include them as permanent photo points. I will implore Camp staff to continue adding to the inventory of on-site oddities and curiosities.

McDowell

 

I never tire of seeing sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) with its propensity to defy gravity… to grow any way but vertically. They twist and turn, navigating their chosen course to find sufficient light to thrive in the canopy mid-story. Let the oak, pine, and poplars battle for for the upper canopy. Sourwood is content doing things its own way, getting what sunlight it needs, a sylvan minimalist if you will. Sourwood epitomizes the Rolling Stones philosophy: You Can’t Always Get What You Want… But You Just Might Get What You Need! Mid-story oaks, pines, and poplars suffer a shortened life; sourwood thrives.

McDowell

 

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 three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Every wildland property has a story to tell… rich elements at the intersection of human and natural history
  2. Memorializing the story amplifies the strength of the property’s lessons for Nature-Inspired Life and Living
  3. Camp McDowell, and other such institutions, can change the world by effectively promoting informed and responsible Earth stewardship

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

Steve's BooksMcDowell

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

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.

 

A Sacred Natural Setting at Cullman, Alabama’s Ave Maria Grotto

December 27, 2019 Judy and I visited Ave Maria Grotto, St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, Alabama, just 55 miles from where we live. The self-guided tour brochure describes this attraction: The Ave Maria Grotto is located on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in the State of Alabama. The Abbey was founded in 1891. The Grotto consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of the creative genius, Brother Joseph Zoetle, O.S.B., a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years.

My purpose is not to describe the Grotto, cover its history, or walk you through the exhibits. All of that is available online at: http://www.avemariagrotto.com/

Instead, I will focus on the interplay of Spirit and Nature. As we toured the Grotto, I pondered the extent to which the magnificent natural setting enhanced the spiritual essence of the place. I will address that intersection of Nature and Spirit… the sacred connection I felt with Nature as I enjoyed, contemplated, and felt lift from the Grotto. The Grotto monument below welcomes visitors. Imagine the monument without its forest backdrop of loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) reaching 80+ feet toward the heavens. They would have been seedlings at best when Brother Joseph began his labors in 1912, more than a century ago.

Natural Spirituality

 

Below are two views of the actual Grotto, the created cave-like structure that is the central element of Brother Joseph’s remarkable work. Magnificent in and of itself, the Grotto becomes part of something larger when the photo point recedes, allowing the forest setting to emerge, which through my personal and professional lens magnifies the spiritual essence. Another powerful element of context is that Brother Joseph chose the Abbey’s abandoned quarry as the site for his life’s work. The Grotto and its forest grew in the ruins of a depleted stone quarry. So much about the Grotto and its story serves to inspire and humble.

Spirituality in Nature

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forest setting enriches every built feature. I wondered whether Brother Joseph even imagined the future forest when he placed his first miniature replica, a replica of some internationally significant religious building. How fully had the forest developed when Brother Joseph died in 1961, nearly 60 years ago? Like so many places I’ve visited in Alabama, regionally, nationally, and even internationally, the Grotto tells a story of intimately interconnected Human and Natural History.

Spirituality in Nature

 

Resonance with Victoria’s Butchart Gardens

One of my favorite Earth-places I’ve had the pleasure to visit is The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. Butchart, too, is a former quarry, transformed through the wisdom, knowledge, dream, and hard work by a truly visionary soul. From the Butchart website: With a former quarry as a canvas, Jennie Butchart envisioned transforming this space into a beautiful garden haven, overflowing with lush greens and colourful blooms. The result of her vision is The Gardens, which are still family run to this day. Ironically, the quarry ceased operations in 1912. Jennie, like Brother Joseph, began her work that same year. Was there some resonance in their work? Both places today are spiritual to me — The Grotto strongly religious; Butchart secularly magnificent. Both inspire and humble! I felt a scared connection to both.

Spirituality in Nature

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera, below left) towers over the replicas, amplifying the sense of forest grandeur. Brother Joseph worked in full sunlight — no forest shade to shelter him from summer’s swelter. Hard to see the gentle forest scene (below right) as an abandoned quarry.

Spirituality in Nature

 

Sacred Connections

Large loblolly pines accent the displays (below). The one below right may actually touch the lower levels of heaven!

Spirituality in Nature

 

Judy and I found magic in this loblolly’s algae-encrusted bark furrows. Life abounds throughout the Grotto. I would have enjoyed the short hike even without the replicas! The Grotto celebrates many centuries of spiritual life and human history. Those stories, through my own forestry and applied ecology filters, are powerfully elevated by the forest setting. I remind you, as does the Grotto, that we are not separate from Nature but are inextricably linked with the natural world. If the power of Brother Joseph’s creation is 100 and the natural setting power is 100, the combination is 1,000, an order of magnitude greater than either one alone.

Spirituality in NatureSpirituality in Nature

 

The Abbey cemetery and its chapel sit adjacent to the Grotto. Again, the surrounding forest adds incalculably to the sacred impact. I suppose the forest inescapably shapes my perception. I am addicted to Nature as a sacred force. I cannot (or will not) see the cemetery in isolation, separate from its forest. The chapel is a place of simple beauty, as is the view south toward the Grotto (below right).

Spirituality in Nature

 

This ancient oak stands along the eastern edge of the cemetery. It likely watched Brother Joseph as he labored within and beside the quarry… not from its present grand stature but as a smaller and younger version of itself.

Spirituality in Nature

 

I’ll close with another look at the lofty loblolly giants. I gaze skyward with an absolute sense of humility and inspiration. Nature, accented by the special works of man, reminds me of my own fallibility and insignificance. And deepens my gratitude for this pale blue orb on which we are blessed to live. And such perspective strengthens my resolve to spread the message and encourage informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

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 truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature invites (perhaps implores) sacred connections… human to Land and Life
  2. Add the dimension of secular or religious spirituality… and the bond is unbreakable, permanent, and irrevocable
  3. The bond begins with special places and extends to our essential relationship with Earth, from us as individuals to all of humanity

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Humble, 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 other lives… sow some seeds for the future
  • I find my own sacred connections to Nature
  • My Earth-Bond is unbreakable, permanent, and irrevocable

 

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. 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.

 

 

Revisiting Alabama’s 4-H Center After 20 Years

An AL Youth Development and Environmental Education Treasure

As ACES (Alabama Cooperative Extension System) Director (1996-2001) I held broad responsibility for Cooperative Extension statewide across all 67 Alabama counties and at both Alabama A&M and Auburn universities. We also conducted education and outreach operations at several regional Extension Centers and the C. Beatty Hannah Horticultural Center at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. I believe my favorite (I can admit it now after leaving ACES 19 years ago) of all locations and facilities was the Alabama 4-H Center near Columbiana, along the Coosa River’s Lay Lake. Since it began operations, more than 400,000 Alabama youth have spent time there. Few forget it; everyone is changed by the experience.

I returned to the Center in November for the first time since departing for NC State University (and then serving as CEO at four subsequent universities in Alaska, Ohio, New Hampshire, and West Virginia). Over my five ACES years I visited the Center scores of times. Centrally located statewide, the Center served as an ideal meeting location for staff, supporters, and stakeholders. Many nights found me staying at the lodge. What a thrill to return. No longer able to enjoy a morning three-mile run to the state highway (knees frown on the high-impact running notion (and motion)), I awoke before dawn to walk the property and breathe the fall air deeply as the sky slowly brightened.

I’ve found across the years that I exchange some vital essence with the special places in Nature I’ve come to know. Perhaps it’s a sacred connection. I felt the elixir warming my soul as I drove to the entrance and entered the property upon arrival the first afternoon. I suppose the welcome signage had been replaced or at least refreshed over the Earth’s 19 subsequent solar orbits… and the six interstate moves I had made since 2001.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

Terrell Guthrie had retired from his Center Director post during my tenure. Nice to see the Lodge now bearing his name!

AL 4-H Center

 

The sun sets early in mid-November, casting its glow on the Center core. Light is a principal section in Nature’s symphony of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Her music swells and flows with the interplay of unceasing flux… dawn to dusk, season to season, sun to storm, calm to fury.

AL 4-H Center

 

Dr. Gaines Smith served as ACES Assistant Director during my tenure… and replaced me when I left for North Carolina. A double pleasure for me to see the new Environmental Science Education Building… and that it bears Gaines’ name! The facility is first-class, a wonderful addition to the Center. The back deck (below right) reaches to the forest, a perfect setting. That’s Seth Tuttle, 4-H Foundation Development Officer (far right), Katelyn Diercks, Outreach Program Coordinator (center), and Jon Harrison, Onsite Program Coordinator (left). I believe I can discern a lot about the quality of a field-based education program by its staff. I had met Seth previously — the Foundation is in good hands. Katelyn and Jon evidence the high quality, deep passion, and total commitment to environmental education at the Center. I intend to visit again when they are in action with youth on-site.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

 

 

 

Even if I had not seen the Center first-hand, the informational materials would have seduced me.

AL 4-H Center

 

I’m a sucker for boardwalks, decks, and elevated walkways. Watch my delight as you lift me into the forest canopy! This walkway and deck reach into the forest behind the Gaines Smith Building. I wanted a bench and a glass of nice Scotch, and perhaps an hour or two to contemplate my semi-retirement mission dedicated to writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. When I visited the Center 20 years ago, I carried the burden (and blessing) of leading a $50 million informal education network (ACES) with staff at more than 70 locations across Alabama. It is only now that I have the luxury of dedicated thinking, contemplation, philosophizing, relaxing, and drifting in the mists of Nature-Inspired Life and Living at a place like the 4-H Center. I see engaging in some manner with enterprises such as this as one vehicle for furthering my mission.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

Without so much dreamy reflecting, I will note the Center’s raptor program, an essential complement to environmental education programming at the Center. I liked the “What is your wingspan?” board (below right). I’ve written often in these Posts about the great blue heron’s symbolic role in my life and its sacred connection to my deceased Dad. My wingspan overlaps to the inch with the great blue heron’s, hidden behind my own spread wings. Over the years I’ve embraced that little occurs in life that owes to coincidence.  Instead, I’ve seen so much that is too perfect to attribute to blind coincidence. As a consequence, I believe that many critical junctures of my life…decisions, timing, occurrences, alignments…are best described as correspondence…divine providence. Divine providence that my wingspan is the same as a great blue heron? Well, perhaps it’s something more subtle. A good sign… a favorable harmony of dimension. I did get a thrill to see the exact overlap.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

I draw great pleasure from my Nature musings. The 4-H Center seems to have evolved these past 19 years in a manner that had I stayed as ACES Director I would have embraced, encouraged, and in some small part enabled. Did I leave behind some essence…a seed…that germinated and rooted with my departure? Or was I drawn to the Center then because that is the future and the elixir I sensed was already there? The result, however one terms its derivation, does in fact appear to be an act of divine providence.

Lay Lake on Coosa River

No, the image below left is not a framed painting. It is instead the view from the Lodge across the meadow to the bordering forest and Lay Lake. Katelyn and John offer foreground for the Lake view at the Center boat landing (below right).

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

I really see no necessity for words describing the two photos below. Well, I can’t resist! The sky, water, trees, and curvilinear shoreline combine to mesmerize (below left). And imagine turning a busload of fifth-graders loose on the canoes in early autumn.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

I could offer some melancholy reflections on how wonderful to be eleven years old again, discharging with classmates from the bus. Nostalgia does somewhat fuel these musings, yet perhaps far more powerful and cogent is my hope that long after my final visit to the Center, sixth-graders from many generations hence will be paddling, hiking, and learning along the shores of Lay Lake!

You can help assure that future. Seth is leading a fundraising campaign to modernize and expand kitchen and dining facilities at the Center. To see for yourself the plans for the 4-H Center visit:  www.thecenterofitall.org

Video of the 4-H Center and Campaign:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgNXb2FxhhU&feature=youtu.be

Online donation: https://app.mobilecause.com/form/EWoMHA?vid=3szqy

Text donation:  Text AL4H to 41444

If you’d like to visit or tour the 4-H Center or if you have any questions about the campaign itself, feel free to reach out to Seth Tuttle, sethtuttle@auburn.edu or cell/text 334-750-7087

The Center’s Forests

The Center’s original forests long ago fell to timber producers or perhaps land-clearing for agriculture. The present second- or third-growth cover suggests deep forest to the unacquainted. One can almost imagine that this forest has persisted for the ages. I snapped both photographs below from the elevated walkway. I liked the persistent maroon sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaf.

AL 4-H Center

AL 4-H Center

 

One more photo from the sky walk (below left). In the forest below, I pondered tree spacing across these mixed forests. Why did the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda, the larger tree to the right) and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) take root within a foot of each other? How did one not shade-out the other over their 50 years of adjacent growth? The answer may be quite simple as I’ll explain with the following two photos.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

Why did they germinate side by side? My very simple answer — chance. The seeds fell and found purchase. And why didn’t one overpower (competing for available light) the other? Loblolly demands full sun to thrive, grow vertically, and rise into the upper canopy. Sourwood (see the two examples below) is not nearly so demanding. It seldom finds the upper canopy, thriving mostly as an intermediate in the shade of dominant and co-dominant trees. And, as I’ve noted often, it defies gravity… bending and searching to secure a place in the canopy that satisfies whatever demands only it seems to know. So, no big deal to germinate beside a sun-demanding loblolly. Rather than try to muscle (and lose to the faster growing loblolly) vertically for sunlight, the sourwood comfortably takes an alternative course, twisting to find a suitable mid-canopy space above. A loblolly exercises a growth pattern termed negative geotropism — at 180 degrees to the pull of gravity. Sourwood snubs gravity, following a pattern termed positive phototropism, securing light that it can find within the intermediate canopy. I admire sourwood’s independence and free form.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

Loblolly is not the only pine at the Center. This longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) fiercely strives for verticality!

AL 4-H Center

 

Exciting Possibilities!

As I drove east, in-bound toward the Center entrance, I noted a For Sale sign for some 300+ acres of forestland adjoining the Center along its western flank. The land is owned by an Alabama company dedicated to “sustainable management, conservation and protection of our natural resources. We are committed to our core values of ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees, providing the highest quality products and services for our customers, and developing long-lasting relationships in the communities where we live and work.” What if that company were willing to reserve that adjoining acreage to create an Earth Stewardship and Forest Sustainability Exploration and Demonstration Trail System at the Alabama 4-H Center. Okay, that’s a dream spurred from a single return visit to the Center. I no longer have a professional stake in the Center’s future. However, I feel a powerful force compelling me to do all I can to assure that both my mission and the Center’s surge into the future. I can’t resist at least contemplating how the Center and this company might partner to forge a centuries-lasting legacy.

Much of the acreage supports cut-over forest land planted with longleaf. In my professional forestry vernacular, cut-over is not pejorative. The vast bulk of New England, Lakes States, mid-Atlantic, and southeastern US forests are previously cut-over! This company is an exemplar of informed and responsible forest stewardship. I see significant advantage in the 4-H life of the property, were it to be dedicated to such application, beginning at a new forest condition. Imagine this forest 30 years hence, with its network of forest roads providing educational access to nearly a one-half square mile parcel of rolling forest. My enthusiasm for this visionary possibility is hard to suppress! Well, after five decades of practicing forestry and applied ecology, I cannot resist what I call Mighty Oak Dreams. I can’t help but see the 4-H Center reaching for the stars and strengthening its environmental education mission deep into the future, partnering with a company with an extraordinarily deep land ethic. The taller trees (below left) mark the boundary of the 4-H Center.

AL 4-H CenterAL 4-H Center

 

An AL Youth Development and Environmental Education Gemstone

The Center is a gemstone… it has been for years. It will be for decades…and longer…ahead. I’m pleased to revisit… and offer ideas for enhancing its future in service to Alabama youth. I’ve had many ideas over my career that never saw the light of day. Yet, I’ve had a few that found traction. And I believe they made a difference. My idea of an Earth Stewardship and Forest Sustainability Exploration and Demonstration Trail System at the Alabama 4-H Center may die a slow death, or even a rapid one. However, they’re not making anymore land here in Alabama. Or, for that matter, anywhere else either. I don’t want to come back to see a Sold sign and then red pin-flags marking lots and subdivision survey stakes. There’s only this one chance to make the 4-H Center future right.

AL 4-H Center

 

Again, the Alabama 4-H Center is an Alabama youth development and environmental education gemstone. No matter what happens, it will remain a special place. Yet it can be more. Three hundred-plus acres more! Now is not the time to be timid. Mighty Oak Dreams see fruition only with applied wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

I’ll end with an excerpt from my first book, Nature Based Leadership: Mid-twentieth century Pulitzer Prize winning author and playwright, Louis Bromfield bought an old, worn out farm in the US Midwest in 1938. He devoted his life to rehabilitating the land on Malabar Farm, the name he gave to his property. He said, in 1945: “The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished…The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of the earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.” What do we want to leave for tomorrow adjacent to the 4-H Center? A housing development or a tremendous legacy for the youth of tomorrow.

As I near the beginning of my eighth decade here on planet Earth, I want to make sure my fleeting existence has changed some small corner of this pale blue orb for the better.

 

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 three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Sometimes our resonance with one of Nature’s special places is amplified by extended absence
  2. Sacred connections strengthen our resolve to change some small corner of our world for the better
  3. We should all strive to fulfill some Nature legacy dream for a future that will certainly outlive us

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 write my books, issue my Posts, and speak before various audiences to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature…and accept and practice Earth Stewardship, and Earth Citizenship!

 

Steve's Books

 

A Persistent and Tireless Call for Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship

 

Three Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; and co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of my own (and Dr. Wilhoit’s) rich experiences in 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.

The Brand New Cook Museum of Natural Science!

The Cook Museum of Natural Science opened June 7, 2019. Judy and I, along with 11.5-year-old grandson Jack, toured pre-opening June 3, with Explainer Kenny Ladner leading the way. I am grateful to Kenny and other members of the Cook Museum team for inviting me for an advance peek. The only caveat being that I not release this Blog Post until after the Grand Opening.

Our reaction to the visit — WOW!!! Here’s what I found on the website June 6: “The Cook Museum of Natural Science is a state-of-the-art natural science museum in downtown Decatur, AL. It provides a hands-on, immersive experience where kids can explore, interact with, and learn about nature. Families leave the Cook Museum feeling fulfilled by their time together and inspired by the things they saw and learned. It truly is one amazing experience for families and children of all ages!” We three can vouch for the Amazing Experience — beyond our wildest expectations.

I often celebrate Wendell Berry’s view of Nature and natural settings: “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 same applies to the Museum — total indoor immersion in Nature’s wonders and miracles, a far-ranging introduction to natural science on a global scale, yet at the hands-on level, within reach, up close and personal, in climate-controlled comfort. We bought a Museum membership on the spot — we will return again and again and again. Perhaps not for daily bread, yet certainly for frequent ingestion of Natural Elixir. Cook Museum will not replace our field excursions, but will supplement the rich palette of Vitamin ‘N’ (Nature) available here in Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley region.

Allow me to introduce the Museum with a set of photos, reflections, and observations. View this as a teaser — an enticement to visit. A prelude to the incredible experience that awaits you! I can tell you for sure that I cannot do justice to the Museum. It truly is an Amazing Experience!

A New Building

From the exquisite building… to its world-class contents.

Nothing is overstated, yet all is convincing, compelling, and powerful. Nature comes to life within its walls. Designers and craftsmen/women left no detail undone or misdone.

Entering This New Icon of Environmental Education

Kenny Ladner ably and enthusiastically introduced us to the Museum. Kenny’s the biped on the right!

I saw by far the best indoor honeybee display I’ve ever encountered. This one houses some 50,000 Italian Honeybees. Like watching campfire flames, snow falling in a floodlight, or a stream flowing past, I could have watched this community for hours.

And that was just the entryway!

Undergirding Earth Sciences

The natural sciences cover far more than the living components. Cook makes sure visitors understand the earth sciences and their influence on life and the living. Jack stands with Kevin Kunze, the design mastermind behind a fascinating interactive exhibit explaining how complex factors aligned perfectly to enable life as we know it to exist on our fare planet. I love the “Perfect Position” and “Just Right” themes. Serendipity and fortuity have pretty much guided my life and career; now I am reminded that the same two factors have enabled all life and living on Earth!

So many of us bemoan tornadoes, wildfire, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and other such earthly violence, yet the Museum reminds us that perturbation is natural and that many systems are, in fact, disturbance-dependent. Our human recourse? Understand, predict, and adapt. I think of the old T-shirt: Don’t Mess with Mother Nature!

I failed to get a good photo of the Cook Museum Cave exhibit, yet it beautifully tells its own tale of physical forces over time.

Freshwater Realm

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that approximately 10 percent of the freshwater resources in the entire continental United States originate in or flow through Alabama. The total surface area of Alabama is about 52,000 square miles, or 33.3 million acres. Total outflow of water from Alabama averages about 29 inches per acre per year, with 7 inches coming from groundwater discharge and 22 inches coming from stream outflow. About half of the rainwater that falls on our state evaporates or transpires. Water and its associated living systems in large measure define our state. Kenny is describing for us this reconstructed beaver lodge. Disassembled on site in the wild, Museum staff rebuilt it, even re-incorporating an old small tire, a broken fishing rod, and a T-shirt. The cross-section lodge is home to three mounted beavers.

That’s a gator tail in the elevated display in front of Judy and Kenny. Yeah, that’s Jack placing his head between the gator’s powerful jaws!

Sandhill and Whooping cranes are visitors to the winter wetland depicted below.

And my favorite wetland predator, the great blue heron, surveys the summer marsh, much to the chagrin of the potentially tasty foreground frog.

Again, I have a soft-spot for snapping great blue heron photos!

Woodland Terrestrial

From wetlands to mountaintop, Cook captures the magic. I wanted to sit and watch old sole descend through the gloaming.

I have yet to visit Big Tree, Alabama’s State Champion tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), in the Sipsey Wilderness, but here it is in its larger-than-life glory at Cook. Youngsters like Jack and even more nimble and flexible adults can climb some twenty feet vertical within the replica’s hollow core. I now hunger to see the real thing! On my Alabama bucket list.

That’s a much larger-than-life squirrel’s nest in the sweetgum (Lquidambar styraciflua; below left). And a Cook woodland scene to the right.

Woodland critters stand on one of Alabama’s ubiquitous rock ledges. Everything looks true-to-life!

Another one of my favorite displays — a momma bear satisfying her sweet tooth. She’s found a hive in a hollow standing dead tree and is enjoying, paying little heed to junior’s pleading eyes! Do I detect a mirror of my own love affair with chocolate?

Again, keep in mind that I am offering just a taste (kind of like the momma bear) of the Cook Museum, which is in aggregate is a honey-tree feast of natural science delight.

Taking Flight

The Museum does great honor and holds high fidelity to our feathered friends. The raucous jay and the forest beyond remind all that life extends from deep in the ocean blue, through the soil biome, into forest and meadows, and to the sky-blue above us.

I love animal collective nouns, like the parliament or stare of these nocturnal denizens below left. Who cannot but marvel at the mighty horned owl? Or the caterwauling of our local barred owls? These large owls are not quite the size we see. Peel away feathers and flesh to reveal a rather deflated skeleton (below right). Like so much in Nature, a good bit (or, in this case, a little bit) lies hidden within. Cook opens our eyes to what otherwise is invisible.

There’s also the owls’ daytime cousins, our fence post or treetop perching accipiters (red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, respectively, below left and right.

And the magnificent golden eagle!

 

The Higher Latitudes

From the high blue sky to the high latitudes, Cook covers it all elegantly, beautifully, and masterfully. An arctic fox in hot pursuit of two arctic hares. And a snowy owl welcoming the deep snow of a long winter

From our years in Alaska, one of my favorite among all God’s creatures, a raven whose intelligence and repertoire never failed to amuse and astound us. Judy would converse with our Fairbanks backyard aerial neighbors, which both she and the birds found entertaining. They would call, and she respond in kind. Or she would lead the way, and they answer in like tones and intonations. Amazing animals… seeming as comfortable on a summer afternoon as they are at 50 degrees below zero!

 

Ocean Depths

Cook likewise brings the deep sea to life — yet another realm of natural science wonder.

Coral reefs immaculately presented, including many living creatures. You’ll fight the overwhelming urge to linger, feasting on the displays.

 

 

 

 

The black-lighted jellyfish tank had Jack (and me) riveted, as the iridescent critters circulated through the gently flowing current.

Our Earth–our home–our source and our destination. Our garden to tend. Our pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space.

Five hundred years ago Leonardo Da Vinci observed, “Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.” Cook holds true to Da Vinci’s wisdom.

Likewise, Henry David Thoreau passed a germ of wisdom to Cook: “I do not know that this higher knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we called Knowledge before—a discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.”

And John Muir could have passed the following on the Cook: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Finally, Teddy Roosevelt might have imagined a Cook Museum, “The question is, does the educated citizen know he is only a cog in an ecological mechanism? That if he will work with that mechanism his mental wealth and his material wealth can expand indefinitely? But that if he refuses to work with it, it will ultimately grind him to dust? If education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?”

My compliments to those who dreamed a way to connect children of all ages to Nature… indoors and globally… at a single point in space and time to the magic, wonder, beauty, awe of Nature to children of all ages! Again, Cook invites all to an Amazing Experience.

Cook Museum Origins

Borrowing from the Museum’s website, “The Cook Museum’s humble roots can be traced back to 1968 when John Cook, Sr. opened his professional insect collection to the public by appointment, which at the time had been used primarily for employee training at Cook’s Pest Control. It later grew to include a wide array of mounted wildlife, touring malls throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

In 1980, additional collections of rocks, minerals, fossils, coral, sea shells, mounted wildlife, and federally protected migratory birds were acquired, and a 5,000 square foot building was constructed. At that time, what became known as Cook’s Natural Science Museum came into existence, and it welcomed more than 750,000 visitors from its opening in 1980 until its closing in 2016. The Cook Museum of Natural Science’s grand opening in June 2019 marks the culmination of an approximately 50-year vision in the making.

Mr. Cook’s inspiration and motivation for the museum came from his desire to generously serve and support his local community and region and to creatively display God’s creation. The Cook Family continues this legacy with the Cook Museum of Natural Science, and we are still driven by the same vision today.”

We have heard so much about the inequities of wealth and poverty and how unfair such a system is. Yet we see manifest in the Cook Museum of Natural Science the tremendous benefit derived from those who succeed in returning good and bounty to the future… our common benefit.

The family pays ultimate tribute to insects. The business of pest control has proven lucrative. The profits have enabled creation of this wonderful Museum. I compliment and offer appreciation to the family. Just as other elements of Nature express beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, so too do the most indomitable of Earth’s creatures, the insects. Cook pays tribute where it is due — the Wonderful World of Insects!

What an Amazing Experience!

 

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:

  • Done well, indoor environmental education can provide a full dose of Natural Elixir.
  • A key to success for all environmental education: hands-on, immersive experience where kids can explore, interact with, and learn about Nature.
  • Kids come in all ages, from toddlers to grandparents!

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!

 

 

 

 

Launching the Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ve been writing and issuing these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts on Nature-Inspired Life and Living for about two years, issuing to-date approximately 150 Posts. I have focused at least three dozen based upon exploring our Alabama State Parks. My hope is to have visited all 21 State Parks by the end of 2021. I have written with absolute reverence and unbridled enthusiasm for what I’ve called our 21-pearl-necklace of State Parks from Gulf State Park to Wheeler, Monte Sano, Cathedral, and Desoto State Parks along the northern tier. Because of my evidenced passion for the Parks, the just-launched (April 25, 2019) Alabama State Parks Foundation named me among its 15 founding board members.

Aligning Mission and Vision

I’m honored. I’ll selflessly serve the Parks and pledge to continue my Alabama State Parks pilgrimage. Watch for periodic individual Park Posts as I make the rounds. We’re talking about a lot of land, totaling nearly 140 square miles (88,000 acres). Imagine a strip of land four-tenths of a mile wide stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee border! Here’s a brief tour from Oak Mountain State Park April 27 (below left) to Gulf State Park in January 2019 (below right).

 

And from Cheaha (with Bigfoot) in August 2018 to Lake Guntersville earlier in summer 2018. John Muir said, “In every walk with Nature, a man receives far more than he seeks.” Muir so clearly articulated 130 years ago what I so powerfully feel today! With every Alabama State Parks walk, I receive far more than I seek… and I intend to continue sharing my reflections, feelings, and observations via these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts.

Our Foundation exists exclusively to serve our Parks. The mission reads: The Alabama State Parks Foundation hosts a community of people who love our State’s parks. A philanthropic partner of the Parks Administration, the Foundation seeks gifts that will support and enhance park programming, park facilities, and park experiences. Members of the Foundation are people dedicated to building and sustaining a great, statewide park system.

The Foundation tag line: Parks for People, People for Parks.

We enjoyed good media coverage at the launch.

Here is the Alabama State Parks mission: To 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.

My own personal and professional mission interweaves perfectly with the Foundation and Parks’ missions: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Serving as a Founding Board Member comes without financial return, yet the dividend in satisfaction, fulfillment, and inspiration is immeasurable! I am grateful for the chance to participate in some small way through the Foundation to make tomorrow better for Park users and future visitors.

Here are just a few of the reasons why our Alabama State Parks are worthy of gifts and donations that will support and enhance park programming, park facilities, and park experiences:

View from the Rock Garden at Cheaha State Park

Sunrise at Gulf State Park

Ecosystems from Sand Dunes (GSP) to Cove Hardwood at Wheeler State Park

 

 

 

 

Clouds Below (Lake Guntersville) and Above (Cheaha)

 

 

 

Rickwood Caverns State Park Above and Below Ground

Actions to Ensure Parks for People and People for Parks

I urge you to visit the Foundation website: https://asparksfoundation.org/

Consider becoming a First Friend and Founding Member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation.

Please view me first and foremost as a dedicated champion of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I see my role with the Parks and the Foundation in full resonance with my personal mission, vision, and values. The Parks and Foundation provide yet another vehicle for me to spread the gospel of Earth stewardship and make tomorrow better. My own goal does not stand as a destination, nor do the Foundation and Parks’ objectives. Instead, our individual and collective goals represent a journey. As he so often managed to accomplish some 130-years-ago, John Muir captured the essence of our journeys in a reflection on Nature: “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” (John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir.)

 

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 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 four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages.
  • We collectively share an obligation and opportunity to understand, preserve, and enjoy these gems of Nature.
  • The Foundation provides a mechanism for each of us to enhance our Parks for now and on behalf of generations to come.
  • Earth stewardship is a multi-generational commitment of passion and action (volunteering, gifting, and donating).

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 my own filters. 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!

 

Mid-March Revelations on “Worn-Out” Land!

I returned mid-March to the site of my east-central Ohio Land Legacy Project, an 1,100 property that nineteenth-century agriculture brought to ruin. Poor practices led to wholesale erosion, impoverished land, and abandoned farms. Mid-twentieth century strip mining led to more “scars upon the land,” perhaps, in retrospect for this property, opening the door to reclamation and a return to a viable agricultural enterprise. The owners manage the property for cattle and recreation, and view the land as a legacy for grand children and many generations beyond. I previously introduced readers to the project in May 2018: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/29/idyllic-pastoral-earth-stewardship-surprise-exemplar/

I completed my field work and family interviews in March. As I prepare my final report for the family, allow me to share with you some observations, reflections, and photos.

Two New Days Dawning

I stayed three nights and devoted three days to the tasks at hand. Never one to permit dawn to escape my notice, I captured early dawn (lower left) and later the sun’s first peek above the horizon (below right) on the first morning. Crepuscular rays grace the upper right of the sunrise image. I snapped both photos from the lakeside cabin where I stayed, an extraordinary place to nest while “working” on such a professionally fulfilling project. Somehow, the word “work” implies something in the way of drudgery, challenge, and unpleasant effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. I found instead a high return in satisfaction and reward.

Day two dawned with comparable glory, first early dawn and then sunrise. Who could ask for anything more. I’ll repeat a John Muir quote I applied just last week in my Post on lecturing at Bryn Athyn College. One hundred thirty years ago, Muir observed, When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. Imagine 1.7 square miles of abused agricultural land further despoiled by strip-mining, and now rehabilitated to the point of this old forester seeing it representing an infinite storm of beauty!

I would have depicted a third morning had it dawned with other than full overcast, blustery winds, and snow flurries.

Panorama of “Worn-out” Land

The two late afternoon views below, both from the residence patio, are to the north (left) and east (right), providing a good sense of the lay of the land. To the north, the property abuts adjoining land within a few hundred yards. The property extends beyond the distant woods line to the east.

Hard to imagine a 100-foot high-wall dropping away about where the fence row is now!

Evidence of Past Abuse and Signals of Recovery

Just beyond that east side wooded ridge, the non-reclaimed, 50-foot high-wall (below left) reveals the harsh character of the stripping that once came within 100 feet of the residence. This high-wall predates even Ohio’s earliest reclamation regulations. Frankly, I am glad that it remains untouched. Without it, I would have no window into the sandstone, shale, mudstone, and occasional limestone strata underlying the original surface. Nor would I have some gauge on the pace of natural healing. The stripping stopped here because the overburden to coal seam thickness ratio exceeded an economic threshold. At some fifty years, the high-wall is collapsing into the cut basin. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara; lower right), among the region’s earliest spring ephemerals, is sending up a few blossoms, which precede its leaves by several weeks. By  the end of March, the scree slopes would have been dressed in the gold of thousands of blooms.

The high-wall and basin extending to the south is shallower and nearly grown over with advancing forest. Nature knows how to handle disturbance, whether natural or machine-induced. Imagine perhaps a few hundred years from now, when even a discerning forester would struggle to interpret the anthro-geomorphology that led to the then current landscape.

A Big Surprise Hidden to My August 2018 Explorations

When I walked and studied the property last August, I viewed the 60-year-old forest on the non-reclaimed debris heap above the cabin with amazement. Here is my preliminary summary from August 2018:

Stripped in about 1960, the heap has healed remarkably well [An August note to myself: I need to find out from the current owner what if anything might have been done to revegetate or return topsoil. What did the 1947 regulations actually require?] My quick circuit tallied 14 tree species: sweetgum; ash; red maple; silver maple; elm; red oak; sycamore; black cherry; hickory; walnut; hawthorn; black locust; American beech; yellow poplar. [Note — I found big tooth aspen in March, bringing the total to fifteen tree species.] Were any of these planted? I cored a red oak and counted 58 annual rings, confirming the 1960 or so strip mine abandonment. I am astounded by tree species richness, stand density, and dominant tree heights. Granted, the stand is variable, ranging from excellent stocking to scattered individuals. Site quality also varies dramatically. Dominant tree height approaches 80 feet in places… 50 feet in others. All in all, however, I would not have anticipated the expressed level of recovery and rehabilitation.

I exposed a surface soil profile near the summit. I struggled to dig even to eight inches. Coarse, sharply-fractured stone dominates the profile. The fragments are generally less than two inches, including far more fines than I had expected. The forest floor comprises a surprisingly thick organic layer and leaf litter. Roots are exploiting the entire profile. A distinct A-horizon suggests excellent soil development and organic matter incorporation. Soil formation is underway.

The debris heap photo below is obviously from March during the dormant season, which from this angle I would never have guessed is anything but a natural forest on undisturbed soil. Without understory vegetation to limit my view into the forest at eye level, evidence of intentional revegetation leaped into view. How could I have missed the obvious last August?

I found row after row of planted sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) running vertically from bottom to top of the heap. I found no other species in rows. Interestingly, the natural range of sweetgum does not extend into east-central Ohio, growing naturally only in the very southern part of the state along the Ohio River.

The landowner, a gentleman who is a student of his land (a scholar in many regards), had likewise not noticed the rows.  From the debris heap summit, I found parallel planted rows lining the old access trail down the south hillside to the marsh just west of the cabin. For those not familiar with sweetgum seed pods, see below right. The owner indicated that Hannah Coal had mined this particular site. He will determine what records might exist to tell us more about the tree planting plan and action.

I have observed multiple times that every thing in Nature has a story to tell. Overlay the hand (and machines) of man and the stories multiply.

Flourishing Renewal

Still at the debris heap, I found a 28-inch diameter (4.5 feet above the ground) red oak (below left) at the summit. What is its origin? An acorn fortuitously cached by a squirrel at a spot where machinery had deposited an especially rich and thick dressing of topsoil during whatever reclamation transpired? Perhaps the tree planting crew had been directed to plant only the sweetgum in straight rows on the steeper side-slopes, and randomly plant a mix of other species on the flatter summit. Maybe they planted the oak seedling in a spot where the dibble found deeper soil among the rocks in the debris pile. Sixty years ago as machinery stripped and then moved on leaving the debris heap, the now forty-inch diameter hickory (below right) stood witness at the southeast base of the heap, already at least half-a-century old. Why did operators not disturb it? Did it provide welcome shade for workers? Like the red oak and the planted sweetgum, the hickory has a story of human and natural actions.

Again, Nature knows disturbance… and has evolved over eons the tools to persevere, recover, and flourish. Five hundred years ago Leonardo Da Vinci observed, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.” Nature knows disturbance!

Multiple Use — Wildlife

This wasted, scarred, and desecrated land is not at all what many would have presumed based upon its history of strip mining. The pond and marsh (below) lie just west of the cabin. Everything within sight derived from stripping and some degree of reclamation. Firewood cut from regenerated forest warms the cabin and fuels the grill. Beavers populate the property and their dam (lower right) supplements pool depth.

The landowner permits trapping for family, friends, and acquaintances. One such trapper a week before my March visit harvested these two beavers.

Deer are abundant on the property. I often saw groups of 3-7 individuals. The family issues permission to hunt to selected friends and family.

Multiple Use — Oil and Gas

Dark afternoon clouds accent the gas well-pad mid-property. Gas lines, access roads, and worker movement and activity complicate cattle operations, yet the above and below ground operations are generally compatible.

Multiple Use — Cattle

Cattle production stands as the primary commercial land use, yet I submit that the overall principal management tenet is Earth stewardship. The equipment barn and cattle handling facility occupy the over-size utility building that served the strip mining company that the family owned prior to starting the current cattle business. Haylage to hold the cattle until spring green-up lies encased in plastic below right.

These cattle await their afternoon repast near the barn.

Multiple Use — Recreation

I took this photo from the east, looking westward toward the cabin and the forest atop the debris heap. Do you see any evidence of strip mining? Had someone dropped me blindfolded at the lake’s eastern end, I would not have known. Yet the 17-acre lake is a strip mine product as is every other facet of the within-view landscape. This part of the property provides robust recreational escape for the family. The pavilion in the foreground of the sunrise photos served as the location for the wedding of one son. I relished my August 2018 and March 2019 nights at the cabin.

As I accepted my bachelors of forestry degree in 1973, the US government was drafting and debating federal strip mine regulations and laws. The President signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. I celebrated because I had seen first-hand the scarred central Appalachians near my home in western Maryland. I had no idea that 46 years after graduation that I would be performing a Land Legacy evaluation on a property a hundred miles from my home, leading me to recognize that the line between devastation and remediation can be fuzzy. Unintended consequences aren’t always negative. That the initial strip mining devastation on this project property was more land salvation than ruin. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

Our role as Earth stewards begins with recognition and embrace of obligation, carries through commitment to action, and results in generations-long pledges to retain and improve some small corner of the world through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. I interviewed the owners and all four of their adult children. Without exception, the family sees this unit of Mother Earth as a legacy for many generations yet to come. I feel truly privileged and honored to help tell the tale of their love and devotion to the land and its future.

 

Life Lessons and Wisdom from Developing an Ohio Land Legacy Story

Louis Bromfield, an Ohio-born novelist and playwright who devoted his life to rehabilitating the soil on his old worn-out farm (Malabar) near Mansfield, summarized a similar zeal and ethic:

The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge and hard work.

I’ll offer broadly and succinctly that embracing and practicing Earth stewardship is reward and fulfillment in and of itself. I discerned four distinct lessons from developing this Post:

  • Nature knows disturbance — learn to harness her wisdom.
  • Very few things are as they first appear.
  • So much in Nature lies hidden within.
  • Earth stewardship is a multi-generational commitment of passion and action.

 

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 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.

Again, here are the four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Nature knows disturbance — learn to harness her wisdom.
  • Very few things are as they first appear.
  • So much in Nature lies hidden within.
  • Earth stewardship is a multi-generational commitment of passion and action.

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 my own filters. 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!

 

Mid-January at Alabama’s Gulf State Park: Overview

I had been to Gulf State Park 20 years ago. Since then, several hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon Spill, and subsequent settlement funds combined to both force and enable creation of an Alabama seacoast legacy project. Judy and I spent three nights at the new lodge January 16-18, 2019. I view the Park as Alabama’s globally significant restoration, preservation, demonstration, education, and recreation project. Here are the Enhancement Project book cover and Vision statement:

One hundred forty million dollars later, the Vision is now reality. We arrived early enough Wednesday to enjoy a near-lodge late afternoon stroll. Thursday’s meeting (which brought me to Gulf State Park) allowed more time for both morning and afternoon strolls. Friday I spent nearly nine hours on-site with Kelly Reetz, the Park’s Naturalist… a “globally significant” naturalist and environmental educator in her own right!

The Park stretches along 2.5 miles of protected shoreline — unspoiled wildness nestled within otherwise continuous commercial and residential development. The 2016 Park Master Plan notes:

“There are no other parks along the Gulf Coast with as many different ecosystems and as many acres preserved overall. Gulf State Park is a very diverse park, with many different ecosystems within its 6,150 acres. The Park includes:

  • Evergreen Forests
  • Pine Savannas
  • Maritime Forests
  • Dune Ridges / Sand Scrub habitats
  • Fresh and Salt Marshes
  • Freshwater and Brackish Lakes
  • Coastal Swales
  • Dunes
  • The Beach and Gulf

As the largest contiguous preserved open space along the Gulf Coast with such a diversity of landscapes, the park is home to a great diversity of wildlife and an important rest stop for migrating birds and butterflies. Some of the animal species that call Gulf State Park home are not found in many other places. For example, the Alabama beach mouse that lives in the park’s dunes is a federally endangered species. Dune restoration will help the park be an even better home for this sensitive creature.”

The Enhancement Project Goals:

  • Restoring the Environment
  • Visitor Experience
  • Improving Mobility
  • Accessible to All
  • Learning Everywhere
  • For All Ages

I checked all boxes as I experienced the Park! Again, Gulf State Park is an international gem. My purpose with this Great Blue Heron Blog Post is to provide an overview… to scratch the surface, offer my own reflections (and photographs), and set the stage for three subsequent Gulf State Park GBH Posts:

  • Beach, Dunes, Savannas, and Interior Wetlands
  • Interior Forests and Prescribed Fire
  • Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies

Overview of a Globally Significant Coastal Center for Sustainable Tourism and Earth Stewardship

The academic in me yearns to tell the Enhancement Project story… the entire story. I promise to resist. The Project Book does just that. And does it thoroughly and beautifully. No need for me to do more than offer a broad overview from my perspective as a doctoral level applied ecologist, lifelong Nature enthusiast, environmental educator, consummate champion for responsible Earth stewardship, and a tireless advocate for Nature-inspired life and living.

I’ll begin with the Lodge — a large, five-story beach-side facility that blends aesthetically with its natural environs and honors the goal to restore and protect the shore and dune environment. The Lodge and Park remind me of Lyrics in Robert Service’s Spell of the Yukon:

There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go back—and I will

The Park’s 1,500′ pier provides access beyond the shore and sand bars. Nothing beats the off-shore perspective on the Park’s 2.5 miles of beach and dunes.

Miles of boardwalk offer easy pedestrian and bicycle access to the Park’s nearly ten square miles. This view, from Pedestrian Bridge East crossing the east-west highway connecting Gulf Shores to Orange Beach, is to the north looking across Middle Lake to the campground (496 sites) and Nature Center.

Dune Restoration is a principal Enhancement Project Goal: “Create a dune system that encourages a connection to nature and maximizes the ability for that system to provide protection, habitat, and resiliency for all types of communities.” That’s the Beach Pavilion beyond the sign — a shelter for escape from sun and inclement weather and for education.

The beachside Interpretive Center Goal: “Create a gateway to the park that excites visitors about the entire 6,150 acres and entices them to cross over into the green side of the park.” The Project Book includes two of my favorite quotes about learning:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rogers

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young. Mark Twain

Recall one of the Enhancement Project’s primary goals: Learning Everywhere. The Interpretive Center is a core element… and one of many “everywheres” throughout the Park!

Designers engineered a lighter element at the Outpost, a three-platform remote camping area with these Does and Bucks outhouses! The nearby city of Orange Beach designed and built the Outpost in cooperation with the Park — what a great symbol of shared mission and joint venture! It’s the way natural communities operate within vibrant ecosystems.

Here’s one of the three platforms… outfitted with chairs on a front porch and hammocks within. I had little idea how emblematic of the Park this scene is until I viewed the photo several days later. The low stratus began to break, permitting the sun to illuminate the white of sand, platform tent, and clouds to intermingle. Contrasting the life and vitality on this inland dune ridge, the sand pine skeleton symbolizes that both life and death compose the ebbs and flows of these coastal ecosystems. Or, for that matter, any ecosystem on our fine Earth. My mind relaxes when the photo draws me into its intimate setting, emphasizing that this one spot is a microcosm of the entire Park. A special place where life abounds in multiple textures, and senescence and rebirth integrate seamlessly and in perfect long-term balance. The Enhancement Project assures that across the Park human use and Nature are in perfect long-term balance.

The Forest Pavilion and Butterfly Garden, an interior Park learning facility, sits over a mile from the nearest road and parking area. Accessible to only bicyclers and pedestrians, the classroom had a full house of snow-birders enjoying a presentation on Park reptiles. Again, Learning Everywhere!

Here is one of several Pause Stations located throughout the Park and its trail system. This two-story structure allows visitors to explore a representation of a gopher tortoise burrow. Interpretive signs tell the tale while riders and hikers take a break to catch their breath. Aldo Leopold lamented 70 years ago in A Sand County Almanac: “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?” Dr. Leopold would have enjoyed seeing the visionary outcome of the Enhancement Project. Learning Everywhere!

Nearing completion, the new Learning Campus will house, feed, and immerse up to 64 participants in a state-of-the-art self-contained facility, within a natural setting for hands-on learning. Fencing protects this live oak from construction equipment damage. Other natural vegetation throughout the emerging campus is similarly protected. I hope to return to offer a lecture or lead a future workshop.

I include this photo to evidence yet another option for overnight accommodations and to provide some notion of the Park’s scale. The cottages and cabins sit on the north shore of Lake Shelby. The Park’s water tower stands approximately one mile to the southeast. A cottage resident can walk or bicycle (on paved or boardwalk trails) from this viewpoint to the water tower, beach, lodge, forest pavilion, or any of the other features I’ve mentioned.

What better location to place a resting area and overlook than among live oaks draped in Spanish moss, a quintessential symbol of the deep south!

The Enhancement Project at Gulf State Park represents a new day. A fresh and essential way to demonstrate best practices for outdoor recreation, education, and hospitable accommodations… an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability. Two predawn easterly views (below) promise a grand new day ahead, both literally and metaphorically. Aldo Leopold saw deep shadows of environmental decline and degradation on the horizon… unless we changed our human and societal trajectory, again from A Sand County Almanac:

All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.

I believe the Enhancement Project faithfully ensures against excessive seeing and fondling. Although not true wilderness, the Park certainly constitutes nearly ten square miles of wildness, within a long strand of continuous development where seeing and fondling leave little wildness left to cherish.

The Enhancement Project embodies implicitly, if not in so many words, the kind of land ethic Leopold implored in the 1940s, again from A Sand County Almanac:

My favorite quote: The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

May Nature enrich your life and living… Nature-inspired living! And may you pass it forward. Remember: Learning Everywhere, Everyday!

 

 

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.

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

  • Take advantage of every opportunity (Learning Everywhere) in Nature to sow seeds for making tomorrow brighter.
  • Living harmoniously within Nature is essential… and it is doable with wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.
  • We must adopt a land ethic as a societal cornerstone in all that we do; conserving wildness is not necessarily self-defeating.
  • Learn Everywhere… every day!

Repeating the sage wisdom of Mr. Rogers and Mark Twain:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rogers

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young. Mark Twain

May Nature Inspire and Reward you… and keep your mind young!

 

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 my own filters. 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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-November Skies at Camp McDowell

I spent two days at McDowell Camp and Conference Center (Winston County Alabama) mid-November 2018. My purpose was to conduct field exploration and staff interviews prior to developing a McDowell Land Legacy Story for the Camp’s 1,140 acres (see my November 27 Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/27/mid-november-camp-mcdowell-land-legacy-orientation/ )

My purpose with this followup Post is to highlight some of the sky photos I captured while there. I never stop admiring the firmament (the sky or heavens — the vault of the sky). I also never cease to pause when using the term firmament! I remind myself that dry land (not sea or air) is terra firma. Both words employ firma. Odd that somehow one is land and the other sky. Yes, I examined the etymology for both terms. Yet I will forevermore remain uncertain at first blush when using either.

Nevertheless, I admit to being a cloud and sky junkie. Okay, perhaps an addiction, too, to trees, spring wildflowers, thunderstorms, frosty mornings… all things Nature!

So, back to McDowell’s sky. Lots of rain the day and night before my visit had transitioned briefly in the wee hours to snow as cold air advected on the system’s back side. Hence, these frosted-sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) stars… firmament falling to terra firma!

As the vigorous low pressure system departed, northwesterly winds and scudding stratocumulus gave us a classic fall sky. I expected to see a skein of geese at any moment. If only during our deep summer I could conjure a few days of blessed heat-relief… this is how those days would look.

McDowell meets some its electrical needs from solar photovoltaic. Even with the morning’s dark overcast, old sol manages to generate some current.

By mid-afternoon, the sky cleared. I snapped the two dusk shots from my west-facing deck, looking across the pond above with the canoe. From that perspective, my cabin is the one at center-top. I like the framed reflection of the waning firmament in the pond’s now-still surface. Given frontal passage, clear skies, and calm winds, I knew the next morning would dawn crisp and frosty.

As is my usual habit, I awoke well before dawn. This early shot shows crepuscular rays streaming from the rising sun, still below the horizon. As I’ve often pondered, what TV program, video game, or web-surfing late at night could possibly be so good as to beat the rewards of dawn? Henry David Thoreau (Walden) likewise loved day’s dawning, “The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.” Imagine the price some pay for late evening TV, gaming, and surfing — to never experience the awakening Nature offers.

Soon after, the rising sun kissed the oak crowns beyond the chapel. The image stands well and messages succinctly without my words

And a few minutes later, the sun, with lots of work to do on a very cold and frosty morning, kissed the grass. Again, words do little but distract from the gift Nature presents to those willing to seek and embrace the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

The ground still frosted, I could look outward (from my terra firma perch) 3-6 miles and negative 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit to an etching of white cirrus against the purest of blues. Cirrus is a genus of atmospheric cloud generally characterized by thin, wispy strands, giving the type its name from the Latin word cirrus, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. The strands of cloud sometimes appear in tufts of a distinctive form referred to by the common name of mares’ tails. Pity the impoverished soul who could not feel inspiration in such an image… and sense absolute humility in the wonder of Nature.

The remnant cirrus from the prior day’s system drifted eastward during the morning, yielding to mostly clear, high blue skies, this view from the south end of a pond north of the Camp proper. This is prototypical Alabama winter: freeze-deadened herbaceous, leafless hardwood, loblolly pine green, open water, and azure-blue sky. Another view worthy of rejoicing.

Mid-morning along the creek as the cirrus drifted to the east. As I have said many times, my aesthetic appreciation leans toward paintings that look like photographs… and to photographs that could be paintings. Could anyone command a brush to match or exceed the beauty Nature provided my simple iPhone?!

As I departed McDowell and shortly thereafter passed the Bankhead National Forest, the sky could not have been more cooperative.

I’ll be back at McDowell several times over the next 3-4 months gathering information, images, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Camp and Conference Center. Our goal is to develop McDowell’s Land Legacy Story as a reference and tool in support of McDowell’s mission, which for the Environmental Center is: To connect people to their environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning. I can only hope that the firmament above these blessed acres will reward me anew with special magic. Yet as in all things Nature, my threshold for absolute awe and amazement is low. I’m an easy target… for I see wonderment in what too many others view as mundane, if not unpleasant or invisible.

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

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.

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

  • Look up — literally and metaphorically — Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe abound… and the composite surrounds us.
  • Learn more — understanding deepens and expands appreciation and wonderment.

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

Mid-November Camp McDowell Land Legacy Orientation

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nourishing Body, Mind, Heart, Soul, and Spirit

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Special Vegetation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

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

May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

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

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

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