Tribute to a Forestry Legend: Jim Finley

A Tribute to a Friend and Colleague

Sunday morning, October 3, 2021, I learned that long time friend Dr. James (Jim) Finley lost his life Saturday morning while working in his woodlot in central Pennsylvania. Jim, a fellow forestry faculty member at Penn State University, and I collaborated on many projects during my nine years at that university (1987-96). We partnered in developing and delivering Cooperative Extension programs for the state’s 750,000 (as of 2020) individual family forestland owners, who today collectively own 12 million forested acres (70 percent of the state’s forestland). Our goal was to encourage, enable, and inspire those owners to embrace and apply the tenets and practice of informed and responsible forest stewardship.

Over my now one-half century of forestry-oriented professional life, I have never known anyone more dedicated to the applied science of forestry and better able to translate his knowledge, whether in the classroom and or on the ground, to lay forest landowners. Jim epitomized one of my own axioms: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Jim cared!

In these Posts I often mention that Nature’s many truths and tales lie hidden in plain sight. I don’t recall Jim saying that in so many words, yet, I learned by working with him over countless hours, that he operated by that fundamental truth. Time after time, I saw Jim systematically, casually, and expertly lift the curtain to reveal a forest’s deepest secrets.

Excerpted from the Penn State Center for Private Forests website (https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/remembering-jim-finley):

The Center for Private Forests at Penn State is deeply saddened to share the sudden and tragic loss of our co-founder and Council Chair Dr. Jim Finley, Ibberson Chair and Professor Emeritus of Private Forest Management and Human Dimen­sions and Natural Resources, on October 2, 2021. Jim’s decades of work informed our understanding of forests, private forest landowners, and all the people who care for the woods.

So, I dedicate this Post to my friend, one of my professional and life heroes, and already sorely missed colleague, Jim Finley:

May be an image of 1 person, nature and tree

Photo from the Pennsylvania Forestry Association Facebook page.

A Moment in Time

Regardless of how the end might come, within the forest or among people, Jim’s passing has once more reminded me that living within the moment and with (and for) the ones we love will never be more important than here and now. The forest…and life…are rich with moments of peace, tranquility, love, and beauty. Be aware that moments are flying by at 60-minutes-per-hour. Don’t let them rush past with you unaware of how precious each one is. I try to remind myself that each hike could be my last. That every embrace of a loved one may not be followed by another.

In early September 2021, I visited the 400-year-old forest at Heart’s Content Scenic Area in northwest Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Natuinal Forest. I photographed a pair of four-foot diameter forest denizens, reminding me that nothing is permanent. The massive foreground white pine is recently dead (its bark still clinging to the trunk); the hemlock behind it still thrives. Such is the continuing cycle of life and death within the forest…and among people.

Heart's Content

I saw Jim as a figurative mighty oak (or a majestic white pine or hemlock like those at Heart’s Content) in his field of forest stewardship education, standing tall, seeming permanent, always steadfast, deeply rooted, and dedicated to his overlapping professional and personal missions. However, like all trees in the forest, including the white pine above, none of us is permanent…we are all fragile and our lives are fleeting.

I can’t recall the last time that Jim and I shared a woodland hike. I had no thought about it being our last. Had we known, perhaps we would have gone a mile further. Life is fleeting and fragile…each moment precious and worth cherishing. Jim and Linda visited Judy and me in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2007, eleven years after we had departed Penn State — we’re standing below on six-feet-thick overflow ice on June 11, when we made another set of memories.

 

Who could have imagined that Jim, a consumate woodsman, would walk into his own woodlot that early October morning for the last time? Fate; pre-destiny for this man of deep faith? John Muir fittingly offers an exclamation point to all I have attempted to communicate with my tribute to Jim:

Savor the moments in life that make your heart glow. Chase after and find the moments that will take your breath away. In the end, it is only those milestones on life’s journey that matter.

Oh, if only I could spend one more day wandering a forest…any forest…discovering with Jim what lies hidden within.

 

Closing Thoughts and Reflections

Three conclusions and lessons:

  • My own connections to Nature and special people are sacred…and intertwined.
  • We should live life aware that every hug and every walk in the woods may be our last.
  • Muir: Savor the moments in life that make your heart glow. Chase after and find the moments that will take your breath away. In the end, it is only those milestones on life’s journey that matter.

I draw comfort knowing that Jim took his last breath in a place he loved, doing what he enjoyed, where he already had a lifelong spiritual connection to God.

Dutton Farm Land Legacy Project Expansion: Warm Season Grass Trial with Ohio State University

May 27 and 28, 2021, I met on-site with a research team from Ohio State’s College of Food and Agricultural Sciences to plan a native warm season grass trial on reclaimed strip-mine soils on Dutton Farms, site of my Ohio Land Legacy Project. I’ve previously posted updates on the Project — here’s one from September 2020: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/25/late-september-wanderings-and-ramblings-on-my-ohio-land-legacy-project-site/ The richness of these reclaimed strip mine lands buoys my view of Nature’s ultimate resilience when aided by informed and responsible stewardship practice. Every square foot of this view saw full-scale strip mining. The pastures are productive. However, none are populated with native warm season grasses, which perform reliably mid-summer owing to greater drought and heat tolerance. The Dutton family and the Ohio State University (OSU) team are intent upon exploring warm season mixtures for pasture enhancement and resilience.

 

Allow me a brief side trip from May 2021. I remind you that Dutton Land and Cattle (DL&C) is focusing on Akaushi Cattle, a prime quality breed from Japan. These photos depict a bull from this rather docile breed. Rest assured, otherwise I would not be so bold with this big boy (below left).

September 2020 September 2020

 

Ohio State University is Ohio’s Land Grant University (LGU), authorized by the 1862 Morrill Act establishing one such institution in each state to bring modern agricultural knowledge and practices to farmers and producers. The LGUs have broadened and deepened their service over the intervening 159 years. I’ve served five LGUs over my career: Penn State, Auburn, Alabama A&M, NC State, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I consider partnering now with OSU a positive addition to my retirement portfolio. The main campus lies just two hours west of Dutton Farms.

Photo credit: OSU College of Food and Agricultural Sciences web site

 

John Dutton (with folder in his left arm) greeted the OSU team under threatening skies May 28, orienting them to DL&C at the equipment shed.

 

I toured the OSU team May 27, highlighting the strip mining history at the unreclaimed high wall, a stark reminder of the brutal treatment and deep scaring associated with surface mining.

 

After our early start May 28 orientation we visited the proposed native warm season grass trial site, now supporting a nearly mature cover crop of triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). DL&C cares for its soil resources as evidenced by the vibrant triticale.

 

The team quickly dug in (literally), examining the soil. No hesitancy about getting their hands dirty! I enjoyed pleasant memories of my own doctoral research on soil-site relationships for Allegheny Hardwood Forests in southwest NY and northwest PA. I also led tree nutrition and forest fertilization research for Union Camp Corporation company-wide across VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, and AL for four years. I watched the OSU team through a delighted and admittedly rapturous haze of pleasant professional memories. Those were simpler days…before senior administrative positions and four university presidencies led me too far afield of my disciplinary passion. I stood in retirement bliss, once more back to field studies vicariously through this capable and enthusiastic team of young researchers.

 

Dutton Farms soils are compacted, relatively young, and showing clear signs of horizonation. This profile shows a darkening upper several inches owing to organic matter beginning to incorporate by root action and soil micro- and macro-organism recycling. Lots of roots are exploiting that upper layer. The soil at this location looks very much like the soils I have excavated across the DL&C’s core 1,100 acres.

 

We are fortunate that John Dutton is enthusiastic with the warm season grass project. He is eager to learn and put to practice ways to improve DL&C operations, and better steward the land.

 

The equation for meaningful life and living, productive research, and successful business operations includes an essential variable — enthusiasm! John, his family, and the OSU team bring it by the barrelful. I am fortunate to be affiliated with the effort to make DL&C a global exemplar for informed and responsible Earth stewardship, reclaiming abused land from the trash heap, transforming it through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work to productive operation, environmental vibrancy, and aesthetic richness.

 

As the native warm season grass trial progresses I will say more in subsequent Posts. For now, I will mention only that the trial will test two seed combinations:

  • big bluestem and indiangrass blend
  • switchgrass and eastern gamagrass

The design will overlay cover crop alternatives.

I’ve concluded over the years that application adds value to knowledge. The foundation of the Land Grant University concept is the application of knowledge to enterprise and life. The native warm season grass trial is applied research to advance life, living, and enterprise. I am fortunate to be engaged with the continuing stewardship saga of Dutton Land and Cattle!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • The process of learning how best to practice informed and responsible land stewardship is unending.
  • Few actions match the satisfaction and return on applied research and discovery.
  • Nothing beats watching younger professionals enthusiastically learning and advancing science.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

Dutton Farm May Skies and Viewscapes

I returned to my Land Legacy Story project site, Dutton Farms near Flushing in east central Ohio, May 26-28, 2021. We scheduled the visit to correspond with the first annual Farm Day for the Dutton Land and Cattle enterprise. I had last been to the project site in September 2020: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/25/late-september-wanderings-and-ramblings-on-my-ohio-land-legacy-project-site/

I will not cover the intent and Nature of the project in this Post. Watch for a subsequent Post reflecting on a Warm Season Grass trial we will establish on the property with faculty and graduate students from The Ohio State University College of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Farm Day

May 27, 2021, I helped (a tertiary role at best) host the first Annual Farm Day by taking the mic (no, that’s not me below left) to brief attendees on the land’s tale of 1850-1925 abusive agriculture; mid-20th century strip mining; current period of land reclamation to health and vitality through informed and responsible stewardship practices. A story of recovery and rehabilitation…a metamorphosis from wasteland to viable agricultural enterprise. The family (below right) is committed to stewardship across the three generations represented. I am pleased to be playing some small part in telling their Land Legacy Story for posterity and as a means of encouraging others to do same.

 

Three-day Skies and Vistas

My purpose with this Post is to highlight some elements of the Nature-Inspired Life and Living I experienced across those three days on-site. I arrived at the Dutton’s May 26 mid-day. I introduced a fellow retired forester (a former senior player with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry who lives within an hour to the north) to the Land Legacy Story on-site. Understanding the past treatment (85 percent of the 1,100 acres were stripped for coal at least once) is best accomplished, I’ve found, by first visiting the remaining high wall on the northeast side of the property. The old scar reminds us of the harsh past in ways that the reclaimed acreage belies. Even the high wall, however, expresses an aesthetic that we both appreciated that day. Nature has remarkable healing powers.

 

Later that afternoon we stopped by the Dutton’s recreational retreat, with everything in sight having been stripped and rehabilitated. To the uninitiated, few would imagine the blasting, scooping, dust, noise, and earth movers, followed by reshaping, seeding, and recovery.

 

These photos, too, present a landscape entirely stripped. It’s impossible to deny the pastoral beauty and appeal of the recovered land.

 

By late evening many of the invited guests, stakeholders, and international experts tracking the success and future of this unique enterprise had arrived. The gentlemen among our small group at the Cabin came from New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas. I snapped the two photos in waning light at 8:58 and 9:01 PM.

 

By 9:30 AM May 27, the sky had cleared. I have never experienced a morning at the cabin that was not photo-worthy. I heard no echoes of the explosives and massive equipment that shaped this place of present-day peace, tranquility, and beauty.

 

Following a full day of demonstration, planning, and dreaming, dusk once again settled over the property. I snapped my final photo of the day at 9:02 PM May 27.

 

Dutton sunrises seldom disappoint. This 6:33 AM May 28 view is roughly aligned with the prior evening’s gloaming perspective. I grew up just 150 miles east of here in western Maryland. Because the westerlies assured that most of our weather came generally from west to east, I often heard, “Pink in the morning; sailors take warning. Pink at night; sailors delight.” A pinkish sunrise greeted me.

 

 

Less than three hours later, at 9:12 and 9:13 AM, the old weather wisdom had brought darkening and thickening clouds. I watched the weather radar as the bulk of the associated precipitation skirted to our south. A lifelong weather enthusiast, I welcomed the fearsome-looking (but toothless for us) clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We gathered at the warm season grass trial site (watch for a subsequent Post) amid periods of light rain. I snapped this photo at 10:31 AM over the maturing cover crop of Triticale (hybrid of wheat and rye). I like the pale green under the wavy stratus.

 

Nitrogen-fixing Pasture Plants

 

Pasture clovers are nutritious and fix nitrogen. The forage specialists among us (others, not me) found pleasant satisfaction in seeing both birdsfoot trefoil (left) and black medick (right).

 

And purple crown vetch.

 

Happy and Healthy Animal Residents

 

The first day we interrupted a female painted turtle depositing eggs just above the cabin. We also spotted over the course of our visit a pair of great blue herons along the shoreline. The 1,100-acre site is ecologically diverse and rich.

 

I draw a sense of hope from the Dutton Farms story of Nature’s resilience and recovery when directed by the wisdom, knowledge, and hard work of dedicated, informed, and responsible Earth stewardship.

I stand in awe as I reflect upon the wonder and magic of three rather ordinary early summer days on an east-central Ohio farm recovering from a century-and-half of harsh treatment and degradation. I’m reminded of one of Albert Einstein’s Nature observations:

I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

Every time I visit Dutton Farms I feel the dual senses of humility and inspiration. I am grateful for the chance to chronicle the tale of land resurrection.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late May visit:

  • Even the mundane among Nature’s days fills me with wonder.
  • Nothing lifts me more than seeing Nature recover from harsh treatment!
  • Earth stewardship is a transcendent (and necessary) action.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

 

 

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 forestland 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!