Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: Nature’s Insistence Upon Renewal

I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary June 6 and presented my reactions, reflections, and photographs in a June 23, 2020 Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/

Please see that earlier Post for general information about the Sanctuary. I’m following up now with a second Post, this one focusing on what I’ll term Nature’s insistence upon renewal. Suffice it to say that the Sanctuary is not preserving 375 acres of wilderness. Instead, the Goldsmith-Schiffman families worked the land for generations, including farming, timbering, and even mining sand and gravel for use as fill for highway construction west of the Sanctuary decades ago. Despite active human operation for many years, Nature is returning the land to a state of wildness from that sometimes harsh treatment few would surmise today from a walk through this riparian oasis. A wonderful sign welcomes visitors. Marian Moore Lewis chronicled the Sanctuary’s seasons in Southern Sanctuary, an exquisite month-to-month journey through this wonderfully wild one-half square mile along the Flint River within Huntsville, Alabama’s city limits.

Southern Sanctuary

 

From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a name derived from the combination of the first two letters from the names of Margaret Anne Goldsmith’s (she donated the land for the Sanctuary) three children. My earlier Post tells the full story of Nature’s grand design in naturalizing this former borrow pit, creating natural beauty from a deep scar upon the land.

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I felt that this brief paragraph and the accompanying two photos below merited repeat in this Post. Forgive my shameless self-plagiarizing! A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

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Having covered some of the same content as the prior Post, I will now shift gears to material unique to this Post.

The Elegant Dance of Life and Death: Fungi Kingdom

 

Leonardo da Vinci expressed timeless wisdom 500 years ago. I offer several of his still-relevant quotes within this Post. I’ll launch this section on life and death with his statement of powerful simplicity:

Our life is made by the death of others.

I write often of the ongoing marvel of Nature’s interwoven and continuous tale of life and death. Nothing in Nature is static; all life ends in death…the cycle repeats without end. Whether the Sanctuary’s visible life persists as plant or animal, the fungi kingdom (neither plant nor animal) serves as the grand parade marshal, ushering even the largest oak from main canopy stalwart through decay to forest soil organic matter. I admit to far less certainty in identifying our northern Alabama fungi. In fact, iNaturalist, my online source of i.d. for all things living, declared this to be California fungi (Pluteus petasatus), an odd moniker for a location more than 2,000 miles from its namesake!

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I suppose what is most important is that this mushroom is the reproductive (spore-producing) structure of the fungi’s mycelia feasting on dead organic matter in the forest floor substrate.

I identified Marian Moore Lewis (without the assistance of iNaturalist), local author (Southern Sanctuary) and naturalist, in the prior Post. A talented photographer, Marian stopped to capture the image of yet another mushroom. So many casual hikers (and some who are serious) walk through the forest, blind to the many rewards that lie hidden in plain sight. We wandered these trails with purpose, intent to miss little. We hike in the forest, not simply passing through it!

Southern Sanctuary

 

This specimen is false turkey tail (Trametes cubensis). The largest of this colony measures six inches across. Its mycelia are feeding on the branch. I wonder how many more years (months?) until its work is done… until the branch no longer has form and structure, and disappears into the soil matrix, to help fuel the next tree that will grow to shed yet another branch to feed future generations of Trametes cubensis.
Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandson Sam (age six) poses with a decaying stem segment supporting a rich community of lichens and fungi. I will attempt no finer identification beyond noting that the white mushroom at the near end is a polypore, and a fine specimen it is. I admit that I am including this photograph mostly because it is a cute picture. Perhaps Sam will grow to be a noted mycologist who with a single glance back at Pap’s ancient Blog Posts will roll the genus and species effortlessly from his tongue. Better yet, perhaps he’ll remember the Goldsmith Schiffman hike with fondness and warmth.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted this distinctive Boletes (Boletus sp.) mushroom at the base of a sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). Its mycelia are feeding on organic matter in the soil. Note the thick moss mat on the tree’s two visible feet. As I’ve observed often, the microclimate at the base of our main canopy trees is perfect for the mosses — cooler with higher humidity. The flared and sometimes buttressed lower trunk also tends to slow stem flow during heavier rains, depositing the water’s load of organic debris and nutrients on the bark surface and in micro-crevices, creating a more favorable substrate for the moss. Watch for our moss-bottomed trees the next time you walk into your favorite forested wildness.

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We found a colorful wood ear fungus, this one identified by iNaturalist as jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), a perfect moniker for a very ear-like mushroom. How sad to think that a person could walk the trail distracted by digital interference and not see these showy specimens. Remember, these are decay organisms consuming cellulose and lignin. Behold the beauty of these essential, noble saprophytes. Who says there is no wonder in decay!

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Another jelly fungus greeted us from yet another downed tree. Again, I offer these identifications without the confidence I bring to naming trees, woody shrubs, and spring wildflowers. This one surfaced as leafy brain (Phaeotremella foliacea). What a delightful assortment of life forms, colors, and zany nomenclature: jelly ear and leafy brain. Where is Dr. Seuss when you need him?

Southern Sanctuary

 

I entered the forest, my eyes to the trees;

I heard the leaves rustle, felt the slight breeze.

Yet as I looked up, saw the canopy high;

I sensed a presence below me, quiet and shy.

 

Something heeding my passage, with a tremble of fear;

Perhaps hearing my footfalls with keen jelly ear.

And registering a threat as I passed in the lane;

Via synapses firing within leafy brain.

 

The fungi range wide in these forested glens;

From Trametes to Boletes they bless our eye lens.

With colors diverse in the shadows and lights,

They’re doing their duty… these forest saprophytes.

 

Yeah, I know, I’m no Dr. Seuss, yet it is fun to think of the tale he could have woven poetically about fungal life in the understory.

Other Life and Renewal

 

Fungi did not attract our sole attention that day. Far more awaited our discovery.

A side note: As I prepared for a Facebook Live video presentation June 25 at Hays Nature Preserve, just across route 431 from the Sanctuary, an acquaintance inquired, given the current social strife, whether I would be discussing “diversity, inclusion, and equity.” My answer stuck to the natural world — I would limit my topic to whatever elements of Nature captured my fancy that afternoon along the Flint River… nothing more. However, as I reflected, I realized that Nature is all about diversity and inclusion. This single Post delves into three kingdoms of Earth-life–plant, animal, fungi. All that diversity of life acting in concert (inclusion) within complex ecosystems. The social milieu that is ripping our country asunder absurdly involves just a single animal kingdom species, a newcomer (occasionally pathetic and at times clueless) in the vast sweep of time since life first emerged from the primordial soup 3.5 billion years ago. Will we humans be little remembered and long forgotten as Nature (I fear) sweeps us aside as irrelevant and unworthy, and only briefly significant? Thank God Nature broadly does not operate in the human fashion. With the exception of this brief interlude I shall stick to Nature. Politics is a private matter to this old retired forester, best left to others.

Annually we accent our spring and summer patio with ornamental petunias, which flower continuously so long as we assiduously dead-head daily. Here’s the wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), growing happily trail-side in the Sanctuary. I like the semi-fringed petals and fresh lavender hue. However, what caught my eye as I examined the photo is the telltale track of a leaf miner insect on the top-center leaf. A leaf is not two-dimensional. Each leaf has three parts: epidermis (upper and lower); mesophyll (middle layer); vascular tissue (the veins). Picture an insect ovipositing an egg into the mesophyll. The egg hatches into a larva intent upon consuming the mesophyll tissue before eventually pupating to transform into an adult that once again lays eggs to repeat the cycle. See the gray serpentine feeding tunnel, where the larva has mined (eaten) the mesophyll between the two epidermal layers.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted a patch of yellow mid-field several hundred feet from the trail. The responsible party is floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides). Attractive from a distance, the flower and leaf venation pattern is absolutely, stunningly symmetric and complementary. I’m reminded once again of relevant da Vinci quote:

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.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Like the wild petunia leaf miner, the pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) and Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) are dependently interrelated. The adult butterfly deposits her eggs exclusively on pipevine stems. Her larvae feed solely on pipevine leaves. The nearly full-grown larva below will soon form its chrysalis on a pipevine stem. The adult will emerge in time to repeat the cycle.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Let’s leap from the beautiful pipevine swallowtail (aka blue swallowtail; butterfly image at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battus_philenor) to what you may interpret as a sad story… another chapter in the book of life and death, written clearly in the language of Nature and hidden in plain sight. Bank-side at the south end of Jobala Pond we discovered a disturbed area of soil just over the embankment rim. The white debris (below left) in the apparently excavated soil are egg shell fragments. Just a few feet away we found broken entire egg shells. The story told is that a cooter or slider turtle deposited this spring egg clutch (they produce as many as six per year) in the bank, covered them with loose soil, and went about her merry way. In time, the turtlings (my word) hatch to fend for themselves. Instead, some mammalian marauder (skunk, weasel, or raccoon) found the nest, dug into the egg burrow, and messily consumed the egg contents. Evidence, I suppose, why these turtles lay multiple clutches. Life and death on the Sanctuary is a matter of fact.

Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

Sam held two of the eggs, fascinated with the tale… understanding the drama that had occurred overnight before our morning hike. The more we find when I explore Nature with him, the harder he looks for evidence of other tales. Holding the egg shells is far more compelling than seeing a photo in a reference book. He is, literally, in touch with Nature’s continuing saga of life and death. The only thing better would have been coming upon the marauder in the act!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nearby, with Murky Pond as backdrop, witness the excitement in our group as we found, this time, an intact eastern box turtle egg clutch.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Marian allowed me to include the following three photos that she snapped: Sam pointing to the nest; closeup of the nest with two eggs visible; Sam’s hand softly holding the top egg.

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I was heartened to see such visible excitement among the adults in our entourage. We gingerly re-deposited the show-and-tell egg, placing a bit of leafy matter over it, hoping that some predator does not discover the eggs and enjoy a midnight snack before the turtles hatch. We humans seem to appreciate and celebrate new life, regardless of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. A good sign giving me hope for human sustainability.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I write frequently about the hidden world of Nature — the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that awaits those willing to look, see, and feel. Leonardo da Vinci elucidated the same 500 years ago:

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.

I want to open eyes with these Blog Posts — to encourage and implore people to look, see, feel, and then act as informed and responsible Earth stewards.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nature is amazing, whether we view it from the perspective of a leaf miner or from within the larger context of the complex ecosystem pictured above.

The Flow of Life

 

Because the Sanctuary occupies the riparian zone along the Flint River, I’ll close with a pair of photos from the sand bar viewing down stream (below left) and up stream (right). Had we been standing here during the several flood events of the prior winter and spring, we would have been unceremoniously swept downstream with great violence as turbulent rushing torrents roiled ten feet above our heads.

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I mentioned in the prior Post about the river’s coming journey to the sea (from the Flint to the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf to the Atlantic. And once again, da Vinci captured the mystic essence of the flow of rivers and life:

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.

Sam’s journey into the Sanctuary, like ours, began at the red gate (below). He started his trek through life six years ago, less than a tenth of my journey’s duration to date. Where will his flow through life lead? I earnestly pray that he will practice and proselytize informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Perhaps he will see a time when a single (so-called intelligent) species will cease its seeming inevitable flow toward self-destruction.

Thoughts and Reflections

I borrow two simple truths from Leonardo da Vinci relevant to this visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

Our life is made by the death of others.

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.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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.

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: My Orientation Visit

Virtual Orientation: Southern Sanctuary

I’ve often mentioned how fortunate we are in north Alabama to have so much wildness within an hour-and-a-half drive: several State Parks; Bankhead National Forest; Sipsey Wilderness; Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge; County Parks; Greenways; Nature Preserves; and the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, which I visited for the first time June 6, 2020. I felt already intimately familiar with the Sanctuary, having read Marian Moore Lewis’ Southern Sanctuary over the winter. Marian chronicles a year of Nature’s passage on the Sanctuary one month at a time, with exquisite prose and her own photographs. She writes with deep passion, keen powers of observation and interpretation, and unsurpassed knowledge. I enjoyed the read immensely… and urge Alabama Nature-lovers to pick up a copy and wander through the seasons, and then visit the Sanctuary in person.

 

The Real Thing: June 6, 2020 On-The-Ground

Marian was kind enough to meet me at the entrance; she had arranged for Margaret Anne Goldsmith (she donated the property to the City of Huntsville to create the Sanctuary) to join our explorations. We three, along with Judy (my wife), our daughter Katy, and her sons Jack and Sam (11 and 6, respectively), strolled together. I have said many times that I really don’t care to walk through Nature, hurrying along from one point to another. Instead, I walk in Nature, observing and adsorbing. Marian and Margaret Anne share that sentiment; we meandered with no sense of urgency. As a result we covered only a third of the total trail distance during our three hours, leaving the remainder for another day or two, most likely this fall when cooler days will prevail.

A lovely entrance welcomed us to the 375-acre Sanctuary. That’s Marian at the entrance interpretive sign below right.

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Marian dedicated Southern Sanctuary to Margaret Anne, who, through her vision, sense of stewardship, philanthropy, and love of nature, donated the land for the Goldsmith Schiffman Sanctuary to the City of Huntsville, Alabama. In her own words, “It is my wish that this land will be preserved as a haven for wildlife and for education and enjoyment of our children and future generations; that it will always be a place that lives, suspended in time, yet ever-changing, where all can experience a kind of peace and solace like that found in sacred places.” I love the simple heartfelt elegance. What a pleasure to be in the presence of these two incredible naturalists and Earth stewards.

Marian mentioned the red gate often in her book. Here’s Sam guarding the red gate. Fortunately, once we explained our purpose he permitted entry!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Every parcel of north Alabama wildness holds a tale of intersecting human and natural history. We saw hints of the human history, including the James L. Long bridge, in memoriam to its namesake. I’ll mention other elements of the human history as we proceed into the Sanctuary. I will not in these paragraphs develop those fragments of rich history. Instead, Marian, Margaret Anne, and I are already scheming about how we might assemble such a detailed Land Legacy Story for the Sanctuary.

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From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a unique name one might assume has its origin among Native American inhabitants from ages past. However, you probably know what they say about that word assume. Margaret Anne named the pond with the combination of the first two letters from the names of her three children. That’s just part of Jobala Pond’s story. These wild and natural ponds represent Nature’s extraordinary power to reclaim and heal. The pond basin resulted decades ago from the highway department mining fill for road construction west of what is now the Sanctuary. For reasons over which I’ve pondered for decades, the accepted term for such a basin is borrow pit. You tell me what was borrowed! Doesn’t borrow imply returning? Imagine a raw wound, an empty excavated pit void of vegetation and absent aquatic life. Bordered by piles of woody debris scraped from the site prior to surface mining. Now look at the two photographs below. Jobala Pond looks absolutely naturalized. Native terrestrial vegetation borders it; native aquatic vegetation thrives within its margins. Native fishes, crustaceans, turtles, snakes, frogs, insects, gators, beavers, and diverse other critters inhabit it.

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Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. Once the bulldozers, loaders, and trucks departed, the exposed hidden spring quickly began delivering fresh water; typically reliable rains added their share. The seasonally-overflowing Flint River seeded Jobala with aquatic plant and animal life. Our human footprint, even one as drastic as mining a riparian site for sand and gravel, is seldom indelible to the casual eye. Without Marian and Margaret Anne revealing Jobala’s origins, I would have questioned why such a pond existed. Most visitors to the Sanctuary would see it as entirely natural. I see it as a gift of Nature’s incredible power to fill voids… to erase footprints… to heal wounds. I hold firmly also to Nature’s restorative elixir as a salve for our individual mental, emotional, and spiritual voids, wounds, and scars. The powerful medicine of Vitamin N (Nature)!

I’m not sure we could have moseyed through the Sanctuary any more slowly. So much caught our eye, drew our attention, demanded examination, and delighted us. Marian is a superb photographer, stopping to photo-capture fungi on a dead and down log (below left). Margaret Anne (below right), who has hiked these riparian forests for decades, likewise seemed content to guide and provide family historical notations at our pace. I repeat, the Sanctuary’s human and natural history are inextricably interwoven, a tale that the three of us are certain merits telling.

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A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

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I like the rather primitive wood-routered signs. They look a bit like an illustration one would expect in Ichabod Crane… perhaps a bit Halloweenish. Here we transitioned from Hidden Springs to Deer Run Trail.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Deer Run Trail crosses a large lowland field, not yet spring-broken for sowing corn or soybeans. Spring rains and periodic flooding often dissuade tractors and cultivation until long after upland agriculture is underway. I am fond of seeing the horizon extended by open viewscapes. I like the distant forest edge and the ridge rising beyond.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I admit some level of disappointment that there are no plans to convert at least some of the open acreage to native meadow vegetation. I spotted a nice patch of floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides) in full flower mid-field. What a pleasant gift of shimmering yellow. How many years of successive corn and soybean cropping will it survive?

Southern Sanctuary

 

We hiked several hundred feet through deep woods to reach the Flint River. We stood at water’s edge, watching the peaceful flow seeking outlet to the Tennessee River, unknowing and uncaring of the long journey ahead to the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean beyond. We marveled at how tranquil the Flint appeared upstream (left) and down (right), yet we could see ample debris evidence that much of the Sanctuary not many weeks earlier had waited patiently under feet of rising backwater or torrents of flood. The seasons swing wildly here along the Flint.

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As we stood admiring the flow, a barred owl almost directly overhead in the high riparian canopy greeted us four times with its Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds. The Cornell Ornithology website refers to this call as a classic sound of old forests. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds website provides insight into this deep-woods denizen:

The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.

The barred owl’s call fills my soul. touches my heart, and lifts me into a near-mystical zone. We searched for the owl but to no avail, thus deepening the spiritual dimension of this too-brief audio encounter.

We casually strolled back to the Sanctuary entrance, where several hours earlier we had captured the photo below with Margaret Anne and Marian holding Southern Sanctuary. Such a joy to tour the property with two people who played seminal roles in enabling and chronicling a legacy that will serve future citizens and naturalists deep into the future. The three of us will reconvene to scheme about developing a Land Legacy Story for this wonderful Sanctuary. When we decide how and when to pursue I will provide updates via Blog Posts. The Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary is in full harmony with my Blog Post theme: Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Robert Service, a British poet who wrote about the Far North during his turn-of-the-prior-century wanderings in the Gold Rush Yukon, beautifully corralled the magic of place in his Spell of the Yukon:

There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back–and I will

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,

It’s the forest where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

I lived four years in Alaska (the Far North)…in the great, big, broad land way up yonder. I realize that our Sanctuary is within the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama, a far cry from the Last Frontier. Yet, I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. The Sanctuary (and so many other Nature-escapes here in north Alabama) thrills me with wonder…and peace. When the barred owl called, silence had lease.

The Sanctuary beckons and beckons. I want to back–and I will. I hope you also take time to visit–both virtually (Southern Sanctuary) and literally.

Thoughts and Reflections

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

I draw two simple truths from my first visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. 

So many Nature-escapes here in north Alabama thrill me with wonder…and fill me with peace.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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 Harvest Square Nature Preserve

Natural Treasures Are Always Close at Hand

I posted an essay in February 2017 on a trip I made to the North Alabama Land Trust’s 70-acre Harvest Square Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/02/09/the-simple-things-become-our-ultimate-pleasure/ My then nine-year-old Alabama grandson Jack accompanied me. Nearly three years ago, at that time I did not always include photos as I do now.

I returned with Judy, Jack (now 12), and five-and-a-half year old Sam November 9, 2019. This time I snapped lots of photos, offering them with reflections in this Post. The photos certainly help me compose my observations and reflections, and assist with memory retention! Jack and Sam stand with me at the entrance sign… shamelessly promoting my three books.

 

Ponds — AKA Borrow Pits

The interpretive “Ponds” sign leaves no room for confusion — these “are not natural ponds.” Minnesota’s state tagline claims, “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.” My limnology faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks reminded me that Alaska has 2,000,000 lakes and ponds! Alabama? Most of our “ponds” and lakes are human-made, including the four-acre Big Blue Lake where I reside. It’s hard to be a pond and lake purist here in the South, far from Minnesota’s 10,000 glacier-carved ponds and lakes. So, I treasure even our Alabama ponds carved by development engineers and excavators.

Harvest Square

 

My appreciation is not dimmed at Harvest Square knowing that Terry and Turner Ponds provided scraped spoils for elevating the construction site for Harvest Square Shopping Center. I spent little time explaining to grandsons Sam and Jack the ponds’ origin. Instead, we focused on the wonder of Nature’s healing such raw disturbed sites. Harvest Square memorializes the inspired action of the Land Trust of North Alabama acquiring the site, protecting it from further perturbation, arranging access, placing interpretive signage, and telling the story of informed and responsible land stewardship. Who would know…and who would second guess…the rehabilitation and rebirth of an evolving natural community following the equivalent of harsh strip-mining. The open meadows, succeeding brush and forest, serene ponds, full array of wildlife, and the stunning beauty of a fall day belie the violence acted upon the land. What absolute genius to convert wasteland to nature preserve!

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

Nature has been rehabilitating disturbed land for eons… for-ever! Think of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone from May 1980; devastated… and now green and recovering. The most recent continental ice sheet retreated 12-14,000 years ago after scraping the land clear from Canada through the Great Lakes and into southern New York State — Long Island is a terminal moraine! The Yellowstone caldera last blew 630,000 years ago; it is now among the nation’s most beautiful national treasures. Nature knows full well how to tear asunder… and then heal. What’s a little man-made shopping center construction to Nature’s insistence to rehabilitate and heal?! Throw in a dedicated Land Trust, some trail and dock infrastructure, and limited healing time… and the result meets even my rigid criteria for declaring it a wildland worthy of visiting, studying, and sharing! Who could imagine Judy and the grandsons are nearly within sight of the shopping center?

Harvest Square along Terry Pond

 

Well-placed and attractive signage complements the experience. Toss in the wildness of the great blue heron who lifted from the shoreline near this trail marker to add to our enjoyment.

Harvest Square

 

The trail is aptly named. Beaver occupy bank lodges along Terry Pond’s northwest corner. They’ve constructed ingress and egress canals along the shore. Sam is holding two branches stripped clean of bark/cambium by foraging beavers. Sam uses one as a walking stick; the longer one suits me quite well.

Harvest Square Beaver Canal

 

 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is colonizing the preserve, providing colorful fruit, a fall buffet for dozens of bird species.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

We hiked the short trail to Turner Pond and the boardwalk along its west edge. Vegetation is everywhere — Nature abhors a vacuum. Natural reclamation is accelerating. As an ecologist, I know how quickly succession moves these highly disturbed sites into more mature brush and forest stages. I’d like to see the Land Trust establish permanent photo points so that visitors years and decades from now can travel photographically back in time. What will these two views show in 2050? Or 2100?

Harvest Square, Second PondHarvest Square

 

Will the forest behind Jack and Judy tower above visitors 50 years hence?

Harvest Square, Turner Pond

 

We spotted a pair of great blue herons as we left Terry Pond heading toward the woods. I never (and will never) tire of seeing these avatars for my life and my memories of Dad! To see this pair made me ever more appreciative of Nature’s supreme power to heal… the land and my heart.

Woods Trail

The woods trail winds past an already towering loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Good fortune that the shopping center clearing did not strip the entire tract. This is wildness that stirs my forester’s heart!

Harvest Square Preserve

 

The Trust does an excellent job of trail interpretation and tree identification.

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

I have observed often that having  an understanding of Nature enhances appreciation and strengthens our resolve to steward the land.

Harvest Square

 

Nothing in Nature is static; nothing lives and stands tall forever. Life and death are in a perpetual dance; ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Wind-throw is as natural as the new growth that will fill the space vacated by this old soldier toppled by a gusty thunderstorm a few summers prior. I think Sam understands the mechanism.

Harvest Square Harvest Square

 

The magnificent loblolly will one day return its mass, fiber, and nutrients to the soil. Death is part and parcel of life. The Harvest Square Nature Preserve is close at-hand to many of us in the greater Huntsville area. Its story is one of disturbance, preservation, and recovery. In so many ways, as I mentioned earlier, the Harvest Square Story ironically parallels the ecological tale told by Mount Saint Helens and Yellowstone. Nature knows how to close the circle; in fact, Nature designed and created the circle.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

If you would like to visit Harvest Square, see the Huntsville Adventurer website: https://huntsvilleadventurer.com/harvest-square-nature-preserve/?fbclid=IwAR18Fyskf-vv0IWzXjMCO3L7mF4VTxHiOOXS1qeExGLG4Pj-MFAdfUcF6xM

The Land Trust of North Alabama mission is simple, succinct, and noble: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future. I urge you to visit the Trust’s website: https://www.landtrustnal.org/vision-history/ Please consider joining and or contributing. 

 

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. Nature, with the help of the dedicated efforts of a local Land Trust, is converting sows ears to silk purses
  2. Nature’s power to heal (the land and our hearts) is unlimited
  3. We can all do our part to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHarvest Square

 

The same windthrow back-dropping Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits! I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

Land Trust of North AL

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

A Quick Dose of Natural Elixir at Huntsville Botanical Garden

We are frequent visitors to Huntsville Botanical Garden (HBG). The last week of May, I had finished a meeting downtown and had fifteen minutes before accepting a scheduled phone call… just enough time to stop by the Garden (on my way home), park, and walk to a shaded bench on one of the woodland trails, and accept the call in forested seclusion.

I relished the chance to inhale a full dose of Nature’s Elixir as I sat and talked by phone, and then strolled along several paths that we know well. My purpose here is to take you along with me. Not to visit the exquisite visitors and events center, the butterfly house, the fountains, or any of the infrastructure, but to demonstrate the quality of my quick immersion in the Garden’s woodland elements. I value having the Garden, and other natural features, within reach when I need a charge of natural elixir. A few quiet moments, deep inhalations, casual stroll, and alert observations do the trick!

A Brief Dose of Woodland Wonder

Interstate 565 connects to Huntsville from I-65 about 20 miles west of the City. The Huntsville Botanical Garden lies a mile south of I-565 and just five miles west of downtown. I simply diverted the mile south en route home to take my call. Much safer and infinitely more pleasant than talking while driving! Hands-free, no distractions (from driving), and able to take notes. I sat in a mixed pine/cedar/hardwood stand. I looked east facing a main-canopy Eastern red cedar tree (below left); another rises behind me (below right). One might say its just another northern Alabama forest. I prefer Wendell Berry’s view of such 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.” I see the miraculous wherever I seek it. The woods at HBG originated naturally following some two centuries of European settlement, clearing, mixed use agriculture, abandonment, transfer to the Army and Alabama Space Commission, and eventual lease to HBG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Completing the phone call, I strolled, enjoying the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of the forest. A large woody grape vine adds a serpentine element among the maturing hardwood trees.

 

This red oak measures roughly 30-inches diameter breast high (DBH, a common term in forestry). It borders the trail and the more formal display plantings (see native oakleaf hydrangea in flower). A loblolly pine, nearly as large, towers beyond (below right). Such strolls, whether in remote wilderness or along an HBG path, deliver my daily bread.

 

The Interstate highway is just a straight-line mile to the north, but I hear only birdsong and an occasional drifting conversation, adults and children nearby yet not within sight. The extraordinary presents in both the horizontal view (below left) and vertical.

 

I’ve long marveled at the seeming infinite texture, form, color, and variety of tree bark between species and even within. The two Eastern red cedars below share similarities yet each is unique… as different as people are one from the other. I can’t resist snapping a photo and placing my hands to their faces, distinguishing between them with tactile sense complementing visual. I can envision a book of southern tree bark, or perhaps even one cataloging the trees of HBG or other specific locations, nearby Monte Sano State Park for instance!

 

This knotty, warty sweetgum projects yet another image, faces viewed from multiple orientations expressing full sets of personalities and visages. I’m sure that each view tells a different tale in our imagination.

 

And each tree does have a story to be told and read. I see a formerly forked oak (below left), losing its near-to-camera fork perhaps a decade ago to wind or ice. The old wound is now actively and successfully callousing. Scar tissue may ultimately seal the 15-inch opening. I say “may” because the agents of decay are likewise active, perhaps weakening the tree and making it susceptible to breakage from a subsequent wind or ice storm. Meantime, resident squirrels are enjoying their four-foot-high table-top perch for gnawing acorns. The sycamore (lower right) tells a different tale. Standing at woods edge 10-15 years ago, the then much smaller tree sprouted root collar suckers that have since grown to encircle the “parent” tree. The suckers are technically not offspring. Instead, they are genetically identical appendages of the main stem.

 

My brief walk brought me to one of my favorite lower-canopy species, bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). This one stands in deep shade behind me. Another nearly 30-inch red oak towers beyond and above it. I include my mug only for scale. The bigleaf magnolia is a deciduous magnolia native to the southeastern United States and eastern Mexico. This species boasts the largest simple leaf and single flower of any native plant in North America — the extraordinary is the common mode of existence in Nature. More of my daily bread!

 

Some tree faces at HBG require little imagination!

 

I hold oakleaf hydrangea among my top five native Alabama woody flowering plants.

 

Native azaleas are another. Both were at their flowering zenith on my serendipitously timed stopover phone call.

 

And because of its essential role in the life cycle of monarch butterflies, I deeply value the perennial herbaceous milkweed!

 

I’ve only touched the surface with these few photos and observations. I had previously offered an HBG Blog Post two years ago, reporting on a visit back into the Jurassic with our two Alabama grandsons: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/06/13/trex-makes-a-call/

 

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, 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 two succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • We are blessed to have Nature within reach here in northern Alabama, ranging from a world-class botanical garden to the wild acreage of Monte Sano State Park to the waterfowl-rich winter sloughs of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Nature’s panoply of magic, beauty, wonder, and awe is wherever (and whenever) you choose to seek it.

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:

May Gives Way to June

My New Book

Hallelujah — a Big Announcement as we slip into June. Here’s how my co-author and friend Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit spread the word on our joint book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits, via her website, TEALarbor, this afternoon: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=cm#inbox/FMfcgxwCgxxkMjlkFzcbzQskBHTzCQjz

I use Jennifer’s words because I could not have said it any better: “I am thrilled to announce that my latest book project has just made it into our publisher’s hands. Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature is a co-authored volume with my colleague and friend, Dr. Steve Jones.

It is a great relief after months of writing and editing, and weeks of proofreading, polishing, and profusely sweating, to have surrendered our manuscript to the next phase.

In very brief sum, our book is “a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” I’ll share more in future posts.

We’ve received advance praise for our book from our early readers. We are eternally grateful to them for writing blurbs that will appear on the covers and inside of Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits. One endorsement, by Dr. Cheryl Charles (Co-Founder, Children and Nature Network), calls our work “…an enchanting, inspiring, important book.”

Please celebrate with us by going outside into your own back yard or to a local park. Close your eyes, inhale deeply, thank the Earth for the abundance of beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements we receive from her each day of our lives. That’s where I’m headed – and what I’m going to do – right now!”

My Own Offerings of Celebration and Observance from the Last Two Days of May and Today

I concur with Jennifer’s advice. In fact, Judy and I visited the Huntsville Botanical Garden (ten miles from our home) this afternoon, attending a show by the North Alabama Hosta Society, and then walking a couple of woodland trails. I offer just two photographs to help lift your spirits. First, as we approached the Butterfly House where the Hosta Society hosted the show, we encountered a momma mallard and her four ducklings.

And along one of the trails, an exquisite native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in full floral display in the foreground of a large loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)

Patio Skies from the Last Two Days of May

I literally did not have to leave the backyard to take these photos of our ever-changing heavens above. The first is a delightful morning sky back-lighting one of our Japanese maples (Acer platinum). I’m a sucker for great skies.

Still May 30, a surprise thundershower blessed us with 0.50″ of rain, then gifted us with a near-sunset rainbow, first a weak double and then a bit more vivid single.

May 31, just after Jennifer submitted our manuscript, I spotted first a cirrus jellyfish.

And then noticed a seahorse in fast pursuit.

Yes, some might say (a bit sarcastically, or just humoring the old guy), “Sure, Steve, I really do see those same images.” Did I detect an eye roll?! I do enjoy all manner of sky. Permitting a bit of whimsy enhances my enjoyment and appreciation.

Again, Dr. Wilhoit nailed it. “Close your eyes, inhale deeply, thank the Earth for the abundance of beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements we receive from her each day of our lives.”

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), as well as another (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:

  • Nature lies within reach wherever you seek it.
  • All you need do is believe that the magic is there, then look keenly to see the beauty, wonder, and awe.
  • And make sure to close your eyes, inhale deeply, and thank Nature for the beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements presented to 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: “©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!

 

Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 24, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks (as of October 17-19 I’ve added Cheaha to my tally) and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from five of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

Original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post

My second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, offers 13 primary lessons for life, living, and enterprise. Its first lesson applies to the way I approach living: Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force. I immerse in local Nature whenever I can. Judy and I participated with a hiking group Friday morning, October 12, 2018 at Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve, right in Huntsville, on the east side of Monte Sano Mountain. We enjoyed full Nature-immersion over a gentle five miles along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… right where we live. Lesson five from that same book rings true: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where we are. Big Cove Creek and Hays Nature Preserve furnished all the attraction necessary for an early fall immersion!

I won’t offer excess commentary. My intent is to provide a broad introduction via limited text and lots of photographs. View this as a six-part glimpse into what local Nature-immersion can yield in way of beauty, awe, magic, wonder, and life fulfillment via Nature. The six parts:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

Big Cove Creek Greenway

The Greenway provides a paved surface along Big Cove Creek. We lived in Ohio along the Simon Kenton Rails to-Trail, giving us direct access to a network of ~250 miles of similarly paved surface. The greater Huntsville, Alabama area offers several paved utility rights-of-way trails that unfortunately do not constitute an interconnecting network. Yet these are wonderful wildland escapes within the otherwise urban and urbanizing landscape.

Big Cove Creek Greenway offers plenty of shade even at mid-morning. With fall at long last here in northern Alabama — we started the trek with light jackets!

Our group focused on reveling in the sights along the way. That’s Judy at center; we had stopped to view some fall flowers trail-side. I like this Friday morning group because the participants are more interested in immersion than they are in racing from point-to-point. I tend to fall behind even the slow hikers — witness all the photos I stop to take. I find few lessons from Nature in simply logging the miles. Life’s far too short to focus on the destination — my competitive distance running days are far behind me.

Deep forest and deep shade, even with some fall foliage-shedding already underway.

I could have developed a greater-depth Blog Post for only the Big Cove Creek Greenway… same for the other five segments of this week’s offering. Nature presents so much. I will fight the urge to digest and synthesize the detail. Again, I offer this Post as a broad sweep and overview.

Water Features

It’s named Big Cove Creek Greenway for a very good reason — this is Big Cove Creek. The Greenway is a paved and maintained utility (sewer line) right of way along the creek. I am grateful for creeks, wetlands, and rights-of-way, without which many urban greenways and preserves might be sprouting houses instead of providing escapes to wildland! I’m told that this limited flow is typical of September and October, our two normally driest months. This late summer and fall have certainly met our low precipitation expectations.

The stream flows lazily toward its imminent rendezvous with the Flint River, at this point less than a mile away. Then on to the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. How infinitesimally small its contribution to the Mississippi’s average 600,000 cubic feet per second flow! Yet each small tributary, converging in aggregate, enables the Mighty Mississippi to reach exalted status among North American rivers. Our little Big Cove Creek does its work admirably… and serves its purpose with aplomb… through drought and deluge!

I always enjoy a little humor tossed in to accent my Nature musings. Nothing beats good word play. How well I know — I wear people to exhaustion with puns and “grandad jokes.” No, not jokes aimed at grandads, but humor that only Pap can use to good end with our five grandkids. I like a well placed groaner!

Here at Hays Preserve the Flint River stands only a small hierarchical stream-basin increment above Big Cove Creek in terms of scale and stature, especially during this seasonal period of light flow. Still, the Flint even during this dry period is at least an order of magnitude larger than Big Cove. Regardless, who can dispute the beauty and serenity of the Flint reflecting a deep blue sky and quiet summer-green riparian forest canopy?

 

Hays Nature Preserve

The Greenway led us to the Preserve: https://www.huntsvilleal.gov/environment/green-team/nature-preserves/hays-nature-preserve/. The site offers a brief description: The Hays Nature Preserve hosts several miles of paved trails that follow the Flint River and its associated oxbow lakes through low riparian habitat, old fields, and a golf course. And that, unsurprisingly, is what we encountered.

Nice signage and an apparently flammable forest! I suppose there is some story behind the moniker. This is obviously at least second growth forest, regenerating after agricultural abandonment. Perhaps at some earlier stage of stand development the younger densely-stocked stand appeared to resemble match sticks. I’ll seek to find an answer. Back in my active forestry practice days we employed the term dog-hair thickets to describe young growth at very high numbers of stems per acre. An apt name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I commend the Preserve managers for effectively incorporating interpretive signage. I contend that we will properly steward this One Earth only if we are equipped with Nature-based wisdom and knowledge, and embrace a willingness to engage with passion and purpose in hard work on Earth’s behalf. Our actions and decisions must be informed. The Preserve is making an effort to inform visitors — my compliments!

Although I did not see a brochure describing features like the Ancient Beaver Dam, I assume some such documentation exists. This one puzzled me with the term ancient. Beaver dams are of necessity ephemeral. They come and go as habitat ebbs and flows with inundation, death of the flooded forests, flushes and over-browsing of sprouts and brush. Eventually the beavers seek a new dam site, the original recovers, and the cycle goes on along the creek/river over time. I wonder what constitutes ancient. I’m approximating abandonment of this dam as within the past century, a time period that is nothing in the life of a stream… or to a species of stream-habitat rodent. From the internet: The beaver (genus Castor) is a large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent.

 

Life Along The Way

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe come in many packages. These two 15-18-inch diameter oaks serve as towering arbors for lush poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and other vines I did not identify. The hairy vines of poison ivy eliminate any doubt about its identity — no leaves required. Interestingly, Poison ivy and wild grape, while capably of climbing fences, trees, and buildings, they seldom climb into the canopies of large trees from the ground. Instead, both grape and poison ivy, long-lived woody vines, normally accompany the seedling as it reaches vertically through sapling, pole, and mature sizes. The tree and vine grow in tandem. The vine relies upon the tree for aerial support. The tree must compete with its viney companion for sunlight and soil resources. I’m curious whether the tree takes some advantage from the relationship. Something for me to ponder and seek an answer from the internet. The more I learn about Nature… the less I really know.

Burls are common in our southern hardwood forests. This oak burl is 8-10-inches in diameter. Burls are abnormal woody tissue often in the lower four-to-ten feet of the trunk, triggered by some stressors like fungus, virus, or physical wound. I’ve heard tree pathologists compare burls to a mammalian tumor. This one grew at some eight feet above ground, and is adorned with a lovely vine necklace. My guess is that within this burl, a beautiful turned wood-bowl awaits revelation by a talented eye, skillful hands, and a sharp lathe.

Even without vines, a shagbark hickory is a sight to behold. Who could not have named this species with such fidelity to appearance!? Perhaps as simple as some well-known and easily identified critters: cardinal; black racer; rattlesnake; snapping turtle; black bear.

A thirty-inch-diameter white oak greeted us along the Flint River. Rich alluvial soils make for Mighty Oak anchorage.

We also found Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) on these floodplain soils. It’s a genera-cousin to common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which is ubiquitous along our north Alabama streams and rivers.

Hays Preserve boasts two state champion trees, including this shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa). Whether Mighty Oak or shellbark hickory, nothing beats these riverine sites.

Same for this state champion water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), which prefers wetter feet, found commonly in sloughs, oxbows (like this one), and in slack-water along streams.

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

And anywhere that life is full, death is nearby and concomitant, for there is never one without the other. Too far gone for to identify species, this tree is inexorably returning to the soil… courtesy of micro-organisms and invertebrates, and aided by birds and small mammals excavating the buffet of tasty edible grubs and insects.

Not nearly so completely decayed, this still-standing dead shagbark hickory has caloric content sufficient to satisfy the most discriminating fungi. I’ve noticed that there is a distinct threshold beyond which decaying wood no longer bears fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms). I’m sure that mycologists have carefully determined that threshold by region, type of tree, and mushroom species.

There are those readers able to identify the following portfolio of mushrooms. Remember, I am a tree guy who is re-discovering every day how little I know about so much! Here’s a six-inch diameter, fallen hickory providing nourishment to a fungus with lovely mushroom. We hiked at just the right period, encountering many fresh ‘shrooms.

This gill fungus is enjoying a downed yellow poplar. I did not spot the snail feasting on the mushroom until I viewed the photo on my computer screen! Life depends upon death and death upon life, again and again and again…

Fresh and pure.

The left fork of this twin musclewood tree (Carpinus carolinia) yielded to death while its right side remains vibrant. The left side is rich with saprophytic life. An old hollowed branch stub even serves as pot for some grass and a broad-leafed plant.

I believe (not at all certain) that the lower left organism is a crustose lichen. Lower right is a form of shelf mushroom — a conk. Both seem quite content on the dead musclewood.

Downed Sugarberry sported lots of fresh fruiting bodies, again evidencing that our timing was good.

Some day I will be better equipped with knowledge about these essential organisms that signal the interplay of life, death, and ecosystem vitality and renewability.

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

And this is the 12-foot Sugarberry snag whose crown furnished the colonized fallen pieces above.

Again, the cycle of life and death and life spins without end.

Fall Flowers

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are my ken, yet in this life-stage I term semi-retirement I am blessed to extend my seasons. I’m finding reward in paying heed to our fall flowering friends. Here’s white snakeroot (Ageratina altissma) along the Greenway. Were this open in April, I would declare it extraordinary. My enthusiasm requires a higher threshold in October. However, once I stopped to admire and photograph, I gave it high marks.

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus) is another that I would have paid scant attention to in prior years. Yet, upon closer inspection, it’s now a winner. I am becoming a believer in fall’s floral splendor. I’m looking…. seeing… and feeling. There’s much to be appreciated in the rapidly waning summer. The kind of beauty I ache to see in early spring is hidden now within plain sight. I had simply failed to notice.

Wild Sensitive Plant (Chamaecrista nicititans) continues to flower trail-side. I’ve been seeing it at various locations for some six weeks. Until I just checked my reference book to confirm Latin name, I had been calling this plant Partridge Pea, which it turns out is of the same genus, but has five uniform petals. Wild Sensitive Plant has irregular petals. I’m learning, seeking a knowledge assimilation pace greater than my information ablation rate! The battle is tightly contested.

Another species attracting our attention — Wingstem (Verbesina alternafolia).

Although a fruit and not a flower, Heart-a-Bustin (Euonymus americanus) rivals the beauty of any showy flower. What a gift to find trail-side!

Like most such beauties, the gift is best observed up close and personal.

Another fruit, this Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) seed head adds a splash of fall color. The winged moniker draws from the flanged compound leaf stem between the leaflets. See lower right photo.

We’ll end with ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), in flower locally since August, which may be another explanation for my spring ephemeral bias. Spring species flowering windows are so much shorter. Skip a weekend and the freshet of display has already headed north. Skip a couple weeks late summer and we miss nothing!

Reflections and Observations

That completes my six-part tour of Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

I close with two applicable lessons from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

And from my opening for this Blog Post, I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… it’s right where we live. What’s near you… within your reach? Are you treating yourself?

Enjoy your autumn — cherish Nature wherever you are. Nature is a smorgasbord; may you be hale and hearty in her embrace!

 

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

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

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

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Hays Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post. I will remain true to the themes of Nature as an essential life force and focus, and Nature providing multiple attractions for enhancing Life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Here’s a late August Monte Sano State Park photo of a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) in full fruit. Like the winged sumac and Heart-a-Bustin fruits along Big Cove Creek Creek and the Flint River, Spice-bush strives for beauty well beyond its spring flowers.

 

Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred my own life force and provided diverse attractions and inspiration. First, the Azalea Cascade Boardwalk at DeSoto:

 

 

And at Joe Wheeler, the State Champion chinkapin oak:

 

And this complex burl-like growth (Bigfoot!?) on a Lake Guntersville, trail-side oak:

 

And from Cheaha, a steep segment of the Lake Trail ascending 1,200-feet vertical from the lake to the summit. A trail that tested these old knees in ways far different from our paved Greenway hike along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River!

 

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us wherever we seek it. Discover Nature’s Truths near your doorstep:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway

My second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, offers 13 primary lessons for life, living, and enterprise. Its first lesson applies to the way I approach living: Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force. I immerse in local Nature whenever I can. Judy and I participated with a hiking group Friday morning, October 12, 2018 at Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve, right in Huntsville, on the east side of Monte Sano Mountain. We enjoyed full Nature-immersion over a gentle five miles along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… right where we live. Lesson five from that same book rings true: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where we are. Big Cove Creek and Hays Nature Preserve furnished all the attraction necessary for an early fall immersion!

I won’t offer excess commentary. My intent is to provide a broad introduction via limited text and lots of photographs. View this as a six-part glimpse into what local Nature-immersion can yield in way of beauty, awe, magic, wonder, and life fulfillment via Nature. The six parts:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

Big Cove Creek Greenway

The Greenway provides a paved surface along Big Cove Creek. We lived in Ohio along the Simon Kenton Rails to-Trail, giving us direct access to a network of ~250 miles of similarly paved surface. The greater Huntsville, Alabama area offers several paved utility rights-of-way trails that unfortunately do not constitute an interconnecting network. Yet these are wonderful wildland escapes within the otherwise urban and urbanizing landscape.

Big Cove Creek Greenway offers plenty of shade even at mid-morning. With fall at long last here in northern Alabama — we started the trek with light jackets!

Our group focused on reveling in the sights along the way. That’s Judy at center; we had stopped to view some fall flowers trail-side. I like this Friday morning group because the participants are more interested in immersion than they are in racing from point-to-point. I tend to fall behind even the slow hikers — witness all the photos I stop to take. I find few lessons from Nature in simply logging the miles. Life’s far too short to focus on the destination — my competitive distance running days are far behind me.

Deep forest and deep shade, even with some fall foliage-shedding already underway.

I could have developed a greater-depth Blog Post for only the Big Cove Creek Greenway… same for the other five segments of this week’s offering. Nature presents so much. I will fight the urge to digest and synthesize the detail. Again, I offer this Post as a broad sweep and overview.

Water Features

It’s named Big Cove Creek Greenway for a very good reason — this is Big Cove Creek. The Greenway is a paved and maintained utility (sewer line) right of way along the creek. I am grateful for creeks, wetlands, and rights-of-way, without which many urban greenways and preserves might be sprouting houses instead of providing escapes to wildland! I’m told that this limited flow is typical of September and October, our two normally driest months. This late summer and fall have certainly met our low precipitation expectations.

The stream flows lazily toward its imminent rendezvous with the Flint River, at this point less than a mile away. Then on to the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. How infinitesimally small its contribution to the Mississippi’s average 600,000 cubic feet per second flow! Yet each small tributary, converging in aggregate, enables the Mighty Mississippi to reach exalted status among North American rivers. Our little Big Cove Creek does its work admirably… and serves its purpose with aplomb… through drought and deluge!

I always enjoy a little humor tossed in to accent my Nature musings. Nothing beats good word play. How well I know — I wear people to exhaustion with puns and “grandad jokes.” No, not jokes aimed at grandads, but humor that only Pap can use to good end with our five grandkids. I like a well placed groaner!

Here at Hays Preserve the Flint River stands only a small hierarchical stream-basin increment above Big Cove Creek in terms of scale and stature, especially during this seasonal period of light flow. Still, the Flint even during this dry period is at least an order of magnitude larger than Big Cove. Regardless, who can dispute the beauty and serenity of the Flint reflecting a deep blue sky and quiet summer-green riparian forest canopy?

 

Hays Nature Preserve

The Greenway led us to the Preserve: https://www.huntsvilleal.gov/environment/green-team/nature-preserves/hays-nature-preserve/. The site offers a brief description: The Hays Nature Preserve hosts several miles of paved trails that follow the Flint River and its associated oxbow lakes through low riparian habitat, old fields, and a golf course. And that, unsurprisingly, is what we encountered.

Nice signage and an apparently flammable forest! I suppose there is some story behind the moniker. This is obviously at least second growth forest, regenerating after agricultural abandonment. Perhaps at some earlier stage of stand development the younger densely-stocked stand appeared to resemble match sticks. I’ll seek to find an answer. Back in my active forestry practice days we employed the term dog-hair thickets to describe young growth at very high numbers of stems per acre. An apt name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I commend the Preserve managers for effectively incorporating interpretive signage. I contend that we will properly steward this One Earth only if we are equipped with Nature-based wisdom and knowledge, and embrace a willingness to engage with passion and purpose in hard work on Earth’s behalf. Our actions and decisions must be informed. The Preserve is making an effort to inform visitors — my compliments!

Although I did not see a brochure describing features like the Ancient Beaver Dam, I assume some such documentation exists. This one puzzled me with the term ancient. Beaver dams are of necessity ephemeral. They come and go as habitat ebbs and flows with inundation, death of the flooded forests, flushes and over-browsing of sprouts and brush. Eventually the beavers seek a new dam site, the original recovers, and the cycle goes on along the creek/river over time. I wonder what constitutes ancient. I’m approximating abandonment of this dam as within the past century, a time period that is nothing in the life of a stream… or to a species of stream-habitat rodent. From the internet: The beaver (genus Castor) is a large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent.

 

Life Along The Way

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe come in many packages. These two 15-18-inch diameter oaks serve as towering arbors for lush poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and other vines I did not identify. The hairy vines of poison ivy eliminate any doubt about its identity — no leaves required. Interestingly, Poison ivy and wild grape, while capably of climbing fences, trees, and buildings, they seldom climb into the canopies of large trees from the ground. Instead, both grape and poison ivy, long-lived woody vines, normally accompany the seedling as it reaches vertically through sapling, pole, and mature sizes. The tree and vine grow in tandem. The vine relies upon the tree for aerial support. The tree must compete with its viney companion for sunlight and soil resources. I’m curious whether the tree takes some advantage from the relationship. Something for me to ponder and seek an answer from the internet. The more I learn about Nature… the less I really know.

Burls are common in our southern hardwood forests. This oak burl is 8-10-inches in diameter. Burls are abnormal woody tissue often in the lower four-to-ten feet of the trunk, triggered by some stressors like fungus, virus, or physical wound. I’ve heard tree pathologists compare burls to a mammalian tumor. This one grew at some eight feet above ground, and is adorned with a lovely vine necklace. My guess is that within this burl, a beautiful turned wood-bowl awaits revelation by a talented eye, skillful hands, and a sharp lathe.

Even without vines, a shagbark hickory is a sight to behold. Who could not have named this species with such fidelity to appearance!? Perhaps as simple as some well-known and easily identified critters: cardinal; black racer; rattlesnake; snapping turtle; black bear.

A thirty-inch-diameter white oak greeted us along the Flint River. Rich alluvial soils make for Mighty Oak anchorage.

We also found Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) on these floodplain soils. It’s a genera-cousin to common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which is ubiquitous along our north Alabama streams and rivers.

Hays Preserve boasts two state champion trees, including this shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa). Whether Mighty Oak or shellbark hickory, nothing beats these riverine sites.

Same for this state champion water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), which prefers wetter feet, found commonly in sloughs, oxbows (like this one), and in slack-water along streams.

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

And anywhere that life is full, death is nearby and concomitant, for there is never one without the other. Too far gone for to identify species, this tree is inexorably returning to the soil… courtesy of micro-organisms and invertebrates, and aided by birds and small mammals excavating the buffet of tasty edible grubs and insects.

Not nearly so completely decayed, this still-standing dead shagbark hickory has caloric content sufficient to satisfy the most discriminating fungi. I’ve noticed that there is a distinct threshold beyond which decaying wood no longer bears fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms). I’m sure that mycologists have carefully determined that threshold by region, type of tree, and mushroom species.

There are those readers able to identify the following portfolio of mushrooms. Remember, I am a tree guy who is re-discovering every day how little I know about so much! Here’s a six-inch diameter, fallen hickory providing nourishment to a fungus with lovely mushroom. We hiked at just the right period, encountering many fresh ‘shrooms.

This gill fungus is enjoying a downed yellow poplar. I did not spot the snail feasting on the mushroom until I viewed the photo on my computer screen! Life depends upon death and death upon life, again and again and again…

Fresh and pure.

The left fork of this twin musclewood tree (Carpinus carolinia) yielded to death while its right side remains vibrant. The left side is rich with saprophytic life. An old hollowed branch stub even serves as pot for some grass and a broad-leafed plant.

I believe (not at all certain) that the lower left organism is a crustose lichen. Lower right is a form of shelf mushroom — a conk. Both seem quite content on the dead musclewood.

Downed Sugarberry sported lots of fresh fruiting bodies, again evidencing that our timing was good.

Some day I will be better equipped with knowledge about these essential organisms that signal the interplay of life, death, and ecosystem vitality and renewability.

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

And this is the 12-foot Sugarberry snag whose crown furnished the colonized fallen pieces above.

Again, the cycle of life and death and life spins without end.

Fall Flowers

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are my ken, yet in this life-stage I term semi-retirement I am blessed to extend my seasons. I’m finding reward in paying heed to our fall flowering friends. Here’s white snakeroot (Ageratina altissma) along the Greenway. Were this open in April, I would declare it extraordinary. My enthusiasm requires a higher threshold in October. However, once I stopped to admire and photograph, I gave it high marks.

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus) is another that I would have paid scant attention to in prior years. Yet, upon closer inspection, it’s now a winner. I am becoming a believer in fall’s floral splendor. I’m looking…. seeing… and feeling. There’s much to be appreciated in the rapidly waning summer. The kind of beauty I ache to see in early spring is hidden now within plain sight. I had simply failed to notice.

Wild Sensitive Plant (Chamaecrista nicititans) continues to flower trail-side. I’ve been seeing it at various locations for some six weeks. Until I just checked my reference book to confirm Latin name, I had been calling this plant Partridge Pea, which it turns out is of the same genus, but has five uniform petals. Wild Sensitive Plant has irregular petals. I’m learning, seeking a knowledge assimilation pace greater than my information ablation rate! The battle is tightly contested.

Another species attracting our attention — Wingstem (Verbesina alternafolia).

Although a fruit and not a flower, Heart-a-Bustin (Euonymus americanus) rivals the beauty of any showy flower. What a gift to find trail-side!

Like most such beauties, the gift is best observed up close and personal.

Another fruit, this Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) seed head adds a splash of fall color. The winged moniker draws from the flanged compound leaf stem between the leaflets. See lower right photo.

We’ll end with ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), in flower locally since August, which may be another explanation for my spring ephemeral bias. Spring species flowering windows are so much shorter. Skip a weekend and the freshet of display has already headed north. Skip a couple weeks late summer and we miss nothing!

Reflections and Observations

That completes my six-part tour of Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

I close with two applicable lessons from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

And from my opening for this Blog Post, I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… it’s right where we live. What’s near you… within your reach? Are you treating yourself?

Enjoy your autumn — cherish Nature wherever you are. Nature is a smorgasbord; may you be hale and hearty in her embrace!

 

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

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

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