Hardwood Forest on Seasonally Flooded Lowlands along Lake Wheeler on the WNW Refuge

August 18, 2020 Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I drove the Blackwell Swamp Loop Road at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. We occasionally parked, spending hours on foot exploring a vibrant bottomland hardwood forest within the loop road on lowlands seasonally flooded. Earlier that morning we spent a like amount of time in a nearby pine forest on a sandy loam terrace a few feet higher than the bottomland hardwood forest. See the Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/09/pine-forest-on-a-rich-terrace-above-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

The hardwood forest originated naturally when the Corps of Engineers harvested the forest then present in the early 1930s, when the Corps acquired the property destined for flooding by Wheeler Dam and the associated buffer lands, this hardwood bottomland and the pine terrace included.

Jolly B

 

We marveled at a diverse hardwood forest. I’m standing (below left) beside a 46-inch diameter willow oak (Quercus phellos), a magnificent specimen, towering 100-110 feet, with wide spreading crown (below right). Thirty-six years has passed since I left the forest products industry where, within my 12-year employment, I spent two years supplying logs to the company’s hardwood sawmill in Waverly, VA. Four decades hence, I still appreciate high-value standing timber. This oak rose more than 60 feet to its first branch, with four clear 16-foot logs. The first two are veneer quality. Although I can’t deny viewing such trees through my commercial forestry lens, that perspective does not dominate my assessment. Today I see magic and wonder, overwhelming me with humility (I am nothing in Nature’s presence) and inspiration (Nature moves and elevates me). Just 85-90 years ago Corps of Engineers crews harvested the standing forest, passing the baton to Nature, which viewed the cutting as just another natural disturbance, calling upon her resilience and hidden talents to regenerate and renew. This nearly four-foot diameter oak is a gift of God and a purely natural creation.

Jolly BJolly B

 

As a former CEO of four different universities, I long ago realized that Nature teaches many lessons. In fact, I hold that every lesson for leading, living, learning, and serving is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Peering into the lofty reaches of the willow oak reminded me that as leaders and citizens we must feel deep humility for the tremendous responsibilities we bear for serving others and sustaining our Earth for future generations. I felt absolute humility gazing heavenward into the oak’s crown, even as I felt meagerness and inadequacy leading an intricate university ecosystem touching literally thousands of individuals preparing for tomorrow. How could I not be inspired by Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe standing in the presence of such grandeur! Likewise, I viewed the universities I led with absolute inspiration, in their own way as wondrous as the mighty oak. I cannot imagine effectively leading without full doses of humility and inspiration.

Jolly B

 

This double-barreled (forked) white oak (Quercus alba; below) measured nearly 60-inches in diameter. The old commercial forester in me, instead, saw two 30-inch stems, each one drawing merchantability from where loggers would buck it… above the fork. I can’t help myself… the commercial forestry filter remains intact, yet, I often elect to disengage from it, viewing Nature through a lens of broader appreciation and awe. Once again, we stood at the base absorbing a living organism just 20-25 years my senior. Ah, the stories these oaks could tell: of powerful thunderstorms; occasional (infrequent) snows; cold winter rains; long nights; deep heat; droughts; floods; terrifying winds; courting owls; migrating neotropical songbirds; deer, fox, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and skunks; tree frogs; snakes and other reptiles.

Jolly B

 

Both oaks stood on relatively higher ground (by 12-18″) within the bottomland. Note the dense understory and ground cover in the prior photos. For much of the winter and spring the higher ground stood above the seasonally flooded lower land. The lower ground, represented below, would have been inundated from late November through April most years. The leaf-matted somewhat ground-cover-free understory evidences the wetter condition. Some 100-feet beyond the photo-point below left lies Blackwell Swamp, where conditions are too wet to support forest cover.

Jolly BJolly B

 

My first forestry position with the company (Union Camp Corporation) after my May 1973 graduation from forestry school involved managing company-owned forestland in southeastern VA. I remember early-on learning the land and forests on the lower coastal plain. One of my colleagues (a coastal plain native) orienting me (a central Appalachian trained forester) pointed to the hill a few hundred feet distant. I saw nothing that met my definition of hill. Instead, I learned that a couple feet in elevation carried great meaning in terms of operability for forestry operations, site quality, and species preference. During the wetter winter season, a hill meant dry feet! The massive, 46-inch willow oak stands on such a hill.

Some Hardwood Tree Oddities

 

During my current woods walks I am not blindly distracted by the commercial value of trees and forests. Instead, I am taken by both the towering individuals with straight boles and with individuals I describe as tree form oddities. What I used to see as timber defects I now cherish as curiosities, triggering my latent interest in forestry forensics, my urge to puzzle the cause of such unusual form and structure. Understanding the oak below required little imagination. Picture its life beginning as a twin, a double stump sprout resulting from the 1930s harvesting. Perhaps originally there were more than two, yet only two made it to what I’ll estimate was 20-30 years ago, when the nearer twin snapped away during a windstorm. That stem was noticeably smaller than its twin is now, reflecting my 20-30-year estimate. The old wound continues to callous, again confirming my time estimate since such large wound callousing takes years. Another point of confirmation is that the twin broke away long enough ago that all evidence of it has disappeared into the soil through decay.

 

Perhaps coincident with the wind that toppled the oak twin, the top of a nearby tree crushed this sweetgum below to almost horizontal. Laying it flat but not killing it. The sweetgum shot a sprout vertically from a position about three feet above the ground. That sprout has become the dominant main stem, even as the prostrate tree sent other sprouts along its stem vertically. They, too, have survived, but are clearly subordinate to the main trunk.

Jolly B

Jolly B

Nature specializes in mysteries that I can sometimes interpret, but not always, yet that is part of the fun. There is great joy in not knowing…and equal thrill in solving. I shall never again walk in the woods and find nothing to challenge my mind, heart, soul, and spirit. The forest fills me with wonder… and deep appreciation.

Fungal Associates

 

A forest is far more than just a community of trees. The forest ecosystem is a complex, interwoven collection of life forms, all interdependent in a symphony of forms and functions. I am a tree guy. I know something about forest components in the animal and plant kingdoms. Only since retirement have I dedicated time and intellectual energy to knowing, understanding, and appreciating the fungi kingdom, admittedly driven in part by a new-found fondness for edible wild mushrooms. I also find their beauty and function captivating. I offer below just a glimpse of the bottomland fungi we stopped to admire. This is a two-colored bolete (Baorangia bicolor). It’s also called red and yellow bolete. I believe it’s a tasty edible, but I have not yet gained confidence enough to harvest and test.

Jolly BJolly B

 

iNaturalist identifies this specimen as scaly rustgill (Gymnopilus sapineus). The iNaturalist description says it has a bitter taste and that it is unclear at this time whether this species or its relatives contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. No, I won’t be trying this species!

Jolly BJolly B

 

iNaturalist confirmed my field-identification that this common mushroom is of the genus Trametes. I find Trametes throughout my rambling zone here in northern Alabama. Dead and down hardwood material doesn’t stand a chance against this rapacious decay fungi.

Jolly B

 

Here is reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus). This one also carries a less-than-convincing iNaturalist edibility endorsement: It is considered edible, but it might be harmful to ingest the mushroom sometimes. Clearly not on my harvest to consume list!

Jolly BJolly B

 

So, whether it’s bottomland hardwood giants, odd tree forms, or myriad fungi reducing woody material to reincorporate with forest soil, I am intrigued, humbled, and inspired by these complex forest ecosystems. Robert Service in Spell of the Yukon spoke elegantly 120 years ago of the far north:

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

And I want to go back — and I will

Although our northern Alabama Tennessee River bottomland hardwood forests do not match the freshness, the freedom, the farness of the untrammeled wildness of the high latitudes, there is magic, mystery, and stillness in these seeming ancient riparian forests. Yes, I know that this forest I trekked has not yet lived a century, yet its ways, forms, functions, wildness, and wisdom are timeless. These forest ecosystems learned their ways long before we humans ventured into them 10-12 millennia ago. And, unless we are much smarter than I fear we are, they will thrive countless millennia after we depart the scene.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-August trek through the bottomland forest:

  • A forest is far more than just a community of trees.
  • The forest ecosystem is a complex, interwoven collection of life forms, all interdependent in a symphony of forms and functions.

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 other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

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.

Pine Forest on a Rich Terrace above Lake Wheeler on the WNW Refuge

We’re now into the second week of September. Continuing to enjoy our early morning walks, Judy and I are aware that dawn now breaks as we complete our circuit. And we’ve noticed near silence from our avian friends who chattered and clamored in greeting spring and early summer dawns. I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s observation in A Sand County Almanac:

By September, the day breaks with little help from birds. A song sparrow may give a half-hearted song, a woodcock may twitter overhead en route to his daytime thicket, a barred owl may terminate the night’s argument with one last wavering call, but few other birds have any thing to say or sing about.

From my September vantage point I’m drifting back to August 18, 2020, when Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I visited the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I had previously posted a photo-essay from my August 1, 2020, bushwhacking through a nearby riparian hardwood forest:  http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/ And just last week I posted an essay from my August 8, 2020 ramblings in a nearby aging hardwood bottomland forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/01/an-aging-tennessee-river-riparian-forest/

Those reflections led Mike and me mid-month to explore a stand of towering loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) on a terrace along Wheeler Lake. While there, we also examined adjacent hardwood lowlands and investigated the rich floral displays along Blackwell Run Road, the gravel route that took us all the way around Blackwell Swamp. I focus this Post on the pine terrace. Watch for two subsequent Posts offering observations from the hardwood bottoms and then the linear botanical garden along the gravel road.

Standing Tall

 

I bicycled the gravel road loop around Blackwell Swamp last winter. I admired the magnificent pine forest along the route just north of the Wheeler Dam-impounded Tennessee River, vowing to return on foot at some future date. I found the opportunity to do just that some eight months later. My entry into the stand proved well worth the wait. I’m committed now to visit again this coming winter…to enjoy cooler temperatures, no biting insects (i.e. mosquitoes and chiggers), wandering free of spider webs hung at face level, views unencumbered by those pesky hardwood leaves. I’ve learned that mid-summer is not the favored forest bushwhacking season!

I’ve written so many of these Posts that from time to time I have little choice but to repeat prior observations, reflections, lessons, and stories of inspiration. Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is the principal pine here in northern Alabama. Loblolly is an early successional species, flourishing in full sunlight, responsive to catastrophic forest disturbance (filling in after hurricane, tornado, and fire), and quick to reclaim abandoned agricultural land. The terrace that supports the subject pine stand runs roughly east-west parallel to the river. It is bordered to the north by a bottomland hardwood forest reaching into the actual Blackwell Swamp. The terrace width varies along its quarter-mile length from 200 to 500 feet. The gravel road along the river perches on a natural levee above the now-impounded river.

Picture this terrace prior to the 1930’s completion of Wheeler Dam as cultivated with crops of corn and cotton. Pine and hardwood would have populated the immediate river bank. These pine and perhaps individuals at field-edge bordering the bottomland provided the seed source to reforest the field when the Corps of Engineers completed buffer land purchase and terminated farming. The US Forest Service silvics manual observes this about loblolly seed production and distribution:

Seedfall usually begins in October, and the bulk of the seeds are released in November and early December. Seedfall is hastened by dry, warm, windy weather and retarded by cool, wet weather. Seed dispersal in or adjacent to a stand varies with height and stocking level of the seed-source trees, magnitude of the seed crop, terrain, and weather conditions at the time of seedfall. The effective seeding distance ranges from 61 to 91 m (200 to 300 ft) in a downwind direction from the seed source and 23 to 30 m (75 to 100 ft) in other directions.

The pine trees adjacent to the terrace would have been tall, wide-crowned, and vigorous…attributes suggesting abundant seed production and height sufficient to accommodate full dispersion coverage of the terrace. The abandoned field would have provided a perfect seedbed, free of competing woody vegetation. Lush herbaceous vegetation would have also immediately invaded the field, but loblolly has long ago mastered the art and science of competing with such short-lived competitors. Loblolly quickly owned the field, drawing deeply from its fertile depths, and reaching rapidly skyward. Because loblolly does not tolerate seasonal flooding, its seedlings did not flourish on the bordering bottomland soils. The tree below is 24 inches in diameter (4.5 feet above ground level). We estimated its height at 110-120 feet. Its age at roughly 85-90 years. Height at a specified age (the base age) is the surest measure of site quality. When I practiced forestry in central and south Alabama (early 1980s), we used base age 25 years. During my forestry undergraduate days in the northeast we used base age 50 for hardwoods.

Jolly B

Jolly B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loblolly pine matures more rapidly than northern hardwoods. Its rate of height growth lessens over time. By age 50 the slope of increase slackens toward plateauing. The dominant trees we examined are by now becoming flat-topped, failing to extend further. Although I have scant empirical evidence to support my conclusion, I estimate site quality (base age 25) for this naturally generated stand at 65-75 feet. Were this a planted stand of genetically-improved (through selective cross-breeding, provenance studies, and evaluative culling) stock, I believe this site could produce 80-foot trees by age 25.

This pine at the bottomland edge measured 30 inches in diameter, reaching high above us, dominating the adjacent trees.

Jolly BJolly B

 

My doctoral dissertation evaluated soil-site factors for Allegheny Hardwood forests of SW NY and NW PA. I spent many days excavating soil pits, describing soil characteristics, and collecting soil samples by horizon for laboratory analyses. I was able to predict site quality on the basis of soil and site factors even without trees present to measure.

The Essence of a Rich Site

 

I carried my trusty sharpshooter spade (yes the very same one I used for my 1985 PhD field sampling!) into the pine stand. Compared to my very stony NY and PA sites, the terrace soil was heavenly. I scraped aside the forest litter layer. The spade slipped easily into the soil…nary a rock encountered. Yes, a root or two, but I had carefully avoided major roots.

Jolly BJolly B

 

I have never lost my learned knowledge of determining soil texture (an approximation of percent content by sand, silt, and clay particles) by feel, a measure serving as a surrogate for moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity. I judged the soil to be sandy loam. We detected the old plow line (6-8 inches below the surface) still evident some nine decades after abandonment. Funny how being on my knees, connecting viscerally to the essence of the vitality, fertility, and heart of the site thrilled me to my forester’s core. I wondered how any Nature enthusiast could traipse through our magnificent forests never having looked beneath the litter layer. I know a man who cherishes old cars with souped up engines. He could not imagine appreciating the car without peering intently under the hood. Below left I am under the hood, admiring the power and strength of the thing…the soil…that ultimately sustains all terrestrial life on Earth.

Jolly BJolly B

 

To most lay readers I stake professional claim to being a lifelong Nature enthusiast…a naturalist. Yet, given my recent re-acquaintance with my sharpshooter, I admit to still being a soil scientist. I relish getting my hands dirty. That is, the dirt of life — soil, the essence of life! There is nothing unclean about soil.

Vines in the Pine Forest

 

We found this hefty poison ivy vine co-living with a two-foot diameter loblolly. Some would see this and assume that the vine climbed the 110 feet into the pine crown. Such is not the case. Within a couple of years of the pine seedling taking root, a bird, having recently gorged on ripe poison ivy seed, deposited the undigested (but chemically scarified) seed from its perch atop the seedling. The vine seed sprouted the following spring, found the site fertile and suitable, and began climbing with the ascending pine. The vine kept pace, always staying in the upper reaches of the pine crown, enjoying its free ride and the full canopy-top sunlight. Theirs is a partnership. It’s clear to me what the vine takes from this joint venture. I have not surmised what’s in it for the pine. A wild guess. Perhaps pine trees with ivy entangled are less susceptible to pine bark beetle infestation. Maybe birds that reduce bark beetle numbers are more common within the ivy-draped canopy. I shall continue to search for definitive answers. I have quoted Leonardo da Vinci often, including this applicable gem:

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.

The vine and tree partnership, sustained over eons, I am sure is not without beauty, simplicity, and purpose. Ah, I love Nature’s revelations and mysteries. Every day in her wildness I find many more questions than I will ever answer.

Jolly B

 

We found aerial roots cascading from a muscadine vine. I have discussed their form and function in prior Posts. The literature on Vitus is less than helpful describing function. I’ve offered that they serve as emergency backup should some force of Nature drop the tree (and its accompanying vine) to the ground, these adventitious roots stand ready to vegetatively propagate the vine, whether the tree is dropped in-place or carried miles downstream by rampaging floodwaters. I wonder, too, whether the air roots draw moisture from high humidity air or from morning fog common along the river. Another mystery I shall be content to mull.

Jolly B

 

The loblolly below died in place, holding its grapevine aloft until the weakening pine stem yielded to gravity, bringing the vine with it. Interestingly, the vine had also died, falling leafless to the ground. I saw no evidence of a long ago fatal lightning strike, yet that is my assumption. Why else would both tree and vine be simultaneously dead? The level of decay leads me to conclude that the lightning ended both lives 7-10 years prior.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Muscadine and poison ivy vines are complemented here by supplejack (Berchemia scandens), the smooth-barked green vine below, intertwined with a larger muscadine. Both keep intimate company with the loblolly, sharing more direct sunlight high in the canopy. From iNaturalist online, The Rattan vine or Alabama supplejack is a species of climbing plant in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae. It is native to the central and southern parts of the United States. I appreciate it for its soft green color, a sharp contrast to either poison ivy or grape.

Jolly B

 

Near the road, fortified by sunlight leaking into the understory, this muscadine supported leaves and fruit within our reach. Wildlife benefits immeasurably from the rich diversity of edible fruits and seeds, as well as forage and cover, within this wonderful riparian and terrace forest ecosystem.

Jolly BJolly B

 

I also like supplejack for its apt moniker. It appears especially supple…twisting, twining, and assuming intricate shapes and designs, leaving its indelible signature on all woody stems that it binds and grasps.

Jolly B

 

I’ll bring this Post to closure with a final set of observations, evidencing intentional forest management, in this instance a forest protection treatment.

Signs of Forest Protection Measures

 

For the most part, this 80-90-year-old pine terrace forest would strike the casual, lay observer as an untouched ancient forest, unmanaged and all natural. Yet, Mike and I discovered very real evidence of human intervention occurring since stand origin. We noticed a cut stump, standing 12-18″ above ground level. Then we noted three others in a rough semi-circular pattern. All four had been felled inward toward the center of the subscribed arc. They had obviously not been cut to remove commercially; the trunks (clear and straight) still lay where the sawyer felled them, some ten years earlier. Below are the first two of the four. All are well decayed.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Likewise with the remaining two. Look down the stem to see where all four intersect in a jumble.

Jolly BJolly B

 

And a closer view of the jumble reveals that when felled the live crowns stacked together. For what purpose were these four felled, with crowns overlapping on the ground? Imagine a southern pine beetle outbreak a decade or so ago. I recall outbreaks during my forest products industry days. At the first indication of pine beetle epidemics (they occur every 8-12 years across the south), we would map (by road and aircraft) pockets of infestation, and systematically harvest the infested trees and a buffer.

Jolly B

 

Here is what the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) offers:

The southern pine beetle (SPB; Dendroctonus frontalis), is the most destructive insect pest of pine in the southern United States. A recent historical review estimated that SPB caused $900 million of damage to pine forests from 1960 through 1990. This aggressive tree killer is a native insect that lives predominantly in the inner bark of pine trees. Trees attacked by SPB often exhibit hundreds of resin masses (i.e., pitch tubes) on the outer tree bark. SPB feed on phloem tissue where they construct winding S-shaped or serpentine galleries. The galleries created by both the adult beetles and their offspring can effectively girdle a tree, causing its death. SPB also carry, and introduce into trees, blue-stain fungi. These fungi colonize xylem tissue and block water flow within the tree, also causing tree mortality. Consequently, once SPB have successfully colonized a tree, the tree cannot survive, regardless of control measures.

Most IFAS-recommended treatment measures involve cutting and removing the infested trees. However, IFAS offers a final option that I believe is precisely what the Refuge managers performed at this spot infestation:

Where tree removal is not feasible, infested stems can be felled, bucked and hand-sprayed with an approved insecticide. Where none of the above approaches is feasible, infested trees, with or without a buffer strip, may be simply felled toward the center of the spot. This cut-and-leave approach has had limited use with variable results.

In this case, with four infested trees, the treatment either worked or took place coincident with the natural end of infestation. We could offer no other explanation for our four felled mystery trees in the heart of this lovely river terrace pine forest. We both relished our efforts as forensic naturalists. I’ll repeat my mantra that every wild place has at least one story to tell, oftentimes at the intersection of human and natural history.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early August trek through the river terrace pine forest:

  • Rich soil, abundant moisture, and long growing seasons create cathedral forests.
  • Southern vines are canopy co-dominants.
  • Every wild place has at least one story to tell, oftentimes at the intersection of human and natural history. 

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 other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

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.

 

An Aging Tennessee River Riparian Forest

August 8, 2020 I bushwhacked (Webster definition: to travel by foot through uncleared terrain) through a Tennessee River riparian forest on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge north of the river in Limestone County Alabama. I restricted my wanderings to off-trail, insisting that my ramblings keep me within the closed-canopy forest. I wanted to experience, feel, sense, and see the forest intimately. I had previously passed along the forest’s northern edge on a gravel access road by bicycle and on foot. I have often mused that I  prefer hiking alone or with another naturalist who is content with (more accurately, demands) walking in the woods… not racing through the forest. Just as is true with life and living, it is the journey and not the destination that rewards!

I wandered off-trail nearby just a week earlier, issuing a Post of my general observations and reflections: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/ This subsequent Post focuses on the transition this forest is making from vibrant mature to old growth.

A Vibrant Forest with Healthy Trees

The Corps of Engineers completed Wheeler Dam November 9, 1936. TVA had begun purchasing lands destined for impoundment and as a buffer in 1934, including this forestland. As was often the case along the necklace of TVA dams and lakes, either timber harvesting or agricultural abandonment occurred on the buffer acreage. Because the forest I hiked evidenced numerous old windthrow mounds (from a forest predating 1934) I concluded that this land had not been cleared and cultivated. Instead, I believe the prior forest had been cutover in the mid-1930s, naturally regenerated to mixed hardwoods, predominantly oak with hickory, poplar, and sweetgum, and a scattering of loblolly pine. The forest has flourished on these rich lowland sites for the past 85 years or so. I have biked along nearby stands dominated by pine. I will devote a future wandering hike to exploring that stand, which I believe will prove to be established on abandoned farmland, perhaps even planted to pine.

Many of the dominant canopy trees (below) reach 100-feet and higher. I characterize the forest as mature… transitioning toward a state I’ll call old growth: big trees, lots of dead and down woody debris, and some other large trees showing signs of decline and death, with sporadic canopy openings (from blowdowns and standing tree demise) regenerating and filling in from below and from adjacent main canopy trees reaching into the openings. The two photos below depict the conditions typical across the acreage I walked. Beautiful sylvan conditions that big-tree lovers like me admire and adore. Oak (Quercus sp.) has some traits offering hints about stand origin. I surmise that the cutting in the mid-1930s removed the higher quality oaks then present, leaving unmerchantable saplings and poles, including some damaged by the logging. Oak regenerates often from stump sprouting after cutting. I am confident that seedling regeneration accounted for few stems in today’s forest. I will offer explanation as we proceed through the photo-essay below.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Because this riparian site is fertile and moisture plentiful, these oaks (above) grow tall, beautifully negatively geotropic. Likewise for the yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) below. From the Google online dictionary: geotropism is the growth of the parts of plants with respect to the force of gravity. The upward growth of plant shoots is an instance of negative geotropism. No question about where gravity pulls these tall straight stems. The old industrial forester in me still appreciates those clear logs, blemish-free, reaching toward a canopy high above.

Jolly B

 

This black oak (Quercus velutina) also reaches for the sky, rising from a stout trunk.

Jolly B

 

Oaks, poplar, shagbark hickory (Carya ovata; below), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua; not pictured) dominate the stand.

Jolly B

 

The trees I included above are healthy, full-crowned, and show no signs of disease or decline. They suggest to the uninitiated a forest that has flourished for centuries, that will likely persist for many more, unchanging and static. I’ve queried forest landowners in Pennsylvania (where I conducted workshops during the 12 years I served on the faculty at Penn State University (1987-96)) about the age of various forests where we stood. At the time, most of the state’s forests had been cut clean 70-90 years prior. Respondents commonly guessed that the forests ranged between hundreds of years to “since the time of Christ.” I am certain that were I to ask about the age of the Wheeler NWR riparian forest, the answers would have fallen within the same range. We 21st Century northern Alabama citizens, like lay citizens everywhere, are sadly uninitiated about about Nature. Our ignorance extends to Alabama’s 23.1 million acres of forestland, home to what the US Forest Service Southern Research Station in 2016 estimated as 16.98 billion trees. Although our southern forest trees will outlive most of us, they, too, have finite lives. In fact, I saw unmistakable signs of decline as I meandered through the forest.

And Some Not So Healthy

Not all individuals stood strong and carefree. This white oak (Quercus alba) looked sound, yet a large bracket fungus mushroom (a resinous polypore) sprouted from its base, suggesting that dead wood is within reach. I could not discern with certainty whether the dead wood is of the oak, or just nearby. I viewed it as a signal (an indicator) of potential trouble, not as a definite sign of ailment. Were I, as I did decades prior, still purchasing standing timber for a hardwood sawmill in Waverly, Virginia, I would be skeptical that this individual had interior rot, significantly degrading log quality and value.

Jolly B

 

Other trees evidenced signs (not just symptoms) of certain degradation and reduced vigor, vitality, and value. This 30-inch diameter oak still has a vibrant crown, yet is clearly hollow, likely home to critters of various sorts. Fungal fruiting bodies (to the right of the trekking pole below right) evidence dead wood along a vertical seam. I pondered why this large diameter oak appears to be long-hollowed. My forensic forestry yielded an answer. This oak is a residual from the mid 1930s logging, perhaps too small to harvest, damaged by that operation, and left to populate the new forest. The scarred trunk served as an infection court for decay fungi. It has lived with the decay for nine decades, inconvenienced but not fatally limited. As a surviving remnant in the new stand, it likely stood 30-40 feet above the regenerating stems, and had advantageous access to sunlight as well as soil nutrient and moisture resources. I have no idea how many more years it will withstand the stresses of decay, wind, ice, and gravity.

Jolly BJolly B

 

The burled-base black oak (below left) does not just suggest heart rot… it proclaims it with full throat. As does the black oak (below left) with direct external access to its hollowed interior. Like the 30-inch tree above, these two black oaks are probably original stand remnants injured 80-90 years ago and extending life into this new forest.

Jolly BJolly B

 

These are the walking wounded, spanning a forest generation, bridging a 19th-century forest into the 21st. I can’t imagine them lasting into the 22nd. The force and facts of Nature argue to the contrary. Their time will come within the remaining 80 years of this century.

And Some in Various Stages of Standing Dead

 

Others no longer walk, yet remain standing, awaiting that threshold of physics when strength no longer exceeds the force of gravity. The twin-oak below has not yet completely shed its bark, suggesting that its death knell sounded no longer than five years ago. I found no obvious cause of death. However, I know that usually some precipitating factor triggers demise. Perhaps I missed seeing a lightning scar, or evidence of deep decay. Or a disease of some sort. I suppose we could conclude that it died of natural causes. This twin had mastered its neighborhood, reaching high, spreading wide, and flourishing. We’ve all lost friends who flourished until an untimely and unexpected illness (or accident) took them.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Here’s the vertical view from the double-tree’s base. Its crown has lost all small branches, leaving only a coarse skeleton, indicating to me that death arrived on the far end of no longer than five years ago. Already, its neighbors are filling in the canopy-opening. Nature really does abhor a vacuum!

Jolly B

 

Yet another oak is under full fungal attack, its lower three feet of trunk decorated by hundreds of fruiting bodies. The view skyward reveals another crown already having shed all small twigs and branches. And like the large twin oak, its canopy opening is rapidly filling.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Others among the standing dead are mere snags. Both of these below lost their tops at 20-30 feet above the ground. The hollow and well-rotted snag below left will slump, tip, or slip to horizontal before too many more Earth orbits. The other, an oak (below right), retains some bark, and likely died more recently, and may persist in the vertical a few years longer. It’s another 30-inch diameter remnant from the 1930s logged stand.

Jolly B

Jolly B

 

 

 

 

 

The US Forest Service published a definition of old growth forest in 1989, paraphrased here: Old growth forests are ecosystems distinguished by large old trees (living and dead) and related structural attributes…that may include tree size, accumulations of large dead and down woody material, multiple canopy layers, species composition, and ecosystem function. Most scientists would now include vertical and horizontal diversity in tree canopy as an important attribute. To this point I’ve described the standing elements of this aging riparian hardwood forest.

And Others Dead and Down in Various Stages of Decay

 

This stand also meets the dead and down woody debris criterion. As with many other stems described above, the poplar (below left) and oak (below right) had stood hollowed for decades, with the pace of decay and growth in equilibrium until the physics of strength and stress brought them to the ground. With every instance of main canopy stem attrition the forest shifts toward meeting the old growth definition. Openings encourage a layered sub-canopy and a forest patchwork of tree ages and species composition. Nothing is static in our forests.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Trunks failed on both the poplar and oak above. The physics of relative stem strength, root anchorage, and wind torque determine whether a crown topples earthward, the trunk fractures along its lower length (above), or the roots and soil mass lift 90-degrees as below. In whatever way the threshold is surpassed, gravity ensures the final pivot to the forest floor. Oh, what a wonder to behold, were I given assurance of no personal harm, to experience the visual fury, concussive noise and wind blast, shattering vibrations, and even the fresh-fractured fragrance of wood and heaving soil. If a tree falls in the forest and no human is there to witness, will it make a sound? I am not a student of metaphysics, therefore I will not (now or ever) argue the question and its answer. Instead, I believe that physics does not give a rip whether a person is nearby or not. The catastrophic forces at play when the massive oak trembled, yielded, and toppled are evident. The ground heaved, the trunk shook the earth, crushing nearby stems to the ground, the whipping and falling crown fanned powerful gusts, and the noise would have been audible for half-a-mile, even if no person stood within its reach. Will such a falling tree make a sound if no one is present? Damn right!

Jolly B

 

Bark still held to the big tree above, suggesting it had fallen within the past five years. More time has passed for the fallen two-foot diameter victim below. Let’s consider my estimates courtesy of forensic observation. The transformation from standing vigorous main canopy occupant to prostrate decaying log to forest floor duff occurs predictably within a given location, varying with climate, the factors that killed and brought the tree to horizontal, and species. I don’t claim to be an expert, however, I am learning through disciplined observation.

Jolly B Road

 

Death, decay, and recycling to the soil is a process as certain as taxes, and far more practiced through time. Nature exacts a price on all living organisms. Nature demands a death tax, her way of assuring that life continues forevermore… so long as Earth remains in our sun’s inhabitable zone. The carbon cycle of life and death will persist, with or without the presence of humans. And trees will fall whether anyone will ever hear them again.

Jolly B

 

A secondary tree-death tax comes in the form of releasing sunlight to successors. The former main canopy tree, represented by the broken snag (below left) fought many decades to achieve its full access to its sunlight-fuel, igniting chloroplasts that year after year added new wood, incremented vertical and horizontal shoot growth, and committed roots to exploiting soil nutrients and moisture. Death liberates the precious sunlight to the ever-changing forest, including the next generation and beyond. The dead and down woody debris refreshes and enriches the essential soil.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Forest forensics traces the carbon recycling from majestic tree to soil organic matter.

Deeply Decayed — Nearly Fully Recycled, Beginning the Cycle Anew

 

This stump is still upright, but its days are numbered. I found no trace of the trunk and branches that toppled near the stump decades ago. Let’s view this stump as a monument… for the moment. Its only lasting legacy is the forest that succeeds it and the nearby trees tapping the rich forest soil.

Jolly B

 

As I develop my formal Land Legacy Stories (a consulting product I offer through my Great Blue Heron, LLC), I always recommend that the property owner install permanent photo points, returning every 5-10 years to chronicle long term change. Imagine if one had been established near the two locations below back in the 1930s. We would be able to track the life, death, and decay of the trees that are now nearly fully soil-incorporated.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Yet, as nice as the photo record would be, my forest forensic services would be of little value. I enjoy hiking within the forest, this one or any of hundreds that I’ve explored over the nearly five decades that I’ve practiced forestry, and reflecting upon Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I draw two lessons from exploring this aging riparian forest on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Every forest tells a compelling story, one rich with Life and Death
  • And every story accents my appreciation for Nature-Inspired Life and Living

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 other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B Road

 

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.

 

August Riparian Forest Roaming at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

August 1, 2020 I invested more than three hours bushwhacking (hiking off-trail) through the upland riparian forests along the Tennessee River on the east end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I admit that my hunger for golden chanterelles served as incentive to challenge mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, ticks, chiggers, briers, poison ivy, draped spider webs, and perhaps a venomous snake or two. I suffered no wounds, venom, or other insults. I harvested some seven pounds of golden chanterelles for my own consumption, a bounty worth every bit of sweat!

The Upland Riparian Forest

Allow me to introduce the forest. First the entrance sign, the road passing into an upland forest dominated by loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). The gravel parking area where I began my ramblings lies about a mile to the south, just a few hundred feet from where a flooded slough blocked the road for much of the winter and spring. No standing water now, even in depressions matted with leaves indicating wet season inundation.

Spring 2020

 

Moss-draped, buttressed white oak (Quercus alba) bases suggest deep shade and moist understory micro-climate. Rich alluvial soils support towering individuals, reaching more than 100 feet heavenward and spreading wide.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

I felt small and insignificant among the giants in this maturing forest. Had I stayed on the Refuge’s gravel roads my respect, admiration, inspiration, and sense of humility would have been lessened by the perspective of looking into the forest instead of witnessing the grandeur from within the forest and wandering under the high canopy. Nothing beats the view directly vertical and the intimate physical contact with thick trunks.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Perhaps some day I will own and operate a camera that better captures the depth of field intimated by the image below. There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest. For those readers (western big tree effete snobs) who may peer down their noses at this old southern forester who sees the wonder in such eastern forests. Sure, I’ve stood jaw-dropped among the ancient redwoods, coastal Douglas firs, and giant sequoias. If I were to visit them again I would prescribe a period of recovery and recalibration upon returning to our eastern forests, readjusting my amazement scalar. Similarly, nearly two years passed after my four years living in Alaska before salmon here in the East once again earned my culinary respect and delight. The forest I visited is just a relative youngster compared to 1,000-year-old Douglas fir; 2,000-year-old redwood; 3,000-year-old sequoia! Eighty to 90 years ago, TVA crews cleared the forests growing in the areas to be flooded and on the buffer-lands acquired along what would be the lake shore. My Dad wasn’t yet a teenager when this natural hardwood forest regenerated. When my Dad was ten, The General Sherman sequoia looked much as it does today.

Jolly B Road

 

Watch for a near-future Post when I chronicle my wanderings through a similar riparian stand beginning to slip from a maturing stage of development into what I’ll refer to as old-growth, when age begins taking its toll, but I digress. The forked shagbark hickory (below left; Carya ovata) retains good health and vigor. Even the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) clinging to the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) speaks vibrancy.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Not a main canopy resident, devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) adds an element of curiosity to the understory. Aptly named, this species sprouts thorns that would slice the careless hand that dared employ it as a trekking pole! Only Satan can use it without self-harm.

Jolly B Road

 

These forests are filled with magic and wonder, whether the magnificent main canopy residents or a humble devil’s walking stick surviving in the understory. But it’s not just the living and vibrant that drew my attention as I wandered off-trail.

Life (and Death) in the Forest

I repeat time and again that no forest is fixed in time. Our dynamic forest ecosystems represent a continuum, developing constantly across the seasons, years, and decades. This current stand originated 80-90 years ago, not from thin air, but as a result of a prior forest cut during the years of Wheeler dam construction, as the Corps of Engineers prepared the future lake bed and cleared buffer forests on adjacent lands purchased as part of the original property acquisition. The resultant naturally regenerated buffer zone forest is a work in progress, changing year in and year out. We’ll explore some elements of the ongoing life and death processes that define these wonderful forests along the Tennessee River (Wheeler Lake). The loblolly pine (below left) measured about ten inches in diameter when it succumbed sometime 5-10 years ago. It still retains an intact bark ring at ground level. The sapwood (Merriam-Webster online definition: the younger softer living or physiologically active outer portion of wood that lies between the cambium and the heartwood and is more permeable, less durable, and usually lighter in color than the heartwood) has fully decayed and disappeared in the damp and more favorable decay environment within a foot of the ground. The sapwood is rotted above that level, not yet fully consumed. The heartwood (Merriam-Webster online: the older harder nonliving central wood of trees that is usually darker, denser, less permeable, and more durable than the surrounding sapwood) appears decay-free and retains strength sufficient to keep the dead snag upright. I found nearby a rather ornate three-foot loblolly heartwood remnant (below right). The accompanying sapwood has long since returned to the soil. This section is resin-soaked, dense, hard, and decay resistant. I confess to bringing it home to serve as a landscape complement. It will last as long as I do, me being far less able to stave off the advance of time and aging!

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Saprophytic fungi are laboring (feeding voraciously) throughout the forest. This standing dead oak stem (about five-inches in diameter) will not remain vertical for more than another year or so. Again, nothing in Nature is static. The false turkey tail (Stereum ostrea) will continue its work after the stem is horizontal. Another Stereum (it may even be the same species) also sprouted fruiting bodies before it fell (below right). Note that some of the mushrooms on the left end are aligned vertically, evidencing that they predated the stem’s fall. Those aligned along the lower part of the photo emerged after the stem lay horizontal. Nature evidences her dynamism vividly to those who take time to see and care deeply enough to understand.

Jolly B Road

Jolly B Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of the dead woody debris is already on the ground where many varieties of fungi are doing their recycling duty. A species of Trametes adorns the branch below left. I believe the lower right mushroom is another Trametes, perhaps species coccinea or cinnabarina, but I offer those possibilities with little confidence. Most of the Trametes live on dead wood, as do the two below.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Honeycomb coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa) decorates the fibers of the well-decayed log below. Gary Emberger, Messiah College, posted this excellent description: While not fungi, slime molds often form spore-bearing structures that resemble those of the true fungi. Although many slime mold species fruit on wood they do not form a penetrating and absorptive mass of hyphae in the wood
substrate. Rather, slime molds form structures called plasmodia which are naked (i.e., without cell walls) masses of protoplasm which can move and engulf particles of food in an amoeboid manner. Slime mold plasmodia creep about over the surfaces of materials, engulfing bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. At some point, plasmodia convert into spore-bearing structures. In Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, the plasmodium converts into a clustered mass of stalks bearing spores on their surfaces. There is evidence that the spores are actually one-celled sporangia. So, I admit to assuming that this was a delicate coral fungus. It’s a strange new world for a forester who knows trees… and is trying to know more about all living elements of the forest ecosystem!

Jolly B Road

 

And if you thought the honeycomb coral slime mold an oddity, hang on for this one, wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum). From midwestnaturalist.com: Found after rains on well-rotted logs throughout the Midwest (and the rest of North America), Lycogala epidendrum is probably our continent’s most frequently noticed slime mold. The fruiting bodies, called “aethalia,” are round and pink at first, but they become gray to brownish with age. They look very much like puffballs. But Lycogala epidendrum is not a mushroom; it just looks like one. Poke one of the fresh, pink lumps with a stick or knife, and you will quickly discover something very un-mushroom-like: it is filled with bright pink, sticky goo (presumably the “wolf’s milk” in the slime mold’s common name). However, as the slime mold grows older, the surface becomes purplish, then gray or brown. I’m learning more and more each time I write one of these Blog Posts!

Jolly B Road

 

I loved the red-varnished surface of this polypore shelf fungus, which I believe is Ganoderma lucidum. I like to explore the internet for confirmation of my mushroom identification and to learn more about the level to which any species might be medicinal, edible, or fatal. Here’s what I found on Tom Wolf’s Fungus of the Month for March 2005 page: Ganoderma lucidum is important as a medicine in the Far East, in places such as China, Japan and Korea. G. lucidum is of particular interest because it has been portrayed as a “fix-it-all” herbal remedy for maladies such as: HIV, cancer, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatism, heart problems, paralysis, ulcers, asthma, tiredness, hepatitis A, B, and C, insomnia, sterility, psoriasis, mumps, epilepsy, alcoholism, and the list goes on. These claims are mostly made by the people who are selling G. lucidum herbal supplements, but G. lucidum, also known as Reishi, ling chih, and ling zhi has a long history of being used as an herbal remedy. Wow, maybe I’ll just cancel my upcoming annual physical… or, perhaps not!

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

I routinely call this common yellow mushroom, ubiquitous in our summer forests dominated by oaks, yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia). As is so often the case, I have not confirmed the identity. Unforgivably, I take what I think will be photographs with detail sufficient to make a definitive identity, only to find that without the specimen in hand, I cannot. I need to explore a better field guide…I can’t take the internet into the woods in the many places I explore without adequate signal. So, for now, this beauty shall remain yellow patches.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

This white coral fungus (Ramariopsis kunzei) occurred throughout the riparian forest… as scattered individuals and occasionally in groupings of several. The mushroom guides I consulted online declared them edible, but not with enough enthusiasm to prompt me to collect a bagful next time. One source offered that the mushroom, while edible, is fleshless and flavorless. Other authors concur that the odor and taste are not distinctive. Fleshless and flavorless do not excite my culinary interests!

Jolly B Road

 

Heaven on Earth — from the Soil, the Essence of Earth

Now, here’s a golden jewel that does lead me to drool in anticipation. The WildEdible site declares that golden chanterelles (Catharellus cibarius) are probably the most well known wild mushrooms. They’re sought after by chefs and foodies due to their delicate flavor, which some describe as “mildly peppery.” Ranging in color from yellow to deep orange, golden chanterelles are easy to spot in the summer forest. They can be as big as 5 inches in diameter, but 2 inches is closer to average. The cap is wavy and generally funnel shaped. Their false gills appear as wrinkles that are forked and wavy with blunt edges and run down the stem, the same color as the rest of the chanterelle. Chanterelles also have a distinct fruity apricot-like aroma.

Here’s the news from the website that had my heart racing in anticipation: Chanterelles generally occur from late spring through late summer or early fall here in North Georgia. They love moisture, shade and lots of organic matter. Drenching rain followed by a couple of days of stifling heat is the natural sauna necessary to spawn a good bloom. Okay, bring on those drenching rains… the stifling heat is not going anywhere until mid-September!

Jolly B Road

 

My new-found edible mushroom foraging has unleashed a literal hunger within. I want to learn more. I searched without success this past spring for morels. I am determined to find the right places next spring. I found oyster mushrooms last fall and summer oysters since then. And recently I discovered black-staining polypore. And toss in the incredible lions main! All of these are culinary delights! Now I’m beginning to look for chicken of the woods. I am approaching a level of near-obsessive. Who could not be excited by the display below, ready for sauteing?

Jolly B Road

 

The local forest ecosystem offers rewards of wonder, inspiration, nutrition, and culinary delight. We are continuing to deal with Covid-19… five months after China released it Earth-wide. Yet, I have yet to don a mask when wandering through the woods. I am grateful beyond words that I live in a place rich with Nature… and not place-bound in some densely populated urban zone.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early August trek through the woods:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest.
  • Nature evidences her dynamism vividly to those who take time to see and care deeply enough to understand.
  • I am grateful beyond words that I live in a place rich with Nature.

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 other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B Road

 

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.

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Spring Green-up

We’re now nearly 11 weeks beyond the call to distance safely from our circle of friends, family, and associates. Judy and I speak of being under Covid-19 house-arrest. We continue our daily neighborhood walks. In addition, I escape as often as I can to local trail-hiking and greenway-biking. I prepared this Post after a Spring Equinox trip to nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, biking on gravel roads.

Covid-19 Context

We were in the heart of spring green-up as I first drafted this Covid-19 Context section. A sad irony that Nature’s cycle goes forward unabated by a pandemic virus that found life (and wrought disease and death) half a world away. A primitive micro-organism that has turned modern global society and economy inside-out.

I subscribe to the EarthSky electronic newsletter (https://earthsky.org/). The March 31, 2020 issue reminded readers of this quote from the 3rd book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” God’s green Earth…Nature…and our relationship to it is our light and high beauty… our hope.

I believe sincerely that this, too, shall pass. Already I sense a fundamental change in the world — a deepening humility, a greater recognition of our human frailty, and perhaps a strengthened belief in our oneness. I can’t speak for others, but I accept my own growing spiritualism, more palpable Faith, and an even stronger sacred connection to our Earth, this pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space.

A Wet Spring

 

By the equinox my backyard rain gauge had registered some 27″ year-to-date. That’s a tremendous amount of water — 49 percent of annual in just the first 22-percent of 2020. More water than the Tennessee River, America’s 12th largest by volume, could contain within its banks. I parked within the Refuge along a gravel road (Jolley B Road) near Blackwell Swamp along the Madison/Limestone County line. The parking area is about a half-mile beyond the Refuge sign below. The temperature rose to near-60 degrees on a sky-perfect early-spring day. Canopy greens signal that full-spring lies just ahead.

Spring 2020

 

High water blocked roads that I readily explored six weeks later. Herbaceous vegetation already greened road shoulders. Main canopy trees sprouted fresh new foliage and pollen-loaded flowers. The flooded roads offered promise of future ventures. The saturated spring would in time transition to summer when occasional rains, while normally reliable, come in rounds of thunderstorms with abundant sunshine, heat, and drying between.

Spring 2020Spring 2020

 

This trip amounted to a mileage teaser. I covered only ten miles, mostly repeating some stretches and turning around at each overflow.

Spring 2020

 

I am not deterred, knowing that adventure and full exploration lie ahead.

Trees Springing Forth

 

Powerful hydro-pumps are emerging from countless bursting buds… millions (no, billions) of them that will lift water from soil high into lofty tree crowns. These ironwood (Ostrya vinginiana) leaves need only pump 20-30 feet, the terminal height of this shade tolerant understory (and occasional mid-story) species. Yet, in turn, each tree, shrub, and forest floor species does its part to return what water doesn’t drain into the river to the atmosphere. The hydrologic cycle has many participants that in aggregate amount to an effective global symphony of water vapor, liquid, and ice. The cycle writes its language across the Earth.

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Earth Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rich riparian soils support some trees reaching 120-feet, a literal high demand on the capillary pumping fueled by plant transpiration. By the equinox, green-up is in full swing.

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Just six weeks later (May 3), when I returned, the Refuge showed nearly full-leaf.

Blackwell Swamp

 

I can’t help but throw in a March 29, 2020 scene (pardon the quality; it’s a photo of a screen shot) from the webcam at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I served as Chancellor (President) 2004-2008. Not much spring-greening apparent!

West Ridge Webcam

 

Spring is a season… not just a date on the calendar!

 

Tree Form Oddities

Pedaling slowly along the gravel roads (and their frequent muddy and puddled stretches), I was able to visually scour the adjacent deep forest, seeking tree form oddities, wildflowers, and even edible mushrooms. Both of these ironwood individuals below had seen physical damage (a large branch or tree falling on the growing stem), and then recovered with new shoots reaching once again vertically.

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This odd burl (below left) reminded me of a wolf or dragon — I see forehead, eye, nostril, and mouth clearly. No wonder that our forests spur stories of mythical creatures and beings. Below right, from an 180-degree different perspective, I saw nothing beyond a disfigured proboscis.

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The burl is growing on a very much alive main-canopy oak, yet death resides commonly within the living forest.

Life and Death in the Forest

A large dominant overstory oak still stands below left. Gravity and decay will soon (certainly within the decade) bring it to ground, where it will return to the soil. Two dead upper canopy loblolly pines likewise remain standing below right. I look for them to be horizontal within five years. Agents of decay are working feverishly and without pause.

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The fate of all life is death — such is the cycle of life and death in the living forest.

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Fungus Among Us

 

I graduated from forestry school when fungi appeared in botany books… they were viewed as non-flowering plants. Yet now fungi are classified as neither plant nor animal, belonging instead to the Fungi Kingdom. Ah, the things one learns observing Nature and publishing these Blog Posts! These organisms are ubiquitous across our northern Alabama forests. False turkey-tail (Stereum ostrea) are abundant saprophytes.

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Coral-pink Merulius (Phlebia incarnata) added a touch of fungal color.

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And to my absolute delight I found a remarkable lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a culinary delight, just one-quarter mile from where I parked. I transported it in my bike helmet, which it filled.

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Egg-battered, lightly floured, and fried in butter and olive oil with a bit of seasoning salt, lion’s mane is simply delectable!

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Who could ask for anything more — a treat for the ardent Nature-observer?! I gave thanks for the beauty and bounty. No wonder I feel a spiritual connection to wildness — it sustains me in mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit!

Non-Flowering Plants Edible

 

Wildflower Inspiration

 

Spring ephemerals were rushing into flower during this shoulder season prior to main canopy leaf-out. They thrive during the warming days when nearly full sun still blesses the forest floor. Bulbous Cress (Cardamine bulbosa) appeared in full flower at woods edge.

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Mountain azalea (Rhododendron canescens), one of my north Alabama favorites, presents beauty in pure form and full measure!

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Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) appeared in profusion, although only a few had progressed to open flowers.

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I saw only a handful of eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), yet one would have been sufficient to reward my efforts and venture.

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Wild comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum) offered only a few blossoms. Even this one, more advanced than most, did not yet show open petals.

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Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) also graced the otherwise nearly barren forest floor.

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I packed enough reward and satisfaction into my three-hour wanderings to draft 3-4 spring equinox Blog Posts. However, because I am finalizing these words two-months later, I tried hard to squeeze into this one offering. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each journey provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate. My cup does indeed runneth over. ‘Tis the season of Nature’s plenty. I am unable to do more than scratch her surface.

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. Spring is the season of Nature’s plenty
  2. Nature’s power to lift us and heal us, physically and of the soul, is unlimited
  3. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each venture into wildness provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSpring 2020

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

A Morning Visit to a Nearby Section of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge with my Six-Year-Old Grandson

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge here in northern Alabama covers 35,000 acres, 54.7 square miles. February 1, 2020, my daughter’s younger son (Sam, soon-to-be-six-years-old) and I visited an arm of the Refuge about a dozen miles due south of where I live and just six miles from where Sam resides. We hiked out a mile or so, ducking from the gravel road into the riparian forest frequently to examine items of interest… Sam’s and mine. I had snapped the two signage photos a few weeks prior on a clear blue day when I first explored the trails by bicycle, discovering an ideal trek for Sam and me.

Wheeler NWRWheeler NWR

 

Opening Young Eyes to Nature’s Beauty, Magic, Wonder, and Awe

We hiked a gray day following a night of gentle rain. The wetness accentuated the mosses and lichens whose vivid colors captured our attention and excited both of us with the extraordinary growth forms and patterns. The white oak below, with its moss-bedecked feet dwarfs Sam. We had cut his sycamore rod on a prior hike at Bradford Creek Greenway. It’s perfect for balancing while crossing a log bridge over standing water, digging, spearing, and serving as any number of weapons. I like it for Sam’s posing by a large oak!

Non-flowering Plants

 

Looks like emerging javelin expertise. He prided in the damage wrought by the mighty spear point hitting the dirt road surface. I thrilled at his imagination operating full-bore in the absence of digital devices.

Wheeler NWR

 

He found fascination in the thick moss carpet blanketing the soil mound lifted from maintaining the roadside ditch several years ago. He admired the large red oak. He showed a bit of trepidation approaching the thick hairy vine he recognized as poison ivy (below right). He just did not trust that the dormant plant-beast wouldn’t somehow generate a rash with excessive itch and scratch. I think he understood, yet wanted to tease me into perceiving him as afraid.

Wheeler NWRWheeler NWR

 

My spare hat proved to be a little loose, yet I think he appreciated the look. We both liked seeing these three-foot-plus diameter oaks, this one a white oak at woods edge along a field planted to winter rye or wheat. I have since measured this white oak at 5’2′ diameter breast height! These Tennessee River riparian areas are rich for farm and forest. What a great place for a National Wildlife Refuge.

Wheeler NWR

 

A Special Feature

We both appreciated this hickory monster, its eyes peering menacingly from 20-feet above. We decided we’d want to be careful were we in its vicinity at nightfall. Our forests are filled with tree form oddities. Nothing escapes an imagination-sharpened, observant six-year-old. He saved me from a lurking, near-road hulk of a rotting stump, which I failed to capture with a photograph. That sycamore staff proved quite versatile.

Tree Form Oddities

 

A Banner Day for Non-flowering Plants

Sam began our hike picking up every branch he found along the trail and throwing it, with a clear target, into the woods. Doing so he soon discovered, with great fascination, some fairy tale lichens. Instead of chucking these branches, he shared them with me for joint inspection.

Non-flowering PlantsNon-flowering Plants

 

We discovered hidden worlds and magic landscapes he could hold in his hands. Next time we will explore them with iNaturalist. Sam reached a new stage of Nature-curiosity and appreciation with this hike. We’ll add a new level of learning (for Sam and me) the next time. I am thrilled!

Non-flowering PlantsNon-flowering Plants

 

Not just lichens, but multiple types, colors, and varieties of fungi. I believe two very wet months and the prior night’s drizzle enhanced the rich colors, whether greens or deep orange-tan.

Non-flowering PlantsNon-flowering Plants

 

I liked the strong meaty texture of this polyporous fungus. I wanted it to be edible, but later confirmed that it wasn’t. Acquaintances who do know their mushrooms cautioned me against chancing it, even though one astute forager said it looks a lot like a local edible known as turkey tail. As with so much in Nature, I’m finding day after day that the more I learn, the less I know.

Non-flowering Plants

 

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 recommendations I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Never miss an opportunity to inoculate a young person with Nature’s magic
  2. Take a kid hiking; infect him or her with vitamin N
  3. Have fun yourself when exploring Nature with young people — young people of all ages!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned! Sam is with me in this photo on a fall hike at Bradford Creek Greenway.

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

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.