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.

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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.