September 2020 Rocky Gap State Park: Central Appalachian Fall Flowers, Ferns, and Fungi

September 26, 2020, I hiked the Rocky Gap State Park (ten miles east of my boyhood home in Cumberland, Maryland) Summit Trail, trekking from Lake Habeeb (1,150 feet elevation) to the summit of Evitts Mountain (2,296 feet) and return. See my earlier Post highlighting the forests and tree species I encountered and reflecting upon the Nature of the place that shaped and molded the man I am today: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/15/a-tough-hike-and-deep-reward-at-rocky-gap-state-park-in-western-maryland/

 

Early Fall Flowers

 

I developed this second Post from that strenuous six-hour hike in forests and terrain intimately familiar from five decades ago, and still-teaming with vivid memories and life-shaping experiences. I am and always will be a creature of place…place defined by forests, topography, seasonal flowers, understory perennial vegetation, fungi, and ferns. Consider this second Rocky Gap Post as a trip down Flora, Fungi, and Fern Lane.

Smartweed (Persicaria sp) is a non-showy genus that I’ve found everywhere I’ve resided, up and down the eastern edge of the US, including in Ohio, whose residents resent and find offense (I learned first-hand) at being referred to as “in the east.” They extended no forgiveness of my grave error even though I had just lived four years in far away Alaska. A matter of principal and pride I presume. Okay, I return from that “lesson learned” to Persicaria. Often, Wikipedia offers succinct plant summaries that are hard to resist employing in my Posts: Persicaria is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the knotweed family, Polygonaceae. Plants of the genus are known commonly as knotweeds or smartweeds. It has a cosmopolitan distribution, with species occurring nearly worldwide. 

Rocky Gap

 

Mile-a-minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata) is a cousin to smartweed, sharing the same genus. I should have expected other than good news when I saw that another name for this plant (a plant I could not recall previously seeing) is mile-a-minute weed! From the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health: Persicaria perfoliata is an herbaceous, annual vine that invades disturbed areas in Oregon and portions of the northeastern United States. The delicate stems are reddish, highly branched and covered with small, curved spines. Circular, leafy structures surround the stem at the base of the petioles. The alternate leaves are triangular, light green, 1-3 in. (2.5-7.6 cm) wide and barbed on the undersurface. Small, white, inconspicuous flowers. Fruit are present in mid-July through the first frost, are metallic blue and segmented with each segment containing a single black or reddish black seed. Persicaria perfoliata invades open disturbed areas such as fields, forest edges, roadsides, ditches and stream banks. Its rapid growth allows it to cover existing vegetation and restrict light availability, potentially killing plants below. Dense mats of Persicaria perfoliata can also restrict establishment of new vegetation. It is native to Eastern Asia and the Philippines and was introduced several times into the United States from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Perhaps I should have pulled the few individuals I encountered!

Rocky Gap

 

Neither did I remember prior interactions with bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia). Once again, Wikipedia offered the best (and briefest) plant-bio:  Solidago caesia, commonly named blue-stemmed goldenrod, wreath goldenrod, or woodland goldenrod, is a flowering plant native to North America. Whew, it is native! Its range extends from New England to the southern Appalachians. I noticed only two individuals of bluestem goldenrod.

Rocky Gap

 

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) proliferated along my entire route from lake to summit. I found a delightful online information source, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (declaring white snakeroot the October 2016 Weed of the Month):

Fall-blooming white snakeroot is that nondescript weed that has been inconspicuously growing in shady spots all spring and summer. You barely notice the one- to four-foot-tall plant with toothy, dark green leaves until suddenly—poof! It’s everywhere you turn, all abloom with fluffy white flowers. One of the last wild natives to flower, Ageratina altissima is a godsend to hungry insects like bees, moths, and flies furiously foraging before the weather turns cold and food becomes scarce.

After blooming, its seeds are dispersed primarily by wind, their fuzzy tails carrying them far and wide. The plant also spreads by rhizomes (underground stems), so you’re as likely to see a colony as a single specimen. Originally a woodland plant, white snakeroot is also perfectly at home in the sidewalks, vacant lots, and shady gardens of Brooklyn. Such a shame, in the context of my hike, to term this showy late summer bloomer a weed!

Rocky Gap

 

The meadow ground cover under the power line atop Evitts offered two exquisite early fall bloomers. Autumn hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) is yet another alien species. From Spotwild online: Hawkbit is a perennial plant species, widespread in its native range in Eurasia (from Europe east to western Siberia), and introduced in North America. The plant is sometimes called fall dandelion, because it is very similar to the common dandelion (one of the main differences being a branched stem with several capitula), but “yellow fields,” covered by this plant appear much later than dandelion’s, towards the autumn in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, unlike the mile-a-minute weed, this introduced species is not aggressive in wildland environments. I appreciated its brightness and embraced its beauty.

Rocky Gap

 

Common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), also known as butter and eggs and wild snapdragon, seemed so perfectly at home atop Evitts, a just reward for my efforts to summit. However, Wikipedia notes that Linaria vulgaris is a species of toadflax, native from Europe to Siberia and Central Asia. It has also been introduced and is now common in North America. The Montana Department of Agriculture devoted a brief video identifying this introduced species as an invasive noxious weed, aggressively populating grazing lands. I’ll stand by yellow toadflax as a welcome wildland immigrant to the central Appalachians. Perhaps I am bewitched by its early fall magnificence. I suppose one man’s trash (a Montana cattleman) is another man’s treasure (this old forester and lifelong Nature enthusiast).

Rocky Gap

 

I remain a bit uncertain as to what constitutes and rationalizes the terms native, invasive, noxious, introduced, etc. Think about the first images of Earth transmitted back to us from the earliest Apollo missions. Carl Sagan described our planet as a pale blue orb, a mote of dust in the vast darkness of space. All of the non-native plants I identified above are native to this pale blue orb. Consider the context John Muir offered 105 years ago in Travels in Alaska:

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

We humans, whether we choose to deny or accept it, are native as well. We are not separate from Nature. We are a species widely naturalized across six continents. As a matter of our global (natural) wanderings by land, air, and sea, we are distributing (intentionally or accidentally) species once restricted to distant corners of the planet. Is this dissemination somehow not natural simply because it is we humans who spread the seed? Whether Covid-19, kudzu, mile-a-minute weed, Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, the European rat, or smallpox, geographically isolated species are now globally distributed.

Other Ground-Level Vegetation

 

I have loved spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata; please don’t tell me that it, too, is an invasive!) since first seeing it many years ago.  Its year-round foliage, bi-color brilliance, and deep green are resplendent. Wikipedia: Chimaphila maculata is a small, perennial, evergreen herb native to eastern North America and Central America, from southern Quebec west to Illinois, and south to Florida and Panama.

Rocky Gap

 

And what a pleasant surprise to find a yellow-carpeted grove along the trail. Well-named, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) stood in solitary occupation of the understory, effectively claiming sole rights to early fall’s woodland hue. Goldenseal, also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, is a perennial herb in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native to southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. It may be distinguished by its thick, yellow knotted rootstock (Wikipedia). Like so many of our native plants, goldenseal has medicinal uses. From Mount Sinai online:

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most popular herbs in the United States, often combined with echinacea and sold to treat or prevent colds. But there is no evidence that it works. In fact, there is very little scientific evidence that goldenseal works to treat any condition. Nevertheless, goldenseal is often said to kill bacteria and is sometimes used to treat eye infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, canker sores, and vaginitis. A substance in goldenseal, called berberine, does kill some kinds of bacteria and fungus in test tube studies. But scientists do not know if goldenseal would kill any germs in people. Goldenseal is also popular because of a rumor that taking the herb can help block a positive test for illegal drugs. There is no evidence that it works, and several studies have reported that taking goldenseal does not change the results of a drug test.

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As with all of my Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts, I am simply hitting the highlights of what I noticed along the way. With the toadflax and goldenseal in particular, I wanted sit within the yellow or rest beside the toadflax lost in the moment… for hours on end. Absorb the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe via direct and prolonged contact.

Robert Frost nailed my sentiment and desire in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

A dinner with extended family back in Cumberland hurried me along, leaving the protracted woods-immersion for another day.

 

Fungi and Ferns

 

John Muir also known as “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks,” was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America (Wikipedia).

Just when I think I’ve offered an original thought on our place in Nature, I find that historical stalwarts like John Muir reached the same conclusion, often many years before I entered the world. Because my wildness wanderings today seek subtleties in Nature’s forms, functions, diversity, relationships, and even ironies, I have drifted far from my early career focus on commercially valuable merchantable trees. After all, I worked then for a forest products company… and fortunately, a firm with a strong land stewardship ethic, both professed and practiced. Now proceeding through my 70th year, I am paying more and more attention to not just flowers, but also to ferns and fungi… what Muir considered among the commonest of natural phenomena:

The natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural. Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen (My First Summer in the Sierra; John Muir 1911).

Although I stayed on the trail for most of my journey, I stayed alert for the marvelous and mysterious ferns and mushrooms within the adjacent forest.

Fungi

 

I’m learning more about mushrooms and the specific fungal organisms (now meriting their own fungi life Kingdom, along with Animals and Plants!) they represent. Earthball (Scleroderma sp.) struck me as other-worldly… scaly, patterned, with a peephole into a dark interior. I am uncertain about the species. Several references suggest a global distribution of members of this genus. The Fungus Fact Friday website refers to Scleroderma citrinum as a common earthball that appears in a variety of habitats around the world. The mushroom is one of the most often collected Scleroderma species, so one of its common names (mostly used in Europe) is “The Common Earthball.” S. citrinum has a couple other common names: “The Pigskin Poison Puffball” and the less common “Golden Scleroderma.” Both of these names refer to the mushroom’s outer surface, which is yellow-brown and has a scaly texture reminiscent of a football (American style, often called a “pigskin”). The mushroom’s thick warty outer skin makes it stand out among other earthballs and its interior that quickly turns blackish easily separates it from the true puffballs. I’ll stick with the generic earthball moniker.

Rocky Gap

 

I found a single clump of what iNaturalist identified as honey mushroom (Armillaria sp). Armillaria, is a genus of fungi that includes the A. mellea species known as honey fungi that live on trees and woody shrubs. It includes about 10 species formerly categorized summarily as A. mellea. Armillarias are long-lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the world (Wikipedia). I won’t attempt to narrow the identification to species. The internet is rich with information, both helpful and discouraging. Online videos with titles such as These honey mushrooms have three poisonous look-alikes, served as a signal of caution. I am comfortable for now to stick with honey mushroom.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I discovered only one patch of hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum sp). I believe the species below is Hydnum subolympicum (eastern North America’s hardwood-associated Hydnum species (MushroomExpert.com), very similar to the European Hydnum repandum, which is commonly known as the sweet tooth, wood hedgehog or hedgehog mushroom, is a basidiomycete fungus of the family Hydnaceae. First described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, it is the type species of the genus Hydnum (Wikipedia). MushroomExpert.com website notes: By current, DNA-informed definitions Hydnum repandum does not occur in North America, although the name has traditionally been used in North American field guides. Here’s a relevant source quote from the west coast pertaining to Hydnum sp: Mushrooms with teeth? As a matter of fact, yes. Nothing intimidating, mind you, but these mushrooms do have small toothlike projections rather than gills on their lower cap surfaces. The tooth fungi, also known as “hedgehog” and “sweet tooth,” appears in a variety of forms. Some grow as shelves on trees. Most are found on the ground. Colorful ones decorate the forest floor with their white, buff, red, orange-brown, blue, and purple caps. Several of the brightly colored wood varieties are used for dyeing woolen yarns (Mycological Society of San Francisco). See the distinctive underside teeth below right. Although I did not harvest this sample, most references describe Hydnum species as edible. I will consider this possibility when I find a suitable colony here in Alabama.

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had seen coral tooth fungus (Hericium sp) in my local woods ramblings. I found this specimen (below) growing at the well-decayed base of a downed tree stem, just as the following paragraph from ForagerChef.com described: These like to come up in the late fall in the Midwest, when the leaves start to drop from the trees, but they’re choosy as to where they grow, and to me it seems like each mushroom eating the decomposing tree can have their own internal clock when it decides to fruit, similar to chicken of the woods, although this could easily be due to difference in the host tree species, I’m speculating a bit here. I do know for sure that to find them you need to be in a place that has decomposing wood, not just old fallen trees, fallen trees that are well on their way to the next world, those sinking into the ground, and often in my spots, covered with moss. I spotted this one several hundred feet ahead as I ascended Evitts. About five feet from the trail, its bright white stood like a banner backed by the near-black host log. I admit to harvesting, sautéing, and dressing a hamburger later that evening. Nice texture and mild flavor…a perfect accent to a grilled burger. I ask readers to recognize that you identify, harvest, prepare, and consume any foraged mushroom at your own risk. Do not take my word as gospel; do your own research.

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Ferns

 

Everywhere I’ve lived common bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) appears abundantly, from coastal Georgia to interior New England to Pennsylvania to western Ohio to Alaska. Bracken is a genus of large, coarse ferns in the family Dennstaedtiaceae. Ferns are vascular plants that have alternating generations, large plants that produce spores and small plants that produce sex cells. Brackens are noted for their large, highly divided leaves (Wikipedia). Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is widely distributed across the eastern US. The eastern hay-scented fern or hay-scented fern, is a species of fern native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland west to Wisconsin and Arkansas, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Alabama (Wikipedia). Both species ranged abundantly across my doctoral research field study plots in SW New York and NW Pennsylvania within the Allegheny Hardwood forest type. I recall thick patches thigh-high of one species or the other as I paced from one sample point to another.

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My examinations of Rocky Gap’s fall flowers, ground vegetation, fungi, and ferns triggered deep memories. The six-hour hike took me back 50 years to a place I still call home. Nature does that to me… lifting me, sculpting me, and reassuring me that all is well whether at age 20 or now at 69. Nature is an elixir for Life and Live. Nature blesses all who observe and enjoy her wonders with her infinite storm of beauty!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my floral, fern, and fungi hike in the central Appalachians:

  • Nature creates deep memories and later spurs meaningful recollections
  • Any walk in wildness stimulates mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit
  • Nature does indeed appear as an infinite storm of beauty

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 BooksRocky Gap

 

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 Tough Hike and Deep Reward at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland

I grew up in Cumberland, MD, nearly 150 miles west of the Baltimore/DC area. Located along the Potomac River deep in the Central Appalachians, Cumberland served as a transportation hub (roads; rails, and canal) and industrial center for many decades.

C&O Canal

 

I issued a Post in November 2019 after returning to Cumberland for my 50th high school reunion: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/20/a-taste-of-mid-september-nature-at-the-co-canal-national-historic-park/ During my youth we took great pride that we lived in Maryland’s second largest city (by population) trailing only Baltimore. Today eleven other Maryland municipalities outrank Cumberland. The region is now a recreation center and destination. Rocky Gap State Park (and Resort) lies just ten miles east of the city. Once again visiting Cumberland, I spent a day at the Park September 26, 2020, hiking from Lake Habeeb (1,150′ elevation) to the summit of Evitts Mountain (2,296′) along the Mason and Dixon Line (the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania).

 

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Come with me as I hike the elevation transect, offering reflections on trees, non-tree woody vegetation, a couple tree form oddities, and other Nature elements. An hour into my upward trek, I stood aside to allow a 20-something trail runner to descend past me. I inquired whether he had been to the summit. He respond, “Yes. The view is spectacular.” I recalled my younger days as a distance runner, when my endurance and still-spry knees would have taken me to the top and return with relative ease. An effort, yes, but not a six-hour walking marathon reliant upon trekking poles! Yet the trail runner spurred me to accept and meet the peak-trekking challenge.

The Gap

 

I visited the actual Gap as a teenager, several years before the Park opened in 1974. The State was in the process of acquiring the eventual property package of 3,000 acres. Back then we hiked to the overlook and scrambled down into the chasm. I began my recent hike via the short trail (below left; photo with my Alabama grandsons summer 2019) to the canyon overlook (below right).

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

 

I departed the overlook heading north on a connector trail to reach the Evitts Mountain summit path, first dropping into the head of the Gap stream (below right) several hundred yards downstream of the Habeeb Lake dam. The view as I descended (below left) is to the northwest showing the toe of Evitts Mountain as it tails into the Gap. From this vantage point, the trail dropped into and across the stream (at about the 1,000 foot contour), from which I began the nearly 1,300-foot ascent to the summit photo point (see later) just across the Mason-Dixon Line in Pennsylvania. I’ve written often on the effect of elevation on climate and weather. In the annual seasonal sweep of the seasons, a difference of 1,300 vertical feet accounts for about 11 days. That is, at 1,000-feet, spring arrives 11 days earlier and summer departs 11 days later than at the summit. That’s three additional weeks of summer at the lower elevation and three additional weeks of winter atop Evitts Mountain. I recall growing up when a winter storm might bring wet snow (little coated other than grassy surfaces) to Cumberland (the Potomac River at ~700 feet elevation). When the storm clouds cleared, Evitts Mountain (I could see it from my high school) and other ridges glowed in pure, dazzling, and glimmering white. I’ve driven from watery flakes in Cumberland to a near-blinding blizzard atop the 2,900-foot Allegany Front just a dozen miles to the west. On this recent hike, I could feel discernably cooler temperatures and a fresher breeze at the summit.

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That connector segment down into the canyon and then up to the summit trail offered the circuit’s steepest terrain and greatest challenge. As I begin my 70th year (69th birthday back in July), steep downhills are particularly problematic. Thank goodness the actual summit trail follows an old access road (a generous application of the term) leading to the powerline and USGS monument at the summit. I commend the Maryland Park Service for its excellent signage and trail markings.

Rocky Gap

 

I do confess to wondering how much longer my knees can tolerate my more aggressive wildness wanderings. I find such contemplation worrisome. For now I shall relish every step and each venture.

A Few Trees Species Encountered

I worked for the Maryland Forest Service during my junior/senior-year summer as a Forester’s Aid on the Green Ridge State Forest, visible from the summit view to the east (see later). From the Maryland Forest Service website: At 49,000 acres, Green Ridge is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland. Green Ridge is located within the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains. It is rich in both natural and cultural heritage and remains a “working forest” today as it is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service to conserve the natural ecological processes while supporting the economy of the region through an active forest management program. The Maryland Forest Service Mission is to restore, manage, and protect Maryland’s trees, forests, and forested ecosystems to sustain our natural resources and connect people to the land.

That summer sent my heart soaring…I was in forestry-student heaven. My supervisor, John Mash, joyed in sharing his knowledge and experience with an eager and impressionable future forester. Through the lens of the 48 years since then, I view John (since deceased) as a superlative forester, naturalist, historian, and teacher. He authored the definitive The Land of the Living: The Story of Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest in 1996. I sit here typing with a signed copy of John’s 895-page tome on my lap. Here is the paragraph from the inside front cover:

This is the story of a forgotten part of Maryland that has never seen its story in print. This is the story of the eastern portion of Allegany County, Maryland. Today the character of this area is rural, sparsely populated and a large portion is owned as a public forest. The history of this land is rich and fascinating: royalty, squatters, moonshiners and murderers have made their presence known here as well as Nazi prisoners, slaves and turn of the century capitalists. The story describes the history of the land, its plants and animals, and the people who wrought out their existence here.

Since retiring, I have written about what I call Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I have said time and again that every parcel of wildness, at least here in the east, incorporates a tale at the intersection of human and natural history. Until I revisited John’s book preparing this Post, I had not consciously made the connection that my old friend and mentor lived, breathed, and professed those same sentiments and philosophy a half-century ago as I learned under his watchful eye. Like so many who have molded this person I have become, John left an indelible mark that I am only just now realizing and acknowledging. Thank you, John!

I offered those reflections to introduce some of the tree species I encountered at Rocky Gap that spur memories of my season on the State Forest and my countless woods-ramblings growing up in western Maryland. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few highlights. Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) tops the evergreen list, prolific across these sharp ridges and steep hillsides. The species tolerates poor shale-derived soils and frequent periods of moisture stress. The region, the driest in Maryland, receives less than 35-inches of rainfall (including melted snow) annually. It lies in the Allegany Front rain shadow.

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Table mountain pine (Pinus pungens) also proliferates…and tolerates these dry and impoverished sites.

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Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus; below left) is also common, but does not reign supreme as it does on richer sites and favorable soils in the higher Appalachians (Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge), and into New England. I found Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis; below right) creekside, an environment where it occurs throughout the Green Ridge State Forest.

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Black gum or black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is a prevalent understory to mid-canopy inhabitant of this region. From the USDA Hardwood Silvics manual: Black tupelo grows in the uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms from southwestern Maine to New York, to extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, and central Missouri, and south to eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and southern Florida. It is local in central and southern Mexico. Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the Southeastern United States. Black gum is not a main canopy component within Rocky Gap’s upland forests. Yet the species provided the earliest color along my transect (see below). For that I was grateful.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I have no recollection of previously meeting a species of oak I found along the trail, bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia). Although I reviewed several online sources for information, Wikipedia offered a succinct and scientifically accurate summary: Quercus ilicifolia, commonly known as bear oak or scrub oak, is a small shrubby oak native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Its range extends in the United States from Maine to North Carolina, with reports of a few populations north of the international frontier in Ontario. From the International Oak Society website: While the species abruptly stops south of Virginia border, there are two extant populations of bear oak in North Carolina at Pilot Mountain and Crowder’s Mountain. Within its range, bear oak is restricted to high mountain tops, rock outcrops, and pine barrens. I am glad I stumbled across this not-so-common species.

Rocky Gap

 

Other Woody Vegetation

 

It’s not just common trees that spirit me back to those memories from forest-ramblings during a summer 48 years ago. I encountered four understory woody species that prompted recollections from my youth. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia; below left) is a broadleaved evergreen shrub in the heather family, Ericaceae, that is native to the eastern United States. Its range stretches from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. I found it ubiquitous here in northern Alabama. The same holds for great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum; below right), which extends from southern Canada through to the southern Appalachians. I find it often in moist protected hollows and streamsides from Huntsville into the Talladega National Forest here in Alabama. It reminds me of home, that place where I began my addiction to Nature.

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Another local northern Alabama species that transports me back to the central Appalachians is mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium; below left). Wikipedia notes that the mapleleaf viburnum, maple-leaved arrowwood or dockmackie, is a species of Viburnum, native to eastern North America from southwestern Quebec and Ontario south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Roundleaf greebrier (Smilax rotundifolia; below right), is a species I’m familiar with from my field-forestry days, as common locally here in the southern Appalachians as it is at Rocky Gap.

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I could have spent hours and days completing a tree and woody plant inventory on my late September Rocky Gap trek. I did not mention the many other oak species I noted (northern red, white, chestnut), shagbark and mockernut hickory, yellow poplar, and red and sugar maple, among others. Suffice it to say that mine was a superficial exploration, and deep spiritual immersion in memories of growing up… personally and professionally.

Special Tree Forms

 

I’m always on alert for what I term as tree form oddities. I noticed many hollow-trunked trees all along my trek. This chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) had finally passed the threshold where its rind of sound wood could no longer support the weight and leverage of its 70-foot stem blowing in the stiff hilltop breezes. Wind twisted and torqued the stem clockwise, reached a point of failure, and brought the tree downwind to the ground. Decay fungi, long content to feast on the tree’s interior wood, will complete their work on the standing snag and the now prostrate trunk. A question I had too little evidence to answer: what wound provided the court of infection that led to entry of the decay organism? Among other possibilities are: lightning strike; a long-ago fire; a buck-rub when the tree stood as a sapling; a bark scar from a falling nearby tree.

Rocky Gap

 

This mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) suggests its own compelling story. The top photo (below) appears to be a robust 12-inch diameter stem, growing normally.

Rocky Gap

 

But the top photo does not depict this tree form oddity. The left image below shows that at some point many years ago, some compelling force (likely a nearby tree falling) crushed the then much younger hickory to the ground. Not dead the prostrate hickory sent a shoot skyward some six feet from its original union with the ground. Although badly crushed and broken, the stump (now deeply hollowed) managed to sustain the new sprout, which flourished and now stands as a vertical hickory reaching into the main canopy. The still-living tree has successfully calloused the wounded downed tree beyond the vertical stem. The image below right shows the hollowed and horizontal original trunk, serving now with its accumulated organic debris as a planter of sorts. I am confident that the decay responsible for the hollowed section extends into the upright stem. Note also from that perspective that the vertical stem is canted some 15 degrees to the right, suggesting that the hollowed horizontal support beam is weakening and torqueing in response. Basic and rudimentary physics control so many actions in Nature. Nothing defies gravity for long… nor withstands decay organisms.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Every single thing in Nature tells a story, whether our deformed hickory… or the old resin-soaked pine tree core (below) I pulled from its stump hole. The resin serves as an effective wood preservative. The outer wood, bark, and the tree above it had long since returned to the soil. I refer to these old remnants as terrestrial driftwood, weathered in-place by the passage of time and persistent forces of deterioration. I knew such an artful specimen would have accented several spots in my home landscape beds. However, I left it where I photographed it for several reasons: I found it in a State Park; it weighed upward of twenty pounds; I still had several miles to cover. Such bounty serves me best when I am not in a protected area and when the effort required is within my limits.

Rocky Gap

 

So, I chose to harvest a photograph and a memory. Truth is, such is the principal yield of all my Nature wanderings. Inspiration and satisfaction can’t be stuffed into a tucker bag. Instead, I attempt in these Posts to share my harvested inspiration with words and photographs.

Early Fall Flowers, Fungi, and Ferns

 

I had originally hoped to include this section and its associated photos in this single comprehensive Post. I can’t do it. Enough is enough! I’ll spin-off a second Post from my rewarding day at Rocky Gap State Park. Watch for it.

Summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb

 

As with early fall flowers, fungi, and ferns, I thought I could squeeze a full discussion of the summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb into this single Post. Again, Post-space and length argue against creating a too-large reflection and photo essay. So, watch for yet another subsequent Post.

I’ll close this Post with three photos with little text. A view from the summit east, encompassing some of Green Ridge State Forest.

Rocky Gap

 

Trail marker at the Mason and Dixon Line.

Rocky Gap

 

 

Lake Habeeb.

Rocky Gap

 

I am pondering the following: had I been dropped off at Rocky Gap’s Lake Habeeb with no revelation as to its location near my hometown, would I have enjoyed and appreciated the hike. I think that I would have found it fascinating, inspirational, and deeply enjoyable for its vegetation, topography, and the stories I could read from the land and forest. I also would have felt the homing beacon powerfully. There would have been no denying the unmistakable evidence that I was, in clear fact, home. I was a salmon returning to the headwater stream where I first saw life. I was once again in my mother’s arms and under Dad’s watchful and loving eye on one of our hundreds of Nature treks. That’s the extraordinary Nature of place that is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three lessons from my late September revisit to Rocky Gap:

  • The extraordinary Nature of place is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.
  • Countless days in Nature define my life across these 69 years — I look, see, and feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… and find immeasurable lift.
  • My connection to Nature is unmistakably SACRED!

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 BooksRocky Gap

 

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.

 

Mid-Summer Life-Flourish along a Wheeler NWR Gravel Road

August 18, 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I focused our Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge explorations interior to the Blackwell Swamp loop road on the Refuge’s eastern extension. See two previous Posts from our wanderings in both a pine terrace forest (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/09/pine-forest-on-a-rich-terrace-above-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/) and through a bottomland hardwood ecosystem (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/16/hardwood-forest-on-seasonally-flooded-lowlands-along-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/).

Even as our main target had been the two forest types, we marveled at the floral and butterfly extravaganza along the gravel road.

Floral Elegance

 

We appreciated that maintenance crews had not mowed vegetation between the woods edge and driving surface. A wall of vegetation grew to head height…and higher. Although we did not inventory every species in bloom that we encountered, we did photograph some of the more impressive late summer flowers. Mike stands admiring the roadside botanical garden below.

 

Pineland (or snow) squarestem (Melanthera nivea) grew profusely along the road (below left), standing 5-8-feet. We spotted an occasional buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a species of flowering plant in the coffee family. It is native to eastern and southern North America. From the Morton Arboretum online: Buttonbush is a great shrub for naturalizing in wet areas. The glossy green leaves and fragrant, round flower clusters during mid-summer attract butterflies.  Native to the Chicago area and the eastern United States, buttonbush attracts more than 24 species of birds, as well as numerous species of butterflies. No wonder the roadside attracted so many butterflies!

Jolly BJolly B

 

And what a gem we discovered with this halberd-leaf rosemallow (Hibiscus laevis), one of just a few we spotted. I felt fortunate to read this from the NC State University online Extension Gardener: White to pink flowers bloom from June to August and are 5 petaled with a deeper colored throat and up to 6 inches wide. Prominent long stamens in the center of the cup-shaped flower. Each flower lasts for a day. Fortunate because we were there for that flower’s single day performance! And I learned more from the site:

The Halberd-leaved Rose Mallow is a native perennial in the mallow family.  It has erect green stems and large showy white or pink flowers.  It is a relative of the okra and has a slimy mucilaginous sap.  It grows quickly in warm weather and works well in wetland gardens and woodland habitats. This plant prefers full or partial sun, fertile soil, and wet conditions. Use in the water or rain garden, along streams or ponds or wet areas of the cottage or native plant garden. Although the text is intended for adventurous home gardeners, as a naturalist intending to understand Nature’s natives in-place, I can better appreciate that this rosemallow is perfectly suited to flourish along the Blackwell Swamp Road.

 

Jolly BJolly B

 

We identified a few specimens of Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) in flower. I turned to Wikipedia’s simple paragraph: Solanum carolinense, the Carolina horsenettle, is not a true nettle, but a member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade family. It is a perennial herbaceous plant, native to the southeastern United States that has spread widely throughout much of temperate North America. The Plants for a Future website offered more complex detail, including:

All parts of the plant are potentially poisonous. Fatalities have been reported with children. I’ll make sure not to ingest any parts!

Jolly B

 

I did not recall previously encountering American groundnut (Apios americana) in flower. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Texas) describes the species as a Climbing vine with maroon or reddish-brown pea-like flowers in compact racemes arising from leaf axils. This legume has a cord-like rootstalk with edible tubers the Indians gathered for food. The Pilgrims relied on them as a food source during their initial years in Massachusetts. The tubers can be used in soups and stews or fried like potatoes; the cooked seeds can also be eaten. The flowers are sufficiently beautiful to warrant cultivation, but the plant tends to take over. The generic name, from Greek for pear, alludes to the shape of the tubers. I can understand why a gardener might be tempted to transplant a seedling or two into a perennial landscape bed, risking the plant’s propensity to take over.

Jolly B

 

We found abundant bear’s foot (Smallanthus uvedalia). Also known as hairy leafcup, this species is a member of the Asteraceae, the Sunflower family. A USDA online source notes that this leafcup is a species of moist to dry, lightly shaded to open woodland, savanna, thickets, fields, and bottomland. This species is found from Michigan southwest to Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, south to Oklahoma and Texas, east to New York and New Jersey, and, south to Florida. Some manuals also consider it native from Mexico to Panama. This species flowers in July to September. It is an excellent nectar/pollen plant and is visited by many species of bees and wasps. 

Jolly BJolly B

 

We also found a member of the pea family, bigpod sesbania (Sesbania herbacea). I find the technical plant manual descriptions written in a language (yes, it’s English) uniquely their own, both confidently specific and accurate, yet somewhat lyrical and mystical. From a USDA online source: Bigpod sesbania is a semi-woody, native, perennial where it can be grown yearlong in frost-free zones or as an annual warm-season legume where it is frost-killed. It has smooth, green, tapering stems that become woody with age. Although it only has a few wide-spreading branches, it can grow 3–10 ft tall. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Guide former species name exaltata means extremely tall, and refers to the plant’s height. The alternately arranged 30 cm leaves are even-pinnately compound, with approximately 20–70 oppositely arranged leaflets. Leaflets are 0.75–2.5 cm long, with smooth margins and a pointed tip. They are somewhat hairy or waxy underneath.

Jolly B

 

We encountered many other plants in late summer bloom, but did not see our role to inventory an exhaustive list.

Lepidopteran Abundance

 

We saw any number of bee, wasp, and fly pollinators. However, we focused our attention on our Lepidopteran friends. Two of the more showy species common along the road shoulder were Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papillio glaucus; below) and black swallowtail (Papillio polyxenes; further below). From Wikipedia: The Eastern swallowtail is a species of butterfly native to eastern North America. It is one of the most familiar butterflies in the eastern United States, where it is common in many different habitats. It flies from spring to fall, during which it produces two to three broods. Adults feed on the nectar of many species of flowers. The male is yellow with four black “tiger stripes”  on each forewing. Females may be either yellow or black, making them dimorphic. The yellow morph is similar to the male, but with a conspicuous band of blue spots along the hindwing, while the dark morph is almost completely black.

The green eggs are laid singly on plants of the families Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae. Young caterpillars are brown and white; older ones are green with two black, yellow, and blue eyespots on the thorax. The caterpillar will turn brown prior to pupating. It will reach a length of 5.5 centimeters (2.2 in). The chrysalis varies from a whitish color to dark brown. Hibernation occurs in this stage in locations with cold winter months. The eastern tiger swallowtail is the state Alabama state butterfly (as well as state mascot). State mascot? I had no idea. I suppose most Alabamians, depending upon their perspective, assumed our state mascot was either Aubie the Tiger or Big AL!

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Likewise, the black swallowtail is also a common butterfly in our region and along our road shoulder. From a University of Florida entomology website: The eastern black swallowtail is one of our most common and most studied swallowtails. Although it is admired for its beauty, it is one of the very few butterflies that may occasionally be considered a pest. It has been known by a variety of other names including black swallowtail, American swallowtail, parsnip swallowtail, parsley swallowtail, celeryworm, and caraway worm. Several subspecies of Papillio polyxenes occur in Mexico, Central America and South America. Habitats of the black swallowtail are generally open areas, including both uplands and wet areas—wet prairies, fields, flat-woods, pine savannas, roadsides, weedy areas, and gardens. Males perch and patrol open areas for females—often near patches of host plant.

Eggs are laid singly on the host plants—usually on new foliage and occasionally on flowers. Development time is variable depending on temperature and host plant species, but generally the egg stage lasts four to nine days, the larval stage 10–30 days, and the pupal stage nine to 18 days (except for overwintering pupae). Pupae are the overwintering stage. There are two generations in northern parts of the range but at least three generations in the South.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Mike identified and photographed a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus). From the Alabama Butterfly Atlas: No other skipper in Alabama has iridescent blue-green on its upper wings and body! These flashy skippers avidly visit flowers for nectar, and often hang upside-down to feed.   In most years, Long-tails move into Alabama from Florida, usually appearing by early summer.  They colonize as far north as the New England States, where the arrival of cold weather sees them start a southward movement to warmer climates. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures in any stage of their life cycle. Long-tailed Skippers overwinter as reproductively arrested adults in tropical and subtropical areas. It is likely that this widespread species will eventually be documented in every county in Alabama, where they are welcome and frequent garden visitors.

The Long-tailed Skipper is distributed from Argentina northward through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to southeastern Texas and along the Gulf coastal states to Florida.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

We saw many individuals of Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). From iNaturalist: The Gulf fritillary or passion butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is a bright orange butterfly in the subfamily Heliconiinae of the family Nymphalidae. That subfamily was formerly set apart as a separate family, the Heliconiidae. The Heliconiinae are “longwing butterflies,” which have long, narrow wings compared to other butterflies. Gulf fritillary is the only member of genus Agraulis. Agraulis vanillae is most commonly found in the southern areas of the United States, specifically in many regions of Florida and Texas.

Gulf fritillaries have a chemical defense mechanism in which they release odorous chemicals in response to predator sightings. As a result, common predators learn to avoid this species. Pheromones play a critical role in male-female courtship behaviors, with male gulf fritillaries emitting sex pheromones that contribute to mate choice in females.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Blackwell Swamp

 

From floral elegance to butterfly abundance along the roadway, allow me a sidelong gaze into Blackwell Swamp from a view-point at road’s edge. We stopped to enjoy the view eastward just as a barred owl swept silently from our left as we enjoyed the open panorama of water, aqua-vegetation, and the hardwood forests fronting the swamp.

Jolly B

 

The barred owl (Strix varia) alighted on a willow oak branch just a dozen feet above ground. The lighting (too-bright background) did not allow a clear image, yet we thrilled nevertheless at seeing this magnificent true owl. From the All About Birds website: The Barred Owl’s hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a classic sound of old forests and treed swamps. But this attractive owl, with soulful brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, can also pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy or snoozes on a tree limb. Originally a bird of the east, during the twentieth century it spread through the Pacific Northwest and southward into California.

Jolly B

 

I’ll repeat that Mike and I had no advance intent to explore roadside vegetation. Its richness and beauty came as a bonus, meriting this third Blog Post from our wanderings on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on a seasonably hot and humid mid-August day. A bit of sweat and insects was a toll rewarded amply by a full dose of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from our mid-August observations along the Blackwell Swamp loop road:

  • There’s pure magic along the southern riparian forest-edge roadside
  • Sunlight fuels Nature’s explosion of botanic (and pollinator) power 

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.

Wonder Below Ground: Cathedral Caverns State Park

July 10, 2020, Judy and I took our two Alabama grandsons (Jack, 12, and Sam, 6) to Cathedral Caverns State Park. No hiking the forest trails for this State Park visit. There are trails there that I’ll save for a subsequent trip.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I won’t devote a lot of text to this Post. The Caverns offer a different kind of Nature from my general forest-oriented photo-essays. I include this Post as a sidebar evidencing that my normal forest ecosystem immersions stand as a rather narrow slice of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. A secondary point I wish to make is that Alabama’s State Parks offer variety beyond imagination. Cathedral Caverns is a world-class below-ground treasure. Also consider the incredible above-ground diversity as I’ve demonstrated from Gulf State Park to Cheaha, Monte Sano, and Joe Wheeler. I still have so much to explore and discover in the forests across the Alabama State Parks system.

Cathedral Caverns

 

So, let’s consider this a brief break from my forest wanderings. Besides, we cherished the cool temperatures within Cathedral Caverns on a tough mid-summer afternoon. The cavern is massive. I gazed back at the entrance and saw the ghosts and heard the echoes of ten thousand years of Native Americans finding shelter within the mouth.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I had no idea that my iPhone-11 would capture the cavern images so well. I won’t burden the reader with extensive (endless) explanations. Suffice it to say the caverns offer incredible sights.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The cavern derives its name from the soaring columns, massive sanctuary vaults, and towering pipe-organ structures. I felt sacred connections to the place and to the adventurous souls who entered this silent world for many centuries.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I can’t recall what moniker our tour guide gave to this formation. It strikes me as a parapet, an elevated balcony with low walls overlooking the trail below.

Cathedral Caverns

 

This thin column reaches from ceiling to cavern floor. A bearded guard stands with broad shoulders to the right side of the photo.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Our tour guide referred to this 15-foot-high flowstone as The Waterfall, an apt moniker.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Here’s another cathedral room, with people and the lighted walkway as an indication of scale.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The grandsons and I sensed beings within the cave, drawing strength we presumed from its perpetual darkness (absent the artificial lighting). Although we did not actually see The Grinch (or even fathom why he might be present), there is no doubt that we saw his shadow, peering from behind the massive column.

Cathedral Caverns

 

We just can’t seem to escape Covid-19 reminders. This Park mannequin-guide stood (literally and symbolically) to remind us to maintain social distancing and wear a mask otherwise.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I recommend Cathedral State Park to all who pass through north Alabama. It’s a natural wonder, a great escape from the heat, and another splendid example of The Nature of North Alabama!

Cathedral Caverns

 

As I indicated above, I have yet to explore the Park’s above-ground woodland trails. I know I’ll discover at least a little magic and wonder there.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

We occupy a dynamic planet rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, both living and non-living:

Nature’s wonder is where we seek it… whether along a Gulf coastal estuary, atop Cheaha Mountain, or hidden deep underground.

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 BooksCathedral Caverns

 

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.

 

Four-Year Tornado Forest Recovery at Monte Sano State Park

November 29, 2016, a weak tornado (EF-0; winds 40-72 mph or EF-1; 73-112 mph) touched down briefly at the northern bluff-edge of Monte Sano State Park’s North Plateau Trail. I hiked the trail circuit August 27, 2020 to assess forest healing and recovery after nearly four full growing seasons since the November storm. I include in this Post State Park file photos taken November 30, 2016 and my own photographs from March 22, 2018 (one growing season later), and from my recent examination. I am never surprised to see how well and rapidly Nature moves beyond disturbance, quickly filling voids to assure that the ecosystem closes ranks, recaptures site resources, and reestablishes equilibrium (such as it is in our dynamic forests). I’ve said time and again that nothing in Nature is static. Disturbance is one of Nature’s constants. The miracles of rebirth and recovery are honed by millennia of practice. The genotypes and ecosystem components that adapt to disturbance, whether subtle or catastrophic, are the ones that persevere. This bluff-side oak-hickory forest obviously knows the drill.

Monte Sano SP

 

Taken November 30, 2016, the day after the tornado, this Park file photo shows the narrow strip of wind-thrown forest. Many stems are uprooted while others snapped near the ground. Most seem to have fallen to the east.

Monte Sano SP

 

Also from the Park files, this view is a 180-degree panorama. The view east is on the right; west on the left. Some trees remain leaning, not thrown completely to the ground. Note that the trail is at the plateau edge.

Monte Sano SP

 

Although I accept the Park staff assertion that the storm had been verified as a tornado, I could not rule out, from my own observations, that the cause could be attributable to straight-line winds, a thunderstorm microburst that can be quite damaging. The National Weather Service describes microbursts:

It all starts with the development of a thunderstorm and the water droplets/hailstones being suspended within the updraft.  Sometimes an updraft is so strong it suspends large amounts of these droplets and hailstones in the upper portions of the thunderstorm. There are many factors that can lead to evaporational cooling (sinking air) and therefore weakening of the updraft. Once this occurs, it is no longer capable of holding the large core of rain/hail up in the thunderstorm. As a result, the core plummets to the ground. As it hits the ground it spreads out in all directions. The location in which the microburst first hits the ground experiences the highest winds and greatest damage. Wind speeds in microbursts can reach up to 100 mph, or even higher, which is equivalent to an EF-1 tornado! Winds this high can cause major damage to home and other structures.

So, whether a weak tornado or a localized microburst, the storm exacted forest damage along a narrow one-quarter-mile stretch parallel to the bluff edge, just 100 to 200 feet north of the campground. Talk about luck of the draw! I wondered how many people occupied the campground that evening… and how many would have suffered dire consequences had the transect shifted just a short distance southward. Here again, is a Park file photo, this one from an occupied campsite.

Monte Sano SP

 

March 22, 2018 Photos

I first hiked the North Plateau Trail March 22, 2018, just a couple of months after establishing permanent residency in nearby Madison, Alabama. I did not know in advance that such a storm had impacted the Park just 16 months (one growing season) prior. Park crews had cleared the trail. I recognized the storm damage immediately, still raw…with healing not yet apparent. Sure, I saw limited evidence of seasonally-dead herbaceous vegetation and some woody sprouting that had begun to fill the void, but my overwhelming impression was of a raw wound.

Here’s the view to the west showing windthrow mounds and downed logs. The campground is just out of view to the left. The larger trees are down; ragged mid-canopy residuals remain.

 

This view is downhill through the foreground rubble. The undamaged forest stands several hundred feet below the narrow storm path.

Monte Sano SP

 

Note that debris on the ground is clearly visible, unlike what I could see in late August three growing seasons later.

Four Growing Seasons of Healing

 

August 27, 2020 I once again circuited the North Plateau Trail. What a difference three additional growing seasons make! Nothing raw about Nature’s response to disturbance. A nearly solid wall of green obscured all ground debris (below left). Remnant mid-canopy trees are flush with foliage expanding into the full sunshine. The standing snag of a tornado-destroyed oak appears only through the view-window rapidly closing (below right).

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano

 

One of the remnant trees (mid-opening below left) appears as a green column, having sprouted shoots from adventitious buds responding to full sunlight along its entire height. A Chinese princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), an escaped ornamental landscape species from central and western China, is growing explosively in the disturbed area (below right).

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano

 

This species is a dreaded competitor. From the EcosystemGardening website:

Paulownia Trees are highly invasive and are destroying native ecosystems from Maine to Florida and Texas, as well as the Pacific Northwest. However, open almost any gardening magazine and you’ll find adds touting this tree as an “amazing, fast-growing, shade tree.” It is this fast-growing nature that is causing so many problems for native ecosystems. Growing up to 15 feet in a single year, this invasive tree shades out and out-competes native plant communities for resources such as water and nutrients. It thrives in disturbed soils, is drought and pollution tolerant, and easily takes over riparian areas. Every spring when it blooms, I am dismayed at how many more of these trees have gained a foothold along the wooded stream as I drive through my neighborhood. It can reproduce from seed or root sprouts, which grow very quickly. A single tree can produce up to 20 million seeds each year, which are easily dispersed by wind and water. Even though the light purple blooms are quite pretty, I have learned to hate the sight of them.

Perhaps fodder for a new horror movie” Unleashed by Tornadic Winds… The Evil Princess Tree!

I’ll end with a few more photographs with little explanation. Below left another opening rapidly filling, framed by a snag and remnants. Looking east, the view below right shows the undamaged stand to the right of the trail and a line of untouched trees along the path’s north edge. Nature dances along narrow lines separating devastation from untouched.

Monte SanoMonte Sano SP

 

Below left depicts the place north of the trail when the beast began touching down. From there eastward it left its mark. Below right, just 50-feet westward, the forest is mostly intact.

Monte Sano SPMonte Sano SP

 

Nearby, just a single top broken hints at the storm that just 200 feet away nearly leveled that narrow strip of forest.

Monte Sano SP

 

All of us in northern Alabama know that tornadoes are a significant thread (and threat!) in our weather fabric. We are aware that tornadoes range from mild (this November 2016 storm as an example) to catastrophic. An EF-3 (maximum is EF-5) struck the Joe Wheeler State Park campground last winter (December 19, 2019; below). Damaging, yes, but not catastrophic; the foreground disturbance is from debris clearing with heavy equipment. I recall flying in a private plane in the late 1990s over the track of an EF-5 tornado on the west side of Birmingham. The one-half-mile-wide swath left bare concrete pads where houses once stood. Even lawns had been wind-scraped to bare brown soil. The fury of Nature unleashed! Devastation! Horror beyond words for those who bore its brute forest.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

The November 2016 winds along the northern bluff merely hinted that in the face of Nature’s absolute power we mere humans are nothing.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

My late August trek along the narrow track of a weak tornado spurred several observations:

  • Nature’s power and fury equilibrate with her beauty and inspiration
  • Nothing in Nature is static
  • Nature can heal even the worst of her wounds

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 BooksMonte Sano SP

 

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.

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.

 

Multi-Use Trail at Joe Wheeler State Park

Bear with me as I repeat some of the introductory paragraph from my August 12, 2020 Post about Nature reclaiming an 80-year-abandoned recreation area on the Joe Wheeler State Park bluffs above Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/12/long-abandoned-recreation-area-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/ July 7, 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I hiked the Park’s 2.5-mile Multi-Use Trail. I focused that prior Post on the ruins of the recreation area that had operated during the heyday of Wheeler Dam construction when thousands of workers lived nearby. I take a different tack with this Post.

Trailhead and Riparian Forest

We parked near the trailhead sign (below left), hiked the sweeping loop-trail counter-clockwise, taking us first through riparian forest, briefly along the lake shore (below right), then rising onto the bluffs and the abandoned recreation site. I focus this Post on the forest, tree oddities, fungi, and flowers we encountered as we made our way to and beyond the recreation area ruins.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The riparian and lower-slope trail sections crossed land cutover during the same period when TVA crews were clearing towns, homes, churches, other structures, fences, and forests from below the projected high water shoreline for the designed impoundments behind both Wilson and Joe Wheeler Dams. On what is now State Park lands, forests regenerated naturally (we saw no evidence of planted stands) from the cutover forests and from cropland or pasture abandoned at the same time… 80+ years ago. Large grapevines (below) drape from high in the canopy. Try to visualize this rich riparian area in the 1930s as recently cutover… dense with stump sprouts (trees and grapevines), seedlings, woody shrubs, blackberries, and herbaceous growth, nearly impenetrable. Picture ten years later the better-positioned, faster growing individual saplings muscling the competition, reaching skyward, overwhelming the slower growing individuals and species. By age fifteen most of the herbaceous vegetation and briers are disappearing from the shaded understory. The grapevines grow tenaciously, step by step and year to year, with the trees ascending to dominance. Many people believe mistakenly that grapevines climb our forest trees, winding and grasping from the forest floor lifting along the trunk into the canopy, finding light where they can. Instead, the vines ascend with the tree, always within the treetops whether the tree is a twenty-foot sapling at age 15 or a mature 110-foot, 80-year-old dominant oak.

Joe Wheeler

 

Aerial roots (see below) hang from a crook in the vine where my hand rests above. I recognized these ever-ready roots immediately, understanding from my long-ago forestry education that such adaptations await some potential stress or force of nature that may not be apparent. Leonardo da Vinci offered explanation for any such just-in-case physical attribute:

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

A Mississippi State Cooperative Extension online reference sheds some light and a shade of uncertainty to these intriguing protuberances: Aerial root formation in Vitis has been documented on different grape species; however, the driving forces behind the formation of adventitious roots are not well understood. In tropical areas and greenhouse situations, aerial roots in the grape family (Vitaceae) are common. In these regions, roots that form adventitiously on aerial portions of the vine may provide an adaptive response mechanism to avoid drought or flooding or provide other unknown functions. Regardless of the expressed doubt as to function or need, I side with da Vinci’s 500-year-old wisdom — these fine red tendrils have real purpose in the vast sweep of the life of grapevines on Tennessee River riparian flats. Nothing in Nature is superfluous. Their form, function, and purpose are curious only to us who have never felt the wrath of a wild river free of Corps of Engineers containment, in full-flood slamming the towering tree to the ground, transporting it ten miles downriver, and depositing it in the silty debris from the thousand-year flood. Its trailing grapevine companion thrust into the rich new soil, exciting the ever-ready adventitious cells of the aerial root to exploit the fertile new location. It quickly generates shoots to vegetatively propagate the vine that will accompany another oak as it reaches toward the heavens on the newly flood-scoured and refreshed riparian terrace above the river. Nothing is superfluous!

Joe Wheeler

 

No grapevine managed to ascend with this white oak (Quercus alba) beauty. As I continue to write these Posts, each one reminds me that I should have an instrument for measuring height. I estimated this one at 110-feet. In my field of forestry, nothing represents site quality (inherent fertility and site productivity) better than height over time-certain. The tree below signals a rich site… offering firm footing, abundant moisture, and a full diet of soil nutrients.

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike stood in awe and with a  dose of humility gazing into the crown of this towering monument to rich soils, long growing seasons, abundant annual rainfall, and 80-90 years without major disturbance. Pausing by such monarchs offers sufficient reward for venturing forth in the midst of our southern summer. I think of traveling a major toll road, stopping periodically to pay for the limited access privilege. I viewed our passage along the Multi-Use Trail as the toll road mirror image. Occasionally we stopped to collect direct payment in form of a regal oak, aerial roots on a grapevine, colorful mushrooms, or summer floral riches. Memories and a photo-record serve as receipts… a record of our passage.

Joe Wheeler

 

I remain on the lookout for what I classify as tree form oddities during my woods ramblings. Combine some peculiarity with large tree stature and I’m immediately sold. Mike stands beside a mossy-bottomed white oak with a coarse seam spiraling clockwise up the trunk. I speculate that this healed scar resulted from a relatively weak lightning strike that deadened a narrow strip of cambium without dealing an explosive blow. I’ve seen the result of powerful strikes shattering even large trees. I’ve pondered whether trees already wet with torrential downpours conduct the strike along the surface without serious damage. A dry tree strike perhaps travels through the wood with far greater, sometimes fatal, results. This one offers a nicely (and naturally) welded callous seam. Nature is adept at handling any and all eventualities.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Yet another massive white oak demonstrated its mastery of the high canopy. We puzzled over how many nearby neighbors lost the battle for sunlight and soil resources, succumbing over the eight decades as this superior competitor took all the room it needed to thrive. Poison ivy vines accompanied its skyward journey. Better to climb with the tree than to compete with it for the precious high-canopy sunlight. I’ve heard people pontificate on the peace and serenity of the forest, asking why can’t we humans live in the same mode of absolute tranquility as we see in the deep forest? This individual tree commands nearly one-quarter of an acre, its canopy spreading some 50 feet in radius. Just 5.5 oaks this size occupy an area equivalent to an acre. The first 2-3 years after the new forest began to develop in the mid-1930s, hundreds (maybe thousands) of mixed woody plant individuals occupied that same area. Fierce competition defined the days, weeks, months, and years; nearly all stems present at the outset met with demise. The brutal competition continues.

Joe Wheeler

 

I’ve focused on the survivors, the successful main canopy competitors. Let’s switch focus now to a wider cycle that includes but is not limited to the main canopy surviving giants.

Forest Life, Death, and Decay

This 30-inch diameter white oak appears healthy at first glance, yet a sixth of its circumference evidences death and decay within. Fungi fruiting bodies proliferate on the bark as the mycelia feed on the woody fibers within. A violent windstorm or catastrophic lightning strike can bring an otherwise vibrant tree to immediate demise. Other forces, like our ubiquitous decay fungi, act over time and co-survive for decades reducing vigor and weakening structural soundness. I remind readers that even the mighty oak will one day enter the ongoing, never ending cycle of life and death, returning its carbon to the soil.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Fungi don’t limit their activity to standing trees, dead and alive. The Coprinopsis (genus) mycelia (below left) are exploiting the visible fallen branch. The rounded earthstar (Below right; Geastrum saccatum) caught my eye and captured my imagination. MushroomExpert.com described this fascinating fruiting body as a small but beautiful mushroom that features a round spore case sitting atop a star with 4-9 arms. When ripe, the spore case erupts from its center-top spewing contents for dissemination to other dead woody material.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Amanita is another common genus. Mushroom Expert.com reports 113 Amanita species in the US and Canada. Wikipedia added some language that will dissuade me from attempting to collect any Amanita for personal consumption: The genus Amanita contains about 600 species of agarics, including some of the most toxic known mushrooms found worldwide, as well as some well-regarded edible species. This genus is responsible for approximately 95 percent of the fatalities resulting from mushroom poisoning, with the death cap accounting for about 50 percent on its own. I will not be seeking those well-regarded edible species anytime soon!

Joe Wheeler

 

I am seldom confidant with my mushroom identification, yet this white cheese polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) seems reasonably certain. This pure white polypore must be very fresh, showing no smears, fading, or other signs of aging. Its mycelia are feeding on a several-years-dead fallen log, the wood bark-less, and seeming to me too far decayed to support such a spectacular specimen. Who am I to gauge what dead wood is best suited for a particular saprophyte. Nature knows best. I am simply an ignorant and arrogant interloper, thinking far too much and assuming I have the wisdom and knowledge to assess and evaluate organism/host relationships.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I believe this is a wood ear fungus (Auricularia) on a dead hackberry or sugar berry (Celtis sp). I’m told these are edible. However, I will need greater confidence before I harvest and saute! More recent rain would have encouraged a jelly-like consistency. These have desiccated and lost that soft feel and appearance.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Mushrooms are the reproductive structure for fungi. So, allow me to segue thusly to the summer flowers (reproductive structures) we encountered along the Multi-Use Trail.

Summer’s Woodland Flowers

 

Tall bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum) added its blue hue occasionally at woods edge. It’s an unusual bellflower in that its flower is flat rather than ballooned. Neither Mike nor I could recall a prior sighting.

Joe Wheeler

 

Blackberry (or leopard) lily (Iris domestica) surprised us along the trail in deep shade, suggesting a long ago residence landscaped with this showy eastern Asia ornamental import.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hairy wood mint (Blephilia hirsuta) likewise blessed our mid-summer passage with unexpected delicate white. We both are more accustomed to the flush of forest understory spring colors and absolute abundance and variety from late March through mid-May in northern Alabama. Each summer understory bloom came with welcome surprise. To every season — a flowering inhabitant. The woodland flowering plant species frequency curve tales precipitously in these parts after the solstice. We embraced hairy wood mint as a gift.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Interestingly, the trail crossed a several-hundred-foot-wide power transmission line (passing through the Park… originating from the Wheeler Dam hydro-turbines) in full sun. We saw summer blossoms in diverse abundance, stopping only to photograph this purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). The open-land flower frequency curve peaks mid-summer. We crossed the power line during the apex period. Why the seasonal disharmony? The sun hits the forest floor only prior to canopy leaf-out — the window of opportunity is short-lived in deep woods. It’s either bloom during spring… or generally not at all. The power line provides full summer sun.

Joe Wheeler

 

We strolled in the woods, savoring every moment, examining anything that caught our interest, and looking deeply enough to truly see. Our intent crossing the power line in full hot July sun was simply to reach the forest shade on the other side!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s timeless wisdom applied once again… this time along Joe Wheeler State Park’s Multi-Use Trail:

Human ingenuity will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

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.