Early December Forest Treasures within a Two-Acre Area of Riparian Forest

December 6, 2020, I biked 18 miles, ten of them making two loops on the Bradford Creek Greenway in Madison, Alabama. Dismounting back at my vehicle in the Heritage Elementary School parking lot, I changed into hiking boots and a field jacket to explore a small section of the riparian forest just one-quarter mile down the trail. I limited my up-close exploration to what turned out to be about two acres, all within 165-feet of a central point just off the trail.

I offer a montage of images… a photo-essay heavy on photos and light on essay (verbiage). I see an order of magnitude more when I’m cycling at 10-14 MPH compared to when I am driving at 60+ MPH. Give me another order of magnitude more visual gifts on foot in the forest, wandering to whatever captures my attention… tree, shrub, vine, moss, or trunk-cavity!

Photogenic American Beech

 

I do notice this stream-bank-hugging American beech from the greenway, especially during the leafless season. I admire its tenacity… its insistence on holding tightly to terra firma. I presume that at some point as a seedling this individual sprouted from a soil mound thrown up from an uprooted tree. The seedling’s roots reached down and around the soil mound, since somewhat worn away by stream flooding. Today its stilt-legs hold the trunk some 18 inches above the current ground level. Below left the stream is visible between the legs. This seeming tranquil, streamside perch belies the violence that a night of heavy rain can bring to Bradford Creek. The view below right gives a more complete picture of the clinging roots, the perspective enhanced by the persistent gold-brown leaves that will hold on until spring leaf-out abscises the leaf hangers-on.

Local Greenways

 

The beech and I are smitten with the stream… the beech for the vital moisture and the soil amendments delivered with each freshet; and me for the emotional and spiritual restorative balm afforded by biking or hiking along its shore.

Vine Haven

 

The Society of American Foresters defines a forest as an ecosystem characterized by more or less dense and extensive tree cover usually consisting of stands varying in characteristics such as species, structure, composition, age class, and commonly including streams, fish, and wildlife —note forests include special types such as industrial, non-industrial, public, protection, urban, as well as parks and wilderness; they are commonly managed to sustain single or diverse products or special values.

The two acres I am bringing to your attention is, in fact, characterized by dense and extensive tree cover. Dense shade comforts my June through September bike rides. But the forest shade derives from more than the tree foliage. The overstory sunshine is shared with multiple species of woody vines that ascended into the crown with the trees as they grew from seedling and sapling stages into the canopy 70-100 feet above the forest floor. Our diverse southern forest vineage (my word, not recognized in any of the online dictionaries I consulted) includes grape, trumpet vine, poison ivy, supple jack, scuppernong, Virginia creeper, crossvine, Dutchman’s pipe vine, and others. As I’ve matured as a naturalist into retirement, I have become more and more enamored with such vineage, which, I assure you, is now a word — I have added it to my personal online dictionary!

I am striving to understand and seek to explain what remains inexplicable vine forms, twists, and knots. This grapevine presents a ten-foot-high archway. Something the druids created as a portal to who-knows-where? I chose to walk through it, disappointed that I simply found myself on the other side… not in some alternate dimension. The business end of this arch reaches into the crown, where it competes for light that does not penetrate to the forest floor.

Local Greenways

 

This supple jack (green-barked) is writhing a slow dance with a grapevine… twisting, binding, and strangling to a draw. Like their arched cousin, both of these individuals (if you can separate them) have found space in the main canopy far above.

Local Greenways

 

Supple jack fascinates me. This three-inch diameter vine (below left) carries its green color even deep within the understory. Is its green bark actively photosynthesizing? Or is its olive green hue simply for show… and for what purpose? The woodpecker that drilled the half-dozen holes below left found purpose in the vine… either in form of insect larvae within… or an intent to instigate sap flow to attract insects for a later snack. I like the gnarls the vine creates in its ultimate struggle to maintain main canopy purchase and function (below right). During my timber beast forest products industry years, vines worked at cross-purposes with my own. They competed with crop trees for moisture, nutrients, and sunshine. They increased susceptibility to ice and wind breakage… and complicated felling, trimming, and bucking into merchantable log-lengths.

Local Greenways

 

I accept, even embrace, vineage now. For reasons aplenty: aesthetics, wildlife food and habitat, fascination and curiosity! Richness in my estimation has shifted from economic to diverse other values.

Decorative Moss

 

Life has changed in so many ways since I retired from university leadership positions, when days often raced past in a blur. Today, the days still begin before dawn, but the pace is far more relaxed, comfortable, and rewarding. The two photos below epitomize the slackening pace. I can (and do) take time now to see, absorb, and photograph a forest floor woodland still life. I repeat what I’ve said many times in these Posts. I prefer Nature paintings that look like photographs; I love photographs that could be paintings. How could even a talented artist possibly best these images of downed wood, time-polished, and festooned with magic mosses?!

Local Greenways

 

Wolf Tree, an old forestry term — denotes a tree that originated in a more open condition, this one probably in an abandoned field prior to the current younger forest filling in around it. Large branches and coarser crown. This tree was a loner, like a lone wolf. From a 1945 edition of American Forests magazine — an article titled Woodman, Spare that Wolf Tree: “…these ugly wolf trees, these snags, these trees classified as worthless space fillers are valuable wildlife units in the vast stretch of North American woodland.” I see wolf trees often through our north Alabama second- and third-growth forests. Each has a story to tell.

Local Greenways

 

Many people inadequately schooled in the ways of Nature subscribe to the notion that moss grows only on the north side of trees. Finding oneself navigationally, therefore, is as simple as orienting to the mossy side of a tree. However, moss thrives in moist shade. In certain climatic zones, the rule may hold here in the northern hemisphere. In our deep forests of dense understory shade and abundant rainfall, the rule weakens in practice. The thirty-inch diameter white oak (Quercus alba) wolf tree above serves well as the exception to the north-side-moss rule.

Below left the tree’s north side does indeed carry a rich American tree moss-coat at its base. Deep shade, plenty of moisture. Let’s swing to its east flank (below right) and examine the result. Deep shade; thick moss coat. Surely, the south side will not be as moss-cloaked.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

Yet, I detect no difference (below left). Are we lost yet? In our region of ample rainfall across the seasons, the near-ground micro-climate stays moist. Stem flow concentrates rainfall, ensuring that the trunk base is well-saturated with most rain events that yield at least a half an inch. That stem flow also delivers nutrients washed and leached from the canopy and stem above. Below right we get another glimpse of the wolf tree’s coarse crown.

Local Greenways

 

A nearby yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) likewise sports a moss-green skirt. I appreciated the cross-ribboned mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) trunk (below right) accented by a lacey moss-matrix. Were I more entrepreneurial, I would consider marketing a line of wallpaper (or placemats or tee-shirts or murals or coffee mugs) employing such imaginative real-life images of tree bark. Anyone care to explore such an enterprise with me? I have lots of such tree bark images in my archives.

Local Greenways

Local Greenways

 

I am sure this hollowed sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) tells a tale of former injury, introduction of decay fungi, callousing, and use by critters of many stripes and colors. I include the sweetgum here because it stood out among others in my two-acre exploration… and because it, too, carried a mossy skirt.

Local Greenways

 

I wonder how many of my fellow trail bikers, walkers, runners, and other casual users notice the forest riches along the greenway. I see far too many, for my taste, distracted and isolated by the world they pipe-in via ear buds, obstructing the beauty, magic, and awe otherwise enveloping them. Some days I am tempted to slow my wanderings an additional order of magnitude by finding a downed log or comfy buttressed tree base upon which to sit and contemplate life…my own and of the forest. John Muir knew the blessings of quiet wildland contemplation:

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.

Life in the Understory

 

Sapling and seedling American beech (Fagus grandifolia) insist upon holding persistent golden foliage until new spring leaves jettison them. Nothing spectacular, yet a dose of color that brightens our winter woods. I was pleased to see several specimens in my two-acre woods.

Local Greenways

 

 

Local Greenways

 

This four-inch diameter black cherry (Prunus serotina) is surviving through an infection (disease) called black cherry canker. The internet sites I visited attribute such growth variously to fungal and bacterial infection. In simple terms, the canker is a benign tree tumor, in this case three times the tree’s diameter. Somehow the tree continues to transport water, nutrients, and carbohydrates sufficient for survival, albeit barely. The tree is dwarfed, and will never make it beyond the mid-canopy. The old child in me imagines severing the stem at the canker’s upper surface and at ground level… yielding a four-foot club, a fine weapon for use against forces from the dark side. A homemade Middle Ages battle club. If I squint my eyes just right, I can see a face with distinct forehead, eye brows, eyes, prominently ridged cheeks, nose, misshapen mouth, and chin. Perhaps the glass of Malbec for dinner has sharpened my vision (or imagination).

 

My woods ramblings spur imagination, encourage inspiration, and lead me to an inner place of serene humility.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my early-December two-acre wanderings:

  • From Leonardo da Vinci — So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.
  • My woods ramblings spur imagination, encourage inspiration, and lead me to an inner place of serene humility

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based 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.

 

Tree Form Curiosities Mid-December 2020 at Monte Sano State Park

December 15, 2020, I hiked several trails at Monte Sano State Park with two naturalist friends, Mike Ezell and Jesse Akozbek. We sought whatever Nature might reveal to us as we trekked in the forest examining everything natural that caught our eye. That’s me below with a 34-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the remarkable cove forest along the Arthur Wells Memorial Trail, one of my favorite haunts at the Park. No tree form oddities with this magnificent specimen! We also explored intersecting sections of the Sinks and Keith Trails.

Monte Sano

 

Returning to the new Bikers Pavilion, we spent several hours circuiting the South Plateau and Fire Tower Trails, enjoying the flat and smooth surface. Rather than present a sequential catalog of what we found of interest, I give you some of the tree form oddities and curiosities we encountered, each one with a compelling story.

Monte Sano

 

Decades ago this white oak (Quercus alba) suffered a blow (falling large branch or tree) that bent and nearly broke it to 90-degrees about six feet above the ground. Mike is leaning against what was then the bent-over trunk. He’s holding at the point where the damaged stem broke clean or suffered damage sufficient to encourage a dormant bud to take over the terminal growth, sending a shoot vertical, now reaching into the main canopy. We are left with a zig at five feet, a four-foot horizontal zag, and a re-zig to vertical (the terms are my own; I do not recall any formal forestry words of description!). I have heard fellow woods explorers refer to such trees as Indian Marker Trees, suggesting that Native Americans long ago bent the then-sapling to direct others to something of importance. However, based upon land use history and my own experience, I peg this stand at roughly 75-95 years old. The callousing stub Mike is holding was probably no more than four inches in diameter at the time of the causal incident, leading me to conclude that the injury occurred no more than 50 years ago. Also, consider that in 1970 (50 years ago) there had been no trail-blazing Indians hunting and gathering on this mountain for more than a century.

Monte Sano Monte Sano

 

Indian Marker Tree makes a nice story, but Nature tells her own tales. Trees falling on other trees is routine. Those crushed, in full or partially, have honed the craft of recovering from injury. This then young white oak was genetically hard-wired to respond, recover, and reach reproductive age. The two photos below complete the 360-degree view.

 

I cannot speculate on what agent created this grotesque protuberance 20 feet up the trunk of a white oak. An old injury? Branch stubs from many years ago still callousing over long after the wound had healed? Antlered branches tufting atop the growth trigger my impulse to find a face, identify a creature, or offer a name.

 

Perhaps with the inspiration of a rum-fortified New Years Eve eggnog, I could discern the two eyes of the long-necked creature facing down (below left)… or the eyes and snout of the dog-face above it (below right). I suppose no future-naturalist youngster tires of seeing shapes and stories with summer cumulus. I  continue the cloud-fascination with tree form curiosities well into the youth of my late 60s!

Monte Sano

 

It’s funny how perspective alters our perception of these tree form oddities. I photographed this same peculiar growth from 180-degrees. The result is as different as night and day. Because I do not apply any kind of age-appropriate warnings or cautions to my Posts, I offer this positionally-adjusted image without comment. I leave any interpretation to the discerning, mature reader.

Monte Sano

 

Okay, let’s quickly move to the next image lest I offend anyone… or embarrass myself even more! This eight-inch diameter sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), not long dead, suffered a blow years ago that bent it 180-degrees. Persevering, the tree responded by sending a shoot skyward.  It fought a valiant battle, its conducting tissue maintaining some level of flow between crown and roots. I’ll term this a pump-handle tree, resembling its moniker… and continuing for years after injury to pump water and nutrients up and bring manufactured carbohydrates down to its roots.

Monte Sano

 

This corkscrew loblolly pine suffered a significant physical insult long ago, breaking its terminal stem and transferring the vertical growth to the side branch on our left. The damaged branch on our right managed to survive… corkscrewing its way upward and outward. Importantly, the tree’s hard wiring enabled it to respond and live competitively into the cone-producing years with its head still in the main canopy.

Monte Sano

 

I have often said in these Posts that I have never had a truly original thought. Others before me noticed and recorded observations and conclusions that I have laboriously rediscovered. Five hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci commented on Nature’s ways and her own laws:

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.

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

Nature never breaks her own laws.

Perhaps da Vinci had pondered tree form oddities and curiosities?

Not all unusual tree shapes derive from response to injury. Some species find competitive advantage in growing other than vertically. Farkleberry (Vaccinium aboreum) is the only tree-form member of the blueberry genus. Tree form stretches the term. I view farkleberry as a taller bush, its branches layered and contorted, gnarled and twisting. I conjecture that its comparative advantage as an understory inhabitant is its ability to capture as much of the crown-penetrating sun flecks as possible. And to live long and prosper without direct full sun. It has no need to grow scores of feet tall or achieve a girth measured in feet. Like all living organisms, it needs only enough to assure a next generation, to sustain the species.

Monte Sano

 

Farkleberry (also called sparkleberry) knows not to live beyond its means. Will we humans realize before its too late the wisdom inherent in this tree-form blueberry?

Monte Sano

 

Will we open our eyes to Nature’s wisdom? Leonardo’s revelation is worthy of repeat:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

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… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Leonardo da Vinci learned lessons from Nature applicable to us 500 years hence:

  • Nature is the source of all true knowledge
  • She has her own logic, her own laws
  • She has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Winter Ferns, Fungi, Mosses, and Lichens

I make it often to the eastern end of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, occasionally issuing Blog Posts from my ventures, for example: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/

I returned November 30 mid-morning on what for north Alabama was an unusually cold day following a wet (0.91″) overnight cold frontal passage. During my hike, a strong northwesterly breeze brought spits of sleet from time to time. Later that evening after I had returned home the sleet transitioned to snow flurries. That’s a big deal for us!

As is often the case for my Refuge excursions, I bushwhacked through a bottomland hardwood forest. I saw and photographed enough magic and wonder to yield two Blog Posts. I focus this first one on the fungi and non-flowering plants I encountered.

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

But first, a broad introduction to the bottomland hardwood forest. These are rich sites, supporting high canopies of mixed species, including poplar, diverse oaks, hickories, sweetgum, elm, beech, and others.  Although I still have not purchased an instrument to measure tree height, I did find a recently downed oak that I stepped off at 112 feet. Tree height (at an indexed base age) is the best indicator of site quality in closed forests. I conducted my doctoral research on estimating site quality in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of SW NY and NW PA. I’m partial to deciduous forests…and consider these Tennessee River bottomland stands particularly impressive and inspiring. Before I shift to the associated fungi and non-flowering plants, I offer these representative photos of the stands I explored November 30.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Revealing another bias, this one seasonal, I so welcome the dormant season with cooler temperatures, no ticks, red bugs, or mosquitoes, no obscuring foliage, desiccated ground cover, and unobstructed views deep into the surrounding forest.

Fungi

 

Best of all, relevant to this Post, fungi are visible, even at distance. I can spot them and go to them, rather than awaiting them to appear as I proceed through the sometimes dense undergrowth during the growing season. However, the easier passage through the forest does not magically sharpen my ability to identify mushrooms. I’m still climbing a very steep learning curve. I will offer tentative identification on many based upon my iNaturalist iPhone App crutch, but even these without great confidence.

Both of these, I believe are species of Trametes, a common hardwood forest decay fungus. Because this forest is 70-90 years old, some overstory trees are fading from the stand, dying in place, losing large branches, uprooting, and otherwise crashing to the ground. Dead and down woody debris is within sight nearby wherever I stopped to observe my surroundings. As I’ve often observed, death is a constant participant in the life of our forests.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

There is no reason for me to introduce the following images by describing my uncertainty. Instead, I will simply say, for example, here is smoky polypore (Bjerkandera adjusta). Accept, unless I indicate otherwise, that implicit in my statement is “at least that is what I think this species is or may be.” From iNaturalist, “Bjerkandera adjusta, commonly known as the smoky polypore or smoky bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Meruliaceae. It is a plant pathogen that causes white rot in live trees, but most commonly appears on dead wood. It was first described scientifically as Boletus adustus by Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1787.”

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Below is a species of Trametes, very common in our Alabama hardwood forests. Life and death and life and death… the cycle is continuous. Life never outruns death. Death, in turn, brings life. Perhaps if I were once again a young forest scientist I would strive to find answers to my questions about life and death in a typical Tennessee River bottomland hardwood forest:

  • Total biomass per acre
  • Living and dead
  • Tree, shrub, herbaceous
  • Animals from mega-fauna to micro-organisms
  • Above ground and below ground
  • Plant, animal, and fungi kingdoms
  • Annual carbon turnover
  • My list is long

Wood decay fungi are major players in this cycle of living and dying. And Trametes is not an insignificant character.

HGH Road

 

Violet-toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme) is a multi-story inhabitant of this standing dead white oak.  Wikipedia, I find, often provides a succinct description: a species of poroid fungus in the order Hymenochaetales. It is a saprobe that decomposes hardwood stumps and logs. It is inedible. The tree, however, is not inedible — the fungi find it quite palatable! The tree will stand until its ever-weakening wood crosses a threshold where physics prevail in form of gravity, wind, ice, or lateral forces to bring the decaying wood back to its soil home, where it will give life-force to other living organisms.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

I am confident that the orange mushroom is crowded parchment (Stereum rameale), another common wood decay fungus, in this case sharing a downed branch with foliose and bearded lichen, a rich community…a natural work of art.

HGH Road

 

The corticioid fungi are a group of Basidiomycete fungi. Wikipedia offered some description of this group, paraphrased as: This group typically have effused, smooth fruiting bodies that are formed on the undersides of dead tree trunks or branches. They are sometimes colloquially called crust or patch fungi. This one was a bit soft and spongy to the touch. It clearly occupied a dead and down branch, and was not growing on the underside of a dead tree branch. I viewed this fungus as quite unusual. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve previously encountered it in my recent, more-mushroom-enlightened woods ramblings. So unusual that I imagined identification being easy! My iNaturalist could only observe, “We’re not confident enough to make a recommendation, but here are our top 10 suggestions.” None of them resembled my specimen. A 2021 New Year’s Resolution — spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local mycology far better than I!  

HGH Road

 

Another species of which I am somewhat certain, cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae), is a fungus of the family of Hymenochaetaceae. The fungus primarily infests black locusts, aided by openings caused by Megacyllene robiniae infestation, but also grows on various other trees such as Carya (hickory) and oak (Wikipedia). Although I find this species growing abundantly on dead black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), this individual is on an oak.

HGH Road

 

This one, too, is quite distinctive, Ganoderma sessile. It’s shiny lacquered-looking upper surface calls out to the passer-by, particularly vivid before, in this case, dulled by deep tannish spores from neighbors. The literature attributes medicinal value to this abundant wood decaying polypore.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

I am learning, slowly and surely… and pledge to even greater effort in 2021!

Lichens

 

Repeating my parchment mushroom photo from above, I give you a foliose lichen, and in the lower left a tuft of bearded lichen. As with the fungi, I need to learn more about lichens, a common resident in our southern forests. The US Forest Service offers one of the better descriptions I’ve encountered:

There are approximately 3,600 species of lichens in North America and those are just the ones we know about! New discoveries are being made every year. Lichens are found all across North America and all over the world. They are found in a vast diversity of habitats and climates, from the Sonoran desert on the Coronado National Forest, to the alpine tundra of Alaskan mountains on the Chugach National Forest, and in the tropical rainforests of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

Have you ever seen a lichen and knew that it was a lichen? Not many people know what lichens are, and who would? They seem as though they are from another planet! Lichens are bizarre organisms and no two are alike.

Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its characteristics, from its thallus shape to its fruiting bodies. The alga can be either a green alga or a blue-green alga, otherwise known as cyanobacteria. Many lichens will have both types of algae.

In North America alone, 3,600 known species! There will never be a paucity of things I do not know.

HGH Road

 

This bushy beard lichen is a member of the Usnea genus. I will attempt no further delineation, but surely a delightful organism of uncommon utility, beauty, and function.

HGH Road

 

Mosses and Ferns

 

From family Neckeraceae iNaturalist: “We’re pretty sure this is in the family N…” — Some compelling names among the top ten species: Tree-skirt moss; seductive entodon moss; dendroalsia moss; American tree moss. American tree moss has a nice ring to it.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Another New Year’s Resolution: spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local bryology far better than I!

I feel confident identifying this moss by genus. From the online Britannica: Hair-cap moss, also called pigeon wheat, any of the plants of the genus Polytrichum (subclass Bryidae) with 39–100 species; it often forms large mats in peat bogs, old fields, and areas with high soil acidity. About 10 species are found in North America. Hair cap moss is soft, delicate, and spring-green.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Here’s American tree moss with fully turgid resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). I’ve included this fern occasionally in my Posts, with condition ranging from absolute desiccation to full flush in this case. For this tree- and rock-dwelling species, life is either feast or famine… and it copes quite well with the extremes.

HGH Road

 

Without attempting to identify the mushrooms, I offer this rich community of at least two species of fungi, thick American tree moss, and resurrection fern. Diversity is a common theme in these forests.

HGH Road

 

Once again, resurrection fern in its glory.

HGH Road

 

And our abundant Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), growing from Nova Scotia to Florida, and west to Minnesota and eastern Texas.

HGH Road

 

I love eastern hardwood forests, even as I am in love with our bottomland hardwood forests, where life is robust, diverse, and inspirational.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late November trek through the early winter riparian forest:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest… no matter the season
  • Trees alone do not make a forest
  • I am embarrassingly ignorant of forest fungi, lichens, and mosses!

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 BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

Late Fall at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

November 18, 2020 I revisited the 375-acre Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Madison County Alabama with Marian Moore-Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary, A Naturalist’s Walk through the Seasons. The book chronicles (with observations and photographs) the Sanctuary’s annual cycle of life… month by month. Gifted to, owned, and managed by the city of Huntsville, the Sanctuary is located along the Flint River in southeast Huntsville. The Sanctuary is a mosaic of bottomland hardwood interspersed with open fields, marsh, and farmland.

I published two prior Posts on the Sanctuary from my June 6, 2020 orientation visit: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/ and http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/

November 18 dawned clear and chilly — my preferred kind of Nature-exploration weather!

I entered the Sanctuary from its east entrance, where a quarter-mile of the paved Flint River Greenway leads to a tributary creek bridge, the point from where plans extend the greenway to the west entrance a mile or so through the Sanctuary.

November 2020November 2020

 

Marian wanted to make sure I received a proper orientation to what for me was the far-side of the preserve. She graciously led me along trails new to me. I walked back to the parking area with Marian, and then reentered to bushwhack for another couple of hours through the deep forest. I do not partition my photos and reflections by time spent with Marian and after. Time and again, every forest reveals its secrets such that with each entry I see things that I missed with prior visits. Join me now for a survey of revelations from my two-stage, mid-November trek into the Sanctuary. I’ll begin with the deep forest, shift to diverse habitats, and end with some unusual features of Nature.

Deep Forest

 

Since October 29, I had measured just 0.07″ of rain. That’s nearly three weeks of bright sunshine, ample breezes, and generally seasonably mild temperatures. Five inches of rain falls on average during a Huntsville November. All that to say that the leaf-strewn trail and understory surface snap, crackled, and popped with every footfall. We could not have snuck (or, even sneaked) up on a deaf squirrel! We agreed that the crunching steps added to the charm.

November 2020

 

I’ve often observed in these Posts that nothing in Nature is static. We found direct evidence in form of a large windthrown red oak (Quercus sp.), its root mass standing ten feet (below left). We believe the giant had fallen within the past few months. It still bore desiccated summer leaves, indicating that it suffered its fate when in full leaf. One can discern from the shallow, slab-like root mass that these are shallow soils, likely attributable to a high water table. In fact, surface water is visible over Marian’s left shoulder. Although the leaf litter resounded under our feet, nearly six inches of rain had fallen in October, thus resulting in soil saturation and a rising water table. The powerful tree pumps have been inactive since the October rains. I’m on my knees examining a white polypore mushroom barely visible in the dark cavity. Nature doesn’t take long to begin the decay process.

November 2020November 2020

 

I later found another wind-toppled red oak, this one a willow oak (Quercus phellos). As I wandered through this forest I marveled at tree height, estimating the dominant main canopy at well in excess of 100 feet. I’ve been flirting with the idea of purchasing a hand-held tree measuring device, yet hesitating because of the minimum $200 price tag. I found something far less expensive, one of the tall timbers lying prostrate, snapped off at its based. Feeling somewhat guilty at celebrating the tree’s fatal fall, I paced its length at just over 120 feet! Applying my superb mathematical prowess I quickly converted length to height by multiplying by 1.000! Although a high water table limits rooting depth, these bottomland soils offer readily available moisture, soil nutrients enriched at least once per year by Flint River overflow, a north Alabama climate with long growing seasons. One hundred twenty feet directly expresses high site quality…a rich site

November 2020November 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sat on the fallen trunk midway between stump and top. These two perspectives tell the tale of this willow oak’s enviable height. Lower left, the view toward its shattered base; lower right its reach to its downed crown. Not magnificent on a coastal redwood scale, but quite remarkable for a 70-90-year-old second growth hardwood forest.

November 2020November 2020

 

I mentioned that October’s rains had elevated the water table, in places to the soil surface. Below left another windthrown oak left a shallow pit already filled with soil water. And, below right standing water covers the entire soil surface at the edge of the preserve’s tupelo swamp. These bottomlands will stand waterlogged until spring foliage reappears to reactivate the miracle of transpiration. Occasionally, Flint River floods will reach 3-4 feet across these bottomlands. Its a land of fluxes… seasonal and over the sweep of years, decades, centuries, and millennia. Were we humans to step from the scene the cycles would continue unabated, oblivious to our departure.

November 2020November 2020

 

I feel fortunate to have explored the deep forest before late fall and winter rains make the stands inaccessible without hip waders. Since mid-November (my final edits December 23), more than five inches of rain has fallen, bringing us, I am certain, to winter water levels. I’ll return in the late spring.

Diverse Habitats

 

Fortunately, while a land of water in many respects, the Sanctuary offers an ecotype mosaic. The Flint River, quick to leap its bank with summer deluge or prolonged winter rains, borders the Sanctuary, providing food and habitat for diverse fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects. Life of all manner abounds.

November 2020

 

A Flint River feeder stream flows under the bridge near the current terminus of the Flint River Greenway. I had recorded a 22-minute video Nature Walk on the Sanctuary the day prior for a nearby assisted living community, thus taking me to the preserve two consecutive days.

Rebecca Vanek, the videographer for Residences at Wellpoint, snapped my photo atop the bridge. I’m a softie for foot (or cycling) bridges amid wildness. Note the concrete and steel structure. Periodic flooding would destroy a wooden structure similarly located — flood waters frequently overtop even the side railings. Feeder channels are by no means fixed. Floodwaters batter banks; channels meander. The oak and sugar maple (below right) are holding on for dear life, anchored only in the sandy natural levee, which in the life of such an active stream is ephemeral. Again, nothing in Nature is static.

November 2020November 2020

 

 

Rebecca captured me (below left), backgrounded by a narrow meadow flanked by woodland. The larger meadows (below right) are interior within the Sanctuary. Numerous game trails (mostly deer) crisscross the openings. Birds flitted among the spent herbaceous vegetation, enjoying cover and fall seeds. Already, lower sections of the meadow evidenced surface water from the October rains. Yes, I am a big fan of closed forests, yet I still cherish the sweeping, extended horizon of openings such as these. I welcome the expanded sky and the opportunity to see soaring birds or crossing deer or gamboling fox, none of which I spotted on this visit.

November 2020November 2020

 

Without myriad ecotones (transition areas between landscape components like field and forest) we would likely not have found walnut (Juglans nigra) and osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and their associated fruit (below). Both species prefer woods edges. Osage orange simply does not thrive in a closed forest. Walnut can compete within the forest, growing best on deep, fertile, well-drained sites.

 

November 2020

 

The Sanctuary is rich with ecotones, lying along the Flint River at the foot of a Cumberland Plateau ridge rising to the west several hundred feet above the river valley. River bottom; bottomland and upland forests; southern Appalachian hillside and plateau top: a broad ecosystem dominated by ecotones shifting across space and time.

November 2020November 2020

 

 

 

 

I am not content in my wildness explorations to witness Nature’s wonders only at the landscape level, although I find reward and satisfaction in doing so. However, my Nature ramblings are complete only when my eye examines and appreciates both the macro and the micro. Wildness, after all, is an aggregate of individual elements: landscape; geography; hydrology; topography; life components; weather; and many others.

Unusual Features of Nature

 

Even as I note wildness macro components, I am alert for unusual features that stimulate my aesthetic curiosity, pique my naturalist interest, and seek explanation for elements like the contorted streamside stump flood debris lying within the bottomland hardwood forest. Recall the oak and sugar maple earlier in this Post holding defiantly to their sandy bank. The image below shows another streamside bank-clinger that lost its struggle with the erosive forces of periodic floods. A prior flood brought this contorted root structure remnant to its temporary resting place on the bottomland forest floor. Like a fish out of water, the debris will ride the torrents again until it finds permanent anchorage in a downstream flotsam tangle, or until decay organisms reduce it to soil along the way. Every element of our forests tells a tale.

November 2020

 

The sycamore below left tells the story of an unfortunate occasion years ago when a flood-borne log slammed and shattered its then smaller base, bending the tree to 45 degrees and deeply scarring its stem. Despite what would seem to have been a mortal consequence, this sycamore survived… hollowed and leaning, yet retaining enough viable crown to nourish a semicircular rind of transporting xylem and phloem sufficient to sustain life. Nature knows disturbance, injury, and insult. The sugar maple (below right) likewise suffered serious injury when it was a mere four-inch diameter sapling, bowing it to near-horizontal. Likely attributable to either a falling tree or large branch, or to water-carried debris, the damaged stem sprouted a vertical shoot about five feet above the ground. The shoot persisted, now occupying a firm place in the intermediate canopy. Sugar maple can survive contentedly for decades without reaching full sunlight in the main canopy, preparing to exploit an opening when disturbance creates a canopy opening. Sugar maple is a patient opportunist.

November 2020November 2020

 

The Sanctuary forest trees provide structure that physically supports several species of grapevine (Vitis sp.). I’ve written often in these posts about these long-lived woody vines growing up (in age and in verticality) with the dominant and co-dominant overstory trees. I’ve also speculated on the role and functionality of air roots (below). I won’t re-cover that topic here. Instead, I will simply share two photos of some of the best air roots I’ve seen. I failed to capture images of several places where air roots had reached the ground and found purchase, where I presume they serve as yet another point for the spreading vine canopy above to secure moisture and nutrients.

November 2020November 2020

 

A pure-white softball-size pompom of lion’s main (Hericium erinaceus) drew our attention near the trail. I pondered how something so soft, white, delicate, and tempting could break down dead wood. I’ve most often found lion’s mane on obviously dead wood. This one is growing on a living tree that must have internal decay.

November 2020November 2020

 

All manner of life occupies our southern forests. A thick moss carpet embraces this large yellow popular (Liriodendron tulipifera). Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum.

November 2020

 

A Rare Find!

As I drafted this text, I received an email from Neal Kelso, a hobby lichenologist (recently relocated to California). Neal had conducted field research on the Sanctuary studying lichens. He reported with his email that the October 29 issue of Opuscula Philolichenum, a journal of the New York Botanical Garden that “is intended to serve as a venue for the publication of small works in the field of lichenology,” published his article, Discovery of the first large population of Phaeophyscia leana in northern Alabama. The article reports his find of a rare lichen on the Sanctuary. Neal observes in the article that “P. leana occurs at the southern end of the Ohio Valley and furthers regional knowledge by documenting that it occurs in at least one larger, more stable subpopulation. The discovery has positive implications for the future of the species in north Alabama and throughout its range.” Life abounds on the Sanctuary. Neal’s discovery supports my view that Nature is remarkably resilient, as evidenced by a rare lichen sporting a large population along the shores of an 80-year-abandoned borrow pit, which I describe in one of my June 2020 Posts.

I will continue to ponder what Neal’s discovery means to our collective mission to promote Earth stewardship.

Here are two of Neal’s photos. One depicts a trunk base with vivid green lichen, the other of the lichen grey-mud-coated trunk from then recent flooding.

Rare Lichen

 

I am eager to seek and find the rare lichen at this special tract that I’m beginning to place among my north Alabama favorite Nature haunts!

Signage at a Special Place

I include these two sign posts only because I remain captivated by their rather primitive, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, design.

November 2020November 2020

 

Borrowing from my June Posts, here’s the cover of Marian’s book and a photo of the west-side entrance sign, with Marian (left) as well as Margaret Anne Schiffman, who donated the Sanctuary property with perpetual conservation easement restrictions to the City of Huntsville. I am grateful to both of these distinguished Earth stewards and dedicated naturalists.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I will return again and again to the Sanctuary. Special places are often within reach of where we live. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are where we take time to seek and explore.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-November return to the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • All manner of life occupies our southern forests
  • We can find whatever we seek when we know where (and how) to look within 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 BooksNovember 2020

 

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

 

 

TVA’s Marbut Bend Nature Preserve

October 26, 2020, I visited TVA’s Marbut Bend Trail, managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with fellow Nature enthusiast, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell. From the Marbut Bend Trail website (https://www.tva.com/environment/recreation/tva-trails/tva-trails-detail-page/marbut-bend-trail):

Looking for a lovely, hand-holding stroll for two? You’ll find it at TVA’s newly opened Marbut Bend Trail. This easy, flat and A.D.A.-accessible 1.1-mile walk will take you across boardwalks through a wetland and a pond created by a beaver dam, along the shoreline of two embayments (or coves) of the Elk River and through an open field filled with hay bails. The combination of wetland and field draws a lively mix of wildlife; expect to see migratory shore birds, wood ducks, blue-winged teals, great blue herons, egrets, deer, raccoons—and, of course, beavers. Throw out a blanket on the farmland and snuggle in for a romantic picnic. The trail is about 12 miles northwest of Athens, Alabama, on Hwy. 99.

I could not have prepared a better description. Located near Elk River’s entry to Wheeler Lake (the Tennessee River impoundment above TVA’s Wheeler Dam), Elk River at this point assumes the same level as the Lake. I spent little time off-trail. I do not intend for this Post to offer deep insight, reflection, and discussion of this very family-friendly slice of the broad Tennessee Valley. I feel more like a Chamber advocate than a naturalist with this Post. However, my motive for presenting this rather Nature-shallow Post aligns with my retirement 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.

Anything I can do (and write) to encourage fellow citizens to immerse themselves in Nature helps achieve that mission. I had not heard of Marbut Bend Trail until Mike suggested we visit. I know that many residents of the Huntsville metropolitan area are also likewise ignorant of this wonderful preserve just 30 miles from city center. Importantly, all Huntsville citizens (USA) hold joint title to Marbut Bend, just as we do for all federal Forests, Parks, Preserves, Memorials, and Monuments.

So, allow me a quick catalog of natural features and landscapes along Marbut Bend Trail. Wet meadows and marshes dominate this view from the entrance.

Elk River

 

Diverse Wetland Habitats

I’m fascinated and inspired by wooden walkways across otherwise inaccessible ecotypes (below left). I snapped the lake image from a wooden deck later along the trail. Not visible in the photo are dozens of great egrets and a single great blue heron. Although a forester, I retain within me a closet meteorologist, obsessed with the firmament. The sky provides nuance and character to every Nature scene and viewscape, even as in and of itself the sky and its associated weather merit study and understanding. Perhaps this cloud deck presaged the October 28 deluge (I measured 3.25″) dumped by the remnants of hurricane Zeta. The lower right image confirms my memory of calmness, with not even a breeze to ripple its mirrored surface.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Excellent signage helps visitors understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature.

Elk River

 

Cattails grow in abundance (below left). Duckweed covered the water adjacent to the boardwalk (below right).

Elk RiverElk River

 

The cattails below left are releasing countless windborne seeds. The woolgrass is providing a feast for marauding birds. A fool for autumn, I cherish the signs, signals, and look of summer (hot, humid, persistent) in full retreat!

Elk River

Elk River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, signage assists the casual observer (and the forest naturalist) in understanding and appreciating Nature’s marsh-side wonder.

Elk River

 

Marbut Bend’s is a story of ecotones, one ecotype transitioning to another, including the forest edge with marsh (below left) and the forest edge to mudflat (below right). Wildlife of all manner capitalize on the panoply of habitats.

Elk RiverElk River

 

From upland forest to marsh to mudflat to open lake — a pure gift to biological diversity, all easily accessible along a well-maintained gravel path and boardwalk trail.

Elk River

 

This set of photos reminds me that there is a world of Nature’s inspiration close to home and within reach of a 1.1-mile easy stroll!

Upland Margins

Too dry for obligate wetland species, the transition zones support trees (shrubs) like black willow (Salix nigra; below left) and climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens; below right). Both species offered late October aesthetic value, the willow with its red twigs and the hempvine still in full flower.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) likewise occupied the transition and upland sites. Various birds will appreciate its contribution of ripe berries.

Elk River

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) verified the advance of autumn, providing a dash of fall color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an aggressive invasive, and hickory (Carya sp.) likewise added seasonal color to the uplands.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Same for pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and basswood (Tilia americana) matching the hickory’s color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

 

 

 

 

I find our common mosses attractive occupants of forest floor, windthrow soil mounds, lower tree trunks, and rocks and outcrops. This patch has colonized and decorated a windthrow soil mound.

Elk River

 

 

I’ll end with a photo of an abrupt transition, where loblolly pine meets marsh. Mike stands in full appreciation of the vivid demarcation.

Elk River

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

A late October 1.1-mile hike at Marbut Bend Trail, a TVA property, afforded:

  • Diverse habitats
  • Rich biodiversity
  • Manifold fall indicators

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 BooksElk River

 

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.

Destination: King’s Chair, Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest State Park at approximately 10,000 acres. I took this entrance sign photo on a prior visit, returning November 11, 2020 to hike the North Trail to Kings Chair, an overlook worthy of the four-mile round trip.

 

North Trailhead to King’s Chair

 

I often hike wildness alone, seldom finding anyone who tolerates my methodical Nature-explorations. I prefer walking IN Nature, generally disdaining trekking THROUGH the forest just to reach an endpoint. For me the journey is the preferred destination. This trip, three like-minded individuals shared the hike with me. Lauren Muncher (center) is Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist. This was her home turf — she knows her Nature-stuff! Mike Ezell (red headband) is Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus. I value Mike’s friendship and consider him my go-to guy for species identification and north Alabama shared hikes. That’s Brent Cotton wearing the hat. Brent is with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Brent had invited me to speak the next day to the Vestavia Hills Sunrise Rotary Club. My topic: Highlighting the Nature of Alabama’s State Parks. I combined the Rotary engagement trip with the Oak Mountain hike.

The morning rain quit just a half-hour before we parked at the trailhead. Note the puddles; the rain did not restart until we were back in our vehicle several hours later. Good fortune, good planning, or, more likely, dumb luck!

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Park trail signage is superb. I had not previously seen the Park System’s new vertical signposts describing surface, steepness, difficulty, typical grade, maximum grade, typical cross slope, tread width, intended use (hike, bike, horse, ORV), and other characterizations.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

We encountered no surprises with respect to trail conditions.

Tropical Storm Zeta’s Signature

 

Retaining tropical storm strength, Zeta raced across central Alabama (bullseye Oak Mountain!) October 28, 2020. I measured ~3.5-inches of rain at my home along the northern tier of Alabama counties, breezy but shy of TS-force winds, and no damage reported. My hiking companions pose below against a greater than two-foot diameter chestnut oak near the ridgeline. We saw hundreds of downed trees, nearly all toppled or broken by winds from the south and southeast. At one point late that late October evening the Birmingham area had a quarter-million customers without power.

Oak Mountain

 

This oak likewise fell uprooted, scarring a Virginia pine trunk 60-feet downwind. The fallen oaks leave large canopy vacancies, a process timeless and ageless. Forests know disturbance… and will respond accordingly. Understory vegetation (woody perennials and seedlings) will exploit the sunlight that next spring will fuel the regrowth. Adjacent main canopy occupants will muscle-up and reach into the opening. Nothing in Nature is static. Tropical systems (and tornadoes) do not destroy forests… instead, they afford opportunities for renewal.

Oak Mountain

 

Sometimes a wind-throw reveals secrets. This nearly three-foot diameter American beech not far from the trailhead shattered at its stump. Behold its woody rind protecting and hiding a perfectly hollow core. Lauren kindly accommodated my request that she add some measure of scale to the cut section! Lauren is planning to have crews transport the six-foot cylinders to the playground. I am in awe that the decay fungus and tree stand-off persisted for many decades, maintaining an equilibrium between decay deterioration and annual wood accretion… until Zeta broke the tie. I have said hundreds of times that every parcel of land and even every tree holds a compelling story within. This single beech tree could fill a volume with its tale. What was the wound many years ago that opened the then young stem to fungal infection? What manner of invertebrate and diverse animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other critters) found refuge and cover within the hollow?

Oak Mountain

 

Like the beech, these two Virginia pines snapped near ground level, the wood literally shattering. I imagined a forest-located microphone anchored as Zeta powered across central Alabama. Wind howling; trees creaking; cannon-fire trunks breaking; branches falling to the ground; trunks thundering, slamming to earth; rain pounding. All sounds terrifying to us that for eons have resounded untold times through whatever forests have come and gone. Forests know disturbance.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Virginia pine holds its cones over many seasons., evident with these two crowns brought to ground level by Zeta. Virginia pine is a pioneer species, colonizing old fields, burned over areas, and large scale blowdowns. The single-tree canopy openings created by Zeta are too small for the pine to replace itself. Hardwoods will prevail, many of them already in-place in the understory, awaiting just such opportunities. We saw lots of dead Virginia pine, mortality occurring prior to Zeta over the preceding ten or more years. I commented during our ascent that the stands dominated by Virginia pine had perhaps originated when previous landowners abandoned poor quality pasture.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could have devoted an entire Post to Zeta and its lessons about disturbance and renewal. Instead, let’s shift to the undamaged forest condition.

Undamaged Forest and the Annual Signature of Autumn

 

I estimated that, as spectacular as the wind damage was, fewer than five of every 100 main canopy occupants suffered. The oak bearing the Shackleford Overlook sign stands tall and secure. Fall yellows dominate the slope and ridge beyond. A tint of orange here and there. We witnessed the peak of central Alabama hardwood forest fall color. I am careful not to gauge my appreciation and marvel-level relative to the unsurpassed (albeit brief) magic of New England’s northern hardwood forest color explosion. I relish the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of our southern forest autumns. My appreciation is strengthened by the knowledge that our long hot summer is behind us. The wind would have had a hard time toppling the lower right chestnut oak securely sheltered by the sandstone boulders around it.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

This stand of oaks is on the lee side of a large outcrop. These individuals, too, enjoyed protection from the south-southeast gale.

Oak Mountain

 

As we crested the ridge beyond the outcrop, we had gained 400-feet elevation from the trailhead to King’s Chair, a plateau rim at about 1,150 feet.

What a View!

 

Our moderate climb proved well worth the effort! Lauren called this first overlook Queen’s Chair, just south of our intended destination. Within just a few minutes from the Birmingham area, wildness stretched into the distance behind our crew. Local newspapers recently reported that some 1,600 adjacent forested acres (much of it included in this view) will be added to the Park. I look forward to exploring new and extended trails.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few minutes later we arrived at King’s Chair. Our view spanned from due south (below left) to ENE (below right). Had the visibility been better, Mt Cheaha, Alabama’s highest point (2,407-feet) would have appeared center-horizon in the second photo.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Lest you doubt whether I summited, see below left, a photo that Mike snapped with my camera. That’s Belcher Lake off-property (below right; lower right side of photo). Beyond the evident cleared right-of-way leading from the lake, we saw light poles of the Chelsea High School athletic fields, and the town water tower (off-photo to the right). Regardless, wildness is the dominant landscape feature. Alabama has 23 million acres of forestland… 70.6 percent of the state’s 31 million acre area. Only Vermont (77.8 percent); West Virginia (79); New Hampshire (84.3); and Maine (89.5) are more heavily forested.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Forests prevail across our state from the Gulf coast to the northern tier of counties. Not a bad place for an old forester to retire!

Some Additional Observations

 

We paused on our return to the trailhead at a colorful sugar maple… mostly because we needed a break!

Oak Mountain

 

I photographed this young longleaf pine that was one of the few individuals we saw indicating that the species could be part of the next forest generation. However, without some intentional silvicultural treatments (prescribed fire among them), longleaf will not persist on this ridge.

Oak Mountain

 

Moss- and lichen-covered rocks add elegance to what would otherwise be unglamorous. The old axiom that Nature abhors a vacuum is evident. Any surface (rock, dead branch, tree trunk) is a home for some life form.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Moss created a work of fine art on this exposed dead tree root.

Oak Mountain

 

And same for the lichen and fungi decorating this dead branch. As I’ve often observed, Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight.

Oak Mountain

 

I relish any chance to enjoy Nature’s manifold gifts, whether here in Alabama or wherever my travels take me.

Final Reflections

 

In retirement, my travels allow tremendous opportunities (and time) for immersing in wildness. I recall prior business trips (to exotic places like Japan and China) that left me hungry and aching for even a few hours to explore and learn Nature, luxuries not afforded by the press then of time and business. Although I ostensibly ventured to the Birmingham area to speak at the November 12 Rotary meeting, my real and pressing business was to experience more of Oak Mountain State Park’s wildness… and to share with the Rotarians my message of informed and responsible Earth stewardship. And to extoll the virtues of our Alabama State Park System. Immediately below is my retirement business attire.

Oak Mountain

 

Occasionally for events like speaking with the Rotarians, I will don a sports coat, but rarely sport a tie. I jumped at the chance to once again share my message. I am grateful that Brent invited me.

 

I remind all readers that my retirement mission is: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. If you read these words, don’t hesitate to call upon me for speaking engagements: steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

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… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

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 BooksOak Mountain

 

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 First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Upland Forest

This is the second of two Posts from my October 14, 2020 hike of the Ridge Loop Trail at Lake Lurleen State Park. The first of the two focused on the mesic lower slope forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/19/a-first-visit-to-alabamas-lake-lurleen-state-park-moist-lower-slope-forest/

I direct this Post to the more xeric upland forest half of the loop.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The upland forest (below) is more open, composed heavily of chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), noticeably shorter than the predominantly yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and red oak on the lower slopes. Convex-shaped upper slopes, especially those facing south and west, simply cannot support dense stands of towering trees. Soils are more shallow, less fertile, and drier. Crown heat often rises above a threshold for stomates to remain open, shutting the photosynthesis operation down often late morning through mid-afternoon. Were I to be reborn as a tree, my preference is to be a red oak on a lower slope cove site, deeply concave, facing to the northeast.

Lake Lurleen

 

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) competes effectively and grows well on the upland sites. Fire-dependent, longleaf-based ecosystems have adapted over the eons to the harsher environment and occasional natural fires that sweep the more xeric uplands. I admire this species that once dominated some 90 million acres here in the southeastern US, and is now relegated to fewer than five million acres. Public land managers are implementing intentional management practices on state and federal lands, and assisting private landowners (individuals and forest industry) to restore the longleaf forests over much of its natural range. Although the species occurs in a wide variety of upland and flatwood sites, it is common on sandy, infertile, well-drained soils, mostly below 660 feet elevation (USDA). I appreciate longleaf pine’s ability to make the best of poor sites, producing straight thick boles on relatively infertile sites. Thick pines needles covered the trail under the longleaf pine canopy, softening our steps and muting our footfalls.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

I include this photo to highlight the very effective signage the Park employs… and to evidence that I made it the the trail’s midway point. Note the open understory, widely-spaced overstory, and patchy sunlight penetrating to the forest floor.

Lake Lurleen

 

We encountered many individuals and a thicket or two of farkleberry (also known as sparkleberry), the only tree-form species of its genus (Vaccinium arboreum). From Texas A&M University online Native Plant Database: Farkleberry is a small, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved tree or large shrub found on acid, sandy, well-drained soils in fields, clearings, open mixed forests, dry hillsides and wet bottomlands in east Texas west to the Bastrop area. It has small, bell-shaped, drooping white or pinkish flowers in loose racemes followed by small, black inedible fruit that matures in the fall. The leathery, glossy green leaves turn rich red in autumn. I have yet to run across farkleberry other than on similarly impoverished sites. Nevertheless, I appreciate its tenacity, its courage in claiming such sites as its preferred domain, and its rugged toughness of stem-wood. No need to attempt walking through a stand of sparkleberry…it does not yield to casual passers-through! 

Lake Lurleen

 

Whether on deep, moist, rich site or shallow upland, forest life and death dance a steady waltz. The pine stem (below) toppled 5-10 years ago, judging from its state of decomposition. The downed trunk supports an algae-green coat. Note once again the sparse forest… and considerable sunlight reaching the forest floor. The stand is sparsely stocked. The site is relatively dry and infertile, yet the algae is indifferent, drawing what it needs to flourish.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nearby I photographed this foot-tall black oak (Quercus velutina), a member of the red oak group. I almost referred to this individual as a seedling. Very likely it is not a seedling in the truest sense of having sprouted from an acorn within the recent 2-5 years. Instead, under a full canopy with limited sunlight infiltration, this individual may have persisted for a decade, perhaps several. Black oak’s successful renewal relies upon such advanced regeneration sinking roots, storing carbohydrates, and awaiting disturbance, which for many of our oaks could even be a fire that would burn the leafy top and reduce overstory density enough to bring sunlight to the forest floor. Robust roots and adventitious buds, just below the soil surface, where it is safe from fire, respond with vigorous new growth.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience. Necessary capabilities are honed through untold generations of adaptation. Resilience requires a manifold toolkit. Quite simply, a species occupying a somewhat xeric, fire prone ridgeline must have exigent measures at-hand to survive and capitalize on periodic fires.

Ghost Pipes

 

The gardeningknowhow.com website offers an easy description for a plant that has fascinated me for at least a half-century: For obvious reasons, Indian pipe is also known as “ghost plant” – or sometimes “corpse plant.” Although there is not an Indian pipe fungus, Indian pipe is a parasitic plant that survives by borrowing nutrients from certain fungi, trees and decaying plant matter. This complicated, mutually beneficial process allows the plant to survive. For as long as I can remember I have known this odd plant as Indian ghost-pipe. Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has no need for true leaves, complete with chlorophyll. It’s small white scales are a residual derivative of its long-ago forbearers that were not parasitic. This was the first time I’ve seen ghost plant in 2020, yet it is widespread enough that I see it frequently every fall across my forest wanderings.

Lake Lurleen

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

We found indisputable evidence that these rocky upland soils are shallow, in this case 12-15-inches deep. This oak toppled downhill. I recall from my doctoral research observations and literature review that most trees (some 90 percent) fall downhill. At least two reasons:

  • The physical strength of the root anchorage on the downhill side is strongest
  • The crown is heavier on the downhill side — the canopy extends further (more branches; more weight) into the down-side canopy opening

Tree-throw is a not so-subtle act of erosion, slowly and inexorably over time, tree by tree, delivering soil in episodic violent crashes from up-slope to down. Imagine a million years of such action…a million Earth-sun circuits is nothing to Nature. Nor are the ancient alpine Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

From this point on I’ve slipped back into the lower slope forest. I’m intrigued by tree form oddities. The hollowed sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) stump is trailside near our end point. That the stump continues to grow callous tissue indicates that its wood yet lives. Its trunk fell many years ago away from the camera. The union with its roots enabled the fallen stem to sprout buds and branches, one of which is now the 14-inch diameter trunk about 15 feet beyond. That tree reaches into the main canopy. Nature is prepared for contingencies. Had the individual not had the ability to respond with dormant buds and send a new shoot vertically its genetic line may have abruptly ended. Instead the 14-inch surviving tree is dropping seeds… and may continue to do so for many decades.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

A two-foot diameter yellow poplar tells a related tale. Early in this poplar’s life another tree crashed down upon it, See the 45-degree orientation of its lower trunk, and the abrupt terminal to the right, where the original stem broke, ending life from that point to whatever stem extended beyond. Damaged but far from destroyed, the poplar devoted its energy and life to a new shoot, now the dominant canopied yellow poplar. Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life.

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ve published enough of these Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts that occasionally I can’t resist the temptation to repeat something. Now I’m committing a very obvious repetition. I’m a sucker for sourwood… to the point that here is a photo I placed in last month’s first Lake Lurleen State Park Post. And here is the verbatim text: Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range. Sourwood is special, perhaps because I’ve always been anything but a free spirit!

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ll drop you back at Lake Lurleen, a place to ponder and reflect. Find a tree upon which to lean. Contemplate what John Muir wrote a century ago about the Nature of our Earth:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

Lake Lurleen

 

Without a doubt, Lake Lurleen State Park offers much that I will yet again explore. So many mysteries and secrets within reach…hidden in plain sight.

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 mid-October circuit of Lake Lurleen State Park’s Ridge Loop Trail revealed two Nature-Truths:

  • Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life
  • Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience

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 BooksLake Lurleen

 

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 First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Moist Lower Slope Forest

I admit to an addiction to Alabama’s 21 State Parks. I added Lake Lurleen State Park to my checked-off list October 15, 2020, hiking the four-mile Ridge Loop Trail with Park Manager Dee White. Encompassing 1,625 acres, the Park is about nine miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, home to the Crimson Tide.

Lake Lurleen

 

The 250-acre man-made lake presents an open invitation upon entry to the Park. From the Lake Lurleen website: The main attraction at the park is the 250-acre Lake Lurleen. The lake measures nearly one and a half miles in length, one-half mile wide, and at its deepest is 48 feet. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie so anglers are sure to reel in a nice-sized catch. Boat-launch areas and ample pier and bank fishing are available.

Lake Lurleen

 

The Park offers 23 miles of maintained multi-use trails winding across forested hillsides and around the lakeshore. That’s Dee below left beside the trail directory signpost, and a map of the trail system below right.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Trails are well-maintained and trail signage excellent, below marking both the Ridge Loop beginning and its end.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

At first blush I questioned the purpose of the two caution signs below. However, as I wondered, a mountain biker slipped past. The signs are for bikers, not this old trail-trekker.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Lower Slope Forest Vegetation

 

I viewed the Loop Trail as a tale of two forest types, each one accounting for roughly half the four-mile distance. We’ll cover the lower slopes with this first Lake Lurleen Blog Post. A subsequent Post will address the drier upland forest type. Mixed oaks and yellow poplar, straight and tall, dominated the moist sheltered hollow we entered at the outset. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) occupied the understory from ground to 12-15-feet, much like rhododendron and laurel grows in dense thickets on similar slope positions in the Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range.

Lake Lurleen

 

Two other understory shrubs appeared within these lower slope forests, neither reaching much beyond six feet: Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata; below left) and Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana; below right). Winterberry holly ranges widely in the eastern US from Florida to Nova Scotia; the buckthorn grows only as far north as Pennsylvania.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) likewise appeared across these more mesic sites, growing into the lower mid-canopy to 15-20 feet. This southeastern US species has the largest simple leaf (and flower) of any native North American tree. A girl scout troop posted hand-printed and painted interpretive signs near the Ridge Loop Trail end, including this one below right. The signs are helpful, accurate, and charming.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The flowering dogwood sign is for the tree just to the right and off-camera except for its base.

Lake Lurleen

 

Only 19 more miles of Lake Lurleen State Park trails to explore on future visits. The four-mile loop trail amounts to an easy stroll, one we could have covered far more rapidly had we chosen to walk through the forest… rather than within the diverse sylvan cover. That’s me below at trail’s end, offering evidence that I visited the Park.

Lake Lurleen

 

As I indicated earlier in this Post, I will develop a second photo-essay chronicling our trek through the more xeric upland portions of the Ridge Loop Trail.

An Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting (reference to the Foundation under the heading below) the next day brought me to Lake Lurleen State Park. Several of us enjoyed a campfire the evening after my Ridge Loop hike. I’ll call this the Nature of friendship and shared service to a good cause.

Lake Lurleen

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

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

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 BooksLake Lurleen

 

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 Few Fungal Highlights from an Early Fall Trek through a River Terrace Forest

As a forestry undergraduate I took courses with titles like Plant Pathology and Eastern US Forest Diseases, studying economically important tree diseases like chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, beech-scale-nectria, white pine blister rust, fusiform rust, and oak wilt. I learned fungi as disease agents and causes of decay and wood deterioration reducing the commercial value of important timber species. I also understood the crucial role fungi played in the great cycle of life… returning dead and dying woody material to the soil. In graduate school I delved more deeply into the positive synergy between tree roots and mycorhizal fungi. Most importantly, I paid little heed to mushrooms common to the forests I roamed as a teenager, or to those I am sure I encountered during my 12 years of forestry practice in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Likewise, I passed through my 35 years at nine universities (seven states) nearly oblivious to the ubiquitous fungi-kingdom inhabitants in natural areas that I explored and wandered.

A Day of Visual Mushroom Bounty

But, in retirement that has changed. If you’ve followed these Posts over the past four years you will have noticed my ever-increasing fascination with fungi and their fruiting bodies. In the old days, my attention focused above-ground from tree trunks to their towering heights. I find myself these days visually scouring the ground for colorful, diverse, odd, and edible mushrooms. When I mention in these Posts that this or that species is edible, I offer a necessary caveat that the reader not take my word for it. The lion’s mane fungi (Hericium erinaceus; below) is one I harvest, prepare, and consume. Its vivid whiteness in our fall and winter woods makes it easy to spot. Its delicate filamentous structure is unique and a sensory delight to hold and examine. I found this specimen on a well-decayed downed tree October 17, 2020 in a bottomland hardwood forest on the eastern end of Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Other names for lion’s mane include: monkey head; bearded hedgehog; pom-pom; bearded tooth.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

The October 17, 2020 trek offered other fungal rewards. This large willow oak (Quercus phellos) looked sound and healthy until I glanced above to about ten feet (below right), where a foot-wide cluster of shaggy bracket fungi (Inonotus hispidus) extended from the trunk. I could just reach it with my fingertip, feeling its soft pliant texture. Many other fresh brackets hung above me to 25 feet. This fungus is a decay organism, feasting upon a living tree. The old Steve-as-timber-beast would have lamented the reduction of commercial value and perhaps marked the stem for harvest. Now I marvel at the simple beauty of this shelf fungus. Its deep color and large dimensions. First-Nature.com remarks, White rot results from attack by the Shaggy Bracket, and infected trees have to be felled because this aggressive decay agent weakens the timber and can result in trunks or branches breaking and falling in stormy weather. Although still living, this oak is doomed. How long will it survive? I certainly cannot hazard a guess. Perhaps last night’s gusty winds have already felled it. Or it may continue to run its annual cycles of bud break and leaf abscission another decade…or three. The circle is in fact unbroken, even if the tree (or, shall I say, especially if and when) the tree crashes to the horizontal. The material of its cells will become soil organic matter, then will find warm absorption in a new plant…or slug or insect or small mammal or a future mighty oak and perhaps once again hang from the side of an oak within the structure of a shaggy bracket fungus.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Another oak, this one dead on its stump, sprouted a colony of (Ganoderma sessile), a polypore fungus. Like all Ganoderma species, G sessile has a shiny lacquered surface, especially when fresh like this grouping.

HGH Road

 

I found its distinctive beauty to0 special to include just a single photo. Enjoy all three, taken within ten feet of each other!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later (November 4, 2020), I retraced my steps (more or less), coming across the same colony of G. sessile. Their lacquered sheen lies hidden beneath a thick dusting of countless spores. Nothing in Nature is static.

HGH Road

 

This is upright coral fungus (Ramaria stricta), common in forests across most of the US, growing on dead wood. Also known as strict-branch coral, this fungus appears throughout our local bottomland hardwood forests.

HGH Road

 

My iNaturalist app did not provide a definitive identity on these two beauties. It offered ten suggestions, most of them of the genus Amanita, which I accept, but not with certainty. The taller specimen stands about six inches. The cap and stalk are firm. The cap is scaly. Those features seem distinctive, yet I could not secure a firm identity.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Two Days Later at Big Cove Creek Greenway

Two days later (October 19) I biked at Big Cove Creek Greenway, City of Huntsville. Here I am standing by a trail-side river birch (Betula nigra) with its exfoliating bark. I append these additional photos because the timing fell so close to my discovering the mushroom menagerie above at the Wheeler Refuge and because of the spectacular display offered by what I found along the greenway. I had grown a beard, confirming my old man of the woods look, and verifying the image of a mushroom geezer! The beard is no longer with me (I exfoliated it!), so I felt compelled to include bearded-Steve in one of these Posts.

Big Cove Creek

 

Here is the spectacular display — these eastern American jack-o’-lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens) visually shouted at me as I passed them. I couldn’t resist gathering images. What better time to find these jack-o’-lanterns than the Halloween season!

Big Cove Creek

 

My growing interest in fungi and mushrooms enriches my forest wanderings. I’ve discovered that the more I know, the harder I look, and the more I see. What in prior years had been invisible to me is now in plain sight. And what is in plain sight generates deep feelings of respect, admiration, learning, and inspiration.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-October fungi explorations through an aging hardwood bottomland forest:

  • Nature’s gifts come in all sizes and variations, from a towering oak to the mushrooms of its decay fungi
  • We can find whatever we seek when we know where to look within 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 BooksHGH 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.

A Suburban Trail within Sight of an Interstate Highway North of Pittsburgh, PA

Wildness is wherever you seek it, whether deep in the Appalachian forests… or hidden in plain sight within a suburban park.

Steve Jones

 

September 24, 2020, I hiked Brush Creek Trail in southern Butler County Pennsylvania, 20-miles north of Pittsburgh and within two miles of our son’s home in Cranberry Township. The linear Graham Park lies south and west of (and alongside) Interstate 76, paralleling Brush Creek. I walked the trail while our three grandkids were in school. Early fall had already arrived… a good month in advance of its onset here in northern Alabama. I wanted to chronicle the seasonal state of flowers, trees, and vegetation generally for this Blog Post… and expose the wildness that lies hidden within plain sight, even in the kind of suburban park found in most communities.

Brush Creek Trail in Butler County Pennsylvania

 

Graham is a classic suburban park, furnishing all manner of recreation fields, playgrounds, fitness stations, nature trails, and interpretive signage. The sound of semis on I-76 hummed without ebb. I attempted to tune it out so I could focus on the wildness we otherwise might not notice with the din of traffic, a distraction from Nature too often matched by our own digital devices. Far too many of us are awash in a sea of “other.”

I am nearly certain that few visitors realize that the greenway travels along a sewer line. The Brush Creek water treatment plant lies at the trail’s northern terminus. The plant treats 3.2 million gallons of wastewater daily. My favorite local greenways here in northern Alabama are likewise sewer line utility rights of way. What a great way to make silk out of a sow’s ear!

I will maintain a pretty good Post-pace reporting on key elements and core reflections with this photo-essay. I’ll begin by saying trail signage is excellent — I offer my compliments and appreciation to those responsible.

Graham Park

 

A gorgeous late-summer/early-fall day.  Comfy temps and crystal blue sky. Open fields flanked by the paved trail and riparian forest. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. I will stay true to that old maxim, limiting my words to what I feel are necessary.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Aesthetic wooden fencing at culvert crossings, the trail bordered by lush early fall wildflowers.

Graham Park

 

Urban park wildness comes in many forms, including this meadow under a power transmission line. The trick to full appreciation is to focus on the meadow…avoiding the view above. Remind yourself that without the power line, this 200-foot right-of-way might be populated with houses, streets, driveways, and mowed grass. Instead, we have a vibrant meadow habitat as home to diverse vegetation, small mammals, deer, countless songbirds, pollinators, and other insects essential to the meadow ecosystem. Don’t forget the birds of prey and foxes drawn by the small mammals!

Graham Park

 

I often make the point that wildness is so often hidden in plain sight. Such is the case along Brush Creek Greenway. Each section below reveals the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature available within reach along a busy Interstate, under transmission line towers, and above a major sewer line.

Ponds, Creek, and Wetlands

 

Admittedly, I did not seek to understand the Brush Creek watershed. The area had not measured significant rains since earlier in the month. The ground seemed parched and the creek flow, I assumed, carried minimum flow, typical of late summer and early fall. Despite the low volume, I spotted small fish everywhere I encountered a pool. I flushed a great blue heron from bankside at a point close to the trail. At other locations I found beaver chews near the trail. Urban streams with riparian buffers attract all manner of wildlife.

Graham Park

Graham Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a one-tenth-acre marshy area between the trail and the athletic fields beyond. The cattails evidence that efforts to sustain natural habitat within acres of mowed grass are paying dividends.

Graham Park

 

The creek bed ranges from natural (below left) to channeled with a trailside boulder bulkhead, which based upon my observations was the exception rather than the rule.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Because aquatic features dominate the Nature of Graham Park, managers offer interpretive signage to assure that park users have an opportunity to understand the natural ecosystem.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again, all of this wildness…this sprawling and inviting classroom…all within sight and earshot of a busy Interstate highway just 20 miles from a major American city.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Birds love this land of edges, marshes, meadows, streams, ponds, brushland, and riparian forest. Bluebird houses line the greenway.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Truth is, I could have developed several Posts from my stroll along Brush Creek. I chose instead to stay broad and shallow…an eclectic slice across Nature’s suburban park panoply…a cornucopia of early fall delights. John Muir’s infinite storm of beauty.

Trees

 

I love the diverse ecosystem patchwork; but I am in love with forests, and the trees that compose them. As with other ecosystem elements, even though I want to delve deeply, I will not show favor by deepening the text in this section.

Graham Park

 

That’s a black cherry (Prunus serotina) below left. My doctoral research field studies focused on the Allegheny Hardwood forests, with cherry as the dominant species, just 100 miles north of Brush Creek. Black cherry is present in our north Alabama forests, but does not reach the more impressive dimensions that it does here in west central Pennsylvania. It reigns supreme on northward into the northwestern Pennsylvania Allegheny Plateau. That’s honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) below right, replete with its complex, multiply-forked thorns.

Graham Park

 

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides; below left) and shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria; below right) stood between the creek and trail.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Likewise for black walnut (Juglans nigra; below left) and American basswood (Tilia americana; below right). Black walnut is a furniture standard, highly valued for centuries. Basswood offers neither the hardness (durability) or rich character pattern so cherished in walnut. The species often displays stump-cluster form.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I catalogued two species of dogwood: grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa; below left) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida; below right). Grey dogwood boasts white fruit; flowering dogwood berries are red.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Note the pubescent (fuzzy) stem of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina; below left) and hawthorn (Crataegus sp; below right).  Although I am including these woody plants under the tree heading, I likely just insulted the cherry, walnut, oak, and cottonwood main canopy residents and forest dominants by daring to class these understory species as “trees”!

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again I note that I am simply providing a cross-sectional sampling of Nature on a single day in late-summer/early-fall. By no means am I offering an exhaustive inventory.

Flowers

 

The sign says, “There are a variety of flowers that can be seen along this trail…” Wow, what an understatement! There I was at just a brief snapshot of time along a 365-day continuing cycle. What could an informed regional botanist catalog over an entire year of hikes, venturing from streambank to meadow interior to full forested shade? I’m confident in guessing several hundred. Start with wetland skunk cabbage flowering in snow or under thin ice and extend beyond to the scores of flowers I spotted as the season reached past the autumnal equinox.

Graham Park

 

I give you just seven of the showstoppers, beginning with swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum; below left. And smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve; below right).

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

‘Tis the season for asters. I particularly liked the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae) with its brilliant color, making a defiant statement as the first freeze lies just weeks (perhaps days) ahead.

Graham Park

 

Wild carrot (Daucus carota; below left) offered its delicate lacy bouquet to my steadying hand. Naturalized from California to the eastern US, this species is native to Europe and Asia. Meadow evening primrose (Oenothera pilosella; below right) greeted me with its bright yellow sunshine, another fitting fare-thee-well to summer.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

 

 

 

 

And what could make a stronger statement than New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis; below left)! Common from Florida into Canada, ironweed is yet another member of the aster family. Fall phlox (Phlox paniculata; below right) presented its closing argument, without the strength and volume of its ubiquitous April cousin, woodland phlox or sweet William.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I have long been a champion of spring wildflowers, leaving summer bloomers to admirers who enjoy the summer heat more than I. However, retirement has opened my eyes and forced my ventures into Nature irrespective of seasonal bias. I admit to a long-held leaning toward the spring ephemerals, those hardy woodland flowers that brave the often cold shoulder season to capitalize on the brief period of full forest floor sunlight before forest canopy leaf-out. I am delighting now in all seasons, deepening and widening my field of appreciation. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe know no limits.

Seasons

 

The best season, I’ve come to understand is whatever time I happen to venture forth. Any time I visit our son is an ideal time to discover what marvels Nature has to offer. The interpretive sign says it clearly, “There are many beautiful parts of each season to enjoy here.”

Graham Park

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, flowers are reproductive organs, ensuring species and ecosystem sustainability. From my earliest days, I’ve been a big fan of cattails (Typha latifolia; below left) with its corndog seed-head. Nearby I found the seed-head of Scirpus, a club-rush/bulrush, completing its annual cycle.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Right up there on my lifetime appreciation list are seedpods of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca; below left). To this day I cannot resist, with or without a grandchild present, releasing the fairies into the breeze, dispersing the brown seeds to the four corners.

Graham ParkSeptember 2020

 

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) also ranks high. I admire its massive size — each year growing to 6-9 feet of red-stemmed elegance, with rich green leaves capturing sunlight and root-storing carbohydrates and energy to begin the cycle ground-up next spring. And there’s magic in those inky red berries hung with care for birds of many species for winter sustenance. If you are a mammalian species reading this, ignore the edible comment — pokeberries are quite toxic for humans and our fur-bearing kin.

Graham Park

 

However, we have edible alternatives to pokeberry. Black walnut (we saw the tree earlier) is a staple in our American diet. They come nicely packaged in grocery stores (the same species as this wild walnut) for those of us not inclined to collect the fruit, dry it, husk it, then crack the nut to pick the meat. Squirrels consider the harvesting, preparation, storing, and consumption well worth the effort!

Graham Park

 

I’ll close with a flowering dogwood leaf in early fall splendor, its chlorophyll exiting the summer leaf across all but the vein margins, symbolizing the continuing seasonal flow. The color pattern is a literal and metaphorical expression of this stage in an annual cycle that is persistent, reliable, and exquisitely effective.

Graham Park

 

As I’ve noted time and again, wildness is where we seek it, whether in an urban park along a Pittsburgh-area Interstate highway or or a hundred miles north in the Tionesta Research Natural Area, a preserved remnant virgin beech-hemlock climax forest. Nature tells compelling tales wherever you encounter it.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early fall exploration of a suburban park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

  • Nature’s seasonal patterns are persistent, predictable, and exquisitely effective
  • Any walk in wildness offers gifts across the seasons for those willing to look, see, understand, and appreciate
  • John Muir — “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”

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 BooksGraham Park

 

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.