Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway

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

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

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

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

Big Cove Creek Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

Water Features

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

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

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

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

 

Hays Nature Preserve

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Life Along The Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

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

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

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

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

Fresh and pure.

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

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

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

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

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

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

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

Fall Flowers

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

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections and Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 16, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.
The Original Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post
I wrote this essay in June 2018, holding it until now, awaiting the right moment to publish as a Great Blue Heron Blog Post. I’m still not certain what might define the right moment. This Post is far more reflective and philosophical than others more immediate have been. It does not pertain to any particular venture I’ve made into a wild place. I don’t chronicle the emergence of a new burst of wildflowers. I’m not reporting on a first visit to one of the State Parks remaining on my three-year check-off quest. I simply reflect upon the essence of my own relationship with Nature. Allow me to excerpt from these June musings:
I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity.
So, I’ve chosen to offer these early summer thoughts at a time when the pace of my Natural ramblings (and yours, too, I suppose) have slowed with the season.
Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature (June 2018)
I belong to an interesting and provocative group that discusses (mostly by email) the integration of Nature, philosophy, religion, ethics, and Earth stewardship. The group believes that our endeavors and deliberations are best guided by the wisdom found in such human traditions as science, art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
I love an Albert Einstein quote from the group’s homepage: In every true searcher of Nature 
there is a kind of religious reverence. I’ve felt that same reverence since I first fell in love with wildness as an adolescent… a sense of passion and addiction that deepens daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Make no mistake, my relationship to Nature is both spiritual (lower case ‘s’) and Spiritual — its depth and intensity rise within me to religious.
Scholarly and Philosophical Exchanges — At A Depth Barely Within My Intellectual Reach
I’ve quietly read and appreciated exchanges over the past several months since joining the group. I’m impressed with the depth of thinking and scholarship… to the point of reluctance to weigh into discussions that are clearly beyond my scholarly ken. I am a forester (BS 1973) who later returned for a PhD in applied ecology (1987). Although spending 30+ years since in higher education, I consider myself a practicing naturalist — boots on the ground, and over time evolving to embrace what I’ll call spiritual ecology.

I like the flow of a series of recent posts, encouraging members to list and categorize practices they employ individually to further the concept and discipline of spiritual ecology. However, these deep and rather esoteric exchanges serve to remind me palpably that my own related practice is soil-rooted. I offer a participant’s late May category-structure immediately below (italics); taken directly and in-full from that person’s shared communication:

Physical/psychological

  • A daily ritual consisting of an amalgam of yoga, QiGong, and aikido
  • A weekly QiGong class
Psychological/spiritual
  • A daily meditation sitting (reflecting the influence of an eclectic group of Buddhist teachers)
  • Occasional Buddhist meditation retreat (usually at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies)
  • Focusing exchanges with several partners (a practice based on the work of Eugene Gendlin)
  • Occasional reflective journal writing
Intellectual/spiritual
  • Periodically following/occasionally contributing to [exchanges among this group]
  • Frequent listening to the weekly “On Being” interviews conducted by Krista Tippett
  • Frequent reading of novels (e.g., Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers)
  • Sporadic reading of emerging findings from physics (e.g., the work of Carlo Forelli)
  • Occasional reading of Buddhist writings (e.g., Stephen Batchelor, “After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age”)
  • Occasional reading of poetry (e.g, “Beannacht by John O’Donohue)
Spiritual
  • Occasional ritual of viewing visual images on the web that inspire wonder (e.g., Steve Axford’s photographs of fungi,  Camille Seaman’s’ photographs of “supercell” storms, or images of galaxies or other cosmic formations
  • Occasional reading of a daily prayer at Prayer Wheel
  • Occasional reading of Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
  • Very occasional ingestion of the (illegal) psychedelic drug psilocybin (which happens to be the subject of a new book by food-writer Michael Pollan
Political
  • Leadership of [a State] chapter of Elders Climate Action and participation in the national leadership team of that group
  • Participation in The Environmental Voter Project

Please don’t misinterpret; I am not making light of such an approach. I admire the intellectual sobriety, the metaphysical rapture, and the intense pursuit of spiritual ecology. I have chosen a different path. Or might I say an alternative path has chosen me.

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

Allow me to illustrate my woods and Nature orientation using my own examples from earlier in June:

Physical/psychological

  • A nineteen-mile greenway bicycle ride this morning (see photo; relax — no snakes and only rabbits, squirrels, and birds!)
  • Daily spinning bike when I can’t venture outside
  • Resistance routine at the gym 2-3 mornings per week
  • Lots of yard and garden engagement

Psychological/spiritual
  • Connecting spiritually along the trail this morning — nothing beats the elixir of breeze, birdsong, stream gurgle, and deep shade
  • Walking in the neighborhood at dawn this morning — watching distant lightning far to the WSW
  • After daybreak observing the mammatus clouds (under-lit by sunrise glow) from the storm’s anvil streaming toward us, even as the cell lost steam and energy, fully decayed before reaching us

Intellectual/spiritual
  • Posting weekly (plus or minus) essays to my website (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) — core theme: Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading
  • I posted the most recent essay this past Tuesday (May 29), offering reflections on a rehabilitated surface mine I visited in Ohio two weeks prior (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/29/idyllic-pastoral-earth-stewardship-surprise-exemplar/e )
  • Just yesterday I completed my next-to-last chapter of a book I am co-authoring with a Puget Sound-based colleague. The chapter: Nature’s Islands — Physical and Metaphorical. I’ve discovered in my semi-retirement that thinking requires far less energy and stamina than writing. I do not think to write; I write to think.
  • I read and re-read (frequently Aldo Leopold, Leonardo da Vinci, and Robert Macfarlane (among others)) to inform and lift my writing
Spiritual
  • Weekly hikes with area retired professionals — I took the photo Friday of the 30-inch diameter shagbark hickory between thunderstorms. What could be more spiritual than this magnificent organism standing tall in a second-growth forest?
  • This morning along the greenway I found a so-termed lesser denizen — a plate-size mushroom. Certainly not lesser spiritually (see photo)
  • I tend to discover the spiritual in Nature whenever I look for it. Friday’s active atmosphere rich with moisture and instability served up the visual gift of a roll cloud created by down-drafts from a mature cell (see photo)
 
Political
  • I avoid political engagement. Instead, I volunteer teach for a local university and a lifelong learning center — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I urge participants to make informed decisions whether at the ballot box or the grocery store. I do not tell them what is right.
I cannot match the intellectual and scholarly bent of my spiritualism in Nature colleagues. Perhaps my more pedestrian reflections offer a counter-point of value. Again, I am a foot-soldier for the cause of applying Nature’s Power, Wisdom, and Spirit to Life and Living.
 Reflections
I recognized long ago that I am at root a practicing forester who stumbled into higher education administration. Nature is simple, direct, and compelling. I speak Nature’s language best when immersed in full Nature-contact with my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.
Certainly, I benefit from reading the group’s rather esoteric exchanges. Yet I revel in Nature’s fundamental essence. I prefer taking my medicine straight. I know what makes my heart race… what prompts an involuntary sharp inhalation… what generates deep gratitude for life and living… what inspires me daily to be functional long before daybreak.
Again, I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity. Nearly 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed:

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.

I find satisfaction, reward, fulfillment, and inspiration in Nature. I seek to learn her lessons applicable to Life and Living, for in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous. I am a practitioner of Spiritual Ecology. I am not a Spiritual Ecology academic.
I urge my readers to lace up your boots; open your eyes and hearts; visit some level of nearby wildness; taste the sweet elixir of Nature’s Power and Wisdom! Do your part to change some small corner of this Earth for the better… through knowledge, wisdom, and hard work.
May Nature inspire all that you do.

 

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

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

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

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Spiritualism in Nature essay I penned in June. My August 28, 2018 photo captures a Natural Cathedral forest within Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park — the spirit (and Spirit) lies within. I felt the magic and joy… and sensed the complementary forces of humility and inspiration. Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred the spirit within me. First, DeSoto:

And Joe Wheeler:

And Lake Guntersville:

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe express the spirit and stir the passion that lies within us.

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

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.

 

 

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature

I wrote this essay in June 2018, holding it until now, awaiting the right moment to publish as a Great Blue Heron Blog Post. I’m still not certain what might define the right moment. This Post is far more reflective and philosophical than others more immediate have been. It does not pertain to any particular venture I’ve made into a wild place. I don’t chronicle the emergence of a new burst of wildflowers. I simply reflect upon the essence of my own relationship with Nature. Allow me to excerpt from these June musings:
I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity.
So, I’ve chosen to offer these early summer thoughts at a time when the pace of my Natural ramblings (and yours, too, I suppose) have slowed with the season.
Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature (June 2018)
I belong to an interesting and provocative group that discusses (mostly by email) the integration of Nature, philosophy, religion, ethics, and Earth stewardship. The group believes that our endeavors and deliberations are best guided by the wisdom found in such human traditions as science, art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
I love an Albert Einstein quote from the group’s homepage: In every true searcher of Nature 
there is a kind of religious reverence. I’ve felt that same reverence since I first fell in love with wildness as an adolescent… a sense of passion and addiction that deepens daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Make no mistake, my relationship to Nature is both spiritual (lower case ‘s’) and Spiritual — its depth and intensity rise within me to religious.
Scholarly and Philosophical Exchanges — At A Depth Barely Within My Intellectual Reach
I’ve quietly read and appreciated exchanges over the past several months since joining the group. I’m impressed with the depth of thinking and scholarship… to the point of reluctance to weigh into discussions that are clearly beyond my scholarly ken. I am a forester (BS 1973) who later returned for a PhD in applied ecology (1987). Although spending 30+ years since in higher education, I consider myself a practicing naturalist — boots on the ground, and over time evolving to embrace what I’ll call spiritual ecology.

I like the flow of a series of recent posts, encouraging members to list and categorize practices they employ individually to further the concept and discipline of spiritual ecology. However, these deep and rather esoteric exchanges serve to remind me palpably that my own related practice is soil-rooted. I offer a participant’s late May category-structure immediately below (italics); taken directly and in-full from that person’s shared communication:

Physical/psychological

  • A daily ritual consisting of an amalgam of yoga, QiGong, and aikido
  • A weekly QiGong class
Psychological/spiritual
  • A daily meditation sitting (reflecting the influence of an eclectic group of Buddhist teachers)
  • Occasional Buddhist meditation retreat (usually at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies)
  • Focusing exchanges with several partners (a practice based on the work of Eugene Gendlin)
  • Occasional reflective journal writing
Intellectual/spiritual
  • Periodically following/occasionally contributing to [exchanges among this group]
  • Frequent listening to the weekly “On Being” interviews conducted by Krista Tippett
  • Frequent reading of novels (e.g., Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers)
  • Sporadic reading of emerging findings from physics (e.g., the work of Carlo Forelli)
  • Occasional reading of Buddhist writings (e.g., Stephen Batchelor, “After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age”)
  • Occasional reading of poetry (e.g, “Beannacht by John O’Donohue)
Spiritual
  • Occasional ritual of viewing visual images on the web that inspire wonder (e.g., Steve Axford’s photographs of fungi,  Camille Seaman’s’ photographs of “supercell” storms, or images of galaxies or other cosmic formations
  • Occasional reading of a daily prayer at Prayer Wheel
  • Occasional reading of Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
  • Very occasional ingestion of the (illegal) psychedelic drug psilocybin (which happens to be the subject of a new book by food-writer Michael Pollan
Political
  • Leadership of [a State] chapter of Elders Climate Action and participation in the national leadership team of that group
  • Participation in The Environmental Voter Project

Please don’t misinterpret; I am not making light of such an approach. I admire the intellectual sobriety, the metaphysical rapture, and the intense pursuit of spiritual ecology. I have chosen a different path. Or might I say an alternative path has chosen me.

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

Allow me to illustrate my woods and Nature orientation using my own examples from earlier in June:

Physical/psychological

  • A nineteen-mile greenway bicycle ride this morning (see photo; relax — no snakes and only rabbits, squirrels, and birds!)
  • Daily spinning bike when I can’t venture outside
  • Resistance routine at the gym 2-3 mornings per week
  • Lots of yard and garden engagement

Psychological/spiritual
  • Connecting spiritually along the trail this morning — nothing beats the elixir of breeze, birdsong, stream gurgle, and deep shade
  • Walking in the neighborhood at dawn this morning — watching distant lightning far to the WSW
  • After daybreak observing the mammatus clouds (under-lit by sunrise glow) from the storm’s anvil streaming toward us, even as the cell lost steam and energy, fully decayed before reaching us

Intellectual/spiritual
  • Posting weekly (plus or minus) essays to my website (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) — core theme: Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading
  • I posted the most recent essay this past Tuesday (May 29), offering reflections on a rehabilitated surface mine I visited in Ohio two weeks prior (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/29/idyllic-pastoral-earth-stewardship-surprise-exemplar/e )
  • Just yesterday I completed my next-to-last chapter of a book I am co-authoring with a Puget Sound-based colleague. The chapter: Nature’s Islands — Physical and Metaphorical. I’ve discovered in my semi-retirement that thinking requires far less energy and stamina than writing. I do not think to write; I write to think.
  • I read and re-read (frequently Aldo Leopold, Leonardo da Vinci, and Robert Macfarlane (among others)) to inform and lift my writing
Spiritual
  • Weekly hikes with area retired professionals — I took the photo Friday of the 30-inch diameter shagbark hickory between thunderstorms. What could be more spiritual than this magnificent organism standing tall in a second-growth forest?
  • This morning along the greenway I found a so-termed lesser denizen — a plate-size mushroom. Certainly not lesser spiritually (see photo)
  • I tend to discover the spiritual in Nature whenever I look for it. Friday’s active atmosphere rich with moisture and instability served up the visual gift of a roll cloud created by down-drafts from a mature cell (see photo)
 
Political
  • I avoid political engagement. Instead, I volunteer teach for a local university and a lifelong learning center — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I urge participants to make informed decisions whether at the ballot box or the grocery store. I do not tell them what is right.
I cannot match the intellectual and scholarly bent of my spiritualism in Nature colleagues. Perhaps my more pedestrian reflections offer a counter-point of value. Again, I am a foot-soldier for the cause of applying Nature’s Power, Wisdom, and Spirit to Life and Living.
 Reflections
I recognized long ago that I am at root a practicing forester who stumbled into higher education administration. Nature is simple, direct, and compelling. I speak Nature’s language best when immersed in full Nature-contact with my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.
Certainly, I benefit from reading the group’s rather esoteric exchanges. Yet I revel in Nature’s fundamental essence. I prefer taking my medicine straight. I know what makes my heart race… what prompts an involuntary sharp inhalation… what generates deep gratitude for life and living… what inspires me daily to be functional long before daybreak.
Again, I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity. Nearly 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed:

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.

I find satisfaction, reward, fulfillment, and inspiration in Nature. I seek to learn her lessons applicable to Life and Living, for in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous. I am a practitioner of Spiritual Ecology. I am not a Spiritual Ecology academic.
I urge my readers to lace up your boots; open your eyes and hearts; visit some level of nearby wildness; taste the sweet elixir of Nature’s Power and Wisdom! Do your part to change some small corner of this Earth for the better… through knowledge, wisdom, and hard work.
May Nature inspire all that you do.

 

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

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

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

 

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Spiritualism in Nature essay I penned in June. My August 28, 2018 photo captures a Natural Cathedral forest within Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park — the spirit (and Spirit) lies within. I felt the magic and joy… and sensed the complementary forces of humility and inspiration.

And even more recently, this October 2, 2018 sunset photo connects to my very heart, soul, and spirit!

A Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama

Our daughter invited us to a social affair in Gadsden Saturday evening September 22. Because it’s a two-hour drive, we spent the night, reserving Sunday morning for getting a taste of Gadsden area Nature. We walked at dawn along the Coosa River’s upper end of Lake Neely Henry, some 90 miles from Chattanooga and nearly 60 miles from Birmingham. The Coosa’s headwaters tap far southeastern Tennessee and the northwest corner of Georgia. The Coosa begins at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia. It joins the Tallapoosa River just south of Wetumpka, Alabama above Montgomery to form the Alabama River, then merges with the Tombigbee to create the Mobile River as they empty into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Coosa reaches some 280 miles from Rome, Georgia to the Wetumpka area. The total distance from headwaters to the Gulf is 808 miles (Mobile River, 45; Alabama River, 319; Coosa River, 280; Etowah River, 164).

Imagine how many wonderful dawns and sunrises greeted other observers along those 800+ miles that mid-September morning. Lower left and lower right, respectively, look upstream and down from a fishing pier near our accommodations from our west-bank vantage point.

A tighter view southward captures the shore-side mats of vegetation, harboring all manner of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other critters. Again, imagine the menagerie of life finding shelter and food along those 1,600 (two shores) miles!

A perfect walking trail extended south along the shore. A departing fishing boat brought corduroy reflections of the brightening eastern sky. The view is a little south of due east.

A bit further along the trail I was too slow with my camera to catch the stilt-legged great blue heron fishing at the end of this storm-water drain-way. The bird had just lifted when I snapped the shutter. The view is directly east. I thrill at every great blue heron, especially one backlit by the dawn of yet another incredible late-summer day. I know, I’ve seen far better photographs, yet being the one who pressed the shutter, I recall the magic of the moment every time I peek at the magnificent bird’s first-light flight. I accept this encounter as the gift that it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve recounted many times the story behind my considering the great blue heron as my deceased Dad’s avatar. In form of a great blue, Dad wished me farewell on a bitter cold mid-February sunrise in the central Appalachians… the day of his memorial service. Still today, when a great blue makes an appearance, I consider it a visit from Dad. It is he who planted the lifelong seeds of my Nature passion and deep appreciation.

The trail also passed through a fertile floodplain forest of mixed hardwood and loblolly pine. The trees expressed the rich site via their height. Height of dominant and co-dominant trees at a selected base age is a common forestry metric for gauging inherent site quality. We used height at base age 25 years to register site quality in the forests of central and south-central Alabama when I managed forestland for Union Camp Corporation back in the early 1980s. For the 100,000 acres we owned north of Montgomery site quality averaged 60-65 feet at age 25. For the 220,000 acres below Montgomery, site quality averaged 80-85 feet. Those are some of the South’s most productive pine forestlands. Sure, southern bottomland along the Mississippi River, for example, is more productive, yet generally those bottomland sites do not support pine forests. Here’s Judy, my early morning (and lifetime) companion, along the trail in the Coosa mixed pine and hardwood stand.

After a leisurely breakfast, we toured our daughter, her two sons, and son-in-law along the same river-side trail. We all enjoyed our Coosa River explorations.

Noccalula Falls

We departed our hotel and headed to Noccalula Falls Park. I had no idea what to expect.

From Wikipedia: Noccalula Falls Park is a 250-acre public park located in Gadsden, Alabama, United States. The main feature of the park is a 90-foot waterfall with a trail winding through Black Creek Gorge at its base past caves, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, pioneer homestead, and Civil War carvings.

We purchased tickets (senior discount — one of the advantages of getting older!) and posed with the boys at an autumn-decorated display tree.

We spent a couple hours exploring the Park via a ride on the narrow-gauge railroad and walking within the petting zoo, viewing various other wild animals on display, strolling through an evolving botanical gardens and pioneer village, and stopping at the falls overlook. Because the this late September day presented near record heat, we elected to save the Gorge trail for another day. I relented reluctantly, knowing that I was foregoing the kind of photos I normally take to populate these Blog Posts and stimulate reflections on Nature.

Another factor contributed to my willfully postponing a hike into the Gorge. The brochure photo below right shows the Falls in full glory with the stream at bank-full. Below left is the photo I snapped during our visit — a mere trickle! A persistent Bermuda high had limited August rainfall to below average, and essentially blocked significant precipitation during the first three weeks of September. I want my drop into the Gorge to pay dividends in form of visual, tactile, and auditory rewards. So, another day, perhaps mid-winter once the rains return, when we venture back to Noccalula Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Ruminations

Philosophical Musings on Wonder, Awe, and Magic — I have seldom witnessed a new day dawning that did not serve to inspire and humble. That morning along the Coosa was no exception. The simple power and beauty of night retreating to make way for a rising sun. I puzzled over what I had just witnessed: darkness racing westward, leaving a photon-vacuum in its wake… or light rushing in from the east. I recall the sage who explained that there is no such thing as darkness, which instead is only the absence of light. The same person observed that cold is merely the absence of heat. And hate simply the void left when there is no love. I presume that the great blue heron had not pondered these things. He (the pronoun I employ for all great blues given the aforementioned avatar explanation) simply felt hunger… the absence of breakfast in his belly. Hew noticed only that darkness had retreated sufficiently for shore-side fishing.

I absorbed the dawn colors and warm glow of promise for a fresh day’s start. I mused about how many dawns would greet the raindrops that fell at the Etowah’s headwaters before they detect a hint of salt at the foot of Mobile Bay. I suppose that time means nothing to raindrops and rivers. I recall the lyrics in Jimmy Webb’s Highwayman (performed by Johnny Cash and others):

“I fly a starship
Across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again”
I wondered, too, about the scale of watersheds, that is, contrasting the trickle at Noccalula Falls to the apparent full pool at Lake Neely Henry. The Falls quite clearly manifests the August through mid-September local rainfall deficit. The Coosa at Gadsden reflects a much larger drainage basin, far longer time period, and several hundred miles of flow. Local deviation from average precipitation means little to the larger Coosa. Ample August rains in northwest Georgia could have compensated for the local shortfall. I see the same relative implications and consequence for our lives. Day to day the local impacts us. Only over the longer haul do the ebbs and flow equalize and attenuate. The river that is our own life eventually completes its journey to the sea, whatever its length and character happen to be. Droughts and deluges may alter the flow, yet the journey is defined and shaped by aggregate influences. Our charge is to optimize, to the extent we can, our individual wanderings and the flow of those who share the life journey with us, even if only fellow travelers who are with us for just some stretch of the way.
Nature instructs that whether we are the Coosa or the creek at Noccalula Falls, we have a journey and destination. Unlike the drop of rain, driven and directed only by chemistry and physics, we have dimensions that give us will, passion, purpose, and alternatives. Ours is a higher cause, if only because we can choose. The raindrop falling on a northwest Georgia hill top has no way to choose. What I want us to do is understand the magic, wonder, beauty, and awe of Nature and appreciate that we share an obligation to steward this Earth sustainably.
Applicable Lessons
I distilled ten lessons from my first book and thirteen from my second. One lessons emerges from both books and is drawn from all my writings about Nature:
From Nature Based Leadership — Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
From Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading — Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises.

We have this one chance to get it right. If we don’t, the Coosa will continue to make its way to the Gulf of Mexico again, and again, and again, and again, and again… absent human appreciation for daily dawnings along its beautiful shoreline. A river doesn’t care who stands at its banks — never has and never will.

 

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

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

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

 

Cloud-Inspiration

I admit to having a life-time addiction to weather, manifest in part by a deep fascination with clouds. I offer with reflection and interpretation a series of photos I’ve taken from my patio December 2017 through September 2018. Before I depart with you for this backyard cloud tour, allow me an excerpt from Nature Based Leadership, my first book (available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership):

My elderly mother tells me that her older sister, Geraldine, tried to frighten the toddler me of thunderstorms. Perhaps she feared them herself. Although I do not remember at all, Mom says Geraldine would exclaim with a sense of alarm, “Dark clouds, rain hard, Stevie; time to hide.” Nor do I recall ever being frightened by lightning, thunder, ominous clouds, wind, or any other manifestation of nature’s more threatening moods. Instead, Aunt Geraldine may have unintentionally ignited my lifelong love affair with weather, even adverse conditions.

I have a vague recollection (from sixty years ago) of sitting in my high chair, watching the sliver of sky that I could see through the kitchen window, rapidly (dizzyingly) transition from blue to very dark as clouds raced across. Even then, I puzzled over what I had seen. Nothing else emerges from the memory. Did a storm follow, or did the blue return? Perhaps Mom placed food in front of me, and the window view—with its curiously rapid cloud covering—slipped into a lower priority. Regardless, the memory is clear. I still puzzle over how nearly-instantaneously the clouds advanced. Given how much more deeply I now understand weather, I suppose that the visual memory is flawed or far too blurry to interpret. I observed and interpreted then through the visual and intellectual lenses of a three-year-old, and through those same lenses, stored the memory. How closely does what I recall seeing six decades later match the actual image visible through the parted curtain? The image I carry now is remarkable, like nothing I have seen since. I close my eyes, and the memory is vivid and real, yet it makes no sense through the perception of a sixty-five-year-old weather fanatic. What we see depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation. And time adjusts the memory of what we see.

Docile Beauty

The seeds sown early in my youth, the plant grew strong, and has to a large degree shaped my life and profession. I am a scholar and student of Nature. Clouds and weather stand as a central element of what I’ll characterize as a calling and a hobby. Some close to me have classed my obsession as spiritual, a religious attachment. Fitting then that my first photo is a cross framed by the chapel that is my patio roof!

A winter cold front soaked us all day before departing to the south and east as the sun dipped below the western horizon. The visuals could not have been more striking and inspirational. Think about the metaphorical implications of magical light and reawakening after the storm. With only a little imagination I see distant mountains in the field of view (both photos). I’m transported back to my Central Appalachian roots. Those mountains are remnants of the sinking storm cloud banks modified by the special light. I’m sure you’ve gazed at the warm flickering glow of a campfire or fireplace. I find similar solace, tranquility, and therapy in cloud-watching. Nature serves as my elixir.

The above images evoke  winter’s harshness — a feeling of a cold approaching darkness. The sunset (below left) photo seems warm and docile, yet it occurred on December 26, 2017, within a week of the photos above. I can’t recall the temperature conditions of either sunset. The images carry the warmth and chill, regardless of reality. The December 28, 2017 sunrise (below right) likewise feels warm. Was it? Here at this latitude late December can range from highs of 20s to 60s. Does it matter to our appreciation of the image?

Here’s a soft August dawn. August in northern Alabama — we don’t need to wonder whether this warm image matches reality. We know that we are likely no cooler than the upper 60s.

And from my patio October 2, 2018 — this time, a gentle sunset. Nature’s beauty and magic stay within reach. Seek the moments; grasp them; feel the inspiration; taste the humility of knowing our place in the world.

Gentle Precipitation to Impending Violence

And now to what I view as an unusual dawn, this one from early September 2018. My wife and I had just completed our 30-minute pre-dawn walk in the neighborhood. So quiet this time of year. Only an occasional protesting killdeer sounds alarms if we draw too close. At one point we felt a fine mist hitting our faces, lasting less than a minute. Only after we returned to our house, poured a cup of coffee, and found our way to the patio did we see the cause of our brief misting. As the east brightened, we saw this lovely virga under lit by the breaking first light. From my online dictionary, virga is “a mass of streaks of rain appearing to hang under a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground.” Funny that I’ve know this term since undergraduate meteorology, yet few people know the term or can identify those tell-tale streaks that I see often… no matter where we’ve lived. I had never before, however, witnessed such an early morning display. The eastern-sky glowing to reveal the virga served up a visual treat — an uncommon spectacle. I accepted this gift with full appreciation. I feel sorry for the poor souls among us who in sequence:

  1. Never beat dawn to their patios
  2. Seldom venture onto their patios even after the sun has made its full set of morning greetings
  3. Wouldn’t know virga if it came with sub-titles
  4. Seldom look, see, or feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe

Virga normally signals tame weather. Air dry enough that falling rain (or snow) evaporates before hitting the ground. Sure, we felt a brief mist from the few tiny droplets completing their fall to ground level. There is nothing calm, tranquil, and docile in the following photos. I’ve presented the first two could photos in a previous Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/01/late-june-derecho-natures-fury/ This derecho roared in from the north back in June. The clouds are angry, turbulent, and speeding southward at a furious clip. Strong winds and heavy rain soon followed the screeching passage of this tortured shelf cloud bottom.

Tumultuous yet profoundly inspirational. Had I been on foot in open country (not in my backyard) this storm would have reached pleasurable terror level. This magnificent beast reached deeply into my head and chest. Its visage struck me as beautifully sinister. I was not frightened intellectually, yet its approach and passage struck a raw chord… a nerve taunt with some hard-wired message that raised the hair on the back of my neck. The wind and deepening thunder added to the near-harrowing and instinctive response I could not completely jettison.

Here are another two cloud photographs from a prior Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/24/a-reverse-rainbow/ Again, see the Post for a full explanation and more photographs. What’s so special about this storm? Simply that most rainbows in my experience follow a storm or shower, as the cell move away from the sun that is breaking through the now clearing sky. This storm advance from the east with evening skies still clear to the west. The rainbow, in this case, is preceding the storm!

 

 

 

 

 

And lastly among these storm clouds, this shower held a special charm. An August afternoon generated a few widely scattered showers. I watched a single cumulus begin reaching vertically just south of us. It dropped a cylindrical rain shaft no more than a quarter-mile wide. It rained itself out within ten minutes as it drifted slowly to the east.

Clear Sky Danger — Judging a Book by its Cover

I snapped all the photos above from my backyard over the eight-month window beginning end of December 2017. The two photos below are from February 2015. Will Broussard, Education Director at the Mount Washington Observatory, back-framed me with New Hampshire’s White Mountains on an afternoon after weather halted our morning Mount Washington summit attempt at ~5,300 feet. The spin-drift streaming from the mountain’s 6,288-foot summit adds an element of beauty, yet the casual observer sees nothing of the fury the photo signals. Think of the clear-sky as a book cover… a cover that reveals little of the tale’s violent content. I relate that day’s adventure in the Mount Washington Summit Attempt essay in Nature Based Leadership. We aborted the venture when ten-foot drifts, 80-mile per hour winds, and a persistent ground blizzard placed us at great risk. Our snow-cat transport could go no further. Conditions were bad enough at this mile-high point. Staff at the summit Observatory reported winds above 100-mph and the actual temperature at negative ten F. Wind chill at the summit — absolutely deadly!

Here we are at Five-Mile Flat, just beyond where we turned the snow-cat. Ryan Knapp, one of the Observatory’s meteorologists,  took this second shot. He was unable to report for his week-long shift; the meteorologist whom he was to relieve would spend at least another day on top. So much in Nature is hidden within plain sight. Ryan’s photo could be interpreted as six folks in arctic gear calmly walking a trail. To those of us who experienced those conditions, we know that during this 200-foot venture beyond the snow cat, several of us were thrown to the ground by powerful gusts. We covered every inch of exposed flesh when we walked back into the violence. In those few minutes, the wind filled and obliterated our out-bound footsteps. The mountain can be lethal, boasting the world’s most extreme weather. An outdoor novice would not have guessed at the ferocity we encountered from the brilliant blue sky and gentle spin drift we saw from the base. An experienced observer and student of the mountain would have known. From the moment we climbed into the snow cat that morning, we knew we could very well be thwarted.

I have distilled thirteen distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, my second book. Among those thirteen, these six hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Nature can serve as an essential life focus.
  2. Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey.
  3. Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion.
  4. Enter your zone of courage; abandon your zone of comfort; Nature can show the way.
  5. Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within.
  6. Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathon Swift

“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”

Marcel Proust

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

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

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

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

 

 

Sunshine Magic

August 29, Judy and I walked pre-dawn in our neighborhood. Why so early? We prefer 71 degrees over the upper 80s and lower 90s that the sun will deliver by mid-morning. We always head to the patio after our morning wanderings. Nothing beats watching and hearing dawn swell and seeing sunrise. We witnessed a special treat.

Sunshine Magic

The photo view is to the west. Notice three prominent features. The one-day-beyond-full moon in the upper left. The Earth’s shadow clearly retreating several degrees above the horizon. And the magnificent rays appearing to radiate from that same horizon. Not so. These are anticrepuscular rays, converging at the antisolar point 180 degrees opposite from the rising, but still below-the-horizon sun in the east. Crepuscular rays are simply the sunbeams we see emanating from the horizon at dawn and sunrise, or shining through breaks in the clouds any time of day. The solar point (the origin) is the sun. The antisolar point at any time of day is easy to spot. It’s always in the center of the shadow of your head. In the photos above and below, the sun is still below the horizon… thus no shadow of your head!

Below are crepuscular rays, beaming from the below-the-horizon morning sun over the Student Center last summer at Fairmont State University.

Isn’t it striking that both crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays appear identical? That is, with one exception. The rising sun rays photo does not include Earth’s retreating shadow on the horizon. All sun rays play visual games. The crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays neither diverge or converge. They are parallel, simply appearing to be otherwise based upon our respective distance from them. We are much nearer those passing overhead and can actually discern their broad parallel bands. And like standing on two distinctly parallel railroad tracks, they fade to a vanishing point at distance in either direction (either the solar or antisolar point).

Mid-September I asked 4.5-year-old-grandson Sam to kneel at the center of an incomplete fairy ring (see the semi-circle of white mushrooms). Little did I know that I was capturing the antisolar point just inside the magical fairy ring! Take a moment to search the internet for fairy ring images — some wonderful examples will pop-up.

Much in Nature inspires awe and seems magical and wondrous. However, so many of our historical figures of special intellect are taken more by what they don’t know or can’t imagine than by the depth of their knowledge and understanding. I recently found this Sir Isaac Newton image and quote — the “great ocean of truth” surely does “lay all undiscovered” before us!

Funny thing that the older I get… the less perfect and complete my knowledge of Nature, the focus of my undergraduate and doctoral degrees, and of my life’s pursuit and passion. Consider the irony. I recognize more and more how less and less I know of what is knowable. Each day I’m reminded of the great ocean of truth that lay all undiscovered before me. And that is not all bad. The generated strong sense of humility does inspire me to learn more; to look deeper; to question with greater intensity; to appreciate all that I do see and know; to reach beyond my grasp.

Mixed Messages

I now seek nuance, correspondence, and lessons in that ocean around me. I search for serious revelation, even as I look for the lighter side. For example, many of us have beseeched from time to time when we face dilemmas, “Lord, please give me a sign. Show me the way.” The signs are there before our eyes. A person seeking such guidance can interpret the sky-message below as a cross bestowing blessings on a decision… or as an ‘X’ signaling, “No, don’t do it!”

I recount in the final chapter of Nature Based Leadership (my first book; available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership) such competing meanings that I drew from an appearance by a peregrine falcon on a seventeenth-floor hotel window ledge in January 2016, as I awaited a job interview. The omen I discovered could be interpreted as liberally as the cross or ‘X’ above! The job did not pan out, yet I found unlimited satisfaction in ruminating on the message and thoroughly enjoying the up close and personal falcon visit.

I accidentally captured the sun-streaks creating a sacred aura for the bench and rock ledge below on March 15, 2018. Here is a relevant GBH Blog Post from that visit to Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/03/20/cane-creek-canyon-preserve/

“Once Faye had left us, I rode in the back of the ATV, snapping an occasional photo between jostles and bounces. This photo revealed what I did not see. I simply intended to capture the nice bench placed at a ledge overhang along the trail. Instead, the sun’s rays gave this image a sacred appearance, leading me to dub this as The Altar. The entire Preserve expressed an ethereal character. I felt the spiritual in multiple places that day. Too, I sensed in Jim and Faye a connection to the land of a sacred nature. They do obviously love the land and draw as much from it as they give to it. I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s remark about caring for the land: We can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in. I feel certain that Jim and Faye are guided by understanding and love for the Preserve, which is itself in whole an altar of sorts.”

The mixed message? A spiritual sign… or, bad photography! I’ll accept it as Divine Providence, yet I recognize unintentional good fortune from photographic practice ineptitude when I see it! In any case, I’m grateful for the result.

The Play of Light

Twilight at 32,000 feet northbound from a port-side window seat makes for great light play. Six and one-half miles below us darkness with emerging stars prevails. Likewise, at this altitude the dark sky above signs a final farewell to the sun’s closing sliver of day. This was mid-February somewhere over Missouri. The ground-level temperature would have been mid-twenties. Outside the window this thin air would have been some 80 degrees less hospitable.

Weather performs light-play as well. From my back patio late December 2017. A long day of cold-frontal rain came to a clearing-sky close. The front sagging beyond us to the east and south, its trailing stratus already dark beneath the sun’s last reach still kissing cirrus far above. I could not resist capturing the drama and beauty. I admit that I felt a bit of remorse that here in the south such systems do not leave a foot of fresh powder to reflect and enhance the light-play. However, I did not fell compelled to shovel 1.35 inches of rain!

Shortly after my heart pumps its last beat, I expect my ashes to be spread on Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virinia’s Highland. Yes, I know that it’s illegal. But what do I care — try cuffing a tin of ashes! I revisited this spiritual place early September 2017 during my Fairmont State University tenure. Here at ~4,000-feet, the low broken clouds raced across the plateau. Sunbeams splayed this holy place. I felt renewal, peace, and acceptance. I take comfort knowing that one day my earthly remains will cycle through the magic of this special place.

Here is one of the stock images from my Great Blue Heron website. I think of it as a portal to eternity. I imagine strolling such a pathway on my final trek. I want to do my own small part to ensure that such pathways remain for my grandchildren and theirs… thousands of generations removed. The light-play along this tree-lined portal is both literal and metaphorical. The sun’s light… and, the light of wisdom, knowledge, responsibility, and stewardship action. We must keep the light of tomorrow burning intensely.

Perhaps nothing is more heavenly than a vertical view into this cypress forest canopy. Every stem reaching skyward, branches up-stretched. Again, metaphorically, I think of us as Earth residents and stewards reaching beyond our frail planet to secure a future that we are collectively placing at peril. Like the cypress, we must reach high to secure our future footing. aside from its symbology, the photo expresses so eloquently the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of a northern Alabama Cypress swamp on a late winter afternoon.

Reflections and Ruminations

I have distilled ten distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature Based Leadership, my first book. Among those ten, these five hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
  2. We operate most effectively and live with greater reward when we accept that we are part of something larger and more permanent.
  3. Nature demonstrate that nothing is without meaning and purpose; if only we operated in similar fashion.
  4. We can all change a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.
  5. Learn from Nature each day… and apply her lessons time and time again.

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

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

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

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

Pennsylvania’s McConnell’s Mill State Park

I am a two-year permanent transplant to Alabama. A semi-retired forester, applied ecologist, and former four-time university president, I am ever-more impressed with our Alabama State Parks. Count me among the many champions of our Alabama State Park System. Although this post draws from visiting a State Park, this one is in Pennsylvania.

We visited McConnell’s Mill State Park mid-August. It’s about an hour north of Pittsburgh, and 30 minutes north of where our son and his family reside. Our three Pennsylvania grand kids enjoyed the hike. From the Park’s website: “McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, encompasses 2,546 acres of the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, which is a National Natural Landmark. Created by the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago, the gorge has steep sides while the valley floor is littered with huge boulders. Scenic overlooks and waterfalls are popular natural attractions.” Located about 700 miles north of our local north-Alabama State Parks, the McConnell’s forest is clearly different. More hemlock and lots of black and yellow birch.

I had previously been to McConnell’s Mill, but this time I viewed it through my Alabama transplant lens. I drew a sigh of relief to see that our Alabama Parks do not fall short in any manner or comparative dimension. Is McConnell a treasure? Most assuredly, yes, yet so are our 22 Alabama gems! McConnell has no lodge nor marina, nor an interpretive center. In that regard, I swelled with Alabama State Parks pride. I will continue to visit our Alabama State Parks and as I do chronicle my observations and impressions through these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts. More (and more and more) to come!

Rocks and Origins

Yet I found the look and feel very similar. The amazing hemlock perched atop the exposed rock (lower left) is not unlike what I have encountered in our uplifted and eroded Cumberland Plateau. Precipitation in McConnell’s part of Pennsylvania is about 45 inches annually. That’s ten inches less than northern Alabama, yet the evapotranspiration difference probably equalizes the precipitation advantage we hold. The effective available soil moisture differs little. Winters are certainly more severe than Alabama’s. Exposed ledges (lower right) could be many places right here in Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park.

Finding refuge (and cooler air) among the ledges and boulders is an easy task, just as it can be here in the south. Note: I’m the old guy on the left!

I’m convinced that kids everywhere like these outdoor adventures. As the photo (lower right) attests, so do kids of all ages — that’s the old guy again!

Mallory couldn’t resist taking the high road.

Rock ledges (whether in PA or AL) allow for strange bedfellows. That’s a hemlock and yellow birch linking arms. And like here, fern also tops the rock. Moss and lichen find traction on rock surfaces both horizontal and vertical, as well as on the birch itself. Remember the old saw: Nature abhors a vacuum. The greater wisdom is that life-vacuums do not exist in Nature — at least not in these moist temperate climes.

Non-Flowering Plants

This canyon is one extended terrarium. Life is robust and ubiquitous. Christmas fern (left) and hay-scented (I believe) share custody of the rock with rich moss and some flowering plants.

Anywhere my eye gazes presents natural works of art. As I’ve said many times, Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie within reach, hidden in plain view. Hidden that is, to those who fail to look, much less see. And I guarantee, for those willing to look and see, the aesthetic and spiritual rewards are many.

I could have filled a gallery with masterpieces. The kids loved touching… an act permitted in this living museum. Touching… not plucking. A fact and rule the grands embraced and accepted with understanding and appreciation.

I particularly admired the mossy rock bordered on one side by a small yellow birch (below left). And who could not but be inspired by the moss living harmoniously with the tri-leaf wood sorrel and the tiny hemlock seedling (below right)! That’s my trekking pole to provide some sense of scale to the image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or the side-by-side moss-lichen community (lower left) and the moss-lichen-fern triad (lower right)?

Or these two dense lichen colonies adorning rock surfaces. I am smitten by the dendritic lichen (lower right). I know the trees; these non-flowering plants stymie me beyond their broad identity as one or another of the main groups.

The Trees

Yellow birch extends into northern Georgia. The species does not appear on the list of Alabama tree species. Therefore, what is a dominant species at McConnell is absent here in the south-land. Yellow birch is the most commercially valuable of the birch species. From a USDA online publication: “The wood of yellow birch is heavy, strong, close- grained, even-textured, and shows a wide color variation, from reddish brown to creamy white. It is used for furniture, cabinetry, charcoal, pulp, interior finish, veneer, tool handles, boxes, wooden-ware, and interior doors.” And I just love its textured yellowish barks!

We do have hemlock here in northern Alabama. This individual at McConnell’s, like some I’ve seen right here at home, finds anchorage and sustenance while clinging to a rock ledge! Admire its tenacity and its algae-coated stem.

We do have northern red oak here locally, along with southern red oak. This is northern; its southern cousin does not cross the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. This individual qualifies as a Mighty Oak — at least two-foot DBH (diameter breast height), 40-50 feet to the first branch, and nearly 100 feet tall. A grand specimen.

Here’s a 30-inch diameter yellow poplar, another majestic specimen. The species is common from the Gulf into New York. We have some spectacular copses and individuals across our Alabama Park system.

Here’s the same tree flanked by another yellow poplar perhaps 12-15 inches in diameter. An offspring? Perhaps. I present this photograph as evidence of the density of tree stems and the deep shade beyond these two. The story of this stand, however, is that when McConnell’s mill operated from 1852-1928, this forest likely saw clearcutting at least once for its original timber and then again for fuel-wood. The Mighty Oak and the 30-inch poplar are most certainly second-growth.

Forests are not static, just like all natural systems (human social and economic systems as well). The photo below enlarges the prior image to highlight the dead black birch (note the fungal fruiting bodies) between and beyond the poplars. My general rule of thumb is that these natural forests lose on average two percent of stocking (stems per acre is the usual metric) every year. This is natural stand development. Some trees grow and flourish at the expense of others. Sounds just like business or athletics.

Overview

Nature never fails to both inspire and humble. Time on our human scale means nothing to a sandstone gorge. We can only appreciate the beauty and feel the inspiration. Whether at Monte Sano or McConnell’s Mill, separated by 700 miles, Nature is elixir extraordinaire!

We also visited Cleland Overlook,all but near McConnell’s and providing a view of the Slippery Rock Creek gorge, completing the circuit from creek bottom, through the canyon, and then looking over the terrain. I’ve said before about other attraction, not Grand Canyon scale, yet still inspiring and worth the visit. Unless we set our sights so high that we’ll be satisfied or touched by all but the grandest, Nature offers more than we need no matter where we live. Our only requirement for fulfillment and appreciation of Nature is to open our eyes, look deeply, see what lies hidden with reach, and feel Nature’s passion and harness her wisdom and power.

Reflections and Lessons

If you read last week’s Rainbow Mountain Blog Post (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/09/04/rainbow-mountain-hike/) about taking our Alabama grand kids to a nearby nature trail, you will recognize that I am offering very similar reflections and lessons from visiting this wonderful Pennsylvania State Park.

I want to spread the gospel of Nature-Inspired Learning. What better way than through the next generation. I believe some of my Nature’s inoculum may have found purchase. I’m hoping that awareness, appreciation, understanding, and accepting our obligation to care and steward will infect and inspire these three future Pennsylvania citizens. I will continue to expose them. Likewise, I will persevere in reaching listeners, readers, and potential believers of all ages.

Allow me to repeat three Take Home Messages: first, Nature and Wildness are where you choose to find them! I’ll add to that this call to action. When you can introduce youngsters to Nature, I urge you to choose to find it near where they live… and take them into local wildness. Help them taste of Nature’s elixir. Help them catch the bug (both literally and metaphorically)!

My second Take Home Message: Learn from the mosses and lichens. Understand that life finds a way of flourishing even when conditions seems harsh and uninviting. Know where and under what circumstances you flourish. Anticipate and prepare for adversity and episodic times of constraint and limitation. Adapt to the latter and always be prepared to reignite when the rough spells pass.

Third, and my most urgent Take Home Message: Enjoy and cherish the Nature and wildness within reach.

 

 

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

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

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

 

Find an Alabama State Park near you — visit and enjoy!

See my Lake Guntersville State Park Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/08/08/lake-guntersville-state-park/

Rainbow Mountain Hike

So Much to See in Our Almost Backyard: Rainbow Mountain Trail

Take Home Lesson: Nature and Wildness are where you choose to find them!

Mountain is a relative term. From my online dictionary: a large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill. Rainbow Mountain is a little more than three miles (as the crow flies) from Big Blue Lake, where we reside here in northern Alabama. Our water surface is at ~750 feet; Rainbow Mountain is 1,145 feet above sea level. A mountain? I defer to locals who anointed this limestone prominence its moniker long ago.

Even when we lived in Alaska, Ohio, New Hampshire, and West Virginia (yes, we’ve lived in multiple states since 2008, when now nearly eleven-year-old Jack came into the world), I would take Jack (baby carrier and eventually under his own power) to this Madison County park. Judy and I took Jack and four-year-old Sam to Rainbow Mountain August 3, 2018.

We and they enjoyed escaping into the high country. Okay, I’m being facetious. Recall that we could see 20,310-foot Mount Denali (North America’s highest) from our Fairbanks, Alaska campus — we know mountains and high country! I admit, however, that I do appreciate even a summit just 400-feet above the valley floor. I felt elevated… physically and spiritually.

Jack is beginning to understand Nature, plants, and the greater outdoors; Sam liked the rocks, trees, and ledges. We all enjoyed being together beyond our normal environment. As I make clear in these Blog Posts, I have a deep relationship with wildness, whether remote wilderness or a nearby County preserve like Rainbow. The County does a good job with trail maintenance and signage:

Rocks and Geology

Balance Rock is a nice summit feature. Jack reminds me every time we go that the rock is not “balanced,” but is connected in a way that will keep it upright for the foreseeable future. I am not so sure that a group of mischievous ne’er-do-wells won’t one day do their best (worst) to topple the formation.

Sam has a penchant for looking away from the camera lens — witness above and below. The boys and we noticed that even though we could hear the sounds of traffic and residents below us, it was distant enough that we felt isolated from it. We focused on birds, the breeze in the tree-tops, and rustling sounds from the forest floor nearby. The boys paid attention and showed some disappointment when they spotted litter and tree and rock graffiti. They know proper outdoor protocol. It’s so easy (and important) to act responsibly.

Insects

We all thrilled at this Luna moth (Actias luna), which we spotted near the trail-head. It’s hard not to marvel at such a beautiful creature… one with a science-fiction-level life cycle!

Summer Blooms

They all know that I will stop to examine wildflowers, including this Pale-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis). I am a committed spring wildflower enthusiast, just beginning to pay more attention to the summer bloomers. I love the frilled petal ends of the Leafcup.

I failed to take a clear photo of this Slender Dayflower (Commelina erecta), a welcome deep blue.

Non-flowering Plants

Seldom do I encounter mosses without appreciating the deep woods canvas of diverse greens and textures. Three-dimensional art composed exquisitely without the hand of man. Nature has been creating living masterpieces here on Earth for some 3.5 billion years! Her hand is steady and practiced; her composition is purpose-driven. She bases her designs on complex living communities.

Whether mosses on a forest floor or Resurrection Fern and algae on a chestnut oak, her work is functional. Beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are secondary. Function drives the composition. Her creations ebb and flow. This summer our mosses are well hydrated, still rich in color and fullness even as summer fades soon into early fall. The resurrection ferns below stand turgid and flush, responding to rain within the prior 72 hours. It can go dry, shriveled, and brown quickly — entering protective dormancy on its harsh trunk-side anchorage between renewing showers. The plant knows how to deal with adversity and flourish from periodic plenty. Not a bad lesson to learn from Nature: surviving through adversity… thriving opportunistically when the tide turns to favorable.

An Unfamiliar Woody Plant

I had not remembered Tree Sparkleberry or Tree Farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) from my previous work in the south, yet its distribution extends across most of the southeast from coastal Virginia through east-Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. It’s the only member of the Vaccinium genus (includes blueberries) to reach tree size. All others are shrubs and dwarf shrubs. I love its bronze, shredding bark (lower left) and leathery leaves (lower right), reminding me somewhat of mountain laurel in form, site-preference, and shade tolerance.

I managed to pose Jack and Sam (looking away from the camera!) in a rock passageway framed in the foreground by some farkleberry stems. Don’t you just love its whimsical name — farkleberry!

Reflections and Lessons

I want to spread the gospel of Nature-Inspired Learning. What better way than through the next generation. I believe some of my Nature’s inoculum may have found purchase. I’m hoping that awareness, appreciation, understanding, and accepting our obligation to care and steward will infect and inspire these future citizens. I will continue to expose them. Likewise, I will persevere in reaching listeners, readers, and potential believers of all ages.

Allow me to repeat my opening Take Home Message: Nature and Wildness are where you choose to find them! I’ll add to that this call to action. When you can introduce youngsters to Nature, I urge you to choose to find it near where they live… and take them into local wildness. Help them taste of Nature’s elixir. Help them catch the bug (both literally and metaphorically)!

Another Take Home Message: Learn from the resurrection fern. Understand your life and enterprise environmental norms and extremes. Know where and under what circumstances you flourish. Anticipate and prepare for adversity and episodic times of constraint and limitation. Adapt to the latter and always be prepared to reignite when the rough spells pass.

My most urgent message: Enjoy and cherish the Nature and wildness within reach.

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Biking Local Greenways — An Eclectic Nature View at 14 MPH

Mid-Summer Floral Offerings

I limit most of my wildflower botanizing to our local spring ephemerals, setting the forest floor ablaze (early March through the beginning of May) with life and color before canopy leaf-out casts deep shade below. Cooler spring temperatures make woods-walks much more pleasant than during summer.

I’ve brought my bicycle out of dormancy… now that I once more live near several paved greenways. My morning jaunts (a couple days per week on average) totaled ~250 miles in July. I find it difficult to carefully and effectively inventory the floral inhabitants along the trail at 14-or-so miles per hour, especially those that reside beyond the right-of-way edge into the forest. I paid more attention on two rides during the first week of August. Because I had begun to extend my rides from 20 to as may as 40 miles (multiple laps), I decided to give greater notice to special features and plants in flower during an intentionally slower final loop, a cool-down during which I actually stop when I spot something to examine and photograph.

Here’s woodland spider lilly (Hymenocallis occidentalis), a real beauty. Petal-end to petal-end some flowers are four inches in diameter. I don’t recall seeing this species before this year. I place it into my spectacular range. I’ve actually observed two other parties stopping to admire various individuals and clusters along the trail. I am always pleased to see fellow recreationists paying attention to Nature’s gifts.

 

I’ve found Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) everywhere we’ve lived except Alaska. It grows to 6-9-feet and it frequents rights-of-way, field edges, and fence lines.

Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) is another common summer bloomer along woods edges and as a home-site ornamental.

Wild Potato Vine (Ipomoea pandurata) presents a flower three-inches across. I noted it simply as white morning glory (same species), but Jack Carmen’s Wild Flowers Tennessee set me straight once I did a little work at home. I did notice a blue morning glory (Ivy-Leaf?; I. hederacea) on one of my passes that I could not find again on the final photo-loop.

 

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) also brightens the edges. I appreciate its blossom and its finely compound and delicate foliage.

Jewelweed or Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis) has such an oxymoronic name — both weed and jewel! We do some odd things with common names. I learned sumac as a youngster by the unflattering moniker of stink-weed tree.

 

Purple Passionflower or Maypops (Passiflora incarnata) is one that merits close examination. The lower left close-up does it justice. Its photo is indeed worth a thousand words.

I’m adding another beauty August 25. This morning, sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) graced the trail-side. To every thing there is a season; and a time to every purpose under heaven. ‘Tis the season for one of Nature’s most splendid gifts.

Other Offerings

I love the sign at the trail’s southern terminus. The wild animals I encountered on my first few rides included rabbits, squirrels, deer, chipmunks, turtles, and multiple bird species. Technically they qualify as wild animals, yet not worthy of a “beware.”

Over subsequent rides I have stopped three times to make sure my friends, the Gray Rat-Snake, completed the trail crossing. I feared that some other person would not appreciate this reptile at the level of my joy in seeing this magnificent predator. Twice I saw this one (I’m assuming a single individual) at about the same point. I made my third observation about a mile to the north.

I found pleasure and satisfaction in seeing this family enjoy the snake as it worked its way into the trail-side vegetation.

I admit ignorance of local fungi. This saucer-size mushroom impressed me. It’s a gill fungus. In retrospect, I should have taken some close-up shots, top and bottom.

I did snap some up-close photos of this compelling hackberry tree. Deep corky ridges with moss, algae, and lichen adornment. The lower right frame includes two dead poison ivy vines with numerous hair-like clinging roots.

This hackberry supports a living poison ivy vine, which was kind enough to offer a leaf cluster and developing fruit at eye level. Perhaps the trail-head sign should have said “Beware Of Snakes, Wild Animals, and Poison Ivy!”

Both local greenways run along urban streams. Here’s a downstream view from one of the bridges. What a blessing it’s been to have a summer of abundant rainfall. I’m finishing this Post August 25; I’ve measured nearly 45″ of rain year-to-date. Greenway vegetation remains at May-green intensity. Very pleasant for late August, when some summers begin to dry and brown.

 

Reflections and Lessons

I’ve just returned from a road trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania, covering about 1,400 miles, mostly on Interstates with 70 MPH speed limits. I know that I see a lot more in way of trees, landscapes, and even some flowering plants than most people of lesser Nature interest and experience can even imagine. Yet I hunger for immersion when I race past something that catches my eye. I can say that most people cruising along have no idea what they are missing. Sadly, I know what I’m missing, and that adds an element of regret. However, I console myself by knowing that the destination will provide time for closer looks and exploration.

So, what conclusions might I draw from cycling local greenways? I’ve developed thirteen lessons from my Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Here are some I think are applicable:

One: Nature can serve as an essential life focus — I forget about woes and problems when pedaling along the trail

Three: Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you — so much is within reach, even at 14 MPH

Five: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey — hallelujah to what cruises along on either side!

Eight: Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion — perhaps a longer, more demanding ride tests my limits to a greater extent, yet even these 1-2-hour jaunts generate great blood flow and mental reward

Nine: Nothing stands apart from Nature — the trail evidences that we urban residents can quickly find Natural escape

Ten: Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises — how can trail users not feel at least some connection and obligation!

Eleven: Use whatever bully pulpit you have to change some small corner of the Earth for the better — several times I’ve engaged conversationally with other trail users when I noticed their interest in a flower or other feature. Without fail, the persons were interested in learning more. I am grateful for the chance to speak from the pulpit!

Thirteen: Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within — I think about those who simply drive past the southern trail-head along Palmer Road and glance northward. What a shame that they sense no hint of the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that lie hidden along that narrow wildland corridor

Each way-station along my life’s journey furnished Nature of some sort and scale nearby. Each such offering stood within arm’s length… or certainly within a few miles ride. Whether a backyard stroll into the forest at our New Hampshire home, a hike from our Alaska residence into some wild moose and grizzly country adjoining campus, or the 250-mile Rails-to-Trail network accessed a quarter mile from our front door in Ohio, Nature has always welcomed me. Has presented gifts and wisdom beyond compare. Has inspired me to learn and teach… and embrace my obligation to steward this amazing Earth.

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Guntersville State Park

July 26, 2018 I drove the 62 miles to the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge, where I met Park Naturalist Mike Ezell. Such a blessing to live so close to a 7,000-acre Alabama treasure. And such a pleasure to have a Park naturalist to dispense wisdom and boost my confidence in plant identification and natural interpretation. My prior solo ventures into northern Alabama’s natural environs left me with not a little uncertainty. I am grateful for Mike’s time and expertise.

Here’s the view over the Tennessee River valley from the Lodge patio 300-feet above water level. We could not have created a better fog-enhanced scene! The rising sun dissipated the fog within ten minutes of the photograph. Glad I left my home at 6:30 AM; otherwise I would have missed the show.

Hitting the Trails

The Park has 35 miles of trails. We devoted some four hours to exploration. We both insisted on walking within the forest… not through it. We refused to allow time or destination to distract us from a deep Nature dive along the way. If something drew our attention, we took whatever time we needed to understand and appreciate. These are two of the signs along the way. The name Graveyard Road doesn’t foretell hazardous conditions or a zombie village; it simply leads to the old King’s Chapel Cemetery! I thought of other names like Deadman’s Curve and Breakneck Road, one from where I grew up! These forests along the lake are rich with history and pre-history. Cherokee occupied these hills and flats for millennia. Hernando de Soto is said to have visited the site in July, 1540. Eighty years ago, TVA’s Tennessee River project displaced thousands of residents and scores of settlements here and elsewhere along the river. The land has many stories to tell.

This 30-inch diameter white ash could likely relate a tale dating back 70-90 years. We examined an American beech of even greater diameter, and likely 200-plus years old. It grew on a lower concave slope on what appeared to be a long-abandoned pasture now supporting mature forest and still evidencing old erosion gullies, long-since healed. The beech’s massive crown suggested that it had stood alone in the pasture long before the new forest invaded the abandoned grazing land. I simply failed to snap a photo — shame on me!

Ah, what a relief to find several specimens of an intermediate canopy tree that had eluded my 100-percent-identification the prior week at DeSoto State Park. Like the elusive trees at DeSoto, we found this individual (12-inch diameter) exhibiting a vertical growth form that is NOT negatively geotropic, a term reserved for vertical tree growth opposite gravity’s pull. Our native loblolly pine and most other main canopy species simply extend leaders 180-degrees from the pull of gravity… hence negatively geotropic. Yes, they are influenced by crown openings and the pull of light, but they remain predominantly driven by gravity’s influence. This species appears to be predominantly positively phototropic, its vertical growth drawn to available sunlight and mostly ignoring gravity’s command. What is this tree? It’s sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). Ironically, during my nine years on the forestry faculty at Penn State, whenever I encountered a species I could not immediately identify, I jokingly declared it sourwood.

A Natural Truth Nothing is Static

The massive loblolly twin (below left) blew down during the severe storm outbreak of April 27, 2011, pulling up an eight-foot-tall root ball. This is a rich lower slope with deep soil. Dominant canopy trees exceed 100 feet.

The cycle of life and death is perpetual. Nothing in Nature is static.

Along the same trail we found a two-foot diameter poplar similarly toppled from its perch above the spring where Mike is pointing.

Death is not limited to windthrow. This 12-inch diameter persimmon succumbed to other cause, dying in place while vertical. At least two kinds of fungi are feasting on its still vertical carcass. I believe these are fruiting bodies from saprophytic fungi feasting on dead wood. I saw no forensic hints of the cause of the tree’s demise.

The dead persimmon will eventually yield to gravity, as did the two well-decayed logs below. As I’ve said often, nothing in Nature is static… and every single cell (living or dead) is edible to something else!

The lower left log symbolizes Nature’s ultimate truth — ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven! I’m fascinated by the lower right subject. All that remains of what had been a tw0-foot diameter loblolly pine are its lower still-intact bark and a core of resin-soaked core-wood (fat wood) resistant to decay and standing ramrod upright.

A Spooky Side for Those Who Seek a Scare

Some early Europeans described America’s forests as foul and repugnant, dark and foreboding. Perhaps they saw trees like the ancient white oak below, misshaped and contorted by some agent of infection, almost cancer-like. Even in broad daylight, one doesn’t need much imagination to see face, shoulders, arms, torso, and legs in frontal view. Imagine passing through during the gloaming, already fearful of wild animals and unfriendly Natives, and seeing the nine-foot-tall tree aberration! A northern Alabama Sasquatch!

And a Dimension of Bounty and Fruitfulness

Okay, not all is foreboding. We found a quite happy and vigorous 14-inch persimmon near the dead one from above. Hundreds of fallen immature persimmons drew our interest along the trail. Trees often produce more fruit than they can bring to maturity and ripeness. We wondered how many remained above us and when the tree might begin dropping ripe persimmons.

Questions Unanswered

We pondered what story The Cave might tell. Some prior wanderers/residents had expended considerable effort to transform a deep overhang to a rounded-roofed cave. Native Americans? Settlers? Some CCC workers?

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying a Rare Acquaintance

I direct my wildflower enthusiasm to the spring ephemerals. I just don’t pay a lot of attention to those that follow main canopy leaf-out. Mike drove me to a nearby location I will not disclose, where threatened/endangered Appalachian (or Cumberland) rose gentian (Sabatica capitata) appeared in a cluster of a dozen-or-so plants. This lovely species grows only in isolated populations in TN, AL, GA, and NC. I viewed the entire day as a rare opportunity to venture into Nature’s domain with a competent and enthusiastic naturalist. It’s only fitting that we capped such a day with seeing a beautiful rare flowering plant.

I’ll come full circle to the morning image. We found beauty, magic, and awe wherever we ventured. Lake Guntersville State Park is a treasure trove. Anyone and everyone can access Nature’s wonders. here and at any of Alabama’s other 21 State Parks.

Lessons and Reflections

The morning patio view served as the gift wrapping (and a wonderful element of the gift itself). We spent only 4-5 hours ripping away the wrapping and exploring a tiny part of what lies hidden within. The package within varies across the hours of the day and from season to season. Robert Service in The Spell of the Yukon observed, “There’s a land — oh it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back — and I will.” I share his sentiment… right here in northern Alabama. And I suspect the feeling will follow me across the State Park System.

If only we humans were more aware Nature’s wisdom, power, lessons, and blessings.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

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

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Note: Official Alabama State Parks photo of the Lodge at Lake Guntersville State Park