Winter is a Relative Term

A Nomad’s Perspective

Judy and I have lived in the US South for a total of nearly a quarter of a century (about half of my adult life), punctuated by shifts northward totaling 27 years:

  • Syracuse, New York — 2 years
  • Southeastern Virginia — 7 years
  • Savannah, Georgia — 2 years
  • Prattville, Alabama — 3 years
  • Syracuse, New York — 3 years
  • State College, Pennsylvania — 9 years
  • Auburn, Alabama — 5 years
  • Cary, North Carolina — 3 years
  • Fairbanks, AK — 4 years
  • Urbana, Ohio — 5 years
  • Keene, New Hampshire — 3 years
  • Fairmont, West Virginia — 1 year
  • Madison, Alabama — 3 years (and counting)

Winters in those northern climes can be (and often are) serious, arriving on schedule and holding on (with a few thaws) until spring. Southland winters to the contrary amount to fall beginning mid-November, then gradually transitioning to spring by early March. Toss in an occasional day or two of winter weather to excite (and panic) the locals. So, my conclusion, based upon near-nomadic wandering over some fifty years from Fairbanks’ latitude 65 degrees north to Savannah’s 32 degrees north, is that winter is a relative term.

Winter’s December 2019 Visit

I’ll begin with a recent example. December 10, a strong cold front muscled into the Tennessee River Valley before a steady rain ended, transitioning the rain to sleet then snow. The result: a half-inch coating… and thousands of absolutely distraught drivers convinced that this storm was apocalyptic! Not a flake stuck on the warm pavement or even on our flagstone landscape paths. Here in the South, this amounted to a brief interruption of the long autumn reaching for spring. The sleet and snow did not portend the arrival of winter, but merely an ever-so-short pause in autumn.

Legendwood Drive Legendwood Drive

 

 

 

The dusting persisted through the next morning, adding a little winter zest to our mailbox Christmas decorations. I recall far more snow mid-September in Fairbanks!

Legendwood Drive

 

Real Winter

Huntsville locals will remember the December 10, 2019 storm as that season’s early winter arrival. Our New Hampshire winters were a trifle less subtle. Snow cover there did not disappear with the next day’s noon sun. That’s Judy and me along our driveway below, probably in mid-February one of those three winters. A succession of storms piles it high. Spring is nowhere in sight. Fall departed long ago.

New hampshireNew Hampshire

 

 

 

 

And yet by Fairbanks standards, southern New Hampshire winters, while snowy, are relatively mild. That’s Willie Karidis (then Director of the Denali Education Center) and me mid-March snow-shoeing on the frozen Nenana River at negative 37 degrees Fahrenheit just outside Denali National Park. The bright sun belied the danger. Frostbite nipped my nose not long after the photo captured our image. Unlike our Alabama mid-winter sun, the winter solstice sun at Fairbanks rises only 1.7 degrees above the southern horizon at solar noon (below right). Thermal power? Nada! Noon sun melting yesterday’s accumulation? Not a chance — early October’s snow still resides under this solstice mantle of the white stuff! Fairbanks’ average daily high for March 31 is 32 degrees. Contrast that to the average high for the date in Huntsville, AL at 69 degrees. Our first year in Fairbanks saw April Fool’s Day reach a record low high temperature (for the date and month) at one below zero. Winter is relative.

UAF

 

UAF

 

As Chair of the University of the Arctic Governing Board during those Alaska years, I presided over an international session in Rovaniemi, Finland, University of Lapland, which sits at the Arctic Circle. Plenty of daylight during the March equinox period. Conditions not much different from the near-Denali photos above. Still deep winter. We are in full-blown spring by that date here in the South.

RovaniemiRovaniemi

 

 

 

Alabama Winter

The western US sandhill cranes left the high Arctic and passed south through Fairbanks before the end of August. Our own Tennessee Valley sandhill cranes (below left) arrive here mid-November to spend the winter with us (nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge) before departing mid-February northward. Also at WNWR, the cypress swamp below right depicts another version of our deep winter.

National RefufeNational Refuge

 

I recall living twice in Syracuse, NY, which self-proclaims the title of cloudiest major US city. I could not confirm that honorific title on the internet, yet I can vouch for the deep darkness of dense cloud cover that seems to persist from October through April. One did not need to search long for clinics treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in The Salt City (named for the nearby salt deposits, and not for the anti-icing road treatment that will rust your wheel wells in just a few seasons!). Not so cloudy and dark here in the South. A front slips through with abundant rain and the following few days bless us with deep blue, often complemented with wisps of horsetail cirrus (below in late November 2018 at McDowell Camp and Conference Center). Nature graciously rewards us with aerial magnificence.

McDowell

 

Snow seldom falls and almost never persists. Also at McDowell, the frosty grass at sunrise must satisfy my winter snow nostalgia.

McDowell

 

Camp McDowell

 

 

Over our many interstate moves I’ve learned to temper my seasonal weather expectations. Does me no good to pine for a deep snow, high-wind Nor’easter here in northern Alabama, nor in New Hampshire could I wish for sitting on the patio at sunset January 1 as I did this evening with no wind and the temperature at 52 degrees! I’ve become adept at flourishing wherever we find ourselves.

Again, the Real Thing!

Yet I do love the extremes, including the raw and brutal power that turned our team back at 5,300-feet one February day when we attempted to summit Mount Washington. That’s my back second from the rear, enjoying the pleasurable terror.  When we tucked tail (the photo depicts our furthest progress) the wind was gusting above 100 MPH with the ambient temperature below zero Fahrenheit at the summit. That’s deadly. That’s real…nearly unbelievable…winter.

New HampshireSteve Jones at Mount Washington

 

That wasn’t daily existence across New Hampshire. That was at a location known for The World’s Most Extreme Weather. As I write these words New Years Day, the summit temperature is 10 degrees, wind chill is -19, and the wind is gusting to 85 MPH!

 

Summer as Winter

Sitka, Alaska sits along the state’s southeast coast. The city welcomes cruise ships into its protected harbor during its brief summer. Snow-capped mountains ring the bay (below left). The trailhead for the Mt Verstovia trail is just east of town. Mid-June 2012 I made a valiant attempt to reach Verstovia’s nearly 3,000-foot summit. My ascent ended when I encountered decaying snow 3-5-feet deep still 500 feet below the summit (below right).  The higher peaks still carried fresh snow. Summer? Like winter, summer is a relative term! My forehead perspiration (my entire body was soaked) had nothing to do with summer’s heat. I had just climbed 2,500 feet vertical (a steep trail) and struggled with the coarse granular snow until I accepted defeat.

UAF

Steve Jones near Sitka, Alaska 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dormant volcano, Mt Edgecumbe, stands across the bay from Sitka’s airport. Mark Twain once said, we are told, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” No, the statement just would not have worked for the humorist had he substituted Sitka for San Francisco!

Alaska

 

Again, a Southern Winter — It’s All Relative!

No deep decaying snow to deal with at Beaverdam Creek Boardwalk at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge just a few miles from where we live in Alabama.

Wheeler NWR

 

Just once during our four winters in northern Alabama has our Big Blue Lake frozen soundly enough to support the weight of our over-wintering Canada geese. The Nenana River annual Ice Classic at Nenana, AK (midway between the entrance to Denali National Park and Fairbanks) awards a significant cash prize to the to the person who comes closest to guessing the exact date, hour, minute, and second of break-up. Average April 1, ice thickness over the years is 42 inches. Strong enough to support a goose? Even a moose — perhaps a caboose!

Legendwood

 

January 7, 2020 I snapped this shot of emerging daffodils in my neighborhood. Who can dispute my statement that our fall gradually transitions to spring? I need not provide further evidence than these daffodil blades beginning to break through the mulch.

213 Legendwood Drive

 

Yet there is more. Planted pansies provide winter color at our latitude. When temperatures drop below freezing, the plants wilt (their way of protecting cells from the cold) while awaiting warmer days. I took this photo January 9, 2020 on a mild afternoon in the upper 50s.

LegendwoodLegendwood

 

January 12, I biked once again on Bradford Creek and Mill Creek Greenways. Spring presented a little more evidence of its headway, further tracing the seasonal transition. I spotted my first henbit (Lamium amplxicaule) flower of the year. Henbit is a naturalized non-native, common across the eastern US.

Local Greenways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also saw chickweed and a small cress in flower, but did not attempt to photograph their tiny white flowers.

January 2018 I visited Gulf State Park, Alabama. The season was clearly fall/spring… and Sam the resident pelican offered no counter argument. Some 400 miles south of where I reside, the climate is much warmer along the coast.

Steve at Gulf Shores

 

No winter pelican acquaintances when we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. Moose-friends frequently visited our yard, especially in winter. Make that WINTER! I’m placing the finishing touches on the Post January 8. I just checked the Fairbanks temperature: negative 33 Fahrenheit! This is the warmest part of the day.

Again, as is nearly everything in Nature… Winter is relative.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Everything in Nature is relative
  2. Nature cares little about the weather we hope to experience; it is what it is
  3. Knowing local norms and averages helps us adjust our expectations and adapt to place

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHarvest Square

 

Every place in Nature tells a story, as do all stories within my books.

 

Three Books

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longleaf Pine along Bradford Creek Greenway

Autumn Serenity along Bradford Creek

Hard to believe that this is my last Great Blue Heron Blog Post of 2019, a very fulfilling year for my semi-retirement ventures to spread the gospel of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. This Post returns me to nearby Bradford Creek Greenway.

Our first autumn weather at long last arrived overnight October 11, 2019. Saturday the 12th dawned cloudy with temperature in the upper 40s. I pedaled 19 miles along nearby Bradford Creek Greenway beginning at 7:00AM. So nice to don long pants and my biking jacket, the first time since April that I needed more than my summer gear:

 

Here below are two special images of the creek just off the trail… without the distraction of the old guy in the foreground! What’s so special you might ask. I loved the lighting… dark overcast and deep riparian forest. The placid creek after two-and-a-half months with little rain. The clear water and the leaf-fall lining the sand and gravel bar.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenway

 

Summer’s New Growth on Planted Longleaf Pine

The Bradford Creek Greenway is an urban sewer line right-of-way, managed as a recreational trail for its 2.5-mile length in Madison, Alabama. Utility crews lifted and increased the line’s capacity over the trail’s southern 0.70-mile length during the summer of 2018. Crews completed the upgrade late summer. Regrading, repaving, and seeding the right-of-way finally permitted biking that south end by early autumn last year. I took the two photos below in December 2018, showing the double rows of planted longleaf pines in a 50-foot wide construction staging area between the trail and an agricultural field. The forester in me cannot resist this opportunity to tell a tree tale (fact… not a tall tale). Read-on below these two images.

 

Longleaf begins its seedling life resembling grass, and sends its first vertical growth candle only after several years. From the Longleaf Alliance website: This stage is an inconspicuous yet unique stage of a longleaf pine’s life history where the seedling resembles a clump of grass more than a tree, hence the name. During the grass stage, the growing tip (bud) of the tree is protected under a thick arrangement of needles at ground level. When fires sweep through, the needles may burn but the tip of the bud remains protected. New needles quickly replace those that were burned off. During the grass stage, longleaf pine seedlings are virtually immune to fire. At this stage, although the tree will not be growing upwards, the seedling will be putting down an impressive root system underground. Also during this stage, longleaf may become infected with a fungus called brown spot needle blight. Brown spot causes the needles to brown, fall off, and hamper growth. Repeated defoliation will cause the seedling to die. The grass stage may last anywhere from one to seven years depending on the degree of competition with other plants for resources. Rare instances of 20 years have been documented.

Here’s my grass-stage photo from a prior outing at one of our Alabama State Parks. The trees in the above December 2018 photos grew at least two summers in nursery transplant beds, evidencing two vertical candles.

 

The photos below are from October 13, 2019. The longleaf seedlings obviously enjoyed a great first summer in their new location. Last summer’s (2018) candles now have the second year needles downcast, preparing to shed them this winter. Longleaf needles perform for just two growing seasons. This year’s growth includes the seedlings’ first lateral branches (see the tuft above last summer’s candle) as well as another vertical shoot. Summer 2020 will see vigorous lateral branching… growing up and out.

 

I’ll try to retake the longleaf pine images every fall to chronicle each subsequent summer’s growth. Photos are unmatched for demonstrating Nature’s dynamic progress. Ten years from now people will not be too impressed if I tell them that I remember when those trees were just planted. But show them the ten-year images. Their eyes will widen and their jaw will drop! Ten years out I picture breast high diameter at 5-7-inches and height at greater than 20-feet. Nothing in Nature is static.

Local Greenway

 

I took the images below a day earlier, October 12, 2019. I often showcase in these Posts my fascination with weather, sky, and clouds. These are the same trees, yet their appearance is radically different, almost night and day. Dense clouds in contrast with deep blue. Which image is more striking? Neither — both are superb. I’ll take Nature’s glory however it presents itself! My ride this morning (October 13) covered 29 miles. Three extended loops, each one further opening my eyes and deepening my fulfillment and satisfaction.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

I’ve said frequently that understanding the science magnifies my appreciation and multiplies Nature’s inspiration. The image is only part of the magic. Would it mean as much without knowing about the species’ grass stage and its growth patterns? Clearly not. I see a point in time along a trajectory deep into the future. Nature rewards those willing to believe, look, see, and feel. I am grateful I chose a career and education path that led to understanding and appreciating Nature.

Local Greenways

 

A not-so-pleasant surprise greeted me November 23 when I rode loops on the trail. One of the longleaf pines had died. I had seen no signs of impending demise on prior rides. It is now clearly dead. Cause of death — undetermined. I see no evidence of mechanical stem damage. Nothing has chewed or disturbed the cambium. No obvious stem cankers or signs of fungal infection. Perhaps the seedling had not been well-planted… big air pocket or roots J-shaped (stuffed into the hole so that the longer roots bent back on themselves). During my time (1981-85) as Alabama Region Land Manager for Union Camp Corporation, we planted 16,000 acres annually to mostly loblolly pine. We conducted seedling survival surveys the winter following the first growing season. I don’t recall many sites with greater than 95 percent survival… and none with no mortality. I fought the temptation to pull this one to see whether the cause of mortality was discernible. One fatality out of 16 out-plants is not bad; 94 percent survival. I will continue to monitor, hoping that we lose no more next year and beyond.

Local Greenways

 

A mid-December Postscript

I biked 19 miles on Bradford Trail December 12. The low temperature had reached 28 degrees; the high nudged 55. The average for the date: 35 and 54. The coldest average low and high (mid-January) is 32 and 51. My point? We are enjoying mid-winter mildness here in north Alabama. I enjoy getting out this time of year. I see more now than I can with full foliage. I’ve been bike-cruising Bradford Trail for three years. Yesterday was the first time I’ve noticed this trail-side honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). Formidably beautiful! My three books include tales of pleasurable terror — stories of times when I’ve been caught in rather scary weather, survived it, and took great memories of withstanding the ferocious onslaught. So, just another of Nature’s many ironies. Pleasurable terror and formidable beauty. Nature is rich with irony.

Local GreenwaysLocal Greenways

 

When I stopped to photograph the thorny specimen, I noticed several sapling buck-rubs, also at trail’s edge.This one will not survive; the buck has stripped cambium 360-degrees. I had hoped to find a cause of mortality as obvious on the dead longleaf — not so.

 

Nature…everyday Nature…fuels my passion and purpose in life. Death is natural. The dance of life and death is ongoing. Everyday Nature, whether we like it or not, includes both death and renewal. Life giving death — yet another of Nature’s ironies.

A Footnote

I love the Land Trust of North Alabama’s tagline: Conservation in Action! As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, we as humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space (between ‘in’ and ‘action’) changes the entire essence. Talking by itself can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.

The Land Trust donated a 112-acre easement to the City of Madison (2006) for the Bradford Creek Greenway. The aerial photo shows the property lines (green) and the 2.5-mile trail (red) from Heritage School to Palmer Park. I have spent many hours biking along the creek under its welcome riparian forest cover and shade. A wonderful gift to future generations.

North AL Land Trust

Land Trust of North Alabama

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature rewards those willing to look closely, whether in a bucket-list National Park or along a local Greenway
  2. Everyday Nature can amaze and inspire with her stories of magic and wonder
  3. Every element of Nature has a story to tell — whether an entire ecosystem or a single species of tree (i.e. longleaf pine)

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

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Three Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

At the Nexus of Human and Natural History: Paw Paw Tunnel

C&O Canal National Historical Park

I issued multiple Posts this past summer and fall from July visits to National Parks, Monuments, and Memorials in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. Add in two more Posts from visiting three National Parks in Kazakhstan. November 20, 2019 I published yet another, this one from a September visit to the C&O Canal National Historical Park. I now post another from visiting the C&O Canal National Historical Park: I offer a few photos and reflections from stopping by the western terminus at Cumberland, Maryland, my home town, and then enjoying an extend hike through the Paw Paw Tunnel and back over its Tunnel Hill Trail. As is my Blog Post pattern, I will focus on Nature, and weave through the essay observations on the interplay of human and natural history.

The Canal’s Western Terminus

I’ll begin with a view of Cumberland from my September visit. The original Canal planning brought the Canal to this point, and then built it up and over the Allegany front and onward to the Ohio River. Cumberland became its final destination after the enterprise met overwhelming competition from the railroads and ultimately succumbed to brutal flooding from the adjacent Potomac River in 1924.

 

I snapped this terminus visitor’s center wall mural photograph (below), taken during the Canal’s peak operations well before 1924. The view looks east over the terminus operations, including two canal boats, loading and unloading docks, and a lone mule. The hills beyond rise a couple of hundred feet above the canal level. I grew up perhaps a quarter mile to the south (right) where the hills softened. The high school I attended, built in the mid 1930s, now sits beyond the unidentifiable building top-center in the dip above the center casks. I played in those hills, which we then called “The Clay Hills.” The image below depicts the hills as scarred and denuded, likely cut repeatedly for firewood, and perhaps even stripped for aggregate and clay to support residential and commercial development in the growing city. I knew explicitly and intuitively as a youth that the land had been abused. Prior to any formal forestry and natural resources education and training, I observed that the terrain evidenced deep erosion gullies. I recognized that such treatment of our Earth was hurtful and probably irreparable. In my youth, shrub-cover had begun to colonize the hills, yet exposed red “soil” dominated the appearance. The shrubs had not fully captured the hillside. I can recall only that sumac (Rhus typhina) and tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) dominated the emerging vegetation.

 

I took the photo below from roughly the same spot looking east at least a hundred years later (November 2019). My high school is visible beyond that same dip as a flat-topped building with its smoke stack rising midway. The approximately 1.5-mile distance belies the school’s size, a large three-story school. The Clay Hills now sprout a few homes and an emerging forest. The raw red “soil” is no longer visible. Examining the photo, I now have a desire to venture into those once-denuded hills to assess progress of recovery.

 

I have observed often in these Posts that nothing in Nature is static. Even Clay Hills revert with time and protection to forest. Nature heals all human induced scars. I first saw the Clay Hills as a raw wound, apparent even to a kid. Interestingly, if I assume I first ventured into the hills at age eight, I’ve watched the recovery for 60 years. No telling how many years more I will visit. Were I able, I would return every decade for the next millennium… and beyond. I can instead enjoy the conjecture. I visualize a forest eventually prospering in the naturally rejuvenated soil. Will that forest prosper before humanity fades and disappears, sadly from self-inflicted wounds, or will we humans awaken and live harmoniously as informed and responsible Earth citizens? Let’s hope the latter.

 

Paw Paw Tunnel

Over those six decades I’ve spent countless hours exploring Paw Paw Tunnel and environs, located near milepost 155.2, 29 Canal-miles east of Cumberland. We camped often near the tunnel, fished in the Potomac, and hiked in the forest. From a National Park Service online source about the tunnel:

14 years of construction.

Over $600,000 spent.

6 million bricks used.

3,118 feet long

Those are just a few of the staggering statistics of the greatest engineering marvel along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Located at milepost 155.2, the Paw Paw Tunnel helped eliminate 6 miles of canal and opened up economic success for Cumberland, Maryland. However, completing the Paw Paw Tunnel was not an easy task. Through labor strikes, money issues, and illness, the construction of the 3,118 foot long tunnel took nearly 14 years to complete and was placed well over budget. Today, when you plan your visit to the Paw Paw Tunnel, bring a flashlight and discover the weep holes, rope burns, rub rails, as well as brass plates that bring the tunnel’s history to life. Following your travels through the tunnel, enjoy the two-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail where you can discover breathtaking views of the Paw Paw Bends.

The interpretive signage (below left) shows the tunnel route and describes avoiding the six miles of sweeping bends along the Potomac. Lower right the tunnel’s western (Cumberland) end beckoned me in mid-November.

 

A hundred feet inside the western entrance, I caught the view out of the tunnel. Combining the light entering from behind me and employing a three-second exposure, I exalted in how well I captured the tunnel interior and the far eastern end. Some of what appears well-illuminated actually stands in pitch blackness. Mid-way, except for the “light at the end of the tunnel,” I could not see my hand in front of my face. Engineers and workers completed the tunnel in 1850, 14 years after the initial pick blows and dynamiting. As I strolled through the tunnel and returned over the Hill Trail, I marveled at the construction technique: coming in from both ends, dropping twice vertically to tunnel level and working all four of those internal faces! Imagine those immigrant laborers who arose early morning, hiked up to one of the shafts, and lowered to excavation-level where they performed heavy and dangerous tasks… for 14 years!

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

The tunnel exited east into a deep cut that extends for another half-mile, connecting again to the Potomac a half-mile beyond that. The snow-coated boardwalk offered a pleasant complement to the clear blue sky. I felt deep sentiment revisiting a stretch I had walked scores of times as a boy, then as an adult whenever trips home gave me an opportunity to renew that Central Appalachian spirit of my life. I wish I could remember the last time I hiked the tunnel with my Dad. His memory and his essence accompanied me even on this most recent pass nearly 25 years after his death. We do communicate on such treks, but it’s just not the same.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

He long ago impressed upon me the importance of paying attention to little things in Nature. A row of icicles along a small ledge. Or the engineering beauty of a long-abandoned lock east of the long cut. I recall standing with him, or sitting on the exquisite stonework, trying to re-imagine the lift-lock in operation. Dad’s spirit and the ghosts of thousands watched silently with me that cold and sunny morning.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

 

 

 

 

I turned back when I reached the Potomac, six river miles from where I entered the tunnel, some 1.7 towpath miles behind. About to re-enter the cut (below left), I left the canal and began the Tunnel Hill Trail, a path I had taken dozens of times. The Trail presents a strenuous hike for those not accustomed to physical challenge. As I reflected on my ventures with Dad, I paused to wonder how many more times I will make the trek. Once I am gone, will my spirit haunt these hills? What difference will these musings have made?

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

On a more positive note, I know that my writing soothes me, lifts my spirit, and adds value to my own life. I welcome and treasure these reflective hikes into memory…into special places that I have long treasured and that shaped my life.

 

Human and Natural History Interacting on the Tunnel Hill Trail

The National Park Service tells the Paw Paw Tunnel stories quite well… with interpretive signage, publications, and online information. I won’t recite the signage for you. My intent through this section is to comment on the natural history I observed along the trail and with my photos. Think about the tremendous volume of rock excavated during construction from both ends and brought up through the vertical shafts. Those resultant debris piles (spoils) are dry and infertile. I like the thick lichen cushion nestling a long-dead, weathered Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) stump-remnant below right.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the trail passes through “wildness,” signage reminds us that this particular spot once supported a community and its schoolhouse. I listened in vain for the ancient echoes of children playing. Nature is sweeping away most direct evidence.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder what Park Serve archeologists discovered at this former construction village. Nature doesn’t care… intent upon reclaiming what is hers.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

Again, massive amounts of spoil now fill many ravines and coves along the Trail. The photo lower right shows spoil to a depth of nearly fifty feet. To the casual observer, without benefit of the sign, the land tells no tales. I am fortunate to know Nature’s language well enough to interpret her stories. Her shelves hold many volumes, each one written in forest and landscape evidence. Man has never left a mark that will survive time and Nature’s incessant healing.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

 

 

 

 

Picture the lower left wagon trail 165 years ago running along the base of a denuded hillside, stripped repeatedly for firewood to fuel cooking stoves and warm winter quarters. Imagine wagons loaded with spoil heading down to dumping grounds; carts forwarding workers and supplies up to the shafts; and exhausted laborers clinging to the cart rails returning to camp after their daily shift. What I don’t know is whether the crews worked during the night. Daylight or dark would make no difference for those working the four internal tunnel-level excavation faces. The snow-dusted Tunnel Hill Trail, to those not privy to the 14-year construction struggle, appears now as merely a sheltered footpath leading through the wildness of Sorrel Ridge, part of Maryland’s 46,560-acre Green Ridge State Forest (GR SF). Another sentimental connection for me is that I worked my junior summer as a forestry aide on GR SF, a dream job!

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

I view this as another glimpse of the magic synergy between human and natural history, and my own intersection with it. I can recall no untouched forestland (virgin forest) on Green Ridge State Forest, neither from my summer employment there or from my reading of Land of the Living: The Story of Green Ridge Forest (1996), authored by my summer-of-1972 boss, Green Ridge Forest Supervisor John Mash. In his Preface, John wrote, “When I first came to the Green Ridge Forest in 1971 as a young forester I soon became aware that others preceded me. One of the things I learned in forestry school was that the past influences the present and that there was evidence of many past disturbances in the forest.” John’s 875 pages tell the stories of Green Ridge Forest eloquently with great passion.  Again in his Preface he said, “The proper way to read this book is lying on a hammock in the forest, listening to the birds and imagining what happened on the very spot you lounge. You were not the first there to experience the sights, sounds, joys, wonders and sorrows of the Green Ridge mystique.”

As I hiked the Trail (below left) on that gorgeous November morning, I thought of John, who loved the entire Green Ridge Forest and all life within it, present and past. John died far too young. I would love to have accompanied him over the Tunnel Hill Trail. We spent a lot of time together that summer. I marveled at his sharp eyes in spotting rattlesnakes and his never-failing intent upon picking them up, examining each one, and gently releasing it where he found it. He likewise studied the signs of past disturbance religiously, always alerting me to faint trail traces, evidence of past timber cutting, old foundations, and settlement relics. I visualized John stretched on his hammock between two oaks that morning. He tipped his forester’s hat, twirled his handlebar mustache, and wished me well.

C&O Canal

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hike over Sorrel Ridge offers ample reward for the exertion. The central Appalachians likewise reward me with deep feelings of home. I’ve stood at scenic overlooks across the US and even at a number of places internationally. I never fail to appreciate the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of elevated perspective, yet nothing surpasses the scenic, emotional, and sentimental elixir of what I will always consider home. I suppose the echoes of youth across time magnify my appreciation. I am sure I was adolescent the first time I stood at this overlook. How much of what I now see is modified through the filters of life, memory, and education? I believe earnestly that what I now see far exceeds the simple image I enjoyed 55 years ago at age 13!

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

I snapped a selfie to make sure that it was old Steve up there on the trail. Sure enough,  I had not passed through some time warp! I wanted a photo with the hilltop sparsely-stocked oak stand behind me (below left), and another with the Virginia pine overhead (below right) as I enjoyed a well-traveled bagel with peanut butter. I now confess to failing to pay enough attention to my surroundings. The lower right photo shows beyond a doubt that the pine behind me is recently dead, its crown reddish-brown, having given up the ghost during the summer. How could I have missed it? Blinded by the vista? I who pride myself in seeing far more in Nature than most! Nature offers unlimited inspiration and humility.

C&O CanalC&O Canal

 

I know my missing the obvious has nothing to do with my age. After all, how could an old guy have just traversed a trail that carries the warning statement, “Danger. Steep cliffs and loose footing. One misstep could result in serious injury or a life threatening situation.” Perhaps I was so focused on the danger I faced to note that the pine was dead! No, I shall not shamelessly reach for excuses. Quite simply, I missed the obvious, and “saw” it only after examining the photo that evening.

C&O Canal

 

As I’ve observed many times, nothing in Nature is static. Witness the now-dead pine. Recall the recovering Clay Hills in Cumberland.

 

Life marches on in this Land of the Living — Green Ridge Forest, the C&O Canal, and the Paw Paw Tunnel. John Mash’s simple book Dedication fittingly closes this Great Blue Heron Blog Post:

This book is dedicated to all those souls, known but to God, who lie forever in so many places in the unmarked forest graves. They have nourished the soil with their bodies and in turn live in the trees and plants that feed the wild animals. Although no one knows of their earthly joys and sorrows, they will be a part of the forest forever.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of a National Historical Park designation, inexorably reclaims what humanity once cleared and domesticated.
  2. Human-scale time has no meaning to a river, nor to the mountains within which it courses.
  3. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” The C&O National Historical Park is no less a part of our heritage than Yellowstone or Yosemite.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

As with my weekly Blog Posts, I weave Nature’s thread through the essays within my books. I reflect on my own life experiences in Nature and their relevance to my life and living. I try to have a little fun, mostly at my own expense. I take what I do very seriously, yet I don’t take (and never have) myself too seriously (see me lower right working feverishly on my writing!).

Steve's BooksThree Books

 

Actual time in Nature stimulates my reflections, fuels my passion, and provides fodder for my essays. I occasionally treat my books to walks in the forest (see below).

Photos of Steve

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Revisiting Harvest Square Nature Preserve

Natural Treasures Are Always Close at Hand

I posted an essay in February 2017 on a trip I made to the North Alabama Land Trust’s 70-acre Harvest Square Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/02/09/the-simple-things-become-our-ultimate-pleasure/ My then nine-year-old Alabama grandson Jack accompanied me. Nearly three years ago, at that time I did not always include photos as I do now.

I returned with Judy, Jack (now 12), and five-and-a-half year old Sam November 9, 2019. This time I snapped lots of photos, offering them with reflections in this Post. The photos certainly help me compose my observations and reflections, and assist with memory retention! Jack and Sam stand with me at the entrance sign… shamelessly promoting my three books.

 

Ponds — AKA Borrow Pits

The interpretive “Ponds” sign leaves no room for confusion — these “are not natural ponds.” Minnesota’s state tagline claims, “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.” My limnology faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks reminded me that Alaska has 2,000,000 lakes and ponds! Alabama? Most of our “ponds” and lakes are human-made, including the four-acre Big Blue Lake where I reside. It’s hard to be a pond and lake purist here in the South, far from Minnesota’s 10,000 glacier-carved ponds and lakes. So, I treasure even our Alabama ponds carved by development engineers and excavators.

Harvest Square

 

My appreciation is not dimmed at Harvest Square knowing that Terry and Turner Ponds provided scraped spoils for elevating the construction site for Harvest Square Shopping Center. I spent little time explaining to grandsons Sam and Jack the ponds’ origin. Instead, we focused on the wonder of Nature’s healing such raw disturbed sites. Harvest Square memorializes the inspired action of the Land Trust of North Alabama acquiring the site, protecting it from further perturbation, arranging access, placing interpretive signage, and telling the story of informed and responsible land stewardship. Who would know…and who would second guess…the rehabilitation and rebirth of an evolving natural community following the equivalent of harsh strip-mining. The open meadows, succeeding brush and forest, serene ponds, full array of wildlife, and the stunning beauty of a fall day belie the violence acted upon the land. What absolute genius to convert wasteland to nature preserve!

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

Nature has been rehabilitating disturbed land for eons… for-ever! Think of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone from May 1980; devastated… and now green and recovering. The most recent continental ice sheet retreated 12-14,000 years ago after scraping the land clear from Canada through the Great Lakes and into southern New York State — Long Island is a terminal moraine! The Yellowstone caldera last blew 630,000 years ago; it is now among the nation’s most beautiful national treasures. Nature knows full well how to tear asunder… and then heal. What’s a little man-made shopping center construction to Nature’s insistence to rehabilitate and heal?! Throw in a dedicated Land Trust, some trail and dock infrastructure, and limited healing time… and the result meets even my rigid criteria for declaring it a wildland worthy of visiting, studying, and sharing! Who could imagine Judy and the grandsons are nearly within sight of the shopping center?

Harvest Square along Terry Pond

 

Well-placed and attractive signage complements the experience. Toss in the wildness of the great blue heron who lifted from the shoreline near this trail marker to add to our enjoyment.

Harvest Square

 

The trail is aptly named. Beaver occupy bank lodges along Terry Pond’s northwest corner. They’ve constructed ingress and egress canals along the shore. Sam is holding two branches stripped clean of bark/cambium by foraging beavers. Sam uses one as a walking stick; the longer one suits me quite well.

Harvest Square Beaver Canal

 

 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is colonizing the preserve, providing colorful fruit, a fall buffet for dozens of bird species.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

We hiked the short trail to Turner Pond and the boardwalk along its west edge. Vegetation is everywhere — Nature abhors a vacuum. Natural reclamation is accelerating. As an ecologist, I know how quickly succession moves these highly disturbed sites into more mature brush and forest stages. I’d like to see the Land Trust establish permanent photo points so that visitors years and decades from now can travel photographically back in time. What will these two views show in 2050? Or 2100?

Harvest Square, Second PondHarvest Square

 

Will the forest behind Jack and Judy tower above visitors 50 years hence?

Harvest Square, Turner Pond

 

We spotted a pair of great blue herons as we left Terry Pond heading toward the woods. I never (and will never) tire of seeing these avatars for my life and my memories of Dad! To see this pair made me ever more appreciative of Nature’s supreme power to heal… the land and my heart.

Woods Trail

The woods trail winds past an already towering loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Good fortune that the shopping center clearing did not strip the entire tract. This is wildness that stirs my forester’s heart!

Harvest Square Preserve

 

The Trust does an excellent job of trail interpretation and tree identification.

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

I have observed often that having  an understanding of Nature enhances appreciation and strengthens our resolve to steward the land.

Harvest Square

 

Nothing in Nature is static; nothing lives and stands tall forever. Life and death are in a perpetual dance; ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Wind-throw is as natural as the new growth that will fill the space vacated by this old soldier toppled by a gusty thunderstorm a few summers prior. I think Sam understands the mechanism.

Harvest Square Harvest Square

 

The magnificent loblolly will one day return its mass, fiber, and nutrients to the soil. Death is part and parcel of life. The Harvest Square Nature Preserve is close at-hand to many of us in the greater Huntsville area. Its story is one of disturbance, preservation, and recovery. In so many ways, as I mentioned earlier, the Harvest Square Story ironically parallels the ecological tale told by Mount Saint Helens and Yellowstone. Nature knows how to close the circle; in fact, Nature designed and created the circle.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

If you would like to visit Harvest Square, see the Huntsville Adventurer website: https://huntsvilleadventurer.com/harvest-square-nature-preserve/?fbclid=IwAR18Fyskf-vv0IWzXjMCO3L7mF4VTxHiOOXS1qeExGLG4Pj-MFAdfUcF6xM

The Land Trust of North Alabama mission is simple, succinct, and noble: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future. I urge you to visit the Trust’s website: https://www.landtrustnal.org/vision-history/ Please consider joining and or contributing. 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of the dedicated efforts of a local Land Trust, is converting sows ears to silk purses
  2. Nature’s power to heal (the land and our hearts) is unlimited
  3. We can all do our part to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHarvest Square

 

The same windthrow back-dropping Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits! I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

Land Trust of North AL

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Healing from Landscape Devastation and Human Tragedy: Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 National Memorial

Few of us alive September 11, 2001 will forget that day of terrifying destruction — a country literally under attack by ruthless human monsters… a horrid sub species intent upon violence and terror. One of the four hijacked planes fell to Earth some forty air miles from my birth home. Traveling mid-November from Cumberland, MD to visit our son and his family north of Pittsburgh, we detoured to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, PA. A day fittingly gray and cold, matching the mood of place and the events that culminated on the site.

Like the many National Parks, Memorials, and Monuments I’ve visited, this one rose to the occasion, capturing that fateful day with appropriate solemnity, honoring those who died in defiance of the brutal terrorists, and memorializing this land that will live on forever with absolute respect for the heroes who gave their last full measure here. I do not strive to repeat the story nor describe the structures and interpretation. I give very high marks to all that the National Park Service has generated on-site and online. Instead, I will offer some reflection through a different lens… my naturalist and applied ecologist’s filters.

 

I include Memorial photos only as a context within which to observe and reflect. Take my word, the Memorial is hauntingly beautiful and majestic. Yet there are ironies I will introduce to you. I grew up and am growing old loving this Allegheny Front region of Pennsylvania and Maryland. This highland (2,400-3,000 feet) lies just west of the eastern continental divide. Summers are generally pleasant; winters are harsh. Snowfall averages more than 100-inches annually. I worked my freshman and sophomore summers just south of this Pennsylvania location in Maryland doing forest inventory on Savage River State Forest. I considered it heaven.

I clearly remember a likewise nationally significant 1964 plane crash in this same area, encompassing Savage River State Forest. From a 2014 AP online article recalling the crash of the nuclear-armed (two bombs) B-52:

“The storm-driven crash of a nuclear bomber in western Maryland in 1964 made an indelible impact on the Cold War program that put the crew and public at risk.

Fifty years later, Operation Chrome Dome is nearly forgotten, but memories of the crash on Big Savage Mountain remain painfully fresh among the crew members’ families and the rural Appalachian residents who helped recover the bodies.

Gary Finzel, 69, said his overnight trek through hip-deep snow with five others to recover the frozen remains of Air Force Maj. Robert Lee Payne was the worst night of his life.

“I can see him sitting there on his hunkers on the banks” of Poplar Lick, Finzel said Tuesday. “I still see him the same as if it was yesterday.”

The accident on Jan. 13, 1964, is memorialized by stone markers in tiny Grantsville, about 140 miles west of Baltimore, and at the spots where three of the five crew members died. Payne succumbed to exposure in the Savage River State Forest after ejecting from the crippled B-52. Bombardier Maj. Robert Townley’s remains were found in the wreckage on adjacent private land. The tail gunner, Tech Sgt. Melvin F. Wooten, bailed out and died from exposure and injuries near Salisbury, Pa., nearly 15 miles north of the crash site.

The pilot, Maj. Thomas W. McCormick, and co-pilot Capt. Parker C. “Mack” Peedin ejected and survived. Neither is still living.”

I can close my eyes and see the Cumberland, MD (my hometown) airport, serving in real time as base for search, rescue, and recovery operations. I was 12-and-a-half years old. Dad and I spent many hours over several days at the airport watching twin-rotor military choppers ferrying people, equipment, and wreckage in and out, great blasts of rotor-driven snow rising with each arrival and departure. I recall the actual storm, fierce even in the valley Cumberland occupies, yet raging at full-blizzard intensity in the higher elevation crash zone.

Flight 93 crashed just 26 miles from where Tech Sgt Wooten died. The SAC Bomber succumbed to weather, mechanical failure, and perhaps an ill-advised decision to fly over the mountains that night. Again, from AP: “A heavily redacted Air Force report on the accident attributes the crash to a bulkhead structural failure that caused the vertical fin to separate from the plane during weather-related turbulence.”

In sharp contrast, it was pure evil that brought Flight 93 to its demise. Pure evil combated and overcome in-air by American citizen-heroes (passengers) who forced the hand of the terrorists, preventing them from using the jetliner as yet another hostile missile aimed at our Nation’s Capital. Memories of both incidents will haunt me the remainder of my days. One a searing nightmare that now lies raw and fresh on my and in our national psyche. The other a vivid memory of an adventure that my Dad and I shared, certainly a disaster that took five crew lives, yet still a lesson in the power and fury of Nature. A ferocious storm interacting with a dangerous time for humanity… a world poised at the cusp of nuclear holocaust. I know that Dad understood the nuclear war implications. I suspect I focused more on the weather elements coupled with the excitement of a major search, rescue, and recovery operation, still mostly enjoying a time of personal innocence and geopolitical ignorance.

 

There was nothing innocent about Flight 93. The evil scum who perpetrated this act of terror left little room for doubting their vile madness. Yes, I admit to harboring echoes of anger, fury, and resentment as I toured the site and experienced the exhibits. Also sadness and tears. I listened, eyes welling, to messages left by three passengers on their home phones, saying farewell to loved ones.

Lower left looks back along the flight path of the inbound doomed plane. The lower right view is along the final flight path toward the impact site a half-mile distant. Despite the horror and sadness of the day, the Memorial beautifully expresses a prevailing sentiment of beauty, inspiration, hope, and human goodness, valor, and decency. The haloed sun lower right expresses visually, emotionally, and spiritually far more than I can offer with words.

 

Healing from Landscape Devastation and Human Tragedy

Here’s where I take a side track. I love the banner at the observation point of the flight path walkway: A Common Field One Day; A Field of Honor Forever. Beyond that banner, the plane crashed into our Mother Earth at a nearly vertical pitch at woods-edge. But was this a common field even then? I had not thought about the Nature of this land, and I have discovered little since describing the prior land use, beyond finding mention of it as an abandoned strip mine. I had imagined the typically rolling pasture, field, and forest common to this upland region. However, I immediately noticed upon entering the Memorial grounds that this is long-abandoned coal strip-mined land. Likely stripped prior to days when reclamation laws were enacted at the state and federal levels. I saw rough, unhealed debris piles, pits, ponds, and sparse forest cover. Park Service crews and volunteers will be planting thousands of seedlings… to heal the land and honor Flight 93 victims and their families. So, a Common Field? No, it’s a landscape devastated by strip mining during a period before we recognized the need to establish minimum standards of practice to return stripped acreage to some level of productivity.

 

I’ve written about eastern Ohio stripped land that has been remediated and returned to some respectable level of productivity: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/19/mid-march-revelations-on-worn-out-land-2/. At this Memorial the abused land resonates with the emotional devastation wrought by that day’s terror. The irony translates across both types of scarring. Society needed the coal; we mined it, exacting a toll upon the land. Only later did we realize the false economy of extracting in the absence of designed reclamation. An expensive unintended consequence. I appreciate the resonance of our taking intentional steps to heal a physically abused and ruined land… on a site bearing palpable scars of a devastating blow to our national psyche.

 

I hope at some point the Park Service will infuse some expression of the irony and parallels. Healing and awareness come in multiple dimensions. Caring for our One Earth, this pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space, is as important as anything commanding our societal attention. We must choose to defeat the existential threat of evil terrorism, even as we awaken to stewarding our Common Home, protecting our Earth from ourselves, and ensuring its sustainability. The two interlocking imperatives command coincident attention here at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tower of Voices stands as a spiritual lantern to what happened here, and what may result from those events. The awakening, the healing, the commitment to citizenship and stewardship. I am left humbled, inspired, and recommitted to informed and responsible citizenship and stewardship.

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Sometimes Nature and the sweep of human events interact in unexpected ways
  2. Nature can heal… both human and natural wounds
  3. Every place in Nature has a story to tell

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I write my books, issue my Posts, and speak before various audiences to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature…and accept and practice Earth Stewardship, and Earth Citizenship!

Steve's Books

 

A Lasting Call for Informed and Responsible Citizenship

 

A Persistent and Tireless Call for Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship

 

Photos of Steve

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; and co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of my own (and Dr. Wilhoit’s) rich experiences in Nature. The books are collections of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Memory and Legacy for a Sailor and Hero

The Making of a Legacy — A Hero Enters Adulthood

September 2018 I posted my photos and reflections from hiking the William Arthur Wells Trail at Monte Sano State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/09/17/monte-sano-state-park-exploring-an-addition/ I snapped a few of the photos below on that 2018 hike. I vowed then to meet the gentleman responsible for the memorial trail. William Arthur Wells (Arthur) died October 25, 1944 when his Navy ship went down in the Battle Leyte Gulf (the largest naval engagement of WWII) in the Philippines. I met with Robert (Bob) Wells, Arthur’s 15-year-junior brother at his home exactly 75 years later. The internet is rich with information about this definitive US Naval victory.

I enjoyed my visit with Robert and Catherine, married in 1964. Robert, with significant verified Native American heritage, served six years in the US Army. Robert and Catherine filled in many of the blanks important to the story of Wells Trail, and gave me copies of photographs from Arthur’s pre-WWII days. That’s him below wearing his high school letter sweater flanked by his proud parents. I imagined a toddler Robert standing somewhere nearby witnessing his brother’s graduation celebration.

 

Arthur’s next step in life took him into the Civilian Conservation Corp (October 3, 1939, two months shy of his 18th birthday), ushering him quickly into responsible adulthood. Hard for me now to accept that some universities are teaching credit-bearing courses on something called adulting, defined by an online dictionary as the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. I am sure that Arthur began wearing his big boy pants without benefit of three such college credits! Options remain available today for young men and women to enter adulthood without spending $10,000 or more per year on tuition for such higher education. Among other alternatives are getting a job or enlisting in military service. Okay, as I am now within just 18 months of turning 70, I admit to a bit of cynicism and intolerance for how certain elements of society believe we need to treat our youth as helpless, hopeless, hapless, and dependent snowflakes. Arthur stands atop Monte Sano at his CCC Camp in his dress uniform (below). Did he miss his mom and dad, and his younger brothers Robert and Charles, and sister Nancy? I am certain he did. Was he contributing materially and responsibly to the family’s welfare? Absolutely. Was he adulting? Yes, the young man was now fully engaged as an adult. No safe space and crying rooms for him, nor any of his generation.

Monte Sano

 

The fact that Arthur is pictured at the Monte Sano CCC Camp is a major component of the William Arthur Wells Trail tale.

Arthur exited the CCC September 20, 1941 (three months shy of age 20), heading soon for WWII service in the US Navy, fully grown, mature, and adulted (below left). He served his country faithfully for three years in the Pacific theater. The recognition of service and death-in-combat certificate (lower right) hangs in Robert and Catherine’s home, beautifully glass-encased. Arthur’s presence there seemed real and palpable. I felt deep humility and full gratitude for America’s greatest generation.

 

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own Dad likewise served in the Pacific theater… in the Army Air Corps. That’s Dad and Mom lower left with six-year-old Steve snug between them, just 12 years after the War ended. I am grateful for Dad’s service and blessed that he served and survived. Obvious to the point of absurdity, I would neither have entered this fine Earthly oasis nor developed my passion for Nature without Dad. I believe he would have enjoyed reading my three books and my weekly Blog Posts. Makes me wonder what future generations and achievements sunk into the Pacific 75 years ago in Leyte Gulf. William Arthur Wells gave his last full measure that Robert, Catherine, me, and all Americans would stand free and independent.

Steve Jones Miscellaneous Family

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Memorial Legacy for Future Generations

Robert and three investment partners acquired a large property in 2007 along Dug Hill Road, including the 40 acres “up there on the mountain,” too steep and isolated to develop for commercial or residential purposes. Besides, that ’40’ supported “some of the last virgin forest in Alabama.” Why did the partnership donate the land to the adjoining Monte Sano State Park? Robert did not hesitate in answering — the “tax write-off” sealed the deal. Yet he also admitted to a deep emotion for its continued stewardship. And he made the gift of land contingent upon dedicating the trail to his long-gone but never forgotten brother. The Trail stands as a memorial legacy for a genuine hero. Arthur lives on in these sacred woods — a cathedral forest. I snapped these two photos in 2018. Having visited with Robert and Catherine, I felt William’s spirit when I returned a year later. Although he lives in and will always reside in this special, spiritual, sacred place, I wonder whether Arthur ventured close to this area when he served in the CCC? I like to think that he did.

 

Monte Sano SP

 

I will work with Monte Sano State Park staff to see that mementos from Arthur’s life are displayed at the Park’s CCC Museum.

 

Again, from my 2018 hike, this cathedral grove is a fitting home to the Trail, and for Arthur’s spirit and memory.

 

Benefactors Extraordinaire

Robert and Catherine welcomed me warmly into their lovely home. By the time I departed two hours later, I felt part of the family. I presented them with my second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=nature-inspired+learning+and+leading). The William Arthur Wells Trail Legacy epitomizes what my books and writing extol and urge. Their beaming facial expressions below speak volumes of the kind of people I believe they are. I am convinced that Arthur would be proud of his little brother and Robert’s soul mate. I wonder, how many more Robert and Catherine Wells individuals own property adjacent to one of our 21 Alabama State Parks, potentially rising to legacy donation significance? Through my membership on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, I hope to encourage such legacy awareness and action. Robert and Catherine are land legacy poster exemplars for my own mission statement and the core mission of the AL Parks System.

  • Parks Mission: Acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.
  • Steve’s Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

 

I proudly shook the hand of that fine citizen who lost his older brother 75 years ago in a War that saved the world. Arthur gave his life to that noble cause. Robert never forgot, and chose to leave his and Catherine’s own gift of land treasure to the future. Somehow that handshake passed a little, but still significant, essence of Arthur’s lifeblood into my own veins.

 

Nature’s Lessons Along the William Arthur Wells Trail

I took that spirit along with me weeks later when I once again hiked the Trail, this time in fall-yellowed cathedral glory. The fall color altered my perception, yet that was not all. I viewed the cathedral through a new set of filters. I had since come to “know” William Arthur Wells. I “saw” him standing in CCC and Navy uniforms as I strolled the Trail. I took him along with me. I experienced the grove in multiple dimensions… inhaling the forest’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… channeling those inhalations to Arthur as though he were there with me.

Wells TrailWells Trail at Monte Sano

 

Funny how life courses ahead. The forest is now 75 years older than when Arthur drew his final breath. The forest holds little resemblance to what it was like in 1944. The basswood (Tilia americana) stump cluster below would have been a grouping of sapling-size sprouts growing from the base of the parent tree, likely cut by lumbermen or snapped by wind near its base.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

The Trail serves as a segment for an annual 50K (31 miles) ultra-marathon. I’ve run marathons (26.2 miles) in my younger years, but never through the woods. I know that by mile-mark 20, my level of cognition began to suffer. Simple math required to calculate pace took great concentration. I’m certain that the 50K runners, provided this segment came beyond the 20-mile mark, would deeply appreciate the natural wonders they encountered along the way, but that they likely experienced as a cognitive blur. Instead, I hope their passage drew them back another time in hiking boots, far more ready to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. This Trail, along with hundreds of miles of State Parks trails statewide, serve as ports of entry and transit through our 47,000 acres of Alabama State Parks.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

Trails provide direct access to untold wonders of Nature. The yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) below left bears the vertical scar of a powerful lightning strike, traveling down the trunk hotter than the sun’s surface, searing the cambium. The scar is now healing over with callous tissue, sealing the wound and perhaps permitting the tree to live decades more. The blown over hickory below right fared less well. Wind tipped the entire tree, including its massive root ball downwind. Yet life in the forest goes on — ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Arthur, too, lives on in this forest as the circle goes round and round. Robert and Catherine’s selfless act of love and memory made sure we all remember.

Wells Trail Monte SanoWells Trail Monte Sano

 

On a less melancholy and somber note, the weeping poplar burl, covered by black sooty mold, brought to mind an evil alien egg preparing to loose some terrifying creature on the next passerby. Okay, I’m just having a little fun. Nevertheless, I would like to know more about this spiked protuberance.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

The forest terrain reveals much about local geology. Dr. Callie Schweitzer, US Forest Service Research Scientist who accompanied us, is standing in a sink hole, evidencing the limestone beneath us and expressing the karst topography typical of such limestone under-pinning.

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

I close by once more acknowledging the legacy of William Arthur Wells and the generosity of Robert and Catherine Wells. Every place in Nature has a story. We are blessed by the heroes and fine citizens who have acted selflessly to make tomorrow brighter.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Every place in Nature tells a story… of both human and natural history
  2. Memories and emotion enrich our appreciation and understanding of Nature
  3. There is no better legacy than land preserved and protected in honor of those gone or soon to go

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

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Co-authors Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit and I share great fulfillment in celebrating the publication and release of Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had previously published two similar collections of stories inspired by Nature and told through my deep passion for this Earth and its special places. Here I stand with all three books by a large white oak (Quercus alba) along the Wells Trail. Please think about the books as Holiday gifts.

 

Photos of Steve

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps most importantly, help us identify potential land legacy benefactors.

Happy Thanksgiving — Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve’s Terry Big Tree Trail

It’s Thanksgiving 2019. I am thankful… for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe right here in my backyard; the neighborhood; the County; across the southeast US; nationally; and globally. Take a quick peek at my roughly 50 2019 Great Blue Heron Blog Posts (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/). Nature abounds and rewards, whether it’s the three National Parks I visited and wrote about in southeastern Kazakhstan, or our own Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. Or our magnificent Alabama State Parks.

Chapman Mountain Forest Preserve

Or one of the natural treasures preserved and managed locally by the Land Trust of North Alabama (https://www.landtrustnal.org/). November 6, 2019 I visited a new trail on one of the Land Trust’s tracts (https://www.landtrustnal.org/properties/chapman-mountain-preserve/):

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, our 7th public preserve, is a 371 acre property located just to the east of Huntsville on HWY 72. While we have plans for 10 miles of trails, a little over 3 miles are currently open and ready to explore. Like all of our public preserves, Chapman Mountain is open dawn to dusk. These trails are not just for hiking though. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are also welcome.

My companions and I walked the Terry Big Tree Trail: Named for the family who donated the property, this one mile journey takes you to the northern end of the property and back again. Along the way you’ll see large hardwoods, mossy rocks, and an old roadway.

Allow me to introduce you to the Terry Trail with photos and reflections.

 

Terry Big Tree Trail

 

I love the Land Trust’s tagline: Conservation in Action! As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space changes the entire essence. Talking alone can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.

 

Environmental Action

Good to see that education is an explicit underpinning of the mission. I’ve long held that understanding Nature enhances our appreciation and deepens our commitment to stewardship and action. Knowledge enables and inspires action. The Tree Big Tree Trail masterfully incorporates education in a way that enhances the experience without “burdening” the hiker with learning. Who can resist Fun Facts!

 

I am addicted to many facets of Nature, including tree bark. Ah, to be ant-size and explore these green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) furrows! In this case, feeling is a major component of seeing. Reach out and touch a tree!

 

My intent with this Post is not to offer an exhaustive documentary of the Terry Trail. Instead, in this time of Thanksgiving, I want to introduce you to one example of the Land Trust’s efforts and results, urge you to visit, applaud the dedicated staff and volunteers, and urge your involvement. I am grateful for my fellow citizens who practice Conservation In Action!

I’m a maple syrup purist — don’t expect me to eat a pancake or waffle without the real stuff! And while I seldom find persimmons that are just the right ripeness, I do love the tree’s distinctive blocky bark. Again, a feature hard not to touch.

Chapman Preserve

 

 

Some Magic Along the Way

I accepted Dr. Callie Schweitzer (US Forest Service Research Scientist) and US FS Research Forester Ryan Sisk’s invitation to hike the trail with them. They are both located here in the Forest Service’s Huntsville office. They know the tract (and their craft) quite well. We marveled at the size of the twin white oaks (Quercus alba) below… and appreciated the yellow-tinted fall forest. Recall Robert Frost’s words in The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve

 

I am not sure whether these paths represent the complex metaphor Frost contemplated in his epic poem:

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve

 

I always appreciate imaginative place names. Although absent water, the jumble and tumble of mossy boulders in seeming cascade certainly evoked the moniker.

 

We found several junctures where two roads in fact diverged in a yellow wood. I liked the notion of a Whole Planet Trail. Where does it start? End? Better pack lots of food and water for such a trek! I think I’d prefer the Moonshine Trail, which brings to mind a warm still-fire in a secluded cove, a lookout with eyes peeled for revenuers, a strong toast or two, and lots of colorful stories of dark woods and narrow escapes.

 

The Magic of Nature’s Tree Form Oddities

Below left is the Terry Trail’s official representative black oak (Quercus velutina), meeting the requisite size and regal criteria. However, I found greater satisfaction and appreciation for the black oak specimen below right, raising its arms in glorious praise of Nature’s magic. It brought joy to my heart — Hallelujah!

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve

 

Seeing the expressive oak transported me back 50 years, when Neil Diamond released Brother Loves Traveling Salvation Show:

The room gets suddenly still
And when you’d almost bet
You could hear yourself sweat, he walks in
Eyes black as coal
And when he lifts his face
Every ear in the place is on him
Starting soft and slow
Like a small earthquake
And when he lets go
Half the valley shakes
It’s love, Brother Love say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
And grab the old ladies
And everyone goes
‘Cause everyone knows
‘Bout Brother Love’s show

From this day forward, I will know this oak as Brother Love!

And how about the substantial hickory (Carya sp.) burl below left. Think of it as a kind of tumor. And the wonderful circumferential welts stimulated by yellow belied sapsucker bird pecks. I suspect both unusual growth patterns involve fungal and/or viral agents.

Chapman Preserve

 

Look closely at the twin white oak. The two stems have grown closed, except for a thin strip of separation remaining below the seamed callous where they are conjoined. No healing for the large hickory wind-throw along the trail. The blow-down will bring full sunlight to the forest floor where the tree has left a sizable canopy gap. Although I won’t offer an in-depth discussion now, I am concerned about how a certain ubiquitous invasive will impact succession on this tract. Shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) is already capturing much of the understory, for example the green shrubs beyond the downed hickory.

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve

 

A fall woodland scene on the Chapman Forest Preserve appears so peacefully serene in the photo below, yet in truth a fierce battle is at play. The understory green is the invader, slowly capturing the site, consuming all dappled sunlight that would otherwise sustain spring and summer ephemerals and forest regeneration. For now, focus on the beauty of the scene below. I’ll save deeper discussion of this invasive here in northern Alabama for a future Post… a broader examination of a serious threat.

Chapman Preserve

 

And it’s easy to leave you with the positive. The yellow wood sets the mood for a fitting end to my first hike on the Terry Trail. The lowering sun offers promise, inspiration, and a soon-to-settle season of rest and renewal. It signals the generosity of those who donated the land, and the selfless dedication of Land Trust volunteers and staff.

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve

 

The Trail evidences that Conservation In Action is essential to creating a brighter tomorrow.  Visit the web page. Get involved. Act!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the four succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Conservation In Action can…and will…change the world, one special place at a time
  2. Conservation of all wildness is an act of selfless resolve and harnessed passion
  3. We can dedicate ourselves one step at a time… progress is normally incremental
  4. Be thankful for every small step… celebrate every victory

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

Steve's BooksChapman Preserve

 

It’s Thanksgiving — Time to Add a Little Meat on my Bones

Hiking and writing consume a lot of calories! I’m thankful for the Day’s bounty and Blessings!

Three Books

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; and co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of my own (and Dr. Wilhoit’s) rich experiences in Nature. The books are collections of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Mid-September Nature at the C&O Canal National Historical Park

Cumberland, Maryland and My Central Appalachian Roots

I attended my 50th high school reunion this September. Who could possibly have imagined how many old people would be there! So great to see some 100 fellow class-of-69 time travelers. Our Earth has revolved on its axis more than 18,000 times since we graduated. Every hour of each day the Earth sped Cumberland Maryland’s 39.6 degrees North latitude spot on the planet 801 miles eastward. We spun some 19,224 miles per day…totaling a mind-numbing 351 million miles across those 50 orbits of our sun. Our Earth covered 584 million miles every time we orbited the sun, or 29 billion miles over that half-century. Not to mention the solar system’s movement within the Milky Way, and our galaxy’s motion within the universe. All that, and the Potomac River still passes by town relatively unchanged (below). A river pays no heed to years or even centuries or millennia. It’s been here since the ancient Appalachian orogeny (325-260 million years ago) began creating the Himalayan-scale high peaks that have since eroded to these soft ridges that nestle western Maryland’s Queen City and Fort Hill High School today.

 

I captured all these images as I hiked three miles out (and then back) along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) the morning of our reunion picnic.

 

Reading Landscape History through Vegetation

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924. I hiked along the Canal’s towpath often until I left Cumberland in 1971, and then nearly every time since that I’ve returned to visit family. The C&O Canal, designated as a National Historical Park in 1971 (https://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm), extends 184.5 miles from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Cumberland. Construction started on its eastern terminus in 1828, reaching Cumberland in 1850. The canal backers had planned to reach Pittsburgh and the Ohio River, engaging in a ferocious competitive engineering and construction contest with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), which made it to Cumberland eight years before the C&O, and then summited the Allegheny Mountains en route to Pittsburgh. I’ve biked the entire C&O Canal towpath length, enjoying the rich history and natural environment along the way. Once the old Western Maryland Railroad abandoned its tracks, The Allegheny Trail Alliance began creating the Great Allegheny Passage rails to trail. I’ve biked the 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. What wonderful fodder for Blog Posts if I ever repeat those journeys!

Just south of Cumberland, the view below (looking upriver) captures a railroad trestle crossing the towpath, the old canal bed to the right. Oh, to have a photograph of a canal boat passing under, mule pulling dutifully, as a steam locomotive crossed above! The 24-inch diameter sycamore seeded, sprouted, and grew to its 80-foot height subsequent to the 1924 floods that sent the operating Canal into antiquity, yielding commerce transportation exclusively to the iron horses and steel rails, and subsequently to the knights of our highways.

 

For good reason I do not recall the canal-side 3-4-foot diameter trees from my 1950s and 60s explorations along the towpath. Those individuals would have been no older than a quarter century during my early years, and much smaller then, little more than saplings.

 

Late Summer Flowers and Plants

Although summer was drawing rapidly to an end, I saw plenty of color along the towpath. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus; below left) and wingstem (Verbisina alternifolia; right) stood tall and commonly.

 

Not nearly so common, chickory (Cichorium intybus) provided a splash of blue now and then. Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) appeared only in more open areas. I’ve seen it in flower on prior visits much earlier in the season. I spotted these blooms on vigorous new growth on plants that I believe were mowed during the summer along drainage-ways in grassy areas.

 

Common White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima; below left) and Smooth Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) bordered the towpath in areas absent overhanging trees and deeper shade.

 

Hairy White Oldfield Aster (Symphotrichum pilosum; below left) and morning glory (Convolvulaceae family) offered still-sharp whites also along the more open edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No longer flowering, Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) added its own color with its purple berries and red stems.

 

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), according the the Invasive Plant Atlas, is a dense growing shrub reaching heights of 10 ft. (3 m). The semi-woody stem is hollow with enlarged nodes. Leaves are alternate, 6 in. (15.2 cm) long, 3-4 in. (7.6-10 cm) wide and broadly-ovate. Flowering occurs in late summer, when small, greenish-white flowers develop in long panicles in the axils of the leaves. Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers occur on separate plants). Japanese knotweed commonly invades disturbed areas with high light, such as roadsides and stream banks. Reproduction occurs both vegetatively (rhizomes) and seeds, making this plant extremely hard to eradicate. The dense patches shade and displace other plant life and reduce wildlife habitat. Japanese knotweed resembles giant knotweed (Polygonum sachalinense), but giant knotweed is larger and has heart-shaped leaves. Japanese knotweed is native to eastern Asia and was first introduced into North America in the late 1800s.

 

I found a few patches of impenetrable knotweed thickets, void of light reaching the ground (above right), and easy to see why nothing can withstand its advance and site-capture.

Long since flowering, Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum; below left) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) provided their own touch of seasonal beauty along the towpath. On the unseasonably warm morning I hiked, senesced individuals promised cooler fall days ahead.

 

I’m entering a region of botanical uncertainty with this plant. I left my reference books back in Alabama. I failed to make notes supplementing the photographs. The photos alone did not furnish the diagnostic details I needed. A naturalist colleague here in Alabama assisted via photo-sharing (encumbered by the same diagnostic limits). The best we could do was agree upon a cautious identification as possumhaw (Ilex decidua). I am only about 75 percent certain… and could be persuaded out of it… so long as you are convincing!

Privet Fruit

 

The trees, shrubs, and forbs are inexorably reclaiming what had for nearly a century been a state-of-the art artery of commerce… a battleground for competing modes of transport. The battle long since settled, some 95 years since the Canal’s commercial demise, Nature is proving to be the ultimate victor. The National Park Service, with the over-arching protection by the C&O Canal’s designation as a National Historical Park, manages the 184.5-mile corridor with a soft touch.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of a National Historical Park designation, inexorably reclaims what humanity once cleared and domesticated.
  2. Human-scale time has no meaning to a river, nor to the mountains within which it courses.
  3. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” The C&O National Historical Park is no less a part of our heritage than Yellowstone or Yosemite.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to promote the publication and release of our co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

 

 

Lake Guntersville State Park — The Glory of Sunrise and Sunset

I returned to Lake Guntersville State Park October 16-18 to attend our fall meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board. Always ready to take advantage of every opportunity to further explore our 21-pearl necklace of State Parks (covering 47,000 acres), I arranged to spend two half-days on park trails with Lake Guntersville State Park Naturalist Mike Ezell. See my prior Post describing our wanderings along a newly reopened trail through a portion of the Park ravaged by the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak.

An Everyday Place — Extraordinary Expressions of Nature’s Inspiration

Join me now for a quick immersion in the glory of the simple, ordinary twice-daily phenomena as our Earth spins east into the morning sun, and hours later continues to spin out from under the setting sun. Dawn and dusk, day after day, year after year. Visual magic fit for royalty–each day potentially (and usually) different from the prior. I write these words at dawn October 29, sitting in my home office. Dense fog obscures any hint of color; a monochromatic black and white morning. No early brightening to the east. The entire world slowly draws into focus; cardinal directions indistinguishable. I love both ends of the day, whether crisp and clear or damp and foggy.

What a privilege to enjoy two sunsets and sunrises at the LG SP lodge atop Sand Mountain, overlooking the Lake. I’ll begin with the entrance sign upon my late morning arrival. Entering any of our Parks gives me a sense of peace, satisfaction, and anticipation.

 

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Because I neglected to take a photo of the Lodge, here’s one from the official Park website. Next time I will strive to remember to snap an image. Even as I write those words, I am reminded of the sage Yoda, who said “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Lake Guntersville SP

Official AL Parks Photo

 

From my July 26, 2018 visit, here is yet another morning at the Lodge overlooking the Lake as morning burned away the thick fog that had earlier obscured the valley. I include the photo here to represent just another special morning that left indelible visual memories. See my Blog Post from August 2018.

 

I can’t remember the last time the sun brightened the morning before I awoke. I know many people who might observe the reverse, “I can’t recall the last time I awakened before dawn.” The mornings are mine; I belong to the new day’s dawning. Forget the midnight oil; even in my youth nothing about midnight attracted my attention. I’ve often set the alarm for 11:45PM on New Years Eve!

October 16 sunset from my Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge room balcony could not have been more satisfying. I’ve said often that I prefer paintings that look like photos… and photos that look like paintings. Nature expresses herself beautifully… a view that paints ten thousand words! Heaven on Earth… Heavenly Earth. Soul-soothing, begging the question, “Did I put this day to good use? Am I prepared to make tomorrow meaningful? Am I worthy of the gift of Nature’s wonder?”

Lake Guntersville SP

Lake Guntersville SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The October 17 sunset matched its predecessor’s elixir dosage. Imagine being unaware of what lies within plain site. Imagine being blinded indoors by some shallow digital distraction while this glorious scene passes unobserved right outside the door. Imagine some banal message self-imposing a sense of urgency upon our lives. Missing this for what? Better be much more important than it probably is. Relax, reward, renew, refresh, resplendent — Nature dazzles even when she wears her everyday garb. It’s there for the taking. Deep breaths, studied visual inhalation, and perhaps a bit of 18-year-old Scotch to sip. The elixir deepens life, even if not extending it.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Morning Has Broken

The October 18 dawn added its own touch of life-renewing and refreshing intoxication. Who could not but be positive about the day ahead! A still-shadowed near-shore; the western sky returning the sun’s greeting from behind me. The morning’s fog rolling along the lake, soon to burn away with the day’s heat.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Sunrise and sunset, in October the two growing closer and closer beyond the September equinox in anticipation of December 21, when the separation begins once again. I draw spirit-strength from dawn and dusk, the transition periods that twice a day signal both beginning and end. Either a night ending (or beginning) or a day (ending or beginning). My time on this Earth has extended across more than 25,000 dawns. I hope many more remain. Until I experience one fewer than the other, I will cherish each day, celebrate each gloaming, and long for each new day.

Cat Stevens sang so eloquently of the day’s dawning in Morning Has Broken:

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

I echo the lyrics: praise for the singing, praise for the morning… God’s recreation of the new day!

July 10, 2019 sunrise at Joe Wheeler State Park. Every Park a jewel; every sunrise a gift!

Joe Wheeler SP Sunrise

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Never has a new day begun without a dawn breaking; the same applies to all human endeavors
  2. Nature presents two gifts every day — sunrise and sunset (with the exception of latitudes above the polar circles)
  3. Something so ordinary (and twice-daily) as a sunrise or sunset can lighten our burden, lift our spirit, and strengthen our resolve to live each day fully

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

Co-authors Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, whether Lake Guntersville or Buck’s Pocket:

Every sunrise tells a tale of Nature’s Passion.

 

 

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.

 

Buck’s Pocket State Park

I stopped by Buck’s Pocket State Park mid-October… a side excursion from my primary destination at Lake Guntersville State Park (LG SP). What a great stroke of good fortune. My first visit and an unanticipated thrill. We entered via a short 20-minute drive from LG SP across the plateau of Sand Mountain. The Buck’s Pocket moniker? My State Park hosts could not be sure whether the “buck” referred to a male deer or a person’s name. I have not researched to determine for myself.

The “pocket” part is self-evident. The topography is clearly a sunken “pocket,” its canyon floor lying 800-feet below the plateau rimrock. I will return another time to explore the Park far more intimately than our quick walk to the Jim Lynn Overlook allowed.

A Pocket of Beauty Atop Sand Mountain’s Plateau

I did not know what to expect, yet I must admit whatever I anticipated fell far short of what appeared! This is a magnificently surprising landscape. We emerged from the unremarkable plateau with mixed farm and forest to a spectacular vista. Far below we spotted a small lake, where our State Park host, Superintendent Michael Jeffreys, told us we would find the camping area. I can only imagine what lies in some of those hidden coves and protected lower slopes. I visualize some rich sites with fat oaks and poplars reaching skyward. And some great natural spring wildflower gardens. As Robert Service observed in his Spell of the Yukon: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back–and I will.”

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The simple overlook view ignited a passion for this place, where I’ve not yet ventured with boots on the ground. Perhaps I am blinded by seeing far more from the overlook than I had anticipated, yet I feel certain I will not be disappointed. I am learning more about my northern Alabama, southern Appalachian neighborhood. I am eager to descend into the pocket; I see it as a full-day hike and exploration. I will carry notepad and camera… and share my impressions and reflections with readers. I am thrilled that anticipation fills me with joy for tomorrow. Recall from John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High… “going home to a place I’ve never been before.” So, watch these Posts for what I find and how I react. I’ve said often that every acre of every parcel of God’s green Earth tells a tale.

 

A Hard-Scrabble Life

Even the rimrock tells tales. The dead Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) signals the hazards of life at the edge (literally and metaphorically). Life is exposed; conditions are harsh; there are no guarantees for extended bliss and happy days. What is scenery to a tree — likely not sufficient to cover the cost of living in shallow soils, standing firm against persistent wind; bearing the brunt of ice storms and scalding sunlight. I am grateful for the tree’s valiant efforts… and for the photo-frame and contrast of its dead standing skeleton. Its gift of a focal point. Its expression of existence as conflict in the ongoing succession of life and death.

Buck's Pocket SP

Somehow this smaller, yet still very much alive, Virginia pine perseveres, finding purchase on the edge in a fissure… fully exposed on bare rock, yet somehow tapping sufficient life forces (soil medium and moisture) year after year. It provides a point of rimrock focus, and a wonderful foreground for the pocket falling away beyond it.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

And the pine stands as a nice backdrop to NE District Superintendent Mike Jeffreys.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

With or without Mike and the lone pine, the Buck’s Pocket scenery is exquisite, especially as we neared sunset.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is one of my lifetime favorites. It’s an intermediate canopy occupant, rarely reaching into the overstory. Its sweet blossoms are coveted by beekeepers. Its honey commands premium prices. The persistent seed heads decorate this sourwood on the rimrock.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

This dead Virginia pine is, in my mind, the Jim Lynn Overlook standard-bearer. Its story is told in annual rings. I wonder how many years ago the newly germinated seedling grew it first needles. I feel certain that its much younger self furnished a little shade to a CCC crew as they labored with stonework at the overlook. Does it date back to Native Americans gazing over the valley. I think not, but I won’t flatly rule our the possibility.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Again, I feel great curiosity for the multidimensional stories of passion for place and everyday Nature. Contemplating the rich human and natural history of this spot and so many more stirs my soul and stimulates my imaginings. I am eager to return to Buck’s Pocket: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to back–and I will.”

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Some places stir love at first sight
  2. We each define special places through our own subjective lens
  3. Robert Service nailed it: “The freshness, the freedom, the farness–Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all… There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back–and I will.”

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

Co-authors Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, whether Lake Guntersville or Buck’s Pocket:

Buck's Pocket SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative, including initiatives related to exploring and revealing what lies hidden in plain sight.