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.

Mid-October Lake Guntersville State Park: Special Small Trees and Shrubs

I spent two half-days at Lake Guntersville State Park on the trails with Park Naturalist Mike Ezell, October 15-16, 2019. I never tire of this State Park pearl, just one hour twenty minutes from my home. My intent is to share photos and reflections from this early fall point-in-time exposure. Each immersion in Nature, even at a single place, reveals features, images, and realities different from the last… both because things have changed over the time interval or because closer inspection yields what previously had been hidden within. And each visit uncovers new impressions through fresh eyes, altered attitude, or since-acquired knowledge. Every journey into any wildness, local or international, heightens the senses and leads me to stronger belief in and understanding of Nature’s ways.

I have written often in these essays of my five essential verbs for discovering and appreciating Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… compelling me to practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship. I hope that they apply to your orientation to Nature as well. From my Great Blue Heron website:

  • I find Nature’s Lessons because I know they lie hidden within view — to believe enables me to look and see… to discover
  • Really look, with eyes open to your surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
  • Be alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
  • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
  • Feel emphatically enough to spur action

I begin with two photos I took late last summer at the Park when Mike and I trekked several trails (July 26, 2018) some seven weeks (and a year) prior to the recent visit. I offer it in simple contrast to evidence the inexorable seasonal progression, year after year, week after week. Below left is the distinctive blocky bark of an overstory persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana). That’s Mike’s hand holding seven dropped still-green persimmons. I’ll keep you in suspense for a couple of photographs and two or three paragraphs to show how ripening altered the look of this year’s persimmon crop over that seven week period. Bear with me.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

We did not revisit the undisturbed forest trails we hiked last year… so we did not encounter the same tree or even another overstory persimmon tree.

 

Tornado-Disturbed (April 27, 2011) Mid-Slope Forest

An outbreak of three tornadoes crossed the Park during an historically violent day here in Alabama April 27, 2011. The National Weather Service reported 62 tornadoes in Alabama alone: https://www.weather.gov/bmx/event_04272011. Mike and I focused our wanderings within the very large tornado-disturbed acreage. We walked a two-mile trail recently relocated and cleared of debris from those storms, soon to be reopened to public use. Here’s Mike standing in the hollow of a large blow-down. Wind toppled the tree lifting the roots and associated soil matrix. The resultant micro-topography goes by at least two monikers: pit and mound; hummock and hollow. Nine growing seasons after the outbreak, a young forest is developing beyond the mound, which is now softening from its sharp features immediately after the trauma… roots are decaying, raindrop impact is eroding the mound, and leaves and organic debris are accumulating in the pit.

Guntersville SP

 

We strolled past massive jackstrawed heaps of trunks and tops. I failed to successfully capture an image good enough to include in this Post. Here’s the oddly re-sprouted stump of a 15+-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) sheared fifteen feet above ground by the wrenching winds. The seven-inch diameter sprout is reaching for the sky along with many other sapling-size hardwoods, the various species evolved over eons to recapture sites leveled by wind, ice, or other elemental forces of Nature. So closely associated with the decaying stump, this sprout will likely succumb to the more routine force of wind and ice.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Okay, you were patient — I’ve returned to persimmon. No longer green, these fruits are nearly ripe. We tasted, and found them disappointingly stringent. We estimated another two weeks before they would be human-edible and desirable. Rewarded by the tornado with full sunlight, this tree now bears a full fruit burden, bending the branches and promising lots of goodness for foraging wildlife. Tornado devastation? To hikers along the rehabilitated trail for the past nine years — yes! To wildlife flourishing from the rich persimmon fruit harvest this year — no! To the forest itself? Forest stands ebb and flow over time. One year… a vigorous maturing mixture of overstory hardwood species. April 27, 2011… a powerful tornado violently leveling the stand to near-ground level. Nine years later… yet another stage, this one of violent recovery. Powerful forces of rebirth. It’s Nature’s way. Let’s project to 2069… a half-century hence. Hikers will enjoy the deep summer shade, will marvel at the arching canopy, the towering trunks. That is, an old-growth forest… until the next tornado, hurricane, or ice storm. Nothing is static in Nature… she does not know…or prefer…stasis.

 

Even day-to-day, nothing remains the same. A week later, this leaf will have gone to burgundy, and a week later will be transitioning to forest floor, fueling future forest growth and renewal.

 

We discovered multiple species that are new to me… or, at least unfamiliar. Mike identified them, yet admitted that they seemed to be uncommonly plentiful in the tornado recovery zone. Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana) seemed vigorous, thriving in those disturbed areas. I suspect they are still responding to the overstory removal and their new life in plentiful sunshine. Deep dark green leaves, with the species’ distinctive parallel lateral venation, and a good fruit crop, in this case already ripened from red to black. Birds will soon make short work of them.

 

Again, the deep venation is a distinguishing feature.

 

The winged elm (Ulmus alata) threw me for a loop. I immediately thought of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), quite common and likewise bearing the corky wings on small branches. Yet these seemed far more prominent… and, most importantly, bearing leaves clearly not sweetgum. Mike quickly introduced me to winged elm. A few leaves remained (below left) despite our prolonged late summer and early fall drought. I could not stop admiring the pronounced wings and greenish twigs (below right). I will never again mistake this understory and intermediate canopy occupant for sweetgum. Once again, here is a species flourishing in the uber-disturbed tornado path. I am becoming more confident that certain species that occupy the understory of our regional hardwood forest, almost invisibly lie in wait for the apocalyptic disturbances that afford them a brief (decade or two) period of explosive growth and reproduction while the main canopy forest species recapture the site. The species like Carolina buckthorn then lie patiently in wait… until the next major disturbance. The game is termed forest ecology and succession. Nothing in Nature is static; Nature is prepared for any and all eventualities.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is common across northern Alabama; its cousin yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) according to Mike’s experience at Lake Guntersville State Park, is not. From Auburn University’s Trees of Alabama and the Southeast, “Leaves are opposite, deciduous and palmately compound with 5-7 obovate leaflets. Stout light brown twigs show prominent terminal buds and shield shaped leaf scars. Bark is gray-brown and smooth on small trees and becomes scaly and plated, sometimes with “bull’s-eye” grooves in the bark, on large trees. Flowers are pale yellow. Fruit is a smooth capsule enclosing two poisonous nuts. Form is up to 26 m (85 ft) in height and 1.5 m (5 ft) in diameter. Yellow buckeye is a large tree found in rich mesic woods in northern Alabama.” I’ve always been a buckeye tree fan, collecting the dark brown “eyed” nuts enthusiastically as a kid in western Maryland. To this day I can’t resist gathering them.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I must admit, too, that I’ve never been an Ohio State University Buckeye fan. Nine years on the faculty at Penn State, a faithful Nittany Lion fan, I view the “Luckeyes” (yeah, the spelling is intentional) as a major rival… one that beat us too often! My love of the nut, however, still stands undiminished.

Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) is another of my formative-years favorites. I grew up 28 miles upstream (along the Potomac River) from Paw Paw, West Virginia. This under- and mid-story forest species flourishes in the central Appalachians, seeming quite content on the more xeric mid- and upper slopes. From a National Park Service website, paw paw are shade tolerant “trees in the forest understory. With leaves and branches that deer avoid, and fruit that is loved by all, the pawpaw… is a fascinating native tree. It’s the only local member of a large, mainly-tropical plant family (Annonaceae), and produces the largest edible fruit native to North America.” When ripe, its yellowish to near-brown fruit is quite sweet with a dollop of banana taste and consistency. When I encountered fruit for the picking and eating I considered myself fortunate indeed. I worked as a Forester’s Aid both sophomore/junior and junior/senior summers on Green Ridge State Forest in Maryland’s Appalachians, the heart of paw paw country. Since then my encounters with ripe paw paws have been far too infrequent.

Tornadic winds brought a main canopy tree from vertical to horizontal, flattening the paw paw sapling below that now supports the four visible vertical saplings that have since sprouted and now reach for the light above. Nature prepares all of her denizens (plant and animal) to deal with adversity.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I love the shape, size, texture, tropical-nature, and color of paw paw leaves (below). I thrilled with each new and unanticipated secondary species we encountered in the recovering tornado-disturbed forest. Who knows how long this paw paw had patiently persevered in the forest understory shade, evolutionarily prepared to exploit the tornado-delivered gift of light. One man’s bane is another’s boon. Nature does not pass judgment on phenomena that we humans might class as good or bad, favorable or catastrophic. The paw paw knows only that when forest floor light increases, its role is to act… produce more leaf surface; grow and prosper; accelerate flowering and fruiting; reproduce. The window of opportunity will be brief. The overstory forest will likewise respond, reach above the paw paw, and once more relegate the paw paw to its proper place in the shade.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

So, persimmon, Carolina buckthorn, winged elm, paw paw, and yellow buckeye… already five species accounted for on the tornado-disturbed hillside. And yet two more secondary species caught our eye. The first is eastern Bumelia (Bumelia lycioides), a shrub to small tree with thorns at buds. Once more, Mike immediately identified this sharp-thorned and angular-stemmed tree-shrub.

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Peterson’s Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs nailed the leaves: “Leaves narrow to elliptic or even parallel-sided  or egg-shaped, without teeth, tips short-pointed or rounded, either hairless or somewhat silky. Leaf blades 2.5-6 inches. Height to 30′.” It takes a special knowledge and talent to write these wonderful descriptors.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

And the seventh hillside canopy-subordinate species we identified is rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum). From a University of Florida website: “A native of the well-drained, upland woods of southeastern North America, Rusty Blackhaw forms a multiple or (occasionally) single-trunked small tree or large shrub, reaching 25 feet in height with an equal spread. The dark bark is blocky, resembling older Flowering Dogwood bark. Trunks usually grow no thicker than six inches and arch away from the tree, forming a pleasing, vase-shaped crown. Leaves are dark green, three inches long, leathery, and extremely glossy. The tree is covered in springtime with striking five-inch-wide clusters of small, white blooms. These flowers are followed by clusters of dark blue, waxy, one-half-inch-long fruits that are extremely popular with wildlife and will occasionally persist on the plant from September throughout the autumn, if not eaten by wildlife. In fall, Rusty Blackhaw puts on a brilliant display of scarlet red to purple foliage.”

Lake Guntersville SPLake Guntersville SP

 

Had I seen this specimen following leaf fall (and without Mike), I would have declared dogwood (Cornus florida). The bark is a dead-ringer for dogwood.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Although not typically a secondary species, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is shade tolerant and would have been content in the understory of the pre-tornado forest, opportunistically biding time, positioned and poised to spring into the overstory in the event of main canopy removal. This one caught our eye with its circumferential yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) bird peck. Another element of Nature’s bag of tricks and special visual treats.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

 

Away from the Tornado Track

Even if one of the tornadoes had tracked across this place on the map, the cave would have cared not a single iota. This geologic feature is clearly mapped and openly accessible. My interests reach beyond Nature’s biological wonders.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I am always alert for tree form oddities — see my related Post from January 2019: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/01/14/our-lives-mimic-nature-lessons-learned-from-tree-form-oddities/. We spotted this white oak (Quercus alba) near the Cave Trail (see above). These massive burls flank both sides behind me, earning my declared moniker of angel-winged oak! Perhaps in the Halloween gloaming I would lean more toward a more ghoulish characterization!

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Mike guided me off trail to another cave, purposely off the beaten and publicized track, where the entrance is more dangerous (a 20-foot vertical drop) and the resident bat colony meriting protection.

 

The limestone ledges surround the sink-hole near the cave entrance. The hole, now sediment and debris filled to level, supports a vibrant stand of mixed hardwood reaching skyward with straight and clear boles. The soils are rich… and the trees demonstrate their gratitude in height and girth.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

This white oak and partnering grape vine grow at the lower slope just a few feet above sink’s ground level.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

And this two-foot diameter black walnut (Juglans nigra), also at the ledge base and tapping the fertile sink soil, expresses the site’s richness.

Lake Guntersville SP

 

I am partial to high quality hardwood forests on deep, well-drained, fertile sites. I am pleased that tornado steering currents protected this special place. What I don’t know is how many such special places the spring twisters ravaged. I cannot even be certain that 60-80 years ago a similar weather day did not rip through a previous stand in this very spot… leading to the forest I am now admiring, even revering, viewing it as a forest cathedral, deeply spiritual and awe inspiring. Remember, Nature makes no judgement with respect to forest beauty… or human life and limb.

 

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. Nature is magnificent in both beauty and violence, acting without judgement or prejudice
  2. Disturbance, whether catastrophic or gradual, is the rule; nothing in Nature is static
  3. Deep time has prepared all life for disturbance; an F-3 tornado is but a perturbation in the life of a forest ecosystem… extending across millennia

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 State Park or a Local Greenway!

 

Lake Guntersville 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.

For to Cherish We Must See and Fondle

Here’s how I began this extended series of Great Blue Heron Blog Posts more than two months ago: July 12-24, 2019 Judy and I enjoyed a dream National Parks tour through Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Badlands… among other natural and historic features and monuments. Watch for 6-10 additional Blog Posts with photos and applicable observations and reflections. I won’t know exactly what topics I’ll address until I get into drafting. The first Post on the sojourn: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/07/26/previewing-a-series-of-blog-posts-july-2019-national-parks-journey/

I anticipated encountering crowds, especially at the better known features within Yellowstone. I knew that the National Parks we would be visiting encompassed vast acreages of wilderness punctuated by roadside natural attractions (e.g., Old Faithful; the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone; Mammoth Hot Springs). I will not attempt here to explain the management thrusts and practices among our National Parks, Federally-designated Wilderness, and National Forests. I will say simply that many of Yellowstone’s two-plus million acres are managed as wilderness (even without the capital “W”).

 

Aldo Leopold: Conservation of All Wildness is Self-Defeating

Conservation icon Aldo Leopold observed in A Sand County Almanac (1949): All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish

Perhaps Leopold’s declaration holds true for actual Wilderness, which according to The Wilderness Act of 1964 is thusly defined: A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

Although Old Faithful lies within a vast wilderness, the Geyser, Yellowstone Inn, the Education Center, and the near-surroundings of the Old Faithful Geyser Basin are anything but Wilderness! The crowds surging around Old Faithful were about what I had expected from videos, literature, and visitor reports. Because reality matched my expectations I felt no disappointment. The Park Service, I felt, managed the crowds quite well. People observed the rules; bathrooms did not have excessive lines; and I never felt overwhelmed by people-noise or shuffling disinterested masses. I saw a few bits of litter, yet I did not expect to see none.

 

I can’t imagine Old Faithful impressing me more were Judy and I the only observers. I suppose such a national treasure cannot be held in isolation. I cherished the two eruptions we witnessed. I used the term national treasure. I did not conduct an empirically sound survey, yet as I observed and monitored informally across the Park, I estimate that only half the conversations I overheard were in English. Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features are global treasures. All the more reason to share… and do so in a managed and controlled manner, holding high fidelity to ensuring that future generations can see and sustainably fondle.

 

National Park visitation reached one million in 1920. Two million six years later; three million in 1929; and doubling to six million in 1934. And doubling again to 12 million by 1936. The National Park System reported 318.2 million visitors in 2018! Yellowstone alone welcomed four million visitors in 2018; Grand Tetons 3.5 million; and Great Smoky Mountains 11.4 million. Here’s the crowd we joined at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Our bus carried 42 individuals, well represented in this throng.

 

Despite the human herd, we still enjoyed a great view and captured memorable images (below right).

 

Managing wild places is an act of delicate balancing. The PBS six-episode series on The National Parks (Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan of Florentine Films) tells us, Stephen Mather was the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park idea in important new directions Mather took on staff, paying their salaries out of his own pocket, and began a public relations and political lobbying campaign to build awareness of the parks and increase their size and number. He raised funds from his wealthy friends to purchase new park lands, and he often purchased land himself and donated it to the National Park Service for protection. He joined forces with the budding automotive industry to “democratize” the parks by making them more accessible to a broader cross-section of Americans. He and his assistant, Horace Albright, professionalized the corps of superintendents and rangers in the parks. 

 

One can question whether without Mather’s insistence on democratizing the Parks they would have become the treasures-for-perpetuity they are today. Without the tremendous number of visitors, elected officials may have yielded to the persistent pressures to mine, harvest timber, dam, and otherwise exploit natural resources within existing Park boundaries… or the strong lobbying to avoid adding new Parks or not expand extant units. The Burns series eloquently presents the tale. I urge you to borrow the series from your local library… or buy it. I’ve taught a university-level continuing education course based upon the series. I am scheduled to teach it yet again this coming winter/spring semester.

 

Overcoming Leopold’s Lament

I had held Leopold’s grim outlook firmly since first reading A Sand County Almanac in 1969 as a forestry student. Even though you may think from the paragraphs above that I have abandoned his premise, I have not. The Natural treasures highlighted and drawing appreciative crowds in this and preceding Posts are not Wilderness… certainly not the capital “W” of Federally-designated Wilderness. Instead, as in Mammoth Hot Springs below, these are protected, managed, and interpreted “wildness.”

 

The many miles of boardwalk enable visitors to see without fondling, maintaining the wildness in a manner that future generations can continue to cherish. Sure, I saw an occasional bit of litter near the walkways and at several particularly windy spots visitors had lost their hats. Most disturbing to me were the cigarette butts, representing an intentional insult to the wildness and to other visitors. A spent butt does not blow out of the offender’s hand. It’s either dropped or tossed. Do you detect my personal distaste for this vile habit — I’m not attempting to hide how I feel!

 

We trundled along to the boardwalk overlook at Tower-Roosevelt with lots of fellow visitors. Again, we were able to capture unobstructed images once we worked our way to the front (below right). I reasoned that without the visitor-demand prompting Park creation and annual appropriations, we may not have had a two-plus million acre Park, the fine roads that enabled our coach-bus access to places within Yellowstone like Tower-Roosevelt, and the ubiquitous boardwalks and decked overlooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the photo below shows people scattered along the boardwalk at West Thumb Geyser Basin, I felt as one with the wildness around me. Judy and I are in our upper sixties; we did not sign up for the 12-day trip for a wilderness experience. This was wildness aplenty! We cherished most everything we saw. Were we inclined toward a back-country adventure we would not have been on this tour.

 

Without the boardwalks there is no way we would have seen these prismatic hydrothermal features. Again, without the justifying crowds, the Park Service could not have afforded constructing and maintaining the boardwalks. I view it as a positive feedback loop… a favorable Catch-22.

 

National Park System Mission

I am convinced that Aldo Leopold wasn’t thinking about our National Parks when he penned his conservation of all wildness lament. He knew the Parks Mission served a broader purpose. A National Park Service website speaks to the rationale for creating our first National Park, Yellowstone: By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The current mission of the Park System is eloquent in its simplicity: 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 iconic Roosevelt stone arch gateway welcoming visitors to Yellowstone’s North Entrance says it all: For the benefit and Enjoyment of the People.

File Photo from a National Park Service website

That’s our crowd below along the Snake River just south of the Grand Teton National Park. How hypocritical it would be of me to complain about crowding when I am sharing a bus (and three rafts) with 41 other visitors!

 

 

The wilderness of the Tetons towers above our group. I think most of us on the trip would agree that we are standing in the wildness of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Our touch is remarkably light… seeing with virtually no fondling. I took photographs of the magnificent Tetons without our group in the foreground. However, the one below serves as both reminder of the exquisite wildness and a remembrance of the great group of new friends who shared the journey with us.

 

Sure, at Teton National Park I would have enjoyed hiking the loop trail around Jenny Lake and venturing more deeply into the hills and across the valley, but that was not the intent of our tour. At Badlands National Park, to the contrary, I had no desire to venture into the stark and harshly beautiful…and dangerous…canyons. I was happy to stay on the boardwalks, sharing them with many others who were just as content as I to see without fondling (or stumbling, falling, and tumbling)!

 

Likewise, I felt appreciation, admiration, and fulfillment sharing with many others the trail circuiting Devils Tower’s base. I had absolutely no wish to join the dozen or so climbers we saw on the Tower… No Way!!!!

 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial was just as crowded as we knew it would be. The four presidents adorn a granite mountain amidst the wildness of northwestern South Dakota. It’s a location of natural beauty, yet it is a man-made feature. The Memorial is certainly not, nor was it created to be, an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. In some ways, although remotely located, Mount Rushmore differs little in spirit and intent from our incredible National Memorials along the Mall in Washington D.C.

 

Again, For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People! Nothing I might write could express our 12-day, five-state experience any more eloquently.

 

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. Wilderness and wildness are complementary constructs… not synonyms.
  2. Aldo Leopold’s “All Conservation of Wildness is Self-defeating” lament does not apply well to our National Parks.
  3. NPS Mission: “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.”

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 announce the publication and release of our first 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

The Tumbling Mirth Of Sun-split Clouds: Sky Gazing on a 12-Day National Parks Journey

This Post is the next in a series of multiple photographic essays from our July National Parks journey, beginning with my late July Post previewing the series: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/07/26/previewing-a-series-of-blog-posts-july-2019-national-parks-journey/. See all the subsequent Posts at: http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/. My focus for this Post is heavenward.

NASA describes our planet’s atmosphere in objective clinical terms: The Earth’s atmosphere is an extremely thin sheet of air extending from the surface of the Earth to the edge of space. The Earth is a sphere with a roughly 8000 mile diameter; the thickness of the atmosphere is about 60 miles. In this picture, taken from a spacecraft orbiting at 200 miles above the surface, we can see the atmosphere as the thin blue band between the surface and the blackness of space. If the Earth were the size of a basketball, the thickness of the atmosphere could be modeled by a thin sheet of plastic wrapped around the ball. Gravity holds the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface. Within the atmosphere, very complex chemical, thermodynamic, and fluid dynamics effects occur. The atmosphere is not uniform; fluid properties are constantly changing with time and location. We call this change the weather. A NASA photo begins to strip away the cold objectivity, translating the words to art, spirituality, and wonder:

NASA Website Photo

 

Allow me a postscript of sorts to the basketball and plastic film analogy. I recall reading once that if the Earth were reduced to the size of a ping pong ball, it would be smoother than an actual ping pong ball! Okay, back to the atmosphere. Landing at the Huntsville airport on a return earlier this year, I captured this perspective from within the troposphere (the weather-affected layer nearest the Earth) late evening. The camera faces east, from which the Earth’s shadow is advancing as the sun sets behind me.

 

This cumulus (below) rises above the Norway spruce planted near the Oregon and California Trail Center at Montpelier, Idaho, its top leaning downwind. We visited the Center as we drove north from Salt Lake City in route to Jackson, Wyoming. The scene for me serves as beacon, signaling the magic that lies ahead for our journey through an itinerary of National Parks, Monuments, and Memorials. The rich green, blue, and white could not be more striking.

 

I’m a lifelong cloud addict in search of daily fixes. I kept my eyes skyward during our 12-day, five-state tour of National Parks in July 2019. I took up the addiction honestly, getting hooked as a toddler, enabled through my youth, adolescence, and early adulthood. Dad, a WWII Army Air Corps, Pacific theater veteran, always kept an eye peeled above. I looked where he did, and embraced his fascination for the wild blue yonder. He kept John Gillespie Magee’s High Flight folded in his wallet to his final days:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I read High Flight for Dad’s eulogy. As I approach the age at which Dad slipped the surly bonds of earth, I pay ever greater attention to the near-Earth firmament.

We began our trip in Salt Lake City and the Lake’s basin. We visited Great Salt Lake State Park (below left), where we looked east to the city and the Wasatch Range rising beyond. I am certain that few among our group noticed the virga (profile-visible precipitation evaporating before reaching the ground) that descended from the nearly horizon-to-horizon stratus. From the state capital steps, we could see that banners of the descending rain reached the ground into the Wasatch. One man’s virga is another man’s shower. A bit of reminder why the higher elevations support rich vegetation and forest cover within sight of the basin’s desert!

 

Into the High Country of Grand Teton and Yellowstone

No virga trailed from this lone cumulus the next day as we crested 7,300-feet at the Bear Lake Overlook. The little cloud served as an exclamation point in a scene that without it may still have been special. Yet for me it is a focal point that completes the landscape. Although we did not stay long enough for me to verify, I suspect that the peak to the north generated a standing wave as the wind, that day blowing from the west…left to right, resulting in a succession of cumulus that appeared just upwind then faded back to blue sky downwind.

 

By the time we reached the Trail Center, the afternoon’s vertical temperature profile had changed enough to stimulate more abundant cumulus, a fleet of cotton balls.

 

The cotton balls grew more serious as we entered the higher country along the Snake River in Jackson, Wyoming, where the river valley elevation stood a half-mile higher than at Bear Lake. In fact, that evening not long after we arrived in Jackson, a rather vigorous, but short-lived, thundershower hit us with gusty winds, dark clouds, cooler temperatures, and rain that did little more than wet the pavement. The storm quickly moved beyond our Snow King Resort accommodations (below left), already back in full evening sunshine. Another such shower blessed us the second evening about the same time, with similar temperament and like effect. This time, I captured the storm’s backside as the cloud’s trailing edge lifted above the setting sun (below right), with rain still falling.

 

I’ve heard so many people over the years and across the country bemoan clouds, rain, and other sorts of foul weather. Not me… never! How can a forester and naturalist not delight in the gift of essential moisture, the soothing grace of dripping water, the gurgle of streams, the shifting patterns of clouds, weather systems, and the promise of new snow, rumbling thunder, and clearing fog? I could not fathom living in an arid, sun-dominated climate. How dull and boring!

Nothing dull and boring about this view west from the east shore of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, the early day once more tranquil. The scene belies the extreme forces of climate that created the extraordinary beauty. Imagine an alpine glacier within the past 10,000 years (a geologic heartbeat) plowing eastward through the U-shaped valley beyond the lake, gouging what is now the lake-bottom and depositing the terminal moraine (where I am standing with camera in hand) to create this treasure-lake. Two elements enrich this image. First, a scattering of tiny cumulus exclamation points. Second, the science explaining the genesis of Jenny Lake. A third dimension emerged later in the day as we drove through Yellowstone and encountered yet another shower. Hold that thought.

 

Within a few miles of Yellowstone, we paused to look back south to the Tetons, now hazy with the distance… and owing to the incoming air mass now bearing greater moisture.

 

That greater moisture manifest as thickening and lowering clouds from this vantage point at West Thumb Geyser Basin on Yellowstone Lake. Contrast this image to how it may have looked with clear blue sky, still glorious yet without the drama of potential impending fury. While we did not encounter fury, we drove through occasionally heavy rain as we crossed the Park’s high country (near 9,000-feet) heading toward our accommodations in West Yellowstone. At the height of the storm (both elevation and intensity), I watched rain and wet snow splatter the windshield. Mid-July, when back home in Alabama high temperatures daily reach 90 and above, I am likely just a thousand feet or so beneath steady snow! I wondered whether the same storm tripped south into the Tetons… and did the summit of Grand Teton see a fresh snow cap?

 

Clouds from the Ground — Hydrothermal Origin

I’ve previously devoted an entire Post to the Yellowstone Caldera: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/09/03/yellowstone-national-park-caldera-and-hot-spot/. No need to revisit the science. Instead, I’ll just toss in three representative photos depicting the interaction of hot water, clear cool air, old sol sailing overhead, and an arc of deep blue sky. You don’t need me to tell you how striking the images are.

 

I pondered in that prior Post how magnificently amplified the effect must be at 30-degrees-below zero! Oh, to be there in January and see first hand. I still have my arctic clothing from living four years in Fairbanks, Alaska. I cling to the hope that maybe such a winter visit is within reach.

 

Still within the Caldera, at Mammoth Hot Springs I turned my attention to the sky above interacting with the geophysical landscape features, back-dropped by deep blue and the ever-present drifting cumulus. I am a forester and applied ecologist… not an artist. I could not teach any semblance of a course on technical art appreciation… yet I could speak to Nature’s aesthetic from the Steve Jones perspective for weeks on end. I’ve concluded (again, for me) that scenery is a composite of land, life, sky, understanding, emotion, impression, and memory interwoven. The combination powerful enough to evoke tears wins my prize and earns my praise. I often draft these Posts with YouTube symphonic selections playing from my laptop. At this moment, it’s Ennio Morricone, The Mission Main Theme, soothing and inspiring my writing. The music, images, memories, and words are soul salve, occasionally moistening my eyes… welling a tear.

 

We made a final stop in Yellowstone at Tower-Roosevelt, where we gazed into the valley cut by the Yellowstone River. Once more, for the purposes of this Post, I offer a cloud photograph, this one of another passing cumulus framed by lodgepole pine boughs. I snapped the image while all (not just most — all!) of my fellow travelers looked into and across the valley, focused on the river flowing below, the mountain goats on the scree opposite us, and the palisades rimming the far wall. My heart and soul are not complete in Nature unless I include the firmament in my field of vision, appreciation, and interpretation!

 

We exited Yellowstone to the east, motoring along the Lamar River Valley. The blue sky and white clouds accompanied us.

 

Beyond Yellowstone

We overnighted at Cody, Wyoming, and visited nearby Cody Dam the next morning. The canyon walls reached some 1,000-feet above us, and the friendly field of scattered cumulus another 1,000 feet above the rimrock. When I stare into this image, the clouds drift with the prevailing winds from left to right. The memory and impression are that strong. It’s a form of memory-evoked illusion. May it never leave me…and always enrich me!

 

We stopped Sunday morning after an early departure from Rapid City, North Dakota at Fort Phil Kearny (built in the 1860s), located some 15 miles east of the Bighorn Mountains. I snapped this photo at 9:32AM. The chilly breeze prompted us to seek the morning sun as we awaited the 1860s-period demonstration.

 

By 10:55AM, the sky had changed dramatically. I include this photo only to show the leaden sky. The clouds that rolled in suggested early fall. The stiff breeze across the open plains made it feel like autumn. We were pleased to have jackets at hand. Note the same hills behind Judy that in the first photo appear above the fort’s wall. Everywhere we’ve lived the locals have said, “If you don’t like the weather here in (you name it), just wait an hour and it will change.” A common folk lore across our fine land! Yet the NASA quote from earlier indicates objectively that fluid properties are constantly changing with time and location.

 

That same evening I enjoyed the threatening clouds (turned out to be all bark and no bite) above Rapid City’s town square. Knowing what weather-wise awaited our return to Alabama, we relished the dark clouds and cool weather. I’m typing these words October 2. The temperature reached record levels for the third consecutive day — yesterday’s high set an all-time record high in Huntsville for the month of October. Tomorrow’s forecast is for another record high for the date. The current temperature in Rapid City (45 degrees) is 50 degrees cooler than here in Huntsville! Oh well, I can dream.

 

The next day we visited Badlands National Park. As one might expect in this arid zone, deep blue prevailed.

 

Devils Tower National Monument sits in a climate moist enough to support open forest. Once more we see our drifting cumulus friends!

 

And Mount Rushmore National Memorial likewise from its location in the Black Hills receives precipitation sufficient to support forests. The sky in this photo is absent cumulus and instead provides a high partial cover of wispy cirrus… ice crystals at least 20,000 feet above the four presidents.

 

And a final farewell once again to the approaching storm at West Thumb Basin, Lake Yellowstone. I view clouds as the spice to our gourmet tour, seasoning the scenery with delectable flavoring and accents.

 

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. My heart and soul are not complete in Nature unless I include the firmament in my field of vision, appreciation, and interpretation!
  2. Scenery is a composite of land, life, sky, understanding, emotion, impression, and memory… all interwoven.
  3. How can a forester and naturalist not delight in the gift of essential precipitation, the soothing grace of dripping water, the gurgle of streams, the shifting patterns of clouds and weather systems, and the promise of new snow, rumbling thunder, or clearing fog!

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

 

 

Eleven Time Zones Apart, Yet Oh So Familiar!

I will always cherish the opportunity afforded to me by an August 2019 visit and tour of National Parks in Kazakhstan by Kimep University in Almaty: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/09/10/three-national-parks-in-kazakhstan-an-august-immersion/

Although eleven times zones to the east of my Central Time USA location, southeastern Kazakhstan (latitude the same as Syracuse, NY) struck me as remarkably similar to what I’m accustomed here in the eastern US. I viewed the ecological commonalities as a reminder that regardless of location, we share a Common Home…our One Earth, isolated by nearly unfathomable time and distance. Eleven time zones is nothing when contrasted to our solar system’s location 25,000 light years from the center of our home galaxy!

Oh So Familiar!

Cultural consistencies presented themselves as well. I wonder whether civilizations elsewhere (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) have embraced the Golden Arches, which stand as a common thread connecting us Americans to our friends in Almaty, KZ. No breakfast served, so we enjoyed a hamburger and fries before departing one morning for our National Parks exploration.

 

And my hotel residence in Almaty carried a banner-name in English. Virtually the entire staff spoke English quite well. Only I was the pitiful global traveler who spoke only a single language.

 

Few things are more important to humanity, whether in America or Kazakhstan, than our culture and heritage. En route Saturday morning to Issyk Lake National Park, we stopped by the State Historical Cultural Reserve-Museum of Issyk. From the website: The museum is a complex of 80 Saks burial mounds (kurgans), the residence of the Saka rulers “Rakhat” and ancient city “Oricti.” One of the world-famous founding, discovered in 1970, is a burial of Golden Man – a skeleton, warrior’s equipment, and assorted funerary goods, including 4,000 gold ornaments, reflecting the sacred meaning of Saks mythology.

The main function of the museum is organization of research, cultural, educational and tourist activities. There are four exhibition halls: History and Cultural of the Saks, The Golden Man, The Archaeology of Kazakhstan and The Secrets of the Golden Man. We stopped too early to enter the museum (below left) or hike to any of the 80 mounds.

 

 

So much unites us, including the way we tie ourselves to culture, history, and our environment. We cannot trek into the future unless we recognize and preserve the richness of antiquity. The lower left mound lies within 100 yards of the fence. The signage evidences the importance and power of our link to the past.

 

Kazakhstan: From Culture and History to Ecology

So, culture and history connect us to the past and forge a bond to what lies ahead. Yet for me, my primary focus sought the ecologic connections. I identified the specimens below as members of the thistle group, common across the eastern half of the US. The US Forest Service reports that 58 species of the genus Cirsium are native to the US. I suppose it’s not surprising to find thistle in Kazakhstan. I snapped the photograph below left at a lower and drier elevation, where it had already reached senescence. The lower right specimen was still flourishing at a higher and better-watered elevation.

 

We encountered what I identified as Picea schrenkiana, known as Schrenk’s spruce or Asian spruce, native to the Tian Shan mountains of central Asia. At least six species of spruce (genus Picea) are native to the contiguous lower 48 states. Red spruce (Picea rubens) grows closest to Alabama in the high elevations of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The three photographs below capture Asian spruce trees and forests that were ubiquitous in the high country of both Lake Issyk and Kolsai Lakes National Parks, which we visited during my stay in Kazakhstan.

 

Lush spruce forest blanketed the steep hills in both locations.

 

Along the shore at Lake Issyk, this birch closely resembles our northeastern US white or paper birch (Betula papyifera). I offer a somewhat informed stab at identification: Betula tianshanica, whose species name identifies the mountain range (Tian Shan, the Mountains of Heaven) within which both parks are located.

 

I will certainly disappoint the reader with this photo of a flowering vine in full, exotic bloom at Kolsai Lakes. The flower is familiar, yet I could not even approximate an identity. Reminds me a bit of our native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus). Sorry, but that is the best I can offer. Note the lush Asian spruce forest on the hillside beyond.

 

Along the streets of Almaty I spotted this planted Norway maple (Acer platanoides). It appeared to be quite content with its location. Although common in the US, this ornamental is native to Europe and western Asia and Russia, despite its common name as a “Norway” maple! How was I to know that “Norway” maple is native to Kazakhstan!?

 

Also along the streets of Almaty I spotted what looked to be staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). I suppose that Kazakhstan has native species of the same genus.

 

And I found Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), native to Eurasia, and planted extensively in the eastern US as an ornamental and as a timber tree on tens of thousands of acres during CCC days (1930s) and the Soil Bank conservation program of the late 1950s and early 60s. It strikes me as odd that a forester from the eastern US should be surprised to see a species with which he is intimately familiar in the States appearing in its native Kazakhstan! We occupy a small planet located on an outer spiral arm of a rather unspectacular galaxy, one of some two trillion such massive star clusters. Our planet is but a mote of dust… one supporting life for 2-3 billion years. How could we not expect life across our home planet to be similar within its temperate northern hemisphere? Continental borders and ocean buffers are becoming less and less isolating as we trend increasingly to more and faster means of global transportation. Those Scots pine really get around! Who would know that dandelion isn’t a North American native!

 

Kazakhstan and USA: Cultural Constants

Returning from Kolsai Lakes National Park we stopped for our evening meal at a village bazaar, which differed little in spirit from a rural community festival anywhere across the US. Farmers selling local produce under a street-side canopy (below left). Local meats and other delights at a vendor’s open grill (below right)… in this case lamb, duck, and chicken kabobs. Delicious!

 

Like Salt Lake City or Denver, Almaty sits at the base of craggy mountains (below left)… the Tian Shan Mountains, which just south of the city rise to ~13,000 feet (lower right; file photo from the internet and not mine). Spectacular natural scenery knows no geographic, cultural, political, or language bounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shymbulak ski resort is a very short bus ride from where I stayed in Almaty. Like so many US ski resorts, Shymbulak welcomes summer visitors to experience the mountains, enjoy the cooler air, and taste of the lofty heights. Kimep University’s Dr. Arai Kuderbayeva ushered me to the slope, accompanied me on the gondola, and shared a thundershower’s rain, breeze, and rumbles. Aside from signage, we could have been at Wyoming’s Snow King Resort.

 

On our descent we shared a gondola with a Kazakh family. I had not considered that I stood apart from any other person at the resort. However, this sixth-grader sat mesmerized by the American.  I apparently did not blend in nearly as well as I imagined! She asked me shyly in English, “Are you American?” Arai kindly translated beyond the young lady’s initial query. Such a delight to make acquaintance with one person who found me interesting!

 

My hotel offered another universal amenity that I heartily embraced after the ski slope as I prepared for the next afternoon’s workshop. A happy-hour outdoor beer garden offering draft beer and fresh popcorn — a special treat anywhere on Earth!

 

And the joy of seeing an old friend! Dr. Tim Barnett, my Kimep University host, arranged for my visit, warmly welcomed me, and enabled me to immerse deeply in the Nature, culture, and history of southeastern Kazakhstan. Tim and I worked together at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

 

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. We share a tiny planet…our One Earth…whether in Central Asia or the southeastern USA
  2. Eleven time zones notwithstanding, we are far more alike than different… in geography, Nature, and culture
  3. Our Common Home draws us together in shared obligation to practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our first 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

 

 

 

August Revelations at DeSoto State Park

My late August trek at DeSoto State Park enlightened and rewarded me with more than just a set of April-to-August ecological comparisons: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/09/15/desoto-state-park-april-and-august-2019/. I offer in this subsequent Post my observations and reflections on non-flowering plants, the native black birch’s propensity to cling like hell to its rock, some great sandstone glades late summer flowering gems, and the early signs of summer stepping gently aside for autumn even in late August.

 

August Non-Flowering Plants

The following photographs simply capture what struck my eye and offered captivating images in August. The cluster of little brown mushrooms (sorry I can do no better with identifying them) exploding to life on an otherwise barren-looking sand flat near a stream under full forest cover. And fungal and lichen life stacked vertically on a standing dead hickory. I’ve said often that Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe pay no attention to scale. Whether its the planet-level glory of Earth captured by a lunar orbiter, or these up-close views of life exploiting a niche in a late-summer southern hardwood forest, majesty is within reach and sight. Nature’s coffee table style book comes in both macro- and micro-print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what a rich palette she chooses. I’ve said before that I prefer paintings that look like photographs… and photos that can be mistaken for paintings. The brown and beige-fringed shelf fungus among lichens, hanging above balls of moss, could be either.

 

Myriad lichens fashion this aerial Eden on a standing dead birch bole. Once again, the prior night’s rain enlivened this diverse community.

 

Although I could not identify the host with certainty, this long down and dead Virginia pine (I think) sported a gorgeous coat of crustose lichen. The old ashes to ashes dust to dust is always at play in Nature. Recycling is the ultimate guarantor of life.

 

Cling Like Hell to Your Rock

I frequently quote Robert Service’s Security when I’m on the stump (the figurative speaking stump) talking about leadership and lessons from Nature. His poem chronicles the travails of a limpet (a crustacean filter-feeder of the intertidal zone that holds tight to rock surfaces) who tires of her fate as a clinger. She bemoans her lot, saying “It isn’t I who clings to the rock, it’s the rock that clings to me.” The sea tells the limpet of a beautiful sandy beach, saying to the limpet, “Set off tonight when the moon is bright, and I’ll swing you there on my tide.” She does as the sea offers and finds herself in deep trouble, unable to survive on the sandy beach:

“She cried till she roused a taxi-crab
Who gladly gave her a ride;
But I grieve to say in his crabby way
He insisted she sit inside. . . .
So if of the limpet breed ye be,
Beware life’s brutal shock;
Don’t take the chance of the changing sea,
But – cling like hell to your rock”

Security is a parable suggesting to me the imperative that each of us embrace a set of core vales, tenets, principles, and ethics that guide us through life and living. I thought of Service’s Nature-bound and derived wisdom when I walked DeSoto’s forests, spotting the ubiquitous black birch, a species that often finds seedling anchorage upon the sandstone boulders, germinating on the rocks’ elevated surface and then sending roots to exploit true mineral soil below. The lower left birch appears as though it walked two-legged, pausing to half-lean and half-sit on the ledge, catching a well-deserved break. I knew the feeling as I trekked water-logged that August morning! Its mossy thigh and the moss-bedecked hummock beyond merited a closeup (below right).

 

The two birch trees below did more than rest against their boulders. They are secured there for the long haul!

 

Flowering Sandstone Glade Plants

This August glade-flower beauty is a species of Liatris, know commonly as blazing star, offering a nice splash of lavender to the cloud-darkened day.

 

 

 

Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nuttallii) graced the glades, standing tall and stunning against the backdrop of summer drawing to a close. I had not previously seen (or do not recall seeing) this species. DeSoto Naturalist Brittney Hughes provided an immediate i.d. via email. She reminded me, too, of the tremendous reference available online through a partnership of the Alabama Herbarium Consortium and The University of West Alabama: Alabama Plant Atlas at http://www.floraofalabama.org/

 

Brittney also came through with another flowering glade inhabitant identification: Sandstone tickseed (Coreopsis pulchra). Another common name, suggesting its restricted home range, is Lookout Mountain Tickseed. We in Alabama are blessed with extraordinary diversity of micro-habitats and the resultant vegetation that has specific site requirements.

 

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) likewise seemed at home on the glade. According to the US Forest Service, This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often on calcareous rock or thin soils. It can be found in or on fencerows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes, and prairie. The roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary. In contrast to the tickseed’s restricted range, the prickly pear grows from Montana to Florida and from New Mexico into Ontario. An interesting set of facts from the same USFS website: This species is a typical cactus with a photosynthetic stem that acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern and middle states. So much to learn about diverse life within our State Parks.

 

I can only imagine what I could learn from even a monthly down-on-my-knees visit to DeSoto’s sandstone glades over the course of a full annual cycle! I would not be surprised to learn that somewhere in the scientific literature there is such a calendar-year chronicle of life on our sandstone glades.

 

Fall’s Early Advance

As I commented in the prior DeSoto Park Post, I’ve lived elsewhere (up north!) where fall barges into summer’s final parties, guns blazing, winds whipping, and northerlies portending first frosts and freezes, sleet and freezing rain, and howling blizzards. Leaves turn with glory because the trees over the sweep of time have learned what’s coming… and soon. Here in the south, I contend, summer just tires of heat, late summer drought, and shortening days. Summer simply gives up and wears out, retreats, backing out the door, refusing to confront autumn with any resistance.

Near the lodge where I stayed, I found Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) in seed, finished for the season, ready to sow their seed and rest before the still weeks-away frosts.

 

After an unusually wet spring and early summer, little rain had fallen since late June. Reduced soil moisture, and eons of adapting to frequent late season dry spells, triggered some tree species to begin shutting down, dropping leaves rather than engaging in net negative production. Evolution favors action that conserves energy and adds value. The forest had engaged productively for at least four months. Its trees had performed as designed.

 

This 30+ inch yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), even with deep roots along a perennially moist drainage-way, had begun to let go, dropping a few deliciously yellow leaves along the trail.

 

 

 

I had not seen this wonderful signage on previous DeSoto wanderings. I could not resist capturing its apt message.

 

May your own treks through Nature gather only photos and memories… and may your steps be light!

 

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 (co-authored with Dr. Jennifer J. Wilhoit; 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 Indiebound and other online sources.

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

  1. Autumn in the South seldom rushes; summer slowly fades, yielding as much to heat and seasonal drought as it does to impending cold.
  2. Each season in life and every place in Nature offers special treats and predictable, yet sometimes surprising, nuances.
  3. Beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await every venture into Nature — be prepared to discover what always lies hidden within!

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!

 

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: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our first 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