Blue Trail Loop at Joe Wheeler State Park

July 7, 2020 I hiked Joe Wheeler State Park’s Blue Trail with State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell. Together we explored at a leisurely pace, not willing to race through the forest at the price of missing any of Nature’s magic.

The Parks do a good job with signage at Joe Wheeler. I hope that the interpretive signage at least slows a few people, encouraging them to learn as much as they can about the wildness through which they trek. Mike and I likely were among the few hikers who paid any attention to the tree upon which this trail sign is posted. Both of us know and appreciate the distinctive blocky bark and dark complexion of persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Wikipedia offers some useful insight: The persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros. The most widely cultivated of these is the Asian or Japanese persimmon, Diospyros kaki. Diospyros is in the family Ebenaceae, and a number of non-persimmon species of the genus are grown for ebony timber. Below right Mike is holding an early season drop, fruit aborted by the tree for some reason, perhaps a bumper crop (too many fruit to support through the summer) or insect damage. Persimmons turn a bright orange when ripe, and generally are too bitter to eat and enjoy until after the first frost. Many people wonder how we naturalists can be so adept at identifying tree species by bark alone. Mike and I have decades of practice, which lifts recognition to a level of second nature. Persimmon is simply an easy species. No other tree in our forest can be confused with persimmon.

 

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Some Delightful Discoveries

I’ve mentioned before that I am aching to know more about our north Alabama fungi, a life-kingdom unto itself. I am further stimulated by colleagues these past couple of years introducing me to our native edible mushrooms. I limit my actual harvesting and consumption to only those species that do not have similar local species that might make me ill… or worse. I ask that you read my comments without rushing into the woods to collect and prepare your own repast unless you first conduct considerable research. In other words, don’t risk your health and life using me as your only guide. I refuse to be responsible for what you place in your skillet and on your plate! These dandies below are summer oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius). They fry up nicely with butter, olive oil, and a few spices — delectable! We found these growing on a deceased hackberry or sugarberry (genus Celtis); we are both fuzzy about distinguishing these two common species.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Also on a dead Celtis, we found these now-desiccating jelly ear mushrooms (genus Auricularia). The forest along the Blue Trail proved to be rich with mushrooms for several reasons. The forest is 80-90 years old, reaching a stage in development when many main canopy individuals are dying, leaving considerable dead or down woody debris standing or fallen to the forest floor. Keep in mind that stasis does not exist in living systems; life and death are in continuing balance. More than average rainfall had fallen month after month for the preceding one-half year, sustaining an environment perfect for decay and mushroom development. And a third reason we found so many fungal fruiting bodies is that we were consciously searching for them. As I’ve said often in these Posts, so much in Nature lies hidden in plain sight. So true is my statement: When we know where to look and how to see, we often find what we seek!

Joe Wheeler

 

Ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), from Wikipedia, is a fern native to North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It takes its common name from its dark, reddish-brown, glossy stipe and rachis, which support a once-divided, pinnate leaf. Our north Alabama forests are rich with fungi and other nonflowering plants. I enjoy immensely having the leisure to stroll through the woods with eyes tuned to the life and variety at my feet. Imagine what I would miss if I were intent simply on passing through the forest to reach some destination, blind to what lies underfoot.

Joe Wheeler

 

I don’t recall previously seeing these small columnar mushrooms (below left). Because that photo does not do justice to the peculiar nature of Xylaria, I borrowed the closer image (below right) from MushroomExpert.com. Detail from the same website: The genus Xylaria consists of funky, club-like decomposers of wood or plant debris that become black and hard by maturity, reminiscent of carbon or charcoal. The mushrooms are “Pyrenomycetes,” which means they produce spores in asci that are embedded in tiny pockets called “perithecia”; the asci take turns growing into the narrow opening of the pocket so that they can shoot spores  away from the fungus and into the air currents. I found comfort on the web site, which emphasized that differentiation among species is almost impossible without a powerful microscope at hand, and the knowledge to see and discriminate. I will leave such detailed identification to the experts. My simple hope is that I can remember the genus Xylaria!

Joe Wheeler

The Genus Xylaria (MushroomExpert.Com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonflowering plants, in this case mosses, colonize every surface in some of our damp, well-watered shady groves. The leprechauns surely decorated this sylvan setting — every elevated surface of wood, whether dead, down, or standing, supports a moss-mat. I expected to see a crew of woodland nymphs (of legend and folklore) tending the moss garden! Perhaps we should have returned at dusk when the evening gloaming blessed and encouraged such non-human affairs.

Joe Wheeler

 

An Alaska Mid-Summer Interlude!

As with everything in Nature, where we are defines relative values for scale, beauty, productivity, and other comparisons. The so-termed mossy glen along the Blue Trail at Wheeler pales to insignificance to the lower-slope rain forest on the Mount Verstovia Trail rising above Sitka, Alaska (below). Sitka averages 120 inches of rain annually, well over twice our north Alabama average. Add in Sitka’s lower temperatures, frequent cloudy days, and seasonally nearly constant fog… the result is WET! The mid-June day I snapped these photos in 2012 as I ascended the trail, I reluctantly turned back when I encountered a coarse residual snowpack more than three feet deep. Conditions are relative. What would be considered extreme in one location is the norm elsewhere. Because I have made 13 interstate moves as an adult, I have learned to appreciate Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe wherever I am. I refuse to allow, for example, my memories of southeast Alaska wanderings to diminish my appreciation for a mossy glade at Joe Wheeler State Park.

Sitka June 2012

Sitka June 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will never tire of seeing the marvel of a mature beech’s bark wearing a full-color palette of moss and lichen… the beech extending its roots from a buttressed base, holding tight to Mather Earth, exploiting moisture and nutrients from soil with reach. Again, below right, southeast Alaska’s rainforest likewise offers tree-form inspiration of a different sort. I can admire and embrace both without one diminishing the other. Yes, I would like to spend a future week exploring the Sitka forests once more… with my retirement-honed eye for Nature (quite matured over the intervening eight years) and with the camera I now carry. However, Sitka requires at least three commercial flights, months of planning, and considerable expense. In contrast, I can drive the 47 miles to Joe Wheeled in under an hour without pre-planning. I have long ago resolved to seek satisfaction, enjoyment, fulfillment, and inspiration from Nature within reach of where I am.

Joe Wheeler

Sitka June 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Joe Wheeler State Park

Our ubiquitous grape vines scribe a special signature of form and artistry to our local forest images. Perhaps one day I will sit leaning against a nearby oak tree for hours to admire this particular vine… attempting to recreate the 80-90-years of growth, form, and stresses that forced…or permitted…its looping architecture.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Or maybe I could just assume Mike’s version of Rodin’s The Thinker pose to ponder the life of a grape vine!

Jow Wheeler

 

No thinking required to interpret the scene below. Some force of Nature (wind, lightning, ice?) split and brought a pole-size tree to the ground, split-side up. Decay and falling leaf and tree-litter detritus has created a fertile and welcoming seed bed for loblolly seed to germinate creating conditions for a potential nurse log. However, I remind myself that ample rains had fallen regularly to-date through this initial growing season for these first-year seedlings. Abundant rains have now yielded to our normal summer season of hit and miss showers. Here at my residence I have measured just a tenth of an inch over the past 12 days. If a similar drying period has affected the Blue Trail, these tender seedlings will desiccate and die, putting an end to their brief flourish on what seemed a perfect garden spot. I draw an important lesson for life and living — things aren’t always what they seem. A perfect germination bed becomes inhospitable over the normal flow of the seasons.

Joe Wheeler

 

The Blue Trail offers an enjoyable hike through maturing second-growth forest, rich with stories of succession, death and dying, life-richness, and renewal. You need not worry about ascending mid-summer into snowpack too-deep to navigate. We discovered so much by paying focused attention, looking closely, and finding delight well within reach.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Here are some simple truths affirmed by our couple-hours stroll:

I have long ago resolved to seek satisfaction, enjoyment, fulfillment, and inspiration from Nature within reach of wherever I am.

When we know where to look and how to see, we often find what we seek!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

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

 

Re-Opening Buck’s Pocket State Park

June 15, 2020 I re-visited Buck’s Pocket State Park, approximately 75 miles from my residence, this time for the ribbon cutting re-opening the campground after a three-year major rehabilitation project.

I had first visited the Park in mid-October 2019, viewing the Park only from the overlook, some 800 vertical feet above the campground: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/04/bucks-pocket-state-park/

Here are two images from that late summer/early fall observation point, which only hinted at the wonders of this special niche Park.

Buck's Pocket

Buck's Pocket SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Opening a Special Park

I’m drafting these words July 12,  a month beyond entering the deep pocket for the ceremony. I’ll begin with a brief taste of the ribbon cutting. The Park’s name could just as well have been, Ends of the Earth State Park. The feeling of isolation pervades. Even passing commercial air traffic seemed worlds away. Both from the overlook and within the pocket, the depths seemed absent outlet — a sense that water enters and drains into a vertical sink…to an underworld! I was pleasantly surprised to see more than one hundred daring souls find their way into the pocket. Surely they hadn’t consciously entered a zone of no return!

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Covid-19 dictated either masks or appropriately distancing. As I so often do, I attempted to capture the moment by focusing on a tree, in this case a black walnut (Juglans nigra) gracing the spot where we gathered, towering above us, back-dropped by cerulean firmament.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

We stood within 150-feet of the pocket’s chief architectural force. No, not the mostly-dry creek-bed, but by the hand of the fierce occasional  current evidenced by facets of the scenes below. The bare rocks, a bed without vegetation, suggest that the current flushed through the pocket at least seasonally, and from what I heard from first-hand observers, every time a frog-strangling deluge sends torrents through the narrow valley toward Lake Guntersville. The gnarled sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis; below right) somehow found anchorage at stream center, and has paid the price of repeated batterings for enjoying ample moisture. This view faces the upstream side of the tree, from about ten feet above the bed.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Swinging the camera to stream-bed level, reveals the scars of multiple batterings by water-born boulders, logs, and other debris. How much longer can it withstand its torturings? Its roots cling tightly, holding fast against the tremendous force of water and its burdens. I wonder how many other predecessor trees have likewise attempted to beat the relentless pressures affecting life and living. What are the human stress equivalents to what this sycamore survives? I am fortunate to have found fertile soils, firm anchorage, and relative safety from the ravages of harsher life and living. Let this tree stand as symbol and model for how life can survive seeming unbearable hardship.

Buck's Pocket SP

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Buck’s Pocket State Park ORV (Off Road Vehicle) Trail

 

The Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew created and upgraded 6.3 trail-miles for off road vehicle use. The ORV Trail represents the Park System’s commitment to serving recreationists of diverse pursuits. Although I am exclusively a hiking enthusiast, I did hitch a ride with a northern region Parks employee out and back, sampling at least four one-way miles of the total route. Signage is exemplary with plenty of information on laser-routered wooden placards.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

This is my trail transportation paused at the former primitive campground within sight of the Lake Guntersville Buck’s Pocket stream outlet.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

The Dirt Pass Trail Crew created stretches that ranged from gentle six-foot wide dirt roads (both images below) to boulder-strewn hairpin turns that had me hanging on, white-knuckled. I failed to capture those hairier sections. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Near the old primitive campground, the Lake backed up the outlet creek, providing pleasant lakeside settings, promising peaceful fishing, and ensuring quiet nights.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Approaching the main Lake, we stopped where we had a good view ahead (below left). At the far end of this vista is Morgan’s Boat Ramp (below right), from which we looked across the water at the shoreline we had just a few minutes prior passed from left to right to the ramp. Without a lot of text I am communicating that we have progressed from a seeming bottomless pit of no return (The Pocket) to the bountiful shores of Lake Guntersville.

Buck's Pocket SP

Buck's Pocket SP

 

We continued beyond the ramp to where we turned around (below right), looking toward the main body.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

That’s a quick introduction to the ORV Trail. I am pretty sure that I would not want to hike this route and risk being shaken from my wildness experience by the whine and roar of high-powered engines. But to each his own. The intent is not to encourage such mixed use. There are options at Buck’s Pocket for hiking purists. Perhaps on a cooler fall day I will ascend the trail from the headquarters up to the overlook.

Nature’s Visual Treats

 

We encountered two species of hydrangea along the trail. Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia; below left) and wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

I spotted other delights. Respectful of my driver’s intent to cover the distance and return us to the headquarters for the ceremony, I chose to avoid requesting additional stops.

Instead, I spent some time exploring on foot after the ribbon cutting. The current primitive campground sits just 100 yards from the ribbon cutting site. Here’s the fire pit and concrete picnic table for P-9, a flat spot at the base of the sloping forest.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

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Within a five foot radius adjacent to P-9 I found three fern species: northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum; below left); broad beech (Phegopteris hexagonoptera; below right); and Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides; center below the first two).

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

Christmas fern, a lovely evergreen, particularly festive during our dormant season.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Also at P-9, chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii; left trunk and right leaf) is a species of the white oak group. The leaf reminds me of chestnut oak (Quercus prinus); its bark differs in many respect from chestnut oak.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The campsite American beech (Fagus grandifolia; below left) carries a vertical scar, is hollow to the core, and consists of a three-quarters-circumference shell of wood and living cambium. I wondered whether the scar originated from lightning or perhaps from a long-ago campfire that burned this side of the tree, killing the cambium from ground level to several feet above. The chinkapin (below right) likewise evidences the campsite tough life. Hollow (see cavity below the swollen mid-lower trunk) with multiple burl-like wounds and gnarly growth, the tree has endured who knows what physical insult over the years. Regardless of cause, these character blemishes offer campfire story fodder as the evening shadows fall and spookiness takes hold among the more youthful campers.

Buck's Pocket SPBuck's Pocket SP

 

The pocket sees sunrise mid-to-late morning; dusk arrives not long after dinner when the sun seeks the western horizon. Dampness persists; moisture seldom fully departs. Moss grows thick in these shady groves, carpeting this stem near P-9.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Alabama State Parks stand as a treasure for all of us to enjoy. I am pleased to have been among the first to see the result of incremental state upgrade investment, as well as the secured grant funding to design, locate, and construct the ORV Trail. Many Alabama State Parks enthusiasts and users do not realize that the bulk of revenue supporting the Parks derive not from State coffers but from fees.

Buck's Pocket SP

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

Alabama’s Parks furnish windows to the incredible richness of life, topography, and waters across our state from the Gulf to the Appalachians. Upon reflection, my trip into The Pocket reveals that:

We are blessed by Nature with limitless beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Nature offers multiple benefits, a variety to suit multiple interests… from hikers, mountain bikers, birders, anglers, ORV enthusiasts, and many more.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksBuck's Pocket SP

 

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

 

Fungi Reign along Joe Wheeler State Park’s New “Awesome Trail”

See the Great Blue Heron Post chronicling my June 8, 2020 introduction to the new Awesome Trail at Joe Wheeler State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/07/06/joe-wheeler-state-parks-new-awesome-trail/

That single Post was not sufficient to chronicle all the Nature-magic we encountered. We also saw some spectacular mushrooms as we hiked our four-mile segment, justifying this second Post highlighting the fungi.

The Fungi Kingdom — Ruling the Forest

 

I’ve admitted often that I am a novice-at-best when it comes to our ubiquitous forest fungi inhabitants. While it’s the trees my education directed me to see, understand, and admire, I have long known that no living creature exists in isolation. The trees would amount to nothing were it not for their co-dependent mycorrhizae, fungi that grow symbiotically on and within tree root hairs aiding by orders of magnitude the absorption of soil moisture and nutrients, and in turn feed on carbohydrates produced by the tree. Many species of fungi act as primary agents of decay, returning dead and down woody debris to the soil, and thence to subsequent life. And some species act as tree pathogens. No wonder fungi stand as an Earth-life kingdom unto themselves.

Because I am in the early stages of my quest to learn more about our woodland fungal neighbors here in north Alabama, please view this Post as an exploration… not as a definitive recitation of genus and species. Most of the names (common and scientific) come with less than full confidence from iNaturalist. Please view this Post as a catalog of photographs and a celebration of the diverse, colorful, and mysterious collection of mushrooms we encountered on an early summer four-mile hike through the 80-90-year-old forest.

Riches on the Forest Floor

Green dominates our June forests, from understory through main canopy. For that reason, I train my eyes to seek other-than-green. These yellow patches mushrooms (Amanita flavoconia) vividly proclaimed their presence.  Tiny in comparison to the mighty oaks, these two stand at about three inches, yet they act as visual beacons. Funny that once I see one, my eye imprints, and others suddenly appear. From MushroomExpert.com: This beautiful mushroom is one of the most common species of Amanita in the Midwest and in eastern North America, where it usually begins to appear in early and mid-summer. Yellow patches is a micorrhizal fungi, common in oak forests throughout our region.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tremellodendron Wikipedia: Tremellodendron is a genus of fungi in the family Sebacinaceae. Its species are mycorrhizal, forming a range of associations with trees and other plants. Basidiocarps are produced on soil and litter. The fruit bodies are clavarioid and leathery to rubbery-gelatinous. The genus is restricted to the Americas. Regardless of whether my identification is correct, this individual strikes me as very coral-like. Just inches away is what I can identify with certainty as an LBM (little brown mushroom)!

Joe Wheeler

 

Again, had we been rushing from boat launch to marina, we likely would have missed the splashes of red on an old stump (below left) and a long-fallen log (below right). May I introduce you to red raspberry slime mold (Tubifera ferruginosa)? Because we were nearing the noon hour, I contemplated a red raspberry slime mold smoothie and a peanut butter and red raspberry slime mold sandwich. I don’t recall ever seeing this delightful fungus before now. I discern from the advanced state of decay of both the stump and the log that this fungus prefers that others perform the primary work of early decomposers.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

From red raspberry to green cheese polypore (Fomitopsis spraguei). Were this one edible (I don’t know for sure that it’s not), this red oak basal mushroom would have been a full meal. Unlike the red raspberry slime mold (a saprophyte), this fungus is parasitic.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Reading the Forested Landscape

We came across this wind-toppled red oak and its outer-ring polypore (Trametes sp.) growing on the exposed face where the crew had cut to bring the levered, elevated top to ground level, a trail-user safety measure. Interesting that the outer annual rings, the more recently functioning xylem and phloem, would appear to be more attractive to early-stage saprophytes. Of course, eventually fungi will inhabit and consume the entire log.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

The sawed-through downed oak revealed a fact we had pondered since we entered the trail — how old is this forest along the Wheeler-dammed Tennessee river? I rough-counted the exposed rings, arriving at 80-90 years. I would have needed sand paper and a hand lens to be more precise. Dam construction extended from 1933 to 1936. Crews would also have been clearing the designated (and TVA-bought) inundation acreage during that period. TVA had also purchased (eminent domain) the adjoining 2,550 acres that the state acquired from TVA in 1949, and dedicated to Joe Wheeler State Park. Production agriculture likely ceased on the imminent Park land by 1935, 85 years ago. The naturally regenerated forest we traversed, therefore, would now be 80-90 years old. I enjoy forest sleuthing! Every tree…every stand…every forest…every State Park has a story to tell. A Land Legacy Story wherein human and natural history inter-weave.

 

I have often observed that all once-living tissue is edible by something else in every Earth ecosystem. Trametes aesculi (top view and bottom, respectively, left and right below) mycelia are performing their duty on a downed oak branch. The elegant dance of life and death!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

 

I have found the quite common false turkey tail (Trametes cubensis) across north Alabama. In fact, I can say that they are everywhere I trek.

Joe Wheeler

 

I heard for months that our June would bring an abundance of chanterelle mushrooms… delectable, easy to identify, and simple to harvest and prepare. However, I have found little more than none. We did find a handful of smooth chanterelles (Chanterllis lateritius), but not enough to collect, even if we had not been on a State Park, where collecting is prohibited.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Stories Aplenty

As a forester bearing down on his 69th birthday, I had mixed feelings about discovering an old man of the woods (Strombilomyces floccopus)! I suppose it takes one to know one. Wikipedia offers a brief description:

Old man of the woods, is a species of fungus in the family Boletaceae. It is native to Europe and North America. Fruit bodies are characterized by very soft dark grey to black pyramidal and overlapping scales on the cap surface.

Joe Wheeler

 

MushroomExpert.com offers a more entertaining explanation:

“. . . for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber or plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with weak hams . . .”

This is Hamlet’s description of his girlfriend’s father, Strobilomyces polonius, but it works reasonably well for the “Old Man of the Woods” as well.

How this mushroom got its oddly appropriate common name is unclear to me. I can find no one using it in turn-of-the-century mushroom treatises, or in the first half of (what has just become) the last century. The scientific name, Strobilomyces floccopus, roughly translated, means “woolly mushroom that looks like a pine cone”–rather more accurate as a descriptor, perhaps, but less interesting. As late as 1936, mushroom authors are using interpretations of the scientific name as “common” names; Krieger calls it the “cone-like boletus” in The Mushroom Handbook, and William Thomas calls it the “pine cone mushroom” in Field Book of Common Mushrooms. The first reference to the “Old Man of the Woods” I have seen is in the 1963 edition of Smith’s The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide.

I remind you, every element of Nature has a story, including old man of the woods.

 

These little beauties could not be better named, for they do indeed resemble a collection of helmeted soldiers. They are trooping crumble caps (Coprinellus disseminatus). The moniker crumble caps owes to their tendency to disintegrate when touched. Ah, the incredible diversity of form, function, and appearance of living organisms within the fungi kingdom. Who could have anticipated the extraordinary range we discovered along a four-mile hike through an 80-90-year-old forest.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

We found several small groupings of black trumpet (Craterellus fallax), a curious species Mushroom Expert.com described as:

Common and easily recognized–but hard to discover. The mushrooms are small and black, and something about their shape and fruiting pattern can make them extremely difficult to see. The vase-shaped fruiting bodies have finely scaly, gray to black upper surfaces and smooth or very shallowly wrinkled outer surfaces that are initially blackish but develop yellowish to orangish shades as the spores mature.

The great thing about the black trumpet is that any of us, given the chance, would have named these mushrooms “black trumpet”! They look like their name, pure and simple. I learned doing research for this Post that mushroom enthusiasts consider these beauties as superb culinary delicacies! From this day forward I shall imprint their image deep within my optical cortex, urging me to be ever alert through our long growing season. I’m eager to collect and simmer a few in butter, olive oil, and seasoning salt!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Once again, I think of Seuss, Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll — the magic world of black forest trumpets, trooping crumble caps, and old men of the woods!

 

From First Nature online: Peeling oysterling (Crepidotus mollis) is also referred to in some field guides as the Soft Slipper Mushroom; it is a rubbery, fan-shaped fungus that grows on the trunks, large branches and stumps of dead broad-leaf trees.

Joe Wheeler

 

Fungal Identity Crises

Ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) surfaces as the preferred iNaturalist identity for this truly spectacular mushroom. However, none of the reference sites or photos seem to fit the image I recorded. I will leave it as ruby bolete, even as I will query applicable Facebook groups for verification. What a shame to not be certain of the identity for what I consider our best find of the day in terms of beauty, intrigue, and uniqueness.

Joe Wheeler

 

And, sad to say, iNaturalist also calls this companion find a ruby bolete (Boletus sp.). I shall remain stymied for the moment.

Joe Wheeler

 

I started this Post with yellow patches mushrooms (Amanita flavoconia). Have I come full circle, or is this something different? I have confidence that this is a member of the Amanita genus, but neither I nor iNaturalist confirms a species. I suppose it is fitting that I end the Post with a bit of identity spinning and confusion. Suffice it to say that we encountered a full palette of mushroom colors, forms, and functions.

Joe Wheeler

 

So, rather than end with uncertainty, I’ll close with a simple white bracket fungi. This time I turn to Wikipedia: Ganoderma megaloma is a species of bracket fungus in the family Ganodermataceae. Described as new to science in 1846 by mycologist Joseph-Henri Léveillé, it is found in the eastern and Midwestern United States. My iNaturalist app declared the identity without hesitation.

Joe Wheeler

 

What a joyful day as amateur (novice) mycologists chronicling the mushrooms we encountered with photographs and less than reliable identification. I do have a strong desire to learn more, matched by powerful curiosity and absolute admiration for the complex roles of fungi in our north Alabama forest ecosystems.

Thoughts and Reflections

I draw two simple truths from diving into the forest fungal kingdom at Joe Wheeler State Park:

Wonder awaits those exploring our forests with an eye to the ground and an insatiable hunger to learn.

The forest is a complex interconnected and continuous cycle of life, death, and diversity.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

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

 

 

Joe Wheeler State Park’s New “Awesome Trail”

Allow me to set the stage for this Post with a simple quote from Wendell Berry:

Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

The Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew completed the eight-mile Awesome Trail spring of 2020. I hiked the four lakeside miles June 8. Rain prevented covering the return leg that runs more interior from the water’s edge.  The trail moniker fits, yet keep in mind that I am easily persuaded and seduced by things Nature. I seldom meet a path through wildness that I deem routine, ordinary, and uninspiring. This new trail did not flirt with dull… rising to truly awesome for those who read the landscape, appreciate subtleties, and look deeply enough to see the wonder lying in plain sight. So, join me as I introduce the physical trail, reveal evidence of past human land use, highlight some special trees and tree anomalies, and give you a glimpse of animal friends we encountered. I urge you to watch for a subsequent Blog Post reviewing the spectacular array of fungal inhabitants presenting their own aesthetic magic along the trail.

The Magnificent Awesome Trail

 

I offer a photograph of the recently printed map in lieu of what I am confident will, in due time, be handsome trailhead signage.

Joe Wheeler

 

We parked Alabama State Parks Emeritus Naturalist Mike Ezell’s vehicle at at the Park’s boat ramp, four miles from the Marina and Lodge, where my car awaited us. The boat ramp end of the Awesome Trail begins at the Jimmy Sims Birding Trail. The small wood-routered “Marina 4 Miles” sign with anchor is new, itself an implied welcome to the Awesome Trail.

Joe Wheeler

 

The milepost signs along our route hint at the quality we will in time see at the trailheads. I add these photos in part to evidence that we did indeed traverse the distance… a leisurely stroll through diverse forest, reading the topography, land use history, and delightful stories of clearing, erosion, healing, and the passage of time.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I had visited Joe Wheeler this past July 10 (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/08/09/july-return-to-joe-wheeler-state-park/), seeing the Alabama State Parks Dirt Pass Trail Crew in action (below). The Crew is superb, led by Ken Thomas, State Parks Trails Coordinator, who never met a trail challenge he doesn’t embrace and resolve.

Joe Wheeler

 

Our July visit revealed just one of the many “opportunities” facing the crew… a too-wet drain capturing this piece of heavy trail construction equipment. We watched a Park tractor come to the rescue, extracting the bogged tracked vehicle. You’ll see an example below the stuck machine of the beautifully-engineered wooden bridges the Crew installed to go over the drainage-ways crossing the trail to reach Joe Wheeler Lake.

Joe Wheeler

 

There’s something about the feel and aesthetic of a well-designed wooden bridge or walkway that amplifies my appreciation of Nature. Note the steel cables securing the bridge at its near, upstream end (below left). The placid water (below right) belies the torrents that winter and spring rains generate.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trail occasionally drops very close to the Wheeler Lake high water elevation of 555-feet. We embraced the cloud cover and below-average high temperature for the date. North Alabama summers can dissuade vigorous mid-day hiking, especially for a couple of geezers!

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike reminded me several times that Joe Wheeler State Park soils are limestone-derived. Here we found direct evidence at the surface.

Joe Wheeler

 

The new trail is wide, well-graded, and generally easy to trek at whatever pace one chooses. Below left finds me posing in a copse of yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) at an intersection with a trail departing to the left. That’s Mike below right back-dropped by the gentle path fading toward the marina.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Although the trail passed through 80-90 year-old deep forest, we found evidence that the forest condition followed prior intensive land use. Below left the trail crosses an old embedded road at right angles. Imagine what is now Lake Wheeler as gentle tributary streams and the Tennessee River flowing through wide fertile bottoms, transected by roads, and occupied by homes and farming communities. Thousands of people populated the 69,000 acres (104.6 square miles) inundated by Wheeler Dam. The now abandoned transecting road entered the rich bottomland at waterline just below the trail. Who knows what commerce its traffic of trucks and wagons performed. Within a hundred feet of where it crossed Mike stands among debris (several old barrel hoops, some rusted drums, and other hardware and stones) we think may have been associated with a still. Ah, yet another agriculture-based form of commerce!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The forest we traversed helped to heel the scars of abusive agriculture from a time when agriculture pushed and exceeded the limits of land clearing and over-grazing. Deep gullies washed precious topsoil from fragile hillsides to the Tennessee River, and from there into the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. What Nature took eons to build, careless agriculture loosed to the sea in a mater of one or two generations. Nature is resilient, yet even she will require centuries or millennia to fully heal.

 

Clouds thickened as we drew within the final mile of the marina. In fact, a hard shower caught us before we reached my vehicle.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Special Trees and Tree Anomalies

 

I seldom enter forested wildness without seeing and photographing worthy sylvan subjects. I’m standing at a 45-inch diameter (measured at the standard 4.5-feet above ground-line) southern red oak (Quercus falcata) below left. The 30-inch yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) drew my attention both with its dimension and its notably mossy feet.

Joe Wheeler

 

I’m reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s America:

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera

I suppose that I’m performing the tree equivalent of playing games with the faces. Each tree has a story to tell… and I focus on the richest tales, a full library of which we met along the trail. I took the two images below along what appeared to be another old erosion-embedded road crossing the trail at right angles. The two trees, American beech (Fagus grandifolia) below left and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), had perched for many years on the embankment rim along the road. The beech still clings in position, grasping laterally and into the undisturbed forest floor. At some point following road abandonment, the sweetgum sagged 30 degrees into the road, retaining enough anchorage to remain viable and apparently yet thriving. Both tell a tale of persistence. I estimate that both trees are well over a hundred years old, having seeded and secured life long before the forest on either side of the road sprouted from the adjoining pasture or fallowed field.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Theodor Seuss Geisell (aka Dr. Seuss) could likewise weave compelling verse around these sentinels and the magical creatures living among their roots and toppled mass. Perhaps each offers a gateway to Tolkien’s Underworld… or to Alice’s Wonderland. Were Mike not awaiting my return to the trail to continue our hike, I might have sat quietly to see who or what would peek from the mysterious portals!

There is no naturalist among us who has not been cautioned about lightning and tress. The new admonishment is, “When thunder roars, stay indoors.” The advice is easy to heed when an approaching storm disturbs a patio gathering, but what would we have done that day if one of the showers that dampened our final half-mile push to the marina had sent bolts of static in our direction? Below are a white oak (Quercus alba, left) and an American beech that decades ago could not scurry under roof. Each bears nearly full-height scars of the searing heat of a direct hit. Neither suffered mortal injuries. Tree-dwelling critters today give thanks for the homes provided. Funny how variable lightning is with respect to tree damage. I recall seeing a 100-foot tall and two-feet in diameter white ash (Fraxinus americana) struck the day before I strolled near it. I found the ash completely shattered, long wood shards and slivers thrown 50-100 feet in all directions. Yet the oak and beech below retain life and vitality many years after their unfortunate encounter.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

We found this red oak (below) still very much alive, leaning 15 degrees away from us, supported in part by the crowns of neighbors. What loosened its hold to the ground? As it is for all things in Nature, explanation awaits discovery. The apparent bowl and gnarly base facing the camera hint that the tree once had a twin stem that for some reason died or broke away leaving the old wound-scar. The seam running vertically on the live bole is seeping, indicating rot within, which likely advanced from the dead twin. The view under the leaning trunk evidences that on this side of the tree base, roots have decayed, leaving little anchorage. Were it not for supporting neighbors this individual would be prostrate, sprouting mushrooms and making way for new life. So much in the forest (and for our own lives as well) is a matter of chance… and, some may suggest, divine providence.

Joe Wheeler

 

Here’s an eastern red cedar (Juniperous virginiana) that long since found a horizontal position. The forest along our route had many more dead cedar than living. This species is a pioneer, describing its propensity to occupy abandoned agricultural (tilled and pastured) land. Birds consume its waxy fruit. Avian digestive fluids secure nourishment from the fruit and merely stratify (chemically weaken the seed coat without damaging the seed within) the seed. The foraging birds, in time, drop the seed from developing herbs and forbs sprouting in the fallow fields. Like the early Europeans pioneering west of the Appalachians, cedar advances into areas where the more persistent and longer-lived pines and hardwoods will follow. This cedar captured my attention with its old skeleton lying pitifully at the hole where its decayed and now absent trunk once stood. Nature’s library contains volumes. Most people walking through the woods will never know that the tales exist. I admit to being nearly consumed by the countless stories at my feet and above my head.

Joe Wheeler

 

This red cedar persists, adding an element of character and mystery. I’m certain this senior citizen could reflect on those early years when it fought fiercely with brambles for soil moisture and nutrients, even as it struggled to find sunlight beyond the reach of competitors. Pioneering life is tough, yet this one persevered and remains 80-90 years beyond its valiant efforts to pave the way for the forest where it resides so comfortably.

Joe Wheeler

 

Yet even the forest that succeeded those pioneers deals with adversity… one individual at a time. Lightning is just one of many agents of death and destruction. Adversity can come in form of a companion supplejack vine (Berchemia scandens), as this shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) so painfully discovered (below left).  The troubled white oak (below right) can only dream of its glory days before the forces of life and adversity dealt it a hand of heart rot and destined it to playing house and home for critters of all ilk. Easy for me in my forest products industry forester days to cast aspersions on all but the straight and fat defect-free trees of select hardwood species with high commercial value. I would have viewed both these individuals as culls, needlessly taking up space and consuming valuable site resources. Yes, I still sense a certain gleam in my eye when I see a tall veneer quality oak, but I delight in these special trees and tree anomalies. I no longer derive remuneration based upon board footage and timber grade.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Mike is pointing to another of those timber value defects on a 30-plus-inch white oak. Neither of us viewed it as a defect. Instead, we saw a squirrel-maintained portal to the tree’s hollow interior. The tree and squirrel are at a stalemate. The tree attempts year after year to callous over the opening; the squirrel is intent upon keeping ingress and egress available. For how many millennia have squirrels and oaks done battle? So good that Nature is content with a permanent stalemate between players producing acorns and critters consuming them.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Both oaks and squirrels win across the vast sweep of time. The tree provides shelter and acorns. Squirrels disperse and plant far more acorns than they will ever collect and consume. Its a settlement meant for the ages… a reciprocal draw.

Reptiles, Mammals, and Insects

Just fifty feet from the lake, we found a map turtle (Deirochelyine turtle; Graptemys geographica), an aquatic resident probably seeking a place to deposit eggs. I will never lose my fascination with and appreciation for turtles. Talk about Covid-19 social distancing and sheltering in place!

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

An ambitious beaver gnawed on a too-large yellow poplar lakeside. We saw lots of beaver chews whenever we neared the water.

Joe Wheeler

 

We believe that mamma had just that morning dropped her fawn. I could have touched this little guy. Instead I gently persuaded him to join his mother within sight fifty feet away.

Joe Wheeler

 

Jeepers, creepers, where’d ya get those peepers! We found this eastern eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus). I suppose that a hungry bird may have second thoughts before chomping down on an animal with such big eyes!

Joe Wheeler

 

Mike and I are now set, weather permitting, to spend another day at Joe Wheeler State Park July 7. As I place the finishing touches on the Post, that’s tomorrow! Mike assures me that more beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us.

The Awesome Power of Nature’s Fury

December 19, 2019 a late fall squall dropped a twister into the park, destroying the campground and this restroom facility. Trees across a wide swath jack-strawed. Fortunately, no visitors were in the path. We shudder to think what would have been the loss of life and limb had the twister appeared during a packed summer weekend. Nature is always in control. Her power is almost sometimes beyond comprehension. A terror to behold.

Joe Wheeler

 

The old saw offers tremendous insight and wisdom: Don’t mess with Mother Nature. We should heed that advice. Unless we societally accept and practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship, our species is doomed. We will reach thresholds beyond which Nature will not forgive. Importantly, she will persist. It is we who will suffer the consequences of irreparable harm.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I borrow a simple quote from Wendell Berry relevant to our trek along the Awesome Trail:

Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: Nature’s Insistence Upon Renewal

I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary June 6 and presented my reactions, reflections, and photographs in a June 23, 2020 Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/

Please see that earlier Post for general information about the Sanctuary. I’m following up now with a second Post, this one focusing on what I’ll term Nature’s insistence upon renewal. Suffice it to say that the Sanctuary is not preserving 375 acres of wilderness. Instead, the Goldsmith-Schiffman families worked the land for generations, including farming, timbering, and even mining sand and gravel for use as fill for highway construction west of the Sanctuary decades ago. Despite active human operation for many years, Nature is returning the land to a state of wildness from that sometimes harsh treatment few would surmise today from a walk through this riparian oasis. A wonderful sign welcomes visitors. Marian Moore Lewis chronicled the Sanctuary’s seasons in Southern Sanctuary, an exquisite month-to-month journey through this wonderfully wild one-half square mile along the Flint River within Huntsville, Alabama’s city limits.

Southern Sanctuary

 

From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a name derived from the combination of the first two letters from the names of Margaret Anne Goldsmith’s (she donated the land for the Sanctuary) three children. My earlier Post tells the full story of Nature’s grand design in naturalizing this former borrow pit, creating natural beauty from a deep scar upon the land.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I felt that this brief paragraph and the accompanying two photos below merited repeat in this Post. Forgive my shameless self-plagiarizing! A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Having covered some of the same content as the prior Post, I will now shift gears to material unique to this Post.

The Elegant Dance of Life and Death: Fungi Kingdom

 

Leonardo da Vinci expressed timeless wisdom 500 years ago. I offer several of his still-relevant quotes within this Post. I’ll launch this section on life and death with his statement of powerful simplicity:

Our life is made by the death of others.

I write often of the ongoing marvel of Nature’s interwoven and continuous tale of life and death. Nothing in Nature is static; all life ends in death…the cycle repeats without end. Whether the Sanctuary’s visible life persists as plant or animal, the fungi kingdom (neither plant nor animal) serves as the grand parade marshal, ushering even the largest oak from main canopy stalwart through decay to forest soil organic matter. I admit to far less certainty in identifying our northern Alabama fungi. In fact, iNaturalist, my online source of i.d. for all things living, declared this to be California fungi (Pluteus petasatus), an odd moniker for a location more than 2,000 miles from its namesake!

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I suppose what is most important is that this mushroom is the reproductive (spore-producing) structure of the fungi’s mycelia feasting on dead organic matter in the forest floor substrate.

I identified Marian Moore Lewis (without the assistance of iNaturalist), local author (Southern Sanctuary) and naturalist, in the prior Post. A talented photographer, Marian stopped to capture the image of yet another mushroom. So many casual hikers (and some who are serious) walk through the forest, blind to the many rewards that lie hidden in plain sight. We wandered these trails with purpose, intent to miss little. We hike in the forest, not simply passing through it!

Southern Sanctuary

 

This specimen is false turkey tail (Trametes cubensis). The largest of this colony measures six inches across. Its mycelia are feeding on the branch. I wonder how many more years (months?) until its work is done… until the branch no longer has form and structure, and disappears into the soil matrix, to help fuel the next tree that will grow to shed yet another branch to feed future generations of Trametes cubensis.
Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandson Sam (age six) poses with a decaying stem segment supporting a rich community of lichens and fungi. I will attempt no finer identification beyond noting that the white mushroom at the near end is a polypore, and a fine specimen it is. I admit that I am including this photograph mostly because it is a cute picture. Perhaps Sam will grow to be a noted mycologist who with a single glance back at Pap’s ancient Blog Posts will roll the genus and species effortlessly from his tongue. Better yet, perhaps he’ll remember the Goldsmith Schiffman hike with fondness and warmth.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted this distinctive Boletes (Boletus sp.) mushroom at the base of a sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). Its mycelia are feeding on organic matter in the soil. Note the thick moss mat on the tree’s two visible feet. As I’ve observed often, the microclimate at the base of our main canopy trees is perfect for the mosses — cooler with higher humidity. The flared and sometimes buttressed lower trunk also tends to slow stem flow during heavier rains, depositing the water’s load of organic debris and nutrients on the bark surface and in micro-crevices, creating a more favorable substrate for the moss. Watch for our moss-bottomed trees the next time you walk into your favorite forested wildness.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

We found a colorful wood ear fungus, this one identified by iNaturalist as jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), a perfect moniker for a very ear-like mushroom. How sad to think that a person could walk the trail distracted by digital interference and not see these showy specimens. Remember, these are decay organisms consuming cellulose and lignin. Behold the beauty of these essential, noble saprophytes. Who says there is no wonder in decay!

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Another jelly fungus greeted us from yet another downed tree. Again, I offer these identifications without the confidence I bring to naming trees, woody shrubs, and spring wildflowers. This one surfaced as leafy brain (Phaeotremella foliacea). What a delightful assortment of life forms, colors, and zany nomenclature: jelly ear and leafy brain. Where is Dr. Seuss when you need him?

Southern Sanctuary

 

I entered the forest, my eyes to the trees;

I heard the leaves rustle, felt the slight breeze.

Yet as I looked up, saw the canopy high;

I sensed a presence below me, quiet and shy.

 

Something heeding my passage, with a tremble of fear;

Perhaps hearing my footfalls with keen jelly ear.

And registering a threat as I passed in the lane;

Via synapses firing within leafy brain.

 

The fungi range wide in these forested glens;

From Trametes to Boletes they bless our eye lens.

With colors diverse in the shadows and lights,

They’re doing their duty… these forest saprophytes.

 

Yeah, I know, I’m no Dr. Seuss, yet it is fun to think of the tale he could have woven poetically about fungal life in the understory.

Other Life and Renewal

 

Fungi did not attract our sole attention that day. Far more awaited our discovery.

A side note: As I prepared for a Facebook Live video presentation June 25 at Hays Nature Preserve, just across route 431 from the Sanctuary, an acquaintance inquired, given the current social strife, whether I would be discussing “diversity, inclusion, and equity.” My answer stuck to the natural world — I would limit my topic to whatever elements of Nature captured my fancy that afternoon along the Flint River… nothing more. However, as I reflected, I realized that Nature is all about diversity and inclusion. This single Post delves into three kingdoms of Earth-life–plant, animal, fungi. All that diversity of life acting in concert (inclusion) within complex ecosystems. The social milieu that is ripping our country asunder absurdly involves just a single animal kingdom species, a newcomer (occasionally pathetic and at times clueless) in the vast sweep of time since life first emerged from the primordial soup 3.5 billion years ago. Will we humans be little remembered and long forgotten as Nature (I fear) sweeps us aside as irrelevant and unworthy, and only briefly significant? Thank God Nature broadly does not operate in the human fashion. With the exception of this brief interlude I shall stick to Nature. Politics is a private matter to this old retired forester, best left to others.

Annually we accent our spring and summer patio with ornamental petunias, which flower continuously so long as we assiduously dead-head daily. Here’s the wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), growing happily trail-side in the Sanctuary. I like the semi-fringed petals and fresh lavender hue. However, what caught my eye as I examined the photo is the telltale track of a leaf miner insect on the top-center leaf. A leaf is not two-dimensional. Each leaf has three parts: epidermis (upper and lower); mesophyll (middle layer); vascular tissue (the veins). Picture an insect ovipositing an egg into the mesophyll. The egg hatches into a larva intent upon consuming the mesophyll tissue before eventually pupating to transform into an adult that once again lays eggs to repeat the cycle. See the gray serpentine feeding tunnel, where the larva has mined (eaten) the mesophyll between the two epidermal layers.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted a patch of yellow mid-field several hundred feet from the trail. The responsible party is floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides). Attractive from a distance, the flower and leaf venation pattern is absolutely, stunningly symmetric and complementary. I’m reminded once again of relevant da Vinci quote:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Like the wild petunia leaf miner, the pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) and Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) are dependently interrelated. The adult butterfly deposits her eggs exclusively on pipevine stems. Her larvae feed solely on pipevine leaves. The nearly full-grown larva below will soon form its chrysalis on a pipevine stem. The adult will emerge in time to repeat the cycle.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Let’s leap from the beautiful pipevine swallowtail (aka blue swallowtail; butterfly image at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battus_philenor) to what you may interpret as a sad story… another chapter in the book of life and death, written clearly in the language of Nature and hidden in plain sight. Bank-side at the south end of Jobala Pond we discovered a disturbed area of soil just over the embankment rim. The white debris (below left) in the apparently excavated soil are egg shell fragments. Just a few feet away we found broken entire egg shells. The story told is that a cooter or slider turtle deposited this spring egg clutch (they produce as many as six per year) in the bank, covered them with loose soil, and went about her merry way. In time, the turtlings (my word) hatch to fend for themselves. Instead, some mammalian marauder (skunk, weasel, or raccoon) found the nest, dug into the egg burrow, and messily consumed the egg contents. Evidence, I suppose, why these turtles lay multiple clutches. Life and death on the Sanctuary is a matter of fact.

Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

Sam held two of the eggs, fascinated with the tale… understanding the drama that had occurred overnight before our morning hike. The more we find when I explore Nature with him, the harder he looks for evidence of other tales. Holding the egg shells is far more compelling than seeing a photo in a reference book. He is, literally, in touch with Nature’s continuing saga of life and death. The only thing better would have been coming upon the marauder in the act!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nearby, with Murky Pond as backdrop, witness the excitement in our group as we found, this time, an intact eastern box turtle egg clutch.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Marian allowed me to include the following three photos that she snapped: Sam pointing to the nest; closeup of the nest with two eggs visible; Sam’s hand softly holding the top egg.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I was heartened to see such visible excitement among the adults in our entourage. We gingerly re-deposited the show-and-tell egg, placing a bit of leafy matter over it, hoping that some predator does not discover the eggs and enjoy a midnight snack before the turtles hatch. We humans seem to appreciate and celebrate new life, regardless of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. A good sign giving me hope for human sustainability.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I write frequently about the hidden world of Nature — the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that awaits those willing to look, see, and feel. Leonardo da Vinci elucidated the same 500 years ago:

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.

I want to open eyes with these Blog Posts — to encourage and implore people to look, see, feel, and then act as informed and responsible Earth stewards.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nature is amazing, whether we view it from the perspective of a leaf miner or from within the larger context of the complex ecosystem pictured above.

The Flow of Life

 

Because the Sanctuary occupies the riparian zone along the Flint River, I’ll close with a pair of photos from the sand bar viewing down stream (below left) and up stream (right). Had we been standing here during the several flood events of the prior winter and spring, we would have been unceremoniously swept downstream with great violence as turbulent rushing torrents roiled ten feet above our heads.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I mentioned in the prior Post about the river’s coming journey to the sea (from the Flint to the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf to the Atlantic. And once again, da Vinci captured the mystic essence of the flow of rivers and life:

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.

Sam’s journey into the Sanctuary, like ours, began at the red gate (below). He started his trek through life six years ago, less than a tenth of my journey’s duration to date. Where will his flow through life lead? I earnestly pray that he will practice and proselytize informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Perhaps he will see a time when a single (so-called intelligent) species will cease its seeming inevitable flow toward self-destruction.

Thoughts and Reflections

I borrow two simple truths from Leonardo da Vinci relevant to this visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

Our life is made by the death of others.

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: My Orientation Visit

Virtual Orientation: Southern Sanctuary

I’ve often mentioned how fortunate we are in north Alabama to have so much wildness within an hour-and-a-half drive: several State Parks; Bankhead National Forest; Sipsey Wilderness; Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge; County Parks; Greenways; Nature Preserves; and the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, which I visited for the first time June 6, 2020. I felt already intimately familiar with the Sanctuary, having read Marian Moore Lewis’ Southern Sanctuary over the winter. Marian chronicles a year of Nature’s passage on the Sanctuary one month at a time, with exquisite prose and her own photographs. She writes with deep passion, keen powers of observation and interpretation, and unsurpassed knowledge. I enjoyed the read immensely… and urge Alabama Nature-lovers to pick up a copy and wander through the seasons, and then visit the Sanctuary in person.

 

The Real Thing: June 6, 2020 On-The-Ground

Marian was kind enough to meet me at the entrance; she had arranged for Margaret Anne Goldsmith (she donated the property to the City of Huntsville to create the Sanctuary) to join our explorations. We three, along with Judy (my wife), our daughter Katy, and her sons Jack and Sam (11 and 6, respectively), strolled together. I have said many times that I really don’t care to walk through Nature, hurrying along from one point to another. Instead, I walk in Nature, observing and adsorbing. Marian and Margaret Anne share that sentiment; we meandered with no sense of urgency. As a result we covered only a third of the total trail distance during our three hours, leaving the remainder for another day or two, most likely this fall when cooler days will prevail.

A lovely entrance welcomed us to the 375-acre Sanctuary. That’s Marian at the entrance interpretive sign below right.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Marian dedicated Southern Sanctuary to Margaret Anne, who, through her vision, sense of stewardship, philanthropy, and love of nature, donated the land for the Goldsmith Schiffman Sanctuary to the City of Huntsville, Alabama. In her own words, “It is my wish that this land will be preserved as a haven for wildlife and for education and enjoyment of our children and future generations; that it will always be a place that lives, suspended in time, yet ever-changing, where all can experience a kind of peace and solace like that found in sacred places.” I love the simple heartfelt elegance. What a pleasure to be in the presence of these two incredible naturalists and Earth stewards.

Marian mentioned the red gate often in her book. Here’s Sam guarding the red gate. Fortunately, once we explained our purpose he permitted entry!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Every parcel of north Alabama wildness holds a tale of intersecting human and natural history. We saw hints of the human history, including the James L. Long bridge, in memoriam to its namesake. I’ll mention other elements of the human history as we proceed into the Sanctuary. I will not in these paragraphs develop those fragments of rich history. Instead, Marian, Margaret Anne, and I are already scheming about how we might assemble such a detailed Land Legacy Story for the Sanctuary.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a unique name one might assume has its origin among Native American inhabitants from ages past. However, you probably know what they say about that word assume. Margaret Anne named the pond with the combination of the first two letters from the names of her three children. That’s just part of Jobala Pond’s story. These wild and natural ponds represent Nature’s extraordinary power to reclaim and heal. The pond basin resulted decades ago from the highway department mining fill for road construction west of what is now the Sanctuary. For reasons over which I’ve pondered for decades, the accepted term for such a basin is borrow pit. You tell me what was borrowed! Doesn’t borrow imply returning? Imagine a raw wound, an empty excavated pit void of vegetation and absent aquatic life. Bordered by piles of woody debris scraped from the site prior to surface mining. Now look at the two photographs below. Jobala Pond looks absolutely naturalized. Native terrestrial vegetation borders it; native aquatic vegetation thrives within its margins. Native fishes, crustaceans, turtles, snakes, frogs, insects, gators, beavers, and diverse other critters inhabit it.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. Once the bulldozers, loaders, and trucks departed, the exposed hidden spring quickly began delivering fresh water; typically reliable rains added their share. The seasonally-overflowing Flint River seeded Jobala with aquatic plant and animal life. Our human footprint, even one as drastic as mining a riparian site for sand and gravel, is seldom indelible to the casual eye. Without Marian and Margaret Anne revealing Jobala’s origins, I would have questioned why such a pond existed. Most visitors to the Sanctuary would see it as entirely natural. I see it as a gift of Nature’s incredible power to fill voids… to erase footprints… to heal wounds. I hold firmly also to Nature’s restorative elixir as a salve for our individual mental, emotional, and spiritual voids, wounds, and scars. The powerful medicine of Vitamin N (Nature)!

I’m not sure we could have moseyed through the Sanctuary any more slowly. So much caught our eye, drew our attention, demanded examination, and delighted us. Marian is a superb photographer, stopping to photo-capture fungi on a dead and down log (below left). Margaret Anne (below right), who has hiked these riparian forests for decades, likewise seemed content to guide and provide family historical notations at our pace. I repeat, the Sanctuary’s human and natural history are inextricably interwoven, a tale that the three of us are certain merits telling.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I like the rather primitive wood-routered signs. They look a bit like an illustration one would expect in Ichabod Crane… perhaps a bit Halloweenish. Here we transitioned from Hidden Springs to Deer Run Trail.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Deer Run Trail crosses a large lowland field, not yet spring-broken for sowing corn or soybeans. Spring rains and periodic flooding often dissuade tractors and cultivation until long after upland agriculture is underway. I am fond of seeing the horizon extended by open viewscapes. I like the distant forest edge and the ridge rising beyond.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I admit some level of disappointment that there are no plans to convert at least some of the open acreage to native meadow vegetation. I spotted a nice patch of floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides) in full flower mid-field. What a pleasant gift of shimmering yellow. How many years of successive corn and soybean cropping will it survive?

Southern Sanctuary

 

We hiked several hundred feet through deep woods to reach the Flint River. We stood at water’s edge, watching the peaceful flow seeking outlet to the Tennessee River, unknowing and uncaring of the long journey ahead to the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean beyond. We marveled at how tranquil the Flint appeared upstream (left) and down (right), yet we could see ample debris evidence that much of the Sanctuary not many weeks earlier had waited patiently under feet of rising backwater or torrents of flood. The seasons swing wildly here along the Flint.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

As we stood admiring the flow, a barred owl almost directly overhead in the high riparian canopy greeted us four times with its Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds. The Cornell Ornithology website refers to this call as a classic sound of old forests. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds website provides insight into this deep-woods denizen:

The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.

The barred owl’s call fills my soul. touches my heart, and lifts me into a near-mystical zone. We searched for the owl but to no avail, thus deepening the spiritual dimension of this too-brief audio encounter.

We casually strolled back to the Sanctuary entrance, where several hours earlier we had captured the photo below with Margaret Anne and Marian holding Southern Sanctuary. Such a joy to tour the property with two people who played seminal roles in enabling and chronicling a legacy that will serve future citizens and naturalists deep into the future. The three of us will reconvene to scheme about developing a Land Legacy Story for this wonderful Sanctuary. When we decide how and when to pursue I will provide updates via Blog Posts. The Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary is in full harmony with my Blog Post theme: Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Robert Service, a British poet who wrote about the Far North during his turn-of-the-prior-century wanderings in the Gold Rush Yukon, beautifully corralled the magic of place in his Spell of the Yukon:

There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back–and I will

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,

It’s the forest where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

I lived four years in Alaska (the Far North)…in the great, big, broad land way up yonder. I realize that our Sanctuary is within the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama, a far cry from the Last Frontier. Yet, I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. The Sanctuary (and so many other Nature-escapes here in north Alabama) thrills me with wonder…and peace. When the barred owl called, silence had lease.

The Sanctuary beckons and beckons. I want to back–and I will. I hope you also take time to visit–both virtually (Southern Sanctuary) and literally.

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.

I draw two simple truths from my first visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. 

So many Nature-escapes here in north Alabama thrill me with wonder…and fill me with peace.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Relative Motion

A statement of fundamental Nature-essence: Everything in Nature is relative in space and time, including our own lives.

Nature-Inspired Poetry

I’ve toyed with Blog-Post-by-verse a few times since I enrolled in a beginning poetry course this past winter at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Funny that I spent much of my professional higher education career writing in two styles:

  • Boring administrative language
  • Uninspiring scientific technical writing

I suffered through it. In the process, I learned to despise passive voice and third-person formality. I hungered to write with my heart, soul, spirit, and feeling fully engaged. Alas, I found that prose-worthy outlet with my books and these Blog Post photo-essays. And now I’m taking another step toward an even looser style — poetry. That doesn’t mean writing poetry is easier… in fact, at this stage in my writing exploration journey I find verse far more difficult. I know my own prose voice… I recognize it as it flows from the keyboard. Its cadence comes naturally. I labor at the verse. I do know by now that I struggle mightily with rhyming. So, don’t look for it in this offering, which I call Relative Motion. Instead, what I am seeking is a reflective style that allows me to express feeling and experience…without the constraint of rigid reliance upon subject, verb, grammar, and structure. Sure, I could employ prose, but I fear it would be bound to Earth, stiff, requiring many more words.

That explains the attempt at verse. I arrived at this subject (relative motion), one I have reflected on for soon-to-be-69 years, because I am a spatial creature, always cognizant of place. Motion has dominated much of my adult life. I remember with uncanny clarity the sensation of lifting from the runway in the central Appalachians the first time Dad took me up in a small single engine Piper. I can close my eyes at will and feel the thrust, the release, and the lightness. My mind relives the optics of receding runway and trees, the rapidly-expanding horizon, the 3-D mountains taking form and shape. During my forest industry days I had reason and opportunity to go aloft in choppers — wow, the exquisite exhilaration of vertical lift-off! I loved it (flying)… and still do.

Earth-bound, I ran recreationally (I called it competitively) for over a quarter of a century. I logged 31,000 miles during our son’s first 21 years. As with going airborne, I can close my eyes and cover some of my running loops step-by-step, hill-by-hill, start-to-finish. I can see the landscape sliding past, enjoy the exertion, savor the rush, glory at the runner’s high that did indeed occasionally lift me above and beyond life. If I choose, I can still bring to life the closing six-mile agony of my first marathon (yes, the full 26.2 mile beast). At mile 20, I felt worse than ever before… then a mile later felt twice as bad!

And beginning when we lived in Ohio (2008-13) a quarter of a mile from a 250-mile network of paved rails-to-trails, I have biked several thousand miles. As of this morning (June 16, finalizing this Post), I have already logged 970 miles this Covid-19 calendar year. Whether flying, driving, running, or biking, I pay attention to the flow of landscape, and my relative place within it. I believe that everything in Nature is place-relative.  Although I realize that I am not the center of the universe, in part this verse suggests that we observe motion, in whatever form, relative to ourselves.

 

Relative Motion

 

Two cars stopped adjacent

Mine moves forward

I slam the brake…

Movement continues!

Until the car beside me

Backs from my vision.

 

All motion appears relative,

Bicycling along the greenway

Trees nearby race past me

Distant trunks recede in slow motion

Mid-way stems track mid-pace

 

Oaks far ahead stand at attention

Until, upon my approach

They accelerate to and then fall behind me

 

Drone-mounted camera

Goose alongside flapping,

Stationary, as clouds slip behind

Speeding streams of traffic below

Unmoving to each other

The pavement flowing beneath,

 

Only perspective defines motion

Polaris… the North Star… stationary

Navigating us for centuries

323 light years from Earth

Too far for visible relative motion

 

Time, too, is relative

We see evidence that it passes

But cannot discern its movement

 

The verse is simple, non-rhyming. I hope the few photos below illustrate some of the relative motion concepts. I photographed the images June 2, 2020 as I traversed 25 miles around and on Bradford Creek Greenway in Madison, Alabama. My average speed a comfortable 12.5 MPH. For the record, that’s 18.33 feet per second.

All motion appears relative,

Bicycling along the greenway

 

Paused and resting, I can clearly see greenway surface texture. At pedaling pace, the surface texture elements are indistinguishable.

Bradford Creek

 

Trees (and fences) nearby race past me

Distant trunks recede in slow motion

Mid-way stems track mid-pace

The metal fence posts stand ten feet apart. I cruise past the posts at the rate of 1.8 per second. They are a blur, yet the woods-edge beyond, some 400 feet away, stretching within the photo image nearly 500 feet, a distance that takes me roughly 28 seconds to cover. As the fence posts whiz past, the woods edge falls behind leisurely.

 

Distant trunks (and far horizons) recede in slow motion

Now, I extend the horizon. The nearby fence (below left) continues to race past; the horizon woods edge exhibits little relative motion. I took both of these photos along County Line Road’s adjacent biking/pedestrian trail, a four-mile out-and-back extension I add when I do Bradford Creek Greenway loops.

Bradford CreekBradford Creek

 

Oaks far ahead stand at attention

Until, upon my approach

They accelerate to… and then fall behind me

Bradford CreekBradford Creek

 

Time, too, is relative

We see evidence that it passes

But cannot discern its movement

Roughly 22,000 days (six full decades) passed between the two photos below. Time meant absolutely nothing to the camera-aware tyke below left. In some ways, time means everything to the guy with helmet and biking gear. I lived those 22,000 days at the relentless pace of 60-minutes an hour, yet at any given moment, time stood still. I detected no sense of motion. Everything around me moved at the same pace… hence, no relative motion. However, the evidence is clear and harsh. Dad departed 24 years ago; Mom in April 2017. They ran their race; I’m running mine, with them in my heart… my body, soul, and spirit.

Steve Jones Miscellaneous FamilyBradford Creek

Nature, I believe, is oblivious to time. Have our weathered Appalachians counted the centuries…the millennia…since their alpine glory? Does the heron track the seconds while he stalks the careless frog?

I often turn to the deep-musing great naturalists of days gone by for wisdom in my life. Henry David Thoreau observed, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” And, so, wisely he proclaimed, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” Ah, if only I can so live these remaining years… enjoying each moment in the stream of life. Insisting upon staying in motion, yet moving apace with the years, finding an eternity in each moment.

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.

The fundamental truth I draw from this Blog Post: Everything in Nature is relative in place and time, including our own lives.

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

 

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

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

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

 

My Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksBradford Creek

 

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

Earth Day Visit: Wildflowers along the Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park

May 19, 2020 I issued a Post reflecting my Earth Day hike on the Monte Sano State Park Wells Memorial Trail: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/05/19/earth-day-visit-to-the-cathedral-forest-along-the-wells-memorial-trail-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Here is the opening paragraph from that Post: Earth Day (April 22, 2020) Judy and I (along with 12-year-old grandson Jack) hiked Sinks, Keith, and Wells Memorial Trails at Monte Sano State Park. Because we were continuing to deal with Covid-19 restrictions, Jack sat in the third-row SUV seat and all of us wore face masks while in the vehicle. On the trails we peeled our masks and maintained social distance. I’ve written and published several times on the Wells Memorial Trail…my favorite Monte Sano trail because of its special quality and rich cove site and cathedral forest. Here is my December 4, 2019 Wells Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

I chose not to lengthen that Post with a review of the wildflowers I photographed on Earth Day. Because I am such a spring wildflower advocate, I reserved my wildflower reflections and photographs for a separate Post.

I draw one simple truth from this Earth Day 2020 visit to the Wells Memorial Trail:

Spring ephemerals have fueled my soul and stirred my passion for many decades… and will continue to do so!

Wildflowers

I present these spring lovelies in about the same order we encountered them along the trail. I love traipsing our north Alabama woodlands before the onset of full leaf-out and deep forest shade. Spring ephemerals own the shoulder season between the onset of spring and overstory foliation. Temperatures are perfect for hiking; insects have not yet awakened; and flowering surprises await discovery everywhere. Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis), although not boldly announcing its presence, does offer a show to those who look hard enough to spot its tiny white flowers and are willing to bend closely to appreciate its elegance.

Monte Sano

 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Is one of our more common north Alabama wildflowers. You might wonder why we dub it a spring ephemeral. The answer is simple. I revisited the Wells Trail May 12, finding mayapple in early senescence, yellow-spotted and within a week or two of seasonal dormancy. Spring ephemeral definition from an online dictionary: Spring ephemeral describes the life habit of perennial woodland wildflowers which develop aerial parts (i.e. stems, leaves, and flowers) of the plant early each spring and then quickly bloom, and produce seed. The leaves often wither leaving only underground structures (i.e. roots, rhizomes, and bulbs) for the remainder of the year. This strategy is very common in herbaceous communities of deciduous forests as it allows small herbaceous plants to take advantage of the high levels of sunlight reaching the forest floor prior to the formation of a canopy by woody plants.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Wild comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum) is not uncommon, yet falls short of mayapple’s abundance and forest floor density.

Monte Sano

 

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), as one might suppose, resembles Solomon’s seal, which suspends its single flowers from the stem at leaf axes while the false version offers a showy white plume at its terminus. The leaves are nearly identical. I tend to think the false moniker implies lesser or inferior, yet I prefer that version’s aesthetic. Call me a Solomon’s seal heretic.

Monte Sano

 

I’ve loved trilliums since my first-year college systematic botany course when our field trips led us into the spring woods searching for ephemerals along elevation gradients in western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. I’m still hooked! This drooping trillium (Trillium flexipes) is a species I don’t often encounter. Perhaps it is shy or reverent, denying eye contact with passersby. Lift its face to see its full beauty.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I recall the ubiquitous wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) greeting me across my moves from Ohio to New Hampshire to here. We have its cousin, cultivated geraniums, accenting our landscaping at home. I find dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) every spring locally and, like wild geranium, everywhere we’ve lived across the eastern US. I find special attraction in its distinctive spur.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

My friends and former colleagues up north (PA, OH, NY, and NH) think of the deep south as another world… a foreign ecosystem. Yes, the transect south to here evidences significant climatic zone continua, variations in ecosystem composition, and shifting local accents and vernacular. However, I tell them that most familiar overstory and forest floor herbaceous species range the Appalachians from New England to our Mount Cheaha. Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is another of my favorite ephemerals that I first met in the central Appalachians and found it well up into NY and NH. Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) also ranges north to CT, but I never developed a relationship with it — it failed to catch my eye. I note it when I see it, yet it does not stir my passion.  Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, I admit to another beauty-bias. I melt when a woodland orchid presents herself. Although we saw just this one individual, a yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum), my heart skipped a beat and my face flushed. I recall with relish encountering showy lady’s slippers during my doctoral field research in NW PA and SW NY. I can’t imagine a more beautiful lass. Are those angel voices I hear!?

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

After presenting the yellow lady’s slipper, I risk presenting these next two with less excitement than they likely merit: yellow woodland violet (Viola pubescens) and star chickweed (Stellaria pubera). However, even I, while smitten with the orchid, still salute the least of our spring ephemerals. All of them symbolize Nature’s insistence that every vacuum (in space and time) be filled. As da Vinci observed 500 years ago:

In her (nature’s) inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

And as John Muir concluded:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

Everything in Nature has purpose, value, and function… and enjoys intimate interdependence with everything else. The yell violet and star chickweed with the lady’s slipper and the entire forest ecosystem. There’s the old saw about the greenhorn who insisted that his entire deer be cut into tenderloin. Things don’t work that way. Nor does Nature carpet her woodlands with lady’s slippers. Its the aggregate that functions… all the gears acting in concert.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Cross Vine (Bignonia capreolata) is a woody vine that may reach 50-feet into the forest canopy. I don’t recall identifying this species up north. I appreciate its flowers, which I mostly see as drops on the forest floor. I place them high on my aesthetic preference list. Nature sees them as just one more cog in the glory of life.

Monte Sano

 

I still marvel at squawroot or bear root (Conopholis americana), a parasitic plant growing on oak roots. Like so many other plants, this one grows northward throughout the range of oaks, from WI to Nova Scotia and south to FL.

Monte Sano

 

Non-Flowering Plant Reproductive Organs

I must admit that when I attended university, fungi fell within the plant kingdom, hence this subtitle declaring them as non-flowering plants. I’ve recently learned that these organisms now fall into their own separate group — The Fungi Kingdom! Pardon me if I stumble now and then, referring to them errantly as non-flowering plants. Fungi fascinate me, yet I know them so superficially. I loved my forest disease classes as an undergraduate. Virtually all forest tree diseases are fungal. Now I am captivated by the richness of fungal life I see locally, evidenced by mushrooms of wide variation. I won’t attempt to offer detail in my quick presentation of the more memorable fruiting bodies I encountered on the Earth Day Wells Trail hike. I find the names endearing and entertaining.

Green cheese polypore (Formitopsis spraguei)

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae)

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

From the Fungi Kingdom — unknown!

Monte Sano

 

I am committed to learning our region’s most significant edibles! Progress otherwise may be slow.

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.

I draw one simple truth from this Earth Day 2020 visit to the Wells Memorial Trail:

Spring ephemerals have fueled my soul and stirred my passion for many decades… and will continue to do so!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSteve Jones at Monte Sano State Park

 

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

 

Seasons Flowing with the Waters of Bradford Creek

I’ll begin with the broad lesson I draw from these photos and reflections:

Just as the waters of Bradford Creek flow ceaselessly seaward, Nature’s seasons advance reliably day after day, annually completing a full cycle. So too do the seasons of our lives pass year after year.

Seasonal Progress Across Geography

I published a Blog Post June 5, 2018, chronicling the advance of spring across a 660-mile south-to-north road transect from Madison, Alabama to just north of Pittsburgh, PA: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/06/05/six-hundred-sixty-mile-transect/. Elevation and latitude are powerful variables controlling spring’s inexorable trip northward.

Yet we don’t need to travel to observe seasonal shifts. I offer here my observations at a fixed place (nearby Bradford Creek) from October 12, 2019 (climatically very late summer here in north Alabama) through the end of May, 2020 (early summer here). Keep in mind that my characterization of climatic season is based upon a life perspective across thirteen career-driven interstate moves, including stays in upstate New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, western Maryland, and Alaska, as well as Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama..

Seasons Flowing with the Waters of Bradford Creek

October 14 in Fairbanks, Alaska (our home for four years) is the autumn date when the average high temperature first rests at freezing. From that point through April 1, the average daily high stays below 32 degrees. I snapped the photo below October 12, three weeks ahead of Huntsville’s average date of first freezing temperature (November 2). Snow had already fallen in Fairbanks by October 12 each of the four autumns we resided there. In fact, first flakes arrived by the end of September. Along Bradford Creek October 12, the hardwoods had begun dropping brown leaves, blanketing the sand and gravel bars. Canopy-greens are fading. In central Interior Alaska, aspen and birch reached full fall color during the first two weeks of September; branches were bare before the fall equinox. Therefore, I do not hesitate to observe that October 12 represents very late summer along Bradford Creek.

Bradford Creek

 

By November 5 the mood had changed. Still a lot of leaves clinging above. Greens weakening to yellow-brown. More fall than summer, yet clearly short of winter.

Bradford Creek

 

By December 4, I am willing to declare winter-like. A few residual main canopy brown leaves, some which will persist until spring leaf-out. Bradford Creek flowing gently, evidencing that seasonal rains had not yet begun to return creek levels to typical winter flush.

Bradford Creek

 

Ah, by December 28 we have reached deep winter (again, winter is relative), looking nothing here like the Hallmark Card ideal of New England Christmas cards. Bare trees and occasional bank-full flow along the creek.

 

A week later (January 3) Bradford Creek had receded from flood, leaving debris scattered across the trail. Grandson Sam poses on a stranded log. I admit to missing the threat and reality of a classic major north-land snow, yet I continue to embrace the magic of a Gulf-fed deluge over a couple of days, triggered by a low pressure system encountering an attempt by winter to surge southward.

Local Greenways

 

For two reasons I skipped ahead to the spring equinox (March 22). First, I don’t venture out on the trail often during the wet and chill of winter. Second, the seasons don’t progress much during January and February. By this point stream-side green is bursting and the canopy is evidencing bud break. Spring has sprung! In contrast, one of our Fairbanks year we experienced a high of one-degree below zero April 1, no fooling!

Bradford Creek

 

And from the webcam on our University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, here is the image taken at the spring equinox 2020. Still a snowpack of nearly three feet. Bud break remains a distant dream. Spring has not sprung, except as a point on the calendar.

West Ridge Webcam

 

Spring along Bradford Creek soon surges… explodes. By April 4 light green dominates.

Bradford Creek

 

Within the next few days, greens deepen and shade begins to grace the forest floor.

Bradford Creek

 

By April 26 the mood gives faint evidence of the winter just ending. I consider this full-spring, deep spring if you will.

 

Even the understory shrubs and herbaceous perennials are in full leaf by May 5.

Bradford Creek

 

May 19, by any standards and criteria I might select, we are squarely in what I would characterize as early summer!

Bradford CreekBradford Creek

 

Aldo Leopold famously captured the flow of seasons on his Wisconsin property seventy years ago in his timeless classic, A Sand County Almanac. I don’t suggest that this brief photo essay is on par with Leopold’s near poetic, deeply philosophical, and scientifically spot-on musings. However, I do hope that my photo and reflective journey along nearby Bradford Creek from October through May does in some small way enlighten, inform, and inspire readers to appreciate, value, and enjoy the magic of local wildness across the seasons.

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.

The fundamental truth I draw from this Blog Post: Just as the waters of Bradford Creek flow ceaselessly seaward, Nature’s seasons advance reliably day after day, annually completing a full cycle. So too do the seasons of our lives pass year after year.

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

 

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

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

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

 

My Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Spring Green-up

We’re now nearly 11 weeks beyond the call to distance safely from our circle of friends, family, and associates. Judy and I speak of being under Covid-19 house-arrest. We continue our daily neighborhood walks. In addition, I escape as often as I can to local trail-hiking and greenway-biking. I prepared this Post after a Spring Equinox trip to nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, biking on gravel roads.

Covid-19 Context

We were in the heart of spring green-up as I first drafted this Covid-19 Context section. A sad irony that Nature’s cycle goes forward unabated by a pandemic virus that found life (and wrought disease and death) half a world away. A primitive micro-organism that has turned modern global society and economy inside-out.

I subscribe to the EarthSky electronic newsletter (https://earthsky.org/). The March 31, 2020 issue reminded readers of this quote from the 3rd book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” God’s green Earth…Nature…and our relationship to it is our light and high beauty… our hope.

I believe sincerely that this, too, shall pass. Already I sense a fundamental change in the world — a deepening humility, a greater recognition of our human frailty, and perhaps a strengthened belief in our oneness. I can’t speak for others, but I accept my own growing spiritualism, more palpable Faith, and an even stronger sacred connection to our Earth, this pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space.

A Wet Spring

 

By the equinox my backyard rain gauge had registered some 27″ year-to-date. That’s a tremendous amount of water — 49 percent of annual in just the first 22-percent of 2020. More water than the Tennessee River, America’s 12th largest by volume, could contain within its banks. I parked within the Refuge along a gravel road (Jolley B Road) near Blackwell Swamp along the Madison/Limestone County line. The parking area is about a half-mile beyond the Refuge sign below. The temperature rose to near-60 degrees on a sky-perfect early-spring day. Canopy greens signal that full-spring lies just ahead.

Spring 2020

 

High water blocked roads that I readily explored six weeks later. Herbaceous vegetation already greened road shoulders. Main canopy trees sprouted fresh new foliage and pollen-loaded flowers. The flooded roads offered promise of future ventures. The saturated spring would in time transition to summer when occasional rains, while normally reliable, come in rounds of thunderstorms with abundant sunshine, heat, and drying between.

Spring 2020Spring 2020

 

This trip amounted to a mileage teaser. I covered only ten miles, mostly repeating some stretches and turning around at each overflow.

Spring 2020

 

I am not deterred, knowing that adventure and full exploration lie ahead.

Trees Springing Forth

 

Powerful hydro-pumps are emerging from countless bursting buds… millions (no, billions) of them that will lift water from soil high into lofty tree crowns. These ironwood (Ostrya vinginiana) leaves need only pump 20-30 feet, the terminal height of this shade tolerant understory (and occasional mid-story) species. Yet, in turn, each tree, shrub, and forest floor species does its part to return what water doesn’t drain into the river to the atmosphere. The hydrologic cycle has many participants that in aggregate amount to an effective global symphony of water vapor, liquid, and ice. The cycle writes its language across the Earth.

County Line S

Earth Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rich riparian soils support some trees reaching 120-feet, a literal high demand on the capillary pumping fueled by plant transpiration. By the equinox, green-up is in full swing.

County Line S

County Line S

 

Just six weeks later (May 3), when I returned, the Refuge showed nearly full-leaf.

Blackwell Swamp

 

I can’t help but throw in a March 29, 2020 scene (pardon the quality; it’s a photo of a screen shot) from the webcam at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I served as Chancellor (President) 2004-2008. Not much spring-greening apparent!

West Ridge Webcam

 

Spring is a season… not just a date on the calendar!

 

Tree Form Oddities

Pedaling slowly along the gravel roads (and their frequent muddy and puddled stretches), I was able to visually scour the adjacent deep forest, seeking tree form oddities, wildflowers, and even edible mushrooms. Both of these ironwood individuals below had seen physical damage (a large branch or tree falling on the growing stem), and then recovered with new shoots reaching once again vertically.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

This odd burl (below left) reminded me of a wolf or dragon — I see forehead, eye, nostril, and mouth clearly. No wonder that our forests spur stories of mythical creatures and beings. Below right, from an 180-degree different perspective, I saw nothing beyond a disfigured proboscis.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

The burl is growing on a very much alive main-canopy oak, yet death resides commonly within the living forest.

Life and Death in the Forest

A large dominant overstory oak still stands below left. Gravity and decay will soon (certainly within the decade) bring it to ground, where it will return to the soil. Two dead upper canopy loblolly pines likewise remain standing below right. I look for them to be horizontal within five years. Agents of decay are working feverishly and without pause.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

The fate of all life is death — such is the cycle of life and death in the living forest.

County Line S

 

Fungus Among Us

 

I graduated from forestry school when fungi appeared in botany books… they were viewed as non-flowering plants. Yet now fungi are classified as neither plant nor animal, belonging instead to the Fungi Kingdom. Ah, the things one learns observing Nature and publishing these Blog Posts! These organisms are ubiquitous across our northern Alabama forests. False turkey-tail (Stereum ostrea) are abundant saprophytes.

County Line S

 

Coral-pink Merulius (Phlebia incarnata) added a touch of fungal color.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

And to my absolute delight I found a remarkable lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a culinary delight, just one-quarter mile from where I parked. I transported it in my bike helmet, which it filled.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

Egg-battered, lightly floured, and fried in butter and olive oil with a bit of seasoning salt, lion’s mane is simply delectable!

County Line SCOunty Line S

 

Who could ask for anything more — a treat for the ardent Nature-observer?! I gave thanks for the beauty and bounty. No wonder I feel a spiritual connection to wildness — it sustains me in mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit!

Non-Flowering Plants Edible

 

Wildflower Inspiration

 

Spring ephemerals were rushing into flower during this shoulder season prior to main canopy leaf-out. They thrive during the warming days when nearly full sun still blesses the forest floor. Bulbous Cress (Cardamine bulbosa) appeared in full flower at woods edge.

County Line S

 

Mountain azalea (Rhododendron canescens), one of my north Alabama favorites, presents beauty in pure form and full measure!

County Line S

County Line S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) appeared in profusion, although only a few had progressed to open flowers.

COunty Line S

 

I saw only a handful of eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), yet one would have been sufficient to reward my efforts and venture.

County Line S

 

Wild comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum) offered only a few blossoms. Even this one, more advanced than most, did not yet show open petals.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) also graced the otherwise nearly barren forest floor.

County Line S

 

I packed enough reward and satisfaction into my three-hour wanderings to draft 3-4 spring equinox Blog Posts. However, because I am finalizing these words two-months later, I tried hard to squeeze into this one offering. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each journey provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate. My cup does indeed runneth over. ‘Tis the season of Nature’s plenty. I am unable to do more than scratch her surface.

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. Spring is the season of Nature’s plenty
  2. Nature’s power to lift us and heal us, physically and of the soul, is unlimited
  3. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each venture into wildness provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSpring 2020

 

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