Late Spring at Oak Mountain State Park

Such a pleasure to spend two full days at Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham. April 25 engaged me through early afternoon with the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting and the official public launch of the Foundation: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/29/launching-the-alabama-state-parks-foundation/

Late May I issued another Post on the value added to a State Park visit by our wonderful Park Naturalists: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/22/oh-what-a-difference-a-naturalist-can-make/ Lauren Muncher, Oak Mountain SP (OMSP) Naturalist toured me by vehicle and extensively by foot over the nearly 10,000-acre Park the afternoon of the 25th and most of the day April 26. What a privilege to see our Parks through the eyes of our committed, capable, passion-fueled on-site environmental ambassadors!

Via this 32-photo portfolio, come along with Lauren and me as we introduce you to some of OMSP’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Don’t expect to see a full display of the many wildflowers we encountered. I’m saving those for a subsequent Post. A “spoiler alert,” I offer just a single flower in this Post — a beautiful bloom from one of my favorite Alabama main canopy tree species.

First Afternoon Exploration

Okay, allow me to start my reflections on our first afternoon with an excuse (no, a suite of excuses). The Park comprises a little more than 15.5 square miles. This was my first visit. I focused on natural features and plants, some of them new to me. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. I did not take enough notes. Details slipped from the synapses over the intervening seven weeks (I’m drafting this Post the second week of June). Why all this explanation? I simply could not remember the name of the trail that this shelter introduces. I emailed Lauren, who informed me that this is Glade Trail. However, this one comes with a caveat… the trail is closed to general public access and is open by scheduled arrangement only. Below this photo of Lauren standing at the shelter I will explain the rationale for controlled access. Regardless of this special access limitation, the Park offers countless infrastructure amenities to complement the wholesale hiking, biking, and touring opportunities available without restriction.

Glade Trail leads directly to an area of special ecological significance. As we headed out beyond the shelter we passed through a sandstone glade, a rare ecotype normally limited to the southern Appalachians. See a more detailed description in my Blog Post focusing on this ecotype at DeSoto State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/06/05/sandstone-glades-at-desoto-state-park/  Glades are typified by shallow soils and a xeric growing season environment as rainfall rapidly sheds. The exposed bedrock and stunted plant life give the impression of a high Appalachian Mountain bald, usually found above 4,000-feet. Here on Oak Mountain we are no higher than perhaps a little over 1,000-feet. Still, I like the look and feel of these ecosystems.

And there are certainly no longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) in the highland Appalachians.

Pardon my leaping ahead with this next photo of another longleaf pine we found the following day within another ecotype, rocky, and in its own way just as harsh as the glade, craggy cliff-like terrain near Peavine Falls. Notice the clear blue sky as backdrop, far different from the showers and clouds of the prior day.

Had Lauren not introduced me, I would not have met this Boynton oak (Quercus boyntonii), a rare North American species of oak, endemic to only six Alabama counties. From the US Forest Service website, “It is commonly called the Boynton sand post oak or Boynton oak. Quercus boyntonii is a rare and poorly known species.” Thanks to Lauren, I now know it!

 

 

Again, the trail passed through some unforgiving terrain and nearly-barren soils, yet its very nature creates its charm. My notes (yeah, I took a few) described this image below as a tree and stone natural monument. Sandstone blocks and a longleaf standing amid the hilltop boulders spoke to me. I sensed something of reverence and significance. I felt as though I should pause, even kneel, and give thanks for a place of sanctity and solace just 20 miles from Birmingham. Could this be a natural tribute to those who envisioned our State Park System, preserving this 15.5 square miles for perpetuity?

I commend OMSP for its array of interpretive signage and its special attention to birds, including many and diverse bird houses and, as you’ll see later in this Post, the raptors of the Hilltop Nature Trail. I had not previously seen one of these Chimney Swift Nest Towers, of which the Park has at least two. From the road, I deemed it some kind of odd cooking chimney. Lauren gave me a closer look and explained its function and purpose. These swifts are voracious insect-consumers.

I am grateful to Lauren for availing her expertise for several afternoon hours. We met again first thing next morning, covering a lot more ground.

Tree Form Oddities and Peculiarities

As you can tell, I don’t spend much time reporting on our Parks infrastructure. My intent, instead, is to focus on natural features. In fact, I devote my energies to seeing, cataloging, reporting, and translating the unusual and odd, as well as the amazing, when I visit our Parks. Trees (and clouds, weather, waterfalls, rock formations, and much else) fascinate and intrigue me. I’ve come a long way since my timber-beast forester days. I get more excited (well, at least as excited) by tree form oddities as I do with a three-log veneer-quality red oak! These Oak Mountain State Park hickories (Carya sp.) bear defects that would deter the sawyer’s interest. No fine wood products will these individuals yield. Such large canker wounds and scars (fungal infections) provide woodland art that I appreciate. So much beauty lies hidden within plain sight. The forest gallery awaits those willing to search with new eyes. One man’s tree defect is another’s object of admiration and wonder! We discovered these two along a prominent road within the Park.

We discovered this interesting union of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) along a well-used Park trail. Hiding in plain sight! Just another among what I would presume to be hundreds, if not thousands, of woodland gallery displays within OMSP’s nearly 10,000 acres. Perhaps there is a budding (I couldn’t resist the pun) Birmingham photographer who would consider a coffee-table style book of OMSP’s top 100 forest gallery images? Or a challenge the Park might sponsor for Park users to submit their own photos (accompanied by GPS coordinates), eventually leading to an online inventory of special tree form oddities at Oak Mountain.

I relish seeing trees like this beech clinging to Earth with obvious embrace. The image is both literal and symbolic. Don’t we all, in our own unique way, cling to Earth’s bosom?

We found yet another hickory with an eye-level canker perfect for squirrels to perch while shelling hickory nuts (below left). That’s a large burl (another defect for all but wood-turning enthusiasts) on the lower right hickory concealed in large part by the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) leaves.

Judy and I watched two Tlingit Indian craftsmen carving a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) totem several hours one afternoon in Southeast Alaska. No hand of man involved in creating this living hickory totem, lined vertically with unknown visages of forest spirits past, present, and future. Given time, I believe I could weave an appropriate tale! So many of the character trees I photographed at Oak Mountain are hickories. Perhaps some dynamic fungal agent specific to the genus Carya swept the region decades ago, infecting and precipitating the bizarre tree responses creating the woodsy artwork I so enjoy and appreciate.

Along another internal Park road atop a ridge, we spotted two main canopy oaks within a hundred feet of one another, both lightning scarred from treetop to root collar. Callousing adjacent to the scars suggest that the hit occurred a couple of years ago, likely concurrently from a combination of primary and secondary strikes from the same bolt. Neither tree appears to be dying. The scars will be permanent. Life isn’t always easy in Nature, yet lightning has been striking trees since the first thunderstorm passed over the first forest. Nature adapts and life goes forward or, in the case of a tree-shattering strike, does not. As a Nature-reading sleuth, I appreciate seeing and interpreting the evidence of Nature’s power written in the forest.

Big Ones

Lauren promised to show me Oak Mountain’s big tree. We visited its grove the second afternoon, where we found it standing regally within a fertile, bowl-shaped cove protected from harsh winds and blessed with deep soils and ample bottom-of-slope, season-long abundant moisture. We measured this yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) at 38-inches DBH (diameter breast height; 4.5-feet above ground). The prior afternoon’s rain and wind had gifted us with a fresh flower.

 

 

 

The poplar was not the only big tree we encountered. This 34-inch loblolly (Pinus taeda) also towered above us. Lauren and I talked about the Park cataloging its big trees. Perhaps offering a challenge to Park visitors similar to our idea of likewise noting the Park’s special tree form oddities. Over time, the 21-Park System would have a full inventory of Big and Special trees. Is Oak Mountain home to the System’s largest poplar, its largest loblolly? Who knows? What education and interpretive value lies in knowing. How significant an education factor is curiosity and a desire to know and discover. My experience as an educator tells me that perhaps nothing is more important to learning.

I know, too, from what motivates me, that I would love being the one who finds the biggest, most unusual, unique of anything in Nature.

Treetop Nature Trail

Lauren had previously worked at the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain. We visited the Center and its associated Treetop Nature Trail that same second afternoon. Visit the Center’s website (https://alabamawildlifecenter.org/), and then make a special effort to go there in person.

 

 

 

 

 

I simply cannot do justice in this Blog Post to this extraordinary Nature education facility and the spirit it embodies. Even the Center and Trail’s cove hardwood setting thrilled me.

The signage is phenomenal, as are the aviary at each species location along the Trail. These enclosures are the avian equivalent of a five-star hotel. Lauren greet each bird, or set of inhabitants, as though she knows them personally. Well, she does! I have said many times that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Lauren CARES!

 

 

 

 

 

I won’t attempt full explanation and comment for each. View this as a teaser… a prompt to encourage you to go there.

Were I better equipped, camera-wise, and more skilled as a photographer, I would have more clearly captured the essence of the towering forest within which the Trail is located. Perhaps with a little imagination you can get a sense of the cathedral forest above the Trail.

Again, what wonderful signage… a Park Naturalist’s delight.

A Little Naturalist Whimsy

Our Alabama State Parks Naturalists take what they do quite seriously, even as they don’t take themselves at all so seriously. Why not mix and bit of mirth and whimsy into what they do!

I thoroughly enjoyed my two-day venture at our state’s largest Park. I want to go back… and I will. As an applied ecologist, I have a hard time resisting the urge to write, and write, and write about each Park’s magic. Instead, I limit myself to presenting this overview and teaser for OMSP. I will present another Blog Post from this April visit showcasing the spring ephemerals we saw while touring and hiking.

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Rare, isolated, and unusual ecosystems (like Oak Mountain’s glades) provide vast windows for understanding and appreciating the peculiar mechanisms and wonders of Nature.
  • Open your eyes to the special in Nature, whether tree form oddities or Big Trees.
  • Enter the forest knowing that magic and wonder lie hidden within.
  • Maintain a never-ending sense of curiosity for Nature’s secrets and her common-place, plain-sight gifts.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

 

The Brand New Cook Museum of Natural Science!

The Cook Museum of Natural Science opened June 7, 2019. Judy and I, along with 11.5-year-old grandson Jack, toured pre-opening June 3, with Explainer Kenny Ladner leading the way. I am grateful to Kenny and other members of the Cook Museum team for inviting me for an advance peek. The only caveat being that I not release this Blog Post until after the Grand Opening.

Our reaction to the visit — WOW!!! Here’s what I found on the website June 6: “The Cook Museum of Natural Science is a state-of-the-art natural science museum in downtown Decatur, AL. It provides a hands-on, immersive experience where kids can explore, interact with, and learn about nature. Families leave the Cook Museum feeling fulfilled by their time together and inspired by the things they saw and learned. It truly is one amazing experience for families and children of all ages!” We three can vouch for the Amazing Experience — beyond our wildest expectations.

I often celebrate Wendell Berry’s view of Nature and natural settings: “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 same applies to the Museum — total indoor immersion in Nature’s wonders and miracles, a far-ranging introduction to natural science on a global scale, yet at the hands-on level, within reach, up close and personal, in climate-controlled comfort. We bought a Museum membership on the spot — we will return again and again and again. Perhaps not for daily bread, yet certainly for frequent ingestion of Natural Elixir. Cook Museum will not replace our field excursions, but will supplement the rich palette of Vitamin ‘N’ (Nature) available here in Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley region.

Allow me to introduce the Museum with a set of photos, reflections, and observations. View this as a teaser — an enticement to visit. A prelude to the incredible experience that awaits you! I can tell you for sure that I cannot do justice to the Museum. It truly is an Amazing Experience!

A New Building

From the exquisite building… to its world-class contents.

Nothing is overstated, yet all is convincing, compelling, and powerful. Nature comes to life within its walls. Designers and craftsmen/women left no detail undone or misdone.

Entering This New Icon of Environmental Education

Kenny Ladner ably and enthusiastically introduced us to the Museum. Kenny’s the biped on the right!

I saw by far the best indoor honeybee display I’ve ever encountered. This one houses some 50,000 Italian Honeybees. Like watching campfire flames, snow falling in a floodlight, or a stream flowing past, I could have watched this community for hours.

And that was just the entryway!

Undergirding Earth Sciences

The natural sciences cover far more than the living components. Cook makes sure visitors understand the earth sciences and their influence on life and the living. Jack stands with Kevin Kunze, the design mastermind behind a fascinating interactive exhibit explaining how complex factors aligned perfectly to enable life as we know it to exist on our fare planet. I love the “Perfect Position” and “Just Right” themes. Serendipity and fortuity have pretty much guided my life and career; now I am reminded that the same two factors have enabled all life and living on Earth!

So many of us bemoan tornadoes, wildfire, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and other such earthly violence, yet the Museum reminds us that perturbation is natural and that many systems are, in fact, disturbance-dependent. Our human recourse? Understand, predict, and adapt. I think of the old T-shirt: Don’t Mess with Mother Nature!

I failed to get a good photo of the Cook Museum Cave exhibit, yet it beautifully tells its own tale of physical forces over time.

Freshwater Realm

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that approximately 10 percent of the freshwater resources in the entire continental United States originate in or flow through Alabama. The total surface area of Alabama is about 52,000 square miles, or 33.3 million acres. Total outflow of water from Alabama averages about 29 inches per acre per year, with 7 inches coming from groundwater discharge and 22 inches coming from stream outflow. About half of the rainwater that falls on our state evaporates or transpires. Water and its associated living systems in large measure define our state. Kenny is describing for us this reconstructed beaver lodge. Disassembled on site in the wild, Museum staff rebuilt it, even re-incorporating an old small tire, a broken fishing rod, and a T-shirt. The cross-section lodge is home to three mounted beavers.

That’s a gator tail in the elevated display in front of Judy and Kenny. Yeah, that’s Jack placing his head between the gator’s powerful jaws!

Sandhill and Whooping cranes are visitors to the winter wetland depicted below.

And my favorite wetland predator, the great blue heron, surveys the summer marsh, much to the chagrin of the potentially tasty foreground frog.

Again, I have a soft-spot for snapping great blue heron photos!

Woodland Terrestrial

From wetlands to mountaintop, Cook captures the magic. I wanted to sit and watch old sole descend through the gloaming.

I have yet to visit Big Tree, Alabama’s State Champion tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), in the Sipsey Wilderness, but here it is in its larger-than-life glory at Cook. Youngsters like Jack and even more nimble and flexible adults can climb some twenty feet vertical within the replica’s hollow core. I now hunger to see the real thing! On my Alabama bucket list.

That’s a much larger-than-life squirrel’s nest in the sweetgum (Lquidambar styraciflua; below left). And a Cook woodland scene to the right.

Woodland critters stand on one of Alabama’s ubiquitous rock ledges. Everything looks true-to-life!

Another one of my favorite displays — a momma bear satisfying her sweet tooth. She’s found a hive in a hollow standing dead tree and is enjoying, paying little heed to junior’s pleading eyes! Do I detect a mirror of my own love affair with chocolate?

Again, keep in mind that I am offering just a taste (kind of like the momma bear) of the Cook Museum, which is in aggregate is a honey-tree feast of natural science delight.

Taking Flight

The Museum does great honor and holds high fidelity to our feathered friends. The raucous jay and the forest beyond remind all that life extends from deep in the ocean blue, through the soil biome, into forest and meadows, and to the sky-blue above us.

I love animal collective nouns, like the parliament or stare of these nocturnal denizens below left. Who cannot but marvel at the mighty horned owl? Or the caterwauling of our local barred owls? These large owls are not quite the size we see. Peel away feathers and flesh to reveal a rather deflated skeleton (below right). Like so much in Nature, a good bit (or, in this case, a little bit) lies hidden within. Cook opens our eyes to what otherwise is invisible.

There’s also the owls’ daytime cousins, our fence post or treetop perching accipiters (red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, respectively, below left and right.

And the magnificent golden eagle!

 

The Higher Latitudes

From the high blue sky to the high latitudes, Cook covers it all elegantly, beautifully, and masterfully. An arctic fox in hot pursuit of two arctic hares. And a snowy owl welcoming the deep snow of a long winter

From our years in Alaska, one of my favorite among all God’s creatures, a raven whose intelligence and repertoire never failed to amuse and astound us. Judy would converse with our Fairbanks backyard aerial neighbors, which both she and the birds found entertaining. They would call, and she respond in kind. Or she would lead the way, and they answer in like tones and intonations. Amazing animals… seeming as comfortable on a summer afternoon as they are at 50 degrees below zero!

 

Ocean Depths

Cook likewise brings the deep sea to life — yet another realm of natural science wonder.

Coral reefs immaculately presented, including many living creatures. You’ll fight the overwhelming urge to linger, feasting on the displays.

 

 

 

 

The black-lighted jellyfish tank had Jack (and me) riveted, as the iridescent critters circulated through the gently flowing current.

Our Earth–our home–our source and our destination. Our garden to tend. Our pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space.

Five hundred years ago Leonardo Da Vinci observed, “Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.” Cook holds true to Da Vinci’s wisdom.

Likewise, Henry David Thoreau passed a germ of wisdom to Cook: “I do not know that this higher knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we called Knowledge before—a discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.”

And John Muir could have passed the following on the Cook: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Finally, Teddy Roosevelt might have imagined a Cook Museum, “The question is, does the educated citizen know he is only a cog in an ecological mechanism? That if he will work with that mechanism his mental wealth and his material wealth can expand indefinitely? But that if he refuses to work with it, it will ultimately grind him to dust? If education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?”

My compliments to those who dreamed a way to connect children of all ages to Nature… indoors and globally… at a single point in space and time to the magic, wonder, beauty, awe of Nature to children of all ages! Again, Cook invites all to an Amazing Experience.

Cook Museum Origins

Borrowing from the Museum’s website, “The Cook Museum’s humble roots can be traced back to 1968 when John Cook, Sr. opened his professional insect collection to the public by appointment, which at the time had been used primarily for employee training at Cook’s Pest Control. It later grew to include a wide array of mounted wildlife, touring malls throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

In 1980, additional collections of rocks, minerals, fossils, coral, sea shells, mounted wildlife, and federally protected migratory birds were acquired, and a 5,000 square foot building was constructed. At that time, what became known as Cook’s Natural Science Museum came into existence, and it welcomed more than 750,000 visitors from its opening in 1980 until its closing in 2016. The Cook Museum of Natural Science’s grand opening in June 2019 marks the culmination of an approximately 50-year vision in the making.

Mr. Cook’s inspiration and motivation for the museum came from his desire to generously serve and support his local community and region and to creatively display God’s creation. The Cook Family continues this legacy with the Cook Museum of Natural Science, and we are still driven by the same vision today.”

We have heard so much about the inequities of wealth and poverty and how unfair such a system is. Yet we see manifest in the Cook Museum of Natural Science the tremendous benefit derived from those who succeed in returning good and bounty to the future… our common benefit.

The family pays ultimate tribute to insects. The business of pest control has proven lucrative. The profits have enabled creation of this wonderful Museum. I compliment and offer appreciation to the family. Just as other elements of Nature express beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, so too do the most indomitable of Earth’s creatures, the insects. Cook pays tribute where it is due — the Wonderful World of Insects!

What an Amazing Experience!

 

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Done well, indoor environmental education can provide a full dose of Natural Elixir.
  • A key to success for all environmental education: hands-on, immersive experience where kids can explore, interact with, and learn about Nature.
  • Kids come in all ages, from toddlers to grandparents!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

 

 

Sandstone Glades at DeSoto State Park

One Photo Says it All!

I could begin and end this Post with just one photo — a full-color mosaic of life on a sandstone glade at DeSoto State Park:

What is an Alabama Sandstone Glade?

Dr. R. Scott Duncan, professor of biology and urban environmental studies at Birmingham-Southern College, published Southern Wonder in 2013. Subtitled Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity, his book chronicles Alabama’s rich floral and faunal life from the Gulf to the Tennessee Valley. Only four other states, all west of the Mississippi River, are more biologically diverse.

One of the enabling factors for our state’s life-richness is the many unique eco-sites across the state. Duncan describes among those unusual habitats glades:

“Glades are open ecosystems where bedrock exposure and extreme soil conditions keep trees away. They are rare in the Southeast, but Alabama has glades of sandstone, limestone, granite, and dolomite. All have thin, dry soils and provide little rooting space and few nutrients. These ecosystems harbor unusual plants that handle brutal extremes but cannot survive alongside more competitive plants dominating milder environments. Their adaptations for survival are manifold.”

Duncan offers that “very few sandstone glades survive in Alabama; most are in the Southern Table Plateaus…” Such glades serve as examples of “the Cumberland Sandstone Glades and Barrens ecosystem. Both are treeless, but glades have extremely thin soils or none whatsoever.” See Duncan’s wonderful book for more information, presented in an easy-to-read, welcoming prose, rich with science accessible and digestible to an interested layman. No self-respecting Alabama Nature-enthusiast should do without a copy of Southern Wonder!

As I’ve reported in a prior post, I visited DeSoto SP April 18-20: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/ . We found several sandstone glades at DeSoto, painted spectacularly with multiple hues deepened and intensified by the prior night’s frog-strangling cloudburst. Var-riotous (my new word combining var-iety and riotous profusion) lichens and mosses flourish in spring’s abundant moisture. What a joy it would be for a non-flowering plant specialist to drop to the knees with hand-lens and notebook to journal what lies unknown to my forester’s eye and mind. I can merely marvel at the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of an other-worldly ecosystem.

Duncan notes, “The shallow slopes of the Cumberland Plateau’s glades may be what allows them to support a more diverse flora.” Of one particular glade nearby, Duncan said, “Water seeps from the woodland margin at the top of the glade and slowly trickles across its surface. The water pools in scattered rounded depressions etched in the bedrock over millennia by the acidic groundwater. Such pooling is possible only because the slope is gentle.” His description matches perfectly what I observed below on the orange and blue trails Saturday morning:

Whether spring-rain-sodden grasses (above) or thick pads and clumps of lichens and mosses, and a few shrubby trees, the site shouts impoverishment and harshness. I felt joy and privilege to witness the glades at full-glory, high tide, maximum esthetic register. A sandstone glade cathedral … a magic-carpet stroll through a rare ecosystem. Serendipity and fortuity blessed me with a naturalist’s winning lottery ticket!

A Power-Ball jackpot of pure spiritual goodness cushioned with reindeer moss!

Duncan said of the spring-wet glades, “In the water are semiaquatic plants that grow for only a few weeks each spring. The most conspicuous is Elf Orpine, a small, bright-red succulent forming thick mats.” Again, Nature gifted me with the winning numbers. Well, actually DeSoto Naturalist Brittney Hughes picked the numbers, intentionally timing her invite for my visit to coincide with peak spring floral richness. The Elf Orpine (Diamorpha smallii) ceremoniously reached zenith for my visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such an incredible gift!

Duncan continued, “This layers of saturated, gritty soil sustains mosses, grasses, and wildflowers. Among the latter… gaudy Yellow Sunnybells display panicles of bright yellow flowers…” Again, my timing yielded sunnybells (Schoenolirion croceum) in full flower, as well as rich admixtures of mosses and grasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana) along the trail near the glades. One internet source said, “hill cane, is a woody bamboo native to the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States. The plant was elevated to the species level in 2006 based on new morphological and genetic information and was previously treated as a variety of Arundinaria tecta.” I am accustomed to seeing the more common cane in lowlands of central and southern Alabama.

I had no clue as I listened to the overnight deluge, that hiking the following two days a DeSoto State Park would reveal multiple treasures, the Park’s sandstone glades among them. I am thankful that my first direct exposure to sandstone glades proved so fruitful. Again, for further insight to my DeSoto discoveries, see my earlier Blog Post on The Magic of Water’s Thunder at DeSoto State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/

Also, watch for a subsequent Post (likely in June) on A Spring Day at DeSoto State Park focusing on the Park’s spring features beyond the tumbling waters and sandstone glades.

I learn so much on these sojourns into Nature. Writing these Posts and offering resultant reflections and lessons sharpen my powers of observation. I’ve often said that conversation demands a great deal of the engaged conversant. However, nothing requires so much of our mental capacity as writing. No, not the “labor” of writing. Instead, it is the concentration of believing, looking, seeing, and feeling demanded by my hikes, knowing that I must translate my woods-treks to these Posts. I suppose that is why I greet completion of each Post with relief, satisfaction, and no small measure of exhaustion. However, if I can win just one reader over to the side of the Earth stewardship angels, my labor is more than rewarded.

My efforts are driven by passion, purpose, and love of Earth. For many years I have observed, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I CARE. Although I aim to be scientifically correct, I am not intent upon showing you how much I know. Instead, I want you to know how much I care. Incidentally, the more writing I do, the more I realize that I know so very little, even as my CARE expands exponentially.

 

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Rare, isolated, and unusual ecosystems (like Alabama’s sandstone glades) provide vast windows for understanding and appreciating the peculiar mechanisms and wonder of Nature.
  • To every time there is a season… in life and for each and every ecosystem.
  • Know Nature’s multifarious seasons… and her times to every purpose under heaven.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

May Gives Way to June

My New Book

Hallelujah — a Big Announcement as we slip into June. Here’s how my co-author and friend Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit spread the word on our joint book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits, via her website, TEALarbor, this afternoon: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=cm#inbox/FMfcgxwCgxxkMjlkFzcbzQskBHTzCQjz

I use Jennifer’s words because I could not have said it any better: “I am thrilled to announce that my latest book project has just made it into our publisher’s hands. Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature is a co-authored volume with my colleague and friend, Dr. Steve Jones.

It is a great relief after months of writing and editing, and weeks of proofreading, polishing, and profusely sweating, to have surrendered our manuscript to the next phase.

In very brief sum, our book is “a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” I’ll share more in future posts.

We’ve received advance praise for our book from our early readers. We are eternally grateful to them for writing blurbs that will appear on the covers and inside of Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits. One endorsement, by Dr. Cheryl Charles (Co-Founder, Children and Nature Network), calls our work “…an enchanting, inspiring, important book.”

Please celebrate with us by going outside into your own back yard or to a local park. Close your eyes, inhale deeply, thank the Earth for the abundance of beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements we receive from her each day of our lives. That’s where I’m headed – and what I’m going to do – right now!”

My Own Offerings of Celebration and Observance from the Last Two Days of May and Today

I concur with Jennifer’s advice. In fact, Judy and I visited the Huntsville Botanical Garden (ten miles from our home) this afternoon, attending a show by the North Alabama Hosta Society, and then walking a couple of woodland trails. I offer just two photographs to help lift your spirits. First, as we approached the Butterfly House where the Hosta Society hosted the show, we encountered a momma mallard and her four ducklings.

And along one of the trails, an exquisite native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in full floral display in the foreground of a large loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)

Patio Skies from the Last Two Days of May

I literally did not have to leave the backyard to take these photos of our ever-changing heavens above. The first is a delightful morning sky back-lighting one of our Japanese maples (Acer platinum). I’m a sucker for great skies.

Still May 30, a surprise thundershower blessed us with 0.50″ of rain, then gifted us with a near-sunset rainbow, first a weak double and then a bit more vivid single.

May 31, just after Jennifer submitted our manuscript, I spotted first a cirrus jellyfish.

And then noticed a seahorse in fast pursuit.

Yes, some might say (a bit sarcastically, or just humoring the old guy), “Sure, Steve, I really do see those same images.” Did I detect an eye roll?! I do enjoy all manner of sky. Permitting a bit of whimsy enhances my enjoyment and appreciation.

Again, Dr. Wilhoit nailed it. “Close your eyes, inhale deeply, thank the Earth for the abundance of beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements we receive from her each day of our lives.”

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), as well as another (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Nature lies within reach wherever you seek it.
  • All you need do is believe that the magic is there, then look keenly to see the beauty, wonder, and awe.
  • And make sure to close your eyes, inhale deeply, and thank Nature for the beautiful gifts and life-sustaining elements presented to us.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Rickwood Caverns State Park

Below Ground at Rickwood Caverns

I began my April 24, 2019 introductory visit to Rickwood Caverns State Park (30 miles due north of downtown Birmingham) in the main cavern with Superintendent Amanda White, entering through the controlled-entrance yellow door. Here’s Amanda with keys in-hand.

Like Cathedral State Park, it’s the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe below ground that primarily attracts visitors. Above ground geology, landform, vegetation, views, water, and fauna compose the draw to our 19 other State Parks. I learned pretty quickly at Rickwood that my iPhone cannot do justice to what lies hidden within the cavern. Please see the Rickwood photo gallery online to gain a sense of what I saw: https://www.alapark.com/rickwood-caverns-state-parkgallery

We spent several hours touring — two Canadian tourists joined Amanda and me. We were under no deadline pressure. Amanda kindly gave us as much time and attention as we wished. Ours was the deluxe education tour! A handful of my photos passed my screening. Here are two examples of flow-stones:

And two more of stalactites and stalagmites.

We even found fauna. Here’s a cave cricket, poorly focused. Not even rising to poorly-focused, we also spotted a cave spider and a tri-color bat. Please give me a little slack — I’m a tree guy accustomed to being above ground in broad daylight. Yes, it may get a little dusky in deep woods on cloudy days. However, at the appointed spot during our cave tour, Amanda hit the light switch, bringing absolute, complete, total, and blinding darkness to us. It’s a different world down there. Amanda knows the subterranean at Rickwood from the cavern’s history to geology to its hydrology to ecosystem elements. She tells its tale with wonder, understanding, and passion. She cares. Our Canadian friends found magic through Amanda’s skillful interpretation. I did as well.

We found a bit of magic before entering the cave when we stopped by the nature center. A luna moth (Actias luna) welcomed us from its door-frame perch. I viewed it as a positive omen, a spectacular exclamation of beauty and promise!

The Upside of Rickwood Caverns

Following our cavern trek, we emerged into full sunlight. Amanda had other duties to attend. She turned me over to Bridgette Grace, Assistant Superintendent. The two of us circuited the Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail. Like so many others of the Parks System staff I’ve met, Bridgette brought knowledge, enthusiasm, and cheer to the task.

Fossil Mountain Hiking Trail

I found it rather incongruous that I had just covered the same footprint below ground. I sensed no hollow footfalls to reveal the cavern beneath. We found a different suite of beauty and magic. Some rather rough terrain of bouldery limestone. A few deep crevasses and lots of places for water to find its way without delay into the limestone depths. This was no forest of rich soils, straight boles, and towering tree heights. Easily read through my forester’s eyes, this forest spoke the language of xeric conditions. Although ample annual rainfall wets the site, most of it passes quickly into the limestone as the stunted trees quench their thirst only sparingly. A sprouted acorn, cached by a sated squirrel,  can aspire to be the Mighty Oak, but the aerial rodent chose poorly for enabling such acorn-dreams.

Perhaps poor site-quality-related, this deformed oak presented an image of internal distress. Tumor-like and probably fungal-rooted, burls, gnarls, swells, and hollows defined the main lower trunk and extended up the bole to the live crown. A good tree to feature on a Halloween trail, highlighted with special lighting and spooky music!

Another oak, while also not Mighty, wore a showy resurrection fern skirt. I imagined a slight curtsy as we approached.

Many deceased Eastern red cedar (Juniperus viginiana) stood (or lay prostrate) throughout the Park. This 15-inch-diameter cedar has retained vigor. The species is a pioneer, one of the first, courtesy of birds eating and then gut-stratifying its fruit-bound seeds, to occupy abandoned pasture and agricultural openings across sweets soils (high pH limestone-derived soils).  I can’t picture any self-respecting cow grazing the coarsely-bouldered landscape, yet I am somewhat certain that the site was cleared a century prior for some settler-designated purpose. The cedar captured the site and mixed hardwoods have since replaced the evergreens.

Fire pink (Silene virginica) brought a welcoming red brightness along the way. Its color earns its name.

The same for pale blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum) — jeepers-creepers, check out those gorgeous blue-eyed-peepers!

I had not yet this season seen four-leaf milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), another handsome spring ephemeral

When I first issued this Post, I admitted the following: “I failed to field-identify this one, and likewise did not capture leaf or stem details. The flowers appear in this only image to be spurred. Perhaps someone can toss me an i.d. life preserver?” My friend and Lake Guntersville State Park Naturalist Mike Ezell came to my rescue May 30, 2019. He identified this one as Dwarf Larkspur (Delphium tricorne). Thank you Mike!

We didn’t find many Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginia), yet the ones we discovered gave us rich color.

This was my first find of cross vine (Bignonia capreolata), a peculiarly showy flower that I saw several times during my next two-day explorations at Oak Mountain State Park. These are real beauties, vessel-like with a nice blend of striking colors. Below right is literal evidence that we are in Good Hands with our Alabama State Parks professionals — thank you, Bridgette!

Rickwood Caverns State Park occupies just 0.6 square miles, 380 acres. Small but chocked full of special natural features, above and below ground. I’ve said repeatedly that we don’t require Grand Canyon-scale Nature to find beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Nor do we need Yellowstone’s 3,468 square miles (or the 1,640 miles to drive there) to inspire our lives and expand our imagination and insight. A half-a-day was all I needed to convince me that Rickwood Caverns is a worthy gem on our Alabama State Parks necklace.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature) and 2020 (Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; whether Oak Mountain’s nearly 10,000 acres or Rickwood’s 380.
  • We don’t require Grand Canyon-scale Nature to find beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.
  • Nor do we need Yellowstone’s 3,468 square miles to inspire our lives and deepen our appreciation of our natural world.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

 

 

 

Oh What a Difference a Naturalist Can Make!

Twenty-one State Parks totaling 48,000 acres constitute the Alabama State Parks System… from the Gulf coast to the Tennessee River Valley. The Parks Mission is succinct and compelling: To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, 0perate, and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. This Post addresses the final Mission element, to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. Five of the Parks have an assigned, on-site Naturalist: Gulf SP, Oak Mountain SP, Cheaha SP, Guntersville SP, and DeSoto SP. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of spending at least one full day with each Naturalist touring the respective Park.

I earned my bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in western Maryland and central upstate New York, where ecotypes far different from Alabama predominate. Although I practiced industrial forestry across the six southeastern states for 12 years, I focused on timber production and not Nature at large. Over the intervening 35 years (serving nine universities from faculty to senior administrator) my interests have broadened to encompass all elements of our natural systems, albeit still mostly forests, although no longer riveted to timber production and commercial value.

Cheaha State Park

Cheaha State Park encompasses Alabama’s highest point, 2,407-foot Mt. Cheaha, an ecosystem that most closely resembles my western Maryland, central Appalachian home. Most closely, yet still far different. I grew up at latitude 39.65 degrees north. Cheaha State Park is at 33.5 degrees north, some 424 miles south (and many miles west) of my Maryland home. Spring moves northward at roughly 120 miles per week, reaching my home 3.5 weeks after passing through Cheaha. I visited my home region Mother’s Day weekend. Oaks above 2,500-feet had not yet leafed. However, I will not quibble over season length; I draw great satisfaction from having the southern Appalachians  proximate to my Alabama home, along with their associated most-closely-resembling ecosystems!

I am grateful, too, that Cheaha State Park has a resident Naturalist, Mandy Pearson, a seasoned professional who graciously shared time and expertise on-site with me. I watched her on more than one occasion interact with Park visitors, intent upon sharing her knowledge and “extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.” Cheaha also has excellent interpretive signage (see below), along with a full catalog of workshops, camps, and presentations. Check the individual Park websites for listings and descriptions.

Here I am with Mandy at the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama 2019 Annual Conference, hosted by Cheaha State Park in late February. What a great way to showcase Cheaha and the entire Park System for its education mission. Lower right Mandy leads one of the Conference hikes on an exquisitely dark and foggy mid-afternoon.

You will see as I highlight these five Parks, that we’re in Good Hands with our State Park Naturalists!

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park hosted the State Parks Foundation Board in January. I tacked on an extra day to tour this Gulf Coast gem with Park Naturalist Kelly Reetz. Gulf Shores does not have ecosystems that remind me of home. To the contrary, I felt as though I had wandered onto foreign land. Sure, I recognized many trees, yet far more seemed exotic. Without Kelly’s informed guidance I would have been ecologically adrift. I’ve written in Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration (a book that I will soon submit to a my publisher) a chapter about spending two weeks in China (2010) without any host who could interpret native ecology. Total frustration for me to see Nature at-hand without so much as a simple children’s tree manual in English! Not so the case at Gulf State Park. Kelly knows her stuff. The Park, like Cheaha, has first-rate interpretive signage. Regrettably, of the Parks I’ve visited, these two stand alone in that regard.

Thanks to Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery funds, the Park has enjoyed investments sufficient to enhance all Park elements in furtherance of its mission, education included. Our day-long ramblings ranged from seaside to interior upland, xeric oak forest. If only such a competent naturalist had toured me through parts of China!

Again, and I will repeat the refrain, we’re in Good Hands with our Alabama State Parks Naturalists. Here’s Kelly making sure I can identify turkey oak!

Lake Guntersville State Park

July 2018 I spent a great day afield with Park Naturalist Mike Ezell at Guntersville State Park.  As with the prior Parks, I issued at least one Blog Post for each visit. Go to my Great Blue Heron Blog page (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) and type the respective State Park into the search box, directing you to relevant Posts. For example, here’s the one for Guntersville: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/08/08/lake-guntersville-state-park/ The entrance signage is worthy, but not much in the way of interpretation within the Park.

However, when seeing the Park through Naturalist Mike Ezell’s eyes and heart, who needs signage!? As you can see from the fog along the Tennessee River, we started early, covered a lot of ground, and visited secretive spots along the way.

 

 

 

 

We found a persimmon tree dropping fruit by the hands-full! And Mike demonstrated clearly that we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists!

DeSoto State Park

Mid-May I toured DeSoto State Park with Naturalist Brittney Hughes on a soggy day after a nighttime deluge. See the Post that I issued just last week: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/05/15/the-magic-of-waters-thunder-at-desoto-state-park/ In the spirit of full disclosure I must confess that I snapped this entrance sign photo on a prior dry-day visit.

Brittney knows DeSoto State Park, from its ubiquitous sandstone outcrops and ledges to its trees and non-flowering plants, as well as other ecosystem elements. She knows the Park like the back of her hand. We spent a full day without her referring once to a trail or road map, except as we completed our day together and she guided me by map to her recommended trails for my trek the next morning.

Based upon my time seeing DeSoto and the other four Naturalist-staffed Parks, I will compile a list of recommendations (through my own naturalist-lens) applicable to the Parks System broadly relative to education and interpretation.

As I made clear for each of my Naturalist-tours, we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists! Brittney is holding a spring wildflower new to me, Shrub Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima).

Oak Mountain State Park

I visited Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama’s largest, April 25, 2019 for the official launch of the Alabama State Parks Foundation (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/29/launching-the-alabama-state-parks-foundation/), and then stayed for the afternoon and the entire next day touring and hiking with Naturalist Lauren Muncher. Watch for at least two future Blog Posts with photos, observations, and reflections from our explorations. Please note that the North Trailhead photo below is from the Park System’s archive; all others are mine.

I relished being on the ground at Oak Mountain!

I’m sure we could have spent many days seeing the wonders of this nearly 10,000-acre Park just 20 miles south of Birmingham, our state’s largest city. Lauren is new to this role, yet she brings a wealth of related knowledge and experience to the task, including service at the on-site Alabama Wildlife Center and its Treetop Nature Trail. She knows the resident raptors as old friends! We measured the Park’s largest tree (or so we think), a 38-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) trail-side in a rich cove setting. I’m impressed with Lauren’s full and passionate immersion at Oak Mountain and her tireless dedication to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

No doubt about it, we are in Good Hands with Alabama State Park Naturalists! Likewise, this Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) is safe a secure in Lauren’s hands, lifted from a trail surface and placed lovingly back in its natural habitat. Like all of our State Park Naturalists, Lauren cares. I recall many times over my education career observing, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” Kelly, Mandy, Mike, Brittney, and Lauren CARE!

 

Other Helping Hands

So, I applaud the Alabama State Parks System for housing naturalists at five of our largest and most-heavily used Parks. Those five account for roughly a third of the System’s 87,000 acres, and I’m sure greater than half of user-days. As an environmental educator at-heart, I’d like to see every Park served by a naturalist on-site or a professional shared among several regionally-aggregated smaller parks. I’m inclined toward natural resources disciplinary graduates (two-year, four-year, and Master’s level). I’ve seen other types of interpreters (below) who are a little more difficult to recruit (and even tougher to train and control). More of a novelty perhaps, but in the long run not nearly as effective, reliable, and caring as our team of five wonderful humans.

Nevertheless, applying any tool of the trade helps sow and embed the Earth stewardship and Nature appreciation message in the hearts and minds of Park visitors.

Recommendations

I offer some ideas of my own (in part inspired and informed by my interactions with the Park Naturalists) for expanding and enhancing the System’s education mission. I know full well that the Parks operate primarily by use-generated revenue. I am not suggesting that the System reallocate existing financial resources. Instead, I am advocating that gifts, grants, and donations may be sources for deepening the education thrust.

And, as a lifelong Nature enthusiast, like our Parks Naturalists, I care.

In addition to expanding statewide Parks Naturalists staffing, I see other elements complementing the education mission:

  • Enhanced interpretive signage on par with Cheaha and Gulf State Park’s
  • Trail pamphlets identifying trees, plants, geology, seasonally anticipated birds, and other features of nature and environment
  • Permanent photo points. Watching any landscape element day-to-day reveals little. Change occurs gradually yet inexorably. Only over time can we detect the tremendous change that sweeps past us without detection when we are present day-in-and-day-out. I included a chapter on time travel (No, not of the Back to the Future type) in my still-evolving third book (Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration). Here’s a relevant excerpt referring to our 2017 re-visit after 15 years’ absence the neighborhood where we lived for five years: Let us return to our recent time travel to Auburn. As we drove back along the road with the new school, we looked at the roadside forests with open eyes. Yes, what had been a pole-sized stand now appeared to be much taller, populated with sawtimber sized trees (large enough to be sawn into lumber). Our time travel had brought us to a place far different from what we had left. I suggest placing 5-20 permanent photo-points on each Park, marking the points with vertical rebar at recorded GPS coordinates, retaking the photos every five years or so. Future Park visitors will be able to retrace change back in time via the permanent photo record.
  • Motion-triggered trail cameras at key locations throughout each Park. Visitors both on-site and by internet can see what roams and inhabits the Park at night when generally we humans are not not up and about.
  • These are among the many imaginative ideas available to leverage and expand existing education ventures.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature) and 2020 (Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages; we deepen the public’s understanding when we effectively tell the Parks’ environmental tale!
  • Knowledge inspires and spurs stewardship and appreciation.
  • Passion and purpose drive effective education; knowing and caring matter.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you will think about supporting the Parks System education imperative. Here’s a nice article about the Foundation: https://280living.com/news/foundation-formed-to-help-state-parks521/

 

 

The Magic of Water’s Thunder at DeSoto State Park

Water, Water Everywhere 

I returned to DeSoto State Park Thursday-through-Saturday April 18-20, exploring on my own Thursday and Saturday, and hiking with Park Naturalist Brittney Hughes Friday. This will be the first of three Blog Posts from my visit. The other two, in turn, will offer photos and reflections on 1) a spring day at DeSoto and 2) a close examination of the Park’s extensive sandstone glades. Two-to-three-inches of rain Thursday night generated this first Post. As of April 14, 2019, I had already recorded 30-inches of rain in Madison (65 miles from DeSoto SP) since January 1. The few runs and creeks I encountered Thursday evening carried water volume far greater than what I saw during my July 2018 hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/08/13/a-cycle-of-death-and-renewal-at-desoto-state-park/

The April 18 overnight deluge brought water courses to bankfull and beyond. I awoke in my Lodge room to the soothing sound of water rushing past my back door (below left). The stream, which occasionally dries during the summer and fall, approaches Lodge Falls over a series of step-ledges, flows under a foot bridge (below right), and prepares to plunge.

Dropping about 20-feet, Lodge Falls tumbled noisily into the forest (below left from above; below right from below). Water saturated every surface: mist from the falls, constant tree canopy drip, and light rain continuing. The dark skies and drizzle persisted all day. I could not have been more pleased. After all, this is a Park blessed by flowing and tumbling water, sitting atop the plateau. We spent the entire day Friday from 1,500 to 1,800 feet above sea level, the terrain tapping the moisture-laden stratus cloud deck as it kissed the tree tops from time to time. We didn’t mind the rain. As I often observe, over my 65-plus years of life, my skin has yet to leak. I am waterproof! Also, the day helped me save a penny or two — no need to apply sunscreen.

Even where the trail map designated no named waterway, we encountered rivulets, miniature cascades, gurgles, and turbulent runs (both photos below).  Water-in-motion sounds filled the forest. No wonder — think about this! A cubic foot of water weighs 62.3 pounds. If our overnight rainfall totaled mid-point of my 2-3-inch estimate, every 4.8 square feet of ground surface accepted 62.3 pounds of rain during the night.

Pardon my penchant for math, but I must tell you that 56,537 pounds of rain fell on each and every acre of Desoto State Park that night!  Twenty-eight and a quarter tons! The Park covers 3,502 acres. That’s just under 99,000 tons of rain. No wonder DeSoto Falls (104-feet vertical) thundered and roared! Yet what a rewarding sight to accompany the pounding water (below left and right). My heart raced. I was in no danger; my heart beat rapidly from exhilaration not fear. As I stood marveling at the falls, I recalled last winter reading Candice Millard’s River of Doubt, her account of Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. After his post-presidency defeat running as an independent in 1912, he assembled an expedition to descend a wild, unmapped tributary of the Amazon. He nearly died during the daring exploration. One passage reminded me how benign DeSoto Falls is relative to the Roosevelt team’s terrifying ordeal:

“At around three-thirty that afternoon, the men heard a low roar that traveled upstream like distant thunder before a rainstorm. Over the ensuing weeks, this roar would become for them one of the most alarming sounds in the Amazon: the sound of rapids.”

My mind retains a bit of Amazon trivia. The Amazon carries more volume than the next eight largest rivers of the world combined. It has ten tributaries larger than the Mississippi. If we were to empty the Lake Ontario basin and dump the Amazon into it at flood stage, the basin would fill in three minutes! Regardless, I am still impressed by DeSoto Falls’ beauty, magic, wonder, and awe! Thank goodness I don’t require a death-defying descent of a river of doubt to charge my batteries and deepen my appreciation of Nature. In tribute to his daring adventure and to his remarkable life, the 472-mile Brazilian river of doubt now bears his name, Roosevelt River.

When I took my OLLI State Parks course participants to DeSoto State Park March 30, the Falls seemed much tamer (photo below; Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/04/11/my-winter-term-osher-lifelong-learning-institute-class-visits-desoto-state-park/).

Indian Falls (July 2018 below left) provided a soothing sense of late summer ambience. I prefer the torrent from Friday April 19.

Azalea Cascade, a quarter mile upstream from Indian Falls offered absolute tranquility March 30 (lower left). Still a peaceful setting with at least ten times greater flow (below right), the Cascade setting shouted aqueous abundance, the promise of profuse plant growth, summer afternoon deep shadows, and flashing minnows.

Saturday April 20 I hiked the Orange and Blue Trails. Deep laurel thickets framed Laurel Falls, yet another cascade fueled by Thursday night’s rain.

A bit further along the trail I found Lost Falls. Well, it wasn’t really lost. The map clearly identified its location. Still drizzly with plateau-draping stratus, I loved the absolutely diffuse light, with neither source nor destination apparent, and the sodden darkness of rocks, soil, tree bark, and all other surfaces. I could not have ordered better weather for a watery forest wonderland!

Even the sandstone glades, areas of extremely shallow sandstone bedrock across the plateau, carried water flowing downward-bound. No soil to absorb the soaking precipitation. In fact, simply no soaking into fertile loam, just overland flow soaking the nearly-barren rock!

Rain and Life

Our southern forests teem with life… life enabled by ample rainfall across the seasons. And rain teams with life to create rich ecosystems. Rain is life; life is rain. Too often we modern-day humans view rain (and other elements of weather) as matters of convenience (and inconvenience) affecting our lives and well-being. I view weather as a matter of study, science, poetry, and inspiration. I see weather as central to my life, not peripheral to it. The weather and its nuances of beauty and fury serve as my own Game of Thrones entertainment.

For example, just this morning (May 15) as I drafted this Post, I watched radar early morning as a cluster of showers and thunderstorms began dropping southeastward from the Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee tri-state area. Forecasters included a 40-percent mention of showers for us, and less than a tenth-of-an-inch of rain. The little bowling ball of rain still held together at 10:00AM, giving forecasters reason to up the rain percentage to 60 and the amount to a couple of tenths. A few drops began falling by 11:00. By noon, with steady rain and pockets of moderate-to-heavy rainfall, the forecast showed a 100-percent probability with in excess of a quarter-inch to come. By 2:00PM my landscape plants frolicked in just under a quarter-inch. Yeah, I know, plants don’t frolic! In their own plant-way, let’s say they celebrated yet another gift of life, this one from a rainmaker spinning in from the northwest, an unlikely direction here where delivery from west and southwest predominates.

I muse often on rain and weather. So many people anticipating a day afield, say, “I sure hope the weather cooperates,” signaling their wish for fair skies and dry ground. Not me. Give me an overnight 2-3-inches. Shake the rafters with peals of thunder and howling gale. Let the waterfalls roar. Immerse me in Nature’s power. I have enough sense to seek shelter if threatened. Or stay indoors if too nasty. Nothing nasty about tree top stratus, dripping canopy, and full stream flow. Fair weather seldom strokes the spirit, soul, and heart the way that a day like April 19 does. My Nature experience memory portfolio is rich with wind, rain, thunder, snow-bursts, and blizzard. I’ve been caught outdoors occasionally by the pleasurable terror of wild weather. Wouldn’t trade the memory for a thousand days of brilliant blue. I don’t go searching for foul weather, yet I breathe deeply of its feel, sound, richness, taste, and, yes, peace.

I am grateful that my days at DeSoto coincided with a drenching nighttime rain, filling all waterways to full beauty and magic. Our Alabama State Parks are reservoirs of experience and memory. Whether fair or foul skies, they offer Nature at her best, whatever her mood. I urge you to venture forth whenever the mood suits — your mood or Nature’s.

Perhaps not intended for my deep-woods spiritual treks, the old saw that a rising tide lifts all boats does indeed apply to my mid-April DeSoto journey. Pardon the pun, but a bit of rain does not dampen my spirits. Thursday night’s rain literally lifted the freshwater tide of DeSoto’s flowing waters. And that overnight gift lifted the tide of my heart, soul, and spirit. Every current in the river of my life furnished greater buoyancy to the many boats I am navigating downstream. Nature powers my core, fuels my purpose, and stimulates deep passion and inspiration for life and living. I feel the surge as I harness these thoughts and type these words.

Saturday mid-day I descended the plateau en-route home into breaking sky and drying pavement, leaving the magic of DeSoto State Park behind. I saw water in some fields and noticed some waterways remaining at bankfull. However, nothing from a windshield can match feet-on-the-ground for appreciating Nature. I might carry the thought a step further. Nothing from a windshield can ever match wet-feet-0n-the-ground! I urge you to experience our state’s rich tapestry of public lands, including our 21-pearl-necklace of State Parks encompassing 87,000 acres of Alabama wildness.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature) and 2020 (Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • Our Alabama State Parks are jewels for the ages, in weather fair and foul!
  • Just 65 miles from my Madison home, DeSoto SP is within reach — deep Nature therapy at my fingertips. What lies within fingertip reach for you?
  • What we may normally consider as inclement weather can, in fact, amplify our understanding and enjoyment of Nature. Venture forth if you dare.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir, or brush it from your damp forehead. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/

 

Magic and Wonder — A 30-Day Backyard Cloud Catalog

I’ve said previously in these Posts that I’m fascinated by all of Nature’s faces. From geography to plants to fauna to weather. Among weather phenomena, cloud magic and wonder furnish frequent inspiration. I present here a set of photos I snapped at home in northern Alabama over the past 30 days. April morning rain gave way to partial clearing followed below by threatening evening clouds rolling in from the south, presaging another round of thundershowers.

Fronts and systems move rapidly across the southern US as this spring shoulder season progresses. A clear day may end with a cirrus sunset (below) signaling yet another disturbance approaching, forewarning  tomorrow’s rain.

And after that rain, a jet-stream dip into the southeastern US brings strong northwesterly winds aloft. My imagination, cloud-appreciation, and spiritual connection to Nature transformed this cirrus-puff image to the the face of God racing windward with hair and beard streamers trailing behind.

At 6:30 PM April 17, with fair weather pushing east and near-certain next day rain approaching from the southwest, I spotted a clear east-west linear seam in the clouds. Taking several photos as the seam drifted overhead, I identified the clouds as Undulatus asperitas. The Verge website describes the formations as “localized waves in the cloud base, either smooth or dappled with smaller features, sometimes descending into sharp points, as if viewing a roughened sea surface from below. Varying levels of illumination and thickness of cloud can lead to dramatic visual effects. Asperitas clouds tend to be low-lying, and are caused by weather fronts that create undulating waves in the atmosphere.” Interestingly, the page added, “In layman’s terms the clouds look downright apocalyptic — these are the clouds you’d expect to see on Judgement Day, or in the lead-up to an alien invasion. One look at these clouds and you know something very bad is coming.”

No, I did not presume the apocalypse! I did see turbulence, and marveled at yet another face of Nature. The Verge reported May 24, 2017, that yesterday, on World Meteorological Day — nine years after the classification was first submitted — the World Meteorological Organization recognized this cloud type in the updated version of the International Cloud Atlas. The name has been tweaked (shortened) to “asperitas.” This is the first new addition to the Atlas in over half a century. For what it’s worth, I prefer the more lyrical name-roll of the two-part moniker Undulatus asperitas!

In another photo as the cloud seam passed, I see a stern bearded face (The countenance of God?) mid-image and extending from a forehead at the top down through eyebrows, nose, mustache, mouth, and bearded chin, the face slanted back at about 25 degrees. Come on, haven’t you ever played cloud games? Perhaps if I were to view the photo tomorrow I would see something else, possibly just an interesting cloud… or yet another sign of the impending apocalypse!

April 27 at 5:45 PM, with the ground temperature at 65 degrees, I spotted snow falling just three miles away… vertical miles. Snow virga from this altocumulus (at some 15,000 feet altitude) left its signature angel hair (like sparse paint brush strokes) suspended below and trailing behind the cloud that is moving right to left. Virga is precipitation that does not hit the ground, evaporating (or, in the case of snow, sublimating) as it falls through dry air. As with many natural phenomena, understanding the science behind the image magnifies the feature’s expression of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I can’t imagine being blind to all that surrounds us. Wendell Berry observed: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” Snow virga marmalade sweetens and enriches my daily bread. No apocalyptic foreboding in this image!

Since January 1, 2019 I’ve measured 32.45 inches of rain, about twice average for the period. Another 1.33″ in the first week of May (below). Plant life is flourishing. As the old saw goes, April showers bring May flowers, whether Asiatic lilies or 11- and 5-year-old Alabama grandsons Jack and Sam. Two young sprouts growing in the light and warmth of love and nurture.

As I said in the first sentence of this Post, I’m fascinated by all of Nature’s faces. And I mention now that so much of what I see in Nature passes through my own life-polished lenses. What I see often derives from my firm belief that so very much lies hidden within. Where I sense beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, too many of my fellow citizens view as mundane, uninteresting, or inconsequential, if not invisible. I feast while so many others see an empty table. A fellow Nature enthusiast yesterday said to me facetiously, holding his handheld electronic device, “I have ample Nature photographs and video available at my fingertips, why would I ever need to venture outside?” We both know the answer… and we hope that others discover that understanding, enjoying, appreciating, and embracing Nature is a full-contact endeavor.

Inhale, feel, and experience Nature as though your time on this one Earth is finite. Enjoy your journey through the remaining hours, days, weeks, months, and years of your life. Search for Nature’s amazing presence right there where you live. Anticipate the unexpected — look up; look down; discover what lies hidden within reach.

 

Thoughts and Reflections from a 30-Day Backyard Cloud Catalog

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

So, what message do I communicate with this short Blog Post? I draw three succinct lessons:

  • Stay vigilant for Nature’s magic and wonder; always be alert for Nature’s infinite storm of beauty.
  • Learn as much as you dare about the science underlying Nature’s never-ending show of astonishment and fascination.
  • Cling to the youthful innocence and a child’s appreciation for Nature’s incessant power to amaze.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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!

Bryn Athyn College Distinguished Lecture Visit

I delivered The Spring 2019 Distinguished Lecture on Nature as Revelation at Bryn Athyn College (BAC) April 1, 2019.  I had previously visited my friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman, associate professor at BAC, located just northeast of Philadelphia. From the college’s web site: Bryn Athyn College of the New Church serves as an intellectual center for all who desire to engage in higher education enriched, guided, and structured by the study of the Old Testament, New Testament, and theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. This education challenges students to develop spiritual purpose, to think broadly and critically from a variety of perspectives, and to build intellectual and practical skills. The ultimate purpose is to enhance students’ civil, moral, and spiritual lives, and to contribute to human spiritual welfare.

Ray and I had collaborated on several projects during my tenure as President, Urbana University, a Swedenborgian Church-founded institution in west-central Ohio. At the time of my visit to Bryn Athyn four years ago Ray and I were developing a manuscript for The New Philosophy (TNP), the Journal of the Swedenborg Scientific Association, which published the article, “The Spiritual Underpinnings of Nature-Based Leadership,” in the January-June 2016 issue. From the article’s abstract: Eighteenth Century Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) adopted a central philosophical tenet–that the entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality. That is, nature embodies all lessons of life’s physical and spiritual essence. I will explore reflections on how, likewise, our natural world offers powerful truths applicable to living, learning, serving, and leading.

Ray arranged for the two of us to present the recent Distinguished Lecture, expanding beyond the TNP theme to the realm of Nature as Revelation. Rather than distill the entire lecture in this Blog Post, allow me to present the highlights along with photos I included in my remarks and snapshots from my visit. Ray and I are contemplating an expanded article (non-scholarly) on the topic of Nature as Revelation. We’ve also toyed with the idea of yet another paper for the moment whimsically titled: Emanuel Swedenborg Meets a Twenty-First Century Doctor of Applied Ecology.

A Gorgeous Campus, Great People, and Matching Spring Splendor

Always the weather buff, I estimated Bryn Athyn’s (latitude 40.13 North) spring advance lagging only two-weeks behind our home in Madison, Alabama (34.70 North). We’re separated by a single plant hardiness zone. Four hundred latitudinal miles to our north, Southeastern Pennsylvania enjoys some moderation from the Atlantic Ocean; the plant hardiness zones lean northward along the east coast. All that to suggest that many factors influence weather and climate. We lived nine years in State College, PA (Penn State University) at 40.79, which sits more than a thousand feet higher than Bryn Athyn and in the central interior of the Keystone State. We viewed Philly’s weather as near-tropical by comparison. During the day April 1, the sun warmed us as the brisk northwesterly breeze demanded hat and jacket. That’s me at the BAC sign and campus map.

And here’s Ray at the Brickman Center for Student Life and Admissions.

We delivered the Lecture Monday evening April 1 at Pendleton Hall, which stands beautifully below in the afternoon sunshine.

Approximately 60 attendees joined us in the Pendleton Hall Auditorium, along with dozens who tuned in for the streaming (including some of my family members back in Alabama).

 

Here’s the link to the actual 60-minute : https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox?projector  Right click on it and hit “watch.”

Some Highlights from My Message

Here are snippets from my remarks. Raised in western Maryland’s central Appalachians, I relished the great outdoors. Dad kept us in Nature… hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking. He sowed the seeds that led me to a bachelor’s degree in forestry and a lifetime love affair with Nature. That’s me lower left at age six. Notice my dirty knees and pants legs, suggesting that even then I knew how to be one with the good soil! The photo leads me to puzzle why I’m mugging for the camera as mom and dad look to their right. Perhaps I somehow knew that 61-years hence I might be glancing back at the lad I once was. Funny thing to know that the freshness and innocence of spirit, wonder, magic, and awe in those young eyes still reside within the former four-time university president who stands in full academic regalia (lower right).

Aldo Leopold, author of what I term as my secular bible, A Sand County Almanac, wrote prophetically relevant sentiments 70 years ago:

“When I call to mind my earliest impressions, I wonder whether the process ordinarily referred to as growing up is not actually a process of growing down; whether experience, so much touted among adults as the thing children lack, is not actually a progressive dilution of the essentials by the trivialities of living.”

Importantly, I have refused (albeit not consciously) to grow up and, in fact, have deliberately rejected growing down with respect to my appreciation for and reverence of Nature. Dr. Silverman saw my persistent special (youthful wonderment) view of Nature through the words of William Wordsworth.

Dr. Silverman wrote in his Nature as Revelation: Intimations of Immortality (and spoke to during our lecture):

“In 1804 the British poet William Wordsworth wrote what many consider to be his most famous poem, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. The whole poem is an expression of mixed grief and joy. The grief is about the passing of those early states of childhood when we had an intuitive and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders. As Wordsworth puts it, heaven lies about us in our infancy.

All too soon, however, we begin to lose that innate sense of connection to the wonders that nature simultaneously conceals and reveals. As we leave childhood behind, along with its innocent sense of wonder, shades of the prison-house begin to close around us. Subtle suggestions of something greater, which seem to be both beyond and within nature, become fainter. These intimations of immortality, as Wordsworth calls them in his poem, no longer touch us; they no longer spark thoughts in our mind.”

The shades of the prison-house have not yet closed around me, nor will they. The six-year-old boy still sits in amazement at the base of a 110-foot-tall yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). I am grateful that I retain an intuitive and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders.

John Muir wrote 130 years ago, “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

I love the phrase “infinite storm of beauty”! Storms of beauty both literal and metaphorical. Below left the turbulent, tossed, and tortured sky portends the arrival of a mid-summer (2018 from my back patio) derecho. The foreground sapling is already leaning to the left and the first fat drops of rain presage the storm’s imminent fury. Yet the beauty matches the impending ferocity! A gentler storm of beauty appears lower right. The view is dawn (also from my patio) looking due west, with a setting full moon in upper left of the image. These are anti-crepuscular rays having generated from the still below-horizon rising sun at my back. I submit that in both images my Nature-knowledge and expertise enhance my understanding, appreciation, and vision for the storms of beauty, at least by an order of magnitude. And what child of innocence would not see and sense the magic! There are glory and an embedded story in Nature’s every moment, awaiting discovery and revelation for those who are alert to what lies hidden within and who interpret the message and lessons for life.

Wendell Berry wrote his own version of Nature’s infinite storm of beauty, “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.” I see a cirrus halo (my term and not from the science of meteorology) 30,000 feet beyond (above) the lone slash pine (Pinus elliotti) I photographed at Gulf Shores State Park in February. The temperature at ground level stood 120-degrees warmer than the ice-crystal cirrus altitude. Again, the scene made all-the-more remarkable by the marriage of my science and spirituality. The six-year-old child within me cherishes Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I feel the same about the October 2018 image of a cirrus burst (a cloud fountain) rising high above the Mount Cheaha Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). Note the secondary puff from the primary burst ring. Again, these are not technical terms, but my heart and soul’s words for the visual features of infinite storms of beauty. As Wordsworth said, “heaven lies about us in our infancy.” I thank God that the shades have not darkened the lens of my infancy.

Revelations of Truths in Nature

Aldo Leopold, deeply concerned 70 years ago that society was distancing itself more and more from Nature, wondered about and fretted that, “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.” And he pondered, “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness… for things of lesser worth?” Riders awaiting a train at a Philly-area station are riveted to their digital devices, absorbed by an in-hand world, oblivious (and blind) to their immediate surroundings. This tyranny of the urgent robs them of awareness. as they focus on things of lesser worth.

I often hike or bike local greenways, feeling dismay for how many other trail users are engrossed in digital distractions, headsets piping music, phone conversations, or thumbs dancing on digital keyboards. They know not the rewards of Nature that Muir noted, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

The gifts come at multiple scales, whether a mountain overlook or the moss and lichen on a woods boulder.

Or my thrill at seeing a bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in full flower roadside the morning of my Bryn Athyn address.

Muir wrote that he saw the magic in every glimpse of Nature, “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” As a child and forever since, I have seen infinite doorways to new worlds as I’ve wandered trails for business and pleasure. Everything is an opening to new worlds to those who are willing and able to imagine what lies beyond. These two slash pines along the Gulf coast both welcome and beckon.

As Carl Sagan so eloquently spoke, our Earth is a pale blue orb, a mote of dust, in the vast darkness of space. So far as we know, we are alone. We cannot rely upon others from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. We have just this one chance to get it right. To steward this Earth with wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. My mission is to “Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.” At Bryn Athyn, I delivered the message (with Ray’s support) within the spiritual framework that I believe Emanuel Swedenborg may have embraced.

[Note: I borrowed this image below from available internet photos.]

I’ll close by repeating words I offered at the outset of this Post, stating that Swedenborg adopted a central philosophical tenet–that the entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality. That is, nature embodies all lessons of life’s physical and spiritual essence. I will explore reflections on how, likewise, our natural world offers powerful truths applicable to living, learning, serving, and leading.

Thoughts and Reflections from Lecturing at Bryn Athyn College

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

I draw four succinct lessons from this Blog Post:

  • Always be attuned to Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty
  • Resist growing down — retain an innate and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders
  • Cling to the youthful innocence and a child’s appreciation for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.
  • The entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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!

 

Where Is Wild and How Do We Recognize It?

And for as long as I stay here, I know I will also have to get to the wild places. And this was the vision of a world place that had stayed with me: somewhere boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities. To reach a wild place was, for me, to step outside human history… where the evidence of human presence was minimal or absent.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

The Wild Places traces the author’s discovery that wildness is as much a state of mind and perception as it is boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities. I’ll insert Macfarlane’s observations within this Post as I offer my own reflections on wildness.

We lived four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, an modestly urban area four hundred miles north of Anchorage and just one hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, centered within the vastness of interior Alaska. We lived in the Chancellor’s Residence on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. We welcomed and enjoyed our backyard moose visitors. Not quite MacFarlane’s boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities, yet much more so than our current home in northern Alabama.

The same with Sitka, Alaska, another locale and clime in line with MacFarlane’s wildness. In fact, just like Fairbanks, leave the city limits and you are engulfed in vast true wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature’s Wildness: Lessons from an Epic Movie

As a forester, I recall the wonderful cinematography of the 1992 Last of the Mohicans movie, the classic French and Indian war epic situated in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. In the interest of historical accuracy, I knew that crews filmed the movie in North Carolina’s Appalachians. Still, I loved the forest and mountain scenes. The movie opened with a great chase sequence as one of the lead characters ran… hotly pursued through the forest primeval. Turns out that the forest primeval was a white pine forest planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on abandoned pasture land near what is now the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC. So, planted early the 1930s, the forest filmed about 1990 had developed over 55-60 years, an artificial forest.

Forest primeval? Not hardly. Yet perception is reality. I’ve seen hundreds of old CCC plantations. The evergreens (whether white, red, or Scots pine, or Norway spruce) quickly captured the site, excluding competing vegetation, and often standing thickly above an unusually vacant forest floor. I suppose the towering trees above a needle-carpeted, open forest floor met the film-maker’s need. It worked quite well. Our hero raced across the landscape to the delight of movie-goers. Having inside forestry knowledge, I admit, enhanced my own viewing pleasure. What a great subterfuge! Managed forests are forests all the same. What appears wild in the eyes of millions was all the wildness required.

Virtually the entire Appalachians, from Georgia to Maine saw widespread removal of the original forests through the nineteenth century, attempted domestication to subsistence farming, and eventual abandonment, with forests once more clothing the hillsides. Whether planted by the CCC or naturally regenerated, the forests once more appear ancient and untrammeled by the hand of man. The same holds true across Alabama. Maturing second (and third) growth forests dominate land use. Wild is infiltrating where we live

I served four years of my 12-year Union Camp Corporation employment conducting forest fertilization research. I recall many of the replicated trials we established to test hardwood plantation fertilization at stand establishment in Virginia and North Carolina. We installed 0ne of the first locations on Jordan Pocosin (our name for the tract) in Gates County, NC, on the coastal plain south of the Meherrin River. We selected the site prior to forest harvest. Post-harvest we mechanically site-prepared by wind-rowing tops and residual stems, harrowing the area between windrows, and then bedding linearly parallel to the windrows. The raised beds improve micro-drainage on these somewhat poorly drained, clayey gleyed soils. We winter-planted sweetgum seedlings early 1976 and applied fertilizer treatments that spring. I recall measuring the plots at the end of growing seasons ‘76, ‘77, and ‘78 prior to my transfer to the Corporate Office of Environmental Affairs in Savannah, Georgia. By then, we documented clear treatment growth differences, and some individuals reached heights of 10-12 feet.

I next stepped foot on the plots during the 2003-4 dormant season, a quarter-century later. I met on-site with some of my old Union Camp colleagues, including the person who had been my principal technician. International Paper Co. had purchased UCC ten years prior to our return visit, the research project long since abandoned. The east-west access road, I recalled, had entered the cleared and site-prepared tract. It now passed through a seeming mature forest in deep shade. We stopped where Lloyd felt we had placed the ten-acre installment. We soon located some of the treated corner posts designating measurement plots. Sweetgum in straight rows on still-identifiable beds stood 70-90-feet-tall, some approaching 15 inches in diameter. A few oak and loblolly had invaded, especially along the windrows. Like the Biltmore white pine plantation, this artificial forest projected an essence of the forest primeval. Had someone placed me on-site without explanation I feel certain my forensic professional examination would have discovered telltale signs: these odd treated posts; linear beds; sweetgum on the bed-tops; the windrow strips with other than sweetgum dominant. For the uninitiated non-forester, this was a mature stand of coastal plain forest… forever wild and natural. Again, not hardly. Yet what we see is reality.

Wild is temporal… we established this field-test on what most would agree was a domesticated tract (albeit remote from the nearest town), far from wild. Twenty-five years had returned the site to wild, and seemingly untrammeled. Although my reunion visit with old friends on a site where I had spent scores of hours lifted me and brought back rewarding memories, I once more experienced a sobering (and mind-boggling) time-journey. My friends and I, then a generation older, distantly resembled our younger selves physically, yet our discourse did not show the weathering and aging. We laughed heartily of times undimmed. The land, too, had not changed, even as its forest development rendered the site unrecognizable! Does the land and its vegetated cover possess spirit and soul undimmed by time, even as its facial features and body age?

Just as wildness is a term we pass through our subjective filters, I know that I ascribe elements of soul and spirit to places I’ve encountered over my journey. Jordan Pocosin, although it does not stand as one of THE prime examples, does hold a special significance in my life. As I reflect on our 2003-04 reunion visit, I recognize that we all felt a sense of soul and spirit that day, partly defined by our shared memories and otherwise leveraged by our acceptance of the power and persistence of nature to keep this wildland wild. Mount Washington, New Hampshire is one of THE standard bearers in my soul/spirit place-memory portfolio. From my first book, Nature Based Leadership:

This mountain spurs deep spirituality in me. I feel closer to something far greater than myself, whether religious or secular. I departed Mount Washington once more accepting absolute humility and feeling full inspiration. A healthy balance: a reminder that each of us is simply a cog in a far greater system (or a business, a family). We are mere moments across the vast sweep of time. The mountain will stand high for millennia, long after I have passed. MWO’s (Mount Washington Observatory) Brian Fowler emailed me the Sunday after our ascent, sharing similar sentiments: “Well, you now know one of the principal reasons I stay connected with the observatory. Once it gets into your blood (for me now almost fifty years ago), it’s there permanently and always available as a wonderful palliative to this otherwise perplexing world.

I often found projectile points as we remeasured the Jordan Pocosin trial, evidencing that Native populations frequented the area long before the first European influences 250 or so years ago. Certainly not “boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities,” wildness still characterizes for most citizens this large tract of land within 90 minutes of Tidewater (Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach) Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. To all but the trained naturalist observer, “the evidence of human presence was minimal or absent” in Jordan Pocosin!

Macfarlane likewise began rejecting the defining essence of wildness he had embraced and believed as he began contemplating The Wild Places:

Lying there on the drifted sand, under the white stars, I thought about how the vision of wildness with which I had begun my journeys – inhuman, northern, remote – was starting to crumble from contact with the ground itself. No such chaste land exists in Britain or Ireland, and no such myth of purity can hold. Thousands of years of human living and dying have destroyed the possibility of the pristine wild… The human and the wild cannot be partitioned.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

 

Wilderness and Wildness

The US Wilderness Act of 1964 defined the term: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” I do not contest this legislative characterization of formally protected areas within the US Wilderness system. Such designation offers protection long term and controls access and use. I distinguish a formal Wilderness from wildness. The US National Forest System comprises 193 million acres (~301,000 square miles) and includes 36 million acres of the Nation’s 109 million Wilderness acres. Within Alabama’s 667,000 acres of National Forests, we have ~42,000 acres of federally-designated Wilderness (Dugger Mountain, Cheaha, and Sipsey). Six percent of Alabama’s National Forest acreage is designated Wilderness. However, most outdoor enthusiasts would agree that virtually the entire 667,000 acres qualify as what I term wildness, which does not require a condition untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

True federal Wilderness meets a legislative intent far deeper and more specific than wildness:

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.

Proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the Wilderness Act of 1964

 In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.

Excerpt from the Wilderness Act of 1964

Aldo Leopold would have supported the Wilderness Act. He died the year preceding A Sand County Almanac’s posthumous publishing date. He yearned to ensure that future citizens have access to what he called blank spots on a map:

I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)

 

My own sense of wildness has shifted over the five decades since I began seriously contemplating nature and wildness. We built our retirement home (December 2015) on a four-acre pond/lake in northern Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley near Huntsville. Ours is the largest of a string of three bodies of water. We chose the lot because of the water and the feeling of openness it would give us even in a residential development. In retrospect, after three years in residence, we found that we had underestimated the incredible peace of mind and sense of wildness it has actually provided. In my younger years, this now aging forester would have seen only the homes ringing the shoreline, and with some measure of contempt for the urban invasion. Now I see only the pond, the open views, and the rich wildlife attracted.

 

My idea of wildness as something inhuman, outside history, had come to seem nonsensical, even irresponsible.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

 

As I had moved south, my own understanding of wildness had been altered – or its range had been enlarged. My early vision of a wild place of somewhere remote, historyless, unmarked, now seemed improperly partial. But I had learned to see another type of wildness, to which I had once been blind: the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic. This wildness was not about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun. The weed thrusting through a crack in the pavement, the tree root impudently cracking a carapace of tarmac: these were wild signs, as much as the storm wave and the snowflake.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

The weed thrusting through a crack in the pavement within a hundred yards of our Alabama home, a wild sign along with the momentarily stunned male house finch (hit a window) on our patio:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within a few miles of our home, a heron rookery stands in a wetland surrounded by subdivisions. Wildness is where we seek it.

Again, wildness is where we seek it.

 

Reflections on Nature, Humanity, and Wildness

Human history and natural history are inseparable. We humans are not interlopers on this third rock from the sun. We are not invaders. We are residents… native to Earth. We are here because this is home — because this is the place that spawned us. There is not humanity and nature. There is simply nature… and we humans are integral to it. I intentionally avoided probing the depths of humanity in nature. Instead, I chose to state within this chapter that humanity is integral to nature. And that wildness is a malleable construct. Take for example an April, 2018 hike I took at nearby Monte Sano State Park, which offers 22 miles of trails. All of these trails wend well within the humanity/wildness interface zone. European settlement and influence have marked this not-so-back-country for two centuries.

The State Park and adjoining Northern Alabama Land Trust trail system are testament to those who recognized our interdependence with nature and took measures to protect and preserve wildness within reach of the Huntsville, Alabama community. In his 1948 Foreword to A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold observed, “There are those who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” I offer my compliments and appreciation to those who cared (and care) enough to conserve and tend wildness on Monte Sano. Again, we are one with nature and what better way to remind us than hiking a wild area rich with human history.

We know that Native Americans lived in this region for twelve millennia. They left a far lighter touch on wildness than European settlement has over two short centuries of occupation. No historic markers designate their former dwellings at Monte Sano. Nearly two hundred years ago, Col. Robert Fearn built a one-and-one-half-story summer home atop Monte Sano at 1,600 feet. Fire destroyed the structure 55 years later. A subsequent landowner, James O’Shaughnessy, built a two-story Victorian residence nearby in 1890. Among other endeavors, he co-owned the Monte Sano Hotel, also nearby atop the plateau.

Two homes and associated out-buildings and a full-service hotel. Permanent man-made features on the plateau landscape, right? Not hardly — nature’s eraser assures that little is permanent. The entire area we hiked is closed forest, appearing to the uninitiated as forest primeval. Sure, we saw a couple stone gate posts, a remnant brick-lined in-ground cistern, and abandoned roads, long-since re-naturalized as part of the forest floor. The maturing forest signaled subtle successional changes to me, evidencing that some acreage had been cleared. A heritage sign stands at what had been a fish pond and then a lily lake at the hotel. The forest, as it has with the abandoned road beds, is reclaiming the pond. Organic debris is transforming the open water to deep, soggy muck. Trees and shrubs are finding purchase. Next step — a vernal pool, then a wet depression. That interpretive sign and others memorialize the valiant efforts to domesticate a northern Alabama mountain-top.

Leonardo da Vinci noted quite simply and elegantly: “Nature never breaks her own laws.” One of nature’s preeminent truths is that nothing is permanent, whether a spring ephemeral wildflower, our own lives, or a hotel and spa atop a plateau overlooking the Tennessee River Valley. Nothing can withstand the force and power of nature’s agents (biotic, chemical, and physical) acting over time. I remind you that the Appalachians once stood at elevations rivaling today’s Himalayan Mountains.

Wildness on the Seventeenth Floor at Atlanta’s Hartsfield

Wildness has often intersected my life’s journey… sometimes when I least expected it to appear. I offer this excerpt from Nature Based Leadership, my first book. January 2016, I had traveled to Atlanta from New Hampshire and awaited a scheduled conference room airport interview as I relaxed and prepared in the hotel’s executive lounge near Hartsfield. I had made the initial cut to semi-finalist for another university presidency.

The executive lounge looked south from the seventeenth floor. FedEx’s Atlanta operations spread out beneath us, the commercial airport beyond that. I could hear and feel the wind swirling around the building, even on this sheltered lee side. Making myself at home, I pulled out my laptop, secured connectivity, and went about conducting the business of the university that employed me, occasionally revisiting my notes and background materials for the interview. Peripherally, I noticed a fellow lounge occupant near the window, camera in hand. I rose to see the object of her attention. There on the eight-inch-wide window ledge more than one hundred fifty feet above the ground stood a peregrine falcon. 

The morning gale had obviously buffeted my window ledge falcon. Although now somewhat protected, feathers still in disarray, the bird evidenced its wind-bludgeoning. My dominant initial impression of the bird, within arm’s length beyond the glass, filtered through my own lens as an unabashed champion of accipiter species and other birds of prey, amounted to wonder, awe, beauty, and inspiration. I did not contemplate its ruffled feathers at first, only marveled that this incredible bird had suddenly appeared on such a blustery morning on my seventeenth-floor ledge! Only later when viewing peregrine photos online did I truly appreciate how bedraggled this one looked.

Eventually as I watched, the bird looked away and — with wings open — slipped gracefully from the ledge. It dipped below my line of sight and did not reappear. I sensed great blessing and pleasure having simply been there to see the peregrine up close and personal. I knew the species had adapted to urban high-rise life and had acquired a taste for European pigeon cuisine — fresh off the wing. Perhaps a pigeon below had prompted the bird to leave me behind.

Most importantly, I found solace that this daring bird of prey, this thing of wild beauty, this symbol of nature’s fury and mastery, had alighted on a seventeenth story ledge during that brief period when I was wrestling with a personal and professional dilemma, and at a time when a mid-Atlantic coastal storm had ushered some rough weather into the Southland. The mix allowed me to look deeply into urban wildness and its temporal intersection with my life and my inner self. I see more clearly through the filter and magnification of nature’s lenses. I am grateful for every opportunity I have to look, see, feel, and act. A lesson in nature, or one inspired by nature? I accept either, with deep appreciation for yet another chance to experience, learn, and grow.

There was wildness at a high-rise hotel within sight of the world’s busiest airport! As Robert Macfarlane so eloquently discovered and related in The Wild Places, wildness is subject to our own filters. I accept and embrace his simple statement that what we can fundamentally celebrate is “the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic.

I urge readers to awaken to the wildness that is within reach of where you live. Take time to visit. Believe (and know) that you will likely discover far more than you seek, as John Muir so eloquently observed: In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. Hike and Look. Look and See. See and Feel. And Feel and Act — to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. And realize that nature’s laws apply to living, learning, serving, and leading. To vocation and avocation. To enterprises of all sorts… from family to church to community to business.

Macfarlane’s dear deceased hiking companion had said, “There is wildness everywhere, if only we stop in our tracks and look around us.” From The Wild Places, “To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield. He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.

Like Aldo Leopold, I am one who cannot live without wild things. May nature’s wildness inspire all that you do! Be an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby. Reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand!

Life Lessons and Wisdom from Wildness — Wherever We Choose to Savor It

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from nature (with full explanation, interpretation, and reference citations) to close this chapter. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Wilderness is a subset of wildness
  2. Wildness is as much state of mind as an objective, criteria-defined condition
  3. Wildness is spatial and it is temporal
  4. Life (or wildness) is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development, even in very urban settings
  5. I am securing my daily bread of nature and wildness right in my backyard
  6. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with nature
  7. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder – that more people would explore the undiscovered country of the nearby and reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand
  8. Life can be as good as we care to make it

Nature and its associated wildness soothes my soul, stirs my passion, stimulates my life-purpose, and lifts my spirits. Nature and wildness are two fundamental ingredients in my daily bread.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with nature.
  • Explore the undiscovered country of the nearby and reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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!