Suddenly Summer is Gone — Bradford Creek Greenway

December 4, 2018, three days after a 48-hour rain dropped over two inches, I bicycled a relaxing 15 miles on the Bradford Creek Greenway, just four miles from my home in Madison, Alabama. I dubbed this my summer is officially gone ride. The morning low had entered the mid-20s; almost all leaves were down; Bradford Creek was at winter flow; and flowering plants had either dispersed or were shedding seed. I offer these photos as evidence announcing summer’s departure, fall’s deepening, and winter’s arrival. The paved trail is leaf-carpeted (below). I would have ridden the day before but I delayed to give the slippery leaves a chance to dry in that day’s wind and bright sun. The loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stands tall and full-crowned among its leafless neighbors, back-dropped by a magnificent blue sky.

Likewise, a loblolly border frames the fair-weather blue below. Shrubs and herbaceous trail-side plants have long-since given way to the 18-degree morning a week prior. Winter’s announcement is not awaiting some cold blast with snow; this is pretty much our standard winter look. Sure, we may see a snow-dusting or two… perhaps even a little accumulation. Of note, the New Year’s Eve Storm of 1963 dropped a record 17.1 inches on Huntsville, the most since 1889. Our average annual snowfall is 2.4 inches.

Bradford Creek crosses the trail under the bridge ahead (below). The sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) stands sentry silhouetted by the the royal blue mid-day sky and the flotilla of stratocumulus. These are distinctly rich fall/winter hues. Beyond the tree and bridge, the fields and pasture reach to the distant woods edge marking Mill Creek.

The wetland below gathers water and releases it to Bradford Creek just upstream of the Greenway. Occasionally, robust cold domes of high pressure will freeze the standing water for 2-3 days before back-side southerly winds return. Again, this is our winter scenery — cold enough to bring full dormancy until late February or early March when this wetland will announce spring with red maple (Acer rubrum) flowering and spring peepers in full throat.

Even during the driest period of 2018 (September and October), Bradford Creek maintained flow. By this December 4 photo, nearly eight inches had fallen since November 1.

Soils are saturated and likely will remain so in this floodplain until leaf-out in late April to early May. Again, typical winter condition.

Two months ago, goldenrod (Solidago sp.) blessed the trail with its rich yellow. I find beauty still in its seed that is ready for flight. To every thing there is a season… and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

I did not take time to identify this plant. I believe it is an aster. Like the goldenrod, it is at dispersal-flight-ready seed maturity. I like its subtle winter beauty.

Wildlife also signal the season. A buck, irritated by its itchy antler velvet, has declared war on a two-inch-diameter trail-side willow. Squirrels took advantage of a picnic table to feast on acorns and hickory nuts. Why not?! ‘Tis the season for gathering… a time to reap.

Just upstream from the bridge, the utility crew that laid new pipe and reconstructed the trail during the late summer had brought materials to the trail along this now-harvested cotton field. The crew repaired the ingress/egress damage by leveling, harrowing, seeding, mulching, and planting two 150-foot rows of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). I am eager to watch these signature southern pine individuals grow. What could be more southern than longleaf pine and cotton!?

Across our 13 career-driven interstate moves, we’ve lived both where winter arrives with certainty and holds fast (upstate NY; central PA; southern NH; interior AK), and also where winter not so much arrives as summer departs (southeastern VA; coastal GA; coastal plain NC; and three times in AL). I’m writing this text December 19, two days from the solstice. I just returned from a 21.5-mile bicycle ride on Bradford Greenway under partly cloudy skies at temperatures in the upper 50s. Were I living in one of those more northerly locales, my bike would be winterized and hanging in the garage. Not so here where winter visits but does not stay long enough to be more than an occasional nuisance.

No matter where we’ve lived, we’ve chosen to blossom and bloom. I’ve learned that we can accommodate to any kind of weather. And that we can optimize best when we know what to expect. I know the seasons and norms here in northern Alabama. I relish the gradual transitions and the ebbs and flows of life across the landscape and with the seasons. I believe life is better lived and enjoyed when we likewise anticipate our own seasons across time, distance, family, career, and this thing we call aging (or, if you prefer, seasoning).

Nature instructs that we recognize and enjoy the seasons of our life, even as we anticipate and enjoy the seasons of the year. May Nature Inspire all of your seasons, whether of life or the calendar. I find richness, joy, and fulfillment by chronicling these stories of my own passion for Place and Everyday Nature.

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 Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and 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.

My Mission for all that I do: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Here are two succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Blossom and bloom wherever you are.
  • Recognize and enjoy the seasons of your life, even as we anticipate and enjoy the seasons of the year.

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: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

Holiday Wishes from Steve at Great Blue Heron!

I’ve issued these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts routinely since January 2017. Both they and I have evolved over the two years. Perhaps I will reflect on that evolution as we enter the new year. For this Post, I will simply wish you Blessings for the Holiday Season and Joy for 2019!

As you know, we live in northern Alabama’s Tennessee Valley Region, where winter doesn’t so much barge into our lives as summer simply retreats. Here in the Deep South, December only rarely delivers a Holiday Winter Wonderland. Allow me to share a few of my own photographs from my Far North archives to help us celebrate this Season of Blessings and Joy.

These first two photos are now in my archives. Both are captured from the University of Alaska Fairbanks web cam from atop the Geophysical Institute building on UAF’s West Ridge campus. The view is south across the Tanana Flats toward the Central Alaska Range, 70 miles distant. Lower left is solstice (December 21, 2018) dawn (10:12am; ~40 minutes prior to actual sunrise). The other is sunset four hours later (2:05pm). Fairbanks “enjoys” six months of Winter Wonderland! I served UAF as Chancellor (CEO) 2004-08, loving every minute of it. I re-experience the beauty and magic through the web cam lens. No need for winter-layering from that vantage point!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While residing in Fairbanks, we mailed our Christmas cards from North Pole, AK (lower left). This is a mid-April photo from Santa Clause House — note the persistent snow pack. The snow man is a February 2007 photo I took on the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, Finland.

Deep cold rendered the landscape to levels of winter majesty beyond imagination. These two photos are of trees sculpted with snow and hoard frost along a stretch of the Tanana kept open by warm water effluent from the in-town power plant.

 

During the Finland trip, we visited this trail head at a near-town complex of cross-country skiing and hiking trails. Peace, quiet, and beauty beyond compare. My Finnish hosts made sure I was prepared for Arctic forest wanderings, loaning me an appropriately fashioned overcoat of traditional Sami-design. I returned to Rovaniemi’s Lapland University several September’s hence to deliver the Fall Convocation Address. As with the UAF web cam, I keep the Rovaniemi web cam bookmarked on my computer. A piece of my heart resides still in the high latitudes!

 

 

I served on the Board for the Denali Education Center during our Alaska years. That’s then Executive Director Willie Karidis on my left. We’re snow shoeing on the thickly frozen Nenana River in early March. The temperature is negative 37. A bit later that morning I suffered my only episode of frostbite during our Alaska residency. Willie had noticed the tip of my nose turning white, ordered me to pull the scarf over my face, and led me back to the DEC building. No need to pull the scarf over my face while viewing the web cams! Of interest, that same river is a raging torrent, glacier-melt-gorged when great hordes of summer visitors view it nearby at the entrance to Denali National Park.

And Denali epitomizes Winter Wonderland year-round.

One need not venture to Alaska to experience real winter and discover a Winter Wonderland. Here’s Judy in February 2015 saluting the snow pile just outside our garage door. The snow pack in our yard had deepened to 30 inches.

Okay, I did find a wee taste of Winter Wonderland mid-November at Alabama’s Camp McDowell. A rainy night had ended with cold air advection and a brief switchover to snow, decorating a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaf.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May you find Holiday spirit and winter joy no matter where you live!

 

 

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

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

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

 

Late November Tree Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post yesterday evening, December 11, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Tree Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from several of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original. My overall message is that we can find tree magic and forest enchantment as we explore and enjoy Nature.

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic (Original Text)

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge occupies 35,000-acres along the Tennessee River, its nearest access point just seven miles from my home in Madison, AL; the visitors center is twice that far from me. We and our two Alabama grandsons went to the further point November 25. Forget, for the purpose of this GBH Blog Post, about the thousands of sandhill cranes that greeted us (I’ll issue that Blog Post later) — instead, we discovered magic among the trees at Wheeler during this period of fall-to-winter transition. The cypress (Taxodium distichum) swamp adjacent to the visitors center never fails to inspire me. The boardwalk trail is no longer in deep summer shade. Sun dapples the ferny, coppery-bronze cypress leaves carpeting the walkway! Four-and-a-half-year-old Sam enjoyed scuffling his feet to plow mounds of the feathery leaves.

The canopies still held perhaps a third of their leaves… enough to demonstrate a common misconception about forest trees. Lying on my back, I snapped the vertical shot below. Most people imagine that forest trees interlace their branches to form a solid shield of canopy above, one tree interlocking with another. Such is not the case. These cypress canopies may touch when wind blows them back and forth. Certainly, a squirrel would have an open highway leaping from one to another. Yet, in this stand with no understory nor intermediate canopy, the trees occupy unique aerial columns. Reminds me how in this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand isolated. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. Unlike Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond, most of us, too, living alone would soon topple.

This hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and the same-species smaller tree beside it find themselves in some form of mutual agitation. With the grandkids in tow and distracted by trails, birds, and mischief, I could not fully investigate this unusual growth. Clearly the larger hackberry evidences a burl from which adventitious branches emerge, oddly growing horizontally from the swelling. Is there a fungal or viral infection at play? Or just a physical trigger of contact between neighbors? Next time on this trail I will try to find this peculiarity again for deeper examination and more photos. I’m reminded how often in life and enterprise we find ourselves too late in difficult relationships and circumstances, with consequences suddenly appearing as intractable, with causes nearly impossible to explain and solutions out of reach. Too deep into the agitation to easily extract ourselves from it. I’ve been coached and counseled in such management/leadership situations to first identify the real problem. In this case, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem. Such is the complication and working of trees… and of life and human enterprises.

We found a standing, not-too-long-dead hackberry sporting some lichen finery (below left) and beginning to evidence the fruiting bodies of the saprophytic fungi feasting upon the recently deceased tree.

And more lichens on this trail-side beech (Fagus americana). Note its poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) still clinging to a leaf.

Unlike poison ivy, which clings directly to tree bark by aerial rootlets, scuppernong (Vitis rotundifolia) vines depend upon vines wrapping around trunks and stems. Two vines achieve mutual support via inter-twining (lower left) and a single vine by spiraling around the white oak (Quercus alba) trunk (lower right). Is it magic? No, not literally. But to the grandkids and me… YES!

And back to the poison ivy and its profusion of aerial rootlets — no need for intertwining or spiraling around this black cherry (Prunus serotina). Magic? You BET!

For a moment, I forgot we were in the deep south. This 20-foot sugar maple (Acer saccharum) offered a burst of New England color. Sam carried one of its leaves back to the car. He also looted a much smaller, long-dead bamboo (Bambusoideae) stem to the car. You never know when you may need to blast a woods-resident ghost (he’s a consummate Ghost-buster)!

Sam and I found a hiding place behind a twin white oak. I wonder how many more years until the two stems become one. Magic — from Sam’s perspective… absolutely! Confirmed for me when I saw the wonder in his eyes! Magic, too, that the entire time we strolled through this enchanted forest, we heard the nearby incessant clangor, clamor, and clatter of sandhill cranes feeding, dancing, and flying.

We drove a half-mile to another Wheeler NWR trail north of the highway. What could be finer than this bronze-beauty-cypress framing the view across the Tennessee River backwater?! Again, who can deny the magic and enchantment?

My iPhone camera colludes with my psyche, on multiple occasions willing me to photograph hackberry’s distinctive corky-ridged bark, this one beckoning irresistibly. Who can argue with magic?

Will I ever tire of Nature’s inspiration? So long as I breathe, especially with the grandkids along, I think not. My torch burns with compelling passion, heat, and light. I want to ignite theirs… to spur their torches to burn long after mine dims and sputters. For the future is theirs. And their sons’ and daughters’. I thank God for this chance to pass the torch, just as I am grateful for those wise souls who saw fit to preserve these 35,000 acres as a Refuge… an eternal flame. Yes, a flame of magic and inspiration!

Rachel Carson said of the National Wildlife Refuge symbol:

Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.

Feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are four powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) This lesson applies to almost every Great Blue Heron Blog Post that I issue!
  • In this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand alone. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. So too, standing alone, would we topple.
  • In any situation, first identify the real problem. In the case of the hackberry peculiarity, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem, whatever it may be. Such is the magic of trees… and of life and human enterprises.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Tree Magic and Woods Enchantment.

Again, feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

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

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

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

 

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Tree Magic Post. No matter whether you’re exploring an Alabama State Park or walking in your neighborhood, remember to seek tree magic and forest enchantment. Nature’s gifts beauty, wonder, and awe often require looking, seeing, and viewing through a child’s lens. I often jettison my professional lens (PhD in applied ecology) and view through my grand-kid-level filter. Oh, the fairy-dusted view is unbeatable!

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park human skull embedded in a Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). Pardon my flight of fancy — you know better than to accept these Addendum photo captions as the scientist speaking. What is true is that I snapped the photo on the Cheaha Lake Trail in mid-October.

 

And that same day at Cheaha State Park, I snapped this photo of a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum aboreum) refusing to accept the laws of gravity! Perhaps its under the spell of a woods-troll!

 

Lake Guntersville State Park offered this special introduction to Big Foot (below right)! Remarkable fidelity to the life-size replica of the beast at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens (below right). The Guntersville version displayed no signage nor was it accessed via spur trail. I wonder now whether I had stumbled onto it at just the right moment, and it has now long-since abandoned its tree apparition form. Magic and enchantment — you betcha!

 

Such fantasy does in fact come to life, especially, yet not exclusively, through our filters retained from youth. I’ve heard the sage advice to die young, even if it takes many decades. I plan to keep that youthful lens (visual and interpretive) young for yet another decade or three.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable tree magic and forest enchantment of your life. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature brings fantasy to life… and offers inspiration at every twist and turn in our forested paths… in every visit to our State Parks.

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge occupies 35,000-acres along the Tennessee River, its nearest access point just seven miles from my home in Madison, AL; the visitors center is twice that far from me. We and our two Alabama grandsons went to the further point November 25. Forget, for the purpose of this GBH Blog Post, about the thousands of sandhill cranes that greeted us (I’ll issue that Blog Post later) — instead, we discovered magic among the trees at Wheeler during this period of fall-to-winter transition. The cypress (Taxodium distichum) swamp adjacent to the visitors center never fails to inspire me. The boardwalk trail is no longer in deep summer shade. Sun dapples the ferny, coppery-bronze cypress leaves carpeting the walkway! Four-and-a-half-year-old Sam enjoyed scuffling his feet to plow mounds of the feathery leaves.

The canopies still held perhaps a third of their leaves… enough to demonstrate a common misconception about forest trees. Lying on my back, I snapped the vertical shot below. Most people imagine that forest trees interlace their branches to form a solid shield of canopy above, one tree interlocking with another. Such is not the case. These cypress canopies may touch when wind blows them back and forth. Certainly, a squirrel would have an open highway leaping from one to another. Yet, in this stand with no understory nor intermediate canopy, the trees occupy unique aerial columns. Reminds me how in this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand isolated. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. Unlike Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond, most of us, too, living alone would soon topple.

This hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and the same-species smaller tree beside it find themselves in some form of mutual agitation. With the grandkids in tow and distracted by trails, birds, and mischief, I could not fully investigate this unusual growth. Clearly the larger hackberry evidences a burl from which adventitious branches emerge, oddly growing horizontally from the swelling. Is there a fungal or viral infection at play? Or just a physical trigger of contact between neighbors? Next time on this trail I will try to find this peculiarity again for deeper examination and more photos. I’m reminded how often in life and enterprise we find ourselves too late in difficult relationships and circumstances, with consequences suddenly appearing as intractable, with causes nearly impossible to explain and solutions out of reach. Too deep into the agitation to easily extract ourselves from it. I’ve been coached and counseled in such management/leadership situations to first identify the real problem. In this case, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem. Such is the complication and working of trees… and of life and human enterprises.

We found a standing, not-too-long-dead hackberry sporting some lichen finery (below left) and beginning to evidence the fruiting bodies of the saprophytic fungi feasting upon the recently deceased tree.

And more lichens on this trail-side beech (Fagus americana). Note its poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) still clinging to a leaf.

Unlike poison ivy, which clings directly to tree bark by aerial rootlets, scuppernong (Vitis rotundifolia) vines depend upon vines wrapping around trunks and stems. Two vines achieve mutual support via inter-twining (lower left) and a single vine by spiraling around the white oak (Quercus alba) trunk (lower right). Is it magic? No, not literally. But to the grandkids and me… YES!

And back to the poison ivy and its profusion of aerial rootlets — no need for intertwining or spiraling around this black cherry (Prunus serotina). Magic? You BET!

For a moment, I forgot we were in the deep south. This 20-foot sugar maple (Acer saccharum) offered a burst of New England color. Sam carried one of its leaves back to the car. He also looted a much smaller, long-dead bamboo (Bambusoideae) stem to the car. You never know when you may need to blast a woods-resident ghost (he’s a consummate Ghost-buster)!

Sam and I found a hiding place behind a twin white oak. I wonder how many more years until the two stems become one. Magic — from Sam’s perspective… absolutely! Confirmed for me when I saw the wonder in his eyes! Magic, too, that the entire time we strolled through this enchanted forest, we heard the nearby incessant clangor, clamor, and clatter of sandhill cranes feeding, dancing, and flying.

We drove a half-mile to another Wheeler NWR trail north of the highway. What could be finer than this bronze-beauty-cypress framing the view across the Tennessee River backwater?! Again, who can deny the magic and enchantment?

My iPhone camera colludes with my psyche, on multiple occasions willing me to photograph hackberry’s distinctive corky-ridged bark, this one beckoning irresistibly. Who can argue with magic?

Will I ever tire of Nature’s inspiration? So long as I breathe, especially with the grandkids along, I think not. My torch burns with compelling passion, heat, and light. I want to ignite theirs… to spur their torches to burn long after mine dims and sputters. For the future is theirs. And their sons’ and daughters’. I thank God for this chance to pass the torch, just as I am grateful for those wise souls who saw fit to preserve these 35,000 acres as a Refuge… an eternal flame. Yes, a flame of magic and inspiration!

Rachel Carson said of the National Wildlife Refuge symbol:

Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.

Feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are four powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) This lesson applies to almost every Great Blue Heron Blog Post that I issue!
  • In this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand alone. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. So too, standing alone, would we topple.
  • In any situation, first identify the real problem. In the case of the hackberry peculiarity, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem, whatever it may be. Such is the magic of trees… and of life and human enterprises.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Tree Magic and Woods Enchantment.

Again, feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post earlier today, December 9, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Special Skies Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from several of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original. My overall message is that we all should occasionally glance skyward as we explore and enjoy Nature.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December (Original Text)

What a blessing that our home planet tilts 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane. We in the northern hemisphere lean toward the sun in summer; Earth stands vertical to the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes; we now tilt away from ole sol at the fast-approaching winter solstice, our shortest day(light). Without the tilt, we would have no seasonal changes. I love the summer/fall/winter/spring swings and pay close attention to their relation to our sun. I’m fascinated by the science, and find that understanding the orbital and seasonal relationships enhances my appreciation of the beauty and magic of Nature’s displays.

Within five weeks of the solstice (November 17 sunset below), the sun sets at about 24 degrees south of due west; by December 21, it sets a full 30 degrees from west. By mid summer, the sun sets at 30 degrees north of due west… far past the right margin of the photo. A remarkable 60-degree swing over just six months. As we approach either solstice, both sunrise and sunset have shallower angles of ascent and descent, thus increasing the duration of displays like this one. During our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun rose and set at the solstices 80 degrees plus or minus from due east or west (a six-month 160-degree swing!), spectacular colors could last for 30-40 minutes! Again, knowing the science boosts my appreciation for Nature’s wonder and awe.

I’ll focus most of these remarks and photographs on Nature’s artistry. Again, this is our November 17 sunset:

Here’s the next morning’s (November 18, 2018) dawn. I suppose no words required beyond these implied 1,000 (recall that a picture is worth a thousand words)!

More wonderful dawn images from November 23. I can’t imagine how empty life is for those who never awaken before daylight!

Fitting that I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I have tried Walden several times previously, each occasion thwarted by Thoreau’s 180-year-old style and thick language, and perhaps owing in large measure to the demands of whatever job I happened to hold and family commitments of one sort or another. In this semi-retirement stage, I’m still struggling with Walden, working hard to mine gems from his difficult text. Here are some rich words regarding his predisposition to morning:

For my panacea… let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.

I think by morning air, Thoreau meant the entire experience of a new day dawning — the actual air, the sounds, the sky, and the darkness retreating westward. Cat Stevens likewise celebrated the morning air in Morning Has Broken:

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

I speak with so many acquaintances for whom morning does not include dawn. An unimaginable fate for me. I refuse to allow the day to begin without me! I don’t want to risk missing something worthy that might be springing fresh from the world. Aldo Leopold spoke of how in these modern times (for him that was the mid-20th century… 70 years ago), Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another. I cannot fathom going blind to the dawn!

Evening’s Farewell Salute

Sunset often trumpets a day well-lived. Why else would Nature end the day with displays like December 3, 2018, when cirrus offered several thousand words of glory and brilliance as the sun neared the evening horizon? I snapped these between passes as grandson Jack and I tossed a football in the street at the front of my house. Jack enjoyed the display as much as I, and what better way to share Nature’s generous gifts than with an Earth Steward of tomorrow!

The same evening and the same magic!

And a few minutes later as the sun dipped below the west by southwest horizon:

I have said often that I prefer paintings that look like well-taken photographs… and I love photographs that look like paintings. These few sky images fit the bill. Nature is not selfish nor selective. She gifts equally to all who care to look… and rewards those who make the effort (as though it should require any effort at all) to see… and graces those who see deeply enough to feel the power, passion, and inspiration infused in and bursting from the image.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are three powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) 
  • Pay heed to Leopold’s implied lesson: Do not allow your own Education to devolve to learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Earth Stewardship as an obligation and  lifetime calling.

Again, may Nature inspire your life. Pay attention to what daily springs fresh from the world

 

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

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

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

 

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Special Skies as Fall Yields to December

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Special Skies Post. No matter whether you’re exploring an Alabama State Park or walking in your neighborhood, remember to glance skyward. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe often require tilting our heads toward the vertical.

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park vertical wall at the Rock Garden. View the wall as simply foreground; focus instead on the wonderful cirrus display beyond.

And that same day at Cheaha State Park, these cirrus burst above the mixed pine/hardwood canopy.

Lake Guntersville State Park offered this special view of the clouds (fog) from the Lodge above!

At Monte Sano, how much more captivating are the old hotel remains with the puffy cumulus floating above the Tennessee River Valley beyond?
A DeSoto State Park dawn brought its own greeting to the day I started in the dark by hiking (flashlight in hand) the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable learning environment of your life, whether on the ground at your feet, within the forest along the trail, or in the myriad other sights, sounds, and fragrances of Nature’s beauty and bounty. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature may not desire that you learn and enjoy, yet she offers inspiration at every twist and turn in our forested paths, along every creek-side mile, and in every visit to our State Parks.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December

What a blessing that our home planet tilts 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane. We in the northern hemisphere lean toward the sun in summer; Earth stands vertical to the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes; we now tilt away from ole sol at the fast-approaching winter solstice, our shortest day(light). Without the tilt, we would have no seasonal changes. I love the summer/fall/winter/spring swings and pay close attention to their relation to our sun. I’m fascinated by the science, and find that understanding the orbital and seasonal relationships enhances my appreciation of the beauty and magic of Nature’s displays.

Within five weeks of the solstice (November 17 sunset below), the sun sets at about 24 degrees south of due west; by December 21, it sets a full 30 degrees from west. By mid summer, the sun sets at 30 degrees north of due west… far past the right margin of the photo. A remarkable 60-degree swing over just six months. As we approach either solstice, both sunrise and sunset have shallower angles of ascent and descent, thus increasing the duration of displays like this one. During our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun rose and set at the solstices 80 degrees plus or minus from due east or west (a six-month 160-degree swing!), spectacular colors could last for 30-40 minutes! Again, knowing the science boosts my appreciation for Nature’s wonder and awe.

I’ll focus most of these remarks and photographs on Nature’s artistry. Again, this is our November 17 sunset:

Here’s the next morning’s (November 18, 2018) dawn. I suppose no words required beyond these implied 1,000 (recall that a picture is worth a thousand words)!

More wonderful dawn images from November 23. I can’t imagine how empty life is for those who never awaken before daylight!

Fitting that I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I have tried Walden several times previously, each occasion thwarted by Thoreau’s 180-year-old style and thick language, and perhaps owing in large measure to the demands of whatever job I happened to hold and family commitments of one sort or another. In this semi-retirement stage, I’m still struggling with Walden, working hard to mine gems from his difficult text. Here are some rich words regarding his predisposition to morning:

For my panacea… let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.

I think by morning air, Thoreau meant the entire experience of a new day dawning — the actual air, the sounds, the sky, and the darkness retreating westward. Cat Stevens likewise celebrated the morning air in Morning Has Broken:

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

I speak with so many acquaintances for whom morning does not include dawn. An unimaginable fate for me. I refuse to allow the day to begin without me! I don’t want to risk missing something worthy that might be springing fresh from the world. Aldo Leopold spoke of how in these modern times (for him that was the mid-20th century… 70 years ago), Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another. I cannot fathom going blind to the dawn!

Evening’s Farewell Salute

Sunset often trumpets a day well-lived. Why else would Nature end the day with displays like December 3, 2018, when cirrus offered several thousand words of glory and brilliance as the sun neared the evening horizon? I snapped these between passes as grandson Jack and I tossed a football in the street at the front of my house. Jack enjoyed the display as much as I, and what better way to share Nature’s generous gifts than with an Earth Steward of tomorrow!

The same evening and the same magic!

And a few minutes later as the sun dipped below the west by southwest horizon:

I have said often that I prefer paintings that look like well-taken photographs… and I love photographs that look like paintings. These few sky images fit the bill. Nature is not selfish nor selective. She gifts equally to all who care to look… and rewards those who make the effort (as though it should require any effort at all) to see… and graces those who see deeply enough to feel the power, passion, and inspiration infused in and bursting from the image.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are three powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) 
  • Pay heed to Leopold’s implied lesson: Do not allow your own Education to devolve to learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Earth Stewardship as an obligation and  lifetime calling.

Again, may Nature inspire your life. Pay attention to what daily springs fresh from the world!

 

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

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

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

Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway

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

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

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

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

Big Cove Creek Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

Water Features

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

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

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

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

 

Hays Nature Preserve

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Life Along The Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

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

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

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

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

Fresh and pure.

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

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

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

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

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

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

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

Fall Flowers

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

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections and Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature — Alabama State Parks Edition

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

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

Physical/psychological

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

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

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

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

Physical/psychological

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

And Joe Wheeler:

And Lake Guntersville:

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

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

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

 

 

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature

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

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

Physical/psychological

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

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

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

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

Physical/psychological

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

A Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Noccalula Falls

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Ruminations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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