Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: Nature’s Insistence Upon Renewal

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

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

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

The Elegant Dance of Life and Death: Fungi Kingdom

 

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

Our life is made by the death of others.

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

I entered the forest, my eyes to the trees;

I heard the leaves rustle, felt the slight breeze.

Yet as I looked up, saw the canopy high;

I sensed a presence below me, quiet and shy.

 

Something heeding my passage, with a tremble of fear;

Perhaps hearing my footfalls with keen jelly ear.

And registering a threat as I passed in the lane;

Via synapses firing within leafy brain.

 

The fungi range wide in these forested glens;

From Trametes to Boletes they bless our eye lens.

With colors diverse in the shadows and lights,

They’re doing their duty… these forest saprophytes.

 

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

Other Life and Renewal

 

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

The Flow of Life

 

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

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

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

Our life is made by the death of others.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: My Orientation Visit

Virtual Orientation: Southern Sanctuary

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

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

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

And I want to go back–and I will

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

It’s the forest where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Fall Magic

November 25, 2018 we took our two Alabama grandsons to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, several weeks before the geniuses in Washington DC once more failed to pass a budget. Thus, as I write these words on January 6, 2019, the partial government shutdown has kept me from the Visitors Center and observation building for over two weeks, the heart of waterfowl magic at Wheeler. But I digress. My purpose is to reflect on our visit.

The boys enjoy Wheeler — the sights, sounds, and mood from seeing and hearing thousands of winter avian residents celebrating their escape from hard core winter. The view from the observation building is especially rewarding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s like watching a well-done Nature documentary… on-site and in person. Whether a nice fall day like this one, or a cold, blustery, and wet afternoon, the building keeps us in comfort.

Designed with ample windows on both levels, the view spans some 300 degrees of fields and marsh. Enough birders are present to pass word of where the whooping cranes are within sight, or perhaps a Eurasian widget, or a bird of prey feasting nearby on some unfortunate migrant.

Just behind the Visitors Center, a broad view to the west extends across marsh and fields and hordes of sandhill cranes. Still accessible now, the view is far inferior to the now closed building.

Entering the access road on this warm mid-morning, I stopped to usher a  gray rat snake to the grassy shoulder. I suppose he was quite happy sunning on the warm blacktop. Hence his pique with my interference. How could I convince him that I was acting in his best interest?! A subsequent motorist might not see him. The boys both liked seeing the snake and felt uneasy in his presence. Try as I might, I cannot convince these squeamish young persons that snakes are magnificent neighbors and honored members of our diverse southern ecosystems. My work is never done!

Our visits to Wheeler always include exploring both upland trails (below left) and our too-short pass along the boardwalk through the cypress swamp (below right and the two following photographs).

The cypress hadn’t quite shed all foliage, yet enough to form a thick mat on the boardwalk deck. Sam (4.5-year-old) could not resist scuffing his feet to plow piles of needles! I confess that I wanted to join him to create a pile large enough to accommodate a leaping grandfather!

We departed the main entrance to explore trails across the highway on the north side. We never grow tired of boardwalks, this one made all the sweeter by a sign warning of gators. Such a sign is nearly as exciting as actually seeing one of these large reptiles.

The heavily wooded peninsula ahead (lower right) decades earlier likely grew cotton and other agricultural crops. Nature filled the abandoned farm acreage with ease. The stand now is evidencing characteristics of old growth… large diameter pine and hardwood; heights reaching 90-110-feet; lots of dead and down large woody debris. I drew satisfaction from the boys appreciating the aesthetic quality of a shore-side cypress still bearing a portion of its red-brown foliage, accenting the water and shoreline beyond.

 

Certainly, there is nothing spectacular (on a Grand Canyon or Denali or Yosemite scale) about what we saw or experienced during our three hours at Wheeler. Importantly, what we did see provided ample beauty, awe, magic, and wonder… far more than obtainable from TV or video games. Jack and Sam will never forget their trips to Wheeler with Gummy and Pap. Judy and I are planting seeds. I include a Robert Louis Stevenson quote below the signature line on every email I send: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

On second thought, what we experienced was, in fact, spectacular in aggregate. Any seed sown is an act of love… an investment in the future. I think often of the life-mission I have adopted during my semi-retirement:

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

Vision: People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.

Tagline: Encourage and seek a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

What could be more spectacular than heading to a nearby National Wildlife Refuge with our two Alabama grandsons, immersing them in Nature’s wonder, and sowing the seeds for responsible Earth citizenship?! Every moment I can give them pays dividends to me and to Earth’s future.

May Nature enrich your life and living… Nature-inspired living!

 

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.

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

  • Take advantage of every opportunity in Nature to sow seeds for making tomorrow brighter.
  • Invest your time, knowledge, and passion for Nature in young people whenever you can.
  • Consciously and deliberately enrich your own life and living through Nature’s inspiration.

May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

December 26, 2018 at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Reaping While Sowing

I’ll keep this Blog Post short. My two Alabama grandsons and their step-father accompanied me the day after Christmas to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. My two-part message is quite simple:

  • Take advantage of every opportunity in Nature to sow seeds for making tomorrow brighter.
  • Invest your time, knowledge, and passion for Nature in young people whenever you can.

The geniuses in Washington had seen fit to make sure the Visitors Center and observation building were locked tight as a drum due to the partial government shutdown. Regardless, we enjoyed the trails and the distant view below of several thousand sandhill cranes.

I shared my passion for lying on my back to appreciate and enjoy crown shyness in the cypress stand near the Visitors Center. What could be more fun than lying on our backs along the boardwalk and watching the trees sway?!

The boys marveled at the shiny green magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) leaves on the seedling in the otherwise brown forest floor. I shamelessly employed every stop to share lessons of ecology.

And what youngster (or adult) could resist my challenge to see whether the three of them could link hands around this magnificent red oak (Quercus rubra).

They looked in wonder at both the 30-inch diameter, tall and straight oak and the hollowed spooky tree below. I admit to not identifying the species on site. We focused on the novelty and the cause — a former fork that broke off long enough ago to decay and return to the forest floor, yet leaving a long-lasting scar and decay.

And what fun in scaling a leaning red oak, or resting on its 45-degree bole!

Or standing atop a trailhead post while step-dad provides hidden support and assurance. I dare say the boys will long remember our sunny afternoon adventure. Environmental education is a contact sport. I pledge to do my part to pass my passion forward. I urge you to do the same.

This is the future. I close every email with my favorite Robert Louis Stevenson quote: Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. I commit to sow seeds for informed Earth stewardship.

May Nature enrich your life and living… Nature-inspired living! And may you pass it forward.

 

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.

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

  • Take advantage of every opportunity in Nature to sow seeds for making tomorrow brighter.
  • Invest your time, knowledge, and passion for Nature in young people whenever you can.
  • Consciously and deliberately enrich your own life and living by sowing seeds for informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

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