Chapter One: Late Spring Return to The Sanctuary

May 13, 2022, I returned to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary with Bill Heslip, retired videographer, Margaret Anne Goldsmith, benefactor who donated the property to the City, and Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary, a month-by-month almanac of the Nature of the Sanctuary. I’ll take you along with photos, observations, and reflections on our late spring afternoon tour.

Our visit would serve as the capstone for compiling a video Land Legacy Tale for the Sanctuary, which we hope to release later this summer. Bill is the producer; I serve as his naturalist. Margaret Anne and Marian offer additional indispensable knowledge and perspective.

Here is my June 2021 Post introducing our vision for the video project: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/08/25/contemplating-a-video-of-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

We four entered the Highway 431 (east) side of the Sanctuary at 4:08 PM, temperature in the mid-80s with mostly clear skies.

 

I’ll lead us through our three-hour stroll in two different Posts, commenting on the highlights and offering observations. This first Post chronicles our passage through the riparian forest along the Flint River, and stop at our emergence into the meadows. I will report on the meadows and our visit to the tupelo swamp in the second Post.

Along the Woodland Trail

Honey locust’s compound-forked thorns are always an attention-grabber…and can be a pants-grabber!

 

Over the course of my many visits to the Sanctuary, especially when accompanying Marian, the wooly pipevine draws my attention.

 

I like its heart-shaped leaves, but I simply love the vine’s intimate relationship with the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

All images

Image from the internet

 

The butterfly’s entire life revolves around the pipevine, a location for egg-laying; a site for adult butterfly romance (see stock photo above); the exclusive snack bar for the caterpillars, which we found in abundance. See the one on underside of a leaf (below left) and in Marian’s hand.

 

I don’t recall previously seeing Indian pink. I like its textured deep green twin-leaves. We found it a couple of days prior to its full opening.

 

 

A fascinating plant, partridge berry produces twin white flowers that yield a single red berry. The US Forest Service offers an explanation online:

Both flowers must be pollinated to obtain a single scarlet berry. Each berry is the result of the fusion of each ovary of the pollinated pair of white flowers. As such, each berry has two bright red spots on its surface.

 

 

Look closely for what lies hidden in plain sight. Here’s dog fennel’s delicate foliage at our feet. Flimsy and feather-like, it drew our attention and appealed to our shutter-fingers. NC State Cooperative Extension has more to say about this common weed that often grows to three-feet plus:

The finely dissected leaves of the plant make it easy to identify, and when crushed, the leaves and stems have a very distinct odor that is slightly sour and musty. The stems of dogfennel are soft and easily broken when young, but become very tough and woody as it ages. In addition, the stems are very conspicuously hairy, especially when young, but leaves are always hairless.

 

An invasive, Chinese yam shouted out to us with its exquisite foliage and distinct leaf venation.

 

 

 

 

 

I wandered into the east-end riparian forest while Bill shot some footage with Margaret Anne and Marian. This dead eastern red cedar served as a magnet, inviting me to closer inspection. It tells the tale of a long ago abandoned agricultural field populated first by herbaceous plants, then pioneer tree species like red cedar and locust, and finally by the longer-lived hardwood species that now comprise the forest.

 

The still photo has merit, yet I felt the cedar warranted recording a video of it and its surroundings.

 

Emerging to the Meadows

 

Here is where I’ll end this Post, as my three colleagues stand at the forest/meadow ecotone.

 

I first developed my return to the Sanctuary as a single Post, yet 24 photos and four videos far exceeded my own limit. Next week we’ll enter the meadows and duck quickly to the tupelo swamp edge.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The Sanctuary, and any wild place, reveals new secrets every time we visit.
  • There is magic in Nature’s mundane objects, like the compound thorns of native honey locust.
  • I find deep healing and renewal in my wildness wanderings and their inspired wonderings!

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: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

 

Mid-Winter Treks at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

I returned to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary January 13 and 15, 2022, the first day to dry-run the interpretive hike I co-led on the 15th for 23 participants from the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). I focus this Post on the rich diversity of the Sanctuary, especially its multiple habitats, ecosystems, and ecotones.

I’ve written often about the Sanctuary, most recently: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/01/18/early-november-2021-b-roll-at-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

Water Dominance

 

December 28, 2021 through January 8, 2022, I recorded 6.96 inches of rain with my industrial grade-home rain gauge. The Flint River, which borders the Sanctuary, overflowed its banks and inundated the Sanctuary during that drenching. We were fortunate that the intervening week allowed the river to retreat to within its banks. However, Sanctuary lowland soils remained saturated. We had alerted hikers in advance to wear shoes/boots to handle conditions. Cloudy skies prevailed during our 1.5-mile hike. The threatened rain arrived later in the afternoon. That evening and overnight I measured another 1.90 inches.

 

Hidden Spring emerges at the Taylor Road entrance to the Sanctuary, fed from the ridge (visible to the west below left) that stands 800 feet above the Flint River flood plain. The two photos are of Jobala Pond (left) and its outlet stream with a pair of mallard drakes. I’ve pointed out in previous posts that Jobala is a naturalized pond created 80 years ago when highway engineers mined sand and gravel for nearby road construction. The periodic Flint River flooding overtops the pond’s embankment, introducing plant seed and the fish, reptiles, amphibians, and other life that naturalized the borrow pit. Jobala’s waters are clear, evidencing its spring-fed source.

 

A second borrow pit pond lies just 300 feet from Jobala. The January 13, 2022 photo (below left) shows its muddy water, which in all my visits has never been anything but cloudy. Unlike Jobala, this second pond does not have through-flow constantly refreshing its water. Its turbidity appears to be permanent. Some sediments such as clay particles and organic matter can be chemically suspended, never settling and permitting the water to clear. Other causes of permanent turbidity include bottom-feeding fish, mammals like beavers and muscrats, or cattle. Regardless, the second pond does not offer the aesthetic appeal as Jobala, yet we brought the 1 January 15 hike participants to this pond to draw the contrast and explore possible causes. As I’ve often said, every element of Nature has a story to tell, and every story has lessons for life and living.

 

Back in its banks, the Flint Rifer continued to run high. This an arm of the Flint flowing around an island, the far shore. The main channel lies just 200 yards downstream. The island, now isolated by the branch’s full flow, is easily accessible by ankle deep wading during most of the summer. The entire Sanctuary is a dynamic ecosystem, ranging from full flood to quiet calm.

 

The Flint River had rushed across these meadows within the past ten days. Waterlogged soils will persist through the remainer of the winter and well into the spring. The dynamic interaction of water and land through the seasons is part of the Sanctuary’s appeal and richness.

 

Meadow

 

Forest, meadow, distant ridge, and the ebb and flow of seasonal water define the Sanctuary. Ecotones (the boundary zones separating habitat types) enrich the Sanctuary. The forest edge below right supports more species diversity than either the interior forest or the open meadow. The ecotones, from my own appreciation perspective, likewise multiply the landscape aesthetic value. Weave in the seasonal changes, from what some would consider the drab winter view, to the fresh greens of spring, to the deep summer verdancy, to the colors of fall, and the aesthetic mosaic is unsurpassed. Even without knowing the shifting landscape complexion, I love the dormant season, when forest and meadows rest and recover as the river occasionally runs wild.

 

Hikers slip from meadow into forest. The ecotone is less distinct in summer when the separation can be lost in an overwhelming explosion of green. Leonardo da Vinci spoke of edges within paintings:

When you represent in your work shadows which you can only discern with difficulty, and of which you cannot distinguish the edges so that you apprehend them confusedly, you must not make them sharp or definite lest your work should have a wooden effect.

I know little about art, yet I see da Vinci’s wisdom in contrasting the discernable winter boundaries to the softened edges of summer.

 

I made that winter/summer distinction comment above, anticipating that I could demonstrate the difference with a simple photo from summer (June 26, 2021) at the Sanctuary. Having the winter/summer images, one above the other, does depict the winter edges as more distinct. The winter details of meadow elements and tree branching within the hardwood canopies are far more interesting. The summer characteristics are blurred greens with little detail within either the forest or meadow vegetation.

 

I offer two more sweeping vistas of meadow, edge, forst, and distant hills. Leaving more northern climes to retire to north Alabama, I admit to having dreaded the predominance of summer heat and absent winters that awaited me. However, I have grown to cherish the extended season of fall giving way to spring, with a few winter days thrown in for good measure. Our dormant season is complete, and for that I am grateful. I enjoy days like January 13 and 15, when temperatures made for pleasant hiking. Although soils may be saturated, we seldom have to contend with slushy snow. While nothing beats the marvel of a fresh and pristine snowy landscape, driving on slippery roads at this latitude with motorists unaccustomed to the treachery of frozen surfaces would have kept me at home. Perhaps someday I will hike the Sanctuary under snow cover.

 

Firmament

 

To this point, I have not mentioned the sky in this Post. However, a quick look back at the preceding 14 photos will confirm that the sky (January 13 mostly clear; January 15 dull stratus overcast) complements every image. Terra firma and the firmament, two very similar terms for the land and the sky, complete almost every landscape image I have captured. The January 13, 2022, images below placed in my mind that the firmament is an ocean above. I imagined that had this been a warmer day with drier soils, I could have reclined on my back to observe the ocean-sky as though I were on an airliner cruising at 32,000 feet above the Atlantic!

Albert Einstein believed passionately in the power of such imaginings:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

 

 

I shall never lose my imagination…my curiosity about Nature…shaped in my youth and sharpened by my practice of the craft across 70 years. It is the youngster in me that I shall strive to nourish until my final glance into the wild.

Other Life features

 

A 24-inch diameter elm snag stood along an abandoned side-channel of the Flint River. A Dryad’s saddle mushroom cluster sprouts from near the snag’s top, 12 feet from its base, out of my reach.

 

When fresh, Dryad’s saddle is edible. This cluster evidences that the snag serves as a perfect substrate for the mushroom’s decomposing mycelia. Eventually, gravity or a flooding Flint River will dislodge the snag, returning its remaining mass to the continuing cycle of forest organic matter.

 

Trametes lactinea (I found no common names) sprouted profusely from a red oak log along the trail.

 

The mushrooms felt fresh and rubbery, with distinct pores on the underside (right image).

 

A dead sugarberry snag is frequented by pileated woodpeckers, as evidenced by the pile of punky chips at its base and the large rectangular trunkside excavations.

 

Another nearby sugarberry snag likewise carried pileated woodpecker cavities.

 

The dead sugarberry below still hoists its crown, albeit much diminished subsequent to death and decomposition, into the main canopy. Within three years I believe the trunk will yield to decay and gravity, falling to the ground to decay in-place or head downstream with the next flooding.

 

Two streambank sweetgum trees appear to be holding on to each other, resisting the undercutting flood waters that are eroding the bank and shifting the channel. These Flint River active riparian zones are constantly reshaped with each flood, some areas aggrading while others erode. The landscape is in dynamic flux. The sweetgums germinated and grew on a natural streamside levee; a migrating channel has now discovered the levee, cutting into and through it. The two trees will ultimately pay the price, no longer able to find adequate purchase to keep them erect.

 

The Sanctuary is a dynamic, varied ecosystem, blessed with shifting ecotones and rich life.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every element of Nature has a story to tell, and every story has lessons for life and living.
  • I shall never lose my imagination…my curiosity about Nature.
  • Albert Einstein: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

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: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Fungi from my September 2021 Ramblings in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest

September 7, 2021, I hiked both Heart’s Content and Hickory Creek Wilderness on the Allegheny National Forest in northwest Pennsylvania, just 40 miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships for second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests. I published three Great Blue Heron Posts from that fulfilling day in the woods:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/10/14/hearts-content-in-nw-pennsylvania-part-one/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/04/hearts-content-in-nw-pennsylvania-part-two/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/17/pennsylvanias-hickory-creek-wilderness/

September 8, 2021, I hiked the gorge at McConnell’s Mill State Park, 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. I focus this Post on the wide variety of mushrooms I encountered at the three locations. Rather than offer deep discussion of species, their identification, classification, and specific role in the ecosystem, I present only a quick introduction to their beauty and variety.

Heart’s Content

 

I found this lovely artist conk on a dead American beech. Interestingly, I often encounter what appears to be the same species on beech here in northern Alabama.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

A totally different kind of mushroom, ravenel’s stinkhorn is rather ghastly, fleshy, and quite ephemeral, suddenly emerging and within just afew days going to goo and disappearing.

Heart's Content

 

A brilliant vermillion waxcap brightened the forest floor. I am so grateful I wandered near enough to see this beauty. We tend to think of decay as an ugly process, a breaking down of vibrant living material to the dust of time. Not so, decay organisms can be glorious in their own essential life form…as important, essential, and vibrant in the forest ecosystem as the mighty oak or charismatic macrofauna (like deer and bear). From the online Fungi of Northern Maine: Hygrocybe miniata, commonly known as the vermilion waxcap, is a small, bright red, or red-orange mushroom of the waxcap genus Hygrocybe. It is a cosmopolitan species, which is found worldwide. In Europe, it is found in fields, on sandy heaths, or grassy commons in the autumn (fall). It is found in rainforest and eucalypt forest as well as heathland in Australia. I am fascinated to find such a novel, globally distributed, cosmopolitan species! I suppose a fungal spore can cross oceans (and remain viable in transit!).

Heart's Content

 

I admit failing to identify this small sulfur mushroom growing among a moss carpet on a well-decayed log.

Heart's Content

 

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

I found a few friends familiar to my Alabama foraging. A late season hanger-on, this chanterelle was one of only a half-dozen I spotted in the Wilderness.

Heart's Content

 

I also found a past-prime chicken of the woods.

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

My iNaturalist identified this cluster as scarlet waxy cap (Hygrocybe coccinea), sometimes called the scarlet hood, scarlet waxcap, or righteous red waxy cap.

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

Another oddity, this is fairy wand club or handsome club, a coral mushroom.

Allegheny NF

 

Fomitopsis ochracea evidenced serious brown rot within this chestnut oak. A foot wide, this conk showed a fresh, pure white underside.

Allegheny NF

 

McConnell’s Mill State Park

 

September 8, 2021, I hiked the gorge trails at McConnell’s Mill State Park just 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. I previously published this Post from my day in the gorge: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/10/pennsylvanias-mcconnells-mill-state-park-2/

I found only one additional mushroom distinct from those reported above. Another of the species I forage in Alabama, this oyster greeted me along Slippery Rock Creek.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • For those who hike through the forest, intent upon rushing from point A to point B, much will lie hidden in plain sight.
  • For those of us who look closely, intent upon seeing Nature’s wonders, magic will lie at our feet.
  • The forest ecosystem comprises far more than trees, which are no more important than the fungi that enable cycling and renewal.

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: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHeart's Content

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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 October along Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk

National Natural Landmark

October 27, 2021, Mike Ezell, Alabama State Park Naturalist Emeritus, and I visited Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk National Natural Landmark in eastern Limestone County Alabama near Huntsville. Co-teaching a course on Virtual Nature Hikes for Huntsville’s LearingQuest, an informal, adult continuing education program for mostly retired residents, we hiked the Boardwalk to develop a 20-minute video for our course. The Boardwalk Trail is on the eastern end of the 38,000-acre Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I focus this Post on the subtle beauty of fall in the tupelo forest.

The Swamp is the largest water tupelo forest in north Alabama. I have been to the trail dozens of times since our daughter moved to Madison, Alabama 20 years ago, and we retired nearby in 2018. Here is a Great Blue Heron Post from February 2018: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/02/07/beaverdam-swamp-wheeler-nwr-dormant-season-beauty/

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I won’t dig deeply into describing and examining this unique forest ecosystem. Instead, let’s take a stroll, pause now and again to reflect, and present a one-day portfolio of Nature’s tupelo forest magic.

Mike and I set a date on which serendipity gave us a gorgeous fall afternoon, sunlight striking the forest floor. Already the tupelo had shed 70 percent of foliage. Leaves covered the boardwalk. Sun filtered through the high crowns.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

Mike shunted ahead for our next video spot to highlight some element of the swamp for our virtual hike. The Nature of the place on this languid afternoon suggested leisure and a relaxed pace. We felt calmed, secure, and soothed…not even a hint of urgency.

Beaverdam

 

The day both demonstrated and urged deep reflection, literally and virtually. The tupelo are one with the water and with the firmament above. These views await a poet’s verse. The magic of the swamp is irresistable. I’ve tried to write poetry…but have repeatedly fallen short.

Beaverdam

 

A Nightime Flashback

November 8, 2020 I took our two Alabama grandsons into the swamp at dusk, hoping to hear owls at play. A lone barred owl hooted, yet the  swamp paid mighty dividends as dusk transitioned to gloaming and then to full darkness. I snapped a few full-darkness photos with three-second exposure as we departed. The effect is too special not to include in this year-later Post.

Beaverdam Swamp

 

Fall’s Subtle and Tranquil Beauty

Mike paused at Beaverdam Creek, the boardwalk terminus. The creek flows away from the photo-point toward the Tennessee River. I need not repeat that we chose a perfect afternoon…more accurately, the perfect afternoon chose us!

Beaverdam

 

The creek flows toward the camera below left; from right to left below right.

Beaverdam

 

Were I to suggest ideal conditions for our video-mission visit I could not have chosen better. Cerulean sky; yellowing canopy; placid waters!

Beaverdam

 

Edible Wild Mushroom Sidebar

During the Covid months I’ve grown increasingly interested in foraging wild edible mushrooms. Forestry school focused my fungal attention to tree disease-causing fungi. Such organisms still hold my interest, yet now in retirement I have shifted to culinary implications. Although still an edible wild mushroom novice, I am confident in harvesting and consuming 5-6 species. While I do not forage in protected preserves such as this National Natural Landmark, I did photograph two of my favorite edibles: oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I hope never to tire of visiting special places across the seasons. Surprises and treats await each journey.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Fall arrives with subtle, understated beauty in our tupelo forests.
  • I find sacred connection to this mystical old growth forest, trees buttressed and hollow, crowns reaching for the heavens.
  • Some special places merit long, quiet contemplation to fully nourish mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by 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 authoring 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 do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksBeaverdam

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of firsthand 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 from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

An Eleven-mile Bucket List Hike to the Sipsey Big Tree

October 30, 2021, friends and I hiked an eleven-mile circuit to see The Big Tree (State Champion Yellow Poplar) in Alabama’s Bankhead National Forest’s Sipsey Wilderness. I offer reflections on the rough and bouldered terrain, torturous blowdowns, and the majesty of the Big Tree. I reflect upon the hike with threads of bittersweet nostalgia and melancholy.

Allow me to begin at the end. We rushed along the streamside riparian forests, within a quarter mile of the trailhead, long after I had abandoned any thought of returning home by dinner time. Note: the three of us accompanying Randy had miles earlier began to refer to him good-naturedly as “Quarter-Mile Randy.” No matter what landmark, trail juncture, or notable feature we approached, Randy assured us that it lay “just a quarter-mile” ahead! The official sunset that evening occurred at 6:41 PM; the orb sunk beneath the tree canopy and then the hills through which the creek flowed well before then. Randy led us below left as light waned. We had just a few minutes earlier circumvented the last of the impenetrable blowdowns (Randy skirting it below right). His muddy backside evidenced the slipping and sliding we had done throughout the day. We reached our vehicles as darkness enveloped us, a good seven-tenths of a mile from where Randy had told us just a quarter mile to go!

Big Tree

Big Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt elation at reaching our vehicles before resorting to our flashlights. I admit also to near-exhaustion from a hike that 30 years ago I would have simply considered a nice effort. We hiked October 30, just eight days before my scheduled full left shoulder replacement. I could neither employ my right arm for trekking pole support nor use that arm to steady myself along slippery, rugged, or steep sections. Upon reflection (as I draft this, I am two-and-a-half weeks post-surgery), I realize that for the first time in my adult life, I felt vulnerable, reaching near (exceeding?) my physical limitations. I believe that the stress of uncertainty in my physical constraints contributed to my exhaustion.

 

Belying my Impressions from Forty Years Ago

A New Understanding and Awakened Eyes

 

I served as Union Camp Corporation’s Alabama Land Manager 1981-85, responsible for 320,000 acres (500 square miles) of company-owned forestland in the state, two-thirds of it lying south of Alabama’s Black Belt, concentrated in a six-county area of south-central Alabama. Primarily coastal plain (piedmont for the acreage north of Montgomery), our lands were modestly hilly to somewhat flat. During those years, I developed an impression of Alabama’s forests and terrain far different from what I’ve experienced since retirement here in northern Alabama’s southern Appalachian Ridge and Valley, Cumberland Plateau, and Highland Rim regions. I’ve learned that these regions are deeply eroded (geologically), steep-sloped, and laced with numerous streams and drainages. I had carried with me since departing UCC for my doctoral studies in 1985 a picture of Alabama forests as gentle lands, typified by the coastal plain and piedmont.

I’ve learned since retiring that such is not the case in north Alabama. I’ve hiked extensively (and written about it in subsequent Posts) from Oak Mountain to Cheaha to DeSoto to Sand and Lookout Mountains to Monte Sano and elsewhere, that these ancient worn-down mountains, highlands, and plateaus can challenge me at this stage of life.

To the Big Tree

We encountered building-size limestone boulders early in our trek to the Big Tree. Pitted by chemical weathering, the boulders are remnant rimrock. We walked among such massive fractured and detached standing stones along most of the day’s journey. The rocks and these valleys and canyons are ancient. They came to us out of eternity…long after the youngest of us who have hiked to the Big Tree is gone, these landscape elements will still be here. Human time is nothing to a limestone boulder, and canyon, or the streams that reside here.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

Nor does the duration of a man’s life mean anything to canyon walls still anchored as basement rock. Cliffs bounded us as we progressed. Occasionally they dipped to streamside. These are not the coastal plain flatwoods of my forest industry days. I passed in muted respect for these sheltered canyons. In addition to vulnerable, I felt small and insignificant. As a former manager of vast acreages and a past university president, the essence and spirit of this wild country humbled me, shrunk me to a speck. At times I wanted to sink into a small stone niche to watch, listen, feel, and retreat from all but a solemn respect and awe for this place of wonder. I thought of John Muir.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

At times I sensed that I did not truly belong here, that I was the interloper.

The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.

Big Tree

 

This was not the stereotypical southern forests I remembered. Although I struggled with the rough topography, 12-year-old Jonathan (Randy’s grandson) moved effortlessly through the canyon. That’s him below right.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

In many places boulders had tumbled to streamside.

Big Tree

 

These two house-sized boulders framed our trailside view of the stream.

Big Tree

 

From Rock Barriers to Blowdown Impediments

I offer this photo as a segue, leading me from a focus on rocks to a complementary obstacle to our passage — blowdowns. The tree below has not fallen, but is leaning, eventually earth-bound, a future blowdown.

Big Tree

 

I know I climbed over, through, and around dozens of blowdowns, some massive-crowned beech, poplars, oaks, and others. I remind readers that trail maintenance within a designated Wilderness can be done only with raw muscle, hand tools, and hard labor. No chainsaws or motorized equipment. Imagine hiking several miles, carrying crosscut saws to remove this 30-inch diameter oak. On each encounter we chose among our alternatives: climb over, crawl under, or bushwhack around it.

Big Tree

 

I’ve observed often that life and death operate hand in hand in our forests. The old growth forest in the canyon heading up into the Big Tree’s canyon has recently (within the past 2-4 years) suffered a great deal of blowdown. Stasis does not exist in any living system. Tara is demonstrating quite well the arduous transit from one side of this beech blowdown to another. Now, picture a 70-year-old man with a bum shoulder scrambling (can one scramble in slow motion?) through this obstacle!

Big Tree

 

I regret that I did not capture more images of the frequent, haphazardly placed blowdowns.

 

The Destination

Old growth blowdown obstacles proved nearly impenetrable to my left-shoulder-impeded scrambling. Every time I celebrated a tortured passage, we encountered yet another. Our fearless leader finally said, “Just a quarter-mile to go.” A half-mile later, he said, “I see its top.” I limped into the canyon head, the Big Tree towering above the blind headwall. I sat in awe…resting and eating several granola bars.

As of 2021, the Alabama State Champion Tree Directory shows the Big Tree circumference at 263″ (diameter 6.98′); height at 172′; and crown spread at 102′. The Big Tree’s crown area covers 19,120 square feet, an area of 0.44 acres. Although the national champion yellow poplar scores higher in aggregate, ours certainly ranks among the country’s largest. The national winner, resident of Bedford County Virginia, boasts a 362″ circumference (9.60′ diameter); 139′ height; and 78′ crown spread. Ours is 33 feet taller and its crown spread reaches 24 feet wider. I found nothing on the internet in way of comparison photos. I can’t imagine another yellow poplar that reigns over such a uniquely isolated canyon head as the Big Tree, which singularly owns and commands its three-sided, protected fortress.

Jonathon’s position of recline upon reaching the Big Tree expresses my own feeling.

Big Tree

 

I could attempt to describe my sense of awe and humility standing beside the Big Tree, yet even if given a month, I would fall short of Muir’s words:

Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.

I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.

I stood there knowing that this first visit to this special place would be my last. Although tired and somewhat worried about our return to the vehicles, I tried to absorb the moment. I plan to carry the place with me all the days of my life. Remembering prior travels, I can close my eyes and see again the California coastal redwoods, the Yosemite sequoias, the Pacific rainforest Douglas fir, the deep cove remnant old growth hardwoods of the Great Smoky Mountains, among others. The Big Tree and its isolated canyon have likewise secured their pages in my tree-memory portfolio!

Big Tree

 

Fall colors enrich my memory.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

 

 

 

 

This online file photo from mid-winter more clearly expresses the tree’s full 172′ height.

Stock Photo from Web

 

The canyon alone, even were it absent the Big Tree, is a special niche.

Big Tree

 

Its waterfall suggests a deeper peace, reminds us of the continuing flow of life, and punctuates the land’s declaration that this is the end…and also the beginning. I did not want to leave, yet knew that I must.Big Tree

 

Leaving this sacred place, I wondered whether I would (or could) return. In fact, I was relieved that Randy elected to work our way back to the trailhead via a less harsh, yet longer return. I admittedly felt, for the first time in my life, uncertain whether I could retrace my inbound route with an impaired (and terribly painful) left shoulder, and gimpy knees (osteoarthritis). I felt a deep melancholy, a fear that my life-window for exploring Nature’s magic and mystery was closing. That the universe of new trails to journey was narrowing.

Big Tree

 

As darkness deepened, we exited the trail. I realized soberly that the day will come when I take my final hike…period, as we all must. Countering my brief deep woe when we began the long and uncertain return hike, I felt absolute joy at having visited the Big Tree and returned to my transportation.

Another Muir quote seems apt:

Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.

I am content that on this day I was truly in the world. I write and speak often that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. Such was the case October 30, 2021. Too often, people view a hike as a destination…a passage through the forest. For me, this entire journey served as a destination, each step ventured into and within a forest…not passed through the wildness. I view it through a lens of melancholy…a reminder that I have perhaps passed into a different stage of life…one less daring, gentler, and slowed to a deeper focus on the subtleties instead of the adventurous. I chalk this hike up as the last of a different kind of forest journey. From this day forward, I will change gears, reduce my expectations, and enjoy Nature at a different pace and a lower level of difficulty.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature rewards most handsomely when we hike into and within the forest, rather than through it.
  • Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike. John Muir.
  • Special places reside in our body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by 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 authoring 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 do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksBig Tree

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of firsthand 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 from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Pennsylvania’s Hickory Creek Wilderness

September 7, 2021, I hiked the Hickory Creek Wilderness in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in northwest Pennsylvania, about 40 miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships in second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests. The Wilderness forests are typical of the greater ANF across the Allegheny Plateau, second-growth and dominated by black cherry, red and sugar maple, mixed oaks, cucumber, white ash, white pine, and hemlock. Decades of high deer populations have eliminated most understory vegetation (excepting hay-scented and New York fern), including advanced tree regeneration, and evidence a four-to-five-foot browse line. This was my first return to the forest type of my doctoral field work in 25 years!

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

 

 

 

 

General Stand Condition

I spend a lot of time exploring bottomland hardwood forests near my home in northern Alabama, where understories are often dense with woody vegetation. The Hickory Creek forest floor istypically barren, carpeted fern-green on either side of the well-defined trail.

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

The climate is moist temperate, nearby Warren, PA averaging 47″ precipitation annually, evenly distributed across the seasons. Moss quickly colonizes fallen woody debris. Much cooler than northern Alabama, average July high temperature is 80 degrees; average January low is 15 degrees. Annual average snowfall is 100 inches. The same data points for Huntsville, Alabama are: 55″ precipitation; 90 July high; 30 January low; two inches of snow on average.

Hickory Creek

 

Species Composition

Black cherry is the signature species on these second growth Allegheny Hardwood forests. Black cherry, prized for its wood’s beauty and ease of working, is commercially in high demand. Nowhere else does this species grow better and of higher quality than on the Allegheny Plateau. The twin beauty below sports at least three 16-foot sawlogs below the first branch.

Hickory Creek

 

Red oaks (below) are common and, like the cherry above, grow straight and tall. Notice that the red oak (below left) is a twin; below right is a triple. Oaks often regenerate from stump or root sprouting. The twin and triplet suggest that the 90-or-so-year-ago harvest triggered sprouting from the stump of the harvested oak mother trees. Perhaps multiple sprouts generated…only two and three, respectively, survived nine decades.

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

The chestnut oak below is also a double. All the oaks pictured reach high into the canopy. Multiple-stemmed main canopy trees are not unusual in these Allegheny forests, nor for our own northern Alabama upland and bottomland oaks. I am not suggesting that regeneration by seed (acorn) does not occur, nor that multiple stems derive from only logged stumps. Picture a healthy oak seedling clipped by a browsing deer. Oak resprouts vigorously after herbivory. Likewise, imagine a vigorous seedling or sapling charred by fire, killed from the root collar, then aggressively sprouting as a multiple-stemmed individual reaching skyward. Importantly, all stems in such clusters, whether in year one after sprouting or at age 90-years, are vegetatively reproduced, genetically identical, biological twins, triplets, etc.

Hickory Creek

 

Cucumber tree (below) is a common, albeit minor, stand component.

Hickory Creek

 

I found an occasional white pine. This individual stands as a dominant member of the main canopy. Unlike the barren (fern-covered) understory elsewhere, white pine regeneration (10-15-year-old saplings) offers promise within seed-fall of the mother tree.

Hickory Creek

 

Nearby a small grove of hemlock likewise supports advanced hemlock regeneration. White pine and hemlock are shade tolerant when young, enabling advanced regeneration to patiently await crown openings or major forest disturbance.

Hickory Creek

 

Tree Abnormalities

Red maple is another common Allegheny Hardwood component. This individual exhibited multiple woodpecker wounds (below left). The two close-up wounds below right appear to be kept active year after year. The larger wound is attempting to callous, yet both openings show recent and ongoing wounding.

Hickory Creek

 

This tortured red maple, damaged severely as a sapling, manages to add enough annual wood to stay erect. Nature’s resilience, persistence, and adaptation never ceases to amaze me. This individual will never reach the main canopy (it occupies the intermediate canopy, the best it will ever do), nor will it live as long as its over-topping neighbors. However, it retains life and, were a major blowdown event to level the forest, this tree will produce stump sprouts that may surge ahead of its neighbor’s new shoots, perhaps assuring its next life could be lived in the dominant canopy. I’m assuming that this deformed iteration is owing to early physical damage and does not reflect some genetic predisposition to poor form.

Note once more the fern-dense forest floor, the result of decades of excessive deer browsing, which persists across the Allegheny Plateau.

Hickory Creek

 

Excessive Deer Browsing

I did find woody regeneration within the fern cover, apparently hidden from browsing deer beneath the winter snowpack. Below left is blueberry, below right red maple.

Hickory Creek

 

As well as red oak (left) and American beech (right).

Hickory Creek

 

Their presence offers little promise of escaping the deer; however, they do evidence that seed is falling, germinating, and finding suitable soil to at least begin life. Over-browsing has presented a regeneration problem in these forests since well before I conducted my doctoral research in the mid-1980s.

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every forest has its story, read from a snapshot in time, deciphered from the observer’s experience and understanding of Nature’s language.
  • Returning to a forest type I knew intimately a half century ago is akin to reminiscing with an old friend.
  • Special places, I’ve learned, reside deep in our mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by 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 authoring 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 do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHickory Creek

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of firsthand 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 from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Heart’s Content in NW Pennsylvania (Part One)

Venturing into a Pennsylvania Old Growth Forest

 

September 7, 2021 I hiked and explored the Heart’s Content Scenic Area, a 400-year-old remnant of the original forest that covered the Allegheny Plateau when European settlers arrived in the 18th Century, within the Allegheny National Forest of northwest Pennsylvania. This Post focuses on the origin and species composition of this ancient forest, which lies just forty miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships in the second-growth Allegheny Hardwoods forest type. I thrilled at returning to these Allegheny Hardwoods. I left a bit of my heart and soul here on the Allegheny Plateau, having spent many months establishing my research design, selecting suitable stands, and conducting extensive sampling and data collection.

I could have lingered far longer than just the morning on Septrember 7, but left time to hike in the nearby Hickory Creek Wilderness, which is second-growth Allegheny Hardwoods, just like my research sites. Because I want to include lots of photos, I won’t burden you with a great deal of text, yet, enough to make my points and offer pertinent observations and reflections.

 

Four-Century Relic Forest

 

Signage is excellent at this Registered Natural Landmark.

Heart's Content

 

Too often the forest products industry is painted with a broad brush, vilified by those who attribute forest destruction to greedy industrialists. Yet, 100 years ago, leaders in the local lumber industry donated the first 20-acre parcel of this relic forest for preservation. The lumbermen of that period did not strip the original forests as an act of intentional devastation. Instead, they were meeting the young country’s nearly insatiable demand for lumber, charcoal, chemicals, pulpwood, firewood, poles, masts, railroad ties, fenceposts, and…the product list goes on. I worked as a forester 1973-85 in the paper and allied products manufacturing industry. The company, Union Camp Corporation, espoused a deep land ethic and practiced responsible forest stewardship devoutly on its 2.1 million acres of company forests across the six southeastern states.

Heart's Content

 

Some unacquainted with the reality of ancient eastern hardwood forests may have an image of vast stands of towering trees with full canopies, dark and shaded understories, and the ground open and free of fallen trees. Such could not be further from the true condition. Picture instead, a major forest disturbance (e.g., widespread blowdown followed by fire) in the late 16th century. Seed-in-place, distributed seed from undisturbed stands nearby, and root and stump sprouting quickly populated the devastated forest. Over the subsequent few years, tens or even hundreds of thousands of seedlings and sprouts occupied each acre. Fierce competition for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight reduced stocking at a predictable pace, until at age 400 years, the stand contains, from my non-empirical observations, not much more than a dozen of the individual 400-year-old trees per acre. The stand today is a jumble of very large standing live trees, dead snags, and large quantities of dead and down woody debris (i.e. logs and tops in various stages of decay). Scattered crown openings left from fallen and dead standing trees yield a patchwork of deep shade, bright overhead lighting, and dappled forest floor sunlight. The Heart’s Content Natural Area is not an unbroken forest of large trees and deep shade.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Let’s look at how this forest may have developed over its first century after the major 16th century disturbance.

Ninety Years of Allegheny Hardwood Forest Renewal

Wisely, US Forest Service researchers began a long-term monitoring study on the Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Area, Allegheny National Forest, in 1928. Note: the entire photo sequence is courtesy of the US Forest Service (Copyright USFS). The forest scientists arranged and oversaw timber harvesting on an old growth forest that year. Cutting was in progress below left. The image below right (1929), taken from the same photo point at exactly the same angle, shows the site at the end of the first growing season post-harvest. Note the proliferation of young seedlings and sprouts.

Tionesta

 

At ages ten and twenty (1937 and 1947) the tens of thousands of stems per acre is transitioning from a nearly impenetrable thicket to a stand of saplings with spacing sufficient for a forester to walk through and measure individuals. I have said in prior Blog Posts that Nature is a meritocracy. The 1937 and 1947 survivors (I am estimating that less than five percent of the tree seedlings/sprouts in the 1929 stand remain at age 20) are stronger, faster growing individuals that simply outperformed those no longer extant. To the victors go the spoils. The competition occurs both within and between species. Affirmative action does not operate in natural systems. There are no offices of ecosystem equity to set quotos nor monitor diversity, inclusion, and equity. Species by species, Nature simply performs her relentless pursuit of sustainable growth and reproduction, generation to generation, among all living creatures…as she has operated for 3.7 billion years.

Tionesta

 

By ages 30 and 40 (1958 and 1968), the forest has changed remarkably, reaching a stage allowing us to more easily follow individual trees from one period to the next. Note the man standing to the left in the 1958 image. The large black cherry tree is reigning over its neighbors, capturing more and more site resources. There are those who today claim in speudo-scientific mainstream publications that the forest is a community of interconnected, caring, and collaborating trees and associated organisms. I encourage readers to carefully study specific stems in this sequence over time. I see no evidence that the survivors give a rip about the stems falling behind, weakening, dying, and tipping to the forest floor.

Tionesta

 

We are now at ages 56 and 60 (1984 and 1988). Our large black cherry continues to thrive; fewer and fewer stems remain. Our seedling thicket has reached a condition such that most casual hikers might think it an undisturbed forest.

Tionesta

 

By ages 70 and 80 (1998 and 2008), our dominant cherry is a regal denizen, a magnificent leader of this second growth forest. Dead and down woody debris signals that competition remains fierce. Note that even the distant forest now reveals fewer and fewer stems per acre.

TionestaTionesta

 

The most recent image (2018) shows a 90-year-old forest, one most observers would term mature. Striking a chord with me, these photos are a reminder that I conducted my doctoral research in 80-90-year-old second growth Allegheny hardwood stands, similar to this one, just 40-50 miles from Tionesta.

 

Perhaps there are other long term forest development photo-sequences in the eastern US. If so, I am unaware. I am grateful that Dr. Susan Stout, retired Project Leader at the USFS Warren Forestry Lab and Research Forester Emerita, made these photos available to me. I can think of no better way to impress upon people the dynamic nature of forest ecosystems. Many people, upon entering the 2018 forest, would think that such forests are static and have looked this way for centuries. Today, as I work with landowning entities of all sorts (e.g., the Alabama State Park System, North Alabama Land Trust, and Camp McDowell), I encourage those responsible to begin photo-sequencing special places on their properties.

Stand Composition after 400 Years

I cannot say what the 90-year-old Tionesta forest will look like 300 years from now. Rather than venture into such speculation, let’s examine the Heart’s Content forest as I found it in early September 2021. A hemlock and red oak (each at least three feet in diameter) stand shoulder to shoulder below left. The trees are solid, tall, regal, seeming permanent. What force could possibly topple them? These two ancient sentries may remain standing for decades or longer, yet, I know that even they will ultimately yield to some force of Nature. Nothing in our forests is static; nothing is permanent.

Signaling the impermanence of even the mighty, two like-sized decaying trunks lie side by side below right. Old growth is characterized by large trees and lots of dead and down woody debris, scattered openings, and multi-tiered canopies.

Heart's Content

 

Rather than offer an exhaustive commentary, I present here images of species within the protected forest. Hemlock and white pine account for more than half of the living, standing dead, and down trees…at least fifty percent of the species composition.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Red maple survives as scattered individuals. The white ash, while still holding its bark, is recently dead from emerald ash borer, a tragic development from New York south to Tennessee, now southward-bound for Alabama to infest and kill our green and white ash.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Thanks to interpretive signage, many of these images (yellow birch below left) come pre-labeled! Black birch stands below right.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Black cherry and American beech are common.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

I repeat this image from near the beginning of this Post, this time in simple black and white. It seems appropriate to portray an ancient forest this way, following the B&W images of the 90-year photo sequence.

Heart's Content

 

As I said earlier, I could have stayed the entire day, absorbing the essence of this ancient forest. I will draw this Post to closure with a few pertinent John Muir quotes:

Wilderness is a necessity… there must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations:

  • The best way to know a forest is to understand its origin and development.
  • Muir nailed it: The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHeart's Content

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

 

Nature Notations from an Early August Day of Biking and Hiking

Over the course of my senior executive years (reporting directly to the CEO at three universities; serving as CEO at four) I subscribed to a belief that four levels of fitness are essential to effectively serving, leading, living, and learning. I hold firmly to my conclusion that human capacity, performance, fulfillment, and enjoyment correlate with individual health and well-being…that maintaining fitness across all four dimensions enhances our ability to live fully:

    1. Mental – acuity and sharpness
    2. Physical – health and vitality
    3. Emotional – friends, families, colleagues
    4. Spiritual – embrace of a presence larger than self

I’ve carried these core beliefs and life-guidelines into retirement. In what way does this GBH Post relate to my four levels of fitness theme? August 3, 2021, I began my day walking 45 minutes with Judy (spouse) in our neighborhood as dawn broke. Check boxes 1-4. I’m most alert (mental) to the world around me when I’m outside, especially in the morning. Physical is obvious; emotional is quality time with Judy; and, nothing is more spiritual than welcoming a new day’s dawning.

After breakfast I loaded my bicycle, drove to Owens Cross Roads, parked at the trailhead just east of the Publix and began pedaling south at 7:30 AM (temperature ~67 degrees) on Big Cove Creek Greenway. I wanted to log at least 20 miles. The trail traces through mixed forest and meadow cover along Big Cove Creek on its journey toward the Flint River, which it enters in Hays Nature Preserve, a property of the Land Trust of North Alabama. The Greenway crosses the River on an elevated concrete and steel span. Once out of the Preserve the trail becomes the Flint River Greenway, continuing through meadows, forests, and part of the Hampton Cove Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, once again crossing the river before reaching the parking lot and trailhead at old highway 431.

Flint River

[Photos from Prior Visits]

 

I doubled back to the trailhead, then out and back to the Greenway’s end north of Route 28, then east on the Little Cove Creek Greenway along the north side of the Eastern Bypass out of Owens Crossroads, taking me five miles to the end, a place of beauty framed by meadows, farm fields, and surrounding hills standing up to 500 feet above the valley floor.

Hampton Cove

 

I returned to Publix, adding another out and back to the Hays Nature Preserve parking lot. Total mileage reached 22.3; riding goal accomplished!

Hays

[Photo from Prior Visit]

 

I feel a bit guilty about including the detail, yet, I would love to have had these combined route possibilities presented to me three years ago when seeking options upon arriving at my Madison retirement destination. So, I risk boring you for the cause of informing those with similar interest.

I captured the next five images of the Flint River just off the Flint River Greenway. Still carrying a good early August flow following nearly seven inches of July rains, the River passed from left to right, entertaining me with gurgles and soft ripples. Wild potato vine’s white flowers graced the shoreline, welcoming the morning sun.

Hays

 

A few hundred feet upstream, the river flows (again left to right) beyond a marshy area. Look hard to the far bank mid-photo. Squint if necessary to see a great blue heron. Okay, I can’t see it clearly either without telephoto help — scroll down.

Hays

 

These are magnificent birds, avatar and totem for my Dad, who left me with a deep and abiding love and respect for Nature that has only grown stronger since his death 26 years ago. See this three-minute read for the story of my spiritual connection to the great blue heron: http://stevejonesgbh.com/reflections/

Hays

 

Exchanging my biking clothes for my woods gear at my daughter’s nearby office restroom, I drove the three miles to the east entrance of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, also bordering the Flint River. I wandered into the bottomland hardwood forest and adjacent tupelo swamp. I had no purpose in mind other than, because I was already on that side of Huntsville, to see what secrets the forest might reveal in early August. Our southern forests never disappoint!

Persistent rains have kept the lower areas still saturated with lots of standing water in the tupelo stands, justifying my extra effort trudging through the forest in nearly knee-high rubber boots. I saw lots of wildlife sign (deer and raccoon tracks), but no actual forest critters except for a single squirrel. Okay, I suppose mosquitoes are critters…plentiful voracious critters intent upon finding nourishment at my expense!

I also wanted to see what mushroom varieties were prevalent. I found a scattering of aging chanterelles completing their cycle and recycling back into the forest litter. I spotted one grouping of oyster mushrooms past peak on a fallen log. Some remnant peppery milkcap were also losing their pure white luster, along with one fading bolete. Other fungi species tantalized me, reminding me of my far-too-inadequate mushroom knowledge.

The average daily high and low temperatures for early August are 91 and 70, above my preferred range for deep woods exploration. Looking ahead to more favorable conditions, I shall endeavor to return for another round of biking and hiking by mid-October, when the average temperatures are 76 and 52! Now that sounds inviting for cycling and hiking. In the meantime, I will restrict most of my summer Nature ramblings to our more accommodating morning weather.

 

Tree Form Oddities and Curiosities

Always alert for tree form oddities and curiosities, I encountered several worthy subjects in the bottomland forest. This warty hickory posed nicely, not at all embarrassed by its blemishes… cankers which I believe are of viral or fungal origin. Given the hordes of mosquitoes buzzing me, I imagined my face undergoing a similar transfiguration! The hickory’s dermal condition is clearly not fatal. The tree reaches high into the canopy and has a full crown. I wondered whether this individual is genetically predisposed to the culprit microorganism. Is this tree  particularly sensitive and reactive to infection? And, does the infection interfere in some way with the tree’s fecundity. As with so much that I uncover through my forest wanderings, I need to learn more. Is there a forest pathologist in the house?

 

Not far away, here’s another hickory with a single, and larger, canker.

 

These Sanctuary bottomlands suffer frequent winter floods and periodic summer flash floods, when the Flint River overtops its banks and rushes through the forest. Perhaps a particularly savage flood snapped a twin from this now 3-foot diameter sycamore decades ago opening a decay fungi infection court, gradually hollowing the entire remaining trunk, even as the tree attempts to callous over the old wounds…a losing endeavor. Regardless, a tree of considerable character with a great story to tell! Such trees bring to mind the opening lines of Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon the cloudy seas

I wonder what appearance this tree might project on such a harsh November night along the Flint River! What spirits inhabit these dark woods? Even if none are present, what might we imagine in the eerie darkness?

 

Could Ichabod Crane have experienced forests with trees such as these (What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path) when he spotted the headless horseman?

On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveler in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless! – but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!

Perhaps Mr. Crane felt the nighttime invisible fingers of Vitis (grapevine) air roots as his horse plodded unsteadily forward, sending shivers of fear deep into his soul.

 

I was there in midday light, yet, even then, my mind had little trouble imagining the gloaming amidst a November wind howling a torrent of darkness. I long ago discovered that a vivid imagination enhances vision. I have learned to employ five essential verbs, leading me to see far more than what otherwise presents. So much in Nature lies hidden in plain sight, including lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading. The five verbs — Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act:

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

Action for me may be as simple as drafting a relevant Blog Post to present a photo-narrative revealing and translating lessons from Nature to readers. Lessons that might further my 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.

Vegetative Elegance

A lifelong enthusiast for woodland spring wildflowers, I have grown to appreciate our summer beauties as well. I encountered abundant black-eyed Susans along Big Cove Creek Greenway. I could not resist photographing this wall of black, yellow, and green… an elegant border back-dropped by trees along the creek with old-field planted loblolly pine beyond. Would I have appreciated the scene without context…without knowing what lies immediately behind the elegant wall? I think not. Occasionally my leisure reading will take me to a location familiar to me, like Call of the Wild or White Fang. Anytime that I can personally authenticate content, the book more effectively draws me into its grasp. The trailside floral arrangement would still provide aesthetic reward, yet, knowing and understanding the integrated whole deepens my appreciation.

Hays

 

A  trailside wall of peppervine obscured what lay beyond in one spot near the Hays Preserve. I turned to iNaturalist for identification. From the Gardening Know How website: peppervine is a perennial climbing vine that is native to the lower 48 states and Puerto Rico. To some it may be known as “buckvine” and “cow itch” but to others it may be known as an expletive because it is very invasive due to its vigorous root system. Another source noted that many people confuse this ubiquitous vine with poison ivy — note the leaves-of-three arrangement.

Hays

 

Cardinal flower, a particularly showy Lobelia, ranks among my summer favorites. The Missouri Botanical Garden website offers informative insight: native perennial which typically grows in moist locations along streams, sloughs, springs, swamps and in low wooded areas. A somewhat short-lived, clump-forming perennial which features erect, terminal spikes of large, cardinal red flowers on unbranched, alternate-leafed stalks rising typically to a height of 2-3′ (infrequently to 4′). Tubular flowers are 2-lipped, with the three lobes of the lower lip appearing more prominent than the two lobes of the upper lip. Finely-toothed, lance-shaped, dark green leaves (to 4″ long). Late summer bloom period. Flowers are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, but not cardinals. 

I like the subtle humor of mentioning that the flower does not attract cardinals. The flower does not draw its name from the bird. Instead, both the bird and the flower owe their moniker to the exquisite red robes worn by members of the College of Cardinals within the Catholic Church. The Cardinals (princes of the blood) wear red to symbolize the blood of Christ.

 

Rich summer flower colors magnify my appreciation of time spent in Nature, whether pedaling along a shaded greenway or hiking deep into a bottomland hardwood forest. The vivid colors provide sufficient counter weight to heat, humidity, and hungry mosquitoes. Far too many people choose not to venture into Nature during our southern summers. I take a different tack, refusing to succumb to one season or another. I live in the south where summers can be hot, humid, and long. I accept that reality and embrace the season. I restrict my mid-summer wanderings (biking or hiking) to mornings, a far more agreeable time of day. Just as I chose to experience Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe throughout winters in Fairbanks, Alaska, I elect to embrace the heat and humidity of north Alabama summers.

There will come a day when my own seasons will come to an end. I don’t intend to depart regretting that I accepted sitting on the sidelines for the sake of my own shallow comfort. As we used to say, Man Up!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature wanderings enhance mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.
  • Nature fuels mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit
  • Every season of the year provides unique rewards.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHays

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

 

 

 

Contemplating a Video of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

June 4, 2021, retired videographer Bill Heslip and I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary with Margaret Anne Goldsmith and Marian Moore Lewis. Margaret Anne gifted the Sanctuary’s core 300-acres to the City of Huntsville in 2003. Marian authored her seminal book on the Sanctuary, Southern Sanctuary: A Naturalist’s Walk through through the Seasons (2015).

I’m standing at the entrance below with Marian (left) and Margaret Anne (right) on a prior visit.

Southern Sanctuary

 

See my previous Posts on the Sanctuary and its rich story of informed and responsible Earth stewardship:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/12/23/late-fall-at-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/25/early-february-spectacular-frosty-morning-sky-at-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

Read at least one of them to realize how much I care! And I care deeply that the story of the Sanctuary be chronicled through my Blog Posts, which I believe are necessary…but far short of sufficient. Likewise, Marian’s book is an extraordinary building block in the tale. Yet, it, too, falls short of completing the picture. The Huntsville City Archive of the Sanctuary includes a video of Margaret Anne relating the family’s history leading to the gift. Another critical piece of the puzzle. Bill and I want to add another facet of the story.

A Land Legacy Tale at the Intersection of Human and Natural History

Bill and I seek more, an element to complement the Land Legacy Story. We envision a crisp, state of the art video (13-18 minutes) that integrates the human and natural history with the science and sentiment, and bridges to tomorrow in a manner that informs, enlightens, and inspires future citizens into the next century and beyond!

I met Bill when I premiered his similarly-intentioned 13-minutes video on the Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve during my spring 2021 University of Alabama in Huntsville Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course on the Land Trust of North Alabama:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2HIq_ygJvY

Bill is discussing the video project with Margaret Anne and Marian below.

 

 

Glory Under the Firmament

 

Margaret Anne recently communicated her gift-motivation:

Philanthropy is a concept I learned from our ancestors who came to America as immigrants and worked hard and prospered.  They believed in the importance of giving back to the community that had welcomed them and did so through gifts of their assets and service.  I wanted to honor our ancestors and to continue our tradition of family philanthropy in Huntsville with a gift in their name.

The Sanctuary is a place of naturalized beauty and magic. I say naturalized because the pond below was a borrow pit, excavated for gravel and sand for nearby road construction 85 years ago. The reflected sky doesn’t care whether the pond is natural or naturalized!

 

I find absolute fascination and reward in sky-gazing, with or without a pond surface to reflect it. Please ignore the blue dot, a phenomenon of my camera. I suppose there is a fix, but I have not pursued.

 

I’ve grown to accept (and celebrate) that wildness is wildness, whether in its raw natural state, or transformed, tamed, and domesticated land naturalized with protection, care, and stewardship over time. Margaret Anne has translated motivation to action in a way that will keep giving deep (perpetually) into the future:

In major cities around the world, it has been important to include urban oases, parks and green space as development occurs, well known is New York’s Central Park. Setting aside parks can only be accomplished prior to development.  Waiting until development begins is too late. I believe that it is the responsibility of cities and urban planners to require developers to set aside parks and green space. If there are no city requirements, I believe it is the responsibility of developers to include public park areas in their developments.

With Margaret Anne’s property donation, wildness is now assured and the future will bear the fruit of the Sanctuary gift long after Margaret Anne reunites with her ancestors:

As the years pass, the Sanctuary will continue to develop and provide an outdoor classroom for students from our schools and universities to explore and be inspired to write poetry and stories, create fine art and music, and conduct scientific research. The Sanctuary, never static, will be a place ever changing, transforming to the needs of the future. As for me, it is my hope that one day when I meet our ancestors, I will be able to thank them and say, “as you planted for others, I have continued our family tradition of planting for our community and its citizens of tomorrow.”

I once wagered with friends who challenged me to incorporate a truism I often quoted into an interview I was about to have with a local TV news crew: People don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care. I won the small bet. I love the axiom because I believe in it so deeply, and have so often seen it in action. Margaret Anne (and her forebears) cares!

Animal Life Abounds

 

She expressed recently, Today, 18 years later, the Sanctuary has developed as I had originally envisioned as a wildlife oasis, a refreshing reprieve from city life and the subdivisions and commercial developments that now surround it.

Marian spotted three common water snakes on an old log under a concrete and steel footbridge, one heavy and sturdy enough to withstand the periodic rampages of the Flint River.

 

Marian photographed this black swallowtail as we hiked.

 

She’s also credited with this blue dasher dragonfly (left) and jewelwing damselfly (right).

 

Likewise, Marian managed to bring this osprey in close with her telephoto lens. We watched the bird circle multiple times over the lake off-property near the Sanctuary entrance, stooping twice into the water. We could not discern whether the dives had been productive. We also viewed a great blue heron standing along the shoreline, then rising to fly into the Sanctuary.

 

Tree Form Curiosities

 

I am always alert for odd tree forms. Many people unacquainted with Nature’s ways picture our sylvan friends with vertical stems reaching skyward. Such vertical orientation may have been the germinating seed’s intent, but Nature’s various forces bend, distort, and break the growing shoot. The tree, hard-wired to contend variously with such stressors, assumes patterns of growth that I find worthy of contemplation, understanding, and appreciation. These two water oaks tell a story of life complicated by physical forces of one form or another.

 

Bill is admiring this American beech that had at some point corrected its vertical course following an injury bending it at two-feet above ground. At the place of injury the beech launched a side shoot that now grows alongside the main stem. We marveled at the thick moss draping the trunk and its smaller moss-free side stem.

 

We likewise stopped to examine and photograph this three-pronged sweetgum, also draped with tree moss. There are those who would consider this an Indian marker tree. However, the sweetgum is growing in a forest stand that regenerated naturally on an abandoned agricultural field at least 75 years after Native American habitation. The tuning fork tree form is natural.

 

Special Magic of Flowers and Moss

 

I have been a spring (and early summer) wildflower enthusiast since my freshman-year-of-college systematic botany course with its spring semester field lab focusing on the spring ephemerals. We all enjoyed seeing this ruella wild petunia.

 

 

 

 

And as I’ve matured in retirement to learning more about our complex forest ecosystems, I’ve expanded my interests to pay much more attention to mosses, lichens, ferns, and fungi. This moss-adorned long-dead branch is worthy of art gallery enshrinement.

 

Closing Comments

 

June 26, 2021, Bill and I returned to the Sanctuary to video-interview Marian; weeks later we likewise interviewed Margaret Anne at her office in downtown Huntsville.

 

Bill and I are eager to create our video and contribute it to the archive that completes the Land Legacy Story that is the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. Our project may take another year of production. I plan to focus a Great Blue Heron Blog Post on its premier showing.

 

I love constructing these Land Legacy Tales that explore the intersection of human and natural history, developing the compelling case for informed and responsible Earth stewardship!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every parcel of land, including the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, has a legacy story to tell.
  • Such preserved natural places enrich citizens’ lives.
  • I applaud all nature enthusiasts who practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship. 

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.

 

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve: The Intersection of Human and Natural History

April 3, 2021 I revisited Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, just east of Huntsville, Alabama (USA). See my November 28, 2019 Great Blue Heron Blog Post for previous reflections: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/28/happy-thanksgiving-chapman-mountain-nature-preserves-terry-big-tree-trail/

And my June 16 Post about the fierce competition for canopy space within the Chapman Mountain forests: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/06/16/spring-visit-to-chapman-mountain-nature-preserve-the-intersection-of-human-and-natural-history/

From the Land Trust of North Alabama website: Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve is a 472 acre property located just to the east of Huntsville on HWY 72. While we have plans for 10 miles of trails, a little over 3 miles are currently open and ready to explore. Like all of our public preserves, Chapman Mountain is open dawn to dusk and access is free. These trails are not just for hiking though. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are also welcome and an 18-hole disc golf course is now open to play.

With this current Post, I offer reflections on the interplay of natural and human history on this, and nearly every forested property in northern Alabama. From an interpretive sign along the Terry Trail:

Along the trail you may notice an assortment of abandoned objects, from rusted metal waste, discarded household and farm items to an old car. We have chosen to leave these reminders of the history of this land, which was previously a working farm. Parts of the Terry Trail follow an old farm access road and the preserve includes remnants of an old homestead and barn. Use your imagination to visualize what this area may have looked like in the past and what it may look like in the future. Nature will continue to slowly change this site until one day these objects and this site’s history will no longer be apparent.

Native Americans occupied (extensive impact) the entire eastern US for at least 12,000 years prior to European settlement. Over the past 200 years, the European newcomers left the mark of their intensive management and settlement. So, picture as recently as 50 years ago a working farm, on-site residents, tilled land, pasture, and woodlots.

Interaction of Human and Natural History

 

Across the parking lot from the trailheads, planted loblolly pine trees shelter the 18-hole disc golf course. The flat land had been tilled until tree planting. The evidence is clear. No understory of ground vegetation and brush. No sub-canopy of hardwood saplings and poles. The stand is pure, even-aged loblolly pine. Some day I will extract an increment core to determine the year of planting (i.e. age).

Chapman Mountain

 

 

Within the current forest this stone wall perhaps served one or more of several purposes:

  • Separated adjoining pastures
  • Divided pasture from cropland or garden
  • Resulted from stacking field stones removed from tilled land or improved pasture

No matter its intended function, the wall will outlast all of us, and in the meantime serve to memorialize the coarse hands and hard labor of those who built the wall. For those of us today who labor at our keyboards, what will be the physical manifestation of our work? I doubt that we will develop calloused fingertips or even a sun-blistered neck!

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

This now-massive American beech germinated from a beech nut that some squirrel, during the active days of the farm, cached among the stacked stones and failed to rediscover and consume. The beech grew for many years before the managed lands on either side of the wall reverted to forest cover. Its neighbors are younger by decades. The beech tree did not grow alone and without company. The huge spiral of dead grapevine grew tall with the beech, and has now reached beyond its terminal age, still weakly vertical and doomed within just a few years to finding home in decay on the forest floor. To every thing there is a season, whether grapevine or beech tree. A dead stem of unidentified hardwood species stands to the right of the beech in this image. I wonder how many Terry Trail hikers notice and appreciate the unique beauty of this trio? I see it as a sculpture, a work of art rich with its own legible historic context and story.

Chapman Mountain

 

Below left the Terry Trail diverges to the left. An old farm access road extends straight from the photo point. Oh, the stories it might tell! I’m reminded of the jungle-covered Mayan cities, almost invisible to casual observers. I wonder were modern humans to disappear from our fine planet today, would the evidence of our existence be as hard to discern 1,300 years hence? Interstate 65 passes just 15 miles west of Huntsville. What could Nature accomplish with that 300-foot wide right of way over 13 centuries of abandonment? How long do asphalt, concrete, and steel persist without ongoing maintenance? How long before mowed shoulders and medium strips revert to deep forest? How long until Central Park consumes all of Manhattan Island? The narrow abandoned dirt road below is already nearly invisible to those who do not speak the language of reading the landscape.

Chapman Mountain

 

 

Marie Bostic, Executive Director of the Trust, tells me that nearly every Land Trust of North Alabama preserve carries a story of at least one on-site still. This side trail leads to a spring head where the old still is rumored to have provided the homestead residents with the vital natural medicine. Distillation has rewarded civilized humans for at least 1,000 years:

The origin of whiskey began over 1000 years ago when distillation made the migration from mainland Europe into Scotland and Ireland via traveling monks. The Scottish and Irish monasteries, lacking the vineyards and grapes of the continent, turned to fermenting grain mash, resulting in the first distillations of modern whisky (Online from Bottleneck Management).

Why should the homesteaders on Chapman Mountain be deprived of the golden elixir?!

Chapman Mountain

 

Trees have been eating barbed wired since the fencing breakthrough first received a patent in 1874. Nail or staple a wire to a living tree…and watch the tree inexorably consume the wire. This fence-eating oak is along an old fence line at the preserve. I frequently find long-abandoned wire fences across northern Alabama, cutting across what many would consider an undisturbed forest.

Chapman Mountain

 

I normally like to see old trash removed from recreational land. However, I applaud the Land Trust for preserving the very real evidence of wildland domestication to tell the story of past land use. Nature is the ultimate healer. She will eventually erase the direct evidence. The old forest access road will meld into the forest. Even the old automobile will rust into oblivion. Only the rock fence will withstand centuries, (perhaps millennia) of weathering.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

I have made reading the forested landscape one of my focal points for my wanderings and then writing these subsequent blog posts. I’ve said often that every tree, every forested parcel, and every landscape has a story to tell. I am intent upon learning more about the language Nature employs to leave her messages. Here I remind you of my five essential verbs.

  1. Believe — I know the story is there; I believe that it is written in the forest.
  2. Look — I cannot walk blindly and distractedly through the forest; I must look intently and deeply. The truth will not leap from the underbrush.
  3. See — I must look deeply enough to see; to see the story Nature tells…and keeps hidden in plain sight.
  4. Feel — I insist upon seeing clearly enough to evoke my own feelings of passion for place and everyday Nature.
  5. Act — My passion needs to be intense enough to spur action: my writing, speaking, and doing what is necessary to promote informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Rarely are our north Alabama forests untrammeled by the hand of man.
  • Today’s forests tell the story of past use, particularly the influence of post-European attempts at domestication.
  • Understanding the forest past adds to my Nature inspiration and appreciation.

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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksChapman Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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.