Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Fall Magic

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

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

May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

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

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

May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Carson said of the National Wildlife Refuge symbol:

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Here are four powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

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

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

 

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

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

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