Brush Creek Park in Beaver County Pennsylvania

May 23, 2021, I visited Beaver County Pennsylvania’s Brush Creek Park with my son (Matt) and grandson (Nathan). We hiked the 3.5-mile loop trail, viewing a dynamic forest populated with species familiar to my early-career forestry practice, teaching, and research days.

 

The only covered bridge in Beaver County, Brush Creek Park’s iconic wooden structure reaches across the creek. I am a lifelong fan of such bridges… their aesthetic elegance, the sound of footfalls echoing within their dry, protected shade, and the special nature of wood, the substance of our native trees. Carbon storage in service to pedestrian, horse, and cart traffic!

 

The trail transected much of the Park property, extending from approximately 900-feet elevation creekside to 1,150 at its highpoint. The trail is wide, evenly graded, and generally smooth. The lower-slope mixed hardwood forest is dominated by black cherry, mixed oaks, hickory, and maples. I love the meandering path through the woods. I felt a bit of melancholy as I fell behind the two generations surging ahead. Sure, I attributed my trailing, in part, to stopping to capture images. Yet, I knew another cause to be aging knees and a more faltering sure-footedness. The melancholy came with recalling years ago that it was I who slowed my pace for Matt to keep up, and occasionally offered a hand or even a shoulder-perch to traverse a similar trail. The Brush Creek Trail completed a loop, not unlike life itself which navigates its own full circuit.

 

The foot-slope soils are deep, fertile, and moisture-rich. I marveled at the massive northern red oak we encountered!

 

I conducted my doctoral research on the black cherry dominated Allegheny Hardwood forests of north-central and northwest Pennsylvania. Here in Beaver County I was at the periphery of the species’ core range, where it excels in growth, form, and value like no other place. Sure, we have black cherry in northern Alabama, but it is more scrub-like and of poor commercial value. My heart rate elevated to be back in black cherry’s preferred range. I suppose to readers who do not share my forestry roots, my emotion- and sentiment-connection to an individual tree species may seem odd. I had not given this near-spiritual relationship much thought prior to drafting this Post. I now see a future Post focusing on this special attraction to black cherry.

 

The trail crosses numerous wet weather drains protected from foot traffic by some well-designed and sturdily-constructed foot bridges.

 

Sugar maple and black cherry stand shoulder to shoulder, 12 and 18-inches diameter, respectively (below left). Black cherry is shade intolerant, flourishing only when its crown reaches into the main canopy. Sugar maple tolerates shade, waiting patiently if necessary in the mid-canopy for some perturbation to free space above. The two crowns bear witness to the unique personalities of black cherry and sugar maple (below right). The black cherry resides in a canopy-dominant position (below right it is the left of the two stems). The sugar maple crown bends out to the photo’s right, most of its crown under the cherry’s full-sunlight position above it.

 

The sugar maple is patient, in large measure, because it is hard-wired to anticipate that its companion species will eventually fade. The black cherry above it may one day suffer the fate of this fallen black cherry, caught by its sturdy hickory neighbor. Somewhere above the fallen denizen a crown opening will soon fill-in, perhaps by a patient sugar maple below it.

Senior Forest Citizens and Tree Form Oddities

 

At creekside we found two ancient sugar maples, both large and coarse. I’m guessing that they have stood sentry by the creek for at least two centuries.

 

This old basswood likewise stands bankside at Brush Creek. These senior citizens, whether basswood or sugar maple, evidence the same coarse, wizened appearance, commanding deep respect and reverence from tree people like me. I felt moved to offer a silent salute and quiet moment of reflection.

 

Life at bankside can be wrought with peril. These three intrepid souls hang on as periodic flooding erodes their perch. They will eventually transition from shoreline shade generators to woody stream debris. Life, whether human or tree, travels full circle with time.

 

Black locust is a pioneer species across its range, colonizing disturbed areas with the first advance of woody species. The woodland we hiked still carries black locust relicts from past clearing, abandonment, and forest regeneration. Among many others we found these two locust skeletons. The remaining mixed species arrived and flourished in the second wave of tree conquest. The locust held on for as long as we can expect of a short-lived pioneer species. It served its purpose… and will once again be prepared to fulfill its mission if and when the current forest suffers some major disturbance.

 

Sweeping change is, in fact, occurring. The emerald ash borer has already swept white ash from the Park. Bark is sloughing from the 18-inch ash (below left). A canopy void exists (below right) where its crown has shed leaves, twigs, and branches. Once more, the cycle spins.

 

The borer’s larvae leave excavated galleries as they eat the living cambium beneath the bark. I mourn the loss of our white and green ashes as this introduced insect pest sweeps inexorably southward toward our Alabama forests. Our eastern USA hardwoods have suffered immeasurably from chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease, eliminating two foundation hardwood species. We now face a similar fate for our ashes. Nature will fill the void with other native species, but oh the price we pay for such devastating introduced insects and diseases.

 

Intersection of Human and Natural History

 

At the trail’s highest reach we discovered this stone foundation that I suppose housed former residents from the days when the property was part of a working enterprise composed of cropland, pasture, and woodlots. Ah, if only these stones and the trees could talk! I’ve said often that every parcel, stand, and tree has a story to tell, enriched at the intersection of human and natural history.

 

The bridge and its stone foundation likewise tell a story and, probably hold some secrets. Now, courtesy of a three-generation hike, Nathan has a story to share and perhaps lead a similar hike with a fourth generation…and beyond.

 

I am grateful for the chance to visit yet another special place…with special people.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature and our own lives move in circles and cycles… some stirring melancholy.
  • I embrace my mission to share Nature and her tales with family… and beyond.
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and teaches lessons for life and living.

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 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.

Evitts Creek Three Ponds

I admit to a decades-long Nature-love-affair with West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness and Wyoming’s Teton Mountains, among other sweet spots. Although not rising to love-affair status, my relationship to a handful of other places rates as lifelong friendships. I recall fishing with Dad at Evitts Creek Ponds at pre-school age some 65 years ago. I revisited the ponds May 24, 2021, stirring a few vivid memories and forcing me to discern changes from long ago. Spring 1970 my Systematic Botany lab traveled several times to the ponds in search of spring ephemerals as the season progressed from winter dormancy to a succession of species flowering before the mid-May semester close.

Three Ponds

 

My History with the Three Ponds

I left western Maryland to complete undergraduate studies out of state in late summer 1971, returning occasionally over the years to visit family and friends. When visits overlapped with spring wildflower season I would visit the three ponds. I believe that my May 2021 hike followed a two decade absence from the property. Once I entered the higher education senior administrative ranks (president at four different universities), I drifted professionally from my natural resources roots. Retirement has blessedly returned me to my passion-zone for Nature-Inspired Life and Living, releasing me from the distraction of business back at the respective university. I am now free of that burden. I can savor and relish total immersion in whatever natural area I visit, hence my celebration at returning to the three ponds, even with persistent rain that morning.

I’ll guide you across the diverse sites and soils I traversed to illustrate why professor Glenn O. Workman (Doc) brought his students here. We’ll begin with the location, oriented NE to SW along the left bank of Evitts Creek (Google Map aerial view): https://www.google.com/maps/@39.662306,-78.717083,663m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en-US

I’ve been unable to ferret the story explaining what prompted this DNR/Soil Conservation Project prior to the days of my youth. The mowed berm of the ponds (below left; view from the first pond to the SW) strikes me as little changed from my earliest fishing visits. I recall fishing along the hillside shoreline (below right), which I remember having far less forest and brush cover.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Below left is the view to the NE from the second pond. I do not remember the creekside border of trees (center left of that view). The 18-inch-long snapping turtle (below right) cruised along the surface of the third pond. I did not capture a clear image of the several hefty largemouth bass I saw as I hiked past the ponds.

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fields and pond margins provided conditions for early spring meadow habitat flowers, all distinct from what Doc knew we would find blooming within the forests.

The Forest

A small stream (likely seasonal) entered the southwest corner of the third pond. This leaning sycamore stands just 40 feet from its channel on rich alluvial soil. The sylvan hollow adjacent to the drainage area, with high overhead canopy and deep shade likewise harbored its own set of spring ephemerals for our course lab visits, to include trilliums, trout lily, bluebells, and other species common to moist, rich, and sheltered sites. Speaking of shelter, I made it on my exit from the woods to the tree’s protective overhanging trunk (below right) just as a heavy shower arrived. I enjoyed the rain-show there for 10-15 minutes.

Three Ponds

 

A 24-inch diameter white oak with its mossy trunk stood in a draw (see the leafy debris to its left from a recent freshet) entering the small stream from the east. The perspective below right of the same tree illustrates the slope lifting away convexly (from right to left) to the north. The slope therefore faces to the south (a south aspect), a hotter and drier slope position, less favorable to tree growth, particularly on the shaley soils here in Allegany County.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

I followed the slope to the ridge top running east/west south of the ponds. I came across a hickory tree (below left) eager to point the way to a destination undisclosed to us human travelers. An Indian Marker Tree — no. Perhaps it is a tree-spirit marker tree? I like that mystical (and mythical) suggestion. Nearby, the chestnut oak (below right), just 10-12 inches in  diameter, has the most deeply furrowed bark I have ever seen. Like some small dogs I have met, this tree’s bark stands out from its peers! These two trees are certainly unique…but why? Why is a hickory pointing to the right on my Blog Post page? Why does this chestnut oak have such a deeply furrowed brow? I can only surmise. Rather than I surmising for you, I suggest that you put your own imagination to work. I say often that every parcel of land…every tree…has a story to tell. What is your story for these two forest denizens?

Three Ponds

 

Traipsing up the convex south-facing slope, I saw clear evidence of its xeric nature. Stocking (the density of trees per acres) declined; heights shortened; species composition shifted to predominantly white and chestnut oaks;  mosses and lichens increasingly covered the forest floor.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Lichens and mosses flourished in cushiony mounds.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Lowbush blueberry and rattlesnake weed likewise are quite content on these excessively well-drained, inherently low fertility upper west- and south-facing slopes.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Yet, even these relatively poor sites evidence the continuing cycle of life and death. The wood ear mushrooms (below left) are the fruiting bodies of the fungi consuming the dead branch lying on the forest floor. I have since found enough wood ear mushrooms here in Alabama to attest to their culinary attributes. Wood peckers are foraging for beetle larvae on the downed Virginia pine stem below right.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Among the prior autumn’s leaf litter, the flowers of an oak root parasite (AKA cancer root, bear corn, squaw root) are sprouting.

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

As I said earlier in the Post, as a youngster I would walk along and fish from the shear far-side of the ponds. I stayed on the Evitts Creek side on this visit for two reasons. I believe that the brush and tree growth is more of a thicket than it was then. Secondly, I am far less sure-footed and nimble now! I am not in the mood to tumble into the drink!

Three Ponds

 

I owe much of my thirst for Nature-knowledge to Doc Workman, who remains my hero and career-long mentor. We have stayed close over the fifty-plus years since that systematic botany course. A few years ago Judy and I helped endow a named Allegany College of Maryland forestry scholarship in his honor. I urge readers to consider contributing to the endowed fund.

Charitable donations can be made to the Dr. Glenn O. Workman, Jr. Scholarship with checks made payable to the Allegany College of Maryland Foundation and mailed to the following address:

      Allegany College of Maryland Foundation, Inc.

      12401 Willowbrook Road, SE

      Cumberland, MD  21502

I have occasionally used this axiom over my career: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Doc cared…and that made all the difference in the world…for me and for those I’ve touched over my own career! Help me carry Doc’s legacy forward through the annual scholarship.

 

I view Doc through both the lens of an 18-year-old forestry freshman and the eyes of a former president of four universities. Life has been kind to me by placing me with mentors who mattered…and who cared.

 

See my November 2017 Post paying tribute to Doc: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/11/28/sowing-seeds-tomorrow/

Again, Please consider furthering Doc’s legacy. I now see a man in his low 90s, yet, I will always remember and salute the 40-year-old dynamo who provided wind beneath my wings.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We all are time travelers; I’ve covered six and one-half decades since my first visit to this place of deep Nature-memories.
  • I relish stirring fond ancient recollections in places of long ago familiarity. 
  • Perhaps my words and photos will inspire others to visit and reflect upon such places. 

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 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.

 

 

Rocky Gap State Park Lake Habeeb Trail

Visiting with family occasionally takes me back to my central Appalachian hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. While there, regardless of season, I strive to visit one or more of my old Nature-haunts. May 25, 2021 I hiked the Lake Habeeb Trail at Rocky Gap State Park. Here are three prior Blog Posts from my September 2020 Rocky Gap wanderings:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/15/a-tough-hike-and-deep-reward-at-rocky-gap-state-park-in-western-maryland/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/21/september-2020-rocky-gap-state-park-central-appalachian-fall-flowers-ferns-and-fungi/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/28/the-intersection-of-human-and-natural-history-a-1766-survey-marker-above-rocky-gap-state-park/

There is something about retracing some of my younger-day outdoor adventures that fills my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.

Home Sweet Home

 

I begin with the these two photographs from a prior visit. A towering yellow poplar (below left) on the short hike with Alabama grandsons Sam and Jack up to the actual Rocky Gap overlook. I did not retrace that trail during my recent late May journey.

Rocky Gap

 

The 5.3-mile Lake Trail circuited the lake shore at approximately 1,100-feet elevation. Both scenes below view WNW to the nearly 2,200-foot Evitts Mountain. This is the scenery of my youth. I am a child of those ancient mountains…mountains whose spine reaches southwest into Alabama, where I now reside.

 

The memory-echoes from my youth reverberate deep within me when I range into our Alabama Appalachians. And, I literally trembled circuiting Lake Habeeb. Nature, especially home-nature, lifts me into a zone of comfort, peace, and serenity.

Trees

 

Allow me to introduce you to some of my old friends, tree species that welcome my return. They are not foreign to Alabama, yet they are far more common to my home region. Eastern hemlock grows abundantly streamside. I encountered it every time that the trail crossed a drainage way, with or without bridge crossing, along the route.

 

White pine is ubiquitous, along with Virginia and table mountain pines. Below left is an old agricultural field planted to white pine trailside. The close-up (right) is of white pine needles on a sapling growing along the western shoreline.

 

Sites along the circuit ranged from deep, moist, rich soils to shallow, shaley, xeric soils. Variability in site quality and species composition proved to be a constant. Always fascinated by tree form oddities and site variability, I regretted not allowing enough time to stroll more leisurely, to wander more purposely, and gather many more photographs. I could not resist spending a few minutes with this headless black cherry, arms raised high in praise and celebration. Of what I do not know. Black cherry on its favored soils and sites, can be a magnificent, high-quality timber tree, its thick straight trunks reaching well over a hundred feet skyward. This individual stands on a xeric upland among chestnut oak, a species common to these dry, nutritionally impoverished soils. Perhaps this denizen is simply celebrating life. What good does a forest citizen gain from a fat, straight trunk, with veneer quality logs? Is one such life more worthy than the other?

 

 

 

 

 

One need not have a doctoral degree in the relative site quality of soils derived from varying parent material, topography, and micro-climate to discern that this is a poor site, unfit for growing veneer quality black cherry!

 

For every excellent sites there are impoverished areas, often distributed predictably across a single property. The best sites in northern Alabama and in the western Maryland Appalachians are alluvial zones and lower concave east and north facing slopes.

 

Native Shrubs in Flower

 

One of my lifetime favorites, mountain laurel, which ranges abundantly into northern Alabama, greeted me in soon-to-be full flower.

 

Winter berry likewise was entering its peak season. Not as showy as the laurel, winter berry still presented a strong statement along the way.

 

Blackberry competed for attention in forest edge zones receiving full sunlight. Were I to take this hike a couple of weeks later I might want to carry a basket for collecting its ripe fruit.

 

Common hawthorn also demanded floral appreciation. Ironic that such a fragrant and showy flower should grace a tree intent up puncturing those getting close with its long sharp thorns.

 

Even without its flowers, the white mulberry I encountered stopped me mid-step with its glossy oddly-lobed fresh spring leaves.

 

My iNaturalist identified this red-bristly-stemmed vine as wineberry. I’ve always called this invasive woody plant Japanese raspberry. Its red stem and deeply crenulated foliar surface attract attention.

 

Spring Wildflowers

 

I found a few non-woody spring flowers worthy of mention. A favorite of mine, Jack-in-the-pulpit, makes my list, growing as abundantly and reliably in the mid-Atlantic states as here in northern Alabama.

 

 

 

Along marshy edges of Lake Habeeb, yellow iris was a real show-stopper!

 

Every wild place I visit poses a dilemma for me. For example, how can I condense a 5.3-mile hike into a single Blog Post? How do I distill the tremendous variety of plants, sites, vistas, and reflections into a compelling tale? I suppose the answer begins with the photographs I snapped, screened, culled, and ultimately retained. As I select and order them, I draw my own observations, reflections, and sentiments. All of that translates into the text you eventually read.

This final photo is the overarching view, capturing some of my hike and holding within it at a much smaller scale the elements of site, trees, shrubs, and flowers presented above.

 

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The Nature of my youth calls to me, and welcomes me back time and again.
  • The natural places of my younger years touch places deep within me.
  • Perhaps the strong homing is akin to what draws a salmon back to its birth headwaters. 

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 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.

 

 

 

The Intersection of Human and Natural History: A 1766 Survey Marker above Rocky Gap State Park

I’ve already published two Posts from my September 2020 hike at Maryland’s Rocky Gap State Park, one offering photos and reflections on the trees and woody plants I encountered en route to the summit of Evitts Mountain, and the second on early fall flowers, fungi, and ferns:

I’m focusing this third Post on the implications and relevance of the intersection of human and natural history represented at the summit by the Mason-Dixon Line. The British Crown directive to undertake a formal survey predates the American Revolution: In 1760, tired of border violence between the colonies’ settlers, the British crown demanded that the parties involved hold to an agreement reached in 1732. As part of Maryland and Pennsylvania’s adherence to this royal command, Mason and Dixon were asked to determine the exact whereabouts of the boundary between the two colonies. Though both colonies claimed the area between the 39th and 40th parallel, what is now referred to as the Mason-Dixon line finally settled the boundary at a northern latitude of 39 degrees and 43 minutes. The line was marked using stones, with Pennsylvania’s crest on one side and Maryland’s on the other. On October 18, 1767, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completed their survey of the boundary between the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania (History.com).

I crossed the Line as the Summit Trail crested Evitts Mountain (2,296′ elevation).  The trail at that point followed an old ridgetop dirt road. Just 200 feet beyond, a power transmission line, complete with large metal towers, crossed Evitts east/west…perpendicular to the ridge.

Rocky Gap

 

 

The Pennsylvania Center for the Book website (https://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/literary-cultural-heritage-map-pa/feature-articles/our-most-famous-border-mason-dixon-line) presents this West Virginia historical marker photo, with this caption: The text seems simple enough to understand. The marker stands to show where the North ends and the South starts. However, the story behind the boundary line is bitter, hostile and, at times, violent; and the story dates back to the mid-17th century.

Mason-Dixon Line Historical Marker

Photo Credit: JimmyWayne22 – flickr.com

 

Unlike that long ago survey venture, my hike did not lead through uncharted wilderness nor did I worry about hostile Indians. I carried a good map, a handheld compass, and a cell phone. Danger did not accompany me. Much has changed over the intervening 254 years since Mason and Dixon first ventured forth. I paused at the concrete monument (placed in 1927) to contemplate what those intrepid surveyors faced. They and their crew carried their surveying equipment, camp gear, and provisions for weeks at a time. The above referenced website cites many sources for readers who want the whole story. As so often is the case during my Nature wanderings, I wanted to sit quietly, willing the past to surface…to appear before me.

Rocky Gap

 

I admit to sitting long enough to catch my breath… and imagine the survey crew cresting the ridge in 1766. Because so-called civilization and more established modern habitation and communities existed well east of the Appalachians, I assumed that the crew had summited from the east. From the power line, I could see the Allegany Front 12-15 miles to the west, rising to nearly 2,900 feet. I wondered whether the intrepid surveyors dreaded those many more miles of wilderness, rugged terrain, and hostiles through which they must chart their never wavering progress. The brass plate above indicates that it marks a triangulation point — see the triangle. PENNMAR designates the state line and, hence, the Mason and Dixon line. The date (1927) is when the brass plate was scored and set.

Below left the concrete monument carries the date that Mason and Dixon surveyed across the ridge. I believe the 1902 date is when, 136 years later, crews set the monument.

Rocky Gap

 

Obvious to even an old forester, “M” faces the Maryland side of the line; “P” faces north into Pennsylvania. I left Maryland for my junior undergraduate year after my initial nearly 20 years living in Maryland; I subsequently spent nine years (1987-96) in Pennsylvania. The two states account for 42 percent of my life to-date. Seven years is the longest single stretch I’ve lived anywhere since…in southeastern Virginia. I’ve tallied 11 years in Alabama (1981-84; 1996-2001; and 2018-20). As I sat near the monument, my heart beat a little faster, feeling the pulse of home coursing through the veins of my youth. I recognized the early fall forest scents. I heard the echoes of long ago memories. I recalled learning about Mason and Dixon, the French and Indian War, George Washington’s western Maryland exploits, and other moments in history affecting these hills. I rested realizing the most pressing matter facing me was a slight worry that my knees would not appreciate the downhill trek ahead. These days, they are better at climbing than descending.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I also wondered how much more meaningful my sixth grade studies of local history might have been if we had made a day-journey up the trail to this very spot. Below left is the view to the west, the distant blue ridge marking the Allegany Front. Evitts Creek Valley lies below us where the fields are visible. I’m standing below right with the ridges of Green Ridge State Forest lying beyond to the east. The two surveyors had passed from the easternmost ridge, and then up and over the Allegany Front.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

One of the joys of hiking and exploring Nature is meeting other folks who enjoy a full measure of Nature’s healing and inspiring elixir. The young couple below joined me at the summit shortly after my respite at the monument. They hailed from southeastern Pennsylvania and were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. This was their first visit. I take comfort when I see young professionals drawing satisfaction and inspiration from Nature. I feel hope that the Nature bug is contagious, and that the Earth Stewardship ambition will extend far beyond my own brief tenure. I added their email address to my Blog Post distribution list. I hope they celebrate a bit more when they see their summit-contented faces!

Rocky Gap

 

As I explored the powerline right of way, I found a memorial complete with wooden cross, a few stones, a miniature American flag, a pink-billed hat, and some artifacts in memory of an unnamed person. I have no way to confirm my conclusion that someone who frequented the trail had requested of family that ashes be placed overlooking the valley to the west. I concur that such permanent location could be viewed as a special spiritual place — a sacred perch around which their spirit might soar and loved ones can feel the presence of the departed one. I share the sentiment. My current wishes are that some portion of my own ashes be spread over Dolly Sods Wilderness in the central plateau region of West Virginia. I fell in love with that harsh, remote, wilderness sitting at roughly 4,000 feet elevation. My connection to it is truly sacred. I sensed that the person memorialized atop Evitts is likewise connected there.

Rocky Gap

 

I made it back to Lake Habeeb without my knees failing, having recharged my Appalachian roots and renewed my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. Although John Muir wandered western mountains much younger and of greater grandeur than these old worn-down Appalachians, he captured a palpable sacred essence that coursed through my veins as I luxuriated in my hour atop Evitts:

Mountains throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeat of God.

Return to the Lake

 

No doubt in my mind, the lake is beautiful, yet nothing beats the quiet solitude and perspective from the summit. I’d like to revisit mid-winter, and enjoy an ice and snow covered panorama both lakeside and from the summit. Perhaps I can make that happen.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I could not have asked for a bluer sky… reflected from the lake surface… and serving as backdrop for a towering oak along the lake.

 

People often tell me they enjoy my photographs… as though I somehow manufacture the images from some otherwise barren spot. Truth is, Nature paints these magical scenes. All I do is enter Nature, transit a slice of wildness, seek and find Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, and snap a photo or two. Nature does the creative work. Because I know it is there, hidden in plain sight, my only task is to discover it, reveal it, and share it with readers.

I ponder what kind of images Mason and Dixon took home after their years-long surveying. Did they see the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe? Or was theirs an all-consuming ordeal, a terrifying-at-times venture, a treacherous expedition allowing little of the luxury afforded me as I hiked an old Jeep trail, then descended to my vehicle parked along a paved road, for my 20-minute drive back to family in Cumberland.

Mason and Dixon’s adventure constituted a gamble with life and death consequences. Had I been so inclined, I could have returned to my car, driven a mile (within the Park) to the resort casino, and gambled recreationally with odds of winning no better than theirs, but not rising to the level of life and death!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my late September hike to the ridgetop Mason-Dixon Line… lessons applicable to many of my Nature wanderings:

  • Today’s wild places intersect at the confluence of human and natural history
  • Like John Muir, I felt the “Mountains throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeat of God”

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksRocky Gap

 

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

September 2020 Rocky Gap State Park: Central Appalachian Fall Flowers, Ferns, and Fungi

September 26, 2020, I hiked the Rocky Gap State Park (ten miles east of my boyhood home in Cumberland, Maryland) Summit Trail, trekking from Lake Habeeb (1,150 feet elevation) to the summit of Evitts Mountain (2,296 feet) and return. See my earlier Post highlighting the forests and tree species I encountered and reflecting upon the Nature of the place that shaped and molded the man I am today: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/15/a-tough-hike-and-deep-reward-at-rocky-gap-state-park-in-western-maryland/

 

Early Fall Flowers

 

I developed this second Post from that strenuous six-hour hike in forests and terrain intimately familiar from five decades ago, and still-teaming with vivid memories and life-shaping experiences. I am and always will be a creature of place…place defined by forests, topography, seasonal flowers, understory perennial vegetation, fungi, and ferns. Consider this second Rocky Gap Post as a trip down Flora, Fungi, and Fern Lane.

Smartweed (Persicaria sp) is a non-showy genus that I’ve found everywhere I’ve resided, up and down the eastern edge of the US, including in Ohio, whose residents resent and find offense (I learned first-hand) at being referred to as “in the east.” They extended no forgiveness of my grave error even though I had just lived four years in far away Alaska. A matter of principal and pride I presume. Okay, I return from that “lesson learned” to Persicaria. Often, Wikipedia offers succinct plant summaries that are hard to resist employing in my Posts: Persicaria is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the knotweed family, Polygonaceae. Plants of the genus are known commonly as knotweeds or smartweeds. It has a cosmopolitan distribution, with species occurring nearly worldwide. 

Rocky Gap

 

Mile-a-minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata) is a cousin to smartweed, sharing the same genus. I should have expected other than good news when I saw that another name for this plant (a plant I could not recall previously seeing) is mile-a-minute weed! From the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health: Persicaria perfoliata is an herbaceous, annual vine that invades disturbed areas in Oregon and portions of the northeastern United States. The delicate stems are reddish, highly branched and covered with small, curved spines. Circular, leafy structures surround the stem at the base of the petioles. The alternate leaves are triangular, light green, 1-3 in. (2.5-7.6 cm) wide and barbed on the undersurface. Small, white, inconspicuous flowers. Fruit are present in mid-July through the first frost, are metallic blue and segmented with each segment containing a single black or reddish black seed. Persicaria perfoliata invades open disturbed areas such as fields, forest edges, roadsides, ditches and stream banks. Its rapid growth allows it to cover existing vegetation and restrict light availability, potentially killing plants below. Dense mats of Persicaria perfoliata can also restrict establishment of new vegetation. It is native to Eastern Asia and the Philippines and was introduced several times into the United States from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Perhaps I should have pulled the few individuals I encountered!

Rocky Gap

 

Neither did I remember prior interactions with bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia). Once again, Wikipedia offered the best (and briefest) plant-bio:  Solidago caesia, commonly named blue-stemmed goldenrod, wreath goldenrod, or woodland goldenrod, is a flowering plant native to North America. Whew, it is native! Its range extends from New England to the southern Appalachians. I noticed only two individuals of bluestem goldenrod.

Rocky Gap

 

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) proliferated along my entire route from lake to summit. I found a delightful online information source, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (declaring white snakeroot the October 2016 Weed of the Month):

Fall-blooming white snakeroot is that nondescript weed that has been inconspicuously growing in shady spots all spring and summer. You barely notice the one- to four-foot-tall plant with toothy, dark green leaves until suddenly—poof! It’s everywhere you turn, all abloom with fluffy white flowers. One of the last wild natives to flower, Ageratina altissima is a godsend to hungry insects like bees, moths, and flies furiously foraging before the weather turns cold and food becomes scarce.

After blooming, its seeds are dispersed primarily by wind, their fuzzy tails carrying them far and wide. The plant also spreads by rhizomes (underground stems), so you’re as likely to see a colony as a single specimen. Originally a woodland plant, white snakeroot is also perfectly at home in the sidewalks, vacant lots, and shady gardens of Brooklyn. Such a shame, in the context of my hike, to term this showy late summer bloomer a weed!

Rocky Gap

 

The meadow ground cover under the power line atop Evitts offered two exquisite early fall bloomers. Autumn hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) is yet another alien species. From Spotwild online: Hawkbit is a perennial plant species, widespread in its native range in Eurasia (from Europe east to western Siberia), and introduced in North America. The plant is sometimes called fall dandelion, because it is very similar to the common dandelion (one of the main differences being a branched stem with several capitula), but “yellow fields,” covered by this plant appear much later than dandelion’s, towards the autumn in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, unlike the mile-a-minute weed, this introduced species is not aggressive in wildland environments. I appreciated its brightness and embraced its beauty.

Rocky Gap

 

Common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), also known as butter and eggs and wild snapdragon, seemed so perfectly at home atop Evitts, a just reward for my efforts to summit. However, Wikipedia notes that Linaria vulgaris is a species of toadflax, native from Europe to Siberia and Central Asia. It has also been introduced and is now common in North America. The Montana Department of Agriculture devoted a brief video identifying this introduced species as an invasive noxious weed, aggressively populating grazing lands. I’ll stand by yellow toadflax as a welcome wildland immigrant to the central Appalachians. Perhaps I am bewitched by its early fall magnificence. I suppose one man’s trash (a Montana cattleman) is another man’s treasure (this old forester and lifelong Nature enthusiast).

Rocky Gap

 

I remain a bit uncertain as to what constitutes and rationalizes the terms native, invasive, noxious, introduced, etc. Think about the first images of Earth transmitted back to us from the earliest Apollo missions. Carl Sagan described our planet as a pale blue orb, a mote of dust in the vast darkness of space. All of the non-native plants I identified above are native to this pale blue orb. Consider the context John Muir offered 105 years ago in Travels in Alaska:

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

We humans, whether we choose to deny or accept it, are native as well. We are not separate from Nature. We are a species widely naturalized across six continents. As a matter of our global (natural) wanderings by land, air, and sea, we are distributing (intentionally or accidentally) species once restricted to distant corners of the planet. Is this dissemination somehow not natural simply because it is we humans who spread the seed? Whether Covid-19, kudzu, mile-a-minute weed, Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, the European rat, or smallpox, geographically isolated species are now globally distributed.

Other Ground-Level Vegetation

 

I have loved spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata; please don’t tell me that it, too, is an invasive!) since first seeing it many years ago.  Its year-round foliage, bi-color brilliance, and deep green are resplendent. Wikipedia: Chimaphila maculata is a small, perennial, evergreen herb native to eastern North America and Central America, from southern Quebec west to Illinois, and south to Florida and Panama.

Rocky Gap

 

And what a pleasant surprise to find a yellow-carpeted grove along the trail. Well-named, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) stood in solitary occupation of the understory, effectively claiming sole rights to early fall’s woodland hue. Goldenseal, also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, is a perennial herb in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native to southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. It may be distinguished by its thick, yellow knotted rootstock (Wikipedia). Like so many of our native plants, goldenseal has medicinal uses. From Mount Sinai online:

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most popular herbs in the United States, often combined with echinacea and sold to treat or prevent colds. But there is no evidence that it works. In fact, there is very little scientific evidence that goldenseal works to treat any condition. Nevertheless, goldenseal is often said to kill bacteria and is sometimes used to treat eye infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, canker sores, and vaginitis. A substance in goldenseal, called berberine, does kill some kinds of bacteria and fungus in test tube studies. But scientists do not know if goldenseal would kill any germs in people. Goldenseal is also popular because of a rumor that taking the herb can help block a positive test for illegal drugs. There is no evidence that it works, and several studies have reported that taking goldenseal does not change the results of a drug test.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

As with all of my Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts, I am simply hitting the highlights of what I noticed along the way. With the toadflax and goldenseal in particular, I wanted sit within the yellow or rest beside the toadflax lost in the moment… for hours on end. Absorb the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe via direct and prolonged contact.

Robert Frost nailed my sentiment and desire in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

A dinner with extended family back in Cumberland hurried me along, leaving the protracted woods-immersion for another day.

 

Fungi and Ferns

 

John Muir also known as “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks,” was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America (Wikipedia).

Just when I think I’ve offered an original thought on our place in Nature, I find that historical stalwarts like John Muir reached the same conclusion, often many years before I entered the world. Because my wildness wanderings today seek subtleties in Nature’s forms, functions, diversity, relationships, and even ironies, I have drifted far from my early career focus on commercially valuable merchantable trees. After all, I worked then for a forest products company… and fortunately, a firm with a strong land stewardship ethic, both professed and practiced. Now proceeding through my 70th year, I am paying more and more attention to not just flowers, but also to ferns and fungi… what Muir considered among the commonest of natural phenomena:

The natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural. Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen (My First Summer in the Sierra; John Muir 1911).

Although I stayed on the trail for most of my journey, I stayed alert for the marvelous and mysterious ferns and mushrooms within the adjacent forest.

Fungi

 

I’m learning more about mushrooms and the specific fungal organisms (now meriting their own fungi life Kingdom, along with Animals and Plants!) they represent. Earthball (Scleroderma sp.) struck me as other-worldly… scaly, patterned, with a peephole into a dark interior. I am uncertain about the species. Several references suggest a global distribution of members of this genus. The Fungus Fact Friday website refers to Scleroderma citrinum as a common earthball that appears in a variety of habitats around the world. The mushroom is one of the most often collected Scleroderma species, so one of its common names (mostly used in Europe) is “The Common Earthball.” S. citrinum has a couple other common names: “The Pigskin Poison Puffball” and the less common “Golden Scleroderma.” Both of these names refer to the mushroom’s outer surface, which is yellow-brown and has a scaly texture reminiscent of a football (American style, often called a “pigskin”). The mushroom’s thick warty outer skin makes it stand out among other earthballs and its interior that quickly turns blackish easily separates it from the true puffballs. I’ll stick with the generic earthball moniker.

Rocky Gap

 

I found a single clump of what iNaturalist identified as honey mushroom (Armillaria sp). Armillaria, is a genus of fungi that includes the A. mellea species known as honey fungi that live on trees and woody shrubs. It includes about 10 species formerly categorized summarily as A. mellea. Armillarias are long-lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the world (Wikipedia). I won’t attempt to narrow the identification to species. The internet is rich with information, both helpful and discouraging. Online videos with titles such as These honey mushrooms have three poisonous look-alikes, served as a signal of caution. I am comfortable for now to stick with honey mushroom.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I discovered only one patch of hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum sp). I believe the species below is Hydnum subolympicum (eastern North America’s hardwood-associated Hydnum species (MushroomExpert.com), very similar to the European Hydnum repandum, which is commonly known as the sweet tooth, wood hedgehog or hedgehog mushroom, is a basidiomycete fungus of the family Hydnaceae. First described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, it is the type species of the genus Hydnum (Wikipedia). MushroomExpert.com website notes: By current, DNA-informed definitions Hydnum repandum does not occur in North America, although the name has traditionally been used in North American field guides. Here’s a relevant source quote from the west coast pertaining to Hydnum sp: Mushrooms with teeth? As a matter of fact, yes. Nothing intimidating, mind you, but these mushrooms do have small toothlike projections rather than gills on their lower cap surfaces. The tooth fungi, also known as “hedgehog” and “sweet tooth,” appears in a variety of forms. Some grow as shelves on trees. Most are found on the ground. Colorful ones decorate the forest floor with their white, buff, red, orange-brown, blue, and purple caps. Several of the brightly colored wood varieties are used for dyeing woolen yarns (Mycological Society of San Francisco). See the distinctive underside teeth below right. Although I did not harvest this sample, most references describe Hydnum species as edible. I will consider this possibility when I find a suitable colony here in Alabama.

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had seen coral tooth fungus (Hericium sp) in my local woods ramblings. I found this specimen (below) growing at the well-decayed base of a downed tree stem, just as the following paragraph from ForagerChef.com described: These like to come up in the late fall in the Midwest, when the leaves start to drop from the trees, but they’re choosy as to where they grow, and to me it seems like each mushroom eating the decomposing tree can have their own internal clock when it decides to fruit, similar to chicken of the woods, although this could easily be due to difference in the host tree species, I’m speculating a bit here. I do know for sure that to find them you need to be in a place that has decomposing wood, not just old fallen trees, fallen trees that are well on their way to the next world, those sinking into the ground, and often in my spots, covered with moss. I spotted this one several hundred feet ahead as I ascended Evitts. About five feet from the trail, its bright white stood like a banner backed by the near-black host log. I admit to harvesting, sautéing, and dressing a hamburger later that evening. Nice texture and mild flavor…a perfect accent to a grilled burger. I ask readers to recognize that you identify, harvest, prepare, and consume any foraged mushroom at your own risk. Do not take my word as gospel; do your own research.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Ferns

 

Everywhere I’ve lived common bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) appears abundantly, from coastal Georgia to interior New England to Pennsylvania to western Ohio to Alaska. Bracken is a genus of large, coarse ferns in the family Dennstaedtiaceae. Ferns are vascular plants that have alternating generations, large plants that produce spores and small plants that produce sex cells. Brackens are noted for their large, highly divided leaves (Wikipedia). Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is widely distributed across the eastern US. The eastern hay-scented fern or hay-scented fern, is a species of fern native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland west to Wisconsin and Arkansas, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Alabama (Wikipedia). Both species ranged abundantly across my doctoral research field study plots in SW New York and NW Pennsylvania within the Allegheny Hardwood forest type. I recall thick patches thigh-high of one species or the other as I paced from one sample point to another.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

My examinations of Rocky Gap’s fall flowers, ground vegetation, fungi, and ferns triggered deep memories. The six-hour hike took me back 50 years to a place I still call home. Nature does that to me… lifting me, sculpting me, and reassuring me that all is well whether at age 20 or now at 69. Nature is an elixir for Life and Live. Nature blesses all who observe and enjoy her wonders with her infinite storm of beauty!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my floral, fern, and fungi hike in the central Appalachians:

  • Nature creates deep memories and later spurs meaningful recollections
  • Any walk in wildness stimulates mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit
  • Nature does indeed appear as an infinite storm of beauty

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksRocky Gap

 

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

A Tough Hike and Deep Reward at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland

I grew up in Cumberland, MD, nearly 150 miles west of the Baltimore/DC area. Located along the Potomac River deep in the Central Appalachians, Cumberland served as a transportation hub (roads; rails, and canal) and industrial center for many decades.

C&O Canal

 

I issued a Post in November 2019 after returning to Cumberland for my 50th high school reunion: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/20/a-taste-of-mid-september-nature-at-the-co-canal-national-historic-park/ During my youth we took great pride that we lived in Maryland’s second largest city (by population) trailing only Baltimore. Today eleven other Maryland municipalities outrank Cumberland. The region is now a recreation center and destination. Rocky Gap State Park (and Resort) lies just ten miles east of the city. Once again visiting Cumberland, I spent a day at the Park September 26, 2020, hiking from Lake Habeeb (1,150′ elevation) to the summit of Evitts Mountain (2,296′) along the Mason and Dixon Line (the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania).

 

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Come with me as I hike the elevation transect, offering reflections on trees, non-tree woody vegetation, a couple tree form oddities, and other Nature elements. An hour into my upward trek, I stood aside to allow a 20-something trail runner to descend past me. I inquired whether he had been to the summit. He respond, “Yes. The view is spectacular.” I recalled my younger days as a distance runner, when my endurance and still-spry knees would have taken me to the top and return with relative ease. An effort, yes, but not a six-hour walking marathon reliant upon trekking poles! Yet the trail runner spurred me to accept and meet the peak-trekking challenge.

The Gap

 

I visited the actual Gap as a teenager, several years before the Park opened in 1974. The State was in the process of acquiring the eventual property package of 3,000 acres. Back then we hiked to the overlook and scrambled down into the chasm. I began my recent hike via the short trail (below left; photo with my Alabama grandsons summer 2019) to the canyon overlook (below right).

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

 

I departed the overlook heading north on a connector trail to reach the Evitts Mountain summit path, first dropping into the head of the Gap stream (below right) several hundred yards downstream of the Habeeb Lake dam. The view as I descended (below left) is to the northwest showing the toe of Evitts Mountain as it tails into the Gap. From this vantage point, the trail dropped into and across the stream (at about the 1,000 foot contour), from which I began the nearly 1,300-foot ascent to the summit photo point (see later) just across the Mason-Dixon Line in Pennsylvania. I’ve written often on the effect of elevation on climate and weather. In the annual seasonal sweep of the seasons, a difference of 1,300 vertical feet accounts for about 11 days. That is, at 1,000-feet, spring arrives 11 days earlier and summer departs 11 days later than at the summit. That’s three additional weeks of summer at the lower elevation and three additional weeks of winter atop Evitts Mountain. I recall growing up when a winter storm might bring wet snow (little coated other than grassy surfaces) to Cumberland (the Potomac River at ~700 feet elevation). When the storm clouds cleared, Evitts Mountain (I could see it from my high school) and other ridges glowed in pure, dazzling, and glimmering white. I’ve driven from watery flakes in Cumberland to a near-blinding blizzard atop the 2,900-foot Allegany Front just a dozen miles to the west. On this recent hike, I could feel discernably cooler temperatures and a fresher breeze at the summit.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

That connector segment down into the canyon and then up to the summit trail offered the circuit’s steepest terrain and greatest challenge. As I begin my 70th year (69th birthday back in July), steep downhills are particularly problematic. Thank goodness the actual summit trail follows an old access road (a generous application of the term) leading to the powerline and USGS monument at the summit. I commend the Maryland Park Service for its excellent signage and trail markings.

Rocky Gap

 

I do confess to wondering how much longer my knees can tolerate my more aggressive wildness wanderings. I find such contemplation worrisome. For now I shall relish every step and each venture.

A Few Trees Species Encountered

I worked for the Maryland Forest Service during my junior/senior-year summer as a Forester’s Aid on the Green Ridge State Forest, visible from the summit view to the east (see later). From the Maryland Forest Service website: At 49,000 acres, Green Ridge is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland. Green Ridge is located within the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains. It is rich in both natural and cultural heritage and remains a “working forest” today as it is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service to conserve the natural ecological processes while supporting the economy of the region through an active forest management program. The Maryland Forest Service Mission is to restore, manage, and protect Maryland’s trees, forests, and forested ecosystems to sustain our natural resources and connect people to the land.

That summer sent my heart soaring…I was in forestry-student heaven. My supervisor, John Mash, joyed in sharing his knowledge and experience with an eager and impressionable future forester. Through the lens of the 48 years since then, I view John (since deceased) as a superlative forester, naturalist, historian, and teacher. He authored the definitive The Land of the Living: The Story of Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest in 1996. I sit here typing with a signed copy of John’s 895-page tome on my lap. Here is the paragraph from the inside front cover:

This is the story of a forgotten part of Maryland that has never seen its story in print. This is the story of the eastern portion of Allegany County, Maryland. Today the character of this area is rural, sparsely populated and a large portion is owned as a public forest. The history of this land is rich and fascinating: royalty, squatters, moonshiners and murderers have made their presence known here as well as Nazi prisoners, slaves and turn of the century capitalists. The story describes the history of the land, its plants and animals, and the people who wrought out their existence here.

Since retiring, I have written about what I call Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I have said time and again that every parcel of wildness, at least here in the east, incorporates a tale at the intersection of human and natural history. Until I revisited John’s book preparing this Post, I had not consciously made the connection that my old friend and mentor lived, breathed, and professed those same sentiments and philosophy a half-century ago as I learned under his watchful eye. Like so many who have molded this person I have become, John left an indelible mark that I am only just now realizing and acknowledging. Thank you, John!

I offered those reflections to introduce some of the tree species I encountered at Rocky Gap that spur memories of my season on the State Forest and my countless woods-ramblings growing up in western Maryland. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few highlights. Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) tops the evergreen list, prolific across these sharp ridges and steep hillsides. The species tolerates poor shale-derived soils and frequent periods of moisture stress. The region, the driest in Maryland, receives less than 35-inches of rainfall (including melted snow) annually. It lies in the Allegany Front rain shadow.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Table mountain pine (Pinus pungens) also proliferates…and tolerates these dry and impoverished sites.

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Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus; below left) is also common, but does not reign supreme as it does on richer sites and favorable soils in the higher Appalachians (Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge), and into New England. I found Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis; below right) creekside, an environment where it occurs throughout the Green Ridge State Forest.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Black gum or black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is a prevalent understory to mid-canopy inhabitant of this region. From the USDA Hardwood Silvics manual: Black tupelo grows in the uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms from southwestern Maine to New York, to extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, and central Missouri, and south to eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and southern Florida. It is local in central and southern Mexico. Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the Southeastern United States. Black gum is not a main canopy component within Rocky Gap’s upland forests. Yet the species provided the earliest color along my transect (see below). For that I was grateful.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I have no recollection of previously meeting a species of oak I found along the trail, bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia). Although I reviewed several online sources for information, Wikipedia offered a succinct and scientifically accurate summary: Quercus ilicifolia, commonly known as bear oak or scrub oak, is a small shrubby oak native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Its range extends in the United States from Maine to North Carolina, with reports of a few populations north of the international frontier in Ontario. From the International Oak Society website: While the species abruptly stops south of Virginia border, there are two extant populations of bear oak in North Carolina at Pilot Mountain and Crowder’s Mountain. Within its range, bear oak is restricted to high mountain tops, rock outcrops, and pine barrens. I am glad I stumbled across this not-so-common species.

Rocky Gap

 

Other Woody Vegetation

 

It’s not just common trees that spirit me back to those memories from forest-ramblings during a summer 48 years ago. I encountered four understory woody species that prompted recollections from my youth. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia; below left) is a broadleaved evergreen shrub in the heather family, Ericaceae, that is native to the eastern United States. Its range stretches from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. I found it ubiquitous here in northern Alabama. The same holds for great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum; below right), which extends from southern Canada through to the southern Appalachians. I find it often in moist protected hollows and streamsides from Huntsville into the Talladega National Forest here in Alabama. It reminds me of home, that place where I began my addiction to Nature.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Another local northern Alabama species that transports me back to the central Appalachians is mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium; below left). Wikipedia notes that the mapleleaf viburnum, maple-leaved arrowwood or dockmackie, is a species of Viburnum, native to eastern North America from southwestern Quebec and Ontario south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Roundleaf greebrier (Smilax rotundifolia; below right), is a species I’m familiar with from my field-forestry days, as common locally here in the southern Appalachians as it is at Rocky Gap.

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I could have spent hours and days completing a tree and woody plant inventory on my late September Rocky Gap trek. I did not mention the many other oak species I noted (northern red, white, chestnut), shagbark and mockernut hickory, yellow poplar, and red and sugar maple, among others. Suffice it to say that mine was a superficial exploration, and deep spiritual immersion in memories of growing up… personally and professionally.

Special Tree Forms

 

I’m always on alert for what I term as tree form oddities. I noticed many hollow-trunked trees all along my trek. This chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) had finally passed the threshold where its rind of sound wood could no longer support the weight and leverage of its 70-foot stem blowing in the stiff hilltop breezes. Wind twisted and torqued the stem clockwise, reached a point of failure, and brought the tree downwind to the ground. Decay fungi, long content to feast on the tree’s interior wood, will complete their work on the standing snag and the now prostrate trunk. A question I had too little evidence to answer: what wound provided the court of infection that led to entry of the decay organism? Among other possibilities are: lightning strike; a long-ago fire; a buck-rub when the tree stood as a sapling; a bark scar from a falling nearby tree.

Rocky Gap

 

This mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) suggests its own compelling story. The top photo (below) appears to be a robust 12-inch diameter stem, growing normally.

Rocky Gap

 

But the top photo does not depict this tree form oddity. The left image below shows that at some point many years ago, some compelling force (likely a nearby tree falling) crushed the then much younger hickory to the ground. Not dead the prostrate hickory sent a shoot skyward some six feet from its original union with the ground. Although badly crushed and broken, the stump (now deeply hollowed) managed to sustain the new sprout, which flourished and now stands as a vertical hickory reaching into the main canopy. The still-living tree has successfully calloused the wounded downed tree beyond the vertical stem. The image below right shows the hollowed and horizontal original trunk, serving now with its accumulated organic debris as a planter of sorts. I am confident that the decay responsible for the hollowed section extends into the upright stem. Note also from that perspective that the vertical stem is canted some 15 degrees to the right, suggesting that the hollowed horizontal support beam is weakening and torqueing in response. Basic and rudimentary physics control so many actions in Nature. Nothing defies gravity for long… nor withstands decay organisms.

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Every single thing in Nature tells a story, whether our deformed hickory… or the old resin-soaked pine tree core (below) I pulled from its stump hole. The resin serves as an effective wood preservative. The outer wood, bark, and the tree above it had long since returned to the soil. I refer to these old remnants as terrestrial driftwood, weathered in-place by the passage of time and persistent forces of deterioration. I knew such an artful specimen would have accented several spots in my home landscape beds. However, I left it where I photographed it for several reasons: I found it in a State Park; it weighed upward of twenty pounds; I still had several miles to cover. Such bounty serves me best when I am not in a protected area and when the effort required is within my limits.

Rocky Gap

 

So, I chose to harvest a photograph and a memory. Truth is, such is the principal yield of all my Nature wanderings. Inspiration and satisfaction can’t be stuffed into a tucker bag. Instead, I attempt in these Posts to share my harvested inspiration with words and photographs.

Early Fall Flowers, Fungi, and Ferns

 

I had originally hoped to include this section and its associated photos in this single comprehensive Post. I can’t do it. Enough is enough! I’ll spin-off a second Post from my rewarding day at Rocky Gap State Park. Watch for it.

Summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb

 

As with early fall flowers, fungi, and ferns, I thought I could squeeze a full discussion of the summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb into this single Post. Again, Post-space and length argue against creating a too-large reflection and photo essay. So, watch for yet another subsequent Post.

I’ll close this Post with three photos with little text. A view from the summit east, encompassing some of Green Ridge State Forest.

Rocky Gap

 

Trail marker at the Mason and Dixon Line.

Rocky Gap

 

 

Lake Habeeb.

Rocky Gap

 

I am pondering the following: had I been dropped off at Rocky Gap’s Lake Habeeb with no revelation as to its location near my hometown, would I have enjoyed and appreciated the hike. I think that I would have found it fascinating, inspirational, and deeply enjoyable for its vegetation, topography, and the stories I could read from the land and forest. I also would have felt the homing beacon powerfully. There would have been no denying the unmistakable evidence that I was, in clear fact, home. I was a salmon returning to the headwater stream where I first saw life. I was once again in my mother’s arms and under Dad’s watchful and loving eye on one of our hundreds of Nature treks. That’s the extraordinary Nature of place that is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three lessons from my late September revisit to Rocky Gap:

  • The extraordinary Nature of place is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.
  • Countless days in Nature define my life across these 69 years — I look, see, and feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… and find immeasurable lift.
  • My connection to Nature is unmistakably SACRED!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksRocky Gap

 

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