No-Nature Vigilante on Big Blue Lake

I write often of our idyllic life on Big Blue Lake. My bubble of peace and tranquility burst recently.

Occasionally life events remind me that not all people share my love for Nature.  June 6, 2018 brought such an event — a rude and real wake-up call that even here on Big Blue Lake (BBL) we do not all subscribe to Steve’s gospel of Nature appreciation. Not everyone shares my belief that here on BBL we’re blessed with peace, beauty, and tranquility (photo looking south from Legendwood Drive):

June 6, 2018, I witnessed an act of violence here on the northernmost of our development’s three ponds. I’ll term the perpetrator No-Nature Vigilante (NNV). Wearing a hospital breathing filter, broad-brimmed hat, eye protection, jacket, and rubber boots, NNV committed the act in broad daylight, brazenly spraying some type of chemical herbicide on the willow and cattails bordering the shoreline along the north and west sides of the pond’s neck that reaches up to Legendwood Drive.

NNV refused to stop when challenged by the homeowner along whose property NNV was spraying. NNV expressed anger, referred to us as “you bastards,” threatened to have a spouse “come over here and shoot you,” refused to identify the chemical in use (I requested to see the label), and indicated that this is common property and “I can do as I wish.” NNV protested that the chemical is “non-toxic” and “safe.” I wondered why the protective gear. When we began snapping a few photos, NNV paused briefly and encouraged us defiantly to take a photo, saying, “Here, I’ll smile for you.”

I saw an angry, violent, seemingly irrational act of aggression toward pond-shore vegetation and full ambivalence to the feelings and genuine concerns of neighbors. NNV implied that our Home Owners Association (HOA) had failed to act and that led NNV to this harsh individual action. In fact, the HOA had hired a contractor who early this spring cut and removed all pond-shore woody vegetation to ground-level, a willow treatment recommended by an aquatic resources specialist from Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

NNV’s wild and irresponsible act evidenced a sad ignorance of Nature. I took the photo above early the next morning… before much foliar effect was visible. Before the violence evidenced injury and degradation. Before the insult and savage attack painted a raw wound on our cherished pond. Here are photos from early morning June 12, six days after the spraying:

An Affront to Sensibility and Decency

We bought a pond-side lot because of our appreciation for Nature. We enjoy the tranquility and revel in the bountiful birds, fish, frogs, turtles, and other critters drawn to the ponds. Obviously NNV doesn’t share our enthusiasm for these blessings.

Aldo Leopold’s 1949 A Sand County Almanac and Sketches from Here and There is an environmental classic. The 1989 edition carries a foreword by Robert Finch:

The “Sketches” are a record not only of loss but of doubt, of disillusionment with both public sensibility and official policy. In a meaner nature such criticism might have become mere self-righteous condemnation. But Leopold’s instinct was always to educate rather than condemn. Though there are genuine bitterness and pain in these essays, he (Leopold) remained convinced that most environmental mistakes are due, not to some inherent baseness in human nature, but to ignorance. He understood that his own ability to perceive and understand how nature works was the result of a long period of education and self-education.

Was NNV driven by anger and resentment? I believe so. Did NNV commit such a vile act due to some baseness of human nature? Unfortunately, I believe so. Did ignorance drive the action? Yes, gross, almost incomprehensible ignorance. Do I believe that education may be a route of solution? I fear not; I sensed only a self-righteous disregard of anything beyond a mind absolutely made and certain. Regardless of motive and sentiment (malice or not), we residents are left with a pond-side scar… an affront to our sensibilities. Browned and desiccated foliage. An insult to pond aesthetics.

I sent a letter to our Home Owners Association June 11, excerpted here:

Now, to whom does it fall to remove the vegetative skeletons? What damage might have been done to the water; to birds, frogs, turtles, and fish? I doubt that the chemical employed was approved for direct application to water, even if NNV had been authorized by our HOA to spray. I am sure that given the evidence of foliar damage and the location of the plants, NNV sprayed chemical on the water. Should not the HOA report the facts of this disturbing environmental assault to the appropriate regulatory agency?

We are a community of friends and neighbors. We rely upon the HOA to address matters that impact the collective. This act of unauthorized violence flies in the face of a community of concerned and allied citizens. I am deeply offended and terribly disappointed by NNV’s actions and attitude. I ask that our HOA investigate and take appropriate action to treat the scar and assure that such vigilantism is not repeated.

I will close by simply pondering why one so hostile to the environment would choose to live so miserably along the shore of a pond where I daily see and feel magic, wonder, beauty, and awe.

Sincerely and appreciatively,

I am saddened, angered, frustrated, and dismayed. This episode lies outside my zone of acceptance and understanding, yet I must accept that one of my neighbors would commit this atrocity. I know, nobody died; I did not take NNV’s threat of “shooting” seriously. I am hardened to the verbal assault and name-calling. Long ago, Mom told me more than once, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Yet I am deeply offended and set aback by NNV’s insult to Nature along BBL. The act violated all that I believe and embrace about Earth stewardship. And with respect to community-living… and respectful civil engagement.

A bright side? Perhaps a teachable moment for me and my cause. A stark reminder that even Leopold’s instinct was always to educate rather than condemn. A wake-up call that much work is yet to be done… beginning right here in my immediate neighborhood. Another positive outcome — an anecdote fresh, apropos, and compelling. Fodder for this Blog Post. A catalyst for action and corroboration that my work is necessary… my cause is worthy.

I hold confidently to my assertion that Nature inspires and informs every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading. NNV certainly did not believe such to be true — in fact, NNV never considered anything remotely relevant to Nature-Inspired Living and Learning. NNV neither looked for or saw the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe afforded to us residents along Big Blue Lake. Instead, NNV looked at the pond-side willow sprouts and cattails with loathing and disgust. NNV acted with repulsion toward the very elements that attracted many of us to live with Nature on BBL rather than in conflict with it.

May Nature continue to bless and inspire all that you do. Let’s strive always to educate rather than condemn.

June 14 Post Script

June 13, 2018, crews removed the sprayed willow, leaving the deadened cattails. Mercifully, some of the cattails stayed sheltered from the mad herbicide sprayer. We have an HOA meeting June 19 — I hope we discuss the implications of NNV’s actions.

 

Goose Family Progress — Thirty Days Later!

I introduced our new goose family May 7: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/07/big-blue-lake-update/

Our backyard nesting Canada Goose parents presented six hatchlings April 30 (below left), reduced to five when we next spotted them in our yard (below right).

 

 

 

 

 

Sometime mid-month we spotted the parents and four goslings. May 30 the awkward gangling, seeming-teenagers visited us with the parents (below). Today (June 9) they are noticeably bigger, but not close enough for a photo update.

Mallard Family

A mallard family (eight ducklings) has visited our bed frequently over the past two weeks. Tough to get photo because they dive off the wall as soon as we appear outside. That’s them in poor photo below (from our sun-room window) between the triangular stone and the caged plant at the wall. When we open the door, momma and the little ones flow like liquid over the wall and high-tail it for the water.

Our Second Killdeer Brood

I reported on the second nesting in that same May 7 Blog Post. Sunday June 3 (23rd day on all four eggs), we noticed mom seeming increasingly agitated. Over the prior 2+ weeks the parents had grow somewhat accustomed to and comfortable with our yard presence. The setting parent stood over the nest rather than setting for longer periods (below left). The one off the nest but nearby did the feigned injury dance (below right) with greater urgency.

Tuesday June 5 dawned cool with wisps of sunlit cirrus high above the still-not-sun-kissed morning stratus, the effect irresistible to my my shutter finger.

We returned from our walk to the standing adult near four hatchlings bundled in the nest depression. Soon we watched as one of the little ones scampered away… as though walking was some practiced skill. Within the hour all four were scampering across the lawn and beds. Both parents kept frantic track, corralling and calling constantly and if we wandered too close, doing the broken wing distraction. By then our next door neighbors joined us to enjoy the show. One particularly adventurous youngster made a bee-line for the shore. Our neighbor chased after it… fearing that the tiny bird would enter the water and drown. Her pursuit, we surmise in retrospect, guaranteed that the little one entered the water. To our amazement the newly hatched killdeer swam like a pro, covering the 100+ feet across the neck with steady progress. The adult flew across to greet the swimmer.

Later I learned with some internet help, that killdeer are excellent swimmers. So much for our deep concern that drowning was a possibility. I watched with an admitted sense of anticipation. Our Big Blue Lake has a rich population of largemouth bass, bull frogs, and snapping turtles. I knew that at any moment our little swimmer could end as a mouthful. Somehow, nothing rose to its churning swim-stride, demonstrating better action that any surface lure I have ever employed as an angler. Our neighbor, feeling guilty about stimulating the swim, ran around the neck to retrieve the little one. She brought it back to the nest area, where the parents shepherded the four all day, heading to shoreline late afternoon.

I managed a decent photo of one of the adventurers mid morning casting a larger-than-life shadow!

Lessons and Reflections

It’s summertime “and the livin’ is easy” (to borrow from an old song). In these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” (yes, another old song), I hope you will forgive me for excerpting my reflections verbatim from that May 7, 2018 Blog Post:

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from Nature to close this Big Blue Lake update. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Life is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding Nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development.
  2. I am securing my daily bread right in my backyard.
  3. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with Nature.
  4. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy Nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder.
  5. Life can be as good as we care to make it.

Please make your life rise to Nature’s wisdom and power to inform and inspire. So much that is good awaits our discovery every day… and most any place. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe surround us. Seek it; embrace it; revel in it!

Big Blue Lake Update

It’s been a while since I posted a simple Big Blue Lake update. For those who need a reminder, we built our retirement home (December 2015) on a four-acre pond/lake in northern Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley near Huntsville. Ours is the largest of a string of three bodies of water. We chose the lot because of the water and the feeling of openness it gives us even in a residential development. We underestimated the incredible peace of mind and sense of wildness it provides. In my younger years, this now aging forester would have seen only the homes ringing the shoreline, and with some measure of contempt for the urban invasion. Now I see only the pond, the open views, and the rich wildlife attracted. I keep a journal and occasionally post an essay updating life on Big Blue Lake, along with a few photos. Below is the view to the south from our back bed; a four-foot wall drops to a grassy strip along the shore. I snapped the photo to avoid showing the houses!

Killdeer Family

My April 18 post announced the April 7 hatch of our four killdeer eggs. Since then we’ve seen both parents and the four youngsters numerous times along the shore and even in our elevated beds. When I wander too close, one or both parents still peent shrilly and do a modified broken wing act. Today (April 27) at day 20, I watched the parents chaperone the youngsters on our lot and the lot east of ours. The hatchling (below left) appears nearly identical to the adults (below right). The wings are smaller (another week or so to first flight) and the body mass at ~50 percent. Both birds are on blocks of the same size. The two parents are in the lower right photo (one about to exit left on the flagstone path), attempting quite noisily to cut me off from the little guy.

At this southern latitude, the parents may already be contemplating a second brood. Will they choose our lot?

Goose Nest

I mentioned our setting goose in that same April 18 post. Today she has been setting 25 days. Audubon says incubation period is 25-28 days. She seemed antsy today, occasionally standing over the eggs (lower left). Lower right she is on the nest at shoreline where the two shades of grass mark the property line between our lot and the one to the east. The wall-top is where the adult killdeer stood; the youngster was around the corner to the left. Once again, I took the photo to crop the houses. The male floats or sits within sight. Pity the hapless males of his species who dare trespass on his kingdom. He lowers his head and charges after them, sometimes biting tail feathers and occasionally forcing them underwater. Who says Big Blue Lake is not wild country!

Big Blue

Big Blue is our resident great blue heron. I say resident, yet I know he does not live exclusively here. We have seen him at BBL five days this month. Granted, it has been an unseasonably cool April and I’ve recorded 8.87 inches of rain so far (April 27). So, we have not spent a lot of time on the patio. We watched him arrive from the east yesterday afternoon, land at water’s edge, and subsequently feel the wrathful assault of a male red-wing blackbird that I assume is defending territory or a nest nearby. Big Blue retreated to the northern neck. A few minutes later he flew at near water level to the second pond.

Osprey Visit

I know that ospreys are not unusual here in the greater Tennessee Valley region, frequently spotted at nearby Joe Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Here on Big Blue Lake we have seen red tail hawks soaring. I mentioned in that same April 18 post that a sharp-shinned hawk had recently hunted aggressively at our feeders. I had never seen, nor did not expect to see one of the region’s most magnificent avian predators. Mid-afternoon April 23 just as a shower began, I saw a large white-underbellied, swoop-winged shape appear from the north directly over our patio roof at about 100-feet above lake level. I recognized the shape immediately as an osprey. The bird circled and wheeled for 3-5 minutes, constantly peering down at the water’s surface. Twice it dived rapidly toward the surface and each time pulled up. Mallards on and along the pond raised a cacophony, I suppose protesting the marauder’s intrusion on Big Blue Lake’s tranquility. Once more I cheered the bird of prey; I wanted to see the osprey strike. No photograph — just an indelible memory. And, yet another infusion of wild into my sanctuary.

 Little Blue Heron and Other Avian Friends

April 25, two little blue herons appeared on our southwest shore; today a single stopped by on the west shore. I noted last year’s first appearance as May 5. We saw as many as five at one time last year deeper into May.

Last year February 2, we spotted two hooded mergansers, a first BBL sighting for us. We saw no more after March 21. We counted as many as five. This year, we returned from a week in Kansas February 12. Twenty-six mergansers greeted us! Why a peak of five last year and now 26? March 12 we recorded a high-count of 48! We saw the last of the mergansers, a single pair, April 1. I need to know more about these beautiful diving ducks. How far south had they spent the core of winter? Where are they now breeding? What in the world did they eat during their six-week feeding frenzy here? We watched them make dive after dive hour after hour. Did any small fish survive their incessant onslaught?

Our barn swallows returned March 23. The past few warmer evenings they’ve numbered 12-15, swooping and skimming above the water, often dipping bills. Their aerial antics entertain us.

We first noticed eight ducklings trailing a female mallard a week to ten days ago; I neglected to note the date. The count has since dropped to seven. Life is tough for little ones on Big Blue Lake.

Brief Closing Reflections

A very wet April. Looks like we will close the month at 8.87 inches, more than twice the monthly average. Year-to-date we stand at nearly 25 inches, ten inches above average.

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from Nature to close this Big Blue Lake update. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Life is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding Nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development.
  2. I am securing my daily bread right in my backyard.
  3. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with Nature.
  4. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy Nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder.
  5. Life can be as good as we care to make it.

Although I have kept the neighborhood houses out of the other photos, I could not eliminate them from this final photo. A symbol that Life is Good!

A Postscript (May 1, 2018)

Rather than revise this entire post written April 27, allow me to simply leave it as is and add this update. First and foremost, our geese hatched early morning April 30. Before we departed to activities elsewhere Judy and I saw three little heads bob in and out of the nest under mom. Upon returning early afternoon, we found an empty nest. We explored a bit, finding mom, dad, and six still mostly yellow goslings along the shore around the corner some 200 feet from the nest. They soon entered the water, the six staying closely packed between the parents.

When we returned at deep dusk from a grandson baseball game, mom was back on the nest, dad resting within six feet, the goslings invisible. We assumed under mom’s wings. The next morning, not long after sunrise, the entire crew headed off to the same shore where we first spotted them on Day One.

By mid-morning they had worked their way to Big Blue Lake’s south end. We are celebrating their successful hatch and wishing them well. The lake is home to at least two large snapping turtles and a healthy population of largemouth bass. Toss in our resident hawks, a few snakes, raccoons, and skunks — the parents have their hands full with keeping these intrepid little adventurers safe. [Note: May 2, evening — and now there are five. We saw the family on the east shore and made a firm count of just five.]

Post-Post-Postscript

Late morning May 3 (Day Four), the parents brought the five remaining youngsters into our back yard, where the gander occasionally wandered during the incubation period to beg for treats. The family looks robust… the goslings noticeably larger:

A Final Postscript

May 4, 2017, we noticed an apparent nest depression in the four-foot-diameter bed where our killdeer couple nested May 2017. We observed both expectant parents taking turns deepening the nest, furiously tossing our bark mulch with backward scratching. Two days later, we spotted egg number one (below left, three inches from the Japanese maple stem)! Below right, mom does her best act to protect the nest by drawing my attention. The on-nest parent scolds us every time we venture near.

 

Again, Life is Good on Big Blue Lake! I’ll continue to post progress.

May Nature Inspire all that you do.

Note: I am available for Nature-Themed motivational/inspirational speaking and writing… for NGOs, businesses, landowners, agencies, and Nature-oriented enterprises. Contact me at: steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

My Premise and Core Belief: Every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature!

Announcing the Birth!

I devote most of these Great Blue Heron blog posts this time of year to experiences in the woods and reflections regarding spring wildflowers. This one is avian-oriented. Its been a banner week for our feathered friends right here on Big Blue Lake… and nearby.

Killdeer Success

Last year our killdeer tenets did not nest until late May, and fledged four offspring in June. Read about last season in my 2017 blog post of July 5 (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/07/05/four-new-killdeer-residents-deep-lessons-partnership-nature/). Last year’s nest sat in a four-foot-diameter bed (home to a small lace-leaf Japanese maple) no more than a dozen feet from our back patio. An otherwise mid-lawn nest location that we could not help but disturb with mowing and other activities. We agitated the parents incessantly, especially given their early summer occupation.

This year, the parents (we assume the same pair) started a family early the second week of March. March 13 we counted a fourth killdeer egg, and immediately they began serious egg-setting. During the four days prior, they mostly neglected the one, two, and then three eggs (left photo below). I suppose with the fourth, completing the clutch, the time had come to begin incubation to assure that all four hatched concurrently. They chose a much better location this year, well into the major back bed that covers 2-3,000 square feet, at the base of our river birch. We seldom disturbed them (broken wing diversion act below right).

The reference books say incubation extends 24-28 days. April 7, day 26, all four hatched over the course of the day. A cold front had passed during the night. The April 7 high temperature came at 2:00 AM. Wind, occasional drizzle, and thick clouds dominated, with temperature falling into the upper 30s by mid-afternoon. A parent huddled over the nest all day, wings extended over the hatchlings. We watched as first one, and then others would pop out, briefly explore, and hustle back under her wings. The day set a record cold high temperature. The non-setting adult stayed close, ready to lure me away if I dared approach. We observed shift changes, with one parent relieving the other. The photos below are poor, evidencing the low light, my hesitancy to intrude, and the tiny size of these guys. The left photo shows two on the nest (about 6-8 inches to the lower left of the birch stem) and one wandering to the left margin.  Two nestlings are visible in the photo (below right). I felt guilty forcing the adult to rush away.

The literature indicated that the family would soon depart, with both parents tending the brood as the little ones gathered food on their own. An attending parent snuggled all night, and was tight on the nest at the next day’s dawn. The morning temperature tied a record low of 27 degrees. Fortunately, the sun rose with purpose. Soon the nest saw full sunlight, with resultant warmth. No longer needing protection, the little ones sprang into action, exploring the bed and keeping both parents occupied.

The group began departing within an hour. The large bed is bordered lake-side by a four-foot wall to the downhill. The adults had to carefully usher the brood to the point where the wall met the grade-line. An adult stands on the flagstone pathway (below left). One of the young is along the wall top-stone at the right margin of the same photo. The four-foot drop to the shore at that location did not offer suitable access. The adult eventually turned the youngsters to the no-drop alternative. The second photo (below right) shows a little guy standing on the flagstone with another faintly visible to the right of the cast iron shepherd’s crook base.

By noon, both adults managed to escort the youngsters to the lake shore. An adult below is staying close to a young one about a foot to the adult’s left. Please keep in mind that I am using an iPhone at full magnification, again trying to avoid intruding into the parenting mission underway. So, we celebrate a successful launch! We kept them in sight for an hour or so. We haven’t seen them since. We wish them well. Our references say that in these southern climes, killdeer often produce two broods. Last year’s late May venture may have been the season’s second. Because we were involved in major landscaping early last spring, our back yard would not have been available for a March/April clutch. We’ll keep our eyes open for additional nesting mid-May, after this first group has fledged.

Another Family in Progress

A month ago I watched a goose begin establishing a nest at the border of our lot and our neighbor’s to the east. Momma is in full setting mode. I cannot get an egg count. When she leaves the nest, I have seen only the down she has placed over the eggs. I had hoped to examine more closely but both parents rush over immediately. This may be the same pair whose eggs attracted a predator last year (see my June 6, 2017 post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/06/06/natures-triumph-tragedy-big-blue-lake-april-21-2017/). We’ve seen the large snapping turtle off-shore several times this spring. Will this year see a repeat tragedy or a successful hatch?

The male visits us frequently, gathering sunflower seeds beneath the feeders and seeking handouts from us when we are relaxing on the patio.

We find life on Big Blue Lake rewarding. Over the past few weeks we have recorded:

  • Mallards
  • Mergansers
  • Great blue heron
  • Canada geese
  • Killdeer
  • Swallows
  • Mockingbirds
  • Robins
  • Red-wing blackbirds
  • Gold finches
  • Bluebirds
  • A sharp-shinned hawk
  • House finches

April 13, I watched in wonder as a sharp-shinned hawk pursued a red-wing blackbird. The pursuit began near our feeders, looped wildly over the water three or four circuits, and the two eventually streaked to the north at the west side of our lot. I way-too-slowly rounded the house, seeing nothing. Only once did the hawk come close to grabbing its prey, above the water as the blackbird dived toward the surface. The hawk, faster at that maneuver, came within inches before the blackbird lifted laterally. I must admit to being a less-than impartial aerial-action-observer — I wanted to witness my first capture and kill. Again, choosing sides, I have concluded that we have plenty of red-wing blackbirds, and we find the males a bit too bullying at the feeders. Two or three times over our first two years here I’ve found feather debris along our back bed wall, the most recent clearly from a mourning dove. The action is occasionally fast and furious along Big Blue Lake!

A Last Minute Action Addition

Nearly ready to say that this draft is final, I stepped onto the patio late afternoon Monday, April 16, and noticed a female mallard swimming shore-side with a blurry ball following her. I ran for my binoculars. With magnification, I saw 6-8 (could even be more) tiny ducklings, clustered at mom’s tail, too far away and the ducklings too small for a clear count. I guessed that at most they are 2-3 days beyond hatching. April 21, 2017 we made a firm count of 13 tiny mallards with what I presume are the same parents. Life is Good on Big Blue Lake!

As I have said many times, although homes border the entire shore, I narrow my attention to the lake and its life, bounty, action, and beauty. I know the houses are there but I refuse to focus on them. What I see, in fact, is my daily bread.

And a Post Script

Our daughter called the morning of April 17, asking how to find the nearby heron rookery I had visited April 13. She wanted to drive a mini-bus-load of her THRIVE assisted living residents to show them. Judy and I volunteered to meet her and lead the vehicle to the parking area near the rookery:

 

 

 

 

We watched the rookery action a while before we began noticing that most nests had young visible. One to three heads and shoulders… an occasional small wing spread. Nest chatter filled the air. Not a quiet moment. Adults came and went at intervals. As I spoke with the residents after we returned to the mini-bus, they expressed deep appreciation and absolute joy. Katy asked me as we descended the stairs, “If I can arrange another group for this Friday, can you meet me again?” Several of the group piped up enthusiastically, “I’m coming, too!”

Katy telephoned after we departed to tell us that her eight residents loved the experience. One lady commented to her, “I am 84 years old and I have never seen anything like this.” Judy and I drove the ten or so miles home with a warm feeling of satisfaction. Nature is a powerful contagion and a timeless elixir. What a thrill to share Vitamin N!

I submit that we can find what we seek. Nature is ubiquitous, even in the predominately urban setting where we reside. I intend to relish Nature’s gifts. I have always been a glass-is-half-full guy, and I will never divert from that life philosophy.

Please friend or follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stevejonegreatblueheron/

May Nature continue to Inspire you!

A Northern Alabama Update — Nature-Inspired

Spring is now at full throttle, yet keep in mind that the progress is not laminar. Spring leaps and pauses; surges and retreats. We touched upper 70s to near 80 in late February. This morning (Thursday, March 8), we walked the neighborhood at dawn with a breezy 28 degrees. Birds a little more subdued than on the warmer mornings. The National Weather Service has issued another freeze warning for tonight. A wet southwesterly flow returns for this coming weekend (1-2 inches forecast), followed by another frosty morning or two next week. Such is spring at full throttle in northern Alabama.

We returned to Alabama March 5, after a long weekend in Pittsburgh. An inch of snow fell our first night there, the same storm that dumped some 39 inches on a Catskill town within 40 miles of Albany. Brisk winds kept us chilled the entire time in Pittsburgh. However, spring is rushing northward… at its normal pace of roughly 100 miles per week. Red maple flower buds already showing a bit of red near the Steel City. Daffodil leaves are poking through bedding mulch. We saw a flowering crocus here and there. Bradford pear buds are swelling, soon to burst.

Our very cold Alabama January produced only 1.75″ of rain. February conditions shifted remarkably. I measured 11.59.” Big Blue Lake remained at brimful.

Area creeks and rivers carried a full load most of the month. Our return flight from Pittsburgh revealed lots of wet fields and flooded bottom-land. I snapped the photo below before we headed north. Even then, we saw plenty of water.

February 12 upon returning from Kansas, we counted 25 hooded mergansers on Big Blue Lake, bobbing and diving repeatedly. Last year we saw only as many as five. We reached a peak of 34 February 26. I counted 25 early afternoon today. They seem to feed constantly. What are these 2-3-dozen fish eaters finding to keep so many of them here? Do their numbers relate to the bass, bluegill, and carp stocked in mid-June? The bass are apparently thriving, which leads me to wonder how the mergansers are feeding so voraciously? This large-mouth bass that I caught (and released) March 6, weighed at least 1.5 pounds. It competes, I presume, for some of the same critters the mergansers eat.

So, I’ve categorized this post under “Steve’s Big Blue Blog.” Where is Big Blue in this essay? Strangely absent. Why? This January brought some real winter cold; Big Blue Lake froze substantially twice. How did that alter Big Blue’s life and habits? We saw him only twice in January. At the end of the third week of February, crews cut the shrub willow along the shore for all of Big Blue Lake, yet that does not explain Big Blue’s scarcity leading to that date. Granted, Big Blue frequented water’s edge at one of the willow clumps along our shore.

Are the bass eating yearling tadpoles and small fish, such as the gold fish that appeared in large numbers our first year and that we saw Big Blue catching, flipping, and swallowing? Are the large merganser numbers affecting feed-stock for Big Blue? I am concerned about our resident great blue heron. I will continue to observe… and keep you posted.

We have seen hawks (red-tail and rough-legged) often. January we found dove feathers and blood in our back bed, clear evidence of a successful hawk capture. February 26, late-morning we came across this fine specimen in a street-side sweetgum tree, 20 feet above us. The sun gave us trouble in getting a good photo image and in discerning whether the bird is a red-tail or rough-legged. Like so many ‘wild’ creatures, the resident raptors have adapted to suburban life.

Likewise, just the evening before (2/25), Judy and I enjoyed the warmer air on our patio. Dusk brought the spooky sound of coyotes yipping and howling in the open land beyond the street south of the lake, within a quarter mile. Again, our non-human area residents adapt quite well. I am grateful that we still have enough local “wildness” to keep me enthralled and inspired. Nature is where we seek it, whether a short drive away to Wheeler’s Beaverdam Swamp Trail (the photo of Judy standing on the boardwalk with the creek high and muddy), or right here in Legendwood (our development).

As we left the tupelo swamp that day at Beaverdam, we spotted our first trillium of the season, a least (also known as dwarf) trillium (Trillium pusillum). Once we saw one, our eyes imprinted with the image, and we noticed an entire colony of 25-30 individuals. Again, Nature, with its beauty, awe, magic, and wonder, is where we seek it.

I add this final paragraph Saturday March 10. Yesterday evening I attempted to check for freeze damage on our hydrangea, near our river birch. Before I could get close enough, a killdeer went into the noisy, broken-wing routine at the birch, where we had seen a pair within the past week frequenting, and actually saw them in the act of coitus. I checked again this morning at first light. No bird nearby. I found the nest, and lo and behold, two eggs! A killdeer soon returned and began tending the eggs. ALERT — I just went out to snap a photo and three eggs! A bit later, as I filled our feeders, momma displayed nicely for me. I checked last year’s notes on our resident pair, whose nest first appeared May 21, and eventually fledged four hatchlings. Could that have been last year’s second brood, thus explaining this year’s two-month head start?

Isn’t Nature grand! May all that you do be Nature-Inspired.

Returning from a Six-Month Absence

Happy New Year!

I left Big Blue Lake end of June, 2017 for my six-month Interim Presidency at Fairmont State University. We returned mid-day December 23. I squeezed a lot out of that half-year. Yet I must admit, I cannot ignore the trade-offs… the costs of a six-month full immersion out of state. Judy (my spouse of 45.5 years) joined me a week per month, too infrequently for me not to feel generally as though I was living alone. Also, I made it back to Alabama only once during the term, making our daughter and grand sons Jack (10) and Sam (4) seem remote. We kept up through phone and Face-time, yet it’s not the same.

Was great to reconnect at Big Blue Lake upon return! As I appreciated this special place and reunited with family, I thought of Wendell Berry’s “VII,” his poem reminding us that the day-to-day small things aggregate to life, pleasure, and reward:

“Again I resume the long

lesson:  how small a thing

can be pleasing, how little

in this hard world it takes

to satisfy the mind

and bring it to its rest.”

Christmas Eve stayed cloudy most of the day as a cold front slowly slipped south. Thick low clouds parted at sunset, rewarding us with sparkling clear skies above as the cloud deck slipped away.

Again, Nature serves dollops of magic to those willing to look, see, and feel. What did seeing this wonder require of me? Sensing the light changing outside my window… and wandering to the patio with camera at the ready. The view is to the south, clouds racing from the northwest, heralding the first really cold spell of the young winter. The mix and richness of colors and textures constitute the scene, yet the details of season, wind direction, and frontal passage add meaning and content not discernible to the unknowing and disinterested. I observe people clinging to their digital devices, and feel sorrow for what they are missing.

When I hit the shutter for this frame, I saw only the magnificent sky. Then my eye saw Big Blue standing at water’s edge near the willow clump just right of center. Hunched to buffer the now chilly breeze, he did not rise.

I brought him closer via the zoom. This was my first close-up of our resident great blue heron since my return the day prior. I viewed his presence as a gift, an acknowledgment that the simple things matter. Berry’s “VII” said it beautifully:

“What more did I

think I wanted?  Here is

what has always been.

Here is what will always be.”

I seek Nature’s gifts relentlessly. She rewards selflessly… and often. She asks only that I be alert, and not demanding on a Grand Tetons or Alaska Range scale. Life presents itself in bite-size morsels. Enjoyment, appreciation, and fulfillment need not await the once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventure.

Christmas brought the anticipated pleasure of celebrating the ultimate Gift of a Life that forever changed the world to those of us who embrace Christianity. May each of you have found some similar Spiritual awakening… your own belief in a higher power — a spiritual purpose and calling.

Jack’s new fishing rod and reel connected the day after — a 1.5 pound large-mouth bass right at our shore. We immediately released it, knowing that the frogs, smaller fish, and other critters will soon nurture his growth to tougher future angling battles and perhaps a fry-pan.

That day ended with yet another gift, this one at sunset, welcoming a night that fell into the lower twenties. Balmy by our Fairbanks, Alaska winter standards, yet seasonably cold for northern Alabama.

Again, just four days back at Big Blue Lake and life is rich, full, and good. All without any digital immersion beyond a few emails and texts from friends and family.

I can’t resist the shutter when Nature paints the evening sky.

The same holds for Nature’s wake-up call, this one greeting December 29, a full-week returned to Big Blue Lake.

Are you on alert for Nature’s richness?

Are you looking, seeing, feeling, and acting? I’m writing these words Friday evening, the 29th. I just glanced out my office window to the north, discovering a glow reflected in windows across the street. I rushed to the patio, camera in hand, curious to see whether the day would end with the west ignited in farewell:

Sure enough, another blessing, both without and with Sam and Jack in silhouette! As I’ve said too many times to count, every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. This Blog Post focuses on Nature’s incessant inspiration. Yet perhaps her most poignant lesson expressed powerfully in these photographs and reflections is simple and direct. Berry nailed it:

“Again I resume the long

lesson:  how small a thing

can be pleasing, how little

in this hard world it takes

to satisfy the mind

and bring it to its rest.”

Dewitt Jones, decades-long National Geographic photographer extraordinaire, observed in The Nature of Leadership (Covey, Marshall, and Jones), “Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from nature is gratitude. If we could publish it in our lives everyday, the way nature publishes beauty in every sunrise and every sunset, how different might the world be?”

Great Blue Heron can help you find Nature’s simple power and wisdom to guide your life and enterprise. And how we might inculcate a measure of gratitude for the world around us.

 

Brief Return to Alabama

I drove the 640 miles from West Virginia to visit my Alabama home Saturday, August 19, seven full weeks since I had departed. Normally, by three weeks into August, summer has taken its toll. Browning road medians and some fading tree and shrub foliage. Lawns that are yellow, no longer lush as they were early in the season. This year, however, medians along the entire route remained verdant. Lawns, even those along north Alabama rural routes at homes seldom if ever employing lawn treatment and sprinklers, appeared June-like. I prefer these years when Nature delivers ample rainfall across the long growing season, not that Nature cares or considers my preferences!

Sunday dawned clear, warm, and humid on Big Blue Lake. Big Blue stood quietly at the lake’s northern neck, either having rested there for the night, or just arriving for breakfast. He paid us little mind as we walked past and later returned. I doubt he noted that this was my first appearance in some fifty days. My heart filled to see him, always symbolizing my Dad’s spirit, welcoming me home, perhaps inquiring of how things are going at Fairmont State University, where I serve as Interim President.

Judy and I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the patio. Big Blue flew low across the water within thirty minutes, departing the neck, bee-lining for the southwest corner, then lifting across the second pond, rising above the trees on the far south shore, and to points beyond. Katy (our daughter) brought Jack and Sam (our two Alabama grandsons) to visit after our coffee. Jack, the 9.5-year-old, requested a walk around the lake. We departed counter clockwise. Leaping frogs preceded our passage by 10-15 feet. Several created enough ruckus to startle Sam (3.5 years). His attention shifted occasionally from the frogs to the goose poop spotting the grass and back again. I suppose priorities and perspective vary with the distance between heights of three and six feet, and ages from 3.5 to 66! Jack and I paid more attention to the many bass we saw hunting along the near-shore shallows, and the three green herons we watched come and go solo, and stalk along the shoreline or perch momentarily on lower willow branches. For the frogs, fish, and herons (green and great blue), predation in search of satiation is the order of the day. No omnivores, these voracious predators share the same food-stocks. These placid waters and their scaly, slippery, and feathered denizens soothe my psyche and reward my visual palette. The frog finds nothing soothing about Big Blue.

We did not see three other meat-eaters that we have encountered on past circuits: snapping turtle, snake, and hawk. What a privilege to call this rich environment home. What a relief to be above the dangerous lake community food chain! I imagine that few among my human neighbors pay much attention to life on the lake for other than themselves. I am fortunate to be able and adept at seeing far more than the houses and lawns that ring the lake. I have dedicated myself first to looking, and most importantly to seeing and feeling the magic, beauty, wonder, and awe that Nature affords and provides.

Amazing, too, is how much change I see over those two elapsed months. Our landscape plants have flourished. Subtle and somewhat invisible when viewed day after consecutive day, changes over the extended period of heat, moisture, and long days shout at me. Our loblolly pine, just four feet at planting, now stands close to seven feet. Our back-bed willow oak is very noticeably of larger girth. The list is long, evidencing Nature’s dynamism. Sometimes, only by stepping away for a bit, can we see change and progress. Nature teaches the lesson day in and day out.

Monday morning, Big Blue did not greet us from his fishing grounds in the neck. Instead, after our breakfast and my trip to the gym, we sat in the sun room reading. I glanced out the window over Judy’s shoulder. There stood Big Blue rooftop, a couple hundred yards to the south. He stood tall and regal. I gasped, grabbed my phone camera, and snapped the shutter just before he took flight. Not much resolution, yet the photo captures the moment, puzzling as it is. Why would this wading hunter land atop our neighbor’s roof? Perhaps to occupy my field of vision, to signal, “Here I am; welcome back.”

After I depart this coming Saturday for Fairmont, I may not return until the Christmas holiday. What changes by then? The average daily high will drop from 91 to 53; the low from 69 to 34. Average precipitation would see 16 inches fall now to mid-December. Leaves will go from green to fallen. Now-dry, standing corn at eight feet will be combined. The cotton, now in flower, will have fruited, opened to lovely balls of filament, and been harvested. The night will last three hours and three minutes longer. Our flower bed annuals will have succumbed to first frosts and then deep freezes. We won’t need the covered patio ceiling fan to cool us morning or evening — instead, even on mild days we’ll don sweat shirts. All that, and yet day to day will bring only barely discernible change. As in all of life and business, shifts occur that only seasonally and across the sweep of time reveal patterns and depth.

As I’ve repeated time and time again, only when we consciously and purposely look, do we see. And only when we focus our vision, do we see deeply enough to evoke the feelings that stir our passion to act. Such is the secret sauce of Nature-inspired living, learning, serving, and leading. The sauce is an elixir for me. Nature fuels my life. Just today (August 21, 2017) the Great American Eclipse raced across the US from Oregon to South Carolina at 1,850 miles per hour.

Judy, Jack, and I watched the eclipse reach 98 percent here in Madison, AL at ~1:30. We viewed it through the special glasses we wore. We also watched live video and highlights on The Weather Channel. I admit to somewhat regretting that I did not head north the two-and-one-half hours (on normal traffic days) to experience totality. I rationalized that the return home could very well have taken twice as long. Even at 98 percent, I felt the magic. We reached near-dusk. The temperature dropped ten degrees. I was struck by how many of the Weather Channel meteorologists along the route reached tear-filled levels of emotion.

I felt it, too, even outside the zone of totality. So many of Nature’s wonders bring me to and beyond misty-eyes. The path of total darkness did not leave telltale signs in its wake. The Earth does not bear a scar. No vestige of its passing marks the land or vegetation. Yet, like so many events and happenings, the solar eclipse left its mark on the hearts and souls it touched. Many of the eyewitnesses interviewed said that the image and impact will live with them forever. My own threshold for “living with me forever” is one that I cross almost daily. I am grateful that my heart, soul, and spirit are so accessible. That I can feel Nature’s power and wisdom without waiting for years, decades, and longer (as in the case of a total solar eclipse), to feel the magic and wonder.

Are you feeling the magic and vitality of living, learning, serving, and leading in your life and work? Great Blue Heron can help you discover Nature’s elixir. Contact me to learn how we can find the magic within you, and bring it to the surface.

 

Featured Image: Big Blue found a perch atop our neighbor’s roof. He stood there for a few minutes, stork-like!

 

Karen Jacobs Cook’s GBH Photo

The younger of my Mom’s two brothers had two daughters, Karen Sue and Debbie. Karen is a year older than I. Life took all of us in different directions. Decades had passed since we last communicated. Early this past spring, Karen and I found each other on LinkedIn. I had no clue that Karen had discovered photography, particularly nature and wildlife. Her company: “My Shot Photographs, LLC” in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her work: stunning! She had no idea that life had led me to higher education leadership and Great Blue Heron, LLC. We delighted in our independent alignment — a correspondence; a divine providence in the view of Emanuel Swedenborg. Karen kindly sent me her exquisite “Elegant Flight,” a great blue heron flying gracefully along a Florida waterway.

 

I just retrieved the photo from the local frame shop, hanging it prominently on my Fairmont State University president’s office wall. Elegant Flight will accompany me back to Alabama after my Interim Presidency, where he will reside in my GBH, LLC office. I have always preferred paintings that look like photos, and photos that seem to be paintings. Elegant Flight fools people — they think it’s a painting!

Life is an amazing journey, much like the many trails I have hiked, run, or cycled over the decades. Each twist and turn offers new vistas, experiences, and lessons. As Robert Frost so beautifully penned, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” Way did lead on to way for cousin Karen Sue and me, and rather than diverge in a yellow wood, our roads converged in a great blue heron’s magnificent flight.

Had we not been alert to the world around us, we might never had made our re-connection nor discovered the alignment of interests and pursuits. It’s uncanny that our paths crossed via a great blue heron, my deceased Dad’s totem. Perhaps Dad played some role in guiding our paths to this point of convergence. Judy and I are eager to reunite with Karen Sue and Gary!

Drop me a note if you care to see Karen’s inventory of photos. I will pass along your contact information.

Big Blue’s First Quarter 2017

Observing nature clears my head and allows me to glean lessons for harnessing Nature’s wisdom and inspiration. Nature informs and inspires my consulting, stimulates my writing, and furnishes endless vignettes and anecdotes for motivational speaking.

We moved permanently into our new home in Madison, AL end of June 2016. Christmas 2016, our then 8-year-old grandson Jack gave me a Bird Watching and Other Nature Observations Journal. I immediately dubbed it my journal of Observations from Big Blue Lake, named after our resident great blue heron. I began journaling January 1, focusing on Big Blue’s comings and goings, yet not limited to him.

Drafting the 13 essays in Nature Based Leadership, my first book, I discovered that writing requires far deeper thinking than talking. In fact, and I’ve occasionally been guilty myself, I’ve had some verbal interactions when it soon became obvious that one of us was barely engaging the mind! Writing is far more demanding. Journaling requires a lot — I hand-write mine, which means the more concise and clear I can be, the fewer words I must record.

Today I re-read journal entries through March 31. Wow, a quick and cogent reminder that life can be pretty exciting on a four-acre lake in northern Alabama! Of course, Big Blue head-lined the quarter. See the photo of him fishing at our willow clump. We saw him 26 of January’s 31 days, including the final 12 consecutive days. January 2, 26, and 28 he stayed near our shore most of the day. Over the month we witnessed four successful fish catches. On the 17th and 21st two great blues appeared at one time, reminding me that we cannot be certain that Big Blue is a single bird we see repeatedly. Our resident may be more than one.

February we spotted him (I’ll stick with the image of a single resident) 19 days, and saw him make two unsuccessful plunges for prey. February 24 we once again saw two herons at once. March brought 19 observations during the 28 days we were home. We saw no doubles. We witnessed a single fish catch, along with a spectacular empty dive from shore!

February 2, two hooded mergansers appeared — and stayed with us every day through March 21. I did not see them March 22, or any day after. When in residence, they floated, paddled, and dived continuously across the lake. some days we saw two and three pairs of male and female. One day seven toured the lake. I suppose with the equinox they departed for points north.

I’ve noted often that autumn here in the South slowly, blessedly, deliciously transitions to spring. Winter comes only as a day or two here and there. We reached a low of six degrees just once. Ice covered two-thirds of the lake two mornings. March 12 looked a little like winter with a coating of snow. Just 15 days later a spring evening thunderstorm set the stage for a glorious double rainbow!

Our resident Canada geese began getting aggressively territorial by mid-March, with what I assumed to be the males of two pairs chasing away all other intruders. By late-March bullfrogs were bellowing and red winged blackbird males posting, posturing, and singing loudly.

All of Nature ebbs and flows with the seasons. I will enjoy beginning anew next January. I want to learn the rhythms. Our lives and enterprises likewise follow seasonal shifts, cycles, and patterns. We can anticipate, respond, and adapt only when we take time to learn the patterns. Great Blue Heron strives to help clients look (really look) to actually see, understand, and anticipate the trends affecting them. We urge those we touch to look and see deeply enough to generate feelings. Day-to-day and in aggregate, the rhythms and patterns reveal themselves, and inform our decisions. The feelings spur us to action — actions that enrich and lift the individual and the enterprise.

Great Blue Heron specializes in Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration.

 

Big Blue Has Adopted Us!

Big Blue, the great blue heron that is resident to our small lake here in northern Alabama, is spending more and more time with us. Our home sits 50 feet above water level on the north shore. Our shore-line vegetation includes three willow clumps, which I have lopped to eight feet — that’s as far as I can reach. Big Blue is spending hours a day (six, three, and ten hours, respectively, these past three days) standing in the near-shore water at the largest of the three willow clumps. This one is about ten feet across. Why there?

A cold front swept through last evening. Cold is relative — what is cold in north Alabama is down-right warm compared to January in Fairbanks, AK, where we lived 2004-08. Today never made it to 50 degrees with a brisk northwesterly wind. So again, why is he adopting this particular spot? The willow clump cut the breeze hitting Big Blue as he basked in the bright sunshine warmly bathing his southern exposure. The willow also prevented any land-dwelling predator from rushing him. Another reason he prefers our end of the lake is that we and our near-neighbors have no dogs. Well, our neighbor to the east does have what I refer to as a diminutive pretend dog. Some large dogs live on the south end, quite noisy when out. I would guess very threatening even though fenced. And finally, I imagine from his fish prey’s perspective, the willow behind him masks his image. So, all in all, a great place to spend the day.

I revel in seeing him comfortable near our home. I can only hope that this is more than a passing fancy.

As I contemplate future Big Blue Blogs, I list several topics for exploration. First, can I be sure there is just this one Big Blue, and not a series of great blue herons I cannot distinguish one from another? We’re trying to catalog sightings with photos. I refer to Big Blue in the masculine — how can I be sure? I call this four-acre body of water a lake — I will delve into the difference between a lake and a pond. Other ideas will come to me.