Flint Creek Trail at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

October 8, 2022, I co-led an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; University of Alabama at Huntsville) hike along the Flint Creek Trail, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, Alabama. The day proved picture perfect with brilliant blue sky and unseasonably chilly. I enjoy leading these hikes; our OLLI members are mostly retirees, eager to learn and enthusiastic Nature enthusiasts.

Flint Creek

 

The trail begins at a newly rebuilt bridge crossing the Flint Creek arm of Lake Wheeler, the TVA impoundment created behind Wheeler Dam (~1938) at Rogersville, some 30 river miles downstream on the Tennessee River. The group is heading east across the bridge for the riparian forest trail. That’s pond cypress on the left in both images. Most of our north Alabama cypress trees are bald cypress. Both species are deciduous needle-leaf trees.

Flint Creek

 

The boardwalk allows ample room for pausing to observe and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Refuge. At right the hikers are entering the forest.

Flint CreekFlint Creek

 

Courtesy of an Eagle Scout project, the trail sports a digital interactive tree ID walk. Scan the code at each specimen and learn what otherwise would require expensive and high-maintenance signage.

Flint Creek

 

Now, cross the bridge walkway with me via this 3:09 video that I recorded a week earlier when Chris Stuhlinger and I made a dry run preparing for our OLLI hike:

 

Riparian hardwood Forest

 

I don’t intend for this photo-essay to dive deeply into forest ecology, yet I will cover a few themes and highlights. This photo evidences the relaxing outing we enjoyed. The ecological lesson derives from the tree leaning at about 40 degrees from vertical. Our trees are overwhelmingly positively geotropic, that is, they grow in direct opposition to gravity. Some have a tendency to grow directly toward light (positively phototropic), yet that factor generally persuades branch tips to seek light. For example, trees along a woods edge grow toward the opening. There is no reason I can fathom for the subject leaning tree to grow at a 40 degree angle. Instead, some force shoved the tree from its original vertical posture…likely a toppling neighbor or falling branch or tree top. Out of view, the live crown growing shoots are orienting vertically.

Flint Creek

 

The forest we hiked provided ample evidence that nothing in Nature is static. The canopy view below left presents a large opening where a tree has exited within the past two growing seasons…a storm-toppled dominant or codominant occupant. The surrounding trees will expand their crowns to fill the void. Contrast that opening to the fully-occupied canopy below right.

Flint Creek

 

This canopy view shows some crown opening, but surrounding tree in the intervening several years have mostly filled the gap.

Flint Creek

 

Tree canopies tell a compelling tale of competition and survival. Like so much in life and living, a one-dimensional examination reveals an incomplete picture.

 

A Dynamic Forest Where Life and Death Dance without End

 

The forest floor provides a second critical perspective in understanding forest dynamics. In both cases below a dominant living oak toppled within the past year, wrenching large mounds of root-held soil. Each will leave a micro-topography signature…pit and mound or hummock and hollow. Long after the fallen tree decays into the soil, the pit or hollow will remain as a clear depression; the mound or hummock will sustain, only sloughing into the terrain over centuries.

Flint Creek

 

We found other examples of wind-toppled main canopy trees from a summer 2022 storm. Such is the continuing dance of life and death in our north Alabama forests. These maturing hardwood forests are gradually transitioning to a patchwork of dense forest and small openings, some large enough to encourage and enable regeneration of somewhat shade tolerant species. Of note, all three of these uprooted trees were living. Dead standing trees no longer cling to the soil when toppled. The roots are brittle and simply break of, without accompanying mound creation, when the tree falls.

Flint Creek

 

Here’s an oak tree that died while upright. Rather than break at the base and fall, this one rotted standing in place until its mass exceeded its strength, failing at about ten feet above the stump, dropping its upper trunk and top.

Flint Creek

 

Based upon the degree of decomposition I estimate that death came 4-7 years ago. One of the only fresh mushrooms we encountered, this Ganaderma sessile, a lacquered shelf fungus, adorned the fallen trunk. The upper surface resembles varnished wood.

Flint CreekFlint Creek

 

We enjoyed finding surprises everywhere we looked!

Tree Form Curiosities

 

I reminded the participants that Nature’s magic and mysteries lie hidden in plain sight. I have collected a photograph portfolio of tree form oddities and curiosities from my wanderings, locally, nationally, and internationally. This main canopy oak suffered physical injuries decades ago, opening infection courts for decay fungi. It’s tried valiantly to callous the wounds, successfully enough to permits wood increment sufficient to hold the tree upright. Eventually, the tree will lose its battle with gravity. Deep heart rot will continue its inexorable hollowing…and weakening.

Flint Creek

 

Meantime, the oak reaches solidly into full sunlight high overhead, and its vigor over the years has enable it to produce acorns, perhaps fulfilling its primary function to create a next generation of progeny.

Flint Creek

 

I shall continue to pursue my search for tree form oddities and curiosities.

 

Poison Ivy, Hearts-a-Bustin, and Happy Farewells

 

Even the most unpleasant forest denizens, poison ivy for those of us sensitive to its sap, convey an image of beauty and wonder, its air roots holding fast to the trunk.

Flint Creek

 

One of the most spectacular shrub seed heads greeted us as we entered the forest. From the online Nature Journal:

One scarcely notices hearts-a-bustin’ (Euonymus americanus), which is also known as strawberry bush, from late April to early June, when its inconspicuous, small, greenish-purple flowers appear.

I personally celebrate that such an inconspicuous flower presents a truly mind-bustin seed display!

Flint Creek

 

Chris and I celebrated that our hikers departed with happy farewells, fond memories, and a heightened sense of Nature appreciation!

Flint Creek

 

And Nature likewise sent us on our way with a gift of her beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

Flint CreekFlint Creek

 

Leading a group of life-stage contemporaries lifts my spirit and satisfies my compulsion to sow the seeds of informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I find Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe wherever I seek it.
  • I want to feel Nature’s essence and taste and inhale her elixir…and share the magic with others!
  • Leading a group of life-stage contemporaries lifts my spirit and satisfies my compulsion to sow the seeds of informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books Flint Creek

 

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.

 

 

 

 

A Spectacular Autumn Sunrise at Alabama’s Lakepoint State Park and the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

This post offers 44 minutes of sunrise inspiration at Alabama’s Lakepoint State Park and Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge October 15, 2022.

An equinox stroke eliminated my planned March 2022 trip to Lakepoint State Park for a quarterly Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting. I vowed to visit the Park once I recovered and summer had passed into fall. I arrived Wednesday October 12, in time for lunch at the Lakepoint SP Lodge, met by my host Tasha Simon, Natural Resources Section Chief, Alabama State Parks. Tasha toured me through the Park that afternoon and through mid-afternoon Thursday, offering ideas for me to pursue until I departed early Saturday morning for Andalusia.

I focus this post on the truly spectacular sunrise I chronicled Saturday. Interestly, the Park is surrounded by the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. I ventured from the Lodge, walking the Lake Eufaula shoreline, my feet firmly planted on the State Park. However, every photo over Lake Eufaula, created by damming the Chattahoochee River downstream, captured images of the Eufaula NWR. The partnership and co-location stand as a story of interagency success: US Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Lakepoint

 

The sun rose by my watch at 6:55. Leaving my room at 6:30, I looked ESE to the lodge at 6:39 (left) and snapped the mist rising above the bay  at 6:40.

Lakepoint

 

I don’t see much need for my own narrative. The photos speak volumes; their beauty requires little interpretation. My more typical forest wanderings (and wonderings) warrant adding my observations, reflections, and ecological explanations.  These views at 6:42 and 6:48, quite simply reflect the absolute calm and serenity of an autumn dawn, air cool enough above the water to condense rising mists.

Lakepoint

 

Some bands of mist created fog banks, adding elements of intrigue and mystery to the 6:51 and 6:57 waterscapes. Already, anticipating a mild and sunny day, fishermen are launching their craft. I wonder how many marveled at Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe…a reach far beyond the allure of landing a big bass. Back in the days of my youthful fishing, I recall even then that catching was important, but really secondary to the joy and inspiration of being outdoors. I felt echoes of that youthful joy from early mornings shared with Dad and my older brother. In fact, Dad stood with me (really, in me) October 15. I sense his presence often in such special Nature moments. Occasionally, near-conversations flow, not audibly, yet seeming so very real. My eyes shared the morning mists.

Lakepoint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 3:18 video depicts the peace, quiet, serenity, and beauty of that misty sunrise.

 

According to my iPhone photograph, the rising sun punctuated the dawn at 6:56 AM as I walked through the boat launch parking lot.

Lakepoint

 

 

I cherish the impactful moment I captured with this 2:37 video. My videography is nothing special. It is my timing…my early morning wanderings at the right place…that are noteworthy. As my ardent angler friend often reminded me, “There is only one way to guarantee catching no fish.” Each time I would ask, “And what is that.” His consistent reply, “Never wet a line.” I would never capture a good dawn photo or video if I never arose before dawn.

 

Like all of life and living, Nature enthusiasm requires showing up. I had driven more than four hours to spend three days at Lakepoint State Park and the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. I was not about to miss opportunities for experiencing the deep and varied Nature of the place!

I snapped my favorite image right after sunrise as two fishermen worked the shoreline backlit by the rising sun at 6:57 AM.

 

American lotus and vegetation across the water accepted the sun’s slanting rays at 6:58 AM. I suppose the early morning anglers in every photo were eager for the sun’s warmth.

LakepointLakepoint

 

The two gentlemen in the backlit scene above soon fished their way from the bank heading into more open water, trolling across the piling dockside, at 7:00 and 7:01.

LakepointLakepoint

 

By 7:14 AM, daylight was in full swing as I trekked back to the lodge to head for Andalusia for the Longleaf Pine exploration leg of my journey.

Lakepoint

 

I captured this collection of photos, videos, observations, reflections, and memories across 44 minutes. I feel an urgency in sharing these remarkably soul-stirring and spirit-lifting 2,640 seconds with other Nature enthusiasts. My two-part retirement Vision is quite simple:

  • 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.

I could write a lengthy treatise on my rationale for why I believe people should pay greater attention to and engage more with Nature…and modify their relationship to the natural world. Instead, I choose to condense my arguments into more such 44-minute distillations.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I find Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe wherever I seek it, especially at dawn.
  • I want to feel Nature’s essence and taste and inhale her sunrise elixir!
  • The land and water came to us out of eternity; I thank God for our collective wisdom to secure special places in perpetuity.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksLakepoint

 

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.

 

 

Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park

In concert with my October exploration of Alabama’s Lakepoint State Park and the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, I slipped over to Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park October 14, 2022. I found a paradoxically attractive consequence of man’s irresponsible and poorly informed treatment of fragile soils for crop production. Scarred by agriculture in the mid-19th century, erosion canyons now reach 150 feet deep. The landscape bears testament to Nature’s unforgiving response to abusive land use.

Vulnerability to Nature’s Forces

Interpretive signage describe the chronology of land use history and unforeseen consequences.

 

The canyon and this single sign capture the consequence of ignorant land use practice.

 

Leaving the visitors center I hiked the canyon loop trail counter clockwise, descending toward the outlet stream. Immediately, the erodible tendency of the soils expressed clearly with severe trail gullying. I pondered whether a park established to remind visitors of Nature’s harsh reaction to man’s torment can manage its own trails through season after season of southwest Georgia rains. These photos suggest a losing battle.

 

Several hundred feet down the trail (below left) an erosion finger reached above the trail into the forested hillside. The active gully continued below the trail, where a wooden handrail protects hikers from slipping into the growing ravine.

 

The stream outlet (below left) leads up into the canyon. Water flowed across a firm sandy bottom. The flow continued downstream (below left).

 

Trail signs alert hikers to hazards and warn of dangerous consequences.

 

Power of Erosion at the Hand of Man: Beauty and Beast

 

As I hiked along the canyon rim, I stood spellbound by the strange beauty. I often thrill to Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I overheard many fellow hikers remarking, “Isn’t it beautiful!” or like exclamations of appreciation. I could not bring myself to that level of exaltation. After all, I could not distance myself entirely from the cause. Sure, the canyon resulted from natural processes…yet the trigger was man’s. I shuffled between revulsion and inspiration. Were this a canyon known to Native Americans, accorded tales of spirits and generational escapes and adventures, I would have embraced without reservation. Admittedly, however, there is palpable, undeniable beauty in these two images.

 

My 2:17 video captures the remarkably harsh elegance of the place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TMQYXOvRdE

 

 

The layers of sand, silt, and clay paint the canyon sides.  However, I observed evidence of still-active expansion. At a number of places along the rim, fence posts stood right at the edge, evidencing that a former rail had been consumed by the advancing cliff face (below left). I felt a bit unnerved as I exposed the image below right from behind the current rail, looking nearly vertically into the abyss.

 

The canyon edge is raw…obviously active (below left). The close up (below right) shows a fissure opening, portending a three-foot slab that will soon yield to gravity. How long: day; a week; a month; a year? The canyon is not expanding on a geologic time scale. This is happening in real time.

 

Here is what was once an overlook that is failing, eroding at the surface even as the canyon expands into the rim.

 

Fascinating Sidebars along the Way

 

The 20-inch diameter sweet gum tree stood trailside near the canyon rim picnic area, where I paused to eat a granola bar snack. I wondered how many other hikers noticed its old lightning scar running from its base well into the crown. The sweet gum surely has a story to tell…the afternoon that a thunderstorm tossed a lightning bolt at the tree, heating the inner bark cambium to surface-of-the-sun level. The tree survived; the seared cambium did not. The stalwart tree battles on, effectively callusing over the wound in place. Yet, heart rot will continue to weaken the sweet gum. I wonder about its fate. Will gravity exceed the strength of the weakened tree before the canyon reaches laterally to deposit the sweet gum into its gaping maw. Either way, the sweetgum eventually loses.

 

Also nearby, a walnut tree graced the picnic area, its branches sill heavy with walnuts and the ground under it rich with the fallen nuts in their green husks.

 

On the far side of the canyon, interpretive signs explained the deep forest presence of long-abandoned cars, field equipment, and building residue. From the canyon to the old homestead, the prior land use and failed domestication created a multi-faceted wasteland, land abused the the point of no economic value and only severely limited natural productivity and utility. I’m pleased that the State left the old human debris, helping to tell the tale of domestication, abuse, and abandonment.

 

I’m always on the lookout for tree form oddities and curiosities. On the far canyon rim, near the old homestead, a cedar pointed the way toward the canyon outlet. The pointing is only a matter of chance, occurring when a tree crown or stem crushed the then younger, smaller, and more supple cedar. The impact killed the top, fifteen feet from its stump, yet the tree survived to send stems vertically. There are some who would call this an Indian marker tree. Native Americans had long since departed southwestern Georgia when this cedar suffered its injury and recovery.

 

These two oaks (actually one oak forked at the stump) embraced warmly, grafting their intertwining and intersecting branches. Yet another tree form oddity.

 

This yucca marked my way, standing green and bright in an otherwise drab upland oak forest.

 

The photos below show the top (left) and bottom (right) of a single sign. This canyon and others in the Stewart County cotton production area drew the attention of Franklin D. Roosevelt and other New Dealers to create and sign the 1935 Soil Conservation Act.

 

I’ve often repeated that over the course of my career I’ve seldom learned by doing things right. Stated differently, experience is that thing we get right after we needed it. The nation learned through its agricultural mis-practices and land use mistakes and abuses. I view it as sad that the Act was necessary 73 years after Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which established a Land Grant University (LGU) in each of our states. The LGU mission included advancing the science and practice of agriculture. The Soil Conservation Act passed 21 years after Congress passed the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which enabled the Land Grant Colleges to create statewide Cooperative Extension Services to extend the science and knowledge of LGUs to rural communities, including agricultural practices. Successive legislative actions created a system for encouraging informed and responsible Earth stewardship. So much of what is right and appropriate in the way we treat our land seems to entail common sense, but that kind of sense has seldom been common!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Common sense in our treatment of Nature and land is seldom common.
  • Too often our past land use has tracked from domestication to abuse to ruin and then to abandonment.
  • Observing the man-triggered canyon, I shuffled between revulsion and inspiration.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

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.

 

 

Alabama’s Lake Point State Park; Managed Loblolly Pine

October 2022 I enjoyed my first visit to Alabama’s Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula. I found the Park’s forests and Lake Eufaula shoreline delightful, rich with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. See my focus on the Park’s managed loblolly pine forest, intersected with pleasant trails.

A Park and a Refuge

An equinox stroke eliminated my planned March 2022 trip to Lakepoint State Park for a quarterly Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting. I vowed to visit the Park once I recovered and summer had passed into fall. I arrived Wednesday October 12, in time for lunch at the Lakepoint SP Lodge, met by my host Tasha Simon, Natural Resources Section Chief, Alabama State Parks. Tasha toured me through the Park that afternoon and through mid-afternoon Thursday, offering ideas for me to pursue until I departed early Saturday morning for Andalusia.

Lakepoint

 

I focus this Post on our hike through the managed, park-like loblolly pine stand transected by a gentle trail and bounded by a loop road accessing Deer Court, ClarkLoop, Barbour Loop, and the Alabama Loop. The pine stands out more darkly within the loop across Route 431 from the golf course at the left-center of the aerial photograph.

Lakepoint

 

We met at the restaurant, located in the Park’s lodge along Lake Eufaula.

Lakepoint

Lakepoint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the Park, representing an effective State/National partnership.

Lakepoint

 

 

 

The pine stand we traversed extends to the water line in the day use area (left). Mixed natural hardwood forest borders the lake in other parts of the park (right).

Lakepoint

 

A Managed (Park-Like) Loblolly Pine Forest

We drove from the lodge to the activity building on the northern side of the subject pine forest, which borders the parking area.

Lakepoint

 

I often refer to forest conditions that are park-like…and have for many years. However, I just now consulted my dictionary of forest terminology, finding no formal definition. Back in my graduate school days and early in my academic career, when every written point had to be affirmed by a literature citation, I would have panicked. Today, instead, I remind myself, “I know what park-like means. Why on earth do I need to confirm what I know it means with what somebody else thinks it means?!” So, allow me to fashion the parameters for my own park-like definition:

  • Populated by mature (larger than seedlings and saplings) trees
  • Average height at least 40 feet
  • Crowns not touching; that is, less than fully stocked
  • Some sunlight reaching the forest floor
  • Understory somewhat open
  • A sense that the forest is accessible
  • Visibility extends into the forest

Our subject forest meets those criteria. Park crews have commercially thinned the stems, leaving lots of crown space for growth. Prescribed fire (about a three-year cycle) maintains the open understory. The unmanaged hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood stands nearby present a solid edge, appearing jungle-like, with no visibility into the forest. I prefer the open view, with individual stems fading into the distance, and the sky and sun above.

Lakepoint

 

I recorded this 2:02 video within the stand October 13: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGqa8rERuak

 

The view below left looks out from the trail onto the loop road. The trunk below right evidences the prescribed fire, hot enough to control woody understory insurgents without damaging the naturally fire resistant loblolly pine.

Lakepoint

 

During the days when I ran recreationally, I loved trails like the one we hiked (left). The crown view (right) suggests, with open space closing, that a next thinning may be timely within the next 2-4 years. Loblolly competes ruthlessly for sunlight. The species practices aggressive self-thinning. The strong survive. Lay literature (fairy tales and feel-good stories of the forest) depicts a fantasy of an idyllic world where peace, love, tranquility, and cooperation prevail. Such is not the case. Resources (moisture, nutrients, and sunlight) are finite. Trees live to grow and reproduce. Those able to grow will live to reproduce. Those who grow best, tap a greater share of those scarce resources. The individuals who lose their share yield vitality, and will eventually succumb. This is not the fantasy world where caring and sharing rule the day. Life in the forest is dog-eat-dog, fiercely competitive. Resources are finite; only the strong survive.

Lakepoint

 

 

Without periodic prescribed burning, succession would encourage woody shrubs and trees to occupy the understory, eventually converting the forest from a single-tiered mature pine main canopy to an emerging predominantly hardwood forest overtopped by residual pine above. Lush perennial, non-woody plants, like the dog fennel (below left) flourish in the repeatedly burned stand. Because the mature main canopy produce prodigious cone and seed crops, pine seedlings germinate liberally in the fire-prepared soil (below right). A subsequent fire will kill the seedlings, yet if managers decide to regenerate the stand to pine, they can withhold fire, encouraging those seedlings to develop as the next stand. Such is one alternative afforded by the art and science of forestry.

LakepointLakepoint

 

 

Here is a second video (2:17) I recorded in the managed loblolly forest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGMAToMCijE

 

Emphasizing the finite light available, I use the vertical crown shot below left to demonstrate how thinning redistributes crown space among the residual stems. The standing dead tree below right succumbed to some natural agent, quite possibly lightning. Recall my oft-repeated observation that life and death in our forests march hand in hand.

Lakepoint

 

A large oak stands within the loblolly. It is a residual that was already in place when past practice resulted in establishing our natural loblolly forest. The oak’s thick bark is resistant to the periodic prescribed fires. The oak adds a dimension of wildlife habitat diversity to the site.

LakepointLakepoint

 

Tree Form Oddities and Curiosities

 

Fusiform rust is a common fungal pathogen of loblolly pine, often infecting seedlings and, if not fatal, potentially carrying on into mature trees. The scar below left persists as a canker within our subject forest. The infection remains active, as does the tree’s battle to partition the active court and to callous over the wound. The interaction marks the tree with an obvious target canker. The tree, with the blemish apparent at its base (below right) continues to tap a share of upper canopy sunlight.

Lakepoint

 

The fusiform cankers are pine sap infused, often igniting with surficially-intense fire during prescribed and wildfire. This individual carried the effect to extreme, opening a portal that attracted our attention. Will the burn-through kill the tree? The simple answer is, not yet. The rind of active cambium is valiantly trying to heal the wound. My assumption is that were the tree in a fully-stocked stand, it would have already lost its ability to compete with its neighbors. Instead, I believe that those who marked the prior thinning noticed the tree’s special visual character and marked it for retention, opening canopy space around it.

Lakepoint

 

Here’s a different type of oddity, one of a peculiar nature that I had not spotted previously, even during my earlier career in managing industrial loblolly forests. These appear to be whorled 2-4-inch bark plates spaced irregularly along the vertical axis. I remain stymied, unable to find evident causal agent or mechanism. I can guess or speculate. Here goes: perhaps this individual responds to yellow-bellied sapsucker pecking by stimulating growth of these barky plates. Below right the plates extend into the live crown base.

Lakepoint

 

April 3, 2020, I photographed this odd loblolly pine with circumferential ridges at the North Alabama Land Trust Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve near Huntsville. I wonder if the causal factors are related.

Chapman Mountain

 

Einstein marveled at the mysteries of Nature:

The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.

 

Surrounded by the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

 

The pine stand grows to the water’s edge within the Lakepoint State Park day use area, which, as does the entirety of the park’s landmass, abuts the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge.

Lakepoint

 

I find special satisfaction and comfort in knowing that the full viewshed beyond the sign below right encompasses State and Federal land and water preserved and protected forever.

Paraphrasing from Louis Bromfield:

The land (and water) came to us out of eternity, and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best that any of us can hope to accomplish during our fleeting existence is to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. 

My own hope is that this Post may spark interest or generate action oriented to spreading the gospel of Earth appreciation and stewardship.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature rewards every time I visit some natural place new to me.
  • Einstein: “The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.”
  • Every place in Nature has a story to tell.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksLakepoint

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Bounty of Observations from an Empty-Basket Foraging Hike

Wednesday afternoon August 24, 2022, fellow mushroom forager Dr. Bernie Kerecki (MD) and I bushwhacked through a riparian hardwood forest just north of the Tennessee River in Madison, Alabama. We stayed alert for chanterelles, oysters, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, black-staining polypores, cauliflower mushrooms, wood ear jelly, and lions mane, all of which we have previously collected in prior outings. We exited the closed-canopy forest when declining light limited our ability to discern edibles on the forest floor. We left with empty collecting baskets. Here’s a typical view of the forest floor we scoured for 90-minutes, seeking more than seedlings, herbaceous plants, and early leaf-falls.

 

 

In contrast, here is a photo of the chanterelle-rich forest floor from summer 2021, just twelve months ago. Last year, my first as a semi-serious wild edible mushroom forager, did not prepare me well for this recent empty-basket venture, nor for the several prior trips this season that yielded only sparse harvests. The 2021 calendar year served as a real spoiler. I’m convinced that, like all else in Nature, mushroom production is cyclical. I hope that 2022 is an off-year…an unusually poor season of production that will be followed by seasons more typical of 2021.

Jolly B Road

 

I recorded this 90-second video capturing what I call A Chanterelle Forager’s Woe:

 

Nature’s Revelations and Rewards

 

Now, lest you surmise that I viewed this woodland ramble as a waste of time, let me share with you the bounty of Nature revelations and rewards I did, in fact, gather. I am a sucker for big trees. Although I have visited the US forests of true giants: coastal redwoods, Sierra Nevada sequoias, and Douglas fir, I have learned, with each return to our eastern forests, to recalibrate so that I can once again marvel at and appreciate the simple grandeur of a 40-inch southern red oak standing 110 feet tall. I refused to let my empty basket diminish my appreciation of such a forest beauty. Modifying a turn of phrase from Aldo Leopold, I love trees, yet I am in love with oaks. For Leopold, the object of his sylvan affection was white pine.

A Mighty Oak

HGH Road

 

I recorded this 3:40 video to paint a clearer picture of this riparian forest and the mighty oak within it.

 

Toppled Crown Segment from Another Mighty Oak

 

The three-foot-plus diameter (breast high; dbh) southern red oak below marks the spot where on dozens of prior occasions I turned west from a long-abandoned lane through the 70-90 year old natural hardwood forest. This tree predates the current forest, a relic that persisted from logging when the Corps of Engineers acquired and cleared the lands adjacent to the future Lake Wheeler. The tree bears evidence that at some point long ago it sustained mechanical injury, opening a court of infection for decay fungi.

I included the two photographs below on this same oak in my September 1, 2020 Post, offering this paragraph:

Other trees evidenced signs (not just symptoms) of certain degradation and reduced vigor, vitality, and value. This 30-plus-inch diameter oak still has a vibrant crown, yet is clearly hollow, likely home to critters of various sorts. Fungal fruiting bodies (to the right of the trekking pole below right) evidence dead wood along a vertical seam. I pondered why this large diameter oak appears to be long-hollowed. My forensic forestry yielded an answer. This oak is a residual from the mid 1930s logging, perhaps too small to harvest, damaged by that operation, and left to populate the new forest. The scarred trunk served as an infection court for decay fungi. It has lived with the decay for nine decades, inconvenienced but not fatally limited. As a surviving remnant in the new stand, it likely stood 30-40 feet above the regenerating stems, and had advantageous access to sunlight as well as soil nutrient and moisture resources. I have no idea how many more years it will withstand the stresses of decay, wind, ice, and gravity.

I’m pleased that my story has changed little. The view to the left is to the south; to the east at right, with the old lane just beyond.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Here’s the current view from the old lane looking west. The massive crown segment lies across the old lane, extending another 40-plus feet across the lane to the east.

 

The fork broke loose from the crown forty feet above the ground (see magnified view at right).

 

I estimate that the crown occupied one-fifth of an acre, calculated by its stretch of 55 feet in all directions from the tree’s base. Half of the fork reaches to the east (left); the other major portion stretches at least fifty feet westward (right). Note that each stub shows that the heart rot extended forty feet above that long-ago basal wound that welcomed decay fungal spores. The decay organism has been hard at work for many decades. How long will the decay organism live? Until the standing tree’s strength to weakness threshold reaches a point of inflection, toppling the entire structure. Nothing in Nature is static.

 

Here is the current view of the tree’s north side, the massive fork at nearly 30-inches in diameter lying where it dropped at the tree’s hollow base. In the short period (less than a month) since the top fell, wood-boring beetles have already infested the wood. See the telltale wood dust signatures at each point of entry. I am in uncomfortable territory here, some five decades after my undergraduate entomology courses. I believe that female adults intent upon depositing eggs within the inner bark are responsible for the dust. Having done their duty, I think that the resultant larvae will consume the cambium and sapwood. Each entry point will allow fungal spores to enter. Fungi will begin their feeding. Eventually the massive top will return to the soil. Nothing in Nature is static!

 

Here’s the 3:31 video I recorded:

 

From a Mighty Oak to an Understory Red Buckeye

 

My hometown (Cumberland, Maryland) neighborhood had a few yellow buckeyes. I loved collecting their distinct nuts in autumn. I don’t recall their special utility; I simply found them attractive…worthy of collection. Our northern Alabama woods have a few main canopy yellow buckeye trees. The red buckeye, a shrub to lower-canopy tree (less than 15 feet), is much more common. Its fruit is very similar to its yellow buckeye kin. Many decades removed from my childhood buckeye collecting, I still enjoy finding its special fruit. These weren’t yet ripe.

 

A Early Evening Farewell

 

The dense riparian forest shade deepened early, limiting our foraging vision. We exited the woods well before the sun crossed the horizon, and lucky for us we departed in time to catch the grand evening firmament show.  We departed the forest at the edge of a soybean field, presenting a sky-view to the west. A few dying cumulus against a cerulean sky above the darkening field and wood edge more than compensated for our hapless foraging efforts.

 

I found breathless fulfillment in this gift of heavenly elegance.

 

As he so often did, Muir captured my feelings a near-rapture:

The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

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

The sun shines not on us but in us.

An empty basket? Not even close! No, we brought no mushrooms home, yet our harvest was ample. Allow me to modify another Muir quote:

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

Another outing in Nature — another harvest necessary to sustain body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit!

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these thoughts:

  • Even with an empty mushroom foraging basket, a forest harvest can be in soul-form!
  • The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark. (Muir)
  • Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir!

 

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

Cold Spring Loop Trail

John Muir aptly observed, In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. So, too, every time I explore a new (for me) north Alabama natural area I receive far more than I seek.

Chris Stuhlinger, a fellow retired forester, and I co-lead a series of monthly hikes for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. September 2, 2022, we made a dry run on the Cold Spring Nature Trail, which passes through sections of both Monte Sano State Park and the Monte Sano Nature Preserve of the Land Trust of North Alabama. We led the OLLI group September 10. That’s Chris below left, and one of the OLLI group below right.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I won’t burden you with indicating the respective dates for the photos within this Post. Suffice it to say that if you see more than just Chris or me, the image is from the OLLI hike. The trail transits a remarkable older-growth upland hardwood forest, much of it occupying a cove setting: concave lower slope facing east to northeast. Species composition includes: red and white oaks, yellow poplar, mockernut and shagbark hickories, sugar maple, yellow buckeye, sweetgum, American basswood and white basswood, and even a sycamore and black walnut. Several individuals exceeded three feet in diameter. The canopy reached up to 120 feet tall.

Although I have not discovered how to capture full depth of field nor vertical extent with my iPhone, these two photos do a passable job with both. Perhaps one day I will acquire and learn how to use a real SLR camera!

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Here’s a 2:16 video I recorded within the cove forest on the dry run date: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSK1UYcE8uI

I like adding these short videos to my photo-essays. They add life to my sometimes stilted text and reduce the tedium of still photos.

 

State Champion Basswood Tree

 

The state champion basswood tree is a trailside highlight. This beauty at last measurement (July 2016) stood 113 tall, had a crown radial spread of 63 feet, and boasted a diameter at breast height of 41 inches. Its average crown spread of 63 feet from the trunk translates to the tree effectively occupying 0.29 acres! No wonder there are no other nearby large trees. This champion is a tough competitor, shouldering aside others who tried in vain to capture the upper canopy sunlight.

Monte Sano

 

The tree is not without internal stressors. An old basal scar from a long-ago-broken-away stem (below left) signals heart rot eating away from within. Some day, forces yet to be determined will spell the end of this magnificent champion. However, I told the group that its chances of out-lasting this old forester are pretty good. The tree dwarfs our OLLI hike participants.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I always struggle with what to exclude in these Posts. This cathedral grove offered many individual trees worthy of profiling with photographs and observations, to name a few individuals: yellow poplar, yellow buckeye, shagbark hickory, and a handsome white basswood, among others. Chris and I plan to return during the winter to gather photographs, make measurements, and assemble material for a subsequent Post.

 

Cold Spring

 

Another reason for returning during the dormant season, when seasonal rainfall is more reliable, is to see the spring with greater flow. Here’s Chris snapping a photo of the OLLI group standing at the rock face where the spring emerges.

Monte Sano

 

Here’s the august group at the spring, courtesy of Chris’ camera.

Monte Sano

 

As we paused at the spring, I recorded this 2:23 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaFmRSD6rtE&t=6s

Once again, a short video tells a far deeper tale.

 

Understory Plants and Flowers

 

I’ve long been a spring wildflower devotee, from my freshman systematic botany course that focused on the spring ephemerals of the central Appalachians, through my 13 interstate professional relocations across the country. After several years retired here in north Alabama I’ve evolved to more and more appreciate mid- and late-summer bloomers. Let’s visit a few that caught my eye along the Cold Spring Loop Trail.

I’m a softy for blue flowers like this zigzag spiderwort. Note the slight stem direction change at each leaf node, thus the zig zag moniker.

Monte Sano

 

We found several specimens of fortune’s spindle (AKA wintercreeper) an escaped euonymus cultivar from east Asia. Its dark evergreen foliage and climbing form make it a desirable arbor cover for home plantings. I saw no evidence that it is an aggressive invasive. The individuals we saw drew me closer, serving as a point of focus and contrast.

Monte Sano

 

This particular cluster was growing on the trunk of a yellow buckeye (below), the larger of two vine stems well-camouflaged vertically along the bark, distinguished only by the moss clinging to it.

Monte Sano

 

Great Indian plantain still retained a few non-showy flowers. Marking its beauty are large glossy deep green leaves.

Monte Sano

 

Bearing yet another blue flower, fall phox did not shout for attention, filling its reproductive end-of-season role as a seeming wallflower, yet lovely just the same.

Monte Sano

 

Unlike its wildly showy domesticated cousins, wild hydrangea offered more subtle beauty. However, because I am a big hydrangea enthusiast, I appreciated seeing this specimen offering welcome along the abandoned paved road leading to the trailhead.

Monte Sano

 

Nearby, along the same old road we found creeping cucumber in full flower, an understated intricate beauty, with fine tendrils assisting and enabling its annual climb.

 

Fungi

 

I’ve become a fungi kingdom convert, more and more understanding and appreciating this life form, its manifold and diverse members, and their essential role in our forests. Turkey tail, the mushroom of a wood decay organism, is common across eastern America. The internet is rich with sources describing its medicinal benefits.

Monte Sano

 

I photographed this oak mazegill mushroom on the end of a section of an oak bole cleared to open the trail. I regret that the old forester who doesn’t kneel as well as he useta-did (southern expression), failed to capture a good image of the intricate maze-like underside.

Monte Sano

 

Here is an image from on online source:

 Close-Up of the labyrith hymenium of an oak mazegill (Daedalea quercina).

 

Conclusion

 

My primary retirement mission is simple: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

All of my teaching, hike-leading, writing, and publishing fit the mission. I love what I do, whether co-leading a morning exploration in a local preserve with friends and fellow Nature-enthusiast seniors or bushwhacking alone through a mature riparian hardwood forest. Standing with the state champion basswood, I feel a spiritual/sacred connection to a forest elder. I em engaged entirely with all five personal portals: body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit!

Monte Sano

 

I want to feel Nature’s essence and taste inhale her elixir…and share the magic with others! Learning, teaching, and inspiring are in my Nature.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every time I explore a new (for me) north Alabama natural area I receive far more than I seek.
  • I want to feel Nature’s essence and taste inhale her elixir…and share the magic with others!
  • And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. John Muir

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

A State Champion Yields to Decay and Gravity

July 9, 2022, the State Champion shingle oak at Joe Wheeler State Park succumbed to the forces of age, decay, and gravity…gently in its sleep. This Post serves as a reflective obituary and memorial.

Nothing in Nature is static. Permanent is a human construct. Across my career I’ve held several interim or acting positions, wherein I assumed the duties and responsibilities while the organization bridged the temporal gap to appointing someone to fill the void on a longer term basis. If you will, a permanent appointment. I’ve held a number of such permanent positions. An odd turn of phrase as I sit here in retirement with other people occupying every one of those permanent posts that I held! Nothing in the world of business, government, and not-for-profits is permanent.

As I’ve said often in these Posts, the same is true in Nature. I recently offered photos, observations, and reflection from a July 2022 visit to DeSoto State Park, examining some of the changes since a prior visit:

This fall I am teaching a course I’ve titled Turn, Turn, Turn, presenting the constant changes in Nature over the passage of time, whether diurnal, weekly, seasonal, or far into the distant future. As a literal time traveler, I am captivated by time and its effect on everything. A time traveler you wonder? Sure, to date I have traveled across a little over 71 years! How about you? The changes are apparent in my surroundings…and most vividly in the mirror! Ah, if my knees could talk, they would share with you what they protest loudly to me as I hike rocky trails downhill!

Now let’s turn to the topic at hand. I published an August 6, 2020 Post on the four Alabama State Champion trees on Joe Wheeler State Park: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/06/state-champion-trees-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/

Sadly, today’s count is three. Here’s an apt excerpt from that August 2020 Post:

The fourth of Joe Wheeler’s champions is an open-growing shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) near the cabins at Wheeler Dam. As one might expect from a tree not engaging in fierce site resource competition from adjacent forest trees, this champion has little need to fast-forward vertically (height only 68 feet); instead, it gathers additional sunlight by reaching outward (crown spread at 102-feet). Its 2004 diameter has increased from 48.36-inches to today’s 51.22-inches. Were the tree vigorous and in good health the growth would have been far greater. Instead, the crown shows clear evidence of decline; branch dieback appears across the crown. Many decades of soil compaction take a toll on vigor. Eventually, like all living organisms, this tree will succumb to age and other factors. Another shingle oak will assume the champion mantle.

Joe Wheeler

Photo Credit — Mike Ezell (Summer 2020)

 

Park manager David Barr, Assistant Superintendent at Joe Wheeler State Park, captured these photos of the living tree.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

I suppose my August 2020 observations proved prescient: Eventually, like all living organisms, this tree will succumb to age and other factors. However, I erroneously assumed that some force of violence (gusty spring winds, strong thunderstorm, or winter ice) would be the final straw. David and Park Naturalist Sam Roof gave me the sad truth. The tree fell July 9, 2022, a relatively calm night with a little light rain. David remarked, “The tree was hollow at the trunk and very rotten inside. Sam and I believe the tree collapsed of its own weight.”

How inglorious an end for a champion! I had hoped for a bit of rage, not a gentle passage into the good night.

Joe Wheeler

David Barr

 

Dylan Thomas had given me hope that a true champion would yield only to weather-fury:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

 

Joe Wheeler

David Barr

 

Yet, I recognize that trees do not bend to the minds of sentimental old foresters, wanna-be poets, and amateur philosophers. In reality, this old sentinel had fought the good fight for decades. My 2020 Post said as much. We who had reached these golden years of senior citizenship often comment, with a sigh of contentment, that he or she went calmy in his or her sleep. I believe the old shingle oak did the same.

Alabama State Parks naturalist emeritus, Mike Ezell, memorialized the tree that he had known for decades, “This tree saw the infamous Muscle Shoals. It saw the floods, the logjams, the flatboats, steamboats and rapids that characterized this section of a wild and wooly historic river. The creation of Wheeler Lake in 1937 buried this landmark (the Shoals) beneath 50 ft of the calm, placid waters that drain the lower Appalachians.”

Mike believes that the old oak served as a witness tree referenced to this nearby property placard. The oak is no more, except in old photos, deep memories, and a photo-essay issued by an old forester. Even the property marker concrete is pitted and is crumbling, the brass placard is also aging. Such is the fate all things. The once alpine Appalachians are now echoes of those early days of snow-capped jagged peaks rising heavenward.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

Reflecting upon the demise of this single tree, Mike offered these parting words of wisdom, “Since the settlement of our continent by our European ancestors, natural landscapes have disappeared quickly, and with them large populations of wild flora and fauna have become victims of the reduced carrying capacity of our land. Everyone should do their part to ensure future generations get to enjoy our natural resources by installing native plants in every nook and cranny of every yard, roadside, park, and subdivision we build. Our own species survival will eventually depend on this.”

Mike is a consummate naturalist, interpreting Nature for kids of all ages and promoting Earth stewardship through related understanding and action. I thank him for introducing me to the fallen champion…and for lighting the fire of Alabama State Park Nature-passion within me.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static.
  • Even state champion trees are subject to Nature’s forces of time, gravity, and decay.
  • Like the old shingle oak, Queen Elizabeth recently passed gently into the good night, leaving deep memories and touching countless lives.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

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.

 

 

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary: A Tale of Two Extraordinary Women

This Post launches the 14-minute land legacy video tale for the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Huntsville, Alabama. The Post chronicles and presents the year-long video production. Bill Heslip, retired videographer, and I conceived and co-led the effort…Bill Directed; I Produced. Bill dubbed our two-person team Two Guys & A Camera. We enjoyed the project immensely. We consider our product a lasting tribute to Margaret Anne Goldsmith, a model for her selfless gift of land and Nature to perpetuity, and to Marian Moore Lewis, an author, dedicated naturalist, and Nature enthusiast extraordinaire.

Bill and I tried not to take ourselves too seriously, hence we had lots of fun, learned a great deal, and will never forget the rewarding experience. We were blessed by getting to know Marian and Margaret Anne, Two Remarkable Women. Allow me just a few photographs to introduce our 14-minute video tribute. Here are Marian (left), Margaret Anne, and I standing at the Taylor Road entrance in June, 2020, before Bill and I germinated the idea for a land legacy video: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/08/25/contemplating-a-video-of-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

 

Southern Sanctuary

 

Marian and Margaret Anne are holding a copy of Marian’s book, Southern Sanctuary, A Naturalist’s Walk through the Seasons at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary.

The video idea quickly took root once we broached it with Marian and Margaret Anne. In fact, once we adopted the video notion, the project became ours collectively, with fully shared ownership. Simply, we four viewed it as ours. We four gathered on-site June 6, 2021 for the first time. We were hooked!

 

May 13, 2022 proved to be a day gifted from on high — a tupelo swamp with emergent spring leaves and firmament above the fields opening a window straight into heaven!

 

 

Ours was truly a labor of love, ultimately yielding a product bringing the emotional power of human belief, action, and passion to reason…the reason of telling a story to audiences now and deep into the future.

 

Here is A Tale of Two Extraordinary Women:

 

On this grand day in May 2022 we could only dream of the completed project. My friends and colleagues can now celebrate — we did it! We memorialized Margaret Anne’s gift of land and vision to future generations. Louis Bromfield, mid 20th century author, playwright, and land steward, bought what he called his old worn out farm in north-central Ohio in the 1930s. He dedicated his life to rehabilitating the farm and its soils. He wrote in his non-fiction book, Pleasant Valley:

The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work…

We commend and thank Margaret Anne for donating the original 300 Sanctuary acres, thus changing some small corner of the Earth, gifting future generations with an incredibly Special Place!

 

The video matched my fondest memories and images of this special place, whose moods shift and gift across time, whether a frosty winter morning…

 

Or an autumn gaze into the canopy…

 

Or an early summer day of glory over a masterfully naturalized gravel pit. John Muir knew of Nature’s healing ways: Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal.

 

I co-authored (with Jennifer Wilhoit) my third book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature, inspired by the deep relationships I’ve had with other special Nature places across life. Rest assured, the Sanctuary is one of my north Alabama Special Places. I will return often…to appreciate, learn, and grow from her ever-changing faces. I embrace without hesitation my belief that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature…and her special places.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

 

 

Mid-August Hike Circuiting a Summit-Glade Racetrack

August 16, 2022, Jim Chamberlain, friend and fellow Nature enthusiast, and I hiked to and circuited the Racetrack Trail at Wade Mountain Nature Preserve, located just north of Huntsville, Alabama. This summit-top limestone glade is a climax plant community dominated by low growing herbaceous species and associated shrubs and trees. I had done little homework prior to our visit. The unique nature of the site and its vegetation took me by surprise. I will describe and explain as we proceed through this Post.

We entered the preserve via the trailhead below. We hiked to the summit racetrack through a typical temperate mixed pine and upland hardwood forest.

 

See my September 21, 2022 post on my hike through the mixed pine and hardwood forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/09/21/mid-august-hike-my-first-visit-to-wade-mountain-nature-preserve/

A Unique Ecosystem — A Special Floristic Community

 

My eyes opened a bit wider as we exited the more typical forest, transitioning to the glade. Certainly, we had ascended into a forest of fewer stems per acre and decreasing dominant crown height. Even at that, our entry to the glade seemed abrupt. Suddenly, the bright light of the opening pervaded. The path became a chalky, dusty near-white. Grass grew trailside and extended into herbaceous vegetation, brush, and scrubby forest.

 

A Floristic Plant Ecology Study of the Limestone Glades of Northern Alabama, Jerry M. Baskin, David H. Webb and Carol C. Baskin (Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, July-September 1995), described the kind of glade we encountered:

The limestone glades of the southeastern United States are natural open areas of rock pavement, gravel, flagstone, and/or shallow soil in which occur edaphic climax plant communities dominated by low growing herbaceous species. 
The physical environment is characterized by high irradiance, high soil temperatures in summer, and extremes in soil moisture ranging from saturation/flooding in late autumn, winter, and early spring to below the permanent wilting point in summer and early fall.

 

 

Lone cedars, in open-grown rounded form, punctuate the glade. I’m more accustomed to the closed canopies of our northern Alabama forests, accepting (no, welcoming and embracing) the glade’s open sky, bright light, and fresher air. Don’t get me wrong, I find no fault in the deep forest, yet, who among us does not like a change of pace?!

 

Near where we entered the glade, an abrupt summit of exposed limestone bedrock and scrub forest greeted us. It beckoned my camera lens, yet I did not truly appreciate the image and its power until I reviewed the photos back home. Although absent the lofty grandeur of my near-heaven memories of the Tetons, for example, this 1,020 rise warmed my soul and soothed my heart.  The unique habitat under a gorgeous sky enveloped me in a spiritual aura when I studied and appreciated the image in my office. I know, all that sounds a bit mushy, but in this time of retirement, I believe I am due some escape to the side of sentiment and feeling. Observations on the science of this unique floristic community go only so far.

 

Here’s the two-and-a-half minute video I recorded near the summit: 2:36 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLU17weMCaI

I must correct a term I used in the video narrative. I incorrectly termed the limestone glade a “bald.” Was that my first in-the-wild video narration error? No, nor will it be my last!

Part of the glade’s charm owes to encountering what I did not anticipate. I think of chinkapin oak as a lowland forest species, yet here it stood sapling-size, in bush form. In my riparian forest explorations I’ve seen chinkapin oaks approaching three feet diameter and reaching to better than 110 feet vertically.

 

I am sure I would have discovered loads of unusual flora had I focused my efforts, especially had I been accompanied by someone more knowledgeable than I. Perhaps some day I can return in the company of one who knows this community and can lead me through a journey of comprehension and understanding. As with many of my Nature wanderings, on the glade, once again, I find out how shallow is my knowledge of our local and regional wildness. With my age and experience, the more I learn, the less I seem to know. I recall my early years of forestry practice when I thought I knew everything! The same is true of life.

 

Summer Wildflowers

 

The glade presented a nice palette of summer wildflowers, including this sunflower-like prairie rosinweed (flower left; leaves right).

 

Less showy, yet more abundant, here’s roundfruit St. John’s-wort (flower left; leaves right).

 

Carolina ruella brightened the rather drab grey of the chalky, pebbly soil surface.

 

An online North Carolina Cooperative Extension publication provides a nearly lyrical description:

Ruellia caroliniensis, or Wild-petunia, is very common in North Carolina, found in lawns and woodlands. This native wildflower is so common that,  despite its beauty, it is sometimes considered a lawn weed. This unbranched perennial can grow to 2 to 3 feet tall. Its leaves are light green and tend to have a crowded appearance. Its purple flowers bloom in spring, summer, and fall. The unstalked flowers are in axillary clusters of three to four and usually only one or two are open on any given day. Even though wild petunia’s flowers only last for a day, its long flowering period more than compensates. It seeds readily.

Yes, I found this species this year in May along Madison, Alabama’s Bradford Creek, evidencing its extended flowering season locally. The NC State reference added this note: Dry to moist forests and woodlands. Carolina ruella is apparently not picky about its preferred habitat!

 

We found lots of butterfly milkweed flourishing in this harsh, dry, exposed environment. Only one bore a full flower head. Again, in stark contrast to the chalky soil, the milkweed showed remarkable adaptability.

 

Two summers ago I purchased a small pot of butterfly milkweed from a nursery specializing in native perennial plants. It is thriving in my cultured garden with routine watering and occasional fertilization. Amazing that a plant can thrive across the range from a cultivated oasis to a barren glade summit.

 

Prickly pear, unlike my preconceived notions for ruella and butterfly milkweed, seems perfectly suited to the glade.

 

Scrub Forest Elements

 

Supplejack vine appears regularly during my bottomland and upland forest rambles. Here it is in the scrub forest within the racetrack, twining clockwise around a sapling (left) and around companion supplejack vines (right). Apparently, supplejack is an obligate clockwise climber. Oh, the ways of Nature!

 

 

A sign that perhaps the devil (here at Devil’s Racetrack) himself posted! Why else would it be partially hidden among a foul mess of lichen, moss, and of all things, resurrection fern? I’m kidding, of course, about the foul descriptor. I find it, instead, whimsical — perhaps a creation of woodland fairies! I’d like to see it when rains refresh the fern.

 

 

Not a whimsical creature, the bowl and doily spider waits for a hapless insect stops by for a snack. Well, not for a snack, but to provide a snack.

 

Mary Howitt began her epic The Spider and the Fly with words that touched us deeply as children:

‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly,
”Tis the prettiest parlour that ever did you spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there.’

‘Oh no, no,’ said the little Fly, ‘to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.’

And Howitt’s lesson ended with these unforgettable sentiments:

And now, dear little children who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.

Stated a bit differently, never accept candy from strangers!

Importantly, according the the Nature of things, spiders are no less noble or worthy than flies. There is no distinction of good and bad in Nature. Spiders are not evil, nor are flies angelic. The food chain is real; its a spider-eat-fly world. However, by no means are spiders apex predators. This doily spider has a bowl for a reason…an escape and shelter from the many critters that relish tasty arachnid treats!

Everything in Nature is connected to everything else. John Muir said it best:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

 

Conservation and Utility

 

I try to avoid incorporating photos of human infrastructure, but I thought it added something to this Post. The Racetrack Trail meets the transmission line tangentially as it arcs (pardon the pun) across the northern extent of its circular transit (below left view to the west). After we departed the Wade Mountain trailhead, our route home transected the power line right-of-way a couple of miles to the west. The photo below right looks to the east at the north end of Wade Mountain, rising 300 feet above the photo point. I offer the two images only to provide some location perspective, and to evidence the intersection of utility (the power line) and conservation (the Nature Preserve).

 

The interplay of utility and conservation does not create a cross-purpose paradox. Instead, the proximity demonstrates that conservation is not about protecting wilderness in an area that has long seen human interaction and disturbance. The Land Trust of North Alabama mission is direct and clear:

Our mission is to preserve North Alabama’s scenic, historic and ecological resources through conservation, advocacy, recreation and education.

The Wade Mountain Nature Preserve meets the spirit and intent of the critical mission!

 

Final Look at a Sacred, Spiritual Place

 

Here’s a repeat image of the special place…with its essence, spirit, and aura…on the Wade Mountain Nature Preserve Racetrack Trail.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these thoughts:

  • Unique natural areas offer special rewards.
  • Each place in Nature has a unique character and tells its own story.
  • Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir, especially when Nature offers unique treats!

 

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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.

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Wildness in an Urban Setting

August 12, 2022, I visited the 20-acre Indian Creek stream-side property owned and stewarded by Huntsville, Alabama’s Grace United Methodist Church, toured by my friend and Grace UMC parishioner Jim Chamberlain, a fellow Nature-enthusiast. It’s fitting that a church owns this sacred place, where I feel the nearness of a higher Power, immersed in a natural spiritual essence and filled with the hope of eternity. I’ve driven past the church dozens of times, paying no attention to it or the forest behind it. However, hidden in plain sight, the property serves as a reminder that Nature lies within easy reach to all of us, an island of urban wildness, rich with forest and edge plant and animal communities.

Streamside Forest

 

Indian Creek flows south from the property to first run along the Indian Creek Greenway at the Providence community, crosses Route 72, then parallels the Indian Creek Greenway. The Providence segment terminates just a few hundred feet below the church property. The stream had good summer flow, visually complementing the riparian forest lining it. At this point the church property reaches across the creek.

 

This rich bottomland supports a vibrant forest, including the largest tree we encountered, a 39-inch DBH (diameter breast height) southern red oak, wearing a tree moss skirt. The view left looks back into the stand toward the church, which sits safely well above the floodplain. The photo below right shows that the oak stands squarely in the flood zone, just fifty feet from the stream.

 

Jim captured this image of me with the oak. It’s not often that I have such an aura about me! Perhaps it is the spiritual essence of the place loaning its glow to an old forester.

 

The oak barely beat out the nearby yellow poplar, which we measured at 36-inches diameter breast height. Both trees stood greater than 100 feet, in their own way reaching heavenward, just as the parishioners do through their songs, prayers, and fellowship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s my 2:07 video centering on the poplar and giving you a taste of the riparian forest along Indian Creek:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM-EX7c0Ovc

 

I’ve spent many hours combing our north Alabama woods, yet here on the church forest I encountered my first-ever trifoliate orange (Citrus trifoliata), with its woody multiple thorns and, you guessed it, its leaves of three (i.e.trifoliate).

 

Because this is a strange new plant for me, I offer this description from a North Carolina Cooperative Extension reference:

Trifoliate Orange or Hardy Orange is a deciduous thorny shrub or small tree that grows up to nearly 20′ tall. This plant blooms in mid-spring and fruit ripens in early fall. Spines are sharp and numerous and are not for high traffic areas. This plant may be pruned into a thick, impenetrable hedge. This plant is an excellent winter character as specimen planting. This plant prefers well-drained, acid soil and full sun. It is intolerant of shady siting, is easily transplanted, and has no serious pest or disease problems.

The lemon-like fruit is exceedingly sour and full of seeds. If eaten in large quantities, the high acidity can cause severe stomach pain and nausea. Some people experience minor skin irritation with prolonged contact. While the peel and the pulp can be used to make marmalade, the fruit is often left on the tree to provide beauty well into winter.

Makes an excellent hedge, its thorns deterring entry.  However, it can be somewhat invasive.

Admittedly, while happy to encounter this new (for me) species, the cited description does not engender warm feelings! The specimen I photographed is growing in full shade, thus explaining its less than robust condition. I suspect that it sprouted from seed washing downstream from a vibrant mother plant thriving in more favorable conditions. It was not lost on me that the woody thorns brought to mind a long-ago crown of thorns.

The orb weaver spider below at the top of its web is feverishly wrapping its dinner. Just as I glanced ahead, the hapless insect flew into the web. Within seconds the spider had immobilized and wrapped its future meal. Nature is harsh. It’s a spider-eats-insect world. So many people tend to think of Nature as an idyllic world characterized by peace and love…entirely cooperative and synergistic. I’ve heard idealists remark, “Why can’t we all get along…like in Nature?” Truth is, Nature is ruthlessly competitive. The food chain is fine, as long as you sit upon the apex. The spider loves the moth, freshly wrapped. A female praying mantis loves her mate — he tastes so good when she consumes him after coitus.

 

Here is Jim’s 11-second video of the spider in action, a sobering image and a stark reminder of Nature’s harshness:

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipPaQxoh5rn2EEsQTn5U3C7lvIrDIpo6sxiQxUaCaRZrFSog7sr87j0Yct8Jcy55uQ/photo/AF1QipNlStEd8bgzDwg2AQKacCzeVztTEmxmZmOTXukU?key=RENDMkdpZHFfMHdSdXlxMlZZaTNHLUxWUVlnZUJB

 

Here’s Jim’s still shot of yet another orb weaver web.

 

Nature is anything but the universally pleasant and peaceful place depicted in 1960s Disney movies.

I’ve read many recent much-ballyhooed pseudo-scientific tomes that address how caring trees in the forest are to one another. Instead, I see evidence in every stand that competition is brutal…to the victor go the spoils of space, moisture, and nutrients.

Upland Forest

Access to the upland forest is via the Grace Prayer Trail. Because we concentrated on the riparian forest, I failed to photo-cover the upland area. Perhaps on another visit we’ll spend more time in the mixed pine-hardwood forest.

Jim Chamberlain Photo

 

The Prayer Trail leads to a point for quiet reflection and prayer.

Jim Chamberlain Photo

Fairyland Portal

We entered the GUMC streamside forest through the adjacent riparian forest at Providence Elementary School, just downstream from the GUMC property. Students have created a fairyland for elves, gnomes, and other creatures of a fantasy world.

 

Even the trees have faces. I suppose it’s funny that the adjoining properties have different spiritual essences. The youth chose a more mirthful theme.

 

The Providence Greenway ends at the Elementary School property line.

Forest Edge

 

We walked along the church upland forest on the school driveway leading to its parking lot. The forest sits atop the rise north of the lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Chamberlain Photos

 

We found several plants worthy of photographing within the edge along the property line. I am sure that most drivers thought little of the weeds along the lane as they prepared to drop off or pick up their kids. Instead, I saw the edge as botanically rich…a showy summer garden. Heart-leafed peppervine, a member of the grape family, grew into the trees. Although attractive, its fruit is inedible for humans.

 

Common evening primrose did not seem to recognize that its name suggests an end of day flower period. The image at right with blurry flowers is intended to show its leaves.

 

I really like the red morning glory’s diminutive orange-red flower (left) and its typical heart-shaped leaf (right). Unlike the evening primrose, the morning glory lived up to its moniker.

 

The common morning glory proudly displayed its iridescent blue petals and white center.

 

I am grateful for a chance to explore the riparian portion of a 20-acre parcel along Indian Creek. I know the creek from hiking and biking along both the Indian Creek Greenway. Because the watershed in dominated by urban and suburban communities, it flashes (floods) rapidly. The GUMC flood plain evidences frequent and significant flushes. In effect, the property represents an island of urban wildness, rich with forest and edge plant and animal communities. It serves as a reminder that Nature lies within easy reach to all of us.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these thoughts:

  • Urban wildness lies within easy reach of nearly everyone who reads these words.
  • Whether a church property or a public Park or Preserve, Nature’s Spirit is ever-present.
  • Every tree, forest, and property has a story to tell!

 

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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