A Suburban Trail within Sight of an Interstate Highway North of Pittsburgh, PA

Wildness is wherever you seek it, whether deep in the Appalachian forests… or hidden in plain sight within a suburban park.

Steve Jones

 

September 24, 2020, I hiked Brush Creek Trail in southern Butler County Pennsylvania, 20-miles north of Pittsburgh and within two miles of our son’s home in Cranberry Township. The linear Graham Park lies south and west of (and alongside) Interstate 76, paralleling Brush Creek. I walked the trail while our three grandkids were in school. Early fall had already arrived… a good month in advance of its onset here in northern Alabama. I wanted to chronicle the seasonal state of flowers, trees, and vegetation generally for this Blog Post… and expose the wildness that lies hidden within plain sight, even in the kind of suburban park found in most communities.

Brush Creek Trail in Butler County Pennsylvania

 

Graham is a classic suburban park, furnishing all manner of recreation fields, playgrounds, fitness stations, nature trails, and interpretive signage. The sound of semis on I-76 hummed without ebb. I attempted to tune it out so I could focus on the wildness we otherwise might not notice with the din of traffic, a distraction from Nature too often matched by our own digital devices. Far too many of us are awash in a sea of “other.”

I am nearly certain that few visitors realize that the greenway travels along a sewer line. The Brush Creek water treatment plant lies at the trail’s northern terminus. The plant treats 3.2 million gallons of wastewater daily. My favorite local greenways here in northern Alabama are likewise sewer line utility rights of way. What a great way to make silk out of a sow’s ear!

I will maintain a pretty good Post-pace reporting on key elements and core reflections with this photo-essay. I’ll begin by saying trail signage is excellent — I offer my compliments and appreciation to those responsible.

Graham Park

 

A gorgeous late-summer/early-fall day.  Comfy temps and crystal blue sky. Open fields flanked by the paved trail and riparian forest. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. I will stay true to that old maxim, limiting my words to what I feel are necessary.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Aesthetic wooden fencing at culvert crossings, the trail bordered by lush early fall wildflowers.

Graham Park

 

Urban park wildness comes in many forms, including this meadow under a power transmission line. The trick to full appreciation is to focus on the meadow…avoiding the view above. Remind yourself that without the power line, this 200-foot right-of-way might be populated with houses, streets, driveways, and mowed grass. Instead, we have a vibrant meadow habitat as home to diverse vegetation, small mammals, deer, countless songbirds, pollinators, and other insects essential to the meadow ecosystem. Don’t forget the birds of prey and foxes drawn by the small mammals!

Graham Park

 

I often make the point that wildness is so often hidden in plain sight. Such is the case along Brush Creek Greenway. Each section below reveals the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature available within reach along a busy Interstate, under transmission line towers, and above a major sewer line.

Ponds, Creek, and Wetlands

 

Admittedly, I did not seek to understand the Brush Creek watershed. The area had not measured significant rains since earlier in the month. The ground seemed parched and the creek flow, I assumed, carried minimum flow, typical of late summer and early fall. Despite the low volume, I spotted small fish everywhere I encountered a pool. I flushed a great blue heron from bankside at a point close to the trail. At other locations I found beaver chews near the trail. Urban streams with riparian buffers attract all manner of wildlife.

Graham Park

Graham Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a one-tenth-acre marshy area between the trail and the athletic fields beyond. The cattails evidence that efforts to sustain natural habitat within acres of mowed grass are paying dividends.

Graham Park

 

The creek bed ranges from natural (below left) to channeled with a trailside boulder bulkhead, which based upon my observations was the exception rather than the rule.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Because aquatic features dominate the Nature of Graham Park, managers offer interpretive signage to assure that park users have an opportunity to understand the natural ecosystem.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again, all of this wildness…this sprawling and inviting classroom…all within sight and earshot of a busy Interstate highway just 20 miles from a major American city.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Birds love this land of edges, marshes, meadows, streams, ponds, brushland, and riparian forest. Bluebird houses line the greenway.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Truth is, I could have developed several Posts from my stroll along Brush Creek. I chose instead to stay broad and shallow…an eclectic slice across Nature’s suburban park panoply…a cornucopia of early fall delights. John Muir’s infinite storm of beauty.

Trees

 

I love the diverse ecosystem patchwork; but I am in love with forests, and the trees that compose them. As with other ecosystem elements, even though I want to delve deeply, I will not show favor by deepening the text in this section.

Graham Park

 

That’s a black cherry (Prunus serotina) below left. My doctoral research field studies focused on the Allegheny Hardwood forests, with cherry as the dominant species, just 100 miles north of Brush Creek. Black cherry is present in our north Alabama forests, but does not reach the more impressive dimensions that it does here in west central Pennsylvania. It reigns supreme on northward into the northwestern Pennsylvania Allegheny Plateau. That’s honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) below right, replete with its complex, multiply-forked thorns.

Graham Park

 

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides; below left) and shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria; below right) stood between the creek and trail.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Likewise for black walnut (Juglans nigra; below left) and American basswood (Tilia americana; below right). Black walnut is a furniture standard, highly valued for centuries. Basswood offers neither the hardness (durability) or rich character pattern so cherished in walnut. The species often displays stump-cluster form.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I catalogued two species of dogwood: grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa; below left) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida; below right). Grey dogwood boasts white fruit; flowering dogwood berries are red.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Note the pubescent (fuzzy) stem of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina; below left) and hawthorn (Crataegus sp; below right).  Although I am including these woody plants under the tree heading, I likely just insulted the cherry, walnut, oak, and cottonwood main canopy residents and forest dominants by daring to class these understory species as “trees”!

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again I note that I am simply providing a cross-sectional sampling of Nature on a single day in late-summer/early-fall. By no means am I offering an exhaustive inventory.

Flowers

 

The sign says, “There are a variety of flowers that can be seen along this trail…” Wow, what an understatement! There I was at just a brief snapshot of time along a 365-day continuing cycle. What could an informed regional botanist catalog over an entire year of hikes, venturing from streambank to meadow interior to full forested shade? I’m confident in guessing several hundred. Start with wetland skunk cabbage flowering in snow or under thin ice and extend beyond to the scores of flowers I spotted as the season reached past the autumnal equinox.

Graham Park

 

I give you just seven of the showstoppers, beginning with swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum; below left. And smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve; below right).

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

‘Tis the season for asters. I particularly liked the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae) with its brilliant color, making a defiant statement as the first freeze lies just weeks (perhaps days) ahead.

Graham Park

 

Wild carrot (Daucus carota; below left) offered its delicate lacy bouquet to my steadying hand. Naturalized from California to the eastern US, this species is native to Europe and Asia. Meadow evening primrose (Oenothera pilosella; below right) greeted me with its bright yellow sunshine, another fitting fare-thee-well to summer.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

 

 

 

 

And what could make a stronger statement than New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis; below left)! Common from Florida into Canada, ironweed is yet another member of the aster family. Fall phlox (Phlox paniculata; below right) presented its closing argument, without the strength and volume of its ubiquitous April cousin, woodland phlox or sweet William.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I have long been a champion of spring wildflowers, leaving summer bloomers to admirers who enjoy the summer heat more than I. However, retirement has opened my eyes and forced my ventures into Nature irrespective of seasonal bias. I admit to a long-held leaning toward the spring ephemerals, those hardy woodland flowers that brave the often cold shoulder season to capitalize on the brief period of full forest floor sunlight before forest canopy leaf-out. I am delighting now in all seasons, deepening and widening my field of appreciation. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe know no limits.

Seasons

 

The best season, I’ve come to understand is whatever time I happen to venture forth. Any time I visit our son is an ideal time to discover what marvels Nature has to offer. The interpretive sign says it clearly, “There are many beautiful parts of each season to enjoy here.”

Graham Park

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, flowers are reproductive organs, ensuring species and ecosystem sustainability. From my earliest days, I’ve been a big fan of cattails (Typha latifolia; below left) with its corndog seed-head. Nearby I found the seed-head of Scirpus, a club-rush/bulrush, completing its annual cycle.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Right up there on my lifetime appreciation list are seedpods of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca; below left). To this day I cannot resist, with or without a grandchild present, releasing the fairies into the breeze, dispersing the brown seeds to the four corners.

Graham ParkSeptember 2020

 

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) also ranks high. I admire its massive size — each year growing to 6-9 feet of red-stemmed elegance, with rich green leaves capturing sunlight and root-storing carbohydrates and energy to begin the cycle ground-up next spring. And there’s magic in those inky red berries hung with care for birds of many species for winter sustenance. If you are a mammalian species reading this, ignore the edible comment — pokeberries are quite toxic for humans and our fur-bearing kin.

Graham Park

 

However, we have edible alternatives to pokeberry. Black walnut (we saw the tree earlier) is a staple in our American diet. They come nicely packaged in grocery stores (the same species as this wild walnut) for those of us not inclined to collect the fruit, dry it, husk it, then crack the nut to pick the meat. Squirrels consider the harvesting, preparation, storing, and consumption well worth the effort!

Graham Park

 

I’ll close with a flowering dogwood leaf in early fall splendor, its chlorophyll exiting the summer leaf across all but the vein margins, symbolizing the continuing seasonal flow. The color pattern is a literal and metaphorical expression of this stage in an annual cycle that is persistent, reliable, and exquisitely effective.

Graham Park

 

As I’ve noted time and again, wildness is where we seek it, whether in an urban park along a Pittsburgh-area Interstate highway or or a hundred miles north in the Tionesta Research Natural Area, a preserved remnant virgin beech-hemlock climax forest. Nature tells compelling tales wherever you encounter it.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early fall exploration of a suburban park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

  • Nature’s seasonal patterns are persistent, predictable, and exquisitely effective
  • Any walk in wildness offers gifts across the seasons for those willing to look, see, understand, and appreciate
  • John Muir — “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksGraham Park

 

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

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Spring Green-up

We’re now nearly 11 weeks beyond the call to distance safely from our circle of friends, family, and associates. Judy and I speak of being under Covid-19 house-arrest. We continue our daily neighborhood walks. In addition, I escape as often as I can to local trail-hiking and greenway-biking. I prepared this Post after a Spring Equinox trip to nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, biking on gravel roads.

Covid-19 Context

We were in the heart of spring green-up as I first drafted this Covid-19 Context section. A sad irony that Nature’s cycle goes forward unabated by a pandemic virus that found life (and wrought disease and death) half a world away. A primitive micro-organism that has turned modern global society and economy inside-out.

I subscribe to the EarthSky electronic newsletter (https://earthsky.org/). The March 31, 2020 issue reminded readers of this quote from the 3rd book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” God’s green Earth…Nature…and our relationship to it is our light and high beauty… our hope.

I believe sincerely that this, too, shall pass. Already I sense a fundamental change in the world — a deepening humility, a greater recognition of our human frailty, and perhaps a strengthened belief in our oneness. I can’t speak for others, but I accept my own growing spiritualism, more palpable Faith, and an even stronger sacred connection to our Earth, this pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space.

A Wet Spring

 

By the equinox my backyard rain gauge had registered some 27″ year-to-date. That’s a tremendous amount of water — 49 percent of annual in just the first 22-percent of 2020. More water than the Tennessee River, America’s 12th largest by volume, could contain within its banks. I parked within the Refuge along a gravel road (Jolley B Road) near Blackwell Swamp along the Madison/Limestone County line. The parking area is about a half-mile beyond the Refuge sign below. The temperature rose to near-60 degrees on a sky-perfect early-spring day. Canopy greens signal that full-spring lies just ahead.

Spring 2020

 

High water blocked roads that I readily explored six weeks later. Herbaceous vegetation already greened road shoulders. Main canopy trees sprouted fresh new foliage and pollen-loaded flowers. The flooded roads offered promise of future ventures. The saturated spring would in time transition to summer when occasional rains, while normally reliable, come in rounds of thunderstorms with abundant sunshine, heat, and drying between.

Spring 2020Spring 2020

 

This trip amounted to a mileage teaser. I covered only ten miles, mostly repeating some stretches and turning around at each overflow.

Spring 2020

 

I am not deterred, knowing that adventure and full exploration lie ahead.

Trees Springing Forth

 

Powerful hydro-pumps are emerging from countless bursting buds… millions (no, billions) of them that will lift water from soil high into lofty tree crowns. These ironwood (Ostrya vinginiana) leaves need only pump 20-30 feet, the terminal height of this shade tolerant understory (and occasional mid-story) species. Yet, in turn, each tree, shrub, and forest floor species does its part to return what water doesn’t drain into the river to the atmosphere. The hydrologic cycle has many participants that in aggregate amount to an effective global symphony of water vapor, liquid, and ice. The cycle writes its language across the Earth.

County Line S

Earth Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rich riparian soils support some trees reaching 120-feet, a literal high demand on the capillary pumping fueled by plant transpiration. By the equinox, green-up is in full swing.

County Line S

County Line S

 

Just six weeks later (May 3), when I returned, the Refuge showed nearly full-leaf.

Blackwell Swamp

 

I can’t help but throw in a March 29, 2020 scene (pardon the quality; it’s a photo of a screen shot) from the webcam at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I served as Chancellor (President) 2004-2008. Not much spring-greening apparent!

West Ridge Webcam

 

Spring is a season… not just a date on the calendar!

 

Tree Form Oddities

Pedaling slowly along the gravel roads (and their frequent muddy and puddled stretches), I was able to visually scour the adjacent deep forest, seeking tree form oddities, wildflowers, and even edible mushrooms. Both of these ironwood individuals below had seen physical damage (a large branch or tree falling on the growing stem), and then recovered with new shoots reaching once again vertically.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

This odd burl (below left) reminded me of a wolf or dragon — I see forehead, eye, nostril, and mouth clearly. No wonder that our forests spur stories of mythical creatures and beings. Below right, from an 180-degree different perspective, I saw nothing beyond a disfigured proboscis.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

The burl is growing on a very much alive main-canopy oak, yet death resides commonly within the living forest.

Life and Death in the Forest

A large dominant overstory oak still stands below left. Gravity and decay will soon (certainly within the decade) bring it to ground, where it will return to the soil. Two dead upper canopy loblolly pines likewise remain standing below right. I look for them to be horizontal within five years. Agents of decay are working feverishly and without pause.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

The fate of all life is death — such is the cycle of life and death in the living forest.

County Line S

 

Fungus Among Us

 

I graduated from forestry school when fungi appeared in botany books… they were viewed as non-flowering plants. Yet now fungi are classified as neither plant nor animal, belonging instead to the Fungi Kingdom. Ah, the things one learns observing Nature and publishing these Blog Posts! These organisms are ubiquitous across our northern Alabama forests. False turkey-tail (Stereum ostrea) are abundant saprophytes.

County Line S

 

Coral-pink Merulius (Phlebia incarnata) added a touch of fungal color.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

And to my absolute delight I found a remarkable lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a culinary delight, just one-quarter mile from where I parked. I transported it in my bike helmet, which it filled.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

Egg-battered, lightly floured, and fried in butter and olive oil with a bit of seasoning salt, lion’s mane is simply delectable!

County Line SCOunty Line S

 

Who could ask for anything more — a treat for the ardent Nature-observer?! I gave thanks for the beauty and bounty. No wonder I feel a spiritual connection to wildness — it sustains me in mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit!

Non-Flowering Plants Edible

 

Wildflower Inspiration

 

Spring ephemerals were rushing into flower during this shoulder season prior to main canopy leaf-out. They thrive during the warming days when nearly full sun still blesses the forest floor. Bulbous Cress (Cardamine bulbosa) appeared in full flower at woods edge.

County Line S

 

Mountain azalea (Rhododendron canescens), one of my north Alabama favorites, presents beauty in pure form and full measure!

County Line S

County Line S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) appeared in profusion, although only a few had progressed to open flowers.

COunty Line S

 

I saw only a handful of eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), yet one would have been sufficient to reward my efforts and venture.

County Line S

 

Wild comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum) offered only a few blossoms. Even this one, more advanced than most, did not yet show open petals.

County Line SCounty Line S

 

Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) also graced the otherwise nearly barren forest floor.

County Line S

 

I packed enough reward and satisfaction into my three-hour wanderings to draft 3-4 spring equinox Blog Posts. However, because I am finalizing these words two-months later, I tried hard to squeeze into this one offering. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each journey provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate. My cup does indeed runneth over. ‘Tis the season of Nature’s plenty. I am unable to do more than scratch her surface.

Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Spring is the season of Nature’s plenty
  2. Nature’s power to lift us and heal us, physically and of the soul, is unlimited
  3. Nature is so rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that each venture into wildness provides more than I can easily digest, translate, and communicate

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksSpring 2020

 

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

 

 

 

Correcting My Blog Post Distribution Snag

Hello to all, including those of you who disappeared via an error in my automatic Blog Post distribution system. Welcome… and welcome back!

I publish these Posts weekly, offering reflections and lots of my photos on Nature-Inspired Life and Living. All 210 (or so) that I’ve posted since January 2017 are accessible at: http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/

My trouble-shooting may have resurrected some on the list who had elected to unsubscribe. If so, I beg your forgiveness. Unsubscribing remains quite simple.

Re-Introduction to Steve Jones, Retired Forester and Lifelong Nature Enthusiast

 

Chances are that most of you who fell aside because of my technical bust have met me. In case you haven’t, here I am dealing with Covid-19 house arrest:

Covid-19 Sheltering

 

Struggling at my desk with too many tight deadlines:

Three Books

 

And enjoying Nature with six-year-old grandson Sam:

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

Annotated Review of My Ten Most Recent Posts

 

Accompany me on an annotated tour of my ten most recent Posts. I write about my own journeys of revelation and discovery in Nature. All photos these past three years (with a rare inclusion of someone else’s capture with full attribution) are my own. I write most of the Posts about ventures here in Alabama, but I occasionally will stray to other locations, including several Posts from a July 2019 tour of western National Parks and an August 2019 visit to three National Parks in Kazakhstan. Although this Great Blue Heron website offers plenty of insight into who I am, in brief explanation, I am a forester (BS 1973) and applied ecologist (PhD 1987) who practiced my trade in the forest products industry and then wandered into higher education research, teaching, and administration. Above all else, I am a lifelong Nature enthusiast.

My Mission with these Posts and other retirement endeavors is quite 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.

My ten most recent Posts:

April 7, 2020 — Cloud Verse

I’ve often observed that Nature is poetry in action. I’ve decided now that maybe I should attempt building some verse around my Nature observations and reflections. I offer a poem entitled Nature’s Cloud Inspiration, some reflections about clouds, and many of my own cloud photos: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/04/07/cloud-verse/

Distant Thunderstorm

 

April 1, 2020 Land Trust Mushroom Hike on Rainbow Mountain Preserve

I participated in yet another Land Trust of North Alabama hike, this one exploring mushrooms on Madison, Alabama’s Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve. Fungi are the generally hidden engines of life and death in our forests. Most of my recent Posts offer a Covid-19 statement of context. Here are my observations, reflections, and photos from Rainbow Mountain: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/04/01/land-trust-mushroom-hike-on-rainbow-mountain/

Mushroom Hike

 

 

March 28, 2020 Nature Pauses Not for a Human/Viral Pandemic

I offer a bit of verse about the paradox of a global viral pandemic changing every facet of our life and living… and Nature proceeding as though nothing is amiss: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/28/nature-pauses-not-for-a-human-viral-pandemic/

Verse

 

March 24, 2020 Resurrection Fern — A metaphor in Verse for Nature’s Simplicity

I visited nearby Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve the damp afternoon following 1.35″ of spring rain. Resurrection fern stood in full turgid splendor, reminding me that we, too, will emerge from Covid-19, forever changed, but stronger for the experience: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/24/resurrection-fern-a-metaphor-in-verse-for-natures-simplicity/

Resurrection Fern

 

March 19, 2020 Lyrical Expressions in Forest Pathogens… Under a Covid-19 Cloud

As Covid-19 is raging globally, I chose to offer some verse on historic tree disease pandemics. Writing one of my standard text and photo Blog Posts would have required a treatise far too long and scientific. Because Covid-19 is both a medicinal and emotional crisis, I wrapped my tree pathogen feelings loosely in science with a heavy seasoning of sentiment for the forests and trees of my profession… and my dreams: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/19/lyrical-expressions-in-forest-pathogens-under-a-covid-19-cloud/

Dead Oak

 

March 16, 2020 Bethel Spring North Alabama Land Trust: Yet Another Natural Gem

The Land Trust of North Alabama opened its Bethel Springs property with a February 29, 2020 ribbon-cutting and three interpretive hikes. I trekked with the History Hike leading to the old spring house, the waterfall, mill house foundation, and an old road bed or two led by local historian John Kvach. What a wonderful addition to our regional wonders of Nature! The Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/16/bethel-spring-north-alabama-land-trust-yet-another-natural-gem/

Opening Hike, Group at Falls

 

March 11, 2020 Nature Poetry: Sowing Seeds for Earth Stewardship

I’ve written my Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts for nearly three years, relying upon prose and photos. I am now venturing into some verse, boldly going where this old forester has never gone before. As close as I’ve come to baring my soul! My Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/11/nature-poetry-sowing-seeds-for-earth-stewardship/

Wheeler NWR

 

March 7, 2020 Leafless Tree I.Di. Hike along Bradford Creek Greenway

February 22 I joined with a Leafless Tree I.D. hike sponsored by the Land Trust of North Alabama on the Bradford Creek Greenway. I remain convinced that learning more about Nature amplifies our commitment to Earth stewardship: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/07/leafless-tree-i-d-hike-along-bradford-creek-greenway/

North Alabama Land Trust

 

March 1, 2020 My Edu Alliance Journal Article on Academic Leadership

I offer global principles for academic leadership in the February 24, 2020 Edu Alliance Journal: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/03/01/my-edu-alliance-journal-article-on-academic-leadership/

Kazakhstan

 

February 26, 2020 A Morning Visit to a Nearby Section of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge with my Six-Year-Old Grandson

Just 15 months from turning 70, I am driven to plant seeds for Earth stewardship. What better way than making sure my own grandchildren carry the torch into tomorrow! Sam and I recently visited nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/02/26/a-morning-visit-to-a-nearby-section-of-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge-with-my-six-year-old-grandson/

Non-flowering Plants

 

Please keep in mind that there are another 200 Posts ranging widely, yet maintaining fidelity to the theme of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. During this time of Covid physical distancing, why not journey back into three years of Nature wandering?!

Watch for coming Posts on a more or less weekly basis.

 

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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Photos of Steve

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned. Knowing that I am getting way out in front of remote possibility, perhaps there is a book of Steve’s Nature-Inspired Life and Living Poetry awaiting me around the corner of some forested trail!

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Nature Pauses Not for a Human/Viral Pandemic

 

As I write and publish this brief Post March 28, 2020, our air is thick with pollen — ’tis the season! Six-year-old grandson Sam spent an hour outdoors with us today — social-distancing and all that.

I couldn’t help but share a few photos and write a bit of verse about the paradox of a global viral pandemic changing every facet of our life and living… and Nature proceeding as though nothing is amiss.
 

Nature Pauses Not for a Human/Viral Pandemic

 
March 28, 2020 — Covid-19
Impacts human life and living,
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)
Simply couldn’t care less
 
North Alabama catkins
(the pine’s male flowers)
Are ripe and shedding their load…
To grandson Sam’s delight
 
Warm sun, ready for gathering
Encourages new lateral growth,
Candles reach and lengthen
Ready for chloroplasts to power
 
Loblolly pine knows not of Covid-19.
Adding a little new wood each year,
The pine knows its future
Is not linked to human fate
 
Practice Covid-19 avoidance,
Like social distancing and self-isolation;
And dare to venture outside, but
Beware the air thick with spring pollen!

Fitting Photographs

 

North Alabama catkins
(the pine’s male flowers)
Are ripe and shedding their load…
Verse
To grandson Sam’s delight
Verse
Warm sun, ready for gathering
Encourages new lateral growth,
Candles reach and lengthen
Ready for chloroplasts to power
Verse
Stay safe — enjoy Nature-Inspired Life and Living!
 

Nature Poetry: Sowing Seeds for Earth Stewardship

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

I am committed to Earth Stewardship, a mission component driving my entire life in these years of semi-retirement. Spurred by being no longer fully employed, watching the first two of our five grandchildren nudge to within a few months of their teenage years, and feeling both knees (among other body elements) making woods hiking more difficult, I am focusing more and more on leaving some kind of legacy. Sam, the youngest of the five, enjoys hitting the local wildness with me. I am thrilled with his enthusiasm for exploring the woods! Here he is with a lichen-encrusted American beech.

Sam at Wet Beech

 

I’ve published these Great Blue Heron Posts for nearly four years, reaching a tally of 200+ Posts. The vast majority have integrated text and photos, explaining and reflecting on Nature’s magic, beauty, wonder, and awe. I’ve striven to present written messages with inspiring, grammatically correct verbiage. I took a course on Writing Poetry during the 2020 winter quarter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I love words… and their integration with my photos. Now I’m ready to try words in verse. I want you to know that it is not easy for this old forester to bare his soul in what for me is a brand new medium. Don’t look for the rhyming verse that most people consider poetry. Neither should you look for the mushy stanzas of love, epic challenges, and tragedy…rooted symbolically in odd twists and turns of phrase. My verses are low on deep hidden meanings and far-reaching interpretation requiring exhaustive study. I am far too literal with words to wear the reader out trying to interpret what I really meant.

Sam is my Nature buddy. My role as his trail guide is simple — passing the fever of Earth Stewardship to him in a manner purposeful, yet subtle, enough that he ultimately shares my addiction into the deep future. That he embraces and spreads the Earth Stewardship gospel. Here is my poem, Sowing Seeds.

Sowing Seeds

Steve Jones March 7, 2020

 

Inoculating youth

With the love of Nature,

       and joy in wildness

 

Encouraging him with Nature immersion

To embrace his responsibility

To know and understand,

To respect and enjoy

To steward the future

 

He’s not just a boy; he’s tomorrow

Nothing else counts so much

As devoting myself to the future,

Making sure Sam knows his joy,

And accepts his burden

 

I pass the torch to him

With passion and purpose

He accepts it without yet knowing

How blessed he is to light the way

 

Inoculating him

With the love of Nature

 

 

 

I pass the torch to him

With passion and purpose

Sam at Wheeler NWR

 

He accepts it without yet knowing

How blessed he is to light the way

Non-flowering Plants

 

He’s not just a boy; he’s tomorrow

 

Nothing else counts so much

As devoting myself to the future,

Making sure Sam knows his joy,

And accepts his burden

Wheeler NWR

 

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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Photos of Steve

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned. Knowing that I am getting way out in front of remote possibility, perhaps there is a book of Steve’s Nature-Inspired Life and Living Poetry awaiting me around the corner of some forested trail!

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

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

 

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

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

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

Winter is a Relative Term

A Nomad’s Perspective

Judy and I have lived in the US South for a total of nearly a quarter of a century (about half of my adult life), punctuated by shifts northward totaling 27 years:

  • Syracuse, New York — 2 years
  • Southeastern Virginia — 7 years
  • Savannah, Georgia — 2 years
  • Prattville, Alabama — 3 years
  • Syracuse, New York — 3 years
  • State College, Pennsylvania — 9 years
  • Auburn, Alabama — 5 years
  • Cary, North Carolina — 3 years
  • Fairbanks, AK — 4 years
  • Urbana, Ohio — 5 years
  • Keene, New Hampshire — 3 years
  • Fairmont, West Virginia — 1 year
  • Madison, Alabama — 3 years (and counting)

Winters in those northern climes can be (and often are) serious, arriving on schedule and holding on (with a few thaws) until spring. Southland winters to the contrary amount to fall beginning mid-November, then gradually transitioning to spring by early March. Toss in an occasional day or two of winter weather to excite (and panic) the locals. So, my conclusion, based upon near-nomadic wandering over some fifty years from Fairbanks’ latitude 65 degrees north to Savannah’s 32 degrees north, is that winter is a relative term.

Winter’s December 2019 Visit

I’ll begin with a recent example. December 10, a strong cold front muscled into the Tennessee River Valley before a steady rain ended, transitioning the rain to sleet then snow. The result: a half-inch coating… and thousands of absolutely distraught drivers convinced that this storm was apocalyptic! Not a flake stuck on the warm pavement or even on our flagstone landscape paths. Here in the South, this amounted to a brief interruption of the long autumn reaching for spring. The sleet and snow did not portend the arrival of winter, but merely an ever-so-short pause in autumn.

Legendwood Drive Legendwood Drive

 

 

 

The dusting persisted through the next morning, adding a little winter zest to our mailbox Christmas decorations. I recall far more snow mid-September in Fairbanks!

Legendwood Drive

 

Real Winter

Huntsville locals will remember the December 10, 2019 storm as that season’s early winter arrival. Our New Hampshire winters were a trifle less subtle. Snow cover there did not disappear with the next day’s noon sun. That’s Judy and me along our driveway below, probably in mid-February one of those three winters. A succession of storms piles it high. Spring is nowhere in sight. Fall departed long ago.

New hampshireNew Hampshire

 

 

 

 

And yet by Fairbanks standards, southern New Hampshire winters, while snowy, are relatively mild. That’s Willie Karidis (then Director of the Denali Education Center) and me mid-March snow-shoeing on the frozen Nenana River at negative 37 degrees Fahrenheit just outside Denali National Park. The bright sun belied the danger. Frostbite nipped my nose not long after the photo captured our image. Unlike our Alabama mid-winter sun, the winter solstice sun at Fairbanks rises only 1.7 degrees above the southern horizon at solar noon (below right). Thermal power? Nada! Noon sun melting yesterday’s accumulation? Not a chance — early October’s snow still resides under this solstice mantle of the white stuff! Fairbanks’ average daily high for March 31 is 32 degrees. Contrast that to the average high for the date in Huntsville, AL at 69 degrees. Our first year in Fairbanks saw April Fool’s Day reach a record low high temperature (for the date and month) at one below zero. Winter is relative.

UAF

 

UAF

 

As Chair of the University of the Arctic Governing Board during those Alaska years, I presided over an international session in Rovaniemi, Finland, University of Lapland, which sits at the Arctic Circle. Plenty of daylight during the March equinox period. Conditions not much different from the near-Denali photos above. Still deep winter. We are in full-blown spring by that date here in the South.

RovaniemiRovaniemi

 

 

 

Alabama Winter

The western US sandhill cranes left the high Arctic and passed south through Fairbanks before the end of August. Our own Tennessee Valley sandhill cranes (below left) arrive here mid-November to spend the winter with us (nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge) before departing mid-February northward. Also at WNWR, the cypress swamp below right depicts another version of our deep winter.

National RefufeNational Refuge

 

I recall living twice in Syracuse, NY, which self-proclaims the title of cloudiest major US city. I could not confirm that honorific title on the internet, yet I can vouch for the deep darkness of dense cloud cover that seems to persist from October through April. One did not need to search long for clinics treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in The Salt City (named for the nearby salt deposits, and not for the anti-icing road treatment that will rust your wheel wells in just a few seasons!). Not so cloudy and dark here in the South. A front slips through with abundant rain and the following few days bless us with deep blue, often complemented with wisps of horsetail cirrus (below in late November 2018 at McDowell Camp and Conference Center). Nature graciously rewards us with aerial magnificence.

McDowell

 

Snow seldom falls and almost never persists. Also at McDowell, the frosty grass at sunrise must satisfy my winter snow nostalgia.

McDowell

 

Camp McDowell

 

 

Over our many interstate moves I’ve learned to temper my seasonal weather expectations. Does me no good to pine for a deep snow, high-wind Nor’easter here in northern Alabama, nor in New Hampshire could I wish for sitting on the patio at sunset January 1 as I did this evening with no wind and the temperature at 52 degrees! I’ve become adept at flourishing wherever we find ourselves.

Again, the Real Thing!

Yet I do love the extremes, including the raw and brutal power that turned our team back at 5,300-feet one February day when we attempted to summit Mount Washington. That’s my back second from the rear, enjoying the pleasurable terror.  When we tucked tail (the photo depicts our furthest progress) the wind was gusting above 100 MPH with the ambient temperature below zero Fahrenheit at the summit. That’s deadly. That’s real…nearly unbelievable…winter.

New HampshireSteve Jones at Mount Washington

 

That wasn’t daily existence across New Hampshire. That was at a location known for The World’s Most Extreme Weather. As I write these words New Years Day, the summit temperature is 10 degrees, wind chill is -19, and the wind is gusting to 85 MPH!

 

Summer as Winter

Sitka, Alaska sits along the state’s southeast coast. The city welcomes cruise ships into its protected harbor during its brief summer. Snow-capped mountains ring the bay (below left). The trailhead for the Mt Verstovia trail is just east of town. Mid-June 2012 I made a valiant attempt to reach Verstovia’s nearly 3,000-foot summit. My ascent ended when I encountered decaying snow 3-5-feet deep still 500 feet below the summit (below right).  The higher peaks still carried fresh snow. Summer? Like winter, summer is a relative term! My forehead perspiration (my entire body was soaked) had nothing to do with summer’s heat. I had just climbed 2,500 feet vertical (a steep trail) and struggled with the coarse granular snow until I accepted defeat.

UAF

Steve Jones near Sitka, Alaska 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dormant volcano, Mt Edgecumbe, stands across the bay from Sitka’s airport. Mark Twain once said, we are told, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” No, the statement just would not have worked for the humorist had he substituted Sitka for San Francisco!

Alaska

 

Again, a Southern Winter — It’s All Relative!

No deep decaying snow to deal with at Beaverdam Creek Boardwalk at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge just a few miles from where we live in Alabama.

Wheeler NWR

 

Just once during our four winters in northern Alabama has our Big Blue Lake frozen soundly enough to support the weight of our over-wintering Canada geese. The Nenana River annual Ice Classic at Nenana, AK (midway between the entrance to Denali National Park and Fairbanks) awards a significant cash prize to the to the person who comes closest to guessing the exact date, hour, minute, and second of break-up. Average April 1, ice thickness over the years is 42 inches. Strong enough to support a goose? Even a moose — perhaps a caboose!

Legendwood

 

January 7, 2020 I snapped this shot of emerging daffodils in my neighborhood. Who can dispute my statement that our fall gradually transitions to spring? I need not provide further evidence than these daffodil blades beginning to break through the mulch.

213 Legendwood Drive

 

Yet there is more. Planted pansies provide winter color at our latitude. When temperatures drop below freezing, the plants wilt (their way of protecting cells from the cold) while awaiting warmer days. I took this photo January 9, 2020 on a mild afternoon in the upper 50s.

LegendwoodLegendwood

 

January 12, I biked once again on Bradford Creek and Mill Creek Greenways. Spring presented a little more evidence of its headway, further tracing the seasonal transition. I spotted my first henbit (Lamium amplxicaule) flower of the year. Henbit is a naturalized non-native, common across the eastern US.

Local Greenways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also saw chickweed and a small cress in flower, but did not attempt to photograph their tiny white flowers.

January 2018 I visited Gulf State Park, Alabama. The season was clearly fall/spring… and Sam the resident pelican offered no counter argument. Some 400 miles south of where I reside, the climate is much warmer along the coast.

Steve at Gulf Shores

 

No winter pelican acquaintances when we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. Moose-friends frequently visited our yard, especially in winter. Make that WINTER! I’m placing the finishing touches on the Post January 8. I just checked the Fairbanks temperature: negative 33 Fahrenheit! This is the warmest part of the day.

Again, as is nearly everything in Nature… Winter is relative.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Everything in Nature is relative
  2. Nature cares little about the weather we hope to experience; it is what it is
  3. Knowing local norms and averages helps us adjust our expectations and adapt to place

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through 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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHarvest Square

 

Every place in Nature tells a story, as do all stories within my books.

 

Three Books

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Mid-September Nature at the C&O Canal National Historical Park

Cumberland, Maryland and My Central Appalachian Roots

I attended my 50th high school reunion this September. Who could possibly have imagined how many old people would be there! So great to see some 100 fellow class-of-69 time travelers. Our Earth has revolved on its axis more than 18,000 times since we graduated. Every hour of each day the Earth sped Cumberland Maryland’s 39.6 degrees North latitude spot on the planet 801 miles eastward. We spun some 19,224 miles per day…totaling a mind-numbing 351 million miles across those 50 orbits of our sun. Our Earth covered 584 million miles every time we orbited the sun, or 29 billion miles over that half-century. Not to mention the solar system’s movement within the Milky Way, and our galaxy’s motion within the universe. All that, and the Potomac River still passes by town relatively unchanged (below). A river pays no heed to years or even centuries or millennia. It’s been here since the ancient Appalachian orogeny (325-260 million years ago) began creating the Himalayan-scale high peaks that have since eroded to these soft ridges that nestle western Maryland’s Queen City and Fort Hill High School today.

 

I captured all these images as I hiked three miles out (and then back) along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) the morning of our reunion picnic.

 

Reading Landscape History through Vegetation

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924. I hiked along the Canal’s towpath often until I left Cumberland in 1971, and then nearly every time since that I’ve returned to visit family. The C&O Canal, designated as a National Historical Park in 1971 (https://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm), extends 184.5 miles from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Cumberland. Construction started on its eastern terminus in 1828, reaching Cumberland in 1850. The canal backers had planned to reach Pittsburgh and the Ohio River, engaging in a ferocious competitive engineering and construction contest with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), which made it to Cumberland eight years before the C&O, and then summited the Allegheny Mountains en route to Pittsburgh. I’ve biked the entire C&O Canal towpath length, enjoying the rich history and natural environment along the way. Once the old Western Maryland Railroad abandoned its tracks, The Allegheny Trail Alliance began creating the Great Allegheny Passage rails to trail. I’ve biked the 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. What wonderful fodder for Blog Posts if I ever repeat those journeys!

Just south of Cumberland, the view below (looking upriver) captures a railroad trestle crossing the towpath, the old canal bed to the right. Oh, to have a photograph of a canal boat passing under, mule pulling dutifully, as a steam locomotive crossed above! The 24-inch diameter sycamore seeded, sprouted, and grew to its 80-foot height subsequent to the 1924 floods that sent the operating Canal into antiquity, yielding commerce transportation exclusively to the iron horses and steel rails, and subsequently to the knights of our highways.

 

For good reason I do not recall the canal-side 3-4-foot diameter trees from my 1950s and 60s explorations along the towpath. Those individuals would have been no older than a quarter century during my early years, and much smaller then, little more than saplings.

 

Late Summer Flowers and Plants

Although summer was drawing rapidly to an end, I saw plenty of color along the towpath. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus; below left) and wingstem (Verbisina alternifolia; right) stood tall and commonly.

 

Not nearly so common, chickory (Cichorium intybus) provided a splash of blue now and then. Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) appeared only in more open areas. I’ve seen it in flower on prior visits much earlier in the season. I spotted these blooms on vigorous new growth on plants that I believe were mowed during the summer along drainage-ways in grassy areas.

 

Common White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima; below left) and Smooth Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) bordered the towpath in areas absent overhanging trees and deeper shade.

 

Hairy White Oldfield Aster (Symphotrichum pilosum; below left) and morning glory (Convolvulaceae family) offered still-sharp whites also along the more open edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No longer flowering, Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) added its own color with its purple berries and red stems.

 

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), according the the Invasive Plant Atlas, is a dense growing shrub reaching heights of 10 ft. (3 m). The semi-woody stem is hollow with enlarged nodes. Leaves are alternate, 6 in. (15.2 cm) long, 3-4 in. (7.6-10 cm) wide and broadly-ovate. Flowering occurs in late summer, when small, greenish-white flowers develop in long panicles in the axils of the leaves. Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers occur on separate plants). Japanese knotweed commonly invades disturbed areas with high light, such as roadsides and stream banks. Reproduction occurs both vegetatively (rhizomes) and seeds, making this plant extremely hard to eradicate. The dense patches shade and displace other plant life and reduce wildlife habitat. Japanese knotweed resembles giant knotweed (Polygonum sachalinense), but giant knotweed is larger and has heart-shaped leaves. Japanese knotweed is native to eastern Asia and was first introduced into North America in the late 1800s.

 

I found a few patches of impenetrable knotweed thickets, void of light reaching the ground (above right), and easy to see why nothing can withstand its advance and site-capture.

Long since flowering, Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum; below left) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) provided their own touch of seasonal beauty along the towpath. On the unseasonably warm morning I hiked, senesced individuals promised cooler fall days ahead.

 

I’m entering a region of botanical uncertainty with this plant. I left my reference books back in Alabama. I failed to make notes supplementing the photographs. The photos alone did not furnish the diagnostic details I needed. A naturalist colleague here in Alabama assisted via photo-sharing (encumbered by the same diagnostic limits). The best we could do was agree upon a cautious identification as possumhaw (Ilex decidua). I am only about 75 percent certain… and could be persuaded out of it… so long as you are convincing!

Privet Fruit

 

The trees, shrubs, and forbs are inexorably reclaiming what had for nearly a century been a state-of-the art artery of commerce… a battleground for competing modes of transport. The battle long since settled, some 95 years since the Canal’s commercial demise, Nature is proving to be the ultimate victor. The National Park Service, with the over-arching protection by the C&O Canal’s designation as a National Historical Park, manages the 184.5-mile corridor with a soft touch.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of a National Historical Park designation, inexorably reclaims what humanity once cleared and domesticated.
  2. Human-scale time has no meaning to a river, nor to the mountains within which it courses.
  3. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” The C&O National Historical Park is no less a part of our heritage than Yellowstone or Yosemite.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through 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!

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Steve: “We’re so proud to promote the publication and release of our co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. This book is a collection of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth.” Order your copy from your local indie bookstore, or find it on IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

 

 

Words of Endorsement for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

I recently announced publication of a third book!!!

 

[Photo is Jennifer Wilhoit’s; Copyrighted]

Co-author Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit and I issued this statement August 14, 2019:

We’re so proud to announce the publication and release of our first co-authored book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature.

Our book is a collection of Nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Weaned and Snowy represents a labor of passion and purpose on behalf of humanity and our precious pale blue orb.

Warm regards,

Steve (and Jennifer Wilhoit)

[Photo is Jennifer Wilhoit’s; Copyrighted]

Now, read what others are saying about Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

“I can’t think of a better time for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature to appear. Given our current environmental crisis, connection (or reconnection) to the natural world is not just a crucial emotional or spiritual experience, it could well be the key to our survival. Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. and Stephen B. Jones, Ph.D. pool their talents to present compelling essays explaining why we need nature every bit as much as nature needs us. These are rich tales of travel and wonder, and each contributes to our understanding of the interdependence of life. This is a first-rate road map to the heart of life.”

– Burt J. Kempner Award-Winning Writer-Producer, Author of The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez, and Co-Creator of the Rewilding the Human Machine Forum

Get your copy from your favorite local independent bookseller or online at IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781489723529

 

Check Amazon for other books that Jennifer has authored: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Jennifer-J-Wilhoit/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3AJennifer+J.+Wilhoit

My two previous books are likewise available on Amazon: Nature Based Leadership and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. See my website for ordering information: http://stevejonesgbh.com/

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

 

P.S. Here I am with the snowy summit of NH’s Mount Washington rising above me, spindirft racing southward across its summit.

A Quick Dose of Natural Elixir at Huntsville Botanical Garden

We are frequent visitors to Huntsville Botanical Garden (HBG). The last week of May, I had finished a meeting downtown and had fifteen minutes before accepting a scheduled phone call… just enough time to stop by the Garden (on my way home), park, and walk to a shaded bench on one of the woodland trails, and accept the call in forested seclusion.

I relished the chance to inhale a full dose of Nature’s Elixir as I sat and talked by phone, and then strolled along several paths that we know well. My purpose here is to take you along with me. Not to visit the exquisite visitors and events center, the butterfly house, the fountains, or any of the infrastructure, but to demonstrate the quality of my quick immersion in the Garden’s woodland elements. I value having the Garden, and other natural features, within reach when I need a charge of natural elixir. A few quiet moments, deep inhalations, casual stroll, and alert observations do the trick!

A Brief Dose of Woodland Wonder

Interstate 565 connects to Huntsville from I-65 about 20 miles west of the City. The Huntsville Botanical Garden lies a mile south of I-565 and just five miles west of downtown. I simply diverted the mile south en route home to take my call. Much safer and infinitely more pleasant than talking while driving! Hands-free, no distractions (from driving), and able to take notes. I sat in a mixed pine/cedar/hardwood stand. I looked east facing a main-canopy Eastern red cedar tree (below left); another rises behind me (below right). One might say its just another northern Alabama forest. I prefer Wendell Berry’s view of such settings: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” I see the miraculous wherever I seek it. The woods at HBG originated naturally following some two centuries of European settlement, clearing, mixed use agriculture, abandonment, transfer to the Army and Alabama Space Commission, and eventual lease to HBG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Completing the phone call, I strolled, enjoying the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of the forest. A large woody grape vine adds a serpentine element among the maturing hardwood trees.

 

This red oak measures roughly 30-inches diameter breast high (DBH, a common term in forestry). It borders the trail and the more formal display plantings (see native oakleaf hydrangea in flower). A loblolly pine, nearly as large, towers beyond (below right). Such strolls, whether in remote wilderness or along an HBG path, deliver my daily bread.

 

The Interstate highway is just a straight-line mile to the north, but I hear only birdsong and an occasional drifting conversation, adults and children nearby yet not within sight. The extraordinary presents in both the horizontal view (below left) and vertical.

 

I’ve long marveled at the seeming infinite texture, form, color, and variety of tree bark between species and even within. The two Eastern red cedars below share similarities yet each is unique… as different as people are one from the other. I can’t resist snapping a photo and placing my hands to their faces, distinguishing between them with tactile sense complementing visual. I can envision a book of southern tree bark, or perhaps even one cataloging the trees of HBG or other specific locations, nearby Monte Sano State Park for instance!

 

This knotty, warty sweetgum projects yet another image, faces viewed from multiple orientations expressing full sets of personalities and visages. I’m sure that each view tells a different tale in our imagination.

 

And each tree does have a story to be told and read. I see a formerly forked oak (below left), losing its near-to-camera fork perhaps a decade ago to wind or ice. The old wound is now actively and successfully callousing. Scar tissue may ultimately seal the 15-inch opening. I say “may” because the agents of decay are likewise active, perhaps weakening the tree and making it susceptible to breakage from a subsequent wind or ice storm. Meantime, resident squirrels are enjoying their four-foot-high table-top perch for gnawing acorns. The sycamore (lower right) tells a different tale. Standing at woods edge 10-15 years ago, the then much smaller tree sprouted root collar suckers that have since grown to encircle the “parent” tree. The suckers are technically not offspring. Instead, they are genetically identical appendages of the main stem.

 

My brief walk brought me to one of my favorite lower-canopy species, bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). This one stands in deep shade behind me. Another nearly 30-inch red oak towers beyond and above it. I include my mug only for scale. The bigleaf magnolia is a deciduous magnolia native to the southeastern United States and eastern Mexico. This species boasts the largest simple leaf and single flower of any native plant in North America — the extraordinary is the common mode of existence in Nature. More of my daily bread!

 

Some tree faces at HBG require little imagination!

 

I hold oakleaf hydrangea among my top five native Alabama woody flowering plants.

 

Native azaleas are another. Both were at their flowering zenith on my serendipitously timed stopover phone call.

 

And because of its essential role in the life cycle of monarch butterflies, I deeply value the perennial herbaceous milkweed!

 

I’ve only touched the surface with these few photos and observations. I had previously offered an HBG Blog Post two years ago, reporting on a visit back into the Jurassic with our two Alabama grandsons: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/06/13/trex-makes-a-call/

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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, as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are two succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • We are blessed to have Nature within reach here in northern Alabama, ranging from a world-class botanical garden to the wild acreage of Monte Sano State Park to the waterfowl-rich winter sloughs of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Nature’s panoply of magic, beauty, wonder, and awe is wherever (and whenever) you choose to seek it.

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through 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!

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits:

Peace and Tranquility on Big Blue Lake; Not All is as it Appears!

Peace, Tranquility, and Serenity

 

I speak often of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Judy and I normally complete our morning neighborhood walk by 6:00AM, then enjoy coffee on the patio overlooking four-acre Big Blue Lake (BBL), along whose north shore we reside.

We experience peace, tranquility, the onset of a new day, a gentle stirring of birdsong and breeze, soft colors, and the promise of a full day ahead. That’s how every day in Nature’s beatific world unfolds, right? An Eden where life embraces life… among all creatures great and small. Where peace and harmony dominate life and living!

Sure, one may presume on such placid dawnings that all is love and joy here on BBL—and the lion shall lie down with the lamb! But wait, there is more. I choose to focus my writing on Nature’s inspiration–I relate her everyday tales in ways that lift lives and elevate the human spirit. However, I am not a Pollyanna, nor am I blind to Nature’s complex ways and multiple faces. As an applied ecologist, I know that Nature is harsh. The food chain is real. Few animals reside at the apex. Every organism, dead or alive, is edible to some consumer, primary or secondary. Death begins at the onset of life… and life at the time of death. From the Christian hymn:

“Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?”

The secular is absolute… ashes to ashes, dust to dust cannot be denied. A better home awaiting is a matter of Faith and of Spirit. Okay, I will leave the Spiritual element of the cycle of life and death to another day. Allow me now a quick recitation of just a few examples of the cold, brutal violence among BBL’s community of life from just the past few weeks. My intent is not to generate despair, but to illustrate that life is a complex web. Nature does not pass judgment. She is objective. Only we humans see good and evil, right and wrong, honest and deceptive. Nature just is… nothing more.

Two-hundred fifty years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed of Nature: “In her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous. Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity. Nature never breaks her own laws.” Every morning we witness Nature’s fidelity to the laws she has adopted and observed over 3.7 billion years of life on Earth. Life and living on Big Blue Lake never break Nature’s laws. Serenity? Yes, the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are present. No denying the obvious (below).

The Cold, Harsh, and Unforgiving Dimension
Yet, just as obvious, there are two sides to the coin of life. No, not really sides, but a continuum. For example, we have a resident sharp-shinned hawk on BBL. I say resident only because we see this aggressive predator every couple of days. I have no idea the extent of its range beyond frequenting BBL and posting near our quite active bird feeders.
Twice this spring we observed first-hand two near misses. A dove lighted off the patio in our back ornamental bed just ten feet from our own patio perch. Within seconds, Sharpy stooped suddenly from above onto the fortunate dove. Fortunate only because after feathers exploded, both birds immediately departed the chaotic scene. Down and a few tail or wing feathers marked the scene (below left). We’ve previously found such impact evidence in the backyard. I’ve always assumed a kill had resulted. Just three days following the near-miss, we witnessed Sharpy hitting another dove just 20-feet away… this one in flight. Again, a puff of feathers and two birds leaving in opposite directions. I pondered… an outstanding baseball batter will connect successfully three out of ten at-bats. What’s the hit-rate for sharp-shinned hawks? Three of ten? I found the feathers below right in mid-June. Another miss?
We know without doubt that dove-life on BBL is not free and easy. Aldo Leopold wrote of the need for geese on his Wisconsin farm to be vigilant about their place in the food chain. He asked, as he lamented the efficacy of a modern education 70 years ago, “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.” We occasionally see Sharpy nearby. Just two weeks ago, we heard our setting killdeer (15 feet off of the patio) screaming in serious agitation. We peeked from our sun porch. Sharpy stood ten feet from the mamma-less nest, then walked to within six inches of the four eggs, never seeming to notice them. We were prepared to rush out to save the eggs if necessary. As you will soon read, we had already lost a clutch of four killdeer eggs to a gang of ruffian crows in late March. Sharpy abruptly left without our exiting the house.
I recently finished reading Wendell Berry’s Our Only World, published 65 years after Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Interestingly, Berry came to a conclusion similar to Leopold’s: “There can never be too much knowledge, but there certainly can be too much school.” Perhaps a sacrilege from a former university president (four institutions), yet I fear that a modern university education is heavy to things of lesser worth.
Marauding Crows
Early March our killdeer couple that had successfully fledged two broods of four last summer, returned to their nesting site near a Japanese maple just 15-feet from our patio.
The adults at first performed the broken wing act to lure us from the nest and soon, accustomed to us, they would sit quietly as long as we gave them a reasonable berth.
During our morning patio-relaxing time this spring, five noisy crows would enter and pass through our little paradise. We would hear and see them emptying the sunflower seed feeders, one doing the feeder work while the others collected seed knocked to the ground. They would likewise make short work of a suet cage. We found them to be obnoxious bird-bullies, yet I accepted them as part of Nature’s web on BBL. Later one morning as we ran errands, our next door neighbor heard a loud clamor of crows and killdeer, and emerged to her porch in time to see the crows completing their task of scattering the killdeer parents and eating the four eggs. The crows have not been frequenting our end of the lake for the past six weeks.
Before the crows abandoned us, they also destroyed five goose eggs at our shoreline (goose at nest below left). The same neighbor heard the noise of the five crows attacking and eating the clutch of goose eggs (below right). I suppose there is good reason that the collective noun for a crow gang is a murder of crows! Will they return next spring? If so, what will I do, if anything, to dissuade them from their evil ways?! Yes, I know, it is I who place relative value, good and evil, preference among species of birds. I may simply observe and learn from Nature’s ways.

We did raise (actually, we observed and did not participate) two successful killdeer hatches last summer. Likewise, a goose pair raised a clutch of five goslings from their shore-side nest at our place (below). This summer, we’ve watched goose families of three and six goslings cruising BBL. This morning I counted 39 geese on the lake, including the nine goslings. Despite the murder of crows, I sense that we are at least sustaining our goose population.
Some good news. We now have another four killdeer eggs at the identical location and estimate a late June hatch date. I’m completing final editing July 1; the parents are still tending the four eggs. We anticipate hatching any moment. A last minute update: the four hatched mid-morning July 2, then spent the night under Mom’s wings. We watched them venture forth to lakeside during the morning. We celebrated their success!
Goose Homicide
All of our goose problems are not attributable to marauding corvids (family of Corvidae; crows and ravens). During pairing-off season, we noticed very territorial behavior among males. We’ve observed violence when a male senses competition for his mate. The aggrieved male will attack the perceived threat-bird. The aggressor will demonstrate a neck-parallel-to-the-water paddle toward the other male, leading to a flying attack that we’ve seen result in the target being taken underwater repeatedly with a great deal of thrashing. Occasionally the take-down lasted long enough that I wondered whether the attacked male would escape. In fact, in late April, one apparently did not. We found the victim floating belly-up at our shoreline. I waited several days, anticipating that our turtles would scavenge the corpse. Warm days compelled me to place the body in a large plastic bag and transfer the corpse to our garbage can for disposal.
Heron
We have what we consider our resident great blue heron. Again, the bird’s range includes BBL, but is certainly not exclusively restricted to BBL as its domicile. A rookery (below left) is perhaps six miles distance. I have little idea of how far a heron may range from its home rookery. We see Big Blue (our name for the resident bird) often. We’ve spent many hours in total watching the bird hunt along our shore. Few things surpass the thrill of seeing a thrust or dive resulting in a catch, whether a frog or fish large enough to witness repeated stabs, de-mobilization, and maneuvering to swallow head-first. These magnificent wetland birds are voracious predators. I view them as symbolic of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Were I an intended meal, I would see our heron as an imminent threat, a fearsome beast, a horrible monster hell-bent on ruining my day. I enjoy peace and tranquility in observing the stealthy, stilted, royal heron. The frogs, fish, and snakes of BBL do not share my enthusiasm and appreciation!
Ducks
The three eggs below remain from the ten eggs a female mallard deposited and tended in our front bed under a rosecreek abelia. The seven hatched overnight June 14. Momma had the ducklings on the pond within hours. As I write these words the afternoon of July 1, she is  cruising with just three survivors. Interestingly, she appears to be a single mother. We’ve watched other families cruise BBL. Mom leads, the ducklings paddle in close single file, and Dad brings up the rear. We have not yet seen a male with our family group. As of July 10 (yesterday), the number remains at three. I puzzled over what percentage of mallard eggs in the wild typically hatch. Is 70-percent normal? I searched the web quickly for an answer, coming up empty. Same for what proportion of hatchlings normally survive to adulthood. Did the absence of Dad result in higher mortality?
Kingfisher and Osprey
We likewise frequently see kingfishers hunting along BBL. They perch on fence posts or in shrubs and trees watching the water before diving headlong for some hapless prey. Once this past winter we watched (with great surprise) a magnificent osprey approach from the southwest a couple of hundred feet above BBL, then circle slowly three times, carefully surveying the surface below.
Water Turtles
Big Blue Lake is home to water turtles, some of which are snappers, fearless predators in their own right. Fish, frogs, snakes, snails, and mollusks are among the prey. I’ve seen individuals approaching 18-inches from beak to tip-of-tail. I am sure that the snappers are responsible for some duckling and gosling mortality. Last year, we saw a duckling family of 11 winnow to four reaching adulthood. The parade of tiny yellow fuzzballs must look quite appetizing from beneath! The snapper below is a mount at the recently-opened Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur.
Insects and Spiders
Spiders like to set insect webs along our patio roof-line. It’s a tough life for flying insects. If not a spider’s meal, insects are subject to the species of large dragonfly that frequents our backyard a little later in summer. Barn swallows hunt BBL and its immediate air-space much of the day. Many of our common birds feast on insects, worms, and other small life forms.
Fish
Largemouth bass cruise the pond, consuming frogs, fish, and perhaps even the ducklings and goslings when swallowable size. I’ve had days when nearly every cast with a spinning lure draws a strike.
Snakes
We’ve spotted grey rat snakes several times this spring. In past years we’ve had garter snakes in our beds. They, too, consume birds, bird eggs, mice, and other rodents. By mid-June we had spotted five grey rat snakes road-killed at the entrance to our development, along a stretch of road bordered by mature hardwood forest. So sad to see the mortality. Unlike many neighbors, I find the sinuous reptiles beautiful and of great value within the complex faunal ecosystem. Regardless, I am grateful to be atop the food chain!
Other Factors

I show the male house finch temporarily stunned on our patio to evidence that not all dangers are biological. The finch flew into one of our back windows. He soon recovered and departed. Again, a tough life amidst BBL’s peace and tranquility.

Mid Twentieth Century author, conservationist, and naturalist-philosopher Aldo Leopold observed, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Harsh as it may seem, life along BBL appears to be right. The ecosystem is complex, integrated, and I believe stable. I offer another Leopold quote as I think about the crows and how I might deal with them next spring, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Whether cog or wheel, the crows are integral to our functioning ecosystem. I will likely accept them as too important for me to pass judgement and issue a sentence.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature is objective, refusing to pass judgement or assign relative worth.
  2. Follow the rule of intelligent tinkering
  3. Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.
  4. There is always a flip side to Nature’s apparent peace, serenity, and tranquility. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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