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!

 

My Winter Term Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Class Visits DeSoto State Park

March 20, 2019, staff at DeSoto State Park (DSP) welcomed members of my Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI at University of Alabama in Huntsville) winter term course on Northern Alabama State Parks. The 35 or so registrants elected to visit DSP on this supplemental field trip from among the Parks we brought to OLLI during the six-week term. And what a great day we chose to visit — perfect weather on the first day of spring! I intend for this Blog Post to hit a few highlights and celebrate the course and this capstone field tour.

Park Superintendent Ken Thomas oriented us at the entrance to ADA-accessible Azalea Cascade Boardwalk Trail, and then led us back to the cascade. I will not attempt to identify folks in the photos, except for Ken in the uniform below.

Three months of more-than-ample rain assured good flow in every spring, brook, and creek. Full sun reached the forest floor in advance of the leaf-out yet to arrive.

One of our classmates paused to absorb the sun, lean on one of the many rock ledges, and enjoy Nature’s bounty.

Pleasant Wildness at the Park

Moss and lichen find purchase on most every surface, transforming tree trunks and raw rock to elevated non-flowering plant gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that as a former wood products industry forester, I still see trees in terms of merchantable height, board feet, and sawlog quality, but not exclusively or even primarily. I saw a different kind of quality in the white oak below. Imagine with me, if you will, the oak as a sapling struck by a larger nearby tree falling on it, bending and breaking it 20-feet above the ground. The sapling sprouted above the break, growing once again skyward. Now 50 years later, the sapling has developed a nearly perfect goose head! Artistic quality in this fine feathered oak far exceeds the tree’s worth for forest products. Notice the bill closed tightly and the eye located anatomically exactly where it should be! The upper neck is flawless. I pledge to never jettison the timber beast that lies within me or abandon my youthful zest for tree whimsy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring ephemerals had begun to awaken, taking seasonal advantage of the full sunlight flowing through the still leaf-free canopy. Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooms from last year’s foliage (lower left), as does solitary pusseytoes (lower right; Antennaria solitaria).

 

 

And we saw the refreshing spring yellows of halberd-leaved violet (lower left; Viola hastata) and trout lilly or yellow fawn lilly (lower right; Erythronium americana). Common names are often so descriptive. Pusseytoes flowers resemble a cat’s paw. The yellow violet leaf is, quite simply, halberd-shaped. The yellow fawn lilly leaves are spotted like a new spring fawn!

And bluets (Hedyotis caerulea) could not be more aptly named. White, yellow, and blue replacing the drab cloak of winter. Yet another reason to celebrate!

The Zest of Seasoning

Indian Falls, a short walk from the Cascade Trail head, supplied visual and audio reward as it dropped perhaps 20 feet over a rock ledge. Because I was there to shepherd our OLLI flock, I chose to capture our enrollees enjoying the falls from both above and below. Early in my professional life, I would have thought that retirement was for the aging (maybe even the aged), and that heading into the woods beyond a stroll in the garden was for other than those deep into their seventh and eighth decades (60s-and-70s year-old ancients). By definition and from the website, “OLLI at UAH is designed specifically for your lifestyle and interests, with no grades or tests. Become an active member of OLLI today! … OLLI is designed for lifelong learners age 50+ seeking intellectual stimulation, self-expression, and the opportunity to explore new ideas with peers.” While OLLI invites lifelong learners 50-60, most everyone in my course can see that decade only over their shoulders. None among us thought about our age that day. Sure, although we ventured forth on a fine spring day, I no longer feel the spring in my knees. Yet, like the expanding leaf and flower buds, I felt my heart and spirit swell with the season. In fact, at this age of chronological seasoning (aging), I feel the Nature-inspired surge of life within me more now than ever!

Aldo Leopold offered a quintessentially relevant quote: “When I call to mind my earliest impressions, I wonder whether the process ordinarily referred to as growing up is not actually a process of growing down; whether experience, so much touted among adults as the thing children lack, is not actually a progressive dilution of the essentials by the trivialities of living.” So true, especially now 70 years beyond his offering that insight, as we Homo sapiens in modern society too often abandon the essentials in pursuit of our digitally-based trivialities of living. March 20 at DeSoto, we stayed with the essentials, immersed in Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. We observed, appreciated, and relished the experience through the eyes, heart, soul, and spirit of youth. Perhaps retirement marks a threshold from which we grow up… and re-enter the world of essentials!

Leopold also noted:

  • “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?”
  • “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”

I observed our group of OLLI participants remaining aware and going blind only to the distractions and trivialities of living. I think that to a person we relished the day together… with Nature and with each other.

I’ve quoted John Muir multiple times — his wisdom is timeless: “In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” We all appreciated the indoor elements of the six-week course as we brought the Parks to the classroom, but nothing matched the exquisite gifts we received from our visit to DeSoto State Park.

Another of Muir’s gems of Nature rewards and benefits: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” We spent far less than a week, yet performed a bit of spirit-cleaning!

Nearby Attractions

Most of us made a fitting side trip to nearby DeSoto Falls. Yet another treat — nothing of lesser worth here!

And also nearby, a human history and archeological jewel: Howard’s Chapel and cemetery. The Chapel, wedged into and built alongside a fifteen-foot sandstone ledge that serves as a backdrop for its pulpit, was built in 1937 by “an obscure former Hollywood lead man and candidate for U.S. President.” A curiosity that is somewhat whimsically spiritual. We are one with Nature, in life and in death. Ashes to ashes… dust to dust. Howard, I am certain, viewed the nearby falls with deep appreciation and felt the Spirit move in him 80 years ago. How many generations of Native Americans sensed a strong spiritual connection to this land now protected, managed, and preserved as one of Alabama’s 22-pearl necklace of State Parks?

I am honored and privileged to have co-taught this OLLI course with the Park System’s Northern Alabama Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Tim Haney. Tim knows the Parks and exudes a reverence for them that infused every presentation and interaction. I am grateful for the essential and pivotal role he played.

 

Life Lessons and Wisdom from Our DeSoto State Park Visit

I’ll offer broadly and succinctly that venturing into Nature is reward in itself. Follow my advice and urging:

  • Keep close to Nature’s heart
  • Embrace Nature’s essentials
  • Jettison the trivialities of living
  • Know, notice, and rejoice that winter’s drabness will yield to spring’s whites, yellows, blues, reds, and greens

Retain the youthful innocence and child’s appreciation for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • Life will reward those who keep close to Nature’s heart.
  • An ounce of Nature’s essentials outweighs a ton of digital distractions and trivialities.
  • Grow up without shedding awareness.

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!

 

Where Is Wild and How Do We Recognize It?

And for as long as I stay here, I know I will also have to get to the wild places. And this was the vision of a world place that had stayed with me: somewhere boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities. To reach a wild place was, for me, to step outside human history… where the evidence of human presence was minimal or absent.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

The Wild Places traces the author’s discovery that wildness is as much a state of mind and perception as it is boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities. I’ll insert Macfarlane’s observations within this Post as I offer my own reflections on wildness.

We lived four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, an modestly urban area four hundred miles north of Anchorage and just one hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, centered within the vastness of interior Alaska. We lived in the Chancellor’s Residence on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. We welcomed and enjoyed our backyard moose visitors. Not quite MacFarlane’s boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities, yet much more so than our current home in northern Alabama.

The same with Sitka, Alaska, another locale and clime in line with MacFarlane’s wildness. In fact, just like Fairbanks, leave the city limits and you are engulfed in vast true wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature’s Wildness: Lessons from an Epic Movie

As a forester, I recall the wonderful cinematography of the 1992 Last of the Mohicans movie, the classic French and Indian war epic situated in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. In the interest of historical accuracy, I knew that crews filmed the movie in North Carolina’s Appalachians. Still, I loved the forest and mountain scenes. The movie opened with a great chase sequence as one of the lead characters ran… hotly pursued through the forest primeval. Turns out that the forest primeval was a white pine forest planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on abandoned pasture land near what is now the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC. So, planted early the 1930s, the forest filmed about 1990 had developed over 55-60 years, an artificial forest.

Forest primeval? Not hardly. Yet perception is reality. I’ve seen hundreds of old CCC plantations. The evergreens (whether white, red, or Scots pine, or Norway spruce) quickly captured the site, excluding competing vegetation, and often standing thickly above an unusually vacant forest floor. I suppose the towering trees above a needle-carpeted, open forest floor met the film-maker’s need. It worked quite well. Our hero raced across the landscape to the delight of movie-goers. Having inside forestry knowledge, I admit, enhanced my own viewing pleasure. What a great subterfuge! Managed forests are forests all the same. What appears wild in the eyes of millions was all the wildness required.

Virtually the entire Appalachians, from Georgia to Maine saw widespread removal of the original forests through the nineteenth century, attempted domestication to subsistence farming, and eventual abandonment, with forests once more clothing the hillsides. Whether planted by the CCC or naturally regenerated, the forests once more appear ancient and untrammeled by the hand of man. The same holds true across Alabama. Maturing second (and third) growth forests dominate land use. Wild is infiltrating where we live

I served four years of my 12-year Union Camp Corporation employment conducting forest fertilization research. I recall many of the replicated trials we established to test hardwood plantation fertilization at stand establishment in Virginia and North Carolina. We installed 0ne of the first locations on Jordan Pocosin (our name for the tract) in Gates County, NC, on the coastal plain south of the Meherrin River. We selected the site prior to forest harvest. Post-harvest we mechanically site-prepared by wind-rowing tops and residual stems, harrowing the area between windrows, and then bedding linearly parallel to the windrows. The raised beds improve micro-drainage on these somewhat poorly drained, clayey gleyed soils. We winter-planted sweetgum seedlings early 1976 and applied fertilizer treatments that spring. I recall measuring the plots at the end of growing seasons ‘76, ‘77, and ‘78 prior to my transfer to the Corporate Office of Environmental Affairs in Savannah, Georgia. By then, we documented clear treatment growth differences, and some individuals reached heights of 10-12 feet.

I next stepped foot on the plots during the 2003-4 dormant season, a quarter-century later. I met on-site with some of my old Union Camp colleagues, including the person who had been my principal technician. International Paper Co. had purchased UCC ten years prior to our return visit, the research project long since abandoned. The east-west access road, I recalled, had entered the cleared and site-prepared tract. It now passed through a seeming mature forest in deep shade. We stopped where Lloyd felt we had placed the ten-acre installment. We soon located some of the treated corner posts designating measurement plots. Sweetgum in straight rows on still-identifiable beds stood 70-90-feet-tall, some approaching 15 inches in diameter. A few oak and loblolly had invaded, especially along the windrows. Like the Biltmore white pine plantation, this artificial forest projected an essence of the forest primeval. Had someone placed me on-site without explanation I feel certain my forensic professional examination would have discovered telltale signs: these odd treated posts; linear beds; sweetgum on the bed-tops; the windrow strips with other than sweetgum dominant. For the uninitiated non-forester, this was a mature stand of coastal plain forest… forever wild and natural. Again, not hardly. Yet what we see is reality.

Wild is temporal… we established this field-test on what most would agree was a domesticated tract (albeit remote from the nearest town), far from wild. Twenty-five years had returned the site to wild, and seemingly untrammeled. Although my reunion visit with old friends on a site where I had spent scores of hours lifted me and brought back rewarding memories, I once more experienced a sobering (and mind-boggling) time-journey. My friends and I, then a generation older, distantly resembled our younger selves physically, yet our discourse did not show the weathering and aging. We laughed heartily of times undimmed. The land, too, had not changed, even as its forest development rendered the site unrecognizable! Does the land and its vegetated cover possess spirit and soul undimmed by time, even as its facial features and body age?

Just as wildness is a term we pass through our subjective filters, I know that I ascribe elements of soul and spirit to places I’ve encountered over my journey. Jordan Pocosin, although it does not stand as one of THE prime examples, does hold a special significance in my life. As I reflect on our 2003-04 reunion visit, I recognize that we all felt a sense of soul and spirit that day, partly defined by our shared memories and otherwise leveraged by our acceptance of the power and persistence of nature to keep this wildland wild. Mount Washington, New Hampshire is one of THE standard bearers in my soul/spirit place-memory portfolio. From my first book, Nature Based Leadership:

This mountain spurs deep spirituality in me. I feel closer to something far greater than myself, whether religious or secular. I departed Mount Washington once more accepting absolute humility and feeling full inspiration. A healthy balance: a reminder that each of us is simply a cog in a far greater system (or a business, a family). We are mere moments across the vast sweep of time. The mountain will stand high for millennia, long after I have passed. MWO’s (Mount Washington Observatory) Brian Fowler emailed me the Sunday after our ascent, sharing similar sentiments: “Well, you now know one of the principal reasons I stay connected with the observatory. Once it gets into your blood (for me now almost fifty years ago), it’s there permanently and always available as a wonderful palliative to this otherwise perplexing world.

I often found projectile points as we remeasured the Jordan Pocosin trial, evidencing that Native populations frequented the area long before the first European influences 250 or so years ago. Certainly not “boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental, demanding of the traveler in its asperities,” wildness still characterizes for most citizens this large tract of land within 90 minutes of Tidewater (Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach) Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. To all but the trained naturalist observer, “the evidence of human presence was minimal or absent” in Jordan Pocosin!

Macfarlane likewise began rejecting the defining essence of wildness he had embraced and believed as he began contemplating The Wild Places:

Lying there on the drifted sand, under the white stars, I thought about how the vision of wildness with which I had begun my journeys – inhuman, northern, remote – was starting to crumble from contact with the ground itself. No such chaste land exists in Britain or Ireland, and no such myth of purity can hold. Thousands of years of human living and dying have destroyed the possibility of the pristine wild… The human and the wild cannot be partitioned.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

 

Wilderness and Wildness

The US Wilderness Act of 1964 defined the term: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” I do not contest this legislative characterization of formally protected areas within the US Wilderness system. Such designation offers protection long term and controls access and use. I distinguish a formal Wilderness from wildness. The US National Forest System comprises 193 million acres (~301,000 square miles) and includes 36 million acres of the Nation’s 109 million Wilderness acres. Within Alabama’s 667,000 acres of National Forests, we have ~42,000 acres of federally-designated Wilderness (Dugger Mountain, Cheaha, and Sipsey). Six percent of Alabama’s National Forest acreage is designated Wilderness. However, most outdoor enthusiasts would agree that virtually the entire 667,000 acres qualify as what I term wildness, which does not require a condition untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

True federal Wilderness meets a legislative intent far deeper and more specific than wildness:

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.

Proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the Wilderness Act of 1964

 In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.

Excerpt from the Wilderness Act of 1964

Aldo Leopold would have supported the Wilderness Act. He died the year preceding A Sand County Almanac’s posthumous publishing date. He yearned to ensure that future citizens have access to what he called blank spots on a map:

I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)

 

My own sense of wildness has shifted over the five decades since I began seriously contemplating nature and wildness. We built our retirement home (December 2015) on a four-acre pond/lake in northern Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley near Huntsville. Ours is the largest of a string of three bodies of water. We chose the lot because of the water and the feeling of openness it would give us even in a residential development. In retrospect, after three years in residence, we found that we had underestimated the incredible peace of mind and sense of wildness it has actually provided. In my younger years, this now aging forester would have seen only the homes ringing the shoreline, and with some measure of contempt for the urban invasion. Now I see only the pond, the open views, and the rich wildlife attracted.

 

My idea of wildness as something inhuman, outside history, had come to seem nonsensical, even irresponsible.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

 

As I had moved south, my own understanding of wildness had been altered – or its range had been enlarged. My early vision of a wild place of somewhere remote, historyless, unmarked, now seemed improperly partial. But I had learned to see another type of wildness, to which I had once been blind: the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic. This wildness was not about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun. The weed thrusting through a crack in the pavement, the tree root impudently cracking a carapace of tarmac: these were wild signs, as much as the storm wave and the snowflake.

The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)

The weed thrusting through a crack in the pavement within a hundred yards of our Alabama home, a wild sign along with the momentarily stunned male house finch (hit a window) on our patio:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within a few miles of our home, a heron rookery stands in a wetland surrounded by subdivisions. Wildness is where we seek it.

Again, wildness is where we seek it.

 

Reflections on Nature, Humanity, and Wildness

Human history and natural history are inseparable. We humans are not interlopers on this third rock from the sun. We are not invaders. We are residents… native to Earth. We are here because this is home — because this is the place that spawned us. There is not humanity and nature. There is simply nature… and we humans are integral to it. I intentionally avoided probing the depths of humanity in nature. Instead, I chose to state within this chapter that humanity is integral to nature. And that wildness is a malleable construct. Take for example an April, 2018 hike I took at nearby Monte Sano State Park, which offers 22 miles of trails. All of these trails wend well within the humanity/wildness interface zone. European settlement and influence have marked this not-so-back-country for two centuries.

The State Park and adjoining Northern Alabama Land Trust trail system are testament to those who recognized our interdependence with nature and took measures to protect and preserve wildness within reach of the Huntsville, Alabama community. In his 1948 Foreword to A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold observed, “There are those who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” I offer my compliments and appreciation to those who cared (and care) enough to conserve and tend wildness on Monte Sano. Again, we are one with nature and what better way to remind us than hiking a wild area rich with human history.

We know that Native Americans lived in this region for twelve millennia. They left a far lighter touch on wildness than European settlement has over two short centuries of occupation. No historic markers designate their former dwellings at Monte Sano. Nearly two hundred years ago, Col. Robert Fearn built a one-and-one-half-story summer home atop Monte Sano at 1,600 feet. Fire destroyed the structure 55 years later. A subsequent landowner, James O’Shaughnessy, built a two-story Victorian residence nearby in 1890. Among other endeavors, he co-owned the Monte Sano Hotel, also nearby atop the plateau.

Two homes and associated out-buildings and a full-service hotel. Permanent man-made features on the plateau landscape, right? Not hardly — nature’s eraser assures that little is permanent. The entire area we hiked is closed forest, appearing to the uninitiated as forest primeval. Sure, we saw a couple stone gate posts, a remnant brick-lined in-ground cistern, and abandoned roads, long-since re-naturalized as part of the forest floor. The maturing forest signaled subtle successional changes to me, evidencing that some acreage had been cleared. A heritage sign stands at what had been a fish pond and then a lily lake at the hotel. The forest, as it has with the abandoned road beds, is reclaiming the pond. Organic debris is transforming the open water to deep, soggy muck. Trees and shrubs are finding purchase. Next step — a vernal pool, then a wet depression. That interpretive sign and others memorialize the valiant efforts to domesticate a northern Alabama mountain-top.

Leonardo da Vinci noted quite simply and elegantly: “Nature never breaks her own laws.” One of nature’s preeminent truths is that nothing is permanent, whether a spring ephemeral wildflower, our own lives, or a hotel and spa atop a plateau overlooking the Tennessee River Valley. Nothing can withstand the force and power of nature’s agents (biotic, chemical, and physical) acting over time. I remind you that the Appalachians once stood at elevations rivaling today’s Himalayan Mountains.

Wildness on the Seventeenth Floor at Atlanta’s Hartsfield

Wildness has often intersected my life’s journey… sometimes when I least expected it to appear. I offer this excerpt from Nature Based Leadership, my first book. January 2016, I had traveled to Atlanta from New Hampshire and awaited a scheduled conference room airport interview as I relaxed and prepared in the hotel’s executive lounge near Hartsfield. I had made the initial cut to semi-finalist for another university presidency.

The executive lounge looked south from the seventeenth floor. FedEx’s Atlanta operations spread out beneath us, the commercial airport beyond that. I could hear and feel the wind swirling around the building, even on this sheltered lee side. Making myself at home, I pulled out my laptop, secured connectivity, and went about conducting the business of the university that employed me, occasionally revisiting my notes and background materials for the interview. Peripherally, I noticed a fellow lounge occupant near the window, camera in hand. I rose to see the object of her attention. There on the eight-inch-wide window ledge more than one hundred fifty feet above the ground stood a peregrine falcon. 

The morning gale had obviously buffeted my window ledge falcon. Although now somewhat protected, feathers still in disarray, the bird evidenced its wind-bludgeoning. My dominant initial impression of the bird, within arm’s length beyond the glass, filtered through my own lens as an unabashed champion of accipiter species and other birds of prey, amounted to wonder, awe, beauty, and inspiration. I did not contemplate its ruffled feathers at first, only marveled that this incredible bird had suddenly appeared on such a blustery morning on my seventeenth-floor ledge! Only later when viewing peregrine photos online did I truly appreciate how bedraggled this one looked.

Eventually as I watched, the bird looked away and — with wings open — slipped gracefully from the ledge. It dipped below my line of sight and did not reappear. I sensed great blessing and pleasure having simply been there to see the peregrine up close and personal. I knew the species had adapted to urban high-rise life and had acquired a taste for European pigeon cuisine — fresh off the wing. Perhaps a pigeon below had prompted the bird to leave me behind.

Most importantly, I found solace that this daring bird of prey, this thing of wild beauty, this symbol of nature’s fury and mastery, had alighted on a seventeenth story ledge during that brief period when I was wrestling with a personal and professional dilemma, and at a time when a mid-Atlantic coastal storm had ushered some rough weather into the Southland. The mix allowed me to look deeply into urban wildness and its temporal intersection with my life and my inner self. I see more clearly through the filter and magnification of nature’s lenses. I am grateful for every opportunity I have to look, see, feel, and act. A lesson in nature, or one inspired by nature? I accept either, with deep appreciation for yet another chance to experience, learn, and grow.

There was wildness at a high-rise hotel within sight of the world’s busiest airport! As Robert Macfarlane so eloquently discovered and related in The Wild Places, wildness is subject to our own filters. I accept and embrace his simple statement that what we can fundamentally celebrate is “the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic.

I urge readers to awaken to the wildness that is within reach of where you live. Take time to visit. Believe (and know) that you will likely discover far more than you seek, as John Muir so eloquently observed: In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. Hike and Look. Look and See. See and Feel. And Feel and Act — to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. And realize that nature’s laws apply to living, learning, serving, and leading. To vocation and avocation. To enterprises of all sorts… from family to church to community to business.

Macfarlane’s dear deceased hiking companion had said, “There is wildness everywhere, if only we stop in our tracks and look around us.” From The Wild Places, “To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield. He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.

Like Aldo Leopold, I am one who cannot live without wild things. May nature’s wildness inspire all that you do! Be an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby. Reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand!

Life Lessons and Wisdom from Wildness — Wherever We Choose to Savor It

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from nature (with full explanation, interpretation, and reference citations) to close this chapter. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Wilderness is a subset of wildness
  2. Wildness is as much state of mind as an objective, criteria-defined condition
  3. Wildness is spatial and it is temporal
  4. Life (or wildness) is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development, even in very urban settings
  5. I am securing my daily bread of nature and wildness right in my backyard
  6. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with nature
  7. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder – that more people would explore the undiscovered country of the nearby and reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand
  8. Life can be as good as we care to make it

Nature and its associated wildness soothes my soul, stirs my passion, stimulates my life-purpose, and lifts my spirits. Nature and wildness are two fundamental ingredients in my daily bread.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and 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 three succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with nature.
  • Explore the undiscovered country of the nearby and reveal and cherish the present-day and the close-at-hand.

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!

 

 

Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park

An Adventure in Learning and Reflecting

Some 120 environmental educators (annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama — EE AA) met February 28 through March 2nd at Cheaha State Park. The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely. I present some of my reactions and reflections in this Great Blue Heron post. In subsequent posts over the next several weeks I’ll pursue other themes:

  1. Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty: My Keynote Atop the Mountain
  2. Scars Upon the Land: Thoughts Stirred by a View from Cheaha’s Rock Garden Overlook
  3. Non-Flowering Plants Atop the Mountain: Observations While Attending the EE AA Conference

Developing these Great Blue Heron reflections is a labor of love. I get to visit natural attractions across the state (and beyond), from Gulf State Park mid-January (staying ocean-side) to Alabama’s highest point in the southern Appalachians (staying in a rustic Civilian Conservation Corps cabin just a few hundred yards from the summit):

Vegetation and scenery pay dividends whether Gulf coastal forest or mountain top:

And what an absolute privilege to rub shoulders with scores of environmental educators, fellow champions for informed and responsible Earth stewardship. For the first time over the course of my four-and-a-half-decade career, I have just recently drafted my own mission, vision, and motto:

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.

Motto: Encourage and seek a better tomorrow through Nature-inspired living.

Imagine my surprise and delight to find the EE AA mission: Enhance the abilities of formal and informal educators to connect people to the natural world in order to foster responsible stewardship.

I knew then that we would connect, and we did! We mission, share passion, purpose, and spirit. Whether college student or septuagenarian, the Earth stewardship thread connected us all.

Rather than provide a detailed description of the conference (for that, please visit the EE AA website), I will offer a few photographs and reflections. I’ll begin with the conference theme: Magic and Wonder Atop the Mountain. Visit my five previous GBH posts (from a two-day Cheaha visit mid-October 2018) to see my own observations on the magic and wonder of Cheaha State Park and the adjoining Talladega National Forest.

Touching Mind, Body, Heart, Soul, and Spirit

I arrived early enough Thursday afternoon (2/28) to check into cabin number five, stash my exhibit gear and books at the Bald Rock Lodge (conference headquarters), and walk the Bald Rock Trail, an ADA accessible boardwalk to the overlook. I suppose that because I grew up an outdoor enthusiast in the central Appalachians, I feel that the road leading up to Cheaha State Park is taking me home. As I walked the boardwalk, my heart pounded, but not from exertion. Instead, I experienced exhilaration with being back atop the mountain. I connected with all five portals: heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. Each its own receptivity center. Each sending pleasant and lifting signals to my core. Feeling light, I floated along the trail. I admit (without reservation) to never having taken recreational drugs, preferring instead this natural elixir called Nature. Apropos, I’ve titled my third book (I’m selecting a publisher) Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration.

The forests atop Cheaha are not towering cathedral groves. Instead the harsh climate, thin soils, and shallow bedrock support mostly Virginia pine (ravaged 3-4 years ago by a severe ice storm) and chestnut oak, many weather-tortured and contorted (photos from the boardwalk).

Yet I see magic and beauty even in these savaged trees, bearing testament to Nature’s extremes on a peak (2,407′) that mountain snobs would deem a foothill, if not just a molehill! But I urge visitors to look more appreciatively, marvel at the co-stars of this hill-top drama. Life finds purchase and offers adornment on every rock and tree-bark surface. While a rolling stone gathers no moss, a stationary boulder atop Cheaha graciously harbors any and all lichen colonies. That morning’s rain brought deep color intensity and vibrancy to the abundant lichen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And moss likewise adorns every otherwise vacant surface at ground level, whether at the base of a tree or sharing a rock with its lichen companion. View the lower right photo as an alpine lichen lake surrounded by mountain slopes of moss forest. John Muir once wrote, “The power of the imagination makes us infinite.” I may not have felt infinite atop the mountain, yet I did feel the infinite beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature. I sensed Nature’s infinite storm of beauty, also a term Muir employed 130 years ago.

Heart still pounding with delight, I reached the Bald Rock overlook. The infinite storm of beauty still surged, the Talladega National Forest stretching to the north and northeast, lower left and right, respectively.

The ebbing day saluted us with the last glimpse of blue sky we would see during the conference. A salute fit for kings! The dense-wedged stratus (lower left) reminded me of an Imperial Starship cruising from the south. Perhaps preparing to disembark a few alien environmental educators?

The interstellar educators did not register for the annual meeting, yet I did spot some forest oddities, suggesting that alien lifeforms may have been observing.

 

The Stage is Set: May the Learning Begin

I presented all of that to set the stage for the conference. Fact is, the conference theme did the same: Magic and Wonder Atop the Mountain. Not a person attending did not share the sentiments I expressed above in the Blog Post introduction. These are special people, blessed (they and I concur that theirs is a calling) and privileged to practice their craft and harness their passion in service to making tomorrow brighter through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

Again, rather than revisit the printed program, rehash the array of speakers, or review the topics, here is a collection of photos that reflect the intense emotion, deep passion, and unbridled enthusiasm characterizing conference participants. I like that both Renee Raney, Cheaha State Park Superintendent (lower left in the CCC-built lodge), and Mandy Pearson (lower right at the CCC-constructed reservoir), Cheaha Naturalist and EE AA President, are gesturing toward the heavens! Just part of the wonder and magic. Perhaps Mandy is acknowledging “Power to the Fog”! March 1st and 2nd, continuous fog enveloped the Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Ramona, 14-month-old daughter of two attendees, served as unofficial conference mascot. She helped entertain the audience during my Thursday evening address, forcing me to ad lib a time or two as she performed antics near the lectern. Ramona added levity and served as a not-so-subtle reminder that our focus is the future. That we are inspiring and enabling adoption of an Earth ethic to provide for seven generations hence… and beyond.

We found abundant evidence that animal life thrives atop the mountain. Our field trip groups found a salamander and snail, both organisms thrilled with February’s relenting rain and fog.

As the Conference theme expressed explicitly, we found wonder and awe atop the mountain wherever we looked, whether the view from The Rock Garden to Cheaha Lake and the Talladega National Forest beyond, or simply the exquisite moss fish (below right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I reminded fellow environmental educators time and again that every object, dead or alive, atop the mountain has a story to tell. Our task as educators is to accept such as fact… to believe that a story awaits discovery. I view the lichen-painted boulder below and see an epic tail. The cast includes the rock and a Virginia pine. The rock cared little about, and likely never noticed, the tremendous ice storm that glistened the mountain a few winters back. The Virginia pine strained and groaned with the weight burden until physics prevailed, crossing a threshold that crashed the old soldier to the ground, and brought the twisted and crushed upper canopy to rest upon the rock, which paid little if any heed to the thundering impact. The rock and the mountain may know that the tree is but a fleeting occupant of the rock’s surface. Time and billions of microbes will soon-enough reduce the wood to humus and then soil organic matter, which will in turn furnish nourishment and substrate to yet another tree. The cycle will continue until the rock finds itself sediment deposited in the Mobile River delta, and perhaps some day rising to top another mountain millions of years hence. Time means nothing to an atom, a rock, or a mountain.

I witnessed great joy, inspiration, wonder, and magic atop Cheaha. I applaud the sense of enthusiasm, knowledge, and responsibility among the attendees. I congratulate their recognition and acceptance of the burden they bear for assuring a better tomorrow through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. I am grateful that planners chose to invite me to give the welcoming keynote. I feel that I am an accepted member of the family. Our causes overlap. Our paths enjoy full harmony. In fact, yesterday I submitted my completed EE AA membership application form.

That’s me standing by my Great Blue Heron banner (left) and EE AA Chair Mandy graced me with a photo hug (right)!

As I wished them upon concluding my remarks: May Nature Inspire your life and vocation!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and 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 four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  • In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • Every day can be a journey of discovery and inspiration, a day of sowing seeds for a brighter tomorrow… a tomorrow that is in the hands of generations ahead.
  • Every time I can inject a few lumens of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe into a young mind (a young mind of any age!), I have accomplished a victory.
  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

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.
  • Great Blue Heron clients will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

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

 

 

 

Mid-January at Alabama’s Gulf State Park: Overview

I had been to Gulf State Park 20 years ago. Since then, several hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon Spill, and subsequent settlement funds combined to both force and enable creation of an Alabama seacoast legacy project. Judy and I spent three nights at the new lodge January 16-18, 2019. I view the Park as Alabama’s globally significant restoration, preservation, demonstration, education, and recreation project. Here are the Enhancement Project book cover and Vision statement:

One hundred forty million dollars later, the Vision is now reality. We arrived early enough Wednesday to enjoy a near-lodge late afternoon stroll. Thursday’s meeting (which brought me to Gulf State Park) allowed more time for both morning and afternoon strolls. Friday I spent nearly nine hours on-site with Kelly Reetz, the Park’s Naturalist… a “globally significant” naturalist and environmental educator in her own right!

The Park stretches along 2.5 miles of protected shoreline — unspoiled wildness nestled within otherwise continuous commercial and residential development. The 2016 Park Master Plan notes:

“There are no other parks along the Gulf Coast with as many different ecosystems and as many acres preserved overall. Gulf State Park is a very diverse park, with many different ecosystems within its 6,150 acres. The Park includes:

  • Evergreen Forests
  • Pine Savannas
  • Maritime Forests
  • Dune Ridges / Sand Scrub habitats
  • Fresh and Salt Marshes
  • Freshwater and Brackish Lakes
  • Coastal Swales
  • Dunes
  • The Beach and Gulf

As the largest contiguous preserved open space along the Gulf Coast with such a diversity of landscapes, the park is home to a great diversity of wildlife and an important rest stop for migrating birds and butterflies. Some of the animal species that call Gulf State Park home are not found in many other places. For example, the Alabama beach mouse that lives in the park’s dunes is a federally endangered species. Dune restoration will help the park be an even better home for this sensitive creature.”

The Enhancement Project Goals:

  • Restoring the Environment
  • Visitor Experience
  • Improving Mobility
  • Accessible to All
  • Learning Everywhere
  • For All Ages

I checked all boxes as I experienced the Park! Again, Gulf State Park is an international gem. My purpose with this Great Blue Heron Blog Post is to provide an overview… to scratch the surface, offer my own reflections (and photographs), and set the stage for three subsequent Gulf State Park GBH Posts:

  • Beach, Dunes, Savannas, and Interior Wetlands
  • Interior Forests and Prescribed Fire
  • Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies

Overview of a Globally Significant Coastal Center for Sustainable Tourism and Earth Stewardship

The academic in me yearns to tell the Enhancement Project story… the entire story. I promise to resist. The Project Book does just that. And does it thoroughly and beautifully. No need for me to do more than offer a broad overview from my perspective as a doctoral level applied ecologist, lifelong Nature enthusiast, environmental educator, consummate champion for responsible Earth stewardship, and a tireless advocate for Nature-inspired life and living.

I’ll begin with the Lodge — a large, five-story beach-side facility that blends aesthetically with its natural environs and honors the goal to restore and protect the shore and dune environment. The Lodge and Park remind me of Lyrics in Robert Service’s Spell of the Yukon:

There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go back—and I will

The Park’s 1,500′ pier provides access beyond the shore and sand bars. Nothing beats the off-shore perspective on the Park’s 2.5 miles of beach and dunes.

Miles of boardwalk offer easy pedestrian and bicycle access to the Park’s nearly ten square miles. This view, from Pedestrian Bridge East crossing the east-west highway connecting Gulf Shores to Orange Beach, is to the north looking across Middle Lake to the campground (496 sites) and Nature Center.

Dune Restoration is a principal Enhancement Project Goal: “Create a dune system that encourages a connection to nature and maximizes the ability for that system to provide protection, habitat, and resiliency for all types of communities.” That’s the Beach Pavilion beyond the sign — a shelter for escape from sun and inclement weather and for education.

The beachside Interpretive Center Goal: “Create a gateway to the park that excites visitors about the entire 6,150 acres and entices them to cross over into the green side of the park.” The Project Book includes two of my favorite quotes about learning:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rogers

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young. Mark Twain

Recall one of the Enhancement Project’s primary goals: Learning Everywhere. The Interpretive Center is a core element… and one of many “everywheres” throughout the Park!

Designers engineered a lighter element at the Outpost, a three-platform remote camping area with these Does and Bucks outhouses! The nearby city of Orange Beach designed and built the Outpost in cooperation with the Park — what a great symbol of shared mission and joint venture! It’s the way natural communities operate within vibrant ecosystems.

Here’s one of the three platforms… outfitted with chairs on a front porch and hammocks within. I had little idea how emblematic of the Park this scene is until I viewed the photo several days later. The low stratus began to break, permitting the sun to illuminate the white of sand, platform tent, and clouds to intermingle. Contrasting the life and vitality on this inland dune ridge, the sand pine skeleton symbolizes that both life and death compose the ebbs and flows of these coastal ecosystems. Or, for that matter, any ecosystem on our fine Earth. My mind relaxes when the photo draws me into its intimate setting, emphasizing that this one spot is a microcosm of the entire Park. A special place where life abounds in multiple textures, and senescence and rebirth integrate seamlessly and in perfect long-term balance. The Enhancement Project assures that across the Park human use and Nature are in perfect long-term balance.

The Forest Pavilion and Butterfly Garden, an interior Park learning facility, sits over a mile from the nearest road and parking area. Accessible to only bicyclers and pedestrians, the classroom had a full house of snow-birders enjoying a presentation on Park reptiles. Again, Learning Everywhere!

Here is one of several Pause Stations located throughout the Park and its trail system. This two-story structure allows visitors to explore a representation of a gopher tortoise burrow. Interpretive signs tell the tale while riders and hikers take a break to catch their breath. Aldo Leopold lamented 70 years ago in A Sand County Almanac: “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?” Dr. Leopold would have enjoyed seeing the visionary outcome of the Enhancement Project. Learning Everywhere!

Nearing completion, the new Learning Campus will house, feed, and immerse up to 64 participants in a state-of-the-art self-contained facility, within a natural setting for hands-on learning. Fencing protects this live oak from construction equipment damage. Other natural vegetation throughout the emerging campus is similarly protected. I hope to return to offer a lecture or lead a future workshop.

I include this photo to evidence yet another option for overnight accommodations and to provide some notion of the Park’s scale. The cottages and cabins sit on the north shore of Lake Shelby. The Park’s water tower stands approximately one mile to the southeast. A cottage resident can walk or bicycle (on paved or boardwalk trails) from this viewpoint to the water tower, beach, lodge, forest pavilion, or any of the other features I’ve mentioned.

What better location to place a resting area and overlook than among live oaks draped in Spanish moss, a quintessential symbol of the deep south!

The Enhancement Project at Gulf State Park represents a new day. A fresh and essential way to demonstrate best practices for outdoor recreation, education, and hospitable accommodations… an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability. Two predawn easterly views (below) promise a grand new day ahead, both literally and metaphorically. Aldo Leopold saw deep shadows of environmental decline and degradation on the horizon… unless we changed our human and societal trajectory, again from A Sand County Almanac:

All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.

I believe the Enhancement Project faithfully ensures against excessive seeing and fondling. Although not true wilderness, the Park certainly constitutes nearly ten square miles of wildness, within a long strand of continuous development where seeing and fondling leave little wildness left to cherish.

The Enhancement Project embodies implicitly, if not in so many words, the kind of land ethic Leopold implored in the 1940s, again from A Sand County Almanac:

My favorite quote: The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

May Nature enrich your life and living… Nature-inspired living! And may you pass it forward. Remember: Learning Everywhere, Everyday!

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

  • Take advantage of every opportunity (Learning Everywhere) in Nature to sow seeds for making tomorrow brighter.
  • Living harmoniously within Nature is essential… and it is doable with wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.
  • We must adopt a land ethic as a societal cornerstone in all that we do; conserving wildness is not necessarily self-defeating.
  • Learn Everywhere… every day!

Repeating the sage wisdom of Mr. Rogers and Mark Twain:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rogers

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young. Mark Twain

May Nature Inspire and Reward you… and keep your mind young!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

Our Lives Mimic Nature — Lessons Learned from Tree Form Oddities

We took our two Alabama grandsons to nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge November 25, 2018. I snapped the first three images below from our hike (Post issued December  11, 2018:  http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/12/11/late-november-at-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge-tree-magic/). For this mid-January GBH Blog Post I have compiled these three with other photos of unusual tree shapes and forms I’ve photographed over this past summer and fall.

I’ve said often that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in Nature or is compellingly inspired by Nature. I took a lot of photos November 25 when something caught my eye, including the one below. A hackberry trail-side evidenced a small burl at me eye level. A cluster of branchlets sprouted from it horizontally, crossing to an adjacent smaller fork of the same tree. The view may span eight inches. The peculiar composite struck me with force only after I examined the photo at home. Sure, I saw something in it that drew me to snap the photo, yet not enough so that I took more photos from different angles and distances from the tree. I believe I can find this odd assemblage the next time I visit Wheeler. Well, my older grandson and I invested an hour weeks later, searching exhaustively where I knew I could find the oddity. It eluded us! Lesson learned — next time take more photos on the spot.

Upon closer inspection and pondering, here is what caught my attention. How on earth did this mass occur? A viral-precipitated burl perhaps — a tree version of a tumor? The tumor’s growth, combined with the pressure of the twin stems forging together triggered epicormic branches to develop, creating in sum this strange mass of tissue and side stems? A real mess that I stumbled upon at a point in time well beyond the initial trigger. Had I noticed how bizarre at that moment, I might have focused more forensic attention to it. However, we had the grandsons with us and a lot more trail to explore.

And now allow me to explain the parallel to life, living, and enterprise lessons. How often have we of a sudden realized we had stumbled into a predicament of life or business that we declared a real mess? A mess that we did not anticipate or see until is was solidly upon us? A broader observation relates to the full set of photos above and below. Everyone of these images of tree form oddities is explicable… attributable to some combination of agents, forces, and genetics. Isn’t it the same for our own life and living? Our individual oddities are due to some set of forces, conditions, and circumstance.

I had previously misidentified (in at least one prior post) the smooth-barked vine below (right and left) as a muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia). A reader set me straight, correcting the i.d. to Alabama supplejack (Berchemia scandens), common across our state, found very often in bottomlands. Unlike poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which holds tightly to climbing surfaces with hairy tendrils, supplejack grasps in spirals, clinging tightly with the strength of stem turgor pressure. I include these photos as novelties — the vine strikes me as a woody snake… a boa wrapping and reaching toward the sunlight above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A supplejack vine left its spiraling scar on this red maple along Beaverdam Boardwalk Trail (Wheeler NWR). A supplejack vine ascends beside the maple trunk. I’ve seen many a mountain craft walking stick (smaller than this six-inch diameter maple) with a pronounced spiral form.

Sometimes looking down and horizontally misses the magic in front of our noses… well, maybe above our noses. In this case, a vertical view from ground level in this bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) stand at Wheeler NWR. The formal term for this oddity (which is not all that uncommon) is crown shyness. Yet, it is odd enough, that even nearly 46 years beyond a BS in forestry, I only recently stumbled across the phenomenon and actually learned the term. I will now be spending more time on my back in coming hikes, seeking crown shyness in other stand and species mixes. Perhaps I will be viewed, lying on my back with camera in-hand, as the in-woods oddity!

I found these two oddities on the trail this early fall at Cheaha State Park, leading from Cheaha Lake to the summit.Certainly odd, yet fully explainable. The Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) and target canker, with its inner-wood skull-face with clay pipe in mouth, derive from a perennial fungal infection that is decades-old. The white oak (below left), hollowed by an internal fungal rot, had recently yielded to the force of wind (maybe a breeze) and gravity. Insects surely played a role in excavating the debris within. We humans all carry some form of scar, whether physical or emotional. My psychologist friends tell me that the explanations are often just as apparent.

Not all woods oddities are attributable to biologic agents. The oak (lower left) grows along the loop road atop Cheaha. Some physical force bent the sapling-stage lateral branch just five feet above ground. The sunlight available at the road edge enabled the now stout branch (as large as the main stem) to thrive at nearly horizontal. The oak (lower right) likely suffered ice damage decades ago and assumed this flattened-top form. The old timber beast in me (nurtured by 12 years in the forest products industry) still appreciates a tall straight bole (clear wood) on a valuable timber species. Today, with no direct ties to commercial forestry, I’m drawn to the fancy, beauty, and mystery of these unusual forms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found this gravity-defying sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) on that same Cheaha Lake Trail. I have loved sourwood since my early forestry days in the central Appalachians for its commonly odd form, its pendulous flour heads, and the incredible honey produced by bees feeding from it. Carson Brewer observed, “Most honey is made by bees. But sourwood is made by bees and angels.”

Some trees provide fodder for mythology and legend. Lower left is Bigfoot, part of an early summer exhibit at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens (HBG). However, the image lower left is Nature’s very own hand at work on a white oak (Quercus alba) along a woods trail at Lake Guntersville State Park. I was sober… the camera was true… the form uncannily resembles the HBG Bigfoot in shape and scale. I struggle to offer much of an explanation. We’ve all seen tree burls. This form I believe derives from an arrangement of burl clusters. A bizarre and fanciful arrangement to be sure. Perhaps next time I walk the trail, the figure will have moved to another location?!

I’ve seen Nature do some odd work with branch stubs. Another manifestation of burls, I suppose. I was surprised to see “ET” peering from behind the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata; lower left) at Monte Sano State Park. I like the hickory (Carya sp.) “periscope” at Joe Wheeler State Park (lower right).

December 22, 2018 we took the two Alabama grandsons to hike along Bradford Creek Greenway right here in Madison. They dubbed this red oak (Quercus rubra) branch stub as the “thumbs-down” tree. Aptly named!

And here’s the dragon tree along a trail at a location I can’t recall. Its story? At sapling stage, a physical force (nearby tree or large-enough branch) bent it to 90 degrees. The sapling sent a vertical shoot to seek sunlight above. That vertical stem at some point much later (perhaps that’s it lying near the “mouth”) broke off, leaving the standing dragon with snout, mouth, and eye! Again, we are all shaped by forces external.

We all react to situations, circumstances, and objects we encounter, both real and metaphorical. Perhaps this is the oak’s version of “kissing the Blarney Stone to gain the gift of eloquence. This kiss appears to have lasted decades.

I found this prairie crabapple (Malus ioensis) growing contentedly is a fissure on a limestone outcrop on the Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, KS. Talk about making the most of the hand we’re dealt!

I included this photo in my July 5, 2018 GBH Blog Post on Joe Wheeler State Park. Here is the paragraph lifted from that Post: “This is the classic old growth white oak (Quercus alba) specimen along the trail. How can we not be inspired by the giants in our mixed hardwood forests. Yes, I’ve seen Yosemite’s Sequoia, coastal Redwoods, and Pacific rain-forest Douglas fir. Certainly special to visit, yet I remain transfixed by our eastern forests in their mixed-stand splendor, made all the more special by their proximity (no west coast flights required!) and the reality that most are second-growth forests.” This is anything but a tree form oddity. This tree demonstrates what happens when a tree with good genes (genotype) finds itself on a high quality site with plenty of time (well over 100 years) in the absence of imposed environmental trauma (wind, ice, lightning, etc.). The result is a near-perfect phenotype.

I’ll draw this Post to a close with the odd hackberry knot/burl contorted branch/stem composite that I used in my opening. And I will continue my quest to re-discover this odd clustering at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I shall not be thwarted nor denied!

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

  • Like trees, we humans (and our enterprises) are shaped by forces, circumstances, and pressures.
  • We humans all carry some form of force-induced scar, whether physical or emotional.
  • Trees adapt remarkably well to adversity — they seem to play well with the hand they’re dealt.
  • Learn more — understanding deepens and expands appreciation, adaptation, and wonderment.

May Nature Inspire and Reward you… both in her perfection and her foibles, scars, and oddities!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

 

Mid-November Skies at Camp McDowell

I spent two days at McDowell Camp and Conference Center (Winston County Alabama) mid-November 2018. My purpose was to conduct field exploration and staff interviews prior to developing a McDowell Land Legacy Story for the Camp’s 1,140 acres (see my November 27 Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/27/mid-november-camp-mcdowell-land-legacy-orientation/ )

My purpose with this followup Post is to highlight some of the sky photos I captured while there. I never stop admiring the firmament (the sky or heavens — the vault of the sky). I also never cease to pause when using the term firmament! I remind myself that dry land (not sea or air) is terra firma. Both words employ firma. Odd that somehow one is land and the other sky. Yes, I examined the etymology for both terms. Yet I will forevermore remain uncertain at first blush when using either.

Nevertheless, I admit to being a cloud and sky junkie. Okay, perhaps an addiction, too, to trees, spring wildflowers, thunderstorms, frosty mornings… all things Nature!

So, back to McDowell’s sky. Lots of rain the day and night before my visit had transitioned briefly in the wee hours to snow as cold air advected on the system’s back side. Hence, these frosted-sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) stars… firmament falling to terra firma!

As the vigorous low pressure system departed, northwesterly winds and scudding stratocumulus gave us a classic fall sky. I expected to see a skein of geese at any moment. If only during our deep summer I could conjure a few days of blessed heat-relief… this is how those days would look.

McDowell meets some its electrical needs from solar photovoltaic. Even with the morning’s dark overcast, old sol manages to generate some current.

By mid-afternoon, the sky cleared. I snapped the two dusk shots from my west-facing deck, looking across the pond above with the canoe. From that perspective, my cabin is the one at center-top. I like the framed reflection of the waning firmament in the pond’s now-still surface. Given frontal passage, clear skies, and calm winds, I knew the next morning would dawn crisp and frosty.

As is my usual habit, I awoke well before dawn. This early shot shows crepuscular rays streaming from the rising sun, still below the horizon. As I’ve often pondered, what TV program, video game, or web-surfing late at night could possibly be so good as to beat the rewards of dawn? Henry David Thoreau (Walden) likewise loved day’s dawning, “The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.” Imagine the price some pay for late evening TV, gaming, and surfing — to never experience the awakening Nature offers.

Soon after, the rising sun kissed the oak crowns beyond the chapel. The image stands well and messages succinctly without my words

And a few minutes later, the sun, with lots of work to do on a very cold and frosty morning, kissed the grass. Again, words do little but distract from the gift Nature presents to those willing to seek and embrace the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

The ground still frosted, I could look outward (from my terra firma perch) 3-6 miles and negative 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit to an etching of white cirrus against the purest of blues. Cirrus is a genus of atmospheric cloud generally characterized by thin, wispy strands, giving the type its name from the Latin word cirrus, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. The strands of cloud sometimes appear in tufts of a distinctive form referred to by the common name of mares’ tails. Pity the impoverished soul who could not feel inspiration in such an image… and sense absolute humility in the wonder of Nature.

The remnant cirrus from the prior day’s system drifted eastward during the morning, yielding to mostly clear, high blue skies, this view from the south end of a pond north of the Camp proper. This is prototypical Alabama winter: freeze-deadened herbaceous, leafless hardwood, loblolly pine green, open water, and azure-blue sky. Another view worthy of rejoicing.

Mid-morning along the creek as the cirrus drifted to the east. As I have said many times, my aesthetic appreciation leans toward paintings that look like photographs… and to photographs that could be paintings. Could anyone command a brush to match or exceed the beauty Nature provided my simple iPhone?!

As I departed McDowell and shortly thereafter passed the Bankhead National Forest, the sky could not have been more cooperative.

I’ll be back at McDowell several times over the next 3-4 months gathering information, images, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Camp and Conference Center. Our goal it to develop McDowell’s Land Legacy Story as a reference and tool in support of McDowell’s mission, which for the Environmental Center is: To connect people to their environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning. I can only hope that the firmament above these blessed acres will reward me anew with special magic. Yet as in all things Nature, my threshold for absolute awe and amazement is low. I’m an easy target… for I see wonderment in what too many others view as mundane, if not unpleasant or invisible.

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

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

Vision:

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

  • Look up — literally and metaphorically — Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe abound… and the composite surrounds us.
  • Learn more — understanding deepens and expands appreciation and wonderment.

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: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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