Mid-April Dawn at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park!

 

Dockside Dawn

 

On April 17 and 18, 2024, I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply
  4. Dawn from the Lodge docks — This Post

 

Going Gently Into That Good Night

 

Although I titled this photo essay Mid April Dawn, I found no better place to insert two photographs from late afternoon before joining the Foundation social and dinner. I never tire of placid water, lakeside forests, and evening clouds.

I snapped the images from the Lodge docks at 4:47 and 48 PM.

Joe WSP

 

I reluctantly left the docks for the 5:00 PM Foundation session, knowing that the affair and dinner would allow no time for wandering outside before sunset.

Mid-April Dawn

 

I rarely miss dawn and sunrise. I wonder what could possibly keep me awake so late at night that I miss darkness retreating to the west and the new day breaching the eastern horizon. I made it to the docks during civil twilight at 6:07 AM, ten minutes ahead of sunrise. Overcast dimmed the scene.

 

By 6:13 (left) the sun had broken the horizon, shielded by trees and shrouded in the low overcast. Little had changed by 6:20 AM. Broken stratus clouds dulled the firmament, holding a bright day at bay. Note the bird on the water (photo at right).

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

The 6:20 AM bird on the water revealed itself as a common loon, who treated me to a tremolo greeting, a call that stirs me to the core, reminding me of lakeside summer mornings and evenings in the great northland. Loons have normally migrated from northern Alabama to their higher latitude breeding grounds by mid-April.

Joe WSP

 

Contrary to clear-sky mornings when daylight explodes when the sun rises, little change in light level appeared by 6:21 and 6:23 AM.

Joe WSP

 

I embraced the cloud-dulled new day and the mood, character, and serenity it suggested. I recorded this 43-second video at 6:23 AM:

 

I reemerged between our group breakfast and the start of our business meeting. The clouds lingered at 8:14 AM, yet a few breaks revealed blue above.

Joe WSP

 

Two final morning views completed my morning reconnaissance at 8:38 and 8:42 AM, the first of a fully-leafed-out yellow popular behind the Lodge and the second a last view of the marina.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

I realize that this series of dawn through early morning photographs depict only modest shifts in light, mood, and insight. In contrast I’ve experienced other mornings when change happened in leaps and bounds…when the sun burst from the horizon, twilight collapsed without delay, and the morning dispersed in the blink of an eye. Nature is like that. Sometimes predictable…other times surprising. Nothing in Nature is static, whatever the pace.

I recall during my career retirees telling me that they are busier in retirement ever before. I can’t say that I am as pressed for time as during my two decades of executive university leadership (VP at two institutions and CEO at four others), however, I am more engaged than I imagined I would be. Importantly, my busy days focus on Nature! Secondly, the pace and direction of effort are mine; stress is generally absent.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static, whatever the pace of change.
  • It’s always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. (John Muir)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

 

 

Brief-Form Post # 32: Evidence of Past Land History at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park!

10 photos and two videos

I am pleased to add the 32nd of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than five minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit wordy with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

On April 17 and 18, 2024 I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my on-site free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests — this Post
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply
  4. Dawn from the lodge docks

Scars from a Previous Century of Careless Land Stewardship

 

I arrived early enough on the 17th to spend time on the Awesome Trail. When the US Army Corps of Engineers acquired land scheduled for Wheeler Dam inundation and adjoining buffer acreage, severely eroded pastured and tilled acreage dominated. Such abused and devalued agricultural lands were typical in the 1930s across Alabama and elsewhere. It was a time of widespread farm foreclosures. My internet search for images of ruined agricultural lands in depression-era Alabama yielded hundreds of photographs like this one:

Boy with eroded farmland during the Dust Bowl by Arthur Rothstein on artnet

Online Image of Alabama Depression-Era

 

That image represents conditions that I am certain prevailed adjacent to the future Lake Wheeler. I stayed alert for confirming evidence as I sauntered along the trail. Forested land seldom erodes. Intact forest litter and organic layers, permeable soils, and a protective overstory ensures rainfall infiltration and discourages overland flow. Still-evident (yet not active) erosion gullies leading down to the lakeshore (below) are relics from past practice. The current forest cover discourages further degradation.

Joe WSP

 

I recorded this 33-second video depicting an old gully scar:

 

The trail crosses several old gullies over newly installed wooden bridges. The views (left, up; right, down) show the depth and extent of the erosion scars.

Joe WSP

 

The wooden structures are sufficient to protect the trail and hikers from wet season crossings. The image at right shows the severity of now healing and healed washing. Large trees reach into the chasms of abusive land treatment.

Joe WSP

 

Another gully required a more substantial bridge spanning a gully reaching to water’s edge (right).

 

I wonder how may cubic miles of topsoil emptied into our rivers from 1850 to the 1930s. Too, too, too many!

Louis Bromfield, a 20th Century novelist and playwright, dedicated his life to rehabilitating the old worn-out Ohio farm he bought in the 1930s. He wrote:

The Land came to us out of eternity, and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best any of us can do is to change some small corner of this Earth for the better, through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

Such is one facet of our Alabama State Parks.

 

Long Term Implications of Eroded Topsoil

 

The Awesome Trail passes through a stand of loblolly pine that recently suffered extensive windthrow. Even trees growing in undisturbed, deep natural soils yield to high winds, either uprooting or breaking. I saw no evidence of widespread breakage; the wind toppled the root mass. Although I cannot be certain, I conclude that these deeply-gullied hillsides also lost 1-3 feet of topsoil, a condition chronicled across much of the piedmont and foothills of the eastern US.

Joe WSP

 

I recorded this 55-second video within the blowdown area:

 

The evidence of uninformed and irresponsible land treatment is evident wherever my travels take me across Alabama. I believe wisdom, knowledge, and hard work constitute the answer to preserving future land and forest productivity. John Muir gave hope to Earth’s capacity to overcome such abuse:

Earth has no sorrow that earth can not heal.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from Franklin Roosevelt about soil:

  • The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

 

Early January Winter Grey Exploration at Marbut Bend Trail along Alabama’s Elk River!

On January 4, 2024, Judy and I explored the trails at TVA’s Marbut Bend along the Elk River just upstream from its juncture with the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler). This Post highlights the grey winter delights across the marshes, along the boardwalks, through the mudflats, and to the shoreline of the Elk River.

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe can penetrate even a dense low overcast, cold northeasterly wind, and the dull grey of a winter marshland morning. I recalled the mid-summer contrast of the bright sun, persistent heat, whining insects, and crushing humidity. I embrace winter’s North Alabama touch, even when it hurries us into the wind and back to the car. Although I love the tirelessly explosive vegetative growth during our humid sub-tropical summers, I relish our brief deep winter season of dormancy and blessed plant rest. I find exquisite beauty in a dark early January day. At this latitude, we will gain 30 minutes of additional daylight during January, a clear signal that the Earth is spinning us toward spring. I appreciate the bleak underbelly of a winter day in this region…a northern Alabama region that will soon offer a spectacular spring regrowth!

 

The Marshes

 

I’m a sucker for boardwalk trails that invite me to explore ecosystems otherwise inaccessible. These marshlands have deep saturated and seasonally flooded mucky soils. They are capable of sucking boots from a human intruder’s feet. More importantly, such a booted biped invader could perpetrate lasting damage to these fragile ecosystems.

 

As a veteran of 13 interstate moves, I retired to north Alabama to be near our daughter and her two sons. We’ve lived previously in several northern zones (Pennsylvania; Upstate New York twice; Ohio; New Hampshire; Alaska), where real winter weather visits and often is reluctant to leave. I’ve mentioned to many northern friends that winter drops into our north Alabama region occasionally, but that generally our winter amounts to an autumn that slowly transitions to spring. I mention that now to admit that our morning at Marbut Bend chilled me to the core. Temperature in the low 30s; persistent breeze from the northeast; harsh dampness; low stratus blocking even a hope for the sun’s warming glow; a deep bleakness. Okay, I won’t continue beating this dead horse. I will return again this winter when warmer weather and bright sun will permit (even encourage) lingering to truly enjoy the sight, sound, and other treats of this magnificent ecosystem.

Here’s my 45-second video from the boardwalk near trailhead.

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved cattails, a plant common in wetland and marshes across North America. Growing up in western Maryland, I knew the plant as cat-o-nine tail, a moniker I have not heard here in north Alabama. We referred to the still closed seedheads as torches. Even during those adolescent years, I knew the torches were seedheads, and I understood that their winter disintegration released untold legions of seed.

 

As we penetrated more deeply into the preserve via the boardwalk, I recorded this 40-second video.

 

The ice along the marsh corroborates my claim of deep chill. I admit, however, that I failed to don adequate winter gear, of which I have ample and appropriate from days living far to the north. I knew better…and deserved to suffer the consequences of being under-dressed!

 

I like Marbut Bend Preserve’s diverse habitats, including this pine stand on an upland strip separating wetlands from an meadow visible beyond the pine stand. I applaud TVA managers for employing prescribed fire to maintain the pine cover and prevent hardwood from encroaching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elk River

 

We moved beyond the upland meadow to cross another boardwalk segment that reached across a mudflat where an oak had fallen during the summer while still in leaf. The mudflat expresses the TVA’s practice of holding the winter pool at Lake Wheeler at five feet below full, allowing storage space to abate downstream flooding from heavy seasonal rain. Although Marbut Bend fronts the Elk River, we are proximate to where the Elk enters the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler), thus the Elk level here is consonant with Wheeler Lake. At summer levels this boardwalk will cross a side arm of the Elk.

 

These views look both ways from the boardwalk, which in summer will be open water.

 

Here’s a view ahead to the Elk River. The boardwalk’s terminal deck is visible to the left.

 

These two photographs view the Elk in both directions from the deck (upstream left).

 

I recorded this 52-second video from the deck along the river.

 

John Muir captured the elegance of water in its river form:

A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.

I couldn’t resist this closer look into the shallow water in the mud flat. I expected greater evidence of more robust life. Instead, excepting scattered patches of green growth, the flat appears barren. As a terrestrial biologist (a forester), I have little insight to offer.

 

The Field

 

As we reentered the field habitat, Judy snapped this assemblage of vines, a fungi-infected suspended branch, a brown discarded leaf, and the bark of a standing tree trunk. The photograph and Judy’s interest reminds me that every element of Nature tells a story.

 

Yet another habitat type, the field completes the rich ecological tapestry of Marbut Bend, stretching from Route 99, the state highway fronting the property’s east side, back to the forest edge along the Elk River. I am curious how TVA intends to maintain the meadow. Rather than speculate, I leave you with these images and the video below. My hope is that TVA will manage the field as grassland, encouraging native meadow and grassland plant species and the wildlife drawn to such habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 41-second video from mid field:

 

We walked onto an octagonal wooden deck behind a wooded edge to the south. As with several other points along the Marbut Bend Trail, I would like to have sat on one of the benches to observe the comings and goings of life, hear the rustling breeze, and identify the calls of birds. Again, I dressed inadequately for the morning jaunt. I vow to return when life and warmth return.

 

The deck reaches into a sizeable mudflat.

I recorded this 41-second 360-degree video from the deck:

 

Warm weather and a return to summer pool level of Lake Wheeler will treat observers to a surrounding lake from this vantage point.

 

Marsh, meadow, mudflat, the river, upland forest, and riparian hardwood quilt the habitats that compose the Marbut Bend Tapestry. Rare is the local Nature enthusiast who is familiar with Marbut Bend. Perhaps my photo essay will draw a few more visitors to this rich ecosystem quilt.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s local menu lists a veritable banquet of habitat selections.
  • I love the Marbut Bend dormant season with magical views across the marshes, wetlands, mudflats, fields, and the river itself.
  • Each visit whets my appetite for a return, especially when spring triggers new life…and promises warmer days.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

 

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

Brief Form Post #31: Borden Creek Trail within the Sipsey Wilderness on Bankhead NF!

I am pleased to add the 31st of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my December 5, 2023, Excursion to Borden Creek in the Sipsey Wilderness!

 

I’m dipping into early winter 2023 with this Brief-Form Post. Fellow retired forester Chris Stuhlinger and I visited the Sipsey Wilderness within Bankhead National Forest on December 5, 2023. Scheduled for total left knee replacement surgery on January 23, 2024, I agreed to the trip with no small level of anxiety. Because I was unable to navigate the more difficult Sipsey Creek Trail, we decided to hike the old forest road leading to Borden Creek. I enjoyed the easy sauntering and the Nature we encountered along the way.

 

The road and its curved and banked bridge pre-dates the Sipsey Wilderness designation. The bridge provided an ideal location to pause and reflect on my ambulatory frustration, contemplate the looming surgery, and give thanks for being able to experience this lovely place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 32-second video from the old bridge:

 

I’m writing this text the second week of May, 2024, three-plus months beyond my left knee replacement. The many weeks of intensive physical therapy, countless hours of walking, and strengthening at the gym have paid dividends. The determination spurred by scenes like the one below led me to full recovery.

 

Now I await what could be my total right knee replacement in August. As the surgery date approaches I’ll revisit this Post to give hope and encouragement. I may even revisit Borden Creek for a spiritual boost…an emotional elixir.

 

Blue sky, full winter dormancy, and the sweet sound of flowing water filled my soul. Life is good when Nature surrounds and comforts us.

 

Always on the lookout for interesting natural phenomena, I spotted this upper canopy oak with a lightning scar extending from the ground as far as I could see into the crown. The bole has long since decayed…the tree is little more that a hemispheric rind of living wood, somehow supporting the mass of trunk and crown.

 

 

Although not necessarily a phenomenon, this moss-draped log on an otherwise barren forest floor, accented by the persistent oakleaf hydrangea leaf, caught my attention.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from John Muir, whose timeless Nature observations have brightened my life time and again:

  • Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

 

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary Exploration with My Alabama Grandsons!

On November 22, 2023, my Alabama grandsons (Jack, age 16, and Sam, age nine) accompanied me to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. We enjoyed an unusually mild late-November mid-morning through early afternoon, entering from the east side, exploring the riparian hardwood forest, walking along the Flint River shoreline, and visiting the adjacent tupelo swamp. I offer observations, reflections, 27 photos, and four videos.

You can access 26 previous Great Blue Heron Posts from prior trips I’ve made to the Sanctuary. Search Goldsmith under the Blog banner at my website: https://stevejonesgbh.com/

 

Forest Wonder Potpourri

 

We discovered a potpourri of forest wonders. I’m grateful any time that the boys come along with me. Their lives and interests will in time diverge from their aging Pap’s. I am pleased that they still appreciate and learn from our forest wanderings. The Sanctuary remains one of our favorite destinations.

I never tire of finding a forest trunk draped in tree moss. This hickory, just 100 feet from the Flint River, evidences our moist temperate climate and its proximity to the morning fogs and heightened humidity along the river.

 

A nearby sugarberry trunk teems with life. Dense tree moss and a Virginia creeper vine adorn the stem below left. At the lower center of the photo at left and up the entire trunk within the photo at right, horizontal rows of yellow bellied sapsucker birdpecks portray a history of woodpecker insect foraging.

 

Virginia creeper literally clings to life on this sugarberry tree, its air roots grasping the trunk, assuring lifetime anchorage on its tree trunk lift to the upper canopy rich with direct sun to fuel life-sustaining photosynthesis. It bears repeating that Virginia creeper, wild grapevines, and supplejack do not climb trees. Instead, they grow up with the supporting tree. Imagine this Virginia Creeper germinating beside the sugarberry geminate. The creeper grew vertically at the same rate as the seedling, its leaves with each season remaining in full sunlight.

 

As with many organisms coexisting in Nature, Virginia creeper and sugarberry seem to have achieved some balance. That is, evolutionarily, the creeper has learned not to overgrow and suffocate the tree, for doing so would kill the vine’s highway to the sky. The vine enjoys a direct, full sunlight benefit from the tree. I am unsure of the reciprocal benefit to the tree from providing a lift to the vine. Without exploring the ecological literature for verification, I can only muse that the vine provides cover and access for birds and small mammals that feed on insects that consume sugarberry leaves. The vines might also ensure a canopy microclimate that deters fungi, viral agents, mold, and bacteria potentially harmful to the tree.

I am smitten by the cylindrical sugarberry birdpeck scars. So much of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe is hidden in plain sight.

 

Resurrection fern, no longer in its drought-induced desiccated state, overhhangs the Flint River.

 

I recorded this 32-second video along the Flint River, amplifying the mood of peace and tranquility:

 

How can a naturalist not be attracted to such a beauty as this farkleberry (AKA sparkleberry), the largest member of our native blueberries (genus Vaccinium (arboreum)). Even its common names evoke mystery.

 

 

 

Nearby another handsome shrub drew us closer, a rusty blackhaw. I borrowed this description from an NC State University Extension online reference:

Rusty blackhaw is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub or small single-stemmed tree in the Viburnaceae (haw) family.  It is native to eastern and central USA and is found in most areas of NC growing in rocky or dry woodlands and forests, along streams and valleys. The name comes from the rusty brown hairs on the undersides of leaves, buds and stems.

Rusty blackhaw grows in dry to moist loams in full sun to partial shade slowly reaching a height and width of 10 to 20 feet. Clusters of small, white flowers mature in early spring followed by a blue drupe that matures in fall. The leaves have excellent fall color. 

 

I love the dormant season with full understory visibility, no biting insects, and comfortable temperatures!

 

Tupelo Swamp

 

I recorded this 57-second video in the water tupelo swamp on the Sanctuary’s northeast quadrant. Recent rains were just beginning to rewater the swamp.

 

Tree moss skirts, clinging vines, buttressed trunks, swamp stain lines, and a forest floor bereft of vegetation characterize the Sanctuary’s tupelo stands. I am tempted to refer to these stands as special places, yet I could just as logically term dozens of other elements of the Sanctuary as special places.

 

Note the swamp water stain lines (on the tree at left) suggesting normal winter water depth). I wear my calf-high rubber boots when I visit mid-winter.

 

I recorded this 17-second video within the swamp. I am intent on making these grandson forays meaningful, educational, and fun.

 

I seek to inspire mindful reflection, even as I remain alert to Nature’s reflections. Both of these photographs express the purpose and realization of that goal.

 

I can’t add anything to the power of this photo essays by adding to the verbal narrative.

 

Here’s a 36-second video from the same location.

 

These graceful swamp residents pose dutifully, seeming intent to reward our visit with their majestic form and rhythm.

 

Back to the riparian forest, Sam poses with a hefty supplejack vine. The stem it had once wrapped is long since dead and decayed, leaving only the vine corkscrew. Yellow-bellied sapsucker birdpeck scars encircle the supplejack at right.

 

A Few Living Critters!

 

A mild late fall day, a rough greensnake surprised us, accommodating our disturbance and gentle handling. We anticipated we might see deer or squirrels, but did not expect to see a coldblooded critter. We bid the snake adieu.

 

As we examined the snake, I noticed a few still-green pipevine leaves nearby. Knowing the plant’s exclusive hosting relationship to the pipevine swallowtail, I looked more closely, discovering a troop of the butterfly’s caterpillars. Online literature suggests that the larvae will soon form a chrysalis suspended several feet above the ground.

 

I’ll bring closure with this image of Sam feigning a bite from the fruit (some call it a hedge apple) of an osage orange.

 

We three boys enjoyed a great morning and early afternoon. I can only hope that they will remember these Nature outings as highlights of their young lives, and that the experiences yield a lasting relationship with Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I am intent on making these grandson forays meaningful, educational, and fun.
  • I love the dormant season with full understory visibility, no biting insects, and comfortable temperatures!
  • The Sanctuary, as do most wild areas of my acquaintance, hosts many special places.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

 

Brief-Form #30: Dormant Marshland at Marbut Bend Trail along Alabama’s Elk River!

On January 4, 2024, Judy and I explored the trails at TVA’s Marbut Bend along the Elk River upstream from its juncture with the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler). This Brief-Form Post highlights the grey winter delights across the marshes that Marbut Bend Trail transits. No winter sunshine brightened the bleak winter morning. The temperature hovered near freezing, a consistent breeze sharpened the damp chill. I regretted not layering a hooded sweatshirt. Although we resided for four years in the brutal cold of Fairbanks, Alaska, we left that domicile 16 years ago. Yet I stubbornly, if not foolishly, cling to the fantasy that I remain cold weather hardened. At the ripe old age of 72 years, my blood and its tolerance to cold have thinned consistent with my current residential latitude of 34.71 degrees North, a far cry from Fairbanks’ 64.84 North!

 

Grey winter delights? Surely I jest. The day is drab. Only a hint of green punctuates the meadows. Even the loblolly pine appears more black than green on this colorless, heavily clouded morn. I recorded this 360 degree 45-second video across the seeming barren landscape. Seeming barren, yes, but life abounds. The video captures a few plaintive bird whisperings, as though the sources were reluctant to express their joy of life so distant from the spring equinox.

 

The weathered boardwalk reached behind me (below left) to a near-vanishing point at the roadside trailhead, invisible beyond the copse of loblolly pine trees. A deciduous forest rises with the hillside beyond the pine and across the hidden highway. The grey planks extend beyond me to another stand of pine (below right), where the trail veers to the left before continuing to yet another boardwalk that crosses an extensive mudflat to the Elk River.

 

I feigned physical comfort in my pose below left. My teeth chattered and my left hand clutched the trekking pole longing for the gloves I left in the car! Mostly out of sight, small birds skittered among the cattails surviving on seeds. I wondered what other small creatures foraged beneath the radar on this crisp sunless morning.

 

Marsh-water ice corroborated the chill, and accented the mood. I’ve observed often in my essays that nothing in Nature is static. Return to Marbut Bend a dozen times…she will show a dozen faces, each one distinct and worth the trip. The most favorable mood would not be nearly as precious absent the contrasting memory of such a morning as January 4, 2024!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America)

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), a modern day realist painter, who I believe would have appreciated and amplified the stark winter magic of Marbut Bend:

  • I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

 

Post-Surgery Return to Nature Wanderings: Dawn and OLLI Birding Nature Walk at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

It’s been 91 days (13 weeks — one-quarter of a year) since my left knee replacement surgery. My operative knee is much stronger and more stable than the one that awaits the same replacement surgery. I’m optimistic about the net result that will come with two new ones! No, I am far from a return to normal mobility, which I hope comes by 91 days after the right knee surgery. In the meantime, these photo essays will track my ventures across time. Without hesitation, I can state with conviction that Nature exposure and immersion are aiding my recovery and healing.

Daily Awakening

 

My total left knee replacement progress (January 23, 2024) permitted me to return to limited Nature wanderings on March 12 and 13 (50 days since surgery). I co-taught a Huntsville LearningQuest spring course with Renee Raney, Chief of Interpretation and Education, at the Alabama State Parks System. We appended an affiliated State Park bird-oriented half-day field interpretive walk at Joe Wheeler State Park, graciously led by Jennings Earnest, JWSP Naturalist. Jennings assisted the group in finding, identifying, and observing 43 bird species over the half-day venture.

Judy, our two Alabama grandsons, and I wandered within the Park the evening prior and enjoyed a night in one of the great Lakeside Cottages: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/03/20/post-surgery-return-to-nature-wanderings-afternoon-and-sunset-at-alabamas-joe-wheeler-state-park/

As is my routine, I arose early enough to welcome sunrise, this time from the Park Lodge docks along Lake Wheeler’s First Creek inlet. A great blue heron, my long-deceased Dad’s totem and avatar, seemed to have awaited me on the docks in the pre-dawn mist. We made brief eye contact before he arose to begin his day on the Lake.

Joe Wheeler

 

The encounter reminded me that in February of 1995, Dad’s spirit-bird visited me as I ran along a frost-steaming creek on a bitter cold sunrise the day of his memorial service. Since then, I have shared many special moments with great blue herons, each incident representing a cross-boundary contact from Dad. If nothing more, I know that he lives within me…and perhaps that is sufficient.

Ten minutes before sunrise, I relished the dawn sky-view from the docks, looking deeply into the First Creek inlet (left) and southeast to the Lodge. Except for an outbound bass boat or two, I enjoyed the solitude that often rewards the early riser. I cherish alone time. Early adult personality tests labeled me a hardcore introvert, an attribute that, along with my love for the outdoors, steered me to a bachelors degree in forestry. Only with career advancement into supervisory roles and eventually to 20 years of higher education senior administration did I learn how to act like an extrovert. Yes, “act” is the operative word. Truth is, I never escaped my natural tendency. Such a dawn as this one corroborated my permanent nature.

Joe WSP

 

Five minutes later (7:06 AM), the sun kissed the horizon beyond the shoreline edge.

Joe WSP

 

Another six minutes brought sharpening sunglow into the forest.

Joe WSP

 

 

By 7:46 AM, sunlight graced the forests along Wheeler Lake, and highlighted the forest of masts at the State Park Marina.

Joe WSP

 

I thought of Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay, wishing I could sit a spell longer:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come

However, my purpose in visiting Joe Wheeler State Park called for co-leading a morning hike. I reluctantly returned to the cottage.

 

Venturing into the Forest: Progressing from Walker to Cane to Trekking Pole

 

I’m making final edits to this photo essay on April 8, 2024, ten weeks from surgery. I graduated from physical therapy on April 5. No more cajoling, guided pain, and oversight by therapists (sometimes I referred to them as physical terrorists!). Additional strengthening and persistent toning is up to me. As long-ago recreational athlete, I feel confident in training through full recovery. I set out March 13 determined to keep the group in sight for as long as I could. Over the seven weeks from surgery to the March 13 trek, I had progressed from roller-walker to cane to trekking pole.

Joe WSP

 

I found the mild spring day exhilarating, escaping the doldrums of confinement to my home and its backyard. Open forest, partly cloudy sky, similarly attuned Nature enthusiasts, and the freedom of returning to the outdoors at one of my favorite state parks lifted me to post-surgery heights. My wife captured my return-to-Nature celebratory mood with this 18-second video. I felt a bit foolish, yet viewing it three weeks later, I could not have better expressed my sense of joy and escape:

 

I lagged far enough behind that I missed most of Jennings’ bird identification (43 species tallied!) and interpretation. Occasionally I would catch up to snap an image, like Bob Carroll examining the trailside maw of an eight-inch diameter black cherry tree.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

A retired educator (Clemson forestry degree), Bob paused to capture the still-standing carcass of a very large sassafras tree. Like me, Bob admires what I term tree form oddities and curiosities.

Joe WSP

 

Our two Alabama grandsons (Jack left and Sam right) accompanied us, taking advantage of their spring break week. Jack couldn’t resist risking a black cherry mauling; Sam stood within a large looping wild grape vine.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

My Personal Commitment to Perseverance

 

My tiring legs made it to the Day Use Area at 10:39 AM, some 90 minutes from departing the Lodge. Even now, I fall short of target strength and endurance. I remind readers that since June of 2023, I have endured triple bypass surgery, bilateral inguinal hernia surgery (October 2023), and the January knee replacement. The physical impact has been cumulative. Recovery will take time. Patience is not one of my virtues, yet I intend to persevere.

Joe WSP

 

I will not accept the series of health issues as crushing and debilitating. This two-foot diameter black cherry tree  along the Cottage access road fell victim to a winter wind storm. Its wrenching, twisting demise symbolizes an unanticipated fate…a coup de gras. I am fortunate to retain my structural integrity and mental strength sufficient to push through recovery.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

I shall treat my recovery with dogged determination, relying on the relentless support of my soul mate Judy and the power I draw from Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The sun shines not on us but in us! (John Muir)
  • A day without witnessing dawn and sunrise is hardly a day at all. (Steve Jones)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

A Late March Return to Goldsmith-Schiffman after Flood Waters Recede!

I returned to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on March 23, 2014, just a week after the flooding Flint River prevented my Huntsville LearningQuest class from touring the Sanctuary: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/04/02/brief-form-post-29-mid-march-attempt-to-enter-the-flint-river-flooded-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

During the intervening week of fair weather, the Flint receded, spring advanced, and the Sanctuary beckoned me to explore the breadth of its eastern side. A week prior, I would have been knee-deep taking the photo at left, which looks northwest to the Blevins Gap Ridge, 800 feet above the valley floor. The view at right to the trailhead would have traced water to the entrance sign, where the tour group posed a week ago.

 

I welcomed the dry surface of the greenway.

The Flint River Tamed

 

At 10:30 AM a quarter of a mile from the entrance, the Flint flowed tranquilly at bankful, upstream at left and downstream to the right.

 

A short video (39 seconds) tells the river’s tale this fine spring morning…far better than my feeble words and still photos:

 

The natural upland levee along the flint stood above the flood waters the week before. I pondered what mood standing isolated there surrounded by floodwaters would have evoked.

 

A lifelong fan of esteemed conservationist Aldo Leopold, I turned to his writings (A Sand County Almanac)  for an apt quotation:

There are degrees and kinds of solitude. An island in a lake has one kind; but lakes have boats, and there is always the chance that one might land to pay you a visit. A peak in the clouds has another kind; but most peaks have trails, and trails have tourists. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness than I have.

 

Spring Ephemerals

 

The woodland trail I transited parallels the river (to the right) and the deep riparian forest that stretches to the tupelo swamp several hundred yards to the left. The path, via debris deposited by the recent flood, evidences a foot of overflow a week prior.

 

These dwarf trilliums at full flower likely observed the flood through a watery lens if they had already emerged from the saturated forest soil.

 

Their cousin, a twisted trillium, is just opening. Spring ephemerals are my favorite forest botanical denizens. The term ephemeral implies the narrow temporal window they occupy. They flourish during the period beginning when the canopy-penetrating spring sun warms the soil and ending when overstory tree foliage prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor. Spring floods this year punctuated the brief optimal period. Such are the vagaries of ephemeral gardening and spring field trips.

 

Among the plentiful trilliums, I spotted Virginia saxifrage (left) and rue anemone strutting their stuff.

 

Bristly buttercup (left) and blue phlox also welcomed me with a little strutting of their own.

 

Because I had not yet reached full woods-worthy rambling recovery from my January 23, 2024 knee surgery, I sauntered cautiously, wary of tripping vines and hidden depressions, taking care, too, not to exceed my still limited strength and endurance. I know that I could have catalogued dozens of wildflower species with a deeper exploration. Next spring!!

 

Panoply of Routine Spring Woodland Delights

 

I have never followed or even cared to know much about fashion of the human apparel kind. Instead, I wish you good luck prying me away from Nature’s seasonal garb. Every year she demonstrates mastery of the hues, tones, and incalculable shades of spring greenery. By mid-April she drapes fields, forests, meadows, and marshes with verdant wonder, color varieties in excess of known monikers. I’ve tried year after year to photographically capture the green varietal splendor, yet I fall short of target. Instead, I focus the camera on the sublime moss skirts, a routine woodland delight accented by spring rains, and common across our forests.

 

My Mom and her mother (Grandma Jacobs) fueled my youthful passion for plants, mainly flowering garden annuals. Little did I know that my enthusiasm would blossom into vocation, and lifelong avocation, oriented to trees and associated forest ecosystems. I never tire of musing on these vast three-dimensional living systems. The Sanctuary riparian trees reach 100 feet. The forest matrix and its life occupy 4,356,000 cubic feet per acre.  I gaze with wonder into the forest side-view (left) and vertically (right). A hint of green presages another routine spring woodland delight.

 

Woodland delights are hidden in plain sight for those who know where to seek them. Honey locust, a native hardwood tree, sports wicked looking compound thorns.

 

The species also offers a bark pattern I have yet to recognize reliably, sometimes smooth, ranging to rigid vertical plating. I can’t yet come upon a honey locust and immediately declare its identity with certainty unless, of course, I spot the compound thorns.

 

In contrast, persimmon bark reaches out to me even from a distance, its blocky nearly black stem shouting, “Hey you dim-witted old forester, it’s me…persimmon. You surely remember me, Diospyros virginiana!”

 

Some other common Sanctuary species suggest their identity by bark and form. American beech trees have smooth elephant hide bark and wide spreading crowns, even broader than an oak of similar trunk diameter. Each forest tree offers its unique personality, its individual woodland delight.

 

Spring delights come in many forms and appeal variably according to the interests and passions of the woods wanderer. Compound thorns, moss skirts, and elm fungus mushrooms represent points along the complex circle of life within the Sanctuary’s forest ecosystem. Any single riparian forest acre spreads its delight-bounty within a 4.356 million cubic foot magical kingdom. I wonder what I did not see. What did I miss?

 

How fortunate was I to stumble at eye level across this member of the fungi kingdom? It’s common name: deer vomit mushroom.

 

I found information worth sharing (itself a special delight) on an obscure website called Mushroom Monday:

Good afternoon, friends,

This week’s fungus looks like spray paint, and it’s not even just one fungus; it’s a plasmodial soup of several different fungi and microorganisms referred to by the vile (and bile) name “deer vomit” (Fusicola merismoides). I learned about this last Monday on the New York Mycological Society zoom ID session and then found it on Saturday during a chainsaw training class I took in the Catskills. Sometimes referred to as a “fungal volcano” or a “fungal potpourri”, this spring-time slime is often found on the cut limbs of trees and native grape vines (Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia).

Fun Facts

Every specimen of F. merismoides that has been DNA barcoded has come back with a different sequence which suggests that each slime is a unique complex of different organisms. Just like a snowflake, no two are the same. The orange color comes from the fungus Fusicolla merismoides (previously Fusarium merismoides), an ascomycete that consumes some of the other yeasts and microorganisms in the flux. The slime essentially has its own ecology where some species of fungi and microbes are growing symbiotically while some are parasitizing each other – but that’s not too different from what’s going on inside our own body.

 

I try to visit the Sanctuary every 2-3 months, monitoring change and discovering what Nature reveals. This trip proved especially rewarding. How else might I have encountered such a lovely example of a primordial soup; a fungal volcano!?

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static — the Sanctuary is in constant motion.
  • Open your eyes to the magic and wonder of such delights as a primordial soup or a fungal volcano!
  • Can you imagine a simple delight more magnificent than our prodigious spring ephemeral wildflowers!?

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story.

 

 

December Sky and Clouds Accenting Sandhill Crane Magic at Wheeler NWR!

I visited the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge several times before Christmas 2023. I highlighted the magnificent sandhill cranes that annually overwinter at Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in a February post: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/02/19/december-2023-sandhill-crane-magic-at-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/

I focus this photo essay on the incredible skies that accented the cranes on those visits. On December 3, 2023, my first visit to view the cranes this year, a stratocumulus cloud deck softened the images of cranes on deck and in flight.

 

Whether the 12/3 stratocumulus or the stray cumulus under thin cirrus of a subsequent visit, the feeding grounds and grazing sandhills presented an image and experience that will draw me back again and again.

 

I vow next visit to take along a folding chair, appropriate winter clothing, and a bucket full of lazy minutes to luxuriate in the splendor of crane music, broken sunshine, shifting light, and the mystic spirituality of thousands of avian guests uninterruptibly celebrating their escape from bitter winds, frozen wetlands, and drifted snow. Their mood is contagious; their ceremony is universal, defining all that is welcome, good, and splendid about life and living. I want to embrace it…and mentally store their cacophonous audio elixir deep in my own fiber, to access viscerally during the Alabama summer’s occasionally stifling heat and humidity.

 

I relish a morning with the cranes and crane enthusiasts even when mists soften the views across the marshes. The cranes vocalize regardless of the weather. However, I have not yet ventured to see them when rain and wind normally keep me at home. I therefore accept the challenge of heading in their direction the next time conditions are less conducive to human comfort. How else can I verify my premise that the cranes celebrate in all manner of weather.

 

I snapped the below left photo from near the visitors center, looking west across the field to marsh edge, where two observers stand. Much closer to the wetland edge below right, the field is gray with sandhills. The stratus overcast dulls the image, even as it validates the late autumn mood of early December on the Refuge.

 

An unseasonably mild December 9, offered sharply broken stratcumulus and fanciful lighting to the sandhill hordes. We had encouraged two friends, longtime residents of nearby Madison, Alabama, to accompany us, their first visit to this grand waterfowl exhibition. I believe they will return. They agreed that the show is National Geographic-scale.

 

I recorded this 25-second video from inside the observation building:

 

Please ignore the background talking. Focus instead on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh. The clouds and sky are versatile — their image is just as splendid whether direct or reflected.

 

These nine sandhills and the lone Canada goose may or may not be aware that their reflections are distinct, showcased against the reflected cloud deck above them.

– 

I focus on the sky and clouds because I cannot imagine enjoying and appreciating this annual spectacle without observing the enveloping context of light, wind, and temperature…all contrasted with whatever weather far to the north drives them here and obversely beckons them in spring to their breeding ground.

No matter what Nature topic I select, I am pretty sure I have never made a unique observation, one that another person has not considered and expressed in writing far more cogent, eloquent, and succinct. Here are just a few cloud and sky quotes worthy of note, and sufficient to humble and inspire me. I dare say that I take comfort, if not in original thought and praiseworthy elocution, then simply in enthusiastically treading ground that has excited and stimulated others.

Revelations are found in clouds. (Serge King)

Clouds float in the same patterns only once. (Wayne Shorter)

There is divinity in the clouds. (Lailah Gifty Akita)

Clouds, they make a painting of the sky. (Marty Rubin)

Watch the clouds. They will teach you about the world of form. (Eckhart Tolle)

Dance with the clouds. (Adrienne Posey)

Clouds are the sky’s imagination. (Terri Guillemets)

The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Always focus on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh.
  • Clouds, sun, and sky weave my tagline tapestry…Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!
  • The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

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

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

Brief Form Post #29: Mid-March Attempt to Enter the Flint River-Flooded Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

I am pleased to add the 29th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

Brief-Form Post on a Flooded-Out Tour of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Fellow Nature enthusiast Jim Chamberlain and I taught a spring term Huntsville, Alabama LearningQuest course on the Streams of Madison County. After the term ended, we hosted an unofficial field trip to the nearby Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary along the Flint River, on Saturday morning, March 16, 2024. The flooding Flint River secured the sanctity and solitude coveted by all Sanctuary wildlife residents, protecting them from our planned educational intrusion.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Among other topics we incorporated in our course, we spoke often of the tendency of our streams to flash with the heavy rains that treat our Cumberland Plateau region with 55-inches of rainfall annually. Wouldn’t you know it, a persistent front loaded with Gulf moisture dumped 2.34-inches the day before our outing. The flooding Flint River blocked our west-side entrance less that a quarter-mile from the Taylor Road parking lot.

 

The group posed in the photos above just in front of the red iron gate (see grandson Sam below during a far drier visit) where the trail takes visitors into the 400-acre floodplain Sanctuary.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Refusing to be deterred, we caravanned to the east entrance, where the Flint greeted us within sight of where we parked!

 

The still-rising River provided a clear signal that our Sanctuary sauntering would of necessity await a different stage in the life of the flashy Flint River.

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 31-second video before we departed for a substitute ramble along nearby Big Cove Creek Greenway:

 

I returned to the Sanctuary March 23, 2024, exploring a much more forgiving Sanctuary environment. I would have been at least knee deep looking northwest on the east entrance greenway 200 yards from where the group stood with the muddy floodwaters beyond, evidencing again the flashy nature of the Streams of Madison County.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, a book I rank as a premier collection of conservation and Nature-philosophy essays:

  • There are degrees and kinds of solitude. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness than I have.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!