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

Holiday Wishes from Steve at Great Blue Heron!

I’ve issued these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts routinely since January 2017. Both they and I have evolved over the two years. Perhaps I will reflect on that evolution as we enter the new year. For this Post, I will simply wish you Blessings for the Holiday Season and Joy for 2019!

As you know, we live in northern Alabama’s Tennessee Valley Region, where winter doesn’t so much barge into our lives as summer simply retreats. Here in the Deep South, December only rarely delivers a Holiday Winter Wonderland. Allow me to share a few of my own photographs from my Far North archives to help us celebrate this Season of Blessings and Joy.

These first two photos are now in my archives. Both are captured from the University of Alaska Fairbanks web cam from atop the Geophysical Institute building on UAF’s West Ridge campus. The view is south across the Tanana Flats toward the Central Alaska Range, 70 miles distant. Lower left is solstice (December 21, 2018) dawn (10:12am; ~40 minutes prior to actual sunrise). The other is sunset four hours later (2:05pm). Fairbanks “enjoys” six months of Winter Wonderland! I served UAF as Chancellor (CEO) 2004-08, loving every minute of it. I re-experience the beauty and magic through the web cam lens. No need for winter-layering from that vantage point!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While residing in Fairbanks, we mailed our Christmas cards from North Pole, AK (lower left). This is a mid-April photo from Santa Clause House — note the persistent snow pack. The snow man is a February 2007 photo I took on the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, Finland.

Deep cold rendered the landscape to levels of winter majesty beyond imagination. These two photos are of trees sculpted with snow and hoard frost along a stretch of the Tanana kept open by warm water effluent from the in-town power plant.

 

During the Finland trip, we visited this trail head at a near-town complex of cross-country skiing and hiking trails. Peace, quiet, and beauty beyond compare. My Finnish hosts made sure I was prepared for Arctic forest wanderings, loaning me an appropriately fashioned overcoat of traditional Sami-design. I returned to Rovaniemi’s Lapland University several September’s hence to deliver the Fall Convocation Address. As with the UAF web cam, I keep the Rovaniemi web cam bookmarked on my computer. A piece of my heart resides still in the high latitudes!

 

 

I served on the Board for the Denali Education Center during our Alaska years. That’s then Executive Director Willie Karidis on my left. We’re snow shoeing on the thickly frozen Nenana River in early March. The temperature is negative 37. A bit later that morning I suffered my only episode of frostbite during our Alaska residency. Willie had noticed the tip of my nose turning white, ordered me to pull the scarf over my face, and led me back to the DEC building. No need to pull the scarf over my face while viewing the web cams! Of interest, that same river is a raging torrent, glacier-melt-gorged when great hordes of summer visitors view it nearby at the entrance to Denali National Park.

And Denali epitomizes Winter Wonderland year-round.

One need not venture to Alaska to experience real winter and discover a Winter Wonderland. Here’s Judy in February 2015 saluting the snow pile just outside our garage door. The snow pack in our yard had deepened to 30 inches.

Okay, I did find a wee taste of Winter Wonderland mid-November at Alabama’s Camp McDowell. A rainy night had ended with cold air advection and a brief switchover to snow, decorating a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaf.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May you find Holiday spirit and winter joy no matter where you live!

 

 

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

 

Late November at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge — Tree Magic

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge occupies 35,000-acres along the Tennessee River, its nearest access point just seven miles from my home in Madison, AL; the visitors center is twice that far from me. We and our two Alabama grandsons went to the further point November 25. Forget, for the purpose of this GBH Blog Post, about the thousands of sandhill cranes that greeted us (I’ll issue that Blog Post later) — instead, we discovered magic among the trees at Wheeler during this period of fall-to-winter transition. The cypress (Taxodium distichum) swamp adjacent to the visitors center never fails to inspire me. The boardwalk trail is no longer in deep summer shade. Sun dapples the ferny, coppery-bronze cypress leaves carpeting the walkway! Four-and-a-half-year-old Sam enjoyed scuffling his feet to plow mounds of the feathery leaves.

The canopies still held perhaps a third of their leaves… enough to demonstrate a common misconception about forest trees. Lying on my back, I snapped the vertical shot below. Most people imagine that forest trees interlace their branches to form a solid shield of canopy above, one tree interlocking with another. Such is not the case. These cypress canopies may touch when wind blows them back and forth. Certainly, a squirrel would have an open highway leaping from one to another. Yet, in this stand with no understory nor intermediate canopy, the trees occupy unique aerial columns. Reminds me how in this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand isolated. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. Unlike Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond, most of us, too, living alone would soon topple.

This hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and the same-species smaller tree beside it find themselves in some form of mutual agitation. With the grandkids in tow and distracted by trails, birds, and mischief, I could not fully investigate this unusual growth. Clearly the larger hackberry evidences a burl from which adventitious branches emerge, oddly growing horizontally from the swelling. Is there a fungal or viral infection at play? Or just a physical trigger of contact between neighbors? Next time on this trail I will try to find this peculiarity again for deeper examination and more photos. I’m reminded how often in life and enterprise we find ourselves too late in difficult relationships and circumstances, with consequences suddenly appearing as intractable, with causes nearly impossible to explain and solutions out of reach. Too deep into the agitation to easily extract ourselves from it. I’ve been coached and counseled in such management/leadership situations to first identify the real problem. In this case, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem. Such is the complication and working of trees… and of life and human enterprises.

We found a standing, not-too-long-dead hackberry sporting some lichen finery (below left) and beginning to evidence the fruiting bodies of the saprophytic fungi feasting upon the recently deceased tree.

And more lichens on this trail-side beech (Fagus americana). Note its poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) still clinging to a leaf.

Unlike poison ivy, which clings directly to tree bark by aerial rootlets, scuppernong (Vitis rotundifolia) vines depend upon vines wrapping around trunks and stems. Two vines achieve mutual support via inter-twining (lower left) and a single vine by spiraling around the white oak (Quercus alba) trunk (lower right). Is it magic? No, not literally. But to the grandkids and me… YES!

And back to the poison ivy and its profusion of aerial rootlets — no need for intertwining or spiraling around this black cherry (Prunus serotina). Magic? You BET!

For a moment, I forgot we were in the deep south. This 20-foot sugar maple (Acer saccharum) offered a burst of New England color. Sam carried one of its leaves back to the car. He also looted a much smaller, long-dead bamboo (Bambusoideae) stem to the car. You never know when you may need to blast a woods-resident ghost (he’s a consummate Ghost-buster)!

Sam and I found a hiding place behind a twin white oak. I wonder how many more years until the two stems become one. Magic — from Sam’s perspective… absolutely! Confirmed for me when I saw the wonder in his eyes! Magic, too, that the entire time we strolled through this enchanted forest, we heard the nearby incessant clangor, clamor, and clatter of sandhill cranes feeding, dancing, and flying.

We drove a half-mile to another Wheeler NWR trail north of the highway. What could be finer than this bronze-beauty-cypress framing the view across the Tennessee River backwater?! Again, who can deny the magic and enchantment?

My iPhone camera colludes with my psyche, on multiple occasions willing me to photograph hackberry’s distinctive corky-ridged bark, this one beckoning irresistibly. Who can argue with magic?

Will I ever tire of Nature’s inspiration? So long as I breathe, especially with the grandkids along, I think not. My torch burns with compelling passion, heat, and light. I want to ignite theirs… to spur their torches to burn long after mine dims and sputters. For the future is theirs. And their sons’ and daughters’. I thank God for this chance to pass the torch, just as I am grateful for those wise souls who saw fit to preserve these 35,000 acres as a Refuge… an eternal flame. Yes, a flame of magic and inspiration!

Rachel Carson said of the National Wildlife Refuge symbol:

Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.

Feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two 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. Here are four powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) This lesson applies to almost every Great Blue Heron Blog Post that I issue!
  • In this modern world of living close to one another in crowded cities, most of us still manage to stand alone. In proximity, yet not touching. Even still, like the cypress, we draw some level of support from living in communities. Shallow-rooted, any of these cypress if standing alone, would topple in a strong wind. So too, standing alone, would we topple.
  • In any situation, first identify the real problem. In the case of the hackberry peculiarity, the problem is not the odd and seeming out-of-control branching nor the burl; instead, those are the symptoms and results of the real problem, whatever it may be. Such is the magic of trees… and of life and human enterprises.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Tree Magic and Woods Enchantment.

Again, feel the Magic; sense the Wonder; pass the Torch. May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

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

 

 

 

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post earlier today, December 9, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Special Skies Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from several of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original. My overall message is that we all should occasionally glance skyward as we explore and enjoy Nature.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December (Original Text)

What a blessing that our home planet tilts 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane. We in the northern hemisphere lean toward the sun in summer; Earth stands vertical to the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes; we now tilt away from ole sol at the fast-approaching winter solstice, our shortest day(light). Without the tilt, we would have no seasonal changes. I love the summer/fall/winter/spring swings and pay close attention to their relation to our sun. I’m fascinated by the science, and find that understanding the orbital and seasonal relationships enhances my appreciation of the beauty and magic of Nature’s displays.

Within five weeks of the solstice (November 17 sunset below), the sun sets at about 24 degrees south of due west; by December 21, it sets a full 30 degrees from west. By mid summer, the sun sets at 30 degrees north of due west… far past the right margin of the photo. A remarkable 60-degree swing over just six months. As we approach either solstice, both sunrise and sunset have shallower angles of ascent and descent, thus increasing the duration of displays like this one. During our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun rose and set at the solstices 80 degrees plus or minus from due east or west (a six-month 160-degree swing!), spectacular colors could last for 30-40 minutes! Again, knowing the science boosts my appreciation for Nature’s wonder and awe.

I’ll focus most of these remarks and photographs on Nature’s artistry. Again, this is our November 17 sunset:

Here’s the next morning’s (November 18, 2018) dawn. I suppose no words required beyond these implied 1,000 (recall that a picture is worth a thousand words)!

More wonderful dawn images from November 23. I can’t imagine how empty life is for those who never awaken before daylight!

Fitting that I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I have tried Walden several times previously, each occasion thwarted by Thoreau’s 180-year-old style and thick language, and perhaps owing in large measure to the demands of whatever job I happened to hold and family commitments of one sort or another. In this semi-retirement stage, I’m still struggling with Walden, working hard to mine gems from his difficult text. Here are some rich words regarding his predisposition to morning:

For my panacea… let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.

I think by morning air, Thoreau meant the entire experience of a new day dawning — the actual air, the sounds, the sky, and the darkness retreating westward. Cat Stevens likewise celebrated the morning air in Morning Has Broken:

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

I speak with so many acquaintances for whom morning does not include dawn. An unimaginable fate for me. I refuse to allow the day to begin without me! I don’t want to risk missing something worthy that might be springing fresh from the world. Aldo Leopold spoke of how in these modern times (for him that was the mid-20th century… 70 years ago), Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another. I cannot fathom going blind to the dawn!

Evening’s Farewell Salute

Sunset often trumpets a day well-lived. Why else would Nature end the day with displays like December 3, 2018, when cirrus offered several thousand words of glory and brilliance as the sun neared the evening horizon? I snapped these between passes as grandson Jack and I tossed a football in the street at the front of my house. Jack enjoyed the display as much as I, and what better way to share Nature’s generous gifts than with an Earth Steward of tomorrow!

The same evening and the same magic!

And a few minutes later as the sun dipped below the west by southwest horizon:

I have said often that I prefer paintings that look like well-taken photographs… and I love photographs that look like paintings. These few sky images fit the bill. Nature is not selfish nor selective. She gifts equally to all who care to look… and rewards those who make the effort (as though it should require any effort at all) to see… and graces those who see deeply enough to feel the power, passion, and inspiration infused in and bursting from the image.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two 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. Here are three powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) 
  • Pay heed to Leopold’s implied lesson: Do not allow your own Education to devolve to learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Earth Stewardship as an obligation and  lifetime calling.

Again, may Nature inspire your life. Pay attention to what daily springs fresh from the world

 

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

 

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Special Skies as Fall Yields to December

View these photos and brief text as postscript to this Special Skies Post. No matter whether you’re exploring an Alabama State Park or walking in your neighborhood, remember to glance skyward. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe often require tilting our heads toward the vertical.

Here’s a mid-October Cheaha State Park vertical wall at the Rock Garden. View the wall as simply foreground; focus instead on the wonderful cirrus display beyond.

And that same day at Cheaha State Park, these cirrus burst above the mixed pine/hardwood canopy.

Lake Guntersville State Park offered this special view of the clouds (fog) from the Lodge above!

At Monte Sano, how much more captivating are the old hotel remains with the puffy cumulus floating above the Tennessee River Valley beyond?
A DeSoto State Park dawn brought its own greeting to the day I started in the dark by hiking (flashlight in hand) the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will experience the most pleasant and enjoyable learning environment of your life, whether on the ground at your feet, within the forest along the trail, or in the myriad other sights, sounds, and fragrances of Nature’s beauty and bounty. You will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Nature may not desire that you learn and enjoy, yet she offers inspiration at every twist and turn in our forested paths, along every creek-side mile, and in every visit to our State Parks.

Special Skies as Fall Yields to December

What a blessing that our home planet tilts 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane. We in the northern hemisphere lean toward the sun in summer; Earth stands vertical to the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes; we now tilt away from ole sol at the fast-approaching winter solstice, our shortest day(light). Without the tilt, we would have no seasonal changes. I love the summer/fall/winter/spring swings and pay close attention to their relation to our sun. I’m fascinated by the science, and find that understanding the orbital and seasonal relationships enhances my appreciation of the beauty and magic of Nature’s displays.

Within five weeks of the solstice (November 17 sunset below), the sun sets at about 24 degrees south of due west; by December 21, it sets a full 30 degrees from west. By mid summer, the sun sets at 30 degrees north of due west… far past the right margin of the photo. A remarkable 60-degree swing over just six months. As we approach either solstice, both sunrise and sunset have shallower angles of ascent and descent, thus increasing the duration of displays like this one. During our four years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the sun rose and set at the solstices 80 degrees plus or minus from due east or west (a six-month 160-degree swing!), spectacular colors could last for 30-40 minutes! Again, knowing the science boosts my appreciation for Nature’s wonder and awe.

I’ll focus most of these remarks and photographs on Nature’s artistry. Again, this is our November 17 sunset:

Here’s the next morning’s (November 18, 2018) dawn. I suppose no words required beyond these implied 1,000 (recall that a picture is worth a thousand words)!

More wonderful dawn images from November 23. I can’t imagine how empty life is for those who never awaken before daylight!

Fitting that I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I have tried Walden several times previously, each occasion thwarted by Thoreau’s 180-year-old style and thick language, and perhaps owing in large measure to the demands of whatever job I happened to hold and family commitments of one sort or another. In this semi-retirement stage, I’m still struggling with Walden, working hard to mine gems from his difficult text. Here are some rich words regarding his predisposition to morning:

For my panacea… let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.

I think by morning air, Thoreau meant the entire experience of a new day dawning — the actual air, the sounds, the sky, and the darkness retreating westward. Cat Stevens likewise celebrated the morning air in Morning Has Broken:

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

I speak with so many acquaintances for whom morning does not include dawn. An unimaginable fate for me. I refuse to allow the day to begin without me! I don’t want to risk missing something worthy that might be springing fresh from the world. Aldo Leopold spoke of how in these modern times (for him that was the mid-20th century… 70 years ago), Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another. I cannot fathom going blind to the dawn!

Evening’s Farewell Salute

Sunset often trumpets a day well-lived. Why else would Nature end the day with displays like December 3, 2018, when cirrus offered several thousand words of glory and brilliance as the sun neared the evening horizon? I snapped these between passes as grandson Jack and I tossed a football in the street at the front of my house. Jack enjoyed the display as much as I, and what better way to share Nature’s generous gifts than with an Earth Steward of tomorrow!

The same evening and the same magic!

And a few minutes later as the sun dipped below the west by southwest horizon:

I have said often that I prefer paintings that look like well-taken photographs… and I love photographs that look like paintings. These few sky images fit the bill. Nature is not selfish nor selective. She gifts equally to all who care to look… and rewards those who make the effort (as though it should require any effort at all) to see… and graces those who see deeply enough to feel the power, passion, and inspiration infused in and bursting from the image.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two 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. Here are three powerful and succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) 
  • Pay heed to Leopold’s implied lesson: Do not allow your own Education to devolve to learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Share your enjoyment of Nature with young people. They are our society’s hope for tomorrow. Do all you can to inspire and spark their awareness of Earth Stewardship as an obligation and  lifetime calling.

Again, may Nature inspire your life. Pay attention to what daily springs fresh from the world!

 

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

Cheaha State Park — Special Trees and Plants

This is the fourth of my Great Blue Heron Blog Posts from a mid-October visit to Alabama’s Cheaha State Park. That’s Alabama’s highest point (2,407 feet) and the State Park at the center of the photograph. Lifts my spirits squarely back to my central Appalachian roots!

These observations are less about the Park and its Appalachian setting, and more about the special trees and plants I noticed and enjoyed while there.

Form and Character

Near the old Civilian Conservation Corps stone reservoir, this chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) has stood guard along the Park perimeter summit road for decades. Just as a psychologist uses facial expression markers to gauge personality, what might branching form and character reveal about our tree friends? From Simon and Garfunkel’s America:

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera

No bowtie on this Cheaha denizen, yet its massive horizontal face feature must surely reveal something about its past and its location along the road where plenty of light reaches the oak from the road clearing. I wondered how many Park visitors stopped to play games with its face? Paused to climb and then walk or perch on its sturdy limb?

I wrote in a prior GBH Post of this likewise horizontal main stem of a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) I encountered on Cheaha’s Lake Trail. I won’t repeat the reflections I previously offered on the sourwood and its adjacent chestnut oak. If you missed that Post from November 14, please take a moment, visit that Post, and learn more about my reaction and explanation.

 

Among other things, I speculated that the sourwood, because it pays little heed to gravity, inclined toward horizontal to escape from under the sun-robbing canopy of the chestnut oak standing above it.

I had paused lower on the same trail to appreciate the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) to lower left and its carpet of long-needled pine straw (lower right). I offer no special story for that pine, other than I simply adore longleaf pine, which to me epitomizes the South… just like magnolia, live oak, pecan, and, unfortunately, kudzu!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Nature, We Humans Seek Balance and Equilibrium in Our Lives

The Bald Rock ADA-accessible boardwalk trail passed above the shallow/stony hilltop soil supporting a stand of mixed hardwood and Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). A 2014 ice storm broke many pine crowns and brought lots of the pines to the ground; a subsequent severe 2016 drought killed many surviving pines that had been top-damaged by the ice storm. Standing dead trees and downed tops now border the trail. The downed tops are richly colonized by lichens, living luxuriously on stems and twigs still bearing nutrients and providing anchorage for the lichens. All part of the process for recycling living matter back to the soil — Nature’s never ending carbon cycle. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. Like our own lives, all things in Nature are cyclical.

 

Midway up the Lake Trail I had to step over the white oak (Quercus alba) tree that had fallen perpendicular to the path (the downed log is in the photo lower right). I did not puzzle long over why this long-hollowed tree had crashed to the forest floor. Instead, I wondered how it had stood as long as it had! A narrow rim of sound wood had somehow kept it alive and erect. Imagine this tree, riddled with heart rot, in an ongoing mortal combat with the internal fungal infection. Eventually, the pathogen weakened the tree beyond the equilibrium threshold, to a point where weight exceeded the weight-bearing load limit. The tree and fungus engaged in a decades-long battle. But who had won that ongoing dispute? The active fungus lost its host; the tree its life. Truth be told, there are no winners and losers… excepting the forest ecosystem that will live on untold generations of fungi and trees forward. And also like our own lives, all things in Nature strive for balance. Life is a delicate dance of ebbs and flows, forces and counter forces, joy and sorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near the hollow stump, this Virginia pine manifest its own fungal infection, a perennial target canker which, like the oak fungus, has lived with the tree for many decades. Similar to the oak heart rot/oak serious engagement, the pine and its pathogen are in some kind of physiological and physical balance. A standoff of sorts. The fungus drawing its own form of lifeblood from the tree. The tree growing at a pace sufficient to “feed” the fungus, build annual layers of wood in an attempt to compartmentalize the pathogen, and boost its own supporting super structure. Again, life is a balancing act… as is every endeavor in Nature. Think of the Himalayas as the Asian subcontinental plate slams (in this case, slam applied over deep time at geologic pace) into the Asian continent, thrusting the mountains to Everest’s greater-than-29,000-feet elevation. Yet there are equally powerful counter forces at work. The constant crushing force of massive glaciers grind the range in an effort to return the marine limestone high plateau back to the sea.

No, allow me an adjustment to that statement. Neither the mountain-building nor the glacial-scouring occur with intent. The glaciers do not excerpt their force in an effort to accomplish anything. They simply do what glaciers do. They follow Nature’s laws of physics, acting on gravity’s powerful pull to Earth’s center. A mountain is nothing to a glacier. How long will it take to reduce the Himalayas to Appalachian dimensions? It doesn’t matter. Time means nothing to a glacier, nor for that matter, to a mountain. Time matters, it seems, to only us humans.

I’ve examined this canker photo dozens of time. However, not until I am making these final text edits did I observe the smiling, toothless skull within the canker, somehow clenching a clay pipe! If nothing else, this discovering leads me to conclude that this will be (must be) my final edit!

Nature’s Complexity and Beauty

Not every element of Nature communicates apparent deep meaning for life and living… that is, unless I delve deeply for messages just beneath the surface. Quite simply, I like the looks of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). It’s content occupying the understory — no need for full sunlight; often satisfied with shallow, stony, dry, and exposed sites. Attractive shredded bark texture; contorted (and visually pleasing) branching pattern. Beautiful spring and early summer flowers. Persistent leaves — a broad-leafed evergreen; a member of the heath family. A tough semi-tree that has appealed to my aesthetic sensibility and ecological appreciation since my undergraduate forestry days. I think of it as a signature shrub of my Central Appalachian home, yet here it is thriving and common in Alabama’s Cheaha State Park. So, allow me to admit that part of the attraction is sentimental.

However, as I admired this specimen mid-October along the trail, I noticed an embedded lesson (actually two lessons — one ecological; the other for our lives and living) that had avoided me over my entire applied ecology career. Notice the lush moss carpet surrounding both the base of the laurel and the Virginia pine beyond it (above right photo). I have long observed the common phenomenon of stem flow. Rainwater reaches the forest floor via two pathways. One is considered through-fall, passing through the crown onto the forest floor. The second pathway involves canopy interception and redirection from leaf to stem to branches and then to the trunk. The second route is termed stem flow, which in flowing transports organic debris sloughed from its journey. The moss is flourishing at the laurel’s base from the delivered water and nutrients. I will pay more attention the next time I am on such an impoverished site. Was this a matter of coincidence, or a pattern I will observe routinely? I will let readers know.

The lesson for life I draw from this? Simply, such collaborative and synergistic relationships exist in our lives and enterprises. For example, individuals in long-term happy marriages live longer generally than those who are not. They draw sustenance from each other. We hear often in the world of business and real estate the long accepted wisdom that success distills to “location, location, location.” Such is the success of the lush moss.

While I attribute that moss vibrancy to basal location, not all vibrant mosses are so located. The moss clump below is lower on the trail under a longleaf pine… on a much more fertile and moist site. The equation for success and fulfillment, whether in humans or mosses, entails many variables.

The moss (lower left) seems quite happy on the impoverished plateau along the Bald Rock Boardwalk. To my surprise as I examined this photo more closely, the moss appears most vibrant at the base of the oak! Again, I will pay much more attention in the future to my developing hypothesis. Also near the boardwalk, dense lichens suggest that the shallow surface soils offer little in way of available nutrients and moisture. I suspect that the trees are gathering their necessary fertility and moisture from soil-filled crevices between rocks and not within reach of the lichens. Location matters… whether to trees or lichens.

Often, lichens’ needs are quite simple. They survive because they need less and are extraordinarily well-adapted to wide daily, weekly, and seasonal swings. They are adept at shutting down during periods unfavorable for active growth, and quite accomplished at reviving when things turn for the better. A deep drought (as in summer 2016) can kill a Virginia pine on the same site where the lichen simply turns off to weather the extended dry period. The rain, when it arrives, brings the lichen to full vibrancy. People and businesses, too, express variable tolerance for adverse conditions. Some are much more adaptive than others.

The lichen below seems content on the surface of a rock. Henry David Thoreau thrived happily for a little over two years on his version of the surface of a rock at Walden pond. I’m re-reading Walden at the moment. Thoreau was more lichen-like than the rest of us. He derived far more than physical sustenance from the experience — he harvested bushels of wisdom unavailable in conditions of plenty.

Are we demanding richness (material, emotional, spiritual, physical) beyond the Earth’s ability to provide it long term? Are we heeding the signals? Are we alert to our species and Earth’s limitations? Are we adequately caring for our common home? The lichens will be resident whatever humanity might do to foul our common home. Will we survive our actions. It is time we awaken. What can we learn from the lichens? What can we learn from a walk in the woods?

Thoughts and Reflections

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

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) Even I, a lifelong student of Nature, had not noticed or appreciated the apparent link between forest floor mosses and stem flow.
  • Our lives, as in all things natural, depend upon continuing struggles seeking balance and equilibrium. Critical thresholds determine the course of our lives and enterprises.
  • Few things in life, enterprise, and Nature matter more than location, location, location! In part, I find my joy in communicating these stories of passion for place and everyday Nature. Are you making the most of your location?

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with 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

 

Mid-November Camp McDowell Land Legacy Orientation

Camp McDowell invited me to visit November 15 & 16, 2018. Our purpose — to explore developing a Camp McDowell and Conference Center Land Legacy Story for the 1,140 acre property. In operation on-site since 1947, this Winston County treasure “shows the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play in the beauty of God’s Backyard.” McDowell is “the Camp and Conference Center for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama. We are also home to the Alabama Folk School, McDowell Environmental Center, and the McDowell Farm School.”

The property sits smack dab in the midst of the Bankhead National Forest’s 181,000 acres. I’m astounded that these 283 square miles of exquisite forestland came to the Forest Service under the movement 125 years ago to deal with and manage the huge swaths of abandoned and spent eastern forestland (as well as abandoned farms) referred to broadly as the lands nobody wanted. I drove through miles of the Bankhead as I headed south to McDowell. I’m a softy for unbroken forest. Only someone as I, familiar with the eastern National Forests and their history, along with my perception of the roadside forest as even-aged, second-growth, would see this unbroken cover as anything but forest primeval.

Some might say, “How boring; there is nothing to see!” Au contraire, this was heaven to my appreciative professional forester’s eyes! Rolling hills of mature pine and mixed hardwood forest… some thinned, some periodically burned to control understory vegetation. The Camp McDowell entrance sign appeared as I was still appreciating and admiring the forests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nourishing Body, Mind, Heart, Soul, and Spirit

I’ve visited McDowell a half-dozen times over the past couple of years, first as guest of then McDowell Director Mark Johnston and Environmental Education Center Director Maggie Johnston. The St. Francis Chapel is emblematic of the Camp’s devotion to Faith, Nature, and the future. What better lens to view the Chapel than the dawn’s first rays of sun on a frosty mid-November morning.

McDowell greeted my Thursday morning arrival with a dusting of snow and 30-degree temperature.

I stayed overnight this most recent time at the far lodge above Sloan Lake (lower left photo). A perfect setting to appreciate the Camp. The day remained cloudy, breezy, and unseasonably cold, never reaching 40. The average daily high for the date is low 60s. I have not confirmed that we set a record low high temperature for the date; I am sure we at least approached a new record. Lakes, streams, and falling leaves don’t mind the early cold. People complain a bit. After an uncommonly warm September and October, I saw the chill as overdue, and found joy in the November look and feel of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDowell tugs at my heart. When in this extraordinary Natural setting, I engage with the place, its mission, its staff, the campers, and spirituality with all five of my life-portals: mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit. The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. McDowell reignites some fundamental tenets and principles that guide my life and profession. I want to make some small corner of this world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. Perhaps McDowell is one element of that small corner I can influence.

The Eppes Dining Hall at the Environmental Camp along Clear Creek fed some 200 fifth and sixth graders (and their teachers/chaperones) Thursday evening. Participants are fully engaged and totally immersed in Nature’s wonders.

I saw lots of places in the Camp core for relaxing and reflecting. Each special location has its story — memories, donors, and wisps of history and meaning. Even as these infrastructure elements tell a tale, the surrounding wildness and Nature have legacy components awaiting exploration, interpretation, and translation… leading to developing McDowell’s comprehensive Land Legacy Story. I would welcome a chance to memorialize McDowell’s Story. I want to help McDowell translate the record written in the land and forests, combine it with key interviews of current and past players, and add bits of history residing in available archives, including old photographs (aerial and land-based), and individual recollections. Oh, if only we could literally wander back in time.

When would have been the ideal time to begin weaving the story? Perhaps 1847, one hundred years prior to McDowell’s formal on-site beginning. Or, if only the Clear Creek rock ledges could talk!

Or the massive loblolly pine (flanked by former Camp Director Mark Johnston) along Clear Creek at Tiller’s Beach. This magnificent specimen (yes, the tree!) likely stood there in 1847 as a sapling.

Or the resurrection fern-festooned oak that shaded the front yard of a long-since gone farm house or outbuilding along the Camp entrance road near the current Camp store. The oak certainly predates the Camp’s origins and may have been planted in the late 19th century. I wonder when the first fern sprouted from the now deeply-furrowed bark. Think about how appropriate it would have been if the first floral resurrection occurred in 1947! In effect, its sprouting could symbolize “the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play in the beauty of God’s Backyard.” Here was Camp McDowell rising from an old worn out farm in the midst of 283 square miles of the lands nobody wanted! We can core the oak with an increment borer to determine the tree’s age. Dating the fern’s appearance will take the luck of a chance photo from the Camp’s early days.

If only we had begun detailed chronicling of McDowell’s natural components in 1947. Yet we really cannot begin such deliberate and detailed monitoring and record keeping until now. And begin we must. Who among future campers in 2118, 100 hundred years hence, wouldn’t enjoy seeing the Camp’s first solar photo-voltaic panels? A literal example of “Harnessing Nature’s Power”!

Who would not appreciate seeing the November 17, 2018 sun rising from behind the barn, illuminating a frosted field? Or seeing the Farm School pigs relishing the mud within their enclosure?

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine a permanent photo point capturing this view to the north from the embankment along the beaver pond dam? A snap shot repeated routinely every ten years demonstrating changes the 2118 fifth grader can observe back through time.

What might a permanent ten-year-interval photographic record reveal from Tiller’s Beach? Here are Friday’s view upstream (left) and downstream (with former Camp Director Mark Johnston contemplating the view and reflecting on his five decade love affair with McDowell, beginning with student seasonal engagement). Mark is among those who can fill voids and inform the Land Legacy Story. There are others (in addition to Mark) we must transport virtually via the Legacy Tale to 2118 and beyond. If only I could bottle the elixir-essence of our November 2018 morning stroll along Clear Creek.

Special Vegetation

How many tree and shrub species does McDowell host? No one I asked in mid-November knew the answer or could recall seeing a species inventory. I’m hoping that over the Camp’s 71 years some intrepid botanist has assembled such a list. Legacy Story research will entail scrubbing the archives to rediscover such a list. If one does not exist, developing the inventory will fall to my Land Legacy Story recommendations section.

Longleaf pine is one of my favorite Alabama trees. It’s one of the state’s ten native pines. How many others of those ten are on-site? I saw loblolly, Virginia, and shortleaf pines as Mark and I hiked several trails Friday morning. Mark and associates planted hundreds (thousands?) of longleaf seedlings on cleared land surrounding the beaver pond and at other locations on the property. I was surprised to see direct evidence that the intrepid pond rodents harvested the sticky sap-rich saplings (chewed-off stump in foreground lower left). Easy to see how longleaf earned its moniker (standing tree lower left and the dense foliage lower right).

That’s Mark’s hand (for scale) on a Tiller’s Beach farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum). Another common name: sparkleberry. It’s the only tree-form member of the blueberry genus. Its deep black fruit shines and sparkles this time of year; the term farkle implies a combination of sparkle and function. According to The Flora of North America, “Sparkleberry grows on sand dunes, hammocks, dry hillsides, meadows, and in rocky woods. It also grows on a variety of moist sites such as wet bottomlands and along creek banks.” This specimen occupies a sand bar site moistened from within the sandy soil by Clear Creek seepage.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) “is noted for its huge oblong-obovate leaves (to 30 inches long) which are the largest simple leaves of any tree indigenous to North America. Leaves are green above and silvery-gray below. This unusual tree is rarely found in the wild, being limited mainly to a few rich wooded areas in river valleys and ravines in the southeastern United States.” Carolina Nature describes bigleaf magnolia as a “rare deciduous native.” I saw nothing rare about bigleaf magnolia at McDowell. I’ve never seen such abundance in my travels across its range. By the time I departed Friday afternoon, most leaves had fallen. Thursday morning some trees still held fast to their yellowing leaves (lower left). My boot (size 12!) gives some sense of leaf scale. Oddly, nearly all leaves fell top-side down. A mystery for another day. A future assignment for Environmental Camp sixth-graders?

I couldn’t get over the impressive leaf size — the longest on the sofa below is 26-inches! So, on-site during those two days, we discovered individuals of the only tree-form blueberry (genus Vaccinium), North America’s longest-leafed indigenous tree species, and one of Alabama’s largest loblolly pines (record is ~4.5-feet diameter). McDowell’s Story begs to be told!

We encountered a willowlike-leaf shrub in what I at first surmised was in full flower along roads and field edges. No one I asked could identify it. When I originally posted this essay November 27, I noted, “I am still investigating. I suspect it is an invasive. Because it is so common and spectacularly showy for the season, it is worthy of a mid-November floral highlight for one of the state’s premier environmental education centers. Just another component of the Camp’s Land Legacy Story, which is both a look back… and a careful and deliberate view ahead identifying needs critical to Camp relevance and excellence.” Today, December 5, 2018, with the help of Cane Creek Canyon’s Jim Lacefield, we have identified the shrub as groundsel-tree (Baccharis halimifolia). How on earth did I not properly identify this species that is native to North America from Massachusetts south to Florida and Texas!? I admit total embarrassment. Once Jim led me to identification, I revisited my photographs. What I mistook (sloppily) as flowers were in fact seed heads, the silky seed appearing to my lazy examination as flowers. A big wake-up lesson for me — I sat for far too long in my higher education executive offices, growing dull in my field skills. I pledge to be more diligent, systematic, and persistent — to pay attention to field tools lost to pencil-pushing!

Now, what about the non-tree and shrub flowering plants — a McDowell inventory? My favorite paintings look like photographs (Yes, I am a man of simple tastes); my favorite photos look like paintings. Nature’s frosty brush painted the Friday morning image below. Sedges and goldenrod, frosted pine seedlings, and foreground frost-silvered grass with mixed fall hardwoods providing background. A nice painting!

I’m a sucker for bark encrusted with non-flowering plants. An admirable moss community coats the Virginia pine stem (lower left); lichen adds a nice pattern to the otherwise slate grey of the American beech near the lodge where I stayed. Nature tolerates no vacuums in these well-watered southern temperate forests. Do the Camp archives contain inventories of McDowell non-flowering plants — ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi?

Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom, Inspiration, and Power through Knowledge and Recognition

Even something as simple as a weathered fence rail can inspire. Soaking rain, transitioning to snow before ending Thursday dawn, had saturated the wood. Friday morning’s 24 degrees drew frost-sickles from the wood… a hoar frost decoration. Add in remnant snow around the old knothole, and the adornment is complete (lower right). Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are wherever we choose to seek and discover. The rewards are ours!

A frosty field and a leaf-strewn woods path at dawn soothe the soul and elevate the spirit. McDowell’s Nature portfolio begins fresh with every new day.

This dawn photo epitomizes the spirit, promise, and hope of a new day in God’s Backyard.

And, again, the Chapel symbolizes “the way the world could be through worship, learning, rest and play” in Nature.

Even if my mid-November McDowell visit does not lead to preparing the Camp and Conference Center’s Land Legacy Story, I will have lived richly in McDowell’s inspired glow for two days. Whether I compile the Story or not, the tale will remain within the land. Every parcel has a Story. Camp McDowell has touched and changed lives for seven decades… thousands of lives. Its Land Legacy Story is all the more powerful owing to the Camp’s mission and cause in service to humanity. If asked to proceed, I would accept the challenge with great humility, and a heartfelt gratitude for a chance to make a positive difference for tomorrow. I would seek inspiration from the mission, the land, and the people who lead (and led) the way.

What an honor and privilege it would be. My efforts would be purpose-driven and passion-fueled. I believe in the noble cause that guides McDowell.

Thoughts and Reflections

I may offer nothing new to Camp McDowell. Sure, I see the 1,140 acres through a composite lens comprising a bachelors in forestry, a doctorate in applied ecology, lifelong Nature enthusiasm, former industrial forestry practice, 35 years in higher education, four university presidencies, author, speaker, and advocate for Nature’s lessons for Life and Living. I believe earnestly in McDowell’s commitment to enable people young and old to employ five essential verbs:

  1. BELIEVE that all of Nature’s wisdom and power are hidden within plain view
  2. LOOK with intent beneath the superficial; LOOK deeply without the distractions that too often obstruct vision
  3. SEE what lies hidden within
  4. SEE deeply enough to evoke emotion; that is… FEEL
  5. FEEL acutely enough to inspire and stir ACTion… ACT to make tomorrow brighter

Although these are my five verbs, I see them implied in all that McDowell does. The Environmental Center mission “is to connect people to the environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning.” I watched the Camp in action in form of a Thursday evening Radical Raptors program at the Chapel. I did not need to reach far to witness my five verbs in practice.

The Environmental Center flier states its role clearly: To provide “an experience impossible to find in a classroom. Students are taught by seeing nature up close: wading into a stream to catch invertebrates, touching sandstone canyon walls, identifying trees using a dichotomous key, and solving group challenges with their teammates. While creating self-confidence, students explore the outdoors firsthand, building lifelong awareness and respect for the natural world.”

May Nature inspire all that you do!

 

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

 

 

Cheaha State Park — A 1,200-foot Vertical Ecological Transect

We visited Cheaha State Park October 17-19, issuing two Great Blue Heron blog posts prior to this one: first my broad impressions then my musings on the Cheaha sky and clouds. I will focus now on an ecological transect as I hiked October 19, from Cheaha Lake (visible on the valley floor in the photo below) to the summit, passing up through the Rock Garden (the overlook location for the same photo) then on to the summit.

I learned long ago that a top-down-view always amplifies the elevation perspective. That is, looking down at Lake Cheaha seemed far higher than the lakeside view (below left) toward the ridges. The relatively flat terrain around the lake belied the steep topography awaiting me. Nature is like the layers of an onion. Peace and serenity greeted me when Judy dropped me at the lake. Who could ask for a more perfect 60-degree morning start? An RV campground and primitive camping are near the lake, yet I saw just one other person. The lower right photo shows a CCC-constructed building used now as a bathhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The relatively flat and fertile bottom-lands were soon to transition to, as the sign warns, a very steep one-mile ascent. I did not have the luxury of past land-use maps or a naturalist accompanying me. Nor did I take the time to scour the land to thoroughly read the signs of past-use. I presume that some portion of the valley saw tillage and certainly served as pasture. It’s hard to believe that over some 200-years of European settlement so many of these seeming remote nooks and crannies in the Appalachians (from here to Pennsylvania, New York, and into New England) saw intrepid pioneers scraping a living and sustenance from the land. However, even the boldest among them would not have attempted to plow or graze much beyond the trail head sign!

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), “The only conclusion I have ever reached is that I love all trees, but I am in love with pines.” He mentioned the three species of pine native to Wisconsin, where he lived and wrote his signature book. I am teaching a Huntsville LearningQUEST (“informal education for adults of all ages”) course on A Sand County Almanac. I reflected on how many species of pine are native to The Heart of Dixie. As I write, I will try to name them, and then I will check my references to confirm, add, or subtract. I pledge to honestly assess my performance. Here goes: loblolly (Pinus taeda), slash (P. elliottii), longleaf (P. palustris), Virginia (P. virginiana), shortleaf (P. echinata), sand (P. clausa), spruce (P. glabra), and pond (P. serotina) pines. Before I verify, I want also to mention table mountain pine. I will not — I think it does not range naturally this far south. I’ve researched. I’ll begin with table mountain pine (Pinus pungens). From the US Forest Service: “its range extends from central Pennsylvania, southwest to eastern West Virginia and southward into North Carolina, Tennessee, and the extreme northeast corner of Georgia.” So, count me lucky on not including it as native to Alabama. All eight of the ones I listed are, in fact, native to Alabama. However, I am embarrassed at having missed the one that I did — eastern white pine (P. strobus), which is native to just five Alabama counties.

My lake to summit transect passed under four pine species: loblolly, Virginia, shortleaf, and a few longleaf around the lake and on the lower slope (below left). My forester friends up-north (and I don’t mean the Tennessee Valley region) have never encountered this signature species of the deep south. I hold its long needles, erect posture, and huge cones in high esteem. Its coarse broom-tipped upper branches stand out nicely against the early autumn blue. Its dropped needles accent the pine litter moss below right. Beauty and magic from tree crown to forest floor!

It’s perhaps inconceivable to readers that I could cherish both sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) and Longleaf pine. On one hand, longleaf pine’s indomitable negative geotropism (geotropism from my online default dictionary: “the growth of the parts of plants with respect to the force of gravity. The upward growth of plant shoots is an instance of negative geotropism; the downward growth of roots is positive geotropism.” The longleaf pine does not know from vertical! Ramrod straight, refusing to twist or bend to seek or secure more sunlight. Sourwood seems oblivious to Nature’s insistence that the law of gravity is universal. Instead, sourwood shuns even the theory of gravity, disdaining any thought of verticality. Still on the lower slope, I wanted to embrace this individual sourwood revolutionary (below), rejecting and rebelling against the predominant rule of law. Even I could have climbed this nearly horizontal arboreum. Odd that its Latin species name should suggest something more intent upon reaching into the canopy.

Why do I relish sourwood? First, I grew up well within its northernmost range in the central Appalachians. I liked its deeply-fissured bark, its fragrant spring flowers (makes great honey!), and its curvaceous form from which a two-by-four will never be sawn. I liked it, too, because once I departed for my bachelors degree in upstate New York, none of my fellow students knew my southern friend. Years later when I served for nine years on the Penn State forestry faculty, I often answered queries asking me to identify understory species I did not recognize with, “It’s a sourwood,” knowing full well that we were out of its range. So now back within its range, I enjoy encountering sourwood frequently. This specimen grows trail side on the lower slope.

It’s adjacent to a 30-inch diameter chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), a massive specimen on a site richer than the shallow upper slopes where we most often find this species. See the sourwood escaping horizontally beyond the oak. The oak crown is fully dominant (lower right)… and has been for many decades. Perhaps reason enough for the gravity-defying sourwood to retreat at little more than 20 degrees above horizontal.

As I began ascending toward the very steep intermediate slope, the boulder-strewn dry stream-bed (below left) drew my attention. The trail paralleled the drainage-way, which obviously carries considerable and forceful flow on occasion. Appalachian-wide, these old mountains are products of erosion. They have long since lost their rugged, towering heights. From my ultimate (translates to lazy and convenient for the purpose of these blog posts) source of internet research, “Cheaha Mountain is part of the Talladega Mountains, a final southern segment of the Blue Ridge Mountains, unlike other elevations of the Appalachians in north Alabama, which are part of the Cumberland Plateau. The mountain is the highest point in the eastern portion of the Sun Belt (east of the Mississippi River, south of Interstate 20, and north of the Gulf of Mexico). Geologically it is composed of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates of the Cheaha quartzite, of Silurian/Devonian age, and stands high topographically due to the erosional resistance of these rocks.” A bit further along, I found a trickle of water riding the exposed bedrock (below right).

I’ll venture an untested (by me) hypothesis: I’ll call it Steve’s 99:1 rule of landscape-scale erosion. Simply, 99 percent of erosional impact results from one percent of the storms. And among those impactful storms, think about the relative magnitude and erosional consequence of a hundred-year-storm. Or even more powerful, a thousand-year deluge. Water’s force operates logarithmically. Epic storms carved these valleys. I would like to return when this now-dry channel carries enough volume to tumble a few stones, yet I believe my chances are slim. Such first-order streams are not perennial. From the Geologic Society of America, “A first-order stream is the smallest of the world’s streams and consists of small tributaries. These are the streams that flow into and “feed” larger streams but do not normally have any water flowing into them. In addition, first and second order streams generally form on steep slopes and flow quickly until they slow down and meet the next order waterway.”

Of interest, the Mississippi River is a tenth order stream; the Amazon is twelfth order. The Geologic Society adds, “First through third order streams are also called headwater streams and constitute any waterways in the upper reaches of the watershed. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the world’s waterways are these first through third order or headwater streams.” Somewhat of a footnote, I successfully navigated an upper level undergraduate watershed management course and a graduate hydrology offering, both with three weekly lectures and weekly three-hour labs. I recall a weekend field trip in the graduate course to Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (with its calibrated watersheds) in New Hampshire. Since then and perhaps prior to this formal education validation, I have been fascinated by weather and stream/watershed behavior. Four and one-half decades since that field trip, I am still captivated by watershed hydrology when hiking an Alabama mountain trail at Cheaha State Park.

I soon climbed above drainage ways meriting a stream order rating. Rainwater from here and points above does little more than percolate into the thin soil and find its way among the rocks to the defined channels below. I turned my focus back to plants. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) seems quite content throughout its range finding purchase on shallow rocky soils. This specimen fits my image of its stereotypical site. Notice the mossy cushion at its base, the moss luxuriating from the incremental moisture (and accompanying nutrients) delivered via rainwater stem flow from the laurel. The same benefit accrues to the moss at the Virginia pine base (below right; beyond and to the right of the laurel). I see a few chestnut oak leaves under the laurel, yet another affirmation of thin rocky upper slope position.

Steep stony rubble (moss and lichen adorned), upper slope position, lots of direct sunlight on the forest floor, an aspect facing southwest, and sparsely-stocked forest of small diameter in aggregate signal poor site quality. What I encountered differed little from what I expected.

Likewise, I would not have expected healthy, vigorous individuals. I wondered how the hollow white oak (below left) stood as long as it apparently had, with only a thin band of intact wood ringing its base. It had only recently (within months) fallen across the trail. The Cytospora canker on the Virginia pine (below right) results from a fungal infection. Such target cankers weaken the stem and interfere with translocation. Yet, and I think such is the case with this individual, such fungi can co-exist with the host tree for decades. Perhaps the longevity in this case is owing to the poor site and the tree’s slow growth.

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac; November) spoke reverently of the tree disease/animal (from bees to birds to mammals) interdependency on his Wisconsin woodlot: “Soon after I bought the woods a decade ago, I realized that I had bought almost as many tree diseases as I had trees. My woodlot is riddled with all the ailments wood is heir to. I began to wish that Noah, when he loaded up the Ark, had left the tree diseases behind. But it soon became clear that these same diseases made my woodlot a mighty fortress, unequaled in the whole county.” He then devoted five pages to the nature of such ecosystem interplay.

The mountain sheds boulders on its higher, steeper reaches. What are the mechanics of these relics from above? Have they rolled and slid downward from The Rock Garden ledges above? I think not. From my experience elsewhere, I’m led to believe these sometime house-sized remnants of the most resistant strata have actually weathered from vertically above, the softer stone weathered from beneath them. That is, these rocks have not slipped from current uphill positions, sliding down and outward, but instead have their origin directly above… an above that no longer exists. Regardless of their origin, they provided steps and handholds for my old-guy ascent, somehow steeper than these photos suggest. The Virginia pine with blue trail blaze (below left) must have had the good fortune of sinking roots deep into fertile soil nestled among the piled boulders. The tree has no equal nearby. The good tree-fortune of chance, fortuity, and serendipity.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose the same luck of the draw applies to this blazed red oak. An acorn just happened to find security, purchase, and sustenance lodged in the right boulder-pile fissure. To my knowledge trees have no intention and are absent a strategic plan. Instead, by evolutionary design, they produce enough acorns to advantage the chance (perhaps likelihood) that some such fortuitous site lies within reach of gravity, squirrel caching, or bluejay drop. And now, in duty to the species, this oak is producing acorns to secure the future of the line… and to do its part to biologically, chemically, and physically sustain this old mountain ecosystem. Meantime, in a tiny increment of the tree’s life, I hiked upward past it, pausing only to snap its photo and then lean against it to catch my breath. It served me well… without intent.

And ever upward into an area where serendipity furnished few high quality micro-sites. Still a forest, this stand is hard-scrabble. No sylvan-cove cathedral here. The bent and shattered Virginia pine (at lower left in the photo) evidences the ravages of a 2014 ice storm at this elevation. And I scrambled onward.

Suddenly a view from immediately below of The Rock Garden. Picture these nearly horizontal strata reaching out over Cheaha Lake. Time and the inexorable forces of Nature have weathered and transported many cubic miles of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates to the Gulf of Mexico. I had taken the photo of the valley and lake at the beginning of this blog post the afternoon prior from atop this ledge.

I found something special and moving in the dark silhouette of the rock backlit by the wispy cirrus.

And I add this photo to demonstrate how tenaciously Virginia pine find purchase on the very ledge. Is the view wasted on them? Or do they simply appreciate the abundant, unimpeded access to the sunlight that fuels them? They have no need to strive vertically among competitors to secure full sun.

I insert that first photo. My reward for having traipsed ever-upward.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) I saw what I could on this Friday morning ecological transect. Yet I only scratched the surface of the stories unread and untold.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. The snippets I read along a two-hour transect are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every tree, rock, and dry stream bed may be mine alone, this one (among a thousand such transects just here on Cheaha) and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the sourwood/longleaf pine posture and form contrast and not feel humility or a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with 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

 

Postscript Cheaha Photo from the Official State Park Archives

Picnic pavilion at Cheaha Lake, near the trail head where I began my ascent.

 

 

 

 

Cheaha State Park — Mid-October Sky and Clouds

October 17-19, 2018 brought me to Alabama’s highest point, to 2,407′ Mt. Cheaha crowning Cheaha State Park. I wrote last week about some of my general observations at Cheaha. I admit to having a low threshold for declaring Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Even a broken mid-October altostratus deck, sunset-viewed to the northwest from Bald Rock, stirred feelings of deep appreciation. Not spectacular… yet soothing, assuring, and promising a clear and cool autumn day tomorrow.

By morning two days hence, the fall high pressure center had drifted east of us, pivoting the chilly northwesterly breeze to southeast. I took both photos below from the west-facing restaurant deck. The strong SE breeze lifting some 1,500 feet from the valley floor had capped Cheaha with stratus, placing us in cloud-shadow. The lower left view to the SSW shows cloud streamers descending and evaporating, revealing clear skies above the valley beyond. The lower right view to the WNW shows more descending streamers and the sunlit valley floor. Even a mountain of Cheaha’s relatively small stature generates micro-climate phenomena that are fascinating and quite predictable. I could have sipped coffee and watched the streamers race downhill and westward for hours. However, even if I had chosen to sit tight, the sun-warmed morning air would have soon taken the lifting condensation level higher than Cheaha’s summit.

 

Here’s the deck-view to the west 35 minutes earlier… before the sun had fully illuminated the valley floor and brought deep blue to the western sky. The streamers then were more pronounced and descended further into the valley. Nothing in Nature (or in our lives and enterprises) is static. Change rules the day (and night) and we must learn to anticipate and adapt.

Mid-afternoon on the 18th I hiked the quarter mile from the old CCC reservoir to Rock Garden, overlooking Cheaha Lake to the southwest. I would ascend the rough trail from the lake to Cheaha’s summit the next morning. Watch for my Blog Post soon reflecting upon the ascent and Nature’s treats along the way. This shot shows the deep blue and thin cirrus typical of the season’s first intrusion of cool high pressure from the north.

Clouds can mesmerize me. This burst of wispy cirrus blossoming from the trees greeted me as I ascended Friday late morning from the continuous forest canopy into the scattered trees tucked within the massive stones and ledges of Rock Garden. An ice crystal bouquet at >20,000 feet… temperature at least 20-degrees below zero from my 60-degree point of observation! Even without the exquisite beauty, the magic of physics excites wonder. Once again, I feel humility and inspiration knowing that relative to these grand scales and epic contrasts I am nothing. Compared to a single cirrus burst, what am I? Yet a simple moment in the life of one cloud formation among ten million worldwide at this instant elevates my heart rate, and yields deep gratitude that I am privileged to witness this gift. A gift that is there for me not because I am anything special, but because I believe that if I look, I will see. And when I see, I will feel its power. And when I feel, I will continue my mission (to act) to remind all that we Earth residents carry the burden of informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. My five essential verbs: believe; look; see; feel; act.

How different (and lesser) would this Rock Garden silhouette be without its blue and cirrus backdrop? Again, we are blessed by Nature’s infinite art forms… renewed and rearranged every minute of every day.

Where would an October Cheaha cloud and sky tour be without a couple photos from atop the tower? A late Thursday afternoon view to the west (lower left) and to the southeast (lower right). All peace and tranquility, soft and gentle. Above 1,500-feet, the Park lost thousands of Virginia pine trees during a January 2014 ice storm. Guy wires thick with ice, a crystal wonderland, and the rifle crack clamor of trees snapping in the frozen wind, the tower deck would have been a frightful perch. Again, nothing in Nature is static. We prefer our first visit to have been this quiet time.

We returned to our restaurant deck a bit later to enjoy dinner as we watched the sun dip below the horizon. The views below are to the SSW (lower left) and directly to the setting sun (lower right).

A perfect backdrop for our first visit to the highest point in Alabama.

Thoughts and Reflections

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

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) So many people neither see nor appreciate sky and clouds.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. Sky and clouds are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every cloud may be mine alone, the cloud and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the cirrus burst without feeling humility and a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with 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

Postscript Cheaha Photos from the Official State Park Archives

View of the restaurant perched on the ridge… a cloudless winter’s day.

Another winter day, less benign, with clouds from a cold front retreating to the ESE.

And a Final Photo from a Day of Pleasurable Terror on New Hampshire’s Highest Mountain

I reflect briefly on another state’s highest peak — New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Clear sky and ground blizzard; temperature at summit negative 20 and wind above 100MPH! We’re at 5,300-feet, preparing to re-board the Mount Washington Observatory’s Arctic-Cat and return to the base. That’s me second from the rear.

(Photo by Meteorologist Ryan Knapp, Mount Washington Observatory staff.)