Heart of the Team

As I write these words I am more than two-and-one-half months into my six-month interim presidency at Fairmont State University — 44 percent of my term! I wrote the core of this post for my weekly local newspaper column. This one will appear early October. I often weave a thread of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading into the column. The column itself this time addresses only Human Nature. I’ll expand a bit at the end of this post to delve more into the Nature realm.

My Column for the Times West Virginian

Jim Valvano coached NC State University men’s basketball to a national title in 1983. Ten years later, diagnosed with untreatable, terminal cancer, Coach Valvano toured the country inspiring, motivating, and moving audiences. He spoke of three essential ingredients to living each day to the fullest. First, think deeply about something important to someone near to you. Laugh whole-heartedly – find lightness and joy every day. And third, feel something daily to the point of tears.

I recall seeing Coach V on TV nearly a quarter-century ago. I visited the display honoring him at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum when I served at NCSU, tears of mixed emotion on my cheeks. Every couple of years I will find YouTube recordings of Coach V celebrating after the championship game and of his speeches as he faced death, spreading the gospel of thinking, laughing, and crying.

Tuesday September 12, I checked all three boxes at the Feaster Center… in the span of ten minutes. Two days later, the Times West Virginian ran a Sports section front page article and two-column photo about FSU signing ten-year-old Cheyenne Filler to our women’s soccer team. Cheyenne, a Special Olympian and bundle of smiles, energy, and enthusiasm, excitedly signed the letter that commits her to attending games (all of these as her schedule permits), being at practices, wearing FSU jerseys when appropriate, having fun, and cheering the Fighting Falcons.

I stood on the gym floor, watching both the action on the platform and viewing the north-side bleachers filled with some 300 student athletes. No digital distractions… only rapt attention and lots of smiles. Everyone recognized Cheyenne’s signing as a special moment, a selfless act to celebrate and remember. The stands erupted in cheers and standing ovation when Cheyenne signed and looked up… beaming. Misty-eyed, I observed the celebration, thinking about the core of intercollegiate athletics. As we opened the ceremony, I spoke briefly, offering my own unofficial FSU Athletics Mission Statement: “To inspire, educate, and develop… values-based citizens and leaders… committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service.”

I saw the Mission being lived at Feaster, as 300 future leaders and citizens stood in unison, to lift a very special young lady. A ten-year-old who will change lives… who already has. Our soccer team will win some games, and will taste losses on the field of play. Most importantly, they will remain undefeated on the field of life with Cheyenne among them. Cheyenne is, quite simply, The Heart of the Team. Both virtual and real, The Heart will alter their lives… from this day forward. I will venture to say that Cheyenne symbolizes the Heart of FSU Athletics.

I’ve said many times that success requires four levels of fitness: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I commend coach Heembrock for integrating all four – Cheyenne adds magic and substance to the team’s reach for excellence and four-level-fitness. This special four-level sauce is not limited to athletics. Although not catalyzed and symbolized so beautifully as in Cheyenne, other programs have similar recipes and results. I think of our O-SIX Center (National Security and Intelligence), FSU Honors, our Robotics program, and many others.

A confession: I watched the Cheyenne-signing ceremony on video at home the next day. Oh, how my tears flowed freely! We are succeeding at Fairmont State University in so many ways. And I experience frequent misty-eyed-moments as I witness first-hand how we are changing lives. I am thinking deeply… this university deserves all the deep thought I can employ, prompt, and inspire in others too many to name. And I am having fun… laughing just as Coach V prescribed. I tell folks often that I am working too hard not to have fun.

The heart of FSU and Fairmont now beats within me, and its echoes will go with me after this rewarding interim term. I will carry The Heart of Cheyenne within me for the rest of my years. She symbolizes in many ways the FSU I will remember.

The Nature Realm

I remind you that we humans are one with Nature, not separate from it. It follows then that Human Nature and Nature are inseparable. Tomorrow (September 17) I will hike at Dolly Sods, a National Wilderness at ~4,000′ elevation just a couple hours from here. I will certainly develop a Blog post or two around that venture. Dolly Sods will infect me with another variant of the humility and inspiration that the Cheyenne Signing spurred. Special people, special places, and special acts of love and kindness stir us. The Cheyenne Signing evokes the same exquisite elements of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that Nature inspires.

Interestingly, because I now approach Human events and interactions by employing those same four powerful verb forces of Looking, Seeing, Feeling, and Acting, I experience them through my entire body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Life is too short to rush through only skin deep. Full immersion is a requisite for deep experience… with meaning, merit, and fulfillment absorbed and enjoyed. My Board Chair last evening via email, commenting on a Board protocol issue we are jointly addressing, encouraged me while at Dolly Sods to “clear your head of administrative cobwebs!” Such sage advice. Dealing with day to day issues and annoyances pales in significance to the Heart of a Team, and to the Spirit of Dolly Sods.

Great Blue Heron urges you to distinguish true problems from annoyances and to notice and appreciate the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of both Human Nature and Nature!


Three Essential Steps Toward Nature Center DREAM Fulfillment

August 24, 2017 Dr. Cheryl Charles, Executive Director Nature Based Leadership Institute, and I presented a half-day workshop at the Magnolia Summit, the 23rd annual meeting of the Association of Nature Center Administrators. Our workshop: Three Essential Steps Toward Your Center’s DREAM Fulfillment. Twenty-six nature center directors from 18 states and Mexico participated. We posted this description in advance to Summit registrants, who self-selected to our session:

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Our careers in forestry, leadership, and nature and environmental education have led us to proselytize that education matters most (and perhaps only) when it is purpose-driven, passion-fueled, and results-oriented. The wisdom applies richly to environmental education centers. This workshop will inspire, educate, and enable participants to identify, leverage, and enhance their capacity to inject passion and purpose into managing centers and spreading the gospel of Earth Stewardship and applying nature’s wisdom to life, living, and serving.

Cheryl and I split the duties and jointly facilitated discussions among the participants. We explained the workshop purpose: To help the choir sing a little more clearly; to deepen the faith of the already converted. And to explore applying the Wisdom and Power of Nature to:

  1. Leading your center
  2. Focusing your approach through a Nature-polished lens
  3. Recasting your vision
  4. Fulfilling your center’s DREAM

I oriented the group to Nature-Inspired Living and Learning via six examples of lessons indelibly written in or powerfully inspired by Nature. Six lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading that we drew from our own experiences in Nature:

  1. Nature is a force lever for humility and inspiration, complementary elements of effective leadership – try leading without deep humility and absolute inspiration. I offered my tale of climbing Mount Quigley and seeing Denali up close for the first time.
  2. Making the most of living and learning necessitates knowing, understanding, appreciating, anticipating, and acting in response to the seasons of life, enterprise, and every single thing! I reflected on the high latitude seasonal fluxes in Fairbanks, AK.
  3. We can effectively live, learn, serve, and lead only if we know our place in the world, and cling tenaciously to impermeable principles, value, and tenets, including personal integrity and professional ethics. I excerpted Robert Service’s “Security,” a limpet-themed parable for “Clinging Like Hell to Your Rock.”
  4. Longfellow once said, “The purpose of that tree is to add a little new wood each year.” Nature instructs that every organism, and for that matter every enterprise, must have purpose. What is yours?
  5. The eagle evokes different viewpoints in man (noble, regal, inspiration) and rabbit (peril, death, fear). Nature teaches the imperative of perspective among all enterprise participants.
  6. Our role as leaders involves revealing the magic, awe, beauty, and wonder that lies hidden within. I employed my orb weaver tale of hundreds of webs be-jeweled with dewdrops backlit by morning sun, as illustration of how the right conditions can reveal what lies within.

Again, these are six examples – not The Six Lessons, but merely six of many.

We then presented our three essential steps toward nature center fulfillment:

  1. Viewing your center as an organism within an ecosystem. I have written about this approach extensively in other GBH Blog posts. This is how I see any enterprise, individual, organization, or even educational institution. The same holds as the basis for my Forestland Legacy Stories. Any enterprise can be examined in such an ecosystem context.
  2. Learning to Look, See, Feel, and Act. Those four basic verbs are central to all that we at Great Blue Heron, LLC do. Again, so many of us suffer sensory deprivation, glued to our digital devices, unable, unwilling, and unfeeling to the glorious world around us. We are deprived by the tyranny of the digitally urgent.
  3. Defining and realizing your center’s DREAM. Some of my fundamental guidelines include:
    • Be aspirational
    • Reach beyond your immediate grasp
    • Understand your limitations
    • Know your strengths and weaknesses
    • Catalog your competition; identify your symbionts; carve your niche and exploit it
    • Distinguish DREAM from fantasy
    • Be specific in defining your center’s future desired condition
    • Dedicate your team to the DREAM
    • Develop Strategic, Business, and Operational Plans; remember that nature’s plans are embedded in DNA, complete with a full set of time-tested contingencies

We enjoyed discussing these topics and many more with our workshop participants. We are eager to see whether our precepts take root. We learned a great deal – we hope the nature center administrators did as well. We remain convinced that the emerging field of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading will infect, enable, and motivate others.

I closed by offering how a mission statement for a nature center of my creation might read: To inspire, educate, and enable values-based Nature enthusiasts, committed to practicing Earth stewardship, applying Nature’s wisdom and power, and seeking a brighter tomorrow. After all, that is my mission as Great Blue Heron, CEO and author.


Featured Image: Great Blue Heron, LLC co-sponsored the ANCA Magnolia Summit

August 2, 2018 One-Month Reflections

I spoke last Wednesday evening to the 300 folks gathered at the University’s Falcon Center. I include it as a GBH Blog to provide a sense of what GBH can do with a deep dive into any entity… perhaps yours.

My Condensed Remarks

Such a pleasure for me to speak at the 64th Annual Dinner of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce! I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce myself and spell out my dream for this six-month interim presidency.

I’m a forester who just happens to be a university president. Since my 12 years in the paper and allied products manufacturing industry, this is my ninth university; my fourth as president. Coming here is my 13th interstate move. Those moves and the experiences along the way have shaped and sculpted who I am. Four words encapsulate deep lessons from my life’s journey — lessons that guide me today. Humility; Inspiration; Adversity; Adventure.

I vividly recall seeing Alaska’s Mount Denali, North America’s highest at 20,322 feet, for the first time. From my vantage point atop nearby Mount Quigley, Denali struck me like a thunderbolt. There before me stood the most magnificent sight of my life. Craning my head back, I strained to visually capture the overwhelming image of snow fields, glaciers, and vertical rock faces towering above me. In that single instant, I felt absolute humility (I was nothing; I had accomplished nothing). Simultaneously, a powerful sense of inspiration washed over me. I feel that same sense of humility leading FSU and an equal measure of inspiration.

Eight years later, as Judy and I enjoyed a daylight walk after dinner, the driver of a two-ton SUV ran a stop sign, plowed into us, ejecting us many feet. Ambulances transported us to the hospital, banged up, hurting, but nothing life threatening. The incident awakened us, brutally reminding us that life is fragile and fleeting. That each tomorrow is a gift… not a guarantee. The lead character in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural observed, “We have two lives to live; the one we learn with, and the life we live after that one.” This FSU interim presidency is an element of my second life. Adversity led me into deeper purpose.

Helen Keller noted during her sunset years, “Life is either a daring Adventure, or nothing.” Serving FSU is the next chapter of my own daring adventure. I am grateful for the sculpting life forces: Humility; Inspiration; Adversity; and Adventure.

A month into my six-month appointment, I have precious little time to effectively bridge the gap to my permanent successor. I am determined to pass the torch with my conscience clear… that I have done all I can to smooth the transition. Here are the highlights.

I will dissuade our FSU community of the fatalistic notion of our perceived total dependence on the fortunes (or mis-fortunes) emanating from Charleston (WV’s Capital). I will insist that we avoid being a victim of a woe-is-us attitude. Jettison our absolute despair because West Virginia high school demographics are declining. Forget the pitiful wailing that the state doesn’t give us enough money and that we are doomed forever to do more with less. No, I do not suggest that we abandon our West Virginia regional university status

Instead, we must rise above that self-fulfilling, doomsday prophesy! Clearly establish and express our brand, identity and image. Capitalize on the magic, beauty, awe and wonder of this special place. We are a collection of compelling stories – seek them; capture them; tell them! Attract increasing enrollment from out of state and internationally. Forge intimate, reciprocal partnerships with business, industry, organizations and communities. Strengthen and expand our online programs and degrees.

Enable the new president to rapidly accelerate, embed in this wonderful community, and rely upon the interdependence that will lift FSU into a bright future

I am blessed and privileged to serve FSU, Fairmont, Marion County, and our collective future.

Application to Great Blue Heron

As I have observed in previous Blogs, I view every enterprise through an ecosystems lens. I have concluded that this university is not exploiting the fertile ground it occupies. It has self-imposed attitudinal and aspirational constraints. The gap between potential and realization is one of Human Nature… not the bounds of Nature (i.e. virtual ecosystem attributes). This first month, a period of discovery, must now shift to five months of action. The team is behind me. The action is underway. Together, we are passion-fueled; purpose-driven; and results-oriented. I am having the time of my life!

Football Season Already!

It’s August! Still summer, yet I’m preparing remarks to welcome new and returning football players and coaches to campus for the August 5, first official day of fall practice. My remarks, while crafted specifically to this purpose, fit any enterprise. Although I will not preach my full-throated Nature-Inspired sermon to the team, I could easily do so. My approach, instead, will be more Human Nature than Nature.

I will explain the fundamentals of leading a university… in terms familiar to them:

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Assessing performance; improving performance
  • Learning from my teammates; from my mistakes
  • Understanding my own weaknesses
  • Trusting and depending upon others
  • Knowing the playbook
  • Calling the right plays; executing them
  • Reaching beyond our grasp; then mastering the grasp, and reaching again
  • Inspiring and motivating
  • Rewarding
  • Celebrating success; learning from failure
  • Setting goals
  • Keeping the mission clear… and foremost
  • Working hard and having fun
  • Maintaining fitness; staying sharp and focused

Sounds a lot like football — and, too, like life and business.

I will review the four essential and inter-connected dimensions of fitness:

  • Physical — preparing the body for optimum performance.
  • Mental — Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
  • Emotional — relationships provide support, stability, and anchorage. Mind and body cannot function fully in the absence of a strong emotional core. Nobody stands alone.
  • Spiritual — nothing is more important than believing and trusting in something larger and greater than we.

I will tell them about Jim Valvano, coach of the 1983 NC State University men’s basketball National Champions. Coach Valvano hit the motivational speaking circuit ten years later, facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. He implored audiences to employ three things that everyone should do each day:

  • Think deeply about something important to someone in your life — spend time in thought
  • Laugh hard and often
  • Feel something to the point of tears
  • “If you think, laugh, and cry — that’s a heck of a day!”

Failure — we seldom learn by doing things well. Michael Jordan famously observed this about failing:

  • “I missed more than 9,000 shots in my career
  • I’ve lost almost 300 games
  • 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot… and missed
  • I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life
  • And that is why I succeed”

Raw talent alone amounts to little. General Colin Powell observed:

  • “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic
  • It takes sweat
  • Determination
  • And hard work!”

I will close my remarks to the team with some personal reflections:

  • I am 66 years old
  • I think, laugh, and shed tears every day
  • I begin each morning with vigorous exercise
  • I can still bench press well over my body weight
  • I am a former marathon runner — I still do cardio training pre-dawn every day
  • I am addicted to living
  • I am committed to serving

Now I will close this Blog — Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure… or nothing.” My interim presidency at Fairmont State University is a daring adventure. Same for my work with Great Blue Heron, LLC… and for my writing. What about your life and the enterprise you lead — a daring adventure? Are you daily incorporating Nature’s elixir into living, learning, serving, and leading? Glance at the photo of FSU’s football stadium — wooded hillsides; lifting morning fog; the promise of a new day in north central West Virginia. The beauty and setting alone mists my eyes, lifts me for the day, and stirs deep contemplation.

Great Blue Heron can open your eyes to harnessing Nature’s Power and Wisdom. Please keep reading these Blogs. Drop me a line if you want to explore how we might together lift your enterprise… and boost your life.

Featured Image: Fairmont State University’s stadium emerging from dawn fog.


Looking Ahead to 2018

Don’t get me wrong — I am fully and positively engaged in my Fairmont State University journey, flourishing and reveling in the experience. Great people, a wonderful place, and an unrivaled cause. I count my blessings each and every day. Yet I must be ever-unconscious that this pleasant northern West Virginia passage is finite. July 25 — 14 percent of the way into my six-month Interim Presidency.

What is among those things that are falling into place beyond January 1, 2018?

  • I have just confirmed that I will be a keynote speaker February 8, 2018 at the Kansas Natural Resources Conference in Manhattan. KS. Anticipated audience of 300-350 natural resources professionals. Topic: Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Power. I’m planning to add a day or two to visit the Konza Prairie and other special natural features in the area, hosted by long-time friend Kansas State Forester Larry Biles.
  • I committed just this past week to doing a six-session workshop series in Huntsville, AL for Learning Quest (http://lquest.org/) spring 2018 at a date not yet confirmed. Topic: Nature’s Inspiration: Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom for Living, Learning, Serving, and Leading.
  • Likewise, I have accepted an invitation to speak to the Huntsville Chapter of the National Active & Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) in March or April, date yet to be determined. Topic: Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading.
  • Consulting Forestry colleague John Pirtle (https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-pirtle-86796920/) is lining up potential Forestland Legacy Story clients for us to visit after the first of the year. What a joy it will be to get back on the ground to explore and probe landowner tales of forest stewardship passion and commitment!
  • I am working with Tuscaloosa-based Westervelt Company to explore the possibility of a deep-dive Forestland Legacy Book-length Story for the venerable firm that for three generations has exemplified forest stewardship in action.

Having accepted this six-month FSU opportunity, I have made clear that Great Blue Heron, LLC is running at idle speed. That said, I will take a brief spin the latter part of August, revving the engine, blowing off the cobwebs, and making sure the thing still performs, to present with my colleague Dr. Cheryl Charles (Executive Director of the Nature Based Leadership Institute) a half-day workshop at the Magnolia Summit, the annual meeting of the Association of Nature Center Administrators. The venue is just two-hours from my Madison, AL home — at Camp McDowell. The workshop topic: Three Essential Steps Toward Realizing Your Center’s DREAM Fulfillment. Then a return to idle.

I will be prepared come January to get back behind the wheel. I intend for the next legs of my Great Blue Heron journey to be already mapped. As the back cover of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading makes clear, “Stephen B. Jones, a university president, lifetime champion of Nature, and founder of Great Blue Heron, LCC,” will continue to draw “upon his varied background as a natural resources scientist, educator, and philosopher to convert Nature’s time-tested wisdom into actionable insights… that will help you live, learn, serve, and lead while engaging in responsible Earth stewardship.”

Featured Image: Just last week, while I am in temporary residence at WV’s Fairmont State University, Big Blue visited Judy back home in Alabama, landing atop the next-door neighbor’s porch roof, perhaps searching for me, curious concerning my extended absence!

An Ecosystems Approach to My Interim Presidency

My approach to learning and evaluating, and then developing recommendations for any enterprise varies little from how I would have assessed (and then managed) a wooded property when I practiced forestry. I have been retained as Interim President to learn, evaluate, and make recommendations here at Fairmont State University (FSU).

A Broad Overview and Context

A physical and biological overview: 120 acres (our FSU campus) in north-central West Virginia’s Allegheny Plateau region. The Allegheny Mountain section (highlands that include some of my favorite places in the eastern US) lies one county to our east. Beyond that, the Ridge and Valley province where I spent my first 18 years. This FSU location places me in a natural ecosystem much like the home country that shaped and inspired me. The social, cultural, and economic elements are also not much different. In many ways, I am home… which reduces the slope of my learning curve. Not the steeper climb I would have faced had this been a regional public university in Arizona (or some such location distinctly different from my region of familiarity).

I’ll begin with the critters who frequent my mid-campus Shaw House (President’s residence) environs: a doe and two fawns (see Featured Image), ground hog, two rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons, crows, a red-shouldered hawk, cardinals, sparrows, and many other feathered friends. We are surrounded by campus, yet Nature abounds. Likewise, within our Shaw House acre or so: white pine, Scots pine, hemlock, red oak, red and sugar maple, walnut, locust, various familiar ornamental trees and shrubs. A rich and satisfying natural environment. Yet that tells me little about FSU. Sure, I’m not the first person associated with the university to observe its special natural character. Here’s a catalog excerpt from 150 years ago, emphasizing the wonderful natural setting: “in the midst of a landscape of surprising healthfulness, beauty, and loveliness.”

We absolutely do occupy a hillside, climbing from the Locust Avenue entrance (elevation at ~950 feet above sea level) on the south side to beyond the athletic fields and physical plant to the north (at ~1,150 feet). My GPS confirmed the modest 200-foot relief; walking from Locust to the top demands more work than I would expect from 200 feet. I visited the Education building last week, entering the first floor at ground level (south entrance), taking the open atrium stairs to the third, and noticing that I emerged at ground level on the north-side. I am told we remove winter’s snow from several thousand external stairs!

Parents, students, alumni, faculty, and staff view the campus, its presentation, and the surroundings quite favorably. Happy campers by and large. Yeah, I know, some lament the hills and stairs. I can just imagine the way-too-steep ice rink with freezing rain, sleet, and snow. I’m assured physical plant manages those conditions well. Overall, I view the institution’s location (topography, climate, natural amenities, landscaping, buildings, and facilities) very favorably. We are blessed as well to be, in some ways, centrally isolated — within four hours’ drive of Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Charleston. Yet we have immediate access to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia… Almost Heaven!

A Special Institution with Promise and Potential

Our university organism is solid, competitive, and sustainable, yet evidences potential beyond realization. We have some very good programs that could be excellent. Some areas where we could (and must) build enrollment. Some partnerships we could forge, strengthen, and exploit. Some resources and bounty we could more aggressively pursue and gather. Some strong elements we can elevate. Some process/practice and organizational adjustments and personnel shifts are in order. We also have quite a few wonderful stories we are not telling well. In fact, I’m not sure we know the depth and breadth of those stories. After all, I have said repeatedly, an institution like ours is more than its buildings, classrooms, labs, programs, staff, faculty, and students… much more. We are a collection of stories, stretching across time and extending through the university’s ages, and beyond to no future date certain. Of greatest interest, impact, and potency are the tales of tradition, of the living, and those to come. The mighty oak is, too, a collection of stories. Height, diameter, crown spread, condition of its wood, dominance within the forest, old wounds, breakage, and the record of its annual rings. I can examine a tree, its location, its competitors, and its annual rings, and re-construct its story. The timeline at FSU matches the mighty oak (or the mighty walnut framing Hardway Hall).

Who are the oak’s competitors… its symbionts, like mycorrhizae? Its exposure to agents of change and potential destruction. Consumers (insects and fungi). Factors of productivity where it resides and is rooted. Exposure to risks — wind, ice, heavy snow loads. What can we alter through forestry to benefit the oak? The same kinds of considerations apply to assessing FSU. I examine the forest with eyes wide open, head clear, and a full checklist of elements I must examine, assess, and affect. I am applying that same kind of wisdom and practice here at Fairmont State. I’m bringing fresh (and informed) eyes. Too often, those members of a university community (or any enterprise) who are deeply (in place and time) embedded at an institution are not able to look — truly look — the way that I do through eyes not dimmed by familiarity and comfort.

No Time to Dally!

I am taking that same ecosystem approach here at FSU. We must look, see, feel, and act. Those who do not know (or refuse to discover), or are unable to discern the stories, may be doomed to accepting or ensuring mediocrity. Comfort dampens aspiration. Satisfaction and contentment do not lift the bar. FSU is not mediocre, yet it does fall short of its potential. The institution did not hire me to coast through six months, leaving critical evaluation, necessary adjustments, and tough decisions to the permanent president who will follow my term. I intend to report my findings and present my action-recommendations to the Board. They will direct me to act… or not. I am publishing this Blog on my 18th day in service to FSU. Normally, were this the beginning of a 4-7-year presidency, 18 days would be enough time to dip my toes into the water, before wading into the shallow end of the pool, and then eventually swimming. Eighteen days is 0.7 percent of seven years… yet it is 10 percent of six months!

After just 18 days of total immersion, I believe that my recommendations are 85 percent complete. Eighteen days is an ample immersion period for the kind of consulting I would undertake for a business/organization and its extant CEO and leadership team. This time, however, I will be leading the enterprise while implementing the recommendations the Board adopts. Because I am now ten percent of the way into my tenure as interim, I/we do not have the luxury of time. Not if we are to collectively set the stage for the next president to hit the ground surging ahead.

I will present recommendations to the Board at its July 20 full-day retreat (11 percent in!). I appreciate and relish the ecosystem within which FSU operates. In forestry parlance, we can increase forest productivity here at FSU. The future can be one of rising to our potential. I am excited by what I see and envision. Much that is good (and great!) lies ahead. I am eager to help lead the way.


Featured Image: Two fawns photographed through the beveled glass on the Shaw House front door. Hence the double image of each twin.

Four New Killdeer Residents — Deep Lessons from our Partnership with Nature

May 20, 2017, we noticed a six-inch diameter dimple in the round elevated bed (where we had planted one of our backyard specimen trees — a Japanese maple — earlier in the spring) 15 feet from the patio. We wondered what bird had taken the time to make its mark… and why? The next day as I walked past to retrieve the shovel leaning nearby against the house, a killdeer sounded alarm, lurching away in full broken-wing anguish. Ah, I knew that trick of distraction. There in the dimple sat a single, spotted tawny egg. Mystery solved. Over the next few days, the female deposited three more. We watched the nest, mom and dad, and the eggs, soothing the frantic parents (well, we said words intended to soothe; the birds simply chirped, screamed, and did the broken-wing thing) whenever landscape duties took us close.

We left for Pittsburgh to visit our son and his family June 15, knowing that the incubation period was nearing an end. Sure enough, our neighbor texted June 19, to announce that four killdeer hatchlings emerged that day, and almost immediately, as killdeer young do, wandered off with their parents before Deborah could grab her camera. We returned home June 21, and have seen hide nor hair (feathers, I suppose) of the brood. Still, we celebrated the successful hatch.

June 22, I exited the patio door early morning, and witnessed a sparrow hustle away from the large flower pot at the bed-edge adjacent to the stoop, moving in a manner clearly intended to draw my attention. No flying for this bird. After a couple repeat retreats by our friend, I ventured a look into the petunias and coleus, where I found a tiny nest and three bluish eggs. [Note that I referred to the bird as a sparrow. Sorry, that’s the best i.d. I can offer. If I attempted to narrow to species, I would do so with very little confidence.] Once again, the recent landscaping around our new home, built in a rather sterile former agriculture field, planted to houses within the past three years, is providing essential habitat to avian wildlife.

The willows (native, naturally seeded, and now growing profusely) at our shore are home to two red-wing blackbird nests. The males are such territorial aggressors. Pity any bird wondering near. The duck family (the ten ducklings) no longer swims, forages, and comports as a tight regiment. The youngsters, as large as momma, have begun to venture forth on their own or in groups of two and three. They are flying! We seldom see our family of four goslings, or perhaps the young are big enough that we don’t spot them as such.

My point in all this — we humans are one with nature. We clear the woods, plant crops for a few decades, scrape out a four-acre pond, and then parcel the land to one-third acre lots, grow a few houses, put in a bit of grass, flowers, and shrubs, and look out — birds, turtles, frogs, toads, snakes, and other critters move in with us. Such a joyous explosion of life. I wonder, though, how many of our human neighbors notice… and rejoice? Do others appreciate the richness and bounty the way we do? How many actually LOOK, and of them, what subset can really SEE? Even fewer, I suppose, can FEEL and sense the power of this natural world we share. And how many feel deeply enough to ACT on behalf of assuring that nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe extend through our generation and beyond. How many can articulate and practice an Earth ethic… the basic tenets of Earth stewardship?

Great Blue Heron, LLC helps people look, see, feel, and act in a manner reflective of our place in the world. Our little paradise on Big Blue Lake reminds me that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by nature. My advice: occasionally (even frequently) forget the hand-held device; escape the absolute tyranny of the urgent; open your eyes; breathe the magic of the world around you. Whether a nearby natural area, a formal wilderness, or a landscaped suburban lot, the magic is within reach. Choose to embrace it!


Featured Photo: Look closely behind the terribly disturbed/annoyed killdeer doing the broken-wing act — see her four eggs!

A Special Assignment: Interim President Fairmont State University

Across the forty-four years since earning my forestry bachelors degree, I have been blessed by unbelievable opportunity and good fortune. These past 12 months have led me to publish two books (the second scheduled for release mid-summer) and create and launch Great Blue Heron, LLC. Now another alignment of serendipity and fortuity! Effective late July 1, 2017, I will serve through December, 2017, as Interim President, Fairmont State University (http://www.fairmontstate.edu/) in Fairmont, WV. Fairmont State is a regional public university a little less than 100 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA.

MISSION STATEMENT: The Mission of Fairmont State University is to provide opportunities for individuals to achieve their professional and personal goals and discover roles for responsible citizenship that promote the common good.

VISION STATEMENT: Fairmont State University aspires to be nationally recognized as a model for accessible learner-centered institutions that promote student success by providing comprehensive education and excellent teaching, flexible learning environments, and superior services. Graduates will have the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind necessary for intellectual growth, full and participatory citizenship, employability, and entrepreneurship in a changing environment.

The FSU campus lies about 1,000 feet above sea level where the Tygart and West Fork Rivers join to form the Monongahela, which meets 128-miles downstream (and north) with the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. The area is rich in human and natural history. Located in the Western Allegheny Plateau geographic province, Fairmont lies fifty or so miles west of Maryland’s Allegheny Highlands and the eastern continental divide, one of my favorite places on the planet! My first two collegiate summers, I worked in that region on the Savage River State Forest, 30 miles west of my home in Cumberland, MD.

Even as I engage fully in leading FSU, I will relish the gift of re-immersion in the cultural and natural environments that return me (body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit) back home! I pledge my all to stewarding FSU, and to viewing my natural and cultural home through the lens of 66 life-years. I likewise promise myself to LOOK, SEE, FEEL, and ACT with the wisdom and inspiration I derive from Nature! I will draw strength, intention, and emotion through fresh eyes (really, all my senses). My approach to leading FSU as an interim president: purpose-driven; passion-fueled; results-oriented.

I am eager for this journey to begin. Bernard Malamud (The Natural) said through his lead character: “We have two lives to live… the life we learn with and the life we live after that.” Granted, I will continue to learn, yet I also view this interim presidency as a critically meaningful facet of my second life! I am grateful to the Board and University for selecting me. I promise to return dividends to FSU, my GBH clients, readers of my books and blogs, and to me and my family. I am already a better person — buoyed by the inspiration of the challenge; humbled by the responsibility to lead yet another team.



Experience Filters Perspective: Seeing Life and Enterprises through a Maturing Lens

I recall as a student climbing and crawling about the high school gymnasium sub-ceiling catwalks, setting spotlights for dances and like events. Among other tasks, I adjusted aim and orientation, and placed tinted filters over the lenses, all to achieve the desired floor effect. I haven’t adjusted a ceiling light filter in the nearly fifty years since. Yet I do look through other lenses, my own eyes, today filtered not by pigmented plastic frames, but by years of experience, decades of learning, and perhaps a modicum of greater wisdom. Some shades and filters I have chosen to adopt; others have been imposed by life-events and time.

I’ll begin with the mundane. As a high school student, I thought nothing of being thirty feet above the hardwood floor. I now find replacing a light bulb while standing on a footstool a bit daunting! I ran marathons (26.2 miles) at just a tad over seven minutes per mile and ten-Ks at a six-minute pace. Today, I consider walking at 15 minutes per mile fast! Thirty years and 45 pounds exact a toll, but neither constitutes a life-event. Here are some life-events that have matured my personal and professional filters:

  • We now have five grandchildren. Our generational reach extends further into a future less certain than ever. What can I do to make tomorrow brighter for them?
  • My mother died April 17 (see my April 20, 2017 blog). Judy and I had already lost both Dads and Judy’s Mom. There is now no generational buffer between us and our eventual demise. A sobering thought, one that prompts us even more to strive, while time allows, to make a positive difference for those who follow.
  • May 3, 2012, a hit-and-run driver plowed into us with a two-ton SUV (see my May 7, 2017 blog). We have a far greater appreciation for life, recognizing that there are no guarantees for tomorrow.
  • I’ve published a book (Nature Based Leadership; http://bookstore.liferichpublishing.com/AdvancedSearch/Default.aspx?searchterm=Nature%20Based%20Leadership) and submitted my second, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, to the publisher. I had not anticipated that being a published author would alter my own lens, as well as how people view me, yet the published-author filter does modify vision.
  • Finally, I spent 44 years largely self-defined by career stops: Working Circle Forester; Professor; Extension Director; Vice Chancellor; University CEO. Semi-retired since July 2016, I admit to struggling with this new identity that does not revolve around a job and a paycheck.

I apply these recently added or modified filters to Great Blue Heron, my writing and speaking, my volunteering, my role as a spouse of 45 years, and my parenting and grand-parenting. The filters permit, and even encourage, a more mature vision, interpretation, and deliberate action. I recall my maternal grandmother saying, “The older I get, the faster time goes.” I could not imagine how that could be, yet with a 66th birthday just 60 days out, I see the wisdom and veracity of her statement. Our filters of experience and perspective as we approach life and career sunset affect so much of what we see. My writing, speaking, and consulting leverage that enhanced vision — allowing me to harness the power and wisdom I have gleaned from time, experience, and Nature to the service of individuals, enterprises, and my own life and vocation.

I am intent upon leaving a durable and lasting mark on tomorrow. Great Blue Heron, LLC is my vocational vehicle for touching the future.

Feature Photo Note: Nature and Life filter our vision, modify our perspective, and draw wisdom we can harness in service to living, learning, serving, and leading.

Fifth Year Anniversary — An Unpleasant Encounter; A Fortuitous Outcome

May 3, 2012, Judy and I experienced an unforgettable life-event. We had taken an after-dinner walk, still in full daylight. We circuited through our Urbana University campus, and were now within sight of our off-campus home. We crossed a secondary street intersection, “protected” by a stop sign. Any vehicle approaching the crossroads from our right would be stopping. I vaguely recall a vehicle a block away heading in our direction. We glanced to our left, and continued across. Mid-way we both sensed (saw, heard, and/or felt) something to our right. I remember uttering “Holy Shit!” at near the instant of impact as a two-ton SUV crashed into us.

Taller than Judy, I rolled up onto the hood, as the driver slammed on the brakes, which then ejected me forward tens of feet. Judy took the full force without the hood roll-over. I can close my eyes still and see her air-borne, backward, landing hard on her bottom and elbows, and then her upper torso whipsawed the back of her head onto the pavement. I landed beyond her, somehow rolling as I hit the macadam.

Judy was lifting herself into a sitting position, as I found my feet (and my cell phone), intent upon calling ‘911’ to report our plight and the license number of the tan SUV, squealing away from us in reverse. The driver (with passenger) raced the full block, escaping to the east. Judy suffered a concussion, 38 stitches, permanent peripheral vision impairment, and continuing PTSD roadside walking and driving (or riding) in traffic-congested zones. My left wrist crushed, ribs broken or badly bruised, I felt sore all over for weeks.

We were fortunate – no life-threatening injuries. The paramedics arrived within minutes, immediately tending Judy’s bleeding head wound and securing first her and then me on back-boards, slipping us into matching emergency vans, and transporting us to the hospital, sirens sounding and lights flashing. Our neighbor on the corner was cutting her grass, looked up as we were in mid-flight. She said later, “I feared you were dead; you were caught by angels.”

The driver? His passenger snitched on him the second day later. His license had already been suspended from prior vehicular violations. Over the 46 hours between impact and arrest, he had sold the SUV, and replaced the invalid tags on it with another set, similarly expired. No wonder the license number I reported did not generate the owner’s identity. Turns out this man, with his long record of arrests and even incarceration, lived in the apartment complex across the street from us – with his girlfriend and their toddler child. The driver is near the end of his six-and-one-half-year sentence in a State prison. I pray he will emerge a better man, ready to re-enter society as a productive citizen and responsible father.

What does all of this have to do with my life and vocation? My love of nature? Five years ago, we received a powerful wake up call. We awoke to the harsh and sobering reality that life is fleeting and fragile. We control little. Tomorrow is not a sure-thing. Each day is a gift. Those who are precious and mean the world to us could be gone in an instant. The lessons? Embrace life fully each day – every minute. Love and hug those whom you hold dear. Don’t waste purpose, passion, and time on the superfluous. Break from the digital world of distraction, fluffed with mediocrity and bereft of meaning. Savor the moment.

I now view the natural world around me with greater appreciation and insight. I more consciously look, more purposefully see, and more deliberately feel. And with greater discipline, I interpret what I see and feel via my writing. I want to spread the gospel of nature’s richness and wisdom… of humanity’s absolute dependence upon the natural world that sustains us.

As the hit and run enlightened me, I know that our existence as a species is likewise fragile and fleeting. Are we committing the equivalent of driving irresponsibly? Operating only for the moment, rushing to our next appointment, negligent of the lives and world around us. Throwing our trajectory into reverse after the impact is too late. Hit and run? Not an option — there’s no place to run. The laws and consequence of nature are unavoidable… unforgiving.

Did the SUV driver understand the consequence of driving impaired? I’m not intimating that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs – because police did not identify or confront him for nearly two days, there is no way of knowing. Nevertheless, he was impaired – by poor judgment, inattentiveness, lousy attitude, or other distractions. In some ways, what led to the driver’s crime may not differ much from our own headlong rush into humanity’s planet stewardship point of no return.

Mr. Smith (I do know his name, yet I see no need to air it in this essay) is paying a price. I am convinced (and hopeful) that he is redeemable. Does the same hope extend to humanity? If only Mr. Smith had awakened with the birth of his son, or at some other point prior to his encounter with Judy and me. He could have avoided going six years without his girlfriend and little boy. What price are we societally likely to pay if we do not awaken?

I am grateful that we suffered no greater physical harm. Angels did catch us. I accept the wakeup call as a blessing. My life is changed… for the better.

May 3, 2012 opened my eyes – to a larger purpose. As a forester and doctoral-trained applied ecologist, and a former university CEO, I envisioned and created Great Blue Heron, LLC. Through my writing, speaking, and consulting, I am devoting my life to championing the cause of nature-inspired learning and leading. My ultimate intent is to enhance lives and enterprise success, even as my efforts sow the seeds for responsible Earth stewardship.

Nature-inspired learning and leading accepts and promotes that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in, or is compellingly inspired by Nature. I hold that every human enterprise can benefit from applying Nature’s wisdom. However, most individuals and businesses are blind to that natural wisdom. How can we overcome the blindness, and awaken the senses so that we might achieve success for humanity… before it’s too late?

Great Blue Heron can help you and your enterprise find your way.

Accompanying Photo: Taking a break from drafting these thoughts this morning, I watched Big Blue stalking our shoreline for breakfast. Since May 3, 2012, I make time for immersing in such escape and inspiration.