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

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

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

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

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

Pleasant Wildness at the Park

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

The Zest of Seasoning

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

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

Leopold also noted:

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

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

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

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

Nearby Attractions

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

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

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

 

Life Lessons and Wisdom from Our DeSoto State Park Visit

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

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty: My Keynote Atop the Mountain

This is the fourth and final post from my February 28-March 2 visit to Cheaha State Park. I joined some 120 environmental educators attending the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama (EE AA). The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely.

My first EE AA meeting post provided a broad conference and Cheaha overview: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/05/magic-and-wonder-on-the-mountain-an-inspiring-conference-at-cheaha-state-park/ (Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park). My second EE AA blog post explored a conflicting set of  reactions and reflections to something we observed from the Rock Garden overlook during an interpretive hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/11/scars-upon-the-land-thoughts-stirred-by-a-view-from-cheahas-rock-garden/. The third post presented the exhilarating diversity of non-flowering plants I encountered during the limited time I ventured outdoors at Cheaha in intermittent rain and nearly continuous fog: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/20/non-flowering-plants-atop-the-mountain-at-cheaha-ee-aa-annual-conference/.

This post summarizes and highlights my keynote address: Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty. One hundred thirty years ago John Muir wrote, “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” I love the phrase, the ultimate descriptor of my own sentiments toward Nature. I believe that Muir, as do I, viewed the infinite storm of beauty as both literal and metaphorical.

Who could not accept that term to describe the sunset from Bald Rock February 28! I shared with the audience my emotional exhilaration as I walked the trail just hours before the keynote, the heart-pounding thrill of being back atop Cheaha. I mentioned the spiritual dimension of Nature’s power and influence over me. We discussed my secular bible, Aldo Leopold’s 1949 A Sand County Almanac. Several excerpts from his Almanac are at least as relevant today as 70 years prior:

  • “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
  • “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers”
  • “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”
  • “…the most fun lies in seeing and studying the unknown.”
  • “The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands.”

My Mission and Theirs

For the first time in my life I have written an actual self-mission statement: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth stewardship. Ironically, I discovered as I prepared for the keynote, that EE AA’s mission is uncannily similar: Our mission is to enhance the abilities of formal and informal educators to connect people to the natural world in order to foster responsible stewardship. I had come to the right group to share my message to encourage and seek a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

I related one such literal storm of beauty, from my first book, Nature Based Leadership, describing my attempt to summit New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak at 6,288-feet (January 2015). The lower elevations, covered in dense northern hardwood and white pine forests, held a two-foot snowpack. Scudding clouds, brisk breezes, and upper teens greeted us at the base (perhaps 1,500-foot elevation). We could see Washington’s east face to 4,500-feet clearly.

Above, spindrift raced across the upper slopes and summit, obscuring our view. We slowly ascended into spruce-fir forest, the trees shortening as we climbed to shrub spruce-fir, to tundra above 4,500 feet. There, the wind howled, and the blowing snow spurred donning our goggles and securing our arctic clothing. By 5,000 feet, visibility dipped in and out of zero; the ground blizzard blasted us; gusts knocked us from our feet more than once. Another two-to-three hundred feet vertical marked our apogee. We encountered fresh ten-foot drifts. The summit observatory reported winds in excess of 100 MPH and ambient temperatures well below zero. We risked life and limb by choosing other than to turn tail.

Just three days before my address, friend and colleague Will Broussard, who serves as Director of Education at the Mount Washington Observatory emailed me, “Update: We’ve reached 171MPH!! New Feb record! 8th windiest day in history! Highest winds in 33 years! So lucky and terrified to be on the summit right now.” Will and I had spoken more than once about what I call Pleasurable Terror! How strikingly similar that he referred to his experience February 25, 2019 as combination good fortune and terror — an infinite storm of beauty! The ambient air temperature that afternoon on Mt Washington reached a high of only 14 degrees Fahrenheit below zero!

I shared other photographs, most from the past year, depicting Nature’s ubiquitous infinite storms of beauty, these two from my January visit to Gulf State Park (golf course lower left; pine savanna lower right):

 

 

 

 

Nothing beats a Gulf-shore sunrise during that same visit:

Or a lone slash pine silhouetted against a squadron of cirrus puffs at Gulf State Park (lower left). Nature’s magic and wonder take infinite shape and form. Lying on my back I captured cypress crown shyness above me on the boardwalk at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR; lower right). Like so many of us humans, we stand in our work-a-day worlds seeming shoulder to shoulder, yet never touching beyond the superficial. Crown shyness is both metaphorical and magically aesthetic, rich in magic and wonder in many dimensions.

Magic and wonder bless all seasons and every location we have called home, from winter-burdened (and decorated) spruce along the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska (lower left) to our narrowing driveway in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire (lower right).

 

 

 

 

To summer sunset in my Madison, Alabama neighborhood (lower left) to fall-planted longleaf pine bordering a Greenway and a cotton field near my current home (lower right).

John Muir wrote, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Aldo Leopold observed, “Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.” The cypress swamp (lower left) and flooded fields (lower right) near the WNWR visitors center corroborate Muir and Leopold’s wisdom.

Nature’s infinite storms of beauty know no bounds. Wendell Berry offered his own variation on Nature’s infinite storms of beauty, “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” A reality expressed below in two fall images at Camp McDowell and Conference Center.

And on that same McDowell visit, a frosty morning field and a glorious fall afternoon at an interior beaver pond.

 

 

 

 

 

Storms of beauty also come at many scales, from a lichen festooned musclewood (lower left; Carpinus carolinia) to a rain-water-soaked American beech (lower right; fagus grandifolia).

I could have gone on for scores more examples! Nature is indeed a source for infinite storms of beauty! My EE AA audience agreed. I reminded all of us that we are beauty-storm-stewards. Carl Sagan implored us some 20 years ago to recognize that we are alone on a mote of dust, a pale blue orb in the vast darkness of space. That no one will come from without to save us from ourselves. The burden of absolute responsibility is ours alone.

Earth Ethic

Aldo Leopold again enters the picture. We cannot survive indefinitely as a species and society unless we accept an Earth stewardship obligation. Leopold expressed prescient views in A Sand County Almanac, and offered them as eloquently 70 years ago as anyone since:

  • “Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.”
  • “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” For Leopold, a life-changing moment. What is yours?
  • “I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written’… It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.”
  • “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

All of Leopold’s  land ethic quotes correspond to my mission and EE AA’s. We are at one with Leopold. That leads me to my own purpose and passion. May 3, 2012, while taking an evening stroll in Urbana, Ohio, where I served as President, Urbana University, a motorist ran a stop sign as we were crossing an intersection, plowing into us and catapulting us scores of feet forward. We recovered, vowing to recognize that life is fleeting and fragile, and committing to make a difference with the remaining years of our lives. Novelist and playwright Bernard Malamud had the lead character in The Natural (his book and the resultant movie) say, “We have two lives to live. The one we learn with, and the one that comes after that.” Alabama’s own Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.” And finally, Horace Mann, the mid-twentieth century education scholar, said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I offer these quotes to buttress my personal mission statement (my second life; my daring adventure; my victory for humanity): Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth stewardship.

As a result, all that I do is purpose-driven, passion-fueled, and results-oriented. I lean heavily upon the perspective that Louis Bromfield, best-selling mid-twentieth century author and playwright, applied to the “old worn-out” farm he purchased in the 1930s. He devoted his life to rehabilitating the soil at Malabar, his name for the farm. He said in his non-fiction book about his devotion, Pleasant Valley, “The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.”

I must repeat Wendell Berry’s sentiment that echoes his own version of Nature’s infinite storm of beauty: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.”

My Final Thoughts on Alabama Environmental Education

  • A Noble Calling
  • High Purpose
  • A privilege
  • A gift
  • A Professional Obligation

I expressed our shared mission and vision – to pass the torch of:

  • Nature awareness and Appreciation
  • Responsibility for Earth stewardship
  • Boundless Enthusiasm and Joy for Nature – Deep Passion
  • Discovering, Revealing, and Celebrating Nature’s Infinite Storm of beauty, magic, wonder, and joy!

May We Rise to the Challenge!

May this continue to be our Daily Bread!

May we all leave a Legacy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • There is indeed magic and wonder atop the mountain… and everywhere in Nature we choose to look.
  • Wendell Berry: In Nature we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence.
  • John Muir: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

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

 

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

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

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and boutique 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!

 

 

Non-Flowering Plants Atop the Mountain at Cheaha: EE AA Annual Conference

This is the third of what will be four posts from my February 28-March 2 visit to Cheaha State Park. I joined some 120 environmental educators attending the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Association of Alabama (EE AA). The group invited me to present the opening keynote address Thursday evening (2/28). I stayed for the entire conference, enjoying it immensely. This blog post presents the exhilarating diversity of non-flowering plants I encountered during the limited time I ventured outdoors at Cheaha in intermittent rain and nearly continuous fog. In the fourth post I will summarize and highlight my keynote address: Seeing and Translating Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty.

My first EE AA meeting post provided a broad conference and Cheaha overview: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/05/magic-and-wonder-on-the-mountain-an-inspiring-conference-at-cheaha-state-park/ (Magic and Wonder on the Mountain: An Inspiring Conference at Cheaha State Park). Last week’s blog post explored a conflicting set of  reactions and reflections to something we observed from the Rock Garden overlook during an interpretive hike: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/11/scars-upon-the-land-thoughts-stirred-by-a-view-from-cheahas-rock-garden/ .

I begin with a caveat; I am a tree guy. I fully understand the role that non-flowering plants play in our Alabama forests, yet I am convincingly inept at identifying beyond the simple characterization among lichens, mosses, and fungi. I can tell you that I took all of the photos in this post atop Mount Cheaha above 2,000 feet. The two below are views to the WNW (lower left) and N (lower right) from the Rock Garden and Bald Rock, respectively, snapped during one of two times when the views were not cloud- and fog-obscured.

Conditions atop Cheaha are harsh (wind and ice storms). Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) and chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) dominate the upper elevation forest. Individuals are often battered and broken. Non-flowering plants colonize virtually all bark (dead and living trees) and stone surfaces. Cloudy skies following a rain-soaked morning seemed to intensify the lichen color and contrasts. In fact, the lichens brought vibrancy to the otherwise overwhelmingly drab and dormant scene.

Not just color, but intricate, delicate, and masterpiece-grade patterns, textures, and species admixtures. As I sorted these images I wondered whether anyone has assembled a coffee table quality collection of photographs (taken with a camera several quality steps above my iPhone), complete with detailed identification. I see and appreciate the exquisite beauty, yet that simply reminds me how little I know about these magnificent living organisms. As I enter my second year beyond full-time employment (believe me, university CEO gigs demand 24/7!), I am learning continuously, even as I am constantly learning how little I know about so many things that draw my interest. Non-flowering plants among many such topics. I am not sure, for example, whether the darker green (lower left) is a moss or alga. I believe the rock at lower right supports both crustose and foliose (at top of photo) lichens, with at least two species of the latter. I fear my knowledge is a millimeter deep and kilometers wide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foliose lichen below could be a toad skin lichen, one of the rock tripes, yet don’t take that as a firm identification! Or is it possibly a liverwort? Regardless, I find great fascination in examining the non-tree, non-flowering plant life atop Cheaha.

I mentioned the tortured tree forms, savaged by exposure and ice storms. These chestnut oaks epitomize their tough existence. Although one is a ‘V’ and the other a ‘4,’ both play host to lichen cloaks. Again, how drab they would be without their lichen garb.

I presume the fructose lichens below represent two species of distinct coloration. I’m also surmising that very slow tree growth and frequent moisturizing fog keep the lichens vibrant. Slow-growing trees severely minimize the rate of bark shedding, allowing lichen colonies to reach greater thickness and extent.

The tapestry of life begs inspection, study, and learning. The stem at lower left presents, again, both crustose and foliose. The old branch stub (lower right) reminds me of a ram’s head adorned in its lichen fur.

Lichen in combination with moss increments the aesthetic factor, in my view, a minimum of an order of magnitude. The wise person who first observed that nature abhors a vacuum could have been hiking atop Cheaha! Imagine, a bare rock providing such security, anchorage, and nourishment to a living work of art.

Our 11-year-old Alabama grandson said the lower left image appeared to him as a mountain lake (lichen) surrounded by deep forest (moss) sloping away. I can’t argue with his perspective. A true nature enthusiast must have a vivid imagination and be willing and able to see the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe hidden within. “The power of imagination makes us infinite” (John Muir). Reindeer and crustose lichen and moss populate the rock island (lower right). I considered what adventures (and dangers) I might encounter on the island if reduced to one-inch height.

Moss cushions gathered at the base of this chestnut oak (lower left). The fish moss (below right) confirmed for me that we were in the midst (or mists) of an extended period of excessive precipitation! The fish is perched (I couldn’t resist!) on a rock of roughly the same size among the leaf litter. Again, imagination is an essential vehicle for truly enjoying a walk in the woods. Recall Muir’s observation, too, that “In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

What a treat to find witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) on a dead pine branch. This orange jelly fungus, like all the mosses and lichens proliferating atop Cheaha, seemed to relish the wet conditions.

A non-flowering plant specialist could spend hours examining and inventorying the life-richness occupying the standing dead oak sapling and the rock ledge: beard, foliose, and crustose lichens, little tan fungal bodies, and moss. A macro lens in capable hands (with expert knowledge) could reveal mysteries and magic far beyond my simple (and ignorant) aesthetic admiration.

Even we Nature enthusiasts too often focus at landscape scale, seeing only the hills and forests. We sometimes don’t see the trees for the forest, a flip on the old saw about not seeing the forest for the trees. And within the forest we may restrict our sight to the trees, missing the richness, for example, of Cheaha’s incredible palette of non-flowering plants. Imagine the poor soul who stops at the lower elevation scenic overlook (below) and has no hint of the diverse forest life within the forest captured by the few frames within this post. What would I have discovered if I had visited the Park, expecting blue skies and unlimited vistas, and bemoaned the rain and fog. My assumption is that we had few such disappointed visitors among my environmental educator colleagues. They represent the choir of Nature’s sanctuary. Their mission, and mine, is to spread the word and convert more citizens to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

I witnessed and enjoyed spiritual lift from the grand scale (sunset the first evening on Cheaha below) to the witch’s butter on a dead pine branch to the cushion moss fish on the floor of an otherwise drab and colorless, bruised and battered stand of chestnut oak.

I urge all would-be naturalists and Nature enthusiasts to open your eyes and seek the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that lie hidden within. To those willing to seek, Nature offers unlimited reward. “There’s gold in them thar hills” (Mark Twain), but not of the spending kind. The gold I saw is the inward-investing kind. Gather it through all five portals (body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit), store it internally, and harvest the dividends of enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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

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

  • In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks (John Muir).
  • So much of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight.
  • There’s gold in them thar hills (Mark Twain) — gold of the inward-investment kind!

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

 

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

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

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and boutique 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!

 

Active and Retired Federal Employees Association — Huntsville Chapter

The Huntsville area is blessed with many active and retired federal employees owing to NASA, Redstone Arsenal, and a large associated defense industry. We have a vibrant Huntsville Chapter of Active and Retired Federal Employees. I had the privilege of speaking to 31 members Saturday March 10. My topic — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. The weather? You guessed it — rain, heavy at times. Although we were comfortably inside at the Senior Center venue, my hosts told me that such weather suppresses numbers.

Regardless, I felt warmly welcomed. The attendees showed lots of interest. I feel as though I am slowly making a foothold here in the Tennessee Valley region of northern Alabama, expanding my reach and spreading the gospel regarding Nature’s Wisdom and Power, and her lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading.

With each such speaking engagement, I’m adding names to my Great Blue Heron blog post distribution. My hope is that word will propagate that I have a story worth spreading, and that I will begin to generate invitations to speak to companies, agencies, service clubs, and other groups of businesses, residents, and community leaders.

I want to sow the seeds for informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. We only have this one chance to get it right. So far as we know, we are alone on this mote of dust in the vast darkness of space. No one will come to our rescue, to protect us from ourselves. Help me spread the word.

If you know of a potential group/audience, please don’t hesitate to pass my name and contact information along. The beauty of this semi-retirement gig is that I am available. Have message will travel!

Stephen B. Jones, PhD (Natural Resources Management; Applied Ecology)
CEO Great Blue Heron, LLC: Nature Inspired Learning and Leading (stevejonesgbh.com)
Author focusing on nature-inspired learning and leading; Books: Nature Based Leadership (2016): Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)
Nature Based Leadership Institute Founder

Former CEO: Fairmont State University; Antioch University New England; Urbana University; University of Alaska Fairbanks
Former University of the Arctic Board Chair

 

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

Robert Louis Stevenson

Fourth Week LearningQUEST and THRIVE Update

March 7, I completed the fourth of my six-week lecture series at LearningQUEST and THRIVE Assisted Living. In case you missed it, here is my second week post on the series: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/02/26/learningquest-thrive-lectures-update/

Today’s Featured Image (a least or dwarf trillium; Trillium pusillum) signals only the season. I snapped the photo just a few days prior to this March 7 lecture session.

LearningQUEST Fourth Week Update

Our Wednesday morning group is jelling. We are enjoying these too-brief sessions on Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Our interests are taking us into areas I had not specifically anticipated in my advance six-week course notes, which is good — a signal of flowing and evolving interest. I had in an earlier session set the context for how utterly alone we are as residents of this Earth — our mote of dust in the vast darkness of space. I had mentioned that at the speed of light, a photon would take 25,000 years to travel from our planet to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. In contrast, our Voyager space probe, now forty years launched and exiting our solar system, would take at its current speed, 455 million years to cover the distance to the galaxy’s center.

Discussion reminded some of us of a video we recalled from some time ago. So, on the fourth session Wednesday, participant Jim Harlow projected the nine-minute video on Powers of Ten (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0). We are all fascinated by the seeming infinite breadth and depth of this amazing world we occupy and the insignificance of our place within it.

We discussed at length the work of Peter Wohlleben, a German forester featured in the most recent Smithsonian magazine. Wohlleben posits that a forest is a complex community of interconnected individuals communicating and cooperating in a manner somewhat anthropomorphic. We enjoyed our discussion. Although we did not view this video (below), I offer it here in case you may want to dig into Wohlleben’s work and philosophy. His views are not without detractors and staunch supporters. This video serves as a teaser. Much more is available via an internet search.

The Smithsonian article also presented the work of Dr. Suzanne Simard, a British Columbia ecologist. Again, we discussed Dr. Simard’s work based only upon the article and what participants may have gleaned from the internet. We did not vies her TED talk (below); I include it here for you information. Both Simard and Wohlleben add a dimension to forest ecology and plant physiology that is provocative. I appreciate their entry into the field, even as I remain skeptical, particularly of Wohlleben’s stronger views toward personifying tree behavior and implied intent.

The notion of trees communicating led me to suggest at this fourth session that clearly we see intraspecies cooperation and communication throughout the animal world: bees, ant colonies, the wolf pack, whales, and others. Jim and I found a wonderful video of a bird flock phenomenon, murmuration, and showed it this fourth week (below). I have said often that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. Try viewing this murmuration video without drawing inspiration!

Life on Earth is filled with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, whether its an interconnected forest community or the symphony of birds in flight. I offer these examples to stimulate your own thinking and encourage your exploration.

THRIVE Fourth Week

We do not have an easy way of showing videos at this assisted living venue. I speak to the residents in the dining hall, beginning as they finish eating and work on dessert. We elect not to head upstairs to the theater, believing that the transition would discourage too many from participating. I am learning better how to interact with the residents. I had come the first week thinking that my LearningQUEST notes would suffice to guide me through the THRIVE lecture. I’ve modified to the extent necessary to connect in harmony with this group’s interests. I have found my pace and can resonate. We are having fun!

The third week, I focused on my Alaska adventures as Chancellor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, simply relating tales of travel, weather, food, etc. I read several selections from Robert Service. We also discussed William Bartram’s travels here in the southeastern US and, in particular, Alabama.

The fourth week, we delved into spring’s progress, reviewing what’s in flower and what’s soon to come. A resident brought an exquisite framed photo she had taken years ago — a Canada goose paddling along a placid lake shore under a weeping willow tree. I read from The Nature of Leadership (Covey, Merrill, and Jones).

I read, too, from Louis Bromfield’s Pleasant Valley, his non-fiction book about his beloved Ohio farm and his adult-life commitment to rehabilitating its “old, worn-out” soil. A prominent conservationist, Bromfield wrote some 30 best selling books, many made into successful Hollywood movies mid-20th-century. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall wedded at his Ohio farmhouse.

I’ve encouraged residents and staff to assemble a library collection of the Nature books I’m introducing. As soon as the weather permits (been either too wet or too cold these first four weeks), we are planning to meet on the large back patio, closer to Nature. I will encourage them to recognize their special Nature niches, and know them, enjoy them, and cherish them.

Reflections

I am learning from both groups. Like so much in Nature, each individual and collective is special. Although I am facilitating, it is they from whom I am learning better to Believe, Look, See, and Feel the Power and Wisdom of Nature.

I feel as though the trillium signals the new blossoming I am experiencing. The hope and promise of a rebirth within me. Some would have viewed my early spring hike through the Beaverdam tupelo swamp as dark, dismal, and even foreboding. To me, anything but. The trillium colony simply served as exclamation mark. Judy and I, inbound, did not see the flowers, instead focusing on the overstory reaching high above us, supported by large trunks, standing thick and straight. Only upon completing the boardwalk circuit did we spot the dwarf trillium and a few purple trillium buds ready to open. As so often is the case, Nature is always within reach and view to those willing to seek its beauty, bounty, and inspiration.

My hope is to instill in both groups that same yearning for Nature that weaves through all that I do.

Concurrent Session at KNRC

My early February trip to Manhattan, Kansas and the 11th Annual Kansas Natural Resources Professionals Conference provided a lot of fuel for my Great Blue Heron and Facebook posts. I presented the Thursday keynote address to the >300 attendees and on Friday conducted a concurrent session for 50 or so: “Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration through the Power of Stories.”

I began the session with a simple statement. Every enterprise, whether university or multi-national corporation, or even a parcel of land, comprises a series of stories. My own experience with family forests suggests that many owners embrace a deep passion for the land. This emotion infuses owners whose tenure reaches back multiple generations, as well as new owners whose stewardship will extend forward to children, grandchildren, and beyond.

I offered my own perspective on the relationship among land owners, professional natural resources stewards, and the land itself. The relationship is fundamentally spiritual – land is sacred. Ownership is a privilege and honor, one that carries an obligation, driven by a stewardship ethic. Aldo Leopold wrote, “We can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

What is the relevance to Kansas NR Professionals? I answered, “You advise (work with/educate/inspire) those who own the land.” I spent nine years as Forestry Extension Faculty at Penn State University, focusing on research and informal education dealing with family forest owners, loggers, and the forest products industry. More than one-half million Pennsylvania families own forestland. Ninety-five percent of Kansas’ 5.2 million acres of forests is privately owned… by 117,000 families. Owners are more sophisticated than ever, and more educated. They embrace a land ethic, even if not consciously thinking about it as such. I made clear that our role (their role) is to deepen that embrace; to inspire, educate, and develop that ethic; and to encourage and assist the translation of that unspoken ethic to practice.

Aldo Leopold said (A Sand County Almanac), “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” We Humans are fully dependent upon Nature!

Our Obligation — Clear and Emphatic

I’ve learned that many writers, philosophers, clergy, and others have already articulated, some centuries ago, what I am now embracing and writing. Among modern writers, Wendell Berry expresses so clearly my own beliefs: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.”

Louis Bromfield, a mid-twentieth century novelist and playwright, published some thirty books, each one a best-seller. Several evolved into Hollywood movies, yet Bromfield chose to devote his life to rehabilitating the “old worn out Ohio farm” he purchased in the 1930s. He wrote of his mission in his non-fiction Pleasant Valley: “The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.” Isn’t that what all of us should strive to achieve? To change some small corner of this Earth for the better?

Leonardo da Vinci asked some 500 years ago: “What induces you, oh man, to depart from your home in town, to leave parents and friends, and go to the countryside over mountains and valleys, if it is not for the beauty of the world of nature?” I see deep and abiding beauty everywhere I seek it.

And consider the ancient American Indian proverb:

“Treat the Earth well.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.”

Wisdom is timeless. Too bad that such common sense and basic precepts are so uncommon. Our obligation to steward this Earth could not be more clear and emphatic.

These Are Changing Times (Yet Aren’t They All?!)

I earned my forestry bachelors degree in May 1973. I took a forest management course my junior year. I recall the subject matter being presented in a manner cold, sterile, and antiseptic. Deeply objective, without passion. The textbook (Forest Management, Davis, 1966) defined the topic as “The application of business methods and technical forestry principles to the operation of a forested property.”

The working definition employed in 2010, had not strayed far, still objective, cold, and appropriately science-based. Management Plan (American Tree Farm System): “Document that guides actions… modified in response to feedback and changed conditions, goals, objectives and policies. Management plans may incorporate several documents including, but not limited to, harvest plans, activity implementation schedules, permits, research, etc.”

I admit, too, that my own perspective early in my career did not attempt to break free from the strict science viewpoint. I leaned toward forest management driven by the head, free from the encumbrances of heart, spirit, soul. I look back now with incredulity. How could I have been so blind? I have learned slowly, inexorably, that landowners CARE. They have a loving embrace… a near-sacred relationship to their land. They shamelessly express deep sentiment, passion, appreciation, and humility. For most, land ownership is both honor and privilege, an attachment of emotion. They engage heart, spirit, and soul. Aldo Leopold spoke of love and respect for the land: “When we see land s a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Wild Land Legacy Stories

All that begs the question. How can we bridge the gap between our sterile natural resources professional training and predilection… and landowners’ passion for the land? My answer is simple: Wild Land Legacy Stories. I am convinced that landowners’ wild lands, whether forest, prairie, nature center, or commercial pecan grove, are special places. Sacred refuges to escape, embrace, relish, and, yes, perhaps even generate supplemental income. Every property is a legacy: an expression of a land ethic; an important thread in the fabric of a family; a pledge to the future; a portfolio of memories; an ownership statement from the heart, soul, and spirit!

A Wild Land Legacy Story serves as an addendum to a professional management plan, the land’s Nature dimension. The complementary Legacy Story serves as an expression of the land’s Human Nature dimension. Consider certain long-accepted and practiced corollaries: family photo albums; old letters; genealogy; the family Bible.

The Wild Land Legacy Story records and memorializes the Human Nature: detailed ownership history; beyond dates and details; emerging ownership philosophy (I’m working with a fourth-generation owner on a Tennessee property). Ownership philosophy evolves, and will continue to do so. So, what do we include in the Legacy Story? First, we consider whether we should establish a website.  A Legacy Story then becomes a living account, accessible 24/7 by the owners, family, friends, and other followers. This is the digital age, which makes updating a Legacy Story, even without a website, easy and keeps the document vibrant. That means we can incorporate lots of photos — current and historical. I recommend establishing permanent photo-points, identified for locating convenience by GPS coordinates. Repeat the photos by season every five years or so, always oriented to the same direction. How many is enough? The answer varies with size of property, diversity of stands and special features, and many other factors that are site- and owner-specific.

Trail camera technology and equipment costs are rapidly evolving, with quality and ease of use increasing as expense declines — a perfect combination. Another digital evolution involves drone video documentation, again seasonally and periodically. I recall from my industrial forester days using both fixed-wing and helicopter reconnaissance for special project assessment. Advancing drone technology allows far-less-expensive aerial examination, albeit for me not nearly as satisfying as actually being airborne!

Reading the land accents the Legacy Story. Second-growth northern hardwoods dominated our four-acre property in New Hampshire. Intrepid Europeans settlers domesticated the land in the 19th century, clearing the forest, unceasingly carrying and stacking field and pasture stones, building the ubiquitous signature stone fences that now crisscross woodlots throughout southern New England. Hundreds of feet of such walls partitioned our small parcel, telling the tale of clearing, pasturing, and abandonment. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. Our forest reclaimed the attempted domestication in two waves. The first probably 80-90 years ago. The second 40-50, judging by the relative tree size and age. Some old fence-row sentinels (beech, sugar maple, and white birch) appear to be at least 150 years old, serving witness to the land’s story. My Land Legacy Stories read and interpret the natural and human history written into the existing cover.

Reading the land entails naturalist detective work. Telltale signs and evidence include stumps, hummocks and hollows, aerial photos (some date back five decades and longer), and family photos taken on-site. My objective is to read the land and tell the tale. The evidence fades a little every year.

Self-publishing is another development easing effectively telling the tale. Numerous firms compete to package any such story into a permanent record, memorializing the story and the evidence in high quality book form. We can publish the first volume now, maintain an evolving digital or web presence, and seek to publish a permanent hard copy update periodically — perhaps every 5-10 years.

So, when is the completion date… when does the project end? My advice is to think forever – a legacy lives on through generations yet to come. A formal management plan operates in fixed increments. I have said often over my career that people don’t care how much you know… until they know how much you care! A traditional Management Plan tells what we professional natural resources managers know. Wild Land Legacy Stories tell how much we CARE! And chronicle how much the landowner CARES! Again, objective, science-based management can and must be an essential planning component, yet the purpose, passion, and emotion are what extends through generations. Landowners CARE!

Quotes for Amplification

Wendell Berry proclaimed, “The care of Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” Always absolute and succinct in his relevant observations, Aldo Leopold mused, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

I add an excerpt from a Land Legacy Story prospectus I recently prepared: “Every enterprise, whether university or multi-national corporation, or even a parcel of land, comprises a series of stories. My own experience with family forests suggests that many owners embrace a deep passion for the land. This emotion infuses owners whose tenure reaches back multiple generations, as well as new owners whose stewardship will extend forward to children, grandchildren, and beyond.”

Through these past few years of my professional natural resources endeavors, I have weaved my belief that that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. How are you, or how might you, harness Nature’s power and wisdom?

Conclusion

Natural resources professionals, whether in Kansas or Kalamazoo or Klamath Falls, share an obligation to sow the seeds of Earth stewardship… to inform, educate, and inspire a land ethic deeply in those who own or are charged with responsibility for some small corner of forest, prairie, range-land, wetland, river, or other wild landscape. Creating Wild Land Legacy Stories is one vehicle for assuring multi-generational stewardship. We have only this one chance to get it right. We must employ every tool at our disposal. I will do my part; you do yours. We cannot simply try to do it. As my favorite philosopher, Yoda The Jedi Master, made clear, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

 

LearningQuest and Thrive Lectures Update

I’ve completed two Wednesdays of my six-week series at both LearningQUEST, an informal, membership-based continuing education program for “adults of all ages” here in Huntsville, Alabama. My topic is Nature’s Wisdom — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Approximately 40 members signed up for the series. Attendance has average 25-30.

Most, like me, are retired or semi-retired. All live in the Tennessee River region of north-central Alabama. All of us share a deep passion for Nature. Participants engage eagerly and actively in discussions. The hour flies past. I’m learning a great deal. I especially draw benefit from gauging reactions to my rather novel philosophy regarding our human relationship to Nature. And to my firm belief that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either indelibly written in, or is compellingly inspired by Nature.

At the 11th Annual Kansas Natural Resources Conference in early February, I relished and drew comfort from how natural resources professionals resonated with the message. This amazing group of northern Alabama natural resources lay people buoy my hope that this message has clarity and can be embraced by the general citizenry. I am eager to continue exploring the topic with them. Here are the early gatherers preparing for this past Wednesday’s discussion:

I meet with them at 9:30 AM; I hold forth with the second group at 12:30 PM the same day at THRIVE Assisted Living southeast of Huntsville. Nearly a generation older, the THRIVE residents embrace me as Dad to their beloved events and activities coordinator (daughter Katy), and as an invited and welcome speaker. I entered this venue with a high level of anxiety, unsure of what to expect from a disparate gathering that included some who reside in the THRIVE memory care unit. Could I hold their interest, stimulate their thinking, and inspire them with my tales and lessons from Nature?

The first week, I began with the same set of notes I followed that morning at LearningQUEST, but soon abandoned the structure and relative rigidity. The morning attendees allowed and encouraged me to choose the path and direct the conversation. At THRIVE, I quickly adopted an approach that sensed the flow and direction of their interest, and I then followed the current. We exchanged stories, embraced shared memories and values, and skipped among the avenues that wove among my core messages, yet did not stay captive to my intended outcome.

The second week, I came prepared with relevant readings from Robert Service’s Yukon adventures — entertaining, poignant, and germane to my Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading topic. One of the women, a noted orchid grower here in Huntsville, brought along an exquisite photograph of one of her award-winning specimens. Sadly, she left her orchid collection behind upon entering residential care, yet she expressed joy that she will soon have an orchid or two at THRIVE.

Katy tells me that each day after the Wednesday session, the residents inquire when I’ll return. If the weather permits, next week we will spend a little time on the patio, inhaling fresh air and talking about the forest that stands just 100 feet away. One resident in particular requested that we focus on Alabama Nature. She somehow is concerned that my bias is somewhere other than here in the South. I will bring along some readings and references that extol the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Alabama’s natural world.

I asked Katy the evening after this second session how it went. She replied that they loved it. I no longer feel trepidation about continuing the series. Like the slender willow, I chose to bow with the breeze, conforming to its demand, bending and yielding. Rigidity serves little purpose in living, learning, serving and leading. The tree that does not bend… breaks. Nature’s ways inform and inspire.

Back to LearningQUEST. I spoke with them about the first-day challenge I faced at THRIVE. They understood and now seem eager to learn more about my meetings there. All of us at LearningQUEST are within sight of the THRIVE residents’ stage of life. I quoted Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Nature never breaks her own laws.” My point was that all of us are aging; there is no Curious Case of Benjamin Button in Nature. We share a bit of anxiety about what comes next. The THRIVE interactions provide a kind of preview. Next week I will share my experience from THRIVE week two.

As we finished the second session, one questions addressed the extent to which fear (“I am afraid of the woods — the unknowns; getting lost; snakes; etc.”) plays a role in our ability to learn from Nature. Week three we will explore that idea. I responded without elaboration off the cuff, saying something like, “Unless we have been lost, how will we ever know and appreciate being found? If we have never been disoriented, how can we embrace the joy of knowing where we are?” I will introduce, with subsequent thought my concept of pleasurable terror, a theme I have employed as a vehicle for enhanced learning and inspiration in both my books.

I have also committed to probe with them the question of what is wild and where do we find it… how do we know it?

I am enjoying both lecture series, each one special and jointly complementary. I am learning. I am lifted. And I’m generating a lot of fuel for future writing and speaking.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!

Kansas Annual Natural Resource Conference

My keynote address to the annual meting (Conservation Delivery in Changing Times) of Kansas Natural Resource Professionals focused on Applying Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration to Conservation Delivery. Three hundred seventy-five registrants set a new attendance record for the annual gathering, this the 11th. What a great concept in drawing together professionals dealing with forests, range-land, fisheries, wildlife, and related fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect in way of reaction to my message. This was my first venture into the heartland with my Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading sermon. The first time testing the message with diverse natural resources managers in a part of the country far removed from my eastern US (and Alaska) former fields of practice. Really, my first test since adopting this deep message of Earth Stewardship, rooted in science, yet driven by my growing emphasis on heart, spirit, and soul. I outlined many of the basic elements I’ve brought forward in these Great Blue Heron blog posts.

I told the audience my purposes during that afternoon session. First, reuniting with my dear friend and colleague over the past 30 years, Larry Biles (left), Kansas State Forester, who arranged for the invitation to deliver the keynote. Such a great privilege and joy to see Larry (and wife Sarah) again.

I admitted that another aim for me was meeting the attendees and talking with as many as possible. How better could I learn than by hearing from those who are steeped in the practice of Kansas natural resources management! I shared another shamelessly selfish objective: gauging their reaction to some of my ideas and reflections on Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. A parallel objective — spreading the gospel of applying Nature’s wisdom and inspiration to living, learning, serving, and leading.

And I made clear that I hoped to stimulate them to contemplate:

  • The privilege we have of working in our allied fields
  • The beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature
  • Our obligation as natural resource managers to sow the seeds of Earth Stewardship

I closed my keynote with some final thoughts about their role as natural resource professionals:

  • Theirs is a noble calling
  • One with high purpose
  • Urging them to adopt a goal to unveil and interpret the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that lies hidden within Nature at all levels, whether Denali National Park, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Konza Prairie, or a Manhattan, KS city park
  • Their service is a privilege… a gift
  • And what they do carries a professional obligation to steward and sow the seeds of a land/Earth ethic

I challenged them to Rise to the Challenge… and leave a legacy

My Concurrent Session:

Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration through the Power of Stories

Some 50 participants attended my second-day concurrent session. This amounted to the first time I introduced my idea of Wild-Land Legacy Stories to any contingent of natural resource professionals, much less this wide range of folks from watershed to forest to wildlife to range to fisheries.

Rather than lay out the details here, I’ll hold the summary and discussion for a future blog post. Watch for it!

Also, soon I will post photos and text from my day-after-the-conference visit to Konza Prairie and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, my first full-blown immersion into this incredibly beautiful ecosystem and community that once dominated our nation’s heartland.

Remember: every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in… or is powerfully inspired by… NATURE!