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!