So Much to See in Our Almost Backyard: Rainbow Mountain Trail
Take Home Lesson: Nature and Wildness are where you choose to find them!
Mountain is a relative term. From my online dictionary: a large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill. Rainbow Mountain is a little more than three miles (as the crow flies) from Big Blue Lake, where we reside here in northern Alabama. Our water surface is at ~750 feet; Rainbow Mountain is 1,145 feet above sea level. A mountain? I defer to locals who anointed this limestone prominence its moniker long ago.
We and they enjoyed escaping into the high country. Okay, I’m being facetious. Recall that we could see 20,310-foot Mount Denali (North America’s highest) from our Fairbanks, Alaska campus — we know mountains and high country! I admit, however, that I do appreciate even a summit just 400-feet above the valley floor. I felt elevated… physically and spiritually.
Jack is beginning to understand Nature, plants, and the greater outdoors; Sam liked the rocks, trees, and ledges. We all enjoyed being together beyond our normal environment. As I make clear in these Blog Posts, I have a deep relationship with wildness, whether remote wilderness or a nearby County preserve like Rainbow. The County does a good job with trail maintenance and signage:
Rocks and Geology
Balance Rock is a nice summit feature. Jack reminds me every time we go that the rock is not “balanced,” but is connected in a way that will keep it upright for the foreseeable future. I am not so sure that a group of mischievous ne’er-do-wells won’t one day do their best (worst) to topple the formation.
Sam has a penchant for looking away from the camera lens — witness above and below. The boys and we noticed that even though we could hear the sounds of traffic and residents below us, it was distant enough that we felt isolated from it. We focused on birds, the breeze in the tree-tops, and rustling sounds from the forest floor nearby. The boys paid attention and showed some disappointment when they spotted litter and tree and rock graffiti. They know proper outdoor protocol. It’s so easy (and important) to act responsibly.
We all thrilled at this Luna moth (Actias luna), which we spotted near the trail-head. It’s hard not to marvel at such a beautiful creature… one with a science-fiction-level life cycle!
They all know that I will stop to examine wildflowers, including this Pale-flowered Leafcup (Polymnia canadensis). I am a committed spring wildflower enthusiast, just beginning to pay more attention to the summer bloomers. I love the frilled petal ends of the Leafcup.
I failed to take a clear photo of this Slender Dayflower (Commelina erecta), a welcome deep blue.
Seldom do I encounter mosses without appreciating the deep woods canvas of diverse greens and textures. Three-dimensional art composed exquisitely without the hand of man. Nature has been creating living masterpieces here on Earth for some 3.5 billion years! Her hand is steady and practiced; her composition is purpose-driven. She bases her designs on complex living communities.
Whether mosses on a forest floor or Resurrection Fern and algae on a chestnut oak, her work is functional. Beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are secondary. Function drives the composition. Her creations ebb and flow. This summer our mosses are well hydrated, still rich in color and fullness even as summer fades soon into early fall. The resurrection ferns below stand turgid and flush, responding to rain within the prior 72 hours. It can go dry, shriveled, and brown quickly — entering protective dormancy on its harsh trunk-side anchorage between renewing showers. The plant knows how to deal with adversity and flourish from periodic plenty. Not a bad lesson to learn from Nature: surviving through adversity… thriving opportunistically when the tide turns to favorable.
An Unfamiliar Woody Plant
I had not remembered Tree Sparkleberry or Tree Farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) from my previous work in the south, yet its distribution extends across most of the southeast from coastal Virginia through east-Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. It’s the only member of the Vaccinium genus (includes blueberries) to reach tree size. All others are shrubs and dwarf shrubs. I love its bronze, shredding bark (lower left) and leathery leaves (lower right), reminding me somewhat of mountain laurel in form, site-preference, and shade tolerance.
I managed to pose Jack and Sam (looking away from the camera!) in a rock passageway framed in the foreground by some farkleberry stems. Don’t you just love its whimsical name — farkleberry!
Reflections and Lessons
I want to spread the gospel of Nature-Inspired Learning. What better way than through the next generation. I believe some of my Nature’s inoculum may have found purchase. I’m hoping that awareness, appreciation, understanding, and accepting our obligation to care and steward will infect and inspire these future citizens. I will continue to expose them. Likewise, I will persevere in reaching listeners, readers, and potential believers of all ages.
Allow me to repeat my opening Take Home Message: Nature and Wildness are where you choose to find them! I’ll add to that this call to action. When you can introduce youngsters to Nature, I urge you to choose to find it near where they live… and take them into local wildness. Help them taste of Nature’s elixir. Help them catch the bug (both literally and metaphorically)!
Another Take Home Message: Learn from the resurrection fern. Understand your life and enterprise environmental norms and extremes. Know where and under what circumstances you flourish. Anticipate and prepare for adversity and episodic times of constraint and limitation. Adapt to the latter and always be prepared to reignite when the rough spells pass.
My most urgent message: Enjoy and cherish the Nature and wildness within reach.
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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