Happy Thanksgiving — Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve’s Terry Big Tree Trail

It’s Thanksgiving 2019. I am thankful… for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe right here in my backyard; the neighborhood; the County; across the southeast US; nationally; and globally. Take a quick peek at my roughly 50 2019 Great Blue Heron Blog Posts (https://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/). Nature abounds and rewards, whether it’s the three National Parks I visited and wrote about in southeastern Kazakhstan, or our own Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. Or our magnificent Alabama State Parks.

Chapman Mountain Forest Preserve

Or one of the natural treasures preserved and managed locally by the Land Trust of North Alabama (https://www.landtrustnal.org/). November 6, 2019 I visited a new trail on one of the Land Trust’s tracts (https://www.landtrustnal.org/properties/chapman-mountain-preserve/):

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, our 7th public preserve, is a 371 acre property located just to the east of Huntsville on HWY 72. While we have plans for 10 miles of trails, a little over 3 miles are currently open and ready to explore. Like all of our public preserves, Chapman Mountain is open dawn to dusk. These trails are not just for hiking though. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are also welcome.

My companions and I walked the Terry Big Tree Trail: Named for the family who donated the property, this one mile journey takes you to the northern end of the property and back again. Along the way you’ll see large hardwoods, mossy rocks, and an old roadway.

Allow me to introduce you to the Terry Trail with photos and reflections.


Terry Big Tree Trail


I love the Land Trust’s tagline: Conservation in Action! As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space changes the entire essence. Talking alone can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.


Environmental Action

Good to see that education is an explicit underpinning of the mission. I’ve long held that understanding Nature enhances our appreciation and deepens our commitment to stewardship and action. Knowledge enables and inspires action. The Tree Big Tree Trail masterfully incorporates education in a way that enhances the experience without “burdening” the hiker with learning. Who can resist Fun Facts!


I am addicted to many facets of Nature, including tree bark. Ah, to be ant-size and explore these green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) furrows! In this case, feeling is a major component of seeing. Reach out and touch a tree!


My intent with this Post is not to offer an exhaustive documentary of the Terry Trail. Instead, in this time of Thanksgiving, I want to introduce you to one example of the Land Trust’s efforts and results, urge you to visit, applaud the dedicated staff and volunteers, and urge your involvement. I am grateful for my fellow citizens who practice Conservation In Action!

I’m a maple syrup purist — don’t expect me to eat a pancake or waffle without the real stuff! And while I seldom find persimmons that are just the right ripeness, I do love the tree’s distinctive blocky bark. Again, a feature hard not to touch.

Chapman Preserve



Some Magic Along the Way

I accepted Dr. Callie Schweitzer (US Forest Service Research Scientist) and US FS Research Forester Ryan Sisk’s invitation to hike the trail with them. They are both located here in the Forest Service’s Huntsville office. They know the tract (and their craft) quite well. We marveled at the size of the twin white oaks (Quercus alba) below… and appreciated the yellow-tinted fall forest. Recall Robert Frost’s words in The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve


I am not sure whether these paths represent the complex metaphor Frost contemplated in his epic poem:

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve


I always appreciate imaginative place names. Although absent water, the jumble and tumble of mossy boulders in seeming cascade certainly evoked the moniker.


We found several junctures where two roads in fact diverged in a yellow wood. I liked the notion of a Whole Planet Trail. Where does it start? End? Better pack lots of food and water for such a trek! I think I’d prefer the Moonshine Trail, which brings to mind a warm still-fire in a secluded cove, a lookout with eyes peeled for revenuers, a strong toast or two, and lots of colorful stories of dark woods and narrow escapes.


The Magic of Nature’s Tree Form Oddities

Below left is the Terry Trail’s official representative black oak (Quercus velutina), meeting the requisite size and regal criteria. However, I found greater satisfaction and appreciation for the black oak specimen below right, raising its arms in glorious praise of Nature’s magic. It brought joy to my heart — Hallelujah!

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve


Seeing the expressive oak transported me back 50 years, when Neil Diamond released Brother Loves Traveling Salvation Show:

The room gets suddenly still
And when you’d almost bet
You could hear yourself sweat, he walks in
Eyes black as coal
And when he lifts his face
Every ear in the place is on him
Starting soft and slow
Like a small earthquake
And when he lets go
Half the valley shakes
It’s love, Brother Love say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
And grab the old ladies
And everyone goes
‘Cause everyone knows
‘Bout Brother Love’s show

From this day forward, I will know this oak as Brother Love!

And how about the substantial hickory (Carya sp.) burl below left. Think of it as a kind of tumor. And the wonderful circumferential welts stimulated by yellow belied sapsucker bird pecks. I suspect both unusual growth patterns involve fungal and/or viral agents.

Chapman Preserve


Look closely at the twin white oak. The two stems have grown closed, except for a thin strip of separation remaining below the seamed callous where they are conjoined. No healing for the large hickory wind-throw along the trail. The blow-down will bring full sunlight to the forest floor where the tree has left a sizable canopy gap. Although I won’t offer an in-depth discussion now, I am concerned about how a certain ubiquitous invasive will impact succession on this tract. Shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) is already capturing much of the understory, for example the green shrubs beyond the downed hickory.

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve


A fall woodland scene on the Chapman Forest Preserve appears so peacefully serene in the photo below, yet in truth a fierce battle is at play. The understory green is the invader, slowly capturing the site, consuming all dappled sunlight that would otherwise sustain spring and summer ephemerals and forest regeneration. For now, focus on the beauty of the scene below. I’ll save deeper discussion of this invasive here in northern Alabama for a future Post… a broader examination of a serious threat.

Chapman Preserve


And it’s easy to leave you with the positive. The yellow wood sets the mood for a fitting end to my first hike on the Terry Trail. The lowering sun offers promise, inspiration, and a soon-to-settle season of rest and renewal. It signals the generosity of those who donated the land, and the selfless dedication of Land Trust volunteers and staff.

Chapman PreserveChapman Preserve


The Trail evidences that Conservation In Action is essential to creating a brighter tomorrow.  Visit the web page. Get involved. Act!


Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) 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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the four succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Conservation In Action can…and will…change the world, one special place at a time
  2. Conservation of all wildness is an act of selfless resolve and harnessed passion
  3. We can dedicate ourselves one step at a time… progress is normally incremental
  4. Be thankful for every small step… celebrate every victory

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: https://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 the filters I employ. 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.


  • 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!


Steve’s Three Books

Steve's BooksChapman Preserve


It’s Thanksgiving — Time to Add a Little Meat on my Bones

Hiking and writing consume a lot of calories! I’m thankful for the Day’s bounty and Blessings!

Three Books



All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; and co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of my own (and Dr. Wilhoit’s) rich experiences in Nature. The books are collections of nature stories seeking to inspire deeper relationship with and care for this beautiful Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.