In concert with the January 19, 2023 Alabama State Park Foundation Board meeting I spent two nights at a Park cabin on Tranquility Lake (Oak Mountain State Park), rewarding me handsomely with one evening and two mornings of short saunters along the Maggie’s Glen Trail. I want to share a compendium of observations, reflections, photographs, and one short video from my saunters. I use saunter purposefully, borrowing John Muir’s wisdom:
I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.I
I’ve found Muir’s wisdom to be timeless. Although he is clearly a great conservationist and tireless Nature observer and philosopher…and I am but a tired old forester addicted to Nature and sharing a simpatico relationship with Muir’s spirit.
Maggie’s Glen Trail Wanderings: The Quiet Inspiration of Sylvan Streams and Morning Solitude
I sauntered into the glen the evening of January 17 and the following two mornings, each time finding peace, solace, and inspiration.
The marscenent, clinging bronze leaves of lower-canopy American beech brightened the understory gloom, and stimulated my musing and contemplation. I wondered, what is the evolutionary advantage to holding spent leaves over the dormant season? I’m grateful for the winter splash of color, yet it brings me no closer to an explanation. Leonardo da Vinci opined that all effects in Nature are born of cause:
In nature there is no effect without cause; once the cause is understood there is no need to test it by experience.
I shall continue to seek identifying the cause for a sapling beech retaining its spent leaves.
Contemplating or not, I liked the early morning combination of clinging beech leaves, a silent trail, a gurgling stream, and a deep-woods jogger who surprised me on the trail. I still miss my own morning runs from many years ago…when knees knew no limits and I trained enthusiastically for 10 Ks, half-marathons, and the full 26.2-milers! Those memories live within the young man who still resides in my mind.
From the perspective of a rise that I mounted, the forest stream seems to emerge from the base of the hill, yet it is simply snaking along the base from out of sight to the right of the frame.
The omnipresent marscencent beech leaves grace every Maggi’s Glen Trail photograph. I may be overdoing the forest, stream, hillside, and special place magic photographs, but I never tire of the quiet, serene, mystical sense of the place. Well over a century ago, Muir observed:
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
Maggie’s Glen is surely one of those places.
Here are two more images — I can’t help myself!
Recognizing once more than my still photos can never tell the whole story nor depict the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, I recorded this 1:51 video:
Mystery and Fascination along the Trail
Mosses, Fungi, Algae, and Lichens
Park crews clear the trail of downed trees; Nature does the remaining work, decomposing and returning the felled trunk to the soil. Hyphae of the lumpy bracket mushroom are decomposing the cellulose hidden within. Moss carpets the bark that hasn’t yet sloughed to the ground. The carbon cycle is at play, hidden in plain sight.
A close up reveals the algae-coated bracket upper surface, and its distinctly poly-pored underside (right).
Another nearby stump support gilled polypore mushrooms, whose hyphae are likewise decomposing the wood. As I’ve frequently observed, all life dances in continuing harmony with death. The rhythm never ceases…one does not exist without the other.
I wonder, when does one distinguish between deadwood and humus (the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms)? The outer surface of these two downed logs can already be termed humus. The inner woody remains will soon be fully incorporated into the litter and soil. Nothing in Nature is static. The same holds for we mere humans during our own fleeting existence. Recall the old funeral words, “ashes to ashes; dust to dust.” Solomon declared in Ecclesiastes, All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
American beech commonly hosts lichens and mosses on its smooth bark, like a canvas is home to human artistry. Recent rains sufficient to draw stem flow from the intercepting crown, wetted the entire trunk, accenting the lichen and moss displays. Who needs human art when Nature is the master of design?!
Likewise, who needs my words to interpret Nature’s absolute magic and inspiration!
Pine bark furrows can be rich microsites for lichens, mosses, and algae. I suppose one could find doctoral dissertations identifying the abundance of life in the bark furrows of loblolly pine. I will remain content to marvel at the beauty of such features and appreciate that life on Earth knows few bounds. The bark furrows are well-watered (stem flow and blowing rain); they trap organic matter and dust from the stemflow; and their shady domain protected from scorching sun and drying winds.
I found this decaying pine stump worthy of mention. Its bark remains intact. The stumps outer wood, known as juvenile, has decomposed, while its inner core of more resin-soaked heartwood stands firm, more resistant to decay.
Algae and lichen line these furrows. I include it not because it differs from the prior bark furrow photos. Instead, it signals avian life to the astute observer. Woodpeckers have searched its bark for sub-bark insects, leaving the distinctive wood-peck signature of yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
Forests are treasure troves for discovering all that lies hidden in plain sight, especially when one saunters through a special place like Oak Mountain’s Maggie’s Glen.
Spiral Wood Grain
Even as I strive to unveil the mystery behind marcescent beech leaves, I have not yet found scientific rationale behind spiral wood grain, evident on these dead (and debarked by decay) oak logs. Both are spiraling clockwise (when viewed from above). I’ve pointed out the tendency in prior Posts. I suspect trees with spiral grain are structurally stronger.
This one has a gentler spiral, still clockwise.
Albert Einstein was a consummate student of Nature; his timeless wisdom and deep contemplations fuel my own observations and reflections on Nature:
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
It is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive.
In every true searcher of Nature there is a kind of religious reverence, for he finds it impossible to imagine that he is the first to have thought out the exceedingly delicate threads that connect his perceptions.
Alabama State Parks Foundation
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. (Albert Einstein)
- And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. (John Muir)
- Nothing exceeds the magic, inspiration, and sacred spirit of a quiet morning forest and a gurgling stream amid the mists of a new day.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2023 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at email@example.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
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.
I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:
- I love hiking and exploring in Nature
- I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
- I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
- I don’t play golf!
- I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
- Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
- And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future
All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.