November 21, 2023 Nature Potpourri at Monte Sano State Park

21 photos three videos

My two Alabama grandsons (Jack, age 16, and Sam, nine) accompanied me to Monte Sano State Park at midday on November 20, 2023. A nearly perfect fall day with a partly cloudy sky, temperatures in the 60s, and a fresh westerly breeze. I present the Nature potpourri that the three of us enjoyed.

I can be at the Park in just 40 minutes from home. The summit of 1,600 feet sits 800 feet above the City of Huntsville, Alabama. The short road trip transports me back home to the central Appalachians of western Maryland where I resided until completing my sophomore year of college. Not literally back home I admit, but the feel and mood are southern Appalachian.


Wells Memorial Trail


The boys rested at the three-bench intersection where the Wells Memorial trailhead sign greeted us. The Wells Trail loops through a lower concave slope position punctuated with limestone sinc dimples. The soils are deep, well-watered, and rich…perfect for the poplar, oak, hickory, basswood, and other species reaching for the sky.

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During the fall 2023 Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville semester, I took a course on Taking Better Nature Photographs. The instructor opened my eyes to a few tricks of the trade. Toying with one suggestion, I experimented with my iPhone, exploring my perspective preference with these two images. The photo at left derives straight from the camera, the lens peering into the forest at about 35 degrees. The angle draws the more distant features toward the vanishing point; the trees appear to lean together. The image at right employs a finishing application that physically adjusts the image to eliminate the lean. The vanishing point, with the manipulation, in fact vanishes. I will continue to review my personal preference. For the moment, I am a lifelong resident of a world that operates with a vanishing point. I prefer the image below left.

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I recorded this 0:35 video capturing Sam at the base of a magnificent yellow poplar tree near the three benches area.


Here he stands by the poplar with his ever-present stick, variously a trekking pole, weapon to discourage wild beasts, or who knows what else! I know readers will understand that with grandkids in tow, I must waiver from my routine focus exclusively on Nature. After all, with age, my attention drifts more to bonding through them to a future when my touch will extend only through memories they hold of days like these. Already, when I suggest that I have them in tow, I recognize that at this stage of my life, it is they who have Pap in tow.

Monte Sano


Such is the Nature of things. Ventures like our visit to Monte Sano State Park bring to mind the Cat’s in the Cradle lyrics, a Harry Chapin classic about the cycle of life, parenting, and growing older:

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you comin’ home, son?”
“I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then”
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time”
“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu”
“But it’s sure nice talkin’ to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talkin’ to you”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

Thinking of reaching into tomorrow and across generations, I’m enamored with the interrelationships among all elements of our living Earth’s ecosystem. Muir encapsulated the concept with a single sentence:

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.


The Canopy Above


I feel the interconnectivity of time and place whether its with my daughter and me and her two boys (Jack and Sam), our global ecosystem, or the tree canopy and the sky and clouds beyond.

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I recorded this 31-second video gazing into the high canopy and sky above:


Nothing in Nature is static, including the Wells Memorial Trail forest, which evidences that black locust used to be a major stand component. A pioneer species, black locust aggressively colonizes cutover lands and abandoned farm and pastureland. Black locust carcasses on the forest floor, standing dead and diseased locust, and dead snags like this one tell the ever-evolving tale of stand history and succession.

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Back to the Plateau Top


I want future MSSP visitors to understand the dynamism of these forests. I helped secure funding for Park staff to establish 20 permanent photo points in November 2021. At mid century, photo-documentation will assist the Park Naturalist in showing the forest changes over the past 30 years.

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One of my favorite mid-canopy forest trees in our region is sourwood. I love its intricate furrowed bark pattern, its deep red fall leaf color, its fragrant spring blossoms (favored by honey producers), its pendulant seed heads, and its refusal to grow straight.


Sourwood haphazardly reaches for sunlight, resisting the straight and narrow.

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I recorded this 32-second video near the Japanese Garden on the plateau top:


Japanese Garden


We headed to the Japanese Garden for diversion and a chance for Pap to rest.

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A bamboo walkway served as a place for a little monkey business!

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I have never entered an Alabama State Park without discovering more delights that I had anticipated. At the risk of over using two relevant John Muir quotes:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.


Miscellaneous Discoveries Along the Wells Memorial Trail


We paused to examine and photograph a basketball-size bald-faced hornets nest. The boys kept a healthy distance, respecting their vision of hundreds of protective hornets surging from the nest.

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We spotted one of my all-time favorite ferns from New York to Alabama: maidenhair fern.

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And the ubiquitous Christmas Fern!

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The boys and I will return to the Park time and again. I am blessed to live so close to the boys amid Nature’s richness and magic here in north Alabama.


Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. (John Muir)
  • And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. (John Muir)
  • When I suggest that I have my grandsons in tow, I recognize that at this of my life, it is they who have Pap in tow.

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


Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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And Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 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 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 grandkids, 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

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All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.