Joe Wheeler

Post-Surgery Return to Nature Wanderings: Dawn and OLLI Birding Nature Walk at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

It’s been 91 days (13 weeks — one-quarter of a year) since my left knee replacement surgery. My operative knee is much stronger and more stable than the one that awaits the same replacement surgery. I’m optimistic about the net result that will come with two new ones! No, I am far from a return to normal mobility, which I hope comes by 91 days after the right knee surgery. In the meantime, these photo essays will track my ventures across time. Without hesitation, I can state with conviction that Nature exposure and immersion are aiding my recovery and healing.

Daily Awakening


My total left knee replacement progress (January 23, 2024) permitted me to return to limited Nature wanderings on March 12 and 13 (50 days since surgery). I co-taught a Huntsville LearningQuest spring course with Renee Raney, Chief of Interpretation and Education, at the Alabama State Parks System. We appended an affiliated State Park bird-oriented half-day field interpretive walk at Joe Wheeler State Park, graciously led by Jennings Earnest, JWSP Naturalist. Jennings assisted the group in finding, identifying, and observing 43 bird species over the half-day venture.

Judy, our two Alabama grandsons, and I wandered within the Park the evening prior and enjoyed a night in one of the great Lakeside Cottages:

As is my routine, I arose early enough to welcome sunrise, this time from the Park Lodge docks along Lake Wheeler’s First Creek inlet. A great blue heron, my long-deceased Dad’s totem and avatar, seemed to have awaited me on the docks in the pre-dawn mist. We made brief eye contact before he arose to begin his day on the Lake.

Joe Wheeler


The encounter reminded me that in February of 1995, Dad’s spirit-bird visited me as I ran along a frost-steaming creek on a bitter cold sunrise the day of his memorial service. Since then, I have shared many special moments with great blue herons, each incident representing a cross-boundary contact from Dad. If nothing more, I know that he lives within me…and perhaps that is sufficient.

Ten minutes before sunrise, I relished the dawn sky-view from the docks, looking deeply into the First Creek inlet (left) and southeast to the Lodge. Except for an outbound bass boat or two, I enjoyed the solitude that often rewards the early riser. I cherish alone time. Early adult personality tests labeled me a hardcore introvert, an attribute that, along with my love for the outdoors, steered me to a bachelors degree in forestry. Only with career advancement into supervisory roles and eventually to 20 years of higher education senior administration did I learn how to act like an extrovert. Yes, “act” is the operative word. Truth is, I never escaped my natural tendency. Such a dawn as this one corroborated my permanent nature.



Five minutes later (7:06 AM), the sun kissed the horizon beyond the shoreline edge.



Another six minutes brought sharpening sunglow into the forest.




By 7:46 AM, sunlight graced the forests along Wheeler Lake, and highlighted the forest of masts at the State Park Marina.



I thought of Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay, wishing I could sit a spell longer:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come

However, my purpose in visiting Joe Wheeler State Park called for co-leading a morning hike. I reluctantly returned to the cottage.


Venturing into the Forest: Progressing from Walker to Cane to Trekking Pole


I’m making final edits to this photo essay on April 8, 2024, ten weeks from surgery. I graduated from physical therapy on April 5. No more cajoling, guided pain, and oversight by therapists (sometimes I referred to them as physical terrorists!). Additional strengthening and persistent toning is up to me. As long-ago recreational athlete, I feel confident in training through full recovery. I set out March 13 determined to keep the group in sight for as long as I could. Over the seven weeks from surgery to the March 13 trek, I had progressed from roller-walker to cane to trekking pole.



I found the mild spring day exhilarating, escaping the doldrums of confinement to my home and its backyard. Open forest, partly cloudy sky, similarly attuned Nature enthusiasts, and the freedom of returning to the outdoors at one of my favorite state parks lifted me to post-surgery heights. My wife captured my return-to-Nature celebratory mood with this 18-second video. I felt a bit foolish, yet viewing it three weeks later, I could not have better expressed my sense of joy and escape:


I lagged far enough behind that I missed most of Jennings’ bird identification (43 species tallied!) and interpretation. Occasionally I would catch up to snap an image, like Bob Carroll examining the trailside maw of an eight-inch diameter black cherry tree.



A retired educator (Clemson forestry degree), Bob paused to capture the still-standing carcass of a very large sassafras tree. Like me, Bob admires what I term tree form oddities and curiosities.



Our two Alabama grandsons (Jack left and Sam right) accompanied us, taking advantage of their spring break week. Jack couldn’t resist risking a black cherry mauling; Sam stood within a large looping wild grape vine.



My Personal Commitment to Perseverance


My tiring legs made it to the Day Use Area at 10:39 AM, some 90 minutes from departing the Lodge. Even now, I fall short of target strength and endurance. I remind readers that since June of 2023, I have endured triple bypass surgery, bilateral inguinal hernia surgery (October 2023), and the January knee replacement. The physical impact has been cumulative. Recovery will take time. Patience is not one of my virtues, yet I intend to persevere.



I will not accept the series of health issues as crushing and debilitating. This two-foot diameter black cherry tree  along the Cottage access road fell victim to a winter wind storm. Its wrenching, twisting demise symbolizes an unanticipated fate…a coup de gras. I am fortunate to retain my structural integrity and mental strength sufficient to push through recovery.



I shall treat my recovery with dogged determination, relying on the relentless support of my soul mate Judy and the power I draw from Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • The sun shines not on us but in us! (John Muir)
  • A day without witnessing dawn and sunrise is hardly a day at all. (Steve Jones)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts:

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




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.