Mid-April Lakeside Forest Panoply at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

Lakeside Forest Panoply


On April 17 and 18, 2024, I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply — this Post
  4. Dawn from the lodge docks

I sauntered for nearly three hours (April 17) along the lakeside Awesome Trail, enjoying diverse attractions, many of them hidden in plain sight. Although the bird blind was in no way hidden, I felt compelled to look closely, which beckoned me to spend more time than I could devote, given the time-certain deadline to attend the late afternoon Foundation gathering at the Park Lodge. I often find in Nature that I want to linger longer than I’m able.



I concur with those autumn forest enthusiasts who are smitten with fall’s color palette. However, I am equally attracted to the seeming infinite shades of green that enrich spring forest ventures. I’m reminded of the title of yet another banal Hollywood blockbuster that I missed (or refused to see) on the big screen: Fifty Shades of Grey. Give me spring’s fifty shades of green and I will see the reel time after time!



The blind’s portals frame whatever fine image you select…each one unique and worthy of photo-capture.



The full Awesome Trail runs from the Park’s Boat Launch parking lot 4.1 miles to the Marina near the Lodge. I recorded this 37-second video to convey the mood, spirit, and nature of this soothing lakeside path, ideal for this woods-wanderer still recovering from the past ten months headlined by my June 19, 2013 triple bypass surgery, October bi-lateral inguinal hernia repair, and January 23, 2024 total left knee replacement!

I recorded the video at 1:37 PM:


The trail passes by this copse of yellow poplar trees, which features the most impressive timbers in this 80-90-year-old forest. When the TVA acquired this property in the early 1930s, the land was severely eroded, deeply-gullied, worn-out pasture, an affliction common across Alabama and the southeast in those Great Depression years. How much larger would this copse have presented had the original soil been protected from abusive agricultural practices?!




A patch of native rusty blackhaw enriched the trek with its profusion of large, showy flower heads!



Fungal Friends


Plants were not the sole features. This white-pored chicken of the woods cluster sprouted within twenty feet of the trail. I resisted the temptation to harvest this edible mushroom.



I spotted this five-inch pale oyster mushroom, another edible.




This foot-wide deer-colored Trametes mushroom (non-edible), has a rather dull beige upper surface, yet compensates with its fascinating underside of distinct open pores.






Two three-inch worms (I am note sure whether they are in fact “worms” — iNaturalist did not identify) found refuge and nourishment in the darkness beneath the bracket.

This ear-like mushroom covered a fallen decaying tree in a thicket too dense for me to capture a clear image. Instead, I gathered a small handful to show wood ear fungus, yet another edible.



I am committed to learning more about the wonderful Fungi Kingdom, which when I was an undergraduate was still part of the Plant Kingdom — oh, how things change over a mere fifty years! Who says lifelong learning isn’t necessary for an old forester who insists upon better understanding the secrets of Nature hidden in plain sight?


Oh, the Gall of This Wasp!


The new leaves on this white oak seedling opened just a week or two before I discovered and photographed them (below left). Already, the seedling stem bears a fresh wool sower gall (below right).  During that short time, a wool sower gall wasp had oviposited its eggs into the stem. An NC State University Cooperative Extension bulletin tells the rest of the story:

The wool sower gall is a distinct and unusual plant growth induced by the secretions of the grubs of a tiny gall wasp, Callirhytis seminator. These wasps are about 1/8 inch long, dark brown, and their abdomens are noticeably flattened from side to side. The grubs are translucent to white, plump, and legless. Their heads are more or less shapeless blobs. The wool sower gall is specific to white oaks and only occurs in the spring. When the gall is pulled apart, inside are small seed-like structures inside of which the gall wasp grubs develop (the wool sower gall is also called the oak seed gall). 



Nature never disappoints the curious naturalist. I offer most every audience, whether classroom or field trip, my five verbs for truly enjoying Nature:

Five Essential Verbs: Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act.

    • I find Nature’s mysteries and curiosities because I know they lie hidden within view — belief enables me to look and see
    • Really look, with eyes open to your surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
    • Be alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
    • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
    • Feel emphatically enough to spur action — learning to seek understanding and awareness is an action


Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature. (Theodore Roosevelt)
  • Vitality and beauty are gifts of Nature, for those who live according to its laws. (da Vinci)
  • Nature never disappoints the curious naturalist.

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.