Governor Kay Ivey’s Exciting April 2021 State Park System Announcement at Oak Mountain State Park

I retired full time to Madison, AL January 2018, following 12 years (1973-1985) practicing forestry with a Fortune 500 paper and allied forest products manufacturing company and 33 years serving nine universities. I recall saying during the heart of my career that I just could not imagine ever retiring. I admit to some serious adjustment during the first few months after letting go. However, I have found rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling pursuits related to my passion for Nature-Inspired Life and Living, to include researching, writing, and publishing these Posts. Also high among those pursuits is participating as a Charter Board Member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation.

I visited Oak Mountain State Park April 14-16 to attend the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board spring meeting and to be there for Governor Ivey’s address at the Park Pavilion (And, to enjoy three half-day hikes!). I decided upon my Board appointment to never attend a Park-located Foundation Board meeting without planning an extra day or two to explore that Park. I hiked to Indian Overlook on Shackleford Ridge the morning after the Board meeting (photo below).

 

 

My April 27, 2021 Post (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/04/27/fifty-shades-of-april-green-at-oak-mountain-state-park/) highlighted the magic of the Park’s fifty-shades-of-green spring forest palette. I am focusing today’s Post on other than my ancillary hikes and explorations. I will expand with photos and reflections on the natural wonders with subsequent Posts.

Today I offer the essence of Governor Ivey and the State Legislature’s Commitment to Alabama’s State Parks, and the extraordinary economic, social, and environmental benefits they provide to our State and its citizens. Governor Ivey made her remarks at the main pavilion near Park headquarters mid-morning April 15. The setting could not have been more grand. Partly cloudy, comfortable breeze, open water, and fifty shades of spring green.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

I urge you to view Gov Ivey’s four-minute video announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTAGBP6zSUI

All of us on the Board rejoiced. The news was everything we had anticipated relative to memorializing the productive partnership involving the Parks, our Foundation, and private enterprise… and more. The more is summarized below.

A Montgomery newspaper article provided a written summary: “A constitutional amendment that would allow the state to borrow $80 million to improve state parks passed its first vote in the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Christopher Blankenship told Alabama Daily News that the bonds would be used to expand and improve campgrounds and recreational areas.

“As we’ve seen this past year with COVID, state parks and outdoor recreation have been extremely important to people for their physical and mental health,” Blankenship said. “We saw great increases in usage at our parks, and also the federal wild properties in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.”

Blankenship told the Senate and House General Fund budget committees on Wednesday that attendance was up about 1.2 million for a total of 6.2 million visitors to state parks last year.

Alabama voters approved a $110 million bond issue in 1998 to help improve state parks and historical sites. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, says now that that bond issue is almost paid off, the state can enter into this new one.

“Because interest rates are so low today, we’re able to use the same amount that we’re paying out now, redo new bonds and put $80 million into the existing parks, which is going to be a tremendous asset to our state and to our tourism and across our state,” Ledbetter told ADN.

House bills 565 and 573 are the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation sponsored by Ledbetter. They passed the committee on Wednesday with no opposition. The Senate bills, 362 and 383, also passed committee with no opposition.

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, sponsors the Senate version of the plan, which has 24 co-sponsors. He said the bond issue is about making the parks self-sufficient and providing amenities that will give a return on investment.

“We feel as though making these investments will lead to even more improvements that can be made in a quicker amount of time and will bring in even more visitors and more money to the parks so that they can continue to do that over and over,” Scofield told ADN.

An amendment was added to both House and Senate bills that would allow any potential overage on the bond issue to go to various properties operated by the Alabama Forestry Commission.

A fiscal note on the bill says the bond issue would increase General Fund spending by about $5.5 million per year for 20 years, but House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, explained that it really isn’t an increase since it is replacing the bond issue that has now been paid out.

A brochure provided by the ADCNR  (https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:a5c6edd8-9589-4c90-be7d-14df0bcdb513#pageNum=1) lists their renovation plans, which include expanding campgrounds, modernizing day-use areas, adding cabins or swimming pools and providing internet connectivity to overnight accommodations.

Blankenship said the renovations will provide capabilities for modern-day desires.

“To bring them up to a standard that people have come to expect now and as the landscape is changing with motor homes and they’re becoming more advanced and require more from our campgrounds,” Blankenship said.

State parks are not funded by the State General Fund, but rather through fees. They generate 80-90% of their revenue directly through entrance, rental, lodging, golf and other recreational fees.

From 2011-2015, around $15 million was transferred from the parks budget to the state general fund and in 2015, five state parks had to shut down due to lack of funds.

In 2016 Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment that would prevent future reallocating of state park funds for other uses in the state’s budgets.

Scofield said in committee that the amendment passed in 2016 has helped with maintenance costs of the parks but is not able to provide the necessary funds to make the renovations they want to make in a quick enough manner.

“Money is staying in the parks system but it is just slower than anticipated,” Scofield said.

There are 21 state parks in Alabama that have an estimated $375 million economic impact for the state, according to the ADCNR brochure.

If the constitutional amendment is passed by both chambers then Alabama voters will likely vote on it in the 2022 election.

Scofield, who has three state parks in his district, said his constituents support improving the parks and he believes Alabama voters will approve the bond issue easily.

“Our parks play an important role in making sure that we are providing outdoor activities for the citizens of Alabama, even though you might not have a state park located in your area, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one near for a day trip,” Scofield said.

Since it’s a constitutional amendment, Gov. Kay Ivey does not have to sign off on the bill. However, Ivey Press Secretary Gina Maiola told ADN that Ivey supports the initiative.”

Urgent Update to this Post: Commissioner Blankenship communicated this message to the Foundation Board May 5, 2021:

Last week, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that will put a proposed Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would allow the state to sell up to $80 million in bonds for renovation, acquisition and capital improvements for Alabama State Parks under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This CA will be on the ballot for the statewide primary in May 2022. I am very excited about this step in our plan. I would like to thank Speaker McCutcheon, Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter and Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield for championing the State Parks and effectively shepherding this legislation through the process.

A companion bill was also passed that will increase funds we receive for general maintenance from $5 million annually to $7 million annually with a CPI adjustment every year. 

The bond projects coupled with the private partnerships forged through the ASP Foundations Capital Campaign that we kicked off on April 15 with Governor Ivey, Buffalo Rock and the Alabama Power Foundation, position us for a great deal of important work to make our Alabama State Parks first class!

As a Board member, citizen of Alabama, and a lifelong Earth Stewardship enthusiast I am thrilled that our State Parks System is poised to elevate its commitment to and practice of conservation, Nature-based recreation, and environmental education. I am overjoyed that Foundation Board Founding Chair, Dr. Dan Hendricks (below), invited me to join the then-fledgling Board.

Oak Mountain

 

I commend and salute Dan, Park System Director Greg Lein (below left), and Commissioner Chris Blankenship (below right) for their extraordinary leadership, vision, and dedication to the cause.

Park System Commitment to Education

The Park System Mission is succinct and powerful:

To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

I love all facets of the mission, but I must admit to deepest passion for the education element. Environmental education fits hand-in-glove with my personal retirement 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. That is what motivates my weekly Posts on Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

I hope my efforts have played some small role in the System’s commitment to expanding and strengthening its education mission. I learn a great deal interacting with our Park Naturalists. I hiked the afternoon of April 14 upon my arrival, and then several more hours on the trails after the April 15 Board meeting with Oak Mountain Naturalist Lauren Muncher (below right) and Central District Environmental Educator Scottie Jackson (left). Scottie has broad responsibility for education at Oak Mountain, Cheaha, and Wind Creek. The Central District position is new, as is having an environmental educator (Scottie) assigned to Wind Creek.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

We also now have an environmental educator assigned for the first time to Joe Wheeler State Park, and the search for a first time Naturalist position at Monte Sano State Park is underway.

Lauren and Scottie bring unbridled enthusiasm, passion, and good humor to extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. Both are committed to the task, creative, and eager to learn. We spent time together on-site in the spirit of learning and in challenging each other to imagine new ways of spreading the gospel of informed and responsible stewardship of our corner of this pale blue orb. I am buoyed by both the act of expanding environmental education staff… and by the quality of personnel.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

I found it fitting that Lauren and Scottie paused (and posed) standing atop a Civilian Conservation Corps culvert constructed in the 1930s. They know and understand that human and natural history are intertwined on all 21 Alabama State Parks and across the entire 48,000-acre Park System. They appreciate that the results of their efforts will reach across the next eight decades and beyond. They want to…and will…make a difference. I applaud their zeal to touch the future!

Oak Mountain

 

Nature inspires, even as it humbles. Whether the view from atop Shackleford Ridge (beginning of this Post) or the serene image from the front porch of the cabin where I stayed on the Park’s Tranquility Lake (below), Nature is an elixir that stirs my soul. And, a salve that brings greater meaning to my life.

Oak Mountain

 

And, when I contemplate the people of vision and passion who established the Alabama State Park System decades ago, or consider today’s leaders and educators who are lighting the torch for the next century, I am humbled. Humbled…and happy…to play some small role. To influence stewardship of some corner of this world through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

 

Alabama State Park Foundation Board

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Our Parks are treasures… returning economic, recreation, and environmental benefits.
  • I celebrate our State’s commitment to responsible and informed Earth Stewardship.
  • Hats-off to Park System leadership for strengthening environmental education.

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

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 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.

 

 

Fifty Shades of April Green at Oak Mountain State Park

Nature’s Beauty, Magic, Wonder, and Awe are Regionally Relative

Only reluctantly did I decide to include this open source autumn-glory image of a sugar maple forest along an unidentified New England lake. Hesitant because its unmatched beauty argues somewhat against the entire premise of my Post — that here in north Alabama, our spring forests’  fifty shades of green rivals the magic of our own fall colors. Note: I shamelessly did a little word play with the recent blockbuster series Fifty Shades of Grey. You’ll be pleased to know that, unlike the sordid series, my Posts are PG!

(Internet Stock Image)

Continuing, I admit that New England’s autumn colors epitomize seasonal stunning. Our oak, sweetgum, hickory, and poplar forests will always fall (pardon the incidental pun) short.

 

Chapman Preserve Chapman Preserve

 

So, I don’t apply the New England standard to my north Alabama autumn enjoyment. I draw parallel to the ultimate majesty of the Tetons. They stir my soul. Who can best them?

Tetons

 

Yet, I don’t permit the splendor of the Tetons to diminish my love of our southern Appalachians (Oak Mountain below).

 

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are relative. I partition my appreciation ranking in terms of where I’m exploring wildness. Stephen Stills captured my Nature-appreciation sentiment with his lyrics, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I love our Alabama wildness right here… easily accessible and within reach. And I love its exquisite vernal elegance, all fifty shades of green! Our southern wildness, across the seasons, stirs my soul and fills my heart. I’ll continue unabashedly to love the one I’m with!

Fifty Shades of Spring Green

 

I captured all of the images below during my April 14-16 wanderings at Oak Mountain State Park. I won’t burden you with excessive text, scientific explanation, or emotional expression. Whether the steady, year-round green of loblolly, Virginia, and shortleaf pines or the full range of green springing from new leaves, oak flowers, or developing maple samaras, multiple shades and hues paint every vista. I offer images from across the several Oak Mountain lakes, along the Park Headquarters parking lot, and from Indian Overlook atop Shackleford Ridge.

Oak Mountain

 

Throw in the mix of cloud cover, and some blue sky after my first day with persistent showers and light rain and the result accentuates the many shades.

Oak Mountain

 

The parking lot does not elevate the view. Instead, it provides the open space vista necessary to expose the forest-edge green mosaic.

Oak Mountain

 

This view adds the near-shore forest edge framing the opposite shore’s varying greens.

Oak Mountain

 

The strata of firmament, shoreline forest profile, and lake surface caught my attention and amplified the simple spring beauty. I didn’t need to fly to Jackson, Wyoming, rent a car, and drive north into Grand Teton National Park. Nor did my enjoyment require driving 1,300 miles to southeast Maine! I invested driving only two hours to the Park, staying two nights in a Park cabin on Tranquility Lake, and hiking multiple trails. Heaven on Earth within easy (and inexpensive) reach of my doorstep.

Oak Mountain

 

Friday morning I hiked from my cabin to Maggie’s Glen, then climbed the trail to Shackleford Ridge, Oak Mountain

 

I found absolute wonder of various sorts along the route, including some great spring wildflowers, on which I’ll report in subsequent Posts. My focus with this one is Fifty Shades of Green! The view from Indian Overlook did not disappoint. Occasionally, for future posterity, I feel compelled to provide evidence that I made the trek, hence the photo below left. The view below right is not tarnished by my own mug.

Oak Mountain

 

Here’s Tranquility Lake, site of the cabin where I stayed for two nights. Both nights, at least two barred owls called and caterwauled in full throat shortly after nightfall. Only loons and whippoorwills rival that special nighttime magic and thrill. Among all my fifty-shades photos from Oak Mountain, none surpasses my front porch Tranquility view with placid water, shoreline forest, stunning sky, and surface reflections… and the deeper internal reflections the scene spurred as I contemplated Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Oak Mountain

 

Although forest profiles best evidence the multiple shades and hues, subtle differences appeared within the deep forest.

Oak Mountain

 

Now, a few days later as I draft this Post, spring has matured beyond the pronounced fifty shades of green as summer muscles the spring season aside with full canopy foliage. Every place within our Alabama Nature changes complexion diurnally, seasonally, and across the years. Returning time and again to any one place, I never fail to discover a new dimension…a changed face…a special nuance. And, I learn that I have changed with it. Never do I tire of reveling in Nature-exploration. With each visit I feel higher inspiration, deeper humility, and greater commitment to Earth Stewardship and Enjoyment.

John Muir nailed it: In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Alabama State Park System

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my fifty-shades-of-green reflections:

  • Nature’s magic shifts with the seasons.
  • So much lies hidden in plain sight.
  • Muir’s wisdom: And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

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 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.

 

 

Tall Trees in Monte Sano State Park’s Cathedral Forest

Thirty-Four-inch Yellow Poplar

I’m continuing to explore our north Alabama forests and their sylvan residents from the ground up with my newly acquired instruments for measuring tree heights. March 12, 2021, I led Jerry Weisenfeld, Alabama State Parks Advertising and Marketing Manager, along the Arthur Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville, Alabama. I love these trails for the spectacular cathedral grove within the lower slopes and rich limestone-sink soils in protected coves. These soils are extremely fertile and deep. Trees are sheltered on the lower slopes and concave sites from winds that may ravage nearby ridge tops.

We identified a particularly tall yellow poplar for our first measurement. At 34-inch diameter breast high (DBH, 4.5 feet above ground on the uphill side), the tree towered above us. We stretched our tape out 100 feet, then used a clinometer to measure percent sight-line to its base and top. This individual stands at 140′. That’s roughly a 14-story building, a testament to the incredible productive capacity of these remarkably rich soils and ideal site location!

Monte Sano

 

This vertically-giant yellow poplar stands among other tall members of its own species. Below right Jim uses the clinometer to measure the percent line of sight to the tree’s top. The percent scale works well at 100 feet from the base. A reading of percent converts directly to tree height in feet.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The stand is fully stocked. The canopy is crowded. Little light reaches the summer forest floor.

Monte Sano

 

Yellow poplar efficiently captures sunlight high above the forest floor with crowns much smaller in diameter than species of white oak or beech, for example.

Thirty-Six-inch Yellow Poplar

Jerry and I wandered from the lower sink elevation to a terrace 30-40 feet higher, but still on a protected lower slope position. We identified another yellow poplar, this one a bit fatter at 36-inch DBH. Still towering, this one fell ten feet shorter at 130′. Viewing the ground from a 13-story roof ledge would be no less terrifying for me than standing atop a 14-story building. This yellow poplar stands just ten feet off the Wells Trail (below right).

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

That’s it below at 100 feet away, seeming far distant with my iPhone camera, which in my hands does not capture forest distance and depth very well.

Monte Sano

 

The view below left is at 60 degrees into the canopy. That’s our 130-footer dead center. And below right the vertical view into the crowns.

Monte Sano

 

As I complete this Post on April 19, we have moved into nearly full foliage, making height measurements next to impossible until next dormant season. The leafy canopy obscures any given tree. We cannot measure when the top is not visible.

Twenty-Five-inch Chestnut Oak

 

We ascended from the lower slopes and sinks onto the plateau top, where we chose a chestnut oak to measure. Keep in mind that being on the relatively flat plateau is not the same as rising onto a narrow ridge line, with steeply convex upper slopes, sites that are generally among our least productive, especially if they face west through south. Chestnut oaks often populate those harsh sites. This one occupies a more favorable site, albeit not on par with the lower slopes where we measured the two poplars. We measured this oak at 95 feet, certainly not unimpressive for a chestnut oak.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Reaching 9.5 stories high, this specimen is among the tallest chestnut oaks I have ever encountered. Oaks demand more crown space than our more efficient yellow poplars. Therefore, we can observe that the relative density of a comparable diameter chestnut oak exceeds that of a yellow poplar. I’ll dig deeper into the concept of relative density in subsequent Posts.

Monte Sano

 

I see and learn more with each hike through our forests. In no small way I regret that the season of crown observation and study has reached a summer halt. Nevertheless, I’ll find plenty of other avenues of exploration during the growing season.

The Sinks

Departing from isolating individual trees, let’s take a look at the sinks and the associated forest. The major sink along the Sinks Trail actually swallows all surface water that during storms and heavy rainfall flows into the great sink-of-no-outflow. Limestone outcrops below left provide the first hint. The towering forest occupies the bowl-shaped topography above and to the left of the limestone ledge. The ledge below right descends to the pit bottom where the surface flow disappears. For a sense of scale, the trunk that has fallen into the pit is close to 30 feet long and two feet in diameter on its larger end.

Monte Sano

 

 

The bowl extends below to the right side of the pit image.

Monte Sano

 

The stand of predominantly yellow poplar reaches 110 to 130 feet above. These stands by eastern forest standards are jaw-dropping.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

A die-hard forester, I am no longer in awe only of trees and their merchantable value.

And Nearby Spring Wildflowers

In fact, I have never been blind to values beyond timber. I have been, even during my forest industry days, a spring wildflower enthusiast. Blood root has long been among my favorites. Its pure white beauty, early-season appearance, and its fondness for deep fertile soils and associated majestic forests stir my spirit and soul.

Monte Sano

 

The far less spectacular harbinger of spring added a more subtle expression of the spring spirit.

 

And, we encountered a dense stand of bluebell leaves, but only a few precocious flowers daring to open so early.

Monte Sano

 

Another early ephemeral is cutleaf toothwort

Monte Sano

 

So, whether towering eastern hardwoods or rich-site early spring ephemerals, I am thrilled to enter the cathedral forest of Monte Sano State Park.

Alabama State Parks: A 21-Pearl Necklace from the Gulf to Alabama’s Southern Appalachians and the Tennessee Valley

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my mid-March explorations within the rich sink sites along the Wells and Sinks Trails at Monte Sano State Park:

  • Trees exploit rich, moist, and deep soils 
  • Cathedral forests stir my soul and lift my spirit
  • John Muir observed: “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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 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.

 

 

 

My Alabama State Parks 2021 Eagle Award

I’ve published more than 250 Great Blue Heron Posts over the past five years, ranging widely from observations in my own backyard to our western USA National Parks to visiting three National Parks in Kazakhstan in 2019. I’ve stayed true to the theme of Nature-Inspired Life and Living, and remain steadfast to my retirement 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.

An Unexpected Award for a Labor of Love!

Shorty after retiring permanently to Madison, Alabama January 2018, I accepted appointment as a founding member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board. Since then I’ve published dozens of these Great Blue Heron Posts inspired by my wanderings on many of Alabama’s 21 incredible Parks, encompassing 47,000 acres of Alabama wild! The count includes 16 State Park Posts just since January 2020. The Foundation’s Mission: The Alabama State Parks Foundation hosts a community of people who love our State’s parks. A philanthropic partner of the Parks Administration, the Foundation seeks gifts that will support and enhance park programming, parks facilities, and parks experiences. Members of the Foundation are people dedicated to building and sustaining a great, statewide park system.

The Park System likewise has a mission to which I fully subscribe: Acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

And, my own retirement mission resonates with both: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Lake Lurleen

 

So, I have found a meaningful way to integrate my love of Nature, my passion for making a difference for Earth and its future, and my knack for translating the science of Nature toward inspiring others to learn about and care for her. Volunteering on behalf of the Alabama State Parks System enables me to satisfy my personal retirement mission and serve Nature, the System, and our State.

Here are my three most recent Posts generated by wandering nearby State Parks:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/01/19/fungi-and-non-flowering-plants-mid-december-2020-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/01/07/tree-form-curiosities-mid-december-2020-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/12/09/destination-kings-chair-oak-mountain-state-park/

Oak Mountain

 

 

I am honored and humbled to receive one of the ten 2021 Eagle Awards! Here’s Jerry Weisenfeld, Advertising and Marketing Manager for the Alabama State Park System, presenting the Award, fittingly, in the plateau forest near the Monte Sano State Park offices March 12, 2021.

Eagle Award

 

If the above photo of two unmasked adults shaking hands alarms you, please know that we both had received our second vaccinations and we’re standing outside in a fresh breeze. If still upset, please see the photo below:

 

I accepted this Eagle Award with deep satisfaction and humility. Exploring our wildlands, getting to know our State Park gems, and offering my photos and reflections stand as a labor of absolute love!

Eagle Award

 

The crystal sculpture is apt — my heart soars like an eagle!

Here is the State Parks media release that preceded my accepting the Award from Jerry:

The Eagle Award is presented to people and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in support of the parks. For 2020, 10 winners were selected from nominations submitted. Congratulations to all of our 2021 Eagle Award Winners!
1) Randy Householder, of Montgomery, from Alabama Outdoor Adventurer (Community Partner)
2) Hailey Sutton and Christopher Cole, of Montgomery and reporters for WSFA News 12 (Community Partner)
3) Steve Jones, of Huntsville (Park Partner)
4) Shar and Phil Roos with A Year to Volunteer, Joe Wheeler and Buck’s Pocket State Parks (Volunteer in the Park)
5) Pam and Rick Kerheval, Gulf State Park (Volunteer in the Park)
6) Carol and Jim Wehr, Gulf State Park (Volunteer in the Park)
7) David Rogers, DeSoto State Park (Volunteer in the Park)
8) Ed Rogers, of Huntsville (Volunteer in the Park)
9) Garrett Southers, of Scottsboro and Eagle Scout Troop 708 (Youth)
10) Alabama State Senator Tom Whatley, of Lee County (Elected Official)

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reactions in accepting the Award:

  • Reward in satisfaction and fulfillment alone is enough
  • Yet, receiving a significant Award I did not know existed is sweet beyond expression
  • The Eagle Award refuels my engine and inspires me to continue these Posts! 

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksEagle Award

 

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 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.

 

Fungi and Non-Flowering Plants, Mid-December 2020 at Monte Sano State Park

December 15, 2020, I hiked several trails at Monte Sano State Park with two naturalist friends, Mike Ezell and Jesse Akozbek. We sought whatever Nature might reveal to us as we trekked in the forest examining anything that caught our eye. We explored the remarkable cove forest along the Arthur Wells Memorial Trail (photo of trailhead below right from an early summer visit), one of my favorite haunts at the Park. Returning to the new Bikers Pavilion, we spent several hours circuiting the South Plateau and Fire Tower Trails, enjoying the flat and smooth surface. Reviewing my recollections and photographs, I partitioned our findings into two categories: tree form oddities and curiosities we encountered, each one with a compelling story; fungi and non-flowering plants that caught our attention. I issued the Post on oddities and curiosities the first week of January: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/01/07/tree-form-curiosities-mid-december-2020-at-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

This subsequent Post offers reflections and photos of the array of fungi and non-flowering plants that brightened the otherwise drab winter forest. Wikipedia offered the most descriptive and apt definition of drab:

Drab is a dull, light-brown color. It originally took its name from a fabric of the same color made of undyed, homespun wool. The word was first used in English in the mid-16th century. It probably originated from the Old French word drap, which meant cloth.

Allow me a point of clarification and emphases. After our long growing season of green and hot days, I love the drab dormant season cool weather and ecosystems at relative rest and tranquility.

Regardless of my own feelings about seasonal fluxes, our subject organisms are anything but drab!

Fungi Kingdom

Cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae) is a woody bracket fungus that is most easily identified by its habitat. This fungus grows almost exclusively on locust trees. In fact, the fungus is such a common pathogen of locusts that nearly every Black Locust tree has at least one bracket (FungusfactFriday.com). Throughout our northern Alabama forests, which commonly range from 70-100 years old and regenerated naturally from past disturbance, black locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia) is a common component. A pioneer species that exploits forest disturbance and effectively colonizes abandoned farm and pasture, the species is relatively short-lived, dropping from our forests, yielding crown space to more persistent species like oak, hickories, sweetgum, and poplar. I see dead and dying main canopy black locust within most of the stands I hike. The bracket below still clung to the trunk of a locust that had not long ago fallen to the forest floor. Moss covers what had been its top surface, the rusty underside (spore-bearing) is visible in the third image. Immediately below are the side-view and topside perspectives.

Monte Sano

 

The species is both parasitic and saprobic. One might wonder whether the pathogenic infection kills a healthy and robust live tree, or does it infect an aging, weakened locust that is nearing the end of its life. I suspect the latter. The scientific and historical records are rich with reference to this American species. I urge you to explore at your leisure online. Some tantalizing examples: black locust honey is indescribably delicious; its fence posts insurmountable; its nitrogen-fixing bacteria invaluable; wooden locust nails gave American naval ships superior strength in dealing with the British naval forces in the War of 1812!

 

We found a single small patch of enoki mushroom (Flammulina velutipes) on a downed dead branch. This is an edible, yet one that is easily confused with deadly galerina (Galerina marginata), also native to our woodlands. The two are distinguishable, but not without careful study and considerable due diligence. So, if you see a mushroom resembling this photo, don’t harvest and consume unless you are 100 percent certain. The moniker “deadly” is a stern signal to make sure you know!

Monte Sano

 

My iNaturalist struggled with identifying this wrap-around fungus. I simply refer to this coating as a mycelial mat. That is, I believe this is the vegetative structure of a fungus consuming the dead stem. Hence, it is not a mushroom (the fungal fruiting body); it is a fungus. I am once again evidencing my shallow position on the mycology learning curve.

Monte Sano

 

I am somewhat confident that this specimen below is crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), yet another saprophyte consuming dead and down stemwood. MushroomExpert.com offers an effective description of this fungi’s ecology: Saprobic on the dead wood of hardwoods, especially oaks; growing densely gregariously, often from gaps in the bark; fusing together laterally; causing a white rot of the heartwood; often serving as a host to algae; sometimes parasitized by jelly fungi; spring, summer, fall, and winter; widely distributed in North America but apparently absent in the Rocky Mountains. The same source, based in Illinois and its review applicable here as well, states that Stereum c. is the most common, ubiquitous, ever-present, lost-all-its-luster fungus among us.

Monte Sano

 

False turkey tail (Stereum ostrea) is another ubiquitous fungus. Wikipedia offered: called false turkey-tail and golden curtain crust, is a basidiomycete fungus in the genus Stereum. It is a plant pathogen and a wood decay fungus. The name ostrea, from the word ‘oyster’, describes its shape. This colony occupies all exposed surfaces of a 24-inch-plus-diameter, wind-thrown hickory that has now spent three summers prostrate. When I hiked this section of the trail mid-summer, a lush crop of summer oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius) occupied this log. The oysters had aged and withered beyond the point of harvesting for human consumption. So, both Stereum and Pleurotus are sharing the hickory feast. The oysters consume lignin, leaving the whitish cellulose behind. Thus, oysters are white rot fungi, as is Stereum. I suppose this multi-ton hickory offers plenty of wood to satisfy both fungi species. I ponder the hierarchy of life. The mighty hickory, some may conclude, is the higher order in this cycle, dominating the high canopy and, with the wind, thundering to the forest floor. Others may assume that the fungi, the more recent actor in the cycle, is preeminent owing to its function in restoring the tree to duff and organic debris. Still others who see the ultimate life members as the microorganisms decomposing the remaining tree constituents to nutrients available to plants, including the next generation of hickories. In my view, there is no hierarchy.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes monikers tell the tale and shape our impressions of a thing… or even of a person. As CEO of a small private university in Ohio, I envied another Jones heading a similar institution. Why the envy? Simple, his first name was Rock, Rock Jones. How could I not feel inferior when in the presence of Rock Jones? Perhaps it would have been my own seeming superiority had his first name been Tinker… Tinker Jones. Well, I immediately passed judgement when iNaturalist revealed the identity of this mushroom, the stinking orange oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans). It certainly stood out in orange splendor from its drab surroundings!

Monte Sano

 

MushroomExpert.com offers these words: Saprobic on the deadwood of hardwoods and conifers–often those fairly recently dead, with bark still adnate; causing a white, stringy rot; growing gregariously or in overlapping clusters; fall and spring, or over winter in warm climates; widely distributed in North America. This beautiful but often stinky mushroom is orange from head to toe, and densely hairy on the cap surface. It grows in shelf-like clusters on the deadwood of hardwoods and conifers across North America. The foul odor of Phyllotopsis nidulans is sometimes lacking, but fresh collections usually manage to work up a pretty good stink. Imagine the degree to which we form a preconception of a thing or person if the introductory bio carries the words: the foul odor is sometimes lacking, but in time manages to work up a pretty good stink. Certainly not a descriptor suitable for a eulogy.

 

Sometimes the magic in our words matches the enchantment in our woods.

A jelly fungus, witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) offers a different persona from preceding wood decay fungi: Parasitic on the mycelium of species of Peniophora (a genus of crust fungi); growing alone or in amorphous clusters on the decaying sticks and logs of oaks and other hardwoods (usually when bark is still adnate); usually appearing in spring, in temperate areas, but also appearing in summer, fall, and winter; widely distributed in North America, but possibly less common in western North America. Oh, the complexity of life and its cycles. Here’s a mushroom that parasitizes a wood decay fungus! No living organism is inedible… by some other organism.

Monte Sano

 

Another jelly fungus, amber jelly roll (Exidia recisa), resides on a dead hardwood sapling. The species is common across North America, almost always found on dead hardwood sticks and small branches on the ground or on small standing saplings like this one. The species is among the jellies considered edible by foragers, However, beware the cautions I have noted with other so-called edibles. Make sure… MAKE SURE!

Monte Sano

 

I fell flat in my attempts to identify this specimen. I referred to it simply as unknown even though it has a distinctive shape, a chambered disc-cylinder. Nearly two inches across, it clings tightly to the sawn end of an oak that had wind-blown across a trail. It reminds me of some kind of rock-clinging intertidal organism. I searched fruitlessly in hard copy and online reference sources. I eventually posted the photo on the Mushroom Identification Facebook Group, generating a positive I.D. as Hypomyces tremellicola, a saprobic fungi. However, I am unable to find an online description of its range and ecology.

Monte Sano

 

I think that I shall never see… a poem so lovely as a fungeeee. Okay, a slight twist to Joyce Kilmer’s classic. Fungi, worthy of time and attention year-round, are especially noteworthy during our blessed cool season of dormant forest drabness.

Non-Flowering Plants

 

Nothing dull or drabby about these trees, proudly wearing their trunk-carpet of American tree moss (Climacium sp.). These two trunk shots are along the sloping side of a large sinkhole along the Sinks Trail. The sinkhole is somewhat active, with slow side slope slippage away from the base. I’ve often seen such exposed roots of streamside trees where bank erosion is active. The sink micro-climate is moist, encouraging this dense lower stem moss.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The same for this stem. Nature really does abhor a vacuum. Plants (and moss is a plant, albeit non-flowering) require nutrients, moisture, anchorage, and light. Bark continuously sheds from the outside; the moss feeds on the sloughing and decaying outer bark. Additional nutrients transfer with stem flow as rain falls on the crown and is shuttled down the stem. Moisture comes from stem flow, dewy mornings, humid days and nights, and the relatively still, protected micro-climate of the sink hollow and cove forest. Anchorage is easy — the coarse bark offers a foothold for the moss. And moss doesn’t require full sunlight; in fact, it abhors the heat and dryness of direct sunlight.

Monte Sano

 

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) is common on the forest floor across northern Alabama. Reminds me of the moss carpet in Miss Suzy Squirrel, a book I read forty years ago to our kids. I love the look, feel, and comfort of our native forests, accented here and there by cushion moss..

Monte Sano

 

This is the second time you’ve seen this photo. Above I highlighted the crowded parchment mushroom. With this one I draw your attention to the tree moss matrix. I view it as an ecosystem community. Toss in the false turkey tail mushroom for some additional variety. This is a work of art that I just happened to capture with my shutter. Imagine the emptiness of walking in the woods and missing this beauty trailside at your feet.

Monte Sano

 

Likewise, you’ve seen this image previously. This time I direct your attention to the mossy top hat on this cracked cap polypore. Another piece of Nature’s artwork!

 

And here’s the moss-bedecked rock ledge at the large sink I mentioned earlier. I want to return this coming spring. I am certain that spring ephemeral flowers will be flourishing in such a moisture- and nutrient-rich site.  Nature is pure magic in multiple dimensions across the seasons.

Monte Sano

 

Enter our forests believing (knowing) that there is magic within. Look deeply enough to discover what lies hidden in plain sight. Look deliberately to actually see what awaits your discovery. And see at a depth of realization and understanding to generate feelings… in your mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit. And finally, translate those feelings to action… informed and responsible Earth stewardship. I embrace those five verbs with respect to all that I do in Nature: believe, look, see, feel, and act.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Any walk in Nature provides lessons for life and living when you employ my five core verbs:

  • Believe
  • Look
  • See
  • Feel
  • Act

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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.

Tree Form Curiosities Mid-December 2020 at Monte Sano State Park

December 15, 2020, I hiked several trails at Monte Sano State Park with two naturalist friends, Mike Ezell and Jesse Akozbek. We sought whatever Nature might reveal to us as we trekked in the forest examining everything natural that caught our eye. That’s me below with a 34-inch diameter yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the remarkable cove forest along the Arthur Wells Memorial Trail, one of my favorite haunts at the Park. No tree form oddities with this magnificent specimen! We also explored intersecting sections of the Sinks and Keith Trails.

Monte Sano

 

Returning to the new Bikers Pavilion, we spent several hours circuiting the South Plateau and Fire Tower Trails, enjoying the flat and smooth surface. Rather than present a sequential catalog of what we found of interest, I give you some of the tree form oddities and curiosities we encountered, each one with a compelling story.

Monte Sano

 

Decades ago this white oak (Quercus alba) suffered a blow (falling large branch or tree) that bent and nearly broke it to 90-degrees about six feet above the ground. Mike is leaning against what was then the bent-over trunk. He’s holding at the point where the damaged stem broke clean or suffered damage sufficient to encourage a dormant bud to take over the terminal growth, sending a shoot vertical, now reaching into the main canopy. We are left with a zig at five feet, a four-foot horizontal zag, and a re-zig to vertical (the terms are my own; I do not recall any formal forestry words of description!). I have heard fellow woods explorers refer to such trees as Indian Marker Trees, suggesting that Native Americans long ago bent the then-sapling to direct others to something of importance. However, based upon land use history and my own experience, I peg this stand at roughly 75-95 years old. The callousing stub Mike is holding was probably no more than four inches in diameter at the time of the causal incident, leading me to conclude that the injury occurred no more than 50 years ago. Also, consider that in 1970 (50 years ago) there had been no trail-blazing Indians hunting and gathering on this mountain for more than a century.

Monte Sano Monte Sano

 

Indian Marker Tree makes a nice story, but Nature tells her own tales. Trees falling on other trees is routine. Those crushed, in full or partially, have honed the craft of recovering from injury. This then young white oak was genetically hard-wired to respond, recover, and reach reproductive age. The two photos below complete the 360-degree view.

 

I cannot speculate on what agent created this grotesque protuberance 20 feet up the trunk of a white oak. An old injury? Branch stubs from many years ago still callousing over long after the wound had healed? Antlered branches tufting atop the growth trigger my impulse to find a face, identify a creature, or offer a name.

 

Perhaps with the inspiration of a rum-fortified New Years Eve eggnog, I could discern the two eyes of the long-necked creature facing down (below left)… or the eyes and snout of the dog-face above it (below right). I suppose no future-naturalist youngster tires of seeing shapes and stories with summer cumulus. I  continue the cloud-fascination with tree form curiosities well into the youth of my late 60s!

Monte Sano

 

It’s funny how perspective alters our perception of these tree form oddities. I photographed this same peculiar growth from 180-degrees. The result is as different as night and day. Because I do not apply any kind of age-appropriate warnings or cautions to my Posts, I offer this positionally-adjusted image without comment. I leave any interpretation to the discerning, mature reader.

Monte Sano

 

Okay, let’s quickly move to the next image lest I offend anyone… or embarrass myself even more! This eight-inch diameter sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), not long dead, suffered a blow years ago that bent it 180-degrees. Persevering, the tree responded by sending a shoot skyward.  It fought a valiant battle, its conducting tissue maintaining some level of flow between crown and roots. I’ll term this a pump-handle tree, resembling its moniker… and continuing for years after injury to pump water and nutrients up and bring manufactured carbohydrates down to its roots.

Monte Sano

 

This corkscrew loblolly pine suffered a significant physical insult long ago, breaking its terminal stem and transferring the vertical growth to the side branch on our left. The damaged branch on our right managed to survive… corkscrewing its way upward and outward. Importantly, the tree’s hard wiring enabled it to respond and live competitively into the cone-producing years with its head still in the main canopy.

Monte Sano

 

I have often said in these Posts that I have never had a truly original thought. Others before me noticed and recorded observations and conclusions that I have laboriously rediscovered. Five hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci commented on Nature’s ways and her own laws:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

Nature never breaks her own laws.

Perhaps da Vinci had pondered tree form oddities and curiosities?

Not all unusual tree shapes derive from response to injury. Some species find competitive advantage in growing other than vertically. Farkleberry (Vaccinium aboreum) is the only tree-form member of the blueberry genus. Tree form stretches the term. I view farkleberry as a taller bush, its branches layered and contorted, gnarled and twisting. I conjecture that its comparative advantage as an understory inhabitant is its ability to capture as much of the crown-penetrating sun flecks as possible. And to live long and prosper without direct full sun. It has no need to grow scores of feet tall or achieve a girth measured in feet. Like all living organisms, it needs only enough to assure a next generation, to sustain the species.

Monte Sano

 

Farkleberry (also called sparkleberry) knows not to live beyond its means. Will we humans realize before its too late the wisdom inherent in this tree-form blueberry?

Monte Sano

 

Will we open our eyes to Nature’s wisdom? Leonardo’s revelation is worthy of repeat:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Leonardo da Vinci learned lessons from Nature applicable to us 500 years hence:

  • Nature is the source of all true knowledge
  • She has her own logic, her own laws
  • She has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity

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: “©2021 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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.

 

Destination: King’s Chair, Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest State Park at approximately 10,000 acres. I took this entrance sign photo on a prior visit, returning November 11, 2020 to hike the North Trail to Kings Chair, an overlook worthy of the four-mile round trip.

 

North Trailhead to King’s Chair

 

I often hike wildness alone, seldom finding anyone who tolerates my methodical Nature-explorations. I prefer walking IN Nature, generally disdaining trekking THROUGH the forest just to reach an endpoint. For me the journey is the preferred destination. This trip, three like-minded individuals shared the hike with me. Lauren Muncher (center) is Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist. This was her home turf — she knows her Nature-stuff! Mike Ezell (red headband) is Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus. I value Mike’s friendship and consider him my go-to guy for species identification and north Alabama shared hikes. That’s Brent Cotton wearing the hat. Brent is with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Brent had invited me to speak the next day to the Vestavia Hills Sunrise Rotary Club. My topic: Highlighting the Nature of Alabama’s State Parks. I combined the Rotary engagement trip with the Oak Mountain hike.

The morning rain quit just a half-hour before we parked at the trailhead. Note the puddles; the rain did not restart until we were back in our vehicle several hours later. Good fortune, good planning, or, more likely, dumb luck!

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Park trail signage is superb. I had not previously seen the Park System’s new vertical signposts describing surface, steepness, difficulty, typical grade, maximum grade, typical cross slope, tread width, intended use (hike, bike, horse, ORV), and other characterizations.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

We encountered no surprises with respect to trail conditions.

Tropical Storm Zeta’s Signature

 

Retaining tropical storm strength, Zeta raced across central Alabama (bullseye Oak Mountain!) October 28, 2020. I measured ~3.5-inches of rain at my home along the northern tier of Alabama counties, breezy but shy of TS-force winds, and no damage reported. My hiking companions pose below against a greater than two-foot diameter chestnut oak near the ridgeline. We saw hundreds of downed trees, nearly all toppled or broken by winds from the south and southeast. At one point late that late October evening the Birmingham area had a quarter-million customers without power.

Oak Mountain

 

This oak likewise fell uprooted, scarring a Virginia pine trunk 60-feet downwind. The fallen oaks leave large canopy vacancies, a process timeless and ageless. Forests know disturbance… and will respond accordingly. Understory vegetation (woody perennials and seedlings) will exploit the sunlight that next spring will fuel the regrowth. Adjacent main canopy occupants will muscle-up and reach into the opening. Nothing in Nature is static. Tropical systems (and tornadoes) do not destroy forests… instead, they afford opportunities for renewal.

Oak Mountain

 

Sometimes a wind-throw reveals secrets. This nearly three-foot diameter American beech not far from the trailhead shattered at its stump. Behold its woody rind protecting and hiding a perfectly hollow core. Lauren kindly accommodated my request that she add some measure of scale to the cut section! Lauren is planning to have crews transport the six-foot cylinders to the playground. I am in awe that the decay fungus and tree stand-off persisted for many decades, maintaining an equilibrium between decay deterioration and annual wood accretion… until Zeta broke the tie. I have said hundreds of times that every parcel of land and even every tree holds a compelling story within. This single beech tree could fill a volume with its tale. What was the wound many years ago that opened the then young stem to fungal infection? What manner of invertebrate and diverse animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other critters) found refuge and cover within the hollow?

Oak Mountain

 

Like the beech, these two Virginia pines snapped near ground level, the wood literally shattering. I imagined a forest-located microphone anchored as Zeta powered across central Alabama. Wind howling; trees creaking; cannon-fire trunks breaking; branches falling to the ground; trunks thundering, slamming to earth; rain pounding. All sounds terrifying to us that for eons have resounded untold times through whatever forests have come and gone. Forests know disturbance.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Virginia pine holds its cones over many seasons., evident with these two crowns brought to ground level by Zeta. Virginia pine is a pioneer species, colonizing old fields, burned over areas, and large scale blowdowns. The single-tree canopy openings created by Zeta are too small for the pine to replace itself. Hardwoods will prevail, many of them already in-place in the understory, awaiting just such opportunities. We saw lots of dead Virginia pine, mortality occurring prior to Zeta over the preceding ten or more years. I commented during our ascent that the stands dominated by Virginia pine had perhaps originated when previous landowners abandoned poor quality pasture.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could have devoted an entire Post to Zeta and its lessons about disturbance and renewal. Instead, let’s shift to the undamaged forest condition.

Undamaged Forest and the Annual Signature of Autumn

 

I estimated that, as spectacular as the wind damage was, fewer than five of every 100 main canopy occupants suffered. The oak bearing the Shackleford Overlook sign stands tall and secure. Fall yellows dominate the slope and ridge beyond. A tint of orange here and there. We witnessed the peak of central Alabama hardwood forest fall color. I am careful not to gauge my appreciation and marvel-level relative to the unsurpassed (albeit brief) magic of New England’s northern hardwood forest color explosion. I relish the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of our southern forest autumns. My appreciation is strengthened by the knowledge that our long hot summer is behind us. The wind would have had a hard time toppling the lower right chestnut oak securely sheltered by the sandstone boulders around it.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

This stand of oaks is on the lee side of a large outcrop. These individuals, too, enjoyed protection from the south-southeast gale.

Oak Mountain

 

As we crested the ridge beyond the outcrop, we had gained 400-feet elevation from the trailhead to King’s Chair, a plateau rim at about 1,150 feet.

What a View!

 

Our moderate climb proved well worth the effort! Lauren called this first overlook Queen’s Chair, just south of our intended destination. Within just a few minutes from the Birmingham area, wildness stretched into the distance behind our crew. Local newspapers recently reported that some 1,600 adjacent forested acres (much of it included in this view) will be added to the Park. I look forward to exploring new and extended trails.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few minutes later we arrived at King’s Chair. Our view spanned from due south (below left) to ENE (below right). Had the visibility been better, Mt Cheaha, Alabama’s highest point (2,407-feet) would have appeared center-horizon in the second photo.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Lest you doubt whether I summited, see below left, a photo that Mike snapped with my camera. That’s Belcher Lake off-property (below right; lower right side of photo). Beyond the evident cleared right-of-way leading from the lake, we saw light poles of the Chelsea High School athletic fields, and the town water tower (off-photo to the right). Regardless, wildness is the dominant landscape feature. Alabama has 23 million acres of forestland… 70.6 percent of the state’s 31 million acre area. Only Vermont (77.8 percent); West Virginia (79); New Hampshire (84.3); and Maine (89.5) are more heavily forested.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

Forests prevail across our state from the Gulf coast to the northern tier of counties. Not a bad place for an old forester to retire!

Some Additional Observations

 

We paused on our return to the trailhead at a colorful sugar maple… mostly because we needed a break!

Oak Mountain

 

I photographed this young longleaf pine that was one of the few individuals we saw indicating that the species could be part of the next forest generation. However, without some intentional silvicultural treatments (prescribed fire among them), longleaf will not persist on this ridge.

Oak Mountain

 

Moss- and lichen-covered rocks add elegance to what would otherwise be unglamorous. The old axiom that Nature abhors a vacuum is evident. Any surface (rock, dead branch, tree trunk) is a home for some life form.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Moss created a work of fine art on this exposed dead tree root.

Oak Mountain

 

And same for the lichen and fungi decorating this dead branch. As I’ve often observed, Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight.

Oak Mountain

 

I relish any chance to enjoy Nature’s manifold gifts, whether here in Alabama or wherever my travels take me.

Final Reflections

 

In retirement, my travels allow tremendous opportunities (and time) for immersing in wildness. I recall prior business trips (to exotic places like Japan and China) that left me hungry and aching for even a few hours to explore and learn Nature, luxuries not afforded by the press then of time and business. Although I ostensibly ventured to the Birmingham area to speak at the November 12 Rotary meeting, my real and pressing business was to experience more of Oak Mountain State Park’s wildness… and to share with the Rotarians my message of informed and responsible Earth stewardship. And to extoll the virtues of our Alabama State Park System. Immediately below is my retirement business attire.

Oak Mountain

 

Occasionally for events like speaking with the Rotarians, I will don a sports coat, but rarely sport a tie. I jumped at the chance to once again share my message. I am grateful that Brent invited me.

 

I remind all readers that my retirement mission is: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. If you read these words, don’t hesitate to call upon me for speaking engagements: steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks… and your enjoyment of them.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

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: “©2020 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

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.

 

 

A First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Upland Forest

This is the second of two Posts from my October 14, 2020 hike of the Ridge Loop Trail at Lake Lurleen State Park. The first of the two focused on the mesic lower slope forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/19/a-first-visit-to-alabamas-lake-lurleen-state-park-moist-lower-slope-forest/

I direct this Post to the more xeric upland forest half of the loop.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The upland forest (below) is more open, composed heavily of chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), noticeably shorter than the predominantly yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and red oak on the lower slopes. Convex-shaped upper slopes, especially those facing south and west, simply cannot support dense stands of towering trees. Soils are more shallow, less fertile, and drier. Crown heat often rises above a threshold for stomates to remain open, shutting the photosynthesis operation down often late morning through mid-afternoon. Were I to be reborn as a tree, my preference is to be a red oak on a lower slope cove site, deeply concave, facing to the northeast.

Lake Lurleen

 

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) competes effectively and grows well on the upland sites. Fire-dependent, longleaf-based ecosystems have adapted over the eons to the harsher environment and occasional natural fires that sweep the more xeric uplands. I admire this species that once dominated some 90 million acres here in the southeastern US, and is now relegated to fewer than five million acres. Public land managers are implementing intentional management practices on state and federal lands, and assisting private landowners (individuals and forest industry) to restore the longleaf forests over much of its natural range. Although the species occurs in a wide variety of upland and flatwood sites, it is common on sandy, infertile, well-drained soils, mostly below 660 feet elevation (USDA). I appreciate longleaf pine’s ability to make the best of poor sites, producing straight thick boles on relatively infertile sites. Thick pines needles covered the trail under the longleaf pine canopy, softening our steps and muting our footfalls.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

I include this photo to highlight the very effective signage the Park employs… and to evidence that I made it the the trail’s midway point. Note the open understory, widely-spaced overstory, and patchy sunlight penetrating to the forest floor.

Lake Lurleen

 

We encountered many individuals and a thicket or two of farkleberry (also known as sparkleberry), the only tree-form species of its genus (Vaccinium arboreum). From Texas A&M University online Native Plant Database: Farkleberry is a small, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved tree or large shrub found on acid, sandy, well-drained soils in fields, clearings, open mixed forests, dry hillsides and wet bottomlands in east Texas west to the Bastrop area. It has small, bell-shaped, drooping white or pinkish flowers in loose racemes followed by small, black inedible fruit that matures in the fall. The leathery, glossy green leaves turn rich red in autumn. I have yet to run across farkleberry other than on similarly impoverished sites. Nevertheless, I appreciate its tenacity, its courage in claiming such sites as its preferred domain, and its rugged toughness of stem-wood. No need to attempt walking through a stand of sparkleberry…it does not yield to casual passers-through! 

Lake Lurleen

 

Whether on deep, moist, rich site or shallow upland, forest life and death dance a steady waltz. The pine stem (below) toppled 5-10 years ago, judging from its state of decomposition. The downed trunk supports an algae-green coat. Note once again the sparse forest… and considerable sunlight reaching the forest floor. The stand is sparsely stocked. The site is relatively dry and infertile, yet the algae is indifferent, drawing what it needs to flourish.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nearby I photographed this foot-tall black oak (Quercus velutina), a member of the red oak group. I almost referred to this individual as a seedling. Very likely it is not a seedling in the truest sense of having sprouted from an acorn within the recent 2-5 years. Instead, under a full canopy with limited sunlight infiltration, this individual may have persisted for a decade, perhaps several. Black oak’s successful renewal relies upon such advanced regeneration sinking roots, storing carbohydrates, and awaiting disturbance, which for many of our oaks could even be a fire that would burn the leafy top and reduce overstory density enough to bring sunlight to the forest floor. Robust roots and adventitious buds, just below the soil surface, where it is safe from fire, respond with vigorous new growth.

Lake Lurleen

 

Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience. Necessary capabilities are honed through untold generations of adaptation. Resilience requires a manifold toolkit. Quite simply, a species occupying a somewhat xeric, fire prone ridgeline must have exigent measures at-hand to survive and capitalize on periodic fires.

Ghost Pipes

 

The gardeningknowhow.com website offers an easy description for a plant that has fascinated me for at least a half-century: For obvious reasons, Indian pipe is also known as “ghost plant” – or sometimes “corpse plant.” Although there is not an Indian pipe fungus, Indian pipe is a parasitic plant that survives by borrowing nutrients from certain fungi, trees and decaying plant matter. This complicated, mutually beneficial process allows the plant to survive. For as long as I can remember I have known this odd plant as Indian ghost-pipe. Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has no need for true leaves, complete with chlorophyll. It’s small white scales are a residual derivative of its long-ago forbearers that were not parasitic. This was the first time I’ve seen ghost plant in 2020, yet it is widespread enough that I see it frequently every fall across my forest wanderings.

Lake Lurleen

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

We found indisputable evidence that these rocky upland soils are shallow, in this case 12-15-inches deep. This oak toppled downhill. I recall from my doctoral research observations and literature review that most trees (some 90 percent) fall downhill. At least two reasons:

  • The physical strength of the root anchorage on the downhill side is strongest
  • The crown is heavier on the downhill side — the canopy extends further (more branches; more weight) into the down-side canopy opening

Tree-throw is a not so-subtle act of erosion, slowly and inexorably over time, tree by tree, delivering soil in episodic violent crashes from up-slope to down. Imagine a million years of such action…a million Earth-sun circuits is nothing to Nature. Nor are the ancient alpine Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

From this point on I’ve slipped back into the lower slope forest. I’m intrigued by tree form oddities. The hollowed sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) stump is trailside near our end point. That the stump continues to grow callous tissue indicates that its wood yet lives. Its trunk fell many years ago away from the camera. The union with its roots enabled the fallen stem to sprout buds and branches, one of which is now the 14-inch diameter trunk about 15 feet beyond. That tree reaches into the main canopy. Nature is prepared for contingencies. Had the individual not had the ability to respond with dormant buds and send a new shoot vertically its genetic line may have abruptly ended. Instead the 14-inch surviving tree is dropping seeds… and may continue to do so for many decades.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

A two-foot diameter yellow poplar tells a related tale. Early in this poplar’s life another tree crashed down upon it, See the 45-degree orientation of its lower trunk, and the abrupt terminal to the right, where the original stem broke, ending life from that point to whatever stem extended beyond. Damaged but far from destroyed, the poplar devoted its energy and life to a new shoot, now the dominant canopied yellow poplar. Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life.

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ve published enough of these Nature-Inspired Life and Living Posts that occasionally I can’t resist the temptation to repeat something. Now I’m committing a very obvious repetition. I’m a sucker for sourwood… to the point that here is a photo I placed in last month’s first Lake Lurleen State Park Post. And here is the verbatim text: Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range. Sourwood is special, perhaps because I’ve always been anything but a free spirit!

Lake Lurleen

 

I’ll drop you back at Lake Lurleen, a place to ponder and reflect. Find a tree upon which to lean. Contemplate what John Muir wrote a century ago about the Nature of our Earth:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

Lake Lurleen

 

Without a doubt, Lake Lurleen State Park offers much that I will yet again explore. So many mysteries and secrets within reach…hidden in plain sight.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

My mid-October circuit of Lake Lurleen State Park’s Ridge Loop Trail revealed two Nature-Truths:

  • Every parcel of land and even every tree has a story to tell for those who know the language of forest life
  • Nature rewards preparation, persistence, and patience

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: “©2020 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksLake Lurleen

 

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.

 

A First Visit to Alabama’s Lake Lurleen State Park: Moist Lower Slope Forest

I admit to an addiction to Alabama’s 21 State Parks. I added Lake Lurleen State Park to my checked-off list October 15, 2020, hiking the four-mile Ridge Loop Trail with Park Manager Dee White. Encompassing 1,625 acres, the Park is about nine miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, home to the Crimson Tide.

Lake Lurleen

 

The 250-acre man-made lake presents an open invitation upon entry to the Park. From the Lake Lurleen website: The main attraction at the park is the 250-acre Lake Lurleen. The lake measures nearly one and a half miles in length, one-half mile wide, and at its deepest is 48 feet. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie so anglers are sure to reel in a nice-sized catch. Boat-launch areas and ample pier and bank fishing are available.

Lake Lurleen

 

The Park offers 23 miles of maintained multi-use trails winding across forested hillsides and around the lakeshore. That’s Dee below left beside the trail directory signpost, and a map of the trail system below right.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Trails are well-maintained and trail signage excellent, below marking both the Ridge Loop beginning and its end.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

At first blush I questioned the purpose of the two caution signs below. However, as I wondered, a mountain biker slipped past. The signs are for bikers, not this old trail-trekker.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Lower Slope Forest Vegetation

 

I viewed the Loop Trail as a tale of two forest types, each one accounting for roughly half the four-mile distance. We’ll cover the lower slopes with this first Lake Lurleen Blog Post. A subsequent Post will address the drier upland forest type. Mixed oaks and yellow poplar, straight and tall, dominated the moist sheltered hollow we entered at the outset. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) occupied the understory from ground to 12-15-feet, much like rhododendron and laurel grows in dense thickets on similar slope positions in the Appalachians.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Within the stand of straight oaks and poplar, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) refused to reach inverse to the force of gravity, instead the species chooses what appears to be a defiant wandering through the mid-canopy, a rogue free spirit. I’ve long-admired its independence. All other species of my familiarity are either positively phototropic (growing toward sunlight) or negatively geotropic (oriented opposite the draw of gravity). The individual below is typical of sourwood’s free-form throughout its range.

Lake Lurleen

 

Two other understory shrubs appeared within these lower slope forests, neither reaching much beyond six feet: Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata; below left) and Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana; below right). Winterberry holly ranges widely in the eastern US from Florida to Nova Scotia; the buckthorn grows only as far north as Pennsylvania.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) likewise appeared across these more mesic sites, growing into the lower mid-canopy to 15-20 feet. This southeastern US species has the largest simple leaf (and flower) of any native North American tree. A girl scout troop posted hand-printed and painted interpretive signs near the Ridge Loop Trail end, including this one below right. The signs are helpful, accurate, and charming.

Lake LurleenLake Lurleen

 

The flowering dogwood sign is for the tree just to the right and off-camera except for its base.

Lake Lurleen

 

Only 19 more miles of Lake Lurleen State Park trails to explore on future visits. The four-mile loop trail amounts to an easy stroll, one we could have covered far more rapidly had we chosen to walk through the forest… rather than within the diverse sylvan cover. That’s me below at trail’s end, offering evidence that I visited the Park.

Lake Lurleen

 

As I indicated earlier in this Post, I will develop a second photo-essay chronicling our trek through the more xeric upland portions of the Ridge Loop Trail.

An Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting (reference to the Foundation under the heading below) the next day brought me to Lake Lurleen State Park. Several of us enjoyed a campfire the evening after my Ridge Loop hike. I’ll call this the Nature of friendship and shared service to a good cause.

Lake Lurleen

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Our Alabama State Parks reveal their own individual and collective gifts of wonder and beauty:

  • Unique forest types and landscape features
  • Interpretive trails and lessons for life and living
  • Unlimited magic at all scales

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: “©2020 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksLake Lurleen

 

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.

 

Wonder Below Ground: Cathedral Caverns State Park

July 10, 2020, Judy and I took our two Alabama grandsons (Jack, 12, and Sam, 6) to Cathedral Caverns State Park. No hiking the forest trails for this State Park visit. There are trails there that I’ll save for a subsequent trip.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I won’t devote a lot of text to this Post. The Caverns offer a different kind of Nature from my general forest-oriented photo-essays. I include this Post as a sidebar evidencing that my normal forest ecosystem immersions stand as a rather narrow slice of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. A secondary point I wish to make is that Alabama’s State Parks offer variety beyond imagination. Cathedral Caverns is a world-class below-ground treasure. Also consider the incredible above-ground diversity as I’ve demonstrated from Gulf State Park to Cheaha, Monte Sano, and Joe Wheeler. I still have so much to explore and discover in the forests across the Alabama State Parks system.

Cathedral Caverns

 

So, let’s consider this a brief break from my forest wanderings. Besides, we cherished the cool temperatures within Cathedral Caverns on a tough mid-summer afternoon. The cavern is massive. I gazed back at the entrance and saw the ghosts and heard the echoes of ten thousand years of Native Americans finding shelter within the mouth.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I had no idea that my iPhone-11 would capture the cavern images so well. I won’t burden the reader with extensive (endless) explanations. Suffice it to say the caverns offer incredible sights.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The cavern derives its name from the soaring columns, massive sanctuary vaults, and towering pipe-organ structures. I felt sacred connections to the place and to the adventurous souls who entered this silent world for many centuries.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I can’t recall what moniker our tour guide gave to this formation. It strikes me as a parapet, an elevated balcony with low walls overlooking the trail below.

Cathedral Caverns

 

This thin column reaches from ceiling to cavern floor. A bearded guard stands with broad shoulders to the right side of the photo.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Our tour guide referred to this 15-foot-high flowstone as The Waterfall, an apt moniker.

Cathedral Caverns

 

Here’s another cathedral room, with people and the lighted walkway as an indication of scale.

Cathedral Caverns

 

The grandsons and I sensed beings within the cave, drawing strength we presumed from its perpetual darkness (absent the artificial lighting). Although we did not actually see The Grinch (or even fathom why he might be present), there is no doubt that we saw his shadow, peering from behind the massive column.

Cathedral Caverns

 

We just can’t seem to escape Covid-19 reminders. This Park mannequin-guide stood (literally and symbolically) to remind us to maintain social distancing and wear a mask otherwise.

Cathedral Caverns

 

I recommend Cathedral State Park to all who pass through north Alabama. It’s a natural wonder, a great escape from the heat, and another splendid example of The Nature of North Alabama!

Cathedral Caverns

 

As I indicated above, I have yet to explore the Park’s above-ground woodland trails. I know I’ll discover at least a little magic and wonder there.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

I’ll remind you that I serve on the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board, in part because of my love of Nature and in recognition for my writing many prior Posts about visiting and experiencing the Parks. I urge you to take a look at the Foundation website and consider ways you might help steward these magical places: https://asparksfoundation.org/ Perhaps you might think about supporting the Parks System education and interpretation imperative: https://asparksfoundation.org/give-today#a444d6c6-371b-47a2-97da-dd15a5b9da76

The Foundation exists for the sole purpose of providing incremental operating and capital support for enhancing our State parks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

We occupy a dynamic planet rich with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, both living and non-living:

Nature’s wonder is where we seek it… whether along a Gulf coastal estuary, atop Cheaha Mountain, or hidden deep underground.

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: “©2020 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: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

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.

Vision:

  • 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

Steve's BooksCathedral Caverns

 

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.