Cheaha State Park — A 1,200-foot Vertical Ecological Transect

We visited Cheaha State Park October 17-19, issuing two Great Blue Heron blog posts prior to this one: first my broad impressions then my musings on the Cheaha sky and clouds. I will focus now on an ecological transect as I hiked October 19, from Cheaha Lake (visible on the valley floor in the photo below) to the summit, passing up through the Rock Garden (the overlook location for the same photo) then on to the summit.

I learned long ago that a top-down-view always amplifies the elevation perspective. That is, looking down at Lake Cheaha seemed far higher than the lakeside view (below left) toward the ridges. The relatively flat terrain around the lake belied the steep topography awaiting me. Nature is like the layers of an onion. Peace and serenity greeted me when Judy dropped me at the lake. Who could ask for a more perfect 60-degree morning start? An RV campground and primitive camping are near the lake, yet I saw just one other person. The lower right photo shows a CCC-constructed building used now as a bathhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The relatively flat and fertile bottom-lands were soon to transition to, as the sign warns, a very steep one-mile ascent. I did not have the luxury of past land-use maps or a naturalist accompanying me. Nor did I take the time to scour the land to thoroughly read the signs of past-use. I presume that some portion of the valley saw tillage and certainly served as pasture. It’s hard to believe that over some 200-years of European settlement so many of these seeming remote nooks and crannies in the Appalachians (from here to Pennsylvania, New York, and into New England) saw intrepid pioneers scraping a living and sustenance from the land. However, even the boldest among them would not have attempted to plow or graze much beyond the trail head sign!

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), “The only conclusion I have ever reached is that I love all trees, but I am in love with pines.” He mentioned the three species of pine native to Wisconsin, where he lived and wrote his signature book. I am teaching a Huntsville LearningQUEST (“informal education for adults of all ages”) course on A Sand County Almanac. I reflected on how many species of pine are native to The Heart of Dixie. As I write, I will try to name them, and then I will check my references to confirm, add, or subtract. I pledge to honestly assess my performance. Here goes: loblolly (Pinus taeda), slash (P. elliottii), longleaf (P. palustris), Virginia (P. virginiana), shortleaf (P. echinata), sand (P. clausa), spruce (P. glabra), and pond (P. serotina) pines. Before I verify, I want also to mention table mountain pine. I will not — I think it does not range naturally this far south. I’ve researched. I’ll begin with table mountain pine (Pinus pungens). From the US Forest Service: “its range extends from central Pennsylvania, southwest to eastern West Virginia and southward into North Carolina, Tennessee, and the extreme northeast corner of Georgia.” So, count me lucky on not including it as native to Alabama. All eight of the ones I listed are, in fact, native to Alabama. However, I am embarrassed at having missed the one that I did — eastern white pine (P. strobus), which is native to just five Alabama counties.

My lake to summit transect passed under four pine species: loblolly, Virginia, shortleaf, and a few longleaf around the lake and on the lower slope (below left). My forester friends up-north (and I don’t mean the Tennessee Valley region) have never encountered this signature species of the deep south. I hold its long needles, erect posture, and huge cones in high esteem. Its coarse broom-tipped upper branches stand out nicely against the early autumn blue. Its dropped needles accent the pine litter moss below right. Beauty and magic from tree crown to forest floor!

It’s perhaps inconceivable to readers that I could cherish both sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) and Longleaf pine. On one hand, longleaf pine’s indomitable negative geotropism (geotropism from my online default dictionary: “the growth of the parts of plants with respect to the force of gravity. The upward growth of plant shoots is an instance of negative geotropism; the downward growth of roots is positive geotropism.” The longleaf pine does not know from vertical! Ramrod straight, refusing to twist or bend to seek or secure more sunlight. Sourwood seems oblivious to Nature’s insistence that the law of gravity is universal. Instead, sourwood shuns even the theory of gravity, disdaining any thought of verticality. Still on the lower slope, I wanted to embrace this individual sourwood revolutionary (below), rejecting and rebelling against the predominant rule of law. Even I could have climbed this nearly horizontal arboreum. Odd that its Latin species name should suggest something more intent upon reaching into the canopy.

Why do I relish sourwood? First, I grew up well within its northernmost range in the central Appalachians. I liked its deeply-fissured bark, its fragrant spring flowers (makes great honey!), and its curvaceous form from which a two-by-four will never be sawn. I liked it, too, because once I departed for my bachelors degree in upstate New York, none of my fellow students knew my southern friend. Years later when I served for nine years on the Penn State forestry faculty, I often answered queries asking me to identify understory species I did not recognize with, “It’s a sourwood,” knowing full well that we were out of its range. So now back within its range, I enjoy encountering sourwood frequently. This specimen grows trail side on the lower slope.

It’s adjacent to a 30-inch diameter chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), a massive specimen on a site richer than the shallow upper slopes where we most often find this species. See the sourwood escaping horizontally beyond the oak. The oak crown is fully dominant (lower right)… and has been for many decades. Perhaps reason enough for the gravity-defying sourwood to retreat at little more than 20 degrees above horizontal.

As I began ascending toward the very steep intermediate slope, the boulder-strewn dry stream-bed (below left) drew my attention. The trail paralleled the drainage-way, which obviously carries considerable and forceful flow on occasion. Appalachian-wide, these old mountains are products of erosion. They have long since lost their rugged, towering heights. From my ultimate (translates to lazy and convenient for the purpose of these blog posts) source of internet research, “Cheaha Mountain is part of the Talladega Mountains, a final southern segment of the Blue Ridge Mountains, unlike other elevations of the Appalachians in north Alabama, which are part of the Cumberland Plateau. The mountain is the highest point in the eastern portion of the Sun Belt (east of the Mississippi River, south of Interstate 20, and north of the Gulf of Mexico). Geologically it is composed of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates of the Cheaha quartzite, of Silurian/Devonian age, and stands high topographically due to the erosional resistance of these rocks.” A bit further along, I found a trickle of water riding the exposed bedrock (below right).

I’ll venture an untested (by me) hypothesis: I’ll call it Steve’s 99:1 rule of landscape-scale erosion. Simply, 99 percent of erosional impact results from one percent of the storms. And among those impactful storms, think about the relative magnitude and erosional consequence of a hundred-year-storm. Or even more powerful, a thousand-year deluge. Water’s force operates logarithmically. Epic storms carved these valleys. I would like to return when this now-dry channel carries enough volume to tumble a few stones, yet I believe my chances are slim. Such first-order streams are not perennial. From the Geologic Society of America, “A first-order stream is the smallest of the world’s streams and consists of small tributaries. These are the streams that flow into and “feed” larger streams but do not normally have any water flowing into them. In addition, first and second order streams generally form on steep slopes and flow quickly until they slow down and meet the next order waterway.”

Of interest, the Mississippi River is a tenth order stream; the Amazon is twelfth order. The Geologic Society adds, “First through third order streams are also called headwater streams and constitute any waterways in the upper reaches of the watershed. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the world’s waterways are these first through third order or headwater streams.” Somewhat of a footnote, I successfully navigated an upper level undergraduate watershed management course and a graduate hydrology offering, both with three weekly lectures and weekly three-hour labs. I recall a weekend field trip in the graduate course to Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (with its calibrated watersheds) in New Hampshire. Since then and perhaps prior to this formal education validation, I have been fascinated by weather and stream/watershed behavior. Four and one-half decades since that field trip, I am still captivated by watershed hydrology when hiking an Alabama mountain trail at Cheaha State Park.

I soon climbed above drainage ways meriting a stream order rating. Rainwater from here and points above does little more than percolate into the thin soil and find its way among the rocks to the defined channels below. I turned my focus back to plants. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) seems quite content throughout its range finding purchase on shallow rocky soils. This specimen fits my image of its stereotypical site. Notice the mossy cushion at its base, the moss luxuriating from the incremental moisture (and accompanying nutrients) delivered via rainwater stem flow from the laurel. The same benefit accrues to the moss at the Virginia pine base (below right; beyond and to the right of the laurel). I see a few chestnut oak leaves under the laurel, yet another affirmation of thin rocky upper slope position.

Steep stony rubble (moss and lichen adorned), upper slope position, lots of direct sunlight on the forest floor, an aspect facing southwest, and sparsely-stocked forest of small diameter in aggregate signal poor site quality. What I encountered differed little from what I expected.

Likewise, I would not have expected healthy, vigorous individuals. I wondered how the hollow white oak (below left) stood as long as it apparently had, with only a thin band of intact wood ringing its base. It had only recently (within months) fallen across the trail. The Cytospora canker on the Virginia pine (below right) results from a fungal infection. Such target cankers weaken the stem and interfere with translocation. Yet, and I think such is the case with this individual, such fungi can co-exist with the host tree for decades. Perhaps the longevity in this case is owing to the poor site and the tree’s slow growth.

Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac; November) spoke reverently of the tree disease/animal (from bees to birds to mammals) interdependency on his Wisconsin woodlot: “Soon after I bought the woods a decade ago, I realized that I had bought almost as many tree diseases as I had trees. My woodlot is riddled with all the ailments wood is heir to. I began to wish that Noah, when he loaded up the Ark, had left the tree diseases behind. But it soon became clear that these same diseases made my woodlot a mighty fortress, unequaled in the whole county.” He then devoted five pages to the nature of such ecosystem interplay.

The mountain sheds boulders on its higher, steeper reaches. What are the mechanics of these relics from above? Have they rolled and slid downward from The Rock Garden ledges above? I think not. From my experience elsewhere, I’m led to believe these sometime house-sized remnants of the most resistant strata have actually weathered from vertically above, the softer stone weathered from beneath them. That is, these rocks have not slipped from current uphill positions, sliding down and outward, but instead have their origin directly above… an above that no longer exists. Regardless of their origin, they provided steps and handholds for my old-guy ascent, somehow steeper than these photos suggest. The Virginia pine with blue trail blaze (below left) must have had the good fortune of sinking roots deep into fertile soil nestled among the piled boulders. The tree has no equal nearby. The good tree-fortune of chance, fortuity, and serendipity.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose the same luck of the draw applies to this blazed red oak. An acorn just happened to find security, purchase, and sustenance lodged in the right boulder-pile fissure. To my knowledge trees have no intention and are absent a strategic plan. Instead, by evolutionary design, they produce enough acorns to advantage the chance (perhaps likelihood) that some such fortuitous site lies within reach of gravity, squirrel caching, or bluejay drop. And now, in duty to the species, this oak is producing acorns to secure the future of the line… and to do its part to biologically, chemically, and physically sustain this old mountain ecosystem. Meantime, in a tiny increment of the tree’s life, I hiked upward past it, pausing only to snap its photo and then lean against it to catch my breath. It served me well… without intent.

And ever upward into an area where serendipity furnished few high quality micro-sites. Still a forest, this stand is hard-scrabble. No sylvan-cove cathedral here. The bent and shattered Virginia pine (at lower left in the photo) evidences the ravages of a 2014 ice storm at this elevation. And I scrambled onward.

Suddenly a view from immediately below of The Rock Garden. Picture these nearly horizontal strata reaching out over Cheaha Lake. Time and the inexorable forces of Nature have weathered and transported many cubic miles of weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates to the Gulf of Mexico. I had taken the photo of the valley and lake at the beginning of this blog post the afternoon prior from atop this ledge.

I found something special and moving in the dark silhouette of the rock backlit by the wispy cirrus.

And I add this photo to demonstrate how tenaciously Virginia pine find purchase on the very ledge. Is the view wasted on them? Or do they simply appreciate the abundant, unimpeded access to the sunlight that fuels them? They have no need to strive vertically among competitors to secure full sun.

I insert that first photo. My reward for having traipsed ever-upward.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) I saw what I could on this Friday morning ecological transect. Yet I only scratched the surface of the stories unread and untold.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. The snippets I read along a two-hour transect are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every tree, rock, and dry stream bed may be mine alone, this one (among a thousand such transects just here on Cheaha) and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the sourwood/longleaf pine posture and form contrast and not feel humility or a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Postscript Cheaha Photo from the Official State Park Archives

Picnic pavilion at Cheaha Lake, near the trail head where I began my ascent.

 

 

 

 

Cheaha State Park — Mid-October Sky and Clouds

October 17-19, 2018 brought me to Alabama’s highest point, to 2,407′ Mt. Cheaha crowning Cheaha State Park. I wrote last week about some of my general observations at Cheaha. I admit to having a low threshold for declaring Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Even a broken mid-October altostratus deck, sunset-viewed to the northwest from Bald Rock, stirred feelings of deep appreciation. Not spectacular… yet soothing, assuring, and promising a clear and cool autumn day tomorrow.

By morning two days hence, the fall high pressure center had drifted east of us, pivoting the chilly northwesterly breeze to southeast. I took both photos below from the west-facing restaurant deck. The strong SE breeze lifting some 1,500 feet from the valley floor had capped Cheaha with stratus, placing us in cloud-shadow. The lower left view to the SSW shows cloud streamers descending and evaporating, revealing clear skies above the valley beyond. The lower right view to the WNW shows more descending streamers and the sunlit valley floor. Even a mountain of Cheaha’s relatively small stature generates micro-climate phenomena that are fascinating and quite predictable. I could have sipped coffee and watched the streamers race downhill and westward for hours. However, even if I had chosen to sit tight, the sun-warmed morning air would have soon taken the lifting condensation level higher than Cheaha’s summit.

 

Here’s the deck-view to the west 35 minutes earlier… before the sun had fully illuminated the valley floor and brought deep blue to the western sky. The streamers then were more pronounced and descended further into the valley. Nothing in Nature (or in our lives and enterprises) is static. Change rules the day (and night) and we must learn to anticipate and adapt.

Mid-afternoon on the 18th I hiked the quarter mile from the old CCC reservoir to Rock Garden, overlooking Cheaha Lake to the southwest. I would ascend the rough trail from the lake to Cheaha’s summit the next morning. Watch for my Blog Post soon reflecting upon the ascent and Nature’s treats along the way. This shot shows the deep blue and thin cirrus typical of the season’s first intrusion of cool high pressure from the north.

Clouds can mesmerize me. This burst of wispy cirrus blossoming from the trees greeted me as I ascended Friday late morning from the continuous forest canopy into the scattered trees tucked within the massive stones and ledges of Rock Garden. An ice crystal bouquet at >20,000 feet… temperature at least 20-degrees below zero from my 60-degree point of observation! Even without the exquisite beauty, the magic of physics excites wonder. Once again, I feel humility and inspiration knowing that relative to these grand scales and epic contrasts I am nothing. Compared to a single cirrus burst, what am I? Yet a simple moment in the life of one cloud formation among ten million worldwide at this instant elevates my heart rate, and yields deep gratitude that I am privileged to witness this gift. A gift that is there for me not because I am anything special, but because I believe that if I look, I will see. And when I see, I will feel its power. And when I feel, I will continue my mission (to act) to remind all that we Earth residents carry the burden of informed and responsible Earth Stewardship. My five essential verbs: believe; look; see; feel; act.

How different (and lesser) would this Rock Garden silhouette be without its blue and cirrus backdrop? Again, we are blessed by Nature’s infinite art forms… renewed and rearranged every minute of every day.

Where would an October Cheaha cloud and sky tour be without a couple photos from atop the tower? A late Thursday afternoon view to the west (lower left) and to the southeast (lower right). All peace and tranquility, soft and gentle. Above 1,500-feet, the Park lost thousands of Virginia pine trees during a January 2014 ice storm. Guy wires thick with ice, a crystal wonderland, and the rifle crack clamor of trees snapping in the frozen wind, the tower deck would have been a frightful perch. Again, nothing in Nature is static. We prefer our first visit to have been this quiet time.

We returned to our restaurant deck a bit later to enjoy dinner as we watched the sun dip below the horizon. The views below are to the SSW (lower left) and directly to the setting sun (lower right).

A perfect backdrop for our first visit to the highest point in Alabama.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you. “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” (Jonathon Swift) So many people neither see nor appreciate sky and clouds.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord. Sky and clouds are essential notes in my chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Every life… every enterprise is interdependent with all else. While my perspective on every cloud may be mine alone, the cloud and I are part of something much larger and grander.
  • Effective and fulfilling living, learning, serving, and leading require full doses of humility and inspiration. I could not view the cirrus burst without feeling humility and a deep sense of inspiration.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

Postscript Cheaha Photos from the Official State Park Archives

View of the restaurant perched on the ridge… a cloudless winter’s day.

Another winter day, less benign, with clouds from a cold front retreating to the ESE.

And a Final Photo from a Day of Pleasurable Terror on New Hampshire’s Highest Mountain

I reflect briefly on another state’s highest peak — New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Clear sky and ground blizzard; temperature at summit negative 20 and wind above 100MPH! We’re at 5,300-feet, preparing to re-board the Mount Washington Observatory’s Arctic-Cat and return to the base. That’s me second from the rear.

(Photo by Meteorologist Ryan Knapp, Mount Washington Observatory staff.)

Cheaha State Park — A Broad Look

We’ve lived in Alabaman three times: Prattville 1981-84, with Union Camp Corporation (UCC); Auburn 1996-2001, with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Auburn and Alabama A&M universities); Madison 2016-present, semi-retired. I served as Alabama Land Manager for UCC, managerially responsible for the company’s 500 square miles of forests across 32 central and south-central counties. As Director, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I directed Cooperative Extension statewide, with offices and staff in all 67 counties. I recall being in the vicinity of Cheaha several times, yet never took the time to visit the state’s highest point. Semi-retirement provides far greater flexibility for purposeful side trips. Such side trips are now the primary destination and focus.

How surprising that this is my first visit to Cheaha. I’ve been to the highest points in NH, VT, NY, OH, MD, PA, NJ, WV, VA, TN, NC, and perhaps one or two others. Why not the single state where I’ve lived three times? Okay, now I’ve summited.

We arrived on-site Wednesday afternoon, October 17, 2018. The Civilian Conservation Corps built much of the Cheaha State Park infrastructure more than 80 years ago. The tower itself would be worth visiting architecturally even if it did not afford a 360-degree, 62-stair view of the surrounding forests of the Park and the Talladega National Forest’s 392,000 acres.

Our UCC company forestland occupied coastal plain and piedmont physiographic provinces. My experience then did not encompass the southern Appalachian image afforded this view of Mt. Cheaha from a public-road overlook several miles from the Park. These old Appalachians change little in appearance from here to New England except for scale (to Mt Mitchell’s 6,683-feet) and the forests (along with some high elevation scrub and tundra) that vary with elevation and latitude.

The Bald Rock Boardwalk extends 0.3 miles along a NNE-trending ridge to a 2,300-feet overlook at (you guessed it!) Bald Rock. The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk also offers several opportunities for hikers to descend to the rocks and trails alongside. Lower right is the sunset cloud deck to the WNW our first evening, October 17.

Our second evening view to the NNE in mostly clear skies and full sun. Anniston, Alabama lies behind my right shoulder some 1,600-feet below us at the valley floor adjacent to I-59. The daylight view evidences little but unbroken forest; after dark, Anniston, Oxford, and other communities show as a ribbon of lights along the Interstate.

Here’s the Thursday afternoon southwest view from the Rock Garden (2,050-feet) to Cheaha Lake at 1,250-feet. I hiked Friday morning from the Lake trailhead to the summit, nearly 1,200-feet. I know what you’re thinking — no big deal. During my days as a distance runner, I could have sure-footedly made short shrift of the challenge. I now see the effort and accomplishment worthy of a separate Great Blue Heron Blog Post. Watch for it. I’ll chronicle Nature along the way, from gentle beginnings and fertile toe-slope at the Lake through the steep upper trail where trees struggle to thrive on the thin soils and rocky terrain.

The CCC Stone Tower is magnificent. The CCC quarried the stone nearby. Wikipedia describes the Cheaha geology as “weakly metamorphosed sandstones and conglomerates of the Cheaha quartzite of Silurian/Devonian age… high topographically due to the erosional resistance of these rocks.” What good fortune that young Great Depression-era craftsmen performed their works of service (and architectural genius) that have stood the test of time.

My compliments to the visionaries who incorporated an observation deck for 360-degree appreciation. The second evening, witness the low-angled setting sun hitting our lower left side.

The CCC applied their masonry skills to build a reservoir that once impounded water to gravity-feed serve as the supply for the entire Park development.

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed two nights at the Bald Rock Lodge, bearing witness yet again to the CCC intrepid CCC workers.

How fitting that the Park serves as a monument to those young men who helped bring our country back from economic collapse, and then (many of them) rushing off with the onset of WWII to save our country (and the world) from the twin terrors of The Third Reich and Imperialist Japan. So nice that the Park formally pays tribute to the CCC (and the Boy Scouts).

The Park successfully and artfully integrates human and natural history into its displays and stories.

In the spirit of Bigfoot, the Park urges visitors to “Leave No Trace.” Bigfoot, like Smokey Bear, is a useful messenger for responsible Earth Stewardship.

We enjoyed Thursday dinner at the Park restaurant as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. We plan to enjoy many more sunsets and dawns at Alabama’s wonderful State Parks. This marks the fifth we have visited since semi-retiring to the Heart of Dixie. I plan to publish at least one GBH Blog Post on each Park. I plan perhaps three more from this one visit to Cheaha: Lake Cheaha to Summit Transect; Special Trees and Plants Encountered; Cheaha’s October Sky and Clouds.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my two books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) 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. Here are succinct lessons I can easily draw from this Blog Post:

  • Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment – from within our local community to globally. The State Park speaks lucidly to this cause.
  • We operate most effectively and live with greater reward when we accept that we are part of something larger and more permanent. Standing on the observation deck or at Bald Rock reminds us that we are but a nodule of something far larger and infinitely greater.
  • We can all change a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. The CCC walked that talk more indelibly than anything I might accomplish through my meager words.
  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus. Such is my own pursuit… my own life-chord.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey. Why else would I be planning four GBH Blog Posts from a simple two-night/three-day immersion at Cheaha State Park?!
  • Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion. In no small way, I am daring to test my limits in drafting these Blog Posts (passion-fueled, purpose-driven, results-oriented) in an attempt to spread the gospel and practice of Earth Stewardship.

I have said often that Alabamans are blessed with Nature’s richness, including our 22 State Parks encompassing 47,000 acres from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. I intend to continue my 22-stop journey… and share my travels, reflections, observations, and lessons from Nature with you.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

Postscript Cheaha Photos from the Official State Park Archives

Quite simply, no words required — just quiet contemplation!

 

Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 24, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks (as of October 17-19 I’ve added Cheaha to my tally) and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from five of our Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

Original Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Blog Post

My second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, offers 13 primary lessons for life, living, and enterprise. Its first lesson applies to the way I approach living: Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force. I immerse in local Nature whenever I can. Judy and I participated with a hiking group Friday morning, October 12, 2018 at Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve, right in Huntsville, on the east side of Monte Sano Mountain. We enjoyed full Nature-immersion over a gentle five miles along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… right where we live. Lesson five from that same book rings true: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where we are. Big Cove Creek and Hays Nature Preserve furnished all the attraction necessary for an early fall immersion!

I won’t offer excess commentary. My intent is to provide a broad introduction via limited text and lots of photographs. View this as a six-part glimpse into what local Nature-immersion can yield in way of beauty, awe, magic, wonder, and life fulfillment via Nature. The six parts:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

Big Cove Creek Greenway

The Greenway provides a paved surface along Big Cove Creek. We lived in Ohio along the Simon Kenton Rails to-Trail, giving us direct access to a network of ~250 miles of similarly paved surface. The greater Huntsville, Alabama area offers several paved utility rights-of-way trails that unfortunately do not constitute an interconnecting network. Yet these are wonderful wildland escapes within the otherwise urban and urbanizing landscape.

Big Cove Creek Greenway offers plenty of shade even at mid-morning. With fall at long last here in northern Alabama — we started the trek with light jackets!

Our group focused on reveling in the sights along the way. That’s Judy at center; we had stopped to view some fall flowers trail-side. I like this Friday morning group because the participants are more interested in immersion than they are in racing from point-to-point. I tend to fall behind even the slow hikers — witness all the photos I stop to take. I find few lessons from Nature in simply logging the miles. Life’s far too short to focus on the destination — my competitive distance running days are far behind me.

Deep forest and deep shade, even with some fall foliage-shedding already underway.

I could have developed a greater-depth Blog Post for only the Big Cove Creek Greenway… same for the other five segments of this week’s offering. Nature presents so much. I will fight the urge to digest and synthesize the detail. Again, I offer this Post as a broad sweep and overview.

Water Features

It’s named Big Cove Creek Greenway for a very good reason — this is Big Cove Creek. The Greenway is a paved and maintained utility (sewer line) right of way along the creek. I am grateful for creeks, wetlands, and rights-of-way, without which many urban greenways and preserves might be sprouting houses instead of providing escapes to wildland! I’m told that this limited flow is typical of September and October, our two normally driest months. This late summer and fall have certainly met our low precipitation expectations.

The stream flows lazily toward its imminent rendezvous with the Flint River, at this point less than a mile away. Then on to the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. How infinitesimally small its contribution to the Mississippi’s average 600,000 cubic feet per second flow! Yet each small tributary, converging in aggregate, enables the Mighty Mississippi to reach exalted status among North American rivers. Our little Big Cove Creek does its work admirably… and serves its purpose with aplomb… through drought and deluge!

I always enjoy a little humor tossed in to accent my Nature musings. Nothing beats good word play. How well I know — I wear people to exhaustion with puns and “grandad jokes.” No, not jokes aimed at grandads, but humor that only Pap can use to good end with our five grandkids. I like a well placed groaner!

Here at Hays Preserve the Flint River stands only a small hierarchical stream-basin increment above Big Cove Creek in terms of scale and stature, especially during this seasonal period of light flow. Still, the Flint even during this dry period is at least an order of magnitude larger than Big Cove. Regardless, who can dispute the beauty and serenity of the Flint reflecting a deep blue sky and quiet summer-green riparian forest canopy?

 

Hays Nature Preserve

The Greenway led us to the Preserve: https://www.huntsvilleal.gov/environment/green-team/nature-preserves/hays-nature-preserve/. The site offers a brief description: The Hays Nature Preserve hosts several miles of paved trails that follow the Flint River and its associated oxbow lakes through low riparian habitat, old fields, and a golf course. And that, unsurprisingly, is what we encountered.

Nice signage and an apparently flammable forest! I suppose there is some story behind the moniker. This is obviously at least second growth forest, regenerating after agricultural abandonment. Perhaps at some earlier stage of stand development the younger densely-stocked stand appeared to resemble match sticks. I’ll seek to find an answer. Back in my active forestry practice days we employed the term dog-hair thickets to describe young growth at very high numbers of stems per acre. An apt name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I commend the Preserve managers for effectively incorporating interpretive signage. I contend that we will properly steward this One Earth only if we are equipped with Nature-based wisdom and knowledge, and embrace a willingness to engage with passion and purpose in hard work on Earth’s behalf. Our actions and decisions must be informed. The Preserve is making an effort to inform visitors — my compliments!

Although I did not see a brochure describing features like the Ancient Beaver Dam, I assume some such documentation exists. This one puzzled me with the term ancient. Beaver dams are of necessity ephemeral. They come and go as habitat ebbs and flows with inundation, death of the flooded forests, flushes and over-browsing of sprouts and brush. Eventually the beavers seek a new dam site, the original recovers, and the cycle goes on along the creek/river over time. I wonder what constitutes ancient. I’m approximating abandonment of this dam as within the past century, a time period that is nothing in the life of a stream… or to a species of stream-habitat rodent. From the internet: The beaver (genus Castor) is a large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent.

 

Life Along The Way

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe come in many packages. These two 15-18-inch diameter oaks serve as towering arbors for lush poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and other vines I did not identify. The hairy vines of poison ivy eliminate any doubt about its identity — no leaves required. Interestingly, Poison ivy and wild grape, while capably of climbing fences, trees, and buildings, they seldom climb into the canopies of large trees from the ground. Instead, both grape and poison ivy, long-lived woody vines, normally accompany the seedling as it reaches vertically through sapling, pole, and mature sizes. The tree and vine grow in tandem. The vine relies upon the tree for aerial support. The tree must compete with its viney companion for sunlight and soil resources. I’m curious whether the tree takes some advantage from the relationship. Something for me to ponder and seek an answer from the internet. The more I learn about Nature… the less I really know.

Burls are common in our southern hardwood forests. This oak burl is 8-10-inches in diameter. Burls are abnormal woody tissue often in the lower four-to-ten feet of the trunk, triggered by some stressors like fungus, virus, or physical wound. I’ve heard tree pathologists compare burls to a mammalian tumor. This one grew at some eight feet above ground, and is adorned with a lovely vine necklace. My guess is that within this burl, a beautiful turned wood-bowl awaits revelation by a talented eye, skillful hands, and a sharp lathe.

Even without vines, a shagbark hickory is a sight to behold. Who could not have named this species with such fidelity to appearance!? Perhaps as simple as some well-known and easily identified critters: cardinal; black racer; rattlesnake; snapping turtle; black bear.

A thirty-inch-diameter white oak greeted us along the Flint River. Rich alluvial soils make for Mighty Oak anchorage.

We also found Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) on these floodplain soils. It’s a genera-cousin to common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which is ubiquitous along our north Alabama streams and rivers.

Hays Preserve boasts two state champion trees, including this shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa). Whether Mighty Oak or shellbark hickory, nothing beats these riverine sites.

Same for this state champion water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), which prefers wetter feet, found commonly in sloughs, oxbows (like this one), and in slack-water along streams.

 

 

 

 

 

Life flourishes along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River.

Death Yielding Life

And anywhere that life is full, death is nearby and concomitant, for there is never one without the other. Too far gone for to identify species, this tree is inexorably returning to the soil… courtesy of micro-organisms and invertebrates, and aided by birds and small mammals excavating the buffet of tasty edible grubs and insects.

Not nearly so completely decayed, this still-standing dead shagbark hickory has caloric content sufficient to satisfy the most discriminating fungi. I’ve noticed that there is a distinct threshold beyond which decaying wood no longer bears fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms). I’m sure that mycologists have carefully determined that threshold by region, type of tree, and mushroom species.

There are those readers able to identify the following portfolio of mushrooms. Remember, I am a tree guy who is re-discovering every day how little I know about so much! Here’s a six-inch diameter, fallen hickory providing nourishment to a fungus with lovely mushroom. We hiked at just the right period, encountering many fresh ‘shrooms.

This gill fungus is enjoying a downed yellow poplar. I did not spot the snail feasting on the mushroom until I viewed the photo on my computer screen! Life depends upon death and death upon life, again and again and again…

Fresh and pure.

The left fork of this twin musclewood tree (Carpinus carolinia) yielded to death while its right side remains vibrant. The left side is rich with saprophytic life. An old hollowed branch stub even serves as pot for some grass and a broad-leafed plant.

I believe (not at all certain) that the lower left organism is a crustose lichen. Lower right is a form of shelf mushroom — a conk. Both seem quite content on the dead musclewood.

Downed Sugarberry sported lots of fresh fruiting bodies, again evidencing that our timing was good.

Some day I will be better equipped with knowledge about these essential organisms that signal the interplay of life, death, and ecosystem vitality and renewability.

A vibrant fallen Sugarberry log community along the Flint!

And more Sugarberry recently fallen from a dead standing snag.

From the same topped Sugarberry.

And this is the 12-foot Sugarberry snag whose crown furnished the colonized fallen pieces above.

Again, the cycle of life and death and life spins without end.

Fall Flowers

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are my ken, yet in this life-stage I term semi-retirement I am blessed to extend my seasons. I’m finding reward in paying heed to our fall flowering friends. Here’s white snakeroot (Ageratina altissma) along the Greenway. Were this open in April, I would declare it extraordinary. My enthusiasm requires a higher threshold in October. However, once I stopped to admire and photograph, I gave it high marks.

Leaves and branching structure for those who want more detail.

White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus) is another that I would have paid scant attention to in prior years. Yet, upon closer inspection, it’s now a winner. I am becoming a believer in fall’s floral splendor. I’m looking…. seeing… and feeling. There’s much to be appreciated in the rapidly waning summer. The kind of beauty I ache to see in early spring is hidden now within plain sight. I had simply failed to notice.

Wild Sensitive Plant (Chamaecrista nicititans) continues to flower trail-side. I’ve been seeing it at various locations for some six weeks. Until I just checked my reference book to confirm Latin name, I had been calling this plant Partridge Pea, which it turns out is of the same genus, but has five uniform petals. Wild Sensitive Plant has irregular petals. I’m learning, seeking a knowledge assimilation pace greater than my information ablation rate! The battle is tightly contested.

Another species attracting our attention — Wingstem (Verbesina alternafolia).

Although a fruit and not a flower, Heart-a-Bustin (Euonymus americanus) rivals the beauty of any showy flower. What a gift to find trail-side!

Like most such beauties, the gift is best observed up close and personal.

Another fruit, this Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) seed head adds a splash of fall color. The winged moniker draws from the flanged compound leaf stem between the leaflets. See lower right photo.

We’ll end with ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), in flower locally since August, which may be another explanation for my spring ephemeral bias. Spring species flowering windows are so much shorter. Skip a weekend and the freshet of display has already headed north. Skip a couple weeks late summer and we miss nothing!

Reflections and Observations

That completes my six-part tour of Big Cove Creek Greenway and Hays Nature Preserve:

  1. Big Cove Creek Greenway
  2. Water Features
  3. Hays Nature Preserve
  4. Life Along the Way
  5. Death Yielding Life
  6. Fall Flowers

I close with two applicable lessons from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

And from my opening for this Blog Post, I’ve learned that Nature is where you seek it. We don’t need the Grand Canyon, The Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, or the Everglades to access A-level wildness… it’s right where we live. What’s near you… within your reach? Are you treating yourself?

Enjoy your autumn — cherish Nature wherever you are. Nature is a smorgasbord; may you be hale and hearty in her embrace!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Hays Nature Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Hays Preserve and Big Cove Creek Greenway Post. I will remain true to the themes of Nature as an essential life force and focus, and Nature providing multiple attractions for enhancing Life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Here’s a late August Monte Sano State Park photo of a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) in full fruit. Like the winged sumac and Heart-a-Bustin fruits along Big Cove Creek Creek and the Flint River, Spice-bush strives for beauty well beyond its spring flowers.

 

Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred my own life force and provided diverse attractions and inspiration. First, the Azalea Cascade Boardwalk at DeSoto:

 

 

And at Joe Wheeler, the State Champion chinkapin oak:

 

And this complex burl-like growth (Bigfoot!?) on a Lake Guntersville, trail-side oak:

 

And from Cheaha, a steep segment of the Lake Trail ascending 1,200-feet vertical from the lake to the summit. A trail that tested these old knees in ways far different from our paved Greenway hike along Big Cove Creek and the Flint River!

 

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await us wherever we seek it. Discover Nature’s Truths near your doorstep:

  • Nature can serve as an essential life focus… and life force.
  • Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey… no matter where you are.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature — Alabama State Parks Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 16, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.
The Original Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post
I wrote this essay in June 2018, holding it until now, awaiting the right moment to publish as a Great Blue Heron Blog Post. I’m still not certain what might define the right moment. This Post is far more reflective and philosophical than others more immediate have been. It does not pertain to any particular venture I’ve made into a wild place. I don’t chronicle the emergence of a new burst of wildflowers. I’m not reporting on a first visit to one of the State Parks remaining on my three-year check-off quest. I simply reflect upon the essence of my own relationship with Nature. Allow me to excerpt from these June musings:
I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity.
So, I’ve chosen to offer these early summer thoughts at a time when the pace of my Natural ramblings (and yours, too, I suppose) have slowed with the season.
Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature (June 2018)
I belong to an interesting and provocative group that discusses (mostly by email) the integration of Nature, philosophy, religion, ethics, and Earth stewardship. The group believes that our endeavors and deliberations are best guided by the wisdom found in such human traditions as science, art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
I love an Albert Einstein quote from the group’s homepage: In every true searcher of Nature 
there is a kind of religious reverence. I’ve felt that same reverence since I first fell in love with wildness as an adolescent… a sense of passion and addiction that deepens daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Make no mistake, my relationship to Nature is both spiritual (lower case ‘s’) and Spiritual — its depth and intensity rise within me to religious.
Scholarly and Philosophical Exchanges — At A Depth Barely Within My Intellectual Reach
I’ve quietly read and appreciated exchanges over the past several months since joining the group. I’m impressed with the depth of thinking and scholarship… to the point of reluctance to weigh into discussions that are clearly beyond my scholarly ken. I am a forester (BS 1973) who later returned for a PhD in applied ecology (1987). Although spending 30+ years since in higher education, I consider myself a practicing naturalist — boots on the ground, and over time evolving to embrace what I’ll call spiritual ecology.

I like the flow of a series of recent posts, encouraging members to list and categorize practices they employ individually to further the concept and discipline of spiritual ecology. However, these deep and rather esoteric exchanges serve to remind me palpably that my own related practice is soil-rooted. I offer a participant’s late May category-structure immediately below (italics); taken directly and in-full from that person’s shared communication:

Physical/psychological

  • A daily ritual consisting of an amalgam of yoga, QiGong, and aikido
  • A weekly QiGong class
Psychological/spiritual
  • A daily meditation sitting (reflecting the influence of an eclectic group of Buddhist teachers)
  • Occasional Buddhist meditation retreat (usually at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies)
  • Focusing exchanges with several partners (a practice based on the work of Eugene Gendlin)
  • Occasional reflective journal writing
Intellectual/spiritual
  • Periodically following/occasionally contributing to [exchanges among this group]
  • Frequent listening to the weekly “On Being” interviews conducted by Krista Tippett
  • Frequent reading of novels (e.g., Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers)
  • Sporadic reading of emerging findings from physics (e.g., the work of Carlo Forelli)
  • Occasional reading of Buddhist writings (e.g., Stephen Batchelor, “After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age”)
  • Occasional reading of poetry (e.g, “Beannacht by John O’Donohue)
Spiritual
  • Occasional ritual of viewing visual images on the web that inspire wonder (e.g., Steve Axford’s photographs of fungi,  Camille Seaman’s’ photographs of “supercell” storms, or images of galaxies or other cosmic formations
  • Occasional reading of a daily prayer at Prayer Wheel
  • Occasional reading of Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
  • Very occasional ingestion of the (illegal) psychedelic drug psilocybin (which happens to be the subject of a new book by food-writer Michael Pollan
Political
  • Leadership of [a State] chapter of Elders Climate Action and participation in the national leadership team of that group
  • Participation in The Environmental Voter Project

Please don’t misinterpret; I am not making light of such an approach. I admire the intellectual sobriety, the metaphysical rapture, and the intense pursuit of spiritual ecology. I have chosen a different path. Or might I say an alternative path has chosen me.

My Practice of Spiritualism in Nature is Soil-Rooted

Allow me to illustrate my woods and Nature orientation using my own examples from earlier in June:

Physical/psychological

  • A nineteen-mile greenway bicycle ride this morning (see photo; relax — no snakes and only rabbits, squirrels, and birds!)
  • Daily spinning bike when I can’t venture outside
  • Resistance routine at the gym 2-3 mornings per week
  • Lots of yard and garden engagement

Psychological/spiritual
  • Connecting spiritually along the trail this morning — nothing beats the elixir of breeze, birdsong, stream gurgle, and deep shade
  • Walking in the neighborhood at dawn this morning — watching distant lightning far to the WSW
  • After daybreak observing the mammatus clouds (under-lit by sunrise glow) from the storm’s anvil streaming toward us, even as the cell lost steam and energy, fully decayed before reaching us

Intellectual/spiritual
  • Posting weekly (plus or minus) essays to my website (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) — core theme: Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading
  • I posted the most recent essay this past Tuesday (May 29), offering reflections on a rehabilitated surface mine I visited in Ohio two weeks prior (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/05/29/idyllic-pastoral-earth-stewardship-surprise-exemplar/e )
  • Just yesterday I completed my next-to-last chapter of a book I am co-authoring with a Puget Sound-based colleague. The chapter: Nature’s Islands — Physical and Metaphorical. I’ve discovered in my semi-retirement that thinking requires far less energy and stamina than writing. I do not think to write; I write to think.
  • I read and re-read (frequently Aldo Leopold, Leonardo da Vinci, and Robert Macfarlane (among others)) to inform and lift my writing
Spiritual
  • Weekly hikes with area retired professionals — I took the photo Friday of the 30-inch diameter shagbark hickory between thunderstorms. What could be more spiritual than this magnificent organism standing tall in a second-growth forest?
  • This morning along the greenway I found a so-termed lesser denizen — a plate-size mushroom. Certainly not lesser spiritually (see photo)
  • I tend to discover the spiritual in Nature whenever I look for it. Friday’s active atmosphere rich with moisture and instability served up the visual gift of a roll cloud created by down-drafts from a mature cell (see photo)
 
Political
  • I avoid political engagement. Instead, I volunteer teach for a local university and a lifelong learning center — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I urge participants to make informed decisions whether at the ballot box or the grocery store. I do not tell them what is right.
I cannot match the intellectual and scholarly bent of my spiritualism in Nature colleagues. Perhaps my more pedestrian reflections offer a counter-point of value. Again, I am a foot-soldier for the cause of applying Nature’s Power, Wisdom, and Spirit to Life and Living.
 Reflections
I recognized long ago that I am at root a practicing forester who stumbled into higher education administration. Nature is simple, direct, and compelling. I speak Nature’s language best when immersed in full Nature-contact with my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.
Certainly, I benefit from reading the group’s rather esoteric exchanges. Yet I revel in Nature’s fundamental essence. I prefer taking my medicine straight. I know what makes my heart race… what prompts an involuntary sharp inhalation… what generates deep gratitude for life and living… what inspires me daily to be functional long before daybreak.
Again, I am a foot-soldier for Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. I’ve honed my craft wearing Vibram soles and flannel shirts. I’ve never owned a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I’d rather be atop the fire tower than in the ivory tower. I learn best through direct experience. Far too few of us in today’s world take a walk in the woods, on the beach, through the wetland, across the prairie habitat, or even enter an urban park. I’m a simple man… enjoying Nature’s simplicity. Nearly 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed:

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.

I find satisfaction, reward, fulfillment, and inspiration in Nature. I seek to learn her lessons applicable to Life and Living, for in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous. I am a practitioner of Spiritual Ecology. I am not a Spiritual Ecology academic.
I urge my readers to lace up your boots; open your eyes and hearts; visit some level of nearby wildness; taste the sweet elixir of Nature’s Power and Wisdom! Do your part to change some small corner of this Earth for the better… through knowledge, wisdom, and hard work.
May Nature inspire all that you do.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

The AL State Parks Addendum to Reflections on Spiritualism in Nature Post

View this photo and brief text as postscript to this Spiritualism in Nature essay I penned in June. My August 28, 2018 photo captures a Natural Cathedral forest within Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park — the spirit (and Spirit) lies within. I felt the magic and joy… and sensed the complementary forces of humility and inspiration. Other photos from my Alabama State Park wanderings similarly stirred the spirit within me. First, DeSoto:

And Joe Wheeler:

And Lake Guntersville:

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe express the spirit and stir the passion that lies within us.

Visit any of Alabama’s magnificent State Parks, where you will see the Truth in what Leonardo da Vinci observed five centuries ago:

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.

 

 

A Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama — An Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 9, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

The Core Half-Day in Gadsden, Alabama Blog Post

Our daughter invited us to a social affair in Gadsden Saturday evening September 22. Because it’s a two-hour drive, we spent the night, reserving Sunday morning for getting a taste of Gadsden area Nature. We walked at dawn along the Coosa River’s upper end of Lake Neely Henry, some 90 miles from Chattanooga and nearly 60 miles from Birmingham. The Coosa’s headwaters tap far southeastern Tennessee and the northwest corner of Georgia. The Coosa begins at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia. It joins the Tallapoosa River just south of Wetumpka, Alabama above Montgomery to form the Alabama River, then merges with the Tombigbee to create the Mobile River as they empty into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Coosa reaches some 280 miles from Rome, Georgia to the Wetumpka area. The total distance from headwaters to the Gulf is 808 miles (Mobile River, 45; Alabama River, 319; Coosa River, 280; Etowah River, 164).

Imagine how many wonderful dawns and sunrises greeted other observers along those 800+ miles that mid-September morning. Lower left and lower right, respectively, look upstream and down from a fishing pier near our accommodations from our west-bank vantage point.

A tighter view southward captures the shore-side mats of vegetation, harboring all manner of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other critters. Again, imagine the menagerie of life finding shelter and food along those 1,600 (two shores) miles!

A perfect walking trail extended south along the shore. A departing fishing boat brought corduroy reflections of the brightening eastern sky. The view is a little south of due east.

A bit further along the trail I was too slow with my camera to catch the stilt-legged great blue heron fishing at the end of this storm-water drain-way. The bird had just lifted when I snapped the shutter. The view is directly east. I thrill at every great blue heron, especially one backlit by the dawn of yet another incredible late-summer day. I know, I’ve seen far better photographs, yet being the one who pressed the shutter, I recall the magic of the moment every time I peek at the magnificent bird’s first-light flight. I accept this encounter as the gift that it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve recounted many times the story behind my considering the great blue heron as my deceased Dad’s avatar. In form of a great blue, Dad wished me farewell on a bitter cold mid-February sunrise in the central Appalachians… the day of his memorial service. Still today, when a great blue makes an appearance, I consider it a visit from Dad. It is he who planted the lifelong seeds of my Nature passion and deep appreciation.

The trail also passed through a fertile floodplain forest of mixed hardwood and loblolly pine. The trees expressed the rich site via their height. Height of dominant and co-dominant trees at a selected base age is a common forestry metric for gauging inherent site quality. We used height at base age 25 years to register site quality in the forests of central and south-central Alabama when I managed forestland for Union Camp Corporation back in the early 1980s. For the 100,000 acres we owned north of Montgomery site quality averaged 60-65 feet at age 25. For the 220,000 acres below Montgomery, site quality averaged 80-85 feet. Those are some of the South’s most productive pine forestlands. Sure, southern bottomland along the Mississippi River, for example, is more productive, yet generally those bottomland sites do not support pine forests. Here’s Judy, my early morning (and lifetime) companion, along the trail in the Coosa mixed pine and hardwood stand.

After a leisurely breakfast, we toured our daughter, her two sons, and son-in-law along the same river-side trail. We all enjoyed our Coosa River explorations.

Noccalula Falls

We departed our hotel and headed to Noccalula Falls Park. I had no idea what to expect.

From Wikipedia: Noccalula Falls Park is a 250-acre public park located in Gadsden, Alabama, United States. The main feature of the park is a 90-foot waterfall with a trail winding through Black Creek Gorge at its base past caves, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, pioneer homestead, and Civil War carvings.

We purchased tickets (senior discount — one of the advantages of getting older!) and posed with the boys at an autumn-decorated display tree.

We spent a couple hours exploring the Park via a ride on the narrow-gauge railroad and walking within the petting zoo, viewing various other wild animals on display, strolling through an evolving botanical gardens and pioneer village, and stopping at the falls overlook. Because the this late September day presented near record heat, we elected to save the Gorge trail for another day. I relented reluctantly, knowing that I was foregoing the kind of photos I normally take to populate these Blog Posts and stimulate reflections on Nature.

Another factor contributed to my willfully postponing a hike into the Gorge. The brochure photo below right shows the Falls in full glory with the stream at bank-full. Below left is the photo I snapped during our visit — a mere trickle! A persistent Bermuda high had limited August rainfall to below average, and essentially blocked significant precipitation during the first three weeks of September. I want my drop into the Gorge to pay dividends in form of visual, tactile, and auditory rewards. So, another day, perhaps mid-winter once the rains return, when we venture back to Noccalula Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Ruminations

Philosophical Musings on Wonder, Awe, and Magic — I have seldom witnessed a new day dawning that did not serve to inspire and humble. That morning along the Coosa was no exception. The simple power and beauty of night retreating to make way for a rising sun. I puzzled over what I had just witnessed: darkness racing westward, leaving a photon-vacuum in its wake… or light rushing in from the east. I recall the sage who explained that there is no such thing as darkness, which instead is only the absence of light. The same person observed that cold is merely the absence of heat. And hate simply the void left when there is no love. I presume that the great blue heron had not pondered these things. He (the pronoun I employ for all great blues given the aforementioned avatar explanation) simply felt hunger… the absence of breakfast in his belly. Hew noticed only that darkness had retreated sufficiently for shore-side fishing.

I absorbed the dawn colors and warm glow of promise for a fresh day’s start. I mused about how many dawns would greet the raindrops that fell at the Etowah’s headwaters before they detect a hint of salt at the foot of Mobile Bay. I suppose that time means nothing to raindrops and rivers. I recall the lyrics in Jimmy Webb’s Highwayman (performed by Johnny Cash and others):

“I fly a starship
Across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again”
I wondered, too, about the scale of watersheds, that is, contrasting the trickle at Noccalula Falls to the apparent full pool at Lake Neely Henry. The Falls quite clearly manifests the August through mid-September local rainfall deficit. The Coosa at Gadsden reflects a much larger drainage basin, far longer time period, and several hundred miles of flow. Local deviation from average precipitation means little to the larger Coosa. Ample August rains in northwest Georgia could have compensated for the local shortfall. I see the same relative implications and consequence for our lives. Day to day the local impacts us. Only over the longer haul do the ebbs and flow equalize and attenuate. The river that is our own life eventually completes its journey to the sea, whatever its length and character happen to be. Droughts and deluges may alter the flow, yet the journey is defined and shaped by aggregate influences. Our charge is to optimize, to the extent we can, our individual wanderings and the flow of those who share the life journey with us, even if only fellow travelers who are with us for just some stretch of the way.
Nature instructs that whether we are the Coosa or the creek at Noccalula Falls, we have a journey and destination. Unlike the drop of rain, driven and directed only by chemistry and physics, we have dimensions that give us will, passion, purpose, and alternatives. Ours is a higher cause, if only because we can choose. The raindrop falling on a northwest Georgia hill top has no way to choose. What I want us to do is understand the magic, wonder, beauty, and awe of Nature and appreciate that we share an obligation to steward this Earth sustainably.
Applicable Lessons
I distilled ten lessons from my first book and thirteen from my second. One lessons emerges from both books and is drawn from all my writings about Nature:
From Nature Based Leadership — Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
From Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading — Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises.

We have this one chance to get it right. If we don’t, the Coosa will continue to make its way to the Gulf of Mexico again, and again, and again, and again, and again… absent human appreciation for daily dawnings along its beautiful shoreline. A river doesn’t care who stands at its banks — never has and never will.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

The Alabama State Park Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for daybreak Magic!

Rainfall near DeSoto had been adequate when I visited, permitting one of many small streams to tumble a minor waterfall with as much volume as the advertised Noccalula Falls. Timing is everything.

Joe Wheeler — Not all beauty derives from dawn’s special colors and warmth, nor from water’s trek to the sea. Here’s a well-adorned hackberry, sporting a fine green coat of algae.

And there’s the water of Lake Guntersville from the forested bluff where a DeSoto hiking trail skirts the highland!

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. And the image is burned and lodged in my vault of pleasant Alabama State Parks memories. A fine dawn without a palette of colors.

And the warmth of a welcoming sign!

Monte Sano — The sun’s gift to us extends from dawn to dusk, even here at its midday zenith.

So many of our Alabama State Parks have stories to tell. Whether like the old mill at Noccalula Falls (not a State Park) or the hotel atop Monte Sano, we are not the first to experience the exquisite joy of visiting special places.

 

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

Cloud Inspiration — Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post October 3, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Cloud Inspiration Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum at the end of this Post with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks.

Cloud Inspiration Core Blog Post

I admit to having a life-time addiction to weather, manifest in part by a deep fascination with clouds. I offer with reflection and interpretation a series of photos I’ve taken from my patio December 2017 through September 2018. Before I depart with you for this backyard cloud tour, allow me an excerpt from Nature Based Leadership, my first book (available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership):

My elderly mother tells me that her older sister, Geraldine, tried to frighten the toddler me of thunderstorms. Perhaps she feared them herself. Although I do not remember at all, Mom says Geraldine would exclaim with a sense of alarm, “Dark clouds, rain hard, Stevie; time to hide.” Nor do I recall ever being frightened by lightning, thunder, ominous clouds, wind, or any other manifestation of nature’s more threatening moods. Instead, Aunt Geraldine may have unintentionally ignited my lifelong love affair with weather, even adverse conditions.

I have a vague recollection (from sixty years ago) of sitting in my high chair, watching the sliver of sky that I could see through the kitchen window, rapidly (dizzyingly) transition from blue to very dark as clouds raced across. Even then, I puzzled over what I had seen. Nothing else emerges from the memory. Did a storm follow, or did the blue return? Perhaps Mom placed food in front of me, and the window view—with its curiously rapid cloud covering—slipped into a lower priority. Regardless, the memory is clear. I still puzzle over how nearly-instantaneously the clouds advanced. Given how much more deeply I now understand weather, I suppose that the visual memory is flawed or far too blurry to interpret. I observed and interpreted then through the visual and intellectual lenses of a three-year-old, and through those same lenses, stored the memory. How closely does what I recall seeing six decades later match the actual image visible through the parted curtain? The image I carry now is remarkable, like nothing I have seen since. I close my eyes, and the memory is vivid and real, yet it makes no sense through the perception of a sixty-five-year-old weather fanatic. What we see depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation. And time adjusts the memory of what we see.

Docile Beauty

The seeds sown early in my youth, the plant grew strong, and has to a large degree shaped my life and profession. I am a scholar and student of Nature. Clouds and weather stand as a central element of what I’ll characterize as a calling and a hobby. Some close to me have classed my obsession as spiritual, a religious attachment. Fitting then that my first photo is a cross framed by the chapel that is my patio roof!

A winter cold front soaked us all day before departing to the south and east as the sun dipped below the western horizon. The visuals could not have been more striking and inspirational. Think about the metaphorical implications of magical light and reawakening after the storm. With only a little imagination I see distant mountains in the field of view (both photos). I’m transported back to my Central Appalachian roots. Those mountains are remnants of the sinking storm cloud banks modified by the special light. I’m sure you’ve gazed at the warm flickering glow of a campfire or fireplace. I find similar solace, tranquility, and therapy in cloud-watching. Nature serves as my elixir.

The above images evoke  winter’s harshness — a feeling of a cold approaching darkness. The sunset (below left) photo seems warm and docile, yet it occurred on December 26, 2017, within a week of the photos above. I can’t recall the temperature conditions of either sunset. The images carry the warmth and chill, regardless of reality. The December 28, 2017 sunrise (below right) likewise feels warm. Was it? Here at this latitude late December can range from highs of 20s to 60s. Does it matter to our appreciation of the image?

Here’s a soft August dawn. August in northern Alabama — we don’t need to wonder whether this warm image matches reality. We know that we are likely no cooler than the upper 60s.

And from my patio October 2, 2018 — this time, a gentle sunset. Nature’s beauty and magic stay within reach. Seek the moments; grasp them; feel the inspiration; taste the humility of knowing our place in the world.

Gentle Precipitation to Impending Violence

And now to what I view as an unusual dawn, this one from early September 2018. My wife and I had just completed our 30-minute pre-dawn walk in the neighborhood. So quiet this time of year. Only an occasional protesting killdeer sounds alarms if we draw too close. At one point we felt a fine mist hitting our faces, lasting less than a minute. Only after we returned to our house, poured a cup of coffee, and found our way to the patio did we see the cause of our brief misting. As the east brightened, we saw this lovely virga under lit by the breaking first light. From my online dictionary, virga is “a mass of streaks of rain appearing to hang under a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground.” Funny that I’ve know this term since undergraduate meteorology, yet few people know the term or can identify those tell-tale streaks that I see often… no matter where we’ve lived. I had never before, however, witnessed such an early morning display. The eastern-sky glowing to reveal the virga served up a visual treat — an uncommon spectacle. I accepted this gift with full appreciation. I feel sorry for the poor souls among us who in sequence:

  1. Never beat dawn to their patios
  2. Seldom venture onto their patios even after the sun has made its full set of morning greetings
  3. Wouldn’t know virga if it came with sub-titles
  4. Seldom look, see, or feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe

Virga normally signals tame weather. Air dry enough that falling rain (or snow) evaporates before hitting the ground. Sure, we felt a brief mist from the few tiny droplets completing their fall to ground level. There is nothing calm, tranquil, and docile in the following photos. I’ve presented the first two could photos in a previous Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/01/late-june-derecho-natures-fury/ This derecho roared in from the north back in June. The clouds are angry, turbulent, and speeding southward at a furious clip. Strong winds and heavy rain soon followed the screeching passage of this tortured shelf cloud bottom.

Tumultuous yet profoundly inspirational. Had I been on foot in open country (not in my backyard) this storm would have reached pleasurable terror level. This magnificent beast reached deeply into my head and chest. Its visage struck me as beautifully sinister. I was not frightened intellectually, yet its approach and passage struck a raw chord… a nerve taunt with some hard-wired message that raised the hair on the back of my neck. The wind and deepening thunder added to the near-harrowing and instinctive response I could not completely jettison.

Here are another two cloud photographs from a prior Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/07/24/a-reverse-rainbow/ Again, see the Post for a full explanation and more photographs. What’s so special about this storm? Simply that most rainbows in my experience follow a storm or shower, as the cell move away from the sun that is breaking through the now clearing sky. This storm advance from the east with evening skies still clear to the west. The rainbow, in this case, is preceding the storm!

 

 

 

 

 

And lastly among these storm clouds, this shower held a special charm. An August afternoon generated a few widely scattered showers. I watched a single cumulus begin reaching vertically just south of us. It dropped a cylindrical rain shaft no more than a quarter-mile wide. It rained itself out within ten minutes as it drifted slowly to the east.

Clear Sky Danger — Judging a Book by its Cover

I snapped all the photos above from my backyard over the eight-month window beginning end of December 2017. The two photos below are from February 2015. Will Broussard, Education Director at the Mount Washington Observatory, back-framed me with New Hampshire’s White Mountains on an afternoon after weather halted our morning Mount Washington summit attempt at ~5,300 feet. The spin-drift streaming from the mountain’s 6,288-foot summit adds an element of beauty, yet the casual observer sees nothing of the fury the photo signals. Think of the clear-sky as a book cover… a cover that reveals little of the tale’s violent content. I relate that day’s adventure in the Mount Washington Summit Attempt essay in Nature Based Leadership. We aborted the venture when ten-foot drifts, 80-mile per hour winds, and a persistent ground blizzard placed us at great risk. Our snow-cat transport could go no further. Conditions were bad enough at this mile-high point. Staff at the summit Observatory reported winds above 100-mph and the actual temperature at negative ten F. Wind chill at the summit — absolutely deadly!

Here we are at Five-Mile Flat, just beyond where we turned the snow-cat. Ryan Knapp, one of the Observatory’s meteorologists,  took this second shot. He was unable to report for his week-long shift; the meteorologist whom he was to relieve would spend at least another day on top. So much in Nature is hidden within plain sight. Ryan’s photo could be interpreted as six folks in arctic gear calmly walking a trail. To those of us who experienced those conditions, we know that during this 200-foot venture beyond the snow cat, several of us were thrown to the ground by powerful gusts. We covered every inch of exposed flesh when we walked back into the violence. In those few minutes, the wind filled and obliterated our out-bound footsteps. The mountain can be lethal, boasting the world’s most extreme weather. An outdoor novice would not have guessed at the ferocity we encountered from the brilliant blue sky and gentle spin drift we saw from the base. An experienced observer and student of the mountain would have known. From the moment we climbed into the snow cat that morning, we knew we could very well be thwarted.

I have distilled thirteen distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, my second book. Among those thirteen, these six hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Nature can serve as an essential life focus.
  2. Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey.
  3. Test your limits; be bold; ignite and employ your passion.
  4. Enter your zone of courage; abandon your zone of comfort; Nature can show the way.
  5. Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within.
  6. Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathon Swift

“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”

Marcel Proust

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

The Alabama State Parks Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for Cloud Inspiration Magic!

 

Joe Wheeler — This massive trail-side white oak is reaching for the clouds… and, that in itself is magic!

 

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. So, we have a top-down view of clouds of a different sort, reminding us that all things are a matter of perspective. Even the darkest storm clouds are sun-illuminated, belying the ferocity that rages below.

 

 

Monte Sano — Nothing beats the could inspiration from a scenic overlook, this one rich with plateau highland topography and fair-weather cumulus.

 

 

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

Sunshine Magic — An Alabama State Park Edition

I issued the core of this Great Blue Heron Blog Post September 25, 2018. Its text, photos, reflections, and ruminations are applicable to each and every one of our 22 Alabama State Parks and their aggregate 74 square miles of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. So, permit me to present the original Sunshine Magic Blog Post here, and then offer an Addendum with similarly themed photos from four of our northern Alabama State Parks beneath the original.

The Core Sunshine Magic Post

August 29, Judy and I walked pre-dawn in our neighborhood. Why so early? We prefer 71 degrees over the upper 80s and lower 90s that the sun will deliver by mid-morning. We always head to the patio after our morning wanderings. Nothing beats watching and hearing dawn swell and seeing sunrise. We witnessed a special treat.

Sunshine Magic

The photo view is to the west. Notice three prominent features. The one-day-beyond-full moon in the upper left. The Earth’s shadow clearly retreating several degrees above the horizon. And the magnificent rays appearing to radiate from that same horizon. Not so. These are anticrepuscular rays, converging at the antisolar point 180 degrees opposite from the rising, but still below-the-horizon sun in the east. Crepuscular rays are simply the sunbeams we see emanating from the horizon at dawn and sunrise, or shining through breaks in the clouds any time of day. The solar point (the origin) is the sun. The antisolar point at any time of day is easy to spot. It’s always in the center of the shadow of your head. In the photos above and below, the sun is still below the horizon… thus no shadow of your head!

Below are crepuscular rays, beaming from the below-the-horizon morning sun over the Student Center last summer at Fairmont State University.

Isn’t it striking that both crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays appear identical? That is, with one exception. The rising sun rays photo does not include Earth’s retreating shadow on the horizon. All sun rays play visual games. The crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays neither diverge or converge. They are parallel, simply appearing to be otherwise based upon our respective distance from them. We are much nearer those passing overhead and can actually discern their broad parallel bands. And like standing on two distinctly parallel railroad tracks, they fade to a vanishing point at distance in either direction (either the solar or antisolar point).

Mid-September I asked 4.5-year-old-grandson Sam to kneel at the center of an incomplete fairy ring (see the semi-circle of white mushrooms). Little did I know that I was capturing the antisolar point just inside the magical fairy ring! Take a moment to search the internet for fairy ring images — some wonderful examples will pop-up.

Much in Nature inspires awe and seems magical and wondrous. However, so many of our historical figures of special intellect are taken more by what they don’t know or can’t imagine than by the depth of their knowledge and understanding. I recently found this Sir Isaac Newton image and quote — the “great ocean of truth” surely does “lay all undiscovered” before us!

Funny thing that the older I get… the less perfect and complete my knowledge of Nature, the focus of my undergraduate and doctoral degrees, and of my life’s pursuit and passion. Consider the irony. I recognize more and more how less and less I know of what is knowable. Each day I’m reminded of the great ocean of truth that lay all undiscovered before me. And that is not all bad. The generated strong sense of humility does inspire me to learn more; to look deeper; to question with greater intensity; to appreciate all that I do see and know; to reach beyond my grasp.

Mixed Messages

I now seek nuance, correspondence, and lessons in that ocean around me. I search for serious revelation, even as I look for the lighter side. For example, many of us have beseeched from time to time when we face dilemmas, “Lord, please give me a sign. Show me the way.” The signs are there before our eyes. A person seeking such guidance can interpret the sky-message below as a cross bestowing blessings on a decision… or as an ‘X’ signaling, “No, don’t do it!”

I recount in the final chapter of Nature Based Leadership (my first book; available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Based-Leadership-Stephen-Jones/dp/1489710957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537390559&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+based+leadership) such competing meanings that I drew from an appearance by a peregrine falcon on a seventeenth-floor hotel window ledge in January 2016, as I awaited a job interview. The omen I discovered could be interpreted as liberally as the cross or ‘X’ above! The job did not pan out, yet I found unlimited satisfaction in ruminating on the message and thoroughly enjoying the up close and personal falcon visit.

I accidentally captured the sun-streaks creating a sacred aura for the bench and rock ledge below on March 15, 2018. Here is a relevant GBH Blog Post from that visit to Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/03/20/cane-creek-canyon-preserve/

“Once Faye had left us, I rode in the back of the ATV, snapping an occasional photo between jostles and bounces. This photo revealed what I did not see. I simply intended to capture the nice bench placed at a ledge overhang along the trail. Instead, the sun’s rays gave this image a sacred appearance, leading me to dub this as The Altar. The entire Preserve expressed an ethereal character. I felt the spiritual in multiple places that day. Too, I sensed in Jim and Faye a connection to the land of a sacred nature. They do obviously love the land and draw as much from it as they give to it. I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s remark about caring for the land: We can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in. I feel certain that Jim and Faye are guided by understanding and love for the Preserve, which is itself in whole an altar of sorts.”

The mixed message? A spiritual sign… or, bad photography! I’ll accept it as Divine Providence, yet I recognize unintentional good fortune from photographic practice ineptitude when I see it! In any case, I’m grateful for the result.

The Play of Light

Twilight at 32,000 feet northbound from a port-side window seat makes for great light play. Six and one-half miles below us darkness with emerging stars prevails. Likewise, at this altitude the dark sky above signs a final farewell to the sun’s closing sliver of day. This was mid-February somewhere over Missouri. The ground-level temperature would have been mid-twenties. Outside the window this thin air would have been some 80 degrees less hospitable.

Weather performs light-play as well. From my back patio late December 2017. A long day of cold-frontal rain came to a clearing-sky close. The front sagging beyond us to the east and south, its trailing stratus already dark beneath the sun’s last reach still kissing cirrus far above. I could not resist capturing the drama and beauty. I admit that I felt a bit of remorse that here in the south such systems do not leave a foot of fresh powder to reflect and enhance the light-play. However, I did not fell compelled to shovel 1.35 inches of rain!

Shortly after my heart pumps its last beat, I expect my ashes to be spread on Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virinia’s Highland. Yes, I know that it’s illegal. But what do I care — try cuffing a tin of ashes! I revisited this spiritual place early September 2017 during my Fairmont State University tenure. Here at ~4,000-feet, the low broken clouds raced across the plateau. Sunbeams splayed this holy place. I felt renewal, peace, and acceptance. I take comfort knowing that one day my earthly remains will cycle through the magic of this special place.

Here is one of the stock images from my Great Blue Heron website. I think of it as a portal to eternity. I imagine strolling such a pathway on my final trek. I want to do my own small part to ensure that such pathways remain for my grandchildren and theirs… thousands of generations removed. The light-play along this tree-lined portal is both literal and metaphorical. The sun’s light… and, the light of wisdom, knowledge, responsibility, and stewardship action. We must keep the light of tomorrow burning intensely.

Perhaps nothing is more heavenly than a vertical view into this cypress forest canopy. Every stem reaching skyward, branches up-stretched. Again, metaphorically, I think of us as Earth residents and stewards reaching beyond our frail planet to secure a future that we are collectively placing at peril. Like the cypress, we must reach high to secure our future footing. aside from its symbology, the photo expresses so eloquently the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of a northern Alabama Cypress swamp on a late winter afternoon.

Reflections and Ruminations

I have distilled ten distinct lessons for leading, serving, learning, and living from Nature Based Leadership, my first book. Among those ten, these five hold special relevance to this Blog Post:

  1. Individuals, enterprises, and society broadly must awaken to our obligation to wisely steward our environment from within our local community to globally.
  2. We operate most effectively and live with greater reward when we accept that we are part of something larger and more permanent.
  3. Nature demonstrate that nothing is without meaning and purpose; if only we operated in similar fashion.
  4. We can all change a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.
  5. Learn from Nature each day… and apply her lessons time and time again.

Look for Nature’s Inspiration in life’s simple moments — every minute of every day… where you live.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

The Alabama State Park Addendum

Eventually I will have visited all 22 State Parks. At the moment I can draw relevant text and photos from only four.

DeSoto — Here’s dawn at DeSoto — how’s that for Sunshine Magic!

Whether illuminating the DeSoto morning clouds or back-lighting an oak trail sentry, the sun supplies magic at every turn.

Joe Wheeler — Some photos need little explanation. This massive trail-side white oak is basking in the sunlight that has fueled its growth for well over one hundred years.

Who is not moved and spurred by a sun-dappled trail!

Lake Guntersville — The early morning sun is beginning to burn its way through the valley fog below the Lodge patio. And the image is burned and lodged in my vault of pleasant Alabama State Parks memories.

Normally it is impending darkness that accents the spookiness of woods creatures like this one! This big fellow is braving the bright sunlight to attend his duties at trail’s edge.

Monte Sano — The Japanese Garden portal provides a view into the sun-kissed collections, walkways, and special features.

And speaking of sun-kissed, this full-fruit spice bush, also trail-side, greets every visitor with the fruits (visual and actual) of its growing season labor.

Our Parks are special places filled with Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Visit and enjoy!

 

 

 

Monte Sano State Park — Exploring an Addition

August 28, 2018, I toured Monte Sano State Park with Park Manager Brian Moore and Parks Northwest District Superintendent Chad Davis. As a new and permanent Alabama resident, I am beginning my quest to officially visit and eventually hike all 22 Alabama Parks. Our end-of-August date oriented me broadly to a Park that I have hiked numerous times, covering a few of its 31 trail miles. Beyond the official overview, Brian and Chad wanted me to see the 40-acre parcel recently donated by Huntsville’s Robert Wells (https://outdooralabama.com/node/2258).

We three hiked the newly-dedicated William Arthur Wells trail, named in honor of Robert’s older brother, “one of 253 American sailors who died aboard the destroyer USS Hoel when the ship sank in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in 1944.” Prior to WWII the fallen sailor had worked as a Civilian Conservation Corpsman (CCC) to construct cabins, the lodge, and other Monte Sano Park facilities. I hope soon to meet benefactor Robert Wells to learn more about him, his brother, and his passion for the Park, and to offer my appreciation for his generous gift to the people of Alabama. I will develop a subsequent Blog Post based upon that yet-to-be-scheduled conversation.

The William Arthur Wells Trail

I could not have had better hosts than Brian and Chad — a delightful hike with two gentlemen absolutely dedicated to the spirit and cause of our Alabama State Parks:

Mission: 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.

Goals: 

  • To manage and operate the park system in an economically sound and efficient manner on the most self-sustaining basis possible.
  • To provide and maintain high quality facilities and services to meet the needs of visitors; to provide an opportunity for personal growth and development of individuals through outdoor experiences. 
  • To promote use of state parks facilities. 
  • To preserve unique natural features and integrity of state parks for future generations.
  • To promote good will and enhance the public image of Alabama, and the Alabama State Parks through dedicated, courteous employees.

The memorial signage welcomes hikers to the legacy trail and gifted parcel. I am pleased that on such a hot and humid day my younger guides maintained a civil pace. We all agreed that our intent was to walk within these woods rather than rapidly hike through them. I savored every step, as did Brian and Chad. Borrowing shamelessly from one of my core Nature-Inspired Learning, Living, Serving, and Leading sermons, I spoke as we strolled about my five essential verbs for Nature immersion.

  1. Believe — hold firm to anticipating that beauty, wonder, awe, and magic lie hidden within any such parcel
  2. Look — join the mind and eyes and focus toward discovering those hidden gems
  3. See — we actually see only when we believe and scan with open mind and clear vision
  4. Feel — and when we see deeply, we feel Nature’s aura, breathe its essence, and swallow its elixir to the point of feeling it with mind, body, heart, and soul
  5. Act — that deep feeling leads to commitment… and commitment to action. Action aimed at supporting the mission, achieving the goals, and to changing some small corner of this Earth for the better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

As I reflect on our entry to the Wells Trail, I see it now as a portal into a special place, a sacred memorial to a selfless WWII hero, and a physical manifestation of Robert Well’s own noble service and loving gift to the future.

No small wonder why I employ such high words of praise and gratitude. These 40-acres contain a cathedral forest. Lower right we have Brian looking skyward into the main canopy, flanked by magnificent yellow poplar. We saw massive red oaks just as majestic. I told Brian that if I could, I would slip into this cove grove at least once a week. I view myself as a spiritual ecologist. How could I not feel the spirit of this special place?!

Our conversations and reflections reached beyond this sense of emotion and exaltation. Brian and Chad probably grew weary of my applied ecologist’s explanation for the reasons these trees are fat and tall and the forest so densely stocked. I’ll share a little of that with you. From these Cumberland Plateau forests well north into southern New England, these ancient highlands have weathered patiently and similarly across the ages. I performed my doctoral research (mid-80s) on the Allegheny Hardwood forests of southwest NY and northwest PA — a soil-site analysis relating forest productivity to factors of site (slope steepness; aspect; slope position; soil depth; etc.). Across the 800 miles from Monte Sano to my NY/PA field plots, the sites of highest quality face north or east, occupy the lower one-third of the slope, and are concave. The Monte Sano cathedral fits the bill. Add in the 80+ years since clearcutting, and we have had time for this stand to begin developing its old growth characteristics.

I will revisit this special grove time and time again. Once fall invades northern Alabama I will take our two Alabama grandsons… to enjoy the hike and to perhaps sit quietly in reflection and admiration.

Again, Brian and I plan to meet soon with Mr. Wells. Watch for a subsequent Blog Post.

Civilian Conservation Corps Heritage

My late Father-in-law, himself a WWII combat veteran, made his living laying brick, stone, and block… an accomplished mason. He admired the exquisite craftsmanship of the CCC, which is evident on many parks near where we lived in western Maryland. He was not one to be generous with his praise — if he complimented the work, its was truly good. The Monte Sano CCC structures have stood an 85-year test of time. I had not been to this CCC Museum, built by the CCC and now housing photos and period tools of the trade.

We have some current Monte Sano employees who combine their trade with a sense of humor and a healthy imagination. Why else would we have a faucet on a bird house?! Nearby, Nature adorned this chestnut oak with a couple of burls. Why not a couple of faucets to collect oak sap?

Also near the Museum, additional signage and an interpretive trail, well-suited to extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

A Huntsville Japanese Heritage

Huntsville’s defense and space industries have for decades drawn Japanese corporations and researchers to the area. Although a surprise to me, the plateau-top Japanese Gardens offer a nice view to another culture and botanical realm. Yet another educational feature at Monte Sano.

A different species of cathedral; another spot for Natural meditation.

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain of Health Hotel

The historical marker hints at the rich history on this plateau top:

“Monte Sano” – Spanish for “Mountain of Health”

Site of Hotel Monte Sano, built in 1887 by the North Alabama Improvement Company with the assistance of Michael and James O’Shaughnessy. The 233-room hotel opened on June 1, 1887 and served as a health resort and haven for famous visitors including Helen Keller, the Vanderbilts, and the Astors. Guests arrived via the “Tally Ho” stagecoach or the Monte Sano Railway, which served the mountain community. The hotel closed in 1900, and the W. W. Garth family later purchased it for their summer retreat. It was demolished for salvage in 1944. All that remains of the hotel is the brick chimney.

ALABAMA HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION – 2007

Seeing that Helen Keller visited the hotel reminds me of my favorite Helen Keller quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” I find my daring (and not-so-daring) adventures through Nature. Imagine living in or near Huntsville, Alabama and never visiting the cathedral along the Arthur Wells Trail! The trail may not require great effort or constitute a daring adventure, however, not experiencing it is most assuredly NOTHING.

Another CCC structure, the Monte Sano State Park Lodge is yet another treasure. I am eager for the day when some occasion invites me to experience refreshments in this fine monument to the CCC workers. I am sure that their service to Great Depression America constituted a great adventure. You can see from the lower right view from the Lodge why I have no trouble feeling as though while at Monte Sano I am back to my Appalachian childhood home.

Spicebush Fruit

I can’t take a hike without capturing some special interest plant feature. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) stood in full berry glory. Not only visual, a few crushed leaves added a little olfactory spice to our hike!

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Off the Overlook!

I suppose the same person who placed the faucet on the bird house may have added some folksy charm to this sign. What do you do at an “overlook”? Well of course, you “look off” into the distance. So, why not call this place a “lookoff”? Well, the term was new to me… yet somehow fitting.

Reflections and Observations

I’ve distilled 13 succinct Nature-Inspired lessons from my second book, Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Here are those that directly apply to my half-day at Monte Sano:

Lesson One: Nature can serve as an essential life focus.

Lesson Three: Don’t be blind to what lies in front of you.

Lesson Five: Nature provides multiple attractions for enhancing life’s journey.

Lesson Nine: Nothing stands apart from Nature.

Lesson Ten: Recognize the irreconcilable burden of Earth stewardship we bear as individuals and enterprises.

Lesson Eleven: Use whatever bully pulpit you have to change some small corner of the Earth for the better.

Lesson Thirteen: Nothing is as it appears at first glance; always seek to know what lies hidden within.

I will close with a reminder that we Alabamians are blessed with our magnificent State Park System. I will continue my daring adventure to visit all 22, and in so doing chronicle my experiences through these Blog Posts.

I am hopeful that there are others like Robert Wells among my future contacts who might help us strengthen our Parks through similar selfless acts of generosity.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

 

I’ll look for you on Alabama State Park trails. May Nature Inspire all that you do!

 

 

A Cycle of Death and Renewal at DeSoto State Park

See my August 1, 2018 post for a look at “What Lies Hidden Within” from a July 19 hike at DeSoto. I focused on non-flowering plants, and the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that to many visitors lie hidden within plain sight. View this post as Part-II of that July 19 visit, with a focus other than non-flowering plants.

Nature’s Cycle of Death and Renewal

Most hikers see the forest and perhaps the trees. Few pay much attention to the non-flowering plants. I saw the forest, the trees, the non-flowering plants, and an abundance of evidence telling me that nothing in Nature is static. I walked the Boardwalk Trail back to Azalea Cascade twice that day, the first in pre-4:00AM total darkness, flashlight in-hand. I came to a place where recent railing and deck repairs brought me to a halt. My light revealed a massive white oak blow-down, having fallen from uphill, obliterating the boardwalk, but quickly and masterfully repaired. A full canopy of now dry and brown leaves suggested that the tree had toppled within the past 30 days. The stump diameter looked to be about three feet. The up-turned root mass and soil stood at six-feet, exaggerated in the darkness. I snapped the photos below during my afternoon return stroll, looking uphill at the root-mass.

Lower left below looks into the downed crown, beyond the boardwalk, and includes some of the smaller trees the oak brought down with it. At lower right, I am looking back at the main boardwalk from where I had taken the lower left photo. The oak just missed this side-spur that leads out to a gazebo. What a frighteningly close view that would have been during the big wind, which park personnel revealed to me had accompanied an afternoon thunderstorm two weeks prior. Weather and climate patterns can be global, yet impacts can vary over a matter of feet. Picture the storm damage that leaves one house intact and its neighbor destroyed. A boardwalk is nothing to a multi-ton, 100-foot oak. So much in Nature is random and chaotic. A three-degree shift in angle of fall would have crushed 70-feet of spur boardwalk and the gazebo.

Nature will fill the gap left by the mighty oak. Neighbors will extend branches and foliage into the opening. Individuals in the intermediate canopy will reach vertically for the light above. The forest floor’s vegetative carpeting will respond to the new light. The opening will be evident to only the most astute and aware observer ten years hence. Nature abhors a vacuum. A summer thunderstorm with damaging winds is nothing to a forest. The forest is a living system designed to respond to blow-down and fill resultant vacuums… at any point in time, and over the long reach of centuries and beyond.

Not all wind bursts uproot living trees. The 15-inch diameter Virginia pine (below left) broke with a wrenching twist three feet from its base. I’m estimating 12-24-months ago, given the progress since of canopy breakdown (lower right). The standing pines are fading, with crowns thinning (again, below right). The residual stand is doing what Virginia pine is designed to do — fill an ecological gap (an abandoned pasture, or the aftermath of severe disturbance like fire or area-wide blowdown), and then 50-90 years hence pass the torch through succession to mixed hardwood. This Virginia pine stand is passing the baton, slowly and inexorably.

The two-weeks-ago storm tore the top from another oak, blocking a trail and making the punch-list of necessary trail work. Perhaps no one knows Nature’s dynamism better than trail maintenance crews! Again, nothing in Nature is static.

Gradual Change and Subtle Processes

Not all trees die from a catastrophic uprooting or trunk-snapping. Many die standing, victims to insect, disease, competition, or wind or ice taking out the crown. Again, nothing in Nature is static. The 18-inch-diameter oak (lower left) is decaying in-place. Fungi, insects, small mammals, and birds are feasting on the cellulose… or on critters consuming the cellulose. A vertical smorgasbord! Eventually (and always) gravity will pull it ground-ward, where the decay pace will accelerate with the gift of more reliable moisture and ground-dwelling consumers. The horizontal, former 24-inch trunk (lower right) is heading toward humus. Roots are likely already exploiting the richly decaying ground-contact decay zone on the log’s underside. In the blink of a forest’s eye, molecules from the decaying log will find themselves once more 50-feet up in the canopy of an oak now still in acorn stage.

Perhaps a squirrel recently cached that acorn in the loose soil and organic matter along the old trunk. It could be a banner acorn year and she may not find this particular hidden morsel. It may germinate next spring, and eventually survive deer browsing and ultimately reach into the main canopy… and someday feel the fury of a summer thunderstorm, yield to the tempest, crash to the ground, decay, and serve as as a hiding place for yet another acorn. Nature never stands still. And time is nothing to a succession of forests, century after century. The story of death and renewal is there for those willing to read Nature’s language.

Again, over the long reach of centuries, even the forest soil turns and churns. The Boardwalk oak blowdown brought up many cubic feet of Nature’s precious rooting medium, much as a farmer may turn his field. Nature’s process mixes soil from 2-4 feet deep with rich surface soil. Even the upturned soil mound tells a tale. The star of the tale is a super-power we’ll call Raindrop. The exposed soil has little protection from the force of rain falling through and from the canopy. Small rocks serve as shields, standing on pedestals below. Vertical columns support each shield, and even they will weaken and yield. The mound will soften and become a shallow hummock covered by forest litter, mosses and lichens, and understory plants. Many of our Alabama forests evidence centuries of windthrow with signature “pit and mound” topography. Watch for it. If not apparent, the site likely supported agriculture at some point, smoothing away the former forest blowdown evidence. The resultant agricultural abandonment opened succession’s door to forest again occupying the land. Static does not exist in Nature, which loathes a vacuum.

I’ve observed repeatedly in these posts that time means nothing to Nature — it is only we humans who pay attention to time’s relentless passage. It is only we who are conscious of our race into tomorrow at 60-seconds per minute. My long-time good friend and mentor, retired NC State Forestry Professor Bob Kellison, sent me a note in response to last week’s post wherein I mentioned finding lots of persimmons on the ground at Lake Guntersville State Park. Bob and I share kindred appreciation for both Nature and subtle, country humor. Here is what he sent me: An old mountaineer was holding a pig in his arms while it was feeding on persimmons from a low-hanging branch. A passerby remarked to the mountaineer that it would take a long time to fatten the hog on persimmons in such manner. The mountaineer’s response was “Aw, time don’t mean nothin’ to a pig.” Bob has planted a seed — I will strive to insert a little more levity into future posts.

Reflections and Lessons

I’ve often observed that some people walk through the woods, intent on transiting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ focused on miles logged, and destinations. I’ve been guilty as well. However, I have come to accept that I most enjoy walking within the forest. Some folks live for overlooks — scenic views. Granted, I relish such vistas as well. Yet if an overlook were my sole focus, there is way too much that I would, in fact, overlook. Regrettably, we are a society dedicated to overlooking the obvious, the wondrous, and the inspirational. Doesn’t that apply too often as well to life in general? We tend to walk through life, rather than journeying within life. Are we conscious of life cycles… of process and flow? Do we simply transit from one static moment to the next, without appreciating the flow?

Do we read the story? The tale of passage… of integration over time? Do we understand and learn from what the journey reveals? Do we realize that absolutely nothing is permanent — in our lives or in Nature? The cycles of life, decline, and renewal apply to Nature, business, economies, societies, and to humanity as a whole. There are no guarantees, but only that change and progression are inevitable. We serve ourselves best when we understand the cycles, anticipate change, and do all in our power to influence and deal with the flows and processes.

How does humanity fit in Earth’s cycles of death and renewal. Are we doing all we can to assure that humanity is more than a footnote in time? Humanity serves itself best when we understand the cycles, anticipate change, and do all in our power to influence and deal with the flows and processes. Humanity’s fate is in our hands. I want my hikes and these Great Blue Heron blog posts to serve as reminders that we are blessed with Nature and Earth’s abundant beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

We as individuals and in our aggregate humanity must view our place locally, where we live, work, and play, and ultimately, globally. I can influence only locally… through my writing and speaking, one individual at a time. My role is to inspire and persuade all who will read and hear. My intent is to use the local as a means of lifting others to appreciate the global context… and our imperative to steward our One Earth.

And so I will focus on where my wanderings take me. This essay took me back to DeSoto State Park. Through these words and photos I am planting my acorn of inspiration and reflection. May the acorn germinate, find traction, and grow to be The Mighty Oak of your understanding and commitment. Our Alabama State Park System is invaluable salve for my soul and fodder for these clarion calls for action.

Our Alabama State Park system is a necklace of 22 pearls; 48,000 acres of natural treasure. One of my bucket list items is to visit all 22; hike their trails; chronicle the visits; and tell their land legacy stories. And use them to educate, develop, and inspire future generations of aware Nature enthusiasts. May your own vision be realized through Nature’s lessons and inspiration.

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 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://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

 

Official Alabama State Parks photo of DeSoto Falls

 

A Final Lesson for the Day: Time don’t mean nothin’ to a pig!