Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park: Five Weeks after Stroke

April 28, 2022, five weeks following my March 24, 2022 stroke, I ventured into my favorite location on Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park, the deep cove forest along the Wells Memorial Trail. I viewed this as a celebratory hike, treading carefully with the assist of a trekking pole in each hand.

Although I had missed the most rewarding five weeks of north Alabama’s spring ephemeral forest wildflower season, I relished this chance to catch the end of the peak blooming.

And I felt grateful being able to capture spring footage for the Wells Memorial Trail video Land Legacy Tale that Bill Heslip and I are producing for distribution mid-summer. The video recounts Robert and Catherine Wells’ selfless donation of the 40-core-acres to honor Robert’s older brother, who worked on the Park as a CCC corpsman and subsequently died in WWII at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. See my Post highlighting how Bill and I contemplated such a project: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/10/05/contemplating-a-video-tale-of-the-william-arthur-wells-memorial-trail-monte-sano-state-park/

We began our recent journey at the John Scoble Memorial Pavilion entrance to the Sinks Trail, which eventually dropped us to the Wells Trailhead.

 

Monte Sano

 

 

I felt a little frail, still weak and a little unsteady…unsteady enough to rely carefully upon two trekking poles. I see the weakness and frailty in my face, perhaps because that was my reality. My visage may not convey the same to you. I don’t want it to be evident. I’ve never been one to show anything but strength, whether during my competitive running days, in my mid-thirties PhD studies, or across my career as I rose through the faculty ranks, and subsequently during 20+ years in higher education administration. Frailty and vulnerability are not in my nature. Yet, I’ve crossed beyond my seventieth birthday, entered my eighth decade, now have an artificial left hip (2002) and fully-replaced left shoulder (2021), and suffered a March 2022 emotionally and psychologically nearly insufferable stroke. Physically I have now recovered, yet the mental scar remains. Perhaps it is time to admit and accept an incipient feebleness.

Monte Sano

 

However, I refuse to go gentle into that good night. Dylan Thomas dedicated these lyrics to his father:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And the last stanza:

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A Reminder of the Trail’s Namesake

 

I do not see my well-being setback as a final chapter, but as a reminder that there will be an ending episode. That I need to face this period with resolve and determination. I viewed returning to the Wells Trail, in part, as an act of defiance, a statement that I will recover lost ground and resume my explorations of Nature, physically and through my observations and reflections of all that I encounter.

I contrast my own situation with that of the trail’s namesake, William Arthur Wells (below left in his Navy uniform), who died in the South Pacific in WWII early in his twenties. By comparison, mine barely meets the criteria for terming it a situation! I feel William Arthur’s spirit and presence every time I hike the trail. Once again, I thank his younger brother Robert (below right) who along with his wife Catherine, donated the 40-acre parcel to Monte Sano State Park.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The gift of land and the naming of the trail stand as a legacy that will memorialize a young man who gave his last full measure of devotion, in service to his country.

Monte Sano

 

Capturing Spring Footage and Enjoying Nature

 

I focused on spring’s wonder while Bill paused to focus his camera.

Monte Sano

 

Everywhere I looked I saw Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration…her soft spring greens, towering hardwoods, and the tranquil setting.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Our spouses (Becky Heslip left) and Judy pause at the intersection of Sinks and Wells Trails.

Monte Sano

 

I am striving to include a brief video offering reflections and musings in each one of these photo-essays.

 

Wildflowers along the Way

 

I am addicted, and have been since taking systematic botany my freshman year (spring 1970), to spring ephemeral wildflowers. Although I neglected to photograph mayapple in flower, I found the spotted leaves of these individuals worthy of inclusion. Mayapple leaves burst forth in early spring with unfurling green umbrellas. Its yellow-white flowers appear mid-spring. We found several still in full flower. These individuals are showing the first spots of impending senescence. The spots will deepen and merge; within the next two weeks their season will end. Hence, spring ephemerals. Their seasonal cycle closes when the hardwood canopy emerging above returns the forest floor to full shade.

Monte Sano

 

Sharp-lobed hepatica (left) is one of my favorite early spring bloomers. Long since flowered, its mottled leaves attracted my eye. Violet wood sorrel offered a hint of color below right.

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

We also caught blue cohosh (left) and anise root (right) at peak bloom.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The same for wild geranium (left) and rue anemone (right). Although I missed five weeks of spring botanizing, I accepted with relish this venture into the forest, allowing me to embrace the tail end of this special season.

Monte Sano

 

Goldenseal, another ephemeral of rich sites had likewise flowered during my absence. The top leaf below harbors a fly; the lower leaf sports a developing seed head, which will mature to scarlet.

Monte Sano

 

I’ll return to the trailhead sign, where I entered eagerly, feeling the deep meaning of this place of legacy, deep healing, and spiritual connection. I want to return next spring and many years hence. My venture epitomized what I have come to term:

Nature-Inspired Life and Living, and

Nature-Inspired Aging and Healing

Monte Sano

 

My third book (co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits, carries the subheading: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. The Wells Trail is one of the places for which I have deep passion. As long as I am able to navigate the moderate descent to this sign, hike the gentle Wells Trail, and return to the pavilion parking lot, I pledge to periodically inhale deep draughts of the elixir of this special place.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing beats the healing power of a special wild place.
  • Nature can heal a wounded psyche and soothe a physical setback.
  • Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are ever at the ready to administer a mind, heart, body, soul, and spiritual regenerative elixir.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Exploring the Spiral Nature of Northern Alabama’s Tree Vines

March 19, 2022 I hiked the Fire Tower and South Plateau Trails at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville, Alabama. I issued a Post about the general wonders of Nature we encountered along the way: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/05/12/march-19-2022-on-the-fire-tower-trail-at-monte-sano-state-park/

That Post included several photos and observations about some tree form curiosities. Here are two without comment:

Monte Sano Monte Sano

 

I’m fascinated with tree form oddities. I have also chronicled the nature of grape vines in our north Alabama hardwood forests in my Great Blue Heron Posts. This photo shows a large grape vine (genus Vitis) along the Multi-use Trail at Joe Wheeler State Park from the summer of 2020. Most casual hikers consider such vines, common in our maturing second-growth forests, as climbing vines.

 

Joe Wheeler

 

People have the mistaken impression that muscadine, scuppernong, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, wisteria, and supplejack vines actually ascend the tree trunk to access the upper canopy. That is, these vines climb into the trees. Such is not the case. Our common forest vines are the same age as the trees in the forest. The vine seedlings germinated or vegetatively sprouted with the new forest. Picture a yellow poplar or oak sapling growing rapidly in an area where the prior forest has been blown flat by a wind storm. A grape vine, like the oak or poplar, is responding to the now-available full sunlight and fresh nutrients. The vines cannot stand on their own. They depend on trees to achieve verticality. They keep pace with the tree, securing their elongating shoots interlaced with the oak and poplar crowns. In this fashion, over the course of the 80-90-year span of the forest we hiked March 19, the vines achieve and maintain access to sunlight in the maturing main canopy. Their roots stay firmly planted in the forest soil 70-80 feet below.

I address the viny forest component because the tree-climbing pattern of Japanese wisteria caught my eye as we hiked recently at Monte Sano, leading me to muse with you on the spiral nature of some species of our north Alabama tree climbing vines. While in the forest I knew these were wisteria. Only upon further investigation did I confirm their identity as Japanese wisteria, an invasive. As we hiked, I heard various speculations as to why all that we encountered spiraled upward clockwise. Some offered the Coriolis effect, suggesting that vines spiral counterclockwise south of the equator. Others mentioned latitude as a controlling variable. I did not speculate.

 

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Upon returning home, I learned that a diagnostic character of Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) is its counterclockwise spiraling. American wisteria spirals clockwise.

Alan S. Weakley, North Carolina based expert on southern flora, wrote this about the direction of spiral: Twining direction can be determined by looking at (or imagining) the vine twining around a branch or pole. Look at the pole or branch from the base (from the direction from which the vine is growing). If the vine is circling the branch or pole in a clockwise direction, that is dextrorse; if counterclockwise, that is sinistrorse. 

So, the direction of spiral is not owing to an environmental factor; it’s genetically determined. Now the question is why the direction is hard-wired. Is there some evolutionary advantage in one way or the other deep in the genetic footprint? If so, why do Wisteria americana and frutescens twine in the opposite direction from their Asian cousin? I suppose that deeper mystery will remain for another day.

I concluded long ago that woods wanderings will continue to generate more questions than I will ever answer — more mysteries than I will ever solve. My quest to learn more will exceed this lifetime. That is part of my pleasure in venturing into the forest and writing these Posts.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Einstein
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. Einstein

Spiraling Forest Vines

I’ll continue our vine photo-journey without a lot of narrative. The wisteria below left chose a tree species that fell short of giving the vine access to full sunlight in the upper canopy. Its dogwood elevator delivered it only to lower levels. Dogwood is shade tolerant and can function quite well in dappled sunlight over the life of the stand. It has no need to rise into the main canopy. The wisteria below right is the only specimen we found growing on a pine (loblolly). That’s a bracket mushroom on the pine, signaling decay within. The wisteria does not concern itself with the decay that lies hidden within the trunk, even though the decay, if it proves fatal to the pine, will topple the pine and the vine to the forest floor. The vine will have produced many seed crops by then. It will have done its work toward succeeding itself.
Monte Sano
Monte Sano
Also on the Monte Sano hike, I photographed this wisteria vine twining with a grape vine dangling from above.
Monte Sano
Spiraling Vines from Previous Woodland Hikes
Noticing woody vines reaching into the main forest canopy is not new to me. I’ve been snapping photos since the onset of these Posts. This is grandson Sam posing a couple of years ago (2/23/20) on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, hanging onto a supplejack vine, which in turn is spiraling counterclockwise on a sweetgum sapling.
Also on the Refuge, I captured the image (below left) February 6, 2022. This one requires a bit of forest forensics. The sapling, I believe sweetgum, engaged previously in fierce struggle with a counterclockwise-spiraling supplejack. The sweetgum prevailed, still displaying the permanent scar of its choking engagement with the now deceased and decomposed vine. Below right on the same day I found a spiral-scarred stem, evidencing a struggle with neither stem or vine surviving. Our woods are filled with tales of wins, draws, and losses. Forests may appear to be places of peace, tranquility, as well as community cooperation and synergism. Contrary to those appearances, it’s a dog-eat-dog sylvan world. Only the forest itself survives. It’s every tree, vine, insect, fungus, and critter for itself.
May 12, 2019, along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland, ever on the lookout for curiosities, I photographed this massive oak branch, likely vine-spiraled over decades, once again counterclockwise.
I discovered this oddy-spiralled white oak June 8, 2020 along the Awesome Trail in Joe Wheeler State Park. The oak is currently engaged with a living supplejack vine. The grasp is tight enough that the oak is growing around the two visible vine segments and has encased the middle spiral. I can’t imagine how the vine will survive the ever tightening strangle of the oak wood closing around the vine.
Joe Wheeler
December 4, 2021, I found this supplejack tangle at Joe Wheeler State Park. Even within this scrum of vines, the central individual demonstrates the species’ distinctive counterclockwise spiral. The supplejack has fidelity to its genetic roadmap, a vine maelstrom be darned!
Here’s a December 15, 2019 supplejack clinging to a sugar maple on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
Supplejack does not discriminate when it comes to selecting a stanchion to ascend. Along Bradford Creek as it passes Liberty School March 21, 2022, grandson Sam and I discovered a double supplejack spiral (below left). Another, not quite as tightly wound, is on the right.

A wider view of the left image shows that double twine dangling beside a sweetgum with two non-spiraling poison ivy vines.

Therefore, we have another question to ponder beyond why some vines spiral clockwise and some not. That is, why do some species catch a ride to the main canopy without spiraling at all? I admit to not having the answer. I’ll simply offer a few photographic examples of non-spiraling forest vines.

 

Non-Spiraling Forest Vines

I don’t recall seeing any grape (Vitis sp.) or poison ivy vines spiraling. I conclude that neither has the genetic wiring that includes spiraling as a climbing alternative. While Sam and I explored the riparian forest at Liberty we found this yellow poplar with multiple poison ivy vines. Poison ivy’s mat of air roots cling tenaciously to the trunk. Remember, the lower vine’s sole purpose is to maintain its position while the forward elongating crown keeps pace above in the poplar’s crown. It’s all about access, courtesy of the poplar, to full sunlight.
And we’re talking about reaching full sunlight more than ten stories above in this riparian forest within the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, high in this red oak. These Vitis vines don’t bother with producing leaves trunk-side. The light below the canopy doesn’t meet the vine’s minimum requirement for leaf investment. It needs the light available in the shared crown.
Joe Wheeler
Early July 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I stopped to admire these old Vitis vines along the Awesome Trail. They still extend into the main canopy. We puzzled why their bases are now contorted and slumped to the ground. Several are five or more inches in diameter. Some, like one where Mike is posing as The Thinker, stretch and loop for tens of feet, eventually reaching toward the crown heavens. Why do they twist and loop near the ground? I will continue to seek answers in the evidence within other forests.
Jow WheelerJoe Wheeler
I recall regenerating southern pines on Union Camp company lands through the 70’s. We planted genetically improved nursery stock on land we had clearcut and site prepared. Occasionally we would fall short of subduing Vitis prior to planting. If too vigorous, the vines would smother the newly planted stand. The pine below in a mixed loblolly pine and hardwood stand carried vine companions into its crown. The phenomenon is not unique to hardwood forests. Note how the vines have long ago detached from the pine’s main stem, and now hang loosely from the trunk. Perhaps I have from photo to photo discerned at least a partial answer to my query about the loops of mature vines several paragraphs prior.
I’ll close this Post with a poison ivy vine growing snugly to a 15-inch diameter red oak. It’s nestled in the tree’s moss skirt, appearing to be part of the tree. I’ve found such trees toppled by wind, the vine still alive, struggling to find sufficient light far below the canopy above. Limited sunlight from the windfall opening will continue to bless the fallen vine…until adjacent trees above fill the void. The toppled vine will survive only so long as the light persists. So, the vine and tree grow up (in time and space) together…and they die more or less as one.
HGH Road
I offer a final element of puzzle. I can clearly ascertain an evolutionary advantage to vines that can grow into the main canopy, where they can capture sufficient light to thrive, live safely above the browsing reach of ground-dwelling herbivores (like deer), and can more assuredly disperse seeds by birds and squirrels. I suppose the viny species compromised over the sweep of evolution. They could no longer, as canopy occupants, insist upon full, rich, heavy-crowned tops. That is, they could not both occupy the main canopy and compete so aggressively with the tree that its physical host succumbed. How did the tree benefit from agreeing to share the heights? I can imagine that a viny crown serves as more favorable habitat for birds and squirrels. How is that an advantage to the oak. Birds are voracious insect-consumers. Insects that can consume leaves, oviposit into buds, and create infection ports for decay fung. And while squirrels eat acorns, during years of heavy acorn production, the aerial rodents (and blue jays) cache more seed than they can possibly find and consume. So, I view the vine/tree relationship as symbiotic generally.
I have not mentioned kudzu, an invasive vine that can, in fact, literally climb and suffocate existing forests. Forests and kudzu are not compatible. I’ll leave it at that.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Lessons are written along every forest trail.
  • Curiosity opens many doors to discovery in Nature; I implore you to be passionately curious.
  • So much in Nature is hidden in plain sight. 

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

An Early April Day of Spiritual Renewal!

Some days stand higher than most. April 3, 2022 was one of those. March 24, just 13 days after “graduating” from intensive outpatient physical therapy from my November 8, 2021 total left shoulder replacement, I suffered a lacunar stroke. A scary reminder that life is fleeting and fragile. By April 3, I felt buoyed by steady progress toward regaining command over the fine motor skills in my right hand and feeling more secure with stability in my right leg. I was climbing confidently from the emotional depths from suffering the Stroke and facing the spectre of my own mortality. This Great Blue Heron Post expresses the joy and healing owing to family, place, and everyday Nature…and pays tribute to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. April 3 exemplified what I now attribute, in large measure, to Nature-Inspired Aging and Healing!

A New Day

 

Often I celebrate a new day from my patio and backyard. We visited our daughter and her family over the Christmas Holiday period 2014 in Madison, Alabama. Retirement was just over the horizon. Judy (my wife of then 42 years) saw many advantages in retiring near Katy and her two sons. We scheduled some time with a realator. When he showed us a vacant lot on a four-acre pond (I reverently call it Big Blue Lake!), a great blue heron (a totem and avatar of my long-deceased father) stood regally at the lot’s shoreline. I knew immediately that this is where we would build. Dad convinced me!

April 3, 2022 at 7:23 and 7:25 AM, and on most mornings, I found full confirmation that we made the right choice when we bought the lot, built our reitrement home, and took possession Decemebr 15, 2015, ultimiately relocating permanently January 2018. Sure, we are in the suburbs, yet we bring Nature to us and enjoy the open space afforded by the pond.

 

My third book, co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit, is Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everday Nature. I enjoy the rich Nature and wildness nearby in nothern Alabama, yet I relish the everyday Nature that I find right at my back doorstep — my Special Place!

Within a few minutes slanting rays of sun cast new light on our pondscape. Nature appreciation is not a one and done. Her beauty, magic, wonder, and awe unfurl continuously. Retirement has gifted me with more time to observe and enjoy.

 

By 7:27 AM, morning had fully introduced the new day. I just can’t imagine how any Nature enthusiast could disdain the dawn and abhor early rising.

 

Early rising extends over a couple of weeks for this Japanese maple, as leaves and new stems ready its fresh crown, awaiting a season of life. By 9:25 AM, this early April day is in full gear.

 

Another of our Japanese maples is sprouting leaves and flowers. There is no time to waste!

 

After 4.5 months of intense physical therapy recovering from left shoulder replacement (11/8), my March 24 stroke knocked me off my feet…emotionally, not literally. On this lovely morning, ten days beyond the stroke, I felt the buoyancy of progress from aggressive occupational and physical therapy. The doctors agreed that I would make a full recovery. I saw and now have faith in the veractiy of their prognosis. This morning’s inspirational dawn and morning fueled my optimism.

 

Grandsons Amplify the Enjoyment

 

Our two Alabama grandsons arrived late morning, lifting me to a new and welcome post-stroke high. I see, through them, the certainty that my stroke is a pothole…a setback. Granted, the stroke served to remind me that life is fleeting and fragile, yet the grandkids signal clearly that every day merits full engagement. There is no higher calling than grandparenting. There is no element of grandparenting more noble than sharing the joy of Nature with them. The stroke, just ten days prior, relegated my role this day to recorder. A bit hunched (below left) I carefully navigated each surface irregularity.

 

Judy put eight-year-old Sam to work, first toting a soil mix to re-cover exposed roots on a soft touch holly. Sam said, “I like the feel of soil on my hands.” He understands that soil is the essence of gardening.

Perhaps some day he can read, understand, and appreciate Aldo Leopold’s view of soil and land:

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals… When a change occurs in one part of the circuit, many other parts must adjust themselves to it… Evolutionary changes, however, are usually slow and local. Man’s invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity and scope.

I often mention soil health and soil fertility in these postings. Leopold defined soil fertility as the ability of the soil to receive, store, and release energy. It is hard to conceive of a more succinct definition of soil health.

Sam is doing his part to assure soil health, whether he yet comprehends it.

 

Jack (14 years) and Sam assisted Judy in planting two calla lillies. Jack provided the muscle, Sam the finesse. Seeing Sam beaming beside the plant transported me to my own early youth when my maternal grandmother introduced me to gardening, tending soil and plants. The experience spans my lifetime. If Sam remembers this morning seven decades hence, then my own life has merit.

 

When planting the calla lillies, we disturbed a green tree frog snuggled within a previously opened bag of gardening soil. Although we built our home on a barren lot of exposed subsoil just six years ago, we now manage an oasis of a few trees, numerous shrubs, and an increasing number of perrenials (like these callas), all supported by rich, fertile, healthy, soil — soil that we have “manufactured.” The frog is evidence that we now have a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my orders was to “not overdue it,” which is exactly what I was doing below!

 

As we approached lunchtime, Sam and I examined catkins (the male flowers) on the adjoining lot. The ones below left are spent, having already released their pollen. The ones below right are locked and loaded, fully pollen-charged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below left Sam shook the branch at my signal to release a yellow cloud! Sam is partially hidden within the pine boughs below right.

 

I explained to him that the female flowers are elsewhere in the tree, and that during the following summer (2023) the fertilized (with pollen) flower would produce a mature seed-bearing pine cone. Sam grasps one of last summer’s mature cones below right.

 

 

 

 

 

By 12:15 PM we had returned to our perch on the stairs to watch Jack fish. The pond is yet another element of our rich home ecosystem. We thrilled watching Jack land an 18-inch grass carp. I am certain that Jack will remember the carp into the deep future, perhaps when he is fishing with my great, great grandkids! He also caught three bluegill and a ten-inch bass.

 

Great Blue Heron Visit

 

As Sam and I watched Jack fish, our resident great blue heron landed several hundred feet along the shoreline to our right. Big Blue slowly and silently fished along the shore toward our perch. He had struck twice without reward. Then he paused and assumed the ready position (below right).

 

He leaned forward, eyes locked on his prey, with neck coiled, his striking mechanism taut. In a blur he struck, this time emerging successfully with a 3-4 inch sunny. He deftly flipped the small meal and swallowed it head first. I refused to contemplate the unpleasantness of entering the digestive track still alive and well. Nature is a hard-knock place for those creatures not at the food chain apex. Our notion of Nature as all peace, tranquility, and love dissipates when we carefully observe her reality.

 

The heron passed directly along our frontage within the next one-half hour, still patiently fishing. Below left he strode just five feet from our setting Canada goose, snug on her nest at about day 14 of incubation. We’ll be looking for the hatch at the 23-28 day period. The goose is ever-vigilant. She knows at some level that eggs and goslings offer tempting meals to other resident and wandering predators, including the large snapping turtle surfacing in the photo just 15 feet off-shore. Shortly thereafter Big Blue nailed a second sunny before passing Jack’s tackle box on the wall (photo below right).

 

What a day for an outdoorsman sidelined from my woods rambles. I relished being able to observe Nature within the grasp of family…in my own backyard. I planted memories for two of my five grandchildren. The day punctured the festering incipient gloom of mortality and the sense of self-pity that accompanied the stroke. I felt hope and saw full recovery (and a reason for it) within reach!

May the measure of my own worth in life be in the memories of my children and grandchildren…and, too, in the aggregate of days like April 3, 2022.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense (Richard Louv).
  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant (Robert Louis Stevenson).
  • Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity (Horace Mann).

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

March 19, 2022 on the Fire Tower Trail at Monte Sano State Park

March 19, 2022, I co-led a hike on the Fire Tower Trail at Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville). Chilly, mostly cloudy, and dry, the hiking weather and conditions proved perfect.

In retrospect, this hike proved special. I had been released just a week prior from the intensive physical therapy following my November 8, 2021, left shoulder replacement. I was primed for an anticipated spring of woodland exploration, focusing on the coming season replete with our region’s prolific spring ephemeral wildflowers. However, just five mornings later I suffered a stroke that kept me out the woods until a brief and labored forest hike April 29. Here’s my April 27 Post describing my efforts to retain Nature-connections close to home during my extended period of convalescence: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/04/27/sunrises-and-sunsets-over-the-period-of-my-stroke-convalescence/

Ashes to Ashes; Dust to Dust

 

Life and death are constant companions in our north Alabama forests. Nothing in our wild environments signals internal static. Although this loblolly pine appears robust, the woody bracket about eye height signals internal decay. The conk is the fruity body (spore producing structure) for the decay fungi within the bole. Perhaps a bit morbid, all living organisms begin dying the minute they are born, hatched, or germinated. Despite the death of individuals (trees, shrubs, squirrels, or insects, the forest continues.

I have a purpose for beginning this section with this particular photograph. Not only does it show a supposedly robust tree dealing with a serious decay organism, it happens to be supporting a spiraling vine. Based upon this excursion, I will dedicate a subsequent Post (watch for it) on the spiraling habits of our native forest canopy vines.

Monte Sano

 

Our trail circuited south before looping back on a parallel route near the eastern plateau edge. The elevation is a consistent 1,500-1,600 feet. The forest is likewise fairly uniform, consisting of mixed oak, hickories, and declining black locusts, along with a scattering of poplars, maples, cedars, and pines. I view the forest as even-aged, likely 80-90 years, regenerated from periodic cuttings for timber and intensive firewood harvesting. Black locust and red cedar are early colonists on our cleared forests. The remaining cedar stand suppressed in the understory, failing to compete effectively for space in the main canopy. Black locust trees ascended into the main canopy but stand mostly as skeletons or weakening remnants. They are not long-lived.

Cracked cap polypore (below right) is a primary final instrument of death on black locust. However, I am undecided (based upon my own observations and the literature) whether the decay fungus caused death, or simply takes advantage of this pioneer species’ fulfilling its life-mission early and then fading, losing its ability (and desire) to fend off the pesky fungus. Its life mission? One facet is producing tasty and nutritious seeds, appealing to birds, who consume them and pass them scarified elsewhere. But that may not be the primary mechanism for assuring succession to a future forest. The USDA Forest Service indicates that locust seed production peaks from ages 15-40 years and generally ceases by age 60. So, a terminal age beyond the seed production age may serve little purpose. Of importance, locust seeds may remain viable for decades and accumulate to thousands of viable seeds per acre on the forest floor. When the next significant blow-down occurs on the plateau, the black locust seedbank may once again that black locust will thrive in the succeeding stand.

As reference, I published a Post in March documenting a similar black locust decline at Joes Wheeler State Park (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/03/22/black-locust-decline-and-two-champion-trees-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/).

Monte Sano

 

Another black locust sports a bark-less burl, indicating low tree vigor.

Monte Sano

 

This black locust has succumbed. These are the mushrooms of decay fungi consuming the standing dead tree from within. Eventually, gravity will prevail, the fungi will continue, and the organic matter will incorporate into the soil. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

 

Monte Sano

 

A Plateau-top Perched Wetland — a Relic from Days Past

 

Although the plateau-top forest retains the stark appearance of winter, the old lily pond (a footnote in the rich history of the Hotel Monte Sano resort period) offered a spring peeper chorus, hinting at the season just around the corner!

 

I’ve found that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video may be an order of magnitude better than the photos. Therefore, I’m hoping to incorporate more of these short videos.

Not Indian Marker Trees

 

We found several trees that stimulated a discussion of Indian marker trees, remnant individual trees intentionally shaped by native Americans to designate directions to some place of special significance. I reject that any of the trees in the forest we transited meet the criterion of age necessary to place them here during Indian occupation 150 years ago. Instead, these trees are artifacts of natural processes. I refer you to my relevant Post from February 2021: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/10/indian-marker-trees-separating-folklore-from-fact/

The oak trees below suffered physical damage from a falling tree or branch, recovered from the injury, then sent a shoot vertically at the point of injury that reaches at least into the intermediate canopy.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

This chestnut oak is pointing the way with a skeletal arm, reminding me of the scary, haunted Sleepy Hallow woods where Ichabod Crane may have wandered near Halloween time.

Monte Sano

 

I shall never tire of seeing mystery and magic in the forests I wander. I often get lost in the imagery and fantasy of my forest wanderings.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein 

We found this old tortured white oak, which I am certain is older that the forest around it. A remnant from a prior forest? A property line marker tree? I have said often that every tree has a story to tell. So much in our forests lies hidden in plain sight. I enjoy trying to cipher the stories.

Monte Sano

 

I see this individual predating the Civil War and the Hotel Monte Sano. I’d love to hear its tales!

Lichens and Mosses

 

Some might consider a forest merely as a collection of trees. In fact, while trees are the primary characters from our perspective, they constitute only the essential matrix. John Helms’ The Dictionary of Forestry defines forest: as an ecosystem characterized by a more or less dense and extensive tree cover. The key word is ecosystem, which Helms defines (in his immutable academic language) as a spatially explicit, relatively homogenous unit of the earth that includes all interacting organisms and components of the abiotic environment within its boundaries. I applaud Dr Helms for his concise capture of the essence of the terms forest and ecosystem, even as I celebrate and rejoice that retirement licenses me to write outside the bounds and constraints of the academic world that once held me in its grasp!

This hiskory wears a moss-coat, interspersed with lichen patches. A fine garment! We all know that Nature abhors a vacuum. The moss and lichen find the hickory bark and its collections of surficial organic matter as ideal substrate for eking a living.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

This moss carpet is even more extravagant!

Monte Sano

 

The combination of poison ivy vine roote, lichen, and moss create an ornate surface on this chestnut oak. The forest as just trees? Not even close.

Monte Sano

 

Life extends far beyond the tree matrix. Diverse plant, animal, and fungal life by count alone reaches exponentially beyond the mere hundreds of tree per acre.

A Special Discovery

 

During our hike I spotted first the broken chestnut oak off-trail, admiring the character expressed by its fractured top, one side with hollowed core. I then noticed, without aid of magnification that a stuffed-toy-like face seemed to be staring our way. Marsha Langlois, one of our tour group, caught this image with her telephoto lens. The stuffed toy critter is, in fact, gawking at us, I suppose wondering who we are!

 

Monte San0

 

 

Lest you think this great horned owl baby is a stuffed animal placed high in the oak, here is an image from an online open-source collection:

Image result for images of baby great horned owls

Copied Online Image

 

I’ve said repeatedly that so much lies hidden in plain site. If I had not slowed to look closely enough to see, I would have passed beneath the old ravaged chestnut oak missing what for me was the greatest delight of the day. Borrowing from my Great Blue Heron website, I employ what I term five essential verbs to make the most of my forest forays:

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

  • I find Nature’s Lessons because I know they lie hidden within view — belief enables me to look and see
  • Really look, with eyes open to your surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
  • Be alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
  • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
  • Feel emphatically enough to spur action — that action may be as simple as sharing what I see in these Posts

The owl family is as much a part of the forest as the trees, their moss and lichen coats, the birds and mice the owls consume, and every other facet on the biotic and abiotic elements of this relatively homogenous unit of the earth!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Lessons are written along every forest trail
  • Life and death dance continuously within all forests and across all of Nature.
  • Are forests are filled with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Occasionally we encounter special treats!

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

Aftermath of January 1, 2022 Tornado at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

January 1, 2022, a cold-front-triggered tornado cut a quarter-mile swath across the east-central end of Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge just 14 miles from my Madison, AL home. I share on-site photographs (from March 1 and 15, 2022) and reflections on Nature’s fury and the renewal that will follow.

Here is my February 16, 2022 Blog Post on the strange and wild weather as the double-barreled storm system that dropped two Madison County tornadoes January first and nearly six inches of snow the next day: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/02/16/48-hours-from-tornado-warnings-to-winter-storm-warnings-trial/

 

A Violent Frontal Passage, Soothed by a Blanket of Snow

I snapped this photo at my home pre-dawn January 3.

 

I’ve driven past the forest where the tornado struck dozens of times as I drove into the Refuge for my periodic mushroom foraging and Nature-exploration forays. This shot looks north from Jolly B. Rd. at its intersection with a gravel road that circuits Blackwell Swamp. From this point the road travels due north, eventually swings a 90-degree turn to the east, then heads due south along the opposite side of the swamp, which in some places is open water. The loop then comes around the south end of the swamp returning to this point. The full circuit covers 7.8 miles.

 

I made my first visit New Year (2022) visit to the Refuge January 8, when I noticed the damage, completely closing the road to the north with downed trees from the flattened mature forest of mixed pine and hardwood. Refuge crews spent weeks clearing the road with heavy equipment, finishing their arduous cleanup toward the end of February. I found the road cleared (the gate still locked) March first, enabling me to park and walk the quarter-mile to the far (north) side of the tornado’s swath. All photos within this Post came from March 1 (clear blue skies) or from my subsequent visit March 15 (cloudy sky).

Biblical Fury and Power

The view below left is looking east over the open-water heart of the swamp some two miles south of the tornado swath. The narrowing upper end of the open water is visible through the tornado debris below right.

Tornado

 

I visited the site March 1, 2022 with camera in hand, recording this four-minute video of images and my reflections:

 

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. Psalm 57:12

Some might view the swath through an interpretive lens that portrays destruction, devastation, and disaster. As I observed in the video through a differents lens, this violent natural force also acts as a mechanism for forest renewal. The forest was not destroyed, but instead was interupted. Many of the trees fell victim to the wind, yet under and within the jumbled debris, a forest remains albeit with an altered canopy. See my April 6, 2022 Blog Post reporting recovery from four tornadoes that hit Alabama State Parks since April 2011: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/04/06/a-25-month-retrospective-on-tornado-damage-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/

John Muir noted that to a forest or any of Nature’s realms the human perception of beauty means little: None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild. The quarter-mile tornado swath at the Refuge remains wild. In fact, the disturbance in one measure has elevated the degree or scale of wildness. The tumbled debris renders the swath impenetrable to happy woodland ramblers like me. The swath will serve as wonderful habitat for non-humans: birds, small mammals, reptiles, among others. If I were to live another two decades, the swath’s resurgent forest will rise to a height of 50 feet, yet the decaying jack-strawed tornado-downed trunks will still prevent my entry and passage. Imagine all of the mushrooms that will flourish beyond my reach!

I counted 65 rings where the clean-up crew cut this loblolly at 20 feet above what had been ground level.

TornadoTornado

 

I see no need for detailed narrative. The eastward view below left shows the northern end of open water north of Blackwell Swamp beyond the swath. That’s fellow Nature-enthusiast Jim Chamberlain below right to provide scale to the jumble of downed trees. The camera faces to the northwest; the tornado moved from left to right.

TornadoTornado

 

From where we parked at the cabled entrance (below left), the scene to the north could have been a clearcut, a common forest renewal practice to regenerate commercially important, shade intolerant loblolly pine. Upon inspection, the forest had not been clearcut, but had been blown flat by the howling tempest. Three-quarters of the way to the northern edge of the swath (below right), the relatively untouched forest ahead remains standing.

TornadoTornado

 

At the northern edge, the view below left looks southward into the swath. The perspective below right is to the east, showing the ragged edge of the swath where on the right side nothing remains standing.

TornadoTornado

 

 

 

A closer look depicts how, when a twister hits a housing development, a destroyed home may sit within a few dozen feet of one relatively undamaged.

Tornado

 

I tried to imagine the storm’s unfathomable power and fury. Always impressed with Alfred Noyes’s imagery in The Highwayman, I pondered whether he expressed what the storm represented. His words fell far short:

The wind was a torrent of darkness
Among the gusty trees
The moon was a ghostly galleon
Tossed upon cloudy seas

The romantic ballad was less about the weather, instead using the wind only as a mood-generating element for his tale of the two ill-fated lovers. Perhaps Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald came closer:

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
‘Twas the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

The hurricane west wind certainly proved deadly and catastrophic for the good ship and crew (a bone to be chewed). 

Once again, I offer Jim Chamberlain as scale for the storm’s fury.

TornadoTornado

 

 

 

 

 

Despite our strongly felt kinship and oneness with nature, all the evidence suggests that nature doesn’t care one whit about us. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happen without the slightest consideration for human inhabitants. Alan Lightman

Sometimes the difference between life and death is the luck of the draw.

Tornado

 

All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is therefore not at all a desirable quality in a chief of state. W.H. Auden.

To the poet’s liking, this loblolly shattered spectacularly, stands now as a tortured snag rather than a naked spar.

Tornado

 

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. Psalm 57:1-2

Before I ventured into the tornado swath March 1, I found a recently fallen red oak that I believe was brought down by strong winds associated with the cell that spawned the tornado just three miles to the north. This oak weathered many prior winds, retaining its vertical main crown position even though supported by its thin rind of only 3-4-inches. The laws of gravity and physics prevailed — force exceeded strength. I found external evidence of internal decay and a hollow core only in form of the 4-5-inch opening a foot above the ground in the standing hollow trunk below right. Were I still in the timber-buying business of my early professional days, I trust my then keener-eye would have noticed the evidence of defect. Woe to the buyer who placed high value on the nonexistent lumber that this oak would have furnished. I’ve said frequently that nothing in Nature is static…and many aspects of Nature lie hidden in plain sight.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Borrowed from my April 6, 2022, Post on the four Alabama State Park tornadoes since 2011, this view of the healing Monte Sano State Park tornado swath from an EF-0 twister that hit November 2016 depicts significant vegetative recovery. The swath at the Refuge will likewise recover. Nature has been healing her own wounds since life first appeared, since the first winds blew, and since the first tree fell in the first forest.

Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal. John Muir

The universe is an infinite storm of beauty. John Muir

Monte Sano SP

 

We understand tornadoes scientifically, but it still feels supernatural. The randomness makes it feel supernatural. Michael Koryta

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another. John Muir

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s power and fury can reach beyond our imagination.
  • A fine line separates forest devastation from forest renewal.
  • Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal — John Muir

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksTornado

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Sunrises and Sunsets Over the Period of My Stroke Convalescence

Life’s circumstances, I’ve learned, alter the tone and content of these Great Blue Heron Posts. Normally I offer photographs, observations, and reflections on my Nature-ramblings, generally in sylvan settings in Alabama or whever my ramblings take me.

However, March 24, 2022 struck a low blow to my psyche and, for the near-term, modified my postings — I suffered an out-of-the-blue stroke! Nearby Nature and my immersion in her beauty, magic, wonder, and awe saw me through what could have been a dark period. I offer in this Post some amazing, life-lifting sunrises and sunsets across the first 24-day period of my convalescence.

How could I have anticipated that just two hours after these sunrise solar rays introduced a spring day of hope and promise, that an ill wind would spoil my morning coffee on the patio?

LegendwoodLegendwood

 

The Stroke

As Judy and I sat on the patio, my mind signaled an impending disturbance in the force. Thoughts had difficulty translating to spoken words, which surprisingly emerged slurred and muddled. Binoculars did not secure firmly in my right hand, whose index finger could not adjust the focus knob. Whose right arm did not hold horizontal, but felt limp. Whose right hand drooped.

Judy immediately declared, while I sat dumbfounded, that it was time to head to the ER. She assisted me indoors as I stumbled on the two steps, my right foot striking the riser as it failed to secure the tread. We made it to the ER within 30 minutes of the onset. I’ll spare you the details of accelerated admitance and treatment. Suffice it to say that the urgent declaration of “stroke crisis” for an arriving 70-year-old incites action! I admit to fear…for life, well-being, and future. I confess to emotional weakness and flux. I was scared…I remain, three-and-a-half weeks later, as I draft this text, concerned. Allow me now to say that the hospital kept me overnight, releasing me the second evening. Those 36 hours seemed without end.

I photographed the goose on her nest just 75-feet from our patio 90-mintues before the stroke. I am sure that she gave no thought to my misfortune…she had weightier matters to consider…the seven eggs beneath her. And I, to the contrary, had little else but my own well-being on my mind. Let this be a lesson to all of us. Were the entire human population to extinguish tomorrow, all of Nature would give little thought to, and would pay scant notice of, our misfortune.

 

I am continuing occupational and physical therapy, religiously. I have rehabilitated to 90 percent of normal function. My right hand is once again more dominant, although eating (fork and spoon dexterity) can still be exhausting. While OT and PT are critical, I attribute my emotional and psychological recovery, in large part, to occular medicinal Nature. I’ve capitalized on our perch above the four-acre-pond that we share with neighbors, watching and photographing sunrises and sunsets, and observing the rich Nature of bird life in our little oasis of perennials, shrubs, and trees.

Because during my period of convalescence I have not been able to wander woodsward, I must rely upon a more domesticated Nature for this Great Blue Heron Post. I offer a selection of mostly sunrise and sunset photos and reflections beginning on that fateful March 24 morning and extending through early dawn April 17.

I won’t provide much in the way of narrative. The photos speak the essence and language of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual rehabilitation quite eloquently.

I managed some decent spring-bursting-forth photos March 27 and 28, worthy on their own, yet not relevant to this sky-themed Post. I accompanied Judy to our grandson Sam’s (age 8) soccer game March 29, carefully walking to the field with aid of trekking pole and Judy. The late afternoon (5:44) sun fading behind thickening cirro-stratus portended the inch-and-a-half of rain that fell the next day.

 

Therapeutic Dawns and Sunsets

Dawn two days hence (March 31, 6:31 AM) captured the fragmented cloud litter trailing the prior day’s departed frontal boundary.

 

April 3, 2022 (7:23 and 7:25 AM) dawned more brightly. Who could not feel the rush of promise, the healing spring sky, the glow of spring?!

 

A few minutes later, sunshine warmed the air and touched my soul.

 

Nature’s Spiritual Essence

April 6 at 5:55 PM, solar rays penetrated the cumulo-stratus. I recall a friend during my Penn State faculty days referring to these as Jacob’s Ladder. Another term is Rays of God. Both colloquial monikers for crepuscular rays suggest a spiritual element. I cannot agree more…they seem heaven-sent.

 

April 9, dawn brightened with stratus scudding across the eastern sky at 6:18 and 6:19 AM.

 

By 6:40 AM, old sol was about to break the horizon and the lingering stratus. Cirrus bands, already sunlit, glow above the stratus.

 

Mid-day (11:56 AM) fair-weather cumulus clouds held sway above the soccer fields at nearby Dublin Park, where our eight-year-old grandson Sam competed in an early spring-season game. This constituted one of my first ventures from my neighborhood since the stroke that did not involve medical treatment. Just the same, the outdoor time did provide important emotional, spiritual, and soul healing.

 

 

April 4, during our early morning neighborhood walk, civil twilight brightened the eastern horizon at 6:25 and 6:26 AM, hinting at the glorious day ahead.

 

Sunsets Can Rival Dawns

By 7:10 PM civil dusk ushered the day to an equally aesthetic end.

 

Three evenings later, clouds advancing from the west at 6:35 and 6:40 PM portended a rough night. Frontal rain began by 8:30 PM, eventually pelting us with 2.39″!

 

The April 16 sunset (6:46 and 6:47 PM) promised only fair weather.

 

I snapped these photos during nautical twilight April 17 (5:57 and 5:58 AM) with a three-second exposure. I’ve learned that an iPhone can pull color and character from what appears to be a darkened landscape. I couldn’t resist the butterweed patch at woods-edge. A basal flood lamp along the wall illuminated the stones…without throwing its light into the butterweed. Suburban lights brought the effect of weak daylight to the cloudy sky above the forest.

 

I admit that the stroke affected my mental well-being, occasionally slipping me into a deepening feeling of mortality, an imminent end-of-the-line. However, across those 24 day following the event, my outlook lifted. I saw regular progress regaining my right hand fine motor skills and increasing dexterity, as well as greater right leg stability and overall equilibrium. Toss in a series of beautifully bookended days, support of friends and family, Judy’s never-ending love and care, and my close-to-home immergence in Nature’s rich elixir of spring days with magnificent sunrises and sunsets. How could I be anything but upbeat and confident in all that lies ahead!

I am convinced that the spirit of John Muir lies within me:

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

His sentiment lifts me. I know that my own minor pitfall is nothing compared to the spinning, rolling, cyclical turns of Nature that sustain all life. I will relish and enjoy the inspiring Nature of Life and Living so long as I continue to witness dawns and sunrises.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I will relish and enjoy the inspiring Nature of Life and Living so long as I witness dawns and sunrises. 
  • The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. John Muir
  • I believe in the incredible force and power of Nature-Inspired Life, Living, and Healing!

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Falconry at Joe Wheeler State Park

January 28-29, 2022, I participated in Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park’s Focus on Nature Weekend, a workshop on Nature Photography. I co-led a half-day field excursion on the Park. One element of the outing involved accompanying falconer Matt Whitfield as he worked his three Harris hawks in pursuit of the Park’s ubiquitous grey squirrels. I offer relevant observations, reflections, and photographs from the hour we accompanied Matt before our group ventured elsewhere in the Park.

Matt brought Wesson, the lone male among his three Harris hawks, to his demonstration after dinner that evening. Wesson (and Matt) behaved well, showing little sign of agitation or unruliness.

Joe Wheeler

Wikipedia offers a succinct introduction to Harris hawks:

The Harris’s hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), formerly known as the bay-winged hawk or dusky hawk, and known in Latin America as peuco, is a medium-large bird of prey that is a popular species in falconry.

The name is derived from the Greek para, meaning beside, near or like, and the Latin buteo, referring to a kind of buzzard; uni meaning once; and cinctus meaning girdled, referring to the white band at the tip of the tail. John James Audubon gave this bird its English name in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter, and friend Edward Harris.

The Harris’s hawk is notable for its behavior of hunting cooperatively in packs consisting of tolerant groups, while other raptors often hunt alone. Harris hawks’ social nature has been attributed to their intelligence, which makes them easy to train and have made them a popular bird for use in falconry.

Matt and daughter Mattie complemented each other, operating as a team even as the hawks coordinated their activities, Wesson staying high, while the females stayed in the lower and mid canopies. Our Focus on Nature pack trundled along just behind Matt, Mattie, and the hawks.We could not have chosen a better day to surge, pause, surge, pause, repeatedly in pursuit of hawks and squirrels. Note below left that Mattie holds a maul over her shoulder. The hawks flushed two squirrels over a fifteen minute period, chasing them into canopy vine thickets and tree cavities. Mattie whacked the trees’ base to prompt the squirrel to make a run for it. In both cases, the respective squirrel eventually found safe harbor.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I can see how a nature enthusiast could be attracted to this ancient sport, hobby, and hunting necessity. Leonardo da Vinci observed, Inaction saps the vigor of the mind. There is nothing inactive about falconry, except perhaps the brief rest the females enjoyed as they posed for photos.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The group’s adulation of the birds and their coordinated hunting reminded me of a statement by Richard Louv:

We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense. The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age (2012)

I watched our group during our 60 minutes with Matt, Mattie, and the birds…and heard our expressions of awe, joy, and appreciation. With apologies to Louv, I offer my own applicable modification to Lou’s observation:

We cannot effectively photograph something in Nature that we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.

Modifying my essential verbs for truly enjoying Nature-wanderings, here are my essential steps for Nature photography:

  • Learn as much as you can beforehand about the object of your intended photography.
  • Believe in full measure that Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe lie hidden in plain sight
  • Look with intensity, not superficially, but deeply enough to see.
  • Add to your knowledge base with each successive journey into Nature.
  • As we learn more, our understanding deepens, our love intensifies, our focus sharpens, our eyes (and camera lens) see what had been hidden in plain sight.

Most other workshop participants carried expensive digital cameras with a collection of lenses; I use only my iPhone. I wondered often whether I could improve my photographs and these photo-essay Blog Posts with an investment in camera gear, in effect graduating to “real” photographer. Since the workshop, I’m wavering, but I am not convinced that the resulting improvements would warrant the upgrade. What I am sure of is this:

  • My iPhone takes good photographs of most elements within Nature that I seek (i.e. landscapes, trees, tree canopies, sky and cloud, grandkids).
  • I am not happy with my own macro shots — close-up details of flowers, insects, mushrooms, mosses, lichens, etc.
  • I frequently long for a telephoto lens far stronger than the simple and limited telephoto iPhone function.

I will continue to evaluate the adequacy of my camera gear. I am certain that I reached and perhaps exceeded the limits of my iPhone in capturing Wesson’s image in the mid-canopy. The photos I attempted when he perched in the upper canopy showed only a blurry image.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I imagined the life-pressure felt by a hungry wild falcon, perched in the mid-canopy, eyes searching for prey, as Wesson appears to be doing above. Louv once again offered an apt observation:

The pleasure of being alive is brought into sharper focus when you need to pay attention to staying alive ― Richard Louv, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

The sentiment applies to my own Nature-wanderings and the sense of purpose I bring to developing these Great Blue Heron Blog Posts. I want to bring sharper focus to my observations, photography, and reflections. And yes, these endeavors do indeed enhance my pleasure in being alive. Would better camera gear expand or intensify that pleasure? I will ruminate for the time being.

Although I cannot attribute this statement to a particular soure, I often say that whatever the endeavor, I am committed to employing the power of purpose and the passion of my beliefs to the service of reason. I view my purpose as my Retirement Mission:

Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

My passion derives from seventy years as a Nature enthusiast, a devotee of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I contend that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Inaction saps the vigor of the mind — Leonardo da Vinci. Action prevailed as we scurried through the forest.
  • Nature is inexhaustible in its myriad fascinating interrelationships such as among hawk, squirrel, and forest.
  • Nature photography rests in knowing, understanding, and appreciating the nature of the subject. 

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 25-month Retrospective on Tornado Damage at Joe Wheeler State Park

January 29, 2022, I co-led a Joe Wheeler State Park half-day tour as part of the Focus on Nature Weekend. We walked the Day Use and Campground areas, devastated by a December 2019 tornado. Both Park use-areas are scheduled to be reopened this spring. I offer photos, observations, and reflections on the Joe Wheeler SP tornado. However, this Alabama State Park is not alone in suffering tornado damage in recent years. Tornados have hit four of our 21 Alabama State Parks since April 27, 2011; I’ll mention those incidents below. This Post does not include any mention of at least two hurricanes that have impacted Gulf State Park over the same period.

Occasionally I muse with numbers…in this case, mulling the odds of four tornados hitting our State Parks over a nine-year period. The 21 Alabama State Parks account for 48,000 acreas, which is one 698th of the state’s total area of 33,548,160 acres. Alabama records an average of 46 tornados annually. Over the nine year period (2011 to 2019), at the annual rate of 46, we would have expected 414 of these severe tornadic storms across the state. Therefore, I conclude that our four tornado State Park touch-downs account for approximately one percent of the period’s tornados, even though our Parks represent just 0.0014 percent of the state’s area. That makes our incidence of tornado impact seem way beyond the law of averages…that we somehow serve as a target, that our Parks attract tornados! I remind us that tornadoes touch more than just a single spot — we must consider the area impacted by a single report.

What I don’t know is:

  • the actual number of tornados over the period
  • the average length of the actual tornados
  • the average width of same

If these three variables were known (perhaps they are) we could calculate the average annual area impacted. Using only the number of tornados yields little to allow me to assess whether our Park incidence rate is relatively high or low. Let’s make some simple assumptions: average width = 0ne-quarter mile; average length = four miles; 640 acres per reported tornado. At 414 tornados over the period, the acreage impacted is 264,960, 0.0079 percent of the state’s area. Given my ignorance-fueled estimate of average tornado width and length, I am less inclined to conclude that our State Parks attract tornados!

Okay, having brought my musings to a close, I am now content that when visiting an Alabama State Park I am not slipping into the bullseye risk zone for being wind-whisked into eternity!

I shall continue, withour fear or deep concern, to give my passion for Nature-learning free reign, leading me into the forest…believing, looking, seeing, feeling, and acting on behalf of Earth Stewardship through my mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. The spirit and vision of John Muir live within me.

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. (Muir)

Joe Wheeler State Park

Let’s shift to Joe Wheeler State Park. I captured this first image in June 2020, the summer after the strike. The storm totaled the Day-Use Area bath house below and closed this area and the campground through all of 2020 and 2021. Park management hope to reopen by mid-March.

 

The view from the slope base in the Day-Use Area looks across the clean-swept tornado path to the far side (and beyond) of the Lake Wheeler inlet. In the immediate aftermath, this entire viewscape was a jumble of twisted and downed trees, along with other storm-tossed infrastructure. Thank God the area stood vacant when the twister ravaged the site.

Joe Wheeler

 

This sweetgum stayed vertical and retained its crown, although stripped of all branches on the windward side (facing the camera).

Joe Wheeler

 

Picnic shelter number two suffered serious  damage. I am not sure whether management’s intent is to repair (I doubt it) or replace. For now its stands as a memorial to wild December weather.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

I think that most of us, had we been in the Day-Use Area on a summer afternoon with thunderstorms brewing would have sought shelter among the concrete picnic tables within the shelter. After all, it is identified as a shelter! Nature at her worst operates by brute force, humans beware. Nothing is more critical to outdoor enthusiasts of all manner than tracking pending severe conditions and listening for alerts, watches, and warnings.

John Muir observed Nature through wisdom’s eyes:

One should go to the woods for safety, if for nothing else. [As with all advice, be alert to exceptions.]

Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.

What a psalm the storm was singing, and how fresh the smell of the washed earth and leaves, and how sweet the still small voices of the storm!

Monte Sano, Lake Guntersville, and Oak Mountain State Parks Tornados

Monte Sano

I snapped these Monte Sano tornado damage photos below on March 22, 2018. I Published a Blog Post in September 2020, chronicaling the affected forest recovery four growing seasons beyond the tornado: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/23/four-year-tornado-forest-recovery-at-monte-sano-state-park/#:~:text=November%2029%2C%202016%2C%20a%20weak%20tornado%20%28EF-0%3B%20winds,four%20full%20growing%20seasons%20since%20the%20November%20storm.

I began that four-year recovery Post with these words: November 29, 2016, a weak tornado (EF-0; winds 40-72 mph or EF-1; 73-112 mph) touched down briefly at the northern bluff-edge of Monte Sano State Park’s North Plateau Trail. 

The view looks to the northeast across valley fields, forests, and the urbanizing landscape.

Monte Sano SP

 

I’m standing on the North Plateau Trail. The campground lies just uphill (to my right). The winds savagely uprooted the oak (below right).

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

Again, Nature is oblivious to human lives and infrastructure. The Monte Sano tornado side-swiped the Park’s campground. Park staff provided this photo they took the afternoon the tornado hit. The RV in the foreground evidences that the twister came perilously close!

Monte Sano

JWSP Staff Photo

 

We are the ones who must be vigilant.

 

Lake Guntersville

The Lake Guntersville State Park tornado struck April 27, 2011, the date of the double-barreled front that, among other blows, devastated Tuscaloosa. The front spawned 65 tornadoes statewide. Nature’s power is both magnificent and terrifying. Above all, we who celebrate her incredible beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, must also understand her ways and respect her fury. Again, we are the ones who must be observant and vigilant.

Tornadoes, not tax fight, may be fatal blow for ...Tornadoes, not tax fight, may be fatal blow for ...

Internet Stock photos

 

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain State Park suffered tornado damage in April 2021. Then Park Superintendent Kelly Ezell provided these photos that she took the morning after the storm hit.

Oak Mountain

 

I visited the Park within a week (April 14, 2021) for other reasons…and insisted upon a side trip to the tornado-ravaged sector. Most of the damage had been cleared from the Park roads, yet the tree damage is severe within the adjoining forest. I will commit to returning in several growing seasons hence to monitor recovery, which I am sure will be rapid.

Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal. (Muir)

Oak Mountain

 

Again, Nature operates with brute force, but with no malicious intent.

All Nature’s wildness tells the same story: the shocks and outbursts of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring, thundering waves and floods, the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort, each and all, are the orderly, beauty-making love-beats of Nature’s heart. (Muir)

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Earth has no sorrow that she cannot heal (Muir).
  • Nature’s brutal furiosity is tempered only by her sublime glory (Muir).
  • Nature’s power to humble and inspire is without limit, whether in her grandeur or her violence.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Black Locust Decline and Two Champion Trees at Joe Wheeler State Park

I participated January 28-29, 2022, in the Focus on Nature (Nature Photography) Workshop at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park. Sunday morning (1/30) I hiked the Blue Loop Trail shortly after sunrise. This Post offers photos, observations, and reflections on the declining black locust component in the upland forest along the trail. I report also on the two State Champion trees along the Blue Loop Trail.

Blue Loop Trail Black Locust Deterioration

 

Black locust is an old field, early successional pioneer species. The vast majority of Joe Wheeler’s current forestland had been previously in some form of agriculture (tilled or pastured), since abandoned. The land naturally regenerated with pioneer tree species like black locust, Eastern red cedar, and black cherry, all prolific seed-producers, bird-desseminated, rapid-growing, and demanding full sunlight. None of the three grow well under  even the partial shade of a forest canopy. All three are relatively short-lived. I won’t speak to the fate of our forests’ black cherry and red cedar in this Post. I urge curious readers to seek additional information from this online US Forest Service publication on the silvics of black locust: https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_2/robinia/pseudoacacia.htm.

Important quotes from the publication:

  • Black locust is a pioneer type, usually man-influenced, and temporary.
  • It follows disturbances and may be natural or planted.
  • The (black locust forest) type is found locally throughout the Eastern United States and in southern Canada. Black locust makes up a majority of the stand during early stages but is short lived and seldom matures to a sawtimber stand.
  • A wide variety of species become associated with black locust and usually replace most of it.
  • On good sites, single trees or small groups may persist, grow to a large size, and form a small part of the ultimate canopy layer.

Across northern Alabama I see diseased black locust fading from forest stands, showing evidence of serious fungal infection (heart decay) and crown dieback. The black locust decline along the Blue Loop Trail is well underway and advancing rapidly. The dead 18-inch diameter locust below evidences long term internal decay, witness the hollow butt log. The forest floor beyond is littered with dead and down locust debris. What was once a locust-dominated forest is transitioning to hackberry and oak.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The two vertical photographs of the same tree show a close up of the bark and an extended view into the obviously dead canopy with most small and medium branches already shed to the forest floor. The tree to the locust’s lower left is an adjacent hackberry (more shade tolerant than locust) which is persisting the shade of the locust.

Joe Wheeler Joe Wheeler

 

The hackberry (to the right below) will now reach into the upper canopy, lasting well beyond the life of the stand’s last surviving black locust. Such is the way of forest succession. Individual forest trees compete for available sunlight. Locust excells during the early stages of stand development, producing prodigous seeds that are widely distributed by wildlife, then fading because of multiple insects (e.g., wood borers),  diseases, and physical (wind and ice) damage.

Joe Wheeler

 

This individual looks healthy and vibrant to the casual hiker. It appears unaffected by any agent of death.

Joe Wheeler

 

However, 20-feet above the ground, a cluster of cracked cap polypore fruiting brackets belie the impression of vigor and health. From the online Fungus Fact Friday:

Phellinus robiniae, commonly known as the “Cracked Cap Polypore,” is a woody bracket fungus that is most easily identified by its habitat. This fungus grows almost exclusively on locust trees. In fact, the fungus is such a common pathogen of locusts that nearly every Black Locust tree has at least one P. robiniae mushroom on it. The mushroom is also distinguished by its furrowed cap – which gives the fungus its common name – and its dull brown pore surface.

Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

 

Here is an intact cracked cap bracket on a locust stem recently fallen to the forest floor at Monte Sano State Park. Many brackets on standing trees are too high for me to snap a decent photo with my iPhone.

Monte Sano

 

The deteriorating black locust stand along the Blue Loop Trail keep trail maintenance crews busy cutting and clearing fallen locust debris from the trail.

Joe Wheeler

 

As I’ve said repeatedly in these Posts, nothing in Nature is static. The dance of life and death in our forests is constant and never ending. Death initiates at the moment of birth. Individual trees come and go; only the forest persists, ever-changing. I often rely upon noted naturalists or wise forebearers for apt words. Albert Einstein captured relevant wisdom through observation:

Like indvidual trees and the forest, Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us. Our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life. That is, annually shed leaves are to the tree as inividual tree death is to the forest.

Blue Trail State Champion Trees

 

The Blue Trail loops past two State Champion trees. This September elm stands near the bluff overlooking Lake Wheeler.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

The State Champion chinkapin oak also stands along the bluff. Lake Wheeler lies visible beyond.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

I covered the Blue Loop Trail in well under two hours, beginning at sunrise. I suppose a speedy hiker, intent only upon covering the distance, could have easily circuited the loop in 30 minutes. That wasn’t my intent, nor is it ever for me. I am sure I missed much along the way, yet I saw so much more than most who trek the loop. Always, when I draft these Posts weeks later, I regret not having explored more deeply. I see blanks that I wish I had filled; questions I wish I had considered; and photographs I failed to take. I am learning…I shall never stopping learning. Education is a lifelong endeavor.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Lessons are written along every forest trail
  • Life and death dance continuously within all forests and across all of Nature.
  • As in all human enterprises, throughout Nature there are winners and losers. State Champion Trees are among Nature’s winners. 

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJoe Wheeler

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

How Nature Can Inspire Us, Teach Us, and Keep Us Happy!

Exploring a New Partnership

 

I’m announcing a new collaborative between Great Blue Heron and We Get Outdoors (based in South Africa). As a first product of our partnership exploration, we are pleased to present my nearly 90-minute interview (recorded late 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGlRWUUSTS0), conducted expertly by Rob Yates (We Get Outdoors Co-Founder and consummate outdoors enthusiast). Interview Title: How Nature Can Inspire Us, Teach Us, and Keep Us Happy!

I offer each one of these Great Blue Heron Posts in the spirit of Inspiring, Teaching, and Keeping fellow outdoor enthusiasts Happy!

That’s me on the left looking into the south side of Huntsville, AL from the utility overlook on Blevins Gap, enjoying getting into the outdoors.

Blevins Gap

We-Get-Outdoors-Img_2

[From We Get Outdoors Website]

Our Formal Mission Statements

We Get Outdoors Mission: We are committed to preserving the outdoors for future generations. We want YOU to be part of the story and to come on the journey with us. It’s time to become an outdoor ambassador.
The WGO mission resonates beautifully with my own retirement mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.
We all are resident to planet Earth, this mote of dust in the vast darkness of space, whether residing in South Africa or Madison, Alabama! Rob and I are personally aligned as well, sharing deep passion for ensuring that we all care for this Blessed planet. Look for more collaborative initiatives from us.
My family; humanity’s future!
We Get Outdoors
The future lies in our hands.

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books, Blogs, and video interviews could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.