Contemplating a Video of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

June 4, 2021, retired videographer Bill Heslip and I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary with Margaret Anne Goldsmith and Marian Moore Lewis. Margaret Anne gifted the Sanctuary’s core 300-acres to the City of Huntsville in 2003. Marian authored her seminal book on the Sanctuary, Southern Sanctuary: A Naturalist’s Walk through through the Seasons (2015).

I’m standing at the entrance below with Marian (left) and Margaret Anne (right) on a prior visit.

Southern Sanctuary

 

See my previous Posts on the Sanctuary and its rich story of informed and responsible Earth stewardship:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/12/23/late-fall-at-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/25/early-february-spectacular-frosty-morning-sky-at-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

Read at least one of them to realize how much I care! And I care deeply that the story of the Sanctuary be chronicled through my Blog Posts, which I believe are necessary…but far short of sufficient. Likewise, Marian’s book is an extraordinary building block in the tale. Yet, it, too, falls short of completing the picture. The Huntsville City Archive of the Sanctuary includes a video of Margaret Anne relating the family’s history leading to the gift. Another critical piece of the puzzle. Bill and I want to add another facet of the story.

A Land Legacy Tale at the Intersection of Human and Natural History

Bill and I seek more, an element to complement the Land Legacy Story. We envision a crisp, state of the art video (13-18 minutes) that integrates the human and natural history with the science and sentiment, and bridges to tomorrow in a manner that informs, enlightens, and inspires future citizens into the next century and beyond!

I met Bill when I premiered his similarly-intentioned 13-minutes video on the Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve during my spring 2021 University of Alabama in Huntsville Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course on the Land Trust of North Alabama: https://youtu.be/G2HIq_ygJvY

Bill is discussing the video project with Margaret Anne and Marian below.

 

 

Glory Under the Firmament

 

Margaret Anne recently communicated her gift-motivation:

Philanthropy is a concept I learned from our ancestors who came to America as immigrants and worked hard and prospered.  They believed in the importance of giving back to the community that had welcomed them and did so through gifts of their assets and service.  I wanted to honor our ancestors and to continue our tradition of family philanthropy in Huntsville with a gift in their name.

The Sanctuary is a place of naturalized beauty and magic. I say naturalized because the pond below was a borrow pit, excavated for gravel and sand for nearby road construction 85 years ago. The reflected sky doesn’t care whether the pond is natural or naturalized!

 

I find absolute fascination and reward in sky-gazing, with or without a pond surface to reflect it. Please ignore the blue dot, a phenomenon of my camera. I suppose there is a fix, but I have not pursued.

 

I’ve grown to accept (and celebrate) that wildness is wildness, whether in its raw natural state, or transformed, tamed, and domesticated land naturalized with protection, care, and stewardship over time. Margaret Anne has translated motivation to action in a way that will keep giving deep (perpetually) into the future:

In major cities around the world, it has been important to include urban oases, parks and green space as development occurs, well known is New York’s Central Park. Setting aside parks can only be accomplished prior to development.  Waiting until development begins is too late. I believe that it is the responsibility of cities and urban planners to require developers to set aside parks and green space. If there are no city requirements, I believe it is the responsibility of developers to include public park areas in their developments.

With Margaret Anne’s property donation, wildness is now assured and the future will bear the fruit of the Sanctuary gift long after Margaret Anne reunites with her ancestors:

As the years pass, the Sanctuary will continue to develop and provide an outdoor classroom for students from our schools and universities to explore and be inspired to write poetry and stories, create fine art and music, and conduct scientific research. The Sanctuary, never static, will be a place ever changing, transforming to the needs of the future. As for me, it is my hope that one day when I meet our ancestors, I will be able to thank them and say, “as you planted for others, I have continued our family tradition of planting for our community and its citizens of tomorrow.”

I once wagered with friends who challenged me to incorporate a truism I often quoted into an interview I was about to have with a local TV news crew: People don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care. I won the small bet. I love the axiom because I believe in it so deeply, and have so often seen it in action. Margaret Anne (and her forebears) cares!

Animal Life Abounds

 

She expressed recently, Today, 18 years later, the Sanctuary has developed as I had originally envisioned as a wildlife oasis, a refreshing reprieve from city life and the subdivisions and commercial developments that now surround it.

Marian spotted three common water snakes on an old log under a concrete and steel footbridge, one heavy and sturdy enough to withstand the periodic rampages of the Flint River.

 

Marian photographed this black swallowtail as we hiked.

 

She’s also credited with this blue dasher dragonfly (left) and jewelwing damselfly (right).

 

Likewise, Marian managed to bring this osprey in close with her telephoto lens. We watched the bird circle multiple times over the lake off-property near the Sanctuary entrance, stooping twice into the water. We could not discern whether the dives had been productive. We also viewed a great blue heron standing along the shoreline, then rising to fly into the Sanctuary.

 

Tree Form Curiosities

 

I am always alert for odd tree forms. Many people unacquainted with Nature’s ways picture our sylvan friends with vertical stems reaching skyward. Such vertical orientation may have been the germinating seed’s intent, but Nature’s various forces bend, distort, and break the growing shoot. The tree, hard-wired to contend variously with such stressors, assumes patterns of growth that I find worthy of contemplation, understanding, and appreciation. These two water oaks tell a story of life complicated by physical forces of one form or another.

 

Bill is admiring this American beech that had at some point corrected its vertical course following an injury bending it at two-feet above ground. At the place of injury the beech launched a side shoot that now grows alongside the main stem. We marveled at the thick moss draping the trunk and its smaller moss-free side stem.

 

We likewise stopped to examine and photograph this three-pronged sweetgum, also draped with tree moss. There are those who would consider this an Indian marker tree. However, the sweetgum is growing in a forest stand that regenerated naturally on an abandoned agricultural field at least 75 years after Native American habitation. The tuning fork tree form is natural.

 

Special Magic of Flowers and Moss

 

I have been a spring (and early summer) wildflower enthusiast since my freshman-year-of-college systematic botany course with its spring semester field lab focusing on the spring ephemerals. We all enjoyed seeing this ruella wild petunia.

 

 

 

 

And as I’ve matured in retirement to learning more about our complex forest ecosystems, I’ve expanded my interests to pay much more attention to mosses, lichens, ferns, and fungi. This moss-adorned long-dead branch is worthy of art gallery enshrinement.

 

Closing Comments

 

June 26, 2021, Bill and I returned to the Sanctuary to video-interview Marian; weeks later we likewise interviewed Margaret Anne at her office in downtown Huntsville.

 

Bill and I are eager to create our video and contribute it to the archive that completes the Land Legacy Story that is the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. Our project may take another year of production. I plan to focus a Great Blue Heron Blog Post on its premier showing.

 

I love constructing these Land Legacy Tales that explore the intersection of human and natural history, developing the compelling case for informed and responsible Earth stewardship!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every parcel of land, including the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, has a legacy story to tell.
  • Such preserved natural places enrich citizens’ lives.
  • I applaud all nature enthusiasts who practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship. 

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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 20-minute Video: Reflections on Tree Height

February 25, 2021, I led a 20-minute Facebook Live Nature walk at Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove, a suburb on the southeast side of Huntsville, Alabama. I conduct similar walks monthly on behalf of the Residences at Wellpoint, a new, Nature-oriented assisted living community currently in the latter stages of construction. The Preserve is just four miles from the Wellpoint Community.

 

 

I focused this video on the importance of tree height as a function of competition and site quality. We measured (diameter and height) a sweetgum and a water oak near the Match Stick Forest.

 

Rather than include lots of verbiage and additional still photos, allow me to direct you to the video: https://www.facebook.com/residencesatwellpoint/videos/240720984415859

 

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!

 

Complementing History with Natural Settings

Dec 17 & 21 25 photos

Human history and natural history have intersected across the 13,000-years since the first Native Americans arrived here in northern Alabama. Over a five-day period (December 17-21, 2020), I visited three recent (past 100 years) historic locations in our area: Burritt Museum (Huntsville, AL), Jesse Owens Museum (Oakville, AL), and Helen Keller’s Ivy Green Birthplace (Tuscumbia, AL). My purpose with this Post isn’t to recreate the deep history and significance of the three stories of struggle and accomplishment. Instead, I will present my photos and reflections on how natural features today accent the interpretive power of the three sites. Although all three museums and their grounds are worth visiting, I do not intend for this Post to be a Chamber of Commerce promotional piece. I simply want potential visitors to these and any other such places to appreciate the interplay of human history and Nature, and to recognize that Nature helps define place and context.

Burritt Museum on Monte Sano; Huntsville, AL

Attracted to the healthful spring waters and mountain air, Dr. Burritt chose to build his retirement home on this 167 acre portion of Monte Sano, known as Round Top Mountain, some 800 feet above Huntsville, Alabama on the western rim of the Cumberland Plateau above the city. Don’t look for a lot of text accompanying the photos from these three historic memorials. I’ll ask you now at the outset to consider the value-added by the naturalizing context that complements all three.

BurrittBurritt

 

The view west over the city placed Dr. Burritt in what he perceived as a more healthful environment. If nothing else, the view served as salve for the spirits and an elixir for his mental well being.

Burritt

 

Windmill, vivid blue firmament, and perched cat — more peace and tranquility above and beyond the city bustle.

BurrittBurritt

 

Lichen ornamenting a fragment of bark fallen into a landscape bed of liriope adds beauty to those who look closely for Nature’s visual gifts. Below right lichen is decorating and adding character to a weathering corral rail.

BurrittBurritt

 

Moss and lichen adorn this furrowed ash bark. A nearby cousin sports a mossy coat as it carefully “eyes” the museum grounds visitor.

BurrittBurritt

 

I enjoyed the museum contents and the remade working farm village, even as I relished Nature’s infiltrating the grounds and contributing immeasurable value to my experience.

Jesse Owens Museum; Oakville, AL

 

Jesse began life as one of ten children in a sharecropper’s shack, replicated below right. The open fields and deep blue sky haven’t changed much.

OwensOwens

 

The memorial and air-conditioned, modern museum stand in stark contrast to the Owens family’s harsh existence. The Olympic Committee presented a white oak seedling to each gold medal recipient. Jesse left Berlin with four oak trees. Three of his four survived. Museum founders planted a symbolic replacement for the fourth tree on-site at the museum. This individual will stand taller and broader when the museum celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jesse’s golds. Imaging it in 2136!

Owens

 

Nature will become ever more important over time. This tree, and other natural complements will enhance visitors’ experience for decades to come.

Owens

 

I am grateful that the museum celebrates The Nature of historic events.

Ivy Green: Helen Keller Birthplace; Tuscumbia, AL

 

I felt Helen Keller’s spirit amid the trees that she had touched, inhaled their aroma, and felt their bark, each species signaling distinctively their identity to her. The oak and southern magnolia below overlapped in time with Helen at Ivy Green.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The iconic well, where Annie Sullivan finally broke through to the troubled child, touched me deeply. That something so fundamental to life and Nature as water served as the medium for connection speaks to the absolute essence of Nature in her life… and ours.

Helen Keller

 

Although the American holly and willow oak below continue to grow, I am certain that Helen enjoyed the fragrance of spring holly in flower and touched the coarse bark of the ever-expanding oak trunk, enriching my own experience at Ivy Green.

Helen KellerHelen Keller

 

The dinner bell on wooden pole standing beside the raw-wood, free-standing kitchen and servants’ quarters reminded me that Helen, and all of us today, are essentially OF Nature, not separate from it.

Helen Keller

 

I also marveled at The Moon Tree, planted within a decade of her death. The loblolly pine seed had traveled the quarter-million miles to the moon and back, and now stands tall at Ivy Green. We cannot measure Helen’s own journey from darkness and absolute quiet to a life of extraordinary accomplishment in miles. We do know that she overcame impossible odds and reached deeply into mysteries we can only imagine.

Helen Keller

 

The Moon Tree stands grandly as a symbol for Helen’s own other worldly journey… as an inspiration to all of us. This Moon Tree… this Tree of Life… this tree of Knowledge and Wisdom!

Helen Keller

 

Six-and-one-half-year-old grandson Sam serves as scale and reminder, along with the large oak, that life reaches beyond our own. That all we can ever hope and aspire to do is change some small corner of the world for the better… through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

Helen Keller

 

Helen changed all of us for the better, exceeding my own feeble ambition to change a small corner of my world. I felt her spirit throughout Ivy Green.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my December visits exploring the intersection of Natural and Human History:

  • Natural features today accent the interpretive power of human history
  • Nature accents the story of human enterprise
  • Nature helps define historical place and context

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksOwens

 

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

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

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

Monte Sano

 

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

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

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

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

Fungi Kingdom

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

Monte Sano

 

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

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

 

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

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Non-Flowering Plants

 

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

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

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

  • Believe
  • Look
  • See
  • Feel
  • Act

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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

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

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano Monte Sano

 

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

 

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

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

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

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

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

Nature never breaks her own laws.

Perhaps da Vinci had pondered tree form oddities and curiosities?

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

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

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

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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

 

Late Fall at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

November 18, 2020 I revisited the 375-acre Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Madison County Alabama with Marian Moore-Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary, A Naturalist’s Walk through the Seasons. The book chronicles (with observations and photographs) the Sanctuary’s annual cycle of life… month by month. Gifted to, owned, and managed by the city of Huntsville, the Sanctuary is located along the Flint River in southeast Huntsville. The Sanctuary is a mosaic of bottomland hardwood interspersed with open fields, marsh, and farmland.

I published two prior Posts on the Sanctuary from my June 6, 2020 orientation visit: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/ and http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/

November 18 dawned clear and chilly — my preferred kind of Nature-exploration weather!

I entered the Sanctuary from its east entrance, where a quarter-mile of the paved Flint River Greenway leads to a tributary creek bridge, the point from where plans extend the greenway to the west entrance a mile or so through the Sanctuary.

November 2020November 2020

 

Marian wanted to make sure I received a proper orientation to what for me was the far-side of the preserve. She graciously led me along trails new to me. I walked back to the parking area with Marian, and then reentered to bushwhack for another couple of hours through the deep forest. I do not partition my photos and reflections by time spent with Marian and after. Time and again, every forest reveals its secrets such that with each entry I see things that I missed with prior visits. Join me now for a survey of revelations from my two-stage, mid-November trek into the Sanctuary. I’ll begin with the deep forest, shift to diverse habitats, and end with some unusual features of Nature.

Deep Forest

 

Since October 29, I had measured just 0.07″ of rain. That’s nearly three weeks of bright sunshine, ample breezes, and generally seasonably mild temperatures. Five inches of rain falls on average during a Huntsville November. All that to say that the leaf-strewn trail and understory surface snap, crackled, and popped with every footfall. We could not have snuck (or, even sneaked) up on a deaf squirrel! We agreed that the crunching steps added to the charm.

November 2020

 

I’ve often observed in these Posts that nothing in Nature is static. We found direct evidence in form of a large windthrown red oak (Quercus sp.), its root mass standing ten feet (below left). We believe the giant had fallen within the past few months. It still bore desiccated summer leaves, indicating that it suffered its fate when in full leaf. One can discern from the shallow, slab-like root mass that these are shallow soils, likely attributable to a high water table. In fact, surface water is visible over Marian’s left shoulder. Although the leaf litter resounded under our feet, nearly six inches of rain had fallen in October, thus resulting in soil saturation and a rising water table. The powerful tree pumps have been inactive since the October rains. I’m on my knees examining a white polypore mushroom barely visible in the dark cavity. Nature doesn’t take long to begin the decay process.

November 2020November 2020

 

I later found another wind-toppled red oak, this one a willow oak (Quercus phellos). As I wandered through this forest I marveled at tree height, estimating the dominant main canopy at well in excess of 100 feet. I’ve been flirting with the idea of purchasing a hand-held tree measuring device, yet hesitating because of the minimum $200 price tag. I found something far less expensive, one of the tall timbers lying prostrate, snapped off at its based. Feeling somewhat guilty at celebrating the tree’s fatal fall, I paced its length at just over 120 feet! Applying my superb mathematical prowess I quickly converted length to height by multiplying by 1.000! Although a high water table limits rooting depth, these bottomland soils offer readily available moisture, soil nutrients enriched at least once per year by Flint River overflow, a north Alabama climate with long growing seasons. One hundred twenty feet directly expresses high site quality…a rich site

November 2020November 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sat on the fallen trunk midway between stump and top. These two perspectives tell the tale of this willow oak’s enviable height. Lower left, the view toward its shattered base; lower right its reach to its downed crown. Not magnificent on a coastal redwood scale, but quite remarkable for a 70-90-year-old second growth hardwood forest.

November 2020November 2020

 

I mentioned that October’s rains had elevated the water table, in places to the soil surface. Below left another windthrown oak left a shallow pit already filled with soil water. And, below right standing water covers the entire soil surface at the edge of the preserve’s tupelo swamp. These bottomlands will stand waterlogged until spring foliage reappears to reactivate the miracle of transpiration. Occasionally, Flint River floods will reach 3-4 feet across these bottomlands. Its a land of fluxes… seasonal and over the sweep of years, decades, centuries, and millennia. Were we humans to step from the scene the cycles would continue unabated, oblivious to our departure.

November 2020November 2020

 

I feel fortunate to have explored the deep forest before late fall and winter rains make the stands inaccessible without hip waders. Since mid-November (my final edits December 23), more than five inches of rain has fallen, bringing us, I am certain, to winter water levels. I’ll return in the late spring.

Diverse Habitats

 

Fortunately, while a land of water in many respects, the Sanctuary offers an ecotype mosaic. The Flint River, quick to leap its bank with summer deluge or prolonged winter rains, borders the Sanctuary, providing food and habitat for diverse fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects. Life of all manner abounds.

November 2020

 

A Flint River feeder stream flows under the bridge near the current terminus of the Flint River Greenway. I had recorded a 22-minute video Nature Walk on the Sanctuary the day prior for a nearby assisted living community, thus taking me to the preserve two consecutive days.

Rebecca Vanek, the videographer for Residences at Wellpoint, snapped my photo atop the bridge. I’m a softie for foot (or cycling) bridges amid wildness. Note the concrete and steel structure. Periodic flooding would destroy a wooden structure similarly located — flood waters frequently overtop even the side railings. Feeder channels are by no means fixed. Floodwaters batter banks; channels meander. The oak and sugar maple (below right) are holding on for dear life, anchored only in the sandy natural levee, which in the life of such an active stream is ephemeral. Again, nothing in Nature is static.

November 2020November 2020

 

 

Rebecca captured me (below left), backgrounded by a narrow meadow flanked by woodland. The larger meadows (below right) are interior within the Sanctuary. Numerous game trails (mostly deer) crisscross the openings. Birds flitted among the spent herbaceous vegetation, enjoying cover and fall seeds. Already, lower sections of the meadow evidenced surface water from the October rains. Yes, I am a big fan of closed forests, yet I still cherish the sweeping, extended horizon of openings such as these. I welcome the expanded sky and the opportunity to see soaring birds or crossing deer or gamboling fox, none of which I spotted on this visit.

November 2020November 2020

 

Without myriad ecotones (transition areas between landscape components like field and forest) we would likely not have found walnut (Juglans nigra) and osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and their associated fruit (below). Both species prefer woods edges. Osage orange simply does not thrive in a closed forest. Walnut can compete within the forest, growing best on deep, fertile, well-drained sites.

 

November 2020

 

The Sanctuary is rich with ecotones, lying along the Flint River at the foot of a Cumberland Plateau ridge rising to the west several hundred feet above the river valley. River bottom; bottomland and upland forests; southern Appalachian hillside and plateau top: a broad ecosystem dominated by ecotones shifting across space and time.

November 2020November 2020

 

 

 

 

I am not content in my wildness explorations to witness Nature’s wonders only at the landscape level, although I find reward and satisfaction in doing so. However, my Nature ramblings are complete only when my eye examines and appreciates both the macro and the micro. Wildness, after all, is an aggregate of individual elements: landscape; geography; hydrology; topography; life components; weather; and many others.

Unusual Features of Nature

 

Even as I note wildness macro components, I am alert for unusual features that stimulate my aesthetic curiosity, pique my naturalist interest, and seek explanation for elements like the contorted streamside stump flood debris lying within the bottomland hardwood forest. Recall the oak and sugar maple earlier in this Post holding defiantly to their sandy bank. The image below shows another streamside bank-clinger that lost its struggle with the erosive forces of periodic floods. A prior flood brought this contorted root structure remnant to its temporary resting place on the bottomland forest floor. Like a fish out of water, the debris will ride the torrents again until it finds permanent anchorage in a downstream flotsam tangle, or until decay organisms reduce it to soil along the way. Every element of our forests tells a tale.

November 2020

 

The sycamore below left tells the story of an unfortunate occasion years ago when a flood-borne log slammed and shattered its then smaller base, bending the tree to 45 degrees and deeply scarring its stem. Despite what would seem to have been a mortal consequence, this sycamore survived… hollowed and leaning, yet retaining enough viable crown to nourish a semicircular rind of transporting xylem and phloem sufficient to sustain life. Nature knows disturbance, injury, and insult. The sugar maple (below right) likewise suffered serious injury when it was a mere four-inch diameter sapling, bowing it to near-horizontal. Likely attributable to either a falling tree or large branch, or to water-carried debris, the damaged stem sprouted a vertical shoot about five feet above the ground. The shoot persisted, now occupying a firm place in the intermediate canopy. Sugar maple can survive contentedly for decades without reaching full sunlight in the main canopy, preparing to exploit an opening when disturbance creates a canopy opening. Sugar maple is a patient opportunist.

November 2020November 2020

 

The Sanctuary forest trees provide structure that physically supports several species of grapevine (Vitis sp.). I’ve written often in these posts about these long-lived woody vines growing up (in age and in verticality) with the dominant and co-dominant overstory trees. I’ve also speculated on the role and functionality of air roots (below). I won’t re-cover that topic here. Instead, I will simply share two photos of some of the best air roots I’ve seen. I failed to capture images of several places where air roots had reached the ground and found purchase, where I presume they serve as yet another point for the spreading vine canopy above to secure moisture and nutrients.

November 2020November 2020

 

A pure-white softball-size pompom of lion’s main (Hericium erinaceus) drew our attention near the trail. I pondered how something so soft, white, delicate, and tempting could break down dead wood. I’ve most often found lion’s mane on obviously dead wood. This one is growing on a living tree that must have internal decay.

November 2020November 2020

 

All manner of life occupies our southern forests. A thick moss carpet embraces this large yellow popular (Liriodendron tulipifera). Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum.

November 2020

 

A Rare Find!

As I drafted this text, I received an email from Neal Kelso, a hobby lichenologist (recently relocated to California). Neal had conducted field research on the Sanctuary studying lichens. He reported with his email that the October 29 issue of Opuscula Philolichenum, a journal of the New York Botanical Garden that “is intended to serve as a venue for the publication of small works in the field of lichenology,” published his article, Discovery of the first large population of Phaeophyscia leana in northern Alabama. The article reports his find of a rare lichen on the Sanctuary. Neal observes in the article that “P. leana occurs at the southern end of the Ohio Valley and furthers regional knowledge by documenting that it occurs in at least one larger, more stable subpopulation. The discovery has positive implications for the future of the species in north Alabama and throughout its range.” Life abounds on the Sanctuary. Neal’s discovery supports my view that Nature is remarkably resilient, as evidenced by a rare lichen sporting a large population along the shores of an 80-year-abandoned borrow pit, which I describe in one of my June 2020 Posts.

I will continue to ponder what Neal’s discovery means to our collective mission to promote Earth stewardship.

Here are two of Neal’s photos. One depicts a trunk base with vivid green lichen, the other of the lichen grey-mud-coated trunk from then recent flooding.

Rare Lichen

 

I am eager to seek and find the rare lichen at this special tract that I’m beginning to place among my north Alabama favorite Nature haunts!

Signage at a Special Place

I include these two sign posts only because I remain captivated by their rather primitive, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, design.

November 2020November 2020

 

Borrowing from my June Posts, here’s the cover of Marian’s book and a photo of the west-side entrance sign, with Marian (left) as well as Margaret Anne Schiffman, who donated the Sanctuary property with perpetual conservation easement restrictions to the City of Huntsville. I am grateful to both of these distinguished Earth stewards and dedicated naturalists.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I will return again and again to the Sanctuary. Special places are often within reach of where we live. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are where we take time to seek and explore.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-November return to the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • All manner of life occupies our southern forests
  • We can find whatever we seek when we know where (and how) to look within Nature

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksNovember 2020

 

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

 

 

A Suburban Trail within Sight of an Interstate Highway North of Pittsburgh, PA

Wildness is wherever you seek it, whether deep in the Appalachian forests… or hidden in plain sight within a suburban park.

Steve Jones

 

September 24, 2020, I hiked Brush Creek Trail in southern Butler County Pennsylvania, 20-miles north of Pittsburgh and within two miles of our son’s home in Cranberry Township. The linear Graham Park lies south and west of (and alongside) Interstate 76, paralleling Brush Creek. I walked the trail while our three grandkids were in school. Early fall had already arrived… a good month in advance of its onset here in northern Alabama. I wanted to chronicle the seasonal state of flowers, trees, and vegetation generally for this Blog Post… and expose the wildness that lies hidden within plain sight, even in the kind of suburban park found in most communities.

Brush Creek Trail in Butler County Pennsylvania

 

Graham is a classic suburban park, furnishing all manner of recreation fields, playgrounds, fitness stations, nature trails, and interpretive signage. The sound of semis on I-76 hummed without ebb. I attempted to tune it out so I could focus on the wildness we otherwise might not notice with the din of traffic, a distraction from Nature too often matched by our own digital devices. Far too many of us are awash in a sea of “other.”

I am nearly certain that few visitors realize that the greenway travels along a sewer line. The Brush Creek water treatment plant lies at the trail’s northern terminus. The plant treats 3.2 million gallons of wastewater daily. My favorite local greenways here in northern Alabama are likewise sewer line utility rights of way. What a great way to make silk out of a sow’s ear!

I will maintain a pretty good Post-pace reporting on key elements and core reflections with this photo-essay. I’ll begin by saying trail signage is excellent — I offer my compliments and appreciation to those responsible.

Graham Park

 

A gorgeous late-summer/early-fall day.  Comfy temps and crystal blue sky. Open fields flanked by the paved trail and riparian forest. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. I will stay true to that old maxim, limiting my words to what I feel are necessary.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Aesthetic wooden fencing at culvert crossings, the trail bordered by lush early fall wildflowers.

Graham Park

 

Urban park wildness comes in many forms, including this meadow under a power transmission line. The trick to full appreciation is to focus on the meadow…avoiding the view above. Remind yourself that without the power line, this 200-foot right-of-way might be populated with houses, streets, driveways, and mowed grass. Instead, we have a vibrant meadow habitat as home to diverse vegetation, small mammals, deer, countless songbirds, pollinators, and other insects essential to the meadow ecosystem. Don’t forget the birds of prey and foxes drawn by the small mammals!

Graham Park

 

I often make the point that wildness is so often hidden in plain sight. Such is the case along Brush Creek Greenway. Each section below reveals the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature available within reach along a busy Interstate, under transmission line towers, and above a major sewer line.

Ponds, Creek, and Wetlands

 

Admittedly, I did not seek to understand the Brush Creek watershed. The area had not measured significant rains since earlier in the month. The ground seemed parched and the creek flow, I assumed, carried minimum flow, typical of late summer and early fall. Despite the low volume, I spotted small fish everywhere I encountered a pool. I flushed a great blue heron from bankside at a point close to the trail. At other locations I found beaver chews near the trail. Urban streams with riparian buffers attract all manner of wildlife.

Graham Park

Graham Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a one-tenth-acre marshy area between the trail and the athletic fields beyond. The cattails evidence that efforts to sustain natural habitat within acres of mowed grass are paying dividends.

Graham Park

 

The creek bed ranges from natural (below left) to channeled with a trailside boulder bulkhead, which based upon my observations was the exception rather than the rule.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Because aquatic features dominate the Nature of Graham Park, managers offer interpretive signage to assure that park users have an opportunity to understand the natural ecosystem.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again, all of this wildness…this sprawling and inviting classroom…all within sight and earshot of a busy Interstate highway just 20 miles from a major American city.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Birds love this land of edges, marshes, meadows, streams, ponds, brushland, and riparian forest. Bluebird houses line the greenway.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Truth is, I could have developed several Posts from my stroll along Brush Creek. I chose instead to stay broad and shallow…an eclectic slice across Nature’s suburban park panoply…a cornucopia of early fall delights. John Muir’s infinite storm of beauty.

Trees

 

I love the diverse ecosystem patchwork; but I am in love with forests, and the trees that compose them. As with other ecosystem elements, even though I want to delve deeply, I will not show favor by deepening the text in this section.

Graham Park

 

That’s a black cherry (Prunus serotina) below left. My doctoral research field studies focused on the Allegheny Hardwood forests, with cherry as the dominant species, just 100 miles north of Brush Creek. Black cherry is present in our north Alabama forests, but does not reach the more impressive dimensions that it does here in west central Pennsylvania. It reigns supreme on northward into the northwestern Pennsylvania Allegheny Plateau. That’s honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) below right, replete with its complex, multiply-forked thorns.

Graham Park

 

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides; below left) and shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria; below right) stood between the creek and trail.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Likewise for black walnut (Juglans nigra; below left) and American basswood (Tilia americana; below right). Black walnut is a furniture standard, highly valued for centuries. Basswood offers neither the hardness (durability) or rich character pattern so cherished in walnut. The species often displays stump-cluster form.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I catalogued two species of dogwood: grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa; below left) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida; below right). Grey dogwood boasts white fruit; flowering dogwood berries are red.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Note the pubescent (fuzzy) stem of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina; below left) and hawthorn (Crataegus sp; below right).  Although I am including these woody plants under the tree heading, I likely just insulted the cherry, walnut, oak, and cottonwood main canopy residents and forest dominants by daring to class these understory species as “trees”!

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Again I note that I am simply providing a cross-sectional sampling of Nature on a single day in late-summer/early-fall. By no means am I offering an exhaustive inventory.

Flowers

 

The sign says, “There are a variety of flowers that can be seen along this trail…” Wow, what an understatement! There I was at just a brief snapshot of time along a 365-day continuing cycle. What could an informed regional botanist catalog over an entire year of hikes, venturing from streambank to meadow interior to full forested shade? I’m confident in guessing several hundred. Start with wetland skunk cabbage flowering in snow or under thin ice and extend beyond to the scores of flowers I spotted as the season reached past the autumnal equinox.

Graham Park

 

I give you just seven of the showstoppers, beginning with swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum; below left. And smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve; below right).

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

‘Tis the season for asters. I particularly liked the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae) with its brilliant color, making a defiant statement as the first freeze lies just weeks (perhaps days) ahead.

Graham Park

 

Wild carrot (Daucus carota; below left) offered its delicate lacy bouquet to my steadying hand. Naturalized from California to the eastern US, this species is native to Europe and Asia. Meadow evening primrose (Oenothera pilosella; below right) greeted me with its bright yellow sunshine, another fitting fare-thee-well to summer.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

 

 

 

 

And what could make a stronger statement than New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis; below left)! Common from Florida into Canada, ironweed is yet another member of the aster family. Fall phlox (Phlox paniculata; below right) presented its closing argument, without the strength and volume of its ubiquitous April cousin, woodland phlox or sweet William.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

I have long been a champion of spring wildflowers, leaving summer bloomers to admirers who enjoy the summer heat more than I. However, retirement has opened my eyes and forced my ventures into Nature irrespective of seasonal bias. I admit to a long-held leaning toward the spring ephemerals, those hardy woodland flowers that brave the often cold shoulder season to capitalize on the brief period of full forest floor sunlight before forest canopy leaf-out. I am delighting now in all seasons, deepening and widening my field of appreciation. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe know no limits.

Seasons

 

The best season, I’ve come to understand is whatever time I happen to venture forth. Any time I visit our son is an ideal time to discover what marvels Nature has to offer. The interpretive sign says it clearly, “There are many beautiful parts of each season to enjoy here.”

Graham Park

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, flowers are reproductive organs, ensuring species and ecosystem sustainability. From my earliest days, I’ve been a big fan of cattails (Typha latifolia; below left) with its corndog seed-head. Nearby I found the seed-head of Scirpus, a club-rush/bulrush, completing its annual cycle.

Graham ParkGraham Park

 

Right up there on my lifetime appreciation list are seedpods of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca; below left). To this day I cannot resist, with or without a grandchild present, releasing the fairies into the breeze, dispersing the brown seeds to the four corners.

Graham ParkSeptember 2020

 

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) also ranks high. I admire its massive size — each year growing to 6-9 feet of red-stemmed elegance, with rich green leaves capturing sunlight and root-storing carbohydrates and energy to begin the cycle ground-up next spring. And there’s magic in those inky red berries hung with care for birds of many species for winter sustenance. If you are a mammalian species reading this, ignore the edible comment — pokeberries are quite toxic for humans and our fur-bearing kin.

Graham Park

 

However, we have edible alternatives to pokeberry. Black walnut (we saw the tree earlier) is a staple in our American diet. They come nicely packaged in grocery stores (the same species as this wild walnut) for those of us not inclined to collect the fruit, dry it, husk it, then crack the nut to pick the meat. Squirrels consider the harvesting, preparation, storing, and consumption well worth the effort!

Graham Park

 

I’ll close with a flowering dogwood leaf in early fall splendor, its chlorophyll exiting the summer leaf across all but the vein margins, symbolizing the continuing seasonal flow. The color pattern is a literal and metaphorical expression of this stage in an annual cycle that is persistent, reliable, and exquisitely effective.

Graham Park

 

As I’ve noted time and again, wildness is where we seek it, whether in an urban park along a Pittsburgh-area Interstate highway or or a hundred miles north in the Tionesta Research Natural Area, a preserved remnant virgin beech-hemlock climax forest. Nature tells compelling tales wherever you encounter it.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early fall exploration of a suburban park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

  • Nature’s seasonal patterns are persistent, predictable, and exquisitely effective
  • Any walk in wildness offers gifts across the seasons for those willing to look, see, understand, and appreciate
  • John Muir — “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksGraham Park

 

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

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: Nature’s Insistence Upon Renewal

I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary June 6 and presented my reactions, reflections, and photographs in a June 23, 2020 Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/

Please see that earlier Post for general information about the Sanctuary. I’m following up now with a second Post, this one focusing on what I’ll term Nature’s insistence upon renewal. Suffice it to say that the Sanctuary is not preserving 375 acres of wilderness. Instead, the Goldsmith-Schiffman families worked the land for generations, including farming, timbering, and even mining sand and gravel for use as fill for highway construction west of the Sanctuary decades ago. Despite active human operation for many years, Nature is returning the land to a state of wildness from that sometimes harsh treatment few would surmise today from a walk through this riparian oasis. A wonderful sign welcomes visitors. Marian Moore Lewis chronicled the Sanctuary’s seasons in Southern Sanctuary, an exquisite month-to-month journey through this wonderfully wild one-half square mile along the Flint River within Huntsville, Alabama’s city limits.

Southern Sanctuary

 

From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a name derived from the combination of the first two letters from the names of Margaret Anne Goldsmith’s (she donated the land for the Sanctuary) three children. My earlier Post tells the full story of Nature’s grand design in naturalizing this former borrow pit, creating natural beauty from a deep scar upon the land.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I felt that this brief paragraph and the accompanying two photos below merited repeat in this Post. Forgive my shameless self-plagiarizing! A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Having covered some of the same content as the prior Post, I will now shift gears to material unique to this Post.

The Elegant Dance of Life and Death: Fungi Kingdom

 

Leonardo da Vinci expressed timeless wisdom 500 years ago. I offer several of his still-relevant quotes within this Post. I’ll launch this section on life and death with his statement of powerful simplicity:

Our life is made by the death of others.

I write often of the ongoing marvel of Nature’s interwoven and continuous tale of life and death. Nothing in Nature is static; all life ends in death…the cycle repeats without end. Whether the Sanctuary’s visible life persists as plant or animal, the fungi kingdom (neither plant nor animal) serves as the grand parade marshal, ushering even the largest oak from main canopy stalwart through decay to forest soil organic matter. I admit to far less certainty in identifying our northern Alabama fungi. In fact, iNaturalist, my online source of i.d. for all things living, declared this to be California fungi (Pluteus petasatus), an odd moniker for a location more than 2,000 miles from its namesake!

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I suppose what is most important is that this mushroom is the reproductive (spore-producing) structure of the fungi’s mycelia feasting on dead organic matter in the forest floor substrate.

I identified Marian Moore Lewis (without the assistance of iNaturalist), local author (Southern Sanctuary) and naturalist, in the prior Post. A talented photographer, Marian stopped to capture the image of yet another mushroom. So many casual hikers (and some who are serious) walk through the forest, blind to the many rewards that lie hidden in plain sight. We wandered these trails with purpose, intent to miss little. We hike in the forest, not simply passing through it!

Southern Sanctuary

 

This specimen is false turkey tail (Trametes cubensis). The largest of this colony measures six inches across. Its mycelia are feeding on the branch. I wonder how many more years (months?) until its work is done… until the branch no longer has form and structure, and disappears into the soil matrix, to help fuel the next tree that will grow to shed yet another branch to feed future generations of Trametes cubensis.
Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandson Sam (age six) poses with a decaying stem segment supporting a rich community of lichens and fungi. I will attempt no finer identification beyond noting that the white mushroom at the near end is a polypore, and a fine specimen it is. I admit that I am including this photograph mostly because it is a cute picture. Perhaps Sam will grow to be a noted mycologist who with a single glance back at Pap’s ancient Blog Posts will roll the genus and species effortlessly from his tongue. Better yet, perhaps he’ll remember the Goldsmith Schiffman hike with fondness and warmth.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted this distinctive Boletes (Boletus sp.) mushroom at the base of a sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). Its mycelia are feeding on organic matter in the soil. Note the thick moss mat on the tree’s two visible feet. As I’ve observed often, the microclimate at the base of our main canopy trees is perfect for the mosses — cooler with higher humidity. The flared and sometimes buttressed lower trunk also tends to slow stem flow during heavier rains, depositing the water’s load of organic debris and nutrients on the bark surface and in micro-crevices, creating a more favorable substrate for the moss. Watch for our moss-bottomed trees the next time you walk into your favorite forested wildness.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

We found a colorful wood ear fungus, this one identified by iNaturalist as jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), a perfect moniker for a very ear-like mushroom. How sad to think that a person could walk the trail distracted by digital interference and not see these showy specimens. Remember, these are decay organisms consuming cellulose and lignin. Behold the beauty of these essential, noble saprophytes. Who says there is no wonder in decay!

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Another jelly fungus greeted us from yet another downed tree. Again, I offer these identifications without the confidence I bring to naming trees, woody shrubs, and spring wildflowers. This one surfaced as leafy brain (Phaeotremella foliacea). What a delightful assortment of life forms, colors, and zany nomenclature: jelly ear and leafy brain. Where is Dr. Seuss when you need him?

Southern Sanctuary

 

I entered the forest, my eyes to the trees;

I heard the leaves rustle, felt the slight breeze.

Yet as I looked up, saw the canopy high;

I sensed a presence below me, quiet and shy.

 

Something heeding my passage, with a tremble of fear;

Perhaps hearing my footfalls with keen jelly ear.

And registering a threat as I passed in the lane;

Via synapses firing within leafy brain.

 

The fungi range wide in these forested glens;

From Trametes to Boletes they bless our eye lens.

With colors diverse in the shadows and lights,

They’re doing their duty… these forest saprophytes.

 

Yeah, I know, I’m no Dr. Seuss, yet it is fun to think of the tale he could have woven poetically about fungal life in the understory.

Other Life and Renewal

 

Fungi did not attract our sole attention that day. Far more awaited our discovery.

A side note: As I prepared for a Facebook Live video presentation June 25 at Hays Nature Preserve, just across route 431 from the Sanctuary, an acquaintance inquired, given the current social strife, whether I would be discussing “diversity, inclusion, and equity.” My answer stuck to the natural world — I would limit my topic to whatever elements of Nature captured my fancy that afternoon along the Flint River… nothing more. However, as I reflected, I realized that Nature is all about diversity and inclusion. This single Post delves into three kingdoms of Earth-life–plant, animal, fungi. All that diversity of life acting in concert (inclusion) within complex ecosystems. The social milieu that is ripping our country asunder absurdly involves just a single animal kingdom species, a newcomer (occasionally pathetic and at times clueless) in the vast sweep of time since life first emerged from the primordial soup 3.5 billion years ago. Will we humans be little remembered and long forgotten as Nature (I fear) sweeps us aside as irrelevant and unworthy, and only briefly significant? Thank God Nature broadly does not operate in the human fashion. With the exception of this brief interlude I shall stick to Nature. Politics is a private matter to this old retired forester, best left to others.

Annually we accent our spring and summer patio with ornamental petunias, which flower continuously so long as we assiduously dead-head daily. Here’s the wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), growing happily trail-side in the Sanctuary. I like the semi-fringed petals and fresh lavender hue. However, what caught my eye as I examined the photo is the telltale track of a leaf miner insect on the top-center leaf. A leaf is not two-dimensional. Each leaf has three parts: epidermis (upper and lower); mesophyll (middle layer); vascular tissue (the veins). Picture an insect ovipositing an egg into the mesophyll. The egg hatches into a larva intent upon consuming the mesophyll tissue before eventually pupating to transform into an adult that once again lays eggs to repeat the cycle. See the gray serpentine feeding tunnel, where the larva has mined (eaten) the mesophyll between the two epidermal layers.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I spotted a patch of yellow mid-field several hundred feet from the trail. The responsible party is floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides). Attractive from a distance, the flower and leaf venation pattern is absolutely, stunningly symmetric and complementary. I’m reminded once again of relevant da Vinci quote:

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

Southern Sanctuary

 

Like the wild petunia leaf miner, the pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) and Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) are dependently interrelated. The adult butterfly deposits her eggs exclusively on pipevine stems. Her larvae feed solely on pipevine leaves. The nearly full-grown larva below will soon form its chrysalis on a pipevine stem. The adult will emerge in time to repeat the cycle.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Let’s leap from the beautiful pipevine swallowtail (aka blue swallowtail; butterfly image at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battus_philenor) to what you may interpret as a sad story… another chapter in the book of life and death, written clearly in the language of Nature and hidden in plain sight. Bank-side at the south end of Jobala Pond we discovered a disturbed area of soil just over the embankment rim. The white debris (below left) in the apparently excavated soil are egg shell fragments. Just a few feet away we found broken entire egg shells. The story told is that a cooter or slider turtle deposited this spring egg clutch (they produce as many as six per year) in the bank, covered them with loose soil, and went about her merry way. In time, the turtlings (my word) hatch to fend for themselves. Instead, some mammalian marauder (skunk, weasel, or raccoon) found the nest, dug into the egg burrow, and messily consumed the egg contents. Evidence, I suppose, why these turtles lay multiple clutches. Life and death on the Sanctuary is a matter of fact.

Southern Sanctuary

Southern Sanctuary

 

Sam held two of the eggs, fascinated with the tale… understanding the drama that had occurred overnight before our morning hike. The more we find when I explore Nature with him, the harder he looks for evidence of other tales. Holding the egg shells is far more compelling than seeing a photo in a reference book. He is, literally, in touch with Nature’s continuing saga of life and death. The only thing better would have been coming upon the marauder in the act!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nearby, with Murky Pond as backdrop, witness the excitement in our group as we found, this time, an intact eastern box turtle egg clutch.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Marian allowed me to include the following three photos that she snapped: Sam pointing to the nest; closeup of the nest with two eggs visible; Sam’s hand softly holding the top egg.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I was heartened to see such visible excitement among the adults in our entourage. We gingerly re-deposited the show-and-tell egg, placing a bit of leafy matter over it, hoping that some predator does not discover the eggs and enjoy a midnight snack before the turtles hatch. We humans seem to appreciate and celebrate new life, regardless of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. A good sign giving me hope for human sustainability.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I write frequently about the hidden world of Nature — the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that awaits those willing to look, see, and feel. Leonardo da Vinci elucidated the same 500 years ago:

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.

I want to open eyes with these Blog Posts — to encourage and implore people to look, see, feel, and then act as informed and responsible Earth stewards.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Nature is amazing, whether we view it from the perspective of a leaf miner or from within the larger context of the complex ecosystem pictured above.

The Flow of Life

 

Because the Sanctuary occupies the riparian zone along the Flint River, I’ll close with a pair of photos from the sand bar viewing down stream (below left) and up stream (right). Had we been standing here during the several flood events of the prior winter and spring, we would have been unceremoniously swept downstream with great violence as turbulent rushing torrents roiled ten feet above our heads.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I mentioned in the prior Post about the river’s coming journey to the sea (from the Flint to the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi to the Gulf to the Atlantic. And once again, da Vinci captured the mystic essence of the flow of rivers and life:

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.

Sam’s journey into the Sanctuary, like ours, began at the red gate (below). He started his trek through life six years ago, less than a tenth of my journey’s duration to date. Where will his flow through life lead? I earnestly pray that he will practice and proselytize informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Perhaps he will see a time when a single (so-called intelligent) species will cease its seeming inevitable flow toward self-destruction.

Thoughts and Reflections

I borrow two simple truths from Leonardo da Vinci relevant to this visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

Our life is made by the death of others.

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

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Visiting a Southern Sanctuary: My Orientation Visit

Virtual Orientation: Southern Sanctuary

I’ve often mentioned how fortunate we are in north Alabama to have so much wildness within an hour-and-a-half drive: several State Parks; Bankhead National Forest; Sipsey Wilderness; Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge; County Parks; Greenways; Nature Preserves; and the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, which I visited for the first time June 6, 2020. I felt already intimately familiar with the Sanctuary, having read Marian Moore Lewis’ Southern Sanctuary over the winter. Marian chronicles a year of Nature’s passage on the Sanctuary one month at a time, with exquisite prose and her own photographs. She writes with deep passion, keen powers of observation and interpretation, and unsurpassed knowledge. I enjoyed the read immensely… and urge Alabama Nature-lovers to pick up a copy and wander through the seasons, and then visit the Sanctuary in person.

 

The Real Thing: June 6, 2020 On-The-Ground

Marian was kind enough to meet me at the entrance; she had arranged for Margaret Anne Goldsmith (she donated the property to the City of Huntsville to create the Sanctuary) to join our explorations. We three, along with Judy (my wife), our daughter Katy, and her sons Jack and Sam (11 and 6, respectively), strolled together. I have said many times that I really don’t care to walk through Nature, hurrying along from one point to another. Instead, I walk in Nature, observing and adsorbing. Marian and Margaret Anne share that sentiment; we meandered with no sense of urgency. As a result we covered only a third of the total trail distance during our three hours, leaving the remainder for another day or two, most likely this fall when cooler days will prevail.

A lovely entrance welcomed us to the 375-acre Sanctuary. That’s Marian at the entrance interpretive sign below right.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Marian dedicated Southern Sanctuary to Margaret Anne, who, through her vision, sense of stewardship, philanthropy, and love of nature, donated the land for the Goldsmith Schiffman Sanctuary to the City of Huntsville, Alabama. In her own words, “It is my wish that this land will be preserved as a haven for wildlife and for education and enjoyment of our children and future generations; that it will always be a place that lives, suspended in time, yet ever-changing, where all can experience a kind of peace and solace like that found in sacred places.” I love the simple heartfelt elegance. What a pleasure to be in the presence of these two incredible naturalists and Earth stewards.

Marian mentioned the red gate often in her book. Here’s Sam guarding the red gate. Fortunately, once we explained our purpose he permitted entry!

Southern Sanctuary

 

Every parcel of north Alabama wildness holds a tale of intersecting human and natural history. We saw hints of the human history, including the James L. Long bridge, in memoriam to its namesake. I’ll mention other elements of the human history as we proceed into the Sanctuary. I will not in these paragraphs develop those fragments of rich history. Instead, Marian, Margaret Anne, and I are already scheming about how we might assemble such a detailed Land Legacy Story for the Sanctuary.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

From the interpretive sign (site of the future Interpretive Center) we walked the Hidden Springs Trail… through the red gate, passing Hidden Springs (below). Clear water flows to the surface at this point.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Hidden Springs feeds Jobala Pond, a unique name one might assume has its origin among Native American inhabitants from ages past. However, you probably know what they say about that word assume. Margaret Anne named the pond with the combination of the first two letters from the names of her three children. That’s just part of Jobala Pond’s story. These wild and natural ponds represent Nature’s extraordinary power to reclaim and heal. The pond basin resulted decades ago from the highway department mining fill for road construction west of what is now the Sanctuary. For reasons over which I’ve pondered for decades, the accepted term for such a basin is borrow pit. You tell me what was borrowed! Doesn’t borrow imply returning? Imagine a raw wound, an empty excavated pit void of vegetation and absent aquatic life. Bordered by piles of woody debris scraped from the site prior to surface mining. Now look at the two photographs below. Jobala Pond looks absolutely naturalized. Native terrestrial vegetation borders it; native aquatic vegetation thrives within its margins. Native fishes, crustaceans, turtles, snakes, frogs, insects, gators, beavers, and diverse other critters inhabit it.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. Once the bulldozers, loaders, and trucks departed, the exposed hidden spring quickly began delivering fresh water; typically reliable rains added their share. The seasonally-overflowing Flint River seeded Jobala with aquatic plant and animal life. Our human footprint, even one as drastic as mining a riparian site for sand and gravel, is seldom indelible to the casual eye. Without Marian and Margaret Anne revealing Jobala’s origins, I would have questioned why such a pond existed. Most visitors to the Sanctuary would see it as entirely natural. I see it as a gift of Nature’s incredible power to fill voids… to erase footprints… to heal wounds. I hold firmly also to Nature’s restorative elixir as a salve for our individual mental, emotional, and spiritual voids, wounds, and scars. The powerful medicine of Vitamin N (Nature)!

I’m not sure we could have moseyed through the Sanctuary any more slowly. So much caught our eye, drew our attention, demanded examination, and delighted us. Marian is a superb photographer, stopping to photo-capture fungi on a dead and down log (below left). Margaret Anne (below right), who has hiked these riparian forests for decades, likewise seemed content to guide and provide family historical notations at our pace. I repeat, the Sanctuary’s human and natural history are inextricably interwoven, a tale that the three of us are certain merits telling.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

A smaller borrow pit pond (I dubbed it Murky Pond) presented a different face. Hidden Spring enters and flows through Jobala; my sense is that a high water table (without obvious through-flow) feeds Murky, which is accessed at Forest Glen Observation Point. Marian observed that the muddy entrance chute (below right, lower center) is a muskrat slide, where these water habitat-dwelling mammals enter and exit the pond. We speculated why the water is so stirred and turbid. First, there is no apparent surface refresh like there is with Jobala. The muskrat occupants may keep the water disturbed. Or even large carp. Or a gator? We’ll leave solving the mystery to another day.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

I like the rather primitive wood-routered signs. They look a bit like an illustration one would expect in Ichabod Crane… perhaps a bit Halloweenish. Here we transitioned from Hidden Springs to Deer Run Trail.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Deer Run Trail crosses a large lowland field, not yet spring-broken for sowing corn or soybeans. Spring rains and periodic flooding often dissuade tractors and cultivation until long after upland agriculture is underway. I am fond of seeing the horizon extended by open viewscapes. I like the distant forest edge and the ridge rising beyond.

Southern Sanctuary

 

I admit some level of disappointment that there are no plans to convert at least some of the open acreage to native meadow vegetation. I spotted a nice patch of floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides) in full flower mid-field. What a pleasant gift of shimmering yellow. How many years of successive corn and soybean cropping will it survive?

Southern Sanctuary

 

We hiked several hundred feet through deep woods to reach the Flint River. We stood at water’s edge, watching the peaceful flow seeking outlet to the Tennessee River, unknowing and uncaring of the long journey ahead to the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean beyond. We marveled at how tranquil the Flint appeared upstream (left) and down (right), yet we could see ample debris evidence that much of the Sanctuary not many weeks earlier had waited patiently under feet of rising backwater or torrents of flood. The seasons swing wildly here along the Flint.

Southern SanctuarySouthern Sanctuary

 

As we stood admiring the flow, a barred owl almost directly overhead in the high riparian canopy greeted us four times with its Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds. The Cornell Ornithology website refers to this call as a classic sound of old forests. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds website provides insight into this deep-woods denizen:

The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.

The barred owl’s call fills my soul. touches my heart, and lifts me into a near-mystical zone. We searched for the owl but to no avail, thus deepening the spiritual dimension of this too-brief audio encounter.

We casually strolled back to the Sanctuary entrance, where several hours earlier we had captured the photo below with Margaret Anne and Marian holding Southern Sanctuary. Such a joy to tour the property with two people who played seminal roles in enabling and chronicling a legacy that will serve future citizens and naturalists deep into the future. The three of us will reconvene to scheme about developing a Land Legacy Story for this wonderful Sanctuary. When we decide how and when to pursue I will provide updates via Blog Posts. The Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary is in full harmony with my Blog Post theme: Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Robert Service, a British poet who wrote about the Far North during his turn-of-the-prior-century wanderings in the Gold Rush Yukon, beautifully corralled the magic of place in his Spell of the Yukon:

There’s a land–oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back–and I will

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,

It’s the forest where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

I lived four years in Alaska (the Far North)…in the great, big, broad land way up yonder. I realize that our Sanctuary is within the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama, a far cry from the Last Frontier. Yet, I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. The Sanctuary (and so many other Nature-escapes here in north Alabama) thrills me with wonder…and peace. When the barred owl called, silence had lease.

The Sanctuary beckons and beckons. I want to back–and I will. I hope you also take time to visit–both virtually (Southern Sanctuary) and literally.

Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

I draw two simple truths from my first visit to the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary:

I am content and satisfied to find wildness wherever I choose to seek it. 

So many Nature-escapes here in north Alabama thrill me with wonder…and fill me with peace.

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

I 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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

 

Revisiting Harvest Square Nature Preserve

Natural Treasures Are Always Close at Hand

I posted an essay in February 2017 on a trip I made to the North Alabama Land Trust’s 70-acre Harvest Square Nature Preserve: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/02/09/the-simple-things-become-our-ultimate-pleasure/ My then nine-year-old Alabama grandson Jack accompanied me. Nearly three years ago, at that time I did not always include photos as I do now.

I returned with Judy, Jack (now 12), and five-and-a-half year old Sam November 9, 2019. This time I snapped lots of photos, offering them with reflections in this Post. The photos certainly help me compose my observations and reflections, and assist with memory retention! Jack and Sam stand with me at the entrance sign… shamelessly promoting my three books.

 

Ponds — AKA Borrow Pits

The interpretive “Ponds” sign leaves no room for confusion — these “are not natural ponds.” Minnesota’s state tagline claims, “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.” My limnology faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks reminded me that Alaska has 2,000,000 lakes and ponds! Alabama? Most of our “ponds” and lakes are human-made, including the four-acre Big Blue Lake where I reside. It’s hard to be a pond and lake purist here in the South, far from Minnesota’s 10,000 glacier-carved ponds and lakes. So, I treasure even our Alabama ponds carved by development engineers and excavators.

Harvest Square

 

My appreciation is not dimmed at Harvest Square knowing that Terry and Turner Ponds provided scraped spoils for elevating the construction site for Harvest Square Shopping Center. I spent little time explaining to grandsons Sam and Jack the ponds’ origin. Instead, we focused on the wonder of Nature’s healing such raw disturbed sites. Harvest Square memorializes the inspired action of the Land Trust of North Alabama acquiring the site, protecting it from further perturbation, arranging access, placing interpretive signage, and telling the story of informed and responsible land stewardship. Who would know…and who would second guess…the rehabilitation and rebirth of an evolving natural community following the equivalent of harsh strip-mining. The open meadows, succeeding brush and forest, serene ponds, full array of wildlife, and the stunning beauty of a fall day belie the violence acted upon the land. What absolute genius to convert wasteland to nature preserve!

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

Nature has been rehabilitating disturbed land for eons… for-ever! Think of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone from May 1980; devastated… and now green and recovering. The most recent continental ice sheet retreated 12-14,000 years ago after scraping the land clear from Canada through the Great Lakes and into southern New York State — Long Island is a terminal moraine! The Yellowstone caldera last blew 630,000 years ago; it is now among the nation’s most beautiful national treasures. Nature knows full well how to tear asunder… and then heal. What’s a little man-made shopping center construction to Nature’s insistence to rehabilitate and heal?! Throw in a dedicated Land Trust, some trail and dock infrastructure, and limited healing time… and the result meets even my rigid criteria for declaring it a wildland worthy of visiting, studying, and sharing! Who could imagine Judy and the grandsons are nearly within sight of the shopping center?

Harvest Square along Terry Pond

 

Well-placed and attractive signage complements the experience. Toss in the wildness of the great blue heron who lifted from the shoreline near this trail marker to add to our enjoyment.

Harvest Square

 

The trail is aptly named. Beaver occupy bank lodges along Terry Pond’s northwest corner. They’ve constructed ingress and egress canals along the shore. Sam is holding two branches stripped clean of bark/cambium by foraging beavers. Sam uses one as a walking stick; the longer one suits me quite well.

Harvest Square Beaver Canal

 

 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is colonizing the preserve, providing colorful fruit, a fall buffet for dozens of bird species.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

We hiked the short trail to Turner Pond and the boardwalk along its west edge. Vegetation is everywhere — Nature abhors a vacuum. Natural reclamation is accelerating. As an ecologist, I know how quickly succession moves these highly disturbed sites into more mature brush and forest stages. I’d like to see the Land Trust establish permanent photo points so that visitors years and decades from now can travel photographically back in time. What will these two views show in 2050? Or 2100?

Harvest Square, Second PondHarvest Square

 

Will the forest behind Jack and Judy tower above visitors 50 years hence?

Harvest Square, Turner Pond

 

We spotted a pair of great blue herons as we left Terry Pond heading toward the woods. I never (and will never) tire of seeing these avatars for my life and my memories of Dad! To see this pair made me ever more appreciative of Nature’s supreme power to heal… the land and my heart.

Woods Trail

The woods trail winds past an already towering loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Good fortune that the shopping center clearing did not strip the entire tract. This is wildness that stirs my forester’s heart!

Harvest Square Preserve

 

The Trust does an excellent job of trail interpretation and tree identification.

Harvest SquareHarvest Square

 

I have observed often that having  an understanding of Nature enhances appreciation and strengthens our resolve to steward the land.

Harvest Square

 

Nothing in Nature is static; nothing lives and stands tall forever. Life and death are in a perpetual dance; ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Wind-throw is as natural as the new growth that will fill the space vacated by this old soldier toppled by a gusty thunderstorm a few summers prior. I think Sam understands the mechanism.

Harvest Square Harvest Square

 

The magnificent loblolly will one day return its mass, fiber, and nutrients to the soil. Death is part and parcel of life. The Harvest Square Nature Preserve is close at-hand to many of us in the greater Huntsville area. Its story is one of disturbance, preservation, and recovery. In so many ways, as I mentioned earlier, the Harvest Square Story ironically parallels the ecological tale told by Mount Saint Helens and Yellowstone. Nature knows how to close the circle; in fact, Nature designed and created the circle.

Harvest Square Preserve

 

If you would like to visit Harvest Square, see the Huntsville Adventurer website: https://huntsvilleadventurer.com/harvest-square-nature-preserve/?fbclid=IwAR18Fyskf-vv0IWzXjMCO3L7mF4VTxHiOOXS1qeExGLG4Pj-MFAdfUcF6xM

The Land Trust of North Alabama mission is simple, succinct, and noble: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future. I urge you to visit the Trust’s website: https://www.landtrustnal.org/vision-history/ Please consider joining and or contributing. 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of the dedicated efforts of a local Land Trust, is converting sows ears to silk purses
  2. Nature’s power to heal (the land and our hearts) is unlimited
  3. We can all do our part to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHarvest Square

 

The same windthrow back-dropping Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits! I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

Land Trust of North AL

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. The books inspire deeper relationship with and care for our One Earth. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.