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

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

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

 

A Violent Frontal Passage, Soothed by a Blanket of Snow

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

 

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

 

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

Biblical Fury and Power

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

Tornado

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

TornadoTornado

 

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

TornadoTornado

 

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

TornadoTornado

 

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

TornadoTornado

 

 

 

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

Tornado

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

TornadoTornado

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Tornado

 

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

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

Tornado

 

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

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

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

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

Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal. John Muir

The universe is an infinite storm of beauty. John Muir

Monte Sano SP

 

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksTornado

 

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

 

January 8, 2022 Mid-Day Wanderings in a Bottomland Forest

January 8, 2022, I enjoyed a perfect mid-day winter ramble in a hardwood bottomland forest on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Huntsville, Alabama. This Post illustrates how keen observations as well as directed and informed curiosity can make a routine woods stroll something truly special.

Riparian Saturated Forests

Nightime temperatures froze some of the standing water on these saturated sites. I found intrigue in the subtle reflective properties of ice and water.

HGH Road

 

Innundated forests are likewise places for reflecting, both literal and mental. Nothing like the soul-soothing Nature of our southern winter forests.

HGH Road

 

 

 

 

Riparian Upland Forests

The upland, which is generally just 5-10 feet higher than the wetter sites with standing water, offers better footing and old logs for resting to contemplate the deep beauty of the naked forest and the sparkling sky above.

 

Turn the camera 90-degrees to vertical and we get another perspective, one that enables us to see the magnificent firmament unobstructed by the leafless canopy. Summer’s foliage eliminates the view into the heavens.

HGH Road

 

Death and Fungal Consumers in the Riparian Forest

Death is ever-present in even these extraordinarily fertile and vibrant bottomland forests. Decay fungi and other decomposers ensure that the carbon cycle continues unabated.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

This seeming heathy and vibrant oak evidences the decay occuring within its trunk in form of the robust oak bracket mushrooms “blossoming” from the tree’s base. So much in our forests is hidden within plain site.

HGH Road

 

Closer inspection reveals the shape, texture, and characteristics of these 5-8 pound annual mushrooms. The spore producing underside is to the left. Imagine this behemouth emitting billions of spores. Any wound in a standing oak will prove fertile ground to the fortunate spore that finds it. Then the big battle begins. Can that microscopic spore overcome that potential host tree’s complex biochemical defense mechanisims?

HGH Road

 

As the infected living oak above signifies, the oak bracket fungus is an effective parasite. The several-years-dead oak tree below still hosts the fungus, which as we see is also a saprophyte, consuming dead wood.

HGH Road

 

The huge oak brackets are far from being on my culinary list. They are coarse, woody, and, even if edible, not palatable. These oyster mushrooms, to the contrary, are culinary delights when fresh! These are just marginally fresh, now turning tan and brown.

HGH Road

 

This plate-size elm mushroom drew my attention both because of its size and its potential edibility. I could not unequivacably come up with a field-site positive identification. When home, I identified it, but not with full confidence. From the Edible Wild Food website: “The elm oyster mushroom is an excellent edible mushroom which is also grown for commercial purposes. It is an excellent source of protein and vitamins (especially the B-complex). They must be cooked before consuming.” Even had I been certain, this specimen was aged beyond freshness.

HGH Road

 

When fresh, this species is nearly pure white. I will keep my eyes open in future foraging ventures.

HGH Road

 

A single winter afternoon riparian forest ramble can reveal the subtle beauty, magic, wonder, and awe hidden in plain site! Make sure you take time to seek what is otherwise invisable to those who rush through the woods, and simply out of reach to those who avoid our magnificent riparian forests that are wet-season-saturated and growing-season-infested with insects, snakes, and poison ivy. I am fine with others keeping their distance. I view these forests as year-round paradises. Via these Posts, I will treat the unwilling-to-venture to my own photos, reflections, and observations!

Get into the outdoors, even if vicariously through these Great Blue Heron Posts!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Beauty, magic, wonder, and awe await those willing to enter our riparian forests in winter (as well as summer).
  • Both saturated and upland riparian forests offer unique gifts across the seasons.
  • Fungi enhance my treks into 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: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

 

An Afternoon Exploring a Riparian Forest with My Two Alabama Grandsons

December 22, 2021, I wandered the riparian forest on the east end of Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife (near Huntsville, Alabama) with my two Alabama grandsons (Jack and Sam). I take Sam and Jack into the wild for the enjoyment it gives me, the learning provided to the three of us, the seeds sown to enrich their lives, and the good they may do for the future of Earth and humanity.

I offer the following quotes from Richard Louv, well-known authority and best-selling author on the topic of re-orienting youth to the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature, and the value-added to life and living:

  • We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.
  • Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.
  • Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.
  • Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity.
  • The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.
  • All spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and nature is a window into that wonder.
  • Reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.

December 22, 2021, my two Alabama grandsons (Jack 14 and Sam 7) hiked HGH Road and visited Blackwell Swamp on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Huntsville, Alabama, just 15 miles from my Madison, AL residence. I measured a little over an inch of rain five days earlier. With blue sky and the temperature near 50, we enjoyed a spectacular afternoon. The winter riparian forest offered many treats for Pap and his two young outdoor enthusiasts: perfect weather; crackling leaves; visibility deep into the forest; no biting insects; active squirrels and woodpeckers; mushrooms galore; plentiful opportunites to explore curiosities and stimulate imagination; escape from digital screens; and tree form oddities along the way.

Here’s looking west with hardwood-dominant riparian forest on both sides of HGH Road.

HGH Road

 

The Refuge boundary lies just 50 feet north of the road at this point, a cultivated field on private land beyond this ancient four-foot diameter oak.

HGH Road

 

I will never tire of big trees, and I trust that the boys will carry the same passion for Nature into their old age. My role is to fan the flame of Nature appreciation. My email signature line quotes Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. 

Stevenson would have favorably judged my December 22!

HGH Road

 

The tree’s massive crown evidences its long and successful reign over this edge of the forest.

HGH Road

 

Since retiring, I have adopted a personal mission statement:

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

Because good mission statements are succinct, compact, and memorable, I deplore one that attempts to say all. What mine does not say (and doesn’t need to say) is that active imagination is requisite to all educating, learning, and enjoying. One of the 20th Century’s leading intellects, the remarkably mirthful and fun-loving Albert Einstein (1879-1955) recognized the essential role of imagination:

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

Likewise, John Muir (1838-1914), one of the period’s most influential naturalists, relied upon his own vivid imagination to better understand and appreciate Nature and wildness:

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

I stopped along the trail when abreast of a tree I had previously photographed, imploring the boys to find a creature not normally found in our forests. Prompted by a few hints, they spotted the elephant, “seeing” its eyes, trunk, and tusks. I subscribe to the notion that so much of Nature’s wonder lies hidden in plain sight.

HGH Road

 

Carl Sagan (1934-96), world renowned astronomer, agreed with the power of imagination:

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

I implored the boys (as I do with all individuals and groups I lead on forest hikes) to follow my essential verbs for Nature examination:

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

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

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Those wise souls who have preceded us have already expressed the wisdom I embrace and attempt to pass forward:

Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever – Walt Disney (1901-66).

The man who has no imagination has no wings – Muhammad Ali (1942-2016).

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality – Lewis Carroll (1832-98).

Oak bracket fungus mushrooms at the base of this 28-inch living red oak evidence that this otherwise robust-appearing tree suffers decay within. The oak bracket mycelia are hard at work consuming wood within.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Oak bracket continues feeding upon dead wood once a host has succumbed. This large dead oak sports a fresh oak bracket mushroom. My hope is that our woods hikes will stir and inspire within Jack and Sam lifelong interest in our natural world.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school — (Einstein).

HGH Road

 

Sam knows and is impressed by knowing that these gnarly brackets are part of the rich dance of life and death in the forest.

 

Here’s a closer view of both the bottom (left) and top of these impressive mushrooms.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning — (Einstein).

The boys know that I am a wild edible muchroom enthusiast; they witnessed first-hand my excitement when we found these oysters. The boys can now identify oysters.

HGH Road

 

We observed the low sunlight and slanting shadows on this near-solstice winter afternoon. So good to be in the forest this time of year. Its as though it is ours to enjoy without dense aerial and understory foliage, insects, and other obstacles to full enjoyment and appreciation.

HGH Road

 

Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. This four-inch diameter downed branch supports a vibrant community of moss.

HGH Road

 

We left HGH road to explore the west shore of Blackweel Swamp as the sun dipped closer to the horizon, the sun kissing the upper canopy of the loblolly pine trees beyond the boys. I’m told that alligators inhabit the swamp. I have yet to see one. The fact that these primitive reptiles may be present adds a dimension of wildness and adventure to our experience.

HGH Road

 

As we drove north, departing the Refuge, we stopped to view a barred owl bidding us farewell, a fitting end to a fine afternoon.

HGH Road

 

The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding — Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519).

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Our greatest duty as adults is to pass the spark of  Nature learning and imagination to the young.
  • Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart (Richard Louv).
  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school (Einstein).

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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.

 

 

Mid-October Fungi Ramble in The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Riparian Forests

October 22, 2021, the day after I measured 0.76″ of autumn rain, I couldn’t resist the siren’s song of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge riparian forest. Because mushrooms, some familiar and some not, greeted me in abundance, I focused my attention on admiring their diversity, beauty, and role in the forest’s dance of life and death. Fungi are the forest’s primary decomposers, along with bacteria and invertebrates. Forest organic matter transits continuously across time…within the soil; in the mass of living trees; in the flux of leaves and fine roots that senesce, breakdown, and reincorporate annually; in the downed woody debris that more slowly breaks down; and in the decomposer organisms themselves.

Mushrooms are the fleshy (not always) spore-bearing reproductive structures of fungi. Without their presence above ground or on the surface of their woody, decaying food sources, fungi would busy themselves within the decaying host or, in the case of mycorhizae, on or within the fine roots of commensual plants…invisible to hikers, naturalists, or poets who frequent our forests.

Most fungi spores are wind-born. A University of Hawaii online reference reported that Ganoderma applanatum, the artist fungus (also native to north Alabama), which has a perennial fruiting body (a conk), may disperse 5.4 trillion spores over a six month period. The same reference said that a typical cubic meter of air may contain 10,000 – 20,000 spores. Blown to within 30 degrees of horizontal, the hickory below is not yet dead, but is certainly weakened and in distress. Imagine the millions of spores that have already found its surface…seeking an entrance court to begin the infection and decay cycle.

HGH Road

 

Standing death accommodates oak bracket fungi sustenance. How much longer will this snag maintain structural integrity before it crashes to the forest floor?! The cycle is endless. The forest sequesters carbon, yet it does not have unlimited storage capacity. Eventually these riparian forests reach an equilibrium, when they create and store carbon at a rate equal to decay, return to soil, and recycling within the always renewing forest.

HGH Road

 

Although I don’t normally like to cite Wikipedia, sometimes that source offers the simplest descriptions: Inonotus dryadeus (syn. Pseudoinonotus dryadaeus), commonly known as oak bracket, warted oak polypore, weeping polypore, or weeping conk, is an inedible species of fungus belonging to the genus Inonotus, which consists of bracket fungi with fibrous flesh. Most often found growing at the base of oak trees, it causes white rot and decay of the trunks. It secretes an amber liquid which weeps from tubes in its upper surface.

HGH Road

 

This colony of pinewood gingertails occupies a well decayed, moss-covered length of woody debris. The literature indicates that this species is not poisonous, but is bitter with no value as an edible.

HGH Road

 

I failed to identify this loblolly pinecone mushroom. So, I shall dub it the loblolly pinecone fungus! I am sure that it, in fact, has a name.

 

The iNaturalist app identified this as common funnel, Infundibulicybe gibba. However, when I dug into my various books and online references my confidence waned. I have so much to learn. For the moment, I will stay with the common funnel moniker.

Infundibulicybe gibba (also known as Clitocybe gibba) is a hardwood mushroom that features a pinkish-tan cap that becomes fairly deeply vase-shaped by maturity. Its pale, crowded gills run down the stem, which is pale in comparison to the cap. It grows solitary or in small troops on the soil in broad-leaf woods (iNaturalist).

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In contrast, I am confident that this more distinctive fungus is coral pink merulius, a lovely bit of color on the otherwise barren forest floor.

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Here are two edibles for which I have identification confidence: ringless honey and oyster.

 

This coral-toothed fungus, about three inches end-to-end, is the first one I’ve encountered. Its structure reminded me of lion’s mane. Like lion’s mane, coral-toothed fungus is considered a culinary delight when young, white, and soft.

Coral Tooth Fungus is one of many irregular clump fungus species, arising from a basal attachment with multiple coral-like branches, ending in fine pendant comb-like spines branching from a central point, 50-200 mm wide. Entire fruiting body white to cream and surfaces smooth (projectnoah.org).

HGH Road

 

This lion’s mane, the only one I spotted during this hike, is about four inches across and is already yellowing. I must apologize for the poor quality photo. I can offer no excuse. Lion’s mane and coral-toothed musrooms are aesthetic marvels. I love their clean luster and complex toothed structure. I would enjoy seeing them even if they were inedible!

HGH Road

 

 

A New Plant for Me

I discovered several small patches of sparse-lobed grapefern or southern grapefern. I know that I’ve seen them before, yet had not taken the time to identify. These specimens had recently produced fertile fronds extending well above the leaves.

HGH Road

 

I think back fifty-plus years when I spent many an October afternoon hunting squirrels in the central Appalachians. I considered myself an avid outdoorsman, yet I cannot dredge up a single memory of noticing mushrooms. Today I still watch for the bushytails. I no longer hunt, but I do enjoy watching them forage and frolick both on ground and within the canopy. However, they are not my primary focus. I am not sure I have a primary focus most days. Instead, I look for all manner of beauty and curiosity hiding in plain sight as I wander the forest. This day, I admit, because the forest seemed rich with them, mushrooms drew my attention. I was not foraging for edibles. My camera served as my collecting bucket.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Fungi are the forest’s primary decomposers, along with bacteria and invertebrates.
  • Organic matter transits within the forest across time — in living and dead tissue, and in the soil.
  • Occasionally, focus your woods-walk attention on forest fungi: their diversity, beauty, and role in the forest’s dance of life and death.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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.

 

 

 

Late October along Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk

National Natural Landmark

October 27, 2021, Mike Ezell, Alabama State Park Naturalist Emeritus, and I visited Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk National Natural Landmark in eastern Limestone County Alabama near Huntsville. Co-teaching a course on Virtual Nature Hikes for Huntsville’s LearingQuest, an informal, adult continuing education program for mostly retired residents, we hiked the Boardwalk to develop a 20-minute video for our course. The Boardwalk Trail is on the eastern end of the 38,000-acre Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I focus this Post on the subtle beauty of fall in the tupelo forest.

The Swamp is the largest water tupelo forest in north Alabama. I have been to the trail dozens of times since our daughter moved to Madison, Alabama 20 years ago, and we retired nearby in 2018. Here is a Great Blue Heron Post from February 2018: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/02/07/beaverdam-swamp-wheeler-nwr-dormant-season-beauty/

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I won’t dig deeply into describing and examining this unique forest ecosystem. Instead, let’s take a stroll, pause now and again to reflect, and present a one-day portfolio of Nature’s tupelo forest magic.

Mike and I set a date on which serendipity gave us a gorgeous fall afternoon, sunlight striking the forest floor. Already the tupelo had shed 70 percent of foliage. Leaves covered the boardwalk. Sun filtered through the high crowns.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

Mike shunted ahead for our next video spot to highlight some element of the swamp for our virtual hike. The Nature of the place on this languid afternoon suggested leisure and a relaxed pace. We felt calmed, secure, and soothed…not even a hint of urgency.

Beaverdam

 

The day both demonstrated and urged deep reflection, literally and virtually. The tupelo are one with the water and with the firmament above. These views await a poet’s verse. The magic of the swamp is irresistable. I’ve tried to write poetry…but have repeatedly fallen short.

Beaverdam

 

A Nightime Flashback

November 8, 2020 I took our two Alabama grandsons into the swamp at dusk, hoping to hear owls at play. A lone barred owl hooted, yet the  swamp paid mighty dividends as dusk transitioned to gloaming and then to full darkness. I snapped a few full-darkness photos with three-second exposure as we departed. The effect is too special not to include in this year-later Post.

Beaverdam Swamp

 

Fall’s Subtle and Tranquil Beauty

Mike paused at Beaverdam Creek, the boardwalk terminus. The creek flows away from the photo-point toward the Tennessee River. I need not repeat that we chose a perfect afternoon…more accurately, the perfect afternoon chose us!

Beaverdam

 

The creek flows toward the camera below left; from right to left below right.

Beaverdam

 

Were I to suggest ideal conditions for our video-mission visit I could not have chosen better. Cerulean sky; yellowing canopy; placid waters!

Beaverdam

 

Edible Wild Mushroom Sidebar

During the Covid months I’ve grown increasingly interested in foraging wild edible mushrooms. Forestry school focused my fungal attention to tree disease-causing fungi. Such organisms still hold my interest, yet now in retirement I have shifted to culinary implications. Although still an edible wild mushroom novice, I am confident in harvesting and consuming 5-6 species. While I do not forage in protected preserves such as this National Natural Landmark, I did photograph two of my favorite edibles: oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I hope never to tire of visiting special places across the seasons. Surprises and treats await each journey.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Fall arrives with subtle, understated beauty in our tupelo forests.
  • I find sacred connection to this mystical old growth forest, trees buttressed and hollow, crowns reaching for the heavens.
  • Some special places merit long, quiet contemplation to fully nourish mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit.

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 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 authoring 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 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 BooksBeaverdam

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of firsthand 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 from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Reading the Fragility of Forest Permanence!

Standing Tall is Never Permanent

 

September 25, 2021, I bushwhacked through a rich bottomland hardwood stand on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Huntsville, Alabama. The photos of the magnificent cherrybark oak immediately below came from a visit to the same riparian forest last winter. I present this cherrybark oak as emblematic of a forest monarch in preface to the images of three other large oaks, not now standing so tall and permanent in the same bottomland forest.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

I want to share with you the three treefall discoveries that I made September 25, prompting me to develop this Post to demonstrate and reflect upon the forces of physics, the ravages of time, the implications of place, and the consequences of chance and fate for life in our forests.

A Tree Hits the Mark

I’ll set the stage for the first discovery by presenting this winter season yellow poplar in a nearby stand, forked at some 25-30 feet above ground.

HGH Road

 

Now let’s switch to this 30-inch-diameter red oak from my recent wanderings on the Refuge. The toppled oak’s root and lifted soil mass lie about 35 feet from where I am standing. The tree, down 2-3 years, appears to have been healthy, its wood solid, its trunk unblemished, and its top (behind me) full. I stood at a position where the bucket sits in the next photo.

 

Just beyond the bucket, the then falling oak, with a fork much like the poplar pictured above, encountered a neighboring 24-inch-diameter oak, the point of impact being the fork, dead-center. The falling tree had tremendous, likely maximum, momentum (definition: the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity) when it slammed into the stalwart neighbor. Like a sledge hammer pounding an iron wedge into a round of firewood, the falling tree split neatly apart, the split extending at least fifteen feet down the bole. The bucket rests in the split.

 

These two images show the standing tree and the split it forced.

 

The two trees stood 35 feet apart. Were we to swing a 35-foot arc from the base of the fallen tree, the perimeter would be 220 feet. What are the chances that a 30-inch-diameter mighty oak, standing tall, somewhat isolated from other domiant canopy trees, and seeming permanent, would fall… and, in exactly the one direction at precisely the right distance to have the fork impact at the intersection of peak momentum and maximum fork-vulnerability?

 

Across my retirement wanderings I have seen many examples of two alternative results from the one above. So often, the falling giant compels the standing neighbor to absorb the full impact and momentum, bringing it, too, crashing to the ground. I could not find a good photo depicting such a tree-domino outcome in my archive. In the other common outcome, the falling tree, because of distance or relative mass, remains leaning against the neighbor for a day, a week, a year, or many years. Physics rule the forest. I ventured upon this 24-inch red oak at Wheeler national Wildlife Refuge October 22, 2021.

HGH Road

 

The oak’s crown still carries its green foliage, kept alive by that portion of the root mass not wrenched from the ground. Who knows how long the tree will live…or remain leaning.

 

I draw two lessons to this point: No one person or thing remains forever. Nature operates by her own laws (applied physics) within a context of random occurences and chaotic pulses of time, place, and force. I ponder, why these two trees and these results? Right place right time; wrong place wrong time? Why any of us, whenever…and wherever?

Weakness Yields to Force

Other results seem less random…more predictable, within limits. Nearby I came across yet another 30-inch oak, this one snapped at 10-feet above its base. Hollow to the core, this oak felt the ravages of inexorable internal decay for decades, until the thinning rind of solid wood could no longer withstand the forces (physics) of crown and bole mass acting in response to wind, surpassing an inevitable threshold.

 

The tree’s time had come. And so, the time comes for all of us. The fallen mass of the tree extends 100 feet beyond the standing ten-foot trunk snag. Although one could say with certainty that eventually the rind would fail, who could say when, under what force combination, or in what direction?

 

As Leonadro da Vinci said 500 years ago, Nature never breaks her own laws.

Strength Yields to Force

And another nearby example of a mighty oak falling. This one fought mightily, clinging with all of its strength to the soil that nourished it and provided anchorage to its roos. Its trunk did not break at some point of weakness; its roots did not sever, releasing the oak’s incredible mass in a thundering instant. Instead, every root maintained its strength as the tree’s bulk pulled all roots through the wet and shallow surface soil, slowing losing purchase, allowing the tree to slip to the ground. I envision this tree falling in slow motion, contray to the earth-shattering force of the first and second oaks.

 

 

We will all reach a conclusion, as will every tree in the forest. When and under what circustances? In a crushing crescendo, or a gentle transition? I suppose that none of us can know…or should know.

Dylan Thomas, in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature operates by her own laws within a context of random occurrences and chaotic pulses of time, place, and force.
  • Nothing in Nature is static or permanent; life is fragile and fleeting.
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and rewards my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

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 BooksJolly B

 

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.

 

Late Summer Rambling in a Soggy Bottomland Forest

One and two-thirds inches of rain had fallen over the 36 hours ending late morning August 19, 1921, late summer conditions perfect for mushroom growth and development in the hardwood bottomlands along the Tennessee River in Limestone County Alabama, just fifteen miles from my home in Madison. I entered a forest still dripping as clouds thinned, slogging in nearly knee-high rubber boots, eyes peeled for fungal kingdom spore production organs…mushrooms! The mosquitoes and I love these maturing riparian hardwood forests. Well, they like living there, lying in wait for a blood-rich fur-free biped to wander past.

In the Kingdom of Fungi (Flora, Fauna, and Funga)

 

I’ve observed previously in my Posts that when I earned my forestry degree (1973), fungi sat within the plant kingdom, among the non-flowering plants. Shortly thereafter, fungi ascended to their own distinct kingdom, an epic promotion! Contrast that shift to the 2006 fall of Pluto from planet to simply a dwarf planet. The once proud planet fell from grace: Pride goeth before the fall.

HGH Road

 

My purpose with this Post is to show the rich diversity of fungi and associated life I encountered and photographed on a soggy mid-August late afternoon in a bottomland hardwood stand. Here is violet-toothed polypore heavily colonizing a downed red oak, depicting the ongoing cycle of life and death.

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Closer inspection evidenced the dense mycelia growth, hidden from view, that surely resides within the dead wood. The close-up below right corroborates the violet-toothed moniker.

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The Grand Circle of Life and Death

I have often mentioned and presented photo-evidence of Nature’s grand circle of life and death. John Muir, ever the uber-observer and elegant synthesizer of Nature’s ways offered this relevant conclusion:

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.

Within this mature bottomland hardwood forest at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge a main canopy occupant (I am uncertain whether it is an oak or hickory) stands 3-5 years dead (my estimate based upon bark shedding and all but the largest crown branches already fallen). Nearby trees are sending leafy stems into the still evident canopy opening…and will close the void within another summer or two.

HGH Road

 

Much of the bark has sloughed from the trunk and lies as thick mulch at its base. Wood-boring beetles and decay fungi are weakening the stem so that near term, a fresh breeze will reintroduce its biomass to the ground and, in time, incorporate it into the soil. A fleshy polypore mushroom is disseminating countless spores to spread the fungal species via wind to other dead and dying woody biomass.

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This black staining polypore produced considerable weight in its fruiting bodies (mushrooms). From mushroomknowhow.com:

Black staining polypore mushrooms are parasitic and saprobic in their nature. This means that they parasitize or feed on dead or decaying tree matter. They can grow either on the ground (on or around the roots of trees) and on the stumps or logs of dead or decaying deciduous trees such as oaks, beeches and maples. The species is found exclusively in North America, although close relatives of these polypores known as Meripulus giganteus can be found in Northern Europe as well. Their peak season is late July to November.

When handled, especially the undersides, the surface bruises with dark splotches where touched.

HGH Road

 

The species is described as edible. I’ve found that only the outer 1.5-2 inches of the fans are palatable (the remainder too tough and fibrous). Their fragrance is strong and earthy. I clean and finely chop the harvested edges, boil with seasonings to create a stock for a thick rice soup. Delicious, but only if you are 100 percent certain of identity. Please don’t rely upon my photos to base your species identification.

HGH Road

 

I stumbled upon two fresh clusters of chicken of the woods, considered by many as culinary delights. From ediblewildfood.com:

Chicken of the woods is parasitic and saprobic on living and dead oaks (also sometimes on the wood of other hardwoods). It causes a reddish brown cubical heart rot, with thin areas of white mycelium visible in the cracks of the wood. It is considered an annual favourite. These mushrooms do not appear until well after the fungus has attacked the tree. Originally described in 1789 by French botanist and mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois (Pierre) Bulliard, this spectacular polypore was given its current name in 1920 by the famous American mycologist William Alphonso Murrill (1869 – 1967). This fungi typically grows in large clusters in the summer and fall.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Such a thrill to find those orange to peach beauties. I harvested perhaps half of each cluster, cleaned, sliced into 8-10 square-inch filets, battered, and fried like chicken. Delectable! Again, be absolutely certain before consuming any wild-foraged mushroom.

I switch gears now to some attractive and interesting non-edibles. First, here is Stereum versicolor, a woody, fan-shaped mushroom that is strictly saprobic, consuming dead woody tissue.

HGH Road

 

This is a white jelly fungus, a gelatinous decay fungus. I’ve read that some of the jellies are edible. I have not ventured into that zone of certainty.

HGH Road

 

This mushroom’s name, indigo milk cap, is descriptive, enhanced by its background of green moss.

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I’m not sure what to say about this dog’s nose fungus (Peridoxylon petersii). I found little about it online, other than several sites showing an image alongside a closeup of a dog’s nose. The look and even the cold wet feel do indeed resemble a canine proboscis! Shall I throw this find into the forest fungus oddity category?

HGH Road

 

Another fungi curiosity is devil’s dipstick (also known as demon fingers, dog stinkhorn, elegant stinkhorn, and headless stinkhorn). From NC State Cooperative Extension online:

Elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans) is a foul smelling fungus found anywhere woody material is rotting – old stumps and branches, mulch, lawns. The ‘horn’ is the visible fruiting body of the network of mycelia that has been growing through the woody material, breaking it down and releasing nutrients to other plants. At some point, this network ‘decides’ it is time to reproduce and creates a white egg like structure that is partially above ground. It is from this structure that the pink to orange columnar fruiting body develops. This development can take only a few hours. The top of the structure is covered in a slimy, greenish brown mass of spores that smells of rotting meat or worse. The smell attracts insects which become covered in the slimy spores and deposit them away from the ‘parent’ mycelia. This is a very unusual occurrence within the fungus world. Most rely on wind to disperse their minute spores.

HGH Road

 

Let’s shift from foul and repugnant to tasty! This delightful mushroom is a red chanterelle. I harvest, clean, slice into strips and sauté with butter, add a little salt and pepper, and either eat fresh with meat, rice, eggs, pizza, and sundry other dishes, or freeze for future use.

HGH Road

 

This flame chanterelle is another species of the same genus (Cantharellus). The bulk of my 30-35 pounds of frozen Cantharellus are smooth chanterelles, whose peak season extended from late June through late July. Yes, that’s a poison ivy leaf in the below left image. Unfortunately, poison ivy is a common ground cover, standing up to two feet, in the bottomland hardwood stands where I’ve found the greatest yields of chanterelles. I try to avoid direct contact with my hands as I harvest. Wearing calf-high rubber boots protects my lower legs. However, upon returning home, I immediately toss my outer clothes into the washing machine and head for the shower before cleaning and processing the harvest. All of that is a small price to pay for my woodland adventures and foraging bounty.

HGH Road

 

Burls, Mosses, Flowers, and Butterflies

Although I’ve concentrated most of this Post on the fungi kingdom, I must include some other observations. This three foot diameter willow oak sported a huge basal burl, a growth abnormality likely resulting from physical injury or fungal infection stimulating unregulated wood cell production. A human comparison is a benign tumor. Large burls such as this one are prized by wood workers who cherish their spectacular grain patterns.

HGH Road

 

I could not resist photographing this moss-adorned and lichen-splotched sapling backdropped by a three-foot diameter oak.

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Snow squarestem in full flower lined a gravel access road entering the forest. An eastern tiger swallowtail visited the squarestem, allowing me to snap a quick photo. Summer in our riparian forests offers all manner of bounty…abundant soul-sustenance, as well as victual delights for the palate.

HGH Road

 

Long ago I read Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), a best-seller, presenting a species-by-species accounting of his foraging for wild edibles. I was eleven years old, a budding outdoor enthusiast who devoured the book’s content, imagining that I might learn to live off the land. Gibbon’s once said:

My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker, or nature tourist. I crave a more real and meaningful relationship. The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients are the bread and wine in which I have communion and fellowship with nature, and with the Author of that nature.

Clearly, my communion and fellowship with Nature depend on far more than the few species of edible wild mushrooms that I recognize, harvest, and consume. My relationship with Nature extends from body to heart, soul, mind, and spirit…a communion far stronger and rewarding to my own Life and Living. A summer woodland hike through a southern bottomland hardwood forest yields delight and satisfaction beyond measure.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I say the same of communing with Nature.
  • Like Euell Gibbons, “My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker.”
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and rewards my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

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 BooksHGH Road

 

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.

 

 

Fighting for Light and Life in the Forest Canopy: Parsing Reality from Fantasy

March 20, 2021, I once again explored the hardwood bottomland forests on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Huntsville, Alabama. I focused my attention on the overstory, learning more about the fierce competition among trees for sunlight. I have found little in the scientific literature to refute or support my observations. I will continue studying forest canopies in subsequent dormant seasons. Dense hardwood foliage within the main canopy and vision-obscuring lower and mid-canopy foliage make growing season observations impossible.

Trees Talking to Each Other

Smithsonian Magazine (March 2018) published an article about Peter Wohlleben, titled Do Trees Talk to Each Other. From the article:

Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Now, at the age of 53, he has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada.

Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and battlegrounds for survival of the fittest.

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes that idea. It shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

Ah, the magical stuff of fairy tales and Harry Potter! I suppose that anthropomorphizing trees and forests is in vogue. I give this much to Wohlleben: much of the action is, in fact, taking place below ground. I have known about the essential role of mycorhizae since my undergraduate days, the synergistic interplay between fungi and plants, trees in particular. The relationship increases the tree root absorptive capacity (water and nutrients) by orders of magnitude.

I confess to being an old timber industry forester (1973-85). And I admit to holding steadfast to my belief that forests are battlegrounds for survival of the fittest. The National Geographic perspective on Wohlleben’s characterization of the inner life of trees is becoming commonly accepted dogma. In my objective applied ecology world, dogma stands as the enemy of science. Science is never decided by popular opinion.

From Fantasy to Reality

Let’s look at the bottomland hardwood forest below, composed of mixed hardwood species, well-stocked, with trees reaching more than 100 feet skyward. Certainly, its mycorhizal community is vibrant.

HGH Road

 

I simply do not subscribe to Wohlleben’s principal thesis: Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. Instead, I see intense competition below ground for moisture and nutrients, and above ground for light and life. The overhead canopy view below shows oak crowns fully occupying the overstory, each, for now, having staked out its zone of occupancy, suggesting a stasis that simply does not exist in stands still developing, growing, and maturing. The trees have not agreed upon the terms of an armistice, a cessation of hostilities.

The tree extending over the top of this photo is a vibrant 30-inch diameter red oak. It is not, in my view, a caring larger sibling tending its slightly smaller and a little shorter neighbors. It is a ruthless competitor, as Darwin concluded, intent upon thriving and surviving so that its progeny extend to the next generation. Life in the forest is a zero-sum game. Essential resources of crown light and soil moisture and fertility are finite. What one tree gathers is at the expense of its neighbors.

HGH Road

 

Here’s a 16-inch-diameter shagbark hickory reaching into the main canopy (below right). It has secured its position, but it is not living in loving harmony with its neighbors. The much smaller tree to its lower left (appearing to emerge from the lower left corner of the photograph) is the same age as the hickory. It occupies a fraction of the canopy space. It will lose the battle for extended life in the crown. None of the adjoining trees, in some wave of generosity and compassion, will sustain it. They seek its small share of main canopy sunlight and below ground resources. In a very non-egalitarian manner, they will overwhelm it, and then fight the survivors for the resultant bounty.

Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony? No, not in the forests of my experience!

HGH Road

 

During the most recent dormant season (2020-21) I have for the first time over my fifty-plus years as a professional forester and applied ecologist, begun to study inter-tree crown competition. I’ve learned that white oaks in our forests demand a lot of crown space. That’s a white oak below at the top of the image. A shagbark hickory, with a relatively smaller crown rises from the lower left of the photograph. The trees are of similar diameter. Note that none of these main canopy dwellers are touching. They seem to agree not to invade each other’s space; the operative word is seem.

HGH Road

 

However, they are not respecting each other’s space. Instead, I am convinced that over thousands of generations of evolution, trees are hard-wired to avoid interlacing crowns. Such interlacing results in friction and abrasion as wind rocks and sways the crowns. Perhaps the old nursery rhyme has its basis in this crown shyness phenomenon:

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Regardless, evolution…and not neighborly love and respect…dictate that tree crowns do not physically touch!

Competition for essential site resources will result in less capable individuals succumbing. However, inability to compete effectively is not the only cause of stem mortality. Here’s a 20-inch-diameter red oak that wind-snapped 12 feet above the ground. Why this one? I can only speculate that it broke at some point of structural weakness. Unlike white oak, red oak does not demand a seeming inordinately large crown space. This individual dropped within just the prior 2-5 years…yet, already the crown opening it left (below right) is closing. Life in the forest is dog-eat-dog!

HGH Road

 

Let’s turn to a 22-inch-diameter dead white oak. I have no idea what resulted in its demise. I saw no evidence of lightning strike. The scientist in me seeks a direct cause. The fatalist simply observes that its time had come. I confront forest mysteries of all manner. Simply, a seeming vibrant and dominant individual died, leaving (below right) a standing skeleton of what once was a massive canopy, typical of dominant white oak trees in our forests.

HGH Road

 

It left a large void and considerable now-available sunlight. The adjacent survivors will battle to secure their share.

HGH Road

 

I see a ferocious ongoing competition for canopy light and life. I do not embrace the notion of a loving and caring community practicing intra- and inter-species communication and cooperation. And while I’m reacting to his basic premise, allow me to react somewhat viscerally to Wohlleben’s apparent hubris and assumed moral superiority to the knuckle-draggers in the forest products industry. I spent 12 years in that industry at the outset of my career, employed by a company that owned 2.2 million acres of forestland across the southeastern US, and responsibly practiced forest operations within the context of a deep land ethic. My final three years with the company, I led a unit directly charged with managing 500 square miles of company-owned forestland in central and southern Alabama. Although I did not anthropomorphize those forests, I did recognize the interconnected reality of the entire forest ecosystem: its plants, animals, other organisms, water, soil, and atmosphere. I had not by then run across this Albert Einstein quote: It’s not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle. Yet, I knew from my forestry education, my personal passion, and the company’s expressed land ethic that the whole thing is a miracle, including that I was privileged to work with such a magnificent natural system and work for a company embracing a land ethic.

Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. I adopt Darwin’s view with respect to competition among trees. He did not say that the forest is not an integrated system, nor do I. I see our forests as complex meritocracies. The system and the individuals work best when the strong survive. Nature sets no quotas on species composition, nor does it seek some specific admixture of strong and weak. The whole thing, no matter how the pieces assemble, is a miracle.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

  • I offer two observations from my mid-March trek:
    • The forest’s visible action occurs high above us; her invisible dynamism lies beneath our feet in the soil.
    • The forest is a living miracle of biology, beauty, and fierce competition among trees.

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 BooksHGH Road

 

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 Different Perspective on the Early March Forests at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

March 7, 2021, I once again visited the bottomland forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve begun to focus my attention during my wanderings more and more on the forest canopy, the photosynthesis engines of our incredible terrestrial ecosystems. I’ve discovered that my iPhone’s “selfie function” serves a purpose far more valuable than taking my own mug shot. I reverse the shutter direction, hold the phone horizontally at waist level, extend my arm far enough to remove my cap’s bill from the image, and snap a photo vertically of the crown above me. The images are pure magic; here’s one among others that I’ll reflect on later in this Blog Post.

 

Look for more such images as I continue my forest wanderings. I’m finding glee, inspiration, and magic by gazing above. Each image stirs me to think deeply about Nature’s art, as well as the science of my forestry and applied ecology disciplinary roots.

View from the Tennessee River

 

I wandered that day west of the bottomland forest onto a causeway from where I photographed the forest profile to the west across fields intentionally winter-flooded for migratory waterfowl.

Refuge RoadRefuge Road

 

Here’s the nearer forest northeast and southeast of where I stood, providing a similar and closer profile of the forest where I captured the many crown images deeper in this Blog Post. Although the images belie the reality, these forests contain dominant trees reaching heights in excess of 100 feet.

Refuge Road

 

This image of a strip of bottomland hardwoods, drawn in with the telephoto function, gives a truer representation of vertical scale.

Refuge Road

 

The Hardwood Bottomland Forest Up Close

 

All but the most elevated sites within the bottomland forests retain some surface water this time of year. This is typical inundation; most areas I can explore without encountering depths greater than 3-6 inches.

Interior

 

I swung the camera at the same photo point first to 30 degrees (below left), then to 60 degrees, placing the afternoon sun behind the tree’s upper bole. The crown architecture varies by species. Merriam-Webster defines dendritic as resembling or having dendrites, that is, branching like a tree. Dendritic is a common pattern employed by Nature for gathering, whether it’s the tree accessing sunlight in the canopy, tree roots exploiting the soil below ground for its bounty of moisture, nutrients, and aeration, or animal nervous systems feeding information to our brain, or our circulatory system returning blood to the heart, or a stream network collecting water into trickles, runs, creeks, and rivers, routing surface flow to the oceans. The dendritic network system functions well enough that Nature has universally adopted it, and dictionary writers have used tree branching to define the term.

Interior

 

I see poetry, art, and a spirit-presence in the tree-top backlit by the sun (above right). I observe often in these Posts that I prefer Nature paintings that look like the real thing, and I see no better artwork than Nature’s own images (photographs that remind me of artwork). I would hang the image above right, properly matted and framed, on my office wall!

A New Perspective: A Growing Fascination with the Canopy

 

The power of my new-found discovery of the forest canopy is what now directs my attention into the canopy above me as I explore the forest realm. I realize that the canopy exploration season will pause with full leaf-out. I am drafting these words April 10, a time of rapid foliation. I am trying to squeeze leafless canopy appreciation into these final 7-10 days before the show ends. Yes, I will continue to gaze vertically during the growing season, but I expect relative disappointment. Regardless, I promise to report back to you as the growing season unfolds. Although the water-saturated site above is common within the hardwood bottoms, I am devoting the remainder of these photos to an upland (perhaps five elevation feet higher), better-drained, loblolly pine-dominated stand.

Refuge Road

 

Here’s the 60-degree view into the crowns reaching 100-plus feet into the heavens.

Refuge Road

 

And, the vertical views below peer up and into a pine-dominated, stand of loblolly and mixed hardwoods. Note that the individual pine crowns do not touch their neighbors, in contrast to the more common conception that the entire canopy is a vast network of overlapping and interlacing branches. The hardwood branches that from this perspective appear interlaced are, instead, sub-dominant canopy hardwoods below the dominant pine crowns.

Jolly B Road

 

I plan to study crown structure more intensely next fall and winter. In the meantime I’ll begin discerning what I can of our fully-foliated summer forests.

Jolly B Road

 

I decided to isolate a single nearly two-foot diameter loblolly, among the larger individuals, and shoot up along its high-reaching trunk, which supports the crown far above. This view typifies what the forestry field terms crown shyness. Its extended branches simply do not touch the adjacent pine neighbors. The trees demand reasonable social distancing. To be clear, the trees are practicing what has been genetically hard-wired into them. If the adjacent crowns interlaced across this boundary, any stem-bole wind-bowing and rocking would result in branch/foliage friction, wounding, and breaking.

Jolly B Road

 

Bear with me as I deepen my knowledge and understanding through observation and digging into the literature.

Another Tree Story

I often observe in these Posts that every tree (and every stand and forest parcel) has a story to tell. This oak earlier in its life forked within a foot of the ground. Two or three decades ago, the fork nearer to the camera broke away leaving a wound where the twin severed from the remaining stem. The twin snapped long enough ago that no decaying evidence of it is evident on the ground nearby. Since the event, the surviving stem has slowly calloused over the wound. Within another decade or so, the visible hole will have healed over, likely leaving a base hollowed from decay introduced at the time of breakage.

Jolly B Road

 

Spring Emerges

 

This spring beauty, one of earliest spring ephemerals, greeted me March 7, marking for me the first unofficial day of the season!

Jolly B Road

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early March trek through the bottomland forest:

  • The forest’s visible action occurs high above us.
  • Her invisible dynamism lies beneath our feet in the soil.
  • The forest is a living miracle of  science and beauty. 

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 BooksJolly B Road

 

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 New (for me) Tree Growth Phenomenon

I’ll begin this Post with the teaser photograph immediately below, offering it without explanatory text, which you’ll see after the A First Time Encounter heading.

HGH Road

 

A forester, I’ve long found fascination in tree form… whether the veneer-quality cherrybark oak below left, or the distorted, burly Bigfoot oak below right. I’ve included these photos in previous Posts. So, I won’t include any location or explanatory text. My real intent is to lead to revealing more about the unique curiosity in the photo above.

HGH Road

Common Oddities on Living Trees

 

The two photos above capture the range of tree form I’ve encountered across my Alabama forest wanderings, and that I have discussed in prior Posts. These two curiosities below result from non-fatal viral or fungal infections and the resultant growth abnormalities.

HGH RoadTree Form Oddities

 

As does this odd form associated with a broken and now calloused-over branch stub.

 

And, this curiosity originated with a severed (e.g., wind breakage) companion bole (a twin stem), which left an infection court (the wound) for decay fungi that are actively hollowing the trunk and misshaping the base.

Jolly B

 

I now have a full portfolio of odd tree forms and curiosities, including the spherical two-foot diameter burl below left and the primitive spirit face below right. Both are viral or fungal-triggered growth abnormalities.

Monte Sano

Less Common Curiosities

 

Root grafts with an adjacent living tree of the same species maintain active growth in the remaining rind of this yellow poplar stump, which is root-grafted to a large and vibrant yellow poplar tree just off-camera. The pole-sized (12-inch root collar diameter) trunk fell long enough ago that even its decaying remains are no longer present.

 

This poplar lost its twin fork (again, wind?) likely decades previous. The raw wound continues to callous and within another decade the scar will have closed. Decay fungi are nearly certain to be consuming interior wood.

 

These two beech stumps (eight and twelve inches diameter, respectively) enjoy root grafts with a mature beech nearby.

 

Some in our contemporary popular literature attribute such oddities to a caring and nurturing parent tree, one that shows love and compassion for the unfortunate smaller neighbor. I say “rubbish.” Physical contact (above or below ground) of like species often results in a grafted union. I simply will not accept that such union has its basis in affection, love, emotional embrace or any form of tree-attributed anthropomorphism. In this case, the larger neighbor feels no sense of commitment, obligation, or adoptive spirit for the still-living stump. Instead, I believe that the reasons and explanations are physiological.

The plant physiology literature continues to explore the mechanism and its underlying evolutionary advantages. For example, some have postulated about the advantage to the vibrant living beech-neighbor via its grafted root-union with the above two stump-trees. Here’s my own assessment. By grafting to roots of the two stump-trees, the vibrant survivor now taps soil resources (water, nutrients, soil aeration) accessed and gathered from both its own original roots as well as the root system of the two stump-trees. I don’t buy the mother-love emotion rationale. So, rather than an act of commensalism (mutually advantageous partnership), the larger tree has out-competed the smaller (weaker) individuals, accelerating their demise… and now, via the graft union, the victor has appropriated the victims’ roots for its own purposes. All is fair in love and war… and, this is brutal combat. Love and peace are a myth among trees competing for scarce resources. Simply, to the victor go the spoils. Another iteration of Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

A First-Time Encounter

 

I have previously seen all of the examples above in my five decades of forest wanderings… some more frequently than others, but none have I seen rarely enough for me to dedicate an entire Post to its revelation and discussion. However, this one that I encountered February 24, 2021, within the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge spurred this Blog Post. The trunk and the 30x30x30″ cube are southern red oak. This adjacent growth anomaly brought to mind a piece of furniture lying on the forest floor, a portable barked-artifact that could be moved and repositioned. However, rest assured, it is securely anchored. I believe that, like the two beech stumps, this table owes its origin to a broken stump with roots grafted to the surviving southern red oak tree.

HGH Road

 

I offer four quarter-views to complete the 360 perspective. I feel somewhat like the magician giving a full-round view of the box his assistant has just entered… after he has closed the lid and before he begins sawing the container into two halves. I don’t want the reader to think I have hidden some secret facet of this forest anomaly.

HGH Road

 

I examined it time and again, marveling at its mystery.

HGH Road

 

Yet, isn’t almost everything in Nature a mystery of sorts? I recently found an apt Albert Einstein quote: It’s not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle. If not a miracle, then certainly a wonder, just one more element of Nature’s capacity to intrigue, inspire, and lift us. This barked-table…this astounding growth abnormality…falls within Nature’s trick-bag, her infinite reservoir of magic that stirs my imagination and stimulates the forest scientist within me to ponder and seek to understand.

I know from both my science discipline and my lifelong Nature addiction that nothing she presents should surprise me. Leonardo da Vinci observed 500 years ago:

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Although this particular curiosity puzzles me, I know that the effect falls within Nature’s own laws. Again, da Vinci:

Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature. Nature never breaks her own laws.

As I’ve written many times during the frequent occasions when I’ve pondered Nature’s causes and effects, I’ve often wished I could travel back in time in decadal increments, returning to the series of events leading to creating phenomenon like this barked-table anomaly.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from contemplating Nature’s odd handiwork:

  • Nature’s capacity to intrigue and inspire is without limit
  • Grand mystery awaits the observant student of Nature
  • The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding Nature

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, 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 BooksHGH Road

 

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.