Early November 2021 B-Roll at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

Perfect Autumn Afternoon for Videography

In Meadows

November 2, 2021, retired videographer Bill Heslip and I spent a picture-perfect fall afternoon capturing B-Roll video at Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary for our 17-20-minute video (Summer 2022 release) communicating the land legacy tale for this magnificent natural preserve. The purpose of this Post is to provide an update on the video project I introduced in late August: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/08/25/contemplating-a-video-of-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

The Sanctuary is rich with ecotones, an ecology term indicating the transition zone between adjoining ecosystems, in both cases below meadow meets forest edge. The mix favors greater diversity of all life, including plants and animals. Toss in the nearby Flint River and the ridge several miles to the west rising 800 feet above the valley floor; the result is a ridge/valley/riverine ecosystem that warrants recognition, preservation, and celebration.

 

My role during our outing was to assist Bill by pointing out ecological features and their significance…and stay out of the viewfinder! I enjoyed watching Bill at work…and snapping still photos to chronicle our efforts and capture images of the Sanctuary’s magic and wonder.

 

I’ve often thought when visiting the Sanctuary about the tremendous gift that Magaret Anne Goldsmith passed along to many future generations of Huntsville citizens. One objective of our video project is to make sure viewers understand and appreciate that value.

In Forests

Although I appreciate the diverse habitats and ecotones, this old forester’s heart beats a little faster in the Sanctuary’s forests. Still a week shy of maximum fall color, yellows tinted the canopy and gradual leaf-fall allowed increasing levels of sunlight to brighten the forest floor. Oak, sweetgum, hickories, poplar, and other species populate these riparian stands often flooded by the Flint River.

 

 

Peace and Tranquility Amidst Fierce Competition

Cerulean skies add emphasis to the fall canopy. I’ve written often in these Posts that trees battle fiercely for finite sunlight. Popular literature, including some pseudo-scientific writing would have us believe that our forests are utopian Gardens of Eden, where all is tranquil, peaceful, loving, cooperative, communal, and interlaced in the spirit of one big happy ecosystem. Sure, ecosystems do, in fact, operate as interwoven systems, yet each species looks out first and foremost for number one.

John Muir, a consumate student of Nature, observed:

I have never yet happened upon a trace of evidence… to show that any one animal was ever made for another as much as it was made for itself.

My view is that the same holds true for all living organisms: plants, animals, fungi, microbes. Cooperation, symbiosis, commensualism, and other such relationships flourish only to the extent that what benefits others is embraced only to the degree that such interactions benefit the individual.

The trees below are engaged in, if necessary, a battle to the death! Only to us enjoying a fall stroll through the forest is all tranquil, peaceful, loving, cooperative, communal, and interlaced in the spirit of one big happy ecosystem. Even the fawn at pace with the doe is a potential meal for a hungry coyote. A mouse to the owl. A squirrel to the hawk. An insect to the jay or dragon fly. The list goes on; the cycle endures.

 

 

 

 

Bill pauses below to record footage of the results of such competition…dead and down woody debris which is common across these maturing forests.

 

We found this fall equivalent of a vernal pond. I suppose we can term it an autumnal pond. I had measured a little over five inches of rain in in both September and October, ten inches total. No surprise that depressions would be waterlogged. These are oak species not normally restricted to saturated sites. We appreciated the play of color, light, and reflections.

 

Bill saw special attraction in the tangle of grape vines, a common sight within the riparian forest. Most casual forest observers picture these vines growing up into the trees. Few people are aware that these woody vines grow up with the trees. Vine seedlings begin their life with the tree seedlings, accompanying the ash, oaks, sweetgum, and other tree species during the trees’ vertical growth, keeping their own vine-crowns in the ascending tree canopy. Vine and tree are the same age.

 

Along the Tupelo Swamp

We ventured to the edge of the Sanctuary’s tupelo forest. Unlike the oak-populated autumnal pond, these are perennial wetlands. Water tupelo demands such saturated sites. Bill and I want the video to present the full range of ecosystems, ecotones, and habitat types. Contrast the following four photos to meadow and deep forest. The three habitats could not be more different. We’ll also cover the west-side spring, the naturalized Jobala Pond, and the Flint River banks. I am not sure whether the Grand Designer could squeeze more diversity into 400 acres!

 

Here we are at the edge of wildness…in Huntsville, Alabama, which within the next decade will be the state’s largest (population) metropolitan area.

 

The edge of wildness…perhaps instead within wildness itself. We want the video to celebrate the Sanctuary!

Fungi and Forest Curiosities

The designation wildlife sanctuary implies animals, the life-kingdom to which we humans belong, along with birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals. Don’t forget insects, arachnids, mites, slugs, crustaceans, and diverse manner of animal life. The Sanctuary includes ubiquitous and varied plant life, the second kingdom. I grew into my forestry profession learning that fungi were part of the plant kingdom. About the same time the university conferred my bachelors degree, the scientists who controlled life classification decisions elevated fungi to its own kingdom. I admit to being all-consumed by completing finals on Friday, driving the 550 miles Saturday from Syracuse, NY to Franklin, VA, moving into our apartment Sunday, and beginning my first professional assignment Monday. Too consumed with beginning career life to participate in my own graduation or take notice of any society-wide celebration of global fungi rising to their higher order life-classification.

Fungi play a major role in the Sanctuary’s endless cycle of life and death. Both mushrooms below are fruiting bodies (reproductive spore producers) for wood decay fungi. Oak bracket (left) and a species of genus Trichaptum (right).

 

I snapped the conk (mushroom) below two weeks earlier (November 16) at the Sanctuary. Growing from the trunk of a diseased American beech, this appears to be a species of Ganaderma, formerly Fomes applanatus (artist conk). The skilled hand with stylus can etch intricate designs into this polypore’s undersurface.

 

An artist’s conk image from the internet.

Internet Image

 

These osage orange fruits (hedge apples) also presented themselves October 16.

 

This circumferential red oak burl is just one of the many tree form oddities and curiosities I’ve documented on the Sanctuary. During our four years living in and exploring Alaska, Judy and I often commented that everywhere we looked, we encountered a Kodak moment, a vista meriting photo-capture. Today, as I wander our southern forests, I find photo-worthy subjects around every corner…and give constant thanks for digital technology!

 

I wonder whether we can distill the Sanctuary’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe to 17-20 minutes!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s richness knows no bounds.
  • The Sanctuary packs untold gifts, surprises, and diversity into a mere 400 acres.
  • The value of wildness expands exponentially with its proximity to population centers.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

 

Cheaha State Park October 20 and 21, 2021: Dusk to Dawn Sequence

I returned to Cheaha State Park October 20, 2021, for an Alabama State Parks Foundation evening reception and dinner, and next day Board meeting. A group of Board members and guests strolled to the Bald Rock Overlook to view sunset prior to our scheduled evening gathering in the Lodge. I think you will enjoy this chronicled series of photographs extending from when we met at the trailhead at 5:43 PM until the post-sunset glow at 6:15.

I returned to the overlook alone in the dark the next morning, enjoying the dawning sequence from 6:20 to 6:39 AM. Unlike most of my Blog Posts, this one offers just a few observations and comments, with parenthetical notations of exact time for each image.

The crew gathered enthusiastically for our leisurely walk on the ADA-accessible boardwalk, stopping occasionally along the way for interpretation (5:43 and 5:45).

Cheaha

 

 

 

 

Dusk

Ten minutes later we reached the overlook, enjoying a splendid evening sky accented with wisps of cirrus signaling the cold front approaching from the west to arrive the next morning. Official sun tables for Cheaha Mountain showed October 20 sunset at 6:03; these images are about ten minutes shy (5:53 and 5:54).

Cheaha

 

The actual exact time of sunset proved rather dull, yet deep colors emerged as the sun, streaming from below the horizon, illuminated the underside of the clouds along the western horizon (6:02 and 6:09).

Cheaha

 

The show deepened as the sun sunk lower. Note in the right image the solar rays reaching from below the horizon (6:10 and 6:12).

Cheaha

 

Colors faded quickly after I captured the final glow. By the time we returned to the Lodge darkness had fallen. We welcomed the roaring fire outside (6:15).

Cheaha

 

What could possibly exceed the fulfillment and inspiration from an evening stroll, an observation deck sunset from Alabama’s highest peak, and an embracing bonfire!

Dawn

I read that sunrise would bless the new day at 6:54 AM. I wanted to be at the overlook with plenty of time to spare. I’ve learned that my iPhone camera, with its three-second exposure, captures available light far better than my eyes. These two photos, taken more than 30 minutes in advance of sunrise, reveal early color and mostly cloudy skies (6:20 and 6:22).

Cheaha

 

The view to the NE (below left) clearly shows Anniston, Alabama. The lower right view is north, midway between Anniston and Talladega. Again, I snapped the images during what appeared to me as nearly full darkness (6:23 and 6:23).

Cheaha

 

Just a few minutes brought noticably greater illumination to the Talladega horizon (below left), the foreground Virginia pines, and even to the boardwalk signage (6:29 and 6:31).

Cheaha

 

 

 

 

Although sunrise would not occur for another 20 minutes, visual detail both near and far rapidly emerged (6:31 and 6:32).

Cheaha

 

Looking back from the overlook, the nature of the forest is apparent. Stunted Virginia pine and oak amount to little more than a shrub layer near the rimrock. Fractured rock, impoverished shallow soils, and exposure to harsh winds prohibit high-forest development. However, I did not visit the overlook pre-dawn to see towering trees and deep forest (6:32 and 6:39)!

Cheaha

 

The aforementioned cold front brought morning showers and even one clap of thunder, reminding me how much I would like to stand at the overlook watching a thunderstorm race across the valley from west to east, yet I knew that I would more than likely have retreated to the safety of the lodge.

Afternoon

The front passed to our south and east by noon, leaving a clear view of Cheaha as we departed early afternoon (1:11 pm).

Cheaha

 

The continuing cycles of weather, sunrise and sunset, and season add infinite variety to my Nature explorations. A sage once posited that variety is the spice of life. So, too, is variety the spice of Nature. I suppose that I could visit Cheaha daily across a year…or a lifetime…and each day marvel at its beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • What could possibly exceed the fulfillment and inspiration from an evening stroll, an observation deck sunset from Alabama’s highest peak, and an embracing bonfire!
  • A sage once posited that variety is the spice of life. So, too, is variety the spice of Nature.
  • I could visit Cheaha daily across a year…or a lifetime…and each day marvel at its beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

Cheaha State Park October 20 and 21, 2021

I returned to Cheaha State Park October 20, 2021, for an Alabama State Parks Foundation evening reception and dinner, and next day Board meeting. I am pleased to offer photos and reflections from explorations that afternoon with Mandy Pearson, Park Naturalist. We visited the recently opened Interpretive Center and hiked parts of two new trails. I’ve published eight previous Great Blue Heron Posts on Cheaha. The most recent: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/20/non-flowering-plants-atop-the-mountain-at-cheaha-ee-aa-annual-conference/ For the other seven, go to my web site Blog tab (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) and search for ‘Cheaha.’

Having grown up in the central Appalachians, those ancient mountains live deep in my body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Among Alabama’s 21 State Parks, Cheaha acts as a beacon calling me back to what feels like my roots. These southern Appalachians soothe and comfort me, restore my sense of well-being, and rekindle memories otherwise dormant.

Judy and I checked into the Bald Rock Lodge at a little after noon (below).

Cheaha

 

Interpretive Center

We rendezvoused with Mandy at the Interpretive Center at Lake Cheaha, which sits 800 feet below Cheaha’s 2,407-foot summit.

 

The Interpretive Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, had served as the lake’s bath house before being converted this past summer to its new use. The “CCC Boys,” who also built the Bald Rock Lodge, sure mastered the craft of exquisite stone masonry! Little could they imagine that more than eight decades hence their stonework, backdropped by a cerulean sky, would inspire visitors from all fifty states and beyond.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the CCC, memorializing his intent:

I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work…More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.

Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.

The balance of men and nature FDR sought lives on resolutely today at Cheaha State Park.

Cheaha

 

The new Interpretive Center will serve park visitors for generations to come.

CheahaCheaha

 

The Lake and its Cheaha backdrop, as I hinted above, transport me back in time…and 600 miles northward along the spine of the Appalachians. My third book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits (co-authored with Jennifer Wilhoit), carries an apt subtitle: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. Cheaha is one of those special places for which I feel deep passion. Muir foreshadowed my own sentiments:

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

Cheaha

 

Tim Haney Sensory Trail

 

Tim Haney retired in 2021 from his post as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region. He began his State Parks career in 1977. Cheaha recently established a trail in Tim’s honor. The Sensory Trail focuses hikers on understanding and connecting to multiple facets of Nature along the way. I’ve hiked with Tim, and I have admired and appreciated his own intimate harmony with trees, flowers, fauna, soil, rocks, water…the entire ecosystem.

CheahaCheaha

 

 

Among many other highlights along the trail, this station reminded us that living forests…vibrant ecosystems…include both life and death, a continuing cycle of carbon, water, organic matter, and nutrients.

Cheaha

 

Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy Trail

 

From an online National Library of Medicine site:

Current literature supports the comprehensive health benefits of exposure to nature and green environments on human systems. The aim of this state-of-the-art review is to elucidate empirical research conducted on the physiological and psychological effects of Shinrin-Yoku (or Forest Bathing) in transcontinental Japan and China. Furthermore, we aim to encourage healthcare professionals to conduct longitudinal research in Western cultures regarding the clinically therapeutic effects of Shinrin-Yoku and, for healthcare providers/students to consider practicing Shinrin-Yoku to decrease undue stress and potential burnout.

This new trail introduces hikers to the Shinrin concept, also known as forest bathing, a form of nature therapy. Because our afternoon window permitted only skimming the interpretive signage along both new trails, I will dedicate time to full immersion on my next Cheaha visit.

Cheaha

 

My routine forest strolling pace allows plenty of time for seeking the Nature-magic that lies hidden in plain sight. However, what I gleaned from the signage suggests ratcheting down the pace another notch. My own Nature wanderings involve close observation. Observation, I’ve found, requires concentrated effort.

Observation and perception are two different things; the observing eye is stronger; the perceiving eye is weaker (Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings).

From shinrinyoku-united.org:

A Shinrin-Yoku forest bathing walk consists of a series of activities & sits, designed to help the participants to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest, allowing them to slow down, breathe, and refocus on their body, while connecting to their various senses.

Admittedly, slowing to the Shinrin forest pace may not be easy for me. However, as I contemplate the notion, I may already practice a variant of forest bathing. I do observe deeply, capture photographs, then do my contemplative forest bathing at home as I sort and organize images, reflect upon the images, and then develop a cogent tale…a story of the visit that draws connections, illustrates Nature in action, and offers lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading.

Cheaha

 

I did pay a lot of attention as I traversed the Shinrin-Yoku trail. In all honesty, I trundled along at my standard pace, except stopping to read a sign or two. Lichen-coated rocks and emerging fall yellows caught my eye.

Cheaha

 

I suppose the true Shinrin practitioner would have found a spot to lie flat, gazing into the high-canopy foliar show (left). No such spot below right among the pavement of shattered stones and downed woody debris!

Cheaha

 

The Shinrin Trail brought us to the rimrock looking west some 800 feet above Cheaha Lake.

Cheaha

 

Another perfect spot, within the context of forest bathing, to sit awhile, encouraging me to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest…to slow down, breathe, and refocus…while connecting to…various senses. I cannot argue with the wisdom of Shinrin. In fact, I often do just that…sit and quietly absorb the essence of special places. Yet, here is where I fall short of the Shinrin ideal. Normally, I sit in contemplation with my senses alert to keen observation, until I urge myself to get back to my feet in search of the next focus of concentration and observation. My shortfall? I fail to sit in relaxed absorption, resisting the urge to forge ahead, allowing myself to become infused within the place…to permit me to free my body, mind, soul, spirit, and heart to float among the elements of Nature…to experience where I wander on a level unfamiliar to me.

CheahaCheaha

 

And now, I must concede that I might not be able to take that next Shinrin step. I may not be willing to give my subconscious free reign, allowing myself to float among the forest vapors. In fact, I know that given the kind place I would choose to sit in Shinrin reflection, a near-certain result would be Steve slipping into nap time! Okay, I won’t know until I try. I commit to you that I will push myself in the Shinrin direction. I’ll report back to you.

With or without Shinrin, I will always take time to notice things as simple as this dead and decaying tree along the Shinrin Trail, emblematic of the ongoing cycle of life and death.

Cheaha

 

In Defiance of Fall

Death and renewal, year after year after year, is a forest ecosystem theme now and forevermore. The yellow beyond the shattered stump above and below right is golden aster, still flowering, an act of renewal in a season of senescence. Likewise, a purple aster is flowering in defiance of the imminent autumn.

CheahaCheaha

 

I find magic in our forests whenever and wherever I roam. Even without practicing Shinrin-Yoku, I believe I experience our forests far deeper and more meaningfully than the average hiker I encounter. I attribute the difference to employing what I term my Five Essential Verbs for maximizing benefit from my Nature wanderings: Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act.

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Cheaha Mountain State Park is a special gem.
  • We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us (John Muir).
  • Two new interpretive trails at Cheaha spotlight the System’s mission element to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

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 BooksCheaha

 

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

 

 

 

Fungi from my September 2021 Ramblings in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest

September 7, 2021, I hiked both Heart’s Content and Hickory Creek Wilderness on the Allegheny National Forest in northwest Pennsylvania, just 40 miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships for second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests. I published three Great Blue Heron Posts from that fulfilling day in the woods:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/10/14/hearts-content-in-nw-pennsylvania-part-one/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/04/hearts-content-in-nw-pennsylvania-part-two/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/17/pennsylvanias-hickory-creek-wilderness/

September 8, 2021, I hiked the gorge at McConnell’s Mill State Park, 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. I focus this Post on the wide variety of mushrooms I encountered at the three locations. Rather than offer deep discussion of species, their identification, classification, and specific role in the ecosystem, I present only a quick introduction to their beauty and variety.

Heart’s Content

 

I found this lovely artist conk on a dead American beech. Interestingly, I often encounter what appears to be the same species on beech here in northern Alabama.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

A totally different kind of mushroom, ravenel’s stinkhorn is rather ghastly, fleshy, and quite ephemeral, suddenly emerging and within just afew days going to goo and disappearing.

Heart's Content

 

A brilliant vermillion waxcap brightened the forest floor. I am so grateful I wandered near enough to see this beauty. We tend to think of decay as an ugly process, a breaking down of vibrant living material to the dust of time. Not so, decay organisms can be glorious in their own essential life form…as important, essential, and vibrant in the forest ecosystem as the mighty oak or charismatic macrofauna (like deer and bear). From the online Fungi of Northern Maine: Hygrocybe miniata, commonly known as the vermilion waxcap, is a small, bright red, or red-orange mushroom of the waxcap genus Hygrocybe. It is a cosmopolitan species, which is found worldwide. In Europe, it is found in fields, on sandy heaths, or grassy commons in the autumn (fall). It is found in rainforest and eucalypt forest as well as heathland in Australia. I am fascinated to find such a novel, globally distributed, cosmopolitan species! I suppose a fungal spore can cross oceans (and remain viable in transit!).

Heart's Content

 

I admit failing to identify this small sulfur mushroom growing among a moss carpet on a well-decayed log.

Heart's Content

 

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

I found a few friends familiar to my Alabama foraging. A late season hanger-on, this chanterelle was one of only a half-dozen I spotted in the Wilderness.

Heart's Content

 

I also found a past-prime chicken of the woods.

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

My iNaturalist identified this cluster as scarlet waxy cap (Hygrocybe coccinea), sometimes called the scarlet hood, scarlet waxcap, or righteous red waxy cap.

Hickory Creek Wilderness

 

Another oddity, this is fairy wand club or handsome club, a coral mushroom.

Allegheny NF

 

Fomitopsis ochracea evidenced serious brown rot within this chestnut oak. A foot wide, this conk showed a fresh, pure white underside.

Allegheny NF

 

McConnell’s Mill State Park

 

September 8, 2021, I hiked the gorge trails at McConnell’s Mill State Park just 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. I previously published this Post from my day in the gorge: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/11/10/pennsylvanias-mcconnells-mill-state-park-2/

I found only one additional mushroom distinct from those reported above. Another of the species I forage in Alabama, this oyster greeted me along Slippery Rock Creek.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • For those who hike through the forest, intent upon rushing from point A to point B, much will lie hidden in plain sight.
  • For those of us who look closely, intent upon seeing Nature’s wonders, magic will lie at our feet.
  • The forest ecosystem comprises far more than trees, which are no more important than the fungi that enable cycling and renewal.

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 BooksHeart's Content

 

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.

 

A Naturalist’s View of the Narrows in Cumberland, MD

The Narrows

 

September 10, 2021, I hiked the six-mile out and back paved section of the Greater Allegheny Passage rails-to-trail through the Narrows in western Maryland. The Narrows reach 1,000 feet to cliffs and rimrock above Wills Creek, which flows into the Potomac River in Cumberland. My purpose with this Post is to chronicle the late summer flowering plants trailside within the gorge. See my December 14, 2021, Post on Cumberland and the Narrows at the intersection of human and natural history: http://stevejonesgbh.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=9653&action=edit&classic-editor=1

Early September (the tenth) at 39.65 degrees north latitude lies at the juncture of late summer and early autumn, still too warm for fall, yet, offering days of occasional warm sun and comfortable nights. Forest green prevails on slopes of the Narrows; summer wildflowers remain vibrant and colorful along the trail. These two views look upstream into the Narrows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view downstream at the far end likewise shows only a bit of forest yellowing.

 

The same holds true at mid-point. The date of peak fall color is closely aligned with the average date of first freeze, which for Cumberland is October 16. Peak fall foliar color for Cumberland is mid-October.

 

 

 

 

Late Summer and Early Fall

Nature of the Narrows

Wingstem stood in full flower all along the trail. Powdery mildew on leaves, below right, portend the end of its season.

 

Evening primrose rivaled the wingstem’s golden hues but fell short of the wingstem’s abundance.

 

Dayflower proudly displayed its deep sky-blue flowers.

 

Long a favorite of mine, common milkweed, which had long since flowered, carried its seed pods in full view, counting on a drying sun to split its husk and await the autumn breezes for seed dispersal. I remember with fondness holding such dispersal-ready pods aloft and blowing the seed fairies into the wind. I suppose even today I would still enjoy such human-assisted dispersal with a sense of youthful mirth!

Narrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cycle of seed dispersal, overwintering in suitable soil, spring germination, summer growth, flowering, pollination, and fruiting continues year after year. So, too, does the monarch butterfly cycle of life spin year after year in harmony with its primary host, the common milkweed. The maturing monarch caterpillar still feeds. Soon it will form its chrysalis. Available internet sources elucidate the complex life cycle of this insect that is fully interdependent with our common milkweed.

 

The large milkweed bugs below, likewise feeding on their milkweed host, include both nymph and adult forms. The milkweed bugs have only three life cycle stages: egg, nymph, and adult.

 

I’ve never been a fan of jimsonweed, and the West Virginia Cooperative Extension online source justifies my predisposition:

Jimsonweed is a weed of concern for both humans and livestock, owing its poisonous nature to certain alkaloids present in all plant parts, especially in the seeds. It belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and possesses a disagreeable odor… Jimsonweed thrives in cultivated fields, overgrazed pastures, and waste lots. Animals typically stay away from this distasteful weed while foraging; however, accidental poisoning has occurred when desirable plants or water are in short supply during the hot summer months. Children who are attracted by its large, showy flowers have occasionally been poisoned by accidental consumption of the nectar or petals.

 

Japanese knotweed is yet another obnoxious interloper, described by Penn State Extension online:

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an invasive perennial and noxious weed in PA.

 

However, were I unaware of its aggressive invasive nature, I might consider its luxuriant flowers and attractive pendulant seedheads as a real looker. Funny how where we stand depends upon where we sit. We all gauge beauty through our own filters, whether conscious of them or not.

 

I spotted just one colony of oriental bittersweet. Its yellow fruit caught my eye. Once again, however, my appreciation waned as I recognized it…and quadrupled when I looked it up in an online Penn State source:

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) was introduced to the United States in the 1860s from east Asia. This woody, deciduous, perennial vine has since naturalized and become an extremely aggressive and damaging invader of natural areas. Oriental bittersweet chokes out desirable native plants by smothering them with its dense foliage and strangling stems and trunks. In some areas, it forms nearly continuous blankets along entire stretches of woodlands. Despite its aggressive nature and capacity to replace native plant communities, it is still sold and planted as an ornamental.

Bittersweet

 

Looking back (through the trestle at the far end of the Narrows), I pondered the fact that on this shrinking planet (relative…not literal) we are realizing that no ocean is wide enough in these days of intercontinental travel to constrain a species to its place of origin. Just as the railroad carried people, seeds, and diseases across North America a century ago, planes and ships ply the oceans and airways incessantly. Will we eventually journey through space introducing Nature and human nature, elements good and not-so-good, interplanetary and intergalactically? I have heard speculations that long-ago space travelers planted the seed of life on Earth, and that all Earth life derived from that spawn. I don’t know about that. However, I do know that all life on planet Earth is precious, and that our one Earth, alone in the vast darkness of space, sustains us. We have a life and death obligation to practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

 

The view back through the trestle symbolizes 250 years of European westward expansion and settlement, as well as 13,000 years of American Indian occupation. For me, the three-mile (each way) out-and-back hike retraced my own 70-year life-journey that began downstream where Wills Creek emptied into the Potomac River. I thought, too, about how Nature is rewilding an abandoned railroad right-of-way…a linear wound…through this gorge steeped with history. I contemplated how Nature seems oblivious to whether she naturalizes and re-wilds with native plants or invasive species.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature, in time, heals all wounds.
  • We all gauge beauty through our own filters, whether conscious of them or not.
  • The older I grow, the deeper my appreciation for Nature’s simplest of marvels.

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 BooksNarrows

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cumberland, Maryland: My Hometown…at the Intersection of Human and Natural History

Rugged Central Appalachians

 

The second week of September 2021, I returned to my hometown of Cumberland, Maryland, nestled along the Potomac River in the central Appalachians. I left Cumberland for my junior year of forestry undergraduate studies out of state in 1971. Over the course of 13 career-related interstate moves, family visits brought us back to western Maryland an average of twice annually. We missed those ancient Appalachians. Each time we entered the familiar landscape we felt the homing beacon, like a tractor beam, drawing us closer with a felt sense of urgency. Such was the case in September, when I managed, like I always did, to seek some visceral comfort in local wildness. Here’s a November 2019 Potomac River vista from a Green Ridge State Forest overlook just 30 miles downstream from Cumberland.

C&O Canal

 

These rugged old mountains, long since eroded from their alpine, high elevation youth, nevertheless proved to be a formidable obstacle to the teeming coastal plain and piedmont residents eager to exploit and settle the fertile lands of the Ohio frontier and beyond. The Potomac River valley provided a corridor for reaching Cumberland, which served as a launching platform for ascending and crossing over the Allegheny Front. Thick forests blanketed the hills, providing abundant sawtimber, fenceposts, fuelwood, and charcoal. The inhabitants aggressively harvested, milled, and sometimes cleared the forests for field and pasture. Today the hills are once again heavily forested with naturally regenerated second growth (below left, a 90-year-old second-growth forest in the Tionesta Natural Area on the Allegheny Plateau in Pennsylvania). Photo below right from New Germany State Park (September 2021), located 20 miles west of Cumberland.

Tionesta

US Forest Service file photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Gap State Park (below left) is a high-end resort (hotel and casino) and wildland recreation destination just ten miles east of Cumberland. Evitts Mountain (beyond the lake) offers a pleasant view to the west (below right) from its 2,200-foot summit at the MD/PA line (both photos from a September 2020 hike).

Rocky Gap

 

 

 

 

 

Geography funneled population through the Potomac River valley, concentrating mid-eighteenth-century development at the base of the Allegheny Front in Cumberland. Nature and natural resources shaped the settlement, prompted its industrial development, and now defines the area and much of the current recreation-based economy.

A Foothold at the Base of the Allegheny Front

The city and surrounding area tell a rich 270-year story at the intersection of human and natural history. The text below is posted on an interpretive sign near the preserved railroad station downtown.

 

The city itself, an industrial hub when I grew up in the 1950s, is today a tourist destination. The once terribly polluted Potomac is now fishable and swimmable. The air is clean, absent smoke from multiple now-dormant coal-fired factories. Colonel Washington ventured west into the area multiple times. These were God-fearing people, who built consequential frontier churches that stand proudly yet.

 

The rolling hills, populated with steeples, welcome visitors.

 

Our visit coincided with Annual Heritage days.

Heritage Days

 

Cumberland’s interpretive signs tell its story well.

 

The Potomac River flows on from Cumberland (view upstream below left — see the steeples!). Downstream (below right) the river separates West Virginia (right bank) from Maryland, where I’m taking the photo.

 

Cumberland is the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. See my previous Post on reading the landscape along the canal: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/20/a-taste-of-mid-september-nature-at-the-co-canal-national-historic-park/. And another Post describing the Nature of the Canal’s Paw Paw Tunnel and vicinity just 30 miles downstream of Cumberland: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/23/at-the-nexus-of-human-and-natural-history-paw-paw-tunnel/. The heavy wooden canal boats plied the 184.5 miles from Georgetown (Washington DC) until bankruptcy and the tremendous Potomac River flooding of 1924 forced the locks to close forever. Nature provided the flooding. Competition from the railroad furnished the other facet of the double whammy.

 

My maternal grandfather, a WWI combat veteran, drove trains from his base here at the Cumberland station. This rehabilitated steam engine makes tourist runs occasionally west, up the long grade to Frostburg, Maryland. Fall leaf season is particularly active.

 

 

 

 

 

In combination, the railroad, canal, and National Highway brought people and commerce, and their westward itch to Cumberland. The road and railroad carried them beyond the Cumberland highland-launching platform.

Reaching for the Fertile Frontier Beyond

 

Fertile lands to the west beckoned, including these lush fields in eastern Ohio. The frontier and the promise of riches and a new life stretched nearly without end to the Mississippi River and beyond.

 

Crossing the Allegheny Front: Through the Narrows

 

The Allegheny Front presented challenges. Wills (north side) and Haystack Mountains (in combination, the Wills Mountain anticline) rise immediately to the west of Cumberland, 1,000 feet above the Potomac River. Nature helped in facilitating the crossing of these ridges. Cumberland, as the interpretive sign above states, is situated at the confluence of Wills Creek and the Potomac. Wills Creek passes through a water gap separating Wills and Haystack. The creek did not cut through the 1,000′ barrier. Instead, mountain building lifted the terrain through the creek, which cut and eroded through the rising land.

The photo point below left is at the Narrows rimrock on Wills Mountain, 1,000 feet above Wills Creek, flowing from right to left. The aerial view below right shows the exposed rimrock photo point (opposite side of view). Cumberland sits to the right. The Western Maryland and B&O Railroad lines bordered the creek and the National Road.

Alt US 40 Cumberland Narrows.jpg

Both images from available online sources

From the abandoned WM bed on the Haystack side, I snapped this view upstream into the Narrows showing the creek (at this end modified for flood control), the concrete National Road bridge, and a train approaching on the still very active B&O side.

 

The Narrows is a remarkable natural geologic feature, another element of the array of attractions bringing tourists to Cumberland.

 

The old WM line is now the Great Allegheny Passage Rails to Trail (https://gaptrail.org/) connecting Cumberland to downtown Pittsburgh. I’ve biked it from Pittsburgh to Cumberland; I can attest to the website’s description:

Starting in Cumberland, MD and ending in downtown Pittsburgh, the Great Allegheny Passage is a spectacular 150-mile nonmotorized path that soars over valleys, snakes around mountains, and skirts alongside the Casselman River, Youghiogheny River, and Monongahela River on a nearly-level, crushed-limestone surface. Tracing old footpaths and railroad corridors through the wilderness, it offers glimpses into the country’s westward expansion and industrial might. When paired with the connecting C&O Canal Towpath, it makes long-distance trail travel possible between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

I’ve also biked the connecting C&O Canal’s 184.5 miles to Georgetown. Ironic, I suppose, that the very severe terrain that stalled western expansion instigated magnificent road, canal, and railroad engineering and construction that now serve as a recreational attraction. A compelling story is written indelibly at the intersection of human and natural history, now preserved in a manner that will intrigue and captivate generation after generation!

 

I walked six miles that recent September afternoon. The view below is looking downstream along the GAP Trail into the Narrows toward Cumberland. Such views echo my own life stories from the Cumberland area and trigger deep and pleasant nostalgia. I thought of my grandad piloting his train through the Narrows. Of Dad driving our 1959 Plymouth through the Narrows heading for a Sunday picnic. Of the many times returning to Cumberland and walking or biking this very trail. Of the Narrows telling the tales of Native trade routes, European settlement and conflict, floods and torrents, and a few hundred million years of mountain building and erosion.

 

I turned around at this steel trestle that crosses Braddock Run, which empties into Wills Creek here at the upper end of the Narrows. On the left, only 147 miles to Pittsburgh; on the right, my three-mile return through the Narrows to Cumberland.

 

I mentioned the National Road — again, I welcome and relish the signage.

 

Watch for a subsequent Great Blue Heron Post on the Nature of the Narrows developed from this same trek.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Compelling stories are written indelibly at the intersection of human and natural history.
  • My journeys into the Nature of my younger days trigger deep and pleasant nostalgia.
  • I have a profound passion for Place and Everyday 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: “©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 Books

 

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.

 

An Eleven-mile Bucket List Hike to the Sipsey Big Tree

October 30, 2021, friends and I hiked an eleven-mile circuit to see The Big Tree (State Champion Yellow Poplar) in Alabama’s Bankhead National Forest’s Sipsey Wilderness. I offer reflections on the rough and bouldered terrain, torturous blowdowns, and the majesty of the Big Tree. I reflect upon the hike with threads of bittersweet nostalgia and melancholy.

Allow me to begin at the end. We rushed along the streamside riparian forests, within a quarter mile of the trailhead, long after I had abandoned any thought of returning home by dinner time. Note: the three of us accompanying Randy had miles earlier began to refer to him good-naturedly as “Quarter-Mile Randy.” No matter what landmark, trail juncture, or notable feature we approached, Randy assured us that it lay “just a quarter-mile” ahead! The official sunset that evening occurred at 6:41 PM; the orb sunk beneath the tree canopy and then the hills through which the creek flowed well before then. Randy led us below left as light waned. We had just a few minutes earlier circumvented the last of the impenetrable blowdowns (Randy skirting it below right). His muddy backside evidenced the slipping and sliding we had done throughout the day. We reached our vehicles as darkness enveloped us, a good seven-tenths of a mile from where Randy had told us just a quarter mile to go!

Big Tree

Big Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt elation at reaching our vehicles before resorting to our flashlights. I admit also to near-exhaustion from a hike that 30 years ago I would have simply considered a nice effort. We hiked October 30, just eight days before my scheduled full left shoulder replacement. I could neither employ my right arm for trekking pole support nor use that arm to steady myself along slippery, rugged, or steep sections. Upon reflection (as I draft this, I am two-and-a-half weeks post-surgery), I realize that for the first time in my adult life, I felt vulnerable, reaching near (exceeding?) my physical limitations. I believe that the stress of uncertainty in my physical constraints contributed to my exhaustion.

 

Belying my Impressions from Forty Years Ago

A New Understanding and Awakened Eyes

 

I served as Union Camp Corporation’s Alabama Land Manager 1981-85, responsible for 320,000 acres (500 square miles) of company-owned forestland in the state, two-thirds of it lying south of Alabama’s Black Belt, concentrated in a six-county area of south-central Alabama. Primarily coastal plain (piedmont for the acreage north of Montgomery), our lands were modestly hilly to somewhat flat. During those years, I developed an impression of Alabama’s forests and terrain far different from what I’ve experienced since retirement here in northern Alabama’s southern Appalachian Ridge and Valley, Cumberland Plateau, and Highland Rim regions. I’ve learned that these regions are deeply eroded (geologically), steep-sloped, and laced with numerous streams and drainages. I had carried with me since departing UCC for my doctoral studies in 1985 a picture of Alabama forests as gentle lands, typified by the coastal plain and piedmont.

I’ve learned since retiring that such is not the case in north Alabama. I’ve hiked extensively (and written about it in subsequent Posts) from Oak Mountain to Cheaha to DeSoto to Sand and Lookout Mountains to Monte Sano and elsewhere, that these ancient worn-down mountains, highlands, and plateaus can challenge me at this stage of life.

To the Big Tree

We encountered building-size limestone boulders early in our trek to the Big Tree. Pitted by chemical weathering, the boulders are remnant rimrock. We walked among such massive fractured and detached standing stones along most of the day’s journey. The rocks and these valleys and canyons are ancient. They came to us out of eternity…long after the youngest of us who have hiked to the Big Tree is gone, these landscape elements will still be here. Human time is nothing to a limestone boulder, and canyon, or the streams that reside here.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

Nor does the duration of a man’s life mean anything to canyon walls still anchored as basement rock. Cliffs bounded us as we progressed. Occasionally they dipped to streamside. These are not the coastal plain flatwoods of my forest industry days. I passed in muted respect for these sheltered canyons. In addition to vulnerable, I felt small and insignificant. As a former manager of vast acreages and a past university president, the essence and spirit of this wild country humbled me, shrunk me to a speck. At times I wanted to sink into a small stone niche to watch, listen, feel, and retreat from all but a solemn respect and awe for this place of wonder. I thought of John Muir.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

At times I sensed that I did not truly belong here, that I was the interloper.

The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.

Big Tree

 

This was not the stereotypical southern forests I remembered. Although I struggled with the rough topography, 12-year-old Jonathan (Randy’s grandson) moved effortlessly through the canyon. That’s him below right.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

In many places boulders had tumbled to streamside.

Big Tree

 

These two house-sized boulders framed our trailside view of the stream.

Big Tree

 

From Rock Barriers to Blowdown Impediments

I offer this photo as a segue, leading me from a focus on rocks to a complementary obstacle to our passage — blowdowns. The tree below has not fallen, but is leaning, eventually earth-bound, a future blowdown.

Big Tree

 

I know I climbed over, through, and around dozens of blowdowns, some massive-crowned beech, poplars, oaks, and others. I remind readers that trail maintenance within a designated Wilderness can be done only with raw muscle, hand tools, and hard labor. No chainsaws or motorized equipment. Imagine hiking several miles, carrying crosscut saws to remove this 30-inch diameter oak. On each encounter we chose among our alternatives: climb over, crawl under, or bushwhack around it.

Big Tree

 

I’ve observed often that life and death operate hand in hand in our forests. The old growth forest in the canyon heading up into the Big Tree’s canyon has recently (within the past 2-4 years) suffered a great deal of blowdown. Stasis does not exist in any living system. Tara is demonstrating quite well the arduous transit from one side of this beech blowdown to another. Now, picture a 70-year-old man with a bum shoulder scrambling (can one scramble in slow motion?) through this obstacle!

Big Tree

 

I regret that I did not capture more images of the frequent, haphazardly placed blowdowns.

 

The Destination

Old growth blowdown obstacles proved nearly impenetrable to my left-shoulder-impeded scrambling. Every time I celebrated a tortured passage, we encountered yet another. Our fearless leader finally said, “Just a quarter-mile to go.” A half-mile later, he said, “I see its top.” I limped into the canyon head, the Big Tree towering above the blind headwall. I sat in awe…resting and eating several granola bars.

As of 2021, the Alabama State Champion Tree Directory shows the Big Tree circumference at 263″ (diameter 6.98′); height at 172′; and crown spread at 102′. The Big Tree’s crown area covers 19,120 square feet, an area of 0.44 acres. Although the national champion yellow poplar scores higher in aggregate, ours certainly ranks among the country’s largest. The national winner, resident of Bedford County Virginia, boasts a 362″ circumference (9.60′ diameter); 139′ height; and 78′ crown spread. Ours is 33 feet taller and its crown spread reaches 24 feet wider. I found nothing on the internet in way of comparison photos. I can’t imagine another yellow poplar that reigns over such a uniquely isolated canyon head as the Big Tree, which singularly owns and commands its three-sided, protected fortress.

Jonathon’s position of recline upon reaching the Big Tree expresses my own feeling.

Big Tree

 

I could attempt to describe my sense of awe and humility standing beside the Big Tree, yet even if given a month, I would fall short of Muir’s words:

Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.

I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.

I stood there knowing that this first visit to this special place would be my last. Although tired and somewhat worried about our return to the vehicles, I tried to absorb the moment. I plan to carry the place with me all the days of my life. Remembering prior travels, I can close my eyes and see again the California coastal redwoods, the Yosemite sequoias, the Pacific rainforest Douglas fir, the deep cove remnant old growth hardwoods of the Great Smoky Mountains, among others. The Big Tree and its isolated canyon have likewise secured their pages in my tree-memory portfolio!

Big Tree

 

Fall colors enrich my memory.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

 

 

 

 

This online file photo from mid-winter more clearly expresses the tree’s full 172′ height.

Stock Photo from Web

 

The canyon alone, even were it absent the Big Tree, is a special niche.

Big Tree

 

Its waterfall suggests a deeper peace, reminds us of the continuing flow of life, and punctuates the land’s declaration that this is the end…and also the beginning. I did not want to leave, yet knew that I must.Big Tree

 

Leaving this sacred place, I wondered whether I would (or could) return. In fact, I was relieved that Randy elected to work our way back to the trailhead via a less harsh, yet longer return. I admittedly felt, for the first time in my life, uncertain whether I could retrace my inbound route with an impaired (and terribly painful) left shoulder, and gimpy knees (osteoarthritis). I felt a deep melancholy, a fear that my life-window for exploring Nature’s magic and mystery was closing. That the universe of new trails to journey was narrowing.

Big Tree

 

As darkness deepened, we exited the trail. I realized soberly that the day will come when I take my final hike…period, as we all must. Countering my brief deep woe when we began the long and uncertain return hike, I felt absolute joy at having visited the Big Tree and returned to my transportation.

Another Muir quote seems apt:

Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.

I am content that on this day I was truly in the world. I write and speak often that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. Such was the case October 30, 2021. Too often, people view a hike as a destination…a passage through the forest. For me, this entire journey served as a destination, each step ventured into and within a forest…not passed through the wildness. I view it through a lens of melancholy…a reminder that I have perhaps passed into a different stage of life…one less daring, gentler, and slowed to a deeper focus on the subtleties instead of the adventurous. I chalk this hike up as the last of a different kind of forest journey. From this day forward, I will change gears, reduce my expectations, and enjoy Nature at a different pace and a lower level of difficulty.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature rewards most handsomely when we hike into and within the forest, rather than through it.
  • Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike. John Muir.
  • Special places reside in our body, mind, heart, 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 BooksBig Tree

 

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.

 

Early October Foray at Monte Sano State park

At the north Alabama intersection of late summer and early fall, October 4, 2021, I hiked the Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails at nearby Monte Sano State Park with my two Alabama grandsons Jack and Sam. We explored the deep-cove cathedral forest with towering yellow poplars, admired some tree form oddities, and examined other non-tree curiosities we discovered along the way.

Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails

 

As morning clouds thinned that damp morning, we stopped at the overlook, standing at 1,600-feet, the boys’ backs to the ENE. We drove from there to the new mountain bike pavilion, trailhead for the Sinks Trail.

Monte Sano

 

We dropped from there to the Wells Memorial Trail, transiting the loop to Keith and connecting back to Sinks. The deep cove forest trail is dedicated to the memory of William Arthur Wells, a former Monte Sano State Park CCC worker who joined the US Navy at the onset of WWII and died at the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. The trail passes through my favorite grove at Monte Sano. I’ve written frequently about this memorial trail: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/10/05/contemplating-a-video-tale-of-the-william-arthur-wells-memorial-trail-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

The boys posed at a cluster of basswood trees that originated from stump sprouts many decades ago.

Monte Sano

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

Always on the lookout for tree form oddities and curiosities, we discovered this critter peering at us from around a black oak. Although we had visited the grove many times, this was the creature’s first appearance! A turtle? Dragon? Kin of ET? The woods present mysteries aplenty to those willing to lighten up, who invite their keen imagination to accompany them. I seldom leave home without mine. I know a little mirth enriches the learning experience…keeps the young at heart entertained, sparks their curiosity, and rewards their explorations. The scientist within me recognizes that the protuberant growth is an old broken branch stub morphed by callous tissue overgrowing (somewhat out of control) the old wound. How dull it would be to have left my imagination at home, or worse yet, to have abandoned it in my youth.

 

Sam ventured hesitantly close to this gnarled red oak, enchanted (and not just a little unnerved) by the tree’s emergence from The Hobbit or Sleepy Hollow! Long ago injured and infected with decay fungi, this massively-burled oak is simply striving to stay vertical as its heartwood rots, maintaining life and producing acorns to continue its lineage with future generations that may escape early-life injury, and grow unimpaired and without what we foresters consider commercial defect and disfigurement.

Allow me to paraphrase a relevant John Muir quote:

God never made an ugly tree (Muir said ‘landscape’). All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not far away we spotted a five-foot-diameter circumferential white oak burl 20 feet above ground. I view such burls as akin to a benign cancer triggered by bacterial, viral, fungal, or some combination of agents introduced decades ago via injury, perhaps as casual a wound as a woodpecker searching for grubs.

Monte Sano

 

I pondered aloud with the boys how many hikers and bikers pass within sight of these curiosities without notice. What else do they miss? All manner of woods magic lies hidden in plain sight.

Monte Sano

 

I wondered whether J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis saw magic in forests and places they visited, stimulating the enchantment of their writing. I am convinced that imaginative minds see the wonder in plain sight. What I see does not create the fantasy so much as what I imagine allows me to see the wizardry that is in plain sight.

Again, John Muir:

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

Non-Tree Features

 

We stumbled upon what is my lifetime favorite type of fern, the maidenhair. I offer several reasons why it is special to me. It is not common here, nor have I found it in abundance wherever we’ve lived. Maidenhair, although hardy, appears delicate, with its very small and lace-like fronds. Its fan-shaped leaves typically clustered on wiry black stems add another distinct characteristic. And I like clump-style ferns.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

Having risen to the level of accomplished novice aficionado (a triple oxymoron?) of wild edible mushrooms, even when I am not foraging, I delight in seeing species I know are edible, including honey (left) and oyster.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Sam spotted this angle-winged katydid. He paused as we hiked, pointing to his left. Jack and I looked some distance trailside, thinking he was directing our attention at a tree well off the path. Instead, he corrected us, the katydid perched just three inches from his finger. I complimented his observation skills, applauded his interest, and identified the insect with iNaturalist. I can think of few things more rewarding to Pap than seeing the boys express interest in and pay attention to Nature.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods:

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.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

We discover more than we anticipate every time we enter the forest. John Muir said it well:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable (Richard Louv).
  • I can think of few things more rewarding than seeing my grandchildren express interest in and pay attention to Nature.
  • The power of imagination makes us infinite (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: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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

 

 

 

Maryland’s New Germany State Park — Returning after 51 Years

During my freshman/sophomore and sophomore/junior undergraduate summers I worked for the State of Maryland Forest Service performing forest inventory on the Savage River State Forest. Forest Supervisor Warren Groves had arranged housing in a still-functional CCC-constructed cabin at New Germany State Park, a stunning recreation setting surrounded by the State Forest. The Forest’s 55,000 acres reside in Garrett County, at Maryland’s western tip. New Germany stands at 2,500 feet elevation atop the Allegany divide separating the Chesapeake Bay watershed to the east from the Ohio/Mississippi basin to the west. I spent those two inventory summers in forestry student heaven, learning as much under Warren’s applied-science tutelage as I did in those first four semesters in classrooms and labs.

September 9, 2021, I hiked once again in the park, investing a glorious afternoon in woods I had not entered in 51 years. Take a nostalgic virtual hike with me via my photographs and reflections.

Mill and Lake

My hometown of Cumberland, MD lies one county to the east (Allegany) at 700 feet elevation along the Potomac River. I embraced those summers in the noticeably cooler climate afforded by the 1,800 feet vertical difference. My return trip gifted me with the incredibly clear and comforting afternoon (below right). The Swauger mill is long since gone. The interpretive sign and the footer outline of its foundation (just as it was in 1970) remain.

 

New Germany Lake now seems much smaller, although I am sure it is not, one-half century since those great summers of forestry indoctrination and learning. Funny how time and experience alter scale.

 

 

 

I normally leap right into Nature with these Posts, yet I could not resist the special nostalgic look back, nor could I ignore the intersection of human and natural history that defines the Park. The view below looks north (upstream) to the dam.

 

Atop the dam (below left), the bridge crosses the spillway. View is east to the Martin House, where in 1970 the superintendent resided (my recollection). From the east end of the foot bridge, the recreation hall sits to the west of the spillway. The recreation building may or may not have been part of long-range planning in 1970.

 

The physical facility in its current manifestation is impressive, having changed a great deal since those long-ago summers.

The Forest

Like virtually every acre of Maryland forestland (or for that matter, the vast majority of eastern US forestland), the Park’s forests are heavily influenced by European settlement and attempted domestication. I emphasize attempted…so much of the more rugged land, long since abandoned, has re-wilded, erasing the scars of intense human activity (including careless agriculture on vulnerable, erosion-prone sites) and today appearing to most people as wilderness. I recall several features of Savage River State Forest within which the Park is located:

  • Eighty-six square miles of State Forest wildness then seemed large beyond my comprehension.
  • Occasionally our forest inventory transects crossed old, barbed wire fences and remnants of stone walls, suggesting past agriculture on the more gently rolling lands.
  • We frequently passed through white, red, and Scotch pine and Norway spruce plantations established by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s or during the USDA Soil Bank program of the 1950s. Both programs planted trees on old worn-out farmland.
  • Daily, it seems, we observed old American chestnut stumps from salvage logging when the blight, introduced to America from Asia in 1904, raced across the central Appalachians, devastating forests dominated by chestnut.

What is now the dam site and Park core, Broadwater’s farm along Swauger Mill Lake, looked like many other farmsteads in the 1930s. Served by the Village of New Germany Post Office (1883), the farmscape shows rolling pasture, fenceline trees, and on the distant hilltop, a woodlot that evidences frequent cutting for fenceposts, firewood, and other products.

Photo from the New Germany Past and Present self-guided walking tour pamphlet.

Try to imagine the imminent transformation that this then-marginal farmland was about to undergo. From the same pamphlet:

One of the nation’s CCC camps was located in the area that is now New Germany State Park. In the spring of 1933, approximately 125 “CCC boys” arrived at the camp, ready for work. For the first year, the “boys” lived in army tents, while they worked constructing the barracks, mess hall, and other buildings for the camp… Once they finished building the camp, the “boys” went to work on a number of projects at New Germany and the surrounding area.

Among many other projects, they swarmed the immediate adjacent fields planting the conifers I observed scattered across the State Forest. They likely planted the white pine below.

 

Swauger Creek flows from the mill dam through the hemlock forest. I walked southwest on Turnpike Trail, remembering creekside hemlocks much larger than those standing before me. However, that cannot be. The trees today were there 51 years ago and, because I know they have consistently added annual growth rings, they are actually larger now. I wondered whether my then inflated sense of the magic of this special place, within the context of a dream-summer forestry experience, had etched a memory of greater scope and scale than the real stand along the creek in 1970-71. My own now-matured and deeply experienced forest-assessment knowledge and skills are better honed and less influenced by perceived associated aura (the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing, or place). Regardless, the deep shade, the handsome rhododendrons, and the gurgling stream lifted me back to those halcyon days of focused learning, new adventure, and the thrill of becoming a young adult.

 

I thought of an apt Leonardo da Vinci quote: In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so, with present time. The creek itself had not changed, yet I had traveled 51 years, and here I stood again. Fifty-one years hence the stream will still appear unchanged. My journey will have ended, and yet the stream flows seaward, endlessly. Even the forest will ebb and flow, some trees dying, others replacing them, yet the forest will sustain.

 

Downstream of where I turned to the right toward Hemlock Trail, I spotted a trail bridge crossing Swauger Creek, yet another element of the Park’s charm.

 

Hemlock Trail is aptly named, the trail passing through an unusual upland hemlock stand (below left). Black cherry (my trekking pole leaning against it below right) also occasionally shared the main canopy with the hemlock.

 

Because nothing in Nature is static or permanent, individual trees are dying. The standing well-decayed snag below left, and the taller dead spar below right are now bird, mammal, and insect hotels, staying erect until the decay fungi reduce the structural integrity beyond a threshold, when they will crash or slump to the forest floor.

 

Below left a cluster of windthrown trees create a crown opening sufficient to allow sunlight to reach the ground, stimulating a thicket of birch regeneration. Below right a more recent windthrow opening will spark another patch of reproduction. Over time, the forest will shift to a mosaic of small stands.

 

Spiritual Reflections

I enjoy reading the forested landscape. Every tree and every parcel tells its tale. I am slowly learning the language of interpreting the story. Some elements of the tale are strictly biological science and physics. Other facets are more spiritual. I subscribe to Father Richard Rohr’s Daily online Mediation: From the Center for Action and Contemplation. I appreciate his view of our spiritual relationship to Nature. He often offers words that express what am I feeling more cogently than I could muster. The text below is from Week Forty-One (10/12/21): Contemplating Creation; Sensing Nature:

Fr. Richard explores how a creation-centered spirituality offers a natural openness to the type of sensing that comes from contemplation:

Creation spirituality reveals our human arrogance, and maybe that’s why we are afraid of it. Maybe that’s why we’re afraid to believe that God has spoken to us primarily in what is. Francis of Assisi was basically a hermit. He lived in the middle of nature. And if we want nature to come to life for us, we have to live in the middle of it for a while. When we get away from the voices of human beings, then we really start hearing the voices of animals and trees. They start talking to us, as it were. And we start talking back. Foundational faith, I would call it, the grounding for personal and biblical faith.

I have been blessed to spend several Lents living as a hermit in nature. When we get rid of our watches and all the usual reference points, it is amazing how real and compelling light and darkness become. It’s amazing how real animals become. And it’s amazing how much we notice about what’s happening in a tree each day. It’s almost as if we weren’t seeing it all before, and we wonder if we have ever seen at all. I don’t think that Western civilization realizes what a high price we pay for separating ourselves from the natural world. One of the prices is certainly a lack of a sort of natural contemplation, a natural seeing. My times in the hermitage re-situated me in God’s universe, in God’s providence and plan. I had a feeling of being realigned with what is. I belonged and was thereby saved! Think about it.

So, creation spirituality is, first of all, the natural spirituality of people who have learned how to see. I am beginning to think that much of institutional religion is rather useless if it is not grounded in natural seeing and nature religion.

We probably don’t communicate with something unless we have already experienced its communications to us. I know by the third week I was talking to lizards on my porch at the hermitage, and I have no doubt that somehow some communion was happening. I don’t know how to explain it beyond that. I was reattached, and they were reattached.

When we are at peace, when we are not fighting it, when we are not fixing and controlling this world, when we are not filled with anger, all we can do is start loving and forgiving. Nothing else makes sense when we are alone with God. All we can do is let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need. It is in that free space, I think, that realignment happens. Francis lived out of such realignment. And I think it is the realignment that he announced to the world in the form of worship and adoration.

I found little to no time during my professional career for such realignment. Even now in retirement I am only just beginning to do so with purpose and focus. I still spend too little time simply sitting, observing, and contemplating in sylvan settings. I resolve to try harder. I want to achieve the state Father Rohr sought, repeating from above:

Nothing else makes sense when we are alone with God. All we can do is let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need. It is in that free space, I think, that realignment happens.

 

A Postscript of Sorts

Just as we all enjoy seeing an old friend who surprises us when we least expect him, I encountered an old forest friend that I had not anticipated, striped maple, ubiquitous across Savage River State Forest. From a USDA Forest Service online publication:

Acer pensylvanicum, also called moosewood, is a small tree or large shrub identified by its conspicuous vertical white stripes on greenish-brown bark. It grows best on shaded, cool northern slopes of upland valleys where it is common on well drained sandy loams in small forest openings or as an understory tree in mixed hardwoods. This very slow growing maple may live to be 100 and is probably most important as a browse plant for wildlife, although the tree is sometimes planted as an ornamental in heavily shaded areas.

The included range map does not show striped maple in Alabama. I don’t recall seeing the species even here in northern Alabama. So, I was glad to see my old friend at New Germany State Park.

 

Likewise, I reveled in seeing wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), a species not extending into Alabama. Another species of the genus occurs in our state. So, another long-forgotten friend in western Maryland!

 

 

 

 

 

My third book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (co-authored with Jennifer Wilhoit), dives deeply into how and why making such reacquaintances stirs my soul. Nature reaches me through all five portals: mind, body, heart, soul, and spirit.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Borrowing from Father Richard Rohr, alone in Nature, “All we can do is let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need.”
  • I feel deep passion for special places in Nature, whether recent acquaintances or revisiting 51 years later.
  • 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 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 Books

 

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.