Evitts Creek Three Ponds

I admit to a decades-long Nature-love-affair with West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness and Wyoming’s Teton Mountains, among other sweet spots. Although not rising to love-affair status, my relationship to a handful of other places rates as lifelong friendships. I recall fishing with Dad at Evitts Creek Ponds at pre-school age some 65 years ago. I revisited the ponds May 24, 2021, stirring a few vivid memories and forcing me to discern changes from long ago. Spring 1970 my Systematic Botany lab traveled several times to the ponds in search of spring ephemerals as the season progressed from winter dormancy to a succession of species flowering before the mid-May semester close.

Three Ponds

 

My History with the Three Ponds

I left western Maryland to complete undergraduate studies out of state in late summer 1971, returning occasionally over the years to visit family and friends. When visits overlapped with spring wildflower season I would visit the three ponds. I believe that my May 2021 hike followed a two decade absence from the property. Once I entered the higher education senior administrative ranks (president at four different universities), I drifted professionally from my natural resources roots. Retirement has blessedly returned me to my passion-zone for Nature-Inspired Life and Living, releasing me from the distraction of business back at the respective university. I am now free of that burden. I can savor and relish total immersion in whatever natural area I visit, hence my celebration at returning to the three ponds, even with persistent rain that morning.

I’ll guide you across the diverse sites and soils I traversed to illustrate why professor Glenn O. Workman (Doc) brought his students here. We’ll begin with the location, oriented NE to SW along the left bank of Evitts Creek (Google Map aerial view): https://www.google.com/maps/@39.662306,-78.717083,663m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en-US

I’ve been unable to ferret the story explaining what prompted this DNR/Soil Conservation Project prior to the days of my youth. The mowed berm of the ponds (below left; view from the first pond to the SW) strikes me as little changed from my earliest fishing visits. I recall fishing along the hillside shoreline (below right), which I remember having far less forest and brush cover.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Below left is the view to the NE from the second pond. I do not remember the creekside border of trees (center left of that view). The 18-inch-long snapping turtle (below right) cruised along the surface of the third pond. I did not capture a clear image of the several hefty largemouth bass I saw as I hiked past the ponds.

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fields and pond margins provided conditions for early spring meadow habitat flowers, all distinct from what Doc knew we would find blooming within the forests.

The Forest

A small stream (likely seasonal) entered the southwest corner of the third pond. This leaning sycamore stands just 40 feet from its channel on rich alluvial soil. The sylvan hollow adjacent to the drainage area, with high overhead canopy and deep shade likewise harbored its own set of spring ephemerals for our course lab visits, to include trilliums, trout lily, bluebells, and other species common to moist, rich, and sheltered sites. Speaking of shelter, I made it on my exit from the woods to the tree’s protective overhanging trunk (below right) just as a heavy shower arrived. I enjoyed the rain-show there for 10-15 minutes.

Three Ponds

 

A 24-inch diameter white oak with its mossy trunk stood in a draw (see the leafy debris to its left from a recent freshet) entering the small stream from the east. The perspective below right of the same tree illustrates the slope lifting away convexly (from right to left) to the north. The slope therefore faces to the south (a south aspect), a hotter and drier slope position, less favorable to tree growth, particularly on the shaley soils here in Allegany County.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

I followed the slope to the ridge top running east/west south of the ponds. I came across a hickory tree (below left) eager to point the way to a destination undisclosed to us human travelers. An Indian Marker Tree — no. Perhaps it is a tree-spirit marker tree? I like that mystical (and mythical) suggestion. Nearby, the chestnut oak (below right), just 10-12 inches in  diameter, has the most deeply furrowed bark I have ever seen. Like some small dogs I have met, this tree’s bark stands out from its peers! These two trees are certainly unique…but why? Why is a hickory pointing to the right on my Blog Post page? Why does this chestnut oak have such a deeply furrowed brow? I can only surmise. Rather than I surmising for you, I suggest that you put your own imagination to work. I say often that every parcel of land…every tree…has a story to tell. What is your story for these two forest denizens?

Three Ponds

 

Traipsing up the convex south-facing slope, I saw clear evidence of its xeric nature. Stocking (the density of trees per acres) declined; heights shortened; species composition shifted to predominantly white and chestnut oaks;  mosses and lichens increasingly covered the forest floor.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Lichens and mosses flourished in cushiony mounds.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Lowbush blueberry and rattlesnake weed likewise are quite content on these excessively well-drained, inherently low fertility upper west- and south-facing slopes.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Yet, even these relatively poor sites evidence the continuing cycle of life and death. The wood ear mushrooms (below left) are the fruiting bodies of the fungi consuming the dead branch lying on the forest floor. I have since found enough wood ear mushrooms here in Alabama to attest to their culinary attributes. Wood peckers are foraging for beetle larvae on the downed Virginia pine stem below right.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Among the prior autumn’s leaf litter, the flowers of an oak root parasite (AKA cancer root, bear corn, squaw root) are sprouting.

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

As I said earlier in the Post, as a youngster I would walk along and fish from the shear far-side of the ponds. I stayed on the Evitts Creek side on this visit for two reasons. I believe that the brush and tree growth is more of a thicket than it was then. Secondly, I am far less sure-footed and nimble now! I am not in the mood to tumble into the drink!

Three Ponds

 

I owe much of my thirst for Nature-knowledge to Doc Workman, who remains my hero and career-long mentor. We have stayed close over the fifty-plus years since that systematic botany course. A few years ago Judy and I helped endow a named Allegany College of Maryland forestry scholarship in his honor. I urge readers to consider contributing to the endowed fund.

Charitable donations can be made to the Dr. Glenn O. Workman, Jr. Scholarship with checks made payable to the Allegany College of Maryland Foundation and mailed to the following address:

      Allegany College of Maryland Foundation, Inc.

      12401 Willowbrook Road, SE

      Cumberland, MD  21502

I have occasionally used this axiom over my career: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Doc cared…and that made all the difference in the world…for me and for those I’ve touched over my own career! Help me carry Doc’s legacy forward through the annual scholarship.

 

I view Doc through both the lens of an 18-year-old forestry freshman and the eyes of a former president of four universities. Life has been kind to me by placing me with mentors who mattered…and who cared.

 

See my November 2017 Post paying tribute to Doc: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2017/11/28/sowing-seeds-tomorrow/

Again, Please consider furthering Doc’s legacy. I now see a man in his low 90s, yet, I will always remember and salute the 40-year-old dynamo who provided wind beneath my wings.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We all are time travelers; I’ve covered six and one-half decades since my first visit to this place of deep Nature-memories.
  • I relish stirring fond ancient recollections in places of long ago familiarity. 
  • Perhaps my words and photos will inspire others to visit and reflect upon such places. 

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 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.

 

 

DeSoto State Park Addition Upstream of DeSoto Falls

July 15, 2021, in conjunction with the quarterly Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting, I attended the official on-site announcement of an additional 157 acres to Desoto State Park. The tract lies just upstream of DeSoto Falls on the port (left) side of the West Fork of the Little River. This view looks across the river from the ceremony site. The addition lies upstream (to our left) on that opposite side of the river.

DeSoto

 

Relative to the 48,000 acres of existing State Parks, 157 acres may sound meager. However, 157 acres (well, 160 acres to be exact) is equivalent to a square block of land with one-half-mile sides! We have all heard references to the back forty… the addition is just shy of four back forties! I’ve published several of these Great Blue Heron Posts highlighting a particular 40-acre parcel donated a few years ago to Monte Sano State Park. Here’s one that exemplifies how significant even a single forty can be: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

DeSoto State Park covered 3,502 acres, now 3,659! That’s a 4.5 percent increase, which also seems a bit unimpressive. However, it adds more than 1,000 feet of river frontage, an addition that is aesthetically, environmentally, and recreationally quite significant! That’s how Conservation Department Commissioner Chris Blankenship described the addition at the lectern (below left) and in responding to media (below right).

 

DeSoto

DeSoto

 

 

 

 

 

The early afternoon weekday ceremony attracted an appreciative audience (below left in shorts), including Randy Owen (below right), lead singer for the internationally known country group Alabama, home-based in nearby Fort Payne.

 

 

Another view from the site validates my wonder and appreciation for the West Fork of the Little River, tranquil here just a few hundred feet from where it drops 104 feet over the falls. Absolute peace and tranquility beneath a cerulean firmament.

DeSoto

 

That peace and tranquility drifts serenely away over the next couple of hundred feet (below left)…until the drifting accelerates, tumbles, foams, and drops (below right).

DeSotoDeSoto

 

The sky doesn’t notice, hanging royally over both the languid and the tempestuous. The river carried a good mid-July flow owing to ample July rains.

DeSoto

 

However, the falls showed a more violent face when I visited April 23, 2019 after extended heavy rains! It roared its appreciation for downpours, water volume, terrain, and gravity. The power of water increases exponentially, in this image orders of magnitude greater than during my July 15 visit. I felt a sense of pleasurable terror, a feeling of my own nothingness in a world where Nature rules.

 

The DeSoto Falls plunge basin (the semi-circular cliffs and deep pool beneath the falls) evidences the power of epic events, forces well above and beyond the still impressive July 15 flow. I recall visiting a creek in New Hampshire where the summer before had brought a real frog-strangler, a nearly stationary thunderstorm that sat in place for hours. The resultant flooding washed out bridges and destroyed buildings creekside. My host, a biology faculty member at the university I served as president, told me with full confidence that this unprecedented flood was attributable to human-induced climate change, a clarion call to action. I stood bankside marveling at the scouring from the prior season’s flood reaching far above the then rather calm water level. I could see clearly that the flash flood was one of note. However, I also noticed that in the stream channel and all along its course, huge, automobile- home-size rounded boulders rested in place awaiting the next major torrent. The evidence suggested to me that the prior year’s flood was nothing new to this stream. Those rocks told a tale…that this stream writes its signature in form of periodic flash floods, events that occur routinely over centuries, even if not within the time horizon of current human inhabitants.

DeSoto

 

Nature is docile by and large, even as she can be wildly variable. I have lived twice near Syracuse, New York, for which 11-13,000 years ago its current footprint lay under a mile-thick continental ice sheet. The climate warmed; the ice melted; the land is still rebounding (isostatic rebound) from the crust-depressing weight of the ice sheet. Whether the terrain-shaping event is periodic continental glaciation (separated by tens of millennia) or epic flash flooding every few score years, the landscape signature owes to the anomalies and not to the docile flow of the West Fork July 15. Unless we can read Nature’s language we might erroneously attribute each and every storm, drought, cold spell, heat wave, and perturbation as a direct result of human-induced climate change. From Wikipedia, In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same. I believe Karr’s 170-year-old wisdom applies to climate.

John Muir’s Wisdom Remains Timeless

DeSoto State Park Naturalist Brittany Hughes organized the stair-riser mosaic ascending from the falls observation point.

DeSoto

 

The mosaic treats visitors to one of my (and Brittany’s) favorite John Muir quotes  — Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. My wanderings in Nature do just that…heal and give strength to my own body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit. We are blessed in Alabama to have 21 State parks totaling 48,000 acres, with at least one Park easily within reach of every Alabama citizen, from Gulf Coast, to Appalachian Mountains, to the Tennessee River. Among those Parks, DeSoto is special, according to the Alabama Tourism Department, the fifth most visited Park and Natural Destination in Alabama (May 2021 Report):

  1. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
  2. Little River Canyon National Preserve
  3. Oak Mountain State Park
  4.  Wind Creek State Park
  5. DeSoto State Park

Note: July 16, 2021, Outdoor Alabama (The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) posted an article about the ceremony: https://www.outdooralabama.com/articles/desoto-state-park-adds-157-acres-adjacent-little-river . I do not know how long the article will be accessible.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We in Alabama are blessed to have a State Park System still evolving and growing.
  • Assuring our collective Future-Nature requires investing now.
  • Exploring nature enriches my life, healing and giving strength to my own body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksDeSoto

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Rocky Gap State Park Lake Habeeb Trail

Visiting with family occasionally takes me back to my central Appalachian hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. While there, regardless of season, I strive to visit one or more of my old Nature-haunts. May 25, 2021 I hiked the Lake Habeeb Trail at Rocky Gap State Park. Here are three prior Blog Posts from my September 2020 Rocky Gap wanderings:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/15/a-tough-hike-and-deep-reward-at-rocky-gap-state-park-in-western-maryland/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/21/september-2020-rocky-gap-state-park-central-appalachian-fall-flowers-ferns-and-fungi/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/10/28/the-intersection-of-human-and-natural-history-a-1766-survey-marker-above-rocky-gap-state-park/

There is something about retracing some of my younger-day outdoor adventures that fills my body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.

Home Sweet Home

 

I begin with the these two photographs from a prior visit. A towering yellow poplar (below left) on the short hike with Alabama grandsons Sam and Jack up to the actual Rocky Gap overlook. I did not retrace that trail during my recent late May journey.

Rocky Gap

 

The 5.3-mile Lake Trail circuited the lake shore at approximately 1,100-feet elevation. Both scenes below view WNW to the nearly 2,200-foot Evitts Mountain. This is the scenery of my youth. I am a child of those ancient mountains…mountains whose spine reaches southwest into Alabama, where I now reside.

 

The memory-echoes from my youth reverberate deep within me when I range into our Alabama Appalachians. And, I literally trembled circuiting Lake Habeeb. Nature, especially home-nature, lifts me into a zone of comfort, peace, and serenity.

Trees

 

Allow me to introduce you to some of my old friends, tree species that welcome my return. They are not foreign to Alabama, yet they are far more common to my home region. Eastern hemlock grows abundantly streamside. I encountered it every time that the trail crossed a drainage way, with or without bridge crossing, along the route.

 

White pine is ubiquitous, along with Virginia and table mountain pines. Below left is an old agricultural field planted to white pine trailside. The close-up (right) is of white pine needles on a sapling growing along the western shoreline.

 

Sites along the circuit ranged from deep, moist, rich soils to shallow, shaley, xeric soils. Variability in site quality and species composition proved to be a constant. Always fascinated by tree form oddities and site variability, I regretted not allowing enough time to stroll more leisurely, to wander more purposely, and gather many more photographs. I could not resist spending a few minutes with this headless black cherry, arms raised high in praise and celebration. Of what I do not know. Black cherry on its favored soils and sites, can be a magnificent, high-quality timber tree, its thick straight trunks reaching well over a hundred feet skyward. This individual stands on a xeric upland among chestnut oak, a species common to these dry, nutritionally impoverished soils. Perhaps this denizen is simply celebrating life. What good does a forest citizen gain from a fat, straight trunk, with veneer quality logs? Is one such life more worthy than the other?

 

 

 

 

 

One need not have a doctoral degree in the relative site quality of soils derived from varying parent material, topography, and micro-climate to discern that this is a poor site, unfit for growing veneer quality black cherry!

 

For every excellent sites there are impoverished areas, often distributed predictably across a single property. The best sites in northern Alabama and in the western Maryland Appalachians are alluvial zones and lower concave east and north facing slopes.

 

Native Shrubs in Flower

 

One of my lifetime favorites, mountain laurel, which ranges abundantly into northern Alabama, greeted me in soon-to-be full flower.

 

Winter berry likewise was entering its peak season. Not as showy as the laurel, winter berry still presented a strong statement along the way.

 

Blackberry competed for attention in forest edge zones receiving full sunlight. Were I to take this hike a couple of weeks later I might want to carry a basket for collecting its ripe fruit.

 

Common hawthorn also demanded floral appreciation. Ironic that such a fragrant and showy flower should grace a tree intent up puncturing those getting close with its long sharp thorns.

 

Even without its flowers, the white mulberry I encountered stopped me mid-step with its glossy oddly-lobed fresh spring leaves.

 

My iNaturalist identified this red-bristly-stemmed vine as wineberry. I’ve always called this invasive woody plant Japanese raspberry. Its red stem and deeply crenulated foliar surface attract attention.

 

Spring Wildflowers

 

I found a few non-woody spring flowers worthy of mention. A favorite of mine, Jack-in-the-pulpit, makes my list, growing as abundantly and reliably in the mid-Atlantic states as here in northern Alabama.

 

 

 

Along marshy edges of Lake Habeeb, yellow iris was a real show-stopper!

 

Every wild place I visit poses a dilemma for me. For example, how can I condense a 5.3-mile hike into a single Blog Post? How do I distill the tremendous variety of plants, sites, vistas, and reflections into a compelling tale? I suppose the answer begins with the photographs I snapped, screened, culled, and ultimately retained. As I select and order them, I draw my own observations, reflections, and sentiments. All of that translates into the text you eventually read.

This final photo is the overarching view, capturing some of my hike and holding within it at a much smaller scale the elements of site, trees, shrubs, and flowers presented above.

 

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The Nature of my youth calls to me, and welcomes me back time and again.
  • The natural places of my younger years touch places deep within me.
  • Perhaps the strong homing is akin to what draws a salmon back to its birth headwaters. 

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 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.

 

 

 

Another Nature Visit to Cumberland, Maryland, My Home Town

Accompany me on a trip of reminiscence to my hometown, where powerful forces shaped the course and curve of my lifelong Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Heart of Cumberland

Although I reside now in north Alabama, at the southern end of my beloved Appalachian Mountains, I return to Cumberland at least once a year. We visited for a couple of days at the end of May 2021. I offer a quick glimpse into the Nature of that visit with this Post, soon to be followed with one each of a rainy morning at Evitts Creek Three Ponds just north of I-68 east of Cumberland and a glorious afternoon hike around Rocky Gap State Park’s Lake Habeeb.

Whenever I return to my hometown I find time to at least stop by the eastern terminus of the C&O Canal, with an up-close view of the heart of The Queen City, the juncture of Wills Creeks and the Potomac, and the deep embrace of our Appalachians.

 

Low stratus obscured all but the lower notch of The Narrows.

 

Likewise, clouds eclipsed most of Knobly Mountain as it stretches deeper into West Virginia. The Potomac is the border between Maryland (left) and West Virginia. I recall as a kid walking from home (on the slight rise to the left) to fish the Potomac a half mile downstream from the photo point, beyond the sweeping curve. The pre-Clean Water Act Potomac harbored no game fish then (only carp, suckers, eels, and mudcats), and carried debris from untreated municipal and industrial effluents, and on summer days wafted foul odors. The river is now fishable and swimable. Who says we are destined for environmental ruin!

 

 

The city’s history links to the river (the canal), the mountains (coal and timber), and the ultimate transportation corridor to the Ohio frontier. The artificially channeled Potomac through Cumberland resulted from engineered flood control levees after the epic and devastating 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood. The 184-mile marker (clearly disrespected by our avian residents) prompts vivid memories of biking from Cumberland to Georgetown some 30 years ago.

 

Bikers continue making the journey along the 184.5-mile National Historical Park. Below left a biker with trailer departs from my point. Another biker with the same group approaches me below right.

 

I found yellow sweetclover (left) and hop trefoil (right) to brighten the cloudy late spring morning.

 

And broad-leafed sweet pea (left) and purple crown vetch (right). All four species are legumes that fix nitrogen and enrich soils.

 

Bladder campion added a special pink and white touch… a delicate beauty.

 

Great wooly mullein stands ready below to launch its 3-5-feet tall flower shaft. The leaves are covered by dense velvety wool.

 

Fort Hill High School

 

My wife (Judy) and I graduated from this very same building in 1969, as did my mother in 1942. The school sits on a hill some 300 feet above the elevation of the Potomac, providing an unobstructed view to the Allegheny Front, the nearly 3,000 foot elevation escarpment just west of Cumberland. I know I spent what my teachers deemed far too many hours gazing westward over the city and into those wonderful ridges beyond. A great place to observe and appreciate Nature, especially the weather, an addiction I embrace yet today.

 

I lettered in cross country at Fort Hill. I mention it not to draw attention to my distance running prowess (I was such a plodder!), but because practice sent me into the rural landscape mosaic of hills, forests, fields, and streams nearby. What a magnificent escape into Nature. Cross country planted a seed for distance running that I carried into my 50s, when knees began to protest.

Allegany Community College

 

I have written often of my belief that there are incidents in life that seem to be coincidences, but instead upon my closer inspection and deliberation amount to correspondence and divine providence. As my love for Nature and the outdoors began to deepen, the local community college opened a brand new campus (below) the fall of 1969 (I graduated high school in June 1969) and initiated a forestry program. The campus sits along Evitts Creek. Cross country training often took me past the soon-to-be campus entrance. When I attended Allegany Community College the campus occupied grassy fields. Over the intervening five decades, mature landscaping and impressive oak trees have grown to occupy the valley floor. Our dendrology labs often took us onto the forested hill on the far side of Evitts Creek (below right and left).

 

I offer this Post not as a detailed ecological examination, but as a short reflection on three cornerstones of my formative years: the Potomac flowing through the Appalachians within walking distance of my home; experiences in secondary education and athletics at a hilltop high school overlooking the ridges and valley that I cherished; and the inauguration of a professional program of study in my forestry passion-field just four miles from my home. Coincidence? No, divine providence has guided my way. Robert Frost told my tale in The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Divine providence presented the pathway that I chose. In fact, better stated, the path chose me.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • The Nature of my youth shaped the seedling and sapling Steve Jones.
  • I attribute so much of what has shaped me to Divine Providence.
  • Fortuity and serendipity have been powerful life forces for me.

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 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.

 

 

 

 

Nature Healing the Scars of Chickamauga National Memorial Park

April 25, 2021, we visited Chickamauga National Military Park (NW Georgia, south of Chattanooga, TN) with our two Alabama grandsons. My purpose with this Post is to reflect upon the tremendous restorative power of Nature. The official National Park Service brochure tells the tale of the three days of terror.

 

Chickamauga

 

War ravaged these Appalachian foothill ridges and valleys in northwest Georgia, just 120 miles from my residence, for three days 158 years ago in September 1863. The clash along Chickamauga Creek engaged 125,000 combatants. Nearly 4,000 men perished; the wounded totaled 24,000. More than 6,000 captured or missing. The opposing armies met during the struggle for control of Chattanooga, a critical transportation hub important to both Union and Confederate forces. Search the web for more information about the battle and the broader War Between the States.

The bloody three-day battle ravaged the land (and opposing armies) in that southern Appalachian foothill country. The setting now is pastoral…mixed open meadow and forest. Aside from battlefield monuments, signage, and cannons, the land looks pristine…untouched. Yet, 158 years ago the site saw the full fury of military might. The rehabilitation over the initial 27 years included cleaning up the mess, salvaging damaged materiel and equipment, and resuming some agricultural practices. Congress designated the site a National Military Park in 1890. Since then, Nature has conducted her own healing and recovery. I mention this only to say time and Nature heal most wounds and insults to the environment.

I will focus on Nature’s healing and offer photos and an ecologist’s reflections on what I saw and felt April 26, 2021 touring Chickamauga National Military Park with Judy, Jack, and Sam. Importantly, I grew up less than 100 miles from Gettysburg, Antietam, and Manassas Battlefields. Like Chickamauga, those famous battlefields are maintained by the National Park Service. And they, too, express Nature’s natural healing from gross abuse.

Today, Chickamauga’s pastoral vistas (left) and deep forest (right) belie the unfathomable violence that swept across the landscape. Acts of heroism, valor, and sacrifice marked the ferocious fighting. Men paid the ultimate price to either defend the South or preserve the union. That battle, the war itself, and the causes leading to succession and ultimate healing are written in history…a history we cannot and should not undo or rewrite. Humanity must learn from the past, and launch into the future. Despite the blemishes, we remain the bright light among nations on Earth, a USA attracting record numbers of wanna-be citizens to our borders. I remind you that today’s flow of humans is one-way. I hear nothing about an exodus from the US. One point of attraction, I suppose, is that while we memorialize all who died in our Civil War, we do so in beautiful Military Park settings. We don’t glorify the brutal war. Instead, we recognize that we can complement healing the nation’s soul by creating magnificent Parks to honor the casualties and help set our nation’s course into the deep future, far beyond this century and a half.

ChickamaugaChickamauga

 

The Wilder Brigade Monument Tower stand at the southern end of the Park. We climbed the 85-feet to gain perspective. Today’s beauty contrasts to the 1863 photographs that show shattered trees, broken and battered materiel, cannon emplacements, and raw earth.

ChickamaugaChickamauga

 

As I viewed the forest from above, I wondered whether any of today’s trees had witnessed the savaging. As I further explored at ground level, I found no trees that stood out as older than 150 years. I pondered, too, whether the cirrus-laced blue of our late April sky was similar to the firmament above the smoke-filled fields and woods of September 1863. How out of character such a peaceful sky would have been.

Chickamauga

 

Perhaps something more in line with the raging fury would have been these two images I snapped from approaching storms last summer here in north Alabama.

Approaching Derecho213 Legendwood

 

Standing atop the tower, I snapped this photo of a loblolly pine at my eye-level…let’s call it a 90-foot tall tree. Loblolly grows fast in our climate. I can’t imagine this individual being much older than 65 years. Perhaps its grandmother absorbed lead and blasts during that long-ago September period.

Chickamauga

 

Sam posed beside a gnarled tree just 30-feet from a deep-woods monument indicating the position of some battle unit. A war-scarred survivor just scraping by for 16 decades? I doubt it. I’ve seen hundreds of such odd tree forms throughout our regional forests. Nature’s treatments of wind, lightning, ice, and toppling neighbors exact a continuing toll. So, nothing to suggest that this tree suffered Civil War injury.

Chickamauga

 

These forests look just like most other second- and third-growth stands I’ve explored, except that the trail (right) leads downhill to two cannon emplacements. I long ago concluded that Nature cares little, if at all, about human influences and imposed disturbances, which Nature matches with her own tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, wildfires, floods, etc. She knows perturbations.

ChickamaugaChickamauga

 

Yes, I know that the battlefield soil still carries the residue of those three days. A Park Ranger told me that they have catalogued untold numbers of mini-balls and metal fragments. Similarly, I’ve walked alluvial fields from Virginia south through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama and found arrowheads, chips from tool-making, and Native American pottery shards aplenty. Whether from hunting and gathering, routine living, or horrendous battles, we humans leave the debris of our living behind. I believe the boys enjoyed our Chickamauga venture, even as they felt the horror of the battle. The interpretive museum and movie told the tale effectively and honestly. History, like Nature, is best understood and appreciated on the ground. Although a replica, the log building representing a home on the site that served as a field hospital, a nexus of where men died in care, field surgeons removed limbs, and terrifying sounds and sights filled the hours.

Chickamauga

 

We can learn from history and Nature only if we accept the facts, parse the lessons, and consider all dimensions from beauty and magic to horror and terror. I’ll close this discussion with the white oak that stands majestically near the log building. To me it symbolizes the restorative and healing powers of Nature. I wonder whether during the dark of night it feels ancient echoes of musket fire, cannons roaring, and explosions.

Chickamauga

 

In some ways, we naturalists and historians share the task of bringing the past to life… so that we might discover and translate lessons for life and living into the future. I have written often that every parcel of forestland has a tale to tell. I strive to read every forested landscape that I enter.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Nature is proficient at healing all wounds, whether human inflicted or natural.
  • Our National Military Parks complement healing the nation’s soul by creating magnificent parklands.
  • Human and natural history intersect in ways that stir the spirit within us.

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 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.

 

The Da Vinci Rule : The Universal Dendritic Pattern in Nature

Nearly all of my Great Blue Heron Blog Posts document with photos and reflections some recent venture I have made into a natural area. This Post encapsulates a general observation I draw from many of my Nature-wanderings, and that I corroborate with a 500-year-old truth revealed by Leonardo da Vinci and known now simply as the da Vinci rule.

Leonardo da Vinci, I am convinced, saw the invisible. Or more accurately, he saw clearly what was hidden in plain sight. I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci, a fine-print 600-page tome on this amazing man who lived five centuries ago. da Vinci expressed what I view as infinite wisdom in the simplest of terms:

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

Isaacson said of da Vinci’s power of observation:

Leonardo’s devotion to firsthand experience went deeper than just being prickly about his lack of received wisdom. It also caused him, at least early on, to minimize the role of theory. A natural observer and experimenter, he was neither wired nor trained to wrestle with abstract concepts. He preferred to induce from experiments rather than deduce from theoretical principles. “My intention is to consult  experience first, and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way,” he wrote. In other words, he would try to look at facts and from them figure out the patterns and natural forces that caused those things to happen. “Although nature begins with the cause and ends with the experience, we must follow the opposite course, namely begin with the experience, and by means of it investigate the cause.”

Universal Dendritic Pattern

Such was the approach he employed in many of his scientific and artistic pursuits:

We saw an example of this pattern-based analysis on the theme sheet, where he made the analogy between a branching tree and the arteries in a human, one that he applied also to rivers and their tributaries. “All the branches of a tree at every stage of its height when put together are equal in thickness to the trunk below them,” he wrote. “All the branches of a river at every stage of its course, if they are of equal rapidity, are equal to the body of the main stream.” This conclusion is still known as “da Vinci’s rule,” and it has proven true in situations where the branches are not very large: the sum of the cross-sectional area of all branches above a branching point is equal to the cross-sectional area of the trunk or the branch immediately below the branching point.

River Systems and Erosion

This stock image from the internet displays the da Vinci rule on an unidentified river delta:

 

Like waterways themselves, erosion of exposed agricultural land follows the same dendritic pattern. This early 1900s stock image of rill erosion depicts a scene far too common across the eastern US from 1850 through the first quarter of the 20th century. The da Vinci Rule provided the pattern by which abused cropland sent feet of topsoil across tens of millions of acres downriver, bringing foreclosure and abandonment to family farms, and helping to ensure the misery of the Great Depression.

 

Human Circulation and Nervous System

Yet another internet stock image confirms the dendritic pattern of the human nervous system. The Britannic website offers this information on dendrites, an element of the nervous system that actually bears the root form of the term dendritic: Besides the axon, neurons have other branches called dendrites that are usually shorter than axons and are unmyelinated. Dendrites are thought to form receiving surfaces for synaptic input from other neurons. My intent with including the technical language is to suggest that the science is exact and that among the scientists concerned with such things the da Vinci Rule is fully incorporated, even if not referenced by name.

 

The same pattern holds true of our circulatory networks, depicted stylistically in this stock image.

 

Trees

We cannot dispute the wisdom of observation in this canopy view from the bottomland hardwood forests of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The da Vinci Rule in action in broad daylight.

Monte Sano

 

And the same for trees at the nearby Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, and for trees I have seen in every domestic and overseas forest I have visited across my 50-years-practice of forestry.

Chapman Mountain Chapman Mountain

 

The same holds true below ground. Witness these stream-bank-exposed roots at Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary.

The online Etymology Dictionary addresses the prefix “dendro”: word-forming element meaning “tree,” from Greek dendron “tree.” Trees, then, serve as the root (pardon the pun) for the dendritic pattern we are addressing.

Leaves

The da Vinci Rule applies broadly to leaf venation across the plant kingdom. Here is evidence on the leaves of rattlesnake weed and alumroot

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

And for the pinnate venation on these autumn pawpaw leaves.

Elk River

 

These Ohio buckeye leaves comply with a da Vinci quote, “Nature never breaks her own laws.”

Chapman Mountain

 

The dendritic venation on the ornamental elephant ears in our landscape beds illustrates the da Vinci Rule, its exquisite design adds an artistic dimension that I am sure would have inspired and intrigued the creator of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

 

I’ve long been a da Vinci fan, finding timeless wisdom in his immutable observations from more than 500 years ago. Time and again, when I think I have made some groundbreaking discovery or revelation, I find that da Vinci, Humboldt, Leopold, Muir, Thoreau, Bartram, Marsh, or some other of the historic Nature-interpretation masters masterfully captured same in language more eloquent than my own.

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

Apparently the da Vince dendritic rule is time-tested by necessity over the eons. There is no better design for carrying out the work of Nature. Too bad that we humans often ignore the simple rules of Nature. Will we awaken before it is too late? Can we as an intelligent species apply Aldo Leopold’s wisdom:

Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching — even when doing the wrong thing is legal.

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

I worry that Homo sapiens may over the long sweep of time amount to little more than a footnote in Earth’s future fossil record. I accept the da Vinci Rule. Perhaps we can also embrace Leopold’s Rule of Earth-Ethical-Behavior.

I developed my Retirement Mission Statement within the spirit of that same Leopold admonition: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from reflecting on the da Vinci Rule:

  • The universal laws of Nature are tested, timeless, and effective.
  • Nature never breaks her own laws.
  • Nothing surpasses the power of carefully observing Nature’s ways. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

 

Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve: The Intersection of Human and Natural History

April 3, 2021 I revisited Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, just east of Huntsville, Alabama (USA). See my November 28, 2019 Great Blue Heron Blog Post for previous reflections: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/28/happy-thanksgiving-chapman-mountain-nature-preserves-terry-big-tree-trail/

And my June 16 Post about the fierce competition for canopy space within the Chapman Mountain forests: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/06/16/spring-visit-to-chapman-mountain-nature-preserve-the-intersection-of-human-and-natural-history/

From the Land Trust of North Alabama website: Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve is a 472 acre property located just to the east of Huntsville on HWY 72. While we have plans for 10 miles of trails, a little over 3 miles are currently open and ready to explore. Like all of our public preserves, Chapman Mountain is open dawn to dusk and access is free. These trails are not just for hiking though. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are also welcome and an 18-hole disc golf course is now open to play.

With this current Post, I offer reflections on the interplay of natural and human history on this, and nearly every forested property in northern Alabama. From an interpretive sign along the Terry Trail:

Along the trail you may notice an assortment of abandoned objects, from rusted metal waste, discarded household and farm items to an old car. We have chosen to leave these reminders of the history of this land, which was previously a working farm. Parts of the Terry Trail follow an old farm access road and the preserve includes remnants of an old homestead and barn. Use your imagination to visualize what this area may have looked like in the past and what it may look like in the future. Nature will continue to slowly change this site until one day these objects and this site’s history will no longer be apparent.

Native Americans occupied (extensive impact) the entire eastern US for at least 12,000 years prior to European settlement. Over the past 200 years, the European newcomers left the mark of their intensive management and settlement. So, picture as recently as 50 years ago a working farm, on-site residents, tilled land, pasture, and woodlots.

Interaction of Human and Natural History

 

Across the parking lot from the trailheads, planted loblolly pine trees shelter the 18-hole disc golf course. The flat land had been tilled until tree planting. The evidence is clear. No understory of ground vegetation and brush. No sub-canopy of hardwood saplings and poles. The stand is pure, even-aged loblolly pine. Some day I will extract an increment core to determine the year of planting (i.e. age).

Chapman Mountain

 

 

Within the current forest this stone wall perhaps served one or more of several purposes:

  • Separated adjoining pastures
  • Divided pasture from cropland or garden
  • Resulted from stacking field stones removed from tilled land or improved pasture

No matter its intended function, the wall will outlast all of us, and in the meantime serve to memorialize the coarse hands and hard labor of those who built the wall. For those of us today who labor at our keyboards, what will be the physical manifestation of our work? I doubt that we will develop calloused fingertips or even a sun-blistered neck!

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

This now-massive American beech germinated from a beech nut that some squirrel, during the active days of the farm, cached among the stacked stones and failed to rediscover and consume. The beech grew for many years before the managed lands on either side of the wall reverted to forest cover. Its neighbors are younger by decades. The beech tree did not grow alone and without company. The huge spiral of dead grapevine grew tall with the beech, and has now reached beyond its terminal age, still weakly vertical and doomed within just a few years to finding home in decay on the forest floor. To every thing there is a season, whether grapevine or beech tree. A dead stem of unidentified hardwood species stands to the right of the beech in this image. I wonder how many Terry Trail hikers notice and appreciate the unique beauty of this trio? I see it as a sculpture, a work of art rich with its own legible historic context and story.

Chapman Mountain

 

Below left the Terry Trail diverges to the left. An old farm access road extends straight from the photo point. Oh, the stories it might tell! I’m reminded of the jungle-covered Mayan cities, almost invisible to casual observers. I wonder were modern humans to disappear from our fine planet today, would the evidence of our existence be as hard to discern 1,300 years hence? Interstate 65 passes just 15 miles west of Huntsville. What could Nature accomplish with that 300-foot wide right of way over 13 centuries of abandonment? How long do asphalt, concrete, and steel persist without ongoing maintenance? How long before mowed shoulders and medium strips revert to deep forest? How long until Central Park consumes all of Manhattan Island? The narrow abandoned dirt road below is already nearly invisible to those who do not speak the language of reading the landscape.

Chapman Mountain

 

 

Marie Bostic, Executive Director of the Trust, tells me that nearly every Land Trust of North Alabama preserve carries a story of at least one on-site still. This side trail leads to a spring head where the old still is rumored to have provided the homestead residents with the vital natural medicine. Distillation has rewarded civilized humans for at least 1,000 years:

The origin of whiskey began over 1000 years ago when distillation made the migration from mainland Europe into Scotland and Ireland via traveling monks. The Scottish and Irish monasteries, lacking the vineyards and grapes of the continent, turned to fermenting grain mash, resulting in the first distillations of modern whisky (Online from Bottleneck Management).

Why should the homesteaders on Chapman Mountain be deprived of the golden elixir?!

Chapman Mountain

 

Trees have been eating barbed wired since the fencing breakthrough first received a patent in 1874. Nail or staple a wire to a living tree…and watch the tree inexorably consume the wire. This fence-eating oak is along an old fence line at the preserve. I frequently find long-abandoned wire fences across northern Alabama, cutting across what many would consider an undisturbed forest.

Chapman Mountain

 

I normally like to see old trash removed from recreational land. However, I applaud the Land Trust for preserving the very real evidence of wildland domestication to tell the story of past land use. Nature is the ultimate healer. She will eventually erase the direct evidence. The old forest access road will meld into the forest. Even the old automobile will rust into oblivion. Only the rock fence will withstand centuries, (perhaps millennia) of weathering.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

I have made reading the forested landscape one of my focal points for my wanderings and then writing these subsequent blog posts. I’ve said often that every tree, every forested parcel, and every landscape has a story to tell. I am intent upon learning more about the language Nature employs to leave her messages. Here I remind you of my five essential verbs.

  1. Believe — I know the story is there; I believe that it is written in the forest.
  2. Look — I cannot walk blindly and distractedly through the forest; I must look intently and deeply. The truth will not leap from the underbrush.
  3. See — I must look deeply enough to see; to see the story Nature tells…and keeps hidden in plain sight.
  4. Feel — I insist upon seeing clearly enough to evoke my own feelings of passion for place and everyday Nature.
  5. Act — My passion needs to be intense enough to spur action: my writing, speaking, and doing what is necessary to promote informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Rarely are our north Alabama forests untrammeled by the hand of man.
  • Today’s forests tell the story of past use, particularly the influence of post-European attempts at domestication.
  • Understanding the forest past adds to my Nature inspiration and appreciation.

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 BooksChapman Mountain

 

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.

 

 

 

Spring Visit to Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve; Fierce Competition in the Forest Canopy

April 3, 2021 I revisited Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve, just east of Huntsville, Alabama. See my November 28, 2019 Great Blue Heron Blog Post for previous reflections: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/28/happy-thanksgiving-chapman-mountain-nature-preserves-terry-big-tree-trail/

From the Land Trust of North Alabama website: Chapman Mountain Nature Preserve is a 472 acre property located just to the east of Huntsville on HWY 72. While we have plans for 10 miles of trails, a little over 3 miles are currently open and ready to explore. Like all of our public preserves, Chapman Mountain is open dawn to dusk and access is free. These trails are not just for hiking though. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are also welcome and an 18-hole disc golf course is now open to play.

With this current Post, I offer reflections on the intense inter-tree competition for sunlight, and the consequences of that fierce struggle within the forest, and pose some observations about the interplay of natural and human history on this…and nearly every…forested property in northern Alabama. I’ll begin by mentioning the forest diversity across the Nature Preserve.

Forest Diversity

 

Evergreen tree species on-site include loblolly pine (below left), eastern red cedar and shortleaf pine (further below). Hardwood forest  (typical stand below right) species include: yellow poplar; black, chestnut, northern red, white, and chinkapin oaks; shagbark and pignut hickories; green ash; black walnut; persimmon; American elm; osage orange; honey locust; red and Ohio buckeyes; and dogwood. The list may not be exhaustive.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

Eastern red cedar is another of our common evergreen species. This individual is one of the very few I saw thriving in the main canopy. The species is a pioneer. Birds disseminate the seeds widely by consuming the fruit and passing the hard inner-seed, scarified by digestive juices, as they forage for insects and seeds in areas disturbed by fire, timber harvesting, or grazing. Cedar often remains in maturing stands like the Chapman Mountain forests, but often as residuals under the topmost canopy.

Chapman Mountain

 

Although situated off-trail, I found this shortleaf pine, with its circumferential bird-peck-agitated bark deformity, reaching high into the hardwood canopy. Note its narrow crown relative to the adjacent hardwoods, especially the wide-spreading white oak at the lower left of the image. I will say more about relative density, a forestry term that indicates the variability of crown space demanded by species. For any given tree base diameter, shortleaf pine expresses a lower relative density than white oak. On identical sites, a fully stocked stand of 12-inch-diameter shortleaf will have more stems per acre than a stand of 12-inch white oak.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

Battle for Canopy Space

The relative density discussion around the shortleaf pine above sets the stage for transitioning into the battle for canopy space. Think about the essential factors for tree growth and development:

  • Rooting volume (soil depth)
  • Soil moisture
  • Soil nutrients
  • Sunlight
  • Temperature (soil and air)

My doctoral dissertation evaluated the effects of these factors (and surrogates for them) for Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW Pennsylvania and SW New York. We can’t see direct evidence of the fierce belowground competition for soil volume, moisture, and nutrients. I am beginning to focus greater attention on the upper canopy battle for sunlight.

We saw the very narrow shortleaf pine crown relative to the adjacent white oak. In contrast to the white oak, the green ash (below left) and southern red oak (below right) have narrow crowns.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

The white oak crowns below are massive. This species demands a lot of aerial space. Thus, its relative density is high.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

Below are adjacent white oak and red oak crowns, with white oak (lower half of frame) commanding far greater space. If I limited my examination to only eye level, I would see the two individuals at roughly the same diameter. Like the blind men and the elephant, we cannot limit our forest assessment to only one facet. I’m learning more and more. And, the more I learn, the less I realize that I know. That is a fact of life for the inquisitive…the student of life and living.

Chapman Mountain

 

Black walnut stands adjacent to a white oak in the image below. Keep in mind that this stand is even-aged, regenerated following a disturbance, probably continuing fuelwood production up to the time of farm abandonment. All of the trees are likely within a 10-15 year age range. The walnut and white oak began their vertical development concurrently. Importantly, black walnut is shade intolerant. The USDA Agricultural handbook No. 271, Silvics of Forest Trees of the US: “In mixed forest stands, it must be in a dominant position to maintain itself.” The black walnut below (left side of image) is in the main canopy, but the white oak has muscled the walnut, forcing its crown far to the left, struggling to maintain its main canopy position. I wonder how much longer the walnut will remain in the stand.

Chapman Mountain

 

American beech, like white oak, demands lots of crown space. This 30-plus-inch diameter individual commands the canopy, keeping adjacent trees at bay.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

A dead, bark-stripped tree stands to the left (in both images) of the beech. Every battle for crown space yields casualties.

Every Battle Yields Casualties

 

This recently dead black oak still carries a Terry Big Tree Trail number. All of its fine branches have already fallen. The neighbor trees are closing the canopy void left by the black oak.

Chapman Mountain

 

As I’ve observed repeatedly in these Posts, death is a real and continuing component in the life of a forest. This substantial oak snag bears testimony. I saw no outward evidence of physical trauma (lightning or wind) that may have resulted in death. Instead, I will presume that it failed in the competitive battlefield.

Chapman Mountain

 

Here’s another dead oak with its accompanying canopy void.

Chapman Mountain

 

Often the evidence of physical trauma is apparent, whether windthrow (below left) or wind snapping the trunk at its base (below right).

Chapman Mountain

 

Site resources are finite. The competition for those fixed assets is a zero sum game. Some trees continue to grow and thrive at the expense of others.

To the Survivors Go the Spoils

 

Simply, to the victors go the spoils. Multiple windblown individual main canopy oak trees (below left) resulted in a large canopy opening (below right). A windfall (pardon the pun) of sunlight for the survivors. Adjacent trees will vie for the bounty of sunlight. Until the void closes, sunlight reaching the forest floor will generate a flush of vigor for herbaceous and woody growth in plants who patiently await just such disturbance. The entire ecosystem knows perturbance and sustains itself on the process of life, death, stability, and disturbance. The forest changes and persists.

Chapman Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

Disturbance yields more than sunlight. Downed trees and branches decay quite rapidly in our warm and moist climate. Moss drapes the log below left. Fungi sprouting the devil’s urn mushrooms (below right) are just one of the innumerable species of decay fungi returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

The decay process is certain and predictable. The downed log below left will eventually decay to the more advanced condition below right and, in time, will incorporate fully into the soil organic matter.

Chapman MountainChapman Mountain

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Forest diversity offers a richness worth noticing.
  • Life and death dance without end in our forests.
  • To the victor go the spoils.

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 BooksChapman Mountain

 

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

 

 

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

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

Trees Talking to Each Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Fantasy to Reality

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

 

Oak Mountain State Park April Tree Form Curiosities

Tree Form Oddities and Curiosities

Marker Trees?

My February, 2021 Post addressed the fact and folklore of the so-termed Indian marker trees I encountered during a January 2021 hike in the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/10/indian-marker-trees-separating-folklore-from-fact/

My conclusion in that Post was that most of northern Alabama’s supposed Indian marker trees post-date the presence of Native Americans, and that Nature’s tree form oddities usually have an identifiable cause in form of physical injury. In all honesty, even genuine marker trees resulted from an intentional human-induced physical injury.

April 14-16, 2021 I spent three half-days hiking at Oak Mountain State Park (Pelham, AL). I kept my eyes open for all manner of Nature’s wonder, including tree form oddities and curiosities. None of what triggered my camera (many images below) is an Indian marker tree, although I realize that many persons who champion the Native American attribution for such forms would contest my conclusion. For each photograph I will offer a suspected cause. I often quote Leonardo da Vinci, who 500 years ago mastered the art of acute observation and reasoned judgement:

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

Scottie Jackson, Central District Naturalist (left), stands with her left foot on what was the toppled stump of a sapling sweetgum. Some force (wind, ice, a tree or large branch falling on it) felled the young tree, lifting its upslope roots. Enough of its downslope roots remained intact to sustain life in the prostrate stem. Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist Lauren Muncher stands ten feet from Scottie at the point where the felled sapling stem severed (its calloused-over stub remains) and the still-vibrant tree produced a new vertical shoot that now reaches into the main canopy. An Indian marker tree? No, the cause is Nature at work, employing her seeming limitless power to overcome physical insult and injury. I am sure that Native Americans learned to create their marker trees by observing Nature in practice.

Oak Mountain

 

 

Nature knows her stuff. Like the sweetgum above, this American beech (as a sapling) toppled. Scottie is kneeling at its then-base. Lauren stands 12 feet away where the beech sent its shoot skyward, in this case into the intermediate forest canopy. Beech is shade tolerant and can survive long-term without being in the main canopy.

Oak Mountain

 

Here’s a closer look at both points. Examining both the sweetgum and the beech revealed a great deal. It also raised a question to which I have no firm answer. That is, along the felled stems did either or both individuals set new roots in addition to those still in soil-contact from the toppled base? Perhaps on some future outing I will carry my Sharpshooter spade in search of a similar tree so that I can answer the question. Based upon the less-than-vigorous appearance of the segment lying on the ground for both individuals, I am offering the hypothesis that the stems rooted at the point where the vertical shoot now extends.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

As with so many of my photographed tree form oddities, I ask you to imagine. Imagine this now 18-inch diameter yellow poplar as a pole-sized tree being slammed to 30-degrees from the horizontal by a sizeable object…a falling tree or large branch, the impact severe enough to snap the top ten feet above the stump. This individual employed the mechanism stuffed in its genetic toolbox through countless yellow poplar generations — its internal chemistry stirred a dormant bud on its nearly prostrate bole. That bud awakened via growth hormones to send a shoot vertically, now extending into the main canopy. Is the bent stem pointing to something? Yes, everything points to something. Is it intentionally by some act of man pointing to something? No, this is a random act by Nature’s hand.

Oak Mountain

 

Here is an act occurring within the past year. A dead snag, probably this past dormant season, broke at its base, falling into a sugar maple sapling. The sugar maple now leans about ten degrees from the vertical. The impact snapped the maple ten feet above its base. I predict that the top will die beyond the break and that the leaning ten-foot base will activate a dormant bud or two, producing a stem that will reach into the mid-canopy. Like beech, sugar maple is shade tolerant and can survive under the main forest canopy for decades. This is a future tree-form curiosity.

Oak Mountain

 

Nature has no new tricks. Any force that acted decades (millennia) ago is still happening today. I accept the fortuity of finding the recent evidence of such a force at work on the sugar maple. In my ideal world, the on-park Naturalist would note the location of this future marker tree, and visit it every five years to develop a photo-chronology. The tree will either do as I predict…or not. If the former, the permanent photo record will serve as a resource for telling a tale repeated time and again in our  forests.

 

Contorted and Misshapen

 

This American beech at Maggie’s Glen, I am sure, has a tale to tell. It has stood streamside for well over a century, witnessing Nature’s cycles and hundreds of hikers, picnickers, and campers. Far too many young lovers (and vandals) have carved their fleeting thoughts and initials into its bark. Perhaps an ill-placed campfire scorched and opened the wound that led to its hollowed state.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Trees don’t start out in life with a mission to develop in a manner that enables forest travelers like me to see from one side to the other. Oh, the wonder of hearing the stories this beech could tell!

Oak Mountain

 

Here’s a formerly forked black oak, which is trying to callous over the injury caused by the other fork wrenching apart. Even were the ceaseless efforts to succeed in fully callousing over the wound, the tree is destined to live with heart rot until some force sees through the façade and topples it.

Oak Mountain

 

Recall the sugar maple above. The maple (below left) may predict what the earlier tree will look like 10-20 years hence. I’m standing below right with a red oak that suffered a similar physical insult. Both trees are alive…and both will deal the rest of their days with severe heart rot.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This large yellow poplar lost its twin fork decades ago, long enough that no on-the-ground evidence of its fallen twin is visible. The tree continues it valiant efforts to callous over the wound. But valiant and successful don’t always overlap. Deep heart rot has already structurally weakened this individual. Will it break at the base due to the decay? I can’t be sure. The view to its crown shows it reaching into a co-dominant position. Despite its wound, the tree appears otherwise healthy and competitive.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Here’s testament that hollow is not imminently fatal. Who knows how long this American beech survived with just a circumferential rind of cambium and intact wood. It toppled, along with many solid-stemmed forest trees, summer of 2020 when the tropical storm strength remnants of one of the many gulf hurricanes shot northward across central Alabama.

Oak Mountain

 

Nature renders many forest occupants battered, contorted, and misshapen. I find fascination in both the cause and the result.

Multiple Stems

 

I recently taught an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (at the University of Alabama in Huntsville) course focusing on our Land Trust of North Alabama. I incorporated several photographs of trail-side trees forked at near-ground level. Participants questioned me about the origin and relative frequency of such multiple-stemmed trees. I explained that many of our hardwood forests regenerated from stump sprouts following timber harvesting. Oaks, among several species, are prolific sprouters. This five-stemmed chestnut oak stump sprout cluster is a classic. Imagine a freshly cut stump in the center of today’s five stems. Now, visualize multiple dormant buds sprouting from the stump. There may have been (in fact, probably were) more than these five survivors. The photo below right views upward from the center of the five. Four of the five are growing somewhat straight, leaning out from the vertical so that each has its own crown space in the main canopy. The fifth stem (upper right of the image) curves away from the other four. It probably fell behind the others in height gain, resulting in its sharper angle away to get out from under their shade.

Oak Mountain

 

Multiple stemmed individuals are common in our second growth hardwood stands. To some, I suppose, a curiosity…yet, not a mystery.

 

Oddities and Curiosities of a Different Sort

 

We stumbled across dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica), an apt description given its amorphous mossy-lumpy yellow to whitish appearance. It’s also called scrambled egg slime mold and witches’ spit. The organism is slimy and gelatinous, much as its various monikers would suggest. I have encountered other slime molds. This one left an indelible impression, in part because of its common name. Certainly I categorize this slime mold as an oddity and curiosity.

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

We found several other examples of this species, each one distinct from the others. All are memorable in their own way.

Oak Mountain

 

Deep in the shade of a cove forest we found a mid-canopy American beech with a distinct vertical delineation separating the lichen-coated north side from what I’ll describe as the sun-bleached southern exposure. I don’t recall previously seeing such a strong north-south divide. I can offer no other explanation.

Oak Mountain

 

I shall continue to search for, examine, appreciate, and attempt to explain each and every forest oddity and curiosity.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I relish finding and seeking to understand and explain tree form oddities.
  • I find many curiosities; very few of them are total mysteries.
  • Most of our supposed “marker trees” post-date Native American occupation here in north Alabama; Nature does the marking. 

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 BooksOak Mountain

 

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.