Preservation and Change

Return Visit to Cathedral State Park

My first two undergraduate forestry summers I performed continuous forest inventory on Savage River State Forest (then 52,000 acres) in Western Maryland’s Garrett County. I stayed weeknights in a cabin at New Germany State Park. The entire experience served in retrospect as a gift from God — Divine Professional Providence! Preston County WV lay just to Garrett’s west, still in the Allegany Plateau high country from 2,500 to >3,500 feet. Just over the WV line, WV’s Cathedral State Park preserved and protected an ancient hemlock stand that had escaped turn-of-the-20th-Century logging. I visited and hiked the preserve a dozen times over those invigorating formative summers.

Precious Recollections

I recall a closed canopy of massive trees, a mixed stand of hemlock, black cherry, oak, and others. An understory dark with deep shade. Vibrant and healthy trees showing vitality despite standing for perhaps 300 years. I’ve carried the indelible memory with me for the 45 years since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature’s Sobering Reality

December 17, 2017, a week from my final day at Fairmont State University, I re-visited Cathedral State Park. The four-plus decades have not been kind, and I don’t mean just to my knees. The once regal, magnificent old-growth forest is entering its period of senescence.

Age and gravity always prevail. We can cherish these ancient stands, yet we cannot forever delay the ultimate ravages of time. The agents of agony and demise range from individual lightning strikes to uprooting to mid-trunk shattering to thinning and fading foliage.

Death by Static Electricity

 

Blow-Down

 

Topped-Out

 

Crown Vigor fading

 

Some old soldiers stand dead, attributable cause uncertain.

 

Patches lay jack-strawed.

 

Only a few stand remnants still hold deep shade.

I’m told that Super Storm Sandy dumped a couple feet of wind-driven wet snow at this elevation, doing great harm, snapping many stems and wreaking havoc within the crowns. Sandy served as the proximate cause – the catastrophic straw-breaking-the-camel’s-back. Yet the ultimate agent acted over an extended period of change. Nature knows time… and anticipates inexorable stresses, shifts, patterns, and eventual mortality. Light now reaching the forest floor is triggering forest renewal at Cathedral. When the last of the giants submits to the forces of Nature, the next stand will be adolescent, a rich admixture of hemlock and hardwoods.

 

Nature knows how to perpetuate forest cover, albeit the next iteration may (No, will!) differ in species composition, structure, and old growth trajectory. Three hundred fifty years hence, the new forest may look little like today’s aging stand. Nature’s top seldom re-spins in like manner. Perturbations will not pattern-repeat over neat 350-year cycles. What if the next super storm strikes the new stand at age 50? Followed two springs hence when a wild, dry, spring front pushes winds reaching 50 miles per hour… and some camper fails to tend a cook-fire? The crazy fury will convert the fallen, tinder-like debris of the downed forest to ash and bare ground. What then? Forget about hemlock. Look instead for oak root-sprouts and light-seeded, wind-dispersed species like aspen, and seedlings from acorn-snacks cached by rodents or birds in soil. Nature’s team is proven and reliable. The busy squirrel buries the acorn for retrieval, unaware that she will not (cannot) find them all, and that one of them may be part of Nature’s design to perpetuate the oak. And she knows not that her habit of caching tasty acorns furthers her own species, assuring that future oaks will feed her descendants time and again.

Every Forest Tells a Tale

Her act of placing the acorn is random. Chaos rules Nature… I suppose chaos rules most everything. Nature’s preparation is hard-wired, DNA-ingrained-preparation spanning a few million years of adaptation. Our enterprises and lives are far less experienced. Nature urges anticipation; we too often operate without it. We also are blind to what is likely, much less to what is possible. Nature will occupy this land, originally protected and preserved for the sake of a wondrously beautiful old-growth hemlock forest. Visitors many generations hence may see rotting hulks of long-dead forest giants. Interpretive signage may tell the tale. Old photographs may chronicle the story of the magical forest. Several individuals may persevere another hundred years.

Many of you own forest land. I recall from my faculty days at Penn State that one in ten Pennsylvania families owns forested property. Your forest acreage, whether in New Hampshire, Alabama, or Kansas, has its own story, written on the land and still retained within the family’s written and oral history. Contact me if you’d like to have your own Forest Land Legacy Story told and interpreted for prosperity (http://stevejonesgbh.com/legacy-stories/). Every stand expresses sentiment and symbolizes special meaning and memory.

For example, at Cathedral, I found and photographed one giant that spoke to me of life and living. It reached for the light with a rough ladder… a Stairway to Heaven. A symbol for both our need to reach beyond our own grasp, and to reach for something larger than our meager selves:

As I’ve observed time and again, every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

Revisiting Cathedral State Park still generates a deep sense of humility and full inspiration. Although fading, the forest still touches my core. I absorbed those few hours via my five portals — heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. Even a snow-covered foot-bridge over a late fall flowing stream evokes wonder, awe, and appreciation:

 

I also felt a sharp melancholy. A realization that nothing stays the same. That time marches onward, and we are taken along for a ride, powered by forces beyond our control. We can only do what we can within its current, making some small differences as we may. Making the most of the voyage, and always conscious of our responsibility to steward the land and leave it better for those who follow.

 

 

 

Fairmont State University – An Aerial Perspective

I’m a spatial (not at all special) guy. Over my field forester days and subsequent positions, I’ve enjoyed many hours airborne, face pressed to the windows. Whether on commercial airline ascent or descent (not much to see from 30,000-foot cruising altitudes), or evaluating land exchanges via chopper, I interpret the landscape much more clearly than from ground level. While on a site/stand-scale nothing beats boots on the ground, the 1,000 to 1,500-foot vantage point opens the land (and my eyes) to an ecosystem scale.

I had been wanting to view FSU and our community by air since accepting this interim appointment. December 15, the agents of aircraft, pilot, earth, and sky aligned… just a week from my final day on campus. Joel Kirk, one of our FSU pilot flight instructors (and retired Marine flight instructor), took me up late morning. We didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver under a scuzzy 1,500-foot ceiling. I did not complain! Finally, I could see the world unfold beyond the Interstate, which in this view lies a mile or so to the left.

Imagine the river as a route of exploration and commerce, predating European settlement by millennia. Its valley as a path of least resistance for roadways and rail-beds. Water and gravity over the long course of time shaped the local topography. These hills are water-carved from nearly pancake geology. Road cuts reveal flat strata, one layer neatly lying above the next. Coal mines beneath these hills follow rich seams horizontally. Yet another of Nature’s revelations, the coal and natural gas tell the story of layering of a different sort. Deep (and deeper-still) time transformed Pennsylvanian/Permian forests/swamps/bogs to these fossil fuels that power our industrial society. Amazing what a mere 250-300 million years can accomplish! That’s some 110 billion sunrises. Here in north-central WV, many people have died harvesting that ancient plant-stored sunshine.

The River has for eons transported eroded sediment from the west side of the Appalachians, first northward, delivering it to the Ohio, then southwestward into the Mississippi, and then to the Gulf of Mexico. For all but the past 15+ thousand years, the rivers had no names, yet their power, majesty, and beauty predated homo sapiens’ labeling them. The Monongahela carried its load easily long before Asians crossed the Bering Land Bridge and made their way east and south across the Rockies, Great Plains, and Lake country to these West Virginia hills. The Mississippi Delta bears witness. Deposits reach depths of 100,000 feet, over three times the height of Everest, deep enough to subside Earth’s crust, taking New Orleans each year a little further below sea level. The Big Easy owes a bit of its flood prone situation to West Virginia sand and silt! Time and Nature could not possibly care less about a city sinking into the sea. We humans place our fair cities in harm’s way and then spend billions in a feeble attempt to protect them. Katrina cared little about over-topping a few levees.

Likewise, deluges in early April 1852 paid little attention to Fairmont occupying the river’s flood plain. From Wikipedia: “Heavy rains the day before caused the Mon and West Fork Rivers to rise at a rate of 5 feet per hour until Tuesday afternoon, when the water reached 43 feet above its normal level. The greatest damage was sustained on the West Fork, where over 40 houses and buildings were swept away and floated past Fairmont.” What difference does flushing a few houses down to Pittsburgh make to a river intent on carving the Appalachian Plateau?

 

A New View of Campus

My November 21, 2017 Blog-Post presented a second-hand aerial view of FSU. Science and Technology Dean Don Trisel had sent his drone camera aloft:

A much appreciated perspective, teasing my desire for a first-hand aerial view. A few weeks later, beyond late fall residual color to an early winter, snow-dusted view from nearly 1,000 feet higher, I scratched that itch:

Shaw House, my six-month President’s residence, sits within the rough semi-circle of pine and hemlock (see the evergreens above) mid-campus, oriented at nearly 180 degrees in the summer drone photo below:

A lovely 125-acre campus developing, educating, and inspiring some 4,000 future citizens and leaders who will lead us into the future. Appropriately, from this perspective, the university sits within a larger landscape… a setting stretching into the distance, both physically and metaphorically. I like to think that during my tenure as an FSU Falcon, I have encouraged and enabled our faculty, staff, alumni, students, and our broader community to lift and extend our vision. Our reach is without limit. My aerial exploration revealed that with a bit of lift, we can see what is normally invisible. FSU’s family, with my continuous prodding, is now seeing the invisible. And seeing the invisible, we are now reaching for what had been impossible. In fact, an institution that had slid into satisfaction with an Earth-bound trajectory, we are collectively soaring… as all good Falcons should! I am glad that my actual flight came near the end of this six-month journey. I think you may be able to read the look of joy and fulfillment I feel completing my Falcon flight, both actual and symbolic (that’s Joel beside me):

My Dad loved Nature and airplanes. All that I have tended and nurtured in my life sprouted from seeds he planted in my heart, soul, and psyche. I read John Gillespie Magee Jr’s High Flight at Dad’s memorial service nearly a quarter century ago:

High Flight
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds … and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of … wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I feel the same tumbling mirth from my six-month FSU flight. I have, in fact, trod with silent, lifting mind. Magee paints my soaring heart so beautifully. A bit corny perhaps, yet I do feel that via this gift of an Interim Presidency, I have put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Nature’s Inspiration at Scale

I often think back to my first close-up view of Mount Denali. I had hiked up Mount Quigley one late August morning, providing a clear, cloud-free view of Denali’s north face from just 20 miles. Because the big one rises from 2,000 feet above sea level on its north side, it ascended within my field of view 18,000 feet vertical, all of it visible in one magnificent image. I could imagine nothing more grand. Everest reaches 11,000 feet higher, yet no where does it show an 18,000 vertical face. Even as I contemplate such grandeur, I recall someone saying decades ago that were Earth the size of a ping-pong ball, it would actually be smoother than the little plastic sphere. Scale determines so much. Close to my temporary WV home, Dolly Sods provides some great panoramas (this view and the Feature Image of this post):

Beautiful in that larger view, the Sods generate yet another scale of special beauty and perspective up close:

Slice the scene even more narrowly, and a hidden world emerges. We found this unidentified fungal fruiting body trail-side on a fallen birch, still at Dolly Sods.

Beauty, magic, awe, and wonder await the discerning hiker… the hiker who looks and sees. Perhaps decades ago, I remember a Nature documentary that began at day-to-day human scale and successively led the viewer outward into space one order of magnitude distance at a time. Out through the solar system, into the Milky Way, and then beyond into deep space, and other galaxies. I felt smaller and even more insignificant with each ten-fold leap.

The television program then reversed from human scale, by orders of magnitude smaller. Into the soil litter, soil micro-organisms, and by scale eventually into atomic and sub-atomic. Once again, scale makes all the difference. We can observe the forest at the price of missing the trees; and the trees at the cost of missing component life (and death). Yet another unidentified fungus infects this standing dead hickory about eight inches in diameter:

A living tree stands by the strength of its cellulose; a fungus stands by the sustenance it draws from the cellulose, digesting it one cell wall at a time. Each one of those minute fungal fruiting bodies will eject thousands, if not millions, of spores. Wind-borne (or maybe insect-disseminated) spores may have the good fortune of happening upon a recently dead, not yet colonized, host species. That tiny, invisible spore operates at a smaller scale. Each division has a division, and subsequently smaller world. A dead beech sapling also hosts micro-organisms, both fungal fruiting bodies and lichen mats.

As does a prostrate white pine:

Life is rich at multiple scales, each providing a glimpse into smaller and smaller domains, down to to the molecular. Though life does not extend outward larger and larger without end, the non-living world certainly reaches far beyond. At the risk of repeating one comparative example I’ve used from the lectern and in other postings, a photon would travel seven times around Earth in one second. That same photon at the speed of light would reach the center of our Milky Way galaxy, with its several hundred billion stars, only after 25,000 years. And our Milky way, this unimaginably large star cluster, is only one of some two trillion such galaxies. Too immense to grasp? You bet! So let’s return to our human scale world.

I found this multi-storied, yellow poplar apartment complex at Valley Falls State Park during the summer. Excavated by pileated woodpeckers in search of insect protein, these cavities now house all manner of life: insect, small mammals, snails, fungus, and who knows what else. All elements are intimately inter-related, from the cosmic to the sub-atomic.

What a blessed, miraculously interdependent world — physical and organic. The yellow poplar apartment complex will one day succumb to the forces of life, death, and gravity. This 30-inch-plus diameter, deceased maple is decaying toward the horizontal, even as a beech sapling stands ready to absorb and prosper from nutrients long-since sequestered as the maple flourished:

Leaves from a still-living red maple bring early fall color to this mossy seep among the rhododendrons atop Dolly Sods.

Not far from the boggy forest interior, the west-rim panorama opens to a larger scale. All we do and see in life and nature present at scale.

Too few people notice the dimensions that add vibrancy to life, living, and enterprise. There are those who can’t see the forest for the trees. Sadly, there are those, too, who see neither the forest or the trees. I look hard, seeking to see in multiple dimensions, yet I fear I am missing far too much. Better to be the miserable wretch who sees nothing beyond the digital… unaware of the rich palette unseen? No, I much prefer seeing a bit of something, rather than all of nothing.

Opening Our Eyes

Today (12/10), I drove Judy to the Pittsburgh airport, some 90 miles north, and returned to Fairmont. A quarter inch of snow dusted the ground last night, adding a hint of deeper, impending winter to the now dormant landscape. I thought, how gloomy, yet quickly dismissed that too-easy trap of negativity. Instead, I relished that my view at 70 mph now opened into the roadside forests. No longer simply a wall of green, the denuded trees and shrubs permitted deep looks at the forest floor and countless stems and trunks. Three full dimensions where during the growing season only two appeared to us.

It’s so easy to be blind to the world around us. Great Blue Heron borrows nature’s lessons, and instructs how to learn and apply them. Nature’s Wisdom and Power enrich my life. Great Blue Heron can help you harness Nature’s Power and Wisdom… in service to your life and enterprise. I am grateful for far more than most people dare to dream.

Life is rich and good. Nature informs, enriches, and inspires!

 

 

Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow

I left Allegany Community College (ACC) May 1971 with an associate’s degree in forestry, transferring to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry to earn my bachelor’s. Dr. Glenn O. Workman (Doc) mentored and inspired me through ACC. Judy and I established an endowed scholarship in Doc’s name three years ago at what is now Allegany College of Maryland (ACM). October 26, I delivered a late afternoon lecture at ACM, focusing on Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, and relating experiences from my two books. Doc introduced me to the attendees that evening. At nearly 90-years, Doc continues to inspire and lift me. I dedicated my second book to Doc, as well as to three other mentors who indelibly shaped my early career.

Doc taught systematic botany my first spring semester. I loved the field trips we took after winter began lessening its Central Appalachian grip. We would rush from habitat to habitat, striking across elevation transects, from wet to dry, and aspect to aspect, always seeking to increase our count of flowering spring ephemerals. Early tallies included skunk cabbage, colt’s foot, spring beauty, dandelion, and chickweed. We covered lots of road miles and rough terrain. He sowed the seeds for the spring botanizing I’ve continued these past 46 years since leaving ACC.

I look back on those early spring days (of my life as well as the season of year) and discover with reflection that Doc alerted me to two of the critical verbs that shape so much of what I do, write, and instruct today. I learned on those excursions how to Look. Not just look on the ground for the early bloomers, but to read the landscape, and anticipate what I might discover blooming in accord with site conditions. Seeing is much easier with informed Looking. I knew to seek skunk cabbage in vernal pools and near spring seeps. I knew to scan gravely roadsides for colt’s foot. Columbine on sheltered road cuts. Bird’s foot violet on this south- and west-facing exposed slope.

Astute and informed Looking leads to and enables Seeing. And on those action-packed field excursions, I learned to Feel excitement and passion for counting natural coup. For learning more and more and more about Nature… its patterns and processes. I encountered wonder and awe for these magical, wonderful early bloomers that run nearly their entire life cycle during the few weeks when sunlight reaches the forest floor before the trees leaf-out, and shade the understory, like this oxalis on a spring hillside above Paw Paw Tunnel.

Judy and I have enjoyed our spring-wildflower jaunts for the entire 45 years we’ve been married. We’ve tallied 30-45-count days.

The joy of Looking, Seeing, and Feeling the thrill of Nature discovery has actually spurred us to Act, the fourth of my verbs. Acting in this case is simply being spurred to do it again each year. Nature has a way of doing that. Inspiring me to again and again venture forth, if only to catch a sunrise, enjoy a sunset, or catch a first-bloomer. My Dad first introduced me to the joys of Nature immersion, yet he did so without the doctoral level, scholarly depth that Doc brought to light. Dad inspired my fundamental love, joy, and marvel of Nature. Doc began to inject a more intellectual, knowledge-based appreciation and understanding. Dad clearly planted the seed that enabled me to absorb the power of Nature’s science and scholarship. Both are necessary ingredients for the four-and-half-decades since that I have cultivated, honed, and tended the Nature passion that envelops me now.

One of my Great Blue Heron services involves contracting with forestland owners to develop their Forestland Legacy Story, the tale of Nature and Human Nature that captures the essence of the property for their heirs. Every single parcel of land has its own story – past, present, and future. I realize now that it was Doc who showed me how to Look, See, and Feel the land simply by walking, observing, and deducing. The language of the land is there to discover, interpret, and relate.

I am grateful that along the way mentors have molded me, and inspired me to tap Nature’s wisdom and harness her power. I am thankful that this FSU interim presidency has brought me to within 90-minutes’ drive of Cumberland, ACM, and Doc. Without this six-month gig, I may not have realized that those four-and-half-decades-ago systematic botany field labs began my career-long journey of Looking, Seeing, Feeling, and Acting. Not until I sat at the keyboard to draft this essay post did I attribute my four-verb lesson to those field trips. I’m intrigued by how deep-thinking today can reveal the truth and acuity of lessons previously learned. That Look, See, Feel, Act lesson sunk roots in my subconscious, lay fallow, and left its mark silently and invisibly. I began adding substance and words to the concept only when I began writing Nature Based Leadership, my first book.

Once again, I thank Dad and Doc for sowing the seeds that guided my way. I close all of my emails with the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” I hope and pray that my writing, speaking, serving, and leading sow seeds for a brighter future. May your planting be as fruitful.

Celebrating Nature’s Symbols

Yeah, I know, it’s perhaps a real stretch to see our Fairmont State University Flying F logo in this morning’s dawn. Yet I really liked the image painted in the eastern sky above the Falcon Center. Judy and I had just finished our morning walk. Dawn had just begun brightening the east when we started. Thirty minutes later, the sky-image showed full color.

Nature conceals much from those unwilling to seek. While I do not believe that some higher power was sending us a message, I do delight that we happened to be positioned on our hilltop at those precise few minutes when conditions aligned to portray FSU’s logo. A message? None… except that unless we look, we do not see. We saw, and felt some level of connectivity to this place I have called my home away from home for five months.

I’ll take back into semi-retirement dawn’s Flying F. Once again, Nature has furnished symbolism and inspiration for something that has made a difference in my life… this FSU Interim Presidency!

A View of Fairmont State University’s Ecosystem

FSU’s Science and Technology Dean Don Trisel sent his drone with camera aloft 7:30 AM November 20. Looking north, the view captures campus and the hills beyond. Almost Heaven, don’t you think! A typical landscape of North-Central, Wild Wonderful West Virginia. Our “College on the Hill” campus rises some 300 feet from Locust Avenue in the foreground to the physical plant buildings at the distant-center tree line.

Shaw House, the President’s residence, where I have stayed for nearly five months, sits in the copse of trees in the upper left quadrant of the main campus. My office is in Hardway Hall (front-right), the long building with the columns. A beautiful campus in a grand location, one where I am at home and thriving. No wonder deer frequent my yard. The surrounding forest simply extends into our community.

The deer recognize no city boundary. They observe only the extent of suitable habitat and available browse. Resident squirrels, raccoons, ground hogs, opossums, and other critters pay no mind. Same for birds. For that matter, thunderstorm cells can’t discern forest from campus from downtown. They simple form, rumble, and move along with air currents. Likewise, the wind itself cares not, nor do clouds.

Season changes the temporal context, yet the physical location a month earlier stays fixed.

And, Fairmont State University is one with the community of man, a cog in the gears of the city and its human inhabitants. Yes, FSU is an organism, living and breathing literally and metaphorically, in this three dimensional social, economic, and environmental ecosystem. Nothing illustrates our place in the intricate structure better than an aerial photo. More broadly, we fall within the Monongahela River Basin ecosystem, expanded from there to encompass the Mississippi Basin, and from there to temperate North America, and from there to our One Earth. The latter perspectives are beyond the reach of a drone or even a jet at 30,000 feet. Instead, try a photo from a satellite in Earth-orbit:

 

Great Blue Heron views enterprises in the same way. What constitutes your ecosystem? See my web site for more about the approach. I could not have effectively led this university as Interim President if I had looked only inward. FSU does not exist in a vacuum, nor does any individual, business, or organization. The world that affects us lies beyond our campus edge… and far beyond that as well. We are all creatures of our social, economic, and environmental ecosystems.

I will find a way before I depart Fairmont to secure a first-hand aerial view from a small plane. Short of that, Don’s drone provided a surrogate. I’ve reviewed countless aerial photos over my practicing forester days. However, never has one been an adequate substitute for being airborne, cruising above the canopy, looking down, at liberty to scan where my eye and the flight take me. I assure you, I will take my camera along, and record fodder for a few more blog posts. My heart and soul soar with me as we dance on laughter-silvered wings!

Whether I am deep in the forest, hiking stream-side, pausing at an overlook, or flying high above the ground, I find beauty, magic, wonder, and awe in Nature’s bounty and God’s work.

Call me – we’ll examine your enterprise from an ecosystem perspective.

Another West Virginia Dawn

Every dawn is a gift. This past Thursday, November 16, was no exception. Warm moist air streaming from the south, pushing hard against the season’s advance. A few morning cumulus signaling the struggle.

Winter will eventually push past. I hope to see snow before I head back south to northern Alabama December 22! No shortage of the white stuff where I used to live. I’ve been watching the web camera live feed from my former campus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks: http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/webcam. I visit the site nearly every day during winter. Here’s from the live feed at almost 10:00 AM Alaska time this morning (11/18):

Yeah, I know it’s fuzzy — it’s a photo of my computer monitor, yet it does give you a sense of the view to the south. In deep winter (we’re now just five week’s from the winter solstice), the sun rises only a few degrees east of due south. Its arc stays low to the horizon, just above the Alaska Range, which is visible 70 miles distant. That’s the Range standing on the right side of the image. Temperature at that moment was negative 13. Here in Fairmont it’s a tropical 62 degrees warmer! There — a snow-pack already at least a foot. Here? All I want is one good accumulation before I head back to Big Blue Lake. If not, I’ll faithfully visit the UAF web cam! I’ll live my winter vicariously through the magic of the internet, and indelible memories.

No I don’t want to live in the near-Arctic again. I find my comfort in Nature wherever I’m planted. I am grateful to look, see, feel, and appreciate the magic, beauty, wonder, and awe of Nature.

I hope you are discovering the special Nature of where you are rooted. Great Blue Heron can open your eyes to what lies hidden around you… and what lies hidden within you!

A Week in the Life of This Interim President

I lay my head on a pillow in Shaw House, the Fairmont State University (FSU) President’s residence, which sits south of the Feaster athletic facility and north of the Falcon Student Center. My office is in Hardway Hall, the next building south below the Falcon Center. My current life extends across our campus, into the Fairmont community, and beyond it to the surrounding human habitat. I know my way around nearly as well as I did the woods where I hunted squirrels as a teenager. I admit to a bit more natural comfort in those decades-ago October hills. However, like Nature’s ecosystems, this one, too, involves interactions just as interdependent and complex. And like Nature’s woodland resident’s, I work day and night at drawing from and giving to the physical and living elements around me.

In fact, this Interim Presidency demands a lot, yet returns so much more than I give. I reside in an amazing campus/community ecosystem. The week of November 6 evidences just how much I draw from this six-month leadership journey. The photo is of dawn breaking November 8, with temperature in the upper teens. I began Monday morning at a national security and intelligence firm in Morgantown. The company contracts with our Open Source Intelligence Exchange program. Call it a communal, symbiotic connection. One of our graduates, a leader in the firm, along with the founder and CEO, met with us. The two of them (and two of their clients) met us for dinner Thursday evening at Shaw House to explore deeper collaboration. As with all living organisms, no university can stand alone – we must, and will increasingly, forge and capitalize on relationships with real people doing real work in real time. Nothing beats the essential interplay — learning, research, and technology transfer are contact sports.

Having spent much of my higher education career at five Land Grant Universities (LGUs — Penn State, Auburn, Alabama A&M, NC State, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks), I am steering FSU toward linking collaboratively with West Virginia University (WVU), our State’s LGU. Several of us met mid-day Monday with three of WVU’s Marion County based Cooperative Extension educators, exploring opportunities in the education arena, and in science, technology, engineering, and math. We tilled the ground, planted seeds, and will tend the opportunities that sprout.

We finished the early evening by meeting with the FSU Alumni Association. So many people believe deeply in FSU, and for that I am grateful. And I am optimistic that united we can lift this institution to greater heights. To draw an ecosystem parallel, try being the Mighty Oak without roots infused with endo-mychorhizal fungi.

We visited WVU President Gordon Gee Tuesday afternoon to introduce Dr. Mirta Martin (our FSU President-select who begins her presidency January 1) and continue our discussions about shared mission and potential joint endeavors. Dr. Martin and I then enjoyed dinner in Morgantown at a restaurant perched above the Monongahela River (20 miles downstream from Fairmont; yet another natural linkage), with our FSU Foundation President and the Chair-elect of our Foundation Board, a former corporate accounting executive and FSU alumnus, who holds a senior faculty position at WVU. We are blessed to have many friends who connect us to life, living, and enterprise in North-Central WV!

We rushed back to Fairmont in time for the final three games of our women’s volleyball match. Our Lady Falcons played valiantly, yet fell short. I am impressed with FSU Athletics. My compliments and appreciation to our coaches and staff, our incredible student athletes, and to the community of followers who support FSU Athletics! These student athletes share my hillside ecosystem. I am here to serve them.

Thursday, we observed Veterans Day on campus. We began with flag-raising behind the Falcon Center. Veterans from every service branch attached brand new flags to the pull ropes and hoisted them aloft. Standing at attention, we listened as a local teen brought tears to our eyes singing the National Anthem A Capella. Mid-day once again misted my eyes as a uniformed contingent fired three volleys followed by taps at the newly-dedicated campus Veterans Victory Garden at Turley. All we do at FSU welcomes and involves both the campus and Fairmont community. We are one. In fact, all of us who share this planet are one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend kicked off Thursday evening with our Falcon football victory over West Liberty. A bit sobering for me to realize that I have now watched my final FSU football contest (along with volleyball). Football tailgating and cheering the Falcons epitomize the spirit of our inseparable Fairmont/FSU marriage.

Friday and Saturday – what an FSU whirlwind. Lunch Friday with our School of Nursing Advisory Board. Another example of the power of real-world partnership! We are nothing as an institution unless we engage meaningfully and deliberately. Thirty-plus of the 50 participants were FSU Nursing graduates.

A basketball extravaganza both evenings – two wins each for our men’s and women’s teams in the annual Joe Retton Classic. Our ladies have just one senior and one junior on their roster. Look out future! And the guys have a new slate of starters following last year’s magical season. Both teams consist of students, leaders, and fine campus citizens who will reach far into the future beyond basketball.

 

Prior to Saturday’s hardwood competitions, we hosted more than 400 future Falcon students and family members at our Fall Maroon and White Day. Dr. Martin and I greeted the attendees officially from the stage, and then roamed the Falcon Center speaking individually to many of them. I encountered recruits from WV, OH, PA, MD, NJ, and VA.

These young people will enrich our campus and the Fairmont community. Some will stay in North-Central WV. Our wonderful Marion/Harrison County region will welcome them, help them grow, and entice them to live, work, and play here beyond their degrees. Fairmont State University will continue to exchange rich lifeblood with Fairmont, mutually sustaining and yielding greater vitality. The comparisons to a natural ecosystem are uncanny. All of Nature’s communities teem with the ebb and flow of life, and successful populations depend upon a continuing stream of genetic exchange. No community in Nature is static. Any human tribe or kingdom or town will diminish if it remains insular. Fresh blood, new ideas, innovation, and renovation ensure success. Stagnation guarantees only decay and suffocation in both human nature and Nature. Fairmont State University will renew and refresh the community’s body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

I am glad to have visited for a while, pumping encouragement and inspiration into a community and university poised to thrive and to imagine a future of hope and promise. Great Blue Heron offers you that same proven, timely, and catalytic wisdom and energy that will ensure a brighter future for Fairmont and Fairmont State University. Give me a call.

Nature’s Veterans Day Inspiration

Today is Veterans Day — here are two photos fifteen minutes apart as dawn deepened, viewed from my Fairmont State University President’s residence. Gazing east toward my Cumberland, MD home (65 miles or so from this perch) I thought of WWII veterans Jack E. Jones and Elmer E. Cessna, my Dad and Judy’s. My hat’s off to them — we thank them… and miss them dearly.

I snapped this first shot when morning’s glow had not yet brought definition to the Falcon Center, yet the eastern sky already promised a great November day. For the first night this season, the temperature had dropped below freezing at dusk yesterday and reached the upper teens by dawn this morning. Finally, fall has kicked summer conditions into the past. Yesterday morning a few flurries hinted at what is to come.

I took this photo 15 minutes later. As do all things, the morning had shifted and evolved. Enough in this case to pass for a another morning.

Nature’s palette is rich with pattern, tone, hue, and process. Nature inspires (and teaches humility) with each and every sunrise. Dad and Elmer stood there with me — I felt their presence as tears moistened my face. Nature often brings me to tears. I viewed the dawn through all five portals — body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

Once more, I remind all that had I not ventured forth to Look, I would not have Seen. Had I not taken the time and made the effort to See deeply, I would not have Felt the passion, purpose, and inspiration in the moment. Had I not Felt, I would not have Acted to bring Elmer and Dad into my morning.

Great Blue Heron can and will help you see your life and enterprise through Nature’s lens.

A Simple Expression of Nature’s Beauty, Awe, Magic, and Wonder

The old saw says a picture is worth a thousand words. I walked out of my Fairmont State University campus home to retrieve the Sunday paper this morning, glanced to the east, and succumbed to Nature’s greeting of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Overwhelmed by humility and lifted by inspiration, once again I know that I have a purpose — to do all I can to ensure that we steward this One Earth… to Care for Our Common Home. We are blessed beyond measure by Nature’s gifts.

Great Blue Heron — by way of my writing, speaking, and consulting — can help you apply Nature’s lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading. Harness the power and passion of Nature’s wisdom.

I will complete my FSU Presidency at the end of December, transitioning then to full time as Great Blue Heron CEO.