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: 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.

Environmental Influences

I hiked September 17 at Dolly Sods National Wilderness Area (approximately 4,000 feet elevation), a couple hours from my six-month West Virginia home. Dolly Sods has been a favorite destination for me since I first sojourned there as a forestry student nearly 50 years ago. In fact, I intend for it to be my final destination, where I want my ashes spread. Please don’t tell the National Forest Service!

I write these reflections six weeks later, October 29, 2017. Our September day proved unseasonably warm — highs in the low 70s, warmer than many summer days of my younger years in West Virginia’s high country. Currently, our Fairmont temperature with drizzle is 40 degrees. At Snowshoe, WV, where conditions are similar to those at Dolly Sods, the temperature is 29 degrees, with snow of 3-4 inches forecast tonight, temperatures falling to the lower twenties, and winds to 35 MPH. At the higher elevations winter comes early, reaches deeply, and extends weeks beyond conditions here more than a half-mile lower.

Exposed trees at Dolly Sods bow to the unyielding forces of wind, ice, and snow. Westerlies above 4,000-feet flag branches to the east, the more exposed, the greater and more pronounced the flagging. Krummholz expresses the most severe flagging. The German Krumm translates to bent, twisted, crooked. Holz is wood. The combined word could not be more descriptive. I’ve seen extreme Krummholz above timberline in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, atop WV’s Spruce Mountain and North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell, as well as on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics, and on the upper reaches of Verstovia above Sitka, Alaska:

Exposed west-facing rim-rocks at Dolly Sods also support pronounced Krummholz spruce. Away from the rim, yet still at ~4,000-feet, the forest is recovering from past logging, followed by extensive and repeated late 19th Century wildfires, and periods of grazing and abandonment. For more than 100 years, Nature has been reclaiming the “sods,” succeeding to mixed stands of hardwoods and spruce. Once established, the forest self-protects as it gains full-stocking and develops a canopy dense enough to force the persistent winds above it. However, those spruce that are emergent (see the one below reaching above the general protective crowns) flag to the east in the buffeting winds.


Applicable Lessons for Life and Enterprise

Life’s winds shape us and our enterprises. Every time Union Camp Corporation promoted me to a different job and location, my head emerged above the canopy of protective comfort, practice, and knowledge. My reach time and again (temporarily) extended beyond my grasp. I adjusted to the fresh gales and grew stronger from commitment, hard work, making more than a few mistakes, and learning as a result. Longfellow once said: “The purpose of that apple tree is to grow a little new wood each year. That is what I plan to do.” Isn’t that what life and enterprise seek as well? We learn and grow by dealing with stresses — the shifting winds that force us to react, respond, and adapt.

Although Fairmont State University is my first Interim presidency, my limbs and crown had adapted to these higher education leadership gales as CEO of three prior universities, and reporting to the president at three others before the CEO gigs. I’ve grown a bit of new wood with each such exposure. My roots reach deep into my career and life soil, anchored firmly, drawing nurture from diverse experiences. Elsewhere I’ve dealt with state budget reductions, recalcitrant boards, frustrated faculty, and sagging enrollment. Fairmont State University’s winds are mild and balmy contrasted to some conditions I’ve previously encountered. I view the forecast here as an “adverse weather watch.” Foul weather is not imminent, yet the clouds are on the horizon; the storm could develop and then intensify. Blessedly, we still have time to avoid facing its wrath and, unlike our inability to change our near-Earth weather, we can actually abate the atmospheric circumstances that could otherwise generate the fury. My role as Interim President has been to survey our institutional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in expedited fashion. That is, assess what might be brewing, evaluate our storm-readiness, and take actions to reduce or eliminate the hazards and vulnerabilities. I’ve done so through the lenses of my multiple prior exposures and trials. FSU’s biggest risk? Spiraling enrollment and a pervasive attitude of acceptance of the slide as inevitable. I have raised the alert, rallied the troops, and instituted necessary adjustments. I’ve attempted to illuminate an aspirational vision of a favorable eventuality… one that is within reach.

As I often preach, I have applied my four core verbs. I conducted my SWOT analysis by Looking deeply into the fabric of this institution. Peeking behind the curtains and, when necessary, under the rocks. The act of Looking, in and of itself, accomplishes little — instead, I’ve vowed to See. And to See deeply enough to evoke Feelings of need, empathy, and urgency. Feelings that spur and prompt Action. Look, See, Feel, and Act — my approach for dealing with the issues and circumstances that effect lives and enterprises of all manner and sort. We at FSU will act to disperse the gathering storm. We will act to stop and reverse the enrollment decline. Within my first week of preparation after accepting the Interim assignment, I discovered the looming enrollment storm. Simply by Looking and Seeing with fresh eyes that by late June, I found with dismay that our Fall 2017 enrollment numbers were tracking at 4.7 percent below last year to date. Although others seemed ambivalent, I immediately Felt a sense of crisis and urgency. Too late to affect a Fall 2017 turn-around, we began focusing relentlessly on Spring and Fall 2018 — Acting deliberately, aggressively, and systematically.

I’ve found too many individuals whose limbs and stems have bent with, thus accommodating the ill wind, rather than resisted by becoming stronger. The spruce tree at the rim-rock has no option for surviving. The choice with respect to how we deal with the wind is ours. I will not accept gnarled, twisted branches on the FSU tree. I refuse to stand other than tall, straight, and strong. I decry accepting something less than what we might, should, and will become. Even the Krummholz spruce can sustain itself, producing seed, some of which may germinate in a more protected micro-site. Finding purchase at the rim-rock edge, I suppose, may provide ancillary benefits — but only if spruce appreciate a good view!


By turning the enrollment tide, FSU will enjoy the view. Our campus perches 300-feet above Locust Avenue at our southern edge. We have a great view of the Monongahela River Valley. And we (our entire campus community) now have a much clearer picture of what lies ahead. I believe the institution re-believes in itself. Krummholz implies harsh conditions, scant survival, and endless stress. We were sliding in that direction. Potentially a desperate, scraggly, misshapen shrub clinging to life. Instead, we can be a stout tree, reaching for the sky, sending roots deep and wide into fertile soil, and  growing new wood each year.

This University can be a strong oak — but only if we choose to be — and believe in a destiny of hope, promise, potential, and realization. We are at that juncture. Dr. Mirta Martin, President-Select who begins January 1, 2018, will stand strong like the Mighty Oak, and she will lead the way into FSU’s bright future. I am eager to transition to the new day as I pass the mantel of leadership.

I am grateful for the lessons Nature offers for living, learning, serving, and leading. Nature is wise, seasoned, and persistent. Nature’s lessons, most importantly, are time-tested. Smart leaders heed and harness Nature’s wisdom and inspiration.

A New Day’s Dawning

I took this photo from the back deck at Fairmont State University’s President’s residence this morning.

I could not resist sharing it — with little accompanying text. The image speaks for itself. You do not need my feeble words to interpret Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Each day breaks with promise. We choose our attitude; we decide how to live… and to what end and purpose.

May you make your own day bright… and shine your light on others.


Homecoming Weekend

I’m writing these words on Sunday, the day after our 2017 Homecoming football game. What an incredible way to end my first three months! Allow me to restate some of the reflections I shared from the lectern at four venues, beginning Friday noon.

At the Emeritus Club Induction Luncheon, I expressed my view of the essential role that FSU plays in shaping lives, leaving an indelible mark that extends through life. A few years ago, I was driving east to an early fall morning meeting in New Hampshire, passing first through dense valley fog, and then climbing into the mountains, slowly ascending through improving visibility. As I entered a sweeping curve to the left, the sun’s orb burning through, back-lighting a fifty-foot dead birch, its skeleton nicely silhouetted. Every branch held scores of geometric orb-weaver spider webs, each fiber bejeweled by countless dew drops, festooning the barren tree. I embraced the sight, aching to snap a photo. Yet the road had no shoulder, and the fog still too thick for me to stop mid-lane.

I thought about the special alignment of conditions that enabled me to see the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that were otherwise hidden within, invisible as I drove back down later that day. That image reminded me that what we do here at FSU is to make sure we provide the special conditions necessary to illuminate and reveal the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe that lie hidden within each of our students. Our inductees bear witness to our success five decades ago!

I will observe that the Hall of Fame Banquet Friday evening surpassed even my sky-high expectations! The gentlemen representing the 1967 National Champion Football Falcons carry the torch beautifully. I told them that they exemplify the informal, unofficial, reality-inspired FSU mission statement that I have adopted: To inspire, educate, and develop… values based workers, citizens, and leaders… committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service. Again, it’s Steve’s interpretation of what FSU does oh so well!

Saturday morning, I helped welcome and greet the nearly 100 Falcon Family Association participants. Because only a staff member or two had heard my orb weaver tale, I related it again, telling parents and family members that they, too, are part of the equation for assuring the right conditions for discovering what lies hidden within! As an old forester, I do indeed believe that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in, or is powerfully inspired by Nature. I say to you, my readers, never forget my love of Nature and my appreciation for the rich and fulfilling environment of North-Central West Virginia, and everywhere I have resided (and visited)!

I focused my few opening remarks for the FSU Alumni Award Winners Saturday brunch on my already deep sense of attachment to this special institution. I mentioned seeing why folks are rooted here. What brings them back. How this college/university on the hill nurtures; guides; inspires; serves as a rock. A rock that anchors them, their vocation, their service, their spirit, and their life. I reminded them that the Fighting Falcon Spirit is soaring high; reaching deep; and linking the past to the present… and on to the future.

I urged all to take time today and every day… to pause; breathe deeply; feast with their eyes; feel with their heart; sharpen and refresh their  memories; and heed the call of Fairmont State University beckoning… again, and again, and again!

I’m reminded of Robert Service’s The Spell of the Yukon:

“It’s the great big broad land way up yonder.

It’s the forests where silence has lease,

It’s the beauty that fills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”

May all of us carry The Spell of the Fighting Falcons with us forevermore! Service includes a line, “Oh God! How I’m stuck on it all.”

And I am!

Homecoming Parade

Early Signs of Seasonal Shift

As I draft this, it’s only the fourth of September, yet signs are appearing that fall is advancing. I walked the FSU campus this morning, observing evidence. The fire-bush at the base of my hill is signaling change:


An ornamental red maple likewise:

Whether viewing Nature’s seasonal rhythms or observing the enterprise we lead, always be alert for signs and signals of change. Some indicate harmless patterns. Others signal danger and proclaim issues that require attention, vigilance, and action. Know the difference, and respond accordingly.

I recall my first end-of-August in Fairbanks, Alaska. The summer had been dry compared to my Eastern temperate climate frame of reference. I learned later that Fairbanks summers are typically that dry. I attributed the yellowing aspen and white birch to drought. Two weeks later, hillsides of aspen and birch were a bright yellow — full fall coloration, which is normal for the second week of September. By the third week, the first snow fell. By early October, the winter snow pack began to build. The 65-degree-north latitude shoulder seasons are abbreviated. Winter arrives early, digs deep, and remains firmly in place through much of April. I should have done my homework. I should have anticipated. I do better now when in new places.

We should all prepare with fore-knowledge relevant to our lives, vocations, and avocations. Nature prepares unfailingly. The birch and aspen knew it was time to act as August waned. They had already translocated their nutrients from expiring leaves to their roots when the first freeze hit. As leaders, we cannot afford to be caught unaware when predictable adversity strikes. Nature’s lessons instruct that we follow her lead. Birch and aspen practices are hard-wired. Some of ours are as well, yet many lessons applicable to living, learning, serving, and leading we must derive from evidence available to us in books, manuals, and experience. Other people have previously made and recorded mistakes we must avoid. We learn from Nature and from those who have erred, as it seems, so we need not repeat.

Anticipate the seasons of your life and enterprise. Protect your essential nutrients from freezes, literal and symbolic. Nature teaches; we learn… and prosper.

Featured Image: Dogwood (Cornus Florida) already with red berries and leaves approaching fall color.

How Wonderful to be Centrally Isolated!

Here at Fairmont, I write a weekly column for the Times West Virginian newspaper. I offer perspective from my Interim Presidency, and frequently weave a Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading thread into the fabric. The essay/column below will appear sometime in September.

Judy and I drove to Cranberry, PA Labor Day Friday to visit our son and his family (three grands!), leaving campus here at 3:30PM. Routine wait-time at Fairmont intersections, a little traffic through Morgantown, WV, then gridlock from Canonsburg, PA north. I suppose time-of-day and holiday flow combined to clog I-79. Our leisurely (but not at all relaxing) 15 mph pace, predictable for a metropolitan area (Pittsburgh MSMA, 2017) home to 2.36 million, reminded me that we are blessed in The Friendly City to be so centrally isolated – my Fairmont descriptor, which I’ll explain.

We’re within 100 miles of Pittsburgh and its airport, shopping, entertainment, professional sports franchises, Three Rivers, and globally recognized identity as a recovered and now emergent city. A little more than three hours from Columbus, OH; under four hours to our Nation’s Capital; a bit over two hours to our state capital. Central, yes — but isolated?

You bet, and that’s a good thing! Isolated from persistent gridlock, stagnant city air, Presidential motorcades (D.C.), game day traffic, and the constant cacophony of life among the masses. Sure, we have our issues, but to a far lesser extent. Deeper, natural isolation is within easy reach. The nearby rails-to-trails; Prickett’s Fort; Valley Falls; rivers rich with fish, escape, and beauty! A little further and you’re in absolute eastern USA grandeur – my heaven-on-Earth, Dolly Sods and the high plateau region above 4,000 feet! Isolated is a wonderful attribute. Over the years, business has taken me to Los Angeles – try seeking isolation there. Forgetta-bout-it! You can have the Santa Monica Freeway. Give me our lovely Connector – from the Interstate to downtown, three minutes of splendor.

And think about our Interstate – what a Godsend to have it and its hi-tech corridor at our doorstep! The strength of a booming light industrial and technological sector right here in our rural midst. Add in our Harrison County neighbors and we have tremendous potential for increasing economic vibrancy and quality-of-life vitality. Oh yes, don’t forget our incredible higher education attributes – FSU and Pierpont – here to feed and fuel the corridor, our Friendly City, and the region!

Again, Fairmont and environs are blessed. Perhaps it takes a short-term visitor to see the obvious. I have come to conclude generally, and in every place I’ve resided, that far too few people even look, much less see what lies around us. We are blinded by familiarity; dulled by our digital devices; and distracted by routine. Fresh eyes and my imposed urgency to make a difference here at FSU force me to look, see, and feel deeply, prompting me to act – on behalf of FSU… and the community we inhabit.

My big question: are we at FSU capitalizing on what I view as strategic comparative advantages? Do we adequately incorporate these attributes into our image, brand, and identity? Are we even seeing, much less capitalizing on, the possibilities? Not when I arrived. Instead, we bemoaned declining WV high school demographics, reduced State support of higher education, and our trailing WV economic stature. I’ve said repeatedly, shed that self-fulfilling mindset. Rise above it.

Ride the wave spurred by our special advantages. Build those positives into our identity. Forge powerful reciprocal partnerships with our robust business and industry neighbors along the corridor. Attract students from outside West Virginia, the region, and the US. Jettison the lethargy of an institution staking its future on Charleston alone. Don’t await the cavalry arriving from Kanawha County to save us – it does not exist, nor will it. Our fate is in our own hands.

I intend to pass the baton to FSU’s next President, having charted a course forward, upward, and onward. We (FSU and our region) are positioned for advance… and for sustainable success. I am grateful for the chance to play some small role in securing the future.

The column ends there. I had no trouble adopting it to my Great Blue Heron Blog theme of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. My Interim Presidency is, in every sense, an extension of my work at Great Blue Heron. I am applying my GBH trade and model to an annual $45 million-dollar enterprise. This trial is proving wildly successful. Employing my ecosystem approach to enterprise management is working beautifully.

After my FSU term, what follows? Another interim gig in higher education, at an NGO, a business? Perhaps a series of contracts to write Forestland Legacy Stories? Maybe a third book — a compendium of these GBH Posts? This Interim Presidency has buoyed my look to what lies ahead.

I am having the time of my life — lifting a university of 4,000 future citizens, 30,000 alumni, and a major cog in the regional economy! Operating from an environmental base that aligns with my heritage… and my destiny. Life is Good!


Featured Image: Fog envelops the Monongahela River Valley several hundred feet below and south of campus. September 4, the cooler mornings with associated fog portends autumn.

Stasis Does Not Exist in Nature; Nothing is Permanent

I carved out Sunday afternoon time to visit nearby Valley Falls State Park, August 6. The Tygart River Falls, flush with abundant July Rains, provided a great setting to begin and end my four miles through the more-than-century-old second growth forest.

The Park’s 1,145-acres once supported a community dependent upon the site’s lumber and grist mill, first operated in 1827, and now long-since consumed by dis-use, decay, fire, and flood. Little direct evidence remains. The forest is even-aged, naturally regenerated following extensive, and perhaps multiple clear-cuttings supplying original-growth logs to the mill and then fuel-wood for residential use. I saw nary a stump, evidencing both the long period of time since the last cuttings in the late 19th or early 20th Century and that no cutting has occurred in the current stand. I saw more than a few trees in the three- to four-feet diameter range.

















This red oak approaches four-feet diameter at breast height (in forestry terms DBH: diameter breast height, or 4.5 feet above ground level). Many trees beyond are 12-20″ DBH.

The photo below demonstrates that what otherwise might appear to be a maturing forest in stasis is, in fact, a dynamic ecosystem. The trees occupying the stand are competing aggressively for finite site resources: light, soil, moisture, and space, among others. When new growth first began claiming the clear cut forest, tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of stems per acre fought fiercely. An eastern deciduous forest rule of thumb is that stand development results in two-percent annual mortality. Causes include disease, insects, inadequate light, wind, lightning, beaver, and many others. The feature-photo red oaks, both about two-feet DBH, wind up-rooted one, striking the crown of the other domino-style as it fell, snapping the second at ground level, in a strong straight-line burst, likely during a thunderstorm. The two 90-100-foot stems lie within two degrees of parallel. So much for stasis in a dynamic forest. Because nature truly does abhor a vacuum, seedlings will soon fill the sunlit forest floor under the large canopy opening.

Wind is not the only agent of change. Most mortality is more subtle, inexorable. This 10″ DBH hickory could not keep apace with its neighbors, slowly losing prime access to light and other essential resources… weakening, unable to fend off the unrelenting forces of insect, disease, and poor resource consumption. The saprophytic fungal fruiting bodies are a sign of death, not an agent of demise. Their parent mycelia are feasting on the vertical cellulose buffet. In time, the hickory will yield to gravity, returning its remaining lignin to the forest floor, from where successor trees will once again take it vertical. Again, nothing in nature is permanent.


This dead, until-recently-standing red oak (18″ DBH) has crossed the strength threshold for balancing the above ground mass. An adjacent crown has temporarily halted its slip to full horizontal. Gravity always prevails, and this stem, too, will soon fall to the ground, where it will decay into the soil and, as all living matter does, recycle once more into the living. The forest tells many tales. A four-mile hike can spin a century of life… and death, for those able to read its language. For those who look, see, feel, and interpret.

This old sentinel probably predates the even-aged stand. Its large girth and course crown (mostly dropped) evidences that it grew open for some time, perhaps shading an early residence along the road that is now the trail. Maybe it provided some welcome shade at a concentration area where laborers placed wood on skids for transport to the mill or community. If only it could relate its story. Had I dallied longer at this milepost along my own route, I might have read more from the land. My journey was quick; the forest’s sojourn covers well over a century. Note the human nature touch on the adjacent beech tree. I did not notice the carving of initials and date until I viewed the photo at home. I walked alone; perhaps a couple had passed hand-in-hand, and left the mark of their feelings?








Even this healthy, full-crowned, dominant yellow poplar shows a scar or two. These now-healing wood pecker excavations have left a physical mark, opened a court to fungal invasion, and may one day lead to stem failure. Why this tree? Why here along this stem? What tasty morsel attracted the pileated woodpecker? I show it here only as evidence that nothing in nature is static — not even for this magnificent yellow poplar, reaching 110 feet above its 36″ DBH trunk. I also include it here because it evokes an image of that brilliant soldier of the forest pounding for insects on a late spring morning, resounding and echoing across the wooded hills, perhaps reaching the river below.

I ended my hike back at the river, above the old mill race. These waters will still flow long after that poplar returns to the forest floor, decays, and is recycled through ten thousand more such forest fauna and flora. Nature is restless and relentless. Her lessons are persistent and powerful.

I conclude a powerful lesson from my hike: nothing about your business, enterprise, or life is permanent. Don’t count on anything to remain at stasis. Change is inexorable, occasionally predictable, sometimes not. Gravity and the passage of time are certain and reliable; little else is. To the extent you are able and willing, open your eyes to the world around you, and learn from it.

Drawing this post to closure, I offer two relevant observations applicable to the work of Great Blue Heron, LLC:

  1. I am taking the equivalent of a hiking tour of Fairmont State University, where I am a month-and-a-half into my six-month interim presidency. I am reading from the historic and present landscape its story of people, potential, place, and promise… and translating what I see, through a set of generated feelings and deep experiences, to recommendations for action and implementation. GBH can do the same for your enterprise or organization.
  2. My four-mile Valley Falls hike yielded a micro Forestland Legacy Story. Just think what we might develop from a full day or two on your property, weaving Nature’s tale with the threads of your ownership into a fabric rich with sentiment, memories, family, and nature. A story that, like the waters of the Tygart River, will flow into the distant future, touching descendants centuries hence.


Featured Photo: Everything is static… without the passage of time; stasis does not exist in Nature!

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle