Late October along Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk

National Natural Landmark

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

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

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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

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

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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

Beaverdam

 

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

Beaverdam

 

A Nightime Flashback

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

Beaverdam Swamp

 

Fall’s Subtle and Tranquil Beauty

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

Beaverdam

 

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

Beaverdam

 

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

Beaverdam

 

Edible Wild Mushroom Sidebar

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

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksBeaverdam

 

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

 

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

The Narrows

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Late Summer and Early Fall

Nature of the Narrows

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

 

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

 

Dayflower proudly displayed its deep sky-blue flowers.

 

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

Narrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Bittersweet

 

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

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksNarrows

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Rugged Central Appalachians

 

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

C&O Canal

 

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

Tionesta

US Forest Service file photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Rocky Gap

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Foothold at the Base of the Allegheny Front

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

 

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

 

The rolling hills, populated with steeples, welcome visitors.

 

Our visit coincided with Annual Heritage days.

Heritage Days

 

Cumberland’s interpretive signs tell its story well.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Reaching for the Fertile Frontier Beyond

 

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

 

Crossing the Allegheny Front: Through the Narrows

 

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

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

Alt US 40 Cumberland Narrows.jpg

Both images from available online sources

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

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

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

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

Big Tree

Big Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Belying my Impressions from Forty Years Ago

A New Understanding and Awakened Eyes

 

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

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

To the Big Tree

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

Big TreeBig Tree

 

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

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

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

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

Big Tree

 

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

Big TreeBig Tree

 

In many places boulders had tumbled to streamside.

Big Tree

 

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

Big Tree

 

From Rock Barriers to Blowdown Impediments

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

Big Tree

 

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

Big Tree

 

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

Big Tree

 

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

 

The Destination

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

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

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

Big Tree

 

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

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

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

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

Big Tree

 

Fall colors enrich my memory.

Big TreeBig Tree

 

 

 

 

 

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

Stock Photo from Web

 

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

Big Tree

 

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

 

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

Big Tree

 

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

Another Muir quote seems apt:

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

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksBig Tree

 

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

 

Early October Foray at Monte Sano State park

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

Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

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

 

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

Allow me to paraphrase a relevant John Muir quote:

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

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Monte Sano

 

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

Again, John Muir:

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

Non-Tree Features

 

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

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

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

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

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

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods:

The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

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

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

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable (Richard Louv).
  • I can think of few things more rewarding than seeing my grandchildren express interest in and pay attention to Nature.
  • The power of imagination makes us infinite (John Muir). 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

Mill and Lake

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Spiritual Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Postscript of Sorts

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Borrowing from Father Richard Rohr, alone in Nature, “All we can do is let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need.”
  • I feel deep passion for special places in Nature, whether recent acquaintances or revisiting 51 years later.
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and rewards my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

 

Pennsylvania’s Hickory Creek Wilderness

September 7, 2021, I hiked the Hickory Creek Wilderness in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in northwest Pennsylvania, about 40 miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships in second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests. The Wilderness forests are typical of the greater ANF across the Allegheny Plateau, second-growth and dominated by black cherry, red and sugar maple, mixed oaks, cucumber, white ash, white pine, and hemlock. Decades of high deer populations have eliminated most understory vegetation (excepting hay-scented and New York fern), including advanced tree regeneration, and evidence a four-to-five-foot browse line. This was my first return to the forest type of my doctoral field work in 25 years!

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

 

 

 

 

General Stand Condition

I spend a lot of time exploring bottomland hardwood forests near my home in northern Alabama, where understories are often dense with woody vegetation. The Hickory Creek forest floor istypically barren, carpeted fern-green on either side of the well-defined trail.

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

The climate is moist temperate, nearby Warren, PA averaging 47″ precipitation annually, evenly distributed across the seasons. Moss quickly colonizes fallen woody debris. Much cooler than northern Alabama, average July high temperature is 80 degrees; average January low is 15 degrees. Annual average snowfall is 100 inches. The same data points for Huntsville, Alabama are: 55″ precipitation; 90 July high; 30 January low; two inches of snow on average.

Hickory Creek

 

Species Composition

Black cherry is the signature species on these second growth Allegheny Hardwood forests. Black cherry, prized for its wood’s beauty and ease of working, is commercially in high demand. Nowhere else does this species grow better and of higher quality than on the Allegheny Plateau. The twin beauty below sports at least three 16-foot sawlogs below the first branch.

Hickory Creek

 

Red oaks (below) are common and, like the cherry above, grow straight and tall. Notice that the red oak (below left) is a twin; below right is a triple. Oaks often regenerate from stump or root sprouting. The twin and triplet suggest that the 90-or-so-year-ago harvest triggered sprouting from the stump of the harvested oak mother trees. Perhaps multiple sprouts generated…only two and three, respectively, survived nine decades.

Hickory CreekHickory Creek

 

The chestnut oak below is also a double. All the oaks pictured reach high into the canopy. Multiple-stemmed main canopy trees are not unusual in these Allegheny forests, nor for our own northern Alabama upland and bottomland oaks. I am not suggesting that regeneration by seed (acorn) does not occur, nor that multiple stems derive from only logged stumps. Picture a healthy oak seedling clipped by a browsing deer. Oak resprouts vigorously after herbivory. Likewise, imagine a vigorous seedling or sapling charred by fire, killed from the root collar, then aggressively sprouting as a multiple-stemmed individual reaching skyward. Importantly, all stems in such clusters, whether in year one after sprouting or at age 90-years, are vegetatively reproduced, genetically identical, biological twins, triplets, etc.

Hickory Creek

 

Cucumber tree (below) is a common, albeit minor, stand component.

Hickory Creek

 

I found an occasional white pine. This individual stands as a dominant member of the main canopy. Unlike the barren (fern-covered) understory elsewhere, white pine regeneration (10-15-year-old saplings) offers promise within seed-fall of the mother tree.

Hickory Creek

 

Nearby a small grove of hemlock likewise supports advanced hemlock regeneration. White pine and hemlock are shade tolerant when young, enabling advanced regeneration to patiently await crown openings or major forest disturbance.

Hickory Creek

 

Tree Abnormalities

Red maple is another common Allegheny Hardwood component. This individual exhibited multiple woodpecker wounds (below left). The two close-up wounds below right appear to be kept active year after year. The larger wound is attempting to callous, yet both openings show recent and ongoing wounding.

Hickory Creek

 

This tortured red maple, damaged severely as a sapling, manages to add enough annual wood to stay erect. Nature’s resilience, persistence, and adaptation never ceases to amaze me. This individual will never reach the main canopy (it occupies the intermediate canopy, the best it will ever do), nor will it live as long as its over-topping neighbors. However, it retains life and, were a major blowdown event to level the forest, this tree will produce stump sprouts that may surge ahead of its neighbor’s new shoots, perhaps assuring its next life could be lived in the dominant canopy. I’m assuming that this deformed iteration is owing to early physical damage and does not reflect some genetic predisposition to poor form.

Note once more the fern-dense forest floor, the result of decades of excessive deer browsing, which persists across the Allegheny Plateau.

Hickory Creek

 

Excessive Deer Browsing

I did find woody regeneration within the fern cover, apparently hidden from browsing deer beneath the winter snowpack. Below left is blueberry, below right red maple.

Hickory Creek

 

As well as red oak (left) and American beech (right).

Hickory Creek

 

Their presence offers little promise of escaping the deer; however, they do evidence that seed is falling, germinating, and finding suitable soil to at least begin life. Over-browsing has presented a regeneration problem in these forests since well before I conducted my doctoral research in the mid-1980s.

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every forest has its story, read from a snapshot in time, deciphered from the observer’s experience and understanding of Nature’s language.
  • Returning to a forest type I knew intimately a half century ago is akin to reminiscing with an old friend.
  • Special places, I’ve learned, reside deep in our mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHickory Creek

 

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

Pennsylvania’s McConnell’s Mill State Park

September 8, 2021, I hiked along Slippery Rock Creek at McConnell’s Mill State Park some 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This Post focuses on the Nature of this geologic, environmental, and historic gorge in west central Pennsylvania.

Human and natural history intersect in nearly every wild place I’ve wandered in the eastern US. McConnell’s Mill State Park along the Slippery Rock Creek gorge is yet another example. Daniel Kennedy built the original grist mill at this site in 1852; fire destroyed the structure in 1868 and he rebuilt that same year. Thomas McConnell bought the mill in 1875. Officials dedicated the mill and surrounding property as McConnell’s Mill State Park in 1957. The Park encompasses 2,546 acres.

 

The covered bridge crosses the creek just 200 feet below the mill. A fine old structure, the bridge was built in 1874 and rehabilitated in 2016. I find something special…a sense of antiquity and comfort…in historic wooden covered bridges. May it stand for another 150 years!

 

The Gorge

The creek runs strong and true through the rocky (sandstone) gorge. Slippery Rock Gorge is a National Natural Landmark, so designated by the US Department of the Interior in 1972.

 

Exquisite beauty defines the trails along the creek, the forest rising from among the boulders. The trail surface is generally smooth and wide. I enjoyed being able to observe the creek and ascending side slopes without need for watching every footfall carefully. Toss in a handful of side-spring crossings and wooden stairs. The full effect is aesthetic and peaceful to the extreme.

 

Over the eons, boulders and fallen rimrock have populated the gorge bottom (below left). Bedrock in form of vertical faces lines the gorge in places. The gorge bottom is deeply shaded, very moist, and several degrees cooler that the forests and fields above. I felt sheltered, protected, and isolated from the world beyond the park. Here I was within an hour of Pittsburgh, yet this in every dimension appeared to be raw wildness.

 

The Gorge and its history warrant far more discussion than I have given it. However, my purpose is not to offer a treatise, but to present a broad introduction to an amazing slice of Nature within reach of a major American city. I’ve discovered during my lifetime of Nature exploration that wildness and Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are within easy reach no matter where we are in our great country… or across this magnificent planet Earth.

 

The Forest and its Trees

I have lately begun to deliberate in my own mind the distinction between old growth forest and old forest. My wanderings in the Heart’s Content Natural Area (400-year-old remnant forest) a day before this McConnell’s Mill hike, gave me a nearby frame of reference. I believe that this old gorge-bottom forest does not rise to the level of old growth. I’ll address the distinction in subsequent Posts.

Eastern hemlock (below left) and red oak (its back against the rock face below right) are common within the gorge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow birch (below), common in the canyon, brings back fond memories of my northern woods’ adventures. Yellow birch does extend sporadically into northeast Alabama, but it is uncommon.

 

Black cherry’s range extends throughout Alabama, yet it seldom achieves the significance, quality, and stature it holds in the Allegheny highlands of SW New York, NW Pennsylvania, and in cove sites south into the Smokies.

 

Hemlock (below left) predominates in the gorge. Yellow poplar, like the two 30-inch stems below right, flourishes on these rich protected lower slopes.

 

American beech and sugar maple, two shade tolerant species, also thrive in such microsites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the trees I just introduced exceed my unofficial criterion of old. I estimate that many are at least 150 years. I stress “estimate.”

 

Life Among the Boulders

Ecology is the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. One element of ecology worthy of Blog-pursuit is how trees in this gorge interact with the boulders and exposed bedrock that constitute the canyon floor.

The life span of even old trees here in the gorge may reach or occasionally exceed 300 years. The rock upon which this black birch clings is a million times that old, 300 million years. The rock’s flat top collects organic matter from above, upon which mosses and ferns grow, decay, hold moisture, and provide suitable substrate and microclimate for birch, hemlock, and other tree species to germinate, begin a life cycle, and knowingly extend roots down seeking mineral soil to sustain life beyond the seedlings stage. This birch reached literal paydirt at the rock’s base.

 

This hemlock is fully exploiting the soil and organic matter covering the large slab of sandstone 150 vertical feet above the creek. Somewhere in its (and the birch above) genetic code there are instructions for germinating and surviving on top of a boulder, slab, stump, or fallen log.

 

These two trios (in each case a yellow birch and two hemlocks) found purchase on the respective rock shelf. All three on both rocks seem healthy and vibrant.

 

The yellow birch below is employing a long root-arm to reach mineral soil. Yoda wisely proclaimed, Do or do not, there is no try. Birch has, over millennia of evolution, learned to send root-scouts to search for mineral soil and to secure the nutrients and moisture essential for sustaining life-success (i.e. living long and well enough to produce and disperse seed).

 

Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. A fern and moss terrarium covers the rock top below left. Moss drapes the rock face below right. Life thrives within every available niche on the canyon floor.

 

A yellow birch long ago found a welcoming rock crevice and, as the tree grew, now embraces the constricting rock. Ferns have captured the high ground below right. Were the same rock exposed at the canyon rim above, the rock would not be such a favorable microsite for fern nor moss. The gorge micro-climate makes almost any surface suitable for life and living.

 

I nearly head-brushed this beech twig (below left) covered by beech blight aphids. From the InsectIdentification website:

Beech Blight Aphids can be found on the twigs, leaves and branches of a variety of deciduous trees, but the beech tree is a popular hangout. They are white and fluffy, as if small bits of cotton or white wool have been glued to their bodies. This hairy substance is actually made of strings of wax that the aphid secretes onto itself. The texture of the wax is thought to be unappealing to beetles and wasps that might eat it. It is also an efficient way of reducing the loss of water by providing a hydro-phobic barrier that prevents evaporation.

Beech Blight Aphids tend to be found in clusters and may at first be overlooked as a fungus or lichen. Like other aphids, they use their mouth parts to drain their host plant of its juices. They then produce a sticky, sweet substance called “honeydew” from the plant juices once they eliminate it. Honeydew is a sweet, attractive food source for ants and, therefore, it is likely to find ants in the vicinity of aphids in order to harvest the sap-like excretion.

Molding honeydew covers the litter trailside (below right) beneath the aphid-coated branch.

 

Late growing season flowers were notably scarce in the dense canyon shade. I found just a small patch of pale jewelweed.

 

Taking care not to contact this wood nettle plant, I snapped a photo. Also known as stinging nettle, its stems and leaves are covered with hairs containing caustic irritants. I did not wish to spoil my canyon explorations with caustic irritants!

 

I had previously visited the mill with my son and his family during deep winter when snow created a post card image of the mill and bridge, and the frozen and snow-covered creek above and below the dam. I can visualize a series of photo-essay Posts chronicling the seasonal shifts in the gorge. Because we live 700 miles south of where our son and his family reside, I will likely not pursue such a project. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my early fall hike along Slippery Rock Creek within the Slippery Rock Gorge, a National Natural Landmark, protected for all future generations.

Aldo Leopold talked with unusual resignation about protecting such wild places:

All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.

I believe he would be pleasantly surprised by how effectively, across America, we have taken his words as a call to action…identifying and protecting special wild places. Find one near you; visit it and support continuing Nature conservation.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Whether in northern Alabama or west central Pennsylvania, special natural places warrant special protection.
  • We have taken Aldo Leopold’s call to action seriously, protecting special natural places across the country.
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and rewards my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began authoring books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

Heart’s Content in NW Pennsylvania (Part Two)

The Special Nature of an Old Growth Allegheny Hardwood Forest

 

September 7, 2021 I hiked and explored the Heart’s Content Scenic Area (a 400-year-old remnant of the original forest that covered the Allegheny Plateau when European settlers arrived in the 18th Century) in the Allegheny National Forest of northwest Pennsylvania. This preserved area is located just 40 miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships for second-growth Allegheny hardwoods. This was my first return to the Allegheny in 35 years!

I issued a first Post from this visit October 14, 2021, focusing on the origin chronology of the 90-100-year-old second growth forests of my doctoral research, and the species composition within this ancient forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=9643&action=edit

This Post focuses on the special Nature of this ancient forest.

We have all read some of the earliest European settlers’ accounts of the deep forests greeting them when they arrived on our North American shores: forests dark and foreboding, foul and repugnant; teeming wtih wild beasts and savages. Perhaps some 17th century New England forests were dark and foreboding. Such is not the case today at Heart’s Content. The stand beyond the entrance sign below looks rather dark, yet, dappled sulight is penetrating the forest. The trail (below right) wends through patches of sunlight and deep shade.

Heart's Content

Heart's Content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunlight brightens the trunks of a massive hemlock (left) and red oak, both 3-4 feet in diameter.

Heart's Content

 

Large dead and down woody debris characterizes the forest floor. The hemlock log below left measures four feet at what would have been breast-high when the tree stood. Sunlight is spotlighting the log and dappling the diverse woody debris below right. Old growth characteristics in our eastern forests include some large individuals, a great deal of dead and down woody debris, scattered crown openings, ansd multi-tiered crown structure. The two photos evidence all elements.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

The ancient main canopy individuals, across all species, reach straight and tall (see the hemlock and oak photos above) to their first branches, suggesting that for at least the stand’s first century-plus, full stocking provided sunlight only to the active high crowns. The white pine (left below) is typical of the ancient Heart’s Content individuals. The white pine below right stands near the parking area, likely planted nearly a century ago when officials dedicated the preserve. The differences in appearance are distinct, reflecting available sunshine during that first century following establishment. The old growth tree competed fiercely for sunlight above its elongating primary shoots, hemmed in on all sides by adjacent trees, the tip to some extent shaded. The planted white pine below right presents a form referred to as a cabbage pine. White pine weevils ruthlessly lay eggs in the terminal and lateral shoots that recieve full sunlight. Year after year, weevils infested the primary shoots of this pine, restricting the expression of single stem apical dominance. Each successive year resulted in compound forking, leading to its squat cabbage-like form. Dense lateral competition for most species “trains” the winners (those that out-compete their neighbors) to grow straight and true, striving vertically for the full sunlight above. The cabbage pine has no commercial timber value, yet, it contributes unlimited benefits: aesthetic, wildlife cover, and seed production for critter-consumption. I viewed it as a curioisity and a tool for learning and interpretation.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Nothing lives without end. The dance of life and death is continuous. Yes, the forest can live on and on, yet, individual trees die even as the forest persists. The massive hemlocks below fell from the canopy decades ago, slowly yielding their biomass to decay organisms, inexorably reincorporating into the forest floor, and from there recycling to living and emerging shrubs and trees.

Heart's Content

 

Mosses are abundant, carpenting and enshrouding downed debris. Fungi mycelium account for large quantities of biomass within the decaying woody debris. A few orange mushrooms dot the mossy log below right. Life and death embrace in the great circle of forest ecosystems, a reality more easily grasped in such ancient forests.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

The 3-4-foot diameter hemlock and white pine below left (white pine in foreground) stood shoulder to shoulder across four centuries. The pine is recently dead, its bark still clinging. The pine has already begun its return to the soil. Its crown is needle-free. Fungi, I am certain, have already found entrance to the wood through unseen fissues in the dead bark. Within a few years, the bark will slough, mushrooms with decorate the trunk, the small branches will break and fall. In time, gravity will prevail and the tree will find the forest floor.

Heart's Content

 

The introduced emerald ash borer entered our eastern forests from Asia, first detected in Michigan in 2002, and now reported in 35 states, including Alabama. The pests’ mortality front is racing southward across Tennessee heading our way. The photo below right shows the canopy void from an original growth white ash. The borer does not show deference to the elderly. During my two days exploring forests in northwest and west-central Pennsylvania, I found no living ash.

Heart's Content

 

How tragic that our white and green ash will go the way of American chestnut (chestnut blight) and our emblematic elm (Dutch elm disease).

Heart's Content

Heart's Content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forest Curiosities

 

Not all disease organisms lead to imminent death. The American beech below has a circumferential canker, likely caused by viral, fungal, or bacterial action introduced by a physical injury. From forestpathology.org:

A canker is an infectious disease of the phloem and cambium on stems, branches or twigs of trees.  A patch of phloem and cambium is killed, the underlying wood dies as a result, and the killing often progresses over time. Cankers are often sunken if they grow slowly because the shoot continues to grow around it. Also, callus may be produced around the canker that makes it appear more sunken.

There are some diseases usually considered with other groups that are cankers, as well as injuries that can be confused with cankers:

  • Bacterial cankers.  These are covered with bacterial diseases.
  • Canker rots. Some basidiomycetes that decay wood in the stem may also kill patches of sapwood and bark. We consider most of them along with stem-decay fungi.
  • Stem rusts. These cause cankers, but we consider them separately with the rusts.
  • Foliage diseases, shoot and tip blights. Some of these kinds of diseases also can involve small cankers of twigs, branches, and even main stems; they are considered under foliage diseases.
  • Winter injury or sunscald. These kill patches of bark, and can be confused with cankers.  Also, canker pathogens can infect living tissues at the margins, so they can become cankers.

I am fascinated, as I have professed often in these Posts, with tree form oddities and curiosities, like the American beech below.

Heart's Content

 

If the white pine and hemlock earlier were standing shoulder to shoulder across the four centuries, the white pine and American beech below are in centuries-long warm ebrace. Yet another forest curiosity. Now for a not-so-warm commentary on the stupidity and ignorance of the human psyche. Why do we insignifcant, supposedly intelligent humans, behave as idiot pissants when confronted by a smooth-barked beech? Why, with pocketknife in-hand, do some ignorant oafs insist upon leaving the mark of their fleeting existence upon a tree in a 400-year-old forest cathedral? Why not strive to leave some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, passion, and hard work! As I frequently remind my grandkids, “You can’t fix stupid!”

Heart's Content

 

The eastern newt seemed quite content here in Heart’s Content, living and thriving among the decay, dampness, and nutrient-rich oasis of 400 years worth of bountiful life and its associated dead and down woody debris. How considerate (no arrogance and studpidity in this amphibian species) of the eastern newt to announce his neon-presence so splendidly!

heart's Content

 

I express my gratitude for those who preserved and donated the original 20 acres of old growth for preservation across time, so that we may believe, look, see, feel, and act in response. May we continue to be worthy and deserving recipients of the gift and foresight…and pass such benevolence on to future generations.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We prepare most readily for the future when we understand the past.
  • So readily apparent in old growth, all forests engage in a continuous cycle of life and death.
  • Just as others before us preserved special places in Nature, we all must do our part to lay the foundation for generations yet to come.

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.

 

 

Reading the Fragility of Forest Permanence!

Standing Tall is Never Permanent

 

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

HGH Road HGH Road

 

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

A Tree Hits the Mark

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

HGH Road

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

 

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

Weakness Yields to Force

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

 

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

 

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

Strength Yields to Force

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

 

 

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

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

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