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.

 

Mushroom Rambling Early October in Two Distinct Alabama Forest Types

Bottomland Hardwood Forest along the Tennessee River in Madison County, Alabama

October 9, 2021, a friend and I roamed a mature bottomland hardwood forest searching for mushrooms that we anticipated would be flourishing after nearly three inches of rain fell the week prior. We were not disappointed.

We hit the jackpot with honey mushrooms (Armlillaria mellea and Armillaria tabescens). From MushroomExpert.com, The classic “honey mushroom,” Armillaria mellea, was first named from Europe in the 18th Century; here in North America it turns out to be limited to roughly the eastern half of North America, from about the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and the East Coast—although it has also been reported from northern California. It grows in tightly packed clusters, usually on the wood of hardwoods. We spotted a 30-inch diameter standing dead red oak as soon as we entered the forest, its entire basal circumference sprouting dense clusters of fresh honeys.

Wheeler NWR

 

We celebrated our good fortune. However, I reminded myself that my forest pathology course during undergraduate forestry school highlighted Armillaria mellea as a serious hardwood forest pathogen. From an NC State University online article on soil-borne pathogens: Armillaria mellea, and probably other closely related species, is one of the most common fungi in forest soil. They live on the coarse roots and lower stems of conifers and broad-leaved trees. As parasites, the fungi cause mortality, wood decay, and growth reduction. They infect and kill trees that have been already weakened. The fungi also infect healthy trees, either killing them outright or predisposing them to attacks by other fungi or insects. I recall focusing on the disease and the signs and symptons of infection. I simply can not remember anything about its reproductive structure. I knew nothing about its mushrooms, much less their edibility!

WNWR. Wheeler NWR

 

We also found abundant clusters of ringless honey mushrooms (Armillaria tabescens), below clustering around two different snags already well decayed. Like the mellea, the tabescens were at their peak freshness. Both species added color and beauty to the late summer otherwise dull forest floor.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

The close-up below left reveals the beauty of this small cluster. During the week following our foraging trip, I noticed tabescens in my neighborhood woodlot fading rapidly, transitioning to the post-ripeness condition below right. This apparent rate of in-the-wild-spoiling concerns me. I wonder whether it means that the honey mushroom season is short. I will continue to montior and learn.

HGH Road

HGH Road

 

We also found a single (seven pound) hen of the woods. From MushroomExpert.com: Grifola frondosa, sometimes called the “hen of the woods” and the “maitake,” is a soft-fleshed polypore recognized by its smoky brown, wavy caps, which are organized in large clusters of rosettes arising from a single, branched stem structure. It is usually found near the bases of oaks, where it causes a butt rot. The site characterizes this fungus as weakly parasitic (growing on live trees) and extensively saprobic, feeding on dead wood.

WNWRHGH Road

 

These two photographs present the hen in full sunlight on the tailgate. The left image is the cluster top; the lighter color below right is its underside.

HGH Road

 

 

 

I found the lightly battered and fried hen scrumptious!

HGH Road

 

Because I had recently learned more online about turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor), a weak parasite and primarily a decomposer of dead wood. Prior to this trip I could not definitively identify turkey tail. This time I am certain; the two images are, indeed, turkey tail! Although too tough to eat, turkey tail is widely hailed for its medicinal benefits. The web is rich with more information.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

We also found one small colony of five seasonally very late chanterelles, still surprisingly fresh. I failed to snap their photograph. Likewise, in the excitement of the moment I neglected to capture an image of a sugarberry tree’s lower trunk just covered with oyster mushrooms! Except for that lapse in forager photo-chronicling responsibility, we enjoyed (with one caveat) a great three-hour woods rambling. The caveat — mosquitoes can be voracious during early autumn in these wetland forests when temperatures reach the low eighties. Even though I wore mosquito netting over my face, combined with liberally applied bug spray, the pesky little critters harrassed us incessently. As I draft my reflections eight days later, the morning temperature is 42 degrees. Summer is now fading into the rearview mirror! A dormant season of woods wandering and mushroom foraging lies ahead.

 

 

Riparian Hardwood Forest — Bradford Creek Greenway

 

October 10, 2021 I biked loops (totaling just under 18 miles) along the Bradford Creek Greenway, a Nature Preserve jointly held by the City of Madison and the Land Trust of North Alabama. The Greenway follows Bradford Creek and its associated riparian forest. I saw honey mushrooms all along the  trail. These are ringless honeys.

HGH Road

HGH Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also discovered one patch of bulbous honey mushrooms (Armillaria gallica), another edible species of the Armillaria genus.

HGH Road

 

Note the light honey-colored topside (left) and the bulbous base (right).

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

I found several colonies of the distinctively shaped sulfur-tipped coral (Ramaria formosa), an inedible softball size coral fungus. Mushrooms of the Southeast: …a distinctive fungus and one of the larger corals in our region. It is poisonous and can cause serious gastrointestinal issues.

HGH Road

 

Although the mosquitoes did not interfere with biking, every time I stopped to snap a photo or examine mushrooms, they emerged to greet me. A small price to pay for the exquisite pleasure of getting into the out there!

 

The Dance of Life

I subscribe by email to Father Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Week forty-one 2021, on contemplating creation, is particularly relevant to the abundance and diversity of forest life within our rich riparian forests of north Alabama. Rohr’s Dance of Life essay would fit nicely and applicably within many of my Posts for several reasons:

  • I write almost exclusively about Nature and Nature-Inspired Life and Living, and this excerpted essay does just that.
  • Most of my Posts posit some element of spirituality and sacred connection to Nature.
  • My first four Essential Verbs for Nature exploration, echoed by Rohr, are Believe; Look; See; and Feel.
  • I hold that every tree and each parcel of land have stories to tell; Rohr asserts that every living thing has its own creation song, its own language, and its own story.
  • Like Rohr, I am consumed by this achingly beautiful and complete sense of kinship with the entire creation.

Rohr’s Dance of Life: Father Richard views Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) as a prime example of someone who discovered within himself the universal connectedness of creation. Francis addressed animals and nature as spiritual beings who are part of reality’s harmony. [1] Today, we share wisdom about tuning into creation’s harmony from Sherri Mitchell (Penobscot), an attorney and activist for environmental protection and human rights.

Sherri Mitchell: Every living thing has its own creation song, its own language, and its own story. In order to live harmoniously with the rest of creation, we must be willing to listen to and respect all of the harmonies that are moving around us….

We must tune in to our ability to see beyond the physical reality that surrounds us, and awaken to the vast unseen world that exists. Then we can begin to see beyond sight and to hear beyond sound. We see the underlying structures that support our world, and life begins to take on new shape, new meaning. When we live as multisensory beings, we find that we are able to comprehend the language of every living thing. We hear the voices of the trees, and understand the buzzing of the bees. And we come to realize that it is the interwoven substance of these floating rhythms that holds us in delicate balance with all life. Then, our life and our place in creation begins to make sense in a whole new way. Our vision expands to see the overall order of our path, and our hearing tunes in to a whole new source of information. . . . When we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.

I remember my first moment of conscious engagement with this dance. . . . It was a warm early-summer day and I was seated in a meditative state in my back yard. . . . As I was sitting there, I noticed a tiny ant crawling across a blade of grass. As I watched the ant move along, his little body began to light up. Then, the blade of grass that he was walking on lit up. As I sat there and watched, the entire area surrounding me began to light up. . . . I sat very still, quietly marveling over this newfound sight, afraid to move and lose it. . . . While I sat there breathing with the world around me, the firm lines of my being began to fade. I felt myself expanding and merging with all that I was observing. There was suddenly no separation between me, the ant, the grass, the trees, and the birds. We were breathing with one breath, beating with the pulse of one heart. I was consumed by this achingly beautiful and complete sense of kinship with the entire creation.

I close by repeating two short sentences from Sherri Mitchell: We must tune in to our ability to see beyond the physical reality that surrounds us, and awaken to the vast unseen world that exists. Then we can begin to see beyond sight and to hear beyond sound. My retirement wanderings and Nature-Inspired Life and Living musings have led me to a place of peace and deeper and deeper observation and reflection. I am learning to see beyond sight and hear beyond sound!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • My own connections to Nature, whether towering tree or diverse mushrooms, are sacred and spiritual.
  • Like Father Rohr, I am consumed by an achingly beautiful and complete sense of kinship with the entire creation.
  • Immersed in Nature, I am learning to see beyond sight and hear beyond sound.

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 BooksWheeler NWR

 

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.

 

 

Heart’s Content in NW Pennsylvania (Part One)

Venturing into a Pennsylvania Old Growth 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, within the Allegheny National Forest of northwest Pennsylvania. This Post focuses on the origin and species composition of this ancient forest, which lies just forty miles west of where I conducted my 1985-86 doctoral research on soil-site relationships in the second-growth Allegheny Hardwoods forest type. I thrilled at returning to these Allegheny Hardwoods. I left a bit of my heart and soul here on the Allegheny Plateau, having spent many months establishing my research design, selecting suitable stands, and conducting extensive sampling and data collection.

I could have lingered far longer than just the morning on Septrember 7, but left time to hike in the nearby Hickory Creek Wilderness, which is second-growth Allegheny Hardwoods, just like my research sites. Because I want to include lots of photos, I won’t burden you with a great deal of text, yet, enough to make my points and offer pertinent observations and reflections.

 

Four-Century Relic Forest

 

Signage is excellent at this Registered Natural Landmark.

Heart's Content

 

Too often the forest products industry is painted with a broad brush, vilified by those who attribute forest destruction to greedy industrialists. Yet, 100 years ago, leaders in the local lumber industry donated the first 20-acre parcel of this relic forest for preservation. The lumbermen of that period did not strip the original forests as an act of intentional devastation. Instead, they were meeting the young country’s nearly insatiable demand for lumber, charcoal, chemicals, pulpwood, firewood, poles, masts, railroad ties, fenceposts, and…the product list goes on. I worked as a forester 1973-85 in the paper and allied products manufacturing industry. The company, Union Camp Corporation, espoused a deep land ethic and practiced responsible forest stewardship devoutly on its 2.1 million acres of company forests across the six southeastern states.

Heart's Content

 

Some unacquainted with the reality of ancient eastern hardwood forests may have an image of vast stands of towering trees with full canopies, dark and shaded understories, and the ground open and free of fallen trees. Such could not be further from the true condition. Picture instead, a major forest disturbance (e.g., widespread blowdown followed by fire) in the late 16th century. Seed-in-place, distributed seed from undisturbed stands nearby, and root and stump sprouting quickly populated the devastated forest. Over the subsequent few years, tens or even hundreds of thousands of seedlings and sprouts occupied each acre. Fierce competition for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight reduced stocking at a predictable pace, until at age 400 years, the stand contains, from my non-empirical observations, not much more than a dozen of the individual 400-year-old trees per acre. The stand today is a jumble of very large standing live trees, dead snags, and large quantities of dead and down woody debris (i.e. logs and tops in various stages of decay). Scattered crown openings left from fallen and dead standing trees yield a patchwork of deep shade, bright overhead lighting, and dappled forest floor sunlight. The Heart’s Content Natural Area is not an unbroken forest of large trees and deep shade.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Let’s look at how this forest may have developed over its first century after the major 16th century disturbance.

Ninety Years of Allegheny Hardwood Forest Renewal

Wisely, US Forest Service researchers began a long-term monitoring study on the Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Area, Allegheny National Forest, in 1928. Note: the entire photo sequence is courtesy of the US Forest Service (Copyright USFS). The forest scientists arranged and oversaw timber harvesting on an old growth forest that year. Cutting was in progress below left. The image below right (1929), taken from the same photo point at exactly the same angle, shows the site at the end of the first growing season post-harvest. Note the proliferation of young seedlings and sprouts.

Tionesta

 

At ages ten and twenty (1937 and 1947) the tens of thousands of stems per acre is transitioning from a nearly impenetrable thicket to a stand of saplings with spacing sufficient for a forester to walk through and measure individuals. I have said in prior Blog Posts that Nature is a meritocracy. The 1937 and 1947 survivors (I am estimating that less than five percent of the tree seedlings/sprouts in the 1929 stand remain at age 20) are stronger, faster growing individuals that simply outperformed those no longer extant. To the victors go the spoils. The competition occurs both within and between species. Affirmative action does not operate in natural systems. There are no offices of ecosystem equity to set quotos nor monitor diversity, inclusion, and equity. Species by species, Nature simply performs her relentless pursuit of sustainable growth and reproduction, generation to generation, among all living creatures…as she has operated for 3.7 billion years.

Tionesta

 

By ages 30 and 40 (1958 and 1968), the forest has changed remarkably, reaching a stage allowing us to more easily follow individual trees from one period to the next. Note the man standing to the left in the 1958 image. The large black cherry tree is reigning over its neighbors, capturing more and more site resources. There are those who today claim in speudo-scientific mainstream publications that the forest is a community of interconnected, caring, and collaborating trees and associated organisms. I encourage readers to carefully study specific stems in this sequence over time. I see no evidence that the survivors give a rip about the stems falling behind, weakening, dying, and tipping to the forest floor.

Tionesta

 

We are now at ages 56 and 60 (1984 and 1988). Our large black cherry continues to thrive; fewer and fewer stems remain. Our seedling thicket has reached a condition such that most casual hikers might think it an undisturbed forest.

Tionesta

 

By ages 70 and 80 (1998 and 2008), our dominant cherry is a regal denizen, a magnificent leader of this second growth forest. Dead and down woody debris signals that competition remains fierce. Note that even the distant forest now reveals fewer and fewer stems per acre.

TionestaTionesta

 

The most recent image (2018) shows a 90-year-old forest, one most observers would term mature. Striking a chord with me, these photos are a reminder that I conducted my doctoral research in 80-90-year-old second growth Allegheny hardwood stands, similar to this one, just 40-50 miles from Tionesta.

 

Perhaps there are other long term forest development photo-sequences in the eastern US. If so, I am unaware. I am grateful that Dr. Susan Stout, retired Project Leader at the USFS Warren Forestry Lab and Research Forester Emerita, made these photos available to me. I can think of no better way to impress upon people the dynamic nature of forest ecosystems. Many people, upon entering the 2018 forest, would think that such forests are static and have looked this way for centuries. Today, as I work with landowning entities of all sorts (e.g., the Alabama State Park System, North Alabama Land Trust, and Camp McDowell), I encourage those responsible to begin photo-sequencing special places on their properties.

Stand Composition after 400 Years

I cannot say what the 90-year-old Tionesta forest will look like 300 years from now. Rather than venture into such speculation, let’s examine the Heart’s Content forest as I found it in early September 2021. A hemlock and red oak (each at least three feet in diameter) stand shoulder to shoulder below left. The trees are solid, tall, regal, seeming permanent. What force could possibly topple them? These two ancient sentries may remain standing for decades or longer, yet, I know that even they will ultimately yield to some force of Nature. Nothing in our forests is static; nothing is permanent.

Signaling the impermanence of even the mighty, two like-sized decaying trunks lie side by side below right. Old growth is characterized by large trees and lots of dead and down woody debris, scattered openings, and multi-tiered canopies.

Heart's Content

 

Rather than offer an exhaustive commentary, I present here images of species within the protected forest. Hemlock and white pine account for more than half of the living, standing dead, and down trees…at least fifty percent of the species composition.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Red maple survives as scattered individuals. The white ash, while still holding its bark, is recently dead from emerald ash borer, a tragic development from New York south to Tennessee, now southward-bound for Alabama to infest and kill our green and white ash.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Thanks to interpretive signage, many of these images (yellow birch below left) come pre-labeled! Black birch stands below right.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

Black cherry and American beech are common.

Heart's ContentHeart's Content

 

I repeat this image from near the beginning of this Post, this time in simple black and white. It seems appropriate to portray an ancient forest this way, following the B&W images of the 90-year photo sequence.

Heart's Content

 

As I said earlier, I could have stayed the entire day, absorbing the essence of this ancient forest. I will draw this Post to closure with a few pertinent John Muir quotes:

Wilderness is a necessity… there must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls.

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

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

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations:

  • The best way to know a forest is to understand its origin and development.
  • Muir nailed it: The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

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 BooksHeart's Content

 

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

 

 

Tribute to a Forestry Legend: Jim Finley

A Tribute to a Friend and Colleague

Sunday morning, October 3, 2021, I learned that long time friend Dr. James (Jim) Finley lost his life Saturday morning while working in his woodlot in central Pennsylvania. Jim, a fellow forestry faculty member at Penn State University, and I collaborated on many projects during my nine years at that university (1987-96). We partnered in developing and delivering Cooperative Extension programs for the state’s 750,000 (as of 2020) individual family forestland owners, who today collectively own 12 million forested acres (70 percent of the state’s forestland). Our goal was to encourage, enable, and inspire those owners to embrace and apply the tenets and practice of informed and responsible forest stewardship.

Over my now one-half century of forestry-oriented professional life, I have never known anyone more dedicated to the applied science of forestry and better able to translate his knowledge, whether in the classroom and or on the ground, to lay forest landowners. Jim epitomized one of my own axioms: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Jim cared!

In these Posts I often mention that Nature’s many truths and tales lie hidden in plain sight. I don’t recall Jim saying that in so many words, yet, I learned by working with him over countless hours, that he operated by that fundamental truth. Time after time, I saw Jim systematically, casually, and expertly lift the curtain to reveal a forest’s deepest secrets.

Excerpted from the Penn State Center for Private Forests website (https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/remembering-jim-finley):

The Center for Private Forests at Penn State is deeply saddened to share the sudden and tragic loss of our co-founder and Council Chair Dr. Jim Finley, Ibberson Chair and Professor Emeritus of Private Forest Management and Human Dimen­sions and Natural Resources, on October 2, 2021. Jim’s decades of work informed our understanding of forests, private forest landowners, and all the people who care for the woods.

So, I dedicate this Post to my friend, one of my professional and life heroes, and already sorely missed colleague, Jim Finley:

May be an image of 1 person, nature and tree

Photo from the Pennsylvania Forestry Association Facebook page.

A Moment in Time

Regardless of how the end might come, within the forest or among people, Jim’s passing has once more reminded me that living within the moment and with (and for) the ones we love will never be more important than here and now. The forest…and life…are rich with moments of peace, tranquility, love, and beauty. Be aware that moments are flying by at 60-minutes-per-hour. Don’t let them rush past with you unaware of how precious each one is. I try to remind myself that each hike could be my last. That every embrace of a loved one may not be followed by another.

In early September 2021, I visited the 400-year-old forest at Heart’s Content Scenic Area in northwest Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Natuinal Forest. I photographed a pair of four-foot diameter forest denizens, reminding me that nothing is permanent. The massive foreground white pine is recently dead (its bark still clinging to the trunk); the hemlock behind it still thrives. Such is the continuing cycle of life and death within the forest…and among people.

Heart's Content

I saw Jim as a figurative mighty oak (or a majestic white pine or hemlock like those at Heart’s Content) in his field of forest stewardship education, standing tall, seeming permanent, always steadfast, deeply rooted, and dedicated to his overlapping professional and personal missions. However, like all trees in the forest, including the white pine above, none of us is permanent…we are all fragile and our lives are fleeting.

I can’t recall the last time that Jim and I shared a woodland hike. I had no thought about it being our last. Had we known, perhaps we would have gone a mile further. Life is fleeting and fragile…each moment precious and worth cherishing. Jim and Linda visited Judy and me in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2007, eleven years after we had departed Penn State — we’re standing below on six-feet-thick overflow ice on June 11, when we made another set of memories.

 

Who could have imagined that Jim, a consumate woodsman, would walk into his own woodlot that early October morning for the last time? Fate; pre-destiny for this man of deep faith? John Muir fittingly offers an exclamation point to all I have attempted to communicate with my tribute to Jim:

Savor the moments in life that make your heart glow. Chase after and find the moments that will take your breath away. In the end, it is only those milestones on life’s journey that matter.

Oh, if only I could spend one more day wandering a forest…any forest…discovering with Jim what lies hidden within.

 

Closing Thoughts and Reflections

Three conclusions and lessons:

  • My own connections to Nature and special people are sacred…and intertwined.
  • We should live life aware that every hug and every walk in the woods may be our last.
  • Muir: Savor the moments in life that make your heart glow. Chase after and find the moments that will take your breath away. In the end, it is only those milestones on life’s journey that matter.

I draw comfort knowing that Jim took his last breath in a place he loved, doing what he enjoyed, where he already had a lifelong spiritual connection to God.

Contemplating a Video Tale of the William Arthur Wells Memorial Trail: Monte Sano State Park

Retired videographer Bill Heslip and I are at the early stage of developing a 13-20-minute video telling the Land Legacy Tale of the William Arthur Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park.

We interviewed Robert (Bob) Wells the morning of June 25, 2021 at his home in Meridianville, Alabama, just north of Huntsville. Bob donated the 40-acre cathedral forest parcel to the State Park System with the condition that the trail through it be named in honor of his older brother (William Arthur) who died at the WWII Naval Battle at Leyte Gulf in October 1944. Two of my prior Posts provide detail about Bob, his brother, the gift, and the incredible cove forest through which the trail wanders.

Dec 4, 2019: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

May 19, 2020: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/05/19/earth-day-visit-to-the-cathedral-forest-along-the-wells-memorial-trail-at-monte-sano-state-park/

After interviewing Bob we left for Bill’s first visit to the trail. We’ll return multiple times over the coming seasons to record sights, scenes, and my reflections as a forester and applied ecologist. The trail is perhaps my favorite across Alabama’s 21 State Parks.

 

Monte Sano

 

The Legacy Tale stirs deep emotions as I reflect on a young man who, like my own WWII veteran Dad, enlisted to join the War effort. Here is Arthur (high school letter sweater) with his parents, both clinging to him as though knowing in those troubled times that clinging may not be enough.

Monte Sano

 

Arthur joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (in CCC uniform below left) after high school. One of his duty assignments, prophetically, detailed him to Monte Sano State Park. With the onset of WWII, Arthur enlisted in the Navy (in uniform below right) bound for the South Pacific.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cathedral forest did not disappoint Bill (and his wife Becky, below left). The yellow poplar along the trail towers above them. The photo below right peers downhill, deeper into the cove. I feel the spirit of Arthur when I contemplate the place, the gift, and its sentiment. I wonder whether during his Monte Sano CCC days did Arthur venture into this cove. Did he somehow feel the future echoes of the legacy…a chill along the back of his neck.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

Following the interview, Bill captured Bob and Catherine strolling through the backyard.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Bob sat in a rocking chair for the interview, under the shade of a tree he had planted years earlier. After returning to his office Bob searched for a few photos of Arthur.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

One of the items he found was the newspaper article for the trail dedication.

Monte Sano

 

I thought of Bob’s brother, whom he had last seen nearly a year before Arthur’s ship went down, as we enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the magnificent cathedral cove forest along the trail.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I’ve written often that every parcel of forest, and even every tree, has a story to tell…often evoking deep spirit, passion, and sentiment. I cannot hike this trail without feeling the spirit of a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country I relish today. A young man of my father’s generation…the Greatest Generation. A young man…a patriot, unlike the snowflakes of today who whine and complain about our nation’s faults (past and present), seemingly ignorant that no other nation on the face of the Earth is a better place to live. A better place to live for all Americans. I view the cathedral forest as a symbol for our liberty, freedom, and equality of opportunity for which Arthur gave his life.

God Bless America!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every tree and every parcel of land has a story to tell.
  • Oftentimes, the intersection of human and natural history brings the power of passion to the tale.
  • This land came to us out of eternity — when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here, preserved forevermore in tribute to William Arthur Wells. 

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.

 

 

Late Summer Rambling in a Soggy Bottomland Forest

One and two-thirds inches of rain had fallen over the 36 hours ending late morning August 19, 1921, late summer conditions perfect for mushroom growth and development in the hardwood bottomlands along the Tennessee River in Limestone County Alabama, just fifteen miles from my home in Madison. I entered a forest still dripping as clouds thinned, slogging in nearly knee-high rubber boots, eyes peeled for fungal kingdom spore production organs…mushrooms! The mosquitoes and I love these maturing riparian hardwood forests. Well, they like living there, lying in wait for a blood-rich fur-free biped to wander past.

In the Kingdom of Fungi (Flora, Fauna, and Funga)

 

I’ve observed previously in my Posts that when I earned my forestry degree (1973), fungi sat within the plant kingdom, among the non-flowering plants. Shortly thereafter, fungi ascended to their own distinct kingdom, an epic promotion! Contrast that shift to the 2006 fall of Pluto from planet to simply a dwarf planet. The once proud planet fell from grace: Pride goeth before the fall.

HGH Road

 

My purpose with this Post is to show the rich diversity of fungi and associated life I encountered and photographed on a soggy mid-August late afternoon in a bottomland hardwood stand. Here is violet-toothed polypore heavily colonizing a downed red oak, depicting the ongoing cycle of life and death.

HGH Road

 

Closer inspection evidenced the dense mycelia growth, hidden from view, that surely resides within the dead wood. The close-up below right corroborates the violet-toothed moniker.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

The Grand Circle of Life and Death

I have often mentioned and presented photo-evidence of Nature’s grand circle of life and death. John Muir, ever the uber-observer and elegant synthesizer of Nature’s ways offered this relevant conclusion:

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.

Within this mature bottomland hardwood forest at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge a main canopy occupant (I am uncertain whether it is an oak or hickory) stands 3-5 years dead (my estimate based upon bark shedding and all but the largest crown branches already fallen). Nearby trees are sending leafy stems into the still evident canopy opening…and will close the void within another summer or two.

HGH Road

 

Much of the bark has sloughed from the trunk and lies as thick mulch at its base. Wood-boring beetles and decay fungi are weakening the stem so that near term, a fresh breeze will reintroduce its biomass to the ground and, in time, incorporate it into the soil. A fleshy polypore mushroom is disseminating countless spores to spread the fungal species via wind to other dead and dying woody biomass.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

This black staining polypore produced considerable weight in its fruiting bodies (mushrooms). From mushroomknowhow.com:

Black staining polypore mushrooms are parasitic and saprobic in their nature. This means that they parasitize or feed on dead or decaying tree matter. They can grow either on the ground (on or around the roots of trees) and on the stumps or logs of dead or decaying deciduous trees such as oaks, beeches and maples. The species is found exclusively in North America, although close relatives of these polypores known as Meripulus giganteus can be found in Northern Europe as well. Their peak season is late July to November.

When handled, especially the undersides, the surface bruises with dark splotches where touched.

HGH Road

 

The species is described as edible. I’ve found that only the outer 1.5-2 inches of the fans are palatable (the remainder too tough and fibrous). Their fragrance is strong and earthy. I clean and finely chop the harvested edges, boil with seasonings to create a stock for a thick rice soup. Delicious, but only if you are 100 percent certain of identity. Please don’t rely upon my photos to base your species identification.

HGH Road

 

I stumbled upon two fresh clusters of chicken of the woods, considered by many as culinary delights. From ediblewildfood.com:

Chicken of the woods is parasitic and saprobic on living and dead oaks (also sometimes on the wood of other hardwoods). It causes a reddish brown cubical heart rot, with thin areas of white mycelium visible in the cracks of the wood. It is considered an annual favourite. These mushrooms do not appear until well after the fungus has attacked the tree. Originally described in 1789 by French botanist and mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois (Pierre) Bulliard, this spectacular polypore was given its current name in 1920 by the famous American mycologist William Alphonso Murrill (1869 – 1967). This fungi typically grows in large clusters in the summer and fall.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Such a thrill to find those orange to peach beauties. I harvested perhaps half of each cluster, cleaned, sliced into 8-10 square-inch filets, battered, and fried like chicken. Delectable! Again, be absolutely certain before consuming any wild-foraged mushroom.

I switch gears now to some attractive and interesting non-edibles. First, here is Stereum versicolor, a woody, fan-shaped mushroom that is strictly saprobic, consuming dead woody tissue.

HGH Road

 

This is a white jelly fungus, a gelatinous decay fungus. I’ve read that some of the jellies are edible. I have not ventured into that zone of certainty.

HGH Road

 

This mushroom’s name, indigo milk cap, is descriptive, enhanced by its background of green moss.

HGH Road

 

 

 

I’m not sure what to say about this dog’s nose fungus (Peridoxylon petersii). I found little about it online, other than several sites showing an image alongside a closeup of a dog’s nose. The look and even the cold wet feel do indeed resemble a canine proboscis! Shall I throw this find into the forest fungus oddity category?

HGH Road

 

Another fungi curiosity is devil’s dipstick (also known as demon fingers, dog stinkhorn, elegant stinkhorn, and headless stinkhorn). From NC State Cooperative Extension online:

Elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans) is a foul smelling fungus found anywhere woody material is rotting – old stumps and branches, mulch, lawns. The ‘horn’ is the visible fruiting body of the network of mycelia that has been growing through the woody material, breaking it down and releasing nutrients to other plants. At some point, this network ‘decides’ it is time to reproduce and creates a white egg like structure that is partially above ground. It is from this structure that the pink to orange columnar fruiting body develops. This development can take only a few hours. The top of the structure is covered in a slimy, greenish brown mass of spores that smells of rotting meat or worse. The smell attracts insects which become covered in the slimy spores and deposit them away from the ‘parent’ mycelia. This is a very unusual occurrence within the fungus world. Most rely on wind to disperse their minute spores.

HGH Road

 

Let’s shift from foul and repugnant to tasty! This delightful mushroom is a red chanterelle. I harvest, clean, slice into strips and sauté with butter, add a little salt and pepper, and either eat fresh with meat, rice, eggs, pizza, and sundry other dishes, or freeze for future use.

HGH Road

 

This flame chanterelle is another species of the same genus (Cantharellus). The bulk of my 30-35 pounds of frozen Cantharellus are smooth chanterelles, whose peak season extended from late June through late July. Yes, that’s a poison ivy leaf in the below left image. Unfortunately, poison ivy is a common ground cover, standing up to two feet, in the bottomland hardwood stands where I’ve found the greatest yields of chanterelles. I try to avoid direct contact with my hands as I harvest. Wearing calf-high rubber boots protects my lower legs. However, upon returning home, I immediately toss my outer clothes into the washing machine and head for the shower before cleaning and processing the harvest. All of that is a small price to pay for my woodland adventures and foraging bounty.

HGH Road

 

Burls, Mosses, Flowers, and Butterflies

Although I’ve concentrated most of this Post on the fungi kingdom, I must include some other observations. This three foot diameter willow oak sported a huge basal burl, a growth abnormality likely resulting from physical injury or fungal infection stimulating unregulated wood cell production. A human comparison is a benign tumor. Large burls such as this one are prized by wood workers who cherish their spectacular grain patterns.

HGH Road

 

I could not resist photographing this moss-adorned and lichen-splotched sapling backdropped by a three-foot diameter oak.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

 

Snow squarestem in full flower lined a gravel access road entering the forest. An eastern tiger swallowtail visited the squarestem, allowing me to snap a quick photo. Summer in our riparian forests offers all manner of bounty…abundant soul-sustenance, as well as victual delights for the palate.

HGH Road

 

Long ago I read Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), a best-seller, presenting a species-by-species accounting of his foraging for wild edibles. I was eleven years old, a budding outdoor enthusiast who devoured the book’s content, imagining that I might learn to live off the land. Gibbon’s once said:

My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker, or nature tourist. I crave a more real and meaningful relationship. The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients are the bread and wine in which I have communion and fellowship with nature, and with the Author of that nature.

Clearly, my communion and fellowship with Nature depend on far more than the few species of edible wild mushrooms that I recognize, harvest, and consume. My relationship with Nature extends from body to heart, soul, mind, and spirit…a communion far stronger and rewarding to my own Life and Living. A summer woodland hike through a southern bottomland hardwood forest yields delight and satisfaction beyond measure.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I say the same of communing with Nature.
  • Like Euell Gibbons, “My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker.”
  • 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 BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

 

Lessons from Nature: Nature is a Meritocracy

I publish weekly photo-essay Blog Posts on Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I have been doing so routinely since retiring January 1, 2018. Normally my Posts are photo-rich and report on one of my recent Nature wanderings. This one less so. Instead, my intent is to address a critical issue of the day from the multiple perspectives of my disciplinary training in applied ecology, 12 years in the forest products industry, and my 35 years in higher education at nine different universities, holding positions from faculty member through senior administrative leadership.

Setting the Stage

I watch with keen interest as the daily news overflows with opinions about three concept-words gaining favor, germinating initially in higher education, and spreading across American social, economic, and identity constructs: diversity, equity, and inclusion, intimated cure-alls for implied widespread malaise. Not unrelated, I see university after university expanding administrative bloat (yes, I am convinced that most universities are administratively top heavy). I spent nine years rising through the faculty ranks at Penn State University (1987-96). As just one example, Penn State’s web site lists 74 staff members in the university’s Office of Educational Efficacy (advancing inclusion, equity, and diversity). Penn State’s Math Department lists 25 faculty members. In a nation where our K-12 education ranks 25th internationally, what could possibly be three time more staff-worthy than math?

Nature, as my counter point, doesn’t need an office of ecosystem efficacy to orchestrate the intra- and interspecies relationships in this Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (Alabama) bottomland hardwood forest.

Jolly B Road

 

I advanced from instructor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to tenured faculty at Penn State to senior administrative positions at seven universities (reporting directly to the president at three and serving as CEO at four more). Now retired, I feel increasingly concerned about the direction of higher education and its non-core-curricular tenets metastasizing to all of our social, political, and cultural institutions. I’ve written extensively that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compelling inspired by Nature. Rather than critique what in my view is wrong with the leanings of our social, political, and cultural institutions, allow me simply to return to Nature.

Nature Observations

I’ve observed forests and Nature my entire life…as a youth, practicing forester, research scientist, university educator and administrator, and now retiree. I often turn to historic figures of considerable intellectual renown for guidance and understanding, including Albert Einstein:

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.

Look deeply into this mixed hardwood, multi-vertically-tiered riparian hardwood forest on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Visiting this stand across the seasons, I can say with certainty that the more I learn about it, the less I know of its ever-revealing secrets.

Jolly B Road

 

Leonardo da Vinci:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity, and I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

What could be more beautiful, more simple, and more to the purpose than these towering yellow poplar monarchs along the Wells Memorial Trail at Alabama’s Monte Sano State Park!

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Charles Darwin:

One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.

The magnificent cherrybark oak (below left) is a winner. The oak (below right; left center of photo) succumbed, yielding its crown space and soil resources to adjoining survivors. The stronger live; the weaker die. Both trees are in a bottomland hardwood forest on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Nature is a Meritocracy

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines three relevant related concepts:

Survival of the fittest: the natural process by which organisms best adjusted to their environment are most successful in surviving and reproducing.

Natural selection: a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.

Meritocracy: a system, organization, or society in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success, power, and influence on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit.

I add a fourth of my own creation:

Natural meritocracy: a natural community of organisms (an ecosystem) in which individual living elements or associations of individuals (plants, animals, fungi, etc.) survive, thrive, and persist on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit.

I am convinced that Nature is a meritocracy (a Natural Meritocracy); she cares only about results. Biological diversity is a means, not an end. Nature measures success by which individuals or what combinations and associations of individuals reach the finish line (or benchmark season after season, epoch after epoch). She cares about winners over the long haul. She knows nothing and cares even less about equity, a human cultural construct seeking equal outcomes for all. She checks no boxes for inclusion. The seemingly devastated Mount Saint Helens blast zone repopulated and recovered naturally from the cataclysmic 1980 explosive blast by filling voids as rapidly as possible with the organisms and life-communities adapted to respond to disturbance. Nature does not prescribe specific proportions of pioneer vegetative and animal elements. The successful vegetative colonizers prevail at whatever admixture works most effectively.

There are no participation trophies in Nature…no affirmative action among or within species and life forms. We humans are a strange and perplexing lot. In the United States alone, we have developed manifold policies and regulations pertaining to employment practices for just our one species. Here’s the opening paragraph from the section on the EEOC’s Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices:

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

I am not disparaging nor minimizing the existence and need for such governmental oversight. I am simply demonstrating that all non human elements of Nature operate quite well within natural laws.

Natural Laws

The Darwin model works both within species and among species, from calamitous events like Saint Helens to an abandoned crop field reverting through a succession of colonizers to mature forest… as annuals, herbaceous perennials, woody shrubs, pioneer tree species, to longer-lived forest trees occupy the site. Nature never violates her own laws…and she applies those laws across complex ecosystems among multiple species. Our universities, in contrast, are devising and implementing complex values, practices, and rules of engagement within a single species…human. What may be missing is acknowledgement that we humans, too, are a part of Nature, whose laws apply to us. John Muir observed that a most basic tenet, a rule of biologic reality, applies to us:

I have never yet happened upon a trace of evidence that seemed to show that any one animal was ever made for another as much as it was made for itself. Not that Nature manifests any such thing as selfish isolation. In the making of every animal the presence of every other animal has been recognized. Indeed, every atom in creation may be said to be acquainted with and married to every other, but with universal union there is a division sufficient in degree for the purposes of the most intense individuality; no matter, therefore, what may be the note which any creature forms in the song of existence, it is made first for itself, then more and more remotely for all the world and worlds.

Human Nature operates toward the individual. Toward a system of meritocracy. A human capitalism if you will. The world’s most successful, longest living democratically engineered society is rooted in recognition of such. These United States emerged under the assumption that all men (human beings) are created under God with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I sense that universities and elements of our broader society are inclined to guarantee happiness (i.e. equity in outcomes rather than equal opportunity). The recent Tokyo Olympics aligned participants along the starting line; finishers completed the race according to their skills and abilities. Olympic competition is a meritocracy. The Olympic organizers do not array competitors by relative ability so that they all cross the finish line at once.

The August 25, 2021 online Admired Leadership post, Genius Simplifies the Complex, offered this related wisdom:

Let me tell you an academic secret: Anyone can make something more complex, but it takes real genius and insight to make it simple. Any time someone offers you what they call wisdom or insight, put it to the simplicity test. If the idea or insight requires a lengthy explanation, a host of charts and diagrams or abstract and dense language it may prove valuable, but it is not yet wisdom. 

Nature is the master architect of simplicity. Leonardo da Vinci extolled Nature’s insistence on simplicity, which I offer for the second time in this Post:

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Lest the reader leave with the impression that competition is Nature’s only survival mechanism, I refer to a chapter on Relationships Among Organisms in a Community in a book manuscript I have not yet published. The chapter addresses a rich panoply of within- and inter-species relationships, including: parasitism; saprophytism; epiphytism; predation; commensulism; competition; and symbiosis. Each type of relationship operates within a natural meritocracy.

There are no safe places within Nature’s complex web of interdependent relationships. Natural systems do not award participation trophies. Nature’s snowflakes are not some special class of fragile sensitive beings unable or unwilling to cope with the stresses, pressures, and demands of everyday existence. Crying rooms are for infants and toddlers…not for contributing adults. I snowshoed (below left) on the frozen Nenana River just outside the entrance to Alaska’s Denali National Park with the March afternoon temperature at -37 degrees F. I experienced tip-of-nose frostbite. The real world of deep winter has no room for the woke snowflakes of today. The scene below right is along the Chena River in Fairbanks at negative 45. Not a place for some special class of fragile sensitive beings unable or unwilling to cope with the stresses, pressures, and demands of everyday existence.

UAF UAF

 

Nature doesn’t recognize microaggressions; the real world must deal with real problems instead of searching for presumed insult and injury. Below left is campground tornado damage at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park; below right is tornado damage on the northern end of Alabama’s Oak Mountain State Park. A microaggression in my admittedly feeble mind is akin to a nearby camper complaining to Park personnel that a hickory nut dented his BMW. I drafted this section as Hurricane Ida was slamming the Louisiana coast with just-shy-of-Cat-5 winds, a savage beast beyond imagination. Nothing micro about Ida’s devastation.

Oak Mountain

 

Nature does not worry about using the right pronouns. Nature is clear about reproductive reality, i.e. the birds and the bees. Nature disdains Woke as she insists upon actions, results, and performance. Nature does not try; Nature does.

The Law of Simplicity

Complex lifeforms operate by Nature’s laws of ultimate simplicity, in this case at Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. A pipevine swallowtail caterpillar feeds on a Dutchman’s pipevine leaf; a blue dasher dragonfly rests nearby (photo credit: Marian Moore Lewis).

Southern Sanctuary

John Muir expressed the essence of the intricate beauty and wonder of manifold and compounded simplicity: When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. Nature constructs its masterpieces without overhead and bureaucracy. Nothing about Nature is top heavy; she tolerates no administrative bloat. Nature needs no Office of Ecosystem Efficacy.

Leonardo da Vinci saw little value in bureaucracy, endless talk, and philosophizing:  I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. Nature DOES! I wonder what a 74-person Office of Educational Efficacy does in way of educating, inspiring, and enabling future citizens, workers, and leaders?

Yoda likewise implored doing, Do or do not, there is no try.

University offices of educational efficacy and such, Congressional bills with thousands of pages, and bloated governmental bureaucracies — what are they doing? Worse yet, are they simply trying and not doing. Nature abhors a vacuum. I fear that our governmental, educational, and business entities are designing quasi-functional vacuums into their operations…functional vacuums do little more than nothing. Such vacuums spin institutional trying, languishing endlessly to create some perfect vacuum that in itself serves as an end, accomplishing little.

I’ll end by repeating da Vinci:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity, and I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature is a Meritocracy…and has been since life on Earth emerged 3.7 billion years ago.
  • Our academic, governmental, and economic institutions can learn much from Natural Laws.
  • Human ingenuity will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature’s infinite storm of beauty Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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