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.

 

 

Summer 2021: Ten Weeks of North Alabama Cloud Magic

I have enjoyed a lifelong fascination with weather that has only deepened with retirement, when now I can devote more time to wandering about with eyes to the sky. My weather and cloud addiction began at the dawn of my recollection. Five years ago, I wrote in Nature Based Leadership, my first book, of a vivid sky-memory I still carry from 67 years ago when from my high chair perch I saw something astounding:

I have a vague recollection (from sixty years ago) of sitting in my high chair, watching the sliver of sky that I could see through the kitchen window, rapidly (dizzyingly) transition from blue to very dark as clouds raced across. Even then, I puzzled over what I had seen. Nothing else emerges from the memory. Did a storm follow, or did the blue return? Perhaps Mom placed food in front of me, and the window view—with its curiously rapid cloud covering—slipped into a lower priority. Regardless, the memory is clear. I still puzzle over how nearly-instantaneously the clouds advanced. Given how much more deeply I now understand weather, I suppose that the visual memory is flawed or far too blurry to interpret. I observed and interpreted then through the visual and intellectual lenses of a three-year old, and through those same lenses, stored the memory. How closely does what I recall seeing six decades later match the actual image visible through the parted curtain? The image I carry now is remarkable, like nothing I have seen since. I close my eyes, and the memory is vivid and real, yet it makes no sense through the perception of a sixty-five year old weather fanatic. What we see depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation. And time adjusts the memory of what we see.

At age 70 my weather fanaticism directs my eyes heavenward. I don’t miss much. Forty-nine years since our wedding day, Judy tolerates my nearly constant urging that she look at this or that cloud formation, approaching storm, or atmospheric nuance. Because it’s been a good cloud-summer to-date (August 15, 2021), allow me to hit the cloud and sky highlights from June 2 through August 14, roughly 10 weeks, a fifth of the year.

This is not my first Post focusing on the firmament. Here are three, a sampling…not an exhaustive list:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/10/17/the-tumbling-mirth-of-sun-split-clouds-sky-gazing-on-a-12-day-national-parks-journey/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/07/cheaha-state-park-mid-october-skies-and-clouds/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/03/dawn-sky-glory-december-19-2020/

June 2021

I could have backed into May or even January, yet, the number of archive-worthy sky photos is already at 34 for just this ten-week-cloud Post. June through mid-August strikes me as a good arbitrary view and review window. The image below on June 2 at 5:06 pm is SSW from my patio. A thunderstorm cluster along an advancing cold front pushed these turbulent clouds rapidly from the northwest as heavy rains soon enveloped us, dropping 1.45″ that evening. I like the ominous darkness and the sliver of bright clear sky retreating to the lower left.

 

Two days later I visited Huntsville’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, enjoying the spring-like temperature and bright blue of the system ushered south by the cold front and rain. That’s Jobala Pond reflecting the cerulean sky below right. Experimenting with my iPhone camera when first acquired, I would lie flat on my back to capture the view directly overhead. By June of 2021, I had learned to reverse the camera to selfie setting, hold it horizontal, and away from me enough to keep the bill of my ball cap out of the image, and release the shutter. Voilà, a sky shot from the comfort of standing (below left)! The blue dot puzzles me — an anomaly associated with the direct view into the 1:24 PM overhead sun, I suppose.

 

It’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all. – Joni Mitchell

The secret to capturing memorable sky and cloud photos is simply being outside. June 8 I biked several loops on Madison, Alabama’s Bradford Creek Greenway, just ten minutes drive from my home. An extensive deck of altostratus had been drifting northward as I pedaled. At 9:30 AM I stopped to capture the thin band of blue retreating toward the northern horizon (below right). The deck was not threatening nor did it portend imminent rain. I often take a break on a trailside bench beneath a massive red oak (below left), which most days offers a branch-framed sky-view.

 

 

 

 

 

Eighty percent of success is showing up. Woody Allen

Half the battle is just showing up. Stephen Hawking

I make fifty cents for showing up…and the other fifty cents for my performance. Steve Jobs

 

June 21, a day after the summer solstice, I photographed cumulus building at 2:40 PM from my patio, the view directly south. I measured two-tenths of an inch from resultant showers. Some people delight in living in the nearly constant sunshine of the southwest US. I could not survive without vibrant moisture-rich weather. Blossoming cumulus, dark-bottomed, columns of rain reaching downward as first a shadow, then a spreading torrent, with lightning flashing and thunder resounding provide me with some of the best entertainment on the planet. A full dose of Nature-Inspired Life and Living, combined with my scientist’s zeal to observe, monitor, learn, and revel in Nature’s power.

 

There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds. – Gilbert K. Chesterton

A day later, June 22, I returned to the Bradford Creek Greenway, stopping at 9:58 AM to appreciate the much more tranquil sky above the same oak tree. Could the blue be any more intense?

Cloud and Sky

 

I biked the Hampton Cove Greenway June 24, pausing at 10:20 AM at the terminus five miles east of Owens Crossroads. Rich agricultural valleys, nestled between heavily forested ridges, are rapidly transitioning to housing developments as Huntsville expands. While the two images include both the corn and new homes crops, the sky is the central focus. I commend those who anticipated the suburban growth and paved the way with the lengthening greenway. When the corn yields its final acre to subdivision, the greenway will continue to provide a necessary conduit for sky-addict bikers to enjoy Nature’s gifts of overhead beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

 

Showing up isn’t limited to just places. Time is also a variable to explore and exploit. June 25 at 4:22 AM (yes, I am always up before dawn), I photographed this translucent cloud layer backlit by the full moon. The iPhone employed a three-second exposure. At that moment the eastern sky showed no hint of the coming dawn.

 

The moon will light the clouds, just as the tides shall shape the sand. – Anthony T. Hincks

June 27 at 8:05 AM (left) and 8:08 (right) my patio perch offered nice sun-play backlighting morning cumulus. The left image presents a rainbow prism above the cloud and the other a spectacular margin and a wedge-shaft of solar rays. Some people ask why I get up so early. I hide my incredulity that anyone would not choose to rise early!

 

The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? – It is the same the angels breathe. ― Mark Twain

June 27, 2021 the sun set at 8:05 PM here in Madison, Alabama. I snapped this photo at 8:16 PM directly opposite the sunset (which just five days after the solstice is, for all practical purposes, due west). These anti-crepuscular rays are converging due east to the antisolar point. Without dipping into the optical physics, the sun’s rays are parallel even though they appear to radiate outward from the solar point and converge inward to the antisolar point. Picture how a long road straight-away converges to a common vanishing point; the same is true of the sun’s rays.

 

July 1, 2021 my bike ride took me back to the Bradford Creek Greenway, where I paused beneath my favorite oak tree at 8:07 AM to capture an overhanging branch and a memorable cirrus against a perfect blue.

 

July 9 at 4:24 PM from my patio I spotted some distant thunderheads peaking through a nearer opening in the stratocumulus. Radar revealed echoes from these storms some 70 miles to the south. Such radar verification allows me to better estimate location for the images I see. I think about my current reliance upon weather radar for improving my decisions about hitting the bike trail or heading to my mushroom foraging forests. I wonder, too, about how many people even see such a cloud-window as this, much less read it to recognize a distant thunderstorm. Funny thing that the more I learn about weather, the more that I appreciate it. Learning and understanding weather (or anything of Nature and science) more deeply certainly adds volume to my knowledge base, yet, increases the universe of related things I do not know and understand. Toby Keith echoed my sentiment when he sang I Wish I Didn’t Know Now What I Didn’t Know Then.

 

Morning cumulus often show off, sending puffs vertically into sunlight peering above the eastern horizon, like this one on July 10 at 5:45 AM. This one suggests movement from left to right (I verified through observation). Cumulus clouds build vertically, often encountering winds of increasing velocity with height. The pink top of this one is being sported along more quickly than the gray below it drifting more slowly.

 

July 21 at 8:50 PM, I captured this line of thunderheads to the south with a 3-second shutter. For all practical purposes, we were at full dark, the clouds illuminated by urban lights.

 

Cumulus never fail to entertain me. These few individuals July 27 at 4:37 PM hinted at developing into showers and thunderstorms. They never broke through the threshold beyond fair weather galleons.

 

Who reports the works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? John Muir

July 30, a vigorous thunderstorm cluster powered southward at 6:09 PM (left, view to north) and at 6:14 PM (right, view to southwest). These ragged gust front underbelly clouds evidenced turbulence in advance of the rain shield, which dropped 0.42″ of rain.

 

Be comforted, dear soul, there is always light behind clouds. – Louisa May Alcott

Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of wisdom. Life is short. – Limani David

August 4 at 6:00 AM crepuscular rays reached into the rapidly retreating night, far to the west. Dawn arrives with promise and hope on mornings such as this, its good tidings foretold in every ray.

 

August 13, 6:03 AM, an alto cumulus deck ushered in the new day. I can’t imagine choosing sleep, oblivious to such a grand entrance.

 

That same day, thunderstorms 60-70 miles south of us peeked through our broken mid-level partial cloud cover at 5:28 PM. The casual observer would not have caught sight of the storms (below left) without drawing them closer with telephoto (below right). I have fond and still deep memories of camping with my family as a boy, fishing for catfish along the river after dark, watching far distant thunderheads, lightning illuminating their cauliflower tops from within. Because darkness lagged several hours beyond these images I was denied seeing the storms light from within.

 

You must not blame me if I talk to the clouds. – Thoreau

A powerful storm drifted our way from the west just 30 minutes later, nearing close enough for audible thunder at 6:01 PM, producing a roll cloud headed in my direction. I sat watching, waiting for the imminent wind and rain…in vain. As occasionally happens with heat-of-the-day thunderstorms, the sinking sun and rain-cooled air associated with the storm combined to stabilize the atmosphere, shutting down the convective energy. This storm fizzled without sharing a drop of rain.

 

 

 

 

 

I felt blessed to see a shimmer of color August 14, 6:47 PM as this narrow, chimney-like cumulus rose to my ESE, its top shearing to the north, dropping enough virga (precipitation evaporating before hitting the ground) under the shearing overhang to create a small rainbow arc (visible in the below right expanded view).

 

Try to be a rainbow, in someone else’s cloud. – Maya Angelo

Two and three minutes later (6:49 and 6:50 PM), the virga rainbow arc shifted almost imperceptibly to the cloud’s lower right.

 

Fittingly, the ten-week cloud series ends August 14 (6:50 PM) with a spectacular floating-city cumulus platform rising to my south.

 

Now, if God made the clouds so beautiful, did He not mean us to gaze upon them and be thankful for them?Alfred Rowland

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • What we see in Nature depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation.
  • A lifelong weather addict, I find inspiration for life and living in clouds.
  • Wherever I roam, I keep an eye to the sky for beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

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.

 

Contemplating a Video of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

June 4, 2021, retired videographer Bill Heslip and I visited the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary with Margaret Anne Goldsmith and Marian Moore Lewis. Margaret Anne gifted the Sanctuary’s core 300-acres to the City of Huntsville in 2003. Marian authored her seminal book on the Sanctuary, Southern Sanctuary: A Naturalist’s Walk through through the Seasons (2015).

I’m standing at the entrance below with Marian (left) and Margaret Anne (right) on a prior visit.

Southern Sanctuary

 

See my previous Posts on the Sanctuary and its rich story of informed and responsible Earth stewardship:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/12/23/late-fall-at-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/25/early-february-spectacular-frosty-morning-sky-at-the-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

Read at least one of them to realize how much I care! And I care deeply that the story of the Sanctuary be chronicled through my Blog Posts, which I believe are necessary…but far short of sufficient. Likewise, Marian’s book is an extraordinary building block in the tale. Yet, it, too, falls short of completing the picture. The Huntsville City Archive of the Sanctuary includes a video of Margaret Anne relating the family’s history leading to the gift. Another critical piece of the puzzle. Bill and I want to add another facet of the story.

A Land Legacy Tale at the Intersection of Human and Natural History

Bill and I seek more, an element to complement the Land Legacy Story. We envision a crisp, state of the art video (13-18 minutes) that integrates the human and natural history with the science and sentiment, and bridges to tomorrow in a manner that informs, enlightens, and inspires future citizens into the next century and beyond!

I met Bill when I premiered his similarly-intentioned 13-minutes video on the Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve during my spring 2021 University of Alabama in Huntsville Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course on the Land Trust of North Alabama: https://youtu.be/G2HIq_ygJvY

Bill is discussing the video project with Margaret Anne and Marian below.

 

 

Glory Under the Firmament

 

Margaret Anne recently communicated her gift-motivation:

Philanthropy is a concept I learned from our ancestors who came to America as immigrants and worked hard and prospered.  They believed in the importance of giving back to the community that had welcomed them and did so through gifts of their assets and service.  I wanted to honor our ancestors and to continue our tradition of family philanthropy in Huntsville with a gift in their name.

The Sanctuary is a place of naturalized beauty and magic. I say naturalized because the pond below was a borrow pit, excavated for gravel and sand for nearby road construction 85 years ago. The reflected sky doesn’t care whether the pond is natural or naturalized!

 

I find absolute fascination and reward in sky-gazing, with or without a pond surface to reflect it. Please ignore the blue dot, a phenomenon of my camera. I suppose there is a fix, but I have not pursued.

 

I’ve grown to accept (and celebrate) that wildness is wildness, whether in its raw natural state, or transformed, tamed, and domesticated land naturalized with protection, care, and stewardship over time. Margaret Anne has translated motivation to action in a way that will keep giving deep (perpetually) into the future:

In major cities around the world, it has been important to include urban oases, parks and green space as development occurs, well known is New York’s Central Park. Setting aside parks can only be accomplished prior to development.  Waiting until development begins is too late. I believe that it is the responsibility of cities and urban planners to require developers to set aside parks and green space. If there are no city requirements, I believe it is the responsibility of developers to include public park areas in their developments.

With Margaret Anne’s property donation, wildness is now assured and the future will bear the fruit of the Sanctuary gift long after Margaret Anne reunites with her ancestors:

As the years pass, the Sanctuary will continue to develop and provide an outdoor classroom for students from our schools and universities to explore and be inspired to write poetry and stories, create fine art and music, and conduct scientific research. The Sanctuary, never static, will be a place ever changing, transforming to the needs of the future. As for me, it is my hope that one day when I meet our ancestors, I will be able to thank them and say, “as you planted for others, I have continued our family tradition of planting for our community and its citizens of tomorrow.”

I once wagered with friends who challenged me to incorporate a truism I often quoted into an interview I was about to have with a local TV news crew: People don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care. I won the small bet. I love the axiom because I believe in it so deeply, and have so often seen it in action. Margaret Anne (and her forebears) cares!

Animal Life Abounds

 

She expressed recently, Today, 18 years later, the Sanctuary has developed as I had originally envisioned as a wildlife oasis, a refreshing reprieve from city life and the subdivisions and commercial developments that now surround it.

Marian spotted three common water snakes on an old log under a concrete and steel footbridge, one heavy and sturdy enough to withstand the periodic rampages of the Flint River.

 

Marian photographed this black swallowtail as we hiked.

 

She’s also credited with this blue dasher dragonfly (left) and jewelwing damselfly (right).

 

Likewise, Marian managed to bring this osprey in close with her telephoto lens. We watched the bird circle multiple times over the lake off-property near the Sanctuary entrance, stooping twice into the water. We could not discern whether the dives had been productive. We also viewed a great blue heron standing along the shoreline, then rising to fly into the Sanctuary.

 

Tree Form Curiosities

 

I am always alert for odd tree forms. Many people unacquainted with Nature’s ways picture our sylvan friends with vertical stems reaching skyward. Such vertical orientation may have been the germinating seed’s intent, but Nature’s various forces bend, distort, and break the growing shoot. The tree, hard-wired to contend variously with such stressors, assumes patterns of growth that I find worthy of contemplation, understanding, and appreciation. These two water oaks tell a story of life complicated by physical forces of one form or another.

 

Bill is admiring this American beech that had at some point corrected its vertical course following an injury bending it at two-feet above ground. At the place of injury the beech launched a side shoot that now grows alongside the main stem. We marveled at the thick moss draping the trunk and its smaller moss-free side stem.

 

We likewise stopped to examine and photograph this three-pronged sweetgum, also draped with tree moss. There are those who would consider this an Indian marker tree. However, the sweetgum is growing in a forest stand that regenerated naturally on an abandoned agricultural field at least 75 years after Native American habitation. The tuning fork tree form is natural.

 

Special Magic of Flowers and Moss

 

I have been a spring (and early summer) wildflower enthusiast since my freshman-year-of-college systematic botany course with its spring semester field lab focusing on the spring ephemerals. We all enjoyed seeing this ruella wild petunia.

 

 

 

 

And as I’ve matured in retirement to learning more about our complex forest ecosystems, I’ve expanded my interests to pay much more attention to mosses, lichens, ferns, and fungi. This moss-adorned long-dead branch is worthy of art gallery enshrinement.

 

Closing Comments

 

June 26, 2021, Bill and I returned to the Sanctuary to video-interview Marian; weeks later we likewise interviewed Margaret Anne at her office in downtown Huntsville.

 

Bill and I are eager to create our video and contribute it to the archive that completes the Land Legacy Story that is the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. Our project may take another year of production. I plan to focus a Great Blue Heron Blog Post on its premier showing.

 

I love constructing these Land Legacy Tales that explore the intersection of human and natural history, developing the compelling case for informed and responsible Earth stewardship!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every parcel of land, including the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, has a legacy story to tell.
  • Such preserved natural places enrich citizens’ lives.
  • I applaud all nature enthusiasts who practice informed and responsible Earth stewardship. 

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 BooksSouthern Sanctuary

 

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.

 

Evitts Creek Three Ponds

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

Three Ponds

 

My History with the Three Ponds

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

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

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

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

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

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Forest

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

Three Ponds

 

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

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

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

Three Ponds

 

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

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

Lichens and mosses flourished in cushiony mounds.

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

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

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

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

Three PondsThree Ponds

 

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

Three Ponds

 

 

 

 

 

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

Three Ponds

 

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

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

      Allegany College of Maryland Foundation, Inc.

      12401 Willowbrook Road, SE

      Cumberland, MD  21502

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

 

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

 

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

Another Nature Visit to Cumberland, Maryland, My Home Town

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

Heart of Cumberland

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fort Hill High School

 

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

 

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

Allegany Community College

 

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

 

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

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's Books

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

Trees Talking to Each Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Fantasy to Reality

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

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

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

HGH Road

 

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

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

 

 

Early Spring in West-Central Pennsylvania

March 27, 2021 we visited our son and his family in Butler County, Pennsylvania. While there we traveled with them to a lovely rolling hills horse farm and stables where our two granddaughters help care for and ride two horses. I could not resist wandering across the property, exploring early spring pastures and woodlots, and reveling under an amazing cerulean sky.

A Rolling Pennsylvania Landscape Under a Cerulean Sky

 

I offer this Post absent much of the ecological science and observations I usually include. Consider this more an aesthetic journey across a special landscape mosaic of open pasture, woods edges, and woodlots, all accented by a remarkable spring sky. Winter had not yet abandoned the farm, although spring was racing northward at roughly 100 miles per week. So, allow me to usher you across the farm, highlighting a few special elements along the way. Still-dormant woodlots, pasture grass coming to life, and a sky of beauty beyond compare.

Horse BarnHorse Barn

 

I was grateful to be in the out-there of western Pennsylvania!

Woodlot Edges

 

Such woods-edge scenes bring rabbits, deer, and soaring birds to mind. Mixed habitats and the ecotones that transition pasture to forest provide rich habitat for all manner of birds and mammals. The woodlots draw me in; the pastures lure me out of the forest.

Horse BarnHorse Barn

 

Tree crowns, too, reach into the pasture, not drawn by the open majesty, but by the bountiful pasture sunlight. And beneath those reaching branches, brambles and tree seedlings advance into the open. Sunlight is a powerful magnet. Given time…and a cessation of mowing or horse feeding…the forest would invade the pasture. Maintaining the forest/pasture mixed cover requires management, intentional practice by the landowners.

Horse BarnHorse Barn

 

I could not help but pause time and again to gaze skyward, especially at the forest edge. I wanted to capture the aesthetic bounty so that I might return to the image on an insufferably hot Alabama July or August afternoon!

Horse BarnHorse Barn

 

 

 

 

Some of the best things in life are free. I wonder, how many people walk about on a spring day with digital device in hand, unaware of the magic above and surrounding them.

Within a Woodlot

 

My wanderings always draw me into forests, for trees are my passion. I miss these western Pennsylvania forests, similar to where I grew up in western Maryland and not far from where I conducted my doctoral research in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW PA and SW NY. Below left is a bigtooth aspen, whose range extends little beyond the upper mid-Atlantic states, the northeast, and lake states. Aspen, both bigtooth and quaking, make me think of cooler summers and far deeper winters. That’s a red maple below right, a more common main canopy occupant than it is here in Alabama. Red maple ranges from the border with Canada  into most of Florida.

Horse Barn

 

Black cherry (below left) dominated the forests of my doctoral studies. I found northern red oak (below right) commonly on my measurement plots. I also found white oak, sugar maple, red maple, beech, yellow poplar, basswood, white pine, hemlock, and white ash.

Horse Barn

 

As I’ve begun to do in dormant season forests wherever I am, I captured the crown image below. Once again, tree crowns are not interlaced. Each individual stands alone with a ring of crown shyness isolating one tree from another. Unlike some of the massive crowns I’ve reported for white oak in particular in our southern forests, all of these crowns are narrow.

Horse Barn

 

The emerald ash borer mortality front passed through this area within the past five years. Here is a white ash standing dead. The bark is beginning to slough; its crown still reaches into the canopy. Most of its branches have fallen to the ground. Adjoining crowns have not yet filled the ash’s canopy void. I consider it a dreadful shame that this magnificent tree is fading from our Pennsylvania forests. The zone of ash mortality is approaching the Alabama/Tennessee border. I am concerned for our north Alabama ash.

Horse Barn

 

As I often do, I found tree curiosities in the woodlots. Below left a black cherry canker beckons wood bowl turners. And, I discovered that poison ivy (below right), just as it does across Alabama, is a common main canopy resident courtesy of its habit of regenerating with the stand and growing vertically in tandem with the trees reaching skyward.

Horse Barn

 

I confess to a fantasy. I’d like to develop a coffee table style book of forest curiosities and tree form oddities. All I need is a sponsor to cover the cost of touring across our eastern hardwood forests, camera in hand, applying my understanding and appreciation of applied ecology to my ever-keener eye for seeing what is hidden in plain sight.

Pastoral Setting

 

Even as the forester within me seeks the sylvan settings, I thoroughly enjoyed the pastoral elements of the farm. Yet, still I seem to accent the pastoral photos with trees. In western Pennsylvania someone had chosen to plant borders of Norway spruce. This Scandinavian-named species is native to much of western and central Europe, and is quite happy across the northeastern US.

Horse Barn

 

A farm pond near the homestead adds a nice domestic touch to the landscape. And, few things beat a white wooden fence.

Horse Barn

 

I’ll end with the two girls returning to the stables along the white fence. What could be better than wandering a new section of God’s green Earth with grandchildren?! I hope that I will have planted a seed of Nature-appreciation in them.

Horse Barn

 

I shall continue to enjoy Nature wherever life and living take me. Perhaps one day, long after only my writing and photos remain, the then two women will see their horseback photos, read my words, and remember their Pap and the seeds of Nature-Inspired Life and Living he sowed.

A Cerulean Firmament — Heaven Over Earth

 

Our grandchildren compose one element of our heaven on Earth. Yet, I could write ten thousand words and never truly express the utter power, hope, and spirit in this simple woods-edge cerulean firmament photograph.

Horse Barn

 

I find Nature’s supreme gifts and magic moments whenever (and wherever) I enter wildness.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations:

  • Nature never disappoints those willing to look.
  • A cerulean firmament — gateway to Heaven on Earth.  
  • Life’s greatest pleasures are free.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, 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

 

All Three 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.

 

 

Tall Trees in Monte Sano State Park’s Cathedral Forest

Thirty-Four-inch Yellow Poplar

I’m continuing to explore our north Alabama forests and their sylvan residents from the ground up with my newly acquired instruments for measuring tree heights. March 12, 2021, I led Jerry Weisenfeld, Alabama State Parks Advertising and Marketing Manager, along the Arthur Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville, Alabama. I love these trails for the spectacular cathedral grove within the lower slopes and rich limestone-sink soils in protected coves. These soils are extremely fertile and deep. Trees are sheltered on the lower slopes and concave sites from winds that may ravage nearby ridge tops.

We identified a particularly tall yellow poplar for our first measurement. At 34-inch diameter breast high (DBH, 4.5 feet above ground on the uphill side), the tree towered above us. We stretched our tape out 100 feet, then used a clinometer to measure percent sight-line to its base and top. This individual stands at 140′. That’s roughly a 14-story building, a testament to the incredible productive capacity of these remarkably rich soils and ideal site location!

Monte Sano

 

This vertically-giant yellow poplar stands among other tall members of its own species. Below right Jim uses the clinometer to measure the percent line of sight to the tree’s top. The percent scale works well at 100 feet from the base. A reading of percent converts directly to tree height in feet.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

The stand is fully stocked. The canopy is crowded. Little light reaches the summer forest floor.

Monte Sano

 

Yellow poplar efficiently captures sunlight high above the forest floor with crowns much smaller in diameter than species of white oak or beech, for example.

Thirty-Six-inch Yellow Poplar

Jerry and I wandered from the lower sink elevation to a terrace 30-40 feet higher, but still on a protected lower slope position. We identified another yellow poplar, this one a bit fatter at 36-inch DBH. Still towering, this one fell ten feet shorter at 130′. Viewing the ground from a 13-story roof ledge would be no less terrifying for me than standing atop a 14-story building. This yellow poplar stands just ten feet off the Wells Trail (below right).

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

That’s it below at 100 feet away, seeming far distant with my iPhone camera, which in my hands does not capture forest distance and depth very well.

Monte Sano

 

The view below left is at 60 degrees into the canopy. That’s our 130-footer dead center. And below right the vertical view into the crowns.

Monte Sano

 

As I complete this Post on April 19, we have moved into nearly full foliage, making height measurements next to impossible until next dormant season. The leafy canopy obscures any given tree. We cannot measure when the top is not visible.

Twenty-Five-inch Chestnut Oak

 

We ascended from the lower slopes and sinks onto the plateau top, where we chose a chestnut oak to measure. Keep in mind that being on the relatively flat plateau is not the same as rising onto a narrow ridge line, with steeply convex upper slopes, sites that are generally among our least productive, especially if they face west through south. Chestnut oaks often populate those harsh sites. This one occupies a more favorable site, albeit not on par with the lower slopes where we measured the two poplars. We measured this oak at 95 feet, certainly not unimpressive for a chestnut oak.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Reaching 9.5 stories high, this specimen is among the tallest chestnut oaks I have ever encountered. Oaks demand more crown space than our more efficient yellow poplars. Therefore, we can observe that the relative density of a comparable diameter chestnut oak exceeds that of a yellow poplar. I’ll dig deeper into the concept of relative density in subsequent Posts.

Monte Sano

 

I see and learn more with each hike through our forests. In no small way I regret that the season of crown observation and study has reached a summer halt. Nevertheless, I’ll find plenty of other avenues of exploration during the growing season.

The Sinks

Departing from isolating individual trees, let’s take a look at the sinks and the associated forest. The major sink along the Sinks Trail actually swallows all surface water that during storms and heavy rainfall flows into the great sink-of-no-outflow. Limestone outcrops below left provide the first hint. The towering forest occupies the bowl-shaped topography above and to the left of the limestone ledge. The ledge below right descends to the pit bottom where the surface flow disappears. For a sense of scale, the trunk that has fallen into the pit is close to 30 feet long and two feet in diameter on its larger end.

Monte Sano

 

 

The bowl extends below to the right side of the pit image.

Monte Sano

 

The stand of predominantly yellow poplar reaches 110 to 130 feet above. These stands by eastern forest standards are jaw-dropping.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

A die-hard forester, I am no longer in awe only of trees and their merchantable value.

And Nearby Spring Wildflowers

In fact, I have never been blind to values beyond timber. I have been, even during my forest industry days, a spring wildflower enthusiast. Blood root has long been among my favorites. Its pure white beauty, early-season appearance, and its fondness for deep fertile soils and associated majestic forests stir my spirit and soul.

Monte Sano

 

The far less spectacular harbinger of spring added a more subtle expression of the spring spirit.

 

And, we encountered a dense stand of bluebell leaves, but only a few precocious flowers daring to open so early.

Monte Sano

 

Another early ephemeral is cutleaf toothwort

Monte Sano

 

So, whether towering eastern hardwoods or rich-site early spring ephemerals, I am thrilled to enter the cathedral forest of Monte Sano State Park.

Alabama State Parks: A 21-Pearl Necklace from the Gulf to Alabama’s Southern Appalachians and the Tennessee Valley

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my mid-March explorations within the rich sink sites along the Wells and Sinks Trails at Monte Sano State Park:

  • Trees exploit rich, moist, and deep soils 
  • Cathedral forests stir my soul and lift my spirit
  • John Muir observed: “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”

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.

 

 

 

Adding a New Dimension to my Tree Appreciation

I’ve observed since my undergraduate forestry education that trees grow taller on richer sites, a fact that doesn’t require a bachelors degree to confirm. The central Appalachian forests where I worked undergraduate summers clearly evidenced the correlation. Forests on lower concave slopes facing the northeast quadrant (i.e. cove sites) performed best, with white and red oaks, yellow poplar, cucumber trees, black cherry, white ash, basswood, and sugar maple standing fat and reaching tall. Upper convex positions supported chestnut oak, red maple, Virginia pine, beech, and mixed oaks standing far shorter and with fewer and smaller stems per acre. Upper west and south facing slopes performed poorest of all. Fifteen years later, my doctoral research quantified the relationship between such site factors and forest productivity within the Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW PA and SW NY. The same relationships hold in our southern Appalachians. Cove sites win the mountain tree-height medals. Here in north Alabama, our river bottomlands likewise reign supreme.

Since retirement, I’ve wandered our north Alabama wildlands observing much about soil-site and tree relationships, without aid of an instrument for measuring tree height. Alas, I’ve purchased a clinometer (measures vertical percent and degrees) and a 100-foot tape (below left). I celebrate being able to measure standing tree height. It’s so simple — measure 100 feet from the tree base and read percent down to the tree base (I’ve been using it to-date in relatively flat bottomland forests) and up to the center-top. For example, I measured a sweetgum recently: five percent down to base and 108 to the top. Add the two to reveal the tree’s 113-foot height. I plan to often include tree heights in future blog Posts as I continue to explore north Alabama wildness. Standing 100 feet from the base, Jerry Weisenfeld takes a reading to the tree top.

 

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

I offer with this Post some of my early measurements from the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge bottomland hardwood forests (February 24, 2021) and on the Flint River floodplain forests at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary (February 25, 2021).

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

 

This 21.8-inch diameter shagbark hickory stands at 115 feet. Until procuring the clinometer, I could only estimate with eyes long-removed from my active forestry research days. My once reliable estimating skill had faded with the years. Now I can begin to recalibrate!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

A 20.3-inch diameter chinkapin oak stands at 110 feet. For rough comparison, that’s equivalent to an 11-story building!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Yellow poplars are often the tallest trees I encounter. This 32.9-inch diameter specimen stands at 118 feet. As I begin to incorporate height measurements into these Posts, I will reflect more deeply on the relationship between site quality and height, and the ongoing battle among trees for light, water, and nutrients.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Across the Refuge’s bottomland forests, loblolly pine intermixes as microsite shifts towards better drained soils. The loblolly (dead center in photo below), 100 feet from where I stood, is 24.7 inches in diameter and reaches 114 feet above the forest floor. These 100-foot-plus heights are impressive enough when viewed from below. However, I imagine standing on the roof of an 11-story building, gazing with head spinning (I am not comfortable with heights) over the edge to the ground way-too-far below!

HGH Road

 

Rich riparian sites along the Tennessee River, combined with our annual rainfall at 55 inches, produce forests worthy of admiration and inspiration!

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Although not along the Tennessee River, the Sanctuary is similarly riparian-situated along the Flint River. This 22.0-inch diameter sweetgum reaches 113 feet into the canopy. The two photographs immediately below show the 100-foot tape attached to the base (left) and with the view along the tape back to the base (right). I’ve discovered that my trusty iPhone camera does not depict horizontal distances as I wish. The tree 100-feet away appears as tiny and insignificant.

 

Yet, under it, peering into the crown, the tree stands impressively.

 

I’m fascinated with tree height and the intense competition for available upper-canopy sunlight.

Gazing into the Canopy

 

I am growing fonder and fonder of the vertical forest perspective, gazing directly into the business end of our sylvan citizens. In fact, I vow to spend more time lying on my back looking into the canopy. I’ll make sure the area where I recline is free of snakes, poison ivy, and other distractions!

HGH Road

 

Over the course of my many years in forest practice, I seldom assumed such position. Now, retired, I will do as I please. No worry about appearing to loaf! In fact, I won’t accept the term loafing. Instead, we’ll refer to it as reclined deep contemplation!

HGH Road

 

Contemplation that triggers youthful memories. I recall summer days as a youngster, lying on my back peering skyward, and feeling as though I might fall up into the sky. I feel an echo of those childhood sensations as I now gaze into the canopy, drawing out greater appreciation for the ten-story height, somewhat mimicking a reverse fear of heights, a mirror-version of being on the rooftop looking down. One may think me odd, yet I accept the sensation with glee. Anything I can do mentally to deepen my appreciation for scale assists my embrace of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations:

  • Understanding the forest requires gazing into the canopy
  • Good grounding and rich nourishment make all the difference… in tree height, and in people’s character 
  • A scientist, I multiply my admiration and inspiration with measurement

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, 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

HGH Road

All Three 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.

 

Reflections on Natural Disasters

 

Reflections on Natural Disasters

 

Today’s instant global news connects us with calamities from Asian tsunamis to California and Australian wildfires to calving Antarctic mega-glaciers to seething volcanoes to European floods to a variety of weather extremes (hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, ice storms, severe thunderstorms, tidal surges, and drought). We anthropocentric humans dub such events as natural disasters. Yes, these perturbations are natural. But, in whose eyes are they disasters? Excepting their effect on humans and our lives, structures, and economies, they are simply normal fluxes of atmospheric physics, weather patterns, and our Earth’s dynamic crustal plates. Landslides and earthquakes result from a constant battle for equilibrium. Storms of all sorts occur as the global atmosphere seeks balance. Glaciers work tirelessly to scrape mountains to the sea. Water and gravity likewise sweep soil, rocks, and associated debris seaward.

Bradford Creek

 

Fires have burned California forests, growing happily in a dry-summer/wet-winter Mediterranean climate on steep hillsides, since long before the first humans entered what became the Golden State. Winter rains have generated mudslides on the fire-cleared hillsides for as long as fires have periodically scorched the forests. The cycle of forest/fire/mudslide/forest is natural, and will continue without regard for the foolhardy humans who place homes with little regard to Nature’s ways. Flood plains identify themselves clearly to the hydrologists among us, yet we build homes and cities in harm’s way. We populate beachfronts subject to tropical storms with homes and other infrastructure. We time and again “protect” New Orleans by rebuilding, reinforcing, and elevating levees, yet as the city sinks year after year from the weight of thousands of feet of sediment, the city will one day pay the ultimate price.

November 2020Oak Mountain

 

From the perspective of managers and recreationists at Joe Wheeler State Park (Rogersville, AL), the December 2019 tornado that destroyed the campground amounted to a natural disaster. Nature “handles” such disasters in stride. In fact, such storms serve to renew the forest, or whatever ecosystem is affected. It is we humans who struggle with the impacts.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

The week of February 15, we witnessed a deep-diving polar outbreak reaching to the Texas Gulf coast, bringing record low temperatures, relentless snowfall, and historic ice storms. The death toll in Texas alone reached 86. Property damage across the southern US matched major hurricane levels. The news media spoke of this as an unprecedented natural disaster. Many of the now-broken records go back 100-plus years to 1890. Unprecedented? Okay, in 1890 the US population was one-sixth of today’s. Because home electricity did not appear commonly until 1930, residents in 1890 did not suffer from power outages. Frozen pipes? Likewise not a problem. A disaster? Certainly a disaster for those who lost power, experienced frozen pipes, were unable to secure clean water, suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, and went without food. But, a natural disaster? I think that Nature and her wildness will feel little consequence from such a weather phenomenon, which, while unusual, occurs every few decades or once a century.

Here in northern Alabama, the evening of February 17 brought us six inches of snow. I am sure it triggered many fender-benders and perhaps a few resultant injuries. Schools closed for several days. Yet, I do not consider this generally as more than a minor natural perturbation here on the eastern edge of the more calamitous cold air invasion. In fact, I welcomed the snow as a brief period of winter during a time when spring was locked and loaded, ready to emerge.

 

All of these natural disturbances are part of the grand cycle of life and the ongoing fluxes associated with forces seeking balance. Natural disasters? I beg to differ. Natural, yes. Disaster? Only in human terms. However, I understand how we derived the term. I don’t suggest that we seek an alternate moniker. I simply want to remind readers that our own human impacts on the future may be more of a disaster than anything that Nature throws our way. Consider among others: foul air; abusive agricultural practices; soil erosion; wetland elimination; species extinction; water pollution; paving paradise (and putting up a parking lot; courtesy of Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell).

So-called natural disasters do not not dim my own maturing love affair with Nature. Instead, the vagaries, mysteries, and power of Nature further inspire me, driving me to seek deeper understanding of this incredible planet and our place within its global ecosystem.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my musings on natural disasters:

  • Everything in Nature occurs in accord with her own immutable laws
  • Nature cares not about human impacts
  • We humans can only deal with Nature… not control her

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

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