Winter is a Relative Term

A Nomad’s Perspective

Judy and I have lived in the US South for a total of nearly a quarter of a century (about half of my adult life), punctuated by shifts northward totaling 27 years:

  • Syracuse, New York — 2 years
  • Southeastern Virginia — 7 years
  • Savannah, Georgia — 2 years
  • Prattville, Alabama — 3 years
  • Syracuse, New York — 3 years
  • State College, Pennsylvania — 9 years
  • Auburn, Alabama — 5 years
  • Cary, North Carolina — 3 years
  • Fairbanks, AK — 4 years
  • Urbana, Ohio — 5 years
  • Keene, New Hampshire — 3 years
  • Fairmont, West Virginia — 1 year
  • Madison, Alabama — 3 years (and counting)

Winters in those northern climes can be (and often are) serious, arriving on schedule and holding on (with a few thaws) until spring. Southland winters to the contrary amount to fall beginning mid-November, then gradually transitioning to spring by early March. Toss in an occasional day or two of winter weather to excite (and panic) the locals. So, my conclusion, based upon near-nomadic wandering over some fifty years from Fairbanks’ latitude 65 degrees north to Savannah’s 32 degrees north, is that winter is a relative term.

Winter’s December 2019 Visit

I’ll begin with a recent example. December 10, a strong cold front muscled into the Tennessee River Valley before a steady rain ended, transitioning the rain to sleet then snow. The result: a half-inch coating… and thousands of absolutely distraught drivers convinced that this storm was apocalyptic! Not a flake stuck on the warm pavement or even on our flagstone landscape paths. Here in the South, this amounted to a brief interruption of the long autumn reaching for spring. The sleet and snow did not portend the arrival of winter, but merely an ever-so-short pause in autumn.

Legendwood Drive Legendwood Drive




The dusting persisted through the next morning, adding a little winter zest to our mailbox Christmas decorations. I recall far more snow mid-September in Fairbanks!

Legendwood Drive


Real Winter

Huntsville locals will remember the December 10, 2019 storm as that season’s early winter arrival. Our New Hampshire winters were a trifle less subtle. Snow cover there did not disappear with the next day’s noon sun. That’s Judy and me along our driveway below, probably in mid-February one of those three winters. A succession of storms piles it high. Spring is nowhere in sight. Fall departed long ago.

New hampshireNew Hampshire





And yet by Fairbanks standards, southern New Hampshire winters, while snowy, are relatively mild. That’s Willie Karidis (then Director of the Denali Education Center) and me mid-March snow-shoeing on the frozen Nenana River at negative 37 degrees Fahrenheit just outside Denali National Park. The bright sun belied the danger. Frostbite nipped my nose not long after the photo captured our image. Unlike our Alabama mid-winter sun, the winter solstice sun at Fairbanks rises only 1.7 degrees above the southern horizon at solar noon (below right). Thermal power? Nada! Noon sun melting yesterday’s accumulation? Not a chance — early October’s snow still resides under this solstice mantle of the white stuff! Fairbanks’ average daily high for March 31 is 32 degrees. Contrast that to the average high for the date in Huntsville, AL at 69 degrees. Our first year in Fairbanks saw April Fool’s Day reach a record low high temperature (for the date and month) at one below zero. Winter is relative.





As Chair of the University of the Arctic Governing Board during those Alaska years, I presided over an international session in Rovaniemi, Finland, University of Lapland, which sits at the Arctic Circle. Plenty of daylight during the March equinox period. Conditions not much different from the near-Denali photos above. Still deep winter. We are in full-blown spring by that date here in the South.





Alabama Winter

The western US sandhill cranes left the high Arctic and passed south through Fairbanks before the end of August. Our own Tennessee Valley sandhill cranes (below left) arrive here mid-November to spend the winter with us (nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge) before departing mid-February northward. Also at WNWR, the cypress swamp below right depicts another version of our deep winter.

National RefufeNational Refuge


I recall living twice in Syracuse, NY, which self-proclaims the title of cloudiest major US city. I could not confirm that honorific title on the internet, yet I can vouch for the deep darkness of dense cloud cover that seems to persist from October through April. One did not need to search long for clinics treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in The Salt City (named for the nearby salt deposits, and not for the anti-icing road treatment that will rust your wheel wells in just a few seasons!). Not so cloudy and dark here in the South. A front slips through with abundant rain and the following few days bless us with deep blue, often complemented with wisps of horsetail cirrus (below in late November 2018 at McDowell Camp and Conference Center). Nature graciously rewards us with aerial magnificence.



Snow seldom falls and almost never persists. Also at McDowell, the frosty grass at sunrise must satisfy my winter snow nostalgia.



Camp McDowell



Over our many interstate moves I’ve learned to temper my seasonal weather expectations. Does me no good to pine for a deep snow, high-wind Nor’easter here in northern Alabama, nor in New Hampshire could I wish for sitting on the patio at sunset January 1 as I did this evening with no wind and the temperature at 52 degrees! I’ve become adept at flourishing wherever we find ourselves.

Again, the Real Thing!

Yet I do love the extremes, including the raw and brutal power that turned our team back at 5,300-feet one February day when we attempted to summit Mount Washington. That’s my back second from the rear, enjoying the pleasurable terror.  When we tucked tail (the photo depicts our furthest progress) the wind was gusting above 100 MPH with the ambient temperature below zero Fahrenheit at the summit. That’s deadly. That’s real…nearly unbelievable…winter.

New HampshireSteve Jones at Mount Washington


That wasn’t daily existence across New Hampshire. That was at a location known for The World’s Most Extreme Weather. As I write these words New Years Day, the summit temperature is 10 degrees, wind chill is -19, and the wind is gusting to 85 MPH!


Summer as Winter

Sitka, Alaska sits along the state’s southeast coast. The city welcomes cruise ships into its protected harbor during its brief summer. Snow-capped mountains ring the bay (below left). The trailhead for the Mt Verstovia trail is just east of town. Mid-June 2012 I made a valiant attempt to reach Verstovia’s nearly 3,000-foot summit. My ascent ended when I encountered decaying snow 3-5-feet deep still 500 feet below the summit (below right).  The higher peaks still carried fresh snow. Summer? Like winter, summer is a relative term! My forehead perspiration (my entire body was soaked) had nothing to do with summer’s heat. I had just climbed 2,500 feet vertical (a steep trail) and struggled with the coarse granular snow until I accepted defeat.


Steve Jones near Sitka, Alaska 2012








A dormant volcano, Mt Edgecumbe, stands across the bay from Sitka’s airport. Mark Twain once said, we are told, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” No, the statement just would not have worked for the humorist had he substituted Sitka for San Francisco!



Again, a Southern Winter — It’s All Relative!

No deep decaying snow to deal with at Beaverdam Creek Boardwalk at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge just a few miles from where we live in Alabama.

Wheeler NWR


Just once during our four winters in northern Alabama has our Big Blue Lake frozen soundly enough to support the weight of our over-wintering Canada geese. The Nenana River annual Ice Classic at Nenana, AK (midway between the entrance to Denali National Park and Fairbanks) awards a significant cash prize to the to the person who comes closest to guessing the exact date, hour, minute, and second of break-up. Average April 1, ice thickness over the years is 42 inches. Strong enough to support a goose? Even a moose — perhaps a caboose!



January 7, 2020 I snapped this shot of emerging daffodils in my neighborhood. Who can dispute my statement that our fall gradually transitions to spring? I need not provide further evidence than these daffodil blades beginning to break through the mulch.

213 Legendwood Drive


Yet there is more. Planted pansies provide winter color at our latitude. When temperatures drop below freezing, the plants wilt (their way of protecting cells from the cold) while awaiting warmer days. I took this photo January 9, 2020 on a mild afternoon in the upper 50s.



January 12, I biked once again on Bradford Creek and Mill Creek Greenways. Spring presented a little more evidence of its headway, further tracing the seasonal transition. I spotted my first henbit (Lamium amplxicaule) flower of the year. Henbit is a naturalized non-native, common across the eastern US.

Local Greenways












I also saw chickweed and a small cress in flower, but did not attempt to photograph their tiny white flowers.

January 2018 I visited Gulf State Park, Alabama. The season was clearly fall/spring… and Sam the resident pelican offered no counter argument. Some 400 miles south of where I reside, the climate is much warmer along the coast.

Steve at Gulf Shores


No winter pelican acquaintances when we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. Moose-friends frequently visited our yard, especially in winter. Make that WINTER! I’m placing the finishing touches on the Post January 8. I just checked the Fairbanks temperature: negative 33 Fahrenheit! This is the warmest part of the day.

Again, as is nearly everything in Nature… Winter is relative.


Thoughts and Reflections

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. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Everything in Nature is relative
  2. Nature cares little about the weather we hope to experience; it is what it is
  3. Knowing local norms and averages helps us adjust our expectations and adapt to place

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


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 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:

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


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.


  • 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 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 others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHarvest Square


Every place in Nature tells a story, as do all stories within my books.


Three Books


All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned 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.

















Peace and Tranquility on Big Blue Lake; Not All is as it Appears!

Peace, Tranquility, and Serenity


I speak often of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Judy and I normally complete our morning neighborhood walk by 6:00AM, then enjoy coffee on the patio overlooking four-acre Big Blue Lake (BBL), along whose north shore we reside.

We experience peace, tranquility, the onset of a new day, a gentle stirring of birdsong and breeze, soft colors, and the promise of a full day ahead. That’s how every day in Nature’s beatific world unfolds, right? An Eden where life embraces life… among all creatures great and small. Where peace and harmony dominate life and living!

Sure, one may presume on such placid dawnings that all is love and joy here on BBL—and the lion shall lie down with the lamb! But wait, there is more. I choose to focus my writing on Nature’s inspiration–I relate her everyday tales in ways that lift lives and elevate the human spirit. However, I am not a Pollyanna, nor am I blind to Nature’s complex ways and multiple faces. As an applied ecologist, I know that Nature is harsh. The food chain is real. Few animals reside at the apex. Every organism, dead or alive, is edible to some consumer, primary or secondary. Death begins at the onset of life… and life at the time of death. From the Christian hymn:

“Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?”

The secular is absolute… ashes to ashes, dust to dust cannot be denied. A better home awaiting is a matter of Faith and of Spirit. Okay, I will leave the Spiritual element of the cycle of life and death to another day. Allow me now a quick recitation of just a few examples of the cold, brutal violence among BBL’s community of life from just the past few weeks. My intent is not to generate despair, but to illustrate that life is a complex web. Nature does not pass judgment. She is objective. Only we humans see good and evil, right and wrong, honest and deceptive. Nature just is… nothing more.

Two-hundred fifty years ago, Leonardo da Vinci observed of Nature: “In her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous. Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity. Nature never breaks her own laws.” Every morning we witness Nature’s fidelity to the laws she has adopted and observed over 3.7 billion years of life on Earth. Life and living on Big Blue Lake never break Nature’s laws. Serenity? Yes, the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are present. No denying the obvious (below).

The Cold, Harsh, and Unforgiving Dimension
Yet, just as obvious, there are two sides to the coin of life. No, not really sides, but a continuum. For example, we have a resident sharp-shinned hawk on BBL. I say resident only because we see this aggressive predator every couple of days. I have no idea the extent of its range beyond frequenting BBL and posting near our quite active bird feeders.
Twice this spring we observed first-hand two near misses. A dove lighted off the patio in our back ornamental bed just ten feet from our own patio perch. Within seconds, Sharpy stooped suddenly from above onto the fortunate dove. Fortunate only because after feathers exploded, both birds immediately departed the chaotic scene. Down and a few tail or wing feathers marked the scene (below left). We’ve previously found such impact evidence in the backyard. I’ve always assumed a kill had resulted. Just three days following the near-miss, we witnessed Sharpy hitting another dove just 20-feet away… this one in flight. Again, a puff of feathers and two birds leaving in opposite directions. I pondered… an outstanding baseball batter will connect successfully three out of ten at-bats. What’s the hit-rate for sharp-shinned hawks? Three of ten? I found the feathers below right in mid-June. Another miss?
We know without doubt that dove-life on BBL is not free and easy. Aldo Leopold wrote of the need for geese on his Wisconsin farm to be vigilant about their place in the food chain. He asked, as he lamented the efficacy of a modern education 70 years ago, “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.” We occasionally see Sharpy nearby. Just two weeks ago, we heard our setting killdeer (15 feet off of the patio) screaming in serious agitation. We peeked from our sun porch. Sharpy stood ten feet from the mamma-less nest, then walked to within six inches of the four eggs, never seeming to notice them. We were prepared to rush out to save the eggs if necessary. As you will soon read, we had already lost a clutch of four killdeer eggs to a gang of ruffian crows in late March. Sharpy abruptly left without our exiting the house.
I recently finished reading Wendell Berry’s Our Only World, published 65 years after Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Interestingly, Berry came to a conclusion similar to Leopold’s: “There can never be too much knowledge, but there certainly can be too much school.” Perhaps a sacrilege from a former university president (four institutions), yet I fear that a modern university education is heavy to things of lesser worth.
Marauding Crows
Early March our killdeer couple that had successfully fledged two broods of four last summer, returned to their nesting site near a Japanese maple just 15-feet from our patio.
The adults at first performed the broken wing act to lure us from the nest and soon, accustomed to us, they would sit quietly as long as we gave them a reasonable berth.
During our morning patio-relaxing time this spring, five noisy crows would enter and pass through our little paradise. We would hear and see them emptying the sunflower seed feeders, one doing the feeder work while the others collected seed knocked to the ground. They would likewise make short work of a suet cage. We found them to be obnoxious bird-bullies, yet I accepted them as part of Nature’s web on BBL. Later one morning as we ran errands, our next door neighbor heard a loud clamor of crows and killdeer, and emerged to her porch in time to see the crows completing their task of scattering the killdeer parents and eating the four eggs. The crows have not been frequenting our end of the lake for the past six weeks.
Before the crows abandoned us, they also destroyed five goose eggs at our shoreline (goose at nest below left). The same neighbor heard the noise of the five crows attacking and eating the clutch of goose eggs (below right). I suppose there is good reason that the collective noun for a crow gang is a murder of crows! Will they return next spring? If so, what will I do, if anything, to dissuade them from their evil ways?! Yes, I know, it is I who place relative value, good and evil, preference among species of birds. I may simply observe and learn from Nature’s ways.

We did raise (actually, we observed and did not participate) two successful killdeer hatches last summer. Likewise, a goose pair raised a clutch of five goslings from their shore-side nest at our place (below). This summer, we’ve watched goose families of three and six goslings cruising BBL. This morning I counted 39 geese on the lake, including the nine goslings. Despite the murder of crows, I sense that we are at least sustaining our goose population.
Some good news. We now have another four killdeer eggs at the identical location and estimate a late June hatch date. I’m completing final editing July 1; the parents are still tending the four eggs. We anticipate hatching any moment. A last minute update: the four hatched mid-morning July 2, then spent the night under Mom’s wings. We watched them venture forth to lakeside during the morning. We celebrated their success!
Goose Homicide
All of our goose problems are not attributable to marauding corvids (family of Corvidae; crows and ravens). During pairing-off season, we noticed very territorial behavior among males. We’ve observed violence when a male senses competition for his mate. The aggrieved male will attack the perceived threat-bird. The aggressor will demonstrate a neck-parallel-to-the-water paddle toward the other male, leading to a flying attack that we’ve seen result in the target being taken underwater repeatedly with a great deal of thrashing. Occasionally the take-down lasted long enough that I wondered whether the attacked male would escape. In fact, in late April, one apparently did not. We found the victim floating belly-up at our shoreline. I waited several days, anticipating that our turtles would scavenge the corpse. Warm days compelled me to place the body in a large plastic bag and transfer the corpse to our garbage can for disposal.
We have what we consider our resident great blue heron. Again, the bird’s range includes BBL, but is certainly not exclusively restricted to BBL as its domicile. A rookery (below left) is perhaps six miles distance. I have little idea of how far a heron may range from its home rookery. We see Big Blue (our name for the resident bird) often. We’ve spent many hours in total watching the bird hunt along our shore. Few things surpass the thrill of seeing a thrust or dive resulting in a catch, whether a frog or fish large enough to witness repeated stabs, de-mobilization, and maneuvering to swallow head-first. These magnificent wetland birds are voracious predators. I view them as symbolic of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Were I an intended meal, I would see our heron as an imminent threat, a fearsome beast, a horrible monster hell-bent on ruining my day. I enjoy peace and tranquility in observing the stealthy, stilted, royal heron. The frogs, fish, and snakes of BBL do not share my enthusiasm and appreciation!
The three eggs below remain from the ten eggs a female mallard deposited and tended in our front bed under a rosecreek abelia. The seven hatched overnight June 14. Momma had the ducklings on the pond within hours. As I write these words the afternoon of July 1, she is  cruising with just three survivors. Interestingly, she appears to be a single mother. We’ve watched other families cruise BBL. Mom leads, the ducklings paddle in close single file, and Dad brings up the rear. We have not yet seen a male with our family group. As of July 10 (yesterday), the number remains at three. I puzzled over what percentage of mallard eggs in the wild typically hatch. Is 70-percent normal? I searched the web quickly for an answer, coming up empty. Same for what proportion of hatchlings normally survive to adulthood. Did the absence of Dad result in higher mortality?
Kingfisher and Osprey
We likewise frequently see kingfishers hunting along BBL. They perch on fence posts or in shrubs and trees watching the water before diving headlong for some hapless prey. Once this past winter we watched (with great surprise) a magnificent osprey approach from the southwest a couple of hundred feet above BBL, then circle slowly three times, carefully surveying the surface below.
Water Turtles
Big Blue Lake is home to water turtles, some of which are snappers, fearless predators in their own right. Fish, frogs, snakes, snails, and mollusks are among the prey. I’ve seen individuals approaching 18-inches from beak to tip-of-tail. I am sure that the snappers are responsible for some duckling and gosling mortality. Last year, we saw a duckling family of 11 winnow to four reaching adulthood. The parade of tiny yellow fuzzballs must look quite appetizing from beneath! The snapper below is a mount at the recently-opened Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur.
Insects and Spiders
Spiders like to set insect webs along our patio roof-line. It’s a tough life for flying insects. If not a spider’s meal, insects are subject to the species of large dragonfly that frequents our backyard a little later in summer. Barn swallows hunt BBL and its immediate air-space much of the day. Many of our common birds feast on insects, worms, and other small life forms.
Largemouth bass cruise the pond, consuming frogs, fish, and perhaps even the ducklings and goslings when swallowable size. I’ve had days when nearly every cast with a spinning lure draws a strike.
We’ve spotted grey rat snakes several times this spring. In past years we’ve had garter snakes in our beds. They, too, consume birds, bird eggs, mice, and other rodents. By mid-June we had spotted five grey rat snakes road-killed at the entrance to our development, along a stretch of road bordered by mature hardwood forest. So sad to see the mortality. Unlike many neighbors, I find the sinuous reptiles beautiful and of great value within the complex faunal ecosystem. Regardless, I am grateful to be atop the food chain!
Other Factors

I show the male house finch temporarily stunned on our patio to evidence that not all dangers are biological. The finch flew into one of our back windows. He soon recovered and departed. Again, a tough life amidst BBL’s peace and tranquility.

Mid Twentieth Century author, conservationist, and naturalist-philosopher Aldo Leopold observed, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Harsh as it may seem, life along BBL appears to be right. The ecosystem is complex, integrated, and I believe stable. I offer another Leopold quote as I think about the crows and how I might deal with them next spring, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Whether cog or wheel, the crows are integral to our functioning ecosystem. I will likely accept them as too important for me to pass judgement and issue a sentence.


Thoughts and Reflections

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; Submitted to publisher May 31, 2019), as well as another one by me (single author) scheduled for 2020, Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration, 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the four succinct lessons I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature is objective, refusing to pass judgement or assign relative worth.
  2. Follow the rule of intelligent tinkering
  3. Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.
  4. There is always a flip side to Nature’s apparent peace, serenity, and tranquility. 

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


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 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:

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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.


  • 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!


Magic and Wonder — A 30-Day Backyard Cloud Catalog

I’ve said previously in these Posts that I’m fascinated by all of Nature’s faces. From geography to plants to fauna to weather. Among weather phenomena, cloud magic and wonder furnish frequent inspiration. I present here a set of photos I snapped at home in northern Alabama over the past 30 days. April morning rain gave way to partial clearing followed below by threatening evening clouds rolling in from the south, presaging another round of thundershowers.

Fronts and systems move rapidly across the southern US as this spring shoulder season progresses. A clear day may end with a cirrus sunset (below) signaling yet another disturbance approaching, forewarning  tomorrow’s rain.

And after that rain, a jet-stream dip into the southeastern US brings strong northwesterly winds aloft. My imagination, cloud-appreciation, and spiritual connection to Nature transformed this cirrus-puff image to the the face of God racing windward with hair and beard streamers trailing behind.

At 6:30 PM April 17, with fair weather pushing east and near-certain next day rain approaching from the southwest, I spotted a clear east-west linear seam in the clouds. Taking several photos as the seam drifted overhead, I identified the clouds as Undulatus asperitas. The Verge website describes the formations as “localized waves in the cloud base, either smooth or dappled with smaller features, sometimes descending into sharp points, as if viewing a roughened sea surface from below. Varying levels of illumination and thickness of cloud can lead to dramatic visual effects. Asperitas clouds tend to be low-lying, and are caused by weather fronts that create undulating waves in the atmosphere.” Interestingly, the page added, “In layman’s terms the clouds look downright apocalyptic — these are the clouds you’d expect to see on Judgement Day, or in the lead-up to an alien invasion. One look at these clouds and you know something very bad is coming.”

No, I did not presume the apocalypse! I did see turbulence, and marveled at yet another face of Nature. The Verge reported May 24, 2017, that yesterday, on World Meteorological Day — nine years after the classification was first submitted — the World Meteorological Organization recognized this cloud type in the updated version of the International Cloud Atlas. The name has been tweaked (shortened) to “asperitas.” This is the first new addition to the Atlas in over half a century. For what it’s worth, I prefer the more lyrical name-roll of the two-part moniker Undulatus asperitas!

In another photo as the cloud seam passed, I see a stern bearded face (The countenance of God?) mid-image and extending from a forehead at the top down through eyebrows, nose, mustache, mouth, and bearded chin, the face slanted back at about 25 degrees. Come on, haven’t you ever played cloud games? Perhaps if I were to view the photo tomorrow I would see something else, possibly just an interesting cloud… or yet another sign of the impending apocalypse!

April 27 at 5:45 PM, with the ground temperature at 65 degrees, I spotted snow falling just three miles away… vertical miles. Snow virga from this altocumulus (at some 15,000 feet altitude) left its signature angel hair (like sparse paint brush strokes) suspended below and trailing behind the cloud that is moving right to left. Virga is precipitation that does not hit the ground, evaporating (or, in the case of snow, sublimating) as it falls through dry air. As with many natural phenomena, understanding the science behind the image magnifies the feature’s expression of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I can’t imagine being blind to all that surrounds us. Wendell Berry observed: “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but is the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” Snow virga marmalade sweetens and enriches my daily bread. No apocalyptic foreboding in this image!

Since January 1, 2019 I’ve measured 32.45 inches of rain, about twice average for the period. Another 1.33″ in the first week of May (below). Plant life is flourishing. As the old saw goes, April showers bring May flowers, whether Asiatic lilies or 11- and 5-year-old Alabama grandsons Jack and Sam. Two young sprouts growing in the light and warmth of love and nurture.

As I said in the first sentence of this Post, I’m fascinated by all of Nature’s faces. And I mention now that so much of what I see in Nature passes through my own life-polished lenses. What I see often derives from my firm belief that so very much lies hidden within. Where I sense beauty, magic, wonder, and awe, too many of my fellow citizens view as mundane, uninteresting, or inconsequential, if not invisible. I feast while so many others see an empty table. A fellow Nature enthusiast yesterday said to me facetiously, holding his handheld electronic device, “I have ample Nature photographs and video available at my fingertips, why would I ever need to venture outside?” We both know the answer… and we hope that others discover that understanding, enjoying, appreciating, and embracing Nature is a full-contact endeavor.

Inhale, feel, and experience Nature as though your time on this one Earth is finite. Enjoy your journey through the remaining hours, days, weeks, months, and years of your life. Search for Nature’s amazing presence right there where you live. Anticipate the unexpected — look up; look down; discover what lies hidden within reach.


Thoughts and Reflections from a 30-Day Backyard Cloud Catalog

I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) 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. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.

So, what message do I communicate with this short Blog Post? I draw three succinct lessons:

  • Stay vigilant for Nature’s magic and wonder; always be alert for Nature’s infinite storm of beauty.
  • Learn as much as you dare about the science underlying Nature’s never-ending show of astonishment and fascination.
  • Cling to the youthful innocence and a child’s appreciation for Nature’s incessant power to amaze.

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


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 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:

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


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

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. 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.


  • 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!

No-Nature Vigilante on Big Blue Lake

I write often of our idyllic life on Big Blue Lake. My bubble of peace and tranquility burst recently.

Occasionally life events remind me that not all people share my love for Nature.  June 6, 2018 brought such an event — a rude and real wake-up call that even here on Big Blue Lake (BBL) we do not all subscribe to Steve’s gospel of Nature appreciation. Not everyone shares my belief that here on BBL we’re blessed with peace, beauty, and tranquility (photo looking south from Legendwood Drive):

June 6, 2018, I witnessed an act of violence here on the northernmost of our development’s three ponds. I’ll term the perpetrator No-Nature Vigilante (NNV). Wearing a hospital breathing filter, broad-brimmed hat, eye protection, jacket, and rubber boots, NNV committed the act in broad daylight, brazenly spraying some type of chemical herbicide on the willow and cattails bordering the shoreline along the north and west sides of the pond’s neck that reaches up to Legendwood Drive.

NNV refused to stop when challenged by the homeowner along whose property NNV was spraying. NNV expressed anger, referred to us as “you bastards,” threatened to have a spouse “come over here and shoot you,” refused to identify the chemical in use (I requested to see the label), and indicated that this is common property and “I can do as I wish.” NNV protested that the chemical is “non-toxic” and “safe.” I wondered why the protective gear. When we began snapping a few photos, NNV paused briefly and encouraged us defiantly to take a photo, saying, “Here, I’ll smile for you.”

I saw an angry, violent, seemingly irrational act of aggression toward pond-shore vegetation and full ambivalence to the feelings and genuine concerns of neighbors. NNV implied that our Home Owners Association (HOA) had failed to act and that led NNV to this harsh individual action. In fact, the HOA had hired a contractor who early this spring cut and removed all pond-shore woody vegetation to ground-level, a willow treatment recommended by an aquatic resources specialist from Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

NNV’s wild and irresponsible act evidenced a sad ignorance of Nature. I took the photo above early the next morning… before much foliar effect was visible. Before the violence evidenced injury and degradation. Before the insult and savage attack painted a raw wound on our cherished pond. Here are photos from early morning June 12, six days after the spraying:

An Affront to Sensibility and Decency

We bought a pond-side lot because of our appreciation for Nature. We enjoy the tranquility and revel in the bountiful birds, fish, frogs, turtles, and other critters drawn to the ponds. Obviously NNV doesn’t share our enthusiasm for these blessings.

Aldo Leopold’s 1949 A Sand County Almanac and Sketches from Here and There is an environmental classic. The 1989 edition carries a foreword by Robert Finch:

The “Sketches” are a record not only of loss but of doubt, of disillusionment with both public sensibility and official policy. In a meaner nature such criticism might have become mere self-righteous condemnation. But Leopold’s instinct was always to educate rather than condemn. Though there are genuine bitterness and pain in these essays, he (Leopold) remained convinced that most environmental mistakes are due, not to some inherent baseness in human nature, but to ignorance. He understood that his own ability to perceive and understand how nature works was the result of a long period of education and self-education.

Was NNV driven by anger and resentment? I believe so. Did NNV commit such a vile act due to some baseness of human nature? Unfortunately, I believe so. Did ignorance drive the action? Yes, gross, almost incomprehensible ignorance. Do I believe that education may be a route of solution? I fear not; I sensed only a self-righteous disregard of anything beyond a mind absolutely made and certain. Regardless of motive and sentiment (malice or not), we residents are left with a pond-side scar… an affront to our sensibilities. Browned and desiccated foliage. An insult to pond aesthetics.

I sent a letter to our Home Owners Association June 11, excerpted here:

Now, to whom does it fall to remove the vegetative skeletons? What damage might have been done to the water; to birds, frogs, turtles, and fish? I doubt that the chemical employed was approved for direct application to water, even if NNV had been authorized by our HOA to spray. I am sure that given the evidence of foliar damage and the location of the plants, NNV sprayed chemical on the water. Should not the HOA report the facts of this disturbing environmental assault to the appropriate regulatory agency?

We are a community of friends and neighbors. We rely upon the HOA to address matters that impact the collective. This act of unauthorized violence flies in the face of a community of concerned and allied citizens. I am deeply offended and terribly disappointed by NNV’s actions and attitude. I ask that our HOA investigate and take appropriate action to treat the scar and assure that such vigilantism is not repeated.

I will close by simply pondering why one so hostile to the environment would choose to live so miserably along the shore of a pond where I daily see and feel magic, wonder, beauty, and awe.

Sincerely and appreciatively,

I am saddened, angered, frustrated, and dismayed. This episode lies outside my zone of acceptance and understanding, yet I must accept that one of my neighbors would commit this atrocity. I know, nobody died; I did not take NNV’s threat of “shooting” seriously. I am hardened to the verbal assault and name-calling. Long ago, Mom told me more than once, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Yet I am deeply offended and set aback by NNV’s insult to Nature along BBL. The act violated all that I believe and embrace about Earth stewardship. And with respect to community-living… and respectful civil engagement.

A bright side? Perhaps a teachable moment for me and my cause. A stark reminder that even Leopold’s instinct was always to educate rather than condemn. A wake-up call that much work is yet to be done… beginning right here in my immediate neighborhood. Another positive outcome — an anecdote fresh, apropos, and compelling. Fodder for this Blog Post. A catalyst for action and corroboration that my work is necessary… my cause is worthy.

I hold confidently to my assertion that Nature inspires and informs every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading. NNV certainly did not believe such to be true — in fact, NNV never considered anything remotely relevant to Nature-Inspired Living and Learning. NNV neither looked for or saw the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe afforded to us residents along Big Blue Lake. Instead, NNV looked at the pond-side willow sprouts and cattails with loathing and disgust. NNV acted with repulsion toward the very elements that attracted many of us to live with Nature on BBL rather than in conflict with it.

May Nature continue to bless and inspire all that you do. Let’s strive always to educate rather than condemn.

June 14 Post Script

June 13, 2018, crews removed the sprayed willow, leaving the deadened cattails. Mercifully, some of the cattails stayed sheltered from the mad herbicide sprayer. We have an HOA meeting June 19 — I hope we discuss the implications of NNV’s actions.


Goose Family Progress — Thirty Days Later!

I introduced our new goose family May 7:

Our backyard nesting Canada Goose parents presented six hatchlings April 30 (below left), reduced to five when we next spotted them in our yard (below right).






Sometime mid-month we spotted the parents and four goslings. May 30 the awkward gangling, seeming-teenagers visited us with the parents (below). Today (June 9) they are noticeably bigger, but not close enough for a photo update.

Mallard Family

A mallard family (eight ducklings) has visited our bed frequently over the past two weeks. Tough to get photo because they dive off the wall as soon as we appear outside. That’s them in poor photo below (from our sun-room window) between the triangular stone and the caged plant at the wall. When we open the door, momma and the little ones flow like liquid over the wall and high-tail it for the water.

Our Second Killdeer Brood

I reported on the second nesting in that same May 7 Blog Post. Sunday June 3 (23rd day on all four eggs), we noticed mom seeming increasingly agitated. Over the prior 2+ weeks the parents had grow somewhat accustomed to and comfortable with our yard presence. The setting parent stood over the nest rather than setting for longer periods (below left). The one off the nest but nearby did the feigned injury dance (below right) with greater urgency.

Tuesday June 5 dawned cool with wisps of sunlit cirrus high above the still-not-sun-kissed morning stratus, the effect irresistible to my my shutter finger.

We returned from our walk to the standing adult near four hatchlings bundled in the nest depression. Soon we watched as one of the little ones scampered away… as though walking was some practiced skill. Within the hour all four were scampering across the lawn and beds. Both parents kept frantic track, corralling and calling constantly and if we wandered too close, doing the broken wing distraction. By then our next door neighbors joined us to enjoy the show. One particularly adventurous youngster made a bee-line for the shore. Our neighbor chased after it… fearing that the tiny bird would enter the water and drown. Her pursuit, we surmise in retrospect, guaranteed that the little one entered the water. To our amazement the newly hatched killdeer swam like a pro, covering the 100+ feet across the neck with steady progress. The adult flew across to greet the swimmer.

Later I learned with some internet help, that killdeer are excellent swimmers. So much for our deep concern that drowning was a possibility. I watched with an admitted sense of anticipation. Our Big Blue Lake has a rich population of largemouth bass, bull frogs, and snapping turtles. I knew that at any moment our little swimmer could end as a mouthful. Somehow, nothing rose to its churning swim-stride, demonstrating better action that any surface lure I have ever employed as an angler. Our neighbor, feeling guilty about stimulating the swim, ran around the neck to retrieve the little one. She brought it back to the nest area, where the parents shepherded the four all day, heading to shoreline late afternoon.

I managed a decent photo of one of the adventurers mid morning casting a larger-than-life shadow!

Lessons and Reflections

It’s summertime “and the livin’ is easy” (to borrow from an old song). In these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” (yes, another old song), I hope you will forgive me for excerpting my reflections verbatim from that May 7, 2018 Blog Post:

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from Nature to close this Big Blue Lake update. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Life is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding Nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development.
  2. I am securing my daily bread right in my backyard.
  3. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with Nature.
  4. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy Nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder.
  5. Life can be as good as we care to make it.

Please make your life rise to Nature’s wisdom and power to inform and inspire. So much that is good awaits our discovery every day… and most any place. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe surround us. Seek it; embrace it; revel in it!

Big Blue Lake Update

It’s been a while since I posted a simple Big Blue Lake update. For those who need a reminder, we built our retirement home (December 2015) on a four-acre pond/lake in northern Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley near Huntsville. Ours is the largest of a string of three bodies of water. We chose the lot because of the water and the feeling of openness it gives us even in a residential development. We underestimated the incredible peace of mind and sense of wildness it provides. In my younger years, this now aging forester would have seen only the homes ringing the shoreline, and with some measure of contempt for the urban invasion. Now I see only the pond, the open views, and the rich wildlife attracted. I keep a journal and occasionally post an essay updating life on Big Blue Lake, along with a few photos. Below is the view to the south from our back bed; a four-foot wall drops to a grassy strip along the shore. I snapped the photo to avoid showing the houses!

Killdeer Family

My April 18 post announced the April 7 hatch of our four killdeer eggs. Since then we’ve seen both parents and the four youngsters numerous times along the shore and even in our elevated beds. When I wander too close, one or both parents still peent shrilly and do a modified broken wing act. Today (April 27) at day 20, I watched the parents chaperone the youngsters on our lot and the lot east of ours. The hatchling (below left) appears nearly identical to the adults (below right). The wings are smaller (another week or so to first flight) and the body mass at ~50 percent. Both birds are on blocks of the same size. The two parents are in the lower right photo (one about to exit left on the flagstone path), attempting quite noisily to cut me off from the little guy.

At this southern latitude, the parents may already be contemplating a second brood. Will they choose our lot?

Goose Nest

I mentioned our setting goose in that same April 18 post. Today she has been setting 25 days. Audubon says incubation period is 25-28 days. She seemed antsy today, occasionally standing over the eggs (lower left). Lower right she is on the nest at shoreline where the two shades of grass mark the property line between our lot and the one to the east. The wall-top is where the adult killdeer stood; the youngster was around the corner to the left. Once again, I took the photo to crop the houses. The male floats or sits within sight. Pity the hapless males of his species who dare trespass on his kingdom. He lowers his head and charges after them, sometimes biting tail feathers and occasionally forcing them underwater. Who says Big Blue Lake is not wild country!

Big Blue

Big Blue is our resident great blue heron. I say resident, yet I know he does not live exclusively here. We have seen him at BBL five days this month. Granted, it has been an unseasonably cool April and I’ve recorded 8.87 inches of rain so far (April 27). So, we have not spent a lot of time on the patio. We watched him arrive from the east yesterday afternoon, land at water’s edge, and subsequently feel the wrathful assault of a male red-wing blackbird that I assume is defending territory or a nest nearby. Big Blue retreated to the northern neck. A few minutes later he flew at near water level to the second pond.

Osprey Visit

I know that ospreys are not unusual here in the greater Tennessee Valley region, frequently spotted at nearby Joe Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Here on Big Blue Lake we have seen red tail hawks soaring. I mentioned in that same April 18 post that a sharp-shinned hawk had recently hunted aggressively at our feeders. I had never seen, nor did not expect to see one of the region’s most magnificent avian predators. Mid-afternoon April 23 just as a shower began, I saw a large white-underbellied, swoop-winged shape appear from the north directly over our patio roof at about 100-feet above lake level. I recognized the shape immediately as an osprey. The bird circled and wheeled for 3-5 minutes, constantly peering down at the water’s surface. Twice it dived rapidly toward the surface and each time pulled up. Mallards on and along the pond raised a cacophony, I suppose protesting the marauder’s intrusion on Big Blue Lake’s tranquility. Once more I cheered the bird of prey; I wanted to see the osprey strike. No photograph — just an indelible memory. And, yet another infusion of wild into my sanctuary.

 Little Blue Heron and Other Avian Friends

April 25, two little blue herons appeared on our southwest shore; today a single stopped by on the west shore. I noted last year’s first appearance as May 5. We saw as many as five at one time last year deeper into May.

Last year February 2, we spotted two hooded mergansers, a first BBL sighting for us. We saw no more after March 21. We counted as many as five. This year, we returned from a week in Kansas February 12. Twenty-six mergansers greeted us! Why a peak of five last year and now 26? March 12 we recorded a high-count of 48! We saw the last of the mergansers, a single pair, April 1. I need to know more about these beautiful diving ducks. How far south had they spent the core of winter? Where are they now breeding? What in the world did they eat during their six-week feeding frenzy here? We watched them make dive after dive hour after hour. Did any small fish survive their incessant onslaught?

Our barn swallows returned March 23. The past few warmer evenings they’ve numbered 12-15, swooping and skimming above the water, often dipping bills. Their aerial antics entertain us.

We first noticed eight ducklings trailing a female mallard a week to ten days ago; I neglected to note the date. The count has since dropped to seven. Life is tough for little ones on Big Blue Lake.

Brief Closing Reflections

A very wet April. Looks like we will close the month at 8.87 inches, more than twice the monthly average. Year-to-date we stand at nearly 25 inches, ten inches above average.

I won’t attempt to offer esoteric lessons from Nature to close this Big Blue Lake update. Instead, here are a few rather simple conclusions:

  1. Life is what we make of it — I am seeking and finding Nature and some level of wildness in a classic suburban development.
  2. I am securing my daily bread right in my backyard.
  3. Nature is adaptable to human habitation — after all, we are one with Nature.
  4. I sincerely wish more people could appreciate, understand, and enjoy Nature’s beauty, awe, magic, and wonder.
  5. Life can be as good as we care to make it.

Although I have kept the neighborhood houses out of the other photos, I could not eliminate them from this final photo. A symbol that Life is Good!

A Postscript (May 1, 2018)

Rather than revise this entire post written April 27, allow me to simply leave it as is and add this update. First and foremost, our geese hatched early morning April 30. Before we departed to activities elsewhere Judy and I saw three little heads bob in and out of the nest under mom. Upon returning early afternoon, we found an empty nest. We explored a bit, finding mom, dad, and six still mostly yellow goslings along the shore around the corner some 200 feet from the nest. They soon entered the water, the six staying closely packed between the parents.

When we returned at deep dusk from a grandson baseball game, mom was back on the nest, dad resting within six feet, the goslings invisible. We assumed under mom’s wings. The next morning, not long after sunrise, the entire crew headed off to the same shore where we first spotted them on Day One.

By mid-morning they had worked their way to Big Blue Lake’s south end. We are celebrating their successful hatch and wishing them well. The lake is home to at least two large snapping turtles and a healthy population of largemouth bass. Toss in our resident hawks, a few snakes, raccoons, and skunks — the parents have their hands full with keeping these intrepid little adventurers safe. [Note: May 2, evening — and now there are five. We saw the family on the east shore and made a firm count of just five.]


Late morning May 3 (Day Four), the parents brought the five remaining youngsters into our back yard, where the gander occasionally wandered during the incubation period to beg for treats. The family looks robust… the goslings noticeably larger:

A Final Postscript

May 4, 2017, we noticed an apparent nest depression in the four-foot-diameter bed where our killdeer couple nested May 2017. We observed both expectant parents taking turns deepening the nest, furiously tossing our bark mulch with backward scratching. Two days later, we spotted egg number one (below left, three inches from the Japanese maple stem)! Below right, mom does her best act to protect the nest by drawing my attention. The on-nest parent scolds us every time we venture near.


Again, Life is Good on Big Blue Lake! I’ll continue to post progress.

May Nature Inspire all that you do.

Note: I am available for Nature-Themed motivational/inspirational speaking and writing… for NGOs, businesses, landowners, agencies, and Nature-oriented enterprises. Contact me at:

My Premise and Core Belief: Every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature!

Announcing the Birth!

I devote most of these Great Blue Heron blog posts this time of year to experiences in the woods and reflections regarding spring wildflowers. This one is avian-oriented. Its been a banner week for our feathered friends right here on Big Blue Lake… and nearby.

Killdeer Success

Last year our killdeer tenets did not nest until late May, and fledged four offspring in June. Read about last season in my 2017 blog post of July 5 ( Last year’s nest sat in a four-foot-diameter bed (home to a small lace-leaf Japanese maple) no more than a dozen feet from our back patio. An otherwise mid-lawn nest location that we could not help but disturb with mowing and other activities. We agitated the parents incessantly, especially given their early summer occupation.

This year, the parents (we assume the same pair) started a family early the second week of March. March 13 we counted a fourth killdeer egg, and immediately they began serious egg-setting. During the four days prior, they mostly neglected the one, two, and then three eggs (left photo below). I suppose with the fourth, completing the clutch, the time had come to begin incubation to assure that all four hatched concurrently. They chose a much better location this year, well into the major back bed that covers 2-3,000 square feet, at the base of our river birch. We seldom disturbed them (broken wing diversion act below right).

The reference books say incubation extends 24-28 days. April 7, day 26, all four hatched over the course of the day. A cold front had passed during the night. The April 7 high temperature came at 2:00 AM. Wind, occasional drizzle, and thick clouds dominated, with temperature falling into the upper 30s by mid-afternoon. A parent huddled over the nest all day, wings extended over the hatchlings. We watched as first one, and then others would pop out, briefly explore, and hustle back under her wings. The day set a record cold high temperature. The non-setting adult stayed close, ready to lure me away if I dared approach. We observed shift changes, with one parent relieving the other. The photos below are poor, evidencing the low light, my hesitancy to intrude, and the tiny size of these guys. The left photo shows two on the nest (about 6-8 inches to the lower left of the birch stem) and one wandering to the left margin.  Two nestlings are visible in the photo (below right). I felt guilty forcing the adult to rush away.

The literature indicated that the family would soon depart, with both parents tending the brood as the little ones gathered food on their own. An attending parent snuggled all night, and was tight on the nest at the next day’s dawn. The morning temperature tied a record low of 27 degrees. Fortunately, the sun rose with purpose. Soon the nest saw full sunlight, with resultant warmth. No longer needing protection, the little ones sprang into action, exploring the bed and keeping both parents occupied.

The group began departing within an hour. The large bed is bordered lake-side by a four-foot wall to the downhill. The adults had to carefully usher the brood to the point where the wall met the grade-line. An adult stands on the flagstone pathway (below left). One of the young is along the wall top-stone at the right margin of the same photo. The four-foot drop to the shore at that location did not offer suitable access. The adult eventually turned the youngsters to the no-drop alternative. The second photo (below right) shows a little guy standing on the flagstone with another faintly visible to the right of the cast iron shepherd’s crook base.

By noon, both adults managed to escort the youngsters to the lake shore. An adult below is staying close to a young one about a foot to the adult’s left. Please keep in mind that I am using an iPhone at full magnification, again trying to avoid intruding into the parenting mission underway. So, we celebrate a successful launch! We kept them in sight for an hour or so. We haven’t seen them since. We wish them well. Our references say that in these southern climes, killdeer often produce two broods. Last year’s late May venture may have been the season’s second. Because we were involved in major landscaping early last spring, our back yard would not have been available for a March/April clutch. We’ll keep our eyes open for additional nesting mid-May, after this first group has fledged.

Another Family in Progress

A month ago I watched a goose begin establishing a nest at the border of our lot and our neighbor’s to the east. Momma is in full setting mode. I cannot get an egg count. When she leaves the nest, I have seen only the down she has placed over the eggs. I had hoped to examine more closely but both parents rush over immediately. This may be the same pair whose eggs attracted a predator last year (see my June 6, 2017 post: We’ve seen the large snapping turtle off-shore several times this spring. Will this year see a repeat tragedy or a successful hatch?

The male visits us frequently, gathering sunflower seeds beneath the feeders and seeking handouts from us when we are relaxing on the patio.

We find life on Big Blue Lake rewarding. Over the past few weeks we have recorded:

  • Mallards
  • Mergansers
  • Great blue heron
  • Canada geese
  • Killdeer
  • Swallows
  • Mockingbirds
  • Robins
  • Red-wing blackbirds
  • Gold finches
  • Bluebirds
  • A sharp-shinned hawk
  • House finches

April 13, I watched in wonder as a sharp-shinned hawk pursued a red-wing blackbird. The pursuit began near our feeders, looped wildly over the water three or four circuits, and the two eventually streaked to the north at the west side of our lot. I way-too-slowly rounded the house, seeing nothing. Only once did the hawk come close to grabbing its prey, above the water as the blackbird dived toward the surface. The hawk, faster at that maneuver, came within inches before the blackbird lifted laterally. I must admit to being a less-than impartial aerial-action-observer — I wanted to witness my first capture and kill. Again, choosing sides, I have concluded that we have plenty of red-wing blackbirds, and we find the males a bit too bullying at the feeders. Two or three times over our first two years here I’ve found feather debris along our back bed wall, the most recent clearly from a mourning dove. The action is occasionally fast and furious along Big Blue Lake!

A Last Minute Action Addition

Nearly ready to say that this draft is final, I stepped onto the patio late afternoon Monday, April 16, and noticed a female mallard swimming shore-side with a blurry ball following her. I ran for my binoculars. With magnification, I saw 6-8 (could even be more) tiny ducklings, clustered at mom’s tail, too far away and the ducklings too small for a clear count. I guessed that at most they are 2-3 days beyond hatching. April 21, 2017 we made a firm count of 13 tiny mallards with what I presume are the same parents. Life is Good on Big Blue Lake!

As I have said many times, although homes border the entire shore, I narrow my attention to the lake and its life, bounty, action, and beauty. I know the houses are there but I refuse to focus on them. What I see, in fact, is my daily bread.

And a Post Script

Our daughter called the morning of April 17, asking how to find the nearby heron rookery I had visited April 13. She wanted to drive a mini-bus-load of her THRIVE assisted living residents to show them. Judy and I volunteered to meet her and lead the vehicle to the parking area near the rookery:





We watched the rookery action a while before we began noticing that most nests had young visible. One to three heads and shoulders… an occasional small wing spread. Nest chatter filled the air. Not a quiet moment. Adults came and went at intervals. As I spoke with the residents after we returned to the mini-bus, they expressed deep appreciation and absolute joy. Katy asked me as we descended the stairs, “If I can arrange another group for this Friday, can you meet me again?” Several of the group piped up enthusiastically, “I’m coming, too!”

Katy telephoned after we departed to tell us that her eight residents loved the experience. One lady commented to her, “I am 84 years old and I have never seen anything like this.” Judy and I drove the ten or so miles home with a warm feeling of satisfaction. Nature is a powerful contagion and a timeless elixir. What a thrill to share Vitamin N!

I submit that we can find what we seek. Nature is ubiquitous, even in the predominately urban setting where we reside. I intend to relish Nature’s gifts. I have always been a glass-is-half-full guy, and I will never divert from that life philosophy.

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May Nature continue to Inspire you!

A Northern Alabama Update — Nature-Inspired

Spring is now at full throttle, yet keep in mind that the progress is not laminar. Spring leaps and pauses; surges and retreats. We touched upper 70s to near 80 in late February. This morning (Thursday, March 8), we walked the neighborhood at dawn with a breezy 28 degrees. Birds a little more subdued than on the warmer mornings. The National Weather Service has issued another freeze warning for tonight. A wet southwesterly flow returns for this coming weekend (1-2 inches forecast), followed by another frosty morning or two next week. Such is spring at full throttle in northern Alabama.

We returned to Alabama March 5, after a long weekend in Pittsburgh. An inch of snow fell our first night there, the same storm that dumped some 39 inches on a Catskill town within 40 miles of Albany. Brisk winds kept us chilled the entire time in Pittsburgh. However, spring is rushing northward… at its normal pace of roughly 100 miles per week. Red maple flower buds already showing a bit of red near the Steel City. Daffodil leaves are poking through bedding mulch. We saw a flowering crocus here and there. Bradford pear buds are swelling, soon to burst.

Our very cold Alabama January produced only 1.75″ of rain. February conditions shifted remarkably. I measured 11.59.” Big Blue Lake remained at brimful.

Area creeks and rivers carried a full load most of the month. Our return flight from Pittsburgh revealed lots of wet fields and flooded bottom-land. I snapped the photo below before we headed north. Even then, we saw plenty of water.

February 12 upon returning from Kansas, we counted 25 hooded mergansers on Big Blue Lake, bobbing and diving repeatedly. Last year we saw only as many as five. We reached a peak of 34 February 26. I counted 25 early afternoon today. They seem to feed constantly. What are these 2-3-dozen fish eaters finding to keep so many of them here? Do their numbers relate to the bass, bluegill, and carp stocked in mid-June? The bass are apparently thriving, which leads me to wonder how the mergansers are feeding so voraciously? This large-mouth bass that I caught (and released) March 6, weighed at least 1.5 pounds. It competes, I presume, for some of the same critters the mergansers eat.

So, I’ve categorized this post under “Steve’s Big Blue Blog.” Where is Big Blue in this essay? Strangely absent. Why? This January brought some real winter cold; Big Blue Lake froze substantially twice. How did that alter Big Blue’s life and habits? We saw him only twice in January. At the end of the third week of February, crews cut the shrub willow along the shore for all of Big Blue Lake, yet that does not explain Big Blue’s scarcity leading to that date. Granted, Big Blue frequented water’s edge at one of the willow clumps along our shore.

Are the bass eating yearling tadpoles and small fish, such as the gold fish that appeared in large numbers our first year and that we saw Big Blue catching, flipping, and swallowing? Are the large merganser numbers affecting feed-stock for Big Blue? I am concerned about our resident great blue heron. I will continue to observe… and keep you posted.

We have seen hawks (red-tail and rough-legged) often. January we found dove feathers and blood in our back bed, clear evidence of a successful hawk capture. February 26, late-morning we came across this fine specimen in a street-side sweetgum tree, 20 feet above us. The sun gave us trouble in getting a good photo image and in discerning whether the bird is a red-tail or rough-legged. Like so many ‘wild’ creatures, the resident raptors have adapted to suburban life.

Likewise, just the evening before (2/25), Judy and I enjoyed the warmer air on our patio. Dusk brought the spooky sound of coyotes yipping and howling in the open land beyond the street south of the lake, within a quarter mile. Again, our non-human area residents adapt quite well. I am grateful that we still have enough local “wildness” to keep me enthralled and inspired. Nature is where we seek it, whether a short drive away to Wheeler’s Beaverdam Swamp Trail (the photo of Judy standing on the boardwalk with the creek high and muddy), or right here in Legendwood (our development).

As we left the tupelo swamp that day at Beaverdam, we spotted our first trillium of the season, a least (also known as dwarf) trillium (Trillium pusillum). Once we saw one, our eyes imprinted with the image, and we noticed an entire colony of 25-30 individuals. Again, Nature, with its beauty, awe, magic, and wonder, is where we seek it.

I add this final paragraph Saturday March 10. Yesterday evening I attempted to check for freeze damage on our hydrangea, near our river birch. Before I could get close enough, a killdeer went into the noisy, broken-wing routine at the birch, where we had seen a pair within the past week frequenting, and actually saw them in the act of coitus. I checked again this morning at first light. No bird nearby. I found the nest, and lo and behold, two eggs! A killdeer soon returned and began tending the eggs. ALERT — I just went out to snap a photo and three eggs! A bit later, as I filled our feeders, momma displayed nicely for me. I checked last year’s notes on our resident pair, whose nest first appeared May 21, and eventually fledged four hatchlings. Could that have been last year’s second brood, thus explaining this year’s two-month head start?

Isn’t Nature grand! May all that you do be Nature-Inspired.

Returning from a Six-Month Absence

Happy New Year!

I left Big Blue Lake end of June, 2017 for my six-month Interim Presidency at Fairmont State University. We returned mid-day December 23. I squeezed a lot out of that half-year. Yet I must admit, I cannot ignore the trade-offs… the costs of a six-month full immersion out of state. Judy (my spouse of 45.5 years) joined me a week per month, too infrequently for me not to feel generally as though I was living alone. Also, I made it back to Alabama only once during the term, making our daughter and grand sons Jack (10) and Sam (4) seem remote. We kept up through phone and Face-time, yet it’s not the same.

Was great to reconnect at Big Blue Lake upon return! As I appreciated this special place and reunited with family, I thought of Wendell Berry’s “VII,” his poem reminding us that the day-to-day small things aggregate to life, pleasure, and reward:

“Again I resume the long

lesson:  how small a thing

can be pleasing, how little

in this hard world it takes

to satisfy the mind

and bring it to its rest.”

Christmas Eve stayed cloudy most of the day as a cold front slowly slipped south. Thick low clouds parted at sunset, rewarding us with sparkling clear skies above as the cloud deck slipped away.

Again, Nature serves dollops of magic to those willing to look, see, and feel. What did seeing this wonder require of me? Sensing the light changing outside my window… and wandering to the patio with camera at the ready. The view is to the south, clouds racing from the northwest, heralding the first really cold spell of the young winter. The mix and richness of colors and textures constitute the scene, yet the details of season, wind direction, and frontal passage add meaning and content not discernible to the unknowing and disinterested. I observe people clinging to their digital devices, and feel sorrow for what they are missing.

When I hit the shutter for this frame, I saw only the magnificent sky. Then my eye saw Big Blue standing at water’s edge near the willow clump just right of center. Hunched to buffer the now chilly breeze, he did not rise.

I brought him closer via the zoom. This was my first close-up of our resident great blue heron since my return the day prior. I viewed his presence as a gift, an acknowledgment that the simple things matter. Berry’s “VII” said it beautifully:

“What more did I

think I wanted?  Here is

what has always been.

Here is what will always be.”

I seek Nature’s gifts relentlessly. She rewards selflessly… and often. She asks only that I be alert, and not demanding on a Grand Tetons or Alaska Range scale. Life presents itself in bite-size morsels. Enjoyment, appreciation, and fulfillment need not await the once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventure.

Christmas brought the anticipated pleasure of celebrating the ultimate Gift of a Life that forever changed the world to those of us who embrace Christianity. May each of you have found some similar Spiritual awakening… your own belief in a higher power — a spiritual purpose and calling.

Jack’s new fishing rod and reel connected the day after — a 1.5 pound large-mouth bass right at our shore. We immediately released it, knowing that the frogs, smaller fish, and other critters will soon nurture his growth to tougher future angling battles and perhaps a fry-pan.

That day ended with yet another gift, this one at sunset, welcoming a night that fell into the lower twenties. Balmy by our Fairbanks, Alaska winter standards, yet seasonably cold for northern Alabama.

Again, just four days back at Big Blue Lake and life is rich, full, and good. All without any digital immersion beyond a few emails and texts from friends and family.

I can’t resist the shutter when Nature paints the evening sky.

The same holds for Nature’s wake-up call, this one greeting December 29, a full-week returned to Big Blue Lake.

Are you on alert for Nature’s richness?

Are you looking, seeing, feeling, and acting? I’m writing these words Friday evening, the 29th. I just glanced out my office window to the north, discovering a glow reflected in windows across the street. I rushed to the patio, camera in hand, curious to see whether the day would end with the west ignited in farewell:

Sure enough, another blessing, both without and with Sam and Jack in silhouette! As I’ve said too many times to count, every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature. This Blog Post focuses on Nature’s incessant inspiration. Yet perhaps her most poignant lesson expressed powerfully in these photographs and reflections is simple and direct. Berry nailed it:

“Again I resume the long

lesson:  how small a thing

can be pleasing, how little

in this hard world it takes

to satisfy the mind

and bring it to its rest.”

Dewitt Jones, decades-long National Geographic photographer extraordinaire, observed in The Nature of Leadership (Covey, Marshall, and Jones), “Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from nature is gratitude. If we could publish it in our lives everyday, the way nature publishes beauty in every sunrise and every sunset, how different might the world be?”

Great Blue Heron can help you find Nature’s simple power and wisdom to guide your life and enterprise. And how we might inculcate a measure of gratitude for the world around us.


Brief Return to Alabama

I drove the 640 miles from West Virginia to visit my Alabama home Saturday, August 19, seven full weeks since I had departed. Normally, by three weeks into August, summer has taken its toll. Browning road medians and some fading tree and shrub foliage. Lawns that are yellow, no longer lush as they were early in the season. This year, however, medians along the entire route remained verdant. Lawns, even those along north Alabama rural routes at homes seldom if ever employing lawn treatment and sprinklers, appeared June-like. I prefer these years when Nature delivers ample rainfall across the long growing season, not that Nature cares or considers my preferences!

Sunday dawned clear, warm, and humid on Big Blue Lake. Big Blue stood quietly at the lake’s northern neck, either having rested there for the night, or just arriving for breakfast. He paid us little mind as we walked past and later returned. I doubt he noted that this was my first appearance in some fifty days. My heart filled to see him, always symbolizing my Dad’s spirit, welcoming me home, perhaps inquiring of how things are going at Fairmont State University, where I serve as Interim President.

Judy and I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the patio. Big Blue flew low across the water within thirty minutes, departing the neck, bee-lining for the southwest corner, then lifting across the second pond, rising above the trees on the far south shore, and to points beyond. Katy (our daughter) brought Jack and Sam (our two Alabama grandsons) to visit after our coffee. Jack, the 9.5-year-old, requested a walk around the lake. We departed counter clockwise. Leaping frogs preceded our passage by 10-15 feet. Several created enough ruckus to startle Sam (3.5 years). His attention shifted occasionally from the frogs to the goose poop spotting the grass and back again. I suppose priorities and perspective vary with the distance between heights of three and six feet, and ages from 3.5 to 66! Jack and I paid more attention to the many bass we saw hunting along the near-shore shallows, and the three green herons we watched come and go solo, and stalk along the shoreline or perch momentarily on lower willow branches. For the frogs, fish, and herons (green and great blue), predation in search of satiation is the order of the day. No omnivores, these voracious predators share the same food-stocks. These placid waters and their scaly, slippery, and feathered denizens soothe my psyche and reward my visual palette. The frog finds nothing soothing about Big Blue.

We did not see three other meat-eaters that we have encountered on past circuits: snapping turtle, snake, and hawk. What a privilege to call this rich environment home. What a relief to be above the dangerous lake community food chain! I imagine that few among my human neighbors pay much attention to life on the lake for other than themselves. I am fortunate to be able and adept at seeing far more than the houses and lawns that ring the lake. I have dedicated myself first to looking, and most importantly to seeing and feeling the magic, beauty, wonder, and awe that Nature affords and provides.

Amazing, too, is how much change I see over those two elapsed months. Our landscape plants have flourished. Subtle and somewhat invisible when viewed day after consecutive day, changes over the extended period of heat, moisture, and long days shout at me. Our loblolly pine, just four feet at planting, now stands close to seven feet. Our back-bed willow oak is very noticeably of larger girth. The list is long, evidencing Nature’s dynamism. Sometimes, only by stepping away for a bit, can we see change and progress. Nature teaches the lesson day in and day out.

Monday morning, Big Blue did not greet us from his fishing grounds in the neck. Instead, after our breakfast and my trip to the gym, we sat in the sun room reading. I glanced out the window over Judy’s shoulder. There stood Big Blue rooftop, a couple hundred yards to the south. He stood tall and regal. I gasped, grabbed my phone camera, and snapped the shutter just before he took flight. Not much resolution, yet the photo captures the moment, puzzling as it is. Why would this wading hunter land atop our neighbor’s roof? Perhaps to occupy my field of vision, to signal, “Here I am; welcome back.”

After I depart this coming Saturday for Fairmont, I may not return until the Christmas holiday. What changes by then? The average daily high will drop from 91 to 53; the low from 69 to 34. Average precipitation would see 16 inches fall now to mid-December. Leaves will go from green to fallen. Now-dry, standing corn at eight feet will be combined. The cotton, now in flower, will have fruited, opened to lovely balls of filament, and been harvested. The night will last three hours and three minutes longer. Our flower bed annuals will have succumbed to first frosts and then deep freezes. We won’t need the covered patio ceiling fan to cool us morning or evening — instead, even on mild days we’ll don sweat shirts. All that, and yet day to day will bring only barely discernible change. As in all of life and business, shifts occur that only seasonally and across the sweep of time reveal patterns and depth.

As I’ve repeated time and time again, only when we consciously and purposely look, do we see. And only when we focus our vision, do we see deeply enough to evoke the feelings that stir our passion to act. Such is the secret sauce of Nature-inspired living, learning, serving, and leading. The sauce is an elixir for me. Nature fuels my life. Just today (August 21, 2017) the Great American Eclipse raced across the US from Oregon to South Carolina at 1,850 miles per hour.

Judy, Jack, and I watched the eclipse reach 98 percent here in Madison, AL at ~1:30. We viewed it through the special glasses we wore. We also watched live video and highlights on The Weather Channel. I admit to somewhat regretting that I did not head north the two-and-one-half hours (on normal traffic days) to experience totality. I rationalized that the return home could very well have taken twice as long. Even at 98 percent, I felt the magic. We reached near-dusk. The temperature dropped ten degrees. I was struck by how many of the Weather Channel meteorologists along the route reached tear-filled levels of emotion.

I felt it, too, even outside the zone of totality. So many of Nature’s wonders bring me to and beyond misty-eyes. The path of total darkness did not leave telltale signs in its wake. The Earth does not bear a scar. No vestige of its passing marks the land or vegetation. Yet, like so many events and happenings, the solar eclipse left its mark on the hearts and souls it touched. Many of the eyewitnesses interviewed said that the image and impact will live with them forever. My own threshold for “living with me forever” is one that I cross almost daily. I am grateful that my heart, soul, and spirit are so accessible. That I can feel Nature’s power and wisdom without waiting for years, decades, and longer (as in the case of a total solar eclipse), to feel the magic and wonder.

Are you feeling the magic and vitality of living, learning, serving, and leading in your life and work? Great Blue Heron can help you discover Nature’s elixir. Contact me to learn how we can find the magic within you, and bring it to the surface.


Featured Image: Big Blue found a perch atop our neighbor’s roof. He stood there for a few minutes, stork-like!