Autumn Fungi, Dead Snags, and Trophy Oak Burl at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

Left Knee Replacement Recovery Update

 

I’m adding this single-paragraph prolog on Leap-Day, February 29, 2024. I’m reaching back to content I gathered four months ago. You might ask, why the long lag period? During the autumn months, I was dealing with deteriorating knees, with total left knee replacement anticipated in mid-January, a date not yet confirmed. I was scheduled initially for June of 2023, but my unanticipated June 19, 2023, triple bypass delayed knee surgery. Knowing bad knees and then recovery would limit my woods-wandering for an extended period, I banked photographs, reflections, and observations for several months. Thus, now 37 days since knee surgery, I am writing this prolog, still uncertain when I can resume my woodland forays.

 

Mid-November Sanctuary Wandering

 

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We trekked through the western side of the Sanctuary, observing and reflecting upon all manner of seasonal life we encountered from Hidden Spring to Jobala Pond to the wetland mitigation project underway in the mid-property meadows and fields. I focus this Post on the autumn fungi, dead snags, and a trophy oak burl we encountered.

This Ganoderma lobatum is a hardwood decay fungus, one of 80 Ganaderma species. Its genus name means shiny or lustrous skin, apparent below left. Note the grass growing through the specimen below right.

 

The mushroom (same species) below right is a prolific spore producer, coating surfaces near it with a thick beige dusting.

 

The oak below harbors oak bracket decay fungi. More than a foot across, the two fresh mushrooms have sprouted from one of the tree’s fluted trunk toes. The tree is living despite evidence of heavy infection. Like so much in Nature the decay infection and living tree are in a tenuous balance. The fungus consumes wood; the tree adds new wood. Eventually, gravity and other physical forces will prevail. That the tree will topple is inevitable. Decay is a crucial variable in the equation of life, death, and renewal.

 

I recall plant (tree) pathology courses in undergraduate forestry studies. Educated from a timber management orientation, I viewed forest pathology and specific fungal agents as elements of the dark side, negatively affecting tree vigor and wood quality and value. Retired and long removed from that timber value orientation, I view fungi through an entirely different lens…an ecosystem perspective. I often find relevant wisdom in John Muir’s words:

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

The oak bracket fungus is oblivious to the relative timber value of oaks. It knows only that its sole function is to achieve life-vigor sufficient to produce viable reproductive spores to ensure successive generations, its contribution to the health and viability of life within that one great dewdrop. Responsibility for managing the forest for timber production, income generation, wildlife habitat, water yield, or sundry other objectives rests with the forester. The disease agent (the fungus) is one of the factors in the forester’s zone of influence and control.

Another nearby large oak bracket mushroom is exuding resinous beads.

 

Marian has located yet another oak bracket, exposing its polyporus underside (below right)

 

A nearby elm snag has seen its final summer. Decay fungi and marauding birds, squirrels, and other critters have weakened the snag. I can’t imagine the remnants resisting the pull of gravity through routine winter weather sure to bring soaking rains, strong winds, and maybe even snow and freezing rain.

 

 

This willow snag stands within the upstream end of Jobala Pond, where the Hidden Spring wetland emerges into the pond.

 

Fungi and snags go hand in hand, the snag is the final standing relic of decay fungi that likely began its decomposition decades earlier.

 

Trophy Water Oak Burl

 

Burls are not caused by decay organisms. I describe burls as benign tumors, triggered by some unknown biological agent (virus, bacterium, or fungus. Burls are often beautifully textured solid wood, treasured by wood-turning enthusiasts.

 

Because the oak grows at the Jobala Pond outlet, I visit it every time I enter the Sanctuary from the Taylor Road entrance.

 

Its growth is quite evident. I snapped this image June 20, 2020. That’s then 12-year-old grandson Jack’s hand.

 

I try to visit the Sanctuary every 2-3 months, monitoring change and discovering what Nature reveals,

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static.
  • When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. (John Muir)
  • Fungi and snags go hand in hand, the snag is the final standing relic of decay fungi that likely began its decomposition decades earlier.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

Brief-Form Post #28: A Damp and Breezy Cheaha State Park Stopover!

I am pleased to add the 28th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I get a bit wordy with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my November 26, 2023, Excursion to Alabama’s Cheaha State Park!

 

Fellow retired forester Chris Stuhlinger and I stopped by Cheaha State Park on our Sunday morning (November 26, 2023) return to Huntsville following Saturday’s Iron Bowl football game at Auburn. The Park sits atop Mount Cheaha, the state’s highest point at 2,407 feet. Fog, strong breezes, and raw mid-forties temperatures greeted us.

Tree form curiosities and oddities intrigue me. Near the entrance gate, a Virginia pine had fought valiantly and persistently for decades to seek and secure sunshine from under the oak tree casting its shadow over the pine. Finding no sun under the oak’s canopy, the pine grew outward, in candy cane fashion and form.

Cheaha

 

The Civilian Conservation Corps era observation tower marks the high point. I wonder how many days this fine old structure has stood in the summit fog.

Cheaha

 

Chris and I parked at the old lodge and walked the ADA accessible boardwalk to Bald Rock, aptly named on this blustery day. We could see little beyond stunted Virginia pines, cloud curtains, and bald rocks. I’ve spent many hours on more pleasant days enjoying sunsets, sunrises, and vistas across the broad valley.

Cheaha

 

I recorded this 44-second video from the Bald Rock overlook at 10:18 AM:

 

The still photos suggest a more tranquil day, belying the actual mood of the mountain.

 

I stopped briefly at the veterans memorial flag halfway to the trailhead.

 

My 15-second video more accurately reflects conditions:

 

Suffocating stratus and light rain kept the midday dismal at what I would normally describe as lovely Lake Cheaha, nestled in the valley 800 vertical feet below the summit.

 

I recorded this 44-second video at Cheaha Lake:

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from Henry David Thoreau, who knew deeply of waters, solitude, and reflection on life and living:

  • I rise into a diviner atmosphere, in which simply to exist and breathe is a triumph, and my thoughts inevitably tend toward the grand and infinite.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

 

December 2023 Sandhill Crane Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

I visited the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on several days before Christmas 2023. I never tire of the annual spectacle of thousands of sandhill cranes gathering from mid-November through mid-February, escaping the wicked winters of the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada. I am astounded by how few Huntsville residents know this National Geographic-scale wonder lies in our vicinity. Perhaps this photo essay will open a few eyes.

I snapped this photo mid-morning on December 3, 2023. Refuge volunteers reported estimates of 10-12,000 sandhills on site that morning. We spotted nine whooping cranes among them.

 

I recorded this 34-second video on December 3, 2023 at 9:33 AM:

 

Here’s the view to the south from the observation building. I felt absolute humility and unequaled inspiration as I gazed upon the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of a winter sun slanting through an oak crown, a marsh with sandhills and geese, and a spectacular morning sky.

 

I simply can’t get enough of the combination of marsh, sky, sun, and waterfowl.

 

Aldo Leopold saw the ecological complexity in such images:

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.

I see the visual canvas that is filled to the brim with the pretty, and I am overwhelmed by the art and science of the intricate multi-season web of life, relationships, and interactions represented by each view and every point of time captured in these photographs. I will return to the Refuge time and again until these magnificent creatures return to their breeding grounds, and then I will ache for their fall arrival at Wheeler.

 

I will bring along appropriate winter wear (conditions range from cold and blustery to mild and sunny), a blanket, and folding chair next time. I usually leave regretting that I did not linger.

 

I recorded this 52-second video at 3:44 PM on December 5, 2023 of cranes vociferously departing the feeding grounds for their evening shallow-water roosts.

 

Leopold spoke eloquently of the way we treat the land generally.

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.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages the 35,000-acre Refuge in accord with the tenets that Leopold urged: preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. I see it, sense it, and cherish the natural enchantment of this oh-so-special place.

 

Beyond the Cranes: Cypress Forest Seduction

 

A two-acre cypress stand sits just south of the visitors center. This hallowed copse reaches out to me, enticing me to enter. I can never resist, yet unlike the sirens that drew sailors during the time of Odysseus, there is no evil intent. My Alabama grandsons love this unique stand…they appreciate and understand my love for the straight spires, the striking knees, and the gentle breezes high above the boardwalk.

 

I marvel at the crown shyness expressed in the canopy above. Each tree seems to recognize the sanctity of its neighbors’ space. The crowns do not interlace. A thin rind of boundary separates the neighboring crowns. The same shyness is common across our north Alabama forests, regardless of species. The phenomenon is most strikingly visible within this cypress stand.

 

How could I ever tire of an amber cypress needle forest floor and knees reaching four feet?

I recorded this 35-second video from the cypress forest boardwalk on December 3, 2023:

 

I frequently find magic in Nature, oftentimes hidden in plain sight.

 

And a Serpent Charmer and Sliders Out of Season!

 

Judy and I introduced friends to WNWR on December 9, 2023, a particularly mild afternoon. We spotted a common water snake sunning along a trail. A rare December gift!

 

The mild and pleasant afternoon drew pond sliders to bask in the ample sunshine, intermingling with two Canada geese.

 

Nature never disappoints. Again, so much lies hidden in plain sight.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • 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. (Aldo Leopold)
  • Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. (Aldo Leopold)
  • I never tire of the annual spectacle of thousands of sandhill cranes gathering from mid-November through mid-February.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

Brief-Form Post #27: Special Fungi Finds at Goldsmith SWS!

I am pleased to add the 27th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit wordy with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my November 22, 2023, Special Fungi Finds at Huntsville’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

 

On November 22, 2023, I visited the Sanctuary with my two Alabama grandsons, Jack (age 16) and Sam (age 9). We considered our wanderings as all-purpose, searching with curiosity for the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Nature. We found ample objects within our criteria. I focus this brief-form post on members of the fungi kingdom we encountered. I remind you that this 400-acre property is a Sanctuary. We did not consider this a foraging venture. We took only photographs, gathered only memories, and left only footprints.

Fungi, a kingdom all their own, fascinate me, and have for decades. Without their decomposition, plant biomass would not so readily recycle to enrich our forest soils.

I entered the edible wild mushroom aficionado domain tentatively just three years ago. Since then, I have learned to identify, collect, prepare, and consume a broadening selection: chanterelles, oysters, honeys, wood ears, jellies, chicken and hen of the woods, and lions mane. Lion’s mane is choice — the filet mignon and caviar of the fungi kingdom. We viewed this magnificent lion’s mane with awe and amazement. I wondered why such a specimen seems to appear only when it is off limits to harvesting.

 

Because I hold such reverence for this species (Hericium erinaceus), I felt delight that Jack and Sam showed genuine enthusiasm in finding such a large and perfect specimen. A week later, we three visited another property where we could have collected. They evidenced disappointment when our search left us empty handed! This was indeed a spectacular find, pure white, super fresh, and mockingly edible.

 

I spotted the specimen above. Sam found another one at ground level within 15-20 minutes. I believe both boys will carry the lions mane imprint from that day forward.

 

Jack found another lion’s mane before we departed the riparian forest.

We identified this six-inch diameter Trametes aesculi, a nonedible, near the trailhead.

 

Sam stood beside an oak log, a recent blowdown, covered with Hypoxylon canker, yet another decay fungus.

 

Another edible, witches butter, a jelly fungus, populated this small fallen oak branch.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from John Muir, one of the truly great minds of conservation and environmental antiquity:

  • There are no accidents in Nature. Every motion of the constantly shifting bodies in the world is timed to the occasion for some definite, fore-ordered end. The flowers blossom in obedience to the same law that marks the course of constellations, and the song of a bird is the echo of a universal symphony. Nature is one, and to me the greatest delight of observation and study is to discover new unities in this all-embracing and eternal harmony.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

 

 

November 21, 2023 Nature Potpourri at Monte Sano State Park

21 photos three videos

My two Alabama grandsons (Jack, age 16, and Sam, nine) accompanied me to Monte Sano State Park at midday on November 20, 2023. A nearly perfect fall day with a partly cloudy sky, temperatures in the 60s, and a fresh westerly breeze. I present the Nature potpourri that the three of us enjoyed.

I can be at the Park in just 40 minutes from home. The summit of 1,600 feet sits 800 feet above the City of Huntsville, Alabama. The short road trip transports me back home to the central Appalachians of western Maryland where I resided until completing my sophomore year of college. Not literally back home I admit, but the feel and mood are southern Appalachian.

 

Wells Memorial Trail

 

The boys rested at the three-bench intersection where the Wells Memorial trailhead sign greeted us. The Wells Trail loops through a lower concave slope position punctuated with limestone sinc dimples. The soils are deep, well-watered, and rich…perfect for the poplar, oak, hickory, basswood, and other species reaching for the sky.

Monte Sano

 

During the fall 2023 Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville semester, I took a course on Taking Better Nature Photographs. The instructor opened my eyes to a few tricks of the trade. Toying with one suggestion, I experimented with my iPhone, exploring my perspective preference with these two images. The photo at left derives straight from the camera, the lens peering into the forest at about 35 degrees. The angle draws the more distant features toward the vanishing point; the trees appear to lean together. The image at right employs a finishing application that physically adjusts the image to eliminate the lean. The vanishing point, with the manipulation, in fact vanishes. I will continue to review my personal preference. For the moment, I am a lifelong resident of a world that operates with a vanishing point. I prefer the image below left.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I recorded this 0:35 video capturing Sam at the base of a magnificent yellow poplar tree near the three benches area.

 

Here he stands by the poplar with his ever-present stick, variously a trekking pole, weapon to discourage wild beasts, or who knows what else! I know readers will understand that with grandkids in tow, I must waiver from my routine focus exclusively on Nature. After all, with age, my attention drifts more to bonding through them to a future when my touch will extend only through memories they hold of days like these. Already, when I suggest that I have them in tow, I recognize that at this stage of my life, it is they who have Pap in tow.

Monte Sano

 

Such is the Nature of things. Ventures like our visit to Monte Sano State Park bring to mind the Cat’s in the Cradle lyrics, a Harry Chapin classic about the cycle of life, parenting, and growing older:

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you comin’ home, son?”
“I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then”
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time”
“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu”
“But it’s sure nice talkin’ to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talkin’ to you”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

Thinking of reaching into tomorrow and across generations, I’m enamored with the interrelationships among all elements of our living Earth’s ecosystem. Muir encapsulated the concept with a single sentence:

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

 

The Canopy Above

 

I feel the interconnectivity of time and place whether its with my daughter and me and her two boys (Jack and Sam), our global ecosystem, or the tree canopy and the sky and clouds beyond.

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 31-second video gazing into the high canopy and sky above:

 

Nothing in Nature is static, including the Wells Memorial Trail forest, which evidences that black locust used to be a major stand component. A pioneer species, black locust aggressively colonizes cutover lands and abandoned farm and pastureland. Black locust carcasses on the forest floor, standing dead and diseased locust, and dead snags like this one tell the ever-evolving tale of stand history and succession.

Monte Sano

 

Back to the Plateau Top

 

I want future MSSP visitors to understand the dynamism of these forests. I helped secure funding for Park staff to establish 20 permanent photo points in November 2021. At mid century, photo-documentation will assist the Park Naturalist in showing the forest changes over the past 30 years.

Monte Sano

 

One of my favorite mid-canopy forest trees in our region is sourwood. I love its intricate furrowed bark pattern, its deep red fall leaf color, its fragrant spring blossoms (favored by honey producers), its pendulant seed heads, and its refusal to grow straight.

 

Sourwood haphazardly reaches for sunlight, resisting the straight and narrow.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I recorded this 32-second video near the Japanese Garden on the plateau top:

 

Japanese Garden

 

We headed to the Japanese Garden for diversion and a chance for Pap to rest.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

A bamboo walkway served as a place for a little monkey business!

Monte Sano

 

I have never entered an Alabama State Park without discovering more delights that I had anticipated. At the risk of over using two relevant John Muir quotes:

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

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

 

Miscellaneous Discoveries Along the Wells Memorial Trail

 

We paused to examine and photograph a basketball-size bald-faced hornets nest. The boys kept a healthy distance, respecting their vision of hundreds of protective hornets surging from the nest.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

We spotted one of my all-time favorite ferns from New York to Alabama: maidenhair fern.

Monte Sano

 

And the ubiquitous Christmas Fern!

Monte Sano

 

The boys and I will return to the Park time and again. I am blessed to live so close to the boys amid Nature’s richness and magic here in north Alabama.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. (John Muir)
  • And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. (John Muir)
  • When I suggest that I have my grandsons in tow, I recognize that at this of my life, it is they who have Pap in tow.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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

Monte 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

My Knee-Hobbled Superficial Exploration of Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness!

Fellow retired forester Chris Stuhlinger and I visited the Sipsey Wilderness within Bankhead National Forest on December 5, 2023. Scheduled for total left knee replacement surgery on January 23, 2024, I agreed to the trip with no small level of anxiety. I told Chris I would be content to wander near the parking lot, exploring Nature intensely close by if the trail terrain exceeded my knee-hobbled ability to explore extensively. He could hike the River Trail to his heart’s content; I would be fine until he returned.

Sipsey River Picnic Area

 

We parked along the State highway at the Sipsey River Picnic Area, from which we crossed under the bridge to enter the Wilderness upstream.

 

The signage is fitting with the scenery. I appreciate the aesthetic form of the bridge curving south across the Sipsey River. The image emphasizes the signature of the canyon, the river that can rage with runoff fury, and the special sanctity of a Federal Wilderness.

 

Entering the Wilderness

 

The stone monument lies just 100 feet upstream of the bridge and memorializes the Sipsey’s 1975 Wilderness designation.

 

The trail passes gently 20-40 feet above the river on its north bank (view downstream). Although not apparent in this image, the streambank trail occasionally challenged my knees, dropping steeply.

 

 

I recorded this 33-second video from the point where I had no choice but to turn back to the parking area, a decision that I made with great frustration.

 

A lifelong woodsman, former marathon competitor, and committed gym rat, I accepted the inevitable when I turned around. This was the coup de grace! An online dictionary confirmed my choice of the noun:

A coup de grâce is a death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person or animal. It may be a mercy killing of mortally wounded civilians or soldiers

A coup de grâce can also be used more broadly to refer to any conclusive or decisive moment, such as the final straw that breaks a camel’s back, or the last nail in a coffin.

Granted, I may be exaggerating the life and death severity, yet the blow to my psyche is real. Over a 27 month period, I will have experienced the following physical difficulties:

  • Total left shoulder replacement
  • Minor stroke
  • Triple bypass surgery
  • Transient ischemic attack
  • Bilateral inguinal hernia surgical repair
  • Total left knee replacement — January 23, 2024

I am determined to recover my ability to wander the forests and trails of north Alabama. I want full license and legitimacy to write, speak, and reflect on Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

Just ahead in each of the photographs below, the steep drop-off without footholds or saplings for gripping prevented my passage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An empty ache from conceding defeat did not dampen my enthusiasm for gathering fresh observations, reflections, and photographs as I retreated. I even experimented with my iPhone, exploring my perspective preference with these two images. The photo at left derives straight from the camera, the lens peering uphill at about 35 degrees. The angle draws the more distant features toward the vanishing point; the trees appear to lean together. The image at right employs a finishing application that physically adjusts the image to eliminate the lean. The vanishing point, with the manipulation, in fact vanishes. I will continue to review my personal preference. For the moment, I am a lifelong resident of a world that operates with a vanishing point. I prefer the image below left.

 

I recorded this 49-second video as I headed back to the trailhead.

 

The Sipsey River ranges from placid to full fury. Along the short stretch I traversed, log jams evidenced the drastic flushes that transform the wild canyon.

 

Bigleaf magnolia leaves, recently dropped, are North America’s largest simple leaves, carpeting the forest floor in places. The intricate and pronounced venation is yet another feature of Nature’s exquisite artwork.

 

Nature study raises countless questions. Why does this species bear such a large leaf? Why does sweetgum produce star-shaped leaves? Why needles for pine and delicate needle fronds on cypress? I certainly can’t offer specific answers. However, I can turn to Leonardo da Vinci who 500 years ago thought deeply about such things:

Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience.

Nature alone is the master of true genius.

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

Nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.

 

Facing the Reality of My Knee-Hobbled Hiking Limitations

 

Chris continued his trail wanderings. I explored the picnic area and environs. The late morning could be considered beguiling, a perfect blue sky and soft breeze. Yet the sign at right suggested that the peace and serenity were not guaranteed. Seeming safely above the current water level, the parking lot must occasionally flood.

 

 

The old bridge, weakened by time and flooding, has recently suffered a near fatal blow from a falling streamside giant. I timed the photograph at left to capture a truckload of chip’n’saw logs on the new bridge above, bound for processing. Wood dominated the day: log jams on the river; trucks transporting logs; a tree smashing into an old bridge; trees defining a Federal Wilderness.

 

 

 

I wanted to cross the old bridge. Instead, heeding the candy-striped flagging tape, I stayed off the damaged span. I refused to tempt fate.

 

A Late Fall Botanical Survey

 

Allow me a quick review of the plants I photographed while awaiting Chris’ return. A North Carolina Extension online resource described sweetleaf (or horse sugar) as a hardy deciduous shrub or small tree that may grow 20 feet tall. In nature, it can be found in moist bottomland forests, pocosin edges, mesic forests, ridgetop forests, and sandhills. The leaves are alternate with a smooth margin and yellow underside. The leaves are edible and sweet to the taste. In early spring, small, white flowers mature. The small tree produces a 1/2-inch, orange-brown drupe that matures in late summer.

 

I have known both American holly (left) and eastern hemlock since my adolescent days in western Maryland.

 

 

 

Oakleaf hydrangea did not grace the forests of my youth. I have since fallen in love with its oaky leaves, exfoliating bark, white flowers, drying seed heads, colorful autumn leaves, and dense interwoven branches.

 

I’ve said often that we really don’t experience a winter season here in north Alabama. Instead, our extended autumn slowly transitions to spring, with a few winter days scattered about to remind people that this is truly the dormant season. Partridge berry (left) is a vibrant green winter groundcover. My more northern orientation has a hard time reconciling deep winter with lush green foliage. Lyreleaf sage (right) is another plant that grows happily during the winter, then produces some of the earliest white flowers of the spring (winter).

 

Christmas fern (left) is aptly named, adding a rich verdant signature during the darkest day of the season. Anise root foliage is strikingly spring-green. It’s red stems likewise suggest spring growth.

 

These are not the bitter days of a relentless dormant season, where days stretch to weeks, and to months of frozen ground, disabling freezing precipitation, and crippling cold. Compared to some place where I’ve lived, these are the halcyon days of winter.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature alone is the master of true genius. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • There is no result in nature without a cause. (da Vinci)
  • Although physically limited by bad knees, a surgical fix is within reach!

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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

 

Steve’s Four 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 sauntering and exploring Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

 

A First Visit to Alabama’s Wind Creek State Park!

Bound for the November 25, 2023, Iron Bowl, fellow retired forester Chris Stuhlinger and I visited Wind Creek State Park, a 1,444-acre gem on the shores of Lake Martin near Alexander City. The park’s 586 campsites rank it first among the state’s 21 State Parks. Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River retains the 44,000-acre Lake Martin, a scenic delight and fishing paradise.

We arrived at the park, a first visit for both of us, just after lunch, meeting Wind Creek Park Naturalist Dylan Ogle.

Wind Creek

 

I recorded this 44-second video, evidencing a perfect autumn afternoon. Nearly every stop within the park showcased the bright sky, surrounding lake, the tree-lined shore, and happy visitors. I elected to record the video without narration. The video itself tells the tale of place, context, whispering breezes, and lapping wavelets. Any narrative I might have offered would have added net negative value.

 

I am a forester, therefore it goes without saying that I love forests and trees. We’ve all heard the ancient caution of not seeing the forest for the trees. On most of our lake-based state parks, deep forest cover begins at the immediate shoreline. The Wind Creek shoreline is irregular, punctuated by gravelly peninsulas, populated by individual trees or a copse like the loblolly pines below left. Unlike trees in a closed forest, these pines stand in full sunlight, emphasizing their beauty against the full sun. The loner at right casts its shadow across the gravel, seeming to disappear at water’s edge.

Wind Creek

 

This peninsula hosted a picnic pavilion and an observation silo, with both lower and upper decks accessible to visitors.

Wind Creek

 

With left knee replacement surgery scheduled for January 23, I summited only the first level stairs (with handrail). I did not want to risk stumbling on the climb to the higher level with my bum knee.

Here’s my 52-second video from the tower.

 

The view from the observation deck was good. The next level would have been spectacular. I apologize for falling short (which is a lot better than falling). My surgeon has advised for years, “Opt for the surgery when knee degradation prohibits you from doing what you love.” Climbing to the top tier is among the routine activities I want to return to after surgery. I learned painfully at the next day’s Iron Bowl that navigating stadium stairs up and down without handrails is exceptionally difficult. I don’t like this old man feeling!

The following four photos swing clockwise from SW to SE, each one including a slice of Lake Martin. I vow next time to ascend to the upper deck!

Wind Creek

 

I hadn’t realized the intensity of blue until I began writing the narrative — incredible!

Wind Creek

 

Back on the ground, I positioned myself using the loblolly below left to block the low-horizon late afternoon sun. Chris (center), Dylan (left), and Georgios Arseniou, Auburn Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist of Urban Forestry, who met us at the park, stand within a pine copse.

 

Here is my 46-second video of Dylan introducing himself.

 

Dylan joined the park staff as Naturalist this past summer. His enthusiasm for Nature, the outdoors, and Wind Creek State Park is contagious. I am a tireless proponent of the tripartite Alabama State Park System mission of recreation, conservation, and education. I take great satisfaction in watching the education and interpretation leg strengthen and expand. I look forward to returning to Wind Creek next summer.

I can’t resist the combination of glorious sky, tranquil water, and luxuriant trees and forests. I have a weakness for paintings that look like photographs…and photos that resemble paintings. There was an abundance of such scenes November 24!

Wind Creek

 

Special Features of Wind Creek State Park

 

Wind Creek invites equine campers, accommodating their needs with 20 dedicated camping sites.

Wind Creek

 

Glamping, where stunning nature meets modern luxury, is catching on across the outdoor enthusiast world. I’m intrigued, but my 72+ year old notion of roughing it extends only to accommodations with an indoor bathroom within a few steps of a queen size bed! Judy and I enjoyed our camping days and we are content to leave them in the past.

Wind Creek

 

Although the calendar said late November, the scene depicted late summer enthusiasm, excited and fully engaged families, and the enticing aromas from barbeque grills. Memories of camping with Mom, Dad, and siblings generated a set of moist eyes. I blamed it on the wood smoke!

Wind Creek

 

I recorded this 33-second video as the sun began dipping to the horizon. Note the full moon rising, listen for the unique call of a belted kingfisher, and enjoy the setting sun.

 

A Short Saunter into the Speckled Snake Trail

 

The daylight fades early this time of year. We reserved just enough time on this first visit to Wind Creek for a short stroll into the Park’s Alabama Reunion Trail, which begins alongside the Speckled Snake Trail.

Wind Creek

 

I don’t intend to add a rich narrative and interpretive monologue. I offer these photos just to give you a taste of the Park’s terrestrial gifts. The trail begins in a loblolly pine dominated upland.

Wind Creek

 

The forest type quickly transitions to mixed pine and hardwood as the trail dipped into a draw and then back to an upland..

Wind Creek

 

The Park employs prescribed fire to manage forest understory and influence future composition.

Wind Creek

 

In the fading light I photographed the unusual pump handle configuration of a sourwood tree (below left) and the bronze marcescent leaves of a mid-story American beech.

Wind Creek

 

Before turning back to the trailhead, we encountered a stand of switch cane, a native bamboo in the Poaceae (grass) family found in the coastal plain and piedmont regions of the eastern US from Virginia to Florida where it grows in the understory of moist forests and wetlands.  It typically grows upright 2 to 6 feet in height but can approach 12 feet when conditions are favorable (North Carolina Extension online source).

Wind Creek

 

I am eager to experience more of what Wind Creek State Park offers when I return.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • A dedicated Park Naturalist magnifies the experience, learning, and enjoyment for Park visitors…of all ages.
  • Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better (Albert Einstein).
  • I can’t resist the combination of glorious sky, tranquil water, and luxuriant trees and forests.

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

 

Brief-Form Post #26: Beaver Dam Serenity at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

I am pleased to add the 26th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my November 14, 2023, Visit to the Beaver Dam along Hidden Spring Creek at Huntsville’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

 

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We paused for a few minutes to enjoy the sights and sounds at the beaver dam along Hidden Spring Creek at the iron and concrete bridge just downstream of Jobala Pond. I focus this photo essay on the beaver dam.

I learned long ago that there is grandeur in Nature’s seemingly small wonders and that many items of Nature’s magic lie hidden in plain sight.

Here is the 0:34 video I recorded at 10:32 AM.

 

Still photographs capture single elements of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Yet even as a picture is worth a thousands words, a video may exceed the power of a photo by the same magnitude. A thousand is to one as a million is to a thousand. I will continue to supplement my photo essays with short videos!

 

Amazingly, observers had recorded only one and one-half inches of rain over the prior nine weeks, yet Hidden Spring Creek seemed to carry a normal late summer flow. That evidence suggests that a rich and ample aquifer supplies Hidden Spring and its outflow creek.

 

Had I not chosen to visit the Sanctuary during the trailing end of an extended drought I would not have appreciated how robust Hidden Spring is.

I cherish the special Nature of the entire Sanctuary…and I anticipate tossing a bag chair over my shoulder so that I can sit quietly at the beaver dam, luxuriating in its gurgling, observing bird and other life nearby, and watching clouds and shadows slip across the cerulean firmament.

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from John Muir, one of the truly great minds of conservation and environmental antiquity:

  • A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and healing!

 

 

Wetland Mitigation Update from Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We sauntered through the western side of the Sanctuary, observing and reflecting upon all manner of seasonal life we encountered from Hidden Spring to Jobala Pond to the wetland mitigation project underway in the mid-property meadows and fields. I focus this photo essay on our superficial examination of the mitigation.

This black gum seedling, planted during the 2022-23 dormant season, is now emerging from its tree shelter. It has survived its initial growing season and escaped the ravages of foraging rabbits and mice. From this day forward it must contend with grazing deer until it grows out of their vertical reach. Most of the shelters we examined contained living seedlings, of various species (black gum, willow, redbud, and diverse oaks).

 

Red oak occupies this tube. It will likely reach into aerial freedom next spring.

 

I photographed this initial planting area in February 2023, when the shallow constructed wetlands stood at full water capacity. Because in mid-November 2023, we had gone since mid-August with little to no rain, we saw bone dry soils across the mitigation area.

 

The meadow vegetation had reached seasonal dormancy. Because our northern Alabama fall months are frequently dry, native plants can handle periodic droughts. Fortunately, the tree seedlings in this first (2022-23) planting tranche enjoyed an adequately moist spring and early summer, hence their likely survival through this fall drought.

 

 

The second planting, east of the first, appeared to be underway when we visited. The area evidenced extreme drought, with soils bone-dry and cement-hard. The tree shelters below right held seedlings already desiccated and likely dead. Planting should have been delayed until after fall rains brought drought relief.

 

This willow seedling (below left) lay on the ground at a drilled planting hole, deader than a proverbial door nail. The willow seeding at right stands beside a wooden stake. It is too shallowly planted, its root collar and some of its root mass two inches above soil surface level. However, it doesn’t matter. The tree is dead.

 

I recorded this two-minute video on the site. I refer incorrectly to the seedling beside a planting tube as a willow. Instead, it is actually a redbud.

 

Like other doomed seedlings in this area, the oaks lying within this scraped future wetland depression are deceased. I hope the project managers have made alternate plans, to include holding seedlings in nursery beds awaiting fall rains and adequate soil moisture in the Sanctuary fields. I learned long ago during my forest products industry days that unless seedlings are carefully tended and properly planted in soils that contain adequate moisture to sustain transplant vigor, the planting will not succeed. This fall drought planting window failed all criteria.

 

I am not pointing fingers or assigning blame. I simply visited this year’s mitigation chapter at the trailing end of an extended drought. A week later I measured 2.63″ of rain, and another 3.4″ since then through December 17, 2023. Soil moisture levels are approaching seasonal norms, but far too late to overcome the experienced negative forces. Importantly, it’s not too late to plant seedlings held and tended in nursery beds.

I offer several observations and applicable lessons. Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal. Though a plan may have called for planting this second tranche in the October/November time frame, managers should have delayed, awaiting overdue autumn rains.

I predict that unless alternate plans were made to replant with freshly lifted seedlings now that rains have begun, this second tranche planting will be a total failure. Leonardo da Vinci, a sage and practiced observer of Nature, said 500 years ago, Nature never breaks her own laws. Those who planted these seedlings apparently expected Nature to break a natural law that I learned five decades ago as a young practicing forester: Nature demands that plugged seedlings require adequate moisture both pre- and post-planting, well-packed friable soil, and suitable growing conditions (e.g., avoid excessively high late season temperatures at planting time.

I will continue to monitor the wetland mitigation project, including these 2023 plantings. Again, the seasonal rains have resumed. The Flint River will likely flood these fields at least once over the dormant season. Casual observers may not know that the fields suffered through an extreme drought from mid-August through mid-November. They may wonder why the tree shelters house no or very few living trees.

I have been unable to secure detailed information about the wetland mitigation project. I hope that City personnel have such planning and implementation records. I would like to see survival records for the first tranche planting, as well as 2023 planting records. The project is expensive. Are managers tracking success? Failure? Progress?

Please know that I have no direct or implied oversight of this project. I am merely a very interested observer. I view the Sanctuary as one of my special places. I applaud Margaret Anne Goldsmith for the original gift of approximately 300 acres that enabled establishing the Sanctuary. I admire Marian Moore Lewis’s expertise and passion for publishing Southern Sanctuary. We three share a keen interest in this incredible Nature legacy project.

I leave you with the 15-minute video telling the Sanctuary legacy story that Bill Heslip directed and I produced three years ago.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature never breaks her own laws. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal.
  • Past average monthly rainfall gives no comfort to a seedling planted during this year’s extreme drought. 

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

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

A 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 by 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 understand their Earth home more clearly.

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 Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, 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 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 with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

Fall Semester Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography OLLI Course

On October 31, 2023, I participated in a roundtrip photographic walk on the Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk Trail through the water tupelo forest on Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The swamp saunter was a field laboratory for the University of Alabama in Huntsville OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course on Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography taught by Philip Flowers, OLLI member, and retired professional photographer.

We left the trailhead parking area at 8:30 AM under partly sunny skies and an autumn-like 40 degrees, perfect conditions for exploring this sector of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. We covered the one-mile round-trip saunter in 2.5 hours. Our intent was not to hurry. I have visited the swamp more than a dozen times since retiring to northern Alabama, sometimes alone, others with Judy and our grandkids, visiting friends and family, colleagues, and students in my OLLI or LearningQuest courses. In all four seasons. Once with the grandkids after dark. Each time, the swamp revealed new treats and different moods.

 

Beaverdam Swamp

 

I teach Nature-related courses often at both OLLI and LearningQuest, the companion adult education program offered through the downtown Huntsville/Madison County Library. I was happily only a student with this course.

 

The OLLI Course

 

I found the course title, Steps to Better Nature Photography, compelling. I’ve developed my retirement hobby and avocation gradually. Nature photography is a big component. I publish 50-70 Great Blue Heron photo essays annually, themed around what I term Nature-Inspired Life and Living or The Nature of North Alabama (or wherever my travels lead me). I issue Facebook Posts (brief narrative and 3-7 photos) one to two times weekly, similarly themed. I recently published my fourth book, Dutton Land and Cattle, which includes 130 of my color photos. Because I seek excellence in my Nature photography, I could not resist registering for Phillip’s course. That’s him below left, snapping photos along the gravel entry trail that passes first through a mixed pine and hardwood upland, then into a hardwood riparian forest, and then into the water tupelo swamp.

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For several years I’ve suffered from camera envy. I have only my iPhone. Most of my fellow OLLI classmates carry big boy SLRs. I’ve struggled with whether I can meet my posting objectives with the iPhone, or take the next step, graduating to a real camera. My hope is to learn how to be even more effective with my iPhone. As I draft this narrative, I am making progress toward taking better Nature photos, not yet ready to advance to a digital SLR.

I recorded this 0:58 video along the gravel trail in the upland hardwood forest:

 

The boardwalk transits the tupelo swamp. I’ve seen water lapping at the boardwalk side rails during the reliably wetter winter and spring. We found the swamp bone dry for our Halloween outing. Since August 15, 2023, I measured 1.55 inches of rainfall, just 19 percent of the average rainfall for that period, eight inches. Averages are funny that way. Some past year and some future period will see one or two tropical systems slosh north from the Gulf, dumping copious rain that will counter this season’s drought. The average will not shift. This is not climate change. It’s weather varying within climate.

The main canopy tupelo leaves covered the boardwalk and forest floor. I’ve observed in prior years that, even during wet late summer years, tupelo sheds its leaves well in advance of upland forests.

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I recorded this 0:52 video from the boardwalk entrance, not yet deep within the swamp:

Each visit to the Beaverdam Swamp National Natural Monument opens a new window to her beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration!

 

The Forests

 

Yellow dominates the mid- and under-story of the mixed hardwood upland just beyond the trailhead (left). A single loblolly pine stands at the center. The image (right) looks vertically into the full, towering canopy of the riparian hardwood forest on approach to the tupelo swamp. I wanted my photos to demonstrate that I’m learning from the course. The sky fascinates me. Both images highlight the background, even as they demonstrate the autumn variety of colors, textures, and context.

 

 

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The combination of dense growing season shade under the tupelo and seasonally saturated and flooded soils eliminates ground cover and reduces the shrub layer. I recorded this 0:33 tupelo swamp video to depict the tupelo swamp:

 

I failed to completely capture the striking image I sought (left) of the rectangular golden sunlight display on the leafy forest floor. Perhaps I need a sequel course on Steps to Better Nature Photography?! I’ve published several prior Posts about the tupelo swamp, with its ancient (200-plus year old), hollowed, weathered giants. Even the high crowns are coarse and broken (right), providing aesthetic framing for the autumn sky.

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Beaverdam

 

The tupelo swamp forest never disappoints. I will return once winter rains restore the watery magic.

 

Autumn’s Richness

 

I’ve seen hearts-a-bustin (strawberry bush) several times fruiting during the trailing end of the 2023 season. Along the trail running through the upland forest, this waning fruit cluster called out to me, “Here, try to capture my image among the crowded backdrop of understory plants, fading leaves, and the forest beyond.” I tried, but the outcome fell short of my expectations.

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Both the paw paw and round-leaved greenbrier celebrated the seasonal transition by replacing their green matrix with yellow, while temporarily retaining green venation. Beauty lies in Nature’s subtleties!

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I suffered bouts of poison ivy agony dozens of times over my field-forestry professional days and from leisurely woods-rambles. I readily see its classic shiny green warning flags of spring and summer foliage. I don’t recall previously paying special attention to its fall woodland glory. I couldn’t resist its appeal on this day. I wonder how many school-age children annually add these special leaves to their autumn leaf collection!

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A closer view magnifies its magic!

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These Stereum mushrooms added a bit of their own color to the fall woodland portfolio. As I often do, I wonder how many visitors amble along the trail without noticing the visual treasures that lie hidden in plain sight, much less marvel at the role these decomposers play in the forest cycle of life.

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Soil isn’t the only growing medium in this magnificent ecosystem. Moss is quite content to thrive on moisture and nutrients available on the bark of a standing tree (left.) The moss, currently desiccated and dormant, has evolved to survive extended dry periods. Drought-ending rains will pump life back into these vertical moss-gardens. The poison ivy vine grew vertically with the tree at right. It relies on the tree for access to the full sunlight available in the upper canopy, even as it remains rooted in the forest soil, where it secures nutrients and moisture. These are complex ecosystems consisting of diverse organisms living interdependently.

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Since my freshman year of forestry school, I have been a student of trees. Many years in the forests of the eastern USA have sharpened my familiarity with common species. I recognize dozens by their leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, form, site preferences, and bark. One of my favorite tree bark color and patterns is American persimmon: nearly black, blocky, and deeply furrowed. A yellow-bellied sapsucker had emblazoned this individual with its own distinctive pattern of bird peck.  The bird typically insect-forages in horizontal rows (right). Another face of the tree exhibited a more complex combination of vertical and horizontal striping. Were I to retake the two photos I would snap closer views.

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A nearby red maple twin (live tree left and standing dead twin right) offered critter housing excavated by pileated woodpeckers seeking grubs and other insects feasting on the dead wood. A vine (poison ivy?) found reason to penetrate the lower center cavity. I’m sure the vine found no exit. As with my post mortem on the persimmon photos, I should have taken a closer view of the cavity appearing to slurp a strand of viny spaghetti!

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I am always on alert for tree form oddities and curiosities. I spotted this convoluted gnarly burl off-trail on a forked red oak. In retrospect, I should have acquired a closer view. However, today (11/7/23) I attended the final Class session. The instructor reviewed ways to improve Nature photographs by editing at home. I believe that I created a better result at right from the original image at left. In fact, I am convinced that the combination better suits the purpose of my Great Blue Heron Post. The modified image allows me to show its details, view its subtle colors, and visually reach into its texture and folds.

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Beaverdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beaverdam Creek Boardwalk Terminus

 

I rethis corded 0:53 non-narrated video at the trail terminus, where the creek continues to carry a respectable flow despite the extended drought.

 

The placid flow splendidly reflected the cloud-spangled sky and creekside forest.

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Speaking from the perspective of an old forester (BS 50 years ago!), now two years into his eighth decade of Nature-Inspired Life and Living, I evidence that it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. I am eager to employ what I’ve learned in this four-week Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography course.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s magic lies hidden in plain sight!
  • Understanding Nature’s ways sharpens our eyes and focuses the camera’s lens.
  • Each visit to the Beaverdam Swamp National Natural Monument opens a new window to her beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration!

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: “©2023 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 grandkids, 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

 

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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.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.