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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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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.

 

 

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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.

Beaverdam

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.

Beaverdam

 

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!

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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!

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

A closer view magnifies its magic!

Beaverdam

 

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.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

 

 

 

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.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

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.

Beaverdam

 

 

 

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!

Beaverdam

 

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.

Beaverdam

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.

Beaverdam

 

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

 

Beaverdam

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Brief-Form Post #23: October 11, 2023 Visit to a Drought-Parched Bradford Creek!

I am pleased to offer the 23rd of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!). 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.

 

I’ve tracked steady progress from my June 19, 2023, triple bypass surgery. Judy, Alabama grandsons Jack and Sam, and I enjoyed walking nearly 2.25 mid-afternoon miles on October 11 along the Bradford Creek Greenway in Madison, Alabama. I think at this early December date, I’ve achieved full recovery — hallelujah! It’s amazing what regular exposure to Nature and loving family can do to accelerate healing.

 

The Drought-Parched Creek

 

I’ve visited the Greenway scores of times since we moved permanently to Madison seven years ago. Every time, the creek has carried at least a minor flow, and occasionally I have witnessed the creek in flood, the greenway impassable. On this day, for the first time in my experience, only a dry bed greeted us.

Bradford

 

We watched a great blue heron patrolling the few pockets of standing water, like those below left. Contrast the meager water to the normal winter flow below right.

Bradford

 

Autumn Colors

 

We examined the first wave of emerging fall colors. Both poison ivy (left) and shining sumac presented red.

Bradford

Bradford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweetgum showed off its burgundy hue.

Bradford

 

 

American persimmon (left) and smooth sumac carried a full load of ripe fruit.

BradfordBradford

 

Tall goldenrod’s deep yellow-gold competed with the best of fall foliage!

Bradford

 

A fall break (for Sam and Jack) stroll revealed many secrets about the advancing season. So much lies hidden in plain sight. My hope is that these walks with grandparents will sow the seeds of Nature curiosity that will reach across their lives.

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts to a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a distinct reflection from Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist and short story writer born in Salem, MA in 1804:

  • I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.

 

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!