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Mid-April Lakeside Forest Panoply at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

Lakeside Forest Panoply

 

On April 17 and 18, 2024, I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply — this Post
  4. Dawn from the lodge docks

I sauntered for nearly three hours (April 17) along the lakeside Awesome Trail, enjoying diverse attractions, many of them hidden in plain sight. Although the bird blind was in no way hidden, I felt compelled to look closely, which beckoned me to spend more time than I could devote, given the time-certain deadline to attend the late afternoon Foundation gathering at the Park Lodge. I often find in Nature that I want to linger longer than I’m able.

Joe WSP

 

I concur with those autumn forest enthusiasts who are smitten with fall’s color palette. However, I am equally attracted to the seeming infinite shades of green that enrich spring forest ventures. I’m reminded of the title of yet another banal Hollywood blockbuster that I missed (or refused to see) on the big screen: Fifty Shades of Grey. Give me spring’s fifty shades of green and I will see the reel time after time!

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

The blind’s portals frame whatever fine image you select…each one unique and worthy of photo-capture.

Joe WSP

 

The full Awesome Trail runs from the Park’s Boat Launch parking lot 4.1 miles to the Marina near the Lodge. I recorded this 37-second video to convey the mood, spirit, and nature of this soothing lakeside path, ideal for this woods-wanderer still recovering from the past ten months headlined by my June 19, 2013 triple bypass surgery, October bi-lateral inguinal hernia repair, and January 23, 2024 total left knee replacement!

I recorded the video at 1:37 PM:

 

The trail passes by this copse of yellow poplar trees, which features the most impressive timbers in this 80-90-year-old forest. When the TVA acquired this property in the early 1930s, the land was severely eroded, deeply-gullied, worn-out pasture, an affliction common across Alabama and the southeast in those Great Depression years. How much larger would this copse have presented had the original soil been protected from abusive agricultural practices?!

Joe WSP

Joe WSP

 

A patch of native rusty blackhaw enriched the trek with its profusion of large, showy flower heads!

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

Fungal Friends

 

Plants were not the sole features. This white-pored chicken of the woods cluster sprouted within twenty feet of the trail. I resisted the temptation to harvest this edible mushroom.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

I spotted this five-inch pale oyster mushroom, another edible.

Joe WSP

 

 

This foot-wide deer-colored Trametes mushroom (non-edible), has a rather dull beige upper surface, yet compensates with its fascinating underside of distinct open pores.

Joe WSP

 

 

 

 

Two three-inch worms (I am note sure whether they are in fact “worms” — iNaturalist did not identify) found refuge and nourishment in the darkness beneath the bracket.

This ear-like mushroom covered a fallen decaying tree in a thicket too dense for me to capture a clear image. Instead, I gathered a small handful to show wood ear fungus, yet another edible.

Joe WSP

 

I am committed to learning more about the wonderful Fungi Kingdom, which when I was an undergraduate was still part of the Plant Kingdom — oh, how things change over a mere fifty years! Who says lifelong learning isn’t necessary for an old forester who insists upon better understanding the secrets of Nature hidden in plain sight?

 

Oh, the Gall of This Wasp!

 

The new leaves on this white oak seedling opened just a week or two before I discovered and photographed them (below left). Already, the seedling stem bears a fresh wool sower gall (below right).  During that short time, a wool sower gall wasp had oviposited its eggs into the stem. An NC State University Cooperative Extension bulletin tells the rest of the story:

The wool sower gall is a distinct and unusual plant growth induced by the secretions of the grubs of a tiny gall wasp, Callirhytis seminator. These wasps are about 1/8 inch long, dark brown, and their abdomens are noticeably flattened from side to side. The grubs are translucent to white, plump, and legless. Their heads are more or less shapeless blobs. The wool sower gall is specific to white oaks and only occurs in the spring. When the gall is pulled apart, inside are small seed-like structures inside of which the gall wasp grubs develop (the wool sower gall is also called the oak seed gall). 

 

 

Nature never disappoints the curious naturalist. I offer most every audience, whether classroom or field trip, my five verbs for truly enjoying Nature:

Five Essential Verbs: Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act.

    • I find Nature’s mysteries and curiosities because I know they lie hidden within view — belief enables me to look and see
    • Really look, with eyes open to your surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
    • Be alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
    • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
    • Feel emphatically enough to spur action — learning to seek understanding and awareness is an action

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature. (Theodore Roosevelt)
  • Vitality and beauty are gifts of Nature, for those who live according to its laws. (da Vinci)
  • Nature never disappoints the curious naturalist.

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-April Dawn at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park!

 

Dockside Dawn

 

On April 17 and 18, 2024, I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply
  4. Dawn from the Lodge docks — This Post

 

Going Gently Into That Good Night

 

Although I titled this photo essay Mid April Dawn, I found no better place to insert two photographs from late afternoon before joining the Foundation social and dinner. I never tire of placid water, lakeside forests, and evening clouds.

I snapped the images from the Lodge docks at 4:47 and 48 PM.

Joe WSP

 

I reluctantly left the docks for the 5:00 PM Foundation session, knowing that the affair and dinner would allow no time for wandering outside before sunset.

Mid-April Dawn

 

I rarely miss dawn and sunrise. I wonder what could possibly keep me awake so late at night that I miss darkness retreating to the west and the new day breaching the eastern horizon. I made it to the docks during civil twilight at 6:07 AM, ten minutes ahead of sunrise. Overcast dimmed the scene.

 

By 6:13 (left) the sun had broken the horizon, shielded by trees and shrouded in the low overcast. Little had changed by 6:20 AM. Broken stratus clouds dulled the firmament, holding a bright day at bay. Note the bird on the water (photo at right).

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

The 6:20 AM bird on the water revealed itself as a common loon, who treated me to a tremolo greeting, a call that stirs me to the core, reminding me of lakeside summer mornings and evenings in the great northland. Loons have normally migrated from northern Alabama to their higher latitude breeding grounds by mid-April.

Joe WSP

 

Contrary to clear-sky mornings when daylight explodes when the sun rises, little change in light level appeared by 6:21 and 6:23 AM.

Joe WSP

 

I embraced the cloud-dulled new day and the mood, character, and serenity it suggested. I recorded this 43-second video at 6:23 AM:

 

I reemerged between our group breakfast and the start of our business meeting. The clouds lingered at 8:14 AM, yet a few breaks revealed blue above.

Joe WSP

 

Two final morning views completed my morning reconnaissance at 8:38 and 8:42 AM, the first of a fully-leafed-out yellow popular behind the Lodge and the second a last view of the marina.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

I realize that this series of dawn through early morning photographs depict only modest shifts in light, mood, and insight. In contrast I’ve experienced other mornings when change happened in leaps and bounds…when the sun burst from the horizon, twilight collapsed without delay, and the morning dispersed in the blink of an eye. Nature is like that. Sometimes predictable…other times surprising. Nothing in Nature is static, whatever the pace.

I recall during my career retirees telling me that they are busier in retirement than ever before. I can’t say that I am as pressed for time as during my two decades of executive university leadership (VP at two institutions and CEO at four others), however, I am more engaged than I imagined I would be. Importantly, my busy days focus on Nature! Secondly, the pace and direction of effort are mine; stress is generally absent.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static, whatever the pace of change.
  • It’s always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. (John Muir)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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 # 32: Evidence of Past Land History at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park!

10 photos and two videos

I am pleased to add the 32nd of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than five 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.

On April 17 and 18, 2024 I visited Joe Wheeler State Park for the quarterly meeting of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Rather than present a single long Post from my wanderings during my on-site free time, please look for four separate photo essays:

  1. Reading evidence of past land use in the current 80-90-year-old forests — this Post
  2. Tree form oddities and related curiosities
  3. Lakeside forest panoply
  4. Dawn from the lodge docks

Scars from a Previous Century of Careless Land Stewardship

 

I arrived early enough on the 17th to spend time on the Awesome Trail. When the US Army Corps of Engineers acquired land scheduled for Wheeler Dam inundation and adjoining buffer acreage, severely eroded pastured and tilled acreage dominated. Such abused and devalued agricultural lands were typical in the 1930s across Alabama and elsewhere. It was a time of widespread farm foreclosures. My internet search for images of ruined agricultural lands in depression-era Alabama yielded hundreds of photographs like this one:

Boy with eroded farmland during the Dust Bowl by Arthur Rothstein on artnet

Online Image of Alabama Depression-Era

 

That image represents conditions that I am certain prevailed adjacent to the future Lake Wheeler. I stayed alert for confirming evidence as I sauntered along the trail. Forested land seldom erodes. Intact forest litter and organic layers, permeable soils, and a protective overstory ensures rainfall infiltration and discourages overland flow. Still-evident (yet not active) erosion gullies leading down to the lakeshore (below) are relics from past practice. The current forest cover discourages further degradation.

Joe WSP

 

I recorded this 33-second video depicting an old gully scar:

 

The trail crosses several old gullies over newly installed wooden bridges. The views (left, up; right, down) show the depth and extent of the erosion scars.

Joe WSP

 

The wooden structures are sufficient to protect the trail and hikers from wet season crossings. The image at right shows the severity of now healing and healed washing. Large trees reach into the chasms of abusive land treatment.

Joe WSP

 

Another gully required a more substantial bridge spanning a gully reaching to water’s edge (right).

 

I wonder how may cubic miles of topsoil emptied into our rivers from 1850 to the 1930s. Too, too, too many!

Louis Bromfield, a 20th Century novelist and playwright, dedicated his life to rehabilitating the old worn-out Ohio farm he bought in the 1930s. He wrote:

The Land came to us out of eternity, and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best any of us can do is to change some small corner of this Earth for the better, through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

Such is one facet of our Alabama State Parks.

 

Long Term Implications of Eroded Topsoil

 

The Awesome Trail passes through a stand of loblolly pine that recently suffered extensive windthrow. Even trees growing in undisturbed, deep natural soils yield to high winds, either uprooting or breaking. I saw no evidence of widespread breakage; the wind toppled the root mass. Although I cannot be certain, I conclude that these deeply-gullied hillsides also lost 1-3 feet of topsoil, a condition chronicled across much of the piedmont and foothills of the eastern US.

Joe WSP

 

I recorded this 55-second video within the blowdown area:

 

The evidence of uninformed and irresponsible land treatment is evident wherever my travels take me across Alabama. I believe wisdom, knowledge, and hard work constitute the answer to preserving future land and forest productivity. John Muir gave hope to Earth’s capacity to overcome such abuse:

Earth has no sorrow that earth can not heal.

 

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 Franklin Roosevelt about soil:

  • The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.

 

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!

 

 

Post-Surgery Return to Nature Wanderings: Dawn and OLLI Birding Nature Walk at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

It’s been 91 days (13 weeks — one-quarter of a year) since my left knee replacement surgery. My operative knee is much stronger and more stable than the one that awaits the same replacement surgery. I’m optimistic about the net result that will come with two new ones! No, I am far from a return to normal mobility, which I hope comes by 91 days after the right knee surgery. In the meantime, these photo essays will track my ventures across time. Without hesitation, I can state with conviction that Nature exposure and immersion are aiding my recovery and healing.

Daily Awakening

 

My total left knee replacement progress (January 23, 2024) permitted me to return to limited Nature wanderings on March 12 and 13 (50 days since surgery). I co-taught a Huntsville LearningQuest spring course with Renee Raney, Chief of Interpretation and Education, at the Alabama State Parks System. We appended an affiliated State Park bird-oriented half-day field interpretive walk at Joe Wheeler State Park, graciously led by Jennings Earnest, JWSP Naturalist. Jennings assisted the group in finding, identifying, and observing 43 bird species over the half-day venture.

Judy, our two Alabama grandsons, and I wandered within the Park the evening prior and enjoyed a night in one of the great Lakeside Cottages: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/03/20/post-surgery-return-to-nature-wanderings-afternoon-and-sunset-at-alabamas-joe-wheeler-state-park/

As is my routine, I arose early enough to welcome sunrise, this time from the Park Lodge docks along Lake Wheeler’s First Creek inlet. A great blue heron, my long-deceased Dad’s totem and avatar, seemed to have awaited me on the docks in the pre-dawn mist. We made brief eye contact before he arose to begin his day on the Lake.

Joe Wheeler

 

The encounter reminded me that in February of 1995, Dad’s spirit-bird visited me as I ran along a frost-steaming creek on a bitter cold sunrise the day of his memorial service. Since then, I have shared many special moments with great blue herons, each incident representing a cross-boundary contact from Dad. If nothing more, I know that he lives within me…and perhaps that is sufficient.

Ten minutes before sunrise, I relished the dawn sky-view from the docks, looking deeply into the First Creek inlet (left) and southeast to the Lodge. Except for an outbound bass boat or two, I enjoyed the solitude that often rewards the early riser. I cherish alone time. Early adult personality tests labeled me a hardcore introvert, an attribute that, along with my love for the outdoors, steered me to a bachelors degree in forestry. Only with career advancement into supervisory roles and eventually to 20 years of higher education senior administration did I learn how to act like an extrovert. Yes, “act” is the operative word. Truth is, I never escaped my natural tendency. Such a dawn as this one corroborated my permanent nature.

Joe WSP

 

Five minutes later (7:06 AM), the sun kissed the horizon beyond the shoreline edge.

Joe WSP

 

Another six minutes brought sharpening sunglow into the forest.

Joe WSP

 

 

By 7:46 AM, sunlight graced the forests along Wheeler Lake, and highlighted the forest of masts at the State Park Marina.

Joe WSP

 

I thought of Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay, wishing I could sit a spell longer:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come

However, my purpose in visiting Joe Wheeler State Park called for co-leading a morning hike. I reluctantly returned to the cottage.

 

Venturing into the Forest: Progressing from Walker to Cane to Trekking Pole

 

I’m making final edits to this photo essay on April 8, 2024, ten weeks from surgery. I graduated from physical therapy on April 5. No more cajoling, guided pain, and oversight by therapists (sometimes I referred to them as physical terrorists!). Additional strengthening and persistent toning is up to me. As long-ago recreational athlete, I feel confident in training through full recovery. I set out March 13 determined to keep the group in sight for as long as I could. Over the seven weeks from surgery to the March 13 trek, I had progressed from roller-walker to cane to trekking pole.

Joe WSP

 

I found the mild spring day exhilarating, escaping the doldrums of confinement to my home and its backyard. Open forest, partly cloudy sky, similarly attuned Nature enthusiasts, and the freedom of returning to the outdoors at one of my favorite state parks lifted me to post-surgery heights. My wife captured my return-to-Nature celebratory mood with this 18-second video. I felt a bit foolish, yet viewing it three weeks later, I could not have better expressed my sense of joy and escape:

 

I lagged far enough behind that I missed most of Jennings’ bird identification (43 species tallied!) and interpretation. Occasionally I would catch up to snap an image, like Bob Carroll examining the trailside maw of an eight-inch diameter black cherry tree.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

A retired educator (Clemson forestry degree), Bob paused to capture the still-standing carcass of a very large sassafras tree. Like me, Bob admires what I term tree form oddities and curiosities.

Joe WSP

 

Our two Alabama grandsons (Jack left and Sam right) accompanied us, taking advantage of their spring break week. Jack couldn’t resist risking a black cherry mauling; Sam stood within a large looping wild grape vine.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

My Personal Commitment to Perseverance

 

My tiring legs made it to the Day Use Area at 10:39 AM, some 90 minutes from departing the Lodge. Even now, I fall short of target strength and endurance. I remind readers that since June of 2023, I have endured triple bypass surgery, bilateral inguinal hernia surgery (October 2023), and the January knee replacement. The physical impact has been cumulative. Recovery will take time. Patience is not one of my virtues, yet I intend to persevere.

Joe WSP

 

I will not accept the series of health issues as crushing and debilitating. This two-foot diameter black cherry tree  along the Cottage access road fell victim to a winter wind storm. Its wrenching, twisting demise symbolizes an unanticipated fate…a coup de gras. I am fortunate to retain my structural integrity and mental strength sufficient to push through recovery.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

I shall treat my recovery with dogged determination, relying on the relentless support of my soul mate Judy and the power I draw from Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The sun shines not on us but in us! (John Muir)
  • A day without witnessing dawn and sunrise is hardly a day at all. (Steve Jones)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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 Late March Return to Goldsmith-Schiffman after Flood Waters Recede!

I returned to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on March 23, 2014, just a week after the flooding Flint River prevented my Huntsville LearningQuest class from touring the Sanctuary: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/04/02/brief-form-post-29-mid-march-attempt-to-enter-the-flint-river-flooded-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

During the intervening week of fair weather, the Flint receded, spring advanced, and the Sanctuary beckoned me to explore the breadth of its eastern side. A week prior, I would have been knee-deep taking the photo at left, which looks northwest to the Blevins Gap Ridge, 800 feet above the valley floor. The view at right to the trailhead would have traced water to the entrance sign, where the tour group posed a week ago.

 

I welcomed the dry surface of the greenway.

The Flint River Tamed

 

At 10:30 AM a quarter of a mile from the entrance, the Flint flowed tranquilly at bankful, upstream at left and downstream to the right.

 

A short video (39 seconds) tells the river’s tale this fine spring morning…far better than my feeble words and still photos:

 

The natural upland levee along the flint stood above the flood waters the week before. I pondered what mood standing isolated there surrounded by floodwaters would have evoked.

 

A lifelong fan of esteemed conservationist Aldo Leopold, I turned to his writings (A Sand County Almanac)  for an apt quotation:

There are degrees and kinds of solitude. An island in a lake has one kind; but lakes have boats, and there is always the chance that one might land to pay you a visit. A peak in the clouds has another kind; but most peaks have trails, and trails have tourists. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness than I have.

 

Spring Ephemerals

 

The woodland trail I transited parallels the river (to the right) and the deep riparian forest that stretches to the tupelo swamp several hundred yards to the left. The path, via debris deposited by the recent flood, evidences a foot of overflow a week prior.

 

These dwarf trilliums at full flower likely observed the flood through a watery lens if they had already emerged from the saturated forest soil.

 

Their cousin, a twisted trillium, is just opening. Spring ephemerals are my favorite forest botanical denizens. The term ephemeral implies the narrow temporal window they occupy. They flourish during the period beginning when the canopy-penetrating spring sun warms the soil and ending when overstory tree foliage prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor. Spring floods this year punctuated the brief optimal period. Such are the vagaries of ephemeral gardening and spring field trips.

 

Among the plentiful trilliums, I spotted Virginia saxifrage (left) and rue anemone strutting their stuff.

 

Bristly buttercup (left) and blue phlox also welcomed me with a little strutting of their own.

 

Because I had not yet reached full woods-worthy rambling recovery from my January 23, 2024 knee surgery, I sauntered cautiously, wary of tripping vines and hidden depressions, taking care, too, not to exceed my still limited strength and endurance. I know that I could have catalogued dozens of wildflower species with a deeper exploration. Next spring!!

 

Panoply of Routine Spring Woodland Delights

 

I have never followed or even cared to know much about fashion of the human apparel kind. Instead, I wish you good luck prying me away from Nature’s seasonal garb. Every year she demonstrates mastery of the hues, tones, and incalculable shades of spring greenery. By mid-April she drapes fields, forests, meadows, and marshes with verdant wonder, color varieties in excess of known monikers. I’ve tried year after year to photographically capture the green varietal splendor, yet I fall short of target. Instead, I focus the camera on the sublime moss skirts, a routine woodland delight accented by spring rains, and common across our forests.

 

My Mom and her mother (Grandma Jacobs) fueled my youthful passion for plants, mainly flowering garden annuals. Little did I know that my enthusiasm would blossom into vocation, and lifelong avocation, oriented to trees and associated forest ecosystems. I never tire of musing on these vast three-dimensional living systems. The Sanctuary riparian trees reach 100 feet. The forest matrix and its life occupy 4,356,000 cubic feet per acre.  I gaze with wonder into the forest side-view (left) and vertically (right). A hint of green presages another routine spring woodland delight.

 

Woodland delights are hidden in plain sight for those who know where to seek them. Honey locust, a native hardwood tree, sports wicked looking compound thorns.

 

The species also offers a bark pattern I have yet to recognize reliably, sometimes smooth, ranging to rigid vertical plating. I can’t yet come upon a honey locust and immediately declare its identity with certainty unless, of course, I spot the compound thorns.

 

In contrast, persimmon bark reaches out to me even from a distance, its blocky nearly black stem shouting, “Hey you dim-witted old forester, it’s me…persimmon. You surely remember me, Diospyros virginiana!”

 

Some other common Sanctuary species suggest their identity by bark and form. American beech trees have smooth elephant hide bark and wide spreading crowns, even broader than an oak of similar trunk diameter. Each forest tree offers its unique personality, its individual woodland delight.

 

Spring delights come in many forms and appeal variably according to the interests and passions of the woods wanderer. Compound thorns, moss skirts, and elm fungus mushrooms represent points along the complex circle of life within the Sanctuary’s forest ecosystem. Any single riparian forest acre spreads its delight-bounty within a 4.356 million cubic foot magical kingdom. I wonder what I did not see. What did I miss?

 

How fortunate was I to stumble at eye level across this member of the fungi kingdom? It’s common name: deer vomit mushroom.

 

I found information worth sharing (itself a special delight) on an obscure website called Mushroom Monday:

Good afternoon, friends,

This week’s fungus looks like spray paint, and it’s not even just one fungus; it’s a plasmodial soup of several different fungi and microorganisms referred to by the vile (and bile) name “deer vomit” (Fusicola merismoides). I learned about this last Monday on the New York Mycological Society zoom ID session and then found it on Saturday during a chainsaw training class I took in the Catskills. Sometimes referred to as a “fungal volcano” or a “fungal potpourri”, this spring-time slime is often found on the cut limbs of trees and native grape vines (Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia).

Fun Facts

Every specimen of F. merismoides that has been DNA barcoded has come back with a different sequence which suggests that each slime is a unique complex of different organisms. Just like a snowflake, no two are the same. The orange color comes from the fungus Fusicolla merismoides (previously Fusarium merismoides), an ascomycete that consumes some of the other yeasts and microorganisms in the flux. The slime essentially has its own ecology where some species of fungi and microbes are growing symbiotically while some are parasitizing each other – but that’s not too different from what’s going on inside our own body.

 

I try to visit the Sanctuary every 2-3 months, monitoring change and discovering what Nature reveals. This trip proved especially rewarding. How else might I have encountered such a lovely example of a primordial soup; a fungal volcano!?

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static — the Sanctuary is in constant motion.
  • Open your eyes to the magic and wonder of such delights as a primordial soup or a fungal volcano!
  • Can you imagine a simple delight more magnificent than our prodigious spring ephemeral wildflowers!?

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.

 

 

Brief Form Post #29: Mid-March Attempt to Enter the Flint River-Flooded Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

I am pleased to add the 29th 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 a Flooded-Out Tour of the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Fellow Nature enthusiast Jim Chamberlain and I taught a spring term Huntsville, Alabama LearningQuest course on the Streams of Madison County. After the term ended, we hosted an unofficial field trip to the nearby Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary along the Flint River, on Saturday morning, March 16, 2024. The flooding Flint River secured the sanctity and solitude coveted by all Sanctuary wildlife residents, protecting them from our planned educational intrusion.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Among other topics we incorporated in our course, we spoke often of the tendency of our streams to flash with the heavy rains that treat our Cumberland Plateau region with 55-inches of rainfall annually. Wouldn’t you know it, a persistent front loaded with Gulf moisture dumped 2.34-inches the day before our outing. The flooding Flint River blocked our west-side entrance less that a quarter-mile from the Taylor Road parking lot.

 

The group posed in the photos above just in front of the red iron gate (see grandson Sam below during a far drier visit) where the trail takes visitors into the 400-acre floodplain Sanctuary.

Southern Sanctuary

 

Refusing to be deterred, we caravanned to the east entrance, where the Flint greeted us within sight of where we parked!

 

The still-rising River provided a clear signal that our Sanctuary sauntering would of necessity await a different stage in the life of the flashy Flint River.

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 31-second video before we departed for a substitute ramble along nearby Big Cove Creek Greenway:

 

I returned to the Sanctuary March 23, 2024, exploring a much more forgiving Sanctuary environment. I would have been at least knee deep looking northwest on the east entrance greenway 200 yards from where the group stood with the muddy floodwaters beyond, evidencing again the flashy nature of the Streams of Madison County.

 

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 Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, a book I rank as a premier collection of conservation and Nature-philosophy essays:

  • There are degrees and kinds of solitude. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness than I have.

 

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!

 

 

Post-Surgery Return to Nature Wanderings: Afternoon and Sunset at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park

The Healing Power of Nature

 

I offer this Great Blue Heron photo essay to symbolize celebration, perseverance, and progress. This is my initial first-hand Nature wandering since my January 23, 2024 total left knee replacement surgery. I’m officially no longer on the injured reserve roster! Judy and I stayed overnight on March 12, 2024, in one of the Lakeside Cottages at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park. Let me share reflections, observations, photographs, and one brief video from my Nature (and family) immersion that evening!

We checked in to the cottage by 3:00 PM. The deck stood 50 feet from the water’s edge. We quickly adjusted to the waterside tranquility. Long ago I realized that my taste in art preferred paintings that looked like photographs…and photographs that reminded me of paintings. The photograph at right met my criterion.

Joe WSP

 

The setting and mood brought John Muir’s wisdom to mind: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Accompanied by my soulmate and our two Alabama grandsons (Jack, 16, and Sam, almost 10), I felt the healing essence of The Nature of This Place coursing through all five portals: body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. My mental, emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual well-being soared!

A small dock provided a shoreline perch for recording this 32-second video at 4:14 PM, serving my intention of capturing at least one supplement to my routine still photos.

 

Joe Wheeler State Park encompasses approximately 2,500 acres bordering Lake Wheeler. The entire forested shoreline in these photos (4:18 PM) and in the video lies within the park. These photos represent Earth, Life, and Time, in combination imploring our obligation to practice informed and responsible Nature-Stewardship. This renewal visit to the Park, less than an hour’s drive from my home, corroborated my retirement mission and vision:

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.

JOE WSPJoe WSP

 

I recall the days (was it just weeks ago?!) when Judy and I would visit the Alabama grandsons from afar (we lived in Alaska when Jack was born). He and I would explore Nature, Jack clinging to my index finger as we strolled, or with him perched on my shoulders. I was then the larger, stronger, and more sure-footed of the two. Now, who leans upon and draws strength and stability from whom? Like everything else in Nature, the cycle of life spins. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Joe WSP

 

The cottages sit at the base of a forested hillside. Deer thrive throughout the Park, predictably emerging as the sun sinks (4:54 and 4:58 PM below) to feed on new spring greenery along the roads.

Joe WSP

 

The Park’s roads have a new surface, a macadam pavement composed of fifty percent traditional asphalt mixed with fifty percent shredded used tires. Funded by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the project exemplifies more responsible resource consumption and renewal, and cost reduction.

Joe WSP

 

Touring the Park, we counted 17 deer and spotted an immature bald eagle above the Day Use Area, we returned to our cottage to chronicle the waning day (6:23 PM) and witness the setting sun (6:43 PM).

Joe WSP

 

I’ve tapped the written wisdom of historic conservationists as I’ve progressed along my healing and recovery journey. Rachel Carson observed: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

Joe WSP

 

The photo below (7:05 PM), taken from the cottage’s gathering room, showcases the westward sunset-facing orientation. Weather permitting, occupants are assured a spectacular evening year-round, whether winter or summer solstice, irrespective of the 60-degree shift across the two extreme points of sunset (winter sinking 30 degrees south of due west: summer setting 30 degrees north of due west).

Joe WSP

 

I often turn to the extraordinary Nature wisdom that Leonardo da Vinci beautifully expressed more than 500 years ago: Vitality and beauty are gifts of Nature, for those who live according to its laws.

After sunset, we relocated to the grill, where we roasted marshmallows. I’ve learned that my iPhone camera harvests far more light than my naked eyes. Judy and the boys were quite difficult to see before snapping the image. The image translates nearly total darkness to evening’s gloaming.

Joe WSP

 

Friends visited us when we exited one final time to the deck. Two raccoons appeared, obviously demonstrating that they anticipated goodies from cottage occupants!

Joe WSP

 

As we settled into our comfortable beds, my mind roamed to an anonymous prayer I recently saw…a revised, Nature-oriented version of the “If I should die before I wake” recitation familiar to my youth.

If I should die before I wake
Is a certain prayer to make
But one should not make the mistake
To believe it is the only.


For if I should wake before I die
I would finally, truly, see the sky,
With stars, birds, leaves all wheeling by
And I would know completely:
All is holy

 

Its words and sentiment rang true during my re-emergence into the realm of recovery and renewed Nature wanderings.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • For if I should wake before I die; I would finally, truly, see the sky; With stars, birds, leaves all wheeling by; And I would know completely: All is holy
  • Vitality and beauty are gifts of Nature, for those who live according to its laws. (da Vinci)
  • Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. (Rachel Carson)

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

 

Joe WSP

 

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!

 

 

Triple Bypass Surgery Recovery at Tennessee’s Lake Norris: Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

July 7-14, 2023, I luxuriated (and began deep recovery from major surgery) in the blessed balms of healing Nature and nurturing family on Tennessee’s Lake Norris (TVA impoundment on the Clinch River). I gratefully opened all five personal portals to the powerful elixir: body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit!

Shedding the Shrouds of a Major Setback

 

Readers and followers by now know my tiresome tale of an early June 2023 failed stress test, June 15 shocking catheterization result (I’m a former competitive distance and marathon runner, damn it!), and June 19 triple bypass surgery. My surgeon released me from the hospital on June 26. Eleven days later (July 7) Judy and I departed for a long-planned, family-gathering vacation week at a rental house. The surgeon reluctantly granted passage…with a list of caveats, in accord with I maintained fidelity. Our kids, grandkids, and a total of 19 family members awaited the arrival of the recent patient.

Judy drove. I sat on the back seat with my right leg (from which surgeons had harvested a primary vein for the bypass) elevated, stopping every hour for me to stretch and walk. I wondered whether I would be reduced to a blubbering old fool upon arrival and reunion. I’ve learned that major surgery (in some ways a reminder of mortality) is as much an emotional ordeal as it is physical. My maudlin frailty did not erupt, yet stayed close at hand, likely evident to loved ones.

The week worked wonders. I’ve been promoting the theme of Nature-Inspired Life and Living since I began publishing these photo-essays. When I suffered a minor stroke (another major blow to the old athlete!) in April 2022, I added a second theme: Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing! The Lake Norris week gave me a full dose that I will cherish forever. I won’t weaken your resolve to read more of these Posts by identifying all family members, regaling you with their exploits, or droning on about the swelling in my right leg, the agony of sneezing, the difficulty of sleeping, and my reduced appreciation for food, etc.

Instead, consider this Post a portfolio of the week’s moments in Nature that lifted my soul, stirred my heart, and spurred me to appreciate life, living, today, tomorrow, and the people, places, and things that matter.

 

Arrival Nature Infusion

 

Here’s our arm of the Lake when we arrived at 5:56 PM July 7. My heart leapt.

 

Without narration, I recorded this 30-second video shortly after snapping the still photo above.

 

A Thundershower Boost

 

The next afternoon at 4:58 PM, I recorded this 28-second video of a thundershower. I am a lifelong weather enthusiast, unable to resist the thrill of fat raindrops and a rumble of thunder.

 

Daybreak Immersion and Lift

 

I can’t recall the last time I missed dawn. Nature offers a gift every time the sun lifts above the horizon. July 9 at 7:00 AM a few wisps of ridge-riding fog draped the nearby shallow ridges. Alto-cumulus graced the firmament above our inlet.

 

The sun lifted from behind the low ridge to our east at 7:43 and 7:46 AM July 9. How could anyone be disappointed with days that began with such beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration!?

 

I frequently cite the timeless wisdom of John Muir, who often encapsulated my own sentiments in words far grander than I could ever achieve:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

Mid-morning the same day I photographed the striking blue flowers of chicory and the delicate foliage of mimosa.

 

Virginia pines stood as foreground to the ridge-view across the inlet at 9:21 AM. Clouds still clung to the Cumberland Mountains (right at ~2,500 feet) at 9:26 AM.

 

Venturing Onto the Lake

 

Still July 9, I ventured onto the lake in our pontoon boat. The clouds had thickened (non-threatening) by 9:54 AM. I love water, trees, and clouds…and a boat filled with loving family!

 

I recorded this 31-second video to add depth and substance to my still photos.

 

The days raced along. A green heron visited near the dock on July 11 at 10.25 AM. Although the great blue heron is my signature avian avatar, I love this second cousin. How kind of it to stop by, perch for several minutes, and then depart. Although I did not photograph any great blues, we saw a dozen or more during our week.

 

July 11, I ventured back onto the Lake, capturing these images at 11:06 and 11:13 AM. Dead-fall along shoreline on the left adds character and texture to the scene. My forester’s eye stays riveted both on the immediate shore, then lifts to the ridges near at hand and the mountains at distance. I find fascination with the manner in which tree roots anchor to the layered rocks at right.

 

Sunset Cruise

 

My early morning ramblings did not dissuade me from a sunset cruise July 11. On the west side of the Eastern time zone, at 8:12 and 8:29 PM, the evening sky remains bright just three weeks after the solstice. Shadows are lengthening and deepening by the latter window, in both of these views to the east.

 

Here are the same two times (8:12 and 8:29 PM) looking to the west, the sun dipping to the tree line on the right.

 

This 18-second sunset video sweep captures the sunset magic more effectively.

 

I mused often that just three weeks prior I lay deep within what a Mended Heart volunteer at the hospital described as a dark tunnel. A day or two out of the ICU, with chest drains still connected and the entire ordeal shrouded in mental fog, I wondered whether I would ever emerge. My visitor said, “You will see daylight beyond the darkness. Bright skies; warm breezes; birdsong; hope and promise. This current pit of mental anguish is temporary. Hold on; have faith; be strong; dedicate yourself to recovery.” The Lake at sunset proved him right. The coming night porteneded a far different nature of darkness than what the immediate surgery aftermath imposed.

I sensed a type of rebirth with the entire ordeal, including the surge of renewal that accompanied my week at the Lake with family. The views east and west at 8:32 and 8:35 PM brought the promise of a night enriched by the warmth of family, a campfire with s’mores, and a new dawn ahead.

 

I hold dearly to my photo-essay mantras: Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!

Once again, Muir captured the essence of my healing week:

The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.

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

The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

 

I am encouraged by the wisdom, knowledge, and passion of a handful of dedicated nature enthusiasts who are Naturalists with the Alabama State Parks System. Foremost among them is Renee Simmons Raney, Chief of Interpretation and Education. Renee posted the following on her FaceBook site this morning (August 15, 2023) as I drafted this photo-essay, which you have just perused, on my own healing journey:

Emerson said, “Happiness is not in another place — it is in THIS place. Not for another hour, but THIS hour.” We have a tendency to look ahead and we are driven toward tomorrow. I recall lessons on Cheaha mountain as a child at the knee of my Daddy. He taught me in the ways of our ancestors, Cherokee and Hebrew: to sit very still, to listen, to look, to smell and to be very ware…out of the stillness comes a symphony of life: all around me and within me. This lesson is for everyone in every moment no matter where you are or what is happening. Be still. Be ware. Find your peace. Discover your joy. Ease into your healing. It doesn’t depend on someone else. It is right there-a little spark inside of you. Cherish it. Nurture it. Breathe in and feel it grow. Be still and know that I AM. (Psalm 46:10)

My Great Blue Heron website extolls what I term the four levels of fitness:

  • Four levels of fitness – I urge readers to recognize the critical nature of their own four-dimensional fitness, even as they understand that capacity, performance, fulfillment, and enjoyment correlate with health and well-being. That maintaining fitness across all four fronts enhances a person’s ability to perform and draw satisfaction and fulfillment:
    1. Mental – acuity and sharpness
    2. Physical – health and vitality
    3. Emotional – friends, family, colleagues
    4. Spiritual – embrace of a presence larger than self

The four levels are critical, I’ve learned, to both maintaining the status quo…and to recovering from significant setbacks. Renee’s text amplifies the fourth level: Be still and know that I AM!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Thanks to family and Nature, I’ve emerged from the post-surgery darkness of a foreboding tunnel.
  • The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls! (John Muir)
  • Nature’s “grand show is eternal.” (John Muir)
  • Be still and know that I AM! (Psalm 46:10)

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 grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

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

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.