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Education and Interpretation: Adding Value to Experiencing Alabama’s State Parks

 

A lifetime Nature enthusiast, I retired and we relocated to Madison, Alabama in 2018 to be near our daughter and her two sons.  We viewed this relocation as the final of 13 interstate moves across our careers. As I adjusted to retirement, a small group of committed volunteers invited me to join their fledgling efforts to create the Alabama State Parks Foundation. I am a founding member of the ASPF Board. Since our first quarterly meeting, I have championed the cause of increasing the Park System’s capacity to perform the third of its three major functions: First, to acquire and preserve natural areas; second, to develop, furnish, operate, and maintain recreational facilities; and third, to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

At the outset of my involvement, the System had staff naturalists at only Guntersville, DeSoto, Cheaha, and Gulf State Parks. The System now has dedicated naturalists at eleven parks, some of which have one or more assistant naturalists.

 

Early Introduction to Alabama State Park Naturalists

 

I am grateful for the gracious introductions to Guntersville, DeSoto, Gulf, and Cheaha State Parks that Naturalists Mike Ezell (retired), Britney Hughes, Kelly Reetz, and Mandy Pearson (elsewhere employed), respectively, shared with me. Consummate, dedicated, and passionate educators and interpreters one and all. I learned so very much…and continue to learn each time I interact with Alabama’s best and brightest!

Mike Ezell on an early morning above fog-draped Guntersville Lake. Britney Hughes leading us on a rain-enhanced tour of DeSoto rock formations.

 

 

 

Kelly Reetz standing at the gateway to the Gulf State Park Pier. Mandy Pearson welcoming me to the Cheaha Interpretive Center at Cheaha Lake.

Gulf State

 

My retirement 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.) meshes well with the Park System’s education and interpretation objectives.

On May 7, 2024 I accepted an invitation to join Naturalists Renee Raney (Park System Chief of Education and Interpretation), Amber Coger (Northwest District Naturalist), Jennings Earnest (Joe Wheeler State Park Naturalist), and contracted writer Jeff Emerson to provide Jeff with insight to the practice, philosophy, and substance of State Park education and interpretation.

Joe WSP

 

Here’s my 32-second video of the group under the Day Use Area pavilion at Joe Wheeler State Park:

 

[Note: Soul Grown published Jeff’s resultant article June 17, 2024: https://soul-grown.com/natures-wonder-book-alabama-state-parks-educate-and-inspire/]

Renee and I connected at Joe Wheeler SP September 19, 2023, to record a brief video promoting a University of Alabama in Huntsville OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course on Alabama State Parks we would be teaching during the 2023 fall term.

Joe WSP

 

We also recorded this 60-second video introducing Renee as the first-ever State Parks Chief of Education and Interpretation.

 

 

 

Renee’s passion for immersing children of all ages in Nature is limitless.

Renee

 

Nature education and interpretation is a contact sport!

Renee

 

Renee leads by example; her methods are contagious!

 

Words of Wisdom from from Some Epic American Conservationists

 

I am not alone nor am I the first person addicted to Nature education, interpretation, and study. I take great comfort in knowing that conservation giants long ago clearly stated the themes, constructs, and wisdom that came to me only over a five-decade career. The quotations below are not intended to be exhaustive, but only representative.

Theodore Roosevelt encapsulated the essential and necessary intended purpose of Alabama State Park education and interpretation:

It is an incalculable added pleasure to anyone’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.

 

Teddy’s insight could stand alone, yet there are others who helped weave the tapestry of Nature education and interpretation. Every State Park naturalist I have met is familiar with the Nature education and interpretation quilt and these significant conservationists.

Aldo Leopold, a mid-Twentieth Century forester and wildlife biologist, the author of A Sand County Almanac, wrote lyrically and philosophically:

  • Education (formal), I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.
  • Is education (formal) possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?
  • The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

John Muir quotes from 150 years ago:

  • I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.
  • The power of imagination makes us infinite.

Einstein, to the dismay of many who know him only for his genius in physics and the philosophy of science, contributed to beautiful weaving that tells the story, wonder, magic, awe, and inspiration of Nature:

  • Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
  • All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.
  • He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
  • Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
  • The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
  • The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.

 

Sauntering as a Technique for Experiencing and Learning from Nature

 

John Muir stands tall as an American conservationist and contemporary of Teddy Roosevelt. He echoed the sentiment I have expressed frequently in these Great Blue Heron photo essays: I hike the forest immersed in its essence, rather than rush through the forest intent upon reaching a destination.

  • HikingI don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher, likewise embraced sauntering.

  • It is a great art to saunter!
  •  In his essay “Walking,” Thoreau emphasized the importance of sauntering and connecting with nature. For him, walking was a way to discover oneself, break free from societal constraints, and experience the world more authentically.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • A contemporary of Thoreau, Emerson had a fascinating perspective on sauntering. In his essay “Literary Ethics,” he discussed the concept of sauntering, which he also refers to as “sauntering of the afternoon.”

    Emerson believed that proper walking, or sauntering, goes beyond mere physical movement. It requires leaving everything behind and fully immersing oneself in the experience of the walk. Sauntering means forgetting the town, avoiding the well-defined road, and embracing the moment. It’s about being present and receptive to the world around us, rather than following a predetermined path.

    So, I suggest next time you take a leisurely stroll, consider sauntering—let go of expectations, embrace spontaneity, and allow the experience to unfold naturally.

Jack Phillips, a naturalist, nature writer, and practicing arboricultural consultant, wrote in A Pocket Guide to Sauntering:

  • On May 1st, 1857, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau went for a walk in the woods. Each of them mentioned that walk in their journals but described completely different experiences. Thoreau wrote about his cleverness in fashioning a specimen box from birch bark and didn’t have much to say about his companion. Emerson, on the other hand, praised Thoreau for his cleverness in his journal entry and hoped that their walk together would heal a rift in their friendship. He envisioned a new collaboration: “We will make a book on walking, ’tis certain, & have easy lessons for beginners. Walking in Ten Lessons.” Ralph and Henry never wrote such a book. So the task fell to me. A Pocket Guide to Sauntering draws on the journals and essays of Emerson and Thoreau. Sauntering as a way of walking originates with Thoreau; New Tree School has clarified and adapted his philosophy. The Pocket Guide states that: “A saunter, properly undertaken, explores inner landscapes as well as the terrain being traversed. It is introspective while being shaped by the lay of the land.”

 

New Naturalists’ Enthusiasm and Passion

 

I recorded brief videos to introduce Jennings Earnest and Amber Coger. Video of Jennings:

 

Fun is an essential element of learning!

 

Video of Amber:

 

Amber carries her passion for environmental education and interpretation on her sleeve:

The reason why I still pursue this dream (environmental education and interpretation as a career) so fervently is because I truly feel like I am making a difference with our future generations. If one student that I have taught goes on to become a scientist or an environmental educator, I will feel that my life’s work is truly worth something. We spend so much of our time trudging away at our jobs, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to have a career that makes an impact for the better. Environmental Educators can truly make a difference. We aren’t in this field for the money, but the rewards we get from our work daily make us so much richer than those in the most financially lucrative of careers.

Sharing knowledge with kindred souls adds value to learning!

Amber

 

I met with then new naturalist Dylan Ogle last November at Wind Creek State Park. This brief video captures Dylan’s enthusiasm and love for the park and his new assignment:

 

Dylan, Jennings, Amber, and Renee remind me of the unfathomable joy I felt for each career step along my 50-year professional journey. I never held a job I didn’t love, even the tough ones and the stressful times. I never experienced a job-related misery that a trip into Nature could not dissipate.

 

I have said often to educators across my career, “People don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care.” I asked an accompanying graduate student her impression of a lecture I had just given on Timber Taxation during my Penn State University tenure. She responded honestly, “Dull and uninspiring.” I decided then that dull and uninspiring does little to promote learning. Renee, Amber, Jennings, and Dylan bring excitement, passion, and enthusiasm to education and interpretation!

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature education and interpretation are best performed at a sauntering pace.
  • We sauntered if for no purpose other than to discover what we did not anticipate.
  • Sauntering through the forest we discovered treasures sufficient to extend the day and multiply our delight.
  • I pity those trail travelers busied with digital devices and content only to count their steps.

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 # 33: Mid-April Tree Form Oddities and Curiosities at Alabama’s Joe Wheeler State Park!

I am pleased to add the 33rd 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 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 — this Post
  3. Lakeside forest panoply
  4. Dawn from the Lodge docks

 

Tree Form Curiosities and Oddities

 

I arrived early enough on April 17, to saunter three miles on the Awesome Trail, departing from and returning to the boat landing parking lot. I employ the term saunter to emphasize the deliberate, observant pace I choose, electing to walk in Nature rather than dashing through her wildness. My intent is to look, see, and feel her beauty, magic, awe, and inspiration.

The coarse, tortured crown of the white oak near a bird blind caught my eye, drawing me closer.

Joe WSP

 

A long-ago snapped branch on the right fork left a gaping mouth, where the tree is attempting and failing to callous over the old wound. Pursed lips seem to speak to those who saunter with eyes wide open, finding the visual gifts in plain sight. A hiker hellbent on covering the distance from the boat landing to the marina will certainly miss the tree shouting to be seen and heard.

 

A trailside hickory likewise sported an old branch scar, its “O” mouth callousing in feeble effort to close the wound, which beckons squirrels, birds, and other critters seeking shelter and dens.

 

 

This much smaller hickory peephole appears to be closing, and likely will unless a squirrel or woodpecker can hold the callousing at bay.

Joe WSP

 

The sugar maple sapling, which is the same age as the oak and hickory overstory, supported a spiraled vine for decades, leaving the permanent imprint of its grasp. The vine is long since deceased and decayed. Sugar maple is shade tolerant and can persist in the under- and mid-story for decades, awaiting a major disturbance to blow down and lay flat the main canopy, exposing the maple to full sunlight and opening a portal to its evolutionarily response and emergence into the upper canopy of the next forest..

Joe WSP

 

 

I encountered this mossy mid-canopy hickory, a headless silhouette ready to wrap its branch-arms around some hapless and careless woods-wanderer. I had stayed alert during my saunter and was not startled by its sudden trailside appearance. Pity the poor through-hiker who may have fared less well…but then that person would not have been startled by the unseen mossy forest denizen!

Joe WSP

 

As a former practicing forester in south central Alabama (early to mid 1980s), I used prescribed fire as a forest management tool across thousands of acres. Ever on the alert for signs, I spotted charred bark on the loblolly pine (left) and the hickory. I know our State Park personnel occasionally employ fire, explaining why the Awesome Trail stands are free of extensive ground cover and jungle-like understory.

Joe WSPJoe WSP

 

 

The graffiti-riddled American beech is not a tree form curiosity. Instead, it is an eyesore, a not-so-subtle reminder that human vanity is a powerful and disturbing force, one that brings some visitors to deface a feature of natural beauty that attracts the vast majority of us to Nature. The same can be said of those who discard candy wrappers, drink bottles, and cigarette butts!

Joe WSP

 

Respectable saunterers and Nature enthusiasts Leave No Trace Behind beyond a footprint or two!

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:

It is a great art to saunter!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2023 Red Oak Lightning Strike Revisited May 2024!

Discovering A Lightning-Struck Mighty Oak

 

I often discover evidence of Nature’s fury when I wander the forests of northern Alabama. I conduct forensic forestry, mentally recreating the time and nature of the circumstances and events leading to what lies before me. This photo essay reports a situation I encountered on September 16, 2023, offers my reflections and follows with my subsequent observations and photographs from my return visit on May 28, 2024.

On September 16, 2023, I visited the riparian forest along HGH Road in Madison County’s central reaches of Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Always on the alert for signs of Nature’s forces at work, I found this 30-inch diameter red oak struck by lightning in the prior week’s thunderstorms. Bark stripped from ground to canopy top, spears of trunk surface wood shattered, the tree expresses the unfathomable power of a single lightning bolt.

HGH Road

 

The oak’s foliage high above me showed no sign of wilting, suggesting that the tree could survive. Time would tell. I’ve seen trees scarred from base to crown that survived a powerful strike decades ago. How will this one fare?

This 31-second video hints at the violent underside of Nature’s incredible magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration. I am convinced that to fully appreciate Nature’s beauty, we must sense, comprehend, understand, and witness the beast. Two sides of the same coin: Beauty and the Beast! I believe the strike will prove fatal. I’ve noted its location so that I may return to confirm its fate…or survival.

 

Assessing the Oak’s Fate Eight Months Hence

 

After the intervening dormant season, I returned to the once mighty oak May 28, 2024. I approaches the tree with baited breath. The tree stands as tall as it did in September. At first glance it remains a monarch, its 30-inch diameter larger than any of its neighbors.

HGH

 

Its scarred and stripped bark reaches, as it did in September, from its base to the crown.

 

However, the crown is barren. I feel a sense of loss that the tree did not survive the fatal blast. A weak counter to my feeling of loss is the faint satisfaction that my September prediction of demise bore true. I hope I am not projecting a sense of disciplinary (forestry) smugness in the photograph at right.

HGH

HGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forestry is a science. Forestry practice (forest management) involves both art and science. The art involves seeing what is objectively and quantitatively unknowable. I brought a lifetime of forestry science and practice to my September assessment, yet I visited the oak in May absolutely uncertain of what I would find. What I do know is that Nature operates according to laws established by forces existing long before man walked on Earth. Leonardo da Vinci observed that obvious truth 500 years ago:

Nature never breaks her own laws.

The oak could not counter Nature’s own laws. All of us who practice forestry and applied ecology (my disciplinary fields; BS and PhD) must remember that Nature rules. Our education and knowledge are limited; we can never know all. Although I got this one correct (i.e. the tree died), I am far from all-knowing. Regardless, I will continue to play the forestry forensics game. I will win some; I will lose many. As a consequence of engaging, I will learn and perhaps improve my batting average.

Albert Einstein echoed the advice I have self-adopted:

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

I focused my first book, Nature Based Leadership, on the lessons Nature offers for leading. My second book, Nature Inspired Learning and Leading, suggests applying her wisdom to both leading and learning. I believe that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is written indelibly in and is inspired compellingly by Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature never breaks her own laws. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. (Albert Einstein)
  • Our education and knowledge are limited; we can never know all. (Yours truly)

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 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

 

HGH

 

 

My first three 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. The three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship with the natural world…and the broader implications for society. Order any of the three from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

My fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story, is available for purchase directly from me.

 

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!

 

 

Early January Winter Grey Exploration at Marbut Bend Trail along Alabama’s Elk River!

On January 4, 2024, Judy and I explored the trails at TVA’s Marbut Bend along the Elk River just upstream from its juncture with the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler). This Post highlights the grey winter delights across the marshes, along the boardwalks, through the mudflats, and to the shoreline of the Elk River.

Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe can penetrate even a dense low overcast, cold northeasterly wind, and the dull grey of a winter marshland morning. I recalled the mid-summer contrast of the bright sun, persistent heat, whining insects, and crushing humidity. I embrace winter’s North Alabama touch, even when it hurries us into the wind and back to the car. Although I love the tirelessly explosive vegetative growth during our humid sub-tropical summers, I relish our brief deep winter season of dormancy and blessed plant rest. I find exquisite beauty in a dark early January day. At this latitude, we will gain 30 minutes of additional daylight during January, a clear signal that the Earth is spinning us toward spring. I appreciate the bleak underbelly of a winter day in this region…a northern Alabama region that will soon offer a spectacular spring regrowth!

 

The Marshes

 

I’m a sucker for boardwalk trails that invite me to explore ecosystems otherwise inaccessible. These marshlands have deep saturated and seasonally flooded mucky soils. They are capable of sucking boots from a human intruder’s feet. More importantly, such a booted biped invader could perpetrate lasting damage to these fragile ecosystems.

 

As a veteran of 13 interstate moves, I retired to north Alabama to be near our daughter and her two sons. We’ve lived previously in several northern zones (Pennsylvania; Upstate New York twice; Ohio; New Hampshire; Alaska), where real winter weather visits and often is reluctant to leave. I’ve mentioned to many northern friends that winter drops into our north Alabama region occasionally, but that generally our winter amounts to an autumn that slowly transitions to spring. I mention that now to admit that our morning at Marbut Bend chilled me to the core. Temperature in the low 30s; persistent breeze from the northeast; harsh dampness; low stratus blocking even a hope for the sun’s warming glow; a deep bleakness. Okay, I won’t continue beating this dead horse. I will return again this winter when warmer weather and bright sun will permit (even encourage) lingering to truly enjoy the sight, sound, and other treats of this magnificent ecosystem.

Here’s my 45-second video from the boardwalk near trailhead.

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved cattails, a plant common in wetland and marshes across North America. Growing up in western Maryland, I knew the plant as cat-o-nine tail, a moniker I have not heard here in north Alabama. We referred to the still closed seedheads as torches. Even during those adolescent years, I knew the torches were seedheads, and I understood that their winter disintegration released untold legions of seed.

 

As we penetrated more deeply into the preserve via the boardwalk, I recorded this 40-second video.

 

The ice along the marsh corroborates my claim of deep chill. I admit, however, that I failed to don adequate winter gear, of which I have ample and appropriate from days living far to the north. I knew better…and deserved to suffer the consequences of being under-dressed!

 

I like Marbut Bend Preserve’s diverse habitats, including this pine stand on an upland strip separating wetlands from an meadow visible beyond the pine stand. I applaud TVA managers for employing prescribed fire to maintain the pine cover and prevent hardwood from encroaching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elk River

 

We moved beyond the upland meadow to cross another boardwalk segment that reached across a mudflat where an oak had fallen during the summer while still in leaf. The mudflat expresses the TVA’s practice of holding the winter pool at Lake Wheeler at five feet below full, allowing storage space to abate downstream flooding from heavy seasonal rain. Although Marbut Bend fronts the Elk River, we are proximate to where the Elk enters the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler), thus the Elk level here is consonant with Wheeler Lake. At summer levels this boardwalk will cross a side arm of the Elk.

 

These views look both ways from the boardwalk, which in summer will be open water.

 

Here’s a view ahead to the Elk River. The boardwalk’s terminal deck is visible to the left.

 

These two photographs view the Elk in both directions from the deck (upstream left).

 

I recorded this 52-second video from the deck along the river.

 

John Muir captured the elegance of water in its river form:

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

I couldn’t resist this closer look into the shallow water in the mud flat. I expected greater evidence of more robust life. Instead, excepting scattered patches of green growth, the flat appears barren. As a terrestrial biologist (a forester), I have little insight to offer.

 

The Field

 

As we reentered the field habitat, Judy snapped this assemblage of vines, a fungi-infected suspended branch, a brown discarded leaf, and the bark of a standing tree trunk. The photograph and Judy’s interest reminds me that every element of Nature tells a story.

 

Yet another habitat type, the field completes the rich ecological tapestry of Marbut Bend, stretching from Route 99, the state highway fronting the property’s east side, back to the forest edge along the Elk River. I am curious how TVA intends to maintain the meadow. Rather than speculate, I leave you with these images and the video below. My hope is that TVA will manage the field as grassland, encouraging native meadow and grassland plant species and the wildlife drawn to such habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 41-second video from mid field:

 

We walked onto an octagonal wooden deck behind a wooded edge to the south. As with several other points along the Marbut Bend Trail, I would like to have sat on one of the benches to observe the comings and goings of life, hear the rustling breeze, and identify the calls of birds. Again, I dressed inadequately for the morning jaunt. I vow to return when life and warmth return.

 

The deck reaches into a sizeable mudflat.

I recorded this 41-second 360-degree video from the deck:

 

Warm weather and a return to summer pool level of Lake Wheeler will treat observers to a surrounding lake from this vantage point.

 

Marsh, meadow, mudflat, the river, upland forest, and riparian hardwood quilt the habitats that compose the Marbut Bend Tapestry. Rare is the local Nature enthusiast who is familiar with Marbut Bend. Perhaps my photo essay will draw a few more visitors to this rich ecosystem quilt.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s local menu lists a veritable banquet of habitat selections.
  • I love the Marbut Bend dormant season with magical views across the marshes, wetlands, mudflats, fields, and the river itself.
  • Each visit whets my appetite for a return, especially when spring triggers new life…and promises warmer days.

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

 

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

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

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

 

A reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Brief Form Post #31: Borden Creek Trail within the Sipsey Wilderness on Bankhead NF!

I am pleased to add the 31st of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my December 5, 2023, Excursion to Borden Creek in the Sipsey Wilderness!

 

I’m dipping into early winter 2023 with this Brief-Form Post. 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. Because I was unable to navigate the more difficult Sipsey Creek Trail, we decided to hike the old forest road leading to Borden Creek. I enjoyed the easy sauntering and the Nature we encountered along the way.

 

The road and its curved and banked bridge pre-dates the Sipsey Wilderness designation. The bridge provided an ideal location to pause and reflect on my ambulatory frustration, contemplate the looming surgery, and give thanks for being able to experience this lovely place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recorded this 32-second video from the old bridge:

 

I’m writing this text the second week of May, 2024, three-plus months beyond my left knee replacement. The many weeks of intensive physical therapy, countless hours of walking, and strengthening at the gym have paid dividends. The determination spurred by scenes like the one below led me to full recovery.

 

Now I await what could be my total right knee replacement in August. As the surgery date approaches I’ll revisit this Post to give hope and encouragement. I may even revisit Borden Creek for a spiritual boost…an emotional elixir.

 

Blue sky, full winter dormancy, and the sweet sound of flowing water filled my soul. Life is good when Nature surrounds and comforts us.

 

Always on the lookout for interesting natural phenomena, I spotted this upper canopy oak with a lightning scar extending from the ground as far as I could see into the crown. The bole has long since decayed…the tree is little more that a hemispheric rind of living wood, somehow supporting the mass of trunk and crown.

 

 

Although not necessarily a phenomenon, this moss-draped log on an otherwise barren forest floor, accented by the persistent oakleaf hydrangea leaf, caught my attention.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from John Muir, whose timeless Nature observations have brightened my life time and again:

  • Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.

 

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!

 

 

Brief-Form #30: Dormant Marshland at Marbut Bend Trail along Alabama’s Elk River!

On January 4, 2024, Judy and I explored the trails at TVA’s Marbut Bend along the Elk River upstream from its juncture with the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler). This Brief-Form Post highlights the grey winter delights across the marshes that Marbut Bend Trail transits. No winter sunshine brightened the bleak winter morning. The temperature hovered near freezing, a consistent breeze sharpened the damp chill. I regretted not layering a hooded sweatshirt. Although we resided for four years in the brutal cold of Fairbanks, Alaska, we left that domicile 16 years ago. Yet I stubbornly, if not foolishly, cling to the fantasy that I remain cold weather hardened. At the ripe old age of 72 years, my blood and its tolerance to cold have thinned consistent with my current residential latitude of 34.71 degrees North, a far cry from Fairbanks’ 64.84 North!

 

Grey winter delights? Surely I jest. The day is drab. Only a hint of green punctuates the meadows. Even the loblolly pine appears more black than green on this colorless, heavily clouded morn. I recorded this 360 degree 45-second video across the seeming barren landscape. Seeming barren, yes, but life abounds. The video captures a few plaintive bird whisperings, as though the sources were reluctant to express their joy of life so distant from the spring equinox.

 

The weathered boardwalk reached behind me (below left) to a near-vanishing point at the roadside trailhead, invisible beyond the copse of loblolly pine trees. A deciduous forest rises with the hillside beyond the pine and across the hidden highway. The grey planks extend beyond me to another stand of pine (below right), where the trail veers to the left before continuing to yet another boardwalk that crosses an extensive mudflat to the Elk River.

 

I feigned physical comfort in my pose below left. My teeth chattered and my left hand clutched the trekking pole longing for the gloves I left in the car! Mostly out of sight, small birds skittered among the cattails surviving on seeds. I wondered what other small creatures foraged beneath the radar on this crisp sunless morning.

 

Marsh-water ice corroborated the chill, and accented the mood. I’ve observed often in my essays that nothing in Nature is static. Return to Marbut Bend a dozen times…she will show a dozen faces, each one distinct and worth the trip. The most favorable mood would not be nearly as precious absent the contrasting memory of such a morning as January 4, 2024!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America)

 

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 Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), a modern day realist painter, who I believe would have appreciated and amplified the stark winter magic of Marbut Bend:

  • I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.

 

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.