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Perpetual Wasteland or Future Preserve: Madison, Alabama’s Abandoned Limestone Quarry

My total left knee replacement (January 23, 2024) healed enough by April 26, to allow me to comfortably explore old access roads on Madison, Alabama’s long abandoned limestone quarry, a site proposed by Madison Trails and Greenways (MTG) as a potential Nature Preserve. I snapped photographs and recorded a 60-second video of the old quarry. When I returned home I found excellent photos depicting Nature’s tireless revegetation of the abused and savaged land at the quarry’s periphery. I also discovered that my iPhone had recorded the 60-second video in a 5-minute slow-motion format! I returned on May 28 to record another quarry video, snap a few photos of additional wildflowers, and record a second video of a stripped and vacant operational area on the outlet’s lower slope below the quarry.

 

 

Some of my MTG colleagues view the site’s preserve potential through rose-colored glasses. I visited the property prepared to assess it objectively and dispassionately. Once in my younger professional years, I was directly responsible for my employer’s (Union Camp Corporation) 500 square miles (320,000 acres) of south-central Alabama forestland, a majority untouched by attempted domestication as pasture or cropland, much less stripped of overburden, deeply scarred by quarrying, and with roads, dozing, and cement-dumping across much of the area we traversed. I tried to see the property without bias, yet I admit skepticism regarding categorizing a savaged abused land as a Nature Preserve.

I will attempt to reflect on the quarry in light of a potential refuge in a county rapidly developing with residential, commercial, and industrial expansion. Perhaps a 66 acre property, severely disturbed as it is, can serve a useful role in recreation, conservation, and Nature education and interpretation.

I divided this photo essay into presenting the actual quarry and reflecting on Nature’s attempt to revegetate the abused land, which prior to the quarry cutting and lifting the first block of limestone was a Madison County forested hilltop. Questions I have not answered include:

  1. Who operated the quarry?
  2. Beginning when?
  3. Ending when?
  4. Quality of the limestone removed?

 

Fascinating and Colorful Background

 

My efforts to uncover historic information on the quarry’s operations fell far short of my target.

Instead, I found this undated text from a website on Alabama diving:

Once closed to diving, Madison Quarry, which is best known for its sunken Minuteman Missile, is a fantastic place to visit.  Located Southwest of Huntsville and maintained by a shop called Better Divers, this beautiful quarry is surrounded by soaring cliffs and has lots to see underwater, including an F-4 Phantom jet, a titan missile nose cone, houseboats and other boats, a pickup truck, a fire truck, and more. There are lines installed for controlled swimming ascents, plus there is a shallow confined water area for training.  Maximum depth is 55 feet, but average depth is just 40 feet.  Visibility is normally between 20 and 30 feet, and temperatures are normally in the 70’s during the summer months.  You’ll find catfish and grass carp, brim, koi, and bass here, along with the occasional harmless freshwater jellyfish.  Topside amenities are numerous, including a snack shop with hot food, changing rooms and restrooms, air fills, and more.  Madison Quarry is open on weekends between May 1 through October 31st; if you have a group that wants to dive on a weekday, you can make an appointment to do so.

And from another website:

Rock Divers Madison Quarry is a shore accessible fresh water dive site, located in Madison, AL. This dive site has an average rating of 3.67 out of 5 from 9 scuba divers. The maximum depth is 31-35ft/9-11m. The average visibility is 11-15ft/3-5m. This dive site provides bathrooms and airfills. Training platforms are available.

Madison Alabama – The city owns it and there’s a guy who leases it and charges to dive there.

Water visibility varies from 20 to 40 feet depending upon “new” divers in the water and rainfall. Water temperature is usually hovers between mid 60’s and 70’s year round with a normal low in winter of 50 to a high of 85 in the summer. The Park has a Full Service Dive Shop offering SCUBA classes, equipment rental, air, and equipment sales. Facilities include underwater training platforms, a 30-foot houseboat, 36 foot-long steel bridge, 30 foot NASA Space Station Module, and other sunken relics such as various NASA hardware, a City of Madison Truck, numerous smaller boats and a U. S. Air Force F4 Fighter.

 

My April 26 and May 28, 2024 Visits

 

The green-shaded area below my perch 70 feet above is shallow water tinted with algae and sediment. The 30-35-foot deeper water appears nearly black in the image at right. The immediate foreground and at least an acre on this side of the rim area, including portions of the access roads, seems to have served as a dumping area for cement trucks left at the end of a shift with cement not distributed on a delivery site. The site reminds me of  hardened lava overflow near a volcano, Nature’s example of severe disturbance. Importantly, Nature has limitless time; she’s in no hurry to develop a Nature Preserve in a north Alabama urbanizing environment.

I see safety hazards wherever my eyes roam. Granted, the Grand Canyon presents precipitous overlooks where visitors could tumble thousands of feet. The chain link fence along the quarry perimeter is there for a reason. What is the cost of protecting visitors and indemnifying the City or MGT?

 

I must admit that the quarry is oddly hypnotizing with its diving days halcyon history and its exotic beauty.

Here is my May 28, 60-second video:

 

I found a better overlook viewpoint during our May perimeter circuit. You may think I crossed  over a damaged part of the perimeter fence to get an unobstructed perspective. Those of you who know me would not accuse me of such ill-advised behavior!

 

Nor would you expect such a thing from Brian Conway, a fellow MGT Board member.

 

The north rim access road leads to a communication tower. Power lines service the tower. Picture this road as one of the hiking trails. See the perimeter fence to the right. Yes, that’s the perimeter fence that Brian and I did not violate!

 

The microwave tower lends a space age dimension to the ancient quarry.

 

 

Nature’s Healing Ways

 

Although the quarry struck me as a curiosity, a relic of man’s dependence on Nature and her diverse natural resources, I focused both excursions on Nature’s efforts to heal wounds. Nature does abhor a vacuum, her relentless attempt to revegetate abused land as an example.

Decades ago quarry operators lined the access road with a levy of boulders opposite the quarry edge. Eastern red cedar, a classic pioneer species, colonized the berm above the road. Birds consume the cedar fruits; their digestive juices scarify the seed coat; the birds dutifully deposits the seeds during their rounds, in this case in brush along the road.

 

Princess tree, Paulownia tomentosa, is a pioneer invasive (Asian), adept at colonizing edge habitat. The species showcased its blue flowers during the April visit.

 

The April Flowers had transformed to green seed pods by the end of May. I discovered a discarded stem of last year’s seed pods (right). Pioneer species are adept at prodigious seed production, effective seed dispersal, and a demand for germination and growth dependent upon full sunshine.

 

Tree of heaven is yet another invasive early stage successional tree species, an exceptionally fast grower that colonizes readily, grows rapidly, and eventually yields occupied sites to longer lived forest species, i.e. later stage successional tree species such as oak and hickory.

 

I found lots of smooth sumac securing purchase on these bruised and battered quarry-proximate sites. This is yet another early successional species specializing in invading disturbed sites, living robustly over their relatively short life, and passing the forest gavel to the next successional cohort. Like other such species, smooth sumac produces large quantities of fleshy seeds, attracting birds that consume the fruit, digestively scarify tough seedcoats, and distribute the seeds to other disturbed sites within their range.

 

Anyone who roams northern Alabama during early spring can attest to the widely distributed species (with red blossoms) that flourishes at the forest edge along our byways and across abandoned pastures and meadows. Redbud and service berry (white flowers) may be the most recognized spring wildflowers across the eastern US.

 

Trumpet vine is another first-rank colonizer common along the perimeter road.

 

 

The lovely trumpet flowers greeted me during my May return visit.

 

 

Virginia creeper vine clung to a section of the perimeter fence.

 

 

Box elder and green ash likewise joined in reclaiming a sense of wildness among the ruins.

 

Elderberry flower clusters enhanced the natural beauty of its own accord without the intentional assistance of man, who merely ravaged the formal hilltop, operated the quarry, and walked away, abandoning the site and allowing Nature to do her thing. Eons of evolution have prepared Nature to remediate, recolonize, and reforest areas savaged by fire, wind, volcano, landslide, meteoric blasts, and other acts of God (and man).

 

 

Winged elm is among the woody species playing a role in reclamation.

 

Mimosa, another Asian plant invasive, welcomed me in May with delicate flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragrant sumac, a species that looks enough like poison oak to ward off many humans, presents fresh leaves and a few residual berries from last summer’s crop.

 

 

My old friend (NOT!), Chinese privet, found a foothold, grew aggressively, flowered prodigiously, and will produce heavy seed crops to attract birds and ensure seed dispersal and distribution.

 

On a much brighter note, lespedeza (a native genus) is growing along the perimeter road. Lespedeza’s roots sport nitrogen fixing bacteria which draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and enrich the soil where they are rooted, just another natural mechanism for remediating barren, scarred, and abused land.

 

 

 

 

 

A Relevant Sidebar on DEI

 

I want to add a time-relevant reflection. We hear so much today about DEI — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a social construct that has no parallel in Nature. Nature is a strict meritocracy that is reclaiming Madison Quarry without regard to DEI. The plant community colonizing the area will be diverse based upon species and individual’s merit in taking root and competing effectively on the wide range of environmental conditions. Equity does not exist…only equal opportunity pervades Nature. Merit and performance matter. No one is taking attendance, keeping track, and counting heads. If fragrant sumac and smooth sumac perform, compete, and persevere, they proceed forward in time and succession. Inclusion is determined strictly by performance. Nature doesn’t check a box, keep a tally, or guarantee a role. Again, merit and performance matter.

See my 2021 photo essay elaborating on the theme of Nature As a Meritocracy: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/09/21/lessons-from-nature-nature-is-a-meritocracy/

June 15, 2024, Scale AI CEO Aledandr Wang announced that his company will hire not for DEI, but for MEI: Merit, Excellence, and Intelligence.

Like Nature, America’s founding was based on merit and performance, serving us well for 250 years. Capitalism likewise is performance-based. Nature rewards merit, weeds out non-performers, and succeeds according to her own rules. I can only imagine how pitifully and imperfectly a governmental “task force” would revegetate the Madison Quarry.

 

Harsh Ruins of Stark Beauty and Haunting Promise

 

Muir: Earth has no sorrow that Earth cannot heal.

 

I contemplate the quarry with mixed feelings. I’m taken with its stark and haunting beauty and mystery. Its story is rich with lessons:

  1. Man’s absolute dependence on natural resources
  2. Our careless disregard for the consequences of our actions
  3. Nature’s inherent skill in healing wounds through natural processes
  4. The relentless and seeming disjointed regional development that leads us through desperation to reclaiming a savaged relic of abused wasteland as a Nature Preserve

I contrast this fenced harsh landscape (moonscape) to the 500 square miles of fertile, undisturbed forest I managed in south-central Alabama from 1981-85, and wonder how 40 years later in a relatively wealthy region of north Alabama we are contemplating salvaging a savaged hilltop as a Nature Preserve.

 

I have not given much focus to a lower elevation corner of the property, leveled decades ago, perhaps employed as a staging area for quarry-related operations. Discarded materiels lie about the clearing. Developed commercial, residential, and industrial development reach beyond the property.

 

I recorded this 44-second video during my May return visit:

 

I remain torn about my assessment of the quarry’s future as wasteland or preserve. A lifelong Nature enthusiast, I can see virtue in both possibilities. I need more information. Please view this history-starved assessment as stage one.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Earth has no sorrow that Earth cannot heal. (John Muir)
  • Often magic lies within Nature’s every nook and cranny; in this case, battered wildness lies crumpled in plain sight.
  • Is resurrecting wildness from savage brutality worth the price? 

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.

 

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.

 

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary Exploration with My Alabama Grandsons!

On November 22, 2023, my Alabama grandsons (Jack, age 16, and Sam, age nine) accompanied me to Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. We enjoyed an unusually mild late-November mid-morning through early afternoon, entering from the east side, exploring the riparian hardwood forest, walking along the Flint River shoreline, and visiting the adjacent tupelo swamp. I offer observations, reflections, 27 photos, and four videos.

You can access 26 previous Great Blue Heron Posts from prior trips I’ve made to the Sanctuary. Search Goldsmith under the Blog banner at my website: https://stevejonesgbh.com/

 

Forest Wonder Potpourri

 

We discovered a potpourri of forest wonders. I’m grateful any time that the boys come along with me. Their lives and interests will in time diverge from their aging Pap’s. I am pleased that they still appreciate and learn from our forest wanderings. The Sanctuary remains one of our favorite destinations.

I never tire of finding a forest trunk draped in tree moss. This hickory, just 100 feet from the Flint River, evidences our moist temperate climate and its proximity to the morning fogs and heightened humidity along the river.

 

A nearby sugarberry trunk teems with life. Dense tree moss and a Virginia creeper vine adorn the stem below left. At the lower center of the photo at left and up the entire trunk within the photo at right, horizontal rows of yellow bellied sapsucker birdpecks portray a history of woodpecker insect foraging.

 

Virginia creeper literally clings to life on this sugarberry tree, its air roots grasping the trunk, assuring lifetime anchorage on its tree trunk lift to the upper canopy rich with direct sun to fuel life-sustaining photosynthesis. It bears repeating that Virginia creeper, wild grapevines, and supplejack do not climb trees. Instead, they grow up with the supporting tree. Imagine this Virginia Creeper germinating beside the sugarberry geminate. The creeper grew vertically at the same rate as the seedling, its leaves with each season remaining in full sunlight.

 

As with many organisms coexisting in Nature, Virginia creeper and sugarberry seem to have achieved some balance. That is, evolutionarily, the creeper has learned not to overgrow and suffocate the tree, for doing so would kill the vine’s highway to the sky. The vine enjoys a direct, full sunlight benefit from the tree. I am unsure of the reciprocal benefit to the tree from providing a lift to the vine. Without exploring the ecological literature for verification, I can only muse that the vine provides cover and access for birds and small mammals that feed on insects that consume sugarberry leaves. The vines might also ensure a canopy microclimate that deters fungi, viral agents, mold, and bacteria potentially harmful to the tree.

I am smitten by the cylindrical sugarberry birdpeck scars. So much of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe is hidden in plain sight.

 

Resurrection fern, no longer in its drought-induced desiccated state, overhhangs the Flint River.

 

I recorded this 32-second video along the Flint River, amplifying the mood of peace and tranquility:

 

How can a naturalist not be attracted to such a beauty as this farkleberry (AKA sparkleberry), the largest member of our native blueberries (genus Vaccinium (arboreum)). Even its common names evoke mystery.

 

 

 

Nearby another handsome shrub drew us closer, a rusty blackhaw. I borrowed this description from an NC State University Extension online reference:

Rusty blackhaw is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub or small single-stemmed tree in the Viburnaceae (haw) family.  It is native to eastern and central USA and is found in most areas of NC growing in rocky or dry woodlands and forests, along streams and valleys. The name comes from the rusty brown hairs on the undersides of leaves, buds and stems.

Rusty blackhaw grows in dry to moist loams in full sun to partial shade slowly reaching a height and width of 10 to 20 feet. Clusters of small, white flowers mature in early spring followed by a blue drupe that matures in fall. The leaves have excellent fall color. 

 

I love the dormant season with full understory visibility, no biting insects, and comfortable temperatures!

 

Tupelo Swamp

 

I recorded this 57-second video in the water tupelo swamp on the Sanctuary’s northeast quadrant. Recent rains were just beginning to rewater the swamp.

 

Tree moss skirts, clinging vines, buttressed trunks, swamp stain lines, and a forest floor bereft of vegetation characterize the Sanctuary’s tupelo stands. I am tempted to refer to these stands as special places, yet I could just as logically term dozens of other elements of the Sanctuary as special places.

 

Note the swamp water stain lines (on the tree at left) suggesting normal winter water depth). I wear my calf-high rubber boots when I visit mid-winter.

 

I recorded this 17-second video within the swamp. I am intent on making these grandson forays meaningful, educational, and fun.

 

I seek to inspire mindful reflection, even as I remain alert to Nature’s reflections. Both of these photographs express the purpose and realization of that goal.

 

I can’t add anything to the power of this photo essays by adding to the verbal narrative.

 

Here’s a 36-second video from the same location.

 

These graceful swamp residents pose dutifully, seeming intent to reward our visit with their majestic form and rhythm.

 

Back to the riparian forest, Sam poses with a hefty supplejack vine. The stem it had once wrapped is long since dead and decayed, leaving only the vine corkscrew. Yellow-bellied sapsucker birdpeck scars encircle the supplejack at right.

 

A Few Living Critters!

 

A mild late fall day, a rough greensnake surprised us, accommodating our disturbance and gentle handling. We anticipated we might see deer or squirrels, but did not expect to see a coldblooded critter. We bid the snake adieu.

 

As we examined the snake, I noticed a few still-green pipevine leaves nearby. Knowing the plant’s exclusive hosting relationship to the pipevine swallowtail, I looked more closely, discovering a troop of the butterfly’s caterpillars. Online literature suggests that the larvae will soon form a chrysalis suspended several feet above the ground.

 

I’ll bring closure with this image of Sam feigning a bite from the fruit (some call it a hedge apple) of an osage orange.

 

We three boys enjoyed a great morning and early afternoon. I can only hope that they will remember these Nature outings as highlights of their young lives, and that the experiences yield a lasting relationship with Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I am intent on making these grandson forays meaningful, educational, and fun.
  • I love the dormant season with full understory visibility, no biting insects, and comfortable temperatures!
  • The Sanctuary, as do most wild areas of my acquaintance, hosts many special places.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

December Sky and Clouds Accenting Sandhill Crane Magic at Wheeler NWR!

I visited the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge several times before Christmas 2023. I highlighted the magnificent sandhill cranes that annually overwinter at Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in a February post: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2024/02/19/december-2023-sandhill-crane-magic-at-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/

I focus this photo essay on the incredible skies that accented the cranes on those visits. On December 3, 2023, my first visit to view the cranes this year, a stratocumulus cloud deck softened the images of cranes on deck and in flight.

 

Whether the 12/3 stratocumulus or the stray cumulus under thin cirrus of a subsequent visit, the feeding grounds and grazing sandhills presented an image and experience that will draw me back again and again.

 

I vow next visit to take along a folding chair, appropriate winter clothing, and a bucket full of lazy minutes to luxuriate in the splendor of crane music, broken sunshine, shifting light, and the mystic spirituality of thousands of avian guests uninterruptibly celebrating their escape from bitter winds, frozen wetlands, and drifted snow. Their mood is contagious; their ceremony is universal, defining all that is welcome, good, and splendid about life and living. I want to embrace it…and mentally store their cacophonous audio elixir deep in my own fiber, to access viscerally during the Alabama summer’s occasionally stifling heat and humidity.

 

I relish a morning with the cranes and crane enthusiasts even when mists soften the views across the marshes. The cranes vocalize regardless of the weather. However, I have not yet ventured to see them when rain and wind normally keep me at home. I therefore accept the challenge of heading in their direction the next time conditions are less conducive to human comfort. How else can I verify my premise that the cranes celebrate in all manner of weather.

 

I snapped the below left photo from near the visitors center, looking west across the field to marsh edge, where two observers stand. Much closer to the wetland edge below right, the field is gray with sandhills. The stratus overcast dulls the image, even as it validates the late autumn mood of early December on the Refuge.

 

An unseasonably mild December 9, offered sharply broken stratcumulus and fanciful lighting to the sandhill hordes. We had encouraged two friends, longtime residents of nearby Madison, Alabama, to accompany us, their first visit to this grand waterfowl exhibition. I believe they will return. They agreed that the show is National Geographic-scale.

 

I recorded this 25-second video from inside the observation building:

 

Please ignore the background talking. Focus instead on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh. The clouds and sky are versatile — their image is just as splendid whether direct or reflected.

 

These nine sandhills and the lone Canada goose may or may not be aware that their reflections are distinct, showcased against the reflected cloud deck above them.

– 

I focus on the sky and clouds because I cannot imagine enjoying and appreciating this annual spectacle without observing the enveloping context of light, wind, and temperature…all contrasted with whatever weather far to the north drives them here and obversely beckons them in spring to their breeding ground.

No matter what Nature topic I select, I am pretty sure I have never made a unique observation, one that another person has not considered and expressed in writing far more cogent, eloquent, and succinct. Here are just a few cloud and sky quotes worthy of note, and sufficient to humble and inspire me. I dare say that I take comfort, if not in original thought and praiseworthy elocution, then simply in enthusiastically treading ground that has excited and stimulated others.

Revelations are found in clouds. (Serge King)

Clouds float in the same patterns only once. (Wayne Shorter)

There is divinity in the clouds. (Lailah Gifty Akita)

Clouds, they make a painting of the sky. (Marty Rubin)

Watch the clouds. They will teach you about the world of form. (Eckhart Tolle)

Dance with the clouds. (Adrienne Posey)

Clouds are the sky’s imagination. (Terri Guillemets)

The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Always focus on the magic and wonder of the birds, sky, and marsh.
  • Clouds, sun, and sky weave my tagline tapestry…Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!
  • The air moves like a river and carries the clouds with it; just as running water carries all the things that float upon it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

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.

 

 

Hidden Spring: Flowing Strong During Extreme Drought!

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We sauntered through the western side of the Sanctuary, observing and reflecting upon all manner of seasonal life we encountered from Hidden Spring to Jobala Pond to the wetland mitigation project underway in the mid-property meadows and fields. This Post focuses on Hidden Spring, still flowing strongly after an extended drought!

The Spring emerges from a dispersed upwelling near the Taylor Road entrance to the Sanctuary, at the foot of a 20-30 foot rise beyond which the highway runs. A wooden observation deck looks out over the thick vegetation blanketing the wetland head and obscuring a clear view of a clear point of emergence. The hillside is visible and then gradually the upland transitions to a wetland with marshy vegetation.

 

I was not expecting a full flow. I had measured just an inch and one-half of rain since mid-August. Already, the wetland vegetation is dormant, in spite of persistent late summer weather.

I recorded this 32-second video of Hidden Spring, capturing the lush dry-season saturation and the sounds of abundant bird activity:

 

Two sets of three mallards, both with two drakes and a hen, entertained us.

 

I keep hoping to spot a wood duck at the Sanctuary. Although I have visited repeatedly over the past five years, I have seen just one. Hidden Springs slowly reshapes with distance, shifting from an ill-defined wetland to marsh and then to a stream channel and eventually to open water at Jobala Pond.

 

We could not have wished for a better sky to accent the spring-head, marsh, stream, and pond images.

 

There are times when I feel compelled to offer observation and reflection narrative to these photo essays. I am content with this one to say little. My theme is simple. Nature is anything but static…across time and space. The Spring emerges, gains definition and volume, attracts vegetation and critters, creates a defined stream channel, occupies the Jobala Pond basin, and eventually finds its way to the Sanctuary-adjacent Flint River.

 

I am impressed that the Spring seems oblivious to a sustained drought, one the National Weather Service characterizes as Extreme. Drought or not, the emergent stream is perfectly capable of its own reflecting, working Nature-magic with the firmament above.

 

I recorded this 32-second video where the Spring occupies the old borrow pit basin, excavated when road engineers found rich deposits of clay, sand, and gravel suitable for mid-20th Century road construction nearby.

 

Jobala Pond has naturalized from its origin as a borrow pit, a raw dirt-sided basin filled with runoff and the year-round spring. I’ve seen photographs of the property’s 2007 donor in the pond as a three-year-old, surrounded by the vegetation-bare pit. Nature is, if nothing else, resilient.

 

Perhaps there were those who observed 70 years ago that the borrow pit was a blight on the landscape, a permanent scar from which no redemption could be found. Look at the marsh today. John Muir so eloquently captured Nature’s resilience…her insistence upon healing wounds, of the land and her creatures:

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.

I recorded this 36-second video of Jobala Pond, viewing north, swinging to the east along the trail, and then back to north.

 

I’ve learned that while I enjoy providing narrative (and have some pride in my own words), the brief videos express far more with only the accompanying gentle sounds of Nature.

Hidden Spring, and its gradual transition to marshland, pond, and stream, is a Sanctuary gift steeped in mystery, rich with ecosystem wonder, and blessed with a soul-soothing aura of life and living.

The mystery begs pondering and resolution. Where do the raindrops fall that the aquifer retains? How can this underground store enable the Spring to yield apparent full flow after three months of extreme drought?

The ecosystem wonder draws from Nature transforming a surface mine (the term is a bit more truthful than referring to the depression as a borrow pit, a softer, less permanent term). Nature’s healing has naturalized the landscape blemish.

I feel blessed every time I visit the Sanctuary, my mind schooled in reading the landscape…my spirit elevated by the gentle hand of Nature. As a young Nature enthusiast, I would have rejected the notion that a city-operated “sanctuary” could scratch my Nature wildness itch. I would have seen the term city wildlife sanctuary as a paradox, an anomaly, a self-contradiction. Today, I embrace the idea, accept the term, and celebrate that the City of Huntsville, Alabama manages these 400 acres as a prized wildlife sanctuary!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts. (John Muir)
  • I feel blessed every time I visit the Sanctuary, my mind schooled in reading the landscape…my spirit elevated by the gentle hand of Nature.
  • Nature is anything but static…across time and space.

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

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iron Bowl Visit to Auburn’s Kreher Preserve and Nature Center!

A Knee Surgery Preface

As I publish this photo essay, I am six weeks and one day since my January 23, 2024 total left knee replacement surgery. I stockpiled observations, reflections, and photographs from my woodland wanderings (like this November Iron Bowl trek) during the period leading up to my extended surgery recovery. My goal is to re-enter gentle forest trails by mid-March. Since surgery, I have been a tireless devotee of physical therapy. Okay, allow me a little humble honesty. Scratch the tireless. I’ve ended many post-surgery days exhausted from PT! Bear with me as I return to some semblance of my younger woods-worthiness!

Kreher Preserve and Nature Center

 

Chris Stuhlinger, a fellow retired forester and Auburn graduate, secured tickets for the 2023 Iron Bowl (11/25; Alabama vs. Auburn) and invited me to attend. I leaped at the chance. I had not attended a game at Jordan-Hare since the fall of 2000. Because the game did not start until 2:30, we visited Auburn’s Kreher Nature Center and Forest Ecology Preserve that morning. I offer observations, reflections, and photographs from our abbreviated one-hour visit.

KreherKreher

 

Just eight years from its inception when I departed Auburn University in 2001, the venerable Center and Preserve is now celebrating 30 years of immeasurable impacts on countless lives! I had no trouble visualizing eager learners of all ages across three decades. I did not expect many visitors on an Auburn Iron Bowl Saturday.

Kreher

 

The primary education building sits comfortably within a loblolly and mixed hardwood forest that appears to be of old field origin. I hope to return to Kreher some day when not rushed by Iron Bowl engagements on campus. I’d like a full tour, complete with Center and Preserve chronology and land use history of the 120 acres. I had visited Kreher a time or two during my five years (1996-2001) at Auburn. If only my memories were more vivid. The forest was nearly a quarter of a century younger then. Here in the deep south, forests develop and grow rapidly. I would like to see photos from the Center’s establishment.

Kreher

 

I am a tireless advocate for facilities such as this immediately launching a program to establish permanent photo plots throughout the property. The steps are simple:

  • Identify 10-20 points in the vicinity of special landmarks, ecotypes, streams, etc.
  • Sink a four-by-four treated wood post, with the four sides oriented to the cardinal directions
  • Cap it with a numbered metal plate
  • Decide the date to take the periodic photos. For example January 15 and July 15 every ten years.

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

KreherKreher

 

Education Amenities

 

The Center includes a wooden amphitheater, open to air and partial sunshine, ideally allowing participants to feel and see the pulse of woodland Nature. Effective Nature education is a contact sport. I’ve learned as much through outdoor osmosis as sterile indoor lecture. My most vivid learning endeavor involved muddy boots, chill breezes, and miles in a SUNY van slipping into New Hampshire’s White Mountains to study and experience watershed management at the US Forest Service’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest during spring break of my junior year. Young people visiting Kreher will not suffer Nature Deficit Disorder while on-site.

Kreher

 

Some participants experience 24/7 immersion via overnight tent accommodations.

Kreher

 

Again, I see a future Kreher visit, complete with a knowledgeable tour host and extended time for fully experiencing features like the KPNC Sensory Forest. The Kreher sign narrative strikes a chord with me:

Child development, school success, relational health, mental health, well-being, and resilience are all profoundly impacted by our body’s ability to process and integrate sensation.

Nature creates a natural, interactive sensory experience that can provide an equally therapeutic and stimulating engagement. The KPNC Sensory Forest provides stations along an accessible trail that harness these experiences and engage all seven senses. Take your time, explore the Sensory Forest, and engage YOUR senses!

Cheaha State Park also has a Sensory Trail (below right).

Kreher

Cheaha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like the seven senses images. I wonder, as I visit local trails and greenways, how many visitors are lost in their earbuds…sensory-deprived, experiencing only digitally what their device is pouring into their heads. For them, I fear, their senses image portfolio may include only a single symbol (below right).

 

 

 

 

 

Soil: The Essence of Terrestrial  Life

 

Soil is the fundamental substrate for nearly all terrestrial life. I loved my undergraduate courses in forest soils. I spent four of my dozen years with Union Camp Corporation leading the company’s tree nutrition and forest fertilization research program, an exceedingly soil-centered endeavor. I left the company to pursue my PhD, which evaluated soil-site relationships in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW Pennsylvania and SW New York. To this day, I consider myself an aging soil scientist. All that to explain why I like this 2015 Eagle Scout project at KPNC, the Soil Education Site.

Kreher

 

My compliments to William Hickok! He envisioned and created a soil profile display for the KPNC site, one open (left) and the other glass-encased (right).

Kreher

 

Young Mr. Hickok explained:

A soil profile is a vertical slice of soil showing the different layers, or soil horizons. Each horizon may be distinguished by its color, soil Texture (sand, silt, and clay content), mineral content, organic matter, and structure.

All soils in the Forestry Ecology Preserve are mapped as Pacolet sandy loam…

The soil profile that you see is a Pacolet sandy loam that was buried when a terrace was made here more than 60 years ago when cotton was grown on this site.

Kreher

 

Eagle Scout Hickok thus confirmed y earlier observation: The primary education building sits comfortably within a loblolly and mixed hardwood forest that appears to be of old field origin.

Several older hardwood residuals stand along a natural drain dating back into the agricultural production period. Picture a cultivated field with young hardwoods sprouting along the drainage feature.

Kreher

 

The trail signage professes a fairyland lilt, a youth-oriented theme, for the young and young at heart.

Kreher

 

I embrace the notion of young at heart. My knees somehow have aged and declined far beyond the pace of the young man residing contentedly within the 72-year-old body! The young man who today achieves a case of misty eyes celebrating a grand woodland morning accented by the slanted rays of a late November dawn. Oh, how different would the scene have been 70 years ago with terraced fields and cotton stubble?

Kreher

 

Southern Pine Beetles

 

Forestry studies require that we understand the insects and diseases acting within the forests we manage. Because I studied forestry in Upstate New York, I learned first hand of more northern insects and diseases. I didn’t encounter southern pine beetles until I hired on with Union Camp in 1973 in southeastern Virginia, where SPB infestations occurred periodically, necessitating monitoring, sanitation, and salvaging. I hope that KPNC staff have noticed the SPB infestation progressing on site. Pitch tubes offer the first evidence of infestation. When female adults enter a tree to lay eggs under the bark in the cambium, the tree reacts by exuding pitch to overwhelm the invading insects. However, when the beetles attack en masse, tree death proceeds rapidly. When large numbers of pitch tubes appear, the tree is likely already dead, its crown a reddish brown. So, usually, it is the dead crown that evidences infestation. Although when we stumbled upon the Kreher pitch tubes (left), the crowns were already dead (right).

Kreher

 

Another telltale sign is sawdust around the tree base, generated from larvae feeding under the bark.

Kreher

 

 

Fusiform rust (Cronartium) is a common southern pine disease. Tree improvement programs selected mother trees for seed orchards based upon fusiform resistance. Rust is not necessarily fatal, yet it reduces commercial value and can lead to breakage.

Kreher

 

We found this severely contorted black cherry infected with black knot. This individual looks grotesque, a gruesome personality by appearance alone.

Kreher

 

Insects and diseases are part of Nature’s great life and death continuum. As with many things in Nature, where we stand depends on where we sit. In the case of KPNC, each of these ecosystem features opens yet another educational moment.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The Kreher Nature Center and Forest Ecology Preserve is celebrating 30 years of immeasurable impacts on countless lives!
  • Child development, school success, relational health, mental health, well-being, and resilience are all profoundly impacted by our body’s ability to process and integrate sensation.
  • Environmental education is a contact sport!
  • Insects and diseases are part of Nature’s great life and death continuum.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Four Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

Kreher

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Left Knee Replacement Recovery Update

 

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

 

Mid-November Sanctuary Wandering

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Another nearby large oak bracket mushroom is exuding resinous beads.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Trophy Water Oak Burl

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

Sipsey River Picnic Area

 

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

 

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

 

Entering the Wilderness

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Nature alone is the master of true genius.

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

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

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

 

Facing the Reality of My Knee-Hobbled Hiking Limitations

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

A Late Fall Botanical Survey

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Four Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

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

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