I visited the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on several days before Christmas 2023. I never tire of the annual spectacle of thousands of sandhill cranes gathering from mid-November through mid-February, escaping the wicked winters of the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada. I am astounded by how few Huntsville residents know this National Geographic-scale wonder lies in our vicinity. Perhaps this photo essay will open a few eyes.
I snapped this photo mid-morning on December 3, 2023. Refuge volunteers reported estimates of 10-12,000 sandhills on site that morning. We spotted nine whooping cranes among them.
I recorded this 34-second video on December 3, 2023 at 9:33 AM:
Here’s the view to the south from the observation building. I felt absolute humility and unequaled inspiration as I gazed upon the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of a winter sun slanting through an oak crown, a marsh with sandhills and geese, and a spectacular morning sky.
I simply can’t get enough of the combination of marsh, sky, sun, and waterfowl.
Aldo Leopold saw the ecological complexity in such images:
Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.
I see the visual canvas that is filled to the brim with the pretty, and I am overwhelmed by the art and science of the intricate multi-season web of life, relationships, and interactions represented by each view and every point of time captured in these photographs. I will return to the Refuge time and again until these magnificent creatures return to their breeding grounds, and then I will ache for their fall arrival at Wheeler.
I will bring along appropriate winter wear (conditions range from cold and blustery to mild and sunny), a blanket, and folding chair next time. I usually leave regretting that I did not linger.
I recorded this 52-second video at 3:44 PM on December 5, 2023 of cranes vociferously departing the feeding grounds for their evening shallow-water roosts.
Leopold spoke eloquently of the way we treat the land generally.
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages the 35,000-acre Refuge in accord with the tenets that Leopold urged: preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. I see it, sense it, and cherish the natural enchantment of this oh-so-special place.
Beyond the Cranes: Cypress Forest Seduction
A two-acre cypress stand sits just south of the visitors center. This hallowed copse reaches out to me, enticing me to enter. I can never resist, yet unlike the sirens that drew sailors during the time of Odysseus, there is no evil intent. My Alabama grandsons love this unique stand…they appreciate and understand my love for the straight spires, the striking knees, and the gentle breezes high above the boardwalk.
I marvel at the crown shyness expressed in the canopy above. Each tree seems to recognize the sanctity of its neighbors’ space. The crowns do not interlace. A thin rind of boundary separates the neighboring crowns. The same shyness is common across our north Alabama forests, regardless of species. The phenomenon is most strikingly visible within this cypress stand.
How could I ever tire of an amber cypress needle forest floor and knees reaching four feet?
I recorded this 35-second video from the cypress forest boardwalk on December 3, 2023:
I frequently find magic in Nature, oftentimes hidden in plain sight.
And a Serpent Charmer and Sliders Out of Season!
Judy and I introduced friends to WNWR on December 9, 2023, a particularly mild afternoon. We spotted a common water snake sunning along a trail. A rare December gift!
The mild and pleasant afternoon drew pond sliders to bask in the ample sunshine, intermingling with two Canada geese.
Nature never disappoints. Again, so much lies hidden in plain sight.
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. (Aldo Leopold)
- Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. (Aldo Leopold)
- I never tire of the annual spectacle of thousands of sandhill cranes gathering from mid-November through mid-February.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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And Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
- 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 Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned 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.