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December 2023 Sandhill Crane Magic at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

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.”

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!

 

 

 

Brief-Form Post #26: Beaver Dam Serenity at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

I am pleased to add the 26th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than three minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my November 14, 2023, Visit to the Beaver Dam along Hidden Spring Creek at Huntsville’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

 

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We paused for a few minutes to enjoy the sights and sounds at the beaver dam along Hidden Spring Creek at the iron and concrete bridge just downstream of Jobala Pond. I focus this photo essay on the beaver dam.

I learned long ago that there is grandeur in Nature’s seemingly small wonders and that many items of Nature’s magic lie hidden in plain sight.

Here is the 0:34 video I recorded at 10:32 AM.

 

Still photographs capture single elements of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Yet even as a picture is worth a thousands words, a video may exceed the power of a photo by the same magnitude. A thousand is to one as a million is to a thousand. I will continue to supplement my photo essays with short videos!

 

Amazingly, observers had recorded only one and one-half inches of rain over the prior nine weeks, yet Hidden Spring Creek seemed to carry a normal late summer flow. That evidence suggests that a rich and ample aquifer supplies Hidden Spring and its outflow creek.

 

Had I not chosen to visit the Sanctuary during the trailing end of an extended drought I would not have appreciated how robust Hidden Spring is.

I cherish the special Nature of the entire Sanctuary…and I anticipate tossing a bag chair over my shoulder so that I can sit quietly at the beaver dam, luxuriating in its gurgling, observing bird and other life nearby, and watching clouds and shadows slip across the cerulean firmament.

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:

  • 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.

 

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!

Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and healing!

 

 

Wetland Mitigation Update from Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

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. I focus this photo essay on our superficial examination of the mitigation.

This black gum seedling, planted during the 2022-23 dormant season, is now emerging from its tree shelter. It has survived its initial growing season and escaped the ravages of foraging rabbits and mice. From this day forward it must contend with grazing deer until it grows out of their vertical reach. Most of the shelters we examined contained living seedlings, of various species (black gum, willow, redbud, and diverse oaks).

 

Red oak occupies this tube. It will likely reach into aerial freedom next spring.

 

I photographed this initial planting area in February 2023, when the shallow constructed wetlands stood at full water capacity. Because in mid-November 2023, we had gone since mid-August with little to no rain, we saw bone dry soils across the mitigation area.

 

The meadow vegetation had reached seasonal dormancy. Because our northern Alabama fall months are frequently dry, native plants can handle periodic droughts. Fortunately, the tree seedlings in this first (2022-23) planting tranche enjoyed an adequately moist spring and early summer, hence their likely survival through this fall drought.

 

 

The second planting, east of the first, appeared to be underway when we visited. The area evidenced extreme drought, with soils bone-dry and cement-hard. The tree shelters below right held seedlings already desiccated and likely dead. Planting should have been delayed until after fall rains brought drought relief.

 

This willow seedling (below left) lay on the ground at a drilled planting hole, deader than a proverbial door nail. The willow seeding at right stands beside a wooden stake. It is too shallowly planted, its root collar and some of its root mass two inches above soil surface level. However, it doesn’t matter. The tree is dead.

 

I recorded this two-minute video on the site. I refer incorrectly to the seedling beside a planting tube as a willow. Instead, it is actually a redbud.

 

Like other doomed seedlings in this area, the oaks lying within this scraped future wetland depression are deceased. I hope the project managers have made alternate plans, to include holding seedlings in nursery beds awaiting fall rains and adequate soil moisture in the Sanctuary fields. I learned long ago during my forest products industry days that unless seedlings are carefully tended and properly planted in soils that contain adequate moisture to sustain transplant vigor, the planting will not succeed. This fall drought planting window failed all criteria.

 

I am not pointing fingers or assigning blame. I simply visited this year’s mitigation chapter at the trailing end of an extended drought. A week later I measured 2.63″ of rain, and another 3.4″ since then through December 17, 2023. Soil moisture levels are approaching seasonal norms, but far too late to overcome the experienced negative forces. Importantly, it’s not too late to plant seedlings held and tended in nursery beds.

I offer several observations and applicable lessons. Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal. Though a plan may have called for planting this second tranche in the October/November time frame, managers should have delayed, awaiting overdue autumn rains.

I predict that unless alternate plans were made to replant with freshly lifted seedlings now that rains have begun, this second tranche planting will be a total failure. Leonardo da Vinci, a sage and practiced observer of Nature, said 500 years ago, Nature never breaks her own laws. Those who planted these seedlings apparently expected Nature to break a natural law that I learned five decades ago as a young practicing forester: Nature demands that plugged seedlings require adequate moisture both pre- and post-planting, well-packed friable soil, and suitable growing conditions (e.g., avoid excessively high late season temperatures at planting time.

I will continue to monitor the wetland mitigation project, including these 2023 plantings. Again, the seasonal rains have resumed. The Flint River will likely flood these fields at least once over the dormant season. Casual observers may not know that the fields suffered through an extreme drought from mid-August through mid-November. They may wonder why the tree shelters house no or very few living trees.

I have been unable to secure detailed information about the wetland mitigation project. I hope that City personnel have such planning and implementation records. I would like to see survival records for the first tranche planting, as well as 2023 planting records. The project is expensive. Are managers tracking success? Failure? Progress?

Please know that I have no direct or implied oversight of this project. I am merely a very interested observer. I view the Sanctuary as one of my special places. I applaud Margaret Anne Goldsmith for the original gift of approximately 300 acres that enabled establishing the Sanctuary. I admire Marian Moore Lewis’s expertise and passion for publishing Southern Sanctuary. We three share a keen interest in this incredible Nature legacy project.

I leave you with the 15-minute video telling the Sanctuary legacy story that Bill Heslip directed and I produced three years ago.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature never breaks her own laws. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal.
  • Past average monthly rainfall gives no comfort to a seedling planted during this year’s extreme drought. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

Fall Semester Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography OLLI Course

On October 31, 2023, I participated in a roundtrip photographic walk on the Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk Trail through the water tupelo forest on Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The swamp saunter was a field laboratory for the University of Alabama in Huntsville OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course on Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography taught by Philip Flowers, OLLI member, and retired professional photographer.

We left the trailhead parking area at 8:30 AM under partly sunny skies and an autumn-like 40 degrees, perfect conditions for exploring this sector of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. We covered the one-mile round-trip saunter in 2.5 hours. Our intent was not to hurry. I have visited the swamp more than a dozen times since retiring to northern Alabama, sometimes alone, others with Judy and our grandkids, visiting friends and family, colleagues, and students in my OLLI or LearningQuest courses. In all four seasons. Once with the grandkids after dark. Each time, the swamp revealed new treats and different moods.

 

Beaverdam Swamp

 

I teach Nature-related courses often at both OLLI and LearningQuest, the companion adult education program offered through the downtown Huntsville/Madison County Library. I was happily only a student with this course.

 

The OLLI Course

 

I found the course title, Steps to Better Nature Photography, compelling. I’ve developed my retirement hobby and avocation gradually. Nature photography is a big component. I publish 50-70 Great Blue Heron photo essays annually, themed around what I term Nature-Inspired Life and Living or The Nature of North Alabama (or wherever my travels lead me). I issue Facebook Posts (brief narrative and 3-7 photos) one to two times weekly, similarly themed. I recently published my fourth book, Dutton Land and Cattle, which includes 130 of my color photos. Because I seek excellence in my Nature photography, I could not resist registering for Phillip’s course. That’s him below left, snapping photos along the gravel entry trail that passes first through a mixed pine and hardwood upland, then into a hardwood riparian forest, and then into the water tupelo swamp.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

For several years I’ve suffered from camera envy. I have only my iPhone. Most of my fellow OLLI classmates carry big boy SLRs. I’ve struggled with whether I can meet my posting objectives with the iPhone, or take the next step, graduating to a real camera. My hope is to learn how to be even more effective with my iPhone. As I draft this narrative, I am making progress toward taking better Nature photos, not yet ready to advance to a digital SLR.

I recorded this 0:58 video along the gravel trail in the upland hardwood forest:

 

The boardwalk transits the tupelo swamp. I’ve seen water lapping at the boardwalk side rails during the reliably wetter winter and spring. We found the swamp bone dry for our Halloween outing. Since August 15, 2023, I measured 1.55 inches of rainfall, just 19 percent of the average rainfall for that period, eight inches. Averages are funny that way. Some past year and some future period will see one or two tropical systems slosh north from the Gulf, dumping copious rain that will counter this season’s drought. The average will not shift. This is not climate change. It’s weather varying within climate.

The main canopy tupelo leaves covered the boardwalk and forest floor. I’ve observed in prior years that, even during wet late summer years, tupelo sheds its leaves well in advance of upland forests.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I recorded this 0:52 video from the boardwalk entrance, not yet deep within the swamp:

Each visit to the Beaverdam Swamp National Natural Monument opens a new window to her beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration!

 

The Forests

 

Yellow dominates the mid- and under-story of the mixed hardwood upland just beyond the trailhead (left). A single loblolly pine stands at the center. The image (right) looks vertically into the full, towering canopy of the riparian hardwood forest on approach to the tupelo swamp. I wanted my photos to demonstrate that I’m learning from the course. The sky fascinates me. Both images highlight the background, even as they demonstrate the autumn variety of colors, textures, and context.

 

 

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

The combination of dense growing season shade under the tupelo and seasonally saturated and flooded soils eliminates ground cover and reduces the shrub layer. I recorded this 0:33 tupelo swamp video to depict the tupelo swamp:

 

I failed to completely capture the striking image I sought (left) of the rectangular golden sunlight display on the leafy forest floor. Perhaps I need a sequel course on Steps to Better Nature Photography?! I’ve published several prior Posts about the tupelo swamp, with its ancient (200-plus year old), hollowed, weathered giants. Even the high crowns are coarse and broken (right), providing aesthetic framing for the autumn sky.

Beaverdam

Beaverdam

 

The tupelo swamp forest never disappoints. I will return once winter rains restore the watery magic.

 

Autumn’s Richness

 

I’ve seen hearts-a-bustin (strawberry bush) several times fruiting during the trailing end of the 2023 season. Along the trail running through the upland forest, this waning fruit cluster called out to me, “Here, try to capture my image among the crowded backdrop of understory plants, fading leaves, and the forest beyond.” I tried, but the outcome fell short of my expectations.

Beaverdam

 

Both the paw paw and round-leaved greenbrier celebrated the seasonal transition by replacing their green matrix with yellow, while temporarily retaining green venation. Beauty lies in Nature’s subtleties!

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

I suffered bouts of poison ivy agony dozens of times over my field-forestry professional days and from leisurely woods-rambles. I readily see its classic shiny green warning flags of spring and summer foliage. I don’t recall previously paying special attention to its fall woodland glory. I couldn’t resist its appeal on this day. I wonder how many school-age children annually add these special leaves to their autumn leaf collection!

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

A closer view magnifies its magic!

Beaverdam

 

These Stereum mushrooms added a bit of their own color to the fall woodland portfolio. As I often do, I wonder how many visitors amble along the trail without noticing the visual treasures that lie hidden in plain sight, much less marvel at the role these decomposers play in the forest cycle of life.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

 

 

 

Soil isn’t the only growing medium in this magnificent ecosystem. Moss is quite content to thrive on moisture and nutrients available on the bark of a standing tree (left.) The moss, currently desiccated and dormant, has evolved to survive extended dry periods. Drought-ending rains will pump life back into these vertical moss-gardens. The poison ivy vine grew vertically with the tree at right. It relies on the tree for access to the full sunlight available in the upper canopy, even as it remains rooted in the forest soil, where it secures nutrients and moisture. These are complex ecosystems consisting of diverse organisms living interdependently.

BeaverdamBeaverdam

 

Since my freshman year of forestry school, I have been a student of trees. Many years in the forests of the eastern USA have sharpened my familiarity with common species. I recognize dozens by their leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, form, site preferences, and bark. One of my favorite tree bark color and patterns is American persimmon: nearly black, blocky, and deeply furrowed. A yellow-bellied sapsucker had emblazoned this individual with its own distinctive pattern of bird peck.  The bird typically insect-forages in horizontal rows (right). Another face of the tree exhibited a more complex combination of vertical and horizontal striping. Were I to retake the two photos I would snap closer views.

Beaverdam

 

 

 

A nearby red maple twin (live tree left and standing dead twin right) offered critter housing excavated by pileated woodpeckers seeking grubs and other insects feasting on the dead wood. A vine (poison ivy?) found reason to penetrate the lower center cavity. I’m sure the vine found no exit. As with my post mortem on the persimmon photos, I should have taken a closer view of the cavity appearing to slurp a strand of viny spaghetti!

Beaverdam

 

I am always on alert for tree form oddities and curiosities. I spotted this convoluted gnarly burl off-trail on a forked red oak. In retrospect, I should have acquired a closer view. However, today (11/7/23) I attended the final Class session. The instructor reviewed ways to improve Nature photographs by editing at home. I believe that I created a better result at right from the original image at left. In fact, I am convinced that the combination better suits the purpose of my Great Blue Heron Post. The modified image allows me to show its details, view its subtle colors, and visually reach into its texture and folds.

Beaverdam

Beaverdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beaverdam Creek Boardwalk Terminus

 

I rethis corded 0:53 non-narrated video at the trail terminus, where the creek continues to carry a respectable flow despite the extended drought.

 

The placid flow splendidly reflected the cloud-spangled sky and creekside forest.

Beaverdam

 

Speaking from the perspective of an old forester (BS 50 years ago!), now two years into his eighth decade of Nature-Inspired Life and Living, I evidence that it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. I am eager to employ what I’ve learned in this four-week Easy Steps to Better Nature Photography course.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature’s magic lies hidden in plain sight!
  • Understanding Nature’s ways sharpens our eyes and focuses the camera’s lens.
  • Each visit to the Beaverdam Swamp National Natural Monument opens a new window to her beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration!

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

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2023 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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

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

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

 

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

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

Vision:

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

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

 

Steve’s Three Books

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

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

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

 

Beaverdam

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Autumn (November 14, 2023) Sky Splendor at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

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. I focus this photo essay on the sky and cloud splendor above the Sanctuary.

I recall from way back in my toddler years being fascinated by clouds and weather. I shared cloud passion with my Dad. We watched thunderstorms brewing and marveled at their approach, ferocity, and passage. We appreciated nothing more than a good winter snowstorm, especially wind-driven and piling deeply. Short of a memorable storm, all manner of clouds attracted our attention.

My cloud absorption remains palpable nearly 30 years after Dad passed. No matter where my travels and woods-wanderings take me, I never go into the “out there” without looking skyward. In fact, often a mere “look” doesn’t suffice. I need to gaze heavenward, studying cloud type, structure, and movement. Like all aspects and facets of Nature, the more I understand, the greater my depth of intrigue, admiration, and desire to know and understand even more.

Albert Einstein implored us to study our natural world: Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

The Sanctuary’s Hidden Spring wetland may not have presented so well without the textured sky above. I particularly admire a sky that competes for my eye with the complexities of Nature below.

 

 

Few people across history have seen all that is hidden in plain sight as clearly as did Leonardo da Vinci. He observed 500 years ago, There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see. I am convinced that the sky is invisible to most people, excepting spectacular sunsets, sunrises, impending storms, and rainbows. And to those who do see, appreciating the subtleties and depths of meteorological science and nuance is absent. I am a closet meteorologist…a student of weather and atmospheric science. The Hidden Spring wetlands, both standing water and emergent forest, would pale under a smooth grey cloud deck.

 

Jobala Pond likewise both gives to and takes from the complementary firmament above. November 14 presented perfect weather for strolling and exploring. At the tender age of 72 years, I am scheduled in mid-January for left knee replacement surgery, the right knee subsequently when the left knee is sufficiently healed. The cushioning cartilage is long gone on both, I struggle with sharp uphills and down, and just standing is tough. I offer all that as rationale for contemplating carrying a shoulder bag with folding chair.

To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness. (John Muir)

This would have been a perfect day for occasionally sitting, watching, and absorbing Nature in action (with me experiencing a bit of inaction!).

 

Winter in our deciduous forests opens a vista not available during our long summers, when canopies obscure sky views. I love gazing skyward through the dendritic weavings that soon enough will burst with spring’s greening.

 

A dormant meadow carpet below and a colorful and complex blanket above, each vying for my primary attention. I see no clear winner, yet I declare the full package as first prize worthy.

 

 

 

 

 

I simply can’t imagine one without the other.

 

Terrestrial ecosystems or meteorological grandeur competing? No, there is only unity…the entire web interwoven with beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration acting and presenting as one. As he often did, John Muir captured the notion flawlessly:

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

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness. (John Muir)
  • I love gazing skyward through the dendritic weavings that soon enough will burst with spring’s greening.
  • Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better(Albert Einstein)

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.

 

 

An Aging Riparian Hardwood Forest on The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Late afternoon on September 22, 2023, I decided for the first time since my June 19, 2023 triple bypass surgery to bushwhack alone into my favorite riparian hardwood forest at the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I’m a student of this forest, attempting with each visit to learn more about its history, composition, dynamics, and future. I employ a woods-wandering technique I call sauntering. I borrow the term from John Muir and a contemporary of his, Albert W. Palmer, who published A Parable of Sauntering in 1911:

There is a fourth lesson of the trail. It is one which John Muir taught me [during an early Sierra Club outing].

There are always some people in the mountains who are known as “hikers.” They rush over the trail at high speed and take great delight in being the first to reach camp and in covering the greatest number of miles in the least possible time, they measure the trail in terms of speed and distance.

One day as I was resting in the shade Mr. Muir overtook me on the trail and began to chat in that friendly way in which he delights to talk with everyone he meets. I said to him: “Mr. Muir, someone told me you did not approve of the word ‘hike.’ Is that so?” His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!

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

John Muir lived up to his doctrine. He was usually the last man to reach camp. He never hurried. He stopped to get acquainted with individual trees along the way. He would hail people passing by and make them get down on hands and knees if necessary to see the beauty of some little bed of almost microscopic flowers. Usually he appeared at camp with some new flowers in his hat and a little piece of fir bough in his buttonhole.

Now, whether the derivation of saunter Muir gave me is scientific or fanciful, is there not in it another parable? There are people who “hike” through life. They measure life in terms of money and amusement; they rush along the trail of life feverishly seeking to make a dollar or gratify an appetite. How much better to “saunter” along this trail of life, to measure it in terms of beauty and love and friendship! How much finer to take time to know and understand the men and women along the way, to stop a while and let the beauty of the sunset possess the soul, to listen to what the trees are saying and the songs of the birds, and to gather the fragrant little flowers that bloom all along the trail of life for those who have eyes to see!

I shall remain a dedicated saunterer from this day forward. My weathered knees no longer allow serious hiking. I insist on walking in the woods rather than walking through the forest. I also embrace Muir’s wisdom about experiencing life: The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

HGH Road Riparian Hardwood Forest

 

Saunter with me as I transit the riparian hardwood forest south of HGH Road on a mid-September afternoon. I’ll begin with a 39-second, 360 degree sweep within the mature forest. Note that my narrative refers to the sweep as 380 degrees…the price I pay for accepting a first take without review. I’ve stopped seeking perfection in my short, unrehearsed videos. I find that a relaxed, non-scripted video seldom falls short of being adequate…occasionally even good.

 

High quality timber does not dominate these long-unmanaged forests. This 30-inch diameter red oak is deeply decayed. Occupying nearly a tenth of an acre of crown space, the tree has no commercial timber value. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service manages these lands and their forests for values unrelated to timber.

 

Although not contorted by decay, this hickory is hollow to the core, a perfect den tree for squirrels, woodpeckers, bats, and assorted other wildlife.

 

This 32-second video depicts the peace, birdsong, and soft breezes within this 90-year old stand:

 

Ample dead and down woody debris characterizes these 90-year-old forests growing on rich riparian soils in northern Alabama. This tree uprooted at least a decade ago, lifting a root ball wasting away at my feet, and falling directly away. The log is well on its way to becoming humus and soil organic matter,

 

This individual did not blow over and lift a root ball; it died standing and its dead superstructure subsequently broke off at ground level, falling away from me. Little of the fallen bole remains. The carbon cycle spins rapidly in our climate! Aerobic decomposition is the rule. No future peat or coal deposits, nor even a thick organic layer in the topsoil.

 

This large oak pulled up a massive root ball about ten years ago. Fine and medium roots have long since decayed. The root ball soil has fallen or washed into a shrinking and softening pile. The fallen bole, and its cracked and hollow trunk, have already shed all bark and outer wood. Although far beyond my means and technology, I’d like to see a 10-15 year time lapse as this once mighty oak dissolves (not literally, but metaphorically) from solid wood to dust to soil organic matter.

 

I mused about what long ago injury opened the trunk to the decay fungi that hollowed the bole. Was a lightning strike responsible for the vertical wound, shattering the trunk and creating the infection court through which fungal spores entered to begin internal decay? That isn’t the only unsolved mystery. I believe, with deeper contemplation, that the tree stood hollow with no externally visible vertical scar and split. Instead, when the tree finally yielded to gravity, its still impressive mass slammed into the ground shattering the rind, giving the impression that while vertical the tree trunk furrow permitted visual entry to its hollow core.

 

All fine branches in the crown (below left) have decayed. In fact, the crown consists only of the twin major forks. The base of the left fork evidences an opening that appears unrelated to shattering from impact. I view it as a den entry point for squirrels that inhabited the hollow tree. The fallen tree skeleton, as do all trees, stands, and forests, has a compelling story to tell. I’m glad my bushwhacking led me to its final resting place…to contemplate and decipher its tale, to examine the hints left on-site.

 

Nature provides many hints for us curious Nature enthusiasts. I relish these adventures in Nature-sleuthing. Sometimes, I celebrate when a hint leads unequivocally to a fact…a certainty. Too often, however, my conclusions fall within a zone of speculation. I’m okay with speculation, a mental process demanding deep thinking, tapping my decades of forestry study and deep woods experience, and forcing me to communicate the exercise via these Great Blue Heron photo essays. Fortunes won’t be saved or wasted as a result of my ruminations. No one is hurt if I have misjudged the circumstances that brought the tree to the ground. Many people who read these words might wonder why I don’t pursue some useful avocation…like golf, fishing, or antiquing. The truth is, Nature sleuthing is my hobby.

I’m providing hints and evidence (photos and videos) to allow you to draw your own conclusions about the nature of this mature riparian hardwood forest. I recorded this 1:15 video not far from the downed hollow oak tree I presented above.

 

Some standing dead trees leave a void in the crown, in this case what I estimate as a one-fifth of an acre opening. Adjacent trees are already vying for the precious sunshine, reaching inward. Forests are dynamic. The opening will be short-lived. Trees compete ruthlessly for finite site resources: sunlight, ground moisture, and soil nutrients. Nature is a meritocracy. The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion do not translate from faddish human social endeavors (e.g., bloated university administrative offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) to Nature. Nature’s systems operate on performance. Nature doesn’t need a DEI vice president to decide which trees adjacent to the opening are allocated what share of the newly available sunlight.

 

To the victor goes the spoils. Such is the way of evolutionary success.

Some portions of the forest have transitioned by way of widescale windthrow and breakage to a noticeably smaller (younger?) stand. I will continue to ponder the successional pathways within this old growth riparian forest. Watch for me to develop the pathway in future Posts.

 

May your life be one of pleasant sauntering!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations, from Albert W. Palmer’s recollection of a conversation with John Muir:

  • How much better to “saunter” along this trail of life, to measure it in terms of beauty and love and friendship!
  • How much finer to take time to know and understand the men and women along the way, to stop a while and let the beauty of the sunset possess the soul.
  • To listen to what the trees are saying and the songs of the birds, and to gather the fragrant little flowers that bloom all along the trail of life!

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: “©2023 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

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.

Three Mid-September Nature Stops at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

By September 16, 2023, nearly three months after my triple bypass surgery, I had healed enough to spend time alone at the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge…unaccompanied by a fellow Nature enthusiast. I enjoyed three distinct facets of the Refuge that afternoon: driving and stopping along Rockhouse Bottoms Road on the north shore of Lake Wheeler; exploring the northern edge of my favorite riparian hardwood forest just south of HGH Road; and experiencing the tranquility of Blackwell Swamp.

 

Rockhouse Bottoms

 

I felt the liberating force of venturing alone into wildness, regaining confidence in myself, even if all three micro-explorations kept me within a few hundred feet of my vehicle. As they say, one step at a time! The Corps of Engineers and TVA tamed the Tennessee River 90 years ago. Lake Wheeler varies no more than five feet in elevation (water level) over a calendar year. The river no longer ebbs and flows with seasonal freshets, spring tempests, and extended droughts. Commercial tugs and barges ply its waters with assured full-pool ease.

 

Threatening clouds offered a hint of rain, yet my home rain gauge would not record a drop the remaining two weeks of September. Not to worry,…Lake Wheeler will continue to serve navigational (and power generation) needs. I watched a gentleman cast for game fish off-shore from his kayak. He landed several fish that I could not identify beyond most likely as bream. I had not brought my binoculars. The I-65 bridge crosses the river downstream just out of sight.

 

I recorded this 31-second video as the fisherman worked his bait offshore. My mind traveled back many decades to fishing with Dad and my brother along the rivers and creeks among western Maryland’s Central Appalachians. I regret not bringing along a folding chair to while away an hour enjoying the river and breathing in the summer afternoon’s soothing elixir.

I recorded this thirty-two second video along the Tennessee River:

 

I remind myself that these sandy river terrace floodplain fields are fertile, well-watered, and richly productive. This field is among the 4,000 acres of the Refuge that are under a Cooperative Farm Agreement.

 

I recorded this 0:31 video of Cooperative corn farming along Rockhouse Bottoms Road:

Under contract with the US Fish and Wildlife Service the producer manages the crop, leaving 15-18 percent of the harvest for wildlife consumption.

 

HGH Road: Thunder Echoes

 

The heavier (less sandy) soils inland nearly a mile, similarly fertile, support the riparian hardwood forest that I frequently bushwhack north to HGH Road. I spotted this recently bolted and scarred red oak as I cruised along HGH Road. Evidence suggested that the strike occurred the prior week when a cluster of thunderstorms raked Madison and Limestone Counties. This strike reached from the tree’s base as far into the crown as I could see. Long strips of bark and stout slivers of wood spear the ground within 50 feet of the bole.

 

This was a powerful blow! Will it be fatal? I’ve seen trees similarly struck that survived for decades. Others lost foliage within a week. Where do I place my bet? I don’t look for it to leaf out next spring. I stood in awe, camera in hand recording this 31-second video, sensing the absolute power of Nature’s ferocity just a week prior.

 

Because the tree stands within 50 feet of HGH Road, I will track its progress frequently.

Blackwell Swamp

 

Blackwell Swamp lies along Jolley B Road midway between the river and HGH Road. I love the habitat and ecosystem diversity represented by the open lake water along the river, the adjoining agricultural fields, the deep riparian hardwood forests along HGH Road, and the saturated swamp riverine habitat at Blackwell. Every ecosystem at Wheeler tells a compelling story.

 

I recorded this 31-second video as I enjoyed the sounds, visuals, and summer mood of the swamp:

 

I will revisit the Refuge trifecta once autumn weather takes a firmer grip on northern Alabama.

 

I grew up in country far removed from the Tennessee River. My Central Appalachian Ridge and Valley roots offered nothing remotely akin to the three stops I experienced September 16. Yes, I miss autumn in western Maryland…and on up into New England…where vibrant colors, sharp-edged weather shifts, and wide temperature swings prevailed. I also yearn for a little deep winter, lamenting that here our chances are slim. However, I refuse to succumb to memories that inflate the wonder of deep, fanciful recollections of falling and drifting snow, a roaring fireplace, and the pure frosted white a fresh blanket of snow brings to a sparkling dawn.

I need only remind myself of my mid-June triple bypass surgery and the reality that even if I resided in the land of blizzards and Hallmark winters, my spouse of 51 years would declare my snow shovel off-limits! So, I’ll occasionally welcome a bit of weather melancholy…and embrace our northern Alabama winter weather delight that counters our hot summers. I tell people who may not be familiar with our dormant season that fall ever-so-slowly grades into spring, sprinkled now and again with a day or two of winter.

I am ready for our extended fall-to-spring to begin.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations, from a single Louis Bromfield quote (Pleasant Valley):

  • By September 16, 2023, nearly three months after my triple bypass surgery, I had healed enough to spend time alone at the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
  • I felt the liberating force of venturing alone into wildness and regaining confidence in myself. As they say, one step at a time!
  • Every one of the diverse ecosystem elements at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge tells a compelling story.

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: “©2023 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 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.

 

Mid-September Wildflowers, Mushrooms, and Trees along the New Hiking and Biking Trail at Wheeler NWR!

On September 16, 2023, I co-led an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville) Nature interpretive saunter on the Hiking and Biking Trail at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, Alabama. Although the dual-stemmed yellow poplar tree beyond the sign is sporting a few yellow leaves, I view mid-September here in northern Alabama as late summer. The average daily high for September 16 in nearby Huntsville is 86.6 degrees. The official high in Huntsville for the cloudy and damp day we walked reached just 79 degrees.

 

Summer Wildflowers

 

It’s only fitting that we encountered diverse summer wildflowers, including these particularly showy common evening-primrose.

 

Giant ragweed towered above us in the more open areas. Its flowers, drab and unattractive, did not compete visually for our attention.

 

Bearded beggarticks (left) and late boneset added their beauty trailside.

 

 

 

 

We found rough cocklebur in flower, already showing its bristly seed pods. We’ve all experienced having the velcroed pods hitching a ride on our pants as we’ve brushed against its ripe pods a few weeks deeper into the fall. I could think of nothing negative about the downy lobelia with its glossy leaves and complex light blue flowers.

 

We strolled past dozens of other late summer bloomers, each one meriting inclusion in this post, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Perhaps on another day, my criteria may have yielded a far different portfolio.

 

Forests and Trees

 

This new trail at the Refuge passes through diverse habitats. The wildflowers prefer areas blessed (or cursed, depending on the trekker’s mood and the sun’s intensity) with sunlight reaching the ground with no more than partial forest shade. The trail below enters the full shade of an 80-year-old stand of mixed hardwoods. This riparian forest regenerated naturally on agricultural land abandoned when the TVA and Corps of Engineers acquired the Lake Wheeler impounded acreage and adjacent buffer land,

 

I record this 0:33 video as our OLLI entourage sauntered through the hardwood forest:

 

These are moist and fertile lands supporting a rich mix of hardwood species (left), and a handsome loblolly pine (right).

 

Along a forest edge fronting Cooperative Farm acreage, this slippery elm sapling reached long branches into the full sunlight. Direct sunlight is a precious resource, fueling this forest edge species in its quest to produce seed to ensure a next generation. Ulmus rubra is a medium sized deciduous tree common from southern Ontario south through central Alabama, with occasional individuals into northern Florida.

 

Cooperative Farms on the Refuge cover 4,000 acres, where farmers manage production, contractually agreeing to leave 15-18 percent of the grain crops for wildlife. This field, already harvested, grew corn. The trail is compacted, finely crushed limestone.

 

From open meadows lush with late summer wildflowers to deep riparian forests to agricultural crops, the trail transits diverse habitats assuring trekkers a rich portfolio of natural treats.

 

Fungi Kingdom

 

The maturing riparian forest we traversed is not static. Well into its ninth decade, the forest is producing tons per acre of dead and down woody debris. Blowdown and standing mortality occur routinely as stands age and surviving individual trees continue to grow ever-larger crowns. Eighty years ago a stand that carried thousands of sapling stems per acre now has fewer than dozens of 90-110-foot tall mature trees per acre. Growth and maturation and death occur naturally and predictably. Trees, branches, and woody debris are temporary features of the forest floor. Our long growing seasons, ample annual rainfall, and moist conditions encourage decay organisms, principally fungi.

We found false turkey tail (Stereum) ubiquitous on large downed woody debris.

 

Far less common, jelly tree ear mushrooms drew my attention. I am a dedicated edible mushroom forager. This is one of my preferred edibles when I am in areas where collection is permitted, unlike along this public trail.

 

We also encountered several clusters of ringless honey mushrooms, which I could identify for our OLLI hikers.

 

This large cluster of ringless honey mushrooms beckoned me, yet I left it undisturbed! Our purpose was Nature discovery, education, and interpretation…not foraging!

 

Not an edible, crowded parchment handsomely adorned smaller dead branches.

 

We also discovered a log decorated with dog vomit slime mold, a mercifully non edible mushroom with a demonstrably non-appetizing moniker!

 

I thoroughly enjoy trekking with my OLLI colleagues, who generally share my demographic — retired professionals who are eager to learn and experience more about Nature. My retirement mission fits remarkably well with teaching in this population of lifelong learners:

Steve’s 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.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static.
  • All of us hunger to learn more about Nature.
  • I am grateful to live within 15 miles of a national natural treasure: Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

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: “©2023 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.

 

 

 

 

Mid-August 2023 Aerial Exploration of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

On August 20, 2023, a friend took me aloft in his Cessna 182. We departed Pryor Regional Airfield, Decatur, Alabama at 7:00 AM under cloud-free but hazy skies, with the threat/promise (depending upon perspective) of expanding heat index…arriving long after our scheduled return to the airfield. Our flight plan encompassed exploring the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I focus this Post on our aerial exploration of the Refuge.

Redstone Arsenal

The Redstone Arsenal, a major Huntsville, Alabama landmark, covers 35,000 acres stretching south from Huntsville to the Tennessee River. The Refuge extends eastward along the River from Decatur, overlapping the Arsenal by 4,085 acres. Snapped flying westward south of the River, the two photos below capture the Arsenal and the Refuge’s overlapping acreage, indistinguishable from the greater Arsenal. Just as property lines do not appear from the air, wildlife visiting and resident to the Refuge pays no heed to boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackwell Swamp

My Refuge wanderings often take me to Blackwell Swamp (summer at left; winter to the right).

 

I’ve spent many hours airborne (fixed wing and helicopter) during my 12 years practicing forestry with Union Camp Corporation (1973-85), as well as over my higher education career at nine universities across 35 years. During my 21 years in senior administrative roles at seven of those institutions, I somehow always managed to sweet-talk my way to a local aerial excursion. Lift me a couple of thousand feet above terra firma and I see features with a clarity not available to my earthbound eye. I know it sounds like a 1960s weed-effect, but soaring into the sky expands my mind. So much lies hidden when I am road-bound. Sure, detail leaps at me when I saunter within our forests, but strange as it may seem, when I am on the ground, I simply cannot see the forest for the trees, much less the broader landscape and terrain.

Here’s Blackwell Swamp from the south (left) and the view from north to south (right). The Tennessee River runs across the image (right) a quarter of a mile below the swamp. The swamp from tip to tip extends about three miles.

Blackwell

 

Here’s my 22-second aerial video of Blackwell Swamp.

 

Rockhouse Bottoms Road

 

Jolly B Road runs north/south along the west side of Blackwell Swamp, extending south to the river, where it turns to border the river to the west several miles, the river to the south and Cooperative Farmland to the north.

 

The paired May 2023 photos above came from lower left corner of the image below at left. The image at right shows Jolly B Road emerging from the north (lower right in the photo) and meeting Rockhouse Bottoms Road along the river.

 

 

 

Buckeye Impoundment lies north of the Tennessee River and nearly two miles west of Blackwell Swamp. From the air, one might wonder why these open fields carry the Impoundment moniker.

 

However I photographed Buckeye Impoundment several winters prior, the views to the south and north northwest, respectively. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages water levels by way of control gates, flooding dormant season habitats for waterfowl overwintering on the Refuge.

Buckeye Impoundment

 

Diverse habitats encourage both seasonal and year-round wildlife. My aerial reconnaissance raised a curtain on the complex integrated ecosystem that the Refuge manages for wildlife.

 

Limestone Creek Bay (left) lies just east of I-65. Its year-round water derives from Lake Wheeler backing into the Limestone Creek Basin. Likewise, the Lake backs into the northeast side of the Bay, where Beaverdam Creek enters the Bay (right). The Beaverdam Creek National Natural Landmark lies upstream in the upper left corner of the photo at right. When on the Boardwalk Trail I’ve wondered what lay downstream from the end-of-trail deck. Now I know.

 

Other Refuge Features

 

The image below (left) looks west at the I-65 Bridge and the city of Decatur lying beyond. The second photo peers north. The Refuge borders the river on both the north and south shores.

 

I recorded this 0:37 video of the bridge and the mixed forest, fields, and impoundments on both shores.

 

I’ve stopped by the Visitors Center scores of times. When there, I feel as though I am in a wild area, surrounded by tens of thousands of sandhill cranes (November through mid-February); as many as a dozen whooping cranes; untold hundreds (thousands) of ducks and geese; and diverse mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, trees, flowers, fungi, and other lifeforms…on and on! And yet, there is a negative element of such aerial perspective, revealing that within a broader context, my sense of wildness diminishes with the reality that roads, houses, and commercial properties are nearby.

The Visitors Center (parking lot and a few buildings lower left center below left) is just one-half mile from a primary state highway…and two miles from I-65. The two-story observation building is at the left edge of the copse of trees (right photograph). This is clearly not wilderness, yet when I view the flooded flats on a cold and blustery January day, viewing and hearing the cacophonous flocks of cranes, ducks, and geese, I am in a metaphorical wilderness, as distant from civilization as one can wander here in the southeast USA.

 

I delighted in seeing this near-urban refuge from 2,000 feet. I thank my friend (and pilot), Ted Satcher, for lifting me above the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and opening a window to enjoy a new perspective on a national treasure right here in our greater Huntsville backyard!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations from my aerial flight and the breath-taking perspective from 2,000 feet above the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Although this is not remote and distant wildness, the Refuge is a metaphorical wilderness, as distant from civilization as one can wander here in the southeast USA..
  • On such flights, the whole notion of my taglines…Nature-Inspired Life and Living; Nature-Buoyed Aging and Healing!…come alive in crystal clarity.
  • I am mesmerized by flying above a natural landscape, where beauty, magic, wonder, awe, and inspiration reach into my soul.

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: “©2023 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.