Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunset from Birmingham's Ruffner Mountain

Thanks to those of you who came out to the Ruffner Mountain Wine and Cheese Sunset Hike this past Friday. We were a tad late for the sunset, but it was beautiful to watch the afterglow fade into night perched there above the city. For the record, it was not my fault that we did not have cups to drink the wine. 
But it was another lesson in the importance of bringing your own water bottle every time you hike. Thanks to the Ruffner staff for hosting us. 
Planning a family-friendly Sunday afternoon hike on Oct. 18. Be thinking about it. More details coming soon. Ruffner is a great spot.

Atticus unveiled

I just finished Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's new, old book (in the interest of full disclosure, I listened to the audiobook).

It's really a puzzling work. I had read Adam Gopnik's piece about the book in The New Yorker. It includes the following observation: "The story related is simple, and suspiciously self-referential—it’s difficult to credit that a first novel would so blithely assume so much familiarity with a cast of characters never before encountered."

I'd have to agree.

Another great accompaniment to the new book is a piece Jay Reeves wrote about Harper Lee's newspaper editor father: Writings of Harper Lee's dad reveal Atticus Finch's conflict.

There's something disturbing and yet liberating about this new take on a the revered fictional hero and the man that inspired his creation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ruffner Mountain Wine and Cheese Sunset Hike


 I have been going to Ruffner Mountain Nature Center and Preserve since I was in elementary school. And since I've been back in Birmingham as an adult, I've always wanted to go on one of Ruffner's Wine and Cheese sunset hikes. I'm finally getting to go this Friday, Sept. 18, 6 p.m.
Those of you who've been to Ruffner know it offers one of the best views of Jones Valley and the city. That view would be especially beautiful at sunset, but you'd normally be back at your car by then because you don't want to be in the woods in the dark with the gates closed.
But once a month in the fall, Ruffner takes a group out, provides wine and cheese, holds a little socializing, and guides them back by lantern. If you can make it this Friday, register with Ruffner.  They need a head count, and they do ask for a $20 donation to support the park and cover the costs.
I'll actually be leading the hike, and speaking briefly, and selling books to anyone who needs one.
Hope you can join us.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Where Bear Meets Bryant, Again and Again - The New York Times

The New York Times on the annual reunion of folks who were named for Bear Bryant: Where Bear Meets Bryant, Again and Again - The New York Times.

I guess I'm surprised they're surprised.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Walking seems to be on people's minds

Maybe it's the expectation of cooler weather but I've been seeing a lot of writing about walking.

This is a nice piece from the New Yorker. I excerpted the health benefits portion below, but the piece ambles back to the connections between walking and creativity, especially writing.

Why Walking Helps Us Think - The New Yorker: What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

’Bama vs. Gators - The New York Times

New York Times joins in the annual Alabama gator hunt:

Bama vs. Gators - The New York Times: The trick is not finding an alligator, but finding one worthy of the time and effort required to capture it. Most want a 10-footer. The one Stokes found, 100 miles north of here, was 15 feet long, and it weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Its stomach contained the front and rear halves of an adult white-tailed deer, a pair of squirrel carcasses, the bones of a duck, and teeth believed to be from a young cow.

“Hunting something that can hunt you back — that’s kind of cool,” said Carlos Garcia, waiting for sunset at the Cliff’s Landing boat launch.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain - The New York Times

From the New York Times:

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain - The New York Times: A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Float the Cahaba with the Cahaba River Sociey

Make plans now to join the Cahaba River Society for one of the many guided trips this spring and summer. The Cahaba Lilies should be blooming soon. The Lily Fest is upcoming. In June, the moonlight floats are a favorite. There are more events later in the year as well but this should get you started.

For more details and contact information, go straight to the CRS outings site.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Backpacking in the Sipsey Wilderness

This was an arduous trip completed the weekend of March 21. The trek can be traced here Sipsey Wilderness Adventure Extreme | Garmin Adventures. We camped near the mouth of Bee Branch Canyon. A little over 18 miles in two days. But it was worth it. By now, the trillium pictured should have popped out. If you decide to hike it, be prepared to make stream crossings. And on the Borden Creek Trail, make sure to find and go through Fat Man's squeeze. We missed the entrance and went out and around the rock outcropping, which made for a treacherous journey.
The website has a description of the Borden Creek Trail portion of this hike that is worth studying before going.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Perry Lakes and Barton's Beach Trip with Southeastern Outings

Ready for some relief from snow and cold?

Consider joining me on a trip Sat., Feb. 28, with Southeastern Outings to Perry Lakes Park and Barton's Beach in Perry County. For trip details and more about the Southeastern Outings organization, visit their website.

 This will be an all-day affair. It's an hour-and-a-half drive down and we'll spend a few hours exploring. Afterwards, there is an optional side-trip into Marion for a Low-Country Boil sponsored by the Perry County Historical Society.

The Perry Lakes hike is included in Five-Star Trails: Birmingham. It is is one of my favorite hidden jewels, a very different kind of landscape.

Perry Lakes are oxbow lakes, once a part of the Cahaba River but cut off when the river changed course. Growing out of chocolate-colored water are cypress and tupelo trees, their trunks swollen and their branches draped with Spanish moss.

You can get a tree-top view of all this from an Extreme Birding Tower, (re)constructed on the site by students from Auburn's Rural Studio.

We'll hike a very moderate distance to see the sites and emerge on the banks of the Cahaba River at Barton's Beach, a Nature Conservancy Preserve.

The slideshow below is from a summer time visit. I will be interested to see what we find this time of year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Geology Rocks! this Sunday at Red Mountain Park

Jim Lacefield knows Alabama mountains inside and out, and this Sunday, Jan. 18, he'll lead an expedition through Red Mountain Park and deep into time. 
Lacefield, a retired adjunct professor of biology and Earth Sciences at University of North Alabama, is the author of Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks, a guide to Alabama's geology. 
More than that, Lacefield's book traces Alabama's journey through millennia of continental collisions, seas rising and falling, mountains building and wearing away. It's a story found in the fossil and written in rock layers. The book was recently republished in a revised and expanded second edition. 
There are few places in Alabama where geology is more important than at Red Mountain, the source of the iron ore that build the iron and steel industry in Birmingham.
Lacefield's visit is part of the Friends of Red Mountain Park's hike series, guided walks held the third Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Come on out and join us. We'll be hiking to site of ore mines and out to Grace's Gap, the high spot at the eastern end of the park, where you can get a great view with the city skyline in the distance. The hike will cover somewhere between 3 and 4 miles.
Further details and directions.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last minute Christmas gift idea for the Alabama nature lover

Five Star Trails: Birmingham, my newly published hiking guide to Birmingham, should be available this weekend at Little Professor Book Center in Homewood, Church Street Coffee and Books in Crestline, Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Mountain High Outfitters, and now at Alabama Outdoors in Homewood. Books-A-Million and Vulcan Park have also carried it.

You'll find a kind mention of the book, plus a lot of other ideas at Joe's Outdoor Office Gift Guide on
All merchandise available from local merchants.
Couple of other ideas: I highly recommend River Dreams, a film chronicling Hunter Nichols voyage from Birmingham down the Cahaba and out to the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful, fascinating, sort of makes you want to do it. Except that it looked really tough at points.

 Another great documentary film is America's Amazon, an exploration of the Alabama's remarkably biodiverse river system. You may have read about it recently in print editions of The Birmingham News.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bald Eagles fishing and nesting at Lake Guntersville Dam |

Great gallery of photos by Joe Songer of juvenile bald eagles learning to fish and fly at Lake Guntersville.

Bald Eagles fishing and nesting at Lake Guntersville Dam |
"The action takes place most of the day with a slight lull around noon. The fishing starts just after sunrise and peaks between 8-10 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and sunset.

If you want to visit and see the action for yourself, pack a lunch and bring a good set of binoculars. Also a comfortable folding chair comes in handy. Restrooms are available on the south side of the dam. Dress comfortably and wear warm clothes."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Audubon Society scientist highlights urban bird habitats in visit to Birmingham |

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East Lake Park heron 122811.jpg
A heron sits on a light pole at East Lake Park. Herons traditionally nest on the island in the park, but that could change if more trees are lost to beavers. (The Birmingham News/Linda Stelter)

Audubon Society scientist highlights urban bird habitats in visit to Birmingham |

National Audubon Society Chief Scientist Gary Langham was in Birmingham this week and pointed out that climate change and development are likely to decrease bird habitat and range, but city dwellers can help counter the trend by creating bird friendly habitats:

"Alabama species whose ranges are threatened include the wild turkey, the wood duck, bald eagle, mallard, osprey, and dozens of others.

The good news is that efforts that can help birds also have positive effects on a city, Langham said. "Urban landscapes and corridors that are good for the community in and of themselves, but also help support some of the species that are most at risk for climate change."