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Life Lesson From a Little Green Heron

A Nature Based Leadership Essay

 Little Green Heron

©2016 (SJones)

Steve Jones; 2.28.16

My list of lifetime regrets stands at 49. No, not every “I should not have said, did, acted, or behaved the way I did.” Instead, these are the ones of significance that have traveled with me, some for four decades and more. Ones that hurt someone, or something; not those that simply made me look dumb or feel stupid. I started the list probably twenty years ago. I lost it once and rewrote it. When I found the one I had lost, the new one matched perfectly. These regrets are deeply etched, as are their lessons.

Not to worry, I am not about to recite all 49. Just one of the regrets and corresponding lessons relevant to my thinking about nature based leadership and the Nature Based Leadership Institute we are creating here at Antioch University New England.

I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland at the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, constructed in the mid-19th Century, its eastern terminus in Georgetown near Washington D.C. Dad maintained an entire menu of fishing holes within an hour or so of home. Battie Mixon, a restored and re-watered section of the canal just 18 miles away, offered sunfish, bass, catfish, and a few other species. We fished there 5-10 times every summer. Dad could fish and allow me the freedom to wander the shoreline staying in sight. Once I reached adolescence he no longer insisted I stay within view. Steve little green heron 1

I was perhaps 12 or 13 one day when the fish weren’t biting enough to command my full attention. Just to the right (south) of the towpath (see photo) a linear depression (where canal construction engineers took additional fill for the elevated towpath and the next lock a half-mile from the photo point) also held water, but shallower than the fishing hole and being reclaimed by sediment and emerging vegetation. I often watched that wetland for turtles, snakes, and birds. This day I saw a wading bird that I can identify today from the remembered image as a little green heron. I did not know its identity at the time. I did know that at 100 plus feet distance from me the bird offered a tempting rock target to the adolescent Steve. I found the perfect rock and without considering the consequences, aimed and threw at the impossibly small target.

I hit the beautiful little green heron in the head; the bird toppled. I waited for it to regain its footing, or rise and fly. It did neither. I did not celebrate my accuracy nor congratulate my “lucky” throw. I stood stunned, suffering silently for the foolish act I had just completed. I close my eyes today, fifty years later, and I can see the image clearly, and I feel the regret as though I had just this moment slung the rock.

I did not tell Dad; in fact I told no one until this writing. Yes, I’ve killed birds since then, upland game birds as a licensed hunter: woodcock, pheasant, ruffed grouse, quail, and turkey. But no more errant rocks. Such birds as the little green heron are protected by law, and now safe by virtue of my own awareness of unintended consequences. My guilt and shame live on, fueling a palpable regret, unabated by time.

The shallow, warm-water slough surface was green in spots with filamentous algae that day; I still see the bird’s floating, delicate corpse as I walked closer, hoping against hope that my missile had done less than mortal harm. Not so. I suppose my lament relates more to the symbol of the bird than of the actual death. I brought to an end the life of a creature that brings magic to an otherwise dismal setting – not dismal to me, yet few people see the beauty and wonder in the stagnant, algae-coated warm water he fished. I found magic in the setting even then, the sunning turtles aligned on fallen logs, the dragon flies darting just above the green surface, the muskrat tracing a ‘V’ through the still water. The little green had stood there fixed, and transfixed, watching for edible life, waiting patiently, fearing nothing. Steve little green heron 2

My projectile came without warning. Evolution had not alerted his nerves, sensors, and reflexes to adolescent-heaved stones. I robbed a vibrant ecosystem of a precious participant for no purpose other than to test my arm. Perhaps I am further saddened because that selfish act of violence and waste symbolizes my own species’ careless disregard for so much that is nature and natural. We tend too often to ask of other life, “Does it add material value?” If not, then go ahead, toss a rock its way. So much of what we do is blind to the intrinsic values that economics ignore. Isn’t it time we gain awareness, learn to attribute real value, and stop throwing rocks to test an arm?

I ache for that individual little green heron, and always will. I paid the deep price of guilt, humility, and shame to learn and accept a life-lasting lesson. Every action yields consequences. Nothing should be done for which consequences are not apparent.

I also now know that a conscience doesn’t develop from reading a manual. I learned that late summer afternoon the power of recognized guilt and responsibility as soon as the heron fell. I’ve held myself accountable for fifty years. A cog in the wheel of life is connected to the whole. No little green heron stands alone, separate from all else. How can our Nature Based Leadership Institute open many more eyes to such lessons of interconnectivity, responsibility, and consequences? How can we discourage rock-slinging in all its metaphorical dimensions? How can we illuminate the consequences of every decision? Perhaps most importantly, how do we instill an Earth Ethic (a disciplined self-awareness and conscience) in every business, NGO, organization, and individual? How do we successfully encourage, develop, and instill an obligation to be responsible Earth stewards?

Perhaps most importantly, how do we apply nature’s lessons to living, learning, serving, and leading? That afternoon years ago I looked at the little green heron. Blindly, I looked, yet did not see. I did not see the life and its place in the wetlands ecosystem, nor the wetlands and its place on the landscape. I saw only a target to serve me in a brief moment of self-absorption and shameful entertainment – a contest of sorts to, again, test my arm. Only after I exacted the toll of death to the bird did I both see and feel. I saw the act for what it was and I felt the consequence and harm from my foolish throw. I could not undo the deed. Instead, I decided to learn from that day, and to apply the lesson time and time again.

Now, I am embedding the lesson in the fabric of our Nature Based Leadership Institute, and sharing this tale for the benefit of those engaged and for the many we hope to touch. All lessons distill to stories. I will take the little green heron to the end of my life’s journey, telling and retelling my story and the fateful role he played.

About the Author: Steve’s PhD is in Natural Resources Management (1987). He practiced forestry in the southern forest products industry for a dozen years prior to pursuing his doctorate. He has since served eight universities, including three as CEO (2004-present). He is currently President, Antioch University New England (AUNE). He also chaired the Governing Board of the University of the Arctic 2005-08. Steve believes that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or inspired compellingly by nature. Steve co-created AUNE’s Nature Based Leadership Institute in 2015 (http://www.antiochne.edu/community/nature-based-leadership-institute/). Reach Steve at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Sodium Affected Soils

Soil Sample

Thoughnot a plant food nutrient, sodium plays a critical role in soil and turfgrass health.  The primary problem posed by high sodium is not a toxicity hazard, but a rapid decline in soil structure that can begin when sodium base saturation exceeds the critical 5% level.  High sodium reduces soil permeability, resulting in drainage and compaction problems that cause a decline in turf vigor. For the turfgrass manager it’s critical to understand how sodium accumulates in the soil and what steps can be taken to amend high sodium levels.

The primary cause of soil sodium accumulation is poor quality irrigation water, but its not just water-borne sodium that creates the problem. A number of other factors influence the sodium permeability hazard of irrigation water, such as bicarbonate and calcium levels.

If irrigation water poses a sodium permeability hazard a number of treatment strategies can be employed, depending on water quality and soil type. Irrigation water treatment has become a hot topic in recent years, in part due to the increased reliance on poor quality municipal effluent water. But treatments are often over-prescribed or sold to treat sodium related problems that simply don’t exist. Before making amendment decisions ensure that your soil and irrigation water quality analysis is conducted by an accredited, reputable laboratory. Moreover, seek the advice of a Professional Agrologist before deciding on your amendment or treatment options.

Laboratory Soil Analysis
DIRECTIONS FOR TAKING SOIL SAMPLES -

STEP 1: Use soil profiler or other tool to obtain soil samples to the maximum depth possible. The depth indicates how loose the soil is. The deeper the soil sample the better it is for the turf or other plant materials.
     
STEP 2: Twist probe and pull out of ground. Measure from surface line to bottom of probe, the bottom of area "C" on the photo. If using a trowel or shovel, attempt to create a flat surface that is perpendiculat, removing the loose dirt out of the way so that it can be seen more from the side and to enable an accurate measure of the depth. Write down "Average Coring Depth" so that it can be transferred to the form.
    
STEP 3: Push plug up from bottom of probe. Carefully fleck away soil until you expose beginning of roots. Sometimes, the roots are visible at the bottom of the probe. Measure from surface to end of root system. If using a trowel or shovel, measure the depth of the roots, similar to using the probe, by scratching some dirt away to determine the deepest part of the roots, from top of soil to bottom of "B" on photo. Fill in "Main Root Development" with this figure.
   
STEP 4: Measure the depth of thatch. That's the peat-like or corky material from the grass line to beginning of soil surface, area "A" on the photo. Fill in "Thatch Layer Depth" with this figure.

STEP 5: Remove soil from probe (or trowel), discard thatch and grass, put soil in sample bag. You will need to repeat Steps 1,2, & 5 till there is 1/2 to 1 cup of soil in the bag (Zip Lock).

STEP 6: Fill in the "Regular Cutting Height" at which you cut your lawn.

STEP 7: Fill in "Type of Grasses" in your lawn if known (not a critical).

STEP 8: Measure the turf area for which the sample was collecte

STEP 9: Check off watering method you use.

STEP 10: Check off correct lawn life stage. "Developing" means lawn was established within the last two years. "Renovation" means lawn was established but needed extensive seeding last season which was done. "New-seeded" - self explanatory. "New Sod" - self explanatory. If any other condition exists, note in blank area.

STEP 11: Date sample taken and last time lawn or garden was limed.

STEP 12: Transfer the Data onto this Form 

STEP 13: Send $49 along with soil sample in Zip Lock bag to: Prescription Soil Analysis, LLC, PO Box 708, Dillsburg, PA, 17019


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References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:
Audubon Lifestyles
www.audubonlifestyles.org 
  
The International Sustainability Council
www.thesustainabilitycouncil.org 

Toyota
www.toyota.com

Ford Motors
www.ford.com

Girl Scouts of America
www.girlscouts.org

Austin Ranch
www.austinranch.com

Turf Feeding Systems
www.turffeeding.com

The University of Michigan
www.umich.edu

The Dodson Group
www.thedodsongrp.com      

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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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