Weather Whiplash

As it turns out, “April, April” isn’t the only month that “does what it will” (click on this link to one of my previous posts). A record high of 97 ⁰ F (36 ⁰ C) for Colorado Springs on Sunday, September 6 was followed by a slightly cooler, smoke-filled Monday from fires that are devastating what seems like the entire American West. A cold front that blew in from Canada Monday evening helped disperse the smoke, but temperatures by Tuesday had plummeted 50 to 60 ⁰ F (10 to 15 ⁰ C). In the course of the day it started to snow, and the following morning the region awoke to 4 to 12 inches of fluffy snow. The moisture from this precipitation was this storm’s only redeeming aspect, as it helped control some of the forest fires and lessen—if only minimally—our drought. Clouds, fog, and mist permeated our skies until Friday, an unusual occurrence in and by itself in this “City of Sunshine.” By the weekend, the thermometer had climbed back into the 80s.

With people dying or losing their homes to wildfires, hurricanes, or other disasters I’m not complaining about the erratic weather with regard to myself. But I’m saddened by the sudden death these abrupt changes portend for some flora and fauna. Plants, even though their blooming cycles will come to a premature halt, might have the ability to recover. Not so some critters. Reports and personal observations of exhausted, dying, or dead birds were the most heartbreaking news that resulted from this wintry interlude. Migratory insectivorous birds on their way south had to rest, and instead of finding essential fuel to power them through their hundred- if not thousand-mile-journey, were trapped, with too many hungry mouths to feed and too little sustenance. A sense of desperation prevailed among their last-ditch efforts not to starve. Masses of exhausted birds along the side of the road were covered by snow plows and perished. News of a similar nature continued to pour in, but I couldn’t keep reading them. Instead, I kept refilling the bird feeders in our yard and watched as tiny hummingbirds parked themselves near the nectar-holders to get them through another cold day.

I know this is not a positive post, but I don’t feel positive. Extreme weather events on this earth are only predicted to worsen. Unless we mend our ways, which we don’t. Not really. A few half-hearted assertions here and there, some wishy-washy legislation that is circumvented for a million spurious pretexts. We are a short-sighted species with little regard to what happens beyond our collective umbilical view. The saddest things about our destructive ways is that we are taking countless other creatures down with us.

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Exhausted Bank Swallow.

As I don’t think there is anything to “like” in this post, I have disabled the like button.

Hildegard

To be born the 10th child in her family predestined Hildegard to be given as a tithe to the Lord, and to spend her life as a nun. She had no say in that decision, but lest we feel sorry for her, she became one of the most influential women of the Middle Ages (even though this sounds like an oxymoron), who not only pushed at glass ceilings long before they were named, she actually shattered more than one.

Being spared the drudgery of married life and the associated risks of pregnancy and childbirth prolonged a woman’s life expectancy, and Hildegard lived to the remarkable-for-the-age age of 81. Born in 1098 in Germany’s Rhine-Hesse region (one thing she and I have in common), she left her family and joined the Benedictine order at the Disibodenberg Cloister near Bad Sobernheim as an eight-year-old, with Jutta von Sponheim becoming her Mother Superior of sorts. Not content with being cloistered, Jutta was an anchorite—meaning that she confined herself to a life of prayer and contemplation in a tiny cell. Typically this had only one opening through which food went in and refuse out, but because Jutta had several aspirants under her spiritual care, her cubicle also had a door through which the girls could enter and exit. Hildegard received instruction not only in reading and writing, but in all things theological, and when Jutta died in 1136, her fellow sisters elected her as their new leader, their “magistra.”

Conflicts with the abbot led Hildegard and her nuns to make an exodus to the Rupertsberg near Bingen on the Rhine in 1150, where she had arranged for the construction of a new cloister. 15 years later, she founded a second convent on the opposite side of the river in Eibingen, near Rüdesheim (well known to American tourists who take a Rhine River cruise).

Hildegard of Bingen, as she became known (another moniker was “Sybil of the Rhine,” likening her to the prophetess Sybil of Greek mythology), shines like a bright meteor in the sky of the Dark Ages. She became a well-known theologian who not only taught at her cloisters, but also at cathedrals in Mainz, Trier, and Köln in public (imagine that). She corresponded both with fellow abbesses and with male church leaders, including several Popes, one of whom attested that the religious visions, for which she became known (which modern-day neurologists have attributed to complex migraines), came from God, and not the Devil, as was asserted by some jealous and disgruntled monks. A thorn in the side of many superior (only in terms of church hierarchy) clergy, she was threatened at least once with excommunication. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa met with her in person to be advised on spiritual matters. Hildegard invented a language (“lingua ignota,” or unknown language) so she and her companions could communicate in code. In addition to being a teacher, she became a published author, celebrated composer, and esteemed healer.

At least in Germany, Hildegard experienced a resurrection in the late 20th century. Scholars reexamined, revised, and republished her writings, she was the protagonist of a number of biographies, and her musical arrangements were recorded by modern artists. Her medical publications were rediscovered and popularized. A wholesome diet was considered a prerequisite for good health, and she attributed particular powers to spelt. As was the norm during her lifetime, herbal remedies were the mainstay of medicine, but animals and minerals were equally employed in the service of healing. To modern ears, many of her concepts sound as medieval as they are.

There is no doubt that she was—and still is—commercialized, with Hildegard books, recipes, musical compositions, spelt products, wine, and herbal treatments becoming all the rage, but I have the impression that in the last five to ten years the Hildegard fire doesn’t burn as hotly as it did at its height. Considering that nearly an entire millennium separates us, we can’t accept her world view without questioning, but she continues to inspire. While I don’t believe in the categorization of people into saints or sinners, the Catholic Church made Hildegard a Saint and a “Doctor of the Church” in 2012, the latter a rare distinction for a mere woman. Only three others were similarly honored: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

What has become of Hildegard’s erstwhile domains? All but a few walls of the Cloister at Disibodenberg have been gnawed on by the tooth of time, and only foundations remain of the Rupertsberg Cloister, which was destroyed in 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War. The Cloister in Eibingen was secularized in 1802, and subsequently dismantled, but surviving portions of the structure became a parish church which today harbors the Hildegard reliquary. Just a short distance away, nestled on top of the rolling hills that border the Rhine River, a new Benedictine convent opened in 1904. Named Abbey St. Hildegard, it is still active today. Its beautiful church is open to visitors, a gift shop sells all things Hildegard, and rooms can be rented for spiritual retreats.

Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, and on this day in any other year but 2020, pilgrims watch as the golden shrine that purportedly holds some of her relics, is carried in a procession through Eibingen (if you find the idea of people’s body parts being venerated alienating, you are not alone).

Thank you for reading this rather lengthy article. My interest in Hildegard’s remarkable life has taken me to the main locales where she was active. I’m curious to learn if you have heard of Hildegard, or have visited any of these destinations.

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If you are interested in hearing modern-day music based on her compositions, here is a link to a youtube recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2j_t1o_g5U&list=PLeYfIuyXgO3PNk6mgzaCph79nqasEhxyh&index=29

If you would like to read a historical novel about Hildegard, I recommend Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations. Here is a link to the goodreads review:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13326422-illuminations

Life at the Cemetery

Cemeteries throughout history have been called cities of the dead (necropolis), but one of the reasons I like to spend time in them while still moving and breathing is related to the fact that they abound with life.

As stated before, graveyards tend to be verdant oases that provide habitat for many animals, and Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs is no exception. I don’t want to belittle the sadness, sorrow, and longing we feel when we pay respect at the final resting places of our loved ones, but, at the same time, it’s a solace to be surrounded by signs that speak to us of aliveness.

The cycles of the seasons are echoed by the changing vegetation. Am I alone in finding consolation in the notion that my grave will, in turns, be covered with a soft blanket of snow in winter, a fragrant carpet of petals in spring, lush meadows in summer, and desiccating, crunchy leaves in autumn? That my limbs might grow into those of a tree and that those tree limbs will provide shelter and sustenance to countless creatures? That rabbits and deer will munch on the grasses I sprout and squirrels will play hide and seek in the canopy above me? That migratory birds will find rest and rations to fuel their journey? That the wind will whistle and the birds will serenade my eternal slumber?

Again, I harbor no death wish, but to know that our bodies are part of an intricate cycle and will be recycled into new life and energy might be a source of comfort. Mind you, I speak of our mortal shells only. What happens to our souls we have endeavored to comprehend ever since we have been endowed with the capacity for complex thought, but the mystery will remain until we find out—or not.

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Memento Mori

I don’t particularly harbor a death wish—far from it—and had planned this post long before current events unfolded and gave us more reminders of our mortality than we would ever want. Some people avoid cemeteries, but others gravitate toward them (even while still alive). One reason I like to spend time there is related to my favorite pastime: birding. As most graveyards are verdant oases and provide habitat for much avian life, it’s not unusual for birders to frequent them.

While human cacophony and chaos are ubiquitous, they tend to spare memorial parks, perhaps out of some underlying tacit acknowledgment that our dead deserve peace and quiet. Or because of an inherent human tendency to avoid reminders of our impermanence and finiteness. And while I’m not particularly fond of my own, I am attracted by the stillness and serenity that tend to shroud cemeteries.

My personal interest in history and desire to seek out the final resting places of persons whose life stories have touched me adds another motivation to visit. 220-acre Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1871, and while young by European standards, its tangle of tombs tells ample tales.

Regardless of who we are, whether we end up in a pauper’s grave or a fancy mausoleum, whether we are believers in an afterlife or in complete oblivion, whether we are cremated or left to return to the elements out of which we were made, burial grounds remind me of our shared humanity and fate, a realization I find strangely consoling.

Because birds and other animals have no compunctions about spending time in necropolises, and populate them naturally and actively, and because the local vegetation reflects nature’s cycles and the passing of the seasons, I find comfort in the pulsating life force that is everywhere in evidence, some of which I will share with you next week.

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Fledgling Summer

If eggs are beautifully wrapped gifts with beguiling potential and naked hatchlings are the unsightly presents precious to the giver but not necessarily the giftee, by the time nestlings have put on fluffy down and are begging for food with wide, brightly colored gapes, most recipients would consider them at least acceptable, if not downright attractive offerings.

Once fledglings leave the nest and learn the ins and outs of being birds, it would take an uninterested or hardened soul not to feel at least a smidgen of sympathy for the remarkable creatures that have transmutated from yolk to feathered beings capable (or almost capable) of flight.

Nature’s predictable (which does not equal uninteresting) patterns have the ability to anchor and ground us in what are otherwise unsettling and unsettled times. It is with gratitude that I received this summer’s fledgling gifts, and with gratitude that I am sharing them with you.

Red-winged Blackbird–very recently fledged

Killdeer–very recently fledged (but already trying out those wings!)

Spotted Sandpiper siblings–recently fledged

Wild Turkey–recently fledged

Bullock’s Oriole–still has its sweet baby face, but already takes care of itself

American Robin–already quite independent, though usually with one of the parents nearby

Say’s Phoebe–fairly grown-up already

PS: The featured photo above shows three fledged Barn Swallows perched on a branch, already capable of flight, but still quite happy to be fed by their parents.