Pikes Peak

The highest heights have inspired humankind since times immemorial. In Colorado, we are spoiled not only with lofty mountains, but with a generous number of 14ers: at least 53 stretch above fourteen thousand feet, though the actual number is still debated, depending on the definition used. That Colorado Springs was put on the map had much to do with the proximity of one of these giants. The city’s founder General William Jackson Palmer thought it the perfect neighbor.

American Indian tribes knew this mountain, venerated it and its spirits, and called it by different names. Other early visitors to the region likely laid eyes on it, and chose their own appellations. We know that the local band of Utes thought of it as “Tava”, meaning sun, and they were known as Tabeguache (People of Sun Mountain). It is ironic that the man for whom the mountain was named was not among the summiteers, but also understandable, considering that Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) and his men were ill-prepared for a winter ascent in November 1806, when they explored portions of the new United States territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Before designated trails, attaining the mountaintop at 14,115 feet on foot must have been an even greater physical challenge than it is on existing paths today. The most popular approaches are the 12.5 mile Barr Trail from Manitou Springs up its east slope, starting at an elevation of 6,800 feet, and the shorter, 7 mile hike across the northwest slope beginning at an altitude of 10,000 feet near the Crags. Both are worth every drop of sweat and every rise in heartbeat.

As some are not inclined or able to cover such distances on foot, soon after settlement of the region other means to arrive at the summit were contrived. A crude carriage road was completed in 1887, and a railroad in 1891. Improvement on the road commenced in 1915, in order to make it more accessible for automobiles. Eventually, the nineteen mile Pikes Peak Highway between Cascade and the top was paved all the way.

A remarkable woman who challenged herself before the existence of trails and who did not mind the perspiration was Julia Archibald Holmes (1838-1887), one of the Bloomer Girls, and the topic of a previous post, who summited on foot in the summer of 1858. Another visitor particularly entranced by the summit experience was Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), English professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1893, she taught at Colorado College during the summer semester. Unlike Julia, she chose to ride to the roof of Colorado in a carriage. Notwithstanding her breathlessness, the superb vistas moved her to wax lyrical. Her poem was later turned into a song many Americans consider an alternative to the national anthem: America the Beautiful. A bronze plaque at the summit is engraved with the first two stanzas, and a bronze statue of the author gazes at the source of her inspiration from in front of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum downtown.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties,

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

 

The Lowly Sparrow

House Sparrows might be among the most successful bird species. Originating in Europe and Asia, they were introduced to North America in 1851 by Eugene Schieffelin in an attempt to combat a caterpillar-caused tree infestation in New York City. According to lore, he was also responsible for the release of 100 European Starlings in Central Park in the early 1890s as part of the romantic effort to introduce all Shakespearean birds to the New World. Both species took one look around, and decided to stay. It is estimated that today there might be as many as 500 million house sparrows, and 200 million starlings in North America. Ironically, their declining numbers in parts of Europe have been cause for concern.

From New York City, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) conquered the majority of the North American continent, except for Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It has also spread to portions of South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A gregarious, garrulous bird, it nearly always flocks with its confrères and consoeurs. Many dislike the sparrow, consider it a pest, a rival of native species with whom it competes for food and nesting places. I am of the opinion that non-native animals and plants have always followed in the wake of human movement, and that to try to fight this reality is a battle predestined to fail.

Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

I find it hard not to be cheered by this lively, inquisitive, and intrepid little bird that weighs no more than an ounce (30 grams). Despite a limited color spectrum, its white, gray, black, and brown to reddish feathers are arranged in an attractive pattern. What its voice lacks in melodiousness, it makes up for with nearly incessant chattering and chirping. The resourceful species has thrived in many an environment, but as the name suggests, it has a tendency to stay close to human habitation. Its natural diet consists chiefly of seeds, supplemented by insects, but in reality it is an omnivore, and I worry slightly about its appetite for human junk food. Whether at backyard feeders, in city plazas, at train stations (or airports), where there is chow, sparrows abound.

Not so long ago I experienced – and enjoyed – a personal reminder of their ubiquity. While awaiting my departure from Denver International Airport last November, my husband and I were surrounded by sparrows, in the dining area, inside the terminal! They kept a close eye on the goings-on and were quick to swoop down for any sign of dropped or discarded food, fluttering from roof to floor, from floor to chair, from chair to table, from table to roof, where they must have found openings that allow in- and egress. Despite all the valid and valuable arguments against this type of scenario, I simply smiled, and clicked away with my camera.

Cheers to the omnipresent, adaptable, and always-in-a-good-mood house sparrows who have made my day more than once!

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/der-bescheidene-spatz/

Lessons Of Nature

The morning hours of May 1 have been among the best so far this month. I passed them at a favorite local park, al fresco, with avian and other critters, away from humans. Birds do not make rude remarks, cut or flip me off in traffic. Squirrels do not show me the cold shoulder because I don’t share their religious or political convictions. Prairie dogs do not snub me on account of my eye, hair, or skin color, inadequate attire, awkward accent.

My need to be outdoors is inversely proportional to my level of frustration with (wo)mankind. Whenever it reaches a high (or low) point, as happens increasingly frequently, nothing helps restore my equilibrium, or at least inch me toward that elusive state, as simply being present in nature: seeing the sun rise, hearing the birds greet the new day with crystal-clear voices, watching the flowers open their faces to the light (or close them, as is the case with the dazzling night-blooming evening primrose whose petals curl and turn pink in the morning).

Monumental mountains grounded since times immemorial, trees rooted deeply in the earth, banks of condensing and dissipating clouds, the sun’s arc across the sky. They recall to me the big picture, put things in perspective. They help ground me, remind me that nature is cyclical, human nature included. That my own existence is ephemeral, that my real or perceived grievances are insignificant. We are here one moment, gone the next.

All I can do is savor the NOW, let go of matters vexatious, appreciate all that is good and beautiful: the cycles of the cosmos, the loveliness of the land, the verdant veil that finally adorns arbors after a long winter, the bright blossoms that beckon bees and butterflies, the birds that never fail to gladden the heart.

Meet The Cat

May I introduce Spunkmeyer, ferocious feline I recently cared for during her owners’ vacation. Even though the name evokes a lad (at least in my mind), Spunky is a lady – an old dame at that – preparing to celebrate her fourteenth birthday in the not too distant future. Up until this cat-sitting experience, I had encountered these capricious creatures only intermittently since my childhood days, when we “owned” a series of them. As any ailurophile (thanks to Merriam-Webster for featuring this delicious Word of the Day a few years back) will attest, it would be more accurate to say that they own us, one of the facts I was reminded of.

Another was the independent character of domesticated tigers. Whereas our former dogs anxiously awaited our arrival after an absence, and greeted us happily and wholeheartedly, Spunkmeyer only showed her fuzzy face upon my return to her realm after an interval deigned appropriate by her, though this lag time diminished, the longer our acquaintance. Rattling a bag with her favorite snack, freeze-dried minnows, also hastened her appearance. At least in this regard she acted predictably, but this was the exception rather than the rule. Unless I twist logic by stating that what was always predictable was her unpredictability.

I could neither anticipate her mood, nor her food preference, though I quickly learned what ranked last among the collection of canned food, as beef remained untouched in her bowl most of the time. Once she was over the initial shock of seeing me enter the house, rather than her two favorite humans, and once she accepted that I was the only warm body for the time being, she actually demanded attention, typically by sitting on her haunches, prairie dog-like, and by staring at me intently. This plea for petting did not preclude a dramatic reversal of temper, and I was unable to foresee if and when she would give me the evil eye. One moment she rolled onto her side and frolicked under my caresses, the next she swatted at me. She finally made me understand that she expected me to sit in one of her armchairs, preferably with a soft blanket on my legs, so that she could snuggle in my lap. In those idyllic instances she expressed her contentment by a constant kneading motion of her velvety paws, and by a perpetual, pervasive purr. This manifestation of feline pleasure and relaxation also translated into mine, as I was receiving a massage while simultaneously listening to a soothing tune. However, as if to reassert her reputation of cantankerousness and independence, a slight shift or leg movement on my part annoyed her highness, caused her to growl, to hiss, and to throw me a fierce glance. A lion-like roar generally signaled the abrupt end of this harmonious scene. These times of mutual delight, however brief, might be the (only) reason why we humans still cling to the myth that we can “tame” cats.

Thank you, Spunky, for abiding my presence in your queendom, and for blessing me with at least a few blissful moments, when I indulged in the illusion that you actually liked, rather than simply tolerated me. If there is a next time, I will try to be a better human being and live up to your standards.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/alles-fur-die-katz/

Fire Head

Red birds are uncommon in North America. Residents of the eastern half of the Unites States enjoy Northern Cardinals as their perennial neighbors. Seasonally, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers add their cheerful color. In Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico Summer and Hepatic Tanagers brighten the summer months. Here in Colorado, we mostly see reddish patches on House Finches and American Robins (I suggest clicking on the embedded links for photographs of these birds).

A stray surprise will occasionally cross state borders and occur far from its usual hunting grounds, causing much excitement in the world of bird lovers. Such was the case in eastern El Paso County in early April, when an astute observer detected a dash of scarlet in the middle of the Colorado prairie. According to the distribution map, this winged wonder occurs in Mexico year-round, with summer sojourns in the three southwestern states mentioned above. The guide book describes it as being locally common near streams and ponds. Hanover Fire Station, where it was sighted, is hundreds of miles north of its typical range, and not close to any significant body of water. To learn where it came from, and why it ended up so far from its customary habitat would be elucidating, but not knowing in no way distracts from one’s delight in this rare visitor, aptly called Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus, literally “ruby-colored fire head”). If any avian ever lived up to its name, it is the male of this species.

When my birding friends shared their knowledge of this colorful Easter Sunday present, it was inconvenient for me to make the 30 mile trip late in the afternoon. As these cameos are often brief, I feared I might no longer find it when I arrived at the site the following morning. A small cluster of fellow birders whose binoculars and cameras were pointed at a tree sustained my hope. As soon as I climbed out of the car, a brilliant blush on a branch made my heart skip and my step bounce. Instead of avoiding attention, this individual was not intimidated by our appearance at his stage and he put on a pleasing performance, dashing back and forth between trees, cholla cactus, and fence, in search of his preferred food, flies, as his name implies.

Contrary to expectation, he remained in the same location for at least three or four days, and was subsequently observed in a private yard nearby, allowing many to witness his presence. Whither he has sallied I do not know, but I am grateful to have glimpsed one of nature’s unexpected gifts.

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 3

A stroll in the fresh air amid scenic views rarely fails to lift one’s spirits. Following my exploration of Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten and Max-Eyth-Lake under blue skies, a journey to the elevated outskirts of Stuttgart-West helped elevate our moods on this overcast day, when my aunt and uncle kindly offered to take me sightseeing to another popular destination.

Schloss Solitude (Solitude Palace)

Hazy view of the road connecting Solitude to the Palace in Ludwigsburg

Many years earlier, I had biked to Schloss Solitude (Solitude Palace) on Stuttgart’s extensive multi-use trails through the widespread forest, but I appreciated the opportunity to re-visit this picturesque Rococo palace, commissioned by Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg, and constructed between 1763 and 1769. On a weekday in late November, no tours were offered and we could only admire the edifice’s elegant exterior, but we also enjoyed the vistas from the palace’s prominent perch. A straight road was built to connect this hunting retreat with the duke’s residence at the Palace of Ludwigsburg 8 miles to the north, which he preferred to the New Palace in downtown Stuttgart. This avenue still exists today and bears the apt appellation “Solitudeallee” (Solitude Boulevard).

Bärenschlössle (Bear Chateau)

The namesake bear

Bärensee (Bear Lake)

Not far from the ducal domicile, we proceeded to another popular locale, the Bärenschlössle (Bear Chateau) and Bärensee (Bear Lake), in an area known as Glemswald (Glems Forest). It is home to additional lakes and several game preserves, but these will have to wait for a future trip. As we ambled through the woods where most trees had already shed the bulk of their leafy canopy, growths of a different nature were evident.

A movement in the green grass of a meadow attracted our attention and, its excellent camouflage notwithstanding, we were rewarded with the discovery of a beautiful bird that appeared to have no objections to prolonged scrutiny by my binoculars and protracted photography by my camera. The perfect avian icing on the perfect autumnal cake.

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

The red crown is well seen

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-3/

Anne Frank

During a tour of Amsterdam’s “Grachten”, the narrow canals which transect this “Venice of the North”, our boat passed 263 Prinsengracht. The many adults and even more children lined up at this famous address had the same goal as I – to visit the place where Anne Frank went into hiding during World War II. Once back at the dock, I joined the queue of tourists snaking around several adjacent structures. The reverential multitudes, among whom my ear discerned a babel of languages, did not appear bothered by having to wait more than an hour before gaining admittance to what is now the Anne Frank House Museum.

Boat tour on Amsterdam’s Grachten

Queue for the Anne Frank House Museum

The narrow, four-story brown brick building once held the warehouse and offices of Mr. Frank’s company, which sold gelling agents for homemade jam and spice mixes for meat. The Frank family fled from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933, following Hitler’s rise to power. When German forces occupied the Netherlands in 1940, Jewish ownership was outlawed. Otto Frank transferred directorship to two of his employees, but remained involved in the management of his business. Once anti-Semitic excesses became more egregious, Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David, and large numbers were deported, the Frank family left their home for the so-called “Secret Annex”, on the second and third floors of the warehouse. Here they remained from July 6, 1942 until their arrest on August 4, 1944. Anne, her older sister Margot, and their parents Edith and Otto were soon joined by the Van Pels couple, their son Peter, and a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer.

Anne Frank House Museum

263 Prinsengracht

I reached the secret rooms of the annex just as they did, by stepping through a door on the third floor which could be concealed behind a moveable bookcase. As the warehouse was still actively used while the group was in hiding, they could not afford to make noise until after the workers left at day’s end. Behind blackened windows, they could only let down their guard at night and on weekends. Employees Miep Gies, Johannes Keiman, Victor Kugler, Bep Voskuijl, and two of their family members helped supply the captives with food, news from the outside world and other necessities, at the peril of their own lives.

Anne journaled about the cramped conditions in the tiny four rooms and one lone bathroom, plus the attendant conflicts. Despite dreading detection, deportation and death daily, this group of eight still had to deal with mundane concerns. They all suffered – from repetitive meals, spoiled food, limited space, annoying habits, and petty human traits. Anne and Mr. Pfeffer had frequent arguments about the use of a desk in a shared room. The families accused one another of hoarding food, dishes or clothes. When they finally dumped their assorted chamber pots down the toilet, it frequently clogged.

Anne’s diary entries were an outlet for her frustrations, teenage turmoil, and angst. They show her struggle with self-assertion, while trying to please others, and her frustration with the adults whom she did not consider good role models. At times, these are jolting, as she does not embellish what she perceives as other people’s faults, including her mother’s, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship.

But her writing also reflects her dreams of being free, of conducting a normal life after the war’s end. Her love of learning, books, history, royal lineages and movies is evident throughout her diary, as is her never-ending hope for a bright future. She yearned for nature, felt trapped inside the annex, and longed for the outdoors:

The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity. …I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer (February 23, 1944).

Anne also had a vision for her future:

I need something besides a husband and children to devote myself to. I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people (April 5, 1944).

You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. We’ll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but till now, I’ve had no lack of topics. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annex (May 11, 1944).

Following the allies’ landing in France in June 1944, and their subsequent advances against German forces, hope for an end to the Nazi terror is tangible in many of her entries. The end of their confinement came on August 4, but it was not the ending anybody had longed for. German and Dutch forces raided their hiding place, arrested its inhabitants, and sent them to a transit camp at Westerbork in Holland, before deporting them to Auschwitz in early September. The formerly widespread assumption that they were betrayed has lately been questioned.

In spite of losing ground on many fronts, and despite the inevitability of their eventual defeat, the Nazis and their killing machine continued to devour millions of lives during the final year of the war. Anne and her close ones were victims of this cruelly efficient process. Of the group of eight, solely Otto Frank survived. After Russian forces liberated Auschwitz in May 1945, he returned to Amsterdam in June only to learn that his wife, Edith, had died in January. He still harbored hope to find his two daughters alive and initiated desperate inquiries to humanitarian organizations, newspapers, and other survivors. Two sisters freed from the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, where Margot and Anne had been transferred, confirmed his worst fears. His fifteen and nineteen year-old daughters had succumbed to typhus in March of 1945. On April 15, their camp was liberated by British forces.

Anne’s diary, left behind in the annex, was found and safeguarded by Miep Gies. Once it was evident that Anne would not come back, she handed it to Otto Frank. Even though he struggled to learn about Anne’s inner life hitherto unknown to him, he realized that her writing might have a wider appeal, but took the liberty of applying his editor’s pen and eliminating passages that portrayed her criticism of her housemates, her awakening sexuality, and her teenage crush on Peter van Pels. After initial difficulty finding a publisher, an article about Anne’s diary was printed in the newspaper Het Parol, formerly the mouthpiece of the Dutch Resistance. On June 25, 1947, the first Dutch edition of Anne Frank’s Diary was published to an overwhelming reception. Since then, it has been translated into myriad languages and appeals to generation after generation of readers. Some sixty editions later, it has never been out of print.

More than one version of Anne’s diary exists. After an appeal on BBC radio by a Dutch minister exiled in England, who encouraged his fellow Dutch to collect diaries and letters for publication after the war, Anne began to revise her entries. Mr. Frank drew from the original and revised sources for the diary’s first edition. This was subsequently superseded by a definitive edition which includes all previously redacted passages. Anne also composed fiction and additional personal stories. They are available in combination with some of her own edited diary entries as Tales From The Secret Annexe, which honors the title she conceived herself.

In exploring the Anne Frank House Museum in 2013, I fulfilled a dream which started with my first encounter with Anne’s diary when a teenager myself, over 30 years earlier. I wanted to pay homage to her life and suffering, and experience the temporary dwelling she immortalized. Having grown up in Germany during a time when the Holocaust was still not discussed openly, learning about Anne was one way to take a critical look at my birth nation’s burdensome, horrendous past. Encountering visitors from the four corners of the Earth at Anne’s erstwhile refuge, all moved by her candid reflections and glimpses into her soul, gave me hope that, one day, we will respect one another for who we are, regardless of nationality, race or religion.

I have gained a new appreciation for Anne in all her humanity. I wish she could have known how famous a writer she would become, and how many lives she would touch to this day.