Sit And Stay A Spell

Lately, I have come across an abundance of benches.

In letzter Zeit bin ich einer Vielzahl an Bänken begegnet.

…petite benches…

…zierlichen Bänken…

…benches fashioned of various materials and in different shapes…

…Bänken aus den verschiedensten Materialien und in den unterschiedlichsten Formen…

…benches holding little surprises…

…Bänken mit kleinen Überraschungen…

…painted benches…

…bemalten Bänken…

…benches with views, with thoughtful exhortations, with artistic touches…

….Bänken mit Aussichten, mit wohlgemeinten Ermahnungen, mit künstlerischen Werken…

…many of them with plaques, to commemorate a loved one, no longer among the living. As different as their sizes, shapes, and shades, they all have something in common: They are empty. I hardly ever see someone resting on them. We are creatures always on the go, always with a mission, never with enough time to sit and seize the moment. Which is why this last bench, seen at a cemetery, spoke to me so much. While we still can, we should “sit and stay a spell.”

…viele mit Gedänktäfelchen, die an eine geliebte Person erinnern, die nicht mehr unter den Lebenden weilt. So verschieden die Größen, Formen und Farben sind, haben sie doch alle etwas gemein: Sie sind leer. Fast nie ruht sich jemand auf ihnen aus. Wir sind immer unterwegs, immer mit einem Ziel im Auge. Niemals haben wir genug Zeit, einfach zu sitzen, und präsent zu sein. Weshalb mich diese letzte Bank, die ich auf einem Friedhof gesehen habe, besonders angesprochen hat. So lange wir es noch können, sollten wir uns hinsetzen, und etwas verweilen.

Hornbek Homestead

No less striking than the buildings that line the road a few miles south of Colorado’s mountain town Florissant, is the picture of their former owner. Taking into account that photographers in the 19th century asked their subjects not to smile, the portrait of Adeline Hornbek, née Warfield (1833-1905), had always inspired respect, even before I knew about her personal challenges and accomplishments.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

This was no ordinary woman, as her biography attests. Hailing from Massachusetts, she came to Colorado in 1861 with her husband, Simon Harker, and two young children, to seek a cure for his medical ills, presumably tuberculosis. They settled and farmed near the newly-founded Denver, where Adeline became a widow in 1864, not long after the birth of their third child. As a single mother, she raised and provided for her three offspring, purchased her own homestead in 1866, married once again, then bore a fourth child in 1870. Five years later, Elliott Hornbek disappeared, possibly to return to a previous wife back east, whom he had failed to mention to Adeline.

Little is known about the family’s fortunes in the following years, but in 1878, Adeline bought land in the picturesque Florissant Valley, about 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, and became a successful rancher and businesswoman. Instead of a simple dwelling, she commissioned a two-story house from a master craftsman, and added several outbuildings, as well as a root cellar across a meadow, where foodstuffs were kept cool. The proximity of a creek and digging of a well ensured a steady water supply, and the family raised chickens and cattle, and most certainly owned horses for work and transportation. To supplement her income, Adeline worked in the nearby Florissant Mercantile.

The Hornbek parlor was a popular gathering place for friends and neighbors, and Adeline was active on the local school board. At age of 66, she married a third time, Frederick Sticksel, a German immigrant, but did not change her name again. She died at age 72 from probable stroke (“paralysis”).

The Hornbek Homestead was preserved for posterity once the National Park Service acquired the land that is now part of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Adeline’s handsome, restored residence, and several outbuildings that were typical of the era but once stood in different locations, beckon for a visit each time we make the journey up to Florissant. This summer, we first learned about Adeline’s final resting place at Four Mile Cemetery, about five miles from her former home, and paid homage to her by visiting her grave.

Adeline Hornbek, as her photograph suggests, was indeed a formidable woman. Her grit and determination have my full admiration.

‘Tis The Season

‘Tis The Season… /Es ist die Zeit…

… for the days to shorten, and the nights to lengthen…

… für kürzere Tage und längere Nächte

… for the summer heat to be replaced by cool days and even cooler nights…

… in der die Hitze des Sommers mit kühlen Tagen und noch kühleren Nächten ersetzt wird

… for a last burst of color, before the plants shed their habiliments and show their equally attractive skeletons…

… für die letzte Farbexplosion der Pflanzen, bevor sie ihre Kostüme abwerfen, und uns ihre ebenso attraktiven Skelette zeigen

… for the decaying vegetation to transform itself into fertilizer and a rotten perfume that is nonetheless pleasing to the olfactory cortex…

… in der die Vegetation verrottet und sich in Dünger verwandelt, und trotzdem ein dem Riechhirn angenehmes Parfüm versprüht

… for the ripening of fruits and seeds that help nourish animals and humans alike…

… der reifenden Früchte und Samen, die Tiere und Menschen gleichermaßen nähren

… to mourn the disappearance of migratory birds, but to warmly welcome our winter guests…

… um das Verschwinden der Zugvögel zu betrauern, doch gleichzeitig unsere Wintergäste mit offenen Armen zu begrüßen

… to remember Colorado Springs resident and farmer, Nick Venetucci (1911-2004), aka “The Pumpkin Man,” who derived great pleasure from giving away thousands of these most iconic symbols of fall to local children each year, and who was commemorated with a beautiful monument adjacent to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum…

… Herrn Nick Venetucci (1911-2004) zu gedenken, der auch als „der Kürbisherr“ bekannt war, und dem es großes Gefallen bereitete, jahrelang diese ikonischen Herbstsymbole tausendfach an Kinder zu verschenken, und der mit einem wunderschönen Denkmal neben dem Colorado Springs Heimatmuseum geehrt wurde

… to wish happy autumn to us all…

uns allen einen schönen Herbst zu wünschen…

Blessed Birds

As the cranes follow their instincts and fly south in autumn, I, too, followed my urge to undertake a brief trip in the same direction. I wanted to lay eyes on them once again during their stopover in Monte Vista, where they refuel their fat stores, before continuing the journey to their wintering grounds.

I have repeatedly reported about crane encounters; as a matter of fact, my very first blog post was dedicated to the search for them. All my previous forays to Colorado’s San Luis Valley, home to a number of National Wildlife Refuges that are blessed with crane visitations, occurred during the early spring. Not this last one. At the end of a long, dry summer the parched land was swept by fierce fall winds that served as reminders of the conditions responsible for the formation of the famous Great Sand Dunes, propelling soil and dust through the air, and bending blades of grass and boughs of trees.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Not the best circumstances for fruitful birding, but not only did I get to hear the cranes’ guttural vocalizations, so evocative of distant dates and destinations, I also spent a few hours in the company of these mythical creatures, who have long inspired awe and love in humans, this human included.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/begnadete-vogel/

Colorado’s Jays

What is in a name? Nomenclature does not necessarily follow the rules of logic. Common names of animals might or might not be related to scientific names, and might or might not be intuitive. Let’s explore the names of five different jays that occur in Colorado. Members of the corvid family (Corvidae), they are among the smartest birds, and, I think, among the most handsome and entertaining.

The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), is a recent resident of Colorado, having expanded its range from the eastern United States only in the last one to two decades. Cyanocitta cristata can be translated as blue-crested chattering bird (kyáneos: Greek for blue, kitta: Greek for chattering bird, crista: Latin for crest). Chattering is an understatement, as it often announces its presence unabashedly and vociferously, with a clarion call, though its extensive repertoire also includes a lovely fluting melody. It is a great vocal mimic and seems to particularly enjoy posing as a Red-tailed Hawk, confusing other birds and birders. Its name is somewhat unfortunate, as there are a number of blue jays that are not Blue Jays.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)/Blauhäher

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)/Blauhäher

The Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri ) is dressed in darker shades of blue and black, and was first described by German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746), after whom the Steller’s Sea Cow and Steller’s Sea Eagle were also named. It, too, has a crest, which is more conspicuous than the Blue Jay’s, so I think that Cyanocitta cristata would be a more apt appellation than Cyanocitta stelleri, but I am afraid that I am a few centuries too late to submit a proposal to the naming committee.

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)/Diademhäher

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)/Diademhäher

The Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii), also clad in blue, is a resident of dry scrub oak-juniper habitat. It was designated a separate species from the California Scrub Jay and the Island Scrub Jay only in 2016, all three of them having formerly been lumped together as Western Scrub Jays. Its scientific name pays tribute to Samuel Washington Woodhouse (1821-1904), American surgeon, explorer, and naturalist, and emphasizes the fact that it has simple hair, or simple feathers (in Greek, apheles means simple, and coma hair), because their feathers lack stripes or bands.

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)/Woodhouse Buschhäher

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii))/Woodhouse Buschhäher

Completing the Colorado blue quartet, the Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) loves pinyon pine forests, and is the most gregarious among the bunch, occurring predominantly in noisy flocks. Its scientific name should trigger some neurons. We already know that kyaneos means blue in Greek, and can derive that kephalus means head, from words like encephalitis (an inflammation of the encephalon: the organ inside the head). Gymnorhinus tells us that it has a naked nose (gymnós: Greek for naked, rhinus: Greek for nose), as the base of its beak is featherless. This makes it singularly suited to probe pine cones heavy with pitch, which would mess up the feathers present on the beaks of other jays.

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)/Nacktschnabelhäher

Last, but not least: the Canada Jay. Not blue! After being known as Gray Jay for many years, despite its scientific name Perisoreus canadensis, its common name was brought in line only in the summer of 2018. Other fun designations hint at its rascally behavior and include Whisky Jack and, very aptly, camp robber. No sooner do we stop for a picnic in the mountains than a few appear like gray ghosts seemingly out of nowhere. They are known to rummage through camps in search of edibles. The genus name is likely derived from the Greek perisōreuō (to bury underneath, or to heap up), and highlights the fact that they cache their food, which helps them survive the harsh winter months in their year-round high-elevation or northern boreal forest habitats, where they also lay eggs in freezing temperatures.

Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis)/Meisenhäher

Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis)/Meisenhäher

Blue or gray, flat-headed or topped with a crown, shy or companionable, I love all our jays and delight in observing them at the feeder, or out in the wild.

Autumn In The High Country

I wrote these lines almost exactly three years ago following a backpacking trip, and I am publishing them now with slight modifications.

During a trip to the San Juan Mountains in September, my husband and I are reminded of the splendor of different regions of our state, and of the grandeur of Colorado’s high country. Perfect conditions prevail. Cool nights alternate with sunny, warm days. Unlike during the more temperamental summer season, we have little reason to fear violent afternoon storms.

Our three day backpacking trek takes us through different life zones, from the montane to the alpine. At the start of our journey, we are surrounded by our favorite trees, aspen, dressed in their autumn finest. Golden and orange leaves quiver in the occasional breeze and create an impressionistic painting, and a lovely symphony. Wide-open basins and tundra habitat greet us above timberline. At this time of year only a few lone blossoms remain of what a few months back must have been a sea of wildflowers, but the fall foliage with its muted hues of greens and reds holds its own appeal.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Burbling sounds and still-luscious green ribbons in the otherwise withering meadow alert us to the presence of flowing creeks. We try in vain to determine their source, all of last winter’s snow having melted, and they seem to pour forth directly from the mountain. As we take a rest near one of the brooks, we are reminded that humans are not alone in relishing creature comforts. Yellow-bellied marmots, year-round denizens of these elevated regions, stretch across boulders, basking in the sun as we do. Soon they will retreat to their burrows for many months of hibernation. Picas, always on the move, scamper among the boulders. They alert their brethren of our presence with piercing calls while they watch us warily. I assure them that they have nothing to fear.

With increasing elevation we emerge from the cirques and our views expand. Row upon row of peaks appear, their façades a polychromic palette of grey, ocher, green, and red, extending from one mountain to the next, as though an artist has wielded her whimsical brush across the flanks of this rocky world. Along the horizons we marvel at the seeming de novo genesis of clouds. One moment the celestial sphere is entirely clear, the next a fluffy array of vapor appears, and soon the Columbine-colored skies are dotted with towering layers of condensation. The cloudscape inspires us to let our imagination run free, and to discern forever-changing shapes drifting above us.

The higher our steps take us, the smaller we feel, but also the more exalted. We are thankful to live in majestic Colorado, where we have access to incredible land- and mountainscapes that engage all our senses, and that make us feel particularly alive. The challenge lies in preserving and sustaining our sense of wonder and el(ev)ation once we return to our mundane routines.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/herbst-im-hochgebirge/

Flying Jewels-Part 2

Who doesn’t like butterflies?! Lissome and lithe, their shiny, sparkling, shimmering bodies float from one nectar-filled goblet to the next on gossamer wings, sipping of the sweet life-sustaining syrup. Their habitat ranges from the mountains to the valleys, their sizes and shades cover a wide spectrum, and their metamorphosis from tiny egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult is almost too fantastic to believe. While I am one of many butterfly fans, I do not know much about these lovely insects, a shortcoming I hope to remedy.

One person who knows A LOT about these winged wonders is one of America’s foremost lepidopterists and conservationists, Robert Michael Pyle. I first learned about him by happenstance when I came across The Thunder Tree at a bookstore in Moab, Utah, in 2011. A memoir of his childhood in a still-wild suburb of Denver before it ballooned into the behemoth that supplanted vast, vibrant stretches of prairie with dead deserts of concrete, it elaborates on his burgeoning passion for butterflies. His style and passion for nature compelled me to buy Mariposa Road, the story of his Butterfly Big Year, but, alas, my good intentions were sidetracked by lesser pursuits, and his 550 page oeuvre has been staring at me accusingly from the shelf for the last seven years.

To avoid a similar scenario, when I recently noticed an advertisement for his latest publication, I did not waste any time, and devoured Magdalena Mountain, his first novel, in a few days. Set in Colorado and full of alluring descriptions of its high country and denizens, the narrative revolves around the amazing life cycle of the Magdalena Alpine butterfly (Erebia magdalena). Natural history is interspersed and contrasted with an account of the political, religious, and social changes that influenced this state and country, and the author’s affirmation of life and love (sexual descriptions are not limited to butterflies) runs through the suspenseful, lyrical narrative like a common thread. One of many possible conclusions I carried away: Only when we cease to look at life in an anthropocentric way will humankind have a chance to survive, and to leave behind a livable earth.

Inspired, I pulled the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies off the shelf where it had collected dust for even longer than Mariposa Road. My husband’s handwritten dedication indicated that this was a birthday present to me in 1998! It seems impossible that two decades have passed so swiftly, but I was equally as surprised to see that this tome was authored by none other than Robert Michael Pyle. Having come full circle, I finally leafed through its glossy pages and tried to identify some of the Colorado butterflies whose pictures I have taken throughout the years, Magdalena not (yet) among them. If I have erred, please correct me. I look forward to understanding more about these creatures who have been at the center of Mr. Pyle’s life, and long and luminous career.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)/Gemeiner Bläuling

Sulfur (Colias ?)/Gelbling

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui )/Amerikanischer Distelfalter

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui )/Amerikanischer Distelfalter

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)/Westlicher Tigerschwalbenschwanz

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)/Anis-Schwalbenschwanz

Phoebus Parnassian (Parnassius phoebus)/Alpenapollo

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)/Trauermantel

Western White (Pontia occidentalis)/? Westlicher Weißling

Callippe Fritillary, female (Speyeria callippe)/? Perlmutterfalter, weiblich

Callippe Fritillary, male (Speyeria callippe)/? Perlmutterfalter, männlich

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)/? W. Admiral

Click here for Flying Jewels-Part 1, my post about hummingbirds.

Click here for my post Monarchs and Milkweed, which shows the amazing life cycle of the butterfly shown in the topmost photo, and the many perils it faces.