Rosy

I awake on the morning of December 24, Christmas Eve, thinking of Rosy Finches – what else?! A number of birders have reported a flock of these handsome little birds near a reservoir in the mountains, about 20 miles west of Colorado Springs. Snow in the forecast later in the week persuades me to set out to look for them today. I arrive at the trailhead shortly before eight in the morning, and begin the chilly two-mile trek on the snow-covered path through the forest before the sun has reached the tree tops. Part of my path parallels a creek that will eventually empty itself into the reservoir. Not unexpectedly, but nonetheless surprisingly, it has been transformed into the fascinating ribbon of ice art portrayed in last week’s post.

By the time I reach the reservoir, severely diminished by our ongoing drought, the solar rays peek across the trees and I find a sunny spot on the beach to take in the tranquil scenery. Not a ripple stirs the surface of the lake, not a breeze bends the boughs of the bare aspens and verdant conifers. Two fisherman, the only other humans visible, leave after a few minutes, and I am alone. It is perfectly quiet.

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Too quiet. I hear not a single bird, much less a gathering of two hundred. I do not remember when they were sighted on previous days, but when nothing happens after thirty minutes, I retrace my steps to a bridge that crosses to the opposite side of the creek and reservoir. I choose another spot in the sun and wait, scanning my surroundings. Patience is not one of my virtues, and after another half hour, I “resign” myself to a morning of outdoor exercise and winter beauty. As I stomp back through the snow toward the main trail, I raise my binoculars to my eyes one last time to survey the scene. My heart accelerates when I behold what, in summer, could be a swarm of insects. But not now. It is my hoped-for flock. The only problem: it is flying away from me. I run back to my previous viewing spot and plop down on the ground, trying to blend in, cautiously hopeful.

All of a sudden a trembling of wings is audible above my head. Remarkably, for an estimated 200 birds, their vocalizations are very soft. After circling a few times, they land on the beach – behind me, backlit by the sun. I can barely make out their shapes in the bright glare, but take a few photographs, hoping to be able to modify them sufficiently afterward. They are hyperactive little creatures, and the entire assembly rises repeatedly, only to settle again not far away.

I have nothing to lose, and decide to try to get between them and the sun. Gingerly I take a few steps. The flock takes off, but lands again. After a few repeats, I get the impression that their movements are not in response to my presence, but to some inherent rhythm unknown and unknowable to me. They keep their distance, but I can get in a better position to admire their delightful plumage which shows varying degrees of pink (my favorite color), depending on the species. What makes this charm of finches special is that it contains three different species that have congregated for the winter, whereas they occupy different ranges in summer.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches/Graukopf-Schneegimpel (Leucosticte tephrocotis)

Brown-capped Rosy-Finches/Braunkopf-Schneegimpel ( Leucosticte australis) in the foreground

Black Rosy-Finch/Schwarz-Schneegimpel (Leucosticte atrata) in right lower quadrant

As I marvel at these winged wonders in the solitude of this serene setting, I gratefully realize that I have already received my Christmas present.

Meet Ice Artist, Winter River

Not many artists work in ice. The material is too unpredictable, unreliable, tricky to handle, cold to touch, evanescent. There is no guarantee that it will keep its shape. But when it does, it represents pure perfection.

Winter River is one of the few artists who not only works in ice, he does so masterfully. He creates instantaneously, rushes into it headlong. Effortlessly he applies a basic coat to his canvas, then touches his whimsical brush where he pleases. He sprinkles additional layers here and there, sprays the branches of some adjacent trees, dips others repeatedly until they are wholly glazed.

Winter River works tirelessly night and day. Though not dependent on the sun, when the two cooperate, the river’s masterwork luminesces with a light on loan from the heavens.

Ice artist, Winter River, knows that the less commonplace his designs, the better they are liked. He does not hold back when he creates, but like many fickle artists, might be here one day and gone the next, which is why now is the time to watch him paint.

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Y’ Owl

2018 could have been our “Y’attler” (Year of the Rattler), as my husband and I had three separate encounters with said reptiles (click here to read about one of them). Because most humans (save herpetologists) prefer feathery to scaly animals, myself included, and because I also made the acquaintance of three new owl species, I designate 2018 my “Y’Owl,” my Year of the Owl, instead, and will show you portraits of owls, instead of rattlesnakes. You are welcome.

Of 216 global owl species, 20 typically occur in North America, and 14 in Colorado. Until a few months ago, I had only happened across six of them: Great-horned Owls, Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls, Barn Owls, Burrowing Owls, and Flammulated Owls. In the US, Elf Owls are the smallest, with a height of 5.75” (14.6 cm), Great Gray Owls the largest, standing 27” (68.6 cm) tall. Little or big, I find all owls equally charismatic. Their vision and hearing are superb, and their expressive eyes cast a spell over me. Attractive facial disks help channel sound waves to their ears, which are asymmetrically placed to help localize prey (the prominent feathery tufts on their heads are not ears). Their special feathers enable them to fly and approach their quarry nearly noiselessly. Mostly nocturnal, solitary, and stealthy, they have been ascribed traits that range from divine to devilish.

Great-horned Owls are, by far, the most widespread representatives in Colorado, and I am fortunate to see and photograph them regularly. The featured photo above and the second-to-last photo in the following series show adults on a nest, one on top of a tree, the other inside a tree cavity, where, a few months later, the owlet in the last picture made an appearance.

Great Horned Owl / Virginia-Uhu (Bubu virginianus)

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In the spring of 2018, I tried in vain to find a screech owl observed by many birders in El Paso County, but, discouraged, gave up after seven unsuccessful attempts. I did not actively pursue owling throughout most of the year, but when, in late November, I learned of an Eastern Screech-Owl in a park in one of Denver’s suburbs, I braved our capital city’s traffic and, thanks to the assistance of a local resident, who knew of its daytime roost, was able to find it. It was love at first sight. Superbly camouflaged, this little owl, with feathers fluffed, was snoozing after the previous night’s hunt, while soaking up sunshine on this cold morning, not the least disturbed by a nearby noisy weed whacker, and by four admirers, clicking away with our cameras.

Eastern Screech-Owl/ Ost-Kreischeule (Megascops asio)

Two days later, a similar scenario: a cool morning, an owl enjoying creature comforts by absorbing the warming rays of the sun. Again, the kindness of a stranger. When a passerby saw my husband and me scanning every single tree along a trail in Cañon City, where a Western Screech-Owl had been reported a few days earlier, he pointed it out to us. Even though we had an idea of the location of its perch, it blended in so well with the background that we might have overlooked it. I was elated to have beheld both species of screech owls within days of one another, but experienced an encore in December, when I caught a glimpse of possibly the same owl that had eluded me in the spring, in the very same tree where it had then been seen.

Western Screech-Owl/ West-Kreischeule (Megascops kenicottii)

Last, but not least – temporally speaking, it actually rang in the trio of novel encounters of the owlish kind – was an unplanned, unforeseen meeting with a Northern Pygmy Owl at the end of September during a hike at one of our local parks. Mobbed by a jay, it alighted for a brief moment not far from the trail, and afforded a brief side view only, before it disappeared back into the impenetrable forest whence it had emerged.

Northern Pygmy-Owl/ Gnomenkauz (Glaucidium gnoma)

 

Nine Colorado owls down, at least five to go. Maybe in 2019, maybe later, maybe never. Last year’s hits and misses reminded me that we can’t always get what we want (as the Rolling Stones figured out long ago), or when we want it, but that each year holds unexpected surprises. My wish for 2019: May the new year reveal new treasures to all of us.

 

PS: With thanks to my husband, who coined both “Y’attler” and “Y’Owl.”

Peace On Earth

As varied as our backgrounds and beliefs, most of us undoubtedly share the hope of a peaceful future for all (wo)mankind. Despite interpersonal differences and strife, we all know individuals who exemplify the good in humanity, or recall instances when someone’s unexpected conduct stopped us in our tracks, and made us reflect how we would have reacted in a similar situation.

I experienced one such instance when I first learned about the provenance of the windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, in the late 1980s. The building, whose foundations rest on Roman ruins, dates back in its earliest incarnation to the 10th century AD, having since undergone multiple modifications. After vast portions were destroyed by allied bombings in the 1940s, it was restored in the following decades.

I imagine that, in 1973, St. Stephen’s Pastor Klaus Mayer approached world-renowned artist Marc Chagall with some trepidation, with the request to fashion stained-glass windows for the church building, to replace the clear panels mounted temporarily during the postwar years. Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) had moved to France as a young artist, and had returned to his adopted country in 1948, after fleeing to the United States in 1941, in the wake of the Nazi invasion. I can’t begin to understand what it took for him not only to forgive the German nation for its genocide of millions of his fellow Jews, but to have the grace and greatheartedness to sublimate his sadness and sorrow into some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows ever created.

To bridge not only the chasm between Germans and Jews, but also between Christianity and Judaism, he chose to depict scenes from both the old and the new testaments. Between 1978, when he was 91, and his death in 1985 at the age of 97, nine windows of his design were produced at the studio of Jacques Simon in Reims, and subsequently installed at St. Stephen’s. Following Chagall’s passing, his friend and fellow artist, Charles Marq, continued the project, contributing nineteen additional windows. Whereas his conceptions over time became less pictorial and more abstract, they nonetheless emulated Chagall’s original color scheme and intent.

The exterior of the stately, yet not sumptuous, church does not prepare for the splendor that awaits behind the heavy bronze doors. A deep blue emanates from the windows, suffuses the interior, envelops the visitor in its calming, comforting glow. It draws the eye into the distance, while highlighting other colors and figures embedded in the glass. Since first falling in love with the serene, soothing atmosphere of this space, I have returned time and again, either to contemplate in silence, attend a guided meditation, or enjoy an organ concert. No trip to Germany would be complete without setting foot in it.

Marc Chagall’s life and legacy inspire. If each of us were to put forth even a modest effort to respect, and reach out to, one another, regardless of our religious or political convictions, skin color, age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Peace On Earth would not remain a mere utopian wish, but become a true possibility.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/friede-auf-erden/

Wintry Impressions

Winter solstice is rapidly approaching, the meteorologic beginning of the fourth season. While the attendant cold, muted colors, and reduced avian activity render this time of year less attractive to many, in one respect winter’s beauty is unrivaled.

Die Wintersonnenwende nähert sich mit rasenden Schritten, und mit ihr der meteorologische Beginn der vierten Jahreszeit. Auch wenn der Winter wegen kälterer Temperaturen, blasser Farben, und verminderter Vogelaktivität bei vielen unbeliebt ist, ist seine Schönheit in einer Hinsicht unübertroffen.

Is there any visible substance in nature more marvelously magical than snow? Smart brains have long unraveled the mysteries of the astounding transmutation of water into hexagonal crystals, but physical explanations do not lessen the magic.

Gibt es eine sichtbare Substanz in der Natur, die mysteriöser ist als Schnee? Kluge Köpfe haben schon vor langem das Geheimnis der schier unglaublichen Transmutation von Wasser in hexagonale Krystalle gelöst, aber physikalische Erklärungen vermindern nicht den Zauber.

The magic of translucent structures that appear white when they fall gently from the sky, that cover the dull grays and browns with a snowy comforter, that shine, shimmer, and scintillate in the sun.

The magic of utter silence during a snowfall.

The magic of awakening to a world blanketed in purity, all its stains temporarily concealed.

Den Zauber durchsichtiger Strukturen, die als weiße Flocken vom Himmel fallen, die das stumpfe Grau und Braun mit einem Federbett bedecken, die in der Sonne glänzen, glitzern und glimmern.

Den Zauber völliger Stille während eines Schneefalls.

Den Zauber, des Morgens aufzuwachen, und eine reine Welt vor Augen zu haben, deren dunkle Flecken zeitweise verborgen sind.

In the wake of two November snowfalls, I captured a few snowy scenes. Along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where we make our home, an intense sun usually melts most of the white splendor within days, unlike in the mountains.

Im November habe ich nach zwei Schneefällen einige verschneite Szenen festgehalten. Im Vorgebirge der Colorado Rocky Mountains, wo wir leben, schmilzt eine intensive Sonne die weiße Pracht meist innerhalb von Tagen, anders als in den Bergen.

This second collage contains wintry impressions from Germany. My dad and I have long hiked a trail that skirts the Donnersberg (literally Thunder Mountain), the Palatinate region’s highest mountain at 2,254 feet. On an early December day one year ago, we were greeted by a frosty wonderland.

Die zweite Kollage enthält winterliche Impressionen aus Deutschland. Mein Vater und ich lieben seit langem einen Wanderpfad entlang der Flanke des Donnersbergs, dem mit 687 Metern höchsten Berg der Nordpfalz. An einem frühen Dezembertag vor einem Jahr wurden wir von einer frostigen Wunderlandschaft begrüßt.

To us Northern hemisphere dwellers I wish a joyful winter, and a happy summer to our southern counterparts.

Ich wünsche uns Bewohnern der nördlichen Hemisphäre einen frohen Winter, und unseren Pendants auf der südlichen Halbkugel einen schönen Sommer.

Back To Nature

Wherever we gaze, natural habitat is vanishing. All of us are aware of the tragic destruction of rain forest, which not only creates, but also compounds global warming, as earth’s green lung is no longer available to inhale thermogenic carbon dioxide in the wonderful process of photosynthesis, which happens to exhale oxygen as an afterthought, in a way. Wetlands, on which countless animals and plants depend, are a second crucial environment that is disappearing at a dizzying pace. In the face of these losses, resignation, if not despair, is an understandable reaction. Fortunately, any restoration of life-giving spheres also restores a little glimmer of hope.

I have been heartened to learn of the success of several such projects during my previous sojourns in Germany. My roots lie in Rheinhessen, a region dominated by the Rhine River, as the name implies. Not far from the Rohrwiesen near the small town of Rheindürkheim (the topic of a previous post) lies a second sanctuary, called Eich-Gimbsheimer Altrhein (literally Old Rhine). A meandering stream for millennia, the Rhine was straightened in the 1820s, which left most of its loops to their own devices. Many dried up, but some, like the body of water in question, received sufficient quantities of water from the ground or skies, aided by occasional flooding of the stream. These inundations were subsequently prevented by the construction of a dam, and the marshes were drained and converted into arable land. The ground water level dropped further when wells were drilled to extract drinking water.

Happily, multi-pronged efforts in recent decades transformed the Old Rhine arm into a lake, and resurrected the adjacent wetlands. The 667 hectare area of this nature preserve forms part of the Natura 2000 network, an EU initiative that has as its goal the protection of threatened habitat, with its attendant plant and animal species. While it represents but a minuscule sliver of the surface of the earth, it has resulted in the flourishing of the local flora and fauna, and the provision of a way station for migratory birds. A 3.7 mile loop with several observation huts and towers circles and transects the parcel and affords glimpses of the Altrheinsee (Old Rhine Lake), of several water-filled gravel pits, of wetlands, of small pockets of swamp forest, and of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Because all my visits have happened in late autumn, I have yet to witness the full spectrum of vibrant life, and look forward to experiencing it in springtime. As modest as this haven might be, it nevertheless serves as an example of how we can save our planet, one baby step at a time.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/zuruck-zur-natur/

Home Away From Home

Whenever I have occasion to travel to Germany, I set my proverbial sail for my port of call: Osthofen. Scene of the first six years of my life, before a move to neighboring Westhofen with my parents, it has, once again, become my father’s chosen hometown. It is his company I seek, his domicile, where he and his significant other spoil me (or us) with their hospitality. Much to my chagrin, instead of experiencing their warm welcome in person, I can only reminisce about it at present.

Like many communities in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Rheinhessen region, Osthofen is famous for its wines. Viticulture has been practiced in the climatically conducive Rhine Valley since its introductions by the Romans 2000 years ago. Many families have benefitted from the river’s proximity, and, for generations, have been proud caretakers of countless vineyards. They cover the rolling hills, and change their apparel with the seasons. Distinctive turrets rise between the orderly rows of vines and are reminders of days when guardians took up temporary residence in them near harvest times, to discourage voracious birds from devouring the crops by firing loud shots into the air. Those human deterrents have long been replaced by noise-producing cannons.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Strolling through town and its environs transports me to back to my childhood: Living with my paternal grandparents when I was an infant, until my parents built our first home. Being baptized at the local church. Attending the first three grades of elementary school. Returning in subsequent years to see family and friends, and to play team handball in a local club. The existence of the railroad has always guaranteed convenient connections to two significant destinations, Worms and Mainz, where I attended high school and university, respectively.

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Osthofen’s chronicles contain both light and dark chapters since the settlement was first mentioned in the 8th century. In 1621, it was destroyed during the 30 Years’ War, before being rebuilt. It hosted Richard Wagner in 1862, when he visited fellow composer and native son, Wendelin Weißheimer. 1933 cast its long, sinister shadow over the town. A former paper mill was re-purposed into a concentration camp for enemies of the newly-elected National Socialists, until their transfer to other facilities in the following year. Today the building houses a museum and an educational center that document the atrocities committed during Hitler’s calamitous regime.

Whenever possible, I spend time in nature. Like many agriculturally overdeveloped areas, arable land not covered in vineyards is subjugated to the plow and planted with grains or beets. Few natural enclaves remain, little habitat for untamed beings. Yet a small, man-made pond attracts waterfowl both domestic and wild, and the local cemetery with its old tree growth provides a haven for feathered and furry friends.

In response to my recent blog post “Sit And Stay A Spell,” my dad sent me this photograph of a bench. It has been in our family longer than I have, and was once a place to lounge on while making phone calls to friends. It has weathered repeated moves, and is now weathering the elements in my father’s driveway, where I hope to (gingerly) sit on it during my eagerly awaited next visit.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/meine-zweite-erste-heimat/