Colorado’s Famous Valley

A topographic map of Colorado shows several high mountain valleys. Three of them are called “parks”, from the French trappers’ appellation “parques”, because of the plenitude of huntable animals reminiscent of their homeland parks stocked with game. They are aptly named North, Middle, and South Parks. South of South Park, a fourth bears the name San Luis Valley, after Colorado’s oldest continuously occupied town, San Luis, founded in 1851.

Visualize a wide-open basin at about 7600 feet elevation, ringed by mountain ranges along each horizon, dominated by the isolated Mount Blanca Massif (with three fourteeners, of which Mount Blanca is the tallest, and the fourth highest of Colorado’s 53 peaks that exceed 14,000 feet), and baldachined with a sky that redefines the meaning of immense. The sheer size of the San Luis Valley (8000 square miles) as well as the seeming endlessness of the firmament put our apparently important everyday concerns into perspective and invite one’s gaze and mind to wander.

Mount Blanca Massif seen from Smith Reservoir which was still frozen not so long ago

First signs of spring are visible

Used for centuries by American Indians, settled first by Mexicans who became US citizens after the US-Mexican War (1846-1848), the expanse also beckoned European Americans. Some succeeded in making a living, many did not. Abandoned homesteads are reminders of the exigencies of life in a high desert.

Home to breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, it is also one of our state’s agricultural regions, specializing in barley, potatoes, and head lettuce. Much of the land is used for grazing livestock, and short are the intervals of time when one does not see cattle or horses, either within fences, or without.

The Rio Grande, from its beginning in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, to its termination in the Gulf of Mexico, together with its tributaries, is the source of most water used for irrigation, aided by high groundwater levels. Here as elsewhere, the liquid element that equals life has always induced travel and commerce.

Bridge over the Rio Grande in Alamosa, the commercial center of the San Luis Valley

My repeated journeys to the “Valley” have multiple motivations. Its fascinating geology and scenery alone might be incentive enough. Its unique Great Sand Dunes have summoned me repeatedly, like others before me. Read about one of my previous visits here. In next week’s post I will share several thousand more reasons why I keep returning.

Spring’s Blue Ribbon

At 6000 feet, spring does not necessarily arrive in accordance with meteorological or astronomical predictions. It does not appear suddenly, but approaches stealthily. A green shoot here, a pink blossom there, an emerald sheen on the lawn, emerging tree buds that suffuse aspens in a hue of red, and cottonwoods in a tinge of gold.

The residual snow on north-facing slopes or in the shade of a rock or tree is coarse and crunches under foot. It lingers until the lengthening days and the increasing angle of the sun succeed in melting these last vestiges of winter.

Migratory birds commence their journey to their summer breeding grounds. Apart from flora’s cheery colors and contagious vitality, the avian presence, vivacity, and music-making contribute to make this coming one my favorite season.

I have already celebrated the return of the robins and their lovely voices in a previous post. Only last week I saw my first Say’s Phoebe, back from its wintering grounds in Mexico. This flycatcher of the dry country perches on fences, frequently dips its tail, and dives for insects.

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

A flying sapphire whose return from southern climes also has come to signify spring is the ethereal Mountain Bluebird. Unlike other members of the thrush family, it prefers open meadows and alights on the top of bushes, trees, or power lines. During its hunt for insects, it appears like a cerulean flash through one’s field of vision.

Male Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

Female Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

The German romantic poet Eduard Mörike might not have realized it, but in my mind this avian jewel represents the blue ribbon of his 1828 poem (my apologies to Mr. Mörike for my translation):

Springtime lets her ribbon blue

Flutter through the air again.

Sweet, familiar scents

Sweep across the land.

Violets dream already,

Dream of their emergence.

-Hark, a soft sound, harp-like, from afar.

Yes, it is you, spring.

I have perceived you.

Wishing all of us a beautiful spring (with apologies to my friends in the Southern Hemisphere where summer is now ending).

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/des-fruhlings-blaues-band/

Ice Art

Behind us lies autumn and its attendant allure. Before us, springtime, full of new promise and novel prospects, filled with life renewed, reborn.

Despite subtle signs of spring, vernal equinox is yet to come. The hibernal months might hold more darkness than light, bring illness and even eternal sleep to dear friends and family. Bemoaned and decried, these dormant days are indispensable. No organism can exist without repose, Mother Earth included.

But the frigid season also brings beauty. It paints with a beautiful brush, colors with crystals that are clear as they fall, gleaming white as they gather, and cerulean as they crowd, thaw, refreeze.

I can even glimpse a hint of pink in this frozen waterfall

In these waning weeks of winter, I relish its brilliance while I watch it melt, drip, rearrange itself into myriad sparkling shapes; while I wait for it to return to its original state, and to continue its cyclical journey.

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 1

Renewed contact with relatives in Stuttgart in recent years has been enriching not only on a personal level, but has enabled me to combine family visits with those of natural enclaves. A few sites in particular have stolen my heart. Like a siren, they beckon me to return and like Odysseus, I am unable to resist their call. This past fall I sought them out again, following my first acquaintance the previous year.

Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) consists of three contiguous and connected parts. The Upper Schlossgarten nearest the center of the city has at its core the artificial reservoir Eckensee and is fringed by eye-catching edifices and monuments, most notably the New Palace, former residence of the kings of Württemberg. A bridge across the busy Schillerstraße near the Main Train Station leads north to the Middle Schlossgarten which merges with the Lower Schlossgarten. These two occupy a wider footprint and feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. From one end of the Schlossgarten nearest downtown to the opposite end that abuts the Neckar River in Bad Cannstatt, the distance approximates two to three miles, depending on the directness of one’s chosen route. I like to meander, but still covered it in about two hours.

One corner of the Eckensee, with adjacent Königsbau on the right, and victory column on the left

Fountain of Fate (Schicksalsbrunnen) at the Upper Palace Garden

Urban natural oases might not offer the pristineness and solitude of more remote destinations, but they are welcome refuges and serve as reminders of nature’s adaptability and tendency to thrive when afforded the slightest opportunity. Surrounded by human habitations and incessant traffic, occupied by manicured lawns and choreographed trees, bushes, and flowers, the verdant lung of Baden-Württemberg’s capital nonetheless offers a home for many wild critters, though how wild they remain through constant contact with and frequent handouts by humans remains debatable.

Mute Swan, not bothered by human activity

…nor are these sleeping Mallards near its edge

 

Black-headed Gull, unfazed by humans

…as is the squirrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pond in the Middle Palace Garden

Vast meadow in the Lower Palace Garden

Autumn splendor

…with inviting trails

The Common Moorhen was very common

…as was the Eurasian Coot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptian Geese, transplants from North Africa

The handsome Graylag Goose

The even more attractive Gray Heron

Despite a near-constant current of walkers, runners, and bikers, I encountered everywhere my favorite feathered friends whose presence perfected this picturesque panorama. As my visit to Stuttgart happened late in the year, autumn’s brush had dipped deeply into pots of gold and amber and burgundy, and had applied its strokes liberally to the local flora. On a day when the sun succeeded in counteracting the cloud cover that clung to the skies during the remainder of the week, those colors carried summer’s residual heat and warmed my heart and soul.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-1/

Robinsong

For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.

I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.

American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.

In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.

Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.

Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/drosselgesang/