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.

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 2

During last fall’s sojourn in Stuttgart, I enjoyed re-visiting some cherished corners of Baden-Württemberg’s capital. Upon completion of my stroll through the Schlossgarten, I directed my steps along the Neckar River. A few miles farther north, another beautiful, man-made oasis appealed not only to this human, but also to her favorite feathered friends.

Strolling along the Neckar River

Great Cormorant in the river

A message of love

Max-Eyth-Lake is bordered to the west by the Neckar River, whose steep slopes are covered with award-winning vineyards, and to the north and east by a hill burdened with high-rises. A suspension bridge (aka Max-Eyth-Steg) leads across the river, and a foot path encircles the lake. In summer, boat rentals afford an additional experience. Cafés and restaurants invite the weary walker for a culinary pause. The body of water was created in the 1930s at the location of a former sand and gravel quarry, and became a nature preserve in the 1960s.

Max-Eyth-Lake with bridge and surroundings (the featured panoramic photo above was taken in the previous year, about three weeks earlier in the fall)

Lovely willow

Late fall colors

Site of a heron rookery, I found large numbers of these long-legged, long-necked, long-billed wading birds. Flocks of garrulous Graylag Geese inched their way across stretches of lawn that served both as buffet and lavatory. Here, too, mallards, coots, and moorhen were right at home. I was thrilled to once again observe an elegant black swan. Was it identical to the one I had encountered  the previous year?

Gorgeous Gray Heron

Grazing Graylag Geese

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swan

European Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a period of rain, this day’s sunshine did not succeed entirely in evaporating the moisture in the air and on the paths, and as soon as the sun approached the horizon, the humidity consolidated into a layer of mist that hovered over the water’s surface. As the solar body took its leave, I reluctantly followed, but not before vowing to return.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-2/

Birds of Ages

During one’s short stint on our blue planet, some days stand out because of sadness and pain, others for the joy they bring. As humans we are privileged to witness natural phenomena likely to give wing to our imagination. Colorado’s San Luis Valley with its stunning scenery happens to be the stage where, for eons, the twice annual migration of the Rocky Mountain population of Sandhill Cranes to and from their summer breeding grounds takes place. In March of this year, I was again fortunate enough to immerse myself in this spectacle. Unlike a previous time, my hopes were not disappointed.

Between 18 and 25 thousand cranes might appear in any given year near the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (my 18 to 25 thousand reasons to keep returning). The vast majority are Greater Sandhill Cranes, not easily distinguished from their slightly smaller Lesser and Canadian cousins. On their way to the Greater Yellowstone area where they will raise the next generation, they pause between the middle of February and beginning of April to eat, eat, eat. On the refuge, fields of barley and wheat are mowed to coincide with their arrival, and the cranes obligingly gather early in the morning and again before sunset to fill their tummies. The feeding fields are wonderful places to observe these big birds, with their lanky limbs and crimson caps.

Not immediately obvious, their myriad numbers are composed of families, consisting of an adult pair and last year’s offspring (typically one). Mating for life, which can span two to three decades, spring feelings for one another are expressed by droll dances whose elements include hops of varying height, flaps of wings that span up to 78 inches, and contortions of long necks. After spending the winter with their descendants in the vicinity of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and undertaking spring migration together, the juvenile is forced out by its parents, to fend for itself, until it starts its own family, between the ages of two and seven.

Full of commotion and commingling, these gatherings are furthermore sites of characteristic concerts. Each arriving or departing group of cranes is accompanied by guttural sounds unlike any others, emanating from long, coiled tracheas that transform the tones and attach to them an otherworldly quality. Even when the feathery hordes disperse to wet meadows or other mid-day destinations, their calls permeate the air. Across many miles, the awed spectator is never out of earshot of the vocalizations that evoke ancient history. For 2.5 million years these living relics and their ancestors have witnessed the earth’s ups and downs, and if we knew how to listen to their stories, we might learn valuable lessons about life, love, and loss.