Winter Isn’t Over

In the arid American Southwest, made more arid by recurring drought, any form of moisture is welcome. Few forms are more fabulous than frozen flakes falling from the firmament, as was the case last week. After two days of watching a snowfall through the window from my desk, my body and mind yearned to dive into the late winter wonderland, before it would dissipate like a dream.

Any place is transformed by snow, and beautiful places become more beautiful. This was the case at Garden of the Gods on the morning after the storm. The park’s inherent splendor was rendered more splendid, its innate majesty more majestic, by a moderate sprinkling of powdered sugar. Many place names exaggerate, embellish, but in my mind, Garden of the Gods’ designation is no hyperbole.

As wind and sun slowly but steadily transubstantiated shimmering, frozen crystals back into their translucent, liquid state, ravens were squawking overhead, robins were breaking their fast on frosty juniper berries, the lovely melody of Townsend’s Solitaires floated down from their elevated perches, and this human soul was filled to its brim.

Im trockenen, durch wiederholte Dürreperioden noch ausgetrockneteren Südwesten der USA, ist jeglicher Niederschlag willkommen. Wenige Formen sind fabelhafter als gefrorene Flocken, die aus dem Firmament fallen, wie das vergangene Woche der Fall war. Nachdem ich zwei Tage lang von meinem Schreibtisch aus den Schneefall beobachtet hatte, sehnten sich mein Körper und Geist danach, in die späte Winterwunderlandschaft einzutauchen, bevor alles wie ein Traum erscheinen würde.

Jeder Ort wird durch Schnee verwandelt, und herrliche Orte werden noch herrlicher. Das war am Morgen nach dem Sturm auch im Garden of the Gods der Fall. Eine mittelschwere Puderzuckerschicht unterstrich die dem Park innewohnende Pracht. Manche Ortsnamen sind übertrieben, aber Garden of the Gods verdient meiner Meinung nach seinen Titel.

Während Wind und Sonne die glitzernden Eiskristalle langsam aber sicher wieder in ihren durchsichtigen, flüssigen Zustand verwandelten, krächzten Raben am Himmel, stopften sich Wanderdrosseln zum Frühstück ihre Mägen mit frostigen Wacholderbeeren, schwebte die liebliche Melodie weiterer Vögel durch die Lüfte, und war diese menschliche Seele bis zum Bersten gefüllt.

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Mural Magic

While I have never stayed as an overnight guest at our local 5-star Broadmoor Hotel, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2018, I occasionally treat myself to coffee and cake in one of its cafés. This pretext enables me to walk the tastefully-landscaped grounds, to enjoy views of nearby Cheyenne Mountain, and to admire a graceful pair of Mute Swans in the property’s central lake. The establishment is known for the artwork that adorns the interior and ambling through its corridors is like walking through a museum. Paintings and statues celebrate the history of the American West and make it easy to while away hours.

Obwohl ich noch nie in unserem hiesigen Fünfsternehotel “Broadmoor”, das 2018 sein 100-jähriges Jubiläum feierte, übernachtet habe, verwöhne ich mich gelegentlich mit Kaffee und Kuchen in einem seiner Cafés. Dieser Vorwand ermöglicht es mir, durch die geschmackvoll gestaltete Gartenanlage zu spazieren, die Sicht auf den nahegelegenen Berg, Cheyenne Mountain, zu genießen, und ein graziles Schwanenpaar auf dem zentral gelegenen See zu bewundern. Das Etablissement ist für seine Kunstsammlung bekannt, und durch seine inneren Hallen zu wandeln, ähnelt einem Besuch in einer Kunstgalerie. Gemälde und Plastiken feiern die Geschichte des amerikanischen Westens, und lassen Stunden wie im Fluge vergehen.

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I never visit without directing my steps to a cozy corner whose walls are beautified by a delightful mural. Examples of our regional flora are exquisitely and lovingly rendered, and while I feast on the colorful blossoms, a number of winged creatures do the same in their own way.

Meine Ausflüge dorthin sind ohne das Aufsuchen einer gemütlichen, von einem wunderschönen Wandgemälde verzierten Ecke nicht komplett. Vertreter unserer hiesigen Flora werden in liebevollem Detail dargestellt, und während ich mich an den farbenprächtigen Blüten auf meine Art labe, tut es mir eine Anzahl beschwingter Kreaturen auf ihre Weise gleich.

Dressed For A Wedding

Though all waterfowl are handsome in my eyes, some stand out for their hyper-handsomeness. I have yet to see Mandarin or Harlequin Ducks, among the most elegant, but the no less attractive Wood Ducks make a semi-regular appearance in Colorado. Their distribution map shows them sparingly throughout most of the American Southwest in the summer, but some migrate through, or even winter in our region.

Their common name stems from their habits: nesting in tree cavities, and perching on tree branches, made possible by their clawed feet. To distance their eggs from predators, they prefer to nest high—30 or more feet above the ground. They are unique among North America’s ducks in that they can have two annual broods. Their average clutch of 13 eggs hatches after about 30 days, and the newborns hurl themselves out of the nest and float down to join their mother on the ground when they are only a day or two young, never to return to their protected, down-lined home. They stay with Mama Duck until they are old enough to live on their own, Dad having moved on after performing his procreational duties.

Hunted to near-extinction by the turn of the 20th century, Wood Ducks have recovered, thanks to strict hunting regulations, and the provision of nesting boxes, which are readily adopted by the future parents when they meet certain criteria. Even though the birds conduct their lives in wooded swamps, nests have been found over a mile away from suitable habitat.

Woodies are also known as Carolina ducks (where they were first described), swamp ducks, or water pheasants. Coming across these typically shy creatures that are wary of humans is always a treat. In November of last year I found a cluster at a pond in Pueblo, our neighboring city to the south, where their tolerance to human presence allowed me to take several close-up portraits. It was the first time I noticed some of the finer details of their plumage. Their beautiful bodies are bejeweled with a wide-ranging palette of colors, and highlighted by white stripes, arcs, or, in the female’s case, teardrop-shaped eyeshadow. This astounding array of feathers inspired their scientific name, Aix sponsa, a combination of the Greek word Aix, for waterfowl, and the Latin term, sponsa, for betrothed, or spouse.

In short, a Duck Dressed For A Wedding.

A small group of foraging Wood Ducks (German: Brautenten)

A pair of Wood Ducks, male in the back, female in the front

Female with her stunning eyeshadow

A pair of Wood Ducks, male on the left, female on the right

Male with his multi-hued plumage

Female with never-before seen highlights