Glassy Surprises

Colorado Springs‘ Fine Arts Center had long been on my „must see“ list, and when it offered free visitation in March, I finally filled this glaring gap in my education. I wanted to explore at least two exhibits, one permanent, the other temporary, but otherwise had no preconceived notions. Incidentally, the museum will celebrate its centenary throughout this year, having originated as the Broadmoor Arts Academy in 1919.

Immediately upon entering the lobby, my attention was riveted by the Medusa-like light fixture featured above, but the title Chihuly Chandelier didn’t mean anything to me. Later, when I strolled into a darkened gallery highlighted and illuminated by an array of additional glass art, I learned about world-renowned (where have I been?) American glass artist, Dale Chihuly (born 1941), whose designs have dazzled viewers everywhere. They certainly dazzled me, and I became an instant fan. Additional research revealed that a 1976 accident resulted in blindness in the artist’s left eye. The associated loss of depth perception and a subsequent shoulder dislocation both affected his ability to blow glass, and forced him to limit himself to designing, rather than fashioning his art. According to a quote on Wikipedia, Chihuly describes his role as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

The Persian Wall Installation was arranged by the artist in 2006 and emulates some of the oldest surviving ancient glasswork from the Persian Empire of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Concentric circles in contrasting colors captivate and charm.

Macchias are glass bowls characterized by spots (macchia is Italian for spot, from Latin macula). Countless color combinations make each one of these calyx-like structures unique, and assorted varieties resting on pedestals form so-called macchia forests.

The focal point of the room was the Orange Hornet Chandelier, composed of 384 pieces, which add up to a weight of 1200 pounds. In addition to hornets, it reminded me of ristras (from Latin restis, for rope or cord), decorative strings of red chili peppers popular in the American Southwest. The ponderous taper, first installed in Venice in 1993 as a smaller incarnation, had additional elements added specifically for the Fine Arts Center, to commemorate its 2007 reopening after a major expansion.

For the same occasion, the museum’s café was adorned with a third luster, the Gilded Blue Sapphire Chandelier, a cerulean dream with golden touches.

My outing reminded me that chance meetings are often the best. Encountering Chihuly’s creations was a wonderful surprise, and in this instance my ignorance was indeed my bliss.

Thus Endeth March

I should be accustomed to Colorado’s idiosyncratic climate by now, but it still takes me by surprise. The last week of March was a case in point. Maybe the month had lost track of time, or wanted to prove that it, too, can be as moody as changeling April. Monday started mild, with seasonal temperatures and friendly weather, but by Thursday, we approached near record-breaking 70 + degrees Fahrenheit and a risk of prairie fires in parts of the state because of associated winds. While most of us gratefully swiveled our faces toward the warm sun like the blossoms of the few blooming flowers, we were forewarned to gird ourselves against the vicissitudes of the season.

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Sure enough, Friday brought clouds and a chill, driving everybody back indoors. A thunderclap announced more impending changes. Small (thank goodness) kernels of hail, and a tornado that touched down about 25 miles east of here, were the first harbingers of unsettled spring conditions, but were followed by a reminder that winter is not yet willing to give up its rule entirely, when a few hours later, wet, heavy flakes dropped from a low, gray sky. Frosty Saturday did not bring a single glimpse of the sun. On Sunday, the last day of March, it managed to burn a window into the clouds for a few hours, before a somber veil was once again pulled across the sky, which released intermittent squalls of snow.

Is it any wonder that one’s emotions follow the ups and downs of this meteorologic roller-coaster ride? Spring at the fringe of the Rocky Mountains seems a long time coming. Nightly frosts retard the growth of plants, and winter’s desiccated vegetation still dominates the scenery. There are hopeful hues of greening grass, and the hyacinths and daffodils in front of the house have unfurled their pretty petals—only to have their noses bitten by frost, as is the case each year. The wildflowers know better, and are not fooled by wrong promises.

Spring migration, always a balm for the soul, has not yet fully started. Each new avian arrival is greeted with a happy heart, but the number of new birds does not yet equal or surpass that of the birds that have left us, or soon will leave us, for their summer breeding grounds.

This transitional time is a time for sad goodbyes and impatient restlessness, but also for hopeful expectations and cautious optimism. Hope springs eternal.

Moving toward spring?/Dem Frühling entgegen?

Castle Of The Plains

My recent journey to southeast Colorado revived memories of earlier stopovers at one of the region’s legendary landmarks: Bent’s Old Fort. Also known by the evocative title above, this National Historic Site is unusual, in that the National Park Service reconstructed the original building from scratch, thanks to detailed descriptions, drawings, and diary entries of erstwhile visitors, first and foremost the meticulous sketches of Lieutenant James W. Abert, a topographical engineer, who stayed there twice in the 1840s.

Mein Ausflug in den Südosten Colorados vor kurzem erinnerte mich an vorherige Besuche eines der bekanntesten regionalen Wahrzeichen, Bent’s Old Fort (Bents altes Fort), das auch als Schloß der Prärie bekannt ist. Dieses Denkmal ist ungewöhnlich, weil es von der Verwaltung der amerikanischen Nationalparks auf historischer Grundlage wieder aufgebaut wurde, was durch detaillierte Beschreibungen, Zeichnungen und Tagebuchaufzeichnungen ermöglicht wurde, insbesonde diejenigen von Leutnant James W. Abert, der sich in den 1840er Jahren zweimal dort aufhielt.

Built in 1833 under the direction of brothers William and Charles Bent, and their friend, Ceran St. Vrain, near the present-day town of La Junta, the fortification became the major hub of commerce along the 844 mile Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, which connected Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. A multi-cultural and multi-national nexus, it embodied a model of peaceful, if short-lived, coexistence between American Indians, Hispanics, and Europeans. Beset by disease and declining economic fortunes as a result of diminishing trade in beaver pelts and buffalo hides, the fort was abandoned, before it perished in a conflagration in 1849, likely the work of William Bent himself, after his offer to sell it to the US Army was declined. He subsequently operated a trading post forty miles east, which became known as Bent’s New Fort.

Das Fort wurde 1833 unter der Leitung der Brüder William und Charles Bent sowohl ihres Freundes Ceran St. Vrain nahe der heutigen Stadt La Junta errichtet, und diente als Haupthandelszentrum entlang der etwa 1360 Kilometer langen Bergroute des bekannten Santa Fe Trails, der die Stadt Independence in Missouri mit Sante Fe in Neu Mexiko verband. Es repräsentierte einen multinationalen und –kulturellen Schnittpunkt, und ein Modell friedlicher Koexistenz zwischen Indianern, Mexikanern und Europäern, wenn auch nur auf kurze Zeit. Von Seuchen und sinkenden Umsätzen geplagt, was hauptsächlich auf das zurückgehende Gewerbe mit Biberpelzen und Büffelfellen zurückzuführen war, wurde die Festung  aufgegeben und fiel 1849 einer Feuersbrunst anheim, die wahrscheinlich das Werk von William Bent persönlich war, nachdem sein Angebot, das Fort an die US Armee zu verkaufen, abgelehnt wurde. Danach eröffnete er 65 Kilometer weiter östlich einen weiteren Handelsposten, der als Bents neues Fort bekannt wurde.

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The once bustling center of Bent’s Old Fort was reclaimed by prairie for more than a century, until the structure was resurrected in 1976. Its attractive adobe attire is well-suited for an area that offers limited timber and abundant soil, is furnatially hot in summer, and teeth-chatteringly cold in winter. In exploring this eye-catching edifice and environs, where history comes alive during various annual reenactments, one gains an inkling of what it might have meant for weary travelers to reach this welcoming haven on the mighty Arkansas River. For a short while, it offered water, food, rest, and refuge from the dusty, dangerous wagon tracks, before it was time to resume the perilous, protracted journey.

Die Prärie verleibte sich das einst geschäftige Zentrum von Bents altem Fort über ein Jahrhundert lang ein, bis das Bauwerk 1976 neu errichtet wurde. Sein attraktives Adobegewand ist für diese Gegend gut geeignet, die sich durch niedrige Baumbestände und reichhaltige Böden sowie durch backofenheiße Sommer und zähneklapperndkalte Winter auszeichnet. Beim Erforschen dieses ins Auge springenden Gebäudes und seiner Umgebung, wo Geschichte mehrmals jährlich duch historische Nachstellungen lebendig wird, bekommt man/frau eine kleine Ahnung dessen, was es für müde Reisende bedeutet haben könnte, diese einladende Oase entlang des mächtigen Arkansas Flusses zu erreichen. Für eine kurze Weile gab es Wasser, Proviant, Erholung und Sicherheit von der staubigen Wegstrecke, bevor es mit der gefährlichen und langwierigen Reise im Planwagen weiterging.

Southeast Colorado

In addition to constant Snow Goose sightings, the High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Lamar last month offered many memorable moments. Colorado is known chiefly for its Rocky Mountains, but over a third of our state occupies the Great Plains. Despite a dearth of peaks and a landscape that appears monotonous and barren at first glance, the plains scenery is variable and punctuated by unexpected rises and falls, as we festival participants experienced during field trips to both public and private properties.

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The plains are windy places, and not a single day passed without a breeze at best, gale-force gusts at worst. During the three-day event, we enjoyed only a few calm hours. On a single-digit morning, we braved a biting wind, before it blew us back into our vehicle. At times, we hid behind the bus or a building in order to steady our binoculars and cameras. Native Americans and homesteaders had to be a hardy lot to survive in this challenging climate, with freezer- and furnace-like conditions alternating in the course of the year. Petroglyphs and smoke-darkened caves bespeak long-term human activity in the region, and ruined homes and artifacts tell of those hopeful settlers who arrived, but could not make a go of things.

Lamar exists because the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail traversed the southeastern portion of Colorado. From 1821 until 1880, the legendary trade route connected the US with Santa Fe, which was part of Mexico until 1848, when it was appropriated by the US. The arrival of the railroad consigned the trail to history books, until the 1987 creation of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail by the National Park Service. A series of historical markers, which we encountered on several occasions, recall its historic significance.

Lamar Mural

Lamar Mural

While Coloradans have reason to celebrate some past events, we still try to come to terms with others. Southeast Colorado has borne witness to, and bears the scars of, several inglorious acts. It saw the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which Colorado militia attacked a group of peaceable Arapahoe and Southern Cheyenne, camped under express US government protection. Close to 200 persons perished, among them women and children. The area also witnessed the construction of Camp Amache, one of ten internment camps that imprisoned American citizens of Japanese descent from 1942 until 1945, in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.

Wherever I am, experiencing the beauty and order of the natural world while being reminded of some of the inhuman acts perpetrated by humans on one another is a source of never-ending sadness and outrage. I continue to struggle with negativity and cynicism about humankind, but I don’t want to give up hope that we can yet find a way to make this earth a welcoming home for all people, as well as for all our fellow creatures.

White As Snow

During January’s excursion to seek out the Pink-footed Goose, a rare European visitor in North America, I also beheld a handful of Snow Geese, mixed in with gaggles of Canada and Cackling Geese. In February, my attendance at Lamar’s 17th Annual (my first) High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Colorado’s southeastern corner, exposed me not only to a handful, but to a multitude of Snow Geese on their late winter northward migration. During various festival-associated field trips, we saw and heard Snow Geese nearly incessantly—feeding on fields, flying in formation, or floating on lakes—in numbers that ranged from single birds to thousands.

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We birders good-naturedly ridicule ourselves for willingly forsaking sleep to catch the early bird, so to speak. On the event’s final day, a sunrise trip was offered to a reservoir, where Snow Geese are known to roost. Seven of us gathered at the meeting place at 5:15 AM, before we climbed onto the school bus that carried us to our destination in utter darkness. Once there, our driver turned off the engine, and we were greeted by countless bird voices, even before we could discern the whitish ribbon of their mass at the water’s edge in the graying morning light.

According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife ranger who accompanied us, we were looking at 15,000 geese. The day before, he had counted 40,000. As the sun slowly bathed the scene in an auburn glow, one vociferous skein after another arrived, carrying an estimated 10,000 additional birds. They gathered along the far shore of the lake, and I was unable to capture a single close-up. Fortunately, I had no trouble approaching the migrant geese winging their way through a beautiful mural in downtown Lamar, and they are depicted in the topmost photo.

One of the reasons the birds kept their distance—hunting. They were wary of humans. Like many nature lovers, I have mixed emotions about this activity. Not a hunter myself, I am nonetheless aware of the necessity of controlling certain animal populations. Snow Geese winter in the US or Mexico and migrate all the way to the Canadian and far-northern Alaskan tundra for the breeding season. Global warming and civilization have benefited their species. Earlier snow melts in the Arctic prolong the breeding season, and the availability of man-made reservoirs and agricultural crops in what was once wild prairie, improve survival during their twice-yearly journey. They have, however, been too successful, and depletion of their precious Arctic habitat is of concern not only for themselves, but also for other animals.

Even though it saddens me to visualize people shooting at these beauties with guns instead of with cameras, my rational self knows this is a necessary and beneficial intervention. We no longer live in Eden, where nature can balance itself. It is easy to criticize hunters, but in many instances their fees help protect crucial animal habitat, and their actions help maintain healthy populations. Instead of disparaging one another, we need to collaborate to tackle today’s challenges. “We’re all in this together,” as Red Green has long been telling us.

Lost?

To look for one bird in a flock of thousands is like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. When I arrive at Milavec Reservoir in Frederick, about 100 miles north of Colorado Springs, on this early January day and am greeted by the resounding calls of countless Canada and Cackling Geese, I know that my chances of finding my hoped-for goose are slim. Ever since the report a few weeks ago of the first-ever Colorado appearance of a Pink-footed Goose, which typically breeds in Greenland and Iceland, and overwinters in Northern Europe, a great buzz has energized the regional birding community. Occasional sightings in Canada or the East Coast have occurred, but this species’ presence in our state is sensational.

I am not the only one with binoculars on this frosty morning—two fellow bird enthusiasts are scanning the lake with their optics, and I make their acquaintance. Joe, who has already seen the bird twice, has brought his brother, Steve, to show him this rarity. As on so many previous occasions, I benefit from the heart-warming kindness of strangers, because Joe’s subsequent discovery of the goose allows me a brief glimpse—just long enough to capture two photographs—before I lose it in the ceaseless ebb and flow of myriad geese. I clearly notice its short beak, responsible for its scientific name, Anser brachyrhynchos (Anser is Latin for goose, and brachyrhynchos is Greek for short-billed). Interestingly, the German common name, “Kurzschnabelgans,” reflects the short beak, whereas the English focuses on another prominent feature, the birds’ feet, described by Joe as “bubble-gum pink.”

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Alas, I never see the goose’s legs, but I do not mind terribly, especially when I realize that other seekers, who arrive a little later, do not get to observe any part of the bird. I indulge in the enjoyment of other geese, whose visits to Colorado are limited to wintertime.

This Pink-footed Goose makes my birding heart beat happily, and even though it is far off-course, reminds me of the amazing miracle of bird migration that spans our one-of-a-kind globe, of the interconnectedness of all living beings, and of the desperate need to get our act together, so that our fellow creatures may continue their age-old movements across continents, which have inspired humans since the dawn of consciousness.

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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Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.