Animal Encounters

Meetings with animals wild and tame make me happy.  And while birds touch my soul most profoundly, I’m always grateful for opportunities to observe and photograph other creatures. All of the following pictures were taken this summer, except for the last one. I had to chuckle when I came across these slightly uncommon pets: not one, but two pigs in someone’s front yard. As is obvious from this picture, they were as curious about me as I was about them.

Western Tiger Swallowtails are among our most notable butterflies. Their wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, conspicuous color, undulating flight, and graceful alighting on bright blossoms will irresistibly capture one’s attention and gaze, and hold them captive as these exquisite flyers propel themselves from one nectar source to the next.

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My ears are always switched on during my excursions and when a friend and I went birding one late August morning and tried to figure out from what avian a certain sound emanated, a glance at the ground a few feet ahead of us reminded us to heed my husband’s perpetual advice of “watch your step.” A not-so-little serpent lay coiled in the cool, wet grass and let us know about its presence. Needless to say, our repertoire of unusual bird sounds grew to include reptilian rattling! Out by myself only a few days later, I nearly jumped in the air when I heard similar rattling from right next to my foot. Fortunately, this one came from a cicada which didn’t mind being picked up and inspected.

During my first and sadly only camping trip this summer at one of my favorite destinations, Manitou Lake in neighboring Teller County, I was thrilled to capture a gorgeous American Mink with my camera early in the morning, when I approached stealthily and had the sun in my back, making me blend into my surroundings. These ferocious, carnivorous, semi-aquatic mammals are related to weasels and otters and, on account of their lustrous coats, have been bred in controversial fur farms. Luckily, this one lived in freedom.

One early summer morning, I arrived at my destination before sunrise. Next to a pond I found several crayfish crawling on a path lit by streetlamps. They are by no means rare, but I see them rarely enough that I took note–and a few snapshots.

The following portraits are of animals I have seen and shared before, but I encounter them seldom enough that each occasion represents a reason to celebrate: a very mellow bobcat which accepted my presence with nonchalance, a cute-from-a-distance porcupine whose arboreal slumber I briefly interrupted, and a thick-headed Bighorn Sheep, also best enjoyed from a distance.

Western Painted Turtles can often be seen sunning themselves on exposed rocks in the middle of ponds and lakes, and this group struck my fancy because each individual seemed to have a preference for the same sun-warmed prominence. They are popular as pets, until they are not, and are often abandoned by their owners at bodies of water to fend for themselves, which they seem to be able to do.

Last but not least I would like to introduce two fellows I met a few years back. They graciously interrupted their grazing to greet me at their fence. Long-eared and soft-nosed, one was particularly endearing. When one of my e-mail correspondents asked me for a photo of myself shortly thereafter, this is the one I sent him. I aspire to its characteristics: curious, clever, and charming. 😊

Life at the Cemetery

Cemeteries throughout history have been called cities of the dead (necropolis), but one of the reasons I like to spend time in them while still moving and breathing is related to the fact that they abound with life.

As stated before, graveyards tend to be verdant oases that provide habitat for many animals, and Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs is no exception. I don’t want to belittle the sadness, sorrow, and longing we feel when we pay respect at the final resting places of our loved ones, but, at the same time, it’s a solace to be surrounded by signs that speak to us of aliveness.

The cycles of the seasons are echoed by the changing vegetation. Am I alone in finding consolation in the notion that my grave will, in turns, be covered with a soft blanket of snow in winter, a fragrant carpet of petals in spring, lush meadows in summer, and desiccating, crunchy leaves in autumn? That my limbs might grow into those of a tree and that those tree limbs will provide shelter and sustenance to countless creatures? That rabbits and deer will munch on the grasses I sprout and squirrels will play hide and seek in the canopy above me? That migratory birds will find rest and rations to fuel their journey? That the wind will whistle and the birds will serenade my eternal slumber?

Again, I harbor no death wish, but to know that our bodies are part of an intricate cycle and will be recycled into new life and energy might be a source of comfort. Mind you, I speak of our mortal shells only. What happens to our souls we have endeavored to comprehend ever since we have been endowed with the capacity for complex thought, but the mystery will remain until we find out—or not.

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My Turtle Self

In the lowermost layer of the pond I make my home. In the deepest, darkest, and dankest part of the pool I sleep through the cold season. By immuring myself against cold and hunger, my immovable body becomes part of the watery world, my immobile form invites vegetation to take hold, and aquatic animals live in the forest I carry on my back. Alone, yet not lonely, I lead my life, too old to propagate my seed and species.

From time to time I emerge from the murkiness to linger, to drink in the blue sky, the golden rays of sun, the fresh and fragrant air. These elements fill me with pleasure, but what lies beyond the perimeter of my circumscribed existence does not. Pollution, loss of habitat, hate and strife and war. I want no part of it.

I submerge myself once again, seeking oblivion. Ignorance is my bliss.

Spring Babies

Happening upon this “abandoned” fawn at a small rural cemetery, I wasn’t tempted to call the Division of Wildlife, but I was overcome with sufficient anxiety about its well-being to be able to relate to concerned citizens who do. Or worse, who pick up the baby deer and take it home, or to a rehab center. As we are repeatedly told, it’s the last course of action we should pursue, as does regularly leave their offspring alone for hours, before returning to them.

So I watched what appeared a merely days-old fawn take tentative steps, before it settled in the shade under a bench. It was still peacefully resting there when I left half an hour later, and I have since imagined its happy reunion with its mother many a time.

Most other encounters with spring babies were not tinged with worry but provided joyful glimpses of newborn life. Or even touches, as was the case with the bunny that had to be rescued from a window well—it was completely unscathed and ostensibly nonchalant and unimpressed.

These moments with furry and feathered new animals reminded me that I am a spring baby, too, my birthday being in April. And that I’m the daughter of a summer baby, who celebrates his birthday exactly 3 months after I celebrate mine. So today I send my gratitude, love, and warmest wishes for a happy birthday, dear Pa. I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Zum VergrĂ¶ĂŸern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darĂŒber schweben.

Als ich diesem „verlassenen“ Rehkitz auf einem kleinen lĂ€ndlichen Friedhof begegnete, war ich nicht versucht, die Behörden anzurufen, aber ich machte mir genĂŒgend Sorgen, um nachzuvollziehen, warum einige besorgte BĂŒrger das tun. Oder noch schlimmer, warum sie das Junge mit nach Hause nehmen, oder zu einem Wildgehege bringen. Aber wie uns immer wieder eingebleut wird, ist das das Letzte, was wir tun sollen, denn Rehe lassen ihren Nachwuchs regelmĂ€ĂŸig stundenlang allein, nur um danach wieder zu ihnen zurĂŒckzukehren.

Also beobachtete ich, wie das nur wenige Tage junge Kitz einige zaghafte Schritte tat, bevor es sich unter einer Bank im Schatten niederließ. Dort ruhte es auch eine halbe Stunde spĂ€ter noch friedevoll, als ich den Ort verließ, und ich habe mir seitdem wiederholt seine freudevolle Wiedervereinigung mit seiner Mutter ausgemalt.

Die sonstigen Treffen mit FrĂŒhlingsbabys waren nicht mit Sorge behaftet, sondern ermöglichten frohe Einblicke in neugeborenes Leben. Oder sogar BerĂŒhrungen, was der Fall mit diesem Kaninchen war, das aus einem Fensterschacht gerettet werden mußte. Es war unverletzt und schien völlig gelassen und unbeindruckt.

Diese Momente mit gefiederten und gefellten (ist zwar kein Wort, sollte aber eins sein) Tieren erinnerten mich daran, daß auch ich ein FrĂŒhlingsbaby bin, denn mein Geburtstag ist im April. Und ebenso, daß ich die Tochter eines Sommerbabys bin, das seinen Geburtstag genau 3 Monate nach meinem feiert. Aus diesem Grunde sende ich meine Dankbarkeit, Liebe und besten WĂŒnsche fĂŒr einen frohen Geburtstag, lieber Papa. Ich vermisse Dich und kann es nicht abwarten, Dich wiederzusehen.

Who Am I?

More often than not, you will see signs of my activity, rather than see me personally. I gnaw off tree trunks and branches, which serves a threefold purpose: it keeps my teeth, which grow throughout my lifetime, at the proper length; it provides me with nutrition, herbivore that I am; and last but not least, it affords me the material needed in the construction of lodges and dams for which I’m famous. I have been called nature’s engineer, you see.

I’m typically active during the night (people call me a nocturnal animal), but you might catch a glimpse of me during the day, especially close to dusk when I’m beginning the night’s labors after having rested in my comfortable, elevated sleeping quarters inside my domicile, which I reach through an underwater entrance, invisible to you. If I perceive potential danger while swimming, you might hear me slap my tail on the water, creating a nice, big, loud splash, before I dive out of sight.

That tail is a thing of beauty, if I may say so myself. It’s flat, black, and adorned with scales. Not unlike fish scales, but please don’t confuse me with a fish, as I’m a mammal—more specifically a rodent. Why some prejudices exist against my large family, I don’t know. Methinks it’s because we like to gnaw on things you don’t want us to gnaw on. That tail of mine, which has been described as a paddle, would make me a great ping-pong player, if I were a little faster on my feet. You might call me corpulent, but I need my thick, insulating adipose tissue to keep me warm in the cold water where I spend many of my waking hours.

My lipid layers are encased in a splendid fur, which was the reason you once hunted us nearly to extinction. But that sad story I will leave for another time. I spend a lot of time combing and grooming that coat of mine, and applying a waterproofing, oily substance called castoreum. Both this and our scientific name, Castor canadensis, are derived from the Latin “castor” (and from the Greek “kastor”), meaning beaver. Castor nordamericanensis might be a slightly more apropos appellation, since we occur not only in Canada, but across most of North America.

Sometimes we act in unpredictable ways—and who doesn’t? Such was the case on an unusually mild day in March, when some of you were lucky to see me in broad daylight for an extended period. Even a beaver craves a little sunshine on occasion. I had ventured away from my usual haunt to inspect a nearby pond. Not finding it suitable to erect a mansion, I nevertheless did a little foraging and, in between, hauled out on a platform in the water to soak in some warmth.

Did you notice my sleek, shimmering coat? And did you see my tail? (Have I mentioned this wondrous appendage before?) How about my agile front paws, which enable me to carry sticks underwater, to groom my handsome face, and to hold a morsel and eat it. Let’s not forget my hind paws, each of which has five toes—just like your feet. Unlike yours, mine are webbed, and aid in propelling me forward. I bet you had no idea that I can swim at a speed of 6 miles per hour once I get going. And that I can hold my breath for up to 15 minutes!

But pardon me for digressing. And for, perhaps, appearing slightly immodest.

Who am I? Allow me to introduce myself. I am the American Beaver, at your service.

Pleased to meet you.

With thanks to my fellow blogger, Steve @ Portraits of Wildflowers for reminding me of the etymology of “castor.”

Bitte verzeiht mir, daß es wegen der LĂ€nge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.