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.

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

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

Als ich diesem „verlassenen“ Rehkitz auf einem kleinen ländlichen Friedhof begegnete, war ich nicht versucht, die Behörden anzurufen, aber ich machte mir genügend Sorgen, um nachzuvollziehen, warum einige besorgte Bürger 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 regelmäßig stundenlang allein, nur um danach wieder zu ihnen zurückzukehren.

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 später noch friedevoll, als ich den Ort verließ, und ich habe mir seitdem wiederholt seine freudevolle Wiedervereinigung mit seiner Mutter ausgemalt.

Die sonstigen Treffen mit Frühlingsbabys waren nicht mit Sorge behaftet, sondern ermöglichten frohe Einblicke in neugeborenes Leben. Oder sogar Berührungen, 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 Frühlingsbaby 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 Wünsche für 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 Länge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

Meet My March Mammals

The way I deal with the stresses of life is by spending as much time in nature as possible, away from (most) people. We are fortunate to live in a quasi-rural rather than an urban area, with access to plentiful parks and open spaces, where it’s relatively easy to avoid crowds. It is what I have done for years—and intend to continue.

Um mit den Herausforderungen des Lebens fertigzuwerden, verbringe ich so viel Zeit wie möglich in der Natur, weit weg von (den meisten) Menschen. Glücklicherweise leben wir in einer eher ländlichen Gegend und nicht einer Großstadt, und haben Zugang zu Parks und weiteren Freiräumen. Dort ist es relativ leicht, Menschenmengen aus dem Weg zu gehen, was ich schon seit Jahren tue, und was zu ändern ich nicht vorhabe.

My ornithophilia is well-known to most of you, but I also seek and enjoy encounters with featherless creatures. From my photo files come the following images of mammals I met in March, whose company brought me happy moments and smiles. Until I arrayed them for this post, I hadn’t noticed that they, too, are mono- or dichromatic, not unlike our late winter vegetation.

Meine Liebe zu Vögeln ist vielen unter Euch bekannt, doch halte ich auch nach federlosen Kreaturen Ausschau, und erfreue mich an Begegnungen mit ihnen. Aus meiner Photodatei stammen die folgenden Bilder derjenigen Säugetiere, die mir im März begegnet sind, und deren Gesellschaft mir frohe Momente bescherten und mich zum Lächeln brachten. Bis ich sie für diesen Blogbeitrag aussuchte, war mir nicht aufgefallen, daß auch sie mono- oder dichromatisch sind, so ähnlich wie unsere spätwinterliche Vegetation.

Fox Squirrels are ubiquitous, occurring in our yard and most public spaces, and they are curious and tame enough to be fairly easy to photograph. Not so Red Foxes, whose local numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years, owing to disease. When I detected this duo at the cemetery, of all places, it was my first sighting in several years. The healthy-appearing vulpines granted me just enough time to engage my camera twice or thrice before they performed a vanishing trick.

Fuchshörnchen sind weitverbreitet, und kommen in unserem Garten und den meisten öffentlichen Parks vor. Ihre Neugier und Zahmheit erleichtern es, sie zu photographieren. Anders sieht es mit Rotfüchsen aus, deren hiesige Population in den letzten Jahren aus Krankheitskgründen stark gefallen ist. Als ich dieses Duo ausgerechnet auf dem Friedhof entdeckte, war es die erste Sichtung seit einigen Jahren. Die gesund aussehenden Füchse gestatteten mir gerade genug Zeit, meine Kamera einige Male auszulösen, bevor sie von dannen zogen.

Most walks across our prairie are enriched by the voluminous vocalizations and amusing antics of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Their language is complex, and long before I hear or see them, they have already communicated my potentially dangerous arrival to their associates. Pronghorn, their neighbors, are far quieter. They are often wrongly referred to as antelope, but those exist only in Africa and Eurasia. Instead, these fastest land mammals of North America are the only representatives of the family Antilocapridae. Prairie dogs and Pronghorn alike are wary of humans—with good reason—but are quite photogenic from a distance.

Die meisten Spaziergänge durch unsere Prärie werden von voluminösen Vokalisationen und possierlichen Possen der Präriehunde bereichert. Deren Sprache ist komplex, und lange bevor ich sie höre oder sehe, haben sie meine potentiell mit Gefahren verbundene Ankunft bereits an ihre Gesellen kommuniziert. Gabelböcke, ihre Nachbarn, sind viel leiser. Sie werden of fälschlicherweise als Antilopen bezeichnet, doch die existieren nur in Afrika und Eurasien. Stattdessen sind diese schnellsten Landsäugetiere Nordamerikas die einzigen Vertreter der Familie “Antilocapridae”. Sowohl Präriehunde als auch Gabelböcke nehmen sich vor Menschen in Acht—aus guten Gründen—doch beide Arten sind von einer sicheren Distanz aus sehr fotogen.

The existence of farms and ranches also ensures the presence of many domesticated animals, and this curious calf (a Galloway, according to my Dad) and no less inquisitive donkey were eyeing me as attentively as I them.

Die Existenz von Farmen und Ranches stellen die Präsenz vieler domestizierter Tiere sicher, und dieses neugierige Kälbchen (ein Galloway, laut meinem Vater) und der nicht minder interessierte Esel schauten mich so aufmerksam an wie ich sie.

Thank you, my furry friends, for being there, and for allowing me glimpses into your lives.

Ich danke Euch, meine in Felle gekleideten Freunde. Dafür, daß Ihr da seid, und mir Einblicke in Eure Leben gewährt.