Back To Nature

Wherever we gaze, natural habitat is vanishing. All of us are aware of the tragic destruction of rain forest, which not only creates, but also compounds global warming, as earth’s green lung is no longer available to inhale thermogenic carbon dioxide in the wonderful process of photosynthesis, which happens to exhale oxygen as an afterthought, in a way. Wetlands, on which countless animals and plants depend, are a second crucial environment that is disappearing at a dizzying pace. In the face of these losses, resignation, if not despair, is an understandable reaction. Fortunately, any restoration of life-giving spheres also restores a little glimmer of hope.

I have been heartened to learn of the success of several such projects during my previous sojourns in Germany. My roots lie in Rheinhessen, a region dominated by the Rhine River, as the name implies. Not far from the Rohrwiesen near the small town of Rheindürkheim (the topic of a previous post) lies a second sanctuary, called Eich-Gimbsheimer Altrhein (literally Old Rhine). A meandering stream for millennia, the Rhine was straightened in the 1820s, which left most of its loops to their own devices. Many dried up, but some, like the body of water in question, received sufficient quantities of water from the ground or skies, aided by occasional flooding of the stream. These inundations were subsequently prevented by the construction of a dam, and the marshes were drained and converted into arable land. The ground water level dropped further when wells were drilled to extract drinking water.

Happily, multi-pronged efforts in recent decades transformed the Old Rhine arm into a lake, and resurrected the adjacent wetlands. The 667 hectare area of this nature preserve forms part of the Natura 2000 network, an EU initiative that has as its goal the protection of threatened habitat, with its attendant plant and animal species. While it represents but a minuscule sliver of the surface of the earth, it has resulted in the flourishing of the local flora and fauna, and the provision of a way station for migratory birds. A 3.7 mile loop with several observation huts and towers circles and transects the parcel and affords glimpses of the Altrheinsee (Old Rhine Lake), of several water-filled gravel pits, of wetlands, of small pockets of swamp forest, and of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Because all my visits have happened in late autumn, I have yet to witness the full spectrum of vibrant life, and look forward to experiencing it in springtime. As modest as this haven might be, it nevertheless serves as an example of how we can save our planet, one baby step at a time.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/zuruck-zur-natur/

‘Tis The Season

‘Tis The Season… /Es ist die Zeit…

… for the days to shorten, and the nights to lengthen…

… für kürzere Tage und längere Nächte

… for the summer heat to be replaced by cool days and even cooler nights…

… in der die Hitze des Sommers mit kühlen Tagen und noch kühleren Nächten ersetzt wird

… for a last burst of color, before the plants shed their habiliments and show their equally attractive skeletons…

… für die letzte Farbexplosion der Pflanzen, bevor sie ihre Kostüme abwerfen, und uns ihre ebenso attraktiven Skelette zeigen

… for the decaying vegetation to transform itself into fertilizer and a rotten perfume that is nonetheless pleasing to the olfactory cortex…

… in der die Vegetation verrottet und sich in Dünger verwandelt, und trotzdem ein dem Riechhirn angenehmes Parfüm versprüht

… for the ripening of fruits and seeds that help nourish animals and humans alike…

… der reifenden Früchte und Samen, die Tiere und Menschen gleichermaßen nähren

… to mourn the disappearance of migratory birds, but to warmly welcome our winter guests…

… um das Verschwinden der Zugvögel zu betrauern, doch gleichzeitig unsere Wintergäste mit offenen Armen zu begrüßen

… to remember Colorado Springs resident and farmer, Nick Venetucci (1911-2004), aka “The Pumpkin Man,” who derived great pleasure from giving away thousands of these most iconic symbols of fall to local children each year, and who was commemorated with a beautiful monument adjacent to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum…

… Herrn Nick Venetucci (1911-2004) zu gedenken, der auch als „der Kürbisherr“ bekannt war, und dem es großes Gefallen bereitete, jahrelang diese ikonischen Herbstsymbole tausendfach an Kinder zu verschenken, und der mit einem wunderschönen Denkmal neben dem Colorado Springs Heimatmuseum geehrt wurde

… to wish happy autumn to us all…

uns allen einen schönen Herbst zu wünschen…

Blessed Birds

As the cranes follow their instincts and fly south in autumn, I, too, followed my urge to undertake a brief trip in the same direction. I wanted to lay eyes on them once again during their stopover in Monte Vista, where they refuel their fat stores, before continuing the journey to their wintering grounds.

I have repeatedly reported about crane encounters; as a matter of fact, my very first blog post was dedicated to the search for them. All my previous forays to Colorado’s San Luis Valley, home to a number of National Wildlife Refuges that are blessed with crane visitations, occurred during the early spring. Not this last one. At the end of a long, dry summer the parched land was swept by fierce fall winds that served as reminders of the conditions responsible for the formation of the famous Great Sand Dunes, propelling soil and dust through the air, and bending blades of grass and boughs of trees.

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Not the best circumstances for fruitful birding, but not only did I get to hear the cranes’ guttural vocalizations, so evocative of distant dates and destinations, I also spent a few hours in the company of these mythical creatures, who have long inspired awe and love in humans, this human included.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/begnadete-vogel/

Autumn In The High Country

I wrote these lines almost exactly three years ago following a backpacking trip, and I am publishing them now with slight modifications.

During a trip to the San Juan Mountains in September, my husband and I are reminded of the splendor of different regions of our state, and of the grandeur of Colorado’s high country. Perfect conditions prevail. Cool nights alternate with sunny, warm days. Unlike during the more temperamental summer season, we have little reason to fear violent afternoon storms.

Our three day backpacking trek takes us through different life zones, from the montane to the alpine. At the start of our journey, we are surrounded by our favorite trees, aspen, dressed in their autumn finest. Golden and orange leaves quiver in the occasional breeze and create an impressionistic painting, and a lovely symphony. Wide-open basins and tundra habitat greet us above timberline. At this time of year only a few lone blossoms remain of what a few months back must have been a sea of wildflowers, but the fall foliage with its muted hues of greens and reds holds its own appeal.

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Burbling sounds and still-luscious green ribbons in the otherwise withering meadow alert us to the presence of flowing creeks. We try in vain to determine their source, all of last winter’s snow having melted, and they seem to pour forth directly from the mountain. As we take a rest near one of the brooks, we are reminded that humans are not alone in relishing creature comforts. Yellow-bellied marmots, year-round denizens of these elevated regions, stretch across boulders, basking in the sun as we do. Soon they will retreat to their burrows for many months of hibernation. Picas, always on the move, scamper among the boulders. They alert their brethren of our presence with piercing calls while they watch us warily. I assure them that they have nothing to fear.

With increasing elevation we emerge from the cirques and our views expand. Row upon row of peaks appear, their façades a polychromic palette of grey, ocher, green, and red, extending from one mountain to the next, as though an artist has wielded her whimsical brush across the flanks of this rocky world. Along the horizons we marvel at the seeming de novo genesis of clouds. One moment the celestial sphere is entirely clear, the next a fluffy array of vapor appears, and soon the Columbine-colored skies are dotted with towering layers of condensation. The cloudscape inspires us to let our imagination run free, and to discern forever-changing shapes drifting above us.

The higher our steps take us, the smaller we feel, but also the more exalted. We are thankful to live in majestic Colorado, where we have access to incredible land- and mountainscapes that engage all our senses, and that make us feel particularly alive. The challenge lies in preserving and sustaining our sense of wonder and el(ev)ation once we return to our mundane routines.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/herbst-im-hochgebirge/

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. 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/

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/

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 1

Renewed contact with relatives in Stuttgart in recent years has been enriching not only on a personal level, but has enabled me to combine family visits with those of natural enclaves. A few sites in particular have stolen my heart. Like a siren, they beckon me to return and like Odysseus, I am unable to resist their call. This past fall I sought them out again, following my first acquaintance the previous year.

Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) consists of three contiguous and connected parts. The Upper Schlossgarten nearest the center of the city has at its core the artificial reservoir Eckensee and is fringed by eye-catching edifices and monuments, most notably the New Palace, former residence of the kings of Württemberg. A bridge across the busy Schillerstraße near the Main Train Station leads north to the Middle Schlossgarten which merges with the Lower Schlossgarten. These two occupy a wider footprint and feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. From one end of the Schlossgarten nearest downtown to the opposite end that abuts the Neckar River in Bad Cannstatt, the distance approximates two to three miles, depending on the directness of one’s chosen route. I like to meander, but still covered it in about two hours.

One corner of the Eckensee, with adjacent Königsbau on the right, and victory column on the left

Fountain of Fate (Schicksalsbrunnen) at the Upper Palace Garden

Urban natural oases might not offer the pristineness and solitude of more remote destinations, but they are welcome refuges and serve as reminders of nature’s adaptability and tendency to thrive when afforded the slightest opportunity. Surrounded by human habitations and incessant traffic, occupied by manicured lawns and choreographed trees, bushes, and flowers, the verdant lung of Baden-Württemberg’s capital nonetheless offers a home for many wild critters, though how wild they remain through constant contact with and frequent handouts by humans remains debatable.

Mute Swan, not bothered by human activity

…nor are these sleeping Mallards near its edge

 

Black-headed Gull, unfazed by humans

…as is the squirrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pond in the Middle Palace Garden

Vast meadow in the Lower Palace Garden

Autumn splendor

…with inviting trails

The Common Moorhen was very common

…as was the Eurasian Coot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptian Geese, transplants from North Africa

The handsome Graylag Goose

The even more attractive Gray Heron

Despite a near-constant current of walkers, runners, and bikers, I encountered everywhere my favorite feathered friends whose presence perfected this picturesque panorama. As my visit to Stuttgart happened late in the year, autumn’s brush had dipped deeply into pots of gold and amber and burgundy, and had applied its strokes liberally to the local flora. On a day when the sun succeeded in counteracting the cloud cover that clung to the skies during the remainder of the week, those colors carried summer’s residual heat and warmed my heart and soul.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-1/