A Weaselly Surprise

When I noticed something bright in my peripheral field of vision and my eyes afterward focused on this sleek creature, I felt slightly disoriented. The animal seemed out of its element, at least in my mind. It was October 2020 and I was birding along a paved path in a well-developed suburban subdivision. A weasel was not what I expected here.

Back at home I confirmed that I had indeed seen a Long-tailed Weasel. A member of the mustelid family (Mustelidae), which also includes badgers, wolverines, and skunks, it is considered the most widespread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere (according to our 1997 National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals). Considering this fact it’s remarkable that I only recall a handful of weasel encounters in my life, all of which happened in natural, undeveloped areas—until this one broke the mold.

This individual was sunning itself in someone’s back yard and it soon became evident that it had tunneled underneath the stone steps, where it disappeared for periods of time. I did not see a water source in the yard but not far from the property was a little pond, which likely proved attractive to this water-loving critter. Long-tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) used to be considered strictly nocturnal but are now known to be active in daylight as well, because voles, among their favorite prey, are diurnal.

This rather tame-appearing representative of its kind was nearly done with its seasonal wardrobe makeover, having exchanged almost all the handsome yellow and brown summer attire for a white winter coat, except for the face and back, which probably turned white soon thereafter. The dark tip of the tail, on the other hand, remains black always.

 

I had enjoyed one previous weaselly meeting in southern Colorado in April 2016 during which the subject posed long enough for me to take a few photos. The image I have added for comparison shows the warm earth tones of the fur. I wonder if this weasel kept the same coat year-round, as the white camouflage color only makes sense in areas that receive significant amounts of snow.

If you have observed and/or photographed weasels in the wild, I would love to hear about your experiences.

Winter’s Pageant

This winter has brought several bouts of much-needed moisture in the form of snow to Colorado Springs, and as I’m scheduling this post, portions of the Rocky Mountains are waiting with bated breath for the next wintry wave predicted to drop two-plus feet of the white stuff. The brutal arctic blast that swept through North America in mid-February and wreaked havoc across wide swathes of the country also dropped the temperature into the subzero range along the Front Range of the Rockies, but otherwise thermometer readings have been mostly seasonal.

Without belittling the loss of life or damage caused by broken pipes and power outages from severe winter weather (if you, your neighbors, friends, or family were effected, I hope things have returned to normal by now), I find that precipitation takes on a magic of its own when it arrives in the form of snowflakes. Depending on light, wind, and humidity, the resulting effects and moods vary widely. To walk under a bluebird sky through freshly fallen snow, hear and feel it crunch underfoot, and see the sparkle and glitter of myriad ice crystals is an experience I don’t want to miss. I enjoy the sense of adventure when I’m the first to break trail, when I tread where no one else has tread before, at least no other human.

Whether the trees are flocked with cotton-like puffs, whether mist or fog conspires with temperature to create a rime-crusted reality, whether Artist Winter has applied a whimsical brush, the stage is set for a wonderful show. Without further ado I will let you take in some of winter’s displays.

Humpty-Dumpty

If you were raised in an Anglophone country and are of a certain age, chances are you became familiar with the Humpty-Dumpty nursery rhyme while growing up. As I grew up in Germany for the first two decades of my life I didn’t. When and where I first heard the poem I don’t recall, and I knew very little about it until I did a little reading in preparation for this post.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

According to several online sources, the quatrain started out as a riddle, to which the answer might or might not have been egg. It was only after Lewis Carroll’s 1871 Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) that Humpty Dumpty became associated with an anthropomorphic egg. The nursery rhyme’s long and illustrious career includes being set to music, and countless online versions of the song exist, available to you at your leisure.

Colorado Springs’ civic, cultural, and economic interests are the concern of the Downtown Partnership. Its charitable nonprofit arm, Downtown Ventures, has been behind the popular annual Art on the Streets project which “celebrates the power of art in public places.” Each year since 1998, it has selected submissions from artists and displayed them downtown for 12 months.

A number of the exhibits have become permanent installations after the course of the year when purchased by an individual or organization. Such was the case with the 2003 submission, Hump D, fashioned by Minneapolis artist Kimber Fiebiger. Seated on a low wall adjacent to the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, the bronze was so popular that local businesses have since commissioned similar designs and placed them in various locations throughout the core of our city. It was only this summer that I happened across a few of them, and I can relate why new ones keep appearing in different places. One never tires of looking at these jovial, happy creations without feeling jovial and happy oneself.

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

PS: Some, but not all of the titles I found on the artist’s webpage. Incidentally, I also stumbled across a creation entitled “Trumpty-Dumpty.” While it represents the exact opposite of happy and jovial, it is very timely.

Flight 2020

Butterflies fly. As does time. Of these truths I was reminded when I realized that three years have lapsed since I first experienced a winged local late summer tradition. Contrary to countless canceled conventions worldwide, the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs’ annual gathering of famous lepidoptera was able to take place in 2020.

Some of you might remember my 2017 post Butterfly Fever, which celebrated the “Flight” event’s 10th anniversary. After having missed it in the intervening two years, earlier in September, on the lawn of Alamo Square Park which surrounds my favorite museum I recently introduced to you, I once again happily witnessed the delightful landing of 26 butterflies as well as dragonflies, which have also been part of the display since 2018.

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

The artists selected by jury receive as their canvases empty metal insect shapes which they transform according to their fancy into creatures ranging from the slightly odd to the sublime. After being on display for nearly one month, they are sold in an art auction, whose proceeds “ensure children receive essential arts and science programs and also for community service projects throughout our city.”

Time and the fanciful insects have, indeed, flown, as this year’s virtual auction was held on September 26. The revenue will support worthy causes, and the generous patrons will be blessed with whimsical wings in their homes or gardens.

PS: The featured photo at the very top is “Flight of the Gods” by Diane Feller.

PPS: Dimensions of the artwork

Petite butterflies (not part of the al fresco exhibit) 7 x 9 inches

Medium butterflies 34 x 45 inches

Large butterflies 45 x 62 inches

Dragonflies 35 x 40 inches

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.