The Amazing Yucca

Among the multitude of notable and noticeable plants of the Great Plains, one stands out by virtue not only of its height of 2 to 3 feet, but also because of its striking spikes, studded with cream-colored to green petals, and adorned with reddish sepals. Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca) is one of a number of yucca species, belonging to the agave subfamily. It blooms mostly in June and I was pleased to happen across it at various favorite hiking destinations in and around Colorado Springs upon our return from Germany.

Unter der Vielzahl an bemerkenswerten und beachtlichen Pflanzen der nordamerikanischen Great Plains sticht eine nicht nur wegen ihrer Höhe von bis zu einem Meter hervor, sondern auch wegen ihrer auffälligen, mit cremefarbenen bis grünen Blüten- und rötlichen Kelchblättern ausgestatteten Rispen. Die sogenannte blaugrüne Palmlilie ist eine von mehreren Yucca Arten und gehört zu der Unterfamilie der Agaven. Sie blüht vorwiegend im Juni und ich war sehr froh, ihr nach unserer Rückkehr aus Deutschland an Lieblingsplätzen in und um Colorado Springs zu begegnen.

Besides their eye-catching appearance, the lance-shaped leaves, which happen to be green even in the depth of winter, will quickly remind the unwary passerby why yuccas have been called Spanish bayonets. This is likely not a problem for Yucca Moths, the plants’ predominant (if not exclusive) pollinators. In return for propagating pollen, they get to deposit their eggs, and the hatched larvae feed on seeds inside the pod, before eating their way out of the fruit. As the insects are nocturnal, one has to make a special effort to see them.

Neben ihrem auffälligen Aussehen erinnern ihre lanzettförmigen Blätter, die übrigens auch im tiefsten Winter grün sind, den unachtsamen Passanten daran, warum die Yuccas auch spanische Bajonetts genannt werden. Das ist wahrscheinlich kein Problem für die Yuccamotten, die Hauptbestäuber der Pflanze. Im Gegenzug legen sie ihre Eier in die Blüten, und die geschlüpften Larven futtern später die Samen in der Schote, bevor sie sich durch die Frucht fressen. Da die Insekten nachtaktiv sind, bedarf es besonderer Planung, um sie zu Gesicht zu bekommen.

In addition to the yucca’s beauty, it provided native peoples with many uses. The edible bell-like flowers and plump pods supplemented their diet; its fibrous leaves were turned into mats, footwear, baskets, and ropes; the leaf tips could be employed as paintbrushes when frayed, or as a sewing needles when intact. The roots, rich in saponin, were mashed and worked into a soapy lather, and cleansed animal wool and human hair alike.

Zusätzlich zu der erlesenen Schönheit der Yucca bot sie den Indianern vielseitige Anwendungen. Die glockenförmigen Blüten und plumpen Schoten sind eßbar und ergänzten die Nahrung. Ihre Blätter enthalten kräftige Fasern und wurden zu Matten, Fußbekleidung, Körben und Seilen verarbeitet. Die Blattspitzen fungierten im zerfaserten Zustand als Pinsel, und im intakten als Nähnadeln. Die Wurzeln, die reichlich Saponin enthalten, wurden zerstampft und der resultierende Seifenschaum säuberte tierische Felle und menschliche Haare gleichermaßen.

It should come as no surprise then, that the yucca has been described as a “grocery store.” Ever since I learned of and about this remarkable plant, I cannot view it with anything other than admiration.

Es dürfte also keine wirkliche Überraschung sein, daß Yuccas als „Lebensmittelgeschäft“ tituliert wurden. Seit ich mir dieser außergewöhnlichen Pflanze bewußt wurde, kann ich sie mit nichts anderem als Bewunderung betrachten.

Springtime In Germany

I hadn’t paid a vernal visit to Germany for many years, until my husband and I arrived there in early May of this year. Living in the semi-arid climate of Colorado’s Front Range, we are accustomed to many more shades of brown than of green, but the photoreceptors responsible for numerous nuances of that latter wavelength worked overtime during our springtime sojourn.

Ich hatte Deutschland schon lange keinen Besuch mehr im Lenz abgestattet, bis mein Mann und ich dort Anfang Mai dieses Jahres eintrafen. Da wir im halbtrockenen Klima des Vorgebirges der Rocky Mountains in Colorado leben, sind wir an mehr braune als grüne Schattierungen gewöhnt, doch die für die letzteren Wellenlängen verantwortlichen Photorezeptoren haben während unseres Frühlingsaufenthaltes Überstunden geleistet.

From the moment our flight approached the airport in Frankfurt, to a few minutes after take-off four weeks later, when clouds engulfed our plane, we were surrounded by many gradations of green, and a vegetation so dense we perceived it as near-tropical. Deciduous trees in full foliage, high hedges, and generous grasses grew before our eyes thanks to copious rains. In the small but precious garden lovingly designed and tended by my father and his significant other, we made new discoveries almost daily.

Von dem Moment, in dem sich unsere Maschine dem Frankfurter Flughafen näherte, bis wenige Minuten nach unserem Abflug vier Wochen später, als Wolken unser Flugzeug umhüllten, wurden wir von allerlei Grüntönen sowie von einer so dichten Vegetation umgeben, daß wir uns fast in den Tropen wähnten. Laubbäume in voller Kluft, hohe Hecken und großzügige Gräser wuchsen dank reichlicher Regenschauer vor unseren Augen. Im kleinen aber feinen, liebevoll gestalteten und gepflegten Garten meines Vaters und seiner Lebensgefährtin entdeckten wir fast täglich neue Überraschungen.

Horse chestnuts, among my favorite trees, strutted their candle-like inflorescences in white or hues of pink like some immodest phalluses (which, in fact, they are). The branches of fruit trees were weighed down with the future sweet harvest of cherries, apricots, figs, and additional fruits and nuts. In the wine-growing region of Rheinhessen, grapes were only in their embryonic stage, awaiting sunny, warm days to undergo their transformation into honeyed, Rubenesque globes. Verdant fields undulated in the breeze, promising to yield wheat, rye, barley, or oats.

Die zu meinen Lieblingsbäumen gehörenden Kastanien brüsteten sich mit ihren weißen oder pinkfarbenen kerzenartigen Blütenständen, als seien sie schamlose Phallus-Symbole (sind sie übrigens auch). Die Zweige der Obstbäume bogen sich unter der Last der künftigen süßen Ernte von Kirschen, Aprikosen, Feigen und sonstigen Früchten und Nüssen. Die Trauben der Weinregion Rheinhessen waren noch im Embryonalstadium und warteten auf sonnige, warme Tage, um ihre Verwandlung in honigsüße rubenssche Kugeln vorzunehmen. Grüne Felder undulierten sacht in der Brise und versprachen Erträge aus Weizen, Roggen, Gerste oder Hafer.

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Zum Vergrößern, die Bilder bitte anklicken.

Amid the greenery, splotches of color. Both wild and domestic flowers flourished. Peonies unfolded their plentiful petals, and countless rose varieties adorned gardens, parks, country roads, even forests. Orange California Poppies competed for attention with splendid cultivated pink poppies, and their untamed, red counterparts. Myriad other blossoms were woven into the floral fabric.

Inmitten des Grüns, farbige Kleckse. Sowohl wilde, als auch gezüchtete Blumen florierten. Pfingstrosen entfalteten ihre reichlichen Blütenblätter, und zahllose Rosenvarianten schmückten Gärten, Parks, Feldwege und Wälder. Orangefarbiger kalifornischer Mohn eiferte um die Wette mit veredelten, rosa-angehauchten Schönheiten sowie mit deren ungezähmten roten Pendants. Unzählige weitere Blüten fügten sich in das blumige Gewebe.

I often declare that May is a good month to travel, and am glad to report that my assertion was confirmed by our recent trip. Nature’s friendly greeting was equaled by the hospitality we experienced from family and friends. Our sincere thanks to all of you. We hope to welcome you in Colorado to pay you back in kind!

Ich beteuere oft, der Mai sei ein guter Monat zum Verreisen, und bin froh, daß unsere jüngste Reise diese Behauptung bestätigt hat. Der freundlichen Begrüßung, die uns Mutter Natur bereitete, stand die Gastfreundschaft, die uns Familie und Freunde entgegenbrachten, in nichts nach. Wir danken Euch allen herzlich und hoffen, Euch in Colorado ebenso willkommen heißen zu können.

A Sea Of Smiling Suns

It is the time of year when my eyes espy yellow blossoms everywhere. They might have been here for a while, but as other blooms are fading and giving way to seed heads, sunflowers still shine. They seem to have served as solar collectors all summer long, and are now returning the stored sunshine as golden smiles. Enamored of their cheerful faces, I simply cannot pass them without pausing to take their portrait. I, in turn, leave a grateful nod and try to store their good cheer and brilliance for the coming days of waning warmth and brightness.

This is my quilt of thankfulness, dedicated to the ever-smiling sunflower.

Es ist die Jahreszeit, in der meine Blicke überall auf gelbe Blumen treffen. Sie mögen bereits eine Zeit lang da gewesen sein, doch während andere Blüten verblassen und ihre Fruchtstände entwickeln, glänzen die Sonnenblumen noch immer. Sie scheinen den ganzen Sommer lang als Solarkollektoren gedient zu haben, und geben jetzt die gespeicherten Sonnenstrahlen in Form eines goldenen Lächelns zurück. Verliebt in ihre fröhlichen Gesichter kann ich nicht einfach an ihnen vorbeilaufen, ohne ihr Porträt festzuhalten. Im Gegenzug nicke ich ihnen dankbar zu und versuche, ihre gute Laune und ihr Leuchten für die kommenden, weniger warmen und hellen Tage zu speichern.

Hier ist meine den immer lächelnden Sonnenblumen gewidmete Collage der Dankbarkeit.

A Tranquil and Treasured Place

Ever since my inadvertent discovery of Colorado’s Roxborough State Park more than five years ago, I have harbored the wish to introduce it to my husband. Its location near Denver, about 65 miles north of Colorado Springs, had been a slight deterrent because of the attendant drive and traffic, but we finally made the journey in mid-July.

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We are enthusiastic devotees of Colorado’s State Parks and, for years, have happily invested the $70 fee for an annual pass that allows access to all forty-two parks, save one. A mere ten visits per year amortize the investment, and we typically far exceed that number. As the parks are scattered throughout the state, those that remain to be explored outnumber the ones we are familiar with, among them our nearby favorites, Cheyenne Mountain and Castlewood Canyon.

Roxborough State Park, fringed by the plains in the east and the Rocky Mountain foothills in the west, is one of the least developed parks. It is open only during daytime, does not offer picnic or camping facilities, and only allows human foot traffic. If this sounds restrictive, it is done in the noble attempt to limit visitation and minimize impact on its fauna, which includes 181 recorded bird species, plus multiple mammals, among them deer, elk, fox, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. When I recently published a post about our rare encounter with a rattlesnake, little did I know that soon afterward, we would run into another – at Roxborough. Again, this individual was not aggressive, and slithered away into the tall grass lining the trail. Shortly thereafter, we nearly stepped on another snake, and were jolted to attention when it hissed and curled. Fortunately, the bullsnake, albeit of impressive size, is not poisonous, and merely wanted to alert us of its presence.

Roxborough’s most outstanding features are geologic. Slanting red sandstone slabs form several parallel ridges along the park’s north-south axis, like the spinal columns of so many slumbering dinosaurs. The rocks are representative of the Fountain Formation. These oblique rubicund walls are even more remarkable when one comprehends that they originated as the bottom of an ancient inland ocean before its uplift some 300 million years ago. This is where my comprehension ends. As much as I hate to admit it, my geologic grasp is miniscule. Each time I read about rocks and minerals and millions and billions of years, my eyes glaze over, despite repeated attempts to remedy my ignorance. Ignorance does not equal inattention or inappreciation, but not everybody can be a rock hound.

Contrasting and complementing verdure, stimulated by several streams, creates a far lusher appearance than we are accustomed to from the otherwise geologically similar Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The versatile flora comprises tallgrass species and wildflowers, but our nearly decade-long regional drought has temporarily suppressed the number of flowering plants. The entire American West hopes for more summer rains.

This exquisite jewel of a refuge has attracted humans for eons. Evidence of local activity dates back nearly 12,000 years, and those Paleo-Indians were followed more recently by Utes, and, to a lesser extent, by Arapahoe. The locale owes its name to Henry Persse, a New York transplant. In 1903, he built a stone house on the north end of the valley, originally called Washington Park, before he rechristened it after an ancestral Scottish location. He intended to transform the area around his summer home into a resort, replete with hotel, golf course, and guest cottages. Mercifully, this plan never materialized, and his and some surrounding property amounting to a total of about 3,300 acres came into the possession of the state of Colorado, and was opened as a park in 1987.

Despite its proximity to the greater Denver metropolitan area with its three-plus million inhabitants, and despite the doubling of the annual visitation from 75 to 150 thousand in the last four years, when managing to avoid weekends and holidays, it is still possible to experience transformative tranquil time at this treasure trove.

A Fire Lookout

If my office sat atop a 9,748 foot rocky perch and offered panoramic views of Colorado’s mountains and plains, I, too, would happily climb 143 steep steps each morning to get to work. I would not frown upon the employer-provided domicile, or upon having to use an outhouse. Rather, I would relish residing remotely each summer, 1.5 miles from, and 939 feet above, the nearest trailhead.

Unfortunately, this lofty office, built in 1951, whose elevated raison d’etre is the early detection of wildfires, does not have any openings, as the role of fire lookout has been filled by the same person since 1984. Mr. Bill Ellis, a U. S. Forest Service employee, was in his mid-50s when he jumped at the chance to take on the full-time seasonal position, moving to the cabin with his wife and, to begin with, their four children, each fire season, with the exception of only a few years. In his mid 80s now, he has become a living legend. His is a dying profession, because modern fire monitoring technologies are supplanting the human eye.

As residents of Colorado Springs, we enjoy occasional newspaper articles about the renowned fire tower lookout at Devil’s Head, a rocky promontory reportedly resembling Satan’s noggin from a few vantage points. This destination had long lingered and languished on our wish list until late June, when we finally saw it for ourselves. Though located less than 45 miles from the city as the crow flies, the trailhead lies off the rough and gravelly Rampart Range Road, and it took us nearly two hours to drive there. Out-of-the-way as it might be, its popularity has been growing exponentially, in lockstep with Colorado’s population, and the parking lot, albeit not full, contained many vehicles on the morning of our weekday visit.

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The 1.5 mile, tree-lined, narrow footpath sparkled with wildflowers, glittered with butterflies partaking of their sweet nectar, and resounded with birdsong, the melancholy tune of the Hermit Thrush audible above other voices. When we reached the flat area where Douglas Fir spread their verdant boughs over the couple’s home benignantly, we did not see the second famous local resident, Mrs. Margaret Ellis, but the towels drying on a clothesline in our low-humidity air bespoke her presence.

Huffing and puffing up 143 stairs rewarded us with 360 degree views from the tower, balanced like a raptor’s nest on the uppermost point. Its door was wide open, and inside the well-known lookout, binoculars at the ready, went about his business – the early espying of anything that resembles flickering flames or spiraling smoke, in order to activate a network of firefighters intent on preventing a potentially disastrous spread in our region suffering from a near decade-long drought. Despite an almost constant trickle of hikers, whose numbers approximate 40,000 annually, he greeted each party individually, and seemed more than willing to answer questions, and to pose for a photo.

I never tire of elevated places and bird’s eye views and suspect Mr. Ellis shares this sentiment. Despite the physical challenges of living at high altitude, off the grid, and without indoor plumbing for months at a time, and despite the daily demanding trek to his high post, he seemed completely in his element. May his quiet dignity and competence continue to be part of our local landscape and lore for as long as befits him and his wife, and may their future paths be smooth, sunny, and smoke-free.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/ein-beruhmter-brandbeobachter/