Looking For Spring

The plethora of shared nature impressions from my fellow bloggers in the last weeks is a reminder that springtime in Colorado arrives later than in other locations. The following images of Fountain Creek Regional Park, one of my favorite go-to places that help me forget about our chaotic reality, at least temporarily, were taken at the beginning of last week, a few days before spring equinox. While I love the muted late winter hues, I look forward to the impending surge of color.

Die reichhaltigen Naturimpressionen meiner Mitblogger in den vergangenen Wochen erinnern daran, daß der Frühling in Colorado später beginnt als an anderen Orten. Die folgenden Bilder von Fountain Creek Regional Park, einem meiner Lieblingsplätze, wo ich wenigstens zeitweise unsere chaotische Realität vergessen kann, habe ich zu Beginn der vergangenen Woche gemacht, nur wenige Tage vor der Frühjahrstagundnachtgleiche. Auch wenn ich die verhaltenen Winterfarben liebe, freue ich mich auf die bald zu erwartende Farbwelle.

Even here, at 6,000 feet elevation, the signs of vernal awakening are unmistakable. Our mono- to dichromatic vegetation is slowly but surely assuming more shades. The grass is turning green before our eyes, and tender emerald shoots are pushing their noses through the soft soil. A few buds have emerged and are about to open.

Selbst hier, auf 2.000 Meter Höhe, sind die Zeichen des Frühlingserwachens unverkennbar. Unsere mono- bzw. dichromatische Vegetation nimmt langsam aber sicher mehrere Schattierungen an. Das Gras ist täglich etwas grüner und zarte smaragdfarbene Sprosse stecken ihre Näschen durch die weiche Erde. Einige Knospen sind bereits völlig zum Vorschein gekommen und stehen kurz davor, sich zu öffnen.

The beginning of my favorite time of year promises something new and vital, in the midst of what feels like the end of the life we have known. While there seems to be nothing good in this pandemic for us humans, some hopeful reports suggest that our environment has already benefitted from the decrease in man-made pollution. I can’t help but see the silver lining on the horizon for Mother Earth created by even a brief break from our frenzied activity, but we need to figure out a way to continue to live without destroying our very basis of life.

Der Beginn meiner Lieblingsjahreszeit verspricht Neues und Vitales, inmitten einer Periode, die das Ende unserer bisherigen Existenz zu signalisieren scheint. Auch wenn diese Pandemie nichts Gutes für uns Menschen mit sich bringt, weisen einige hoffnungsvolle Berichte darauf hin, daß unsere Umwelt bereits von der Minderung der menschengemachten Verschmutzung profitiert hat. Ich kann nicht anders, als den Silberstreif am Horizont für Mutter Erde wahrzunehmen, der Resultat dieser relativ kurzen Unterbrechung unserer wahnwitzigen Aktivtäten ist, doch muß es uns langfristig gelingen, unser Leben fortzuführen, ohne dabei unsere eigene Lebensgrundlage zu zerstören.

Thinking of you across the globe, and wishing all of us good health and courage.

Ich denke an Euch rund um die Welt, und wünsche uns allen gute Gesundheit und Unverzagtheit.

Look Who’s There

This is a view I have seen—and photographed—countless times, to my husband’s neverending amusement. He only grins when I show him yet another snapshot, taken from the deck of the Nature Center in Fountain Creek Regional Park, one of my local favorite haunts. I justify my repeated images with the argument that each hour, each day, each month has its own charms, and that the scenery is in a state of constant flux.

One day not long ago I am again enjoying this familiar outlook when I notice an addition to the canvas. Do you see what I see? To my utter delight, I witness how this White-tailed Deer doe-and-fawn-duo stride slowly through the shallow water, where they take an occasional bite out of the aquatic plants. They never venture far apart and gently nose and nudge one another.

Diese Aussicht habe ich schon unzählige Male gesehen—und photographiert, sehr zur Belustigung meines Mannes. Er grinst nur, wenn ich ihm noch einen Schnappschuss zeige, den ich von der Terrasse des Besucherzentrums des Fountain Creek Regionalparks aus gemacht habe, einem meiner Lieblingsziele. Ich rechtfertige meine wiederholten Bilder mit dem Argument, daß jede Stunde, jeder Tag, jeder Monat einen eigenen Charm besitzt, und daß diese Szene ständig im Wandel begriffen ist.

Vor nicht allzu lange genieße ich wieder diesen vertrauten Ausblick als ich bemerke, daß die Kulisse einen Zusatz bekommen hat. Siehst Du sie auch? Zu meinem Entzücken bekomme ich mit, wie dieses aus Hirschkuh und Kitz bestehende Weißwedelhirschduo langsam durch das seichte Wasser schreitet, und ab und zu an Wasserpflanzen knabbert. Sie bleiben die ganze Zeit eng zusammen und schubsen und stoßen sich sachte.

 

In a season rich with birth and babies in the animal kingdom, I relish this serene moment, this tender instance of motherhood, as well as the confirmation that no two experiences are ever quite identical, in this or any other location (which is a good reason to keep taking photos 😊).

In dieser Jahreszeit, die in der Tierwelt von Geburten und Babys geprägt ist, genieße ich diesen friedlichen Moment, dieses zärtliche Beispiel der Mutterschaft sowie die Bestätigung, daß keine zwei Erfahrungen jemals identisch sind, weder hier noch an einem anderen Ort (was ein guter Grund ist, weiterhin zu photographieren 😊).

Lessons Of Nature

The morning hours of May 1 have been among the best so far this month. I passed them at a favorite local park, al fresco, with avian and other critters, away from humans. Birds do not make rude remarks, cut or flip me off in traffic. Squirrels do not show me the cold shoulder because I don’t share their religious or political convictions. Prairie dogs do not snub me on account of my eye, hair, or skin color, inadequate attire, awkward accent.

My need to be outdoors is inversely proportional to my level of frustration with (wo)mankind. Whenever it reaches a high (or low) point, as happens increasingly frequently, nothing helps restore my equilibrium, or at least inch me toward that elusive state, as simply being present in nature: seeing the sun rise, hearing the birds greet the new day with crystal-clear voices, watching the flowers open their faces to the light (or close them, as is the case with the dazzling night-blooming evening primrose whose petals curl and turn pink in the morning).

Monumental mountains grounded since times immemorial, trees rooted deeply in the earth, banks of condensing and dissipating clouds, the sun’s arc across the sky. They recall to me the big picture, put things in perspective. They help ground me, remind me that nature is cyclical, human nature included. That my own existence is ephemeral, that my real or perceived grievances are insignificant. We are here one moment, gone the next.

All I can do is savor the NOW, let go of matters vexatious, appreciate all that is good and beautiful: the cycles of the cosmos, the loveliness of the land, the verdant veil that finally adorns arbors after a long winter, the bright blossoms that beckon bees and butterflies, the birds that never fail to gladden the heart.

The Splendor of a Rainy Day

     We Coloradans are spoiled by living in a state that claims at least 300 sunny days per calendar year. Colorado Springs has benefited from this natural phenomenon since its founding in 1871, even calling itself “City of Sunshine”, to better attract tourists and health-seekers. For sufferers of consumption, a change in climate was frequently a desperate attempt to cure this age-old scourge of humanity. Before its cause was known, and before the discovery and development of effective antibiotics in the 1940s, treatment consisted of a multi-pronged approach, with exposure to fresh air and sunshine being one of its mainstays.

     Though most visitors and residents no longer arrive in Colorado Springs for health reasons, all still revel in our Columbine-colored skies, and the mood-enhancing effects of solar rays (their known potential for adverse health-effects notwithstanding). Originating from Germany, I was accustomed to extended episodes of gray and gloomy conditions, but it did not take long to convert me to the pleasures associated with a helio-dominated climate. But even in this sun-kissed region, the sun’s smiley face is concealed periodically. We might even forget that the Rocky Mountains rise directly in front of our doorsteps, when banks of mist and fog shroud our local fourteener, Pikes Peak, and its lesser but no less attractive neighbors.

     During one such beclouded stretch in early autumn, I stroll through one of my favorite local refuges, Fountain Creek Regional Park, also the focus of several previous posts (Monarchs and Milkweed, An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park, and Summer Sorrow). An alteration in weather is commonly paralleled by an alteration in animal activity, apparent as soon as I approach the Nature Center. A gobble of fourteen Wild Turkeys greets me from the meadow adjacent to the parking lot. They don’t flee as is their wont and, more remarkably, still roam the same vicinity two hours later, when I complete my loop.

The lower than usual sky seems to slow down pace and movement of all life. Whereas color and contrast diminish noticeably, many structures and textures are highlighted and brought into sharper focus, drawing my eyes to details I might otherwise overlook.

     I am grateful for the brightness and warmth that spoil us regularly, but instead of bemoaning the occasional sun-deprived period, I try to embrace it, resting assured in the knowledge that luminous and brilliant days will, once again, follow.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/der-glanz-eines-verregneten-tages/

Summer Sorrow

     At the height of summer, after an evening of sustained rains, Fountain Creek is a ruddy river. The mountains remain shrouded in layers of clouds. Instead of paths there are puddles, the air is pregnant with moisture, and the vegetation with dewy droplets. Slightly sluggish avian and insect activity accelerates with the rising sun. Alas, mosquitoes are not among those handicapped by the high humidity. On trails bordered by wet grasses my shoes and socks become soaked.

     The flora is in full bloom or has gone to seed. I am greeted by the golden smiles of manifold sunflowers. Despite a bounty of milkweed, I see a lone Monarch butterfly. Grasshoppers disperse before my approach, one group to the right, the other to the left.

Baby birds are everywhere, growing up fast. The avian mood differs from the urgent wooing and coupling of spring. Now is a time for family joys and challenges, with hungry infants, toddlers, or teenagers constantly begging for food and attention. Is it my imagination, or do the parents show exasperation? Their biologic goal fulfilled, they don’t have as many reasons to sing. Other than the squealing in the nurseries, it is relatively quiet. Adult robins’ plumage is past its prime, but the juveniles’ appears adorned with brilliant beads. Swallows sail on shiny wings, forever the aerial acrobats. While hyperactive wrens work their way through the woods, velvety waxwings gorge themselves on berries, goldfinches on thistle seed.

     There is loveliness wherever I gaze. I sate my soul with this life-affirming commotion. But interlaced with my joy is melancholy. Why am I sad? Is it because of the knowledge that natural habitats are diminishing? Because this enclave teeming with energy is encircled by development, and there are not nearly enough similar refuges? Because many animals will sally south soon? Because summer will be followed by fall and winter, by dormancy, if not death? Because of (wo)mankind’s inability to coexist peacefully, with fellow humans, and with other species? Because our exquisite, unequalled earth seems on the verge of the abyss? Because of love and loved ones lost?

     I am not alone in my wistfulness. “In the midst of life we are in death,” is a saying dating to medieval times, but reflecting a sentiment likely as old as humanity. Perhaps I am feeling it so acutely because nature’s vitality has peaked? Sad as I might be, it is comforting to know that the earth, for now, will continue in its orbit around the sun, and life in its inexorable, heart-rending beauty.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/sommerschmerz/

An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park

In recent years, the need to immerse myself in nature has become paramount. I feel fortunate that, despite Colorado’s growing population with its attendant problems, I still have access to spaces which promise solitude and an escape from continually calamitous news. One such refuge is Fountain Creek Regional Park, about eight miles south of our Colorado Springs home. It assumes a central role in my life and hardly a week goes by without a visit.

Starting as a county park in 1985, it has grown to its current size through gradual additions. The Fountain Creek Nature Center was completed in 1992, and expanded in 2014. Run by the devoted Nancy Bernard, a gaggle of paid staff, and a flock of volunteers, it fosters curiosity about the environment with its engaging exhibits, year-round youth programs, and an inviting trail system. Its incredibly scenic window and porch afford sweeping sights of our fourteener, Pikes Peak, and of its lower neighbors. Located at the boundary of the Great Plains and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the area benefits from the vital presence of water because it straddles our region’s largest stream, Fountain Creek. This provides live-giving liquid to a string of ponds with surrounding wetlands, and to copses of cottonwood trees with a dense understory, thereby creating a variety of habitats. Springtime with its lengthening days and warming temperatures engenders an eruption of greenery, fragrant bushes, and animal activity.

View of Pikes Peak from one of the ponds in the Cattail Marsh

The park is among El Paso County’s prime birding sites, and the number of reported species stands at 266 (according to ebird). Alas, I haven’t witnessed even half of that count, and some that were sighted decades ago likely won’t return during my lifetime. I make a game of assigning one signature bird to my favorite spots, and here, Red-winged Blackbirds rule the roost. Theirs are typically the first and most vociferous voices heard upon opening the car door in the nature center’s parking lot, because of the proximity of their realm, cattail marshes. The male’s squeaking and squealing sounds conspire with his curious comportment to garner attention. While balancing on top of a reed, he projects his head, pumps his arms, and fans his tail, communicating his earsplitting invitation to his companions.

Red-winged Blackbird, aka Superman in his cape

Blackbirds are not the exclusive exuberant and effusive members of the avifauna presently engaged in singing, feeding, mating, nest-building, or rearing their young, and with spring migration only ratcheting up, they will soon be joined by many more. Instead of attempting to enumerate all the uncommonly handsome callers, I will let a few photos speak for themselves.

Cooper’s Hawk

Belted Kingfisher: quite the hairdo

Great Horned Owl

White-faced Ibis

Great Blue Heron: a dude with a ‘tude

Plumed creatures are not the only tenants of this territory. Even though muskrats are theoretically nocturnal like their cousins, the beavers, they are diurnal enough to show their fuzzy faces in full daylight frequently. On warm days, turtles scramble onto exposed rocks. Available space is at a premium, and late-comers slide back into the pond to seek a sunny spot elsewhere. White-tailed Deer graze stretches of grassland but, to my surprise, even sample algae in shallow pools. Much squirrely commotion results in more photogenic moments. Rabbits browse in the underbrush and, no doubt, support the raptor population. Monarchs, and the park’s inspirational role in their preservation and propagation, were the topic of a previous post. A variety of butterflies and bees flutter and fly from blossom to perfumed blossom, filling the air with the faint flipping of their wondrous wings while performing the essential task of pollination.

Muskrat

Sunning turtles

White-tailed deer after an aquatic snack

Squirrel, also catching some rays

Doubtless, all this vibrancy is one of the reasons I crave this cherished sanctuary, where I can daily experience nature’s life-affirming powers which, in turn, make me feel more alive and hopeful.

Dedicated to my late mother-in-law, Hilda J. Britton (1928-2017), who loved Fountain Creek and Bear Creek Regional Parks so much, that she flew with the flock of volunteers for a number of years.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/eine-ode-an-fountain-creek-regional-park

Milkweed and Monarchs

“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” Unknown

Imagine yourself as a beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), fluttering around the North American continent east of the Rocky Mountains. Come autumn, you embark on an incredible journey, traversing up to 3000 miles to the mountains of Mexico where, for eons, millions of your ancestors have congregated in oyamel fir trees for the winter. If you find enough trees to gather, plus nearby nectar to nourish you, and you survive until February or March, you mate and begin the return trip, but owing to your limited life span, will not complete it. If female, you lay eggs and pass into butterfly heaven, having fulfilled your life’s purpose.

Imagine yourself next as one of those eggs. Within four days, you hatch into a larva, or caterpillar, and feed ravenously, provided you were deposited on milkweed, whose leaves are your sole source of sustenance. You are oblivious to the fact that its sap is poisonous to many animals, but confers protection to yourself, by turning you into a toxic morsel.

Two weeks long you graze and grow, before your oblong, striated body transforms into an ephemeral, gem-like cylinder called chrysalis, translatable as golden pupa.

Following ten more days in this seemingly suspended state, you emerge as a wonderful winged being. By pumping bodily fluids into your crumpled wings they harden, and will lift you into the air.

After two repetitions of these developmental steps, occurring along a northbound route, the fourth generation of your kind will again end up where last year’s voyage started. This 4 x 4 life cycle, with four annual generations, each of which goes through four stages of metamorphosis, is as intricate as it is intriguing. It is possible because the fourth generation survives an astonishing 6 to 8 months, compared with 2 to 6 weeks for the previous three, enabling it to complete the odyssey back to the wintering grounds, and to commence the return flight the following spring.

Each phase of this cycle depends on the balance of countless factors. Sadly, global environmental degradation, deforestation in Mexico, and a paucity of food along the migratory path have caused the butterfly population to plummet. Milkweed is the lone plant which sustains larvae, but many locations show a glaring absence of that necessary nourishment because it has become the victim of personal and industrial herbicide use. In an unnatural twist, food crops have been genetically modified to become resistant to those herbicides, but milkweed has not, resulting in the eradication of the Monarchs’ crucial food source from immense stretches of agricultural areas. For further reading about the butterflies’ present-day dilemma of dwindling habitat, fare, and ranks, I recommend the Center of Food Safety’s Monarchs in Peril, and Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 wake-up-call, environmentally conscious novel, Flight Behavior.

Instead of despairing about our powerlessness to influence the big picture, each of us can play a positive part in this drama. With regard to milk ”weed”, more than 2000 species exist globally, and Colorado has at least six. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is perhaps the best-known along the Front Range, but Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) also thrives. Colorful and showy, both are stunning to behold. Fountain Creek Nature Center has a meadow brimming with Common Milkweed, and if you have ever seen it in bloom in late summer, you know it is anything but common.

The nature center staff has, for years, offered glimpses into the transfiguration of Monarchs in a special display case. As a participant in and waystation of Monarch Watch, which monitors the annual migration, they tag the emerging butterfly with a sticker so light it doesn’t interfere with its flight.

They have, also for years, encouraged us gardeners to allow this precious “weed” into our gardens, where it will beautify our outlook and, it is hoped, invite some wandering Monarch to pause, or even to start a new circle of life, allowing our small gesture to make a big difference.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/seidenpflanzen-und-schmetterlinge/