To be born the 10th child in her family predestined Hildegard to be given as a tithe to the Lord, and to spend her life as a nun. She had no say in that decision, but lest we feel sorry for her, she became one of the most influential women of the Middle Ages (even though this sounds like an oxymoron), who not only pushed at glass ceilings long before they were named, she actually shattered more than one.

Being spared the drudgery of married life and the associated risks of pregnancy and childbirth prolonged a woman’s life expectancy, and Hildegard lived to the remarkable-for-the-age age of 81. Born in 1098 in Germany’s Rhine-Hesse region (one thing she and I have in common), she left her family and joined the Benedictine order at the Disibodenberg Cloister near Bad Sobernheim as an eight-year-old, with Jutta von Sponheim becoming her Mother Superior of sorts. Not content with being cloistered, Jutta was an anchorite—meaning that she confined herself to a life of prayer and contemplation in a tiny cell. Typically this had only one opening through which food went in and refuse out, but because Jutta had several aspirants under her spiritual care, her cubicle also had a door through which the girls could enter and exit. Hildegard received instruction not only in reading and writing, but in all things theological, and when Jutta died in 1136, her fellow sisters elected her as their new leader, their “magistra.”

Conflicts with the abbot led Hildegard and her nuns to make an exodus to the Rupertsberg near Bingen on the Rhine in 1150, where she had arranged for the construction of a new cloister. 15 years later, she founded a second convent on the opposite side of the river in Eibingen, near Rüdesheim (well known to American tourists who take a Rhine River cruise).

Hildegard of Bingen, as she became known (another moniker was “Sybil of the Rhine,” likening her to the prophetess Sybil of Greek mythology), shines like a bright meteor in the sky of the Dark Ages. She became a well-known theologian who not only taught at her cloisters, but also at cathedrals in Mainz, Trier, and Köln in public (imagine that). She corresponded both with fellow abbesses and with male church leaders, including several Popes, one of whom attested that the religious visions, for which she became known (which modern-day neurologists have attributed to complex migraines), came from God, and not the Devil, as was asserted by some jealous and disgruntled monks. A thorn in the side of many superior (only in terms of church hierarchy) clergy, she was threatened at least once with excommunication. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa met with her in person to be advised on spiritual matters. Hildegard invented a language (“lingua ignota,” or unknown language) so she and her companions could communicate in code. In addition to being a teacher, she became a published author, celebrated composer, and esteemed healer.

At least in Germany, Hildegard experienced a resurrection in the late 20th century. Scholars reexamined, revised, and republished her writings, she was the protagonist of a number of biographies, and her musical arrangements were recorded by modern artists. Her medical publications were rediscovered and popularized. A wholesome diet was considered a prerequisite for good health, and she attributed particular powers to spelt. As was the norm during her lifetime, herbal remedies were the mainstay of medicine, but animals and minerals were equally employed in the service of healing. To modern ears, many of her concepts sound as medieval as they are.

There is no doubt that she was—and still is—commercialized, with Hildegard books, recipes, musical compositions, spelt products, wine, and herbal treatments becoming all the rage, but I have the impression that in the last five to ten years the Hildegard fire doesn’t burn as hotly as it did at its height. Considering that nearly an entire millennium separates us, we can’t accept her world view without questioning, but she continues to inspire. While I don’t believe in the categorization of people into saints or sinners, the Catholic Church made Hildegard a Saint and a “Doctor of the Church” in 2012, the latter a rare distinction for a mere woman. Only three others were similarly honored: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

What has become of Hildegard’s erstwhile domains? All but a few walls of the Cloister at Disibodenberg have been gnawed on by the tooth of time, and only foundations remain of the Rupertsberg Cloister, which was destroyed in 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War. The Cloister in Eibingen was secularized in 1802, and subsequently dismantled, but surviving portions of the structure became a parish church which today harbors the Hildegard reliquary. Just a short distance away, nestled on top of the rolling hills that border the Rhine River, a new Benedictine convent opened in 1904. Named Abbey St. Hildegard, it is still active today. Its beautiful church is open to visitors, a gift shop sells all things Hildegard, and rooms can be rented for spiritual retreats.

Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, and on this day in any other year but 2020, pilgrims watch as the golden shrine that purportedly holds some of her relics, is carried in a procession through Eibingen (if you find the idea of people’s body parts being venerated alienating, you are not alone).

Thank you for reading this rather lengthy article. My interest in Hildegard’s remarkable life has taken me to the main locales where she was active. I’m curious to learn if you have heard of Hildegard, or have visited any of these destinations.

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

If you are interested in hearing modern-day music based on her compositions, here is a link to a youtube recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2j_t1o_g5U&list=PLeYfIuyXgO3PNk6mgzaCph79nqasEhxyh&index=29

If you would like to read a historical novel about Hildegard, I recommend Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations. Here is a link to the goodreads review:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13326422-illuminations

Germany’s Wild Beasts

On my nature walks, I try to pay attention to all flora and fauna. While my antennae are always on alert for avian activity, they also register other animals. During our sojourn in Germany, I happened upon a few scaly and furry creatures, and some sat still long enough to enable me to take their portrait. Others, like a group of wild boars, did not, and simply raced across the trail from one thicket to the next. For that reason, a plush version my dad and I came across in a café had to serve as a model and can be seen in the featured photo above. I hope you will enjoy this selection of my beastly encounters.

Bei meinen Spaziergängen in der Natur versuche ich, auf alle Flora und Fauna zu achten. Selbst wenn meine Antennen besonders auf Vogelaktivität reagieren, registrieren sie auch andere Tiere. Während unseres Deutschlandaufenthaltes begegnete ich auch schuppigen und felligen Tieren, und einige hielten lange genug still, um ein Porträt von ihnen aufzunehmen. Bei anderen war das nicht der Fall, wie zum Beispiel bei einer Gruppe Wildschweine, die über den Weg von einem Dickicht zum anderen rasten. Aus diesem Grund mußte eine Plüschversion herhalten, die mein Vater und ich in einem Café entdeckten, und die im obersten Bild zu sehen ist. Ich hoffe, diese Auswahl meiner tierischen Begegnungen wird Euch gefallen.

Red Fox/Rotfuchs


Nutria/Nutria (Biberratte)

Ring Snake/Ringelnatter


European Hare/Feldhase

European Roe Deer/Europäisches Reh

Birding In Germany

Last week I sang the praises of May travel. The floral profusion which so impressed us was met, if not exceeded, by the plenitude of birds, as we were in Central Europe during the same season as many migrants from Africa. Because most of my previous visits had happened in late fall, I had missed out on this exhilarating experience.

Vergangene Woche besang ich die Vorzüge einer Reise im Mai. Die Fülle der Flora, die uns so beeindruckte, wurde von der Vielzahl an Vögeln übertroffen, da wir uns in Mitteleuropa in der selben Zeit aufhielten, wie viele Zugvögel aus Afrika. Da die meisten meiner vorherigen Besuche im Spätherbst stattgefunden hatten, waren mir diese erquickenden Erfahrungen entgangen.

At this point, I m asking a dear friend for forgiveness, as, by his own account, his eyes glaze over when I start to revel in birds (I am sure he is not the only one). Sorry, Arnim. You might want to skip this one! 😊

An diesem Punkt bitte ich einen guten Freund um Entschuldigung, da seine Blicke, wie er mir selbst gestand, in die Ferne driften, wann immer ich mich über Vögel auslasse (er ist bestimmt nicht der Einzige). Es tut mir leid, Arnim. Diesen Beitrag sollst Du vielleicht überspringen! 😊

One of my absolute favorites among feathered beings is the White Stork, as I have expressed in a previous post. Fortunately, in the vicinity of my father’s home are several known nesting areas, so I was thrilled about multiple sightings of Mrs. and Mr. Stork.

Einer meiner absoluten gefiederten Favoriten ist der Weißstorch, wie ich bereits in einem vorherigen Beitrag berichtete. Glücklicherweise gibt is in der Umgebung meines Vaters einige Nistgebiete, so daß ich mich total glücklich schätzte, Frau und Herrn Adebar wiederholte Male zu sichten.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken.

While the encounters with these long-legged, elegant creatures were not unexpected, another one with a similarly endowed visitor was. Eurasian Spoonbills tend to spend summers at the coast, or at larger inland lakes. The Rohrwiesen in Rheinhessen, where I was lucky enough to see one, has several small ponds, but it was an unusual destination, and only used as a layover. Whenever I am in Germany, I spend a lot of time at this amazing birding hotspot, which I introduced in another previous essay.

Die Begegnungen mit diesen langbeinigen, eleganten Kreaturen waren nicht unerwartet, im Gegensatz zu einer mit einem ähnlich ausgestatteten Besucher. Löffler verbringen normalerweise den Sommer an der Küste, oder an größeren Binnenseen. Die Rohrwiesen in Rheinhessen haben zwar einige kleine Tümpel, aber dieses ungewöhnliche Ziel war nur ein Zwischenstopp. Wann immer ich in Deutschland bin, verbringe ich viel Zeit an diesem tollen Hotspot, den ich früher auch schon mal vorgestellt habe.

To continue the long-legged theme, I happened across a Black-crowned Night Heron one evening, whose acquaintance I had made in Colorado, but this was my first European sighting. The Purple Heron, on the other hand, I had never seen anywhere else—a “lifer,” like the spoonbill!

Um das langbeinige Motto fortzuführen—eines Abends erspähte ich einen Nachtreiher, dessen Bekanntschaft ich bereits in Colorado gemacht hatte, aber dies war meine erste europäische Sichtung. Einen Purpurreiher hatte ich allerdings noch nie zuvor gesehen—ein „Lifebird“, wie der Löffler auch.

It is a goal of mine to recognize birds by ear, and springtime is a good season to learn their songs and calls, as it is breeding season, during which they advertise their presence vocally to attract mates or warn off potential rivals (this is, by far, not a complete list of the astounding usage of bird language). Few other songs are as recognizable as the voluminous melody of the Common Nightingale, whose vocalizations, contrary to popular belief, are not limited to nighttime. Additionally, I first consciously saw and recognized Eurasian Blackcaps, also beautiful singers. While a Bluethroat’s song might not be able to compete with that of a Nightingale or a Blackcap, with regard to outfit, it wins the contest hands-down. This jewel was one of the birds on my wish list, and I was delighted to find one, singing from the same perch on the same tree on two different occasions.

Es ist eines meiner Ziele, Vögel an ihrem Gesang erkennen zu können, und der Frühling bietet sich besonders dazu an, ihre Lieder und Rufe zu erlernen, denn es ist Brutzeit, während der viele Vögel ihre Präsenz mit lauter Stimme verkünden, um Partner anzulocken oder Rivalen zu warnen (das ist bei weitem keine komplette Liste der erstaunlichen Anwendungen der Vogelsprache). Wenige Lieder sind so leicht erkennbar wie die schmetternde Melodie der Nachtigall, deren Musizieren, entgegen der landläufigen Meinung, nicht auf die Nacht beschränkt ist. Ich sah und erkannte auch zum ersten Mal Mönchsgrasmücken, ebenfalls wunderbare Sänger. Das Blaukehlchen kann zwar nicht mit dem Gesang der Nachtigall oder Grasmücke konkurrieren, doch was sein Kostüm anbelangt, gewinnt es mühelos. Dies war einer der Vögel auf meiner Wunschliste, und es hat mich riesig gefreut, den selben Vogel an zwei Gelegenheiten an dem selben Baum auf der selben Warte anzutreffen.

To see the fruits of some birds’ labors, so to speak, was another bonus of a springtime visit. Baby birds were in evidence everywhere. A breeding pair of Great Tits in my father’s yard was raising its second brood during our visit and we often watched the young ones getting fed by their tireless parents. The lone Black Redstart toddler on the fence also awaited the next free meal-on-wings. Since we don’t reside in an area where swans breed, I was awed by a family. It took me a moment to realize that one of the adults had not one but two riders on its back. Once I beheld them, I realized that I disagree with Hans Christian Andersen. Cygnets are no ugly ducklings, they are already adorable in their infant stage.

Die Früchte des (Er)schaffens einiger Vögel zu Gesicht zu bekommen, war eine weitere Zugabe dieses Besuches im Frühling. Überall gab es Nachwuchs zu sehen. Ein brütendes Kohlmeisenpaar im Garten meines Vaters zog bereits seine zweite Brut auf, und wir beobachteten oft, wie die unermüdlichen Eltern ihre Jungen fütterten. Das Rotschwänzchen im Kleinkindesalter wartete auch auf sein nächstes Essen auf Schwingen. Da wir nicht in einer Gegend leben, wo Schwäne brüten, war ich von einer Schwanenfamilie entzückt. Es dauerte einen Moment, bis ich registrierte, daß einer der Erwachsenen nicht nur einen Reiter auf dem Rücken trug, sondern zwei. Sobald ich ihrer gewahr wurde, war mir klar, daß ich Hans Christian Andersen nicht zustimme. Schwanenküken sind keine häßlichen Entlein, sie sind bereits im Kindessalter Schönheiten.

All progeny, avian or otherwise, epitomizes such potential and hope in the future, an outlook often lacking in other worldly goings-on. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why I spend so much time in nature, with my beloved birds.

Jeder Nachwuchs, mag er vogelartig oder sonstwie sein, verkörpert solch Potential, und solch Hoffnung auf die Zukunft, eine Aussicht, die sonst im Alltag nicht oft gegeben ist. Vielleicht ist das einer der Gründe, warum ich so viel Zeit in der Natur mit meinen geliebten Vögeln verbringe.

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.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

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.

Peace On Earth

As varied as our backgrounds and beliefs, most of us undoubtedly share the hope of a peaceful future for all (wo)mankind. Despite interpersonal differences and strife, we all know individuals who exemplify the good in humanity, or recall instances when someone’s unexpected conduct stopped us in our tracks, and made us reflect how we would have reacted in a similar situation.

I experienced one such instance when I first learned about the provenance of the windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, in the late 1980s. The building, whose foundations rest on Roman ruins, dates back in its earliest incarnation to the 10th century AD, having since undergone multiple modifications. After vast portions were destroyed by allied bombings in the 1940s, it was restored in the following decades.

I imagine that, in 1973, St. Stephen’s Pastor Klaus Mayer approached world-renowned artist Marc Chagall with some trepidation, with the request to fashion stained-glass windows for the church building, to replace the clear panels mounted temporarily during the postwar years. Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) had moved to France as a young artist, and had returned to his adopted country in 1948, after fleeing to the United States in 1941, in the wake of the Nazi invasion. I can’t begin to understand what it took for him not only to forgive the German nation for its genocide of millions of his fellow Jews, but to have the grace and greatheartedness to sublimate his sadness and sorrow into some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows ever created.

To bridge not only the chasm between Germans and Jews, but also between Christianity and Judaism, he chose to depict scenes from both the old and the new testaments. Between 1978, when he was 91, and his death in 1985 at the age of 97, nine windows of his design were produced at the studio of Jacques Simon in Reims, and subsequently installed at St. Stephen’s. Following Chagall’s passing, his friend and fellow artist, Charles Marq, continued the project, contributing nineteen additional windows. Whereas his conceptions over time became less pictorial and more abstract, they nonetheless emulated Chagall’s original color scheme and intent.

The exterior of the stately, yet not sumptuous, church does not prepare for the splendor that awaits behind the heavy bronze doors. A deep blue emanates from the windows, suffuses the interior, envelops the visitor in its calming, comforting glow. It draws the eye into the distance, while highlighting other colors and figures embedded in the glass. Since first falling in love with the serene, soothing atmosphere of this space, I have returned time and again, either to contemplate in silence, attend a guided meditation, or enjoy an organ concert. No trip to Germany would be complete without setting foot in it.

Marc Chagall’s life and legacy inspire. If each of us were to put forth even a modest effort to respect, and reach out to, one another, regardless of our religious or political convictions, skin color, age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Peace On Earth would not remain a mere utopian wish, but become a true possibility.

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