Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

Hoffnung ist das Wesen mit Federn

Das sich in der Seele niederläßt,

Und die Melodie wortlos singt,

Und niemals damit aufhört,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

Und am lieblichsten hört es sich im Sturm an;

Wahrhaft wild muß das Unwetter sein

Das das kleine Vögelchen verstummen ließe

Das die Herzen so vieler erwärmt hat.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

Ich habe es in den kältesten Gefilden vernommen,

Und auf den fremdartigsten Ozeanen;

Jedoch hat es selbst in äußerster Not,

Nie etwas von mir verlangt.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was arguably one of, if not the most introvert of American writers. She spent the majority of her adult life as a recluse in her room in the family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she composed nearly 2,000 poems. A mere seven were published—anonymously—during her lifetime, but not to great acclaim. Today she is considered one of America’s greatest poets and exemplifies that artists are often misunderstood or underappreciated in their own era.

I recall neither place nor time of my first encounter with the verses above, but in recent years they have often fluttered into my head and started to build a nest. While I will not attempt to interpret them, the association between feathered beings and hope resonates strongly with me. Ever since birds have given wings to my imagination—if not soul—their presence and well-being set my heart singing and strike a hopeful note for Planet Earth. As we know and mourn, their numbers have been declining globally, but some species formerly on the brink of the abyss have experienced a resurgence, thanks to concerted efforts from the human community, which proves what is possible if we act together.

While there are many, many reasons for concern, if not resignation, at the beginning of this new year, I choose hope over despair. May each of us work in our own little circle toward the preservation of this one-in-a-universe, wonder-filled sphere we call our home.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) dürfte eine der introvertiertesten amerikanischen Schriftsteller gewesen sein. Sie verbrachten den größten Teil des Erwachsenenalters in ihrem Zimmer im familiären Heim in Amherst, Massachusetts, wo sie fast 2.000 Gedichte verfaßte. Lediglich sieben davon wurden anonym während ihres Lebens veröffentlicht, ohne großen Erfolg. Heute wird sie als eine der besten amerikanischen Dichter angesehen, was veranschaulicht, daß viele Künstler in ihrer eigenen Zeit unverstanden waren, und nicht ausreichend gewürdigt wurden.

Ich kann mich weder an den Moment noch an den Ort erinnern, als ich meine erste Begegnung mit den obigen Versen hatte (bitte verzeiht meine dilettantische, sich nicht reimende Übersetzung), aber in den letzten Jahren sind sie mir öfter durch den Kopf geflattert und haben begonnen, dort ein Nest zu bauen. Ich werde nicht versuchen, sie zu interpretieren, aber die Assoziation zwischen gefiederten Wesen und Hoffnung findet bei mir großen Widerhall. Seitdem Vögel nicht nur meine Phantasie. sondern auch meine Seele beflügeln, bringen ihre Präsenz und Wohlergehen mein Herz zum Singen, und schlagen einen hoffnungsvollen Ton für unsere Erde an. Wie wir wissen und betrauern. sind ihre Zahlen weltweit rückläufig, doch sind einige Arten, die einst am Abgrund standen, vom fast-Tod wiederauferstanden, dank vereinter menschlicher Anstrengungen, die beweisen, was möglich ist, wenn wir unsere Kräfte vereinen.

Auch wenn es unendlich viele Gründe zur Besorgnis, wenn nicht sogar zur Resignation gibt, entscheide ich mich zu Beginn dieses neuen Jahres für Hoffnung anstatt Verzweiflung. Möge jede(r) von uns in unsererem kleinen Kreis tätig werden, um diese im Universum einmalige, mit Wundern gefüllte Sphäre zu erhalten, die unser einziges Zuhause ist.

Y’ Owl

2018 could have been our “Y’attler” (Year of the Rattler), as my husband and I had three separate encounters with said reptiles (click here to read about one of them). Because most humans (save herpetologists) prefer feathery to scaly animals, myself included, and because I also made the acquaintance of three new owl species, I designate 2018 my “Y’Owl,” my Year of the Owl, instead, and will show you portraits of owls, instead of rattlesnakes. You are welcome.

Of 216 global owl species, 20 typically occur in North America, and 14 in Colorado. Until a few months ago, I had only happened across six of them: Great-horned Owls, Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls, Barn Owls, Burrowing Owls, and Flammulated Owls. In the US, Elf Owls are the smallest, with a height of 5.75” (14.6 cm), Great Gray Owls the largest, standing 27” (68.6 cm) tall. Little or big, I find all owls equally charismatic. Their vision and hearing are superb, and their expressive eyes cast a spell over me. Attractive facial disks help channel sound waves to their ears, which are asymmetrically placed to help localize prey (the prominent feathery tufts on their heads are not ears). Their special feathers enable them to fly and approach their quarry nearly noiselessly. Mostly nocturnal, solitary, and stealthy, they have been ascribed traits that range from divine to devilish.

Great-horned Owls are, by far, the most widespread representatives in Colorado, and I am fortunate to see and photograph them regularly. The featured photo above and the second-to-last photo in the following series show adults on a nest, one on top of a tree, the other inside a tree cavity, where, a few months later, the owlet in the last picture made an appearance.

Great Horned Owl / Virginia-Uhu (Bubu virginianus)

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

In the spring of 2018, I tried in vain to find a screech owl observed by many birders in El Paso County, but, discouraged, gave up after seven unsuccessful attempts. I did not actively pursue owling throughout most of the year, but when, in late November, I learned of an Eastern Screech-Owl in a park in one of Denver’s suburbs, I braved our capital city’s traffic and, thanks to the assistance of a local resident, who knew of its daytime roost, was able to find it. It was love at first sight. Superbly camouflaged, this little owl, with feathers fluffed, was snoozing after the previous night’s hunt, while soaking up sunshine on this cold morning, not the least disturbed by a nearby noisy weed whacker, and by four admirers, clicking away with our cameras.

Eastern Screech-Owl/ Ost-Kreischeule (Megascops asio)

Two days later, a similar scenario: a cool morning, an owl enjoying creature comforts by absorbing the warming rays of the sun. Again, the kindness of a stranger. When a passerby saw my husband and me scanning every single tree along a trail in Cañon City, where a Western Screech-Owl had been reported a few days earlier, he pointed it out to us. Even though we had an idea of the location of its perch, it blended in so well with the background that we might have overlooked it. I was elated to have beheld both species of screech owls within days of one another, but experienced an encore in December, when I caught a glimpse of possibly the same owl that had eluded me in the spring, in the very same tree where it had then been seen.

Western Screech-Owl/ West-Kreischeule (Megascops kenicottii)

Last, but not least – temporally speaking, it actually rang in the trio of novel encounters of the owlish kind – was an unplanned, unforeseen meeting with a Northern Pygmy Owl at the end of September during a hike at one of our local parks. Mobbed by a jay, it alighted for a brief moment not far from the trail, and afforded a brief side view only, before it disappeared back into the impenetrable forest whence it had emerged.

Northern Pygmy-Owl/ Gnomenkauz (Glaucidium gnoma)

 

Nine Colorado owls down, at least five to go. Maybe in 2019, maybe later, maybe never. Last year’s hits and misses reminded me that we can’t always get what we want (as the Rolling Stones figured out long ago), or when we want it, but that each year holds unexpected surprises. My wish for 2019: May the new year reveal new treasures to all of us.

 

PS: With thanks to my husband, who coined both “Y’attler” and “Y’Owl.”