Back To Nature

Wherever we gaze, natural habitat is vanishing. All of us are aware of the tragic destruction of rain forest, which not only creates, but also compounds global warming, as earth’s green lung is no longer available to inhale thermogenic carbon dioxide in the wonderful process of photosynthesis, which happens to exhale oxygen as an afterthought, in a way. Wetlands, on which countless animals and plants depend, are a second crucial environment that is disappearing at a dizzying pace. In the face of these losses, resignation, if not despair, is an understandable reaction. Fortunately, any restoration of life-giving spheres also restores a little glimmer of hope.

I have been heartened to learn of the success of several such projects during my previous sojourns in Germany. My roots lie in Rheinhessen, a region dominated by the Rhine River, as the name implies. Not far from the Rohrwiesen near the small town of Rheindürkheim (the topic of a previous post) lies a second sanctuary, called Eich-Gimbsheimer Altrhein (literally Old Rhine). A meandering stream for millennia, the Rhine was straightened in the 1820s, which left most of its loops to their own devices. Many dried up, but some, like the body of water in question, received sufficient quantities of water from the ground or skies, aided by occasional flooding of the stream. These inundations were subsequently prevented by the construction of a dam, and the marshes were drained and converted into arable land. The ground water level dropped further when wells were drilled to extract drinking water.

Happily, multi-pronged efforts in recent decades transformed the Old Rhine arm into a lake, and resurrected the adjacent wetlands. The 667 hectare area of this nature preserve forms part of the Natura 2000 network, an EU initiative that has as its goal the protection of threatened habitat, with its attendant plant and animal species. While it represents but a minuscule sliver of the surface of the earth, it has resulted in the flourishing of the local flora and fauna, and the provision of a way station for migratory birds. A 3.7 mile loop with several observation huts and towers circles and transects the parcel and affords glimpses of the Altrheinsee (Old Rhine Lake), of several water-filled gravel pits, of wetlands, of small pockets of swamp forest, and of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Because all my visits have happened in late autumn, I have yet to witness the full spectrum of vibrant life, and look forward to experiencing it in springtime. As modest as this haven might be, it nevertheless serves as an example of how we can save our planet, one baby step at a time.

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

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/zuruck-zur-natur/

A Haven In Peril

It was only in May of this year that I made the acquaintance of Cross Creek Regional Park in Fountain, a small town about 10 miles south of our home in Colorado Springs. The park’s main feature is a reservoir with surrounding wetlands, but it also borders on prairie. In an area where this combination of habitats is getting increasingly scarce, it acts as a magnet not only for waterfowl and shorebirds, but also for grassland birds, and a variety of additional species.

The views are lovely. Looking west, water dominates the foreground, a row of multi-hued houses reminiscent of some coastal fishing town line the middle, and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rules the background, with Pikes Peak presiding over its neighbors. In the east, open meadows still fill the spaces between private lots.

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

Even though a well-trodden trail circles the pond, a soccer field and playground occupy one boundary, and houses encroach on the park from multiple directions, it has been the site of many wildlife encounters for me, with feathered friends first and foremost, but not exclusively. As the sky brightens into day, or darkens into night, the dawn and dusk avian chorus swells, in which my favorite Western Meadowlarks not infrequently play the first violin.

There are rumors that major changes are ahead for this vibrant oasis, and while the declared goal is to enlarge the existing body of water to enhance recreation, it is not clear how this will affect the adjacent wetlands, which might be wiped out, at least in the short run. More trails will attract more people, with more dogs, that far too often run off leash and harass wild critters. If boats were allowed on the lake, it would completely change the character of this location. Where would all the animals go that call the pond, the reeds and the sedges, the nearby trees and bushes, the adjacent fields home? I am fearful that we will lose another wildlife refuge to so-called progress and unchecked population growth. I hope my fears will be proven wrong, but a part of me already mourns the possible modifications looming in the future.