Hildegard

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

America the Beautiful

Barr Trail is one of the Pikes Peak region’s most iconic hiking paths and whether one trains for the annual Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon, or simply desires to hike it for its own merit, it packs a punch. Beginning at an elevation of approximately 6,800 feet in Manitou Springs, it climbs steadily to 14,115 feet, over a distance of about 12.5 miles. Even though various trails up our local 14er had existed since the early 1870s, Fred Barr surveyed the mountain in 1918, and supervised the construction of the route we still use today. In my mind, it is divided into four parts, each measuring roughly 3 miles, and each endowed with its own character.

The seemingly endless back and forth of the switchbacks right from the start presents the least welcoming aspect. Their repetitive nature is compounded by Incline return traffic which, depending on time of day and week, can result in the need to sidestep the narrow path nearly incessantly, to allow runners to pass. The nearby Incline, an old cable car track, spans 2000 vertical feet in just under a mile, and has become one of the premiere fitness challenges for athletes from near and far. Incidentally, it is visible as the oblique swath that transects the trees below Pikes Peak in the featured photo above.

Beyond the various Incline connections, the crowd lessens, and one’s view widens, including a first glimpse of the summit. At No Name Creek begins one of my favorite segments, by virtue of its profusion of wildflowers and avian activity. Who can fail to be cheered by the chirping of chickadees? Gradually, more expansive scenes of the mountaintop appear, even though, depending on one’s physical form of the day, this can be inspiring or demoralizing. IMG_6700 (43)

After 6. 5 miles, Barr Camp, 10,200 feet high, offers a welcome resting spot, if desired or needed. Also built by Fred Barr, it was used by the tourists he guided up from the top of the Incline, to catch a few hours’ sleep, before leaving for the peak at 1 AM, where they hoped to witness the sunrise on this purple mountain majesty. IMG_6700 (51)Now as then, one can gather strength there, before transitioning to the following section leading to the A-Frame, a wooden shelter. This stretch is steep, and somewhat tedious, but what sustains me here is the proximity of timberline and with it, the promise of the beguiling beauty of the tundra.

Once above the trees, boulders of varying size dot the slanting meadows, brilliant yellow cinquefoil and other colorful blossoms nestle in their shelter, and butterflies feast upon this delicate, yet tenacious alpine flora. Photogenic chubby yellow-bellied marmots, and furry pikas fast on foot keep guard, or hope for a morsel of nourishment. IMG_6700 (76)In the east, the velveteen foothills roll into the wide expanse of the Plains, with its amber waves of grain. The stony face of Pikes Peak looms large in the west. The last three miles zigzag across the façade of the mountain and terminate with the Sixteen Golden Stairs. My heavy breathing, and jelly-like legs convince me that this is a misnomer. Sixteen hundred must be closer to the truth…

Knowing firsthand how extraordinary the trip to Pikes Peak by automobile or cog train can be, reaching this pinnacle under one’s own power is even more gratifying. But all visitors seem united in a similar sense of elation, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is not enthralled by the panoramic view, under spacious Colorado skies. Surely, Katharine Lee Bates would agree. Even though she spent only a few months in Colorado Springs in 1893 to teach at Colorado College (she was an English teacher at Wellesley, as well as a published poet, lecturer, and suffragist), her one trip to the top of Pikes Peak in a horse- and mule-drawn carriage inspired the words of a poem which would later be set to music and become a beloved hymn.

IMG_4160 (24)

Katherine Lee Bates gazing at Pikes Peak from a rock in front of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Addendum: This is only the 2nd post I have ever re-published (with a few alterations). It first appeared on WordPress on 08/17/2016, when I had very few readers. I thought the middle of August was a good time to share it with more of you, for the following two reasons.

This year’s Pikes Peak Marathon is scheduled to take place on August 23, while the Ascent on August 22 has been canceled.

If you have read my two previous posts about the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, you will recognize the building in the photo behind Katherine Lee Bates, whose sculpture is one of many that grace Alamo Square Park. She was born August 12, 1859. If I had paid closer attention, I would have posted this a week earlier. Happy belated birthday, Katherine.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/wunder-der-bergwelt/

Everybody Welcome

In honor of Black History Month, allow me to introduce you to a remarkable woman who once called Colorado Springs home. On October 26, 2019 our city welcomed a new sculpture in front of the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts. The life-size figure depicts Fannie Mae Duncan (1918-2005) in her mid-30s, elegantly-attired, enthusiastic, and with her right arm extended in a greeting gesture, epitomizing the motto that became her credo, EVERYBODY WELCOME. Plans to create the first local statue in honor of an African-American woman were forged soon after Fannie Mae’s death, but it took nearly a decade-and-a-half of private fundraising for those plans to be made flesh—or bronze. The well-attended dedication ceremony was the latest in a series of belated tributes to a woman who modeled a peaceful way to racial integration.

Everybody Welcome also became the theme of a play, a book, and a PBS television documentary, thanks to the efforts of retired teacher, Kathleen F. Esmiol. She and a group of her students contacted Mrs. Duncan to ask for permission to portray her in a play, which was performed in Colorado Springs and Denver on a number of occasions between 1993 and 1994. The ensuing friendship between the two women led to the 2013 publication of Everybody Welcome, A Memoir of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club. Written by Ms. Esmiol, it recounts Fannie Mae Duncan’s life in her own words, and is a poignant and profound portrait of a woman whose ideals we are still striving to achieve today. If it were not for urban renewal, a short walk from Fannie Mae’s statue would lead to the legendary establishment that became synonymous with her—Colorado Springs’ very own Cotton Club.

To retrace Fannie Mae’s life from her roots in the deep South to her blossoming in Colorado Springs is to re-live the struggles of many an African-American family. Her parents were children of enslaved parents and labored as tenant farmers in Alabama, until the family moved to Oklahoma to escape a case of blatant racism. Fannie Mae Bragg was the first of seven siblings born outside of Alabama. After the death of her father, the family eventually relocated to Colorado Springs, where Fannie Mae became the first member of her family to graduate from high school in 1939. She had to forego her dream of attending nursing school because of a lack of funds, working instead as a maid for various employers. She married Ed Duncan, the older brother of a classmate, who worked as chauffeur.

The entry of the United States into the second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbor changed not only Colorado Springs’ fortunes, but also the Duncans’. Camp Carson was founded in 1942 (to be renamed Fort Carson in 1957), and Fannie Mae learned about an open position as a soda fountain operator at the segregated Haven Club. In 1944, she persuaded Ed to help her run a café and snack bar at the newly opened USO club for black servicemen in downtown Colorado Springs. He was an excellent cook and handyman, she knew how to deal with customers and money. The café was an instant success, providing a steady income for the Duncans, as it was one of the few eateries that served blacks, and attracted both downtown workers for a quick bite, as well as local families and travelers.

Fannie Mae dreamed about not only renting, but owning their own business. When the opportunity presented itself that same year to buy a former restaurant, she pleaded with Ed to jump at it. They borrowed money from one of his former employers, a wealthy widow, in order to make the requisite down payment. Duncan’s Café and Bar opened in November 1947, becoming instantly popular. Soon thereafter, Fannie Mae and Ed also opened Duncan’s Lounge on the second floor above the café.

Fannie Mae and Ed regularly journeyed to the Rossonian nightclub in Denver’s Five Point neighborhood to listen to famous jazz performers, which sparked the desire to open their very own. Fannie Mae knew she wanted a grand name, and what could be grander than Cotton Club, in honor of Harlem’s famous but defunct musical venue. She ordered a 20 foot-tall, flamingo pink Cotton Club sign, and was tickled by the notion that it could be seen by all passing cars from the highway that would became I-25.

The Cotton Club was a hit from the moment it opened its doors. Unlike Harlem’s namesake, which featured black performers for white patrons, the Duncans wanted to provide a home not only for black artists, but also for their fellow black citizens, whose social opportunities continued to be limited. Neither the Antlers nor the Broadmoor Hotel allowed black performers or guests. Because many of their patrons were in the military, and had returned home after World War II with foreign-born wives, the Duncans expected a multi-ethnic crowd, and wanted to make them feel welcome. Fannie Mae hired 15 waitresses from various racial backgrounds.

By coordinating engagements with the Rossonian, she was able to book their high-level performers for the Cotton Club also. The Who’s Who of American Jazz performed in Colorado Springs, among them luminaries like Fats Domino, B.B. King, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, and Etta James. It did not take long for white music lovers to show up at the club, and for other local businesses to complain about her channeling white customers away from their establishments, which led to her invitation to the local police chief who told her she “couldn’t mix races,” and to “run it black.” She famously countered with: “I check them for age. Nobody told me I had to check them for color.” He soon changed his mind, likely because of the protests by her white, influential clientele.

Fannie Mae has often been described as a community activist, but my impression is that she did not set out to be a revolutionary. She simply applied the golden rule and treated others the way she wished to be treated, regardless of skin color. While it might not have been the Duncans’ initial intent to make a political statement, the Cotton Club became the first fully integrated enterprise in Colorado Springs. Ed hand-lettered a sign, and Fannie Mae put it into the window: EVERYBODY WELCOME reflected not only the slogan of the Cotton Club, but Fannie Mae’s philosophy of life.

Black performers, regardless of their national or international fame, were still not welcome to rest their heads on pillows in Colorado Springs hotels. It profoundly perturbed Fannie Mae that her musicians had to return to Denver for accommodations. To remedy this shortcoming, in 1952 she bought one of her favorite downtown houses, saving it from demolition. The 1891, 42-room Victorian Mansion was then conveyed to her property in three parts. The Duncans were able to welcome their performers with comfortable lodgings and with home-cooked, Southern-style meals, courtesy of Fannie Mae’s mother. Sadly, Ed died in 1955 due to complications from alcoholism, which might have been triggered by the death of their only child during delivery. He left Fannie Mae a widow at 36.

It seems an inevitable fact of “civilized” society that jealous, evil tongues start wagging at the success of fellow humans. Fannie Mae’s preference for flamboyant outfits, flashy Cadillacs, and Victorian mansions likely did not help, nor did the degeneration of downtown Colorado Springs, with increased levels of crime in the 1960s and 70s. The city decided to sacrifice her Cotton Club to urban renewal and applied eminent domain, and Fannie Mae’s baby fell prey to the wrecking ball in 1975.

She moved away from Colorado for a while, but returned to live in Denver, where Kathleen Esmiol found her and set into motion the events that culminated in the beautiful statue of Fannie Mae Duncan. Fannie Mae died in Denver in 2005 at age 87, not knowing of all the honors that would be bestowed upon her posthumously. One hopes that she had overcome her misgivings about Colorado Springs, where she was laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery, next to her husband. In death, she remains surrounded by her mother and several other family members.

The mural of Fannie Mae and her Cotton Club shown in the topmost photo graces a wall at 2438 E. Platte Avenue in Colorado Springs. It was dedicated by the Knobhill Urban Arts District Planning Committee on July 5, 2019.

Bitte verzeiht mir, daß es wegen der Länge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

Maria Merian

One scientist, who would have taken issue with last week’s “ignorance is bliss” statement is Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717). This powerhouse of a woman, of whom I knew nothing until the recent fortuitous find of her 2018 biography The Girl Who Drew Butterflies  by Joyce Sidman, not only sought knowledge at every turn, it was insect knowledge she loved above all else, which led her to accomplish feats unusual for any human, let alone for a woman born in the 17th century.

Endpaper detail from “The Girl Who Drew Butterflies” by Joyce Sidman

Maria saw the light of the world in Frankfurt, Germany, on April 2, 1647. Her father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, an engraver and head of a publishing company died when she was only three. Her mother, Johanna Sibylla, remarried. From her stepfather, Jacob Marrel, a still life painter, Maria learned his craft, and she proved talented from an early age. Including insects on still lifes was popular, and Maria, utterly intrigued, began to observe them closely. Most of their life cycles were unknown (the notion of spontaneous generation was still widespread), and while watching and drawing their transformation from egg to caterpillar to moth or butterfly, she became aware of the process of metamorphosis, which was not common knowledge then.

Uncolored engraving of a garden tiger moth on a hyacinth flower from Maria Merian’s 1679 caterpillar book

Maria married at 18, as was expected of her. Her husband, Johann Andreas Graff, also a painter, was ten years her senior. The couple moved to Nuremberg, where they ran a printing and engraving shop. They had two daughters, Johanna and Dorothea. Unusual for the time, Maria published two books with engravings during her sojourn in Nuremberg, one about flowers, another about caterpillars and their remarkable transformation. Eventually, a second caterpillar volume was to follow.

Her marriage was unhappy, and when her stepfather died in 1681, Maria returned to Frankfurt, ostensibly to support her mother, but likely because she wanted to get away from her husband. Four years later, Maria, her two daughters, and her mother joined a religious community in Holland, where Johann sought her out, demanding her return. Maria refused, and they divorced shortly thereafter.

Maria Merian’s depiction of a frog’s life cycle, including eggs, tadpoles, and adults

Following her mother’s death, Maria and her daughters moved to Amsterdam, Holland’s capital and a thriving port city, where she had access to private curiosity cabinets, precursors to museums, with their plant and animal collections from across the world. Together with her daughters, both accomplished artists in their own right, Maria ran a business. They painted and engraved, and Maria taught fellow women artists, while continuing her scientific observations. No animal or plant was beyond her notice. She became particularly intrigued by specimens sent back from the Dutch colony of Surinam, also known as Dutch Guyana.

Maria determined to travel to Surinam to study its flora and fauna. Against all odds, she and her younger daughter financed their own journey, and, from 1699 to 1701, spent nearly two years in this exotic country at the northern coast of South America. Maria would have preferred to stay longer, but reluctantly returned to Europe because of ill health, likely the result of tropical diseases. They arrived with vivid recollections, volumes of notebooks filled with sketches, myriad animal specimens, as well as seeds, bulbs and pressed flowers.

It took four years, but Maria’s masterpiece, a book about the insects of Surinam, was published in 1705. Sixty gorgeous plates depict the different developmental stages of each species on the animal’s host plant. Critical acclaim followed, but not financial gain, as she barely recovered the cost of publication. The Royal Society of London praised Maria’s work, even if it did not offer her membership (the first woman member would not be admitted for another 250 years).

Banana flower, young bananas and saturnid moth from Maria Merian’s book “Metamorphis insectorum Surinamensium”

After her death of a stroke at the age of 69, Tsar Peter the Great bought nearly 300 of her watercolors for Russia’s first art museum, later to be curated by Maria’s daughter, Dorothea. She also published her mother’s third European caterpillar book posthumously. Carl Linnaeus, the “inventor” of the binomial nomenclature, cited her extensively in the 10th edition of his 1758 Systema Naturae. In subsequent centuries, Maria’s “amateur” accomplishments were largely forgotten, until she was rediscovered, and recognized as a trailblazer and scientist ahead of her time. Her portrait graced the 500 Deutschmark bill, before the introduction of the Euro.

Pineapple plant and tropical cockroach from Maria Merian’s book “Metamorphis insectorum Surinamensium”

I’m grateful to Joyce Sidman. Her The Girl who drew Butterflies acquainted me with a remarkable woman whose contributions to the life sciences should not be overlooked. 303 years ago to the day, Maria Merian passed away on January 13, 1717.

Bitte verzeiht mir, daß es wegen der Länge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

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.