Winter Isn’t Over

In the arid American Southwest, made more arid by recurring drought, any form of moisture is welcome. Few forms are more fabulous than frozen flakes falling from the firmament, as was the case last week. After two days of watching a snowfall through the window from my desk, my body and mind yearned to dive into the late winter wonderland, before it would dissipate like a dream.

Any place is transformed by snow, and beautiful places become more beautiful. This was the case at Garden of the Gods on the morning after the storm. The park’s inherent splendor was rendered more splendid, its innate majesty more majestic, by a moderate sprinkling of powdered sugar. Many place names exaggerate, embellish, but in my mind, Garden of the Gods’ designation is no hyperbole.

As wind and sun slowly but steadily transubstantiated shimmering, frozen crystals back into their translucent, liquid state, ravens were squawking overhead, robins were breaking their fast on frosty juniper berries, the lovely melody of Townsend’s Solitaires floated down from their elevated perches, and this human soul was filled to its brim.

Im trockenen, durch wiederholte Dürreperioden noch ausgetrockneteren Südwesten der USA, ist jeglicher Niederschlag willkommen. Wenige Formen sind fabelhafter als gefrorene Flocken, die aus dem Firmament fallen, wie das vergangene Woche der Fall war. Nachdem ich zwei Tage lang von meinem Schreibtisch aus den Schneefall beobachtet hatte, sehnten sich mein Körper und Geist danach, in die späte Winterwunderlandschaft einzutauchen, bevor alles wie ein Traum erscheinen würde.

Jeder Ort wird durch Schnee verwandelt, und herrliche Orte werden noch herrlicher. Das war am Morgen nach dem Sturm auch im Garden of the Gods der Fall. Eine mittelschwere Puderzuckerschicht unterstrich die dem Park innewohnende Pracht. Manche Ortsnamen sind übertrieben, aber Garden of the Gods verdient meiner Meinung nach seinen Titel.

Während Wind und Sonne die glitzernden Eiskristalle langsam aber sicher wieder in ihren durchsichtigen, flüssigen Zustand verwandelten, krächzten Raben am Himmel, stopften sich Wanderdrosseln zum Frühstück ihre Mägen mit frostigen Wacholderbeeren, schwebte die liebliche Melodie weiterer Vögel durch die Lüfte, und war diese menschliche Seele bis zum Bersten gefüllt.

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

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.

Winter Fun

Colorado’s Rockies are home to our favorite winter getaway – Snow Mountain Ranch. Owned and operated by the YMCA of the Rockies, the retreat welcomes members and nonmembers alike. Among the too-numerous-to-list activities are snowshoe hikes, dog sled tours, and horse-drawn sleigh rides, but our 75 main reasons to visit are as many miles of fabulous Nordic ski trails that are carved into the snow during most “normal” winters, owing to the property’s elevation of 8,750 feet, or higher.

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Its 2,800 acres have been set aside from development thanks to a conservation easement, and provide a home to many non-human denizens. We regularly see birds, and sporadically squirrels, foxes, or even weasels. In an almost-total transformation, the latter replace their brown summer with a snow-colored winter coat, to blend in nearly seamlessly into the background, were it not for their black tail tips. Unfortunately, I have never been able to capture one on “film.” On occasion, we happen across big, boisterous ungulates. During a trip earlier this month, while huffing up the final hill to the Nordic Center, I notice three tall, dark shapes out of the corner of my eye. I dash to the car to grab my camera, but soon realize that my worry is superfluous, as the three male moose, recognizable by their antlers, are in no hurry. They are sparring – clanging their shovel-like head projections against one another – in what appears a playful manner, as it is not mating season, and there is no need to edge out competitors.

Often described as ungainly, I find moose handsome. Their physique is adapted to surviving in winter, as they have long, slender legs, and heavy, and heavily insulated, bodies. Once our trio’s scuffling ends, we watch those legs in action as they stalk through knee-deep snow. The animals’ destination is a cluster of willows, where they browse with their impressive muzzles. In summer their diet consists of willow buds and leaves, in addition to aquatic vegetation, but in winter they have to fill their tummies with woody twigs and conifer needles – a frugal, little nutritious fare that annually results in weight loss. The pendulous appendage dangling from the chin is known as bell, or dewlap, whose purpose remains unknown. Antlers, unlike the permanent horns of other animals, are temporary bony growths that sprout from the moose’s skulls in spring and summer, before they are shed during the winter. At least one of the bulls has already lost one antler, and the ones that remain are naked, their fuzzy covering, known as velvet, having long been sloughed off.

Three sparring male moose

Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered in front of the Nordic Center, and everybody is clicking away with camera or cell phone. As it is late in the afternoon, and a cloud cover compounds the short winter day, we watch the three companions work their way toward a stand of trees, where they might bed down for the night, which will be cold, long, and foodless. My husband and I pack up our gear and drive to our lodge, where we will find warmth, light, and plenty of food to fill our tummies.

Rosy

I awake on the morning of December 24, Christmas Eve, thinking of Rosy Finches – what else?! A number of birders have reported a flock of these handsome little birds near a reservoir in the mountains, about 20 miles west of Colorado Springs. Snow in the forecast later in the week persuades me to set out to look for them today. I arrive at the trailhead shortly before eight in the morning, and begin the chilly two-mile trek on the snow-covered path through the forest before the sun has reached the tree tops. Part of my path parallels a creek that will eventually empty itself into the reservoir. Not unexpectedly, but nonetheless surprisingly, it has been transformed into the fascinating ribbon of ice art portrayed in last week’s post.

By the time I reach the reservoir, severely diminished by our ongoing drought, the solar rays peek across the trees and I find a sunny spot on the beach to take in the tranquil scenery. Not a ripple stirs the surface of the lake, not a breeze bends the boughs of the bare aspens and verdant conifers. Two fisherman, the only other humans visible, leave after a few minutes, and I am alone. It is perfectly quiet.

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Too quiet. I hear not a single bird, much less a gathering of two hundred. I do not remember when they were sighted on previous days, but when nothing happens after thirty minutes, I retrace my steps to a bridge that crosses to the opposite side of the creek and reservoir. I choose another spot in the sun and wait, scanning my surroundings. Patience is not one of my virtues, and after another half hour, I “resign” myself to a morning of outdoor exercise and winter beauty. As I stomp back through the snow toward the main trail, I raise my binoculars to my eyes one last time to survey the scene. My heart accelerates when I behold what, in summer, could be a swarm of insects. But not now. It is my hoped-for flock. The only problem: it is flying away from me. I run back to my previous viewing spot and plop down on the ground, trying to blend in, cautiously hopeful.

All of a sudden a trembling of wings is audible above my head. Remarkably, for an estimated 200 birds, their vocalizations are very soft. After circling a few times, they land on the beach – behind me, backlit by the sun. I can barely make out their shapes in the bright glare, but take a few photographs, hoping to be able to modify them sufficiently afterward. They are hyperactive little creatures, and the entire assembly rises repeatedly, only to settle again not far away.

I have nothing to lose, and decide to try to get between them and the sun. Gingerly I take a few steps. The flock takes off, but lands again. After a few repeats, I get the impression that their movements are not in response to my presence, but to some inherent rhythm unknown and unknowable to me. They keep their distance, but I can get in a better position to admire their delightful plumage which shows varying degrees of pink (my favorite color), depending on the species. What makes this charm of finches special is that it contains three different species that have congregated for the winter, whereas they occupy different ranges in summer.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches/Graukopf-Schneegimpel (Leucosticte tephrocotis)

Brown-capped Rosy-Finches/Braunkopf-Schneegimpel ( Leucosticte australis) in the foreground

Black Rosy-Finch/Schwarz-Schneegimpel (Leucosticte atrata) in right lower quadrant

As I marvel at these winged wonders in the solitude of this serene setting, I gratefully realize that I have already received my Christmas present.

Meet Ice Artist, Winter River

Not many artists work in ice. The material is too unpredictable, unreliable, tricky to handle, cold to touch, evanescent. There is no guarantee that it will keep its shape. But when it does, it represents pure perfection.

Winter River is one of the few artists who not only works in ice, he does so masterfully. He creates instantaneously, rushes into it headlong. Effortlessly he applies a basic coat to his canvas, then touches his whimsical brush where he pleases. He sprinkles additional layers here and there, sprays the branches of some adjacent trees, dips others repeatedly until they are wholly glazed.

Winter River works tirelessly night and day. Though not dependent on the sun, when the two cooperate, the river’s masterwork luminesces with a light on loan from the heavens.

Ice artist, Winter River, knows that the less commonplace his designs, the better they are liked. He does not hold back when he creates, but like many fickle artists, might be here one day and gone the next, which is why now is the time to watch him paint.

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Wintry Impressions

Winter solstice is rapidly approaching, the meteorologic beginning of the fourth season. While the attendant cold, muted colors, and reduced avian activity render this time of year less attractive to many, in one respect winter’s beauty is unrivaled.

Die Wintersonnenwende nähert sich mit rasenden Schritten, und mit ihr der meteorologische Beginn der vierten Jahreszeit. Auch wenn der Winter wegen kälterer Temperaturen, blasser Farben, und verminderter Vogelaktivität bei vielen unbeliebt ist, ist seine Schönheit in einer Hinsicht unübertroffen.

Is there any visible substance in nature more marvelously magical than snow? Smart brains have long unraveled the mysteries of the astounding transmutation of water into hexagonal crystals, but physical explanations do not lessen the magic.

Gibt es eine sichtbare Substanz in der Natur, die mysteriöser ist als Schnee? Kluge Köpfe haben schon vor langem das Geheimnis der schier unglaublichen Transmutation von Wasser in hexagonale Krystalle gelöst, aber physikalische Erklärungen vermindern nicht den Zauber.

The magic of translucent structures that appear white when they fall gently from the sky, that cover the dull grays and browns with a snowy comforter, that shine, shimmer, and scintillate in the sun.

The magic of utter silence during a snowfall.

The magic of awakening to a world blanketed in purity, all its stains temporarily concealed.

Den Zauber durchsichtiger Strukturen, die als weiße Flocken vom Himmel fallen, die das stumpfe Grau und Braun mit einem Federbett bedecken, die in der Sonne glänzen, glitzern und glimmern.

Den Zauber völliger Stille während eines Schneefalls.

Den Zauber, des Morgens aufzuwachen, und eine reine Welt vor Augen zu haben, deren dunkle Flecken zeitweise verborgen sind.

In the wake of two November snowfalls, I captured a few snowy scenes. Along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where we make our home, an intense sun usually melts most of the white splendor within days, unlike in the mountains.

Im November habe ich nach zwei Schneefällen einige verschneite Szenen festgehalten. Im Vorgebirge der Colorado Rocky Mountains, wo wir leben, schmilzt eine intensive Sonne die weiße Pracht meist innerhalb von Tagen, anders als in den Bergen.

This second collage contains wintry impressions from Germany. My dad and I have long hiked a trail that skirts the Donnersberg (literally Thunder Mountain), the Palatinate region’s highest mountain at 2,254 feet. On an early December day one year ago, we were greeted by a frosty wonderland.

Die zweite Kollage enthält winterliche Impressionen aus Deutschland. Mein Vater und ich lieben seit langem einen Wanderpfad entlang der Flanke des Donnersbergs, dem mit 687 Metern höchsten Berg der Nordpfalz. An einem frühen Dezembertag vor einem Jahr wurden wir von einer frostigen Wunderlandschaft begrüßt.

To us Northern hemisphere dwellers I wish a joyful winter, and a happy summer to our southern counterparts.

Ich wünsche uns Bewohnern der nördlichen Hemisphäre einen frohen Winter, und unseren Pendants auf der südlichen Halbkugel einen schönen Sommer.

Ice Art

Behind us lies autumn and its attendant allure. Before us, springtime, full of new promise and novel prospects, filled with life renewed, reborn.

Despite subtle signs of spring, vernal equinox is yet to come. The hibernal months might hold more darkness than light, bring illness and even eternal sleep to dear friends and family. Bemoaned and decried, these dormant days are indispensable. No organism can exist without repose, Mother Earth included.

But the frigid season also brings beauty. It paints with a beautiful brush, colors with crystals that are clear as they fall, gleaming white as they gather, and cerulean as they crowd, thaw, refreeze.

I can even glimpse a hint of pink in this frozen waterfall

In these waning weeks of winter, I relish its brilliance while I watch it melt, drip, rearrange itself into myriad sparkling shapes; while I wait for it to return to its original state, and to continue its cyclical journey.