Sand Creek

One hundred fifty-five years have lapsed since one of the most infamous chapters in the annals of Colorado, the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. While the Civil War was raging in the East, in the West conflicts with American Indians defending their homeland from intruders had increased in frequency and severity. When territorial Governor Evans formed a temporary 100 day militia in August 1864 to deal with the “Indian Problem,” he invested Colonel John Chivington with its command. Hero of the Battle at Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, in 1862, his forces had helped prevent an army of Texas Confederates from taking over the Colorado gold fields.

Einhundertfünfundfünzig Jahre sind seit einem der schändlichsten Kapitel in Colorados Annalen vergangen: dem Sand Creek Massaker des 29. November 1864. Während im Osten des Landes der Bürgerkrieg tobte, standen im Westen Konflikte mit Indianern, die ihre Heimat vor den Eindringlingen zu verteidigen suchten, im Vordergrund, und nahmen an Häufig- und Ernsthaftigkeit zu. Im August 1864 gründete Gouverneur Evans eine Miliz, die einhundert Tage lang im Einsatz sein sollte, um das „Indianerproblem“ zu lösen. Er setzte Colonel John Chivington als Kommandant ein. Dieser war seit der Schlacht bei Glorieta Pass in Neu Mexiko im Jahre 1862 ein Kriegsheld. Damals hatte sein Kommando eine Armee Konföderierter aus Texas davon abgehalten, nach Colorado vorzustoßen, und die dortigen Goldfelder in Besitz zu nehmen.

Evans and Chivington, both Methodists – the latter an ordained minister before his military career – did not conceal their hostile views of the Native Americans which reflected the attitude of most settlers. They conspired to attack an encampment of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek, about 40 miles north of Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, choosing to disregard that leaders of this group had sought out the Governor in Denver to express their peaceful intentions, as well as his own earlier proclamation to the “friendly Indians on the plains” to go to designated “places of safety”. Evans wanted to placate Coloradans who were demanding forceful actions against worsening attacks by marauding Indian bands. He was determined to use his volunteers before their term of service expired, even if he had to overlook that this gathering of Indians at Sand Creek was nonviolent.

Evans und Chivington, die beide der methodistischen Kirche angehörten (letzterer war vor seiner militärischen Karriere sogar ein ordinierter Geistlicher), machten aus ihrer feindlichen Gesinnung den Indianern gegenüber kein Geheimnis. Sie planten einen Angriff auf ein Lager von Southern Cheyenne und Arapahoe entlang des Flusses “Sand Creek” im Südosten Colorados, etwa 65 Kilometer nördlich von Fort Lyon gelegen. Dabei ignorierten sie die Versprechen des Staates, friedfertigen Indianern sichere Orte zuzusichern, ebenso wie die Tatsache, daß deren Führer kurz zuvor nach Denver gereist waren, um dem Gouverneur ihre friedlichen Absichten zu beteuern. Evans wollte Siedler beschwichtigen, die unter Indianerangriffen litten und Taten forderten. Er war entschlossen, von den Freiwilligen vor Ablauf der Wehrpflicht Gebrauch zu machen, auch wenn er dadurch geflissentlich übersah, daß die Ansammlung der Indianer am Sand Creek nicht gewalttätig war.

Colorado Territory Governor Evan’s blatant proclamation about how to deal with American Indians who were in the way of “progress”

Chivington marched the volunteers of the 3rd Colorado Regiment from Denver to Fort Lyon, where he arrived on the evening of November 28. He immediately imposed a lockdown, thereby preventing any potential sympathizer from warning the native bands. Under cover of night, he led nearly 700 men, his contingent reinforced by troops from Fort Lyon, to Sand Creek, where the American flag was flying above the camp. As the army advanced in the early morning hours of November 29, Chief Black Kettle, one of the recent delegates to Denver, hoisted a white flag. Since most of the warriors were away hunting for food, the majority of the remaining 600 to 700 villagers were elderly men, women and children. Nevertheless, the soldiers attacked, supported by field Howitzers. At least 150 Indians were murdered and a similar number injured, while the rest managed to flee, having to leave all their possessions behind, with winter looming.

Chivington und sein 3. Colorado Regiment marschierten von Denver nach Fort Lyon, wo sie am Abend des 28. November ankamen. Er verhängte sogleich eine Ausgangssperre, um etwaige Sympathisanten daran zu hindern, die Indianer zu warnen. Im Schutze der Dunkelheit führte er etwa 700 Soldaten (sein Regiment mit Verstärkung aus Fort Lyon) Richtung Sand Creek. Dort wehte die amerikanische Flagge über dem Lager. Als sich die Armee näherte, hißte Häuptling Black Kettle, einer der vorherigen Delegierten nach Denver, eine weiße Fahne. Da die meisten Krieger auf der Jagd waren, hielten sich zu dieser Zeit im Lager geschätzte 600 bis 700 Menschen auf–überwiegend ältere Männer, Frauen und Kinder. Trotzdem griffen die Soldaten, unterstützt von Kanonen, im Morgengrauen an. Mindestens 150 Indianer starben, und ähnlich viele wurden verletzt. Den restlichen Bewohnern gelang die Flucht, doch mußten sie alle Besitztümer zurücklassen, obwohl ein langer Winter bevorstand.

Location of the Southern Cheyenne and Arapahoe encampment

Sand Creek provided vital water for the inhabitants of the camp

The casualties would certainly have been higher had two officers, Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer from Fort Lyon not refused to fight people who had been assured safety at their Sand Creek site by the US Army. Thanks to their eyewitness accounts, the extent of the bloodshed and the subsequent mutilation of the victims became common knowledge. The public display of body parts of the so-called “savages” paraded in Denver once the “victorious” brigade returned corroborated their descriptions. Soule and Cramer testified in the subsequent government investigation and by doing so, risked not only their military careers, but also their lives. Captain Soule was, in fact, shot in Denver several months later in what was generally acknowledged to be retribution for his courageous moral stance. His murderer(s) was never brought to justice. Evans and Chivington, even though they stepped down from their respective posts and were reprimanded by Congress, never suffered legal consequences, and were considered heroes in the eyes of many throughout their lives.

Die Zahl der Opfer wäre sicherlich höher ausgefallen, hätten sich zwei Offiziere von Fort Lyon, Captain Silas Soule und Lieutenant Joseph Cramer, nicht geweigert, Menschen, denen an diesem Ort der Schutz der US Armee zugesichert worden war, zu bekämpfen. Dank ihrer Augenzeugenberichte wurde das Ausmaß des Blutvergießens und der nachfolgenden Verstümmelungen der Opfer bekannt. Die öffentliche Zurschaustellung der Körperteile der sogenannte „Wilden“ während eines Triumphzugs in Denver nach der Rückkehr der „siegreichen“ Brigade bestätigte deren Beschreibungen. Soule und Cramer sagten in der nachfolgenden Untersuchung einer Regierungskommission aus, und riskierten damit nicht nur ihre Karriere sondern auch ihr Leben. In der Tat wurde Soules nur einige Monate später in Denver auf offener Straße erschossen, ein klarer Vergeltungsakt. Sein(e) Mörder wurde(n) nie bestraft. Evans und Chivington traten zwar von ihren jeweiligen Posten zurück und wurden vom amerikanischen Kongress ermahnt, doch wurden sie nie bestraft. Viele Bewohner Colorados sahen sie lebenslang als Helden an.

To defenders of this massacre, who point out that the perpetrators were children of their age and merely represented the existing worldview, I reply that many contemporaries condemned the crimes committed, Captain Soule and Lieutenant Cramer first among them. In Colorado Springs, writer Helen Hunt Jackson, profoundly affected by the speech of  Ponca Chief, Standing Bear, became an American Indian Activist. She called a spade a spade, and publicly criticized the mistreatment of North America’s native inhabitants. In contrast to Evans and Chivington, these three are individuals I can look up to.

Denjenigen, die die Schuldigen verteidigen und behaupten, sie seien Kinder ihrer Zeit gewesen und hätten nur die gängige Weltanschauung vertreten, entgegne ich, daß viele Zeitgenossen die begangenen Verbrechen verdammten. Captain Soule und Lieutenant Camer waren dafür leuchtende Beispiele. In Colorado Springs setzte sich die Schriftstellerin Helen Hunt Jackson für die Belange der Indianer ein, nachdem sie eine Rede des Häuptlings Standing Bear zutiefst rührte. Sie nannte die Dinge beim Namen und kritisierte öffentlich die an unzähligen Indianerstämmen begangenen Missetaten. Im Gegensatz zu Evans und Chivington sind diese drei Personen Menschen, die ich bewundern kann.

Monument at what became Sand Creek National Historic Site in 2007

This place of infamy was dedicated as Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007. Since 1999, descendants of the survivors of Sand Creek honor Captain Soule and Lieutenant Cramer with their annual 180 mile Spiritual Healing Run in late November, from Sand Creek to Captain Soule’s grave at Riverside Cemetery in Denver.

Diese schmachvolle Stätte wurde 2007 zum geschichtlich bedeutsamen Ort (Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site) erklärt. Seit dem Jahr 1999 nehmen die Nachfahren der Überlebenden des Massakers alljährlich an einem 290 Kilometer langen Lauf  Ende November teil, der der spirituellen Heilung gewidmet ist (Spiritual Healing Run), und der von Sand Creek zu Captain Soules Grab im Riverside Friedhof in Denver führt.

This is my first re-post ever. Originally published on November 29, 2017, I have made a few modifications to the original post.

Dies ist bisher mein einziger Blogbeitrag, den ich zum zweiten Mal veröffentliche, mit einigen Veränderungen. Der erste erschien am 29. November 2017.

Happy Belated National Bison Day

Is it possible for brawny, shaggy ungulates, that might tip the scale at one to two tons, to appear and amble gracefully? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Amble they may, and docile they may appear, but don’t be fooled, for this largest land mammal in North America is able to accelerate to 35 mph, and a direct hit would be injurious at best, deadly at worst.

It seemed fitting to follow last week’s post, “[Dis]information,” with one about these iconic creatures, which signified the difference between life and death for countless Native American tribes, representing not merely symbols of spiritual significance, but also food, clothing, and shelter. An estimated 30 to 60 (possibly as many as 90) million American Bison roamed the North American continent for millennia, until they became the target of Euro-Americans, who initially also hunted them for their meat and hides, but eventually killed them for “sport” out of moving trains, and out of sheer spite, to deprive those First Americans of their livelihood. Left to rot, they became a symbol of the cruelty and arrogance with which those new arrivals settled and exploited the land that’s now beyond the brink of ecological disaster. When the “conquerors” were done with their dirty work, which took mere decades, only a few hundred of these remarkable beasts survived at the turn of the 20th century.

Ist es möglich, daß bullige und zottelige Huftiere, die bis zu zwei Tonnen wiegen, anmutig erscheinen und schlendern können? Die Antwort lautet eindeutig: „Ja“. Auch wenn sie schlendern mögen und sanft erscheinen, laß Dich nicht täuschen, denn dieses größte Landsäugetier Nordamerikas kann bis auf 55 Km/h beschleunigen, und ein direkter Zusammenprall wäre im besten Fall mit Verletzungen, und im schlimmsten mit dem Tod verbunden.

Es schien mir passend, dem „[Dis]information” Beitrag von letzter Woche diesen folgen zu lassen, weil diese Kreaturen Kultstatus haben, und den Unterschied zwischen Leben und Tod für zahllose Indianerstämme bedeuteten, da sie nicht nur spirituelle Symbole repräsentierten, sondern auch Nahrung, Kleidung und Unterkunft. Geschätzte 30 bis 60 (wenn nicht sogar 90 ) Millionen amerikanische Bisons durchstreiften den nordamerikanischen Kontinent über Jahrtausende hinweg, bis sie zur Schießscheibe von Euro-Amerikanern wurden. Anfangs wurden sie auch von diesen der Felle und des Fleisches wegen gejagt, aber zunehmend zum Zeitvertreib und aus Boshaftigheit, um den Uramerikanern die Lebensgrundlage zu entziehen. Dem Verrotten überlassen, wurden sie zu Symbolen der Grausamkeit und Arroganz, mit der die Neuankömmlinge das Land besiedelten und ausbeuteten, das inzwischen jenseits des ökologischen Abgrunds steht. Nachdem die „Eroberer“ mit ihren Schandtaten fertig waren, was bloße Jahrzehnte brauchte, waren nur noch wenige Hundert dieser bemerkenswerten Tiere am Leben.

Unlike the hapless Passenger Pigeon, whose gazillion wings once darkened the sky for days during migration, the bison was brought back from the precipice, with numbers now amounting to about 500,000. As most survivors were interbred with cattle, and only a small quantity of genetically pure individuals survived at Yellowstone and a few other locations, it is estimated that all but 1.6% of bison today are hybrids. While some parks and preserves are home to publicly-owned herds, most of them are raised by private owners for human consumption, as their meat is leaner and supposedly healthier than beef.

Though commonly called buffalo, American Bison (Bison bison) are only distantly related to the true Asian water or African buffaloes. There are two extant subspecies, the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison), and the Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae). As several of the former are bred in Colorado, my husband and I occasionally encounter them, as we did this small South Park group during one of our leaf-peeping trips.

Anders als die unglückseligen Wandertauben, deren zig Millionen Schwingen einst während ihrer Züge tagelang den Himmel verdunkelten, kamen die Bisons vom Abgrund zurück, und beziffern sich heutzutage auf etwa 500.000. Da die meisten Überlebenden mit Rindern gekreuzt wurden, und nur eine kleine Anzahl genetisch reiner Individuen in Yellowstone und anderen Gegenden überlebte, wird angenommen, daß lediglich 1,6% aller Bisons heutzutage keine Mischformen darstellen. Es gibt einige Parks und Naturschutzgebiete mit öffentlichen Herden, doch die Mehrheit befindet sich in Privatbesitz, und ist für den menschlichen Verzehr bestimmt, da ihr Fleisch fettarmer ist, und angeblich gesünder als Rindfleisch sein soll.

Auch wenn sie häufig als Büffel bezeichnet werden sind amerikanische Bisons (Bison bison) nur entfernt mit asiatischen Wasserbüffeln oder afrikanischen Büffeln verwandt. Zwei Unterarten existieren noch, die der Prärie (Bison bison bison), und die des Waldes (Bison bison athabascae). Erstere werden häufiger in Colorado gezüchtet, wo mein Mann und ich sie gelegentlich zu Gesicht bekommen, wie z. B. diese kleine Herde in South Park während eine unserer Exkursionen zum Blättergucken.

Were it not for the fences, one could easily imagine how thousands of these herbivorous hulks stirred up dust clouds that were visible from miles away, when following their seasonal migration across the plains, in search of fresh expanses of grass to nibble on, thereby avoiding overgrazing, while simultaneously plowing and fertilizing the soil, which thus thrived for eons, until so-called civilized man in his hubris thought he could improve on nature, and brought on not only the Dust Bowl, but numerous ecological calamities since then.

To acknowledge the renewed awe and admiration for the bison, it was named a national symbol of the United States in 2016, only the second animal to be thus distinguished, after the Bald Eagle was declared National Bird in 1782! As I recently learned from a fellow blogger (National Parks USA), the first Saturday of November has been chosen as National Bison Day in the US, which fell on November 2 this year. For this reason, Happy Belated National Bison Day!

Gäbe es keine Zäune, wäre es leicht vorstellbar, wie Tausende dieser pflanzenfressenden Hünen Staubwolken aufwirbelten, die meilenweit während ihrer Wanderungen über die Plains zu sehen waren, bei denen sie nach neuen Grasflächen suchten, und dabei Überweidung vermieden, und gleichzeitig die Böden umpflügten und düngten. Auf diese Weise gediehen sie über viele Zeitalter hinweg, bis der sogenannte zivilisierte Mensch in seiner Überheblichkeit daherkam, und es der Natur besser zeigen wollte, und dadurch den “Dust Bowl ” sowie weitere ökologische Katastrophen seither verursachte.

Um die erneute Ehrfurcht und Bewunderung für dieses Tier zum Ausdruck zu bringen, wurde es 2016 zum nationalen Symbol der USA auserkoren. Diese Auszeichnung kam zuvor nur dem weißköpfigen Seeadler zuteil, der 1782 (!) zum Nationalvogel erklärt wurde. Wie ich erst vor kurzem von einer weiteren Bloggerin lernte (National Parks USA), wird der erste Samstag im November als Nationaler Bisontag gefeiert, der dieses Jahr auf den 2. November fiel. Aus diesem Grunde, wenn auch etwas verspätet,  „Happy Bison Day!”

[Dis]information

Definition of disinformation:

False information deliberately and often covertly spread, in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth (according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary).

What thoughts go through your mind when viewing these photographs? Do you find them beautiful? Interesting and intriguing? Romantic and dreamy? Peaceful and serene?

How about stylized and stilted?

All of these impressions might coexist when looking at portraits of Native Americans, taken by photographer Roland Reed (1864-1934) at the beginning of the 20th century. He was genuinely interested in American Indians, even living with and photographing the Ojibwe on their Minnesota reservation for two years, but his pictorialist style of photography interpreted his subjects in a certain way, by staging scenes with props and artifice, rather than documenting their actual lives and reality.

Roland Reed’s idealized art represents the core of a seminal and challenging exhibit, “[Dis]information,” which opened at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in the spring of 2019. Co-curated by Native American Gregg Deal, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and by Leah Davis Witherow, the museum’s Curator of History, it attempts to raise awareness of how Native Americans were depicted through a white lens, how these photographs presented a version of native life that no longer existed, by pigeonholing the people portrayed, and by implying that they were part of America’s past, and not of its present, or its future. With this problematic characterization American Indians take issue, as they are very much alive and part of America today. While Roland Reed might have been well-intentioned, his oeuvre is yet one more bitterly ironic example of the way in which the same nation, that killed or confined the First Americans on reservations, began to romanticize them not long after expelling them from their ancestral lands.

Photojournalist Viki Eagle’s portraits of American Indian students at University of Denver

In contrast to Roland Reed’s problematic images, Native American photographer, Vicki Eagle, presents fellow Native Americans, all of them students at Denver University, in the manner of their choosing, without artificial setting or attire. Each portrait is accompanied by a short biographical sketch, each poignant in its own right. I have chosen to share two.

Alexis writes: “I attend the University of Denver, where the mascot is the ‘Pioneers’ and the founder is John Evans [former Governor of Colorado Territory, and responsible for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which hundreds of peaceful American Indians were killed by Colorado militia in cold blood, despite having been assured protection]. Every day I see the words ‘Pioneers’ and 1864 plastered everywhere. Seeing these things is a constant reminder that I am not meant to be on this campus. Instead of letting it bring me down, I stay resilient and ensure that I make my mark on campus. I am not afraid or ashamed to embrace my Native identity because I know every day I walk on campus I am breaking the stereotype and making my family, community and tribe proud.”

Taylor says: “ I’m sure I made John Evans, founder of the University of Denver, turn in his grave knowing that an indigenous female is thriving in this institution. Being a Pueblo woman, I have defied all the odds just being here in college. The statistics will say that I’m a drug addict, an alcoholic, dropout, victim of abuse, missing, and even murdered. I’m blessed to say I’m NONE of those things. I am thankful to receive education and the opportunities it has given me for a better future, so that I can go back home and give back to my people. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. Sincerely, A Future Native Female Lawyer in the making.”

Wet-plate photographs of Northern Plains Native Americans by North Dakota photographer Shane Balkowitsch

A collection of wet-plate images completes the exhibit. Self-taught North Dakota artist Shane Balkowitsch, with his project Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective, aspires to obtain portraits of 1.000 Native Americans. As with Vicki Eagle, his models choose in which way they want to be depicted, many of them opting for traditional apparel.

Native American Nations, circa 1590 through 1850 (pre-reservation period).

Native American land holdings today, representing about 3% of the contiguous United States.

Despite repeated attempts to integrate and assimilate indigenous Americans and to eradicate their native language and traditions, and despite the near-complete loss of their homelands, many American Indians continue to cherish and celebrate their legacy and heritage. 573 federally recognized tribes exist in the United States as of 2019. About 2.9 million individuals identify as American Indian or Alaska Native alone, and 2.3 million do so in combination with one or two more races (2010 US Census data). Most live off reservations and are our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbors. The portrayal of Native Americans in still and moving pictures, in commercials, and as sports mascots has engendered hard-to-break stereotypes and prejudice in the American psyche, but Native America and Native Americans are infinitely more complex than Hollywood ever allowed, and have their own version of history to tell.

Whimsical Birds

Ornithophilia seems to be as old as human consciousness itself. Ever since we have had the faculty to wrap our thoughts into words, we have expressed our fascination and even love for creatures who are in their element not only on land, but also in the water and sky. Their presence across a vast range of habitats, their ability to take to the air, their myriad shades, shapes, and sizes, as well as their nearly preternatural gift to create sublime sounds have made them the favored subjects not only of composers, poets, and painters, but of sculptors alike.

Here are some of their whimsical bird creations I have been touched by.

Ornithophilie scheint so alt zu sein wie das menschliche Bewußtsein. Seit wir das Vermögen erwarben, unsere Gedanken in Worte zu fassen, haben wir unsere Faszination, wenn nicht sogar Liebe, für Kreaturen ausgedrückt, die nicht nur auf dem Land, sondern auch im Wasser und im Himmel in ihrem Element sind. Ihre Präsenz in einer Reihe von Lebensräumen, ihre Fähigkeit, sich in die Lüfte zu schwingen, ihre zahlreichen Farben, Formen, und Formate sowie ihre schier übernatürliche Gabe, unvergleichliche Töne hervorzubringen, hat sie nicht nur zu Lieblingen von Komponisten, Dichtern und Malern, sondern auch von Plastikern gemacht.

Hier sind einige ihrer skurrilen Vogelkreationen, die mich berührt haben.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. 

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. 

Colorado’s Most Precious Gold

Whereas Colorado might not paint much in autumnal reds and clarets, it is a masterful artist when it comes to applying golden brush strokes. Several trees belonging to the willow family grow exceedingly well in our Rocky Mountain state. Plains and Narrow-Leaf Cottonwoods thrive at slightly lower elevations and are no less gorgeous or colorful than their cousins of higher realms—aspen trees—but the latter tend to get most of the glory. And glorious they are, regardless of whether a gauzy green graces their limbs in springtime, or a palette of warmer hues during the fall, as if they were reflecting the different shades of sunshine: much yellow, some orange, little red.

Annually this autumnal pageant is celebrated by Coloradans and out-of-state visitors alike, as though it were nature’s premiere, as well as only performance. Forecasters, based on daylight hours, temperature, and moisture, try to predict the climax of the color change, tourists book hotels weeks, if not months, in advance, aspen lovers make pilgrimages to our montane and subalpine zones to coincide with the most golden glow and brilliant blaze, which usually happens between late September and the middle of October. I am not ashamed to admit that I am one of them, and I am happy to share some of the splendor my eyes have seen.

While you view these photos, visualize the leaves dancing in the wind. The tree’s full name is Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides). The tremors or trembling are a result of flattened petioles that attach at right angles to the leaves, which makes them quake and quiver in the slightest breeze. What wonderful performers are these aspens—concurrently with graceful pirouettes, their foliage creates music equally as pleasing to the ears. It should come as no surprise that I consider aspen trees Colorado’s most precious gold.

Auch wenn Colorado im Herbst nicht viel in Rot und Weinrot malt, ist es ein meisterhafter Künstler, was das Anbringen von goldenen Pinselstrichen angeht. Viele der Familie der Weiden zugehörigen Bäume gedeihen in unserem Rocky Mountain Staat, und auch wenn die in niederen Lagen wachsenden Pappeln nicht weniger spektakulär sind als Espenbäume, ihre Cousinen der höheren Lagen, bekommen letztere mehr Aufmerksamkeit. Und die verdienen sie, egal ob im Frühling, wenn ein zartes Grün ihre Äste überzieht, oder im Herbst, wenn wärmere Farbtöne überwiegen—fast so, als reflektierten sie die verschiedenen Schattierungen der Sonne: Viel Gelb, etwas Orange, wenig Rot.

Alljährlich feiern Bewohner und Besucher Colorados dieses herbstliche Bühnenspiel, als hätte die Natur eine Premiere und zugleich ihre einzige Vorführung. Beobachter versuchen aufgrund von Tageslänge, Temperatur und Feuchtigkeit den Höhepunkt der Verfärbung vorherzusagen, Touristen buchen Hotels Wochen wenn nicht Monate im Voraus, Espenliebhaber machen Wallfarten in montane und subalpine Zonen, um das güldenste Glühen und hellste Leuchten abzupassen. Ich schäme mich nicht einzugestehen, daß auch ich zu ihnen gehöre, und es macht mich froh, etwas von der Pracht, die ich gesehen haben, zu teilen.

Stell Dir beim Anschauen dieser Photos vor, wie die Blätter im Wind tanzen. Der komplette Name des Baumes ist Amerikanische Zitterpappel (Populus tremuloides). Der Tremor ist Resultat der flachen Blattstiele, die im rechten Winkel an den Blättern ansetzen, wodurch sie in der geringsten Brise zittern und zappeln. Welch großartigen Darsteller diese Espen sind—in den Momenten, in denen ihr Blattwerk grazile Pirouetten dreht, macht es zusätzlich wohlklingende Musik. Es dürfte keine Überraschung sein, daß Espen in meinen Augen Colorados wertvollstes Gold repräsentieren.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. 

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. 

Postscriptum:

A succession of storms has since shrunken, separated, and scattered all but the most stubborn foliage, revealing a singular, skeletal kind of arboreal splendor. Incidentally, it has snowed 10+ inches in the course of last week!

Eine Reihe von Herbststürmen hat inzwischen alle bis auf die störrischsten Blätter erfroren, abgerissen und verstreut, und dabei eine bemerkenswerte skelettartige Baumkunst freigelegt. Und nebenbei bemerkt hat es in der letzten Woche mindestens 25 Zentimeter geschneit!

Keep Looking Up

When I’m out in nature, my attention is primarily directed towards winged creatures, but I equally enjoy encountering others. I tend to avoid locales crowded with humans, preferring the company of wild beasts instead, though they frequent busy places surprisingly often.

While “keep looking up” is a rallying cry typically employed by nighttime stargazers, it is just as applicable for observers of the daytime skies. What follows is a selection of my most memorable moments with non-avian animals in trees, discovered because I followed the above advice.

Wenn ich in der Natur unterwegs bin, gilt meine Aufmerksamkeit hauptsächlich gefiederten Kreaturen, aber genauso gerne begegne ich anderen. Ich tendiere dazu, mit Menschenmassen gefüllte Orte zu vermeiden, da ich den Umgang mit wilden Tieren bevorzuge, obwohl sich diese erstaunlich oft in belebten Gegenden aufhalten.

Wenn sich der Rat „schau nach oben“ typischerweise auf nächtliche Sterngucker bezieht, gilt er ebenso für Beobachter des Tageshimmels. Was folgt ist eine Auswahl meiner denkwürdigsten Momente mit Tieren in Bäumen, die keine Vögel waren. Ihre Entdeckung habe ich der Befolgung des obigen Rats zu verdanken.

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.

Birding Highs And Lows

So little divides utter joy from abject sadness.

Like many Colorado bird lovers, I made a September pilgrimage to a Denver suburb, where a perspicacious birder had discovered an uncommon avian species. As the rare bird reports poured into my Email inbox for four successive days, I tried to suppress the little voice in my head that told me I might be missing the chance of a lifetime. Why did I wait? If I don’t have to drive to and in Denver, I won’t—the traffic is awful. I made a pact with myself: If still reported on day five, I would take it as a hint to try my luck. It was, and I set my alarm for 4:15 for the following morning.

My anticipation woke me at 3 AM. My earlier departure time enabled me to make it to my destination before the worst of the rush-hour, even though columns of cars were already jammed along stretches of the Interstate at 5:30 in the morning. It was still dark when I arrived, and once the first light colored the horizon, I strolled along the creek bed, where the bird in question had been sighted repeatedly. Right around 7 AM, I heard an unusual vocalization, recognizable to me from recordings. A few minutes afterward, the subject of my desire appeared from its nocturnal hidey-hole and assumed a prominent position on a tree branch suffused by sunshine.

If it’s possible to fall in love with a being one knows only from photographs, it had happened to me. Laying eyes on the actual bird, I was swept off my feet. Long-tailed, with radiant jetblack feathers and a massive beak, its gentle gaze and relaxed attitude have captured my imagination ever since. Until about a week before, I had never even heard of a Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris), but now I relished my first date with this unusual creature. At first glance, it resembles a corvid or grackle, but it is actually related to cuckoos. I spent about 40 minutes with Black Beauty then, and returned again after exploring the vicinity. It was still near that original tree, and seemed to enjoy basking in the sun’s warm rays. Maybe it also enjoyed basking in the attention from me and others who had come to make the acquaintance of what can only be called a celebrity.

Groove-billed Anis hail from Mexico, but make occasional excursions into Texas and sporadic visits to other states (click here for its Cornell Lab of Ornithology bio). There had been four previous sightings in Colorado, most recently in 1982. How did this lone avian end up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains? Speculations range from having escaped a cage to having been trapped in a truck or train car, but chances are that it came under its own power.

I share my fellow birders’ concern for the bird’s well-being. What will the future hold? Will it fly south to escape what could be a very harsh Colorado winter? Will someone try to capture and transport it, if not to Mexico, then at least to Texas? There are more questions than answers when it comes to these types of rare occurrences. As hundreds of us add this bird to our life lists, do we assume a special responsibility, or do we let nature take its course?

It is one of life’s certainties that what goes up must come down. Only a few days after experiencing this high, the results of a comprehensive longitudinal study published by the journal Science brought me back to earth—a much impoverished earth. The report concluded that the bird population of the United States and Canada has suffered a dreadful 29% decline since 1970, resulting in the heart-rending loss of nearly 3 BILLION birds. Some sub-populations are even more severely affected. Grassland birds, for example, have experienced a devastating 53% drop. The various reasons are mostly human-induced: destruction of habitat, toxic chemicals, climate change, house and feral cats…(read more about it here).

It is challenging not to give up hope in the face of these grim facts. I don’t like to be cynical, but I have lost faith in (wo)mankind. We are the most short-sighted and destructive creatures to have walked and altered the face of this magnificent planet, which is crying sad tears—as am I.