Winter, Finally

In the wake of my recent lament about our want of precipitation, I’m happy to report that three separate storms in the past week have brought some highly-appreciated moisture—in the form of snow. Totals varied based on location, but at the southern end of Colorado Springs we received a minimum of 8 inches (20 centimeters). Being housebound all of last Friday because the heavens never ceased to release flakes, I was determined to get outside on the following day, before another anticipated weather front on Sunday.

Nach meiner nicht lange zurückliegenden Klage über einen Mangel an Niederschlag freut es mich, daß drei separate Stürme in der vergangenen Woche hochwillkommene Feuchtigkeit mit sich gebracht haben, und zwar in Form von Schnee. Die Gesamtmengen waren je nach Lage unterschiedlich, aber am Südrand von Colorado Springs haben wir mindestens 20 Zentimeter erhalten. Da am Freitag der Himmel pausenlos Flocken fallen ließ, und ich die ganze Zeit drinnen war, nahm ich mir vor, den folgenden Tag im Freien zu verbringen, besonders weil die nächste Wetterfront für Sonntag vorhergesagt wurde.

On Saturday morning, I was greeted by azure and windless skies. A gleaming quilt covered the ground and mountains, and the boughs of trees and shrubs were flocked with glittering crystals. At Stratton Open Space, one of my favorite local haunts, which is situated nearer the mountains, even more snow had accumulated. Thanks to a few skiers and other hikers, a trail had been broken and I gratefully followed its meanderings. Up and down hills, in and out of stands of trees, under a nearly cloudless firmament I stomped through the white splendor. The sun climbed from the horizon toward the zenith, and as the thermometer followed suit—from 18 degrees F (minus 7 C) to the mid-30s F (1 C)—I sensed its increasing warmth through my layered garments. Listening to the chattering of birds, and watching little tufts of snow leave their perches and drift through the air and onto to ground, I felt even more part of the whole when some of them brushed against the exposed skin of my face with tender caresses.

Am Samstagmorgen wurde ich von einem azurblauen und windstillen Himmel begrüßt. Eine gleißende Decke überzog Boden und Berge, und auch die Äste von Bäumen und Sträuchern waren mit schimmernden Kristallen beflockt. Stratton Open Space, einer meiner Lieblingsorte, der näher an den Bergen liegt, hatte sogar noch mehr Schnee angesammelt. Dank einiger Skiläufer und Wanderer war ein Pfad niedergetrampelt worden, dessen Windungen ich dankbar folgte. Unter einem fast wolkenlosen Himmel stapfte ich durch die weiße Pracht, Hügel rauf und runter, in den Wald hinein und wieder heraus. Als die Sonne vom Horizont dem Zenit entgegenwanderte, kletterte das Thermometer schnell von minus 7 auf plus 1 Grad Celsius, und ich spürte die zunehmende Wärme durch meine Kleiderschichten. Während ich dem Gesang der Vögel lauschte, und zuschaute, wie kleine Schneehäubchen ihre Hochsitze verließen und durch die Luft und auf die Erde flatterten, fühlte ich mich noch mehr Teil des Ganzen, als einige von ihnen dabei meine unbedeckte Gesichtshaut sanft liebkosten.

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.

Ute Valley Park

Colorado Springs harbors a wealth of lovely parks, putting us locals in the enviable position of having to choose which one to explore on any given day. Allow me to introduce Ute Valley Park, located in the northwest quadrant of our city. Even though it’s only about 13 miles from home, busy traffic corridors act as a deterrent, and I don’t visit as often as I would like, because it’s otherwise a very attractive destination, both with regard to scenery and wildlife.

Colorado Springs beheimatet eine Fülle reizender Parks, weshalb wir Einheimischen oft die Qual der Wahl haben. Erlaubt mir, Euch Ute Valley Park im nordwestlichen Teil der Stadt vorzustellen. Auch wenn er nur etwa 21 Kilometer von unserem Haus entfernt liegt, schrecken mich die Verkehrswege etwas ab, und ich besuche ihn weniger oft als gewünscht, weil er ansonsten sehr attraktiv ist, sowohl was die Landschaft als auch die Tierwelt angeht.

As the name implies, the area is nestled in a wide valley and characterized by rolling hills, rocky canyons, and sandstone formations, all of which are variously covered by grassy meadows, desert-like plants, shrubby vegetation, or piñon/juniper forest. The view west is dominated by Pikes Peak, which remains in sight from all but the most secluded trails. I never tire of gazing at our local fourteener, and am fascinated by its moods, which it wears on its sleeve, or its head, as it were. It does not pretend—shares a sunny smile when all is calm, but surrounds itself in a cloak when change is brewing—and in so doing, serves as our meteorologist.

Wie der Name andeutet, liegt das Areal in einem weiten Tal und ist durch sanfte Hügel, felsige Schluchten und Sandsteinformationen gekennzeichnet, die je nachdem mit Gras, wüstenartigen Pflanzen, Sträuchern oder Nadelwäldern bedeckt sind. Der Blick gen Westen wird von Pikes Peak dominiert, der von den meisten Pfaden aus zu sehen ist. Ich werde nie müde, mir unseren 4.000 Meter hohen Berg anzuschauen, und ich finde seine Launen faszinierend, die er offen auf seinem Angesicht zur Schau stellt. Wenn das Wetter mild ist, lächelt er, doch wenn sich etwas anbraut, umhüllt er sein Antlitz, und fungiert so als unser Meteorologe.

As is evident in my pictures taken mid-January, the ground is snowless, in all but the most shaded spots. After promising November and December snowfalls, most of our region has not had any precipitation for four to six weeks. While January is often a dry month, the absence of rain or snow serves as a sobering reminder that many parts of Colorado have been in a drought since the start of the new millennium. As of January 21, the drought monitor reports that 26. 4% of the state (Colorado Springs included) is abnormally dry, 37.4% is in a moderate, and 13.8% in a severe drought.

Wie meine Bilder von Mitte Januar zeigen, ist der Boden bis auf die schattigsten Flecken schneefrei. Seit einigen vielversprechenden Schneefällen im November und Dezember gibt es fast überall in unserer Region in den letzten vier bis sechs Wochen keinerlei Niederschläge. Auch wenn der Januar oft ein trockener Monat ist, dienen die Abwesenheit von Schnee und Regen als ernüchternde Erinnerung daran, daß viele Gegenden Colorados seit Beginn des neuen Milleniums unter Dürre leiden. Laut Trockenheitsmonitor vom 21. Januar sind 26,4 % des Staates (dazu gehört auch Colorado Springs) ungewöhlich trocken, wohingegen 37,4% von mittelmäßiger und 13.8% von starker Trockenheit betroffen sind.

The following photo shows a section of the Rampart Range. Instead of green trees, you might recognize their skeletons—silent witnesses of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, which swept over the hill and burned not only forest, but also an entire residential area, tragically claiming the lives of two people and countless animals. With the heart-rending inferno in Australia and the memory of this and several other recent conflagrations still fresh on everybody’s mind, we are enjoying our sunshine while we urgently hope for some moisture from the sky.

Das folgende Photo zeigt einen Auschnitt der hiesigen Rampart Gebirgskette. Statt grüner Bäume ist es möglich, ihre Skelette zu erkennen. Sie sind stumme Zeugen des Waldo Canyon Feuers, das 2012 über den Hügel schwappte und nicht nur den Wald, sondern auch ein Wohngebiet verbrannte und tragischerweise zwei Menschen sowie unzähligen Tieren das Leben kostete. Das herzzereißende Inferno in Australien und unsere eigene Feuersbrunst sind uns noch frisch im Gedächtnis, und auch wenn wir die Sonne genießen, wünschen wir uns, daß der Himmel uns dringende Nässe spenden wird.

American Avocet

Dear Avocet,

When I perused last year’s photo archive and found a series of portraits of you, my heart went into a happy little dance. You blessed us with your presence at a local lake during fall migration for one full golden October week. Only you know where you had come from and where you were going. I wondered if you had been born only this summer, and were somehow left behind when your parents, brothers, and sisters took off for warmer climes. Or if you were a loner, who liked to travel on your own.

Watching you forage for sustenance to power you through your upcoming journey, rest your legs, or even take a nap while people and dogs were milling about touched me deeply, but also made me worry about your future, the obstacles on your way to your winter quarters, the countless challenges and dangers awaiting you. I hope you are safe and well-fed.

We humans are always admonished against employing flattery, but if it’s honest and sincere, I don’t see a problem with it. So please allow me to tell you that ever since I first had the pleasure of getting to know one of your kind, you have enchanted me. With your slender legs, long neck, curved bill, and exquisite plumage, you are elegance personified. Whether or not your feathers are black, white, and gray, or ginger-colored accents beautify your head, neck, and throat during breeding season, you dazzle.

You had me at first sight.


Your admirer

Lieber Säbelschnäbler,

Als ich mein Photoarchiv vom vergangenen Jahr durchsah, und auf eine Serie Deiner Porträts stieß, machte mein Herz einige frohe Sprünge. Du beglücktest uns während des Herbstzuges mit Deiner Präsenz an einem hiesigen See eine ganze goldene Oktoberwoche lang. Du allein wußtest, woher Du kamst und wohin Du wolltest. Ich fragte mich, ob Du erst in diesem Sommer geboren wurdest, und vielleicht den Anschluß an Deine Eltern, Brüder und Schwestern verpaßt hattest, als sie sich gen wärmere Gefilde aufmachten. Oder vielleicht warst Du lieber allein unterwegs.

Dir zuzuschauen, wie Du nach Futter suchtest, um Dich für Deine bevorstehende Reise zu stärken, wie Du Deine Beine ausruhtest oder sogar ein Nickerchen hieltest, während sich Menschen und Hunde in der Nähe tummelten, bewegte mich zutiefst, ließ mich aber auch um Deine Zukunft fürchten, um all die Hindernisse auf dem Weg zu Deinem Winterquartier sowie die zahllosen Herausforderungen und Gefahren, die auf Dich warteten. Ich hoffe, Du bist satt und in Sicherheit.

Wir Menschen werden immer vor Schmeicheleien gewarnt, doch wenn sie ehrlich und ernst gemeint sind, sehe ich damit keine Probleme. Erlaube mir deshalb, Dir zu sagen, daß Du mir seit meiner ersten Begegnung mit einem Deiner Artgenossen das Herz gestohlen hast. Mit Deinen schlanken Beinen, Deinem langen Nacken, gebogenen Schnabel und auserlesenen Gefieder verkörperst Du reine Eleganz. Egal, ob Deine Federn schwarz, weiß und grau sind, oder rötliche Akzente Dir Kopf, Hals und Brust in der Brutsaison verschönern, Du bist einfach hinreißend.

Es war Liebe auf den ersten Blick.


Deine Verehrerin

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.

Praying? Or Preying?

If you think this otherworldly creature is elevating its foremost extremities into the sky in supplication, you are not alone, as those who first lay eyes on it shared your impression and named it Praying Mantis.

Falls Du den Eindruck hast, daß diese ungwöhnliche Kreatur ihre Vorderbeine im Gebet gen Himmel streckt, bist Du nicht alleine, denn die ersten Beobachter teilten diesen Eindruck, und tauften sie Gottesanbeterin.

Other than admiring bees, butterflies, and moths, and disliking the biting and stinging kind of insects, I know little about these animals, but when I discovered this stick-like critter last summer, my curiosity was piqued, and I set out to remedy my ignorance. With about 925,000 known representatives, insects represent the largest class of the animal kingdom, but entomologists, those scholars enthralled by all six-legged things that creep, crawl, leap, bound, or fly, suspect that this paltry sum represents a mere 20 % of extant species.

With regard to the family of mantids, experts have identified 2,500 different kinds. Seven have been detected in Colorado, and among those, five are native, two introduced. As is often the case, the non-native individuals outperform the others, so chances are that what I saw, and what you see in these images, are specimens of the European Mantid, endowed with the Latin name Mantis religiosa, which is no less prayerful than the common appellation.

Außer Bienen, Schmetterlinge und Motten zu bewundern, und beißende und stechende Insekten nicht zu mögen, weiß ich wenig über diese Tierchen, aber als ich vergangenen Sommer diesen stöckchenartigen Repräsentant entdeckte, wurde meine Neugier geweckt, und ich versuchte, meinem Unwissen Abhilfe zu schaffen. Mit etwa 925.000 bekannten Vertretern stellen Insekten die größte Klasse im Tierreich dar, doch Entomologen, diejenigen Gelehrten, die sich für alle Sechsbeiner interessieren, die kriechen, krabbeln, springen, hüpfen und fliegen, gehen davon aus, daß diese Zahl lediglich 20 % aller existierenden Arten repräsentiert.

Was die Familie der Mantiden angeht, haben Experten 2.500 verschiedene Arten identifiziert. Sieben sind in Colorado zu finden, und von diesen kommen fünf natürlich vor, und zwei sind eingeführt worden. Wie so oft der Fall ist, gedeihen die letzteren besser, und deshalb sind diejenigen, die wir jetzt zusammen in diesen Photos sehen, wahrscheinlich Exemplare der europäischen Mantiden, deren lateinischer Name, Mantis religiosa, nicht weniger fromm ist als der allgemeine.

Now, let’s imagine you were another hexapod. You would quickly learn that what resembles arms raised into the heavens in prayer actually represents efficient utensils employed in arresting your locomotion and in dismembering you, before channeling you into said animal’s intestinal tract in support of its metabolism. Although this predatory arthropod is celebrated by some gardeners (and, for that matter, offered in plant nurseries and garden catalogs) for ridding their patches of unwanted pests, it does not discern between beneficial and undesired organisms and devours all fellow six-legged beings indiscriminately, if not cannibalistically. While the male is in the blissful, oblivious throes of reproduction, the female, if particularly hungry, might not hesitate to decapitate the one that ensures the fertilization of her eggs (apparently, he is able to do the deed without use of his head).

If this narrative strikes you as suitable to be told as a scary campfire tale, I concur, and even though I’m glad to have finally encountered and photographed a few of these strange, slender, statuesque creatures, what little I learned about their life cycle and behavior confirmed that some things are better left to the imagination, and that—at times—ignorance is bliss.

Nun stell Dir mal vor, Du wärst auch ein Sechsbeiner. Du würdest schnell merken, daß die betenden Hände, die sich in den Himmel zu erstrecken scheinen, in Realität wirksame Werkzeuge darstellen, die dazu dienen, Deine Fortbewegung zu hindern und Dich zu zerlegen, um Dich dann dem Verdauungstrakt dieses Tieres zuzuführen, und seinen Stoffwechsel zu unterstützen. Auch wenn einige Gärtner, weil sie ihre Beete gerne ungezieferfrei hätten, diesen räuberischen Gliederfüßer preisen (der übrigens in Gärtnereien und Gartenkatalogen zum Verkauf angeboten wird), unterscheidet er nicht zwischen Nützlingen und Schädlingen, sondern verschlingt alles, was sich auf sechs Beinen fortbewegt. Und das nicht nur wahllos, sondern manchmal sogar kannibalistisch. Während sich das Männchen selbstvergessen und beglückt der Fortpflanzung hingibt, mag es sein, daß das Weibchen, wenn es besonders hungrig ist, demjenigen den Kopf abbeißt, der für die Befruchtung ihrer Eier sorgt (anscheinend kann er den Akt auch ohne Betätigung seines Kopfes vollenden).

Falls Du der Meinung bist, daß sich diese Schilderungen dazu eignen, am Lagerfeuer als Gruselgeschichte erzählt werden zu können, stimme ich Dir zu, und auch wenn ich froh bin, endlich diese seltsamen, schlanken, standbildhaften Wesen getroffen und photographiert zu haben, bin ich zu der Einsicht gelangt, daß das Wenige, das ich über ihren Lebenszyklus und ihr Verhalten gelernt habe, bestätigt, daß manche Dinge lieber der Phantasie überlassen bleiben, und daß Unwissen manchmal ein Segen ist.

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.