Moon of the Yellowing Leaves

Some days assume an ethereal quality during the living, and October 1 was just such a day. In search of fall colors, my husband and I traveled to Mueller State Park in neighboring Teller County, about 30 miles (48 Km) west of Colorado Springs. 9 o’clock in the morning found the thermometer flirting with a refreshing 39 degrees F (4 degrees C), inducing us to don an extra layer. At nearly 9,000 feet (2.700 meters), our favorite aspen trees were busy with their annual endeavor of turning into gold.

This year’s haphazard weather, characterized by searing heat and parching drought, made it difficult for experts to forecast the pinnacle of this avidly anticipated autumn spectacle. And while a fraction of the trees was still green and another had already shed its leaves, plenty of aspens were in the midst of their miraculous transformation, delighting us not only with cheering sunshine hues, but also with a euphonious symphony of rustling foliage, in addition to a pleasing choreography of pirouetting leaves on their way to converting into a crunchy, crispy carpet. The sky, after being obscured by haze from wildfires repeatedly in the preceding months, was nearly as blue as is its wont, and the sun raised the temperature to a very-comfortable-at-this-altitude 60 degrees (15 C) .

Enchanted with what we found, we scrapped our plans to return to Colorado Springs via a loop road, which, on account of being gravel, would have taken us many hours to drive. Instead, we hiked a nearly 7-mile loop that undulated through expansive meadows, scattered strands of trees, and dense forests. We took our time enjoying the vistas and the balminess of the sun’s rays, but also the intermittent breezes hinting at harsher times to come. Next to a verdant pond in an otherwise desiccated meadow we sat cross-legged and savored our lunch, with squirrels chattering and birds calling.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Ending the afternoon at a picnic table with coffee and pumpkin muffins, we were accosted by the curious, always-hungry, and at-times-brazen avians aptly known as camp robbers—the irresistible Canada Jays. When the crumbs that drop from visitors’ picnics aren’t sufficiently sating, they will help themselves to whatever edibles aren’t nailed down.

As the westering sun dappled the light, warmed our aging bones, and made us appreciate the simple pleasures of the moment, from high in the sky came a vociferous reminder of the passing of the seasons. Craning our necks, we espied a flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes on their way south. In tandem with our earlier experiences, they uplifted our souls with another token of nature’s comforting, recurring cycles in otherwise disturbing, unsettled times.

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

PS: Thanks to my husband for coming up with this post’s title. It was inspired by author Mari Sandoz, whose books include descriptive names for the different months used by Indigenous tribes she wrote about. I have introduced her in a previous post.

PPS: Mueller State Park was also the topic of another previous post.

Flight 2020

Butterflies fly. As does time. Of these truths I was reminded when I realized that three years have lapsed since I first experienced a winged local late summer tradition. Contrary to countless canceled conventions worldwide, the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs’ annual gathering of famous lepidoptera was able to take place in 2020.

Some of you might remember my 2017 post Butterfly Fever, which celebrated the “Flight” event’s 10th anniversary. After having missed it in the intervening two years, earlier in September, on the lawn of Alamo Square Park which surrounds my favorite museum I recently introduced to you, I once again happily witnessed the delightful landing of 26 butterflies as well as dragonflies, which have also been part of the display since 2018.

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

The artists selected by jury receive as their canvases empty metal insect shapes which they transform according to their fancy into creatures ranging from the slightly odd to the sublime. After being on display for nearly one month, they are sold in an art auction, whose proceeds “ensure children receive essential arts and science programs and also for community service projects throughout our city.”

Time and the fanciful insects have, indeed, flown, as this year’s virtual auction was held on September 26. The revenue will support worthy causes, and the generous patrons will be blessed with whimsical wings in their homes or gardens.

PS: The featured photo at the very top is “Flight of the Gods” by Diane Feller.

PPS: Dimensions of the artwork

Petite butterflies (not part of the al fresco exhibit) 7 x 9 inches

Medium butterflies 34 x 45 inches

Large butterflies 45 x 62 inches

Dragonflies 35 x 40 inches

Weather Whiplash

As it turns out, “April, April” isn’t the only month that “does what it will” (click on this link to one of my previous posts). A record high of 97 ⁰ F (36 ⁰ C) for Colorado Springs on Sunday, September 6 was followed by a slightly cooler, smoke-filled Monday from fires that are devastating what seems like the entire American West. A cold front that blew in from Canada Monday evening helped disperse the smoke, but temperatures by Tuesday had plummeted 50 to 60 ⁰ F (10 to 15 ⁰ C). In the course of the day it started to snow, and the following morning the region awoke to 4 to 12 inches of fluffy snow. The moisture from this precipitation was this storm’s only redeeming aspect, as it helped control some of the forest fires and lessen—if only minimally—our drought. Clouds, fog, and mist permeated our skies until Friday, an unusual occurrence in and by itself in this “City of Sunshine.” By the weekend, the thermometer had climbed back into the 80s.

With people dying or losing their homes to wildfires, hurricanes, or other disasters I’m not complaining about the erratic weather with regard to myself. But I’m saddened by the sudden death these abrupt changes portend for some flora and fauna. Plants, even though their blooming cycles will come to a premature halt, might have the ability to recover. Not so some critters. Reports and personal observations of exhausted, dying, or dead birds were the most heartbreaking news that resulted from this wintry interlude. Migratory insectivorous birds on their way south had to rest, and instead of finding essential fuel to power them through their hundred- if not thousand-mile-journey, were trapped, with too many hungry mouths to feed and too little sustenance. A sense of desperation prevailed among their last-ditch efforts not to starve. Masses of exhausted birds along the side of the road were covered by snow plows and perished. News of a similar nature continued to pour in, but I couldn’t keep reading them. Instead, I kept refilling the bird feeders in our yard and watched as tiny hummingbirds parked themselves near the nectar-holders to get them through another cold day.

I know this is not a positive post, but I don’t feel positive. Extreme weather events on this earth are only predicted to worsen. Unless we mend our ways, which we don’t. Not really. A few half-hearted assertions here and there, some wishy-washy legislation that is circumvented for a million spurious pretexts. We are a short-sighted species with little regard to what happens beyond our collective umbilical view. The saddest things about our destructive ways is that we are taking countless other creatures down with us.

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

Exhausted Bank Swallow.

As I don’t think there is anything to “like” in this post, I have disabled the like button.

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

Life at the Cemetery

Cemeteries throughout history have been called cities of the dead (necropolis), but one of the reasons I like to spend time in them while still moving and breathing is related to the fact that they abound with life.

As stated before, graveyards tend to be verdant oases that provide habitat for many animals, and Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs is no exception. I don’t want to belittle the sadness, sorrow, and longing we feel when we pay respect at the final resting places of our loved ones, but, at the same time, it’s a solace to be surrounded by signs that speak to us of aliveness.

The cycles of the seasons are echoed by the changing vegetation. Am I alone in finding consolation in the notion that my grave will, in turns, be covered with a soft blanket of snow in winter, a fragrant carpet of petals in spring, lush meadows in summer, and desiccating, crunchy leaves in autumn? That my limbs might grow into those of a tree and that those tree limbs will provide shelter and sustenance to countless creatures? That rabbits and deer will munch on the grasses I sprout and squirrels will play hide and seek in the canopy above me? That migratory birds will find rest and rations to fuel their journey? That the wind will whistle and the birds will serenade my eternal slumber?

Again, I harbor no death wish, but to know that our bodies are part of an intricate cycle and will be recycled into new life and energy might be a source of comfort. Mind you, I speak of our mortal shells only. What happens to our souls we have endeavored to comprehend ever since we have been endowed with the capacity for complex thought, but the mystery will remain until we find out—or not.

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