Highway Of Miracles

It doesn’t take much for my equanimity to be disturbed, sad to say. During my return from a birding trip to New Mexico in late April, where I had been caught unawares when the thermometer climbed above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), I was taken equally by surprise by a gathering bank of clouds that eventually spanned the entire firmament from Albuquerque to the state line, before it released squalls of rain and billowing clouds of fog. Associated gusts of wind and an unpropitious weather forecast for the coming night made me choose a motel in southern Colorado over a cold, wet night in the tent. Big mistake!

After a week of camping, I underestimated the horror of replacing a billowy tent with an enclosed room, a constant flow of fresh air with sealed windows, the nocturnal hooting of owls with the constant drone of trucks on the nearby interstate, my firm sleeping pad with an overly soft mattress. I tossed and turned during each expensive hour and could not wait to hit the road again by 6 AM.

I was still squabbling with myself for having overpaid for my uninviting accommodations, and berating myself for being a fair-weather camper, not quite sure how to get over myself. Leave it to southern Colorado’s Highway Of Legends to put me to shame, and pull me out of my foul, sleep-deprived mood by gently but insistently reminding me of nature’s beauty and grace, in a way that even my curmudgeonly self could not ignore.

Early into the 82 mile (132 kilometer) route between the towns of Trinidad and Walsenburg, one of the West’s most striking woodpeckers, a Lewis’s, which I had not seen in ages, clang to a utility pole right next to the road, but my brain registered its presence only after I had already passed it. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars. I engaged the brakes, shifted into reverse, then pulled over to take a few photos, unable to prevent a smile.

Not long after my woodpecker surprise, complemented by additional animal appearances, I happened upon a herd of at least 100 elk crossing the highway. Seemingly without effort, they leapt across the fences that lined both sides of the road. Most of them threw me wary glances while they kept trotting, but one bull stopped to show himself in his regal stance. I alone witnessed their move from a wintry meadow to one clad in vernal apparel.

My rainy day in New Mexico had translated into a brief burst of winter in this part of Colorado, as I experienced mile after scenic mile on my way to Cuchara Pass at nearly 10,000 feet (3000 meters). By then, my real or imagined grievances were forgotten and I realized that the timing of the day’s encounters only worked out because of where and when I had started out that morning. I was entirely enchanted and utterly happy to be present right there and then, on my Highway of Miracles.

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I will take a break from blogging for at least three weeks as I will be traveling abroad. My apologies if I won’t get around to reading and liking your posts. Thank you for your understanding and Happy May to all of us!

Earth Still Spins

Some destinations exert a magnetic force, compelling us to return time and again. New Mexico’s Villanueva State Park is one such destination for me. Reachable only by a little-traveled county road, it is situated at the end of a fertile valley first frequented by Paleo-Indians and farmed in more recent centuries by Hispanic settlers, with water provided gratis by an early stretch of Pecos River, between its origin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its eventual destiny in Texas—the mighty Rio Grande.

During my most recent visit in late April, not only do I travel a distance of nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) south, I also journey into a more advanced stage of spring, with budding or blossoming trees and shrubs, a few blooming wildflowers, and pleasing temperatures, conducive to sleeping in a tent. The park’s campground is hemmed in by towering walls of sandstone carved by the stream and clad with the juniper-pinyon community typical of vast expanses of the arid Southwest. Rocky trails lead to various overlooks with views that touch infinity. The rushing river, swelled by snowmelt in the highlands, provides constant background music, to which resident and early migratory birds add their joyful voices.

It is a place permeated by a sense of timelessness, even though I am swept up in its daily arc far more than at home: Up and down with the sun, active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with decreased activity during the heat of the day, like many fellow critters. The more egregious and topsy-turvy the man-made world, the more I long to be reassured that the earth is still spinning around its axis, that flora and fauna still follow their age-old rhythms. We would do well to heed Mother Nature’s mostly patient and persistent, but recently more urgent, pointers that to ignore those rhythms is to do so at our peril and to our detriment.

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More Mural Magic-Part 1

I have come across such a profusion of murals this past year, I will dedicate an occasional post to them. Each will be introduced by the featured photo above, which also depicts a mural from a local coffee shop, and offers an interpretation of the Colorado State flag, shown here:

Im vergangenen Jahr bin ich einer solchen Vielzahl an Wandmalereien begegnet, daß ich ihnen von Zeit zu Zeit einen Beitrag widmen werde. Ich werde jeden mit dem obigen Bild einleiten, das übrigens auch ein Gemälde von der Außenwand einer hiesigen Kaffeestube darstellt, und die Flagge Colorados interpretiert, die hier gezeigt wird:

The two horizontal blue bars represent Colorado’s blue sky, the white bar its many snowcapped mountains. The red “C” stands for our state’s ruddy soil, and the central golden globe for our many days of sunshine, averaging more than 300/year.

Die zwei blauen horizontalen Balken repräsentieren Colorados blauen Himmel, der weiße die schneebedeckten Berge. Das rote „C“ steht für die rote Erde unseres Staates, die goldene Kugel in seinem Zentrum für unsere vielen Sonnentage, im Durchschnitt über 300 Tage/Jahr.

Today’s post celebrates Colorado’s fauna, ranging from definitely extinct to nearly extinct. While humankind can’t be blamed for the disappearance of dinosaurs, we do carry the burden of nearly having eradicated the American bison. Fortunately, the species could be saved, but others were not so fortunate. The responsibility to protect and preserve animals and their habitats rests on our shoulders. For their sakes, and ours, may they continue to thrive, so that we can admire them in their natural surroundings, and not simply in zoos, or murals, for that matter.

Der heutige Beitrag feiert Colorados Fauna, inklusive ausgestorbener und einst bedrohter Arten. Obwohl die Menschheit nicht für das Verschwinden der Dinosaurier verantwortlich ist, tragen wir die Bürde, die nordamerikanischen Büffel fast ausgerottet zu haben. Glücklicherweise konnten sie gerettet werden, doch andere hatten weniger Glück. Die Verantwortung, Tiere sowie ihren Lebensraum zu schützen ruht auf unseren Schultern. Hoffen wir, daß sie weiterhin gedeihen, um ihret- und  unsertwillen, so daß wir sie nicht nur in Zoos oder Wandgemälden bewundern können, sondern in freier Wildbahn.

Time To Say Goodbye

…to our winter waterfowl. Most overwintering species have taken off in the last several weeks for their breeding grounds in more northern latitudes, even though a few stragglers are still lingering, and some will not leave at all.

Es ist an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen zu unseren Winterwassergästen zu sagen. Die meisten hier überwinternden Entenarten haben sich in den vergangenen Wochen in nördlichere Gefilde zu ihren Brutstätten aufgemacht, obwohl einige noch hinterherhinken, und manche uns überhaupt nicht verlassen werden.

Time not only to say goodbye, but thank you. When many birds fly south and leave a gaping void in autumn, this void is filled, at least partly, by the arrival of an assortment of ducks, whose presence brightens the short, dark days of my least favorite season.

Es ist nicht nur an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen zu sagen, sondern auch Dankeschön. Denn wenn viele unserer Vögel im Herbst gen Süden fliegen, und eine gähnende Leere hinterlassen, wird diese Leere wenigstens teilweise von einer Auswahl an Enten gefüllt, deren Präsenz die kurzen, dunklen Tage meiner unbeliebtesten Jahreszeit erhellen.

I will not provide details about life cycles or migratory routes of the individuals presented here, which are available in any printed or online birding guide, other than to say that most ducks who spend the winter here, arrive between September and November, and leave again between February and April, when they point their beaks north, some as far north as the Canadian or Alaskan Arctic, where they will mate, incubate their eggs, and care for their young.

Ich beschränke mich auf wenige Details der Lebenszyklen und Wanderrouten der hier vorgestellten Individuen, die in jedem gedruckten oder computerbasierten Vogelführer zu finden sind. Die meisten Entenvögel, die hier den Winter verbringen, kommen zwischen September und November an, und verlassen uns zwischen Februar und April. Dann richten sie ihre Schnäbel gen Norden, teilweise bis ins arktische Kanada oder Alaska, wo sie sich paaren, ihre Gelege hüten, und ihren Nachwuchs aufziehen.

Without having conducted any scientific research or consulted any statistical data, my impression is that Mallards are the most common ducks not only in El Paso County, but possibly in the country. They are year-round residents, but I include them in my review because the males’ conspicuous colors and the females’ conspicuous quacks are a joy to behold any time of the year.

Ohne wissenschaftliche Studien betrieben oder statistische Tabellen konsultiert zu haben, sind Stockenten wahrscheinlich die häufigsten Enten nicht nur hier im Bezirk, sondern im ganzen Land. Sie gehören zu unseren Standvögeln, aber ich erwähne sie trotzdem, weil die bunten Farben des Erpels und das auffällige Quaken seiner Dame zu jeglicher Jahreszeit Freude bereiten.

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

 Gadwall might be the least distinctive of all our ducks, but I like their understated style.

Schnatterenten zählen vielleicht zu den unauffälligsten Enten, aber mir gefällt ihr dezenter Stil.

American Wigeons always put me in a good mood. The males have a gorgeous green eye patch and white crown, a feature responsible for their old name, “baldpate.” Their whistling calls enliven any winter lake.

Nordamerikanische Pfeifenten machen immer gute Laune. Die Männchen haben einen großartigen grünen Augenstreif und eine weiße Krone, die für ihren alten Namen, Kahlkopf, verantwortlich war. Ihr Pfeifen belebt jeden winterlichen See.

Any bird with a head this color will automatically become a favorite: Meet the Redhead.

Jeglicher Vogel mit einer solchen Kopffärbung ist automatisch beliebt. Darf ich vorstellen: Die Rotkopfente.

Canvasbacks resemble Redheads, but note the different shape of the head. I think they look particularly graceful.

Riesentafelenten ähneln Rotkopfenten, doch ist die Kopfform unterschiedlich. Ich finde sie besonders graziös.

Ruddy Ducks are only ruddy during the breeding season when the male is nearly red (see first photo) with a blue beak (see second photo).

Schwarzkopf-Ruderenten sind nur während der Brutsaison rot (siehe erstes Photo), und das Männchen bekommt einen blauen Schnabel (siehe zweites Photo).

Lesser Scaup are quite common and can be confused with their cousin, Greater Scaup. I have trouble telling them apart. I think these are Lesser Scaup. 🙂

Kleine Bergenten sind häufig zu sehen und können mit (Großen) Bergenten verwechselt werden. Ich glaube, hier handelt es sich um kleine. 🙂

Ring-necked Ducks are similarly patterned as Lesser Scaup, but notice the white vertical crescent along the flank of the male. They should really be called Ring-billed Ducks, as the ring around the neck can only be seen when the bird is dead, and the ring around the beak when the bird is alive.

Halsringenten ähneln kleinen Bergenten, aber die Männchen haben einen weißen vertikalen Halbmond an der Flanke. Ringschnabelente wäre eine bessere Bezeichnung, denn der Ring am Hals ist nur an toten Enten zu sehen, doch der Ring am Schnabel, an lebendigen.

Common Goldeneye do their name justice.

Schellenten machen ihrem Namen im Englischen Ehre (Goldaugen). Ich weiß nicht, worauf sich der deutsche Name bezieht. 

Bufflehead are so called because the massive bulbous head of the male reminded someone of buffalo. They are great divers and seem to spend more time under the water than on top.

Büffelkopfenten erinnerten die ersten Beschreiber an Büffel. Sie sind gute Taucher und scheinen mehr Zeit unter Wasser zu verbringen als obendrauf.

Common Mergansers are anything but common. The classy appearance of the three males gliding through the featured photo above, as well as the females’ headdress should convince you, too.

Gänsesäger sind bemerkenswert, wie die klassischen Klamotten der Herren ganz oben im Bild und der fantastische Kopfputz der Damen beweisen.

Hooded Mergansers also wear great hairdos and are a beautiful adornment to any body of water.

Auch Kappensäger haben faszinierende Frisuren und sind Zierde eines jeglichen Gewässers.

Green-winged Teals are our smallest ducks, but this can only be appreciated when seen next to other waterfowl.

Amerikanische Krickenten sind unsere kleinsten Enten, aber das sieht man eigentlich nur im Vergleich mit anderen Wasservögeln.

Northern Pintails are elegance personified. Enough said.

Spießenten sind von erlesener Eleganz. Mehr ist dazu nicht zu sagen.

Last, but not least, Northern Shovelers. The size of their bills is astounding. They often go round and round in circles while dabbling in the water, which has led me to call them the “Whirling Dervishes.”

Zu guter Letzt: Löffelenten. Ihre Schnäbel sind frappant. Sie drehen sich so oft im Kreis während sie gründeln, daß ich sie tanzende Derwische getauft habe.

Spring migration, while it promises the arrival of those feathered friends that left us last fall, also means the departure of our darling ducks. It’s time not only to say goodbye and thank you, but also good luck. Good luck with all the challenges that await you. I hope with all my heart to welcome you and your offspring again later this year.

Auch wenn der Frühjahrszug die Ankunft der gefiederten Freunde verheißt, die uns vergangenen Herbst verlassen haben, bedeutet er auch die Abreise unserer entzückenden Enten. Es ist nicht nur an der Zeit, auf Wiedersehen und Dankeschön zu sagen, sondern auch viel Glück. Viel Glück mit all den Herausforderungen, die auf Euch warten. Ich hoffe von ganzem Herzen, Euch und Euren Nachwuchs später im Jahr wieder willkommen zu heißen.

Glassy Surprises

Colorado Springs‘ Fine Arts Center had long been on my „must see“ list, and when it offered free visitation in March, I finally filled this glaring gap in my education. I wanted to explore at least two exhibits, one permanent, the other temporary, but otherwise had no preconceived notions. Incidentally, the museum will celebrate its centenary throughout this year, having originated as the Broadmoor Arts Academy in 1919.

Immediately upon entering the lobby, my attention was riveted by the Medusa-like light fixture featured above, but the title Chihuly Chandelier didn’t mean anything to me. Later, when I strolled into a darkened gallery highlighted and illuminated by an array of additional glass art, I learned about world-renowned (where have I been?) American glass artist, Dale Chihuly (born 1941), whose designs have dazzled viewers everywhere. They certainly dazzled me, and I became an instant fan. Additional research revealed that a 1976 accident resulted in blindness in the artist’s left eye. The associated loss of depth perception and a subsequent shoulder dislocation both affected his ability to blow glass, and forced him to limit himself to designing, rather than fashioning his art. According to a quote on Wikipedia, Chihuly describes his role as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

The Persian Wall Installation was arranged by the artist in 2006 and emulates some of the oldest surviving ancient glasswork from the Persian Empire of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Concentric circles in contrasting colors captivate and charm.

Macchias are glass bowls characterized by spots (macchia is Italian for spot, from Latin macula). Countless color combinations make each one of these calyx-like structures unique, and assorted varieties resting on pedestals form so-called macchia forests.

The focal point of the room was the Orange Hornet Chandelier, composed of 384 pieces, which add up to a weight of 1200 pounds. In addition to hornets, it reminded me of ristras (from Latin restis, for rope or cord), decorative strings of red chili peppers popular in the American Southwest. The ponderous taper, first installed in Venice in 1993 as a smaller incarnation, had additional elements added specifically for the Fine Arts Center, to commemorate its 2007 reopening after a major expansion.

For the same occasion, the museum’s café was adorned with a third luster, the Gilded Blue Sapphire Chandelier, a cerulean dream with golden touches.

My outing reminded me that chance meetings are often the best. Encountering Chihuly’s creations was a wonderful surprise, and in this instance my ignorance was indeed my bliss.

Thus Endeth March

I should be accustomed to Colorado’s idiosyncratic climate by now, but it still takes me by surprise. The last week of March was a case in point. Maybe the month had lost track of time, or wanted to prove that it, too, can be as moody as changeling April. Monday started mild, with seasonal temperatures and friendly weather, but by Thursday, we approached near record-breaking 70 + degrees Fahrenheit and a risk of prairie fires in parts of the state because of associated winds. While most of us gratefully swiveled our faces toward the warm sun like the blossoms of the few blooming flowers, we were forewarned to gird ourselves against the vicissitudes of the season.

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Sure enough, Friday brought clouds and a chill, driving everybody back indoors. A thunderclap announced more impending changes. Small (thank goodness) kernels of hail, and a tornado that touched down about 25 miles east of here, were the first harbingers of unsettled spring conditions, but were followed by a reminder that winter is not yet willing to give up its rule entirely, when a few hours later, wet, heavy flakes dropped from a low, gray sky. Frosty Saturday did not bring a single glimpse of the sun. On Sunday, the last day of March, it managed to burn a window into the clouds for a few hours, before a somber veil was once again pulled across the sky, which released intermittent squalls of snow.

Is it any wonder that one’s emotions follow the ups and downs of this meteorologic roller-coaster ride? Spring at the fringe of the Rocky Mountains seems a long time coming. Nightly frosts retard the growth of plants, and winter’s desiccated vegetation still dominates the scenery. There are hopeful hues of greening grass, and the hyacinths and daffodils in front of the house have unfurled their pretty petals—only to have their noses bitten by frost, as is the case each year. The wildflowers know better, and are not fooled by wrong promises.

Spring migration, always a balm for the soul, has not yet fully started. Each new avian arrival is greeted with a happy heart, but the number of new birds does not yet equal or surpass that of the birds that have left us, or soon will leave us, for their summer breeding grounds.

This transitional time is a time for sad goodbyes and impatient restlessness, but also for hopeful expectations and cautious optimism. Hope springs eternal.

Moving toward spring?/Dem Frühling entgegen?

Castle Of The Plains

My recent journey to southeast Colorado revived memories of earlier stopovers at one of the region’s legendary landmarks: Bent’s Old Fort. Also known by the evocative title above, this National Historic Site is unusual, in that the National Park Service reconstructed the original building from scratch, thanks to detailed descriptions, drawings, and diary entries of erstwhile visitors, first and foremost the meticulous sketches of Lieutenant James W. Abert, a topographical engineer, who stayed there twice in the 1840s.

Mein Ausflug in den Südosten Colorados vor kurzem erinnerte mich an vorherige Besuche eines der bekanntesten regionalen Wahrzeichen, Bent’s Old Fort (Bents altes Fort), das auch als Schloß der Prärie bekannt ist. Dieses Denkmal ist ungewöhnlich, weil es von der Verwaltung der amerikanischen Nationalparks auf historischer Grundlage wieder aufgebaut wurde, was durch detaillierte Beschreibungen, Zeichnungen und Tagebuchaufzeichnungen ermöglicht wurde, insbesonde diejenigen von Leutnant James W. Abert, der sich in den 1840er Jahren zweimal dort aufhielt.

Built in 1833 under the direction of brothers William and Charles Bent, and their friend, Ceran St. Vrain, near the present-day town of La Junta, the fortification became the major hub of commerce along the 844 mile Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, which connected Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. A multi-cultural and multi-national nexus, it embodied a model of peaceful, if short-lived, coexistence between American Indians, Hispanics, and Europeans. Beset by disease and declining economic fortunes as a result of diminishing trade in beaver pelts and buffalo hides, the fort was abandoned, before it perished in a conflagration in 1849, likely the work of William Bent himself, after his offer to sell it to the US Army was declined. He subsequently operated a trading post forty miles east, which became known as Bent’s New Fort.

Das Fort wurde 1833 unter der Leitung der Brüder William und Charles Bent sowohl ihres Freundes Ceran St. Vrain nahe der heutigen Stadt La Junta errichtet, und diente als Haupthandelszentrum entlang der etwa 1360 Kilometer langen Bergroute des bekannten Santa Fe Trails, der die Stadt Independence in Missouri mit Sante Fe in Neu Mexiko verband. Es repräsentierte einen multinationalen und –kulturellen Schnittpunkt, und ein Modell friedlicher Koexistenz zwischen Indianern, Mexikanern und Europäern, wenn auch nur auf kurze Zeit. Von Seuchen und sinkenden Umsätzen geplagt, was hauptsächlich auf das zurückgehende Gewerbe mit Biberpelzen und Büffelfellen zurückzuführen war, wurde die Festung  aufgegeben und fiel 1849 einer Feuersbrunst anheim, die wahrscheinlich das Werk von William Bent persönlich war, nachdem sein Angebot, das Fort an die US Armee zu verkaufen, abgelehnt wurde. Danach eröffnete er 65 Kilometer weiter östlich einen weiteren Handelsposten, der als Bents neues Fort bekannt wurde.

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The once bustling center of Bent’s Old Fort was reclaimed by prairie for more than a century, until the structure was resurrected in 1976. Its attractive adobe attire is well-suited for an area that offers limited timber and abundant soil, is furnatially hot in summer, and teeth-chatteringly cold in winter. In exploring this eye-catching edifice and environs, where history comes alive during various annual reenactments, one gains an inkling of what it might have meant for weary travelers to reach this welcoming haven on the mighty Arkansas River. For a short while, it offered water, food, rest, and refuge from the dusty, dangerous wagon tracks, before it was time to resume the perilous, protracted journey.

Die Prärie verleibte sich das einst geschäftige Zentrum von Bents altem Fort über ein Jahrhundert lang ein, bis das Bauwerk 1976 neu errichtet wurde. Sein attraktives Adobegewand ist für diese Gegend gut geeignet, die sich durch niedrige Baumbestände und reichhaltige Böden sowie durch backofenheiße Sommer und zähneklapperndkalte Winter auszeichnet. Beim Erforschen dieses ins Auge springenden Gebäudes und seiner Umgebung, wo Geschichte mehrmals jährlich duch historische Nachstellungen lebendig wird, bekommt man/frau eine kleine Ahnung dessen, was es für müde Reisende bedeutet haben könnte, diese einladende Oase entlang des mächtigen Arkansas Flusses zu erreichen. Für eine kurze Weile gab es Wasser, Proviant, Erholung und Sicherheit von der staubigen Wegstrecke, bevor es mit der gefährlichen und langwierigen Reise im Planwagen weiterging.