Painter of the Desert

     Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) first lay eyes on the “Land of Enchantment” in 1929 at the age of 41. It cast a spell on her that nothing but death could break – if that: “When I think of death, I only regret that I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore, unless the Indians are right and my spirit will walk here after I’m gone.”

One of the colorful rock formations near her adoptive home

     Whenever her tumultuous marriage to noted photographer and art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, and her blossoming career in New York City as America’s foremost abstract painter allowed, she escaped to the remote reaches of New Mexico’s little known and less developed desertscapes. Like many artists, she came at the behest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, legendary Taos patroness of the arts. Unlike many, she kept returning, and after her husband’s death in 1946, relocated there permanently. She possessed a house-cum-studio in the town of Abiquiú as well as a small parcel of land and cabin on the Ghost Ranch, located 14 miles farther west. Privately owned until 1955, the ranch has since been administered by the Presbyterian Church as a spiritual retreat center, and continues to profit from its lengthy association with the painter who kept returning as long as her health permitted.

Her house and studio in Abiquiú, built in the widespread adobe style

Entrance to the Ghost Ranch off US Highway 84

     Away from throngs and distractions, Georgia O’Keeffe, often portrayed as a recluse, was able to forget the noise of the East Coast, drink deeply of the silence, partake of the colors, shapes and silhouettes of a sere, stark land, and capture its soul on canvas like few artists before or since. When exploring this region and sensing its heartbeat today, it is easy to relate to the urge to evoke its essence through brush – or pen. We saw O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiú only from the outside (tours are offered, but must be prescheduled), and tread only on portions of the Ghost Ranch property open to the public which did not include her refuge, but everywhere we encountered motifs she immortalized.

The mountain Cerro Pedernal, one of her favorite motifs, seen from the Ghost Ranch

     Our visit coincided with a string of astonishingly auspicious autumn days during which we eagerly absorbed the sun’s warming rays like the local lizards. The color of cottonwood trees lining the rare but vital waterways set the desert ablaze, while competing with a riot of multi-hued rocks.

Rio Chama near Abiquiú

For eight nights in a row, we slept in our tent without a rainfly, gazing at the same star-studded firmament and milky ribbon that Georgia would have peered at. Coyote songs serenaded our slumber, the no less moving melodies of birds our waking hours.

Sunrise near one of our campsites along the Rio Chama

     Like Georgia O’Keeffe we were fortunate to set foot on this sunbaked and sandy earth, and like her, we fell under its spell.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/malerin-der-wuste/

Butterfly Fever

     Late summer and early fall brought an invasion of the Rocky Mountain region by legions of gossamer-winged Painted Ladies. Denver weather radar detected large swarms of these lovely lepidopterans undulating across the screen in what amounted to a seventy mile band. While this is not an unusual phenomenon in eastern states, it was a novelty for Colorado. Many were the reported sightings and resulting delight shared in newspapers, on television, and numerous blogs.

     Between the end of August and the latter part of October, Colorado Springs residents and guests were also treated to a winged visitation of another kind. Thanks to the 10th annual “Flight” event organized by the Rotary Club, twenty-four handcrafted butterflies landed on the lawn of our local Pioneers Museum, where they contributed color and whimsy to an active downtown arts scene. Those steely individuals with three foot wingspans alighted on seven foot tall poles after they were fashioned by Colorado artists. They were subsequently auctioned off at a special fundraiser and the proceeds will support arts and science programs in our largest school district, besides additional worthy causes.

     One of our incredible bluebird autumn days found me at my favorite museum. I benefitted from perfect climatic conditions and clicked away with my camera. Being encircled by a cloud of enchanting, enormous creations resulted in difficulty electing favorites. Each butterfly was named and each told its own story on its ventral and dorsal surfaces, the intricacies of which were impossible to capture. My photos show a small selection of these inspired labors of love.

Transformation-The Flight of the Phoenix

Tiger Passion

Sunset Silhouette

Harmonious Dream

Huichol Wilderness

Into the Light

Beauty and the Beast

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

     When, among those immovable creatures, I perceived the quivering of so many mobile wings, delicate in detail yet sturdy enough to convey their owners to distant lands, I was both humbled and exalted to witness this magical moment.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/schmetterlingsfieber/

Horsing Around

In a post about bird banding a few weeks back, I mentioned Chico Basin Ranch, an active, environmentally-friendly cattle operation. Next to cows, the ranch offers a home to horses, so for me, each birding expedition turns into a horsing expedition as well. Despite having left my teenage riding days (far) behind, I have not done the same with my admiration for equine quadrupeds, resulting in an utter inability to bypass them without activating my camera.

As some of you might remember, earlier this year I had the unforgettable opportunity to spend 24 Hours Among Wild Horses. While the horses at Chico are not wild in that sense, they appear to live rather freely, at least during the summer, getting to roam and graze the meadows adjacent to Headquarter Pond, with Pikes Peak looming in the West, and the Great Plains stretching to the East. A good place to spend one’s days.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/11/02/pferdenarrisch/

The Splendor of a Rainy Day

     We Coloradans are spoiled by living in a state that claims at least 300 sunny days per calendar year. Colorado Springs has benefited from this natural phenomenon since its founding in 1871, even calling itself “City of Sunshine”, to better attract tourists and health-seekers. For sufferers of consumption, a change in climate was frequently a desperate attempt to cure this age-old scourge of humanity. Before its cause was known, and before the discovery and development of effective antibiotics in the 1940s, treatment consisted of a multi-pronged approach, with exposure to fresh air and sunshine being one of its mainstays.

     Though most visitors and residents no longer arrive in Colorado Springs for health reasons, all still revel in our Columbine-colored skies, and the mood-enhancing effects of solar rays (their known potential for adverse health-effects notwithstanding). Originating from Germany, I was accustomed to extended episodes of gray and gloomy conditions, but it did not take long to convert me to the pleasures associated with a helio-dominated climate. But even in this sun-kissed region, the sun’s smiley face is concealed periodically. We might even forget that the Rocky Mountains rise directly in front of our doorsteps, when banks of mist and fog shroud our local fourteener, Pikes Peak, and its lesser but no less attractive neighbors.

     During one such beclouded stretch in early autumn, I stroll through one of my favorite local refuges, Fountain Creek Regional Park, also the focus of several previous posts (Monarchs and Milkweed, An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park, and Summer Sorrow). An alteration in weather is commonly paralleled by an alteration in animal activity, apparent as soon as I approach the Nature Center. A gobble of fourteen Wild Turkeys greets me from the meadow adjacent to the parking lot. They don’t flee as is their wont and, more remarkably, still roam the same vicinity two hours later, when I complete my loop.

The lower than usual sky seems to slow down pace and movement of all life. Whereas color and contrast diminish noticeably, many structures and textures are highlighted and brought into sharper focus, drawing my eyes to details I might otherwise overlook.

     I am grateful for the brightness and warmth that spoil us regularly, but instead of bemoaning the occasional sun-deprived period, I try to embrace it, resting assured in the knowledge that luminous and brilliant days will, once again, follow.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/der-glanz-eines-verregneten-tages/

A Silver Ring

To observe birds in their natural setting is one of my favorite pastimes. Binoculars are generally indispensable to properly identify a species from a distance, because most will not tolerate being encroached upon. Seeing wild birds from close-up is a rare privilege. Banding stations offer such views. One I am familiar with and have visited repeatedly is located not too far from Colorado Springs at Chico Basin Ranch, in the eastern reaches of El Paso County.

In addition to being an environmentally-conscious, conservation-oriented, active cattle ranch, Chico Basin is the number one birding hotspot in El Paso County as its terrain lies along a migratory route. For that reason, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, under the auspices of the US Department of the Interior, organizes a four-week banding event staffed by master banders each spring and fall. Nets are erected in densely vegetated areas, and avians that get entangled in the fine mesh are carefully extracted. To keep them calm and protected until their evaluation, they are enclosed in hand-sewn cotton bags corresponding to their various sizes, and hung on a numbered rack according to the nets where they were found.

Chico Basin Ranch Banding Station, with seating for school classes and other interested observers

When it is the bird’s turn, it is pored over painstakingly. Its feathers are examined, fat stores assessed, wingspan and tail length measured. Age and sex is determined with the help of additional parameters, such as state of plumage, degree of skull ossification, and stage of molting. When a captive’s identity is still uncertain, beak and other, more arcane measurements are in order. Banding stations are repositories of the tools of the trade, and of relevant ornithological literature. A copy of the Bible of banders, Peter Pyle’s Identification of North American Birds is mandatory, as is the tabular version which enumerates numerous pertinent details about distinguishing features of each species. Nobody knows everything, but every bander knows where to look up information. And fast, to limit the amount of handling time and stress.

A light, numbered aluminum band, that does not interfere with flight, is then selected from a neatly organized tackle box, and fastened to one leg, based on that extremity’s thickness. Experienced banders know which diameter to choose, but a nifty gauge, or one of many lists can assist in the selection. Its unique serial number allows tracking of avian movements over vast distances. Recapture at the site of original banding to which individuals may return during future migrations occurs not infrequently. I was surprised to learn that the likelihood is only 1 in 10,000 in a different location. Very recently, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology published an online article about a Yellow Warbler being banded in northern Colombia, before it was re-captured in New York State 2 months and 2300 miles later, no small sensation.

The final step consists of establishing the bird’s weight by placing it head first in a tube large enough to hold it, while immobilizing it sufficiently to prevent injuries. That accomplished, it either wriggles out on its own once the cylinder is held horizontally, or, more typically, the bander extricates it, cups it between two hands, then slowly lifts the uppermost. After this ordeal, the feathered creatures fly off into the adjacent trees, a few immediately, others following a moment of reorientation.

The Yellow-breasted Chat from the photo above is being weighed

While all this measuring is going on, the information needs to be recorded as well.

The differing reactions to their capture are equally fascinating. Some individuals seem silent and subdued, others anxious and agitated. A few appear utterly indignant at their confinement and express their displeasure vocally and voluminously.

White-eyed Vireo, a rare visitor in El Paso County

Spotted Towhees occur more frequently

Blue Jays are among the most vocal captives…

…as are Brown Thrashers…

Raptors, like this Cooper’s Hawk, are feisty and fierce (and seldom founds in the nets)

Banders in action are reminiscent of dancers in an artfully choreographed performance. Birds, the beguiling ballerinas, are gently but assuredly lifted, repeatedly rotated, and finally released. As I watch these winged wonders vanish into the foliage, I wish them smooth sailing. May they gain enough weight during their layover to carry them securely to their wintering grounds, find sufficient habitat and nourishment there, and bless us with their presence again come spring.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/ein-silberner-ring/

A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak

To be called a “Bloomer Girl” was not a compliment in polite society. According to Victorian mores, proper clothing for proper women equaled an ankle-length skirt, regardless of its impracticality for many activities. “Bloomer Girls” donned dresses that reached slightly below the knee and were worn over a pair of billowing, loose-fitting pantaloons – a scandal. Even though she did not design the outfit, it was named after Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894), one of the early proponents of women’s suffrage, and an advocate for dress reform. Women who donned these progressive garments protested society’s arbitrary norms and typically supported the early feminist organizations and their goals of equality, and the right to vote.

“Reform Dress” or “Bloomer”. Illustration from A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak.

The title of this post originates from a book I recently discovered. Published by the Denver Library District in 1949, The Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak refers to Julia Anna Archibald Holmes (1838-1887). Born in Canada, she moved to Massachusetts at age 10, and to Kansas in the mid-1850s, where her abolitionist family was part of the movement that settled the state to prevent it from becoming pro-slavery. They helped found the town of Lawrence where she met James Holmes, a fellow abolitionist, and, furthermore, a member of John Brown’s Free State Rangers. Julia married him in the fall of 1857, when she was 18. After the discovery of gold in Colorado the following year, the couple joined the Lawrence Party in June 1858, among the earliest hopeful gold seekers. Crossing the Great Plains in covered wagons and on foot, they arrived at the base of Pike’s Peak about one month later and set up camp near the future Garden of the Gods.

Half a century earlier, in 1806, Captain Zebulon Montgomery Pike had led the first U.S. government expedition to the region acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While searching for the source of the Arkansas River, he saw and approached a tall mountain in the distance, but was prevented from its ascent by November’s inhospitable conditions. In his journal, he expressed the conviction, that “no man could have ascended to its pinnacle.” On August 5, 1858, however, Julia and her husband summited, and Julia is generally presumed to have been the first white woman to stand on top of the 14,115 foot mountain named after Pike years after his death. Ironically, she did so wearing her Bloomer dress which facilitated her journey, whereas Pike and his men were prevented not only by snow, but also by their inadequate summer uniforms.

Julia kept a journal, and even though it has been lost, letters to her family as well as articles written for women’s magazines have survived and provide insight into her adventures. They form the core of The Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak. The following are quotes from the book.

We were now fairly launched on the waving prairie. A person who has beheld neither the ocean nor the great, silent, uninhabited plains, will find it impossible to form an adequate idea of the grandeur of the scene. With the blue sky overhead, the endless variety of flowers under foot, it seemed that the ocean’s solitude had united with all the landscape beauties. (page 15)

I commenced the journey with a firm determination to learn to walk. At first I could not walk over three or four miles without feeling quite weary, but by persevering and walking as far as I could every day, my capacity increased gradually, and in the course of a few weeks I could walk ten miles in the most sultry weather without being exhausted. Believing, as I do, in the right of woman to equal privileges with man, I think that when it is in our power we should, in order to promote our own independence, at least, be willing to share the hardships which commonly fall to the lot of man. (page 20)

I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself and now I feel amply repaid for all my toil and fatigue. Nearly every one tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now, here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all. In all probability I am the first woman who has ever stood upon the summit of this mountain and gazed upon this wondrous scene, which my eyes now behold. (page 39)

Modern-day view from the summit of Pike’s Peak

When gold proved elusive, Julia and her husband moved to New Mexico for a number of years. Of their four children, two died. Julia was granted a divorce in 1870, probably as a consequence of domestic abuse and adultery. She made Washington, D.C. her permanent home where she remained active in the suffrage movement and worked for the US Government until her death at the age of 49. I have not been able to establish the cause of death. The portrait above shows Julia at about 32, when she left her husband. Does anyone else think she bears an uncanny resemblance to Julia Roberts?

“America’s Mountain” reminds me regularly of the eventful and accomplished life of “A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak”, the progressive, abolitionist, suffragist, writer, and first known female to scale its steep summit.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/eine-bloomer-frau-auf-pikes-peak/

Change

For weeks the unmistakable signs of approaching autumn have advertised the change in seasons, yet they coexist with vestiges of estival exuberance.

Still, butterflies drink deeply of the sweet nectar of friendly flowers whose vital force continues to pulsate.

Still, the sun warms the air and lights the days, though they are growing shorter. Birds wing southward to milder climes, and while one swallow does not a summer make, the absence of their multitudes signals summer’s end.

Barn swallows at the height of summer. Now they are gone.

The transformation of green foliage into hues of yellow, orange, and red, and of colorful blossoms into seed-bearing vessels is the most obvious harbinger of the earth’s ever-increasing distance from our solar orb. It is accompanied by a chill that rides on Aeolus’s wings, by leaves that tumble in his wake, and by the smell of composting vegetation on his breath.

It is a time of endings. The ending of vibrancy. The ending of the earth’s most productive period.

     A time of wistfulness.

     A time to reflect on goals unfinished.

     A time of regrets.

It is also a time of beginnings. The beginning of dormancy. The beginning of the earth’s most conservative period.

     A time of gratitude.

     A time to celebrate accomplishments.

     A time of hope.

Hope, that life will continue, that we will have another chance, that spring will once again spring.

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https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/wandel/