Ice Art

Behind us lies autumn and its attendant allure. Before us, springtime, full of new promise and novel prospects, filled with life renewed, reborn.

Despite subtle signs of spring, vernal equinox is yet to come. The hibernal months might hold more darkness than light, bring illness and even eternal sleep to dear friends and family. Bemoaned and decried, these dormant days are indispensable. No organism can exist without repose, Mother Earth included.

But the frigid season also brings beauty. It paints with a beautiful brush, colors with crystals that are clear as they fall, gleaming white as they gather, and cerulean as they crowd, thaw, refreeze.

I can even glimpse a hint of pink in this frozen waterfall

In these waning weeks of winter, I relish its brilliance while I watch it melt, drip, rearrange itself into myriad sparkling shapes; while I wait for it to return to its original state, and to continue its cyclical journey.

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 1

Renewed contact with relatives in Stuttgart in recent years has been enriching not only on a personal level, but has enabled me to combine family visits with those of natural enclaves. A few sites in particular have stolen my heart. Like a siren, they beckon me to return and like Odysseus, I am unable to resist their call. This past fall I sought them out again, following my first acquaintance the previous year.

Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) consists of three contiguous and connected parts. The Upper Schlossgarten nearest the center of the city has at its core the artificial reservoir Eckensee and is fringed by eye-catching edifices and monuments, most notably the New Palace, former residence of the kings of Württemberg. A bridge across the busy Schillerstraße near the Main Train Station leads north to the Middle Schlossgarten which merges with the Lower Schlossgarten. These two occupy a wider footprint and feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. From one end of the Schlossgarten nearest downtown to the opposite end that abuts the Neckar River in Bad Cannstatt, the distance approximates two to three miles, depending on the directness of one’s chosen route. I like to meander, but still covered it in about two hours.

One corner of the Eckensee, with adjacent Königsbau on the right, and victory column on the left

Fountain of Fate (Schicksalsbrunnen) at the Upper Palace Garden

Mute Swan, not bothered by human activity

…nor are these sleeping Mallards near its edge


Black-headed Gull, unfazed by humans

…as is the squirrel













Urban natural oases might not offer the pristineness and solitude of more remote destinations, but they are welcome refuges and serve as reminders of nature’s adaptability and tendency to thrive when afforded the slightest opportunity. Surrounded by human habitations and incessant traffic, occupied by manicured lawns and choreographed trees, bushes, and flowers, the verdant lung of Baden-Württemberg’s capital nonetheless offers a home for many wild critters, though how wild they remain through constant contact with and frequent handouts by humans remains debatable.

Pond in the Middle Palace Garden

Vast meadow in the Lower Palace Garden

Autumn splendor

…with inviting trails

The Common Moorhen was very common

…as was the Eurasian Coot







Egyptian Geese, transplants from North Africa

The handsome Graylag Goose

The even more attractive Gray Heron

Despite a near-constant current of walkers, runners, and bikers, I encountered everywhere my favorite feathered friends whose presence perfected this picturesque panorama. As my visit to Stuttgart happened late in the year, autumn’s brush had dipped deeply into pots of gold and amber and burgundy, and had applied its strokes liberally to the local flora. On a day when the sun succeeded in counteracting the cloud cover that clung to the skies during the remainder of the week, those colors carried summer’s residual heat and warmed my heart and soul.

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For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.

I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.

American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.

Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.

Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.

Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.

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A Much Celebrated Man

Not far from my childhood home in Germany’s region of Rhine Hesse, an epochal encounter sounded the final death knell of the Dark Ages: Martin Luther’s courageous, if foolhardy appearance before Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, in April 1521, at what was called the Diet of Worms. It had nothing to do with helminths, or their nourishment, but a diet referred to an assembly of all representatives of the Empire in what was then the Imperial Free City of Worms.

Luther, the Augustinian monk, who lived from 1483 until 1546, had been a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church since he affixed his 95 Theses to the church door of his diocese in Wittenberg in 1517, in which he questioned some of the basic tenets of the church, most famously indulgences. He was invited to Worms to recant his sacrilegious ideas. After he declared that he would do so only if proven wrong by the Bible, his benefactor, Prince Frederick III of Saxony, who had previously asked for a guarantee that Luther would be allowed to leave a free man, smuggled him out of town in disguise, as he feared for Luther’s life. The Edict of Worms from May 1521 proved him right, as it officially declared Luther a heretic and offered a bounty for his capture.

While Pope Leo X added insult to injury by excommunicating him, Martin Luther, secreted away at the Wartburg, did not waste any time and translated the New Testament from Ancient Greek into contemporary German in only ten weeks, in order to enable his fellow countrymen and -women to understand God’s word directly, without the interpretation of a cleric. Coincidentally, the recent introduction of moveable type by fellow German Johannes Gutenberg enabled the printing and widespread distribution of the bible, and resulted in the upheaval of the medieval world order: Reformation and the establishment of the Protestant Church ensued in the following years, leading to more turmoil and culminating in the devastating 30 Years’ War from 1618 to 1648.

Worms has long prided itself of the reformer. The famous Luther Monument erected in 1868 honors him and his preceding and fellow reformers, and I passed it often during my high school days in that city. I vaguely remember the festivities on occasion of the 500th anniversary of his birth in 1983. Last year, the city joined a number of German communities in commemorating 1517, the seminal year of the 95 Theses. It culminated in nationwide special proceedings on October 31, Reformation Day. As my stay in Germany started in the middle of November, I missed all celebrations, but I retraced some of Luther’s steps during his ten day sojourn in Worms.

As tradition has it, Luther arrived in the city through St. Martin’s Gate. The original was destroyed, but has been replaced. Modern buildings have supplanted the inn in which he spent what must have been restless nights. The site of the erstwhile episcopal palace in the shadow of the Romanesque Cathedral where Luther defied church leaders and Emperor alike by refusing to renounce his revolutionary concepts is now occupied by the beautiful park of the Museum Heylshof.

St. Martin’s Gate

Former site of the episcopal palace next to Cathedral of St. Peter

Commemorating the epochal encounter

Luther’s big shoes, a new bronze sculpture





One of the earliest, still surviving structures where sermons in Luther’s spirit were preached is St. Magnus Church. I did not make time to re-visit the former St. Andrew’s Collegiate Church which houses the local history museum and a copy of a Luther bible with his handwritten annotations. One obligatory stop during each trip to Worms is the 18th century Trinity Church at the central market place, as my paternal grandparents were joined in matrimony there. Following its near-destruction during World War II, the exterior walls were preserved, whereas the formerly Baroque interior was re-designed in a modern style. A mosaic depicting Martin Luther before Emperor Charles in 1521 graces the wall behind the organ.

St. Magnus Church

Trinity Church and Cathedral


New interior of Trinity Church

Wall mosaic









After almost an entire year of Luther festivities, a certain degree of Luther fatigue seemed to have descended upon Worms and the country, but I suspect they will recover, and conceive of another anniversary to commemorate the reformer in grand style. 2021 is not far off.

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Stratton Open Space

Near the former Stratton Park put onto the map by and named for the remarkable Winfield Scott Stratton after his death, Colorado Springs set aside precious land to preserve and protect from development. Surrounded by human habitation, Stratton Open Space was created in 1998 and represents one of nine open spaces under the city’s jurisdiction.

The 306 acre parcel in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is among my favorite spots for running, hiking, and birding. A maze of trails measuring a total of eight miles welcomes visitors on feet, paws, hooves, and wheels (though a few paths are off-limit for bikes). The relatively compact area encompasses five ecological zones: a riparian corridor and wetlands, prairie-like meadows and a scrub oak/juniper plant community, as well as a ponderosa pine/Douglas fir forest.

With the exception of rows of peaks rising in the west that are best seen from lower altitudes, the higher the vantage point, the broader the panorama. The hulk of Cheyenne Mountain dominates the south, beloved view and destination of Helen Hunt Jackson, one of my favorite historical personalities.

Cheyenne Mountain on a clear day

…and on a not so clear one…







The sonorous chimes of the Will Rogers Shrine on its flank divide each hour and might also rattle the remains of Spencer and Julie Penrose, who built the tower and chose it as their final resting place. Philanthropists and benefactors, they also founded the Broadmoor Hotel, easily visible from the park. It celebrates its centennial this year, having accommodated its first guests in 1918, and prides itself of having received a five-star Forbes rating for 57 consecutive years.

The Broadmoor Resort

Will Rogers Shrine








In the east the ever-expanding suburban space adjoins Colorado’s High Plains which eventually merge with those of our neighboring states, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Eastern sunrise

Eastern balloonrise







As pleasing as the wonderful vistas are the local flora and fauna. Each season has its charms, and even when flowering plants are absent, the dormant vegetation creates color and contrast. At the height of summer, a multi-hued carpet of wildflowers provides a feast for the eyes, and golden tapestries of sunflowers persist well into autumn.


Indian Paintbrush

Mariposa Lily

Purple Prairie Clover














Avian activity abounds year-round, but other critters can commonly be seen as well.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
















For the last two to three decades, Colorado Springs has been in the throes of rapid, unchecked urban growth. The more buildings, people and traffic, the more indispensable and treasured are oases like Stratton Open Space where, despite a degree of human management, nature still has a chance to run wild.

A Quiet Champion

Soon after the founding of Colorado Springs in 1871, a young carpenter from Indiana moved to the bourgeoning town, attracted by the prospect of gainful employment – new home construction depended on woodworking skills. Wood was his professional life, but within a few years, precious metal filled his dreams. Starting in 1874, he took a yearly summer sabbatical and headed into the mountains to prospect for gold; in the ensuing years he attended college classes in assaying and metallurgy to better the chances at succeeding in his quest.

He had been too young for California’s gold rush of 1848/49, and for Colorado’s ten years later. The discovery of gold in the Cherry Creek area near the future site of Denver in 1858/59 had brought waves of hopefuls to Pikes Peak, but in those early years of exploitation, the region did not reveal its riches. Three decades later, the fortunes of Colorado Springs and many of its residents changed when veins of the shining ore were discovered on the southwest side of the mountain. After 1890, Victor and Cripple Creek arose from the rocky ground almost overnight and, ere long, tens of thousands of optimistic miners called these towns home.

One of the “fortunate” who possessed a claim was Winfield Scott Stratton (1848-1902), said carpenter – after 17 years of tireless exploration. His rich Independence Mine made him one of the richest citizens of Colorado Springs. Unlike other newly minted millionaires, he did not put on airs, or put up a new, ostentatious home for himself. Never forgetting his humble beginnings, he was content to live either in a small shack near his mine, or in relatively modest houses in Colorado Springs. And he was always willing to give to the needy.

Among his beneficiaries was Bob Womack. The old cowboy-turned-gold-seeker might have been the first to find gold in Cripple Creek, but he sold his claim for $500, did not benefit from the town’s bonanza, and remained poor to his end. Mr. Stratton also came to the rescue of the townspeople of Cripple Creek who suffered in the wake of a devastating fire in 1896, when he financed a train to haul necessities from Colorado Springs to the bereft victims. He developed the Colorado Springs & Interurban Railway Company, an electric trolley system that served the city, as well as an amusement park at one of the trolley’s terminals at the west end of town. He called it Cheyenne Park  but it was renamed Stratton Park after his death. Its bandstand was the location of a free concert each Sunday. He donated land for City Hall and the Post Office, financed the Mining Exchange Building, supported Colorado College and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. He gave away vast earnings in various philanthropic ventures, but when he sold his Independence Mine to an English company in 1900, he found himself with an additional 10 million dollars, the equivalent of about 240 million in today’s currency.

Stratton Springs in Manitou Springs, one terminus of Mr. Stratton’s trolley line

The former Mining Exchange, completely financed by Mr. Stratton, now a hotel








Money did not buy Mr. Stratton happiness. Once his quest for gold was fulfilled, life did not seem to hold many charms. It is said that he could not walk anywhere without being accosted by someone begging for money. The constant requests for slices of his pie were a heavy burden and the following words are ascribed to him: “Too much money is not good for any man. I have too much, and it’s not good for me. A hundred thousand dollars is as much money as the man of ordinary intelligence can take care of. Large wealth has been the ruin of many a young man.”

Always a recluse, he increasingly preferred a bottle to human company and died in 1902 of liver cirrhosis, at the age 54. A dozen women suddenly declared having been his lawfully wedded wives. He had married once, but the union had ended in divorce. His wife bore a son of questionable fatherhood, but now his purported offspring lay claim to his inheritance. Former mining partners remembered old promises. Aware of his approaching death, Mr. Stratton had willed vast sums to various individuals and institutions. But he had assigned the bulk of his capital to fund “a free home for poor persons who are without means of support and who are physically unable by reason of old age, youth, sickness or other infirmity to earn a livelihood.” It was to be named after his estranged father, Myron Stratton.

Mr. Stratton’s gravestone at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs

Back side of his gravestone

The uproar created by the opening of his testament could be heard across the country. It was contested by many, including real or imagined relatives, the city and even the state that went so far as to question his mental stability. In the end, after much frivolous litigation and many settlements, his steadfast trustees succeeded in having his wishes honored. With a 6 million dollar endowment, the Myron Stratton Home opened its doors in 1913. It has provided housing, education, and work to countless Colorado Springs residents, and continues to function as a home for seniors in need of assistance today. Many firsthand, inspirational accounts of individuals saved by this foundation speak to its enduring legacy. Winfield Scott Stratton might not have been content with his life’s work, but he would be overjoyed with the wide-reaching windfall his wealth created, for the greater good of mankind.

Mr. Stratton’s statue on the grounds of the Myron Stratton Home

The Joys of Birding

Hardly a day goes by without me birding, either by watching avian visitors at our feeders in the yard, or by setting out with binoculars and camera in tow. Non-birders can’t imagine why anybody might spend hours looking for and rejoicing over feathered beings. I sometimes wonder, too, why I don’t get bored spending vast stretches of time looking at animals I have seen countless times, but I never grow tired of them. Common representatives, such as sparrows, finches, and chickadees delight as much as rarer individuals, and observing the widespread varieties over and over provides the opportunity to learn about their daily, monthly, and yearly cycles and behaviors, and affords fascinating insights into their lives.

Many birders keep lists, mental or actual, of the species encountered and I would be lying if I claimed indifference to the thrill of adding a new kind, a so-called life-bird, or “lifer”. While this is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the avifauna, it contributes excitement and incentive to its exploration. Months may pass without the surprise of a novelty, then might be followed by unusually high numbers. The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 represent such an unusually productive period for me – 10 lifers. I owe other observers and birding friends thanks who first found and documented these species on “eBird”, a reporting and monitoring website linked with the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The collaboration and support among fellow bird lovers is impressive.

While I generally attempt to capture these new birds with my camera I don’t always succeed, and frequently the quality of the photos leaves much to be desired. I am not showing the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), and White-winged Scoter(Melanitta fusca), but am sharing the remainder of the ten winged wonders who have brightened and enriched this otherwise dark and challenging period in my life. I hope they will bring cheer to you as well.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)

Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)


Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

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