Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Different World

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't visited you in some time. I didn't post much either - in fact, the last post was a scheduled post that I wrote some time back in June.

The Geek, Kaefer and I spent three wonderful weeks in Europe and Asia. At the beginning of the year we received the invitation to the wedding of the Geek's cousin - I wrote about him and his then-girlfriend in this post. The two had decided to tie the knot and since his bride is Turkish and they both live in Istanbul the wedding took place in Istanbul. A wonderful reason for us to spend a week in this fascinating city and another week further East in Turkey on the Asian continent.

Even though I grew up with Turkish friends - Germany has a large population of Turks - I had never been to Turkey before and I was excited to finally go to this country. Weeks before our flight I learned some basic words in Turkish. I wanted to be able to say "thank you" (teşekkürler) and "good morning" (günaydin) because I know how many doors are opened when you make the effort to just speak a few words in a country's language. My favorite word is "görüşürüz" (see you). While in Istanbul many people speak German or English, further inland a knowledge of either these languages becomes rather rare.

After one week in Istanbul we rented a car to drive across the Bosporus and into Asia where most of the country is located. I was a bit nervous about this trip, but there was absolutely no need. Turkey is a country with an extremely friendly and also generous population. On top of that we felt very safe wherever we went.

We traveled a country that calls itself the "largest museum of the world" - everything here has a very long history and everywhere there are ancient sites and buildings. There is a lot of tradition, at the same time this is a modern country. The muezzin calls to prayer several times a day and covered women talk on their cell phones. Over and over again it was the people who really amazed me, their friendliness, their humor, their openness about Erdoğan (we arrived two days after the election) and their wish just to communicate with us.

I didn't really want to leave after two weeks, but there was another country we had planned to visit.

In that country this language is spoken:

The only word I know in this language is "sláinte" - a very useful word, though.

You need it when you drink this:

Thankfully they also speak (sort of) English in Ireland even though Irish is the national and first official language. All the signs are both in Irish and English and sometimes with no English translation at all... 

Other than their British neighbor Ireland is a proud member of the EU, their currency is the Euro and they are very pro-European. They are also very proud of their own country and their traditions, and the battle for their independence from Britain is still very present in the people's mind. Oh the people - they, too, are so friendly. Everybody is ready to help you and they are great story tellers. They are immensely proud of their long history, and at the same time this is a very modern country.

Plus, they have Turkish barbers...

We spent a week in Ireland touring the country - everything is so close by - and we loved it. But the highlight of our trip definitely was the time spent in Turkey.

It was a different world. When it was time to leave I said goodbye with a very heavy heart. Arriving back in the US felt like landing on a foreign planet. I've always known that I'm a European at heart and always will be - you really can't just shed 40 years of living there - but now I also painfully miss my old continent.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

An Image and Its Story - June 2018

One day when I was working in my garden in front of the house I noticed some funny little "bumps" on some of the lavender stalks. Upon looking closer I realized that the "bumps" were tiny nests. I took a couple pictures and then consulted Google to find out which insect builds this kind of nests.

I had never heard of the Potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) - that's the wasp that builds these nests or brood cells. They are harmless wasps that are actually beneficial to the garden. They are solitary, rarely aggressive and you don't have to get rid of them. On the contrary, they provide excellent insect control. Adult potter wasps feed on flower nectar whereas the food source of the developing young are caterpillars. The brood cells are provisioned with 1 to 12 caterpillars each.

Their tiny nests are masterpieces. They are as "big" as a small marble, made from mud and resemble a miniature pot or jug - it looks like it was thrown on a potter's wheel.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Memories of A Lost Land

Back in March I wrote about the Puna District on the Big Island of Hawai'i that I love so much. The last time we had been there was in January - and had I known that it literally would be the last time that I'd see it this way I probably would have taken way more photos than I actually did. But the memories of this now lost land are in my heart and it's where they will stay.

A big part of Puna has changed forever and is still changing every day. While it comes as no surprise that an active volcano would behave - well, actively - it is still heart breaking. Having your home being consumed by lava that creeps into your backyard is simply terrible. Even though the people had enough time to save a lot of their things, their homes are lost, and even those houses that remain standing may be unreachable because of the lava flow.

This beautiful road along the coast - Highway 137 - is cut off in several places, covered by lava. The lava flew down from Leilani Estates, crossed the highway and entered the ocean.

I fell in love with Puna during our first visit to the Big Island, and most of these pictures are from the summer of 2016.

It's a rugged coast, rough and black. No white sandy beaches are found here, only lava beaches, either rocky or with black sand. There's an abundance of palm trees and, since this is the rainy side of the island, rich and plentiful vegetation. It rains a lot here.

Along this coast there are (or should I say "were") bays and beaches where you could stop, just hang out, surf, talk to the locals or just sit in a chair and look out over the ocean. Often someone brought fruit for everyone to share.

Some of these places still exist since the lava didn't go everywhere, but it might be a challenge to reach these spots.

I'm pretty sure that this road no longer exists. It leads to Kapoho Bay - with wonderful tide pools and great snorkeling. The lava from fissure 8 has entered the ocean here and Kapoho Bay is no more.

While all of this is incredibly sad, it is also amazing and beautiful at the same time. Nature definitely never stops to fascinates, and it does what it wants. No way we can manage it. We can be smart and prepared, but in the end we can only react to what nature has in store for us - much of it as a result of our own destructive behavior. Remember the principle of the seventh generation I wrote about? It certainly doesn't apply to an active volcano, but it's still good to keep in mind.

This is what hot lava looks like (this is the lava flow in 2016) - you can see more pictures here:

I am forever grateful that I could experience Puna in January one more time. The avocado tree house is still standing, but it is difficult to get there. Highway 130 from Pāhoa to Kalapana has several cracks that are worrisome, but as far as I know you can still drive there (only if you're a resident though). At the moment an emergency road is bulldozed through the lava across Chain of Craters Road in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (where I took the pictures of the lava above), but that would be a huge detour. Still, better than having no way out...

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Blanket of Flowers

There are not many truly red flowers in my garden apart from the poppies. However, a few years ago I found the red flowering Gaillardia and brought three of them home. This is gaillardia x grandiflora "Burgundy", or more commonly known as Blanket Flower.

There is a good variety of blanket flowers available. I tried a few of them only to find out that they are very short lived - at least in my garden. A yellow variety "Sunrise sunset" has completely disappeared in one location, but does pretty well in another part in my garden. But this red one has been performing really well and is a real stunner. Last year I bought two more which to my surprise produced longer stalks which is simply lovely.

Bees love them.

They do well both in humid and dry conditions, but generally do not need much water once established. It seems to be the perfect choice for my low water garden.

They start as small flowers with tiny petals that eventually open to the stunning flower you see in the top picture.

They keep for quite a while, feeding bees and other nectar loving insects. But their beauty is not over when eventually the flowers fade and the petals fall. On the contrary. They develop a big round seed head that is quite spectacular on its own.

I am planning to plant some more of these gaillardias in a different part of the garden and see how they do there. Gardening involves so much trial and error, but it's always exciting.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Precious Waters

Tuesday was my last day at work before the summer break. The last couple weeks had been very hectic and busy as they usually are at the end of the school year. But now the seniors have graduated, the other students left for their summer weeks off and we used the final two days to tidy up the library and get the textbook room in order for the beginning of the next school year. Then our break started.

It's a weird feeling to wake up in the morning knowing that you don't have to go to work for several weeks. It didn't take me long to seize the opportunity and walk around my beloved lake. I just wanted to walk enjoying the scenery and decided to leave the camera at home. Of course I saw way to many things I wanted to photograph, but fortunately I still had my phone with me. These pictures were all taken with my LG G4 over the course of two mornings.

There is a paved path that travels around the entire lake, but I usually stick to the horse trails. For obvious reasons they are not paved, well maintained and usually less crowded.

One of my favorite parts is the Fisherman's Trail that leads right next to the lake. The blackberry bushes were overgrowing almost everything. These plants are very invasive and unfortunately crowd out the native plants, even though the rangers do their best to control them. The lake is mostly hidden behind the high plants, but the sound of many birds is present all the time. To the left is a slope with many trees, some of which display beautiful bark color or an interesting shape.

I know the spots where I have seen black-crowned night herons in the past. I always stop by there, and sure enough there was a juvenile black-crowned night heron fishing for his breakfast.

On the other side of the lake I saw an adult one - maybe his momma?

Sometimes I walk up the slope to the huge water tanks near the paved path. The shadows of the trees on the tanks drew me in that morning. I love the shape of all these trees.

Turning back to the lake this view always captivates me.

I met Canada Geese with their young ones on the slope - I was quite surprised not to see them at the lake but in this dry environment. They were busy nibbling the seeds on the grasses.

Look, who I met here! S/he came out on the trail from the side, surprising me. Lucky for me I was still about 30 feet away and I made sure to keep a respectful distance. S/he eventually decided to disappear in the tall grasses up the slope and I could proceed unharmed.

Along the trails by the lake there is always a lot of beautiful vegetation in those places where the blackberry bushes haven't overtaken. Gorgeous thistles, seedpods of salsifies, Queen Anne's Lace and something I couldn't identify.

Then I decided to leave the path by the lake and follow the horse trail up the hill. There's no one there except for the rabbits and snakes.

The views are gorgeous and always remind me why I love living here. All the fresh spring green is gone by now - we haven't had rain for weeks - but I also like the "golden" look. It's so typical for California in the summer.

It was here that I discovered this beautiful dragonfly.

The trail then leads into the forest and it seems you're entering an entirely different world.

This tree was still standing the last time I walked along this trail. Change is ongoing. The fungi on the trees looks interesting and is constantly growing.

There are more wildflowers to find, especially those that like some shade. We're almost at the end of our trail. To the left you can climb up into Annadel State Park (it is much steeper than it looks), to the right you get back to the lake.

Or you can stop at this picnic area next to some old Redwoods. Take a rest, write in your journal, listen to the birds and do some push-ups (that's what I do).

Taking the path back to the lake I end up at the Children's Memorial Grove right at the lake. A few years ago together with some friends we put in a tile for Katie here.

Back in the parking lot I noticed that the California Buckeye is in full bloom. I love these trees!

It was a beautiful morning at the lake and I plan to come back as often as I can during my summer break. This place feeds my soul and every time I'm here I feel like my entire body relaxes and my thoughts are going in a positive direction. Often I don't think anything, just take in the nature around me, listen to the birds and watch the herons. It's time just for me and a precious gift.