Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Smoky Skies

On Thursday halfway through the morning our skies slowly darkened to an unhealthy gray when smoke and ash were pushed into our region. The sunlight turned orange and it was hard to see the sun at all.

But the worst was the smell. It triggered memories of last year's October fires and heightened anxiety.

The smoke and ash comes from the rapidly spreading wildfire in Butte Canyon, about 100 miles from where I live. While I'm writing this, the fire has become the most destructive wildfire in California (surpassing "our" fire, what a sad record) with a death toll of 42 and the town of Paradise almost completely wiped out. Hell on earth.

Schools were closed here on Friday because of the poor air quality and they are closed again today (yesterday was Veterans Day, so they were closed anyway) which gives me a day off. To be honest though, I'd rather go to work and be able to breathe fresh air. We take fresh air for granted - until we don't have it anymore. Since Thursday I haven't been able to open my windows and can only be outside wearing an N95 mask. I crave fresh air. The smoke is so thick that I can't see my beloved Mount Bennett from our bedroom window. The first two days my lungs hurt and I had difficulties breathing. The Geek still does.

But these are small "sacrifices" compared to what the people in Butte County (and burning areas in Southern California as well) are going through right now. On the one hand I revisit all the emotions and despair that we felt a year and a month ago, on the other hand it is beyond my imagination to picture a community that has been extinguished within less than a day. I have no idea where these people will go to, how they will deal with the loss of their homes AND community, how they will go through the next weeks and months. So many people have lost their lives in this inferno.

It is heart breaking. How often have I said these words...

There is the Northern California Fire Relief Fund that I donated to (feeling completely helpless) and I just pass this on. We had a similar fund last year for "our" fires and it did a lot of financial help. From the experience of my friends who lost everything in the Tubbs and Nuns fires I know that every little bit helps.

The smoke makes for glorious sunrises and sunsets. It always amazes me how close horror and beauty are. Photo on top was taken on Friday morning, one day after the fire started. Second photo was shortly before sunset on Friday night and the last one is the sunrise on Saturday morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Night of Lights

In 2010, when I was still writing for Vision and Verb, I wrote this post about a special November tradition we have in Germany. Since we just celebrated this tradition with the children's classes at German Language School yesterday evening I thought it a good opportunity to post it on my blog as well.

November is a pretty gray month in Germany. Days of fog follow days of overcast skies, with the sun only making rare appearances. Except for the first day of the month (All Saints) when in the Catholic parts of the country candles appear on gravesites in the cemeteries, the month offers mainly dark and somber holidays: Volkstrauertag (our kind of Memorial Day), Buß- und Bettag (Day of Prayer and Repentance, a protestant holiday that is not an official holiday any longer) and Day of the Dead which also marks the end of the church year. All these holidays are very subdued and perfectly fit the somber mood of a German November.

However, almost midthrough the month, on November 11th, lights glow in the dark accompanied by the sweet little voices of children happily singing the old folksong “Ich geh mit meiner Laterne” (I walk with my lantern). Yes, it is Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day), not an official holiday at all, but a beautiful tradition. On this day, children all over Germany remember St. Martin of Tours, who was a soldier in the Roman Army (around 330 A.D.) and became famous when he cut his woolen coat in two parts with his sword and gave one part to a beggar. He later left the army and became a monk.

Today, children create their own paper lanterns, often in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school. These lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, from simple to elaborate – and in the evening of November 11th as well as the days around this date, the young children go out in the streets with their lit lanterns and sing those old folksongs. It is a sweet sound in all the hectic day-to-day noise, a moment to pause and listen to the beautiful tunes, look at the young faces and notice the enthusiasm and joy the children show.

They bring light into our night, music to our ears and joy to our hearts.

A beautiful tradition that I hope will never vanish.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

An Image and Its Story - October 2018

October was a busy month at work, especially at the German School where I felt like constantly putting out fires. Pretty exhausting, to be honest, but also good when you see that problems get solved. I am also very lucky to work with a wonderful team there.

But photography was again pushed to the back burner. I took a few photos in the garden and on my walks, but nothing that I thought worth for this post. But one day when I came home in the late afternoon I noticed how beautifully my favorite tree in our street was turning its leaves.

This tree is a Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis), a widely used street tree. It is deciduous, but before it loses all its leaves, it turns into the most brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. It is a true stunner. I planted one in my own garden a few years ago simply because of its gorgeous color (my tree, however, is far from being such a beautiful mature tree like the one in the photo even though it already displays fiery colors). Every autumn I am in awe of this tree - the colors, the shape, the trunk. When the sun is deep in the sky, the colors are intense.

The show lasts only a few weeks, but oh! what a show!