Tag Archives: Flowers

A Week in the Thüringer Wald

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of students for a week in the Thüringer Wald, or Thuringian Forest. Our trip was their first group outing since Covid, and it was a delight to be in a reasonably rustic environment with young people who were both comfortable in that context and genuinely glad to be there.

This campground relies significantly on volunteer labour for renovation work and there was a great deal to do. This wasn’t the type of trip where we were doing that, but I think it would have been good fun.

It was dark at night and we were able to see the Milky Way and the Big Dipper, though my photography skills and equipment cannot attest to that. We also made a fire every night, making for a much warmer evening than we would have had otherwise. There’s poetry in sitting under the stars in the cold, but there’s comfort in sitting under the stars with a fire.

While the afternoons were largely free, we had activities planned each morning. A real highlight was the hike led by the campground director, Dagmar. She taught us about the bark beetles that are killing the young trees here in the beautiful Thüringer Wald. The devastation is occurring rapidly in part because of the monoculture that was once common here for logging. It was really sad to see so much empty hillside and to think about the consequences, such as landslides and flooding, that occur under these conditions, also making it really difficult to grow new trees. And trying to do so when they’re being attacked by bark beetles is, as we learned, no easy task.

It’s also interesting to contrast the immediate environment of the valley where our camp was situated with the forest conditions around a village just 15 minutes away by car. (And, for that matter, the stunning environs in yet another part of the Thüringer Wald where I’ve been twice to climb.)

One thing I am really enjoying about Germany is how much it looks just like you might expect from a travel brochure. A walk on our penultimate day from one town to a bus stop in another town was a lot of work on hills but they were really pretty hills.

On the last day, only about an hour from school, we spent the afternoon by a lake. There’s so much here that is a fairy tale – berries and mushrooms in forests that people just happily pick, for example – and it has been so lovely experiencing it all.

This part of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia) is right on the border with Bayern (Bavaria). You know that place. Home of Oktoberfest. Indeed.

After so much time on the Little Red Dot that is fully part of my heart, it’s a real gift to be somewhere else. I’m looking at the world with different eyes and for that, I am grateful.

Rain Showers and Pretty Flowers

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, which I have not really enjoyed. After six years in Southeast Asia, I’m used to rain that’s warm in a world so humid that it almost feels like a shower. I’m romanticizing a bit because there really ain’t no rain like tropical rain; I’ve never been wetter in my life than the many times I was caught in the rain, even for mere minutes, in Malaysia or Singapore. And there was a time I put on a bathing suit and went outside to be in the storm just because I could. So I am very used to rain.

What I am not used to, however, is cold rain. I’ve been caught in the cold rain here on my bike several times over the last couple weeks and it’s quite a different experience, one that requires a hot shower to warm up. My Canadian blood has certainly thinned and I’m slowly adjusting – very slowly.

Watching the rain this afternoon (and riding my bike in the drizzle because cycling remains the easier, fastest way to get to the climbing gym) led me to go through some photos that I took on two beautiful, warm sunny days. A rainy day seemed like a good time to share them.

Several weeks ago, for something to do, I attended BUGA in Erfurt, a biennial horticulture show that changes location each time it’s presented. Erfurt is the closest real city to Weimar, so I got rather lucky. And I didn’t even know it until I had a look on Wikipedia for this post.

A riot of colour, and I think the images speak far louder than my words ever could.

More recently, I rode/walked/pushed my bike up a very large hill just up the road past my school to visit Schloss Belvedere, a former summer royal residence dating from the early 18th century.

The castle was interesting enough, though I gave up on the audioguide included in the entry price rather early on. The grounds were absolutely the highlight, and I was really tickled when I happened upon a tropical paradise garden where people were sitting and chatting in sun chairs. It felt like a secret resort but it’s not – it was free and open to the public, as are all of the castle grounds.

There was also a beautiful “Secret Garden” sort of garden . . .

. . . and after seeing a few other people pick an apple off this tree, I did, too! It was a little early for apples, and coming from Upstate New York I knew this before I bit into it, but I haven’t done that in so many years. I hadn’t thought that there might be apple picking around here even though I’ve been buying apples and other produce from the local farmer’s market as I often as I can.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, but I can see the sun struggling to come out. It’s not warm here, but I’m trying to adjust. Just another part of this adventure.

BUGA, Erfurt – July 2021

Nature Walking

A friend once said that Singapore is small enough that one should be able to look through a guidebook and say, “I’ve done that.” Covid19 has done a lot to my sense of self and the way I understand the world, both large and small, but it has also forced me to live as much as I can here in Singapore. With 2021 mere hours away, the clock ticking is more obviously than usual.

It took almost two hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, located so far north in Singapore that there are views of the skyline of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Sungei Buloh contains extensive mangroves, mudflats, forests, and ponds, and is important for migratory birds. There are only a few walking trails and we covered the entire reserve in just a couple of hours. The protected nature of the area means that we saw plants, birds, fish, and animals in abundance. Some of these are normal Singapore creatures but other I’d never seen before.

Before we have a closer look, this is what Sungei Buloh looks like:

As a child, I remember mangroves mentioned in books but I don’t think I knew what that meant until moving to Singapore. We learned that 13% of Singapore used to be mangrove forests, and less than 0.5% of that remains today. (Source)

As always, I really enjoyed the flowers. I will miss tropical flowers when I leave this part of the world.

Mudflats were also relatively new to me and I’d never seen a mudskipper before! There were plenty of these little guys around, as well as mud snails. He/she/it is roughly in the centre of the frame.

We also saw mud crabs, another animal I’d never heard of. You might have to zoom in on the individual images to see them and I recommend doing so – they’re pretty cool.

The insects were not to be missed and the spider webs were amazing, large constructions. There’s only one photo here but I tried (and failed) to take others.

Watching the herons and egrets fishing reminded me of growing up on the Erie Canal and Genesee River in Rochester, New York.

Additionally, we saw an otter (not pictured but also pretty common in Singapore),bats, tree snake, a few monkeys, and a number of monitor lizards, including one in a tree. Again, you might have to zoom in on individual images if you’d like a closer look.

Finally, we searched in great anticipation for crocodiles but the water was quite high and we didn’t have much hope in finding one. As it turned out, though, we did! We weren’t sure if it was a crocodile or a log but I managed a photo before it disappeared beneath the surface of the water. The park rangers and other visitors nearby assured us is was indeed a crocodile. Can you spot it?

A quick climb up an observation tower gave us really impressive views. It’s a wonder, in ways both good and bad, that this island, that the world, used to be so wild. And I wonder at the costs, both known and unknown, of taming it.

Since we had already come all the way out to Kranji to visit the wetlands, my friend suggested going a little further south to Kranji Marshes. Unlike Sungei Buloh, most of the marshes are conservation areas not accessible to visitors, though there are ongoing plans to expand the walking paths. Kranji Marshes is part of Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network and it turns out there’s a shuttle bus that connects multiple locations of this park network, but we didn’t know that until the shuttle bus pulled up just as we were leaving. We took a bus and a taxi to get there but were glad for the shuttle on the way back. (Note to self: Read the transportation signs at each visitor centre.)

The plants were different there, which was interesting because it really did feel like a different place, which I wasn’t expecting. While we didn’t see too many birds, I know this is a popular spot at dawn for birdwatchers.

I especially liked the plants growing in and around all the little ponds. It reminded me of the summer camp I attended as a child, which had a pond for fishing and a swamp for canoeing and kayaking.

The marshes are known for upwards of fifty species of dragonfly and while we didn’t see fifty, they were everywhere and in so many bright colours. The same can be said for the butterflies.

We also saw different flowers than we had earlier, and what was possibly some kind of fruit.

And as before, the view from observation areas were stunning and thought provoking, especially in contrast to the obvious signs of human presence.

While it was quite the journey to get there, I recommend a visit. Everything that is part of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network is free and there’s that handy shuttle bus to take you around because it’s too large to walk. Pack a camera, sunscreen, bug spray, apples, almonds, bottles of water, and you’re good to go.

If nothing else, Covid19 has been a reminder to get out and play in my own backyard. While I hope for a better, more peaceful year ahead, I cannot forget that I have now gone places that I perhaps never would have seen. This is a reminder to live in the world, rather than letting the world pass us by, because we never really know what the world will be like tomorrow.