A German in Penn’s Woods

Just one half percent of Germany is classified as wilderness. Forests are devoid of undergrowth in which wildlife and flowers could thrive. Fallen trees are swiftly carried off. No wonder I saw fewer than a dozen squirrels during the decades I spent in Germany.

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I was awestruck when I arrived in the United States and we began exploring the state parks near our Pennsylvania home. Fallen trees, which are not removed, are covered with fungi and moss. New life emerges from the decaying wood. Ferns and wildflowers thrive in this environment. Birds flit among the trees and nest in snags. Chipmunks and squirrels collect nuts and stash them away for winter. Insects find nectar on the many native plants while also serving as pollinators. No matter which season of the year, there is always something new to discover: a wildflower or insect we have never seen before; a bird call we don’t recognize; or the intoxicating fragrance of a flowering plant.

 

Nature walks remain one of our favorite pastimes, even if it means climbing over or around a tree trunk from time to time.

 

 

 

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Notes From A Nature Photographer

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As a writer, I wear many hats. I have not only published a novel in two languages, but I have been writing non-fiction photo features for many years. These articles revolve around local attractions and nature-related topics, birds in particular.

 

When the weather improves, I turn my attention to my second passion: nature photography. I specialize in birds, wildlife, and native plants that grow in our garden. You can’t be a nature photographer without caring about your subjects. Studying them and their behavior is the best way to improve your images. That includes knowing what the wildlife eat and when they are most active. As my photography evolved, so did our garden. Over the years, we have created a habitat where birds, insects, mammals, and even frogs can survive and thrive.

 

Publishing a book that included both stunning images and an engaging text was a logical next step. Wildlife is threatened by many aspects of modern life: climate change, pesticides, habitat fragmentation, fracking, light pollution, vehicles, and our obsession with lawns. What better way to demonstrate how we can help wildlife than by publishing books for young readers?

After all, they will inherit the Earth from us. I hope my books and images will encourage them to create a habitat for birds and other wildlife. Our future and food sources depend on it.

Every Day is Earth Day

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Last Sunday the world observed Earth Day. But Earth Day should not be a once-a-year event, it should be a daily occurrence.

 

I grew up in Germany, where people sweep the sidewalks every Saturday. Litter was my biggest culture shock after moving to the U.S. As the snow melts in the spring, I am always appalled at the amount of trash that has accumulated along the roadsides. Doesn’t anyone take their trash home? I appreciate the efforts of countless volunteers who collect this mountain of garbage, but why do people litter in the first place?

 

Recycling is a national sport in Germany. Everything gets recycled there: glass, metal, paper, even kitchen trash. You have to pay a deposit for plastic bottles, which enormously reduces waste because who wants to throw away money?

 

Another area where the two countries widely differ is the use of bags. In Germany you have to bring your bags to the grocery store or pay for plastic bags. This keeps many bags out of landfills and oceans. Here in the U.S. I seem to be the only customer who brings her own tote bags to the store.

 

These are just a few steps anyone can take without much effort to make the Earth more livable for humans and wildlife alike.

 

Doris Dumrauf is the author of “Common Backyard Birds,” “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat” and “Oktober Heat”

Image: Erkaha (commons.wikimedia.org)

 

Book Launch for “Common Backyard Birds”

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Today is the official release day of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.” It is the second installment in a planned nature series, following my first book “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat.”

In addition to writing, I am an award-winning outdoor photographer who specializes in birds, wildlife, and other nature images. Over the years I have accumulated thousands of images and have given many presentations about birds and wildlife in the greater Pittsburgh area.

It seemed only natural that I would publish a book about my feathered friends.

The book features 20 birds that are common over large parts of the United States. Told from the point of view of the birds, the reader will learn about their distinctive features, food preferences, and habitat choices.

You may view sample pages on Amazon.

 

 

A German Experience

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The post-war years shaped Germany in so many ways that I will concentrate on my home state of Rheinland-Pfalz. While I don’t personally remember the 1950s, many developments influenced my life as well as the lives of my countrymen until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Korean War spurred such a military build-up in Rheinland-Pfalz that it resembled a Gold Rush. Practically overnight, fields and moors were turned into air bases, army depots, and housing or recreational facilities for the American GIs who poured in. These installations provided jobs for thousands of Germans and brought prosperity to previously poor areas. Local businesses and landlords also profited from the influx of money.

Even during the 1960s, few villagers owned cars, relying instead on their two feet, bicycles or motor scooters. If we had business in town, we took the bus or train. I remember being awestruck at the sight of the huge American cars that navigated our streets.

Of course, there were also many negative aspects to these developments. I never took a walk in our village forest because it was turned into an ammunition depot before I was born. We followed the news very closely because every crisis between the superpowers could mean war. Still, life went on, despite the fact that we were living on a powder keg.

Many of those military bases have disappeared now, and we recently observed the equinox of the Berlin Wall. It has now been torn down longer than it stood. A whole generation of Germans has never lived in a divided Germany. May they never have to experience the tensions our generation and our elders endured.

 

Image: Trier Air Base (U.S. Air Force)

How German Immigrants Shaped American Life

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Imagine you’re going to a picnic. The sun is shining. The birds are singing in the trees nearby. The kids are playing on a swing. You’re sitting down with your family and friends, ready to eat and drink. But, there is one catch: You cannot use any ingredients introduced by German-Americans. That means: no hamburgers, no hot dogs, no Heinz ketchup or pickles, no Hellmann’s mayonnaise, no potato salad, no gummi bears, and most importantly, no beer! At least, no beer made by Miller, Pabst, or Anheuser Busch breweries. Wouldn’t that be a very boring picnic?

After the food-less picnic, you’re driving—in a car invented by Germans—to a baseball game. Imagine baseball without German-Americans like Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. It’s hard to imagine!

When the game is over, you go to the movies. Nowadays, that could very well be a movie with Sandra Bullock or Kirsten Dunst and music by Hans Zimmer. After you come home, you turn on your TV and they’re showing Independence Day again, and again, and again! What would the cable networks do without that movie? They would have to show a blank screen half of the time! Another day, they might show Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio. Not long after the picnic, you and your family fly on vacation in a Boeing airplane.

When school starts, you’re taking your child to a kindergarten. At bedtime, you read a book by Dr. Seuss to your child. Once your child is asleep, you sit down with a book by John Steinbeck or Kurt Vonnegut.

Today, 25 % of the American population are of German ancestry. Some famous names from my home state include Elvis Presley, Thomas Nast, and Henry John Heinz.

 

From Groundhog Day to Independence Day, American holidays have been shaped by German immigrants. We might not even celebrate Independence Day without the aid of Baron von Steuben, who whipped the Continental Army into shape during the revolutionary war.

 

And let’s not forget about the biggest holiday, Christmas. Imagine what Christmas would be like without our beloved Christmas tree? And who would bring us presents, if not the Big Man, Santa Claus himself! Thomas Nast created the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today. Christmas without German traditions—unimaginable.

 

From the Brooklyn Bridge to Hollywood, from the backyard barbecue to the White House ceremonial march, from your bookshelf to the space center, life in the United States would be vastly different without the accomplishments of German immigrants. It would simply be unimaginable.

 

Image: commons.wikimedia.org (Porsche 997SBS)

Looking Back and Ahead

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Like most years, the past year has brought joy and sadness for me. A highlight was my trip to Germany in July after an absence of three years. I even visited some attractions I had never seen before.

I published my novel “Oktober Heat” in German and was interviewed by my hometown newspaper, “Die Rheinpfalz,” during my visit. Work on my next photo book consumed much of my time during the fall.oktober-heat-1deutschebookcoverweb

While I have been giving presentations for years, the past year brought my first three elementary school visits. What a wonderful opportunity to share my love of nature!

But I also mourned the losses of several dear friends. We had begun working on my new book when my designer/editor died suddenly. Not long afterward I learned of the death of a long-time member (almost 50 years!) of my Toastmasters club. John had been a wonderful mentor and friend as well as a passionate speaker. I am certain that his influence will be felt for a long time. His passing also means that I am now the longest-standing member of my club with a mere nine years.

Looking ahead

Spring will not only bring daffodils and trilliums, but also the release of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.”9780997676716-ColorSS-112217.indd

I am busy booking presentations in the Pittsburgh area to complement my book.

I hope that the new year will bring new opportunities and challenges, as well as moments of reflection and connections with nature.

May your new year be happy, healthy, and filled with purpose!