While most people picture majestic, glacier-clad crags when they think of the Alps, the great European mountain range has a softer side at its far eastern edge, where the mountains gradually taper off toward the Danube Valley, just west of Vienna. The temperate climate in these foothills is perfect for apple and pear trees, growing so prolifically that there’s and entire district dedicated to the production of tasty cider. And in the famed Wienerwald (Vienna Woods), thick silver-barked beech trees dominate the forests. Just a bit farther south and west, the first high peaks of the Alps rise up to the summit of the Ötscher, a landmark peak surrounded by deeply carved valleys where crystal-clear aquamarine streams flow through protected landscapes like the Ötscher-Tormäuer Nature Park
. In the last few weeks, the soft greens of spring burst forth in abundance in these landscapes near Austria’s first city, and we’re looking forward to more explorations this summer.
Out and about …
Trees abloom in Lower Austria.
The Erlauf River.
Nothing says Easter like a visit to the country to check out trees bursting into bloom and other signs of nature’s spring resurgence. It’s a good reminder that when you strip away the bizarre Christian mythology surrounding this holiday, what you have left is a good old-fashioned pagan celebration of life. And nothing could be more glorious than that because it’s the life-force of nature that’s at the basis of our reality, not some musty legends handed down over generations by a secretive theocractic organization.
An Alm outpost along the Grossglockner Strasse.
These goats seems to be well-trained. Even without a herder persent, they knew which way to go.
High mountain pastures are part of Austria’a agricultural tradition.
With snow in the forecast, sheepherders prepare to move their animals down to the valley.
This past summer, we spent several weeks exploring the world of Austrian Alms, high mountain pastures that are only grazed for a few months each summer. While we in the U.S. generally tend to prefer undisturbed mountain landscapes for their aesthetic and environmental values, these Austrian pastures have been grazed for centuries and even millennia. In the earliest days, as humans colonized the Alps after the last ice age, they had to use the higher slopes as forage areas because the valleys were still choked with glacial debris, wetlands and thick vegetation. That means the open meadows higher up were actually available for animal husbandry earlier than the lower elevations. In any case, the Alms now form an important part of the Alps’ ecological fabric, providing habitat for many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that wouldn’t thrive in a dark forest environment. Alms are also important to culture and recreation, as gathering points for hikers, and help ensure local food supplies. The first three in a series of grant-funded stories on this topic have been published at Pacific Standard, links below. Help support independent environmental journalism by visiting the stories and sharing them on your social media networks.
Seeking knowledge …
The Gjaidalm, at a Bronze Age grazing site in the Austrian Alps, now serves mainly as an outpost for hikers and also offers yoga classes and wellness retreats.
Global warming is radically changing the chemistry of mountain soils and some plants that rely on a specific combination of nutrients are unlikely to survive.
Wilderness as its understood in the U.S. is a relatively new concept in Austria, but resource manageres are determined to recreate wilderness in the remote mountain forests around the Dürrenstein.
Mountain pastures in Austria help ensure local food security.
Global sea ice has been at a record low extent for several months. This aerial shot of Greenland, taken from a commercial flight, shows a receding glacier along the east coast of Greenland.
I’ve been reporting on the environment for 21 years, so it’s not surprising that, even when I’m traveling on vacation, I tend to see nearly everything through a certain prism. That may be a blessing and a curse at the same time. It might be nice, every now and then, to completely tune out from the world’s problems and just live hedonistically. On the other hand, I feel like I can really connect with the people and places I’m seeing by understanding them in an environmental context. And in reality, I don’t really separate work and play all that much anymore. This past summer’s trek through the Austrian Alps to learn about climate change and sustainable mountain agriculture was a wonderful experience. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to exercise my curiosity. You can read about the environment and culture of the Austrian Alms here
, and learn more about melting Arctic ice may affect you in this story
Go higher …
Hohe Tauern, Austria.
Continental Divide, Colorado.
Autumn light, Colorado.
Time revisit a couple of favorite mountains scenes in the Summit Voice archives, and time to remember that global warming is going alter some mountain landscapes irrevocably, not it the far distant future, but within a few decades. For example, a new study
shows how warming will alter basic soil chemistry by speeding up microbial activity and shifting the balance of key nutrients. This will displace some plants and probably eliminate others. And as much as we appreciate forested landscapes, climate change is driving the spread of tree-killing insects, as shown by the latest aerial survey
of Colorado forests. Check out more environmental and nature photography from Summit Voice at our online gallery
, or visit the Sunday Set archives
Snowfall starts around the Stephansdom in Vienna.
New Years Day in the wine country of Lower Austria.
Lantern plant, gone to seed.
Frost groweth …
Together, we are strong!
Kite flying, Boxing Day.
Winter’s a bit late, but better late than never. We’ve compiled a few scenes from the first week of 2017, from Vienna to the Weinviertel. Click here to see more photography from Summit Voice, and visit our online gallery for a full selection of fine art landscape and nature photography.
Fading sun …
Urban forest, Wien.
There’s a certain magic to the light in the last few days of fall. Here at 48 degrees north, the sun just doesn’t get very high above the horizon. Passing through the atmosphere at that low angle seems to warm the sun’s rays, so that even when the air is chilly, the light is saturated. No matter where you are, it’s a great time to go out and feel the rhythm of the seasons. Here in the lowlands of eastern Austria, that means long walks in the woods or vineyards, or in one of the extensive parks within the city limits of Vienna. Happy solstice!