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.
Two pollinators climbing around on this lily in the Alps of Austria.
Alpine tundra blossoms plus pollinator in Colorado.
Along came a spider …
Nature’s diversity is astounding at any level, but when you get down to a bug’s-eye view, it can really blow your mind. When I took the lily photo (with the upside-down bee or wasp) I didn’t notice the second bug until I looked at the image on a larger screen at home. Curious, I started searching around a little bit and it didn’t take me long to learn that it’s a lily beetle, which is considered a pest in gardens, but is part of the natural environment in the Alps. In any case, plants and insects are completely interdependent, just as all living things are woven together in the global fabric of biodiversity. Respect nature, don’t abuse it.
Trees are our friends
Winter dawn along a forest road in Colroado.
Twilight in the aspens.
The Vienna Woods are the lungs and air conditioning for this city 1.74 million people.
Last week the UN celebrated the International Day of Forests as a way to acknowledge how important forests are to the world. To cynics, it may seem trite lip service by faceless bureaucrats. But in reality, it’s critical that everyone understands how important forests are for the planet. They cover about a third of the Earth’s land mass and provide livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter for about 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80 percent of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They may also be one of our last, best hopes for slowing climate change. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at the rate of about 32 million acres per year, equivalent to 10-20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Check out my article and photo essay for Pacific Standard to learn more about forests, especially for ways you can get involved in helping to protect and restore them.
St. Tropez lighthouse.
Stand-up paddlng, Frejus.
St. Tropez fishing fleet.
Ripples at Varazze.
Sunrise in the harbor of Varazze.
At the end of a long winter, it’s fun to daydream about hot summer days by the sea in the pleasing coastal towns of the Mediterranean. We especially enjoyed Varazze last July. The Italian harbor town isn’t particularly well known internationally, but it’s a favored getaway for residents of bustling Genoa and for yachties looking for a calmer alternative to Nice or Cannes. It is also, apparently, a surf hotspot in the winter season, as you can see in this YouTube video. We also saw some fine waves at Frejus during a summer tempest, and the paddler in the photo was enjoying the shorebreak. Check out more Summit Voice travel, nature and landscape photography in our Sunday Set archive, and visit our online gallery to buy prints and more — a great way to support our independent environmental journalism.
Frozen fountains …
Spring has come early to large parts of the Northern Hemisphere warming under a blanket of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, so it’s time to say goodbye to winter with some images celebrating icy creeks. These photos are from Colorado, a global warming
hotspot, where the average temperature has increased faster than in any other state in recent years, compared to the previous 30-year meteorological period. This year the trend continued across much of the U.S. and other parts of the world that all reported record warmth during February. In mid-February, the thermometer reached 80 degrees at DIA for the first time ever. Heat waves scorched Australia and parts of South America, and parts of western Europe were also record- or near-record warm, including Austria, where the average countrywide temperature was 2.8 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, with a few individual stations setting all-time heat records for the month. You’ll probably still be able to enjoy frozen wintry scenes like this for a few more years, but if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t cut soon, many areas probably won’t see much winter weather by 2050. We need #climateaction now.
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
Summer daze …
Full moon rising over the Mediterranean in a time exposure.
Blue boat dreams in the harbor of Varazze.
Ripening in the vineyards of Provence.
Lavender fields forever …
Revisiting the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy in this set, and dreaming about summer days to come. Visit the Summit Voice Sunday Set archive
, and check out our online gallery
for more landscape and nature photography.