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.
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.
Fall colors …
Fall riverscape in Upper Austria.
Shelter in the autumn leaves.
Autumnal light on the Tenmile Range.
Above Cotignac, France.
Aspen grove from above.
Aspen pano with partial rainbow, Frisco, Colorado.
Clear autumn light, tinged by a low-angle sun through changing foliage, is one of the best times of the year to take landscape photos. In the past 12 months, I’ve enjoyed some spectacular fall scenery in the vineyards of southern Austria, the hill country of the Provence and mountain canyons in the Alps, and the magic stays the same — autumn is golden!
Raindrops gather on a patch of green leaves in downtown Vienna.
A painting decorates the exterior of the Green Party headquarters in Vienna.
The bark of an old cottonwood tree in a Vienna open space is covered with moss.
A roadside meadow comes to life with wildflowers in Tulln, Austria.
A dried leaf curls in a bed of moss in Thayatal National Park, Austria.
Old fruit trees.
It’s always fun to watch the world come out of winter hibernation and nothing says spring like lush green. Add a sprinkle of raindrops and a few flowers — not to mention a colorful mural, and let the good time roll. It’s a time and hope, both of which are needed in these troubled times. If the Earth can renew itself, so can we!
Downtown Wien …
Near the Flakturm in Vienna’s 7th district, a couple of locals try an early ping pong game at a public table.
Downtown dog-walking at the corner of Lindengasse and Neubaugasse in Wien’s 7th district.
Bubble blower, Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna.
Rainy day pinks at the Siebensternplatz in Wien.
Early spring in the Mondscheingasse, Wien.
It doesn’t take long for Vienna to wake from its winter sleep. Just as soon as temperatures get into the 50s and 60s and the sun peaks out a little, cafes set up their outside tables where people huddle around even if they still have to wear a winter coat. In the parks and town squares, flowering trees add splashes of color to the neighborhood scene, and ping pong enthusiasts can strike up a friendly game in the park near the Flakturm. But keep your umbrella handy because April showers are not uncommon in the Danube metropolis.
Hepatica blooming in Thayatal National Park.
Forsythia and ornamental trees flowering near the Votivkirche in downtown Vienna.
Hepatica, one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in the spring, pushing up through the fallen leaves of fall and winter.
Crocus in the Vienna botanical garden.
A warm winter (second-warmest on record for Austria) led to an unusually early bloom of wildflowers, a sure sign that global warming is displacing the seasons. For me, that means greeting the first wildflowers of spring with mixed feelings. On one hand, long-term concerns about climate change are intensifying. Just this week, leading climate researchers published yet another doomsday study, projecting that, in a worst-case scenario, Planet Earth could see real trouble by the end of this century, with enough sea level rise to swamp major cities and potential superstorms in the Atlantic Ocean that would dwarf hurricanes like Irene and Katrina. On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a little pang of joy when those first splotches of color start to appear in city gardens or country forests.
Best of 2015
Recapping some of our favorite winter scenes from the Colorado high country in this end of the year set …