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.
City sights …
Down on the corner …
A short photographic stroll through a city that consistently ranks near the very top worldwide for quality of life. Vienna’s coffee houses and parks are definitely part of its charms, but it’s also a European hub science, culture, literature and tech innovation. And there are connections to my old stomping grounds in Colorado. For example, I spent several years following the story of how parasitic whirling disease wiped out most of Colorado’s rainbows
, and how biologists were working to restore the popular game fish with a population resistant to the disease. Then last summer, as I was working on a story about a massive fish die-off in the Yellowstone River
, my research led me to an Egyptian-born research scientist at the University of Vienna who has been studying various parasitic trout diseases, and linking them with global warming. Turns out that Mansour El-Matbouli also was an instrumental figure in the efforts to breed the strain of rainbow trout that are resistant to whirling disease, and that he had worked closely with aquatic biologists in Colorado that I also had interviewed for my stories in Colorado. We’re facing global environmental challenges, and they require a global and science-based response. It’s a small world.
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.
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.
Liverworts are often among the very first flowers to bloom in the spring in the beech forests of Moravia.
Lone pine along the Thaya River.
Canyon of the Thaya.
Early spring is a very special time in the forest, as the ecosystem begins to stir after a long winter nap. Even though winter grasses and dry leaves dominate, it’s easy to feel the new life pushing toward the surface, called by the sun. These shots were taken in Thayatal National Park, on the border of Austria and Czechia. Visit our online gallery for more landscape and nature images, and check out all the past Sunday Set series in the Summit Voice archives.
Late season cluster in the Salzkammergut.
One of the coolest things about mushrooms is that many species are true globalists, which means they grow in many different countries, on many different continents, wherever habitat and moisture are present in the right combination. The fungi in this set were all photographed in the forests of Austria this summer, but all these varieties — either the exact same species or close relatives, — also grow in North America. Check the Summit Voice mushroom archives for more fungi photography, as well as some of the latest stories on mushroom ecology. We’re starting to learn that the delicate relationship between fungi, forests, plants and soil has a huge influence on the global carbon cycle.