Showing posts from March, 2014

Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert: A review

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert My rating: 3 of 5 stars “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked That famous quote from Upton Sinclair seems highly appropriate to any discussion of climate change in this country. Entrenched, very powerful economic interests control our political system and, to a great extent, our media, and those interests are determined that business as usual shall prevail in the production and distribution of energy. In other words, petrochemical companies should be allowed to operate unchecked and unregulated. That this is a recipe for worldwide catastrophe is made quite clear in this slim book by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert.   Kolbert organizes her narrative as a series of travelogues to various parts of the world where the effects of global warming are made most evid

Poetry Sunday: Casey at the Bat

Baseball, that grand old game that some of us still love, is just about to start its major league season once again. The grass is young and hope is green. Baseball has been the inspiration for many works of art since its beginnings back in the 19th century. Literature, plays, movies, music all have paid homage to the game. But perhaps the very best known bit of literature about baseball is the poem that was written about it in its infancy, in June, 1888. It's a poem that most of us knew - and perhaps loved - as a child. It still catches the spirit of the game today, because the game is still essentially the same. Casey at the Bat   by Ernest Lawrence Thayer   The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;  The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play, And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same, A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.  A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest Clung to

This week in birds - #102

A roundup of the weeks news of birds and the environment : The little Brown-headed Nuthatches have mostly been absent from my feeders during the recent winter, but now they have returned to enjoy the black oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes. They are always fun to watch and to hear. Their calls remind me of the sound of a dog's squeaky toy! *~*~*~* One of the big stories of the environment this week was the big oil spill in Galveston Bay that blocked the Houston Ship Channel for a time. It was estimated that some 168,000 gallons of heavy oil had leaked and were spreading to threaten local wildlife refuges. These areas along the Texas coast are full of birds at all times, but we are now in the middle of the spring migration season when millions of birds are making their way north from South America and many of them stop to rest along the coast, so an oil spill now holds the potential of a major wildlife catastrophe. However, at the end of the week, it seems that the spill

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky: A review

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars I've long been an admirer of the writing of Sara Paretsky. As such, I have faithfully followed her V.I. Warshawski series over the years. Having now finished with Critical Mass , I can say that I have read them all. They are all workmanlike and suspenseful mysteries and some are downright enthralling page-turners, but I have to admit that I was less than enthralled with this latest one. While I really like V.I. and I'll always care about her, I found it hard to care very much about the other characters in this book. The story here is that V.I.'s friend Lotty hires her to look for a drug-addicted patient of hers who had called her in a panic to ask for help and then disappeared. The detective tracks her to a derelict drug house in a rural town outside of Chicago. She finds the place in shambles and the body of one dead dog with another injured and extremely dehydrated. She follows a trail into a cornfield where

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Allium candense with Funereal Duskywing

Three springs ago, I was sitting in my favorite seat under my red oak tree one day when I looked down at my feet and saw a pretty little wildflower growing there. It was an allium , a wild onion, but where most of the wild onions in my neighborhood have white flowers, this one had pink flowers. I thought it was quite pretty so I dug it up and put it in a pot and later transferred it to a bed in my garden, where it has flourished and bloomed for the two springs since then. Referring to my guidebook, Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi, I determined that the wildling was most likely Allium canadense . Bloom period for the plant is March - May, and just now the plants are full of these pretty, delicate little blossoms. While I was admiring the plant on Tuesday, I got a bonus treat. A small, dark butterfly landed on the blooms and began to feed. It was a butterfly that I didn't remember ever seeing before, so I ran for my camera to try to get its picture. I wasn't pa

The Know Nothings

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”      - Carl Sagan In the mid-19th century in the United States, there was a political party that was called the Know Nothings. It was a movement that was based on nativism and xenophobia. Its adherents strove to curb immigration and naturalization, specifically of Irish and German Catholics. Its sentiment was virulently anti-Catholic. Membership was limited to white Protestant males. The movement was never particularly powerful and ultimately it fragmented over the issue of slavery. The Know Nothing movement fragmented but it never really died in the United States. It has always existed as an undercurrent in American political life and, finally, in the 21st century, it seems to be coalescing and rearing its ugly head once again, but now the Know Nothingness has expanded into other areas of life than simply religious prejudice and fear and suspicion of foreigne

Poetry Sunday: Khaleesi Says

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? I admit I am. I've read all five of George R.R. Martin's books in The Song of Ice and Fire saga and I've watched all three seasons of the HBO series based on it. The fourth season of the series starts in a couple of weeks and, just for grins, at my house we have been re-watching the first three seasons in order to get ready for it. So, when I came across this poem in my search for a poem to feature this week, it seemed like a little more than just a coincidence. Of course, I had to use it. Khaleesi Says BY LEAH UMANSKY Game of Thrones In this story, she is fire-born: knee-deep in the shuddering world. In this story, she knows no fear, for what is fractured is a near-bitten star, a false-bearing tree, or a dishonest wind. In this story, fear is a house gone dry. Fear is  not  being a woman. I’m no ordinary woman , she says. My dreams come true . And she says and she is and I say,  yes, give me that .

Caturday: Is there anything more annoying than a persistent cat?

And there is nothing more persistent than a hungry cat.

This week in birds - #101

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Red-bellied Woodpecker shows you how he got his name. *~*~*~* Paleontologists have discovered another feathered dinosaur from the group known as Oviraptorosauria , but unlike most of the others of this type that have been found in Central and Eastern Asia, this one was discovered in North America, the first one of its kind to be found here. *~*~*~* Why did the chicken cross the Pacific Ocean? Because a human carried him in a boat, and that fact has given scientists another way of tracking human migration. They do it by tracking the evolution of chicken DNA   on the islands. *~*~*~* The Kakapo is a critically endangered flightless parrot from New Zealand. Those trying to stave off its extinction had reason for rejoicing this week when the first baby Kakapo in three years was hatched. *~*~*~* As the Arctic tundra continues to warm up, it is releasing more carbon dioxide than can be absorbed by plan

Spring at last!

Spring arrived here right on schedule today at 11:57 A.M., Central Daylight Time, and it could hardly have been a more perfect first day of spring. Bright blue sky filled with golden sunshine, temperatures in the 70s F., a gentle breeze blowing - this was the day we have looked toward for the last three months. And on this beautiful day, I saw my very first Giant Swallowtail butterfly of the year. This wasn't it - the picture was taken last summer - but it looked just like this. I spent much of my day out weeding in the garden and I kept encountering these little guys. Green anoles - one of my favorite garden critters. They were out basking in the sun today. Just like the anoles, my plants, too, are waking up. The old azalea in my backyard is just about to be full of blooms, but this is the first. Nearby, the redbud will soon be full of these lovely blossoms. And, in a bed next to the patio, this pretty little allium has joined the pink bloom parade. It volu

The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall My rating: 4 of 5 stars A man commits suicide in a Stockholm apartment. He leaves behind a cryptic note with just two words: "Martin Beck." Later, on the night of that same day another apartment building in Stockholm explodes in flames while the police are watching the building because of a low-level criminal who lives there. Eleven people live in the building and had it not been for the policeman who was watching at the moment of the explosion, Gunvald Larsson, they would likely all have died. Through his heroic efforts, eight of the people escaped, although one later died. One resident, a teenage girl, was trapped and burned in the attic apartment and the man in the apartment where the fire started also died. It turned out that that man was the criminal whom the police had been watching and that an incendiary device had been placed in the man's mattress. However, complicating matters, it seems that the man was dead

Need some inspiration today?

I've mentioned here before that I am a sucker for lists. I find it hard not to read them, even the inane and sometimes offensive ones that appear on websites like The Huffington Post . They are "click bait" because Huffington knows that there are a lot of people just like me who can't resist clicking on them to see what's there. But occasionally one does come across a list that is actually worthwhile and useful. Such a list is this one: Lessons for Life by Regina Brett , columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer . (Hat tip to Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews for pointing me in her direction.) Brett sat down and wrote this list, originally, several years ago just after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has since revised and added to it. It's a nice affirmation and reminder for us, especially on those days that aren't going exactly the way we had hoped. 1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. 2. When in doubt, just take the next


The first of the migrant male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds has arrived in my backyard. And that means that, for the moment, I have two species of hummingbirds in my yard. The female Rufous that wintered in the yard is still here today, but probably will be leaving soon. If the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived, can the Chimney Swifts be far behind?

Birds of the Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast of Texas is among the birdiest places one can find on this continent. On any given day, there are around 200 different species there. At times during spring migration, the number is closer to 300. During our trip along that coast last week, I didn't get anywhere near the 200 figure. The weather was rather miserable, gray and drizzly every day, and the conditions for birding were not optimal. Still, I did manage to see a goodly number of the feathered residents. I've already shown you the most spectacular feathered creatures we saw - the Whooping Cranes of Aransas . Here are a few others that we encountered along the way. The Whooping Cranes were not even the only cranes that we saw on the trip. In a meadow near the entrance to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a small group of Sandhill Cranes were making a rest stop on their way north.  A total of six of the birds were looking for snacks in the marshy field.  And cranes weren't the only big

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book won the Edgar Award for best novel in 1971 and it is easy to see why. It is a mesmerizing tale right from the first sentence, maybe the best in this series that I have read so far. As with the three earlier books, this one is deceptively simple in construction. It is told in laconic "this happened, then this happened" fashion, and it is hard for an amateur such as myself to deconstruct just why it is so good. But if the object of a writer is to entertain and hold the interest of the reader, this book - and this series - succeeds admirably. Once again we have the ever-morose and ever-dyspeptic Swedish policeman Martin Beck, now risen to the rank of superintendent, along with his cohorts in the Stockholm police department, trying to solve an unprecedented crime where clues are few. A city bus has been found abandoned on the streets with everyone on board, including the driver, dead. They have all been sh

Poetry Sunday: Swifts

In just a few days now, we will see the official beginning of spring. We have looked for the unofficial beginning over the last several weeks and at times we thought that we saw it peeking through the bare limbs of the trees or shining through the feathers of the goldfinches as they took their leave of us and headed north. But we were fooled. Winter maintained its grip. It's only in recent days that we have again begun to hope that the dreary gray season has almost reached its end. There's one way that we'll know for sure that winter is over and spring is here to stay. It's when the Chimney Swifts return. Typically, in my yard, that is in the first week of April, but warm weather is returning earlier in these years of global warming and perhaps the swifts will adjust their timetable accordingly. I love Chimney Swifts. They are among my favorite summer visitors. Perpetually in motion, they live life on the wing and they never fail to cheer me with their with th

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2014

Thanks for dropping in on my Bloom Day post from the new address of my garden blog. No, I haven't moved my garden. It is still located in zone 9a just north of Houston, but regular readers will know that I recently combined my blogs and, although I'm no longer posting on the Gardening With Nature blog , I will have regular posts about my garden here. If you followed me on the other blog, I hope you will now follow me here - or even if you didn't follow me on the other blog! Unfortunately, I still don't have much to show you in the way of blooms from my own garden. Spring continues to creep slowly into my garden, like Chicago's fog, "on little cat's feet." In the middle of February, I thought spring had arrived for good, and so did many of my plants. The shrubs, like this yellow cestrum, started putting out new tender leaves. Perennials were putting up new growth. Everything seemed benevolent for new life. Then, in early March, we had anoth