Showing posts from April, 2014

Gifts of the late April garden (Part 2)

Among the best gifts that my late April garden has to offer are, of course, the flowers. After the browns and grays of the winter landscape, the colors of the spring blossoms are a tonic for the spirit, and April is the time when many of the plants, with their fresh new growth, are at their very best before they are weighed down by the heat and humidity and drought of summer, not to mention by serving as a buffet for insects. April offers us that first flush of bloom when hope is still in the air and the perfect garden of our dreams is still possible. April is the month when the water lilies in the goldfish pond start to bloom.  And, of course, amaryllises are among the first bloomers in the garden. Some, like this one, are still blooming here at the end of the month.  St. Joseph's lilies still bloom. And the 'Red Lion' amaryllis still roars.  This little tricycle planter was a gift from my son-in-law a few years ago, and I enjoy planting it up in th

Gifts of the late April garden (Part 1)

Those longed-for April showers never developed. Indeed, it has been an exceptionally dry April in my garden, with only about one inch of rainfall overall. Here at the end of April, I find myself already providing supplemental water right around my one-half acre garden. In spite of all that, April really is perhaps my favorite month of the year in the garden. It's the month when many of the plants are starting their season of bloom and when plants that died back to their roots during winter are beginning to make their appearance once again. It's the month when most of the necessary pruning has been completed and things are beginning to look neat and when the gardener is still able to stay ahead of the weeds. That final one won't last for long, but, while it does, I do enjoy it. Most of all April is a month for surprises in the garden. At this time of the year, many of my surprises are wearing feathers. As the spring migrants pass this way headed north, we never know fr

Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjöwall My rating: 2 of 5 stars I have tremendously enjoyed reading the books in this series. Up until now. I have to say that this sixth entry in the ten-book series left me scratching my head as to why they even bothered. It seemed as though the authors were simply phoning it in and were not really engaged by the story they were telling. The "mystery" took a back seat to Sjowall's and Wahloo's exploration of Swedish society and all that (they felt) was wrong with it back in the 1960s when they were writing. Reading about the evils of the welfare state that was Sweden was interesting, at least historically, up to a point, but past that point, I frankly just felt that the writers were beating a dead horse. They were definitely beating a reader who had lost interest. The mystery involves who shot Viktor Palmgren, a powerful Swedish industrialist, while he was making an after-dinner speech in the restaurant of the luxurious Hotel Savoy

Poetry Sunday: Old Wives

I often listen to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. She almost always has interesting guests and interesting conversations with them. Last week, one of her shows focused on poetry, since April is National Poetry Month . She had three poets as guests and they read some of their poems and recited poems that were meaningful to them. At the end of the show, Diane read a poem by a friend of hers who was not a famous poet. Her name was Emma Jean (E.J.) Mudd and she was married to journalist Roger Mudd. She was apparently a multi-talented person, a virtual Renaissance woman. She died three years ago. Of all the poems that were read or recited on Rehm's show, this is the one that struck a chord with me. Possibly because I, too, am an old wife. Old Wives by E.J. Mudd What did we think when we promised to love and cherish those barely known men till death did us part – and all that? I think what we heard was the first set of terms- for richer, for better, in health.

This week in birds - #106

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Last week I wondered whether the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks would make an appearance in my yard this spring. This week I have my answer and it is affirmative! I've only seen one so far but I hear their clear robin-like songs emanating from trees around the yard, so I'm hoping to see more and perhaps get some good pictures. *~*~*~* The latest Audubon magazine has a feature story on the Galveston Bay oil spill one month after the fact. The bottom line is that the long-term effects of the spill are still to be determined. *~*~*~* Scientists tracking the onset of spring and the bloom of flowers have found that the blooms are coming on average about three weeks earlier than what was documented by Henry David Thoreau in his observations on Walden Pond in the 1850s. *~*~*~* It began as a misguided effort to honor Shakespeare. In the 1890s, it was thought that it would be a wonderful idea to introduce to Nor

Let it Go(T)

Ah, you've been so good this week, you deserve a treat. How about a mashup of a popular song and a popular TV show? It's really pretty much on point. I'm sure you remember the song from the movie "Frozen" that won the Oscar for best original song in a movie from 2013. That's right - "Let it go." And even if you don't watch it on HBO or read George R.R. Martin's books, you are probably at least aware of "Game of Thrones." So, how about we put them together and come up with a new winner? WARNING  - If you haven't watched season four through the third episode or if you haven't read The Song of Ice and Fire through book three: There be spoilers here!

Butterflies of Houston & Southeast Texas by John & Gloria Tveten: A review

Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas by John Tveten My rating: 5 of 5 stars A book that I have owned for many years, which I am constantly re-reading sections of, and which I refer to almost every day especially at this time of year, is Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas by John and Gloria Tveten. This is the most accessible and, at the same time, the most comprehensive guide to butterflies that I have found for this area. The guide describes and illustrates with color pictures more than 100 species of butterflies that can be found in Southeast Texas, as well as often occurring farther afield in other sections of the state. In my many years of relying on this easy-to-use guide, it has never failed me. Every butterfly that I have come across in Southeast Texas has been found in the book. As a habitat gardener and amateur photographer who delights in photographing butterflies, I particularly admire the work of those who photographed the butterflies for the book. They ar

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Leopard Frog

While I was weeding the area around my little backyard goldfish pond last Saturday, I happened to interrupt the nap of this handsome fellow. He is a Southern Leopard Frog ( Rana sphenocephala ) and he and a number of his relatives inhabit my pond and its immediate environs. Leopard Frogs are pretty common anywhere there is shallow water. This can include lakes, marshes, streams, or backyard goldfish ponds. They are nocturnal and become active at night. Throughout the day, they generally hide among the plants, like my little friend. Sometimes, if they are startled, they will leap into the water. This guy, though, seemed too sleepy to bother. These frogs are large and slender and can grow up to about five inches long. They can be green or brown or, as this one is, green AND brown. with the large dark spots which give them their common name. Southern Leopard Frogs breed from March to June. Once mated, the female frogs lay egg masses of up to 4,000 eggs in shallow water, usuall

Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi: A review

Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi My rating: 5 of 5 stars On Earth Day, it seems appropriate to consider some of the gifts that Earth gives us. One of the loveliest and at the same time most useful of these is wildflowers. If you are an admirer of wildflowers, you know very well that you need a field guide to help you identify what you see. If you live in Texas and/or want to know about the wildflowers of this state, one of the very best guides you can pick up is Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi. I got my copy of this book several years ago on a visit to that shrine to Texas wildflowers, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, and it has been well-thumbed over the years. It is my go-to guide for figuring out what I am seeing along the roadways and byways of the state, as well as, sometimes, in my own backyard. There are more than 5,000 species of flowering plants identified in the state and this revised edition of the book which I own has information

The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian: A review

The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian My rating: 4 of 5 stars Jack Aubrey is such a dunderhead. He really should not be allowed abroad on land without a keeper. At sea, he is authoritative, knowledgable, decisive, charismatic, a man of action that other men delight in following. He is "Lucky Jack." But on land, he is decidedly unlucky. He is "Dunderhead Jack," an easy mark for any scam artist. A scam artist is just what he meets on his way home from his duties of protecting whalers off the South American coasts. This well-spoken, well-dressed gentlemen convinces Jack that he has inside information that peace is going to break out in just a few days and that certain investments in the City, made before the news becomes public, are bound to make the lucky investors a fortune. Jack, who is always only half a step ahead of bankruptcy and ruin, jumps at the chance to make his fortune. He never considers who the man is or why he might be giving him thi

Poetry Sunday: Easter Day

Easter morning. A day that I have many fond memories of from my childhood. My mother always got me a new dress and shoes for the day, and, usually, a special bow or sometimes a little hat for my head. New clothes were not that common in my life so I always looked forward to this chance to dress up. Then on to church where there was, of course, a special service and special music for the day. And there would be some kind of program involving the children. A chance to perform! A chance to show off for an appreciative audience of parents. After that, of course, came the high point of the day for us kids - the Easter egg hunt with the possibility of being the lucky one to find the Prize Egg. Finally, home for a very special lunch, shared with company - uncles, aunts, cousins, and sometimes, when it was our turn, the preacher and his family. Simple pleasures for simple lives. In some parts of the world, Easter is a far more grand occasion. Oscar Wilde wrote of such grandiosity a

This week in birds - #105

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Rose-breasted Grosbeak visitors like this pair were common in my backyard last spring. They have reached and passed the Gulf Coast in their spring migration. Will any of them show up here this year? It always seems to be boom or bust - I have a lot of them or I have none. My birdfeeders are stocked and ready and I'm hoping for "boom" again this year. *~*~*~* One of the big stories in science this week was the occurrence of the so-called "Blood Moon" eclipse which generated the usual prophecies of the Apocalypse from the usual suspects. But it turns out such lunar eclipses are really not that rare. They've happened many times in history without triggering an Apocalypse. *~*~*~* I've reported here before about brainy New Caledonian Crows learning how to use water displacement to obtain food. Now here's a video from The New York Times science desk showing one of the crows in

Thoughts on Good Friday: I guess I just don't understand

So...I've been thinking about that freeloading rancher in Nevada who has inspired various gun nuts to show up and instigate a standoff with federal authorities. The deal is that the man had been grazing his cattle on federal lands - i.e., lands that belong to all of us - for about a quarter of a century and never paying any of the required, relatively minimal, fees. The Bureau of Land Management had finally decided to try to collect and confiscated his cattle on the lands. And that's when the rancher and his supporters decided to bring on the guns. (And why is it that the first impulse of people like him is always to wave their guns around?) The federal authorities, not wishing to start a bloodbath, stood down and will pursue remedies by other means. And now this old white guy with his cowboy hat and his gun is the newest hero of the right-wingnut faction of American politics and their hysterical media outlet, Fox News, which has been giving the incident the 24-hour "new

The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen: A review

The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen My rating: 3 of 5 stars This book had languished on my bookshelf for far too long. With the recent death of author Peter Matthiessen, I was reminded of its presence, and, somewhat shamefacedly, took it down and began to read. I had read several of Matthiessen's other books, both fiction and nonfiction, and I had always found his writing to be quite lyrical and spellbinding. That was true of The Tree Where Man Was Born as well. Matthiessen combines his skills as a nature writer and as a travel writer here in order to vividly bring to life the East Africa that existed in the 1960s when the adventure he is writing about took place. It is a snapshot of a time and place, people, animals, and plants even, that no longer exist or else they exist in greatly changed circumstances. The countries that he names have sometimes passed into history and become different entities with different names. Tanganyika is now Tanzania, etc. Matth

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2014

April is here at last. Even though it hasn't brought many of its promised showers so far, we welcome it and rejoice that finally a few blooms are returning to the garden. This old-fashioned and very fragrant petunia reseeded itself in one of the beds and I let it stay. Now it brightens that corner of the garden. This wildflower called "Philadelphia fleabane" reseeded itself in the garden last year. It is a perennial and so it came up again this year and now is featuring these delicate little blossoms which I quite like. I like to plant marigolds in the vegetable garden. Allegedly they help to repel some harmful insects and I just like the way they look there. These bloom in the tomato bed. And, nearby, the tomatoes bloom, too. They call it "autumn" sage, but, in fact, it blooms all year here, including the spring. The amaryllises, like many of my plants, are late this year, probably because of the late cold snap we had in March