Showing posts from August, 2014

Poetry Sunday: The Ordinary

A summer dragonfly. The ordinary days of the long, hot summer, the season of the dragonfly, are coming to an end. Leaves are already beginning to fall, harbinger of the season to come.  But still the grass grows and must be mowed and still the dragonflies follow in the mower's wake. Summer maintains it grip and will not go quietly. When it is gone, these ordinary days and hours will be remembered with love.  The Ordinary by  Kirsten Dierking It's summer, so the pink gingham shorts, the red mower, the neat rows of clean smelling grass unspooling behind the sweeping blades. A dragonfly, black body big as a finger, will not leave the mower alone, loving the sparkle of scarlet metal, seeing in even a rusting paint the shade of a flower. But I wave him off, conscious he is wasting his time, conscious I am filling my time with such small details, distracting colors, like pink checks, like this, then that, like a dragonfly wing in the sun reflecting the color of opals,

This week in birds - #123

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Black-crowned Night Heron searches for food among duckweed covering the water. The Black-crowned is less frequently seen here than its Yellow-crowned cousin, so it is always a treat to be able to capture one with the camera. *~*~*~* We know that our bodies are host to any number of tiny organisms with whom we share a mostly symbiotic relationship. From the perspective of these organisms, we are a distinct universe. Among the tiny creatures that live with us are two species of facial mites and it seems that almost everyone has them. They are probably crawling around your eyebrows as you read this - and among mine as I type it. They are not very attractive creatures but they are benevolent. A case could be made that they are our best friends! *~*~*~* Organisms that are distinctly not benevolent cause problems for some species of birds - specifically finches. Conjunctivitis is a plague among some populati

The week that was

It has been another thoroughly awful week in what has been a spectacularly terrible summer of news events so far. Thank Mother Nature it is coming to an end. At least the season is. The nature of humankind probably guarantees that the bad news will continue, but perhaps we'll have some more pleasant weather to ameliorate its effects. *~*~*~* The Middle East continues to be the Middle East. Syria and Iraq continue to be Syria and Iraq, and ISIL/ISIS continues its campaign to dominate them both as well as the rest of the region. They see it as their Allah-given right, just as some sects in this country see it as their God-given right to dictate to the rest of us how we should live. (Really, wouldn't it be wonderful if all of these fundamentalists could just be isolated to one corner of the world and allowed to slug it out?) ISIL/ISIS, of course, commits really horrific acts, including beheading people while distributing the video of it to the world and, apparently, burying

Out of Range by C.J. Box: A review

Out Of Range by C.J. Box My rating: 3 of 5 stars C.J. Box has always portrayed his hero Game Warden Joe Pickett as a paragon of virtue. He's not necessarily the sharpest tool in the box but he's always squeaky clean - at least in his intentions. Out of Range gives a slightly new twist to his character. Pickett's friend and fellow game warden, Will Jensen, is found dead in his state-owned house in Jackson, Wyoming. The cause of death was a gunshot to the head and the weapon is lying by his side. It appears to be a clear-cut case of suicide. It is made more clear-cut by the fact that Jensen had been acting crazy and very much out of character for several months before his death. The Teton district that was Jensen's charge was an epicenter for many environmentalist causes, as well as an elite playground for the rich and powerful - including a certain vice-president who makes a cameo appearance here. It is about as different from the sleepy little town of Saddlestr

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Two beautyberries

I have two varieties of beautyberry in my garden. The purple variety, which is the kind that is seen in Nature. And a white cultivar. Now, in past years, I have found that the birds in my yard generally wait until a bit later to start hitting the beautyberries for their daily snacks. They would usually exhaust the softer elderberries and the pokeberries which I also have in my garden before they started on the beautyberries. The beautyberry is a harder fruit and it will last longer on the shrub, right into winter. That's mostly when I've noticed birds eating them in past years. But this must be a particularly delicious year for these berries because the birds are already devouring them with great relish. Also, in the past, the birds usually started with the white berries and stripped all of them before they moved on to the purple. Not this year. They are showing a distinct preference for the purple. Mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, grackles, even wrens and chickad

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear My rating: 3 of 5 stars It's Christmas Eve 1931 in Maisie Dobbs' world, more than ten years past the end of the Great War that was to "end all wars." The war goes on though for so many of those who participated in it. Millions of men and women who were grievously wounded either physically or psychologically - or both - continue to struggle with their wounds and with trying to make a place for themselves in the world. Maisie Dobbs' work as a psychologist and investigator often seems to bring her into contact with these desperate people and that is the case once again in Among the Mad . It begins with Maisie walking down a London street with her assistant Billy Beale, on their way to meet with a client. Suddenly, Maisie gets one of her premonitions. She orders her assistant to go back as she walks forward toward a disabled man sitting on the street. He has one missing leg and the other injured and Maisie feels the distress com

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon: A review

(Note: This summer I'm featuring some of my old book reviews that have not been posted here before. This is a book that I read in March 2009 and my review of it was published on Goodreads on March 4, 2009. Although I read it in winter, it would be a good - and quick - read for summer.) Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon My rating: 4 of 5 stars It is circa 950 C.E. in the Caucasus Mountains area, the Khazar Empire.  Zelikman, the Frankish scarecrow of a man, and Amram, the Abyssinian former soldier, both Jews and brothers under the skin, make their way in the area by serving as blades for hire, thieves, bamboozlers - whatever happens to come their way.  They are, in fact, Gentlemen of the Road or, as Chabon says he first titled the work, "Jews with Swords." This is a short novel full of Chabon's trademark sardonic style of writing.  I had previously read The Yiddish Policemen's Union and thoroughly enjoyed it and I was anxious to try out his latest w

Poetry Sunday: These are the days when Birds come back

A robin taking "communion" at a beautyberry shrub in my backyard yesterday. Birds are always on the move it seems. North, south, moving with the seasons or with the climate or the availability of food and water. The fall migration is already well under way now and the birds are passing through my backyard on a weekly or daily basis. The American Robin, though, has been here all along and has raised his family here this summer. Just this past week he has been escorting a new family around the garden, teaching them where to find food. One place that many of my backyard birds find food these days is at the beautyberry shrubs. No one enjoys them more than the robin as he shows in the picture above, receiving his communion wafer and wine in the form of purple berries.   These are the days when Birds come back— by Emily Dickinson These are the days when Birds come back— A very few—a Bird or two— To take a backward look. These are the days when ski

This week in birds - #122

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Redhead Duck , photographed on our autumn trip to Big Bend National Park in West Texas two years ago. Some of these beautiful ducks winter in our area and they will soon be winging our way once again in their fall migration. *~*~*~* The ongoing extreme drought in the West has resulted in the loss of some 63 trillion gallons of groundwater , scientists estimate. That, in turn, has had the effect of causing the surface of the earth in those areas to rise about 0.16 inches over the last eighteen months. *~*~*~* Ospreys returned to Cumbria in England in 2001, after an absence of about 150 years. Now, a pair have produced chicks at a nest in Roudsea Wood Nature Preserve in Cumbria. Since Ospreys return to the same nest year after year, it is hoped that this will be a new beginning for the birds in that area of their former range. *~*~*~* Beetles are among the most diverse and interesting of insects. "Bee

The last days of summer

Days are getting shorter. Just a month ago, at 7:00 in the evening the setting sun would still be above the tops of the tall pine trees that spread across the western horizon prospect from my backyard. Today, by 7:00 the sun will be well behind those trees, just about down to their bases.  Moreover, the sun has started on its long trek to the south for winter. After reaching its northernmost point in the sky several weeks ago, the sun is now several degrees farther south, looking from our planetary perspective. And so the seasons change. There's only a month left in this season, but it is likely the most miserable month for us. The heat and humidity now are just about unbearable for outdoor activities of any extended period. And the plants which must stand out there all day under the broiling sun are looking wilted and tattered, much the worse for wear. A few leaves are already dropping, harbinger of the deluge to come. The bottom line for gardeners is that it is almost impos

The Dirty Duck by Martha Grimes: A review

The Dirty Duck by Martha Grimes My rating: 4 of 5 stars Superintendent Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard is visiting a friend in Stratford-on-Avon and hoping for an encounter with the intriguing Lady Kennington whom he met in the last book in the series, The Anodyne Necklace . His friend Melrose Plant is in town, too, along with Aunt Agatha, seeing Shakespeare plays and waiting - in Agatha's case - for some visiting cousins from America. It is summer and the town seems full of visiting Americans, including a group traveling with Honeycutt Tours. This particular group, however, does not stay intact for very long. After having a drink at a pub called "The Dirty Duck" one night, one of the tourists, Gwendolyn Bracegirdle from Sarasota, Florida, is killed in a public restroom behind a church. Her throat is slashed ear to ear and another slash rents the body from sternum to pelvis. There are no clues and Miss Bracegirdle was a quiet sort who did not seem to have any enem

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

Eutrochium purpureum , "Joe Pye weed" with beautyberry in the background. Joe Pye weed is an herbaceous perennial in the aster family that is native to the eastern and northern United States. It can grow from five to seven feet tall and spread from two to four feet wide, so it is best to give it plenty of room. The plant is in bloom from mid to late summer. The one in my backyard is not quite in full bloom yet but is almost there. The blooms are mauve pink when fully opened. They can be quite showy and they have the added attraction of having a slight vanilla fragrance. The flowers give way to attractive seed heads which will persist right into winter. The plants can be propagated through stem cuttings. It is best to cut them back to the ground in late winter and let them regenerate in the new growing season. People often think of this plant as only a roadside weed and do not consider it as an ornamental for their gardens, but those, like myself, who like to use na

Frog Music by Emma Donaghue: A review

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue My rating: 3 of 5 stars This story is based on an actual event that happened in San Francisco in the summer of 1876 - the never-solved murder of a young cross-dressing frog hunter named Jenny Bonnet. Emma Donaghue takes the bare bones of that case and fleshes it out to detail an interesting and plausible tale of just how and why this murder happened and who may have been responsible. That summer in San Francisco was a terrible time. The city was in the grip of a record-breaking heat wave, but its misery was increased exponentially by a smallpox epidemic which was terrifying the populace and making them wary of interacting with each other. We meet Blanche Beunon, French immigrant, a burlesque dancer and whore who was the support of herself and her two "fancy men," Arthur and Ernest. All three had formerly been performers in the circus in France, but after Arthur, who was a trapeze artist, had a fall which injured his back, they all came to Americ

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich: A review

( Note: This summer I'm posting some of my old book reviews here - reviews that were published on Goodreads but never before here. This one appeared on Goodreads on August 4, 2009 as I was beginning to fall out of love with the Stephanie Plum series. ) Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich My rating: 2 of 5 stars So what's with Evanonvich's sudden obsession with farts?  And why is it that only one of her characters performs this most human of functions?  It seems like on every third page of this book Lula lets go another big one.  Always Lula.  Obviously, it is supposed to be hilarious.  Now if RANGER let go a big one, that would be truly hilarious!  Oh, I forgot.  Ranger is perfect.  He doesn't fart. And herein lies my problem with this book.  Yes, it is another quick, funny trip through the whacked-out landscape of the underbelly of Trenton as seen through the eyes of Stephanie Plum.  It has all the touches we've come to expect.  Stephanie and Morell

Poetry Sunday: Mending Wall

There are two sides to a wall or fence and two ways of viewing the efficacy of such a structure. Robert Frost understood both and expressed both in his poem "Mending Wall." Mending Wall BY  ROBERT FROST Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. The work of hunters is another thing: I have come after them and made repair Where they have left not one stone on a stone, But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, No one has seen them made or heard them made, But at spring mending-time we find them there. I let my neighbour know beyond the hill; And on a day we meet to walk the line And set the wall between us once again. We keep the wall between us as we go. To each the boulders that have fallen to each. And some are loaves and some so nearly balls We have

This week in birds - #121

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : One of the most widespread raptors in the country - or indeed on the continent - is the magnificent Red-tailed Hawk . It is the hawk that most people will have in mind if they simply say "hawk."  It is the one that all of the big hawks (the buteos ) are compared to. This hawk comes in many different color phases from very pale to almost black, but each of them has some things in common, including a white speckled V-shaped mark on the back and a streaked belly band on a lighter belly. And, of course, every one of them has that characteristic which gives the species its name. Yes, they all have that red tail. It's the thing that makes this one of the most easily recognizable hawks among a class of birds that can often be quite confusing. *~*~*~* Another bird that is very widespread across the continent in summer is the Chimney Swift . I've often mentioned here that it is one of my favorite sum

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2014

Mid-August is the hottest part of summer for us in Southeast Texas. In addition, all our lovely showers from spring and early summer seem to have ended and suddenly things are very, very dry. I've had to deploy the sprinklers to keep some of my plants from succumbing to the heat and dry conditions. Even so, in spite of hostile conditions, August has its blooms. Here are some of them. In the little pond, the water lilies are blooming. Those pellets surrounding the blossom are food for the goldfish. Also in the pond, the pickerel weed is going strong. And beside the pond, the swamp hibiscus that we call Texas Star is sending out its daily blooms. The 4 O'clocks are full of their blooms as well. The almond verbena with its small blossoms that carry a big fragrance that scents the entire section of the garden where the big shrub lives. Even though it has been dry, the humidity has been high and that has been enough to keep the Texas sage in