Showing posts from February, 2015

This week in birds - #147

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The bird of the Week as designated by the American Bird Conservancy is the beautiful Evening Grosbeak . This bird wanders widely in winter. One of the most memorable winters of my life was that of 1977-78 when a massive irruption of the birds occurred and they descended by the hundreds into our yard in the little East Texas town where we lived at the time, covering our trees and shrubs and emptying our bird feeder. They arrived just before Christmas and stayed until spring. It was truly one of the most amazing events I've ever witnessed in birding. Sadly, the Evening Grosbeak has declined throughout its range over the last twenty years and was listed on the State of the Birds Watch List in 2014 for the first time. It would be sad beyond words to lose such a wonderful bird. *~*~*~* One of the most hopeful environmental stories I've read this week is this one about two boys who grew up on opposite sides

I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes: A review

I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes My rating: 1 of 5 stars Having just finished Middlemarch , I felt the need for a short, light, quick read to give myself a change of pace. Well, Martha Grimes' Richard Jury mysteries usually fill that bill and I've been slowly reading my way through them, so I decided to pick up the next one in the series, I Am the Only Running Footman . It was indeed a quick read, but that's just about the only praise I can give it. What was the woman thinking? Her writing is usually pretty crisp and flows smoothly, but this book, published in 1986, was confused and disjointed in its plotting. I had a hard time maintaining interest and it was a struggle  just to finish it. If it hadn't been so short, perhaps I wouldn't have. Really, the book had the feeling of having been cobbled together with leftover ideas from other plots and they didn't hang together very well at all. This book again features Macalvie, the obsessive but bri

The Know Nothings redux

In the mid-19th century, the United States was home to something called the Know Nothing movement. It was a political movement that was anti-intellectual, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant. Its aim was to "purify" American politics. Its adherents ignored history and inconvenient facts which did not support their beliefs. It seems that now, in the early 21st century, we are seeing a revival of that movement. Science and education are under attack in our society by the followers of this philosophy. From climate science and evolution theory through acceptance of hard-won medical technology or even basic hygiene like having your waiter wash his hands before he serves your food, know-nothingness is on the march and it apparently will not be satisfied with anything less than returning us to the Dark Ages. It's not just science that is under attack; it is the whole concept of the scientific method of testing hypotheses with experimentation and unbiased observation. The K

Wildflower Wednesday - February 2015

Today I am linking up with Gail Eichelberger's "Clay and Limestone" which is celebrating its fifth anniversary of the regular feature, Wildflower Wednesday. Congratulations to Gail. *~*~*~* I'm featuring a wildflower that is a pernicious weed in my garden, pushing its way into just about every one of my beds sooner or later. While I pull many of them out, I do continue to tolerate the weed because at this time of year, it features one of the few points of color in my garden. Oxalis violacea, or violet wood sorrel, is such a delicate looking plant, you'd never suspect it of thuggish behavior, but any gardener who has ever tried to completely eradicate has learned that it is indomitable! This member of the wood sorrel family is a low, delicate, somewhat succulent, smooth perennial. The plants spread from underground runners and will form small colonies quick as a blink of the eye. The flowers form in clusters at the tip of long, leafless stalks tha

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot: A review

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot My rating: 5 of 5 stars Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot has been proclaimed by more than one writer as the greatest novel in the English language. Virginia Woolf, in her assessment, called it "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." Who am I to disagree? The book marked another glaring gap in my literary education and so I resolved to fill that gap in 2015. There were times during its reading that I thought it might take me the entire year to fulfill my resolution. At more than 800 very wordy pages, it requires a commitment of time and attention. I had somehow expected the novel to be difficult to get into, as 19th century literature sometimes is, but I was surprised to find that the narrative captured me almost from the first sentence and I was eager to learn just how the story would reveal itself. Middlemarch is

Stop the press! Cats love boxes!

It's a cold, drizzly, gray Monday in February and we need something to lighten our mood. What better than a cat video? Specifically a cat video showing two kittens confirming the well-known feline relationship with empty boxes. That's all it takes to entertain them. And us. Happy Monday!

Poetry Sunday: Detroit, Tomorrow

Philip Levine, a much-honored American poet, died last week at age 87 . Mr. Levine had won just about every award it is possible for a poet to win in his long career and he had capped all that with a stint as our Poet Laureate in 2011-12. Much has been written since his death about how he made poetry of the everyday event's of ordinary people's lives. He wrote about the work that they did, often hard and dirty labor. In their obituary for him, The New York Times wrote that his poetry " was vibrantly, angrily and often painfully alive with the sound, smell and sinew of heavy manual labor." Levine knew first-hand about that work. He had held many of those jobs himself in his early years. He was born in Detroit and the lives of the laboring masses who made Detroit a great city were often the theme of his writing. Here is one of those poems. Detroit, Tomorrow BY  PHILIP LEVINE Newspaper says the boy killed by someone,    don’t say who. I know the mother, waki

This week in birds - # 146

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : One of my resident Red-shouldered Hawks . This bird and its partner nested just southwest of my backyard and almost within sight of my yard last year and they seem to be ready to nest in the same area again this year. Both of them are very active, vocal, and visible over my yard every day. *~*~*~* It seems that all we hear about in regard to the weather these days is how cold it is in the East and how Boston is buried in several feet of snow. They are enduring a miserable winter, but the truth is that there have been more records for high temperatures than for low temperatures set in the U.S. in the first two months of 2015. Moreover, it has been a bad winter for snow in the west (meaning too little, not too much) and the snowpack in the Olympia Mountains is at a record low . Authorities are worried that this may lead to water shortages in the area's future. *~*~*~* Three new national monuments were desi

Rudy Giuliani is an idiot and he doesn't love America

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”   - Rudy Giuliani speaking at a political fund-raiser this week. Rudy "Noun/Verb 9/11" Giuliani is off his leash again and making the same kind of stupid remarks that we've come to expect from him.  So here he is again making the point of all dyed-in-the-wool right-wingers that Barack Obama is "different" from "us." He wasn't brought up the same way we were. Giuliani later doubled down on these remarks and defended them to The New York Times , saying that they couldn't possibly be racist because, after all, Obama was raised by white people.  His mother was white. His maternal grandparents, who were responsible for much of his raising, were white. They were Kansans from the hea

How to kill a legend

Both of my daughters worked at bookstores after high school and before they got on with the rest of their lives. Both used to love telling stories about confused patrons who mixed up the titles of the books they were trying to purchase. The classic, of course, is the student who was looking for How to Kill a Mockingbird . Probably everyone who has ever worked in a bookstore can tell similar stories. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a beloved book and is so much a part of our national identity, how we see ourselves - we all strive to be Atticus - that it is no wonder that the recent announcement that a sequel would be published later this year caused such a stir. Perhaps it could have even been predicted that the initial excitement would give way to second thoughts and questioning. After all, for more than fifty years, Harper Lee had declined to publish another book. There had been rumors that there was such a book that was written around the same time as Mockingbird but there was ne

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Red-eared slider turtles

Well, no, I don't actually have red-eared slider turtles in my backyard, but they are one of the most common semiaquatic turtles in this area. They are also popular as pets because of their ease of care, and they are reportedly the most commonly traded species of turtle in the world. When we visited Brazos Bend State Park last Saturday, red-eared sliders were everywhere in and around the lake where we walked a trail. The sun was shining brilliantly and the turtles of all sizes, from tiny babies to old grandfathers, were taking full advantage of it. Turtles are reptiles, after all, and the sun helps to warm them and help them to get active.  This one had decided to go for a swim. You can see why he's called "red-eared." These turtles are excellent swimmers. This one gives us a good look at the interesting pattern on his carapace and head. The carapace can actually vary in color and in pattern according to the age of the turtle.   Red-eared slider

The decline of Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey was fun and entertaining for the first couple of years of its existence. Even season three had it moments. But it is now in its fifth year and these last two years have been pretty uniformly awful. The characters, who were once fairly interesting, have descended into caricature. The plots, such as they are, seem to have been devised by not very bright fifth graders. The writing and the dialogue - well, other than the occasional bon mot by the Dowager Countess, the less said the better. It is all just too staid and predictable. This season, we have seen Mary, the golden daughter whom everyone loves  and whom every man that she meets wants to get into the pants of, become even more of a self-centered bitch than she ever was in the previous seasons. I know we are supposed to think she's wonderful and hang on her every word, but when she went riding in that steeplechase last week, I was really hoping she would fall off her horse and break her swan-like neck. Maybe t

Great Backyard Bird Count Wrap-up

A disappointing 2015 Great Backyard Bird Count has come to an end for me. While the first three days of the count featured fair to excellent weather and birding conditions, this last day was a bit of a wash - literally. It was wet and cold which resulted in my being able to spend only about thirty minutes actually looking at birds. I doubt if it would have mattered much if I'd been able to spend more time. There just weren't that many birds to see. My weekend of birding in my yard ended with a total of 28 species. I also spent an hour or so on Saturday at Brazos Bend State Park and found 21 species. Even at the park, which is usually a very birdy place, there were not a lot of birds to be seen. As of 6:00 P.M. this afternoon, my yard ranked 187th overall among the sites that had reported, but counts are still being entered and tabulated so that is almost sure to change. Birders will still be sending in their reports until the end of the month when data collection is closed

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2015

(Note to my regular readers: Poetry Sunday will return next week.) Trying to find blooms in my February garden was a real scavenger hunt, but I did manage to come up with a few prizes. And some surprises. If it's February, it's time for the leucojum to send out their dainty little bell-shaped blossoms. No surprise there.  And in beds all over the garden, the weed oxalis is sending up its shamrock leaves and providing a bit of winter color with its delicate pink blossoms. Even though it's a weed, it disappears when the weather heats up, so for the most part, I tolerate it.  In a pot near the front door, the more cultivated form of the plant, the purple oxalis, is also beginning to bloom as it nestles in its companion ivy.  Also near the front door, the pansies still bloom in their pot with the ornamental cabbage. A few of the cyclamen hang on as well. This white yarrow just seems confused. It is a bit early for it to be blooming, but I