Showing posts from May, 2015

Poetry Sunday: The Rainy Day

We've had very few days in Southeast Texas recently, or indeed in the last several weeks, when rain hasn't fallen, and that can begin to wear one down after a while. At such times it is good to remind ourselves, as Longfellow assured us, "Behind the clouds is the sun still shining."  The Rainy Day  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The day is cold, and dark, and dreary It rains, and the wind is never weary; The vine still clings to the mouldering wall, But at every gust the dead leaves fall, And the day is dark and dreary. My life is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past, But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast, And the days are dark and dreary. Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.

This week in birds - #159

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : American Bittern making itself invisible by "freezing" among the weeds. *~*~*~* When oaks begin to leaf out in spring, the population of leaf-eating caterpillars explodes. It's a time of plenty for birds that enjoy dining on them and those canny birds have learned that this is a good time to raise their families that typically need lots and lots of those tiny caterpillars to grow into adulthood. They are able to time their egg-laying so that the chicks hatch during this time of plenty. *~*~*~* The overrunning of Palmyra by the Islamic State has many serious political and cultural implications, including the potential destruction of some of the most important archeological sites in that part of the world. Somewhat overlooked in the concerns about human structures is the potential harm that can be done to the natural environment. Among these concerns is a small breeding colony of the endangered

Everything's bigger in Texas - including the hypocrisy

I have lived in Texas for forty years, during which time I have given birth to two full-blooded Texans. And still, I have a hard time thinking of myself as a Texan.  In fact, I don't think of myself as a Texan. I think of myself as an American. My discomfort with being labeled a Texan has everything to do with the political image and leadership of this state where paranoia and a sense of superiority and privilege run deep. It has nothing at all to do with the ordinary people of Texas who are friendly, helpful, and good neighbors to have.  With that in mind, I have been somewhat bemused but not really surprised by the actions of those said politicians this week - the week of the Great Texas Flood of 2015. Keep in mind these are the same leaders who were last seen assigning the State Guard to keep an eye on a U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm because it was seen as a potential move by that dastardly Obama to "take over" Texas. (Never mind t

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: A review

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson My rating: 5 of 5 stars Those of us who read and loved Kate Atkinson's last book, Life After Life , have looked forward to and been curious about how she would follow it up, and maybe we worried a little bit that she wouldn't be able to again reach the high standard she had set for herself. We needn't have worried. This is a wonderful book, every bit as imaginative in its way as the hugely successful book that preceded it. And right up front, I'll give you a piece of free advice. If you haven't read Life After Life , read it before you read this book for this is a companion piece to that book. Not a sequel as such but simply another part of the story. In Life After Life , we met the Todd family of Fox Corner. The focus of that book was one of the Todd daughters, Ursula. Atkinson imagined various scenarios for Ursula's life. In some of those scenarios, the life was brief, tragic, and uneventful. In others, the life stretched th

Wildflower Wednesday: Monarda citriodora

Monarda citriodora , a flowering plant in the mint family ( Lamiaceae ) that is native to much of the United States and Mexico, has many common names. It is variously called purple horsemint, lemon beebalm, lemon horsemint, purple lemon mint, and other iterations of those names. The plant grows 1 - 2 feet tall and has unusual tuft-like, lavender to pink, whorled flower heads. Each separate whorl in the elongated spike of bloom is subtended by leaf-like bracts. Several stems grow from the plant's base and these stems have pairs of lance-shaped leaves. This plant is extremely attractive to bees and butterflies, which accounts for one of its common names, beebalm. It has a very distinctive citrus or lemony scent when the leaves are rubbed or crushed. It is easy to grow and, over time, will form large colonies. It is classified as an annual but readily reseeds and comes back year after year. It has an exceptionally long bloom period from May through July and often, with enough water,

Game of Thrones and rape

HBO's superseries Game of Thrones  has now completely left behind the creator of Westeros and Essos. Television moves faster than that glacially slow writer George R.R. Martin and so the series writers are now creating their own scenarios and storylines, presumably in consultation with Martin. I mean he is still writing those books. Allegedly. He or his spokesperson has said that number six will be out before season six of the television series starts. Personally, I'll believe it when I hold it in my hands and read it. Of course, the series has always had some differences from the books. After all, television is different from literature. What can be explained in great and loving detail in a book has to be translated to a few seconds or a few minutes of action on the screen. Dramatic license applies here.  Some of the changes made by the series runners are not so easily explained away, however. That notorious rape scene between Jaime and Cersei last season springs immediat

Poetry Sunday: Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)

I never knew that Herman Melville wrote poetry, but he did write at least one. It's a poem that commemorates one of the most terrible battles of our own Civil War, the battle at Shiloh in 1862 and it is my poem of the week on this Memorial Day weekend. I've been to that battlefield many times for it is near the place where I grew up. I've walked its rolling terrain and the trails along the river, admired the many monuments from various states that were represented on those bloody days in April, 1962. Today it is a quiet, sacred place, a place where, 153 years ago, in a few hours, so many suffered and died in the name of politics which most of them probably barely understood. It is the same with most battlefields, of course. The blood of the dead waters and fertilizes the fields, the survivors move on, and Nature takes over once again. The songs of birds and frogs and cicadas are heard once more in the land and swallows dip and dive and twitter over the places where many

This week in birds - #158

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Everybody's favorite backyard bird, the Northern Cardinal . *~*~*~* We may as well get the really bad news out of the way first - another terrible oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It develops that the company in charge of the pipeline that leaked all that black goo onto pristine beaches had accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. The news gets even worse. The spill has moved south to Coal Oil Point Reserve which is the nesting grounds of the threatened Western Snowy Plover , which is now in the middle of its nesting season. Conservationists are working hard to try to protect the area and the birds. *~*~*~* What does the Sage Grouse have to do with military spending? Not a thing unless you live in the world of congressional politics. The threatened bird has become the latest political football in Washington. The Interior Department is considering whether the bir

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear My rating: 3 of 5 stars I decided to go ahead and read the last Jacqueline Winspear book that I had on Kindle just to get it out of my queue. It had been there for a long time and I was tired of seeing it. It turns out that this entry marks something of an end to one chapter of Maisie Dobbs' life and so it is a good "ending," a good place for me to pause in my reading of the Dobbs saga and move on to something else for a while. Dobbs is dissatisfied with her life. She is a successful businesswoman, fabulously wealthy thanks to a bequest from her mentor, has a good and caring (and rich) man as a lover, and is well-respected everywhere she goes. In short, everyone loves Maisie, so why wouldn't she be discontented? Yeah, right! This is actually one of the things that annoys me about this character. She really seems to have little actual depth of understanding of just how lucky she is. Oh, she gives lip service to s

Backyard Nature Wednesday: A little backyard porn

I can hardly step into my yard these days without encountering a shameless exhibition like this. A pair of green anoles intent on doing their duty to perpetuate the species. I find it interesting that, during copulation, the female in the pair assumes a duller color. Sometimes I see pairs where the female is almost brown during this sensitive time. I don't know how to interpret this, or if it really means anything. Maybe it's just a random thing. But a few minutes after copulation ends, the female begins to regain her brighter green color, just like the male. With any luck, in a few weeks we'll start seeing tiny green anoles, just out of the egg. They'll be joining hundreds of others in my backyard.  

A Pale Horse by Charles Todd: A review

A Pale Horse by Charles Todd My rating: 4 of 5 stars A man who is of interest to the British War Office has disappeared. He is a chemist whose work during World War I was so secret that the War Office withholds information about what he did or even his real name. But they want someone to go and try to find what has happened to him. Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Rutledge. It's not the first time his superiors have sent him on what appears to be a "mission impossible" since he returned to his job just over a year ago after having suffered shell shock during the war and being hospitalized after it. In spite of the demons that haunt him and the constant presence in his head of Hamish, the Scottish soldier whom he executed at the front for failure to obey orders, Rutledge is a very good investigator and in spite of the ill will of his supervisor, Superintendent Bowles, he's been able to solve every case that has been assigned to him. This one, though, begins to loo

Murder by Parnell Hall: A review

Murder by Parnell Hall My rating: 3 of 5 stars Stanley Hastings is a hoot. This actor/writer/private detective wannabe has failed at just about everything he's tried in life, but with a stay-at-home wife and son to support, he keeps plugging away, trying to earn enough to stay ahead of the debt collectors. His most steady job is that of sign-up interviewer with an ambulance-chasing law firm. His assignment is to meet with potential clients who have been injured, interview them about what happened, get them to sign a commitment form, and take it all back to his employer, Richard Rosenberg, for a decision about whether he will take the case. His job takes him all over New York, but in this entry to the series, it seems to take him mostly to Harlem, to some very sketchy neighborhoods where he is constantly afraid of being beaten up. This book was originally published in 1987 and it seems very dated in many ways, in its attitudes but particularly in technology. Stanley carries a bee

Poetry Sunday: Phenomenal Woman

Let's have something by Maya Angelou for this week's poem of the week. I like this one - a poem about a REAL woman! Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size But when I start to tell them, They think I'm telling lies. I say, It's in the reach of my arms The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me. I walk into a room Just as cool as you please, And to a man, The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees. I say, It's the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me. Men themselves have wondered What they see in me. They try so much But they can't touch My inner mystery. When I try to show them They say they still can't see. I

This week in birds - #157

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : White-winged Doves are flocking to my feeders these spring days. They are beautiful birds with voracious appetites and when there are 20 - 30 of them at the feeders, they can empty them in short order. They are now the dominant dove in my yard after first showing up here only nine years ago. Eurasian Collared-doves, which had been numerous before the advent of the White-wingeds, are now less seldom seen, as are my favorites, the Mourning Dove and Inca Dove . *~*~*~* The avian flu epidemic is still sweeping the Midwest , resulting in poultry farmers having to cull many of their flocks. It is still not clear how the virus came to be spread to the domestic birds. Few wild birds have been found to have the virus, only some 60 so far throughout the West. The latest to be found with the virus was a Snowy Owl in Wisconsin. Conservationists and biologists are concerned because the flu does have the potential to be deva