Showing posts from September, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Coral Vine

Coral Vine ( Antigonon leptopus ) is a native of Mexico that is widely cultivated in Texas gardens and throughout the Gulf South. It has striking, lacy pink or, in some cases, white or dark rose flowers. The vine that I grow in my yard is the traditional pink. One of its several common names is "heavenly vine" and it certainly is that as far as bees are concerned. Honeybees, in particular, love the flowers and you can find them working those blossoms from early morning until late afternoon.   This is a very vigorous vine that must have support from a sturdy trellis, fence, or even a tree. It has pretty, light green, heart-shaped leaves. It is not evergreen and the top growth of the plant will be killed by the first hard frost of the year, but well-established plants will come back from the roots in the spring. Coral vines are easy to grow as long as they have good drainage and at least partial sun exposure. They are drought tolerant, thriving through a long, dry s

Exercise your right to read!

September 27 through October 3 is Banned Books Week , a yearly event sponsored by the American Library Association to call attention to the still ongoing effort in some quarters to censor our reading material. These days, it seems that the main push to ban books comes through school libraries, usually middle school libraries. Parents and/or teachers express concerns about allowing children access to certain ideas. Usually, these are ideas with which the adults disagree but there is really no evidence that they would damage young minds. A major objection to books in recent years, for example, are those which depict gay marriage or other non-traditional family situations. There are also sometimes objections to having women characters who are strong and independent and pursue "unfeminine" professions. This is a list of the ten most challenged books during the past year and the reasons for their being challenged: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman

Of Blood Moons and Great Horned Owls

Well, the supermoon lunar eclipse/"Blood Moon" was a magnificent sight  for those who were actually able to see it, as you may be able to gather from the time lapse video above. At my house, it was a total bust. We had had light rain throughout the day and the cloud cover was just too dense to be able to view the eclipse. But as the eclipse unfolded unseen above our heads, we did have a bit of excitement in our backyard. Some seldom-seen or heard visitors came calling. Great Horned Owls ! There were two of the birds, one in the old magnolia tree and another in a crape myrtle. They carried on a lengthy conversation with each other before my presence on the patio startled them, I think, and they flew over to the large pine trees in our neighbor's yard and continued hooting there. For some reason, it always surprises me that we are host to Great Horned Owls. I expect Barred Owls , the quintessential owl of southern swamps because the habitat here seems very frie

Poetry Sunday: Advice to a Prophet

The nation's news media outlets have been full of Pope Francis this past week as he made his first visit to our country. I am very sympathetic to his message of caring for the Earth and caring for each other, though I'm not sure his words will move the deniers and haters to change any of their positions of denying and hating. Still, they couldn't hurt and it was certainly refreshing to hear such sentiments stated by an important religious leader. As I searched for a poem that would express my own feelings about what the Pope was saying, I came across this one by Richard Wilbur. It seemed to fit the purpose perfectly!   Advice to a Prophet By Richard Wilbur When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,    Mad-eyed from stating the obvious, Not proclaiming our fall but begging us In God’s name to have self-pity, Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,    The long numbers that rocket the mind; Our slow, unreckoning

This week in birds - #175

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Fall migration means that the Whooping Cranes will soon be making their way back to Aransas on the Texas Gulf Coast for the winter. They travel in family groups of a mated pair and typically one chick from this year. Rarely, a pair will raise two chicks to accompany them on the long journey. How many birds will there be this year? Will the population top 300?   *~*~*~* The news of all kinds this week was dominated by the travels of Pope Francis. In his public utterances, he again pointed to human damage to the environment as something which humans have a moral imperative to control and reverse.  Specifically, he called for urgent action on climate change . *~*~*~* Millions of songbirds fly at night during spring and fall migration. If you go outside and tune your ears and eyes to the sky , especially on moonlit nights, you may be able to observe them passing overhead. *~*~*~* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare: A review

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars One of my goals for my summer reading was to reread the complete works of Shakespeare. Well, the summer has flown by and the only progress I made toward my goal was to read a few of the sonnets. Now that fall has arrived, I decided to finally make a serious start on the project. What better place to start than perhaps my favorite of the comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream ? I have fond memories of a PBS production of the play when I was growing up.  It made a lasting impression on me and helped to give me at least a glimmer of appreciation for good literature. The twists and turns of the romance between the star-crossed lovers, Lysander and Hermia, were funny and sometimes poignant. The interference in human lives by the king of the fairies, Oberon, the bumbling of his servant, Puck, and, finally, the act of Oberon that puts everything right again make up the core of the plot. "The course of true

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz: A review

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz My rating: 4 of 5 stars As all the reading universe knows, Swedish author Stieg Larsson died before his three books featuring "The Girl" were published and so he never knew what blockbusters the books became. Sad. Sad, too, were the fans of those books who realized that there would never be another one, but soon the clamor began to find an author to carry on the series. Larsson's brother and father, who, under Swedish law, controlled his estate rather than his domestic partner of many years whom he never married, at length decided to pursue the possibility of continuing the series. They chose another Swedish journalist, David Lagercrantz, to carry it on. Thus, now, more than ten years after Larsson's death, his creation, Lisbeth Salander, lives again in The Girl in the Spider's Web. But readers dreaming of encountering an exact replica of Larsson's Salander in this book will probably be disappointed wit

It's over

Yogi Berra 1925 - 2015 Hall of Fame catcher and Hall of Fame human being. Philosopher who saw clearly that maybe the fork in the road didn't matter; what mattered was that you make a choice and stick with it. A player who embodied the joy of the game. An icon of my childhood and one of the reasons I am a baseball fan. Yogi Berra played all nine innings.

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Mason bees

Mason bees of the genus Osmia are a type of native bee that is very common throughout most of the United States. They are typically a bit smaller than a honeybee and are solitary like most native bees. There are about 140 species of mason bees in North America, many of them, including the ones I see in my yard, have a metallic blue color. The males do not have a stinger and the females only sting if trapped or squeezed.  In the wild, these bees lay their eggs in small natural cavities, plugging the holes with a bit of mud, thus their name, mason bees. They are also quite happy to nest in human-provided habitats. This is a typical kind of mason bee habitat which I had had hanging in a tree in my backyard for several years. Eventually, time and the weather had their way with the structure and it became so dilapidated that, last spring, I decided it was time to junk it. I took it down and set it on my potting table, intending to dispose of it later. And promptly forgot about i

"Religions Are What People Make Them"

I just watched Pope Francis' arrival in Washington on television. It seemed like a thoroughly joyous occasion.  Pope Francis is very easy to like. He seems like a truly humble and down-to-earth man, one who carries his dogma lightly and who truly tries to embody the teachings of Jesus in his actions toward others. He has put a much kinder and gentler face on Catholicism, even as much of the antiquated belief system of the Church - no women priests and little involvement of women in the running of the church; celibacy for priests, making it impossible for them ever to fully understand the day-to-day lives and concerns of most of their parishioners; antipathy to modern contraception methods and no tolerance for abortions, to name only a few issues - remains unchanged. Nevertheless, Francis has made his Church a more open and accepting place, and displaying that attitude has made him one of the most admired people in the world. So, now, here he is in our country where we are curre

The unacknowledged war

Perhaps we need to reexamine our definition of what constitutes war. Deaths from gun-related violence in this country from 1989 through the end of last year outnumber all the U.S. military deaths from wars that this country has been involved in since its founding. Does that not sound as if we are engaged in a war within the borders of this country? Moreover, this is a war that is waged in large part against unarmed women and children.  I wonder if there is anything that could be done to stop this war.

Poetry Sunday: End of Summer

We are at the changing of the seasons. Summer is ending; autumn arrives in three days' time. Ready or not, here it comes. And life moves on. End of Summer by Stanley Kunitz An agitation of the air, A perturbation of the light Admonished me the unloved year Would turn on its hinge that night.   I stood in the disenchanted field Amid the stubble and the stones, Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me The song of my marrow-bones.   Blue poured into summer blue, A hawk broke from his cloudless tower, The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew That part of my life was over.   Already the iron door of the north Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows Order their populations forth, And a cruel wind blows.                     ~~~ The "iron door of the north" hasn't poured any "cruel winds" or snows our way just yet, but of migrating birds we have plenty.  And so summer passes and a new season begins. Welcome, autumn!

This week in birds - #174

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Green Heron stands on a lily pad at Brazos Bend State Park. These handsome little herons are among the most common members of their family to be seen in this area, but it is always a treat to find one. *~*~*~* It's becoming monotonous. Every month we get the report that last month was the hottest on record, and that trend continued in August. Separately, global oceans and global land temperatures for 2015 have been the highest recorded for any year in the period of January through August. *~*~*~* Some of the birds that were painted by John James Audubon do not seem to have modern equivalents. Was the great Nature artist inaccurate in his depictions? Audubon magazine online explores the possibilities . *~*~*~* In the early years of this century, there were two Monk Parakeets living in my neighborhood and making life more interesting for birders here. After about three years, they disappeared, perh

Say it ain't so, National Geographic

The headline said " National Geographic gives Fox control of media assets in $725 million deal." I stared at it unbelievingly. National Geographic , the iconic publication of my childhood, in partnership with Fox News ? Oh, the sacrilege! The first two paragraphs of the story underneath the headline told the sad story: Ever since it was launched from the temple-like headquarters of the National Geographic Society in Washington in 1888, National Geographic magazine has illuminated the world’s hidden places and revealed its natural wonders. On Wednesday, the iconic ­yellow-bordered magazine, beset by financial issues, entered its own uncharted territory. In an effort to stave off further decline, the magazine was effectively sold by its nonprofit parent organization to a for-profit venture whose principal shareholder is one of Rupert Murdoch’s global media companies. And there you have it. "Financial issues" in this age of declining journalism has caused t

The Moche Warrior by Lyn Hamilton: A review

The Moche Warrior by Lyn Hamilton My rating: 3 of 5 stars Okay, I think I have given this series a fair trial, but I'm finding it very hard to take the main character seriously or to care about what happens to her. She comes across as a person without normal intelligence and reasoning ability, with more than a dash of petty vengefulness. The stories are about subjects that interest me, but Lara McClintoch as a character is totally off-putting. McClintoch is half-owner of an antiques shop in Toronto. In addition to being an antiques shop owner, she seems to have a second career as a globe-trotting solver of murder mysteries. Well, doesn't every antiques shop owner? In The Moche Warrior Lara's nose is severely put out of joint when her ex-husband opens a brand new antique shop just across the street from hers. She's sure that he's doing it just to spite her and she determines that she will have her revenge. At an auction, when she sees that the ex REALLY wants a

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Wilson's Warbler

The fall migration of songbirds continues. I find that one of the most popular stops for these birds as they pass through my backyard is the little fountain that gurgles and splashes there. I think it is the sound of the moving water that attracts them and they often drop in to take a bath or to have a sip of water. No one seems to enjoy the water more than warblers. Since we installed the fountain a few years ago, I've often observed warblers of several kinds making stops here on their way south in the fall or north in the spring. I usually see Wilson's Warblers passing through during both migration seasons, so I wasn't really surprised to see one drop down from the trees to investigate the fountain this morning.    Wilson's Warblers are tiny, very active birds. This one was constantly in motion as he took the grand tour of the fountain, frequently stopping to take a sip and sometimes splashing in the water. Unfortunately, his "baths&quo

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2015

Autumn seems to have come a bit early to my Southeast Texas garden this year. According to the calendar, it doesn't arrive until next week, but if you ignore that clue and just concentrate on the weather, you would swear it has been here these last few days. We have had glorious, sun-filled days with temperatures in the 80s F. It has been wonderful!  More wonderful still, some of my plants are putting on a late flush of bloom just in time for Bloom Day.  Pineapple sage has been a dependable bloomer all summer long. More members of the sage family - autumn sage in front and the purple in back is 'Mystic Spires' salvia. A few of the oxblood lilies are still blooming. The inland sea oats are blooming, also, although you would hardly know it unless you gave them a second look. Those "blooms" will become a bit more colorful and noticeable as autumn advances. Crossvine puts on its big display in the spring, of course, but, like many sprin