Showing posts from October, 2015

This week in birds - #180

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Beautiful Sandhill Cranes are returning to their wintering grounds. Luckily for us, some of those wintering grounds are along the Gulf Coast, so we get a chance to see them during the winter months. *~*~*~* If winter is truly coming then it must mean that the Snowy Owls are, too. In fact, the beautiful and charismatic owls appear to be moving south even earlier than usual this year. Reports of sightings are already coming to eBird. *~*~*~* Greenland is melting , but our science-averse Congress does not want scientists investigating the mechanism or reasons for the melting, how fast it is happening, or if anything can be done to slow or prevent it.     *~*~*~* In more bad news for Hawaii's rarest and most endangered birds, a recent study projects that they will lose 50% of their habitat due to climate shifts that are expected to occur before the end of this century. *~*~*~* Unfortunately, the ne

Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford: A review

Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford My rating: 5 of 5 stars "Love isn't a thing, after all, but an endless series of single acts." - Frank Bascombe's meditation upon visiting his ex-wife We thought we'd heard the last of Frank Bascombe in The Lay of the Land , published in 2006 and the last in what was billed as the "Frank Bascombe trilogy." But it turns out that Frank wasn't finished with us, or, perhaps more accurately, Richard Ford wasn't finished with Frank. And so we get a fourth Frank Bascombe book. Lucky us. Each of the three previous books were focused on a particular holiday and this one continues that tradition. This time we are in 2012. Hurricane Sandy has hit and devastated the East Coast, including Frank's New Jersey. We are now several weeks past that tragedy and coming up on Christmas. It's a Christmas that Frank had hoped to host as a "festive family fly-in to ole San Antone" where he looked forward

Throwback Thursday: The Finkler Question

Five years ago, in 2010, I read that year's Man Booker prize winner, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson and reviewed it on my blog. I had, frankly, forgotten all about the book and the review until I came across it again today. Perhaps the book will appeal to you. Here is my review. *~*~*~* The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson: A review I'm not sure that Howard Jacobson would welcome the comparison, but he reminds me of Philip Roth. Roth at his best, that is, because Jacobson's Man Booker prize-winning The Finkler Question is very good. It is an exploration of the Jewish identity - the Jewish (Finkler) question - laced with good humor and a comic sensibility that is accessible to any reader without respect to religious background or preference. Jacobson tells his story through the perceptions and worries of one Julian Treslove, who isn't a Jew. In fact, he is one of the few characters in this book who isn't. His two best friends, Libor Sevcik and Sam Finkle

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Lemongrass

Lemongrass ( Cymbopogon citratus ), also spelled as lemon grass, is not native to North America. Its original home was India but it spread throughout Asia, Africa, Australia, and many tropical islands, where it became a staple in cuisine. It is particularly familiar to us from Thai and Vietnamese cooking, and it has also become a fairly commonplace plant in many American gardens, like mine. I got my start of lemongrass almost ten years ago when I was working as a volunteer at the Montgomery County Master Gardeners' test garden. That spring, I was helping to clear out the herb garden and there was a large clump of the grass there that needed to be divided. The Master Gardener in charge of herbs divided the clump into many different sections, some of which would be sold at our plant sale, and she gave each of her helpers who wanted it a sprig for their own gardens. I brought mine home and planted it where it pretty quickly grew into a substantial mass that was about three feet tall

The Lamorna Wink by Martha Grimes: A review

The Lamorna Wink by Martha Grimes My rating: 4 of 5 stars This sixteenth entry in the "Richard Jury Mysteries" is actually a Melrose Plant mystery. Richard Jury only makes a brief appearance in the story at the end of the book during the wrapping up phase. The hook of the story is that Jury is in Ireland on Scotland Yard business and his friend Melrose, bored with his existence in Northumberland and hoping to get away from Aunt Agatha, decides to rent a house for three months in Cornwall. Of course, there is no easy escape from Agatha and soon she is ensconced in Cornwall as well, staying at a B-and-B and learning the real estate trade from her new friend there. The house which Melrose has chosen to rent is right out of Rebecca or Jamaica Inn or some other Daphne du Maurier tale. It exudes an air of tragedy, even in the harsh beauty of its surroundings. Melrose wonders from where the feeling of sadness and mystery which surrounds the house emanates. He doesn't have

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: A review

Fates and Furies: A Novel by Lauren Groff My rating: 5 of 5 stars Lauren Groff was born in Cooperstown, New York and grew up near the Baseball Hall of Fame. I thought about that as I was considering how I would sum up my thoughts about her latest book. I think she has written the story of a man who was born on third base and thinks he's hit a home run, and his wife, a woman who knows that you have to learn to bunt and run out those bunts, then steal second base, third base, and be prepared to go home when the flustered pitcher makes a wild pitch. This is a remarkable story of a marriage, but the marriage is just a vehicle for getting into the nature of human existence, a way to explore philosophical truths as revealed by mundane events. Baseball is sometimes seen as a metaphor for life; here, marriage is the metaphor for life. The book is divided into two parts, as the title might suggest. The first part, the Fates , is Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite's story. Is it coincidenta

Poetry Sunday: A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp

Halloween is coming, a time for celebrating mythology and folklore and shivering to tales of ghosts and the supernatural. There are plenty of poems that commemorate this time of year, but here's one that I had not heard of before. It is from Irish poet Thomas Moore, who lived from 1779 to 1852. Many of his poems were variations on the theme of the supernatural and contained elements of folklore, like this one that tells a tale of the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina.   A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp by Thomas Moore   Written at Norfolk, in Virginia “They made her a grave, too cold and damp For a soul so warm and true; And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp, Where, all night long, by a fire-fly lamp, She paddles her white canoe. “And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see, And her paddle I soon shall hear; Long and loving our life shall be, And I’ll hide the maid in a cypress tree, When the footstep of death is near.” A

This week in birds - #179

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This is a relatively quiet time of year at the feeders. Many of the birds that visit the feeders in winter or at other times of the year are either not present or they are finding food somewhere else at the moment. But one bird we can always count on visiting the feeders every day throughout the year is the perky little Carolina Chickadee . *~*~*~* Global temperatures are running far above last year’s record-setting level, all but guaranteeing that 2015 will be the hottest year in the historical record — and undermining political claims that global warming isn't happening or has somehow stopped. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which tracks worldwide temperatures, said on Wednesday that last month was the hottest September on record, and that it had taken the biggest leap above the previous September that any month has displayed since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. The agency

Summing up the Benghazi (Get Clinton) hearing

Hillary the Riveter. Hat tip to Daily Kos   for the image.

Throwback Thursday: Pictures from October 2010

Looking back at my posts from five years ago, I was struck by some of the pictures that I posted in October 2010. They brought back some nice memories. I would like to share them with you again. I hope you enjoy them. *~*~*~* The title of this picture posted on October 3 was "Got birdseed?" We were having some cooler weather in that October than we've had so far this year. This picture of a hummingbird fluffed up against the cold was called "Chilly morning." At that time, I had a lovely Japanese maple in my garden. Unfortunately, it later succumbed to our drought, but in 2010, it was providing some nice fall color. The title of the October 10 post was "Ah, autumn!" "Navel gazing" was the title I gave to this October 20 posting of a picture of a Laughing Gull. One of the ways birders talk about Snowy Egrets is to refer to them as the bird with golden slippers. The title of this October 24 post was "Golden slipp

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Muscadines

Muscadines are native Southern vines that are valued for their fruit, thick-skinned sweet grapes that make excellent jelly, a favorite of mine in my childhood. They also can be made into a sweet table wine which many people enjoy. Moreover, the vines themselves provide a touch of color in the autumn landscape as their leaves change to their fall colors. The quick-growing vines will provide enough growth each year to arch over and shade a walkway, an arbor, or provide an umbrella of shade over a deck or terrace. Indeed, the vines should be carefully pruned each year to direct their growth and to keep them from taking over the world!  The grapes begin to ripen at this time of year. The bunches don't ripen uniformly; rather, they turn color one or two at a time in each cluster. I have only two vines in my garden and they don't provide enough fruit for a lot of preserving. But they do provide enough for me to pluck a few for a snack as I walk by. And they serve their main pu

The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian: A review

The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian My rating: 3 of 5 stars Boney has escaped his captivity on Elba and is threatening Europe once again. And once again, the British Navy and one of its most illustrious captains, now Commodore Jack Aubrey, are called upon to meet the challenge. Aubrey and his squadron of ships head to Gibraltar to begin their new campaign. As they are approaching the Rock, two old salts watch and discuss Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin and their exploits. It is from their discussion that we learn of a tragedy that has befallen the pair. A coach carrying Stephen's wife, Diana, and Aubrey's mother-in-law as well as various household members and servants has gone off the road and into a creek. Everyone except the groom was drowned. Fortunately, the faithful Padeen and Mrs. Oakes were not aboard the coach and they now remain at home caring for Stephen's young daughter, Brigid. Stephen is deep in mourning and yet Patrick O'Brian doesn't really mak

Poetry Sunday: Theme in Yellow

The frost may not yet be on the pumpkin, at least here in zone 9a, but the pumpkins are definitely out. You see them everywhere it seems. And pumpkin, or pumpkin spice, is the favorite flavor of the moment. Carl Sandburg certainly wasn't thinking of pumpkin spice lattes when he wrote this ode to the pumpkin, but he was celebrating the joy that we find in the big yellow-orange squash. It is very much the symbol of the season.  Theme in Yellow BY  CARL SANDBURG I spot the hills With yellow balls in autumn. I light the prairie cornfields Orange and tawny gold clusters And I am called pumpkins. On the last of October When dusk is fallen Children join hands And circle round me Singing ghost songs And love to the harvest moon; I am a jack-o'-lantern With terrible teeth And the children know I am fooling.

This week in birds - #178

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Wild Turkeys photographed at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* The ABA Blog has a post about the common language of birders , which can sometimes be an inexplicable dialect for non-birders. *~*~*~* The worst extinction that Earth has suffered so far occurred at the end of the Permian Age and was caused by volcanic activity which drastically increased the amount of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. This in turn caused a rapid change in the climate to which many plants and animals were unable to adapt. Scientists continue to study this phenomenon and new research has just been published.  *~*~*~* A new study using eBird quantifies the effect of participation in Citizen Science projects on the citizen scientists themselves. Does it make them better observers? The answer seems to be "yes." *~*~*~* Did you know that snails can jump? Well, some of them can anyway , and it seems

We remember

The Iran hostage crisis of 1979 was a story that consumed Americans for months. When the American embassy in Tehran was stormed by revolutionaries, 50 Americans were taken hostage. The failure to get them back was probably what doomed the reelection hopes of President Jimmy Carter. Of course, we later learned that his opponent in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan, was working behind the scenes to make sure all those people stayed captive until after the election. Such is politics - at least as some people practice it. But there was another part of the storming of the embassy that went under the radar at the time. Six Americans managed to escape and had to find refuge in a city that had gone mad for American blood. Where could they turn? They turned to the Canadian embassy and its ambassador, Ken Taylor. Mr. Taylor gave shelter to the six and worked on a plan to get them out of the country. In fact, he was the person who President Jimmy Carter called the "main hero" of the