Showing posts from January, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Frost at Midnight

Helen Macdonald, author of the best-seller H is for Hawk , said in an interview that I read with The New York Times that this is her favorite poem, so, of course, I had to look it up and read it. I can certainly understand why it would be her favorite. It's a lovely poem. The voice of the poem seems to be the poet himself and that voice speaks a quiet and personal restatement of the enduring themes of English Romanticism. We see the effect of Nature on the imagination; the relationship between children and the natural world; the contrast between liberating country life and that in the city; and, finally, the relationship between adulthood and childhood, as the adult remembers his past.  The imagery is striking and will be instantly understood by any parent who has ever stood by his or her baby's cradle and watched the child sleep.  Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cr

This week in birds - #191

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  Kinglets are cute and very active little birds. They are really tiny, not much bigger than our most common hummingbirds. There are two species that are endemic to North America. We don't have either of them here in Southeast Texas as a permanent resident, but we always look forward to the return of at least one of them in the fall. It's one of my favorite winter residents. And here it is - the little Ruby-crowned Kinglet . He's traveling incognito, keeping his ruby crown hidden, as he usually does unless he's disturbed or displaying it for a potential mate. Note the white eye ring and wing bars.  This is his cousin, the Golden-crowned Kinglet , which I photographed (not very well, I admit) at Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Note the prominent white eye stripe. They are known to wander throughout much of the eastern United States in winter, but I've never personally seen one in this

The Confession by Charles Todd: A review

The Confession by Charles Todd My rating: 4 of 5 stars It's 1920 and World War I is now well in the rear-view mirror, but Inspector Ian Rutledge is still suffering some of the effects of shell-shock (as PTSD was called in those days). He's getting stronger though, and it was refreshing in this 14th entry in Charles Todd's series to find him much closer to normal and able to function at a higher level than he has previously. He is still haunted by the voice of Hamish, the young Scots soldier under his command that he had had to execute for failure to obey orders on the battlefield. But Hamish seems a somewhat more benevolent spirit at this point. Perhaps he is beginning to meld into Rutledge's own personality and become simply the voice of his conscience. This story begins with a man walking into Scotland Yard and confessing to the murder of his cousin five years earlier, but it is a murder that has never been reported and there is reason to suspect that it may not re

Throwback Thursday: Bleeding heart liberal

I admit to being a lifelong bleeding-heart liberal. Yes, I'm the one who adopts stray cats and gives whatever money I can manage to a variety of causes in support of downtrodden and forgotten members of society; the one who supports politicians on the left who have plans for and a record of making life better for ordinary people; the one who wants to save the Earth and all its endangered species and ensure that women and girls are educated and able to control their own bodies and lives; the one who wants to stop global warming and make sure everyone has safe water to drink. My heart bleeds for all these causes and on some days my heart despairs that my causes will ever win the day. And when I do despair, I remember one of my favorite bleeding-heart liberals. He lost one of the most lopsided elections for president in our history, but he was a great man who never stopped fighting for the causes he believed in, a man who inspired many of my generation to believe that we could build

Backyard Nature Wednesday: House Finches

House Finches are permanent residents in our area, but they are not everyday visitors to my yard or to my feeders. Like many songbird species, the females are not as brightly colored as the males. A very brightly colored male and his more drably marked mate visit one of my feeders. I love hearing the musical song of the House Finches as they flit about the trees in my yard and they are always welcome visitors to my feeders when they choose to drop in for a snack. In winter, we also occasionally get visits from the House Finch's close cousin, the Purple Finch , but it has been years since I actually saw one of them at one of my feeders. Even though these two finches are not regular visitors to my backyard feeders, that doesn't mean that I'm lacking for finches these days. Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches crowd my backyard feeders, along with one lone House Sparrow , earlier this week.

Bones to Pick by Carolyn Haines: A review

Bones To Pick by Carolyn Haines My rating: 3 of 5 stars I felt the need of something light and fluffy to read as an antidote to the winter doldrums. There's not much that is lighter or fluffier than Carolyn Haines' Southern Belle mystery series. I have been occasionally reading the entries in this series for a while, maybe one or two a year, and so I decided to grab the next one, Bones To Pick , and settle down for a cozy reading experience. Sarah Booth Delaney had failed in her attempts to break into the acting profession in New York and had returned home to the Mississippi Delta town of Zinnia about a year ago. Since then, she has stolen her best friend's dog, decided to become a private investigator, set up a PI business with her best friend as partner, engaged in a series of hot and heavy short-term romances, fallen in love with the (married) county sheriff, solved several murders, saved the family home from bank foreclosure, and acquired a horse and a hound. Yes, it

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin: A review (updated with slight editing)

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Rebus is back and all's right with the world. I have followed Ian Rankin's famous detective since his beginnings back in the late '80s, and, in my opinion, he only gets better with age. That's the thing about Rankin's writing; he has allowed Rebus to age naturally, so he's now in his sixties. A few years ago, like another famous Edinburgh writer who tried to get rid of his even more famous detective, his creator tried to write him into the sunset when he faced mandatory retirement from the Lothian and Borders Police. Rankin went on to write other books featuring other detectives, but Rebus kept creeping back in. He proved to be hard to put out to pasture. He came back to work on old, cold cases; he unretired when the rules about retirement changed; he retired again; and now he's working as a consultant - just like that other "consulting detective." Many things have changed in Rebus'

Poetry Sunday: Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon rising. In the lexicon of Native Americans, the full moon in January is known as the Wolf Moon. It is a time of hunger, when food is scarce and the wolves howl plaintively. Chris Lane caught the spirit of the Wolf Moon and gave it voice in his poem.  Wolf Moon by Chris Lane Though no longer amongst us Their tradition and spirit lingers on Like the names associated with  Each month's new full moon  A reoccurring theme in the cycle  When months are measured by moons returning A practice common among indigenous peoples In the month of January A great moon rises slowly  And at night the Wolf pack howl out plaintively For food is scarce and the wolves are hungry To the First Peoples - The Wolf is brother  And only a brother can feel the pain of his brother's hunger That is why the Native Peoples name January “Wolf Moon” in their brother's honor Now to a museum, all too soon -The Tipi (tepee, teepee) has gone Whilst within a reservation the Wolf Pack are fre

This week in birds - #190

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Ring-billed Gull in flight over Galveston Bay. *~*~*~* The big news of the environment this weekend is, of course, the big snowstorm that is covering most of the eastern United States and bringing things pretty much to a standstill over the most densely populated area of the country. No doubt there will be snowballs on the floor of the Senate next week. *~*~*~* Meanwhile, scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2015 was the planet's hottest year on record , easily breaking the record set just one year earlier.  *~*~*~* A new species of bird has been identified in northeastern India and adjacent parts of China. It is a member of the thrush family and has been named the Himalayan Forest Thrust . The bird had previously been lumped in with the Plain-backed Thrush of that area, but it has now been established that they are actually different species. *

It's Friday: Here are some kittens, puppies, and babies for you

What a week.  The execrable Palin family is crowding into our consciousness once again, with the matriarch leading the way with her word-salad endorsement of Donald Trump for president and her blaming President Obama for her son's drunken domestic violence. Personal responsibility, anyone? The presidential campaigns are heating up which means that the nonsense meter is rising higher. The National Review has belatedly decided that maybe it has been a mistake for conservatives to clutch the viper Trump to its bosom. Trump supporters have responded as Trump supporters do. On the other side of politics, some liberal voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Paul Krugman have had the temerity to criticize some of the pronouncements and policies of Saint Bernie, generating frothing at the mouth and some truly unhinged attacks by his supporters who believe that the man can do and say no wrong.  Enough! Let's take a break from all that. Here's an emotional and intellectual palat

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal: A review

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal My rating: 4 of 5 stars Fans of reality TV might possibly recognize the name of the author. J. Ryan Stradal is the producer of some of the more popular entries in that genre, shows like "Ice Road Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch," both of which my husband has watched over the years. I'm not a fan of reality TV myself; I prefer my TV shows to be unreal. I am a fan, though, of Stradal's writing. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is his first novel and it is a winner. He shows great originality and a sure touch for the development of characters and a character-driven plot. The structure of this book reminds me very much of another book that I dearly loved, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge . As in Olive , we get to know the main character of Kitchens by seeing her through the eyes of other characters. Plus, the physical descriptions of both Olive and Eva Thorvald, the main character here, are somewhat simil

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Attracting beneficial insects

Beneficial insects, the good guys of the insect world, are a gardener's best friend. They are an organic pest patrol that hunts down and destroys many of the insects that damage or destroy our ornamental plants and our food crops. Moreover, many of them do double duty as pollinators, helping along the essential link in the life cycle of our plants. How do we attract these beneficial insects? The same way we attract birds or amphibians or other wildlife to our yards - we provide them with the things that they need; food, water, shelter, a place to lay their eggs and allow their young to develop into adults.  For many of these insects, that means planting the plants that they need to feed from or on which they lay their eggs. Mother Earth News has a extensive list of these useful plants. It's also extremely important to provide them with a source of water. But more and more gardeners are attempting to attract and encourage these insects by providing them with human-built sh

Hillary Clinton is still my hero

Those readers who have followed the blog for a while will probably be aware of my sentiments regarding Hillary Clinton. I admire her tremendously and have written about her here on several occasions. I supported her campaign for the presidency in 2008 and I support her again in 2016. I support her because I believe she is the most qualified person in the race for the presidency. Indeed, I believe she is the only person in the race, on either side, who is truly prepared to be president. She's currently, of course, in a tightening primary race with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent, of Vermont. Throughout the campaign, Secretary Clinton has put forth detailed plans on many issues that concern Democratic voters. More recently, Sanders, too, has announced his plans for handling some of those issues, particularly health care and financial reform. I'm not an economist and I don't pretend to be able to fairly judge the merits of these respective plans. But my go-to guy