Showing posts from March, 2017

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: A review

In an unnamed host country, somewhere in South America, a birthday party is taking place at the home of the vice-president. It is a party in honor of a wealthy and successful Japanese businessman, who the host country's government hopes will make a sizable investment in that country. The Japanese businessman is an opera fan; one might even say an opera nut. In order to flatter and please him, the host country has brought in a world famous opera singer, Roxane Coss, to entertain at his party. Many people from the diplomatic community are present at the party, but one guest is missing: the country's president. The president's great passion is not opera but soap opera. He is enthralled by a particular soap opera that is on television daily and then has a nighttime episode on Tuesday that provides a roundup of the whole week's story, and he stayed home on the night of the party to watch his beloved soap opera. Nevertheless, the party proceeds successfully. Roxane Co

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Tiger Swallowtail with blueberry blossoms


Tom Tomorrow eavesdrops on the current president

Hat tip to Tom Tomorrow and Daily Kos.

Poetry Sunday: Lines Written in Early Spring

Spring may be the season which most appeals to poets. They've certainly had a lot to say about it in many different ways. Surely one of the poets most associated with poems about spring is William Wordsworth and one of his most famous poems on the subject is this one. It finds the poet in a pleasant woodland grove, enjoying the birds' songs and the spring flowers, but all this beauty prompts somber thoughts of what a mess humans have made of things. It was written in April 1798, but it might have been written today. Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth I heard a thousand blended notes, While in a grove I sate reclined, In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts Bring sad thoughts to the mind. To her fair works did Nature link The human soul that through me ran; And much it grieved my heart to think What man has made of man. Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; And ’tis my faith that every flower Enjoys the ai

This week in birds - #249

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's spring and there is new life everywhere, like this fuzzy young American Bittern , hidden among the weeds and waiting for its parent to return with a meal. *~*~*~* On Friday, the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a reversal of Obama administration policy.  When President Barack Obama   rejected the project  in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels.  *~*~*~* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January listed the rusty-patched bumblebee as endangered, citing population declines caused by the loss of habitat, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. But before the protections took effect, the listing was frozen by the new administration in Washington. This week, stung by a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the administration reversed course and

The North Water by Ian McGuire: A review

It is 1859. British whalers still make the annual journey into the North Water, the Arctic, in search of the giant mammals, but the industry itself is dying, killed off mostly by the discovery of the uses of petroleum. The whaler Volunteer prepares for its trip to the dangerous realm of ice. Among the last of the crew hired for the voyage is Patrick Sumner, a former army surgeon just back from serving in India where he was disgraced and cashiered out of the army.  With no resources to fall back on and no prospects on land, Sumner seeks the job as ship's surgeon. He hopes that the icy cold of the north will be an antidote to the memories of disgrace in the unbearable heat of India. One could be forgiven here for seeing Sumner as a kind of Ishmael, Melville's survivor from Moby Dick . I am probably one of the only college freshmen ever to actually enjoy reading and analyzing that classic in my first year English class. In fact, it is one reason why I chose to read The No

Transit by Rachel Cusk: A review

I feel hypnotized by Rachel Cusk's method of storytelling. We sit down with our friend, Rachel, or Faye as she is known in the book, and she proceeds to tell us the story of her interactions and conversations with any number of people who have crossed paths with her.  Thus, we get to eavesdrop on her conversations with two of her friends, with fellow writers at a book festival, with her Eastern European builders, an ex-lover, her hair stylist, one of her students, etc. All of these conversations focus on the other person, with Faye as the listener, the confidante, counsellor, or confessor. Nothing much happens here and yet the reader is utterly transfixed by the unfolding tale. We met Faye in Outline , the first book of this planned trilogy. She is a writer and teacher. She is recently divorced and semi-broke. In this book, she has just moved to London with her two young sons and has bought a run-down ex-council property in a good neighborhood, and now she is trying to renovate

Backyard Nature Wednesday: 'Old Blush'

I love antique roses. I've grown many of them over the years. They are tough customers, able to stand up to the vagaries of weather and changing climates, flourishing in many types of soil, and not demanding the ministrations of a gardener. They are, in fact, virtually care free once they are established. Now, that's the kind of plant I like in my garden! One of my personal favorites among the antique roses is 'Old Blush.' It is one of the most common of the old roses and this is verified by its many common names. Names like Common Monthly, Common Blush China, Old Pink Daily, Old Pink Monthly, and Parsons Pink China.  'Old Blush' is a semi-double hybrid of an old China rose and it has been cultivated for more than 200 years. It has medium, semi-double lilac pink flowers that are borne in loose clusters. They flush to a darker pink in the sun, so the blossoms often appear two-toned. The blooms are followed by large orange hips (if the gardener is not a dead-h

The bee garden

Planning your spring garden? Spare some thought for the pollinators. Here are some plants that you can include in your garden to help them. Even if your garden is only a few pots on a patio, consider planting a few of these plants. The bees and butterflies will thank you.

Rules of Prey by John Sandford: A review

Rules of Prey was the first in what has become a very long-running series featuring Minneapolis police detective Lucas Davenport. It was first published in 1989. The series was recently recommended to me by someone very familiar with my addiction to reading mystery series. Recommendations by this person usually work out well for me so I decided to give it a try. In the beginning, I had my doubts about this particular suggestion. Lucas Davenport seemed like a bit of a jerk, and I wasn't at all sure I could warm up to him. Plus, the story involved a torturer/rapist/serial murderer of women - not really what I prefer to read about. But as I kept reading, gradually, I became rather engrossed by the plot and interested to see how the writer was going to bring it all together. By the end, I still thought Lucas Davenport was a jerk and I was bothered by some of the writing, but, on the whole, the story overcame those objections. The serial killer is known as the maddog (one word)

Poetry Sunday: Love After Love

We lost poet Derek Walcott last week. He was from Saint Lucia in the West Indies. His poetry won him much acclaim and many awards through the years. Most notably, he was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.  His masterpiece is said to be a book-length poem called Omeros that was published to much critical praise in 1990. It is loosely based on the work of Homer and some of his major characters from The Iliad . Many of his poems are quite long. In looking for a shorter one to feature here, I found "Love After Love," which I quite like. It seems to say to me that we can lose ourselves when we rely on others to verify our existence. We can too easily forget the only person who is with us throughout our lives. We forget and neglect our own selves. Walcott urges us to "Give back your heart to itself," and to "Feast on your life."   Love After Love  by Derek Walcott The time will come  when, with elation  you will greet yourself arri

This week in birds - #248

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Male Northern Cardinals are busily singing to establish and defend their nesting territories while females incubate their eggs. *~*~*~* Scientists are decrying the decision by the current president to overturn the rule against using lead ammunition in national wildlife refuges. The ban against such ammunition has been instrumental in protecting Bald Eagles and other raptors at the top of the food chain that dine on animals killed and left in the wild by hunters. The raptors ingest the bullets along with the meat of the animal. The results of lead poisoning are devastating.  *~*~*~* The first accurate climate model ever was established 50 years. T he scientists' groundbreaking paper was published in 1967.  Now their science can finally be robustly evaluated, and they got almost everything exactly right . *~*~*~* The first wolf pack to make its home in California in nearly a century is

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2017

Spring begins officially next Monday, but it's actually been with us here in zone 9a for a while now, and throughout the garden, the blooms are multiplying.  Another amaryllis has opened up this week. On the patio table, the pot of pansies and violas still provides some color. The coral honeysuckle has begun its bloom. This oxalis is a pernicious weed that grows throughout my garden, including in my lawn (such as it is). But it is such a pretty weed that I can't really get too mad at it. Anyway, it goes away once the weather heats up.  Its cousin, the domesticated purple oxalis, grows in several beds around the garden as well. On purpose.  In the herb garden, comfrey is beginning to bloom. I love the pretty little blooms of chives and they look good and taste good in salads, as well. Cinnamon basil. Pineapple sage. Near the herbs, the tomatoes are in bloom and some already have tiny fruits. The little t

Broken Harbor by Tana French: A review

Okay, I think I'm beginning to get it. Tana French's psychological thrillers all feature damaged characters at their core. Their haunting, unforgettable stories are revealed to the reader slowly, tantalizingly. At the beginning of the books, things seem to move at a glacial pace as we get our footing. Then, all of a sudden, we are hurled into warp speed and struggling to keep our bearings as French plays mind games with us and toys with our expectations. Delicious! There's another thing that is becoming clear about French's method as well. Each book, after In the Woods , has a different detective at its center, but, in each case, we have met that detective before, usually in the previous book. Broken Harbor has Michael "Scorcher" Kennedy as its narrator and main character, but I had to read the publisher's synopsis of the book to be reminded that Scorcher appeared as a colleague of Undercover Detective Frank Mackey in the last book, Faithful Place . F