Showing posts from November, 2017

Monarchs of November

Female Monarch visiting the milkweed in my garden this week.  November has been a very good month for viewing Monarch butterflies in my garden. All of 2017 has, in fact, been a good year for them. All year long there has been a constant stream of the beautiful butterflies visiting my flowers, but in November, that stream became a torrent as fall migration picked up and millions of them headed toward the mountains of Mexico for their winter.  That's not just my observation. All across the continent, butterfly watchers have been reporting increased sightings of Monarchs this year. It seems the population is on the rise again. The real crunch, though, comes in the winter. Recent winters have been devastating to Monarchs because of a combination of nasty weather and illegal logging in the mountains where they spend the winter. The insects are actually capable of surviving fairly cold temperatures but when those temperatures are combined with prolonged inclement weather, that

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: A review

Emily Fridlund creates a palpable sense of dread from the very beginning of her fiction debut, History of Wolves . We feel that something terrible will happen. Has happened. By the second paragraph we come to realize that the victim of the terrible thing that will happen, or has happened, is Paul, an innocent four-year-old child. It is a nauseating realization. Our guide through the events is Madeline, aka Mattie, aka Linda, a fourteen, then turned fifteen-year-old girl who became Paul's babysitter one summer. She narrates the story from the vantage point of age thirty-seven, but she is seeing the tragedy of that fateful summer through the eyes of a teenager and still trying to make sense of it all. Linda, as she was mostly called, grew up in the woods of Minnesota beside a lake. It was an isolated spot that had once been the site of a commune, but, by the time that we meet Linda and her parents, only they are left living in a rundown, ramshackle, unfinished cabin and eking o

The Confessor by Daniel Silva: A review

Art restorer Mario Delvecchio, aka Israeli agent/assassin Gabriel Allon, is engaged in the meticulous and tedious task of restoring a Benini altarpiece in a church in Venice when his friend and fellow Israeli agent Benjamin Stern is murdered in Munich. Benjamin was a history professor there who had been in the process of writing a book. The subject of the book had been kept secret by him, but all of his notes and the draft of the book were stolen from his apartment by his killer; thus, it seems likely that the book was the motive for his murder. Soon, Gabriel/Mario is contacted by his Israeli handler, Ari Shamron, and is sent on a mission to Munich to find out what happened to Benjamin and who killed him. His investigation leads him to London, to an investigative reporter there who was apparently collaborating with Benjamin on the book. Shortly after Gabriel meets with him, the reporter, too, is murdered. Obviously, the subject of the book must have been explosive. Following th

Poetry Sunday: The Beautiful Changes by Richard Wilbur

Every season is a season of change. Each has its own distinctive sights, sounds, scents.  Autumn, of course, has changing colors as the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs turn color and fall to the ground. It has the sound of migrating geese passing overhead and the scent of dead vegetable matter slowly turning into compost or, sometimes, of the leaves being burned. One of my neighbors was burning leaves this week. While it is not a good use of Nature's gifts, I have to admit that it presents a lovely scent.  Richard Wilbur wrote about the beautiful changes in Nature and the changes in the "valleys" of our own minds.  The Beautiful Changes by Richard Wilbur One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides    The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies  On water; it glides  So from the walker, it turns  Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you    Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.  The beautiful changes as a forest is chang

This week in birds - #282

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : I heard a small flock of these wonderful birds flying over my yard earlier this week. They were so high up that I could only barely see them with the naked eye but their distinctive calls identified them. They were Sandhill Cranes in migration. Many of them spend their winters along the Texas Gulf Coast. I photographed these two at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico a few years ago. *~*~*~* TransCanada’s $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead from the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday, clearing the last regulatory hurdle in a nine-year effort to build a line to carry thick crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. However, the five-member commission rejected TransCanada’s preferred route and voted to approve an alternative plan that would move the pipeline further east. The route of the new pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barr

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: A review

Chinua Achebe was the first African writer, published in English, who received wide acclaim by critics and others in the West.  He was really the forerunner who paved the way for such modern writers as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Achebe was Nigerian and was from the Igbo culture which he wrote about in Things Fall Apart , his first and what many consider his best book. It was published in 1958, the first of a trilogy. Things Fall Apart tells the story, in three parts, of an Igbo (called Ibo in the book) man named Okonkwo.  The first part establishes Okonkwo in his village/clan and describes how he was a respected member of that community because of his prowess as a wrestler and as a warrior who had taken heads of his clan's enemies in war. As we meet him, he is a successful farmer of yams, the primary crop of the area and he has three wives and several children. He is a brutal man who beats his wives and children, but that is exactly what is expected of men in this society.

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson: A review

The last book I read was Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere . Then I opened this book and read the first sentence: "They used fire, back in the day." I had to chuckle. What a segue! Perhaps I had been fated to read this book next. That first sentence is spoken by a gravedigger, attempting to dig a hole in the middle of a Wyoming winter. He's referring to the practice of building a huge bonfire on top of the spot where a grave was to be dug in hopes of thawing out the ground enough to dig. The gravedigger has a lot of miscellany about the disposal of earthly remains that he happily shares with Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County as he digs and Walt stands by watching and freezing. In fact, it is a constant irritating stream of information, until finally, Walt can stand it no longer. "Jules?"   "Yep?" I turned and looked down at him. "Do you ever shut up?"   He tipped his battered cowboy hat back on his head and to

Annie Proulx nails it

Annie Proulx was recently given the National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about the unique times in which we live and the challenges we face. The speech is brief and well worth reading in its entirety. As she does so often in her work, she has spoken for us all and she has absolutely nailed it.  Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well… I thank the National Book Award Foundation, the committees, and the judges for this medal. I was surprised when I learned of it and I’m grateful and honored to receive it and to be here tonight, and I thank my editor Nan Graham, for it is her medal too.  We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes an

Poetry Sunday: This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

The book that I recently read, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere , made reference to this poem and, since I wasn't familiar with it, I looked it up. I found myself nodding and smiling in recognition and some chagrin as I read. Ng's book was about mums and dads, especially mums, and about how families shape us. Philip Larkin made the same point and a lot more succinctly, summing it all up nicely in that last stanza. This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin They fuck you up, your mum and dad.        They may not mean to, but they do.    They fill you with the faults they had     And add some extra, just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn     By fools in old-style hats and coats,    Who half the time were soppy-stern     And half at one another’s throats. Man hands on misery to man.     It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can,     And don’t have any kids yourself.

This week in birds - #281

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Yellow-bellied Sapsucker image from WhatBird. And yet another of our winter birds made its first appearance in my neighborhood this week. I've been hearing the squeaky call of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker all around my yard, although not actually in my yard, all week long. The birds favor the huge pine trees that stand in my next door neighbor's backyard. *~*~*~* The Keystone Pipeline had a leak that spilled about 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota this week. It was in an agricultural area of the state and apparently the oil has not gotten into the waterways. Coincidentally, the public service commission in Nebraska is set to announce in a few days its decision on allowing the pipeline to be extended through that state. *~*~*~* An entire flock of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrots disappeared following the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Conservationists have been sear

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: A review

I am bereft. I have exited the world of Mia Warren and her various relationships and I feel a bit lost and unmoored. The world of Mia and her daughter Pearl and the Richardson family and all their associations in the planned community of Shaker Heights ( "Most communities just happen; the best are planned." ) have been the society in which I have been living these past few days. My sojourn there gave me a lot to think about and I didn't want it to end. We visit Shaker Heights in the mid-1990s and meet the Richardson family on a day of tragedy for them. Someone has set fire to their comfortable home and uprooted their comfortable lives. In fact, someone set not just one fire but "little fires everywhere", pouring accelerant on three beds in the house and setting them ablaze. Mrs. Richardson was in the house asleep at the time and we first encounter her standing on the sidewalk in front of the house in her robe and slippers as the firemen work to contain t

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2017

November. It always sneaks past me. Barely has it begun when I look up and it's Thanksgiving. Somehow, I always think I have more time to prepare, but suddenly there it is! Sigh. You'd think I'd learn after all these years. And here we are, in the middle of the month already, and, yes, there are still a few blooms around the garden. Let me show you.   November is the month when Cape honeysuckle shines. The plant is covered in these bright blossoms just now. It's also the month when yellowbells (golden Esperanza ) is at its best. The bronze Esperanza is a little past its prime but still has a few blooms and its contingent of bees. The trailing purple lantana is covered in pine needles from my neighbors' large pine trees, as, in fact, is everything in my backyard when the wind blows at this time of year. The yellow lantana rested for a while but now it, too, is blooming again. As is the peaches and cream lantana. '