Showing posts from August, 2018

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: A review

I have some familiarity with crawdads and I can tell you categorically that they do not sing. But this book does. Oh, does it ever! It sings of the strength of character of an abandoned child able to survive alone in Nature. It sings of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of loneliness. It sings of the coming of age of that child and her growth into a brilliant self-taught field naturalist and successful author. Mostly it sings of the wonders of Nature and its power to teach and sustain and heal the wounded spirit. On another level, this is a murder mystery and that is how it begins. In 1969, two boys riding their bikes along the marshes of the North Carolina coast come upon the body of Chase Andrews, half submerged in water and hidden by the marsh grasses. The body is underneath an abandoned fire tower and appears to have fallen through an opening at the top of the tower more than 60 feet up. When the sheriff comes to investigate, he finds that there is no trace o

Don't Eat Me by Colin Cotterill: A review

I did not enjoy reading this book. It was not that the writing was bad; it was more than adequate, up to Colin Cotterill's usual standards. It was not that I didn't like the characters; Dr. Siri Paiboun and his merry band of disrupters in mid-1970s Laos are among my favorite characters in today's fiction and they were all present here, although Dr. Siri was much less prominent than he is in many of the books in the series. No, my problem with the book was its subject matter. I don't have many rules about what I will or won't read. I tend to be pretty eclectic in my choice of reading materials. But there are a few things that I try to avoid, simply because reading about them is so painful for me. Chief among these subjects are the torture, murder, and trafficking of animals and children. It is such crimes that are at the heart of Don't Eat Me .  You can't say I wasn't forewarned. The prologue features a young woman locked in a crate with starving ci

Poetry Sunday: In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a contemporary American poet who often uses metaphors from the natural world in her poems. I've featured several of her poems here before but never this one.  In this summer of wildfires, it seems particularly apropos as she describes a forest being devastated by fire and then in her last couple of stanzas relates that to the human experience.  In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars   of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,   the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders   of the ponds, and every pond, no matter what its name is, is   nameless now. Every year everything I have ever learned   in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side   is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world   you must be able to do three things: to lov

This week in birds - #317

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The warblers, like this little Wilson's Warbler , are passing through on their fall migration. Even though our temperatures here are still in the high 90s every day and summer shows no signs of releasing its grip, the birds are feeling the urge to head south. They know fall and winter are coming. *~*~*~* As Interior Secretary Zinke prepares to open Grand Staircase-Escalante to mining, experts and business owners say tourism income far outweighs the potential from fossil-fuel extraction. In fact, income from tourists visiting national monuments and other public lands is a vital part of the economy in the communities where they are located. Spoiling those lands by opening them up to oil exploration is potentially taking money out of the pockets of the local inhabitants. *~*~*~* The Houston Astros played the Seattle Mariners last Monday through Wednesday. As I tuned into the game on Monday night, I was amaz

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin: A review

I've been reading a number of debut novels recently and most of them have been enjoyable reading experiences. It really is quite remarkable how many talented writers there are out there who are just getting started in their careers. It seems that we are living in a golden age of fiction. Lucky us! And now here comes another first novel and it, too, is a winner.  There were a lot of things that I really liked about James A McLaughlin's Bearskin .  His protagonist is originally from Arizona but is on the run from the Sinaloa drug cartel and, because of a scanty background in science, has managed to secure a job as the caretaker of a remote private forest preserve in the Virginia Appalachians. Some of my favorite passages in the book come from this caretaker's (Rice Moore aka Rick Morton) observations of the ecological system in which he works. I found those observations particularly interesting because these are the flora and fauna that I grew up with and which were my

Throwback Thursday: Claire of the Sea Light review

I haven't done a "Throwback Thursday" for a while, but recently, while researching something else on the blog, I ran across this review that I had done back in 2014. It was a wonderful book. Its setting in Haiti, connections to Hispaniola, hurricanes, people persevering through tragedy resonated with me in the present even as it had back then. Have you read this book? If not, maybe you should. ~~~ Monday, May 12, 2014 Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat: A review Claire of the Sea Light  by  Edwidge Danticat My rating:  5 of 5 stars Claire of the Sea Light  is a book as luminous as its title. Edwidge Danticat's 2013 novel about the little seaside town of Ville Rose in her native Haiti is a hypnotic read and I was mesmerized from the first scene. Ville Rose has an air of magic about it, yet it is a town where tragedy is an everyday part of life. The story begins with a tragedy. A poor fisherman out on his boat in the early morning is swamped b

There There by Tommy Orange: A review

The title comes from Gertrude Stein's famous assessment of Oakland, her home town: "There is no there there." As one of the characters in this book discovers the statement was not really a putdown of the city; it was simply her way of stating that the place where she had grown up didn't really exist any more. Everything had changed, as, in fact, everything does over time. But in Tommy Orange's telling there is plenty of "there there" in Oakland. It's the town where Orange grew up as well and where there is apparently a thriving community of Native Americans. They are "Urban Indians" in Orange's (who is himself an enrolled member of the Cherokee and Arapaho tribes) characterization. In his prologue he says, "We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls, we know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage o

Mid-summer in the backyard

It has not been a good year for butterflies in my backyard, a backyard that in previous years has teemed with the colorful insects. I blame the weather primarily for this absence. We've had relatively wet conditions throughout much of the year. Not that we've had heavy, torrential rains except on a couple of occasions but in most weeks we have had at least some rain. That may have made it difficult for some butterflies to reproduce. Even the butterflies that are normally ubiquitous in my yard have been scarce this year. That includes beauties like the Gulf Fritillary, usually one of the most numerous of its kind here throughout the summer. It also includes the little yellow butterflies called sulphurs, such as this Dogface Sulphur. In the past, they've been so omnipresent that we take them for granted and stop noticing. Until they aren't there. Last year, throughout the year, I had a constant stream of Monarchs passing through and uncountable caterpil

Poetry Sunday: The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet who was a giant on the literary scene of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. This is one of his most famous, most quoted poems. It seems particularly apt in a time when there is uncertainty as to whether the center will hold and "the worst are full of passionate intensity." The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats (1865 - 1939) Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blan

This week in birds - #316

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : There hasn't been much hummingbird activity around the yard this summer. In recent years, we've generally had a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nesting here but apparently not this year. But fall migration has started and the first wave came through this week. Early in the week, I saw three of the tiny birds tussling over the Hamelias (Mexican firebush) and other flowers in the backyard. There were probably more around, but I was able to count three. By the end of the week, they appeared to have moved on. I saw only one in the yard on Friday, but I expect more will be coming through soon. *~*~*~* Exposure to air pollution, especially particulate matter, is a leading driver of heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, and respiratory infections the world over. It is the sixth highest risk factor for death and contributes to up to seven million deaths each year. *~*~*~* Another week and another extreme weather

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal: A review

This series was recommended to me since I enjoy historical mysteries and I decided to give it a whirl. Maggie (Margaret) Hope is the daughter of English parents who was raised in America after both her parents (presumably) were killed in an auto accident. She had an English grandmother, mother of her aunt and her father, whom she only knew when she was a baby and whom she didn't remember. But when the grandmother died in the late 1930s, she left everything to Maggie, who by then was a college graduate and looking forward to continuing her education in graduate school. She was forced to delay her plans when she had to go to England to sort out the estate. Two years later, it is 1940 and England is on the brink of war. Maggie is living in the old family home with some other young women as renters. One of the young women is an American named Paige whom she knew in college. The estate still is not settled and Maggie is slowly making a life for herself in England. Winston Church

A natural woman

Carole King by way of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 1942 - 2018. Thank you, your majesty. I needed that. RIP.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2018

Welcome to my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas. Here are some of my plants that are blooming this month. If you visited my garden on July Bloom Day, you will have seen many of them before.  Tropical milkweed.  Texas sage. Its blooms are triggered by rainfall and since we've had a fairly wet summer, this large shrub has been in bloom for much of the season.  Butterfly ginger.  Portulaca, aka moss rose.  Feverfew.  Evergreen wisteria, a late summer to early fall bloomer.   Blue plumbago, usually one of my most dependable bloomers, has not done as well this year. I don't think it has liked our weather.  The muscadine vines have been very happy and are full of grapes.  Gaillardia.  This is a pale pink gomphrena called 'Pinball.' It has carried a profuse load of blooms right through the summer.  Four o'clock.  Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum,' aka black-eyed Susan.  The beautyberry shrubs are load