Showing posts from September, 2018

Poetry Sunday: Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez

Paul Simon and Joan Baez are each in the midst of their "farewell tours." Allegedly, they will each be saying goodbye to the road and the touring life at the end of their tours. Reading this story earlier this week impelled me to give a listen to some of their music once again. There was a time in my personal history when they along with a few others, like Bob Dylan, provided the background music for my life, so it was a trip down memory lane for me. Joan Baez was - and is - a great interpreter of other people's music and she is mostly known for that, but she also wrote some lyrics of her own and one of those songs is among my favorites. The subject of "Diamonds and Rust" was her relationship with Bob Dylan and the breakup of that romance. Here are her lyrics. Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez Well I'll be damned  Here comes your ghost again  But that's not unusual  It's just that the moon is full  And you happened to call  And here I sit 

This week in birds - #322

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : American Crow image courtesy of Pixabay. American Crows in my neighborhood become very active and vocal as the weather cools. Every time I've been outdoors this week, I've been treated to their raucous chorus. They are an even more reliable indication than falling leaves that autumn is actually here.  *~*~*~* A district court judge in Montana this week returned the grizzly bears of the Yellowstone area to the endangered species list, extending protections that have been in place for 44 years. This effectively cancels the controversial sport hunt that had been planned for Wyoming and Idaho. *~*~*~* Environmental fallout from Hurricane Florence continued this week as floodwaters from the Waccamaw River in South Carolina threatened to spill over barriers and into a coal ash pond, potentially polluting a large area with toxic ash. *~*~*~* The Environmental Protection Agency under the current ad

Throwback Thursday: Original sin, current suffering

In June 2015, shortly after the horrific incident in Charleston where Dylann Roof, a young and angry white supremacist, had gone to an African-American church one Sunday morning and slaughtered nine people, I wrote this piece for my blog. The blot of slavery - and not just slavery but racism in general - on the history and the current politics of this country is something that has troubled me deeply since, as a teenager, I began to understand the pernicious influence of it in every aspect of our national lives. Little could I have imagined when I wrote this that things were only going to get worse in the next three years... ~~~ Tuesday, June 23, 2015 Original sin, current suffering Slavery was the original sin of my country. Or maybe it was hypocrisy. After all, a country that, with a straight face, claims to be founded upon the principle that all men are created equal while simultaneously keeping in enslavement a good percentage of the men who live in that country

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

I have been faithfully reading the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series for many years now, but it had been more than two-and-a-half years since I last read one. The time seemed propitious to pick it up once again. A series called "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" might sound like mysteries featuring women detectives and, indeed, on the surface that is how it is styled. But, in fact, it is more philosophy than mystery. McCall Smith has another series that he writes, set in Scotland, that actually features a philosopher named Isabel Dalhousie, but this series, set in Botswana, might just as correctly be called the "No. 1 Ladies' Philosophers."  The main philosopher/detective is Precious Ramotswe and she is ably assisted by her partner, Grace Makutsi. The starting point of each story involves their being presented with a puzzle surrounding some simple everyday problem. It might be someone pilfering from his employer, a straying husband o

Banned Books Week 2018

All of the books depicted in the above graphic have at one time or another been banned or removed from the bookshelves of school libraries or public libraries because of challenges from the public.  Each year the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom publishes statistics about censorship attempts in U.S. schools and libraries and designates a week in September as Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate the freedom to read.  This year Banned Books Week runs from September 23 - 29 and the theme is "Banning Books Silences Stories."   The week's activities are intended to call attention to the need for all of us who love and enjoy the freedom to read to speak out against what has become a rising tide of efforts to censor what can be read.  Usually the attempt to censor stems from the fact that a book simply expresses ideas that disagree with the would-be censor's view of the world.  The ALA annually releases a list of the ten most chall

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart: A review

I know people who say they can't abide reading books that don't have characters that they can empathize or identify with. It's easy to understand that instinctual need to feel good about the characters that populate the book one has committed to reading. But I would argue that sometimes there is much to be learned from reading about unsympathetic characters; characters who, not to put too fine a point on it, are complete and total jerks. Barry Cohen is such a character. Barry is everyone's stereotype of the narcissistic Wall Street hedge fund manager, who lives in his own self-deluded fantasy world and persuades others to trust him with their money and then loses it while amassing his own personal fortune. Investigated by the SEC, he skates free by paying a large fine but never spends any time in jail and never gets banned from further trading and so he continues to do the same thing over and over again. Sound like a story you might have heard in the news? There i

Sunday Poetry: Leaves Compared With Flowers by Robert Frost

So autumn has arrived at last. It seemed a long time coming. But it has been presaged for weeks now by falling leaves. As summer wanes, the poor tattered leaves that have been through months of blistering sun and scorching temperatures began to turn brown (we don't really get brilliant fall colors here) and flutter to the ground. The big wave of falling leaves is still to come in October but already the grass is littered with the ones that have left their posts early. I love the falling leaves of autumn almost as much as I love the soft green new leaves of early spring. Apparently, Robert Frost had an affection for leaves as well. At least this strange little poem of his that I came across last week seems to indicate such feelings.  Leaves Compared With Flowers   by Robert Frost A tree's leaves may be ever so good, So may its bar, so may its wood; But unless you put the right thing to its root It never will show much flower or fruit. But I may be one who does not care E

This week in birds - #321

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment: One of the prettiest of backyard birds, in my opinion, is the softly colored female Northern Cardinal , seen here politely waiting her turn at the feeder. *~*~*~* Hurricanes are known for many things, mostly destructive, and, happening as they mostly do during the fall migration season, they can seriously upset a bird's travel plans. While it may be distressing to the birds, it is often a boon to birders who may get to see birds that they had not seen before. Florence, for example, recently deposited a Trinidade Petrel in the Raleigh area in North Carolina.  *~*~*~* The annual "Winter Finch Forecast" is out and things are looking very promising for those of us in the lower parts of the continent to get visits from several irruptive species this winter. The cone and birch seed crops have been poor in much of Canada this year which should send many of the finches south to look for food. *~*~*

Naked ladies

We call them "naked ladies" because they pop out of the ground unexpectedly with no clothes on - just a bright green stem with a bud at the top. But soon enough that bud opens up to reveal the "lady," a beautiful flower. Technically, and correctly, called Amaryllis belladonna , they grow as wildflowers in South Africa and they prefer hot and dry conditions. I can provide the hot if not the dry, but last fall I planted several of these bulbs in one of the driest beds in my garden and recently a few of them have come up to remind me of the bulbs I had almost forgotten. Not all of them have emerged by any means, but I live in hope. Later, by spring, the leaves should emerge around the base of the stem to provide nourishment to the bulb and, if all goes well, the ladies themselves will pop up again next fall. The plants have other popular names such as surprise lilies and resurrection lilies, both for obvious reasons. Some even call them hurricane lilies becaus

Throwback Thursday: The Muppet Personality Theory

Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street are making headlines again this week. Not bad for almost fifty-year-old beings made from felt. Of course, the reason they are in the news is a bit weird. Some people have their knickers all in a twist because they have decided that Bert and Ernie are gay . Let me break this to those people gently: Bert and Ernie are muppets. They are made of felt. They do not have a sex life!  Anyway, in looking at the traffic on my blog the last few days, I noticed that several people had accessed a post that I wrote back in June of 2012 called "The Muppet Personality Theory." So, thank you, Bert and Ernie! My post had been in response to a piece that I read in Slate . Dahlia Lithwick, in case you don't know, is a talented journalist who covers the Supreme Court for Slate and also frequently appears on various television and radio news shows to share her expertise. She's the main reason why I still include Slate in my daily roundup of news feeds.

Acqua Alta by Donna Leon: A review

I needed a reading palate cleanser - a quick and easy read to bridge the gap between two more serious literary works. I decided to go with one of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti mysteries, a series that I've discovered fairly recently. It has provided dependable reading pleasure. Acqua Alta is the fifth book in the series. The title, meaning "high water," refers to a time during full moon in winter when tides bring the waters of the Adriatic into Venice, inundating the barriers meant to hold it back and sloshing into the ground floors of buildings. This phenomenon, aided and abetted by torrential winter rains, creates hazardous conditions in the city. It is during one of these events that Brett Lynch, the American archaeologist that we met in the first Brunetti mystery, Death at La Fenice , is accosted in her own home and severely beaten by two "gentlemen from the South," a phrase used to denote that organization which must not be named by Venetians

Presidio by Randy Kennedy: A review

Lee Child did not steer me wrong. I read his glowing review of Randy Kennedy's first novel in the Times and knew that I had to read that book.  He did not exaggerate. Presidio is a terrific example of Texas noir, with an engaging and somewhat unexpected main character who is a professional car thief. The novel is set in the Staked Plains and borderlands of West Texas in the early 1970s. Among the best things about the book - among a wide choice of very good things - were the photograph-like descriptions of that arid and spare but beautiful landscape of flat plains rolling into mountains, and country roads where you can see for miles and miles. It's a landscape marked by the occasional nodding pump jack, long before the coming of the wind farms that dot the area today. The 1970s were another country; a country without the internet and cell phones and being constantly connected to the outside world; a country where the border between Texas and Mexico is an amiable line o

Poetry Sunday: September Tomatoes by Karina Borowicz

Pulling up those last tomato plants always seemed a bit sad to me. They were planted with so much hope and high expectations in the spring and nourished all through the long summer months, but now their "whiskey stink of rot has settled in the garden" and it is time for them to go to the compost pile. I had never heard of Karina Borowicz but she is a prize-winning poet from Massachusetts and she must be a gardener because she understood so well the regret I feel about those last tomatoes of September when she wrote this poem back in 2013.  That last verse about her great-grandmother and the girls of her village pulling flax may seem out of place, but I know what she means. Their actions seem to "turn the weather," change the seasons. Pulling out September tomatoes has the same meaning for us. And it worked; after all, in a few days it will be fall. September Tomatoes by Karina Borowicz The whiskey stink of rot has settled in the garden, and a bu

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2018

Recent rains have kept me and my camera out of the garden but this morning the sun came out and I was finally able to get out and record some of what is growing - some of it even blooming - in my garden this September. No blooms here. The muscadine grapes are well on their way to ripening and the mockingbirds keep close watch on them. The purple ones don't last long. The Duranta erecta sports its "golden dewdrops" - at least the ones the birds haven't got to yet. My little Satsuma tree is heavily loaded with fruit. And so are the purple beautyberry shrubs. The 'Pride of Barbados' still has a few blooms. But most of its blooms have already matured and ripened into seeds. The shrub is full of these "beans" and if I don't remove them, my yard will be full of little volunteer 'Pride' shrubs next year. All of these plants with their loads of fruit say that summer is ending and autumn is almost here. And