Showing posts from 2019

Underland by Robert Macfarlane: A review

Robert Macfarlane is an acclaimed English Nature writer, winner of numerous awards for his intelligent and readable books on many subjects related to Nature. His latest book, Underland , certainly continues that string. In it, he takes us on various expeditions deep under the surface of our planet. I found the descriptions of many of those explorations extremely hard to read. That's no criticism of the writing. In fact, it may be a compliment to the writing. It was so evocative of the dark and tight places that he was visiting that I found it very claustrophobic and oppressive. I have to admit I skimmed quickly through some of those sections. The author visits a great variety of such underground features from sinkholes in Slovenia to a nuclear-waste containment site in Finland and sea caves in Norway. His explorations in Greenland document the effects of global warming, including the fact that some of the things that are being brought to the surface by melting ice are detrime

My favorite reads of 2019

I have had a fabulous year of reading. Most of the books that I've read this year have been recent publications and, honestly, I find the quality and diversity of fiction being produced currently to be quite amazing. I do primarily read fiction, although I also manage to work in a few nonfiction books throughout the year. Trying to come up with a list of my favorite reads of the year was a bit daunting because most of what I have read has been quite good. There have been no real stinkers in the mix. I've had a couple of two-star reads, no one-stars, but most have been three-stars or more. I had thirty-seven five-star reads this year and I limited my selection process to those, even though I was strongly tempted by some of the four-stars. From that five-star group, I tried picking my favorite book from each month. In the end, I was able to identify a baker's dozen of books that were my absolute favorites of the year and here they are in the order that I read them with li

Poetry Sunday: To the New Year by W.S. Merwin

In just a few days we will welcome a shiny, new, unsullied New Year. What will that year bring? As of today, we can still hope for the best because...     ...this is where we have come with our age our knowledge such as it is and our hopes such as they are invisible before us untouched and still possible All things are still possible.  To the New Year by W.S. Merwin With what stillness at last you appear in the valley your first sunlight reaching down to touch the tips of a few high leaves that do not stir as though they had not noticed and did not know you at all then the voice of a dove calls from far away in itself to the hush of the morning so this is the sound of you here and now whether or not anyone hears it this is where we have come with our age our knowledge such as it is and our hopes such as they are invisible before us untouched and still possible

This week in birds - #383

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : I haven't actually seen a Cedar Waxwing  in my neighborhood yet this season. This picture is from a previous year. No doubt they are in the area even though I haven't seen them. They normally arrive around Christmastime or a little earlier some years. I expect to encounter them any day now.   *~*~*~* The New York City Council has implemented a landmark decision requiring high rise buildings in the city to employ bird-friendly construction using glass that will deter the birds from flying into it. The city joins cities like San Francisco and Oakland that already have such regulations in effect. It is hoped that others will follow suit. *~*~*~* There were at least 540 oil spills in Louisiana related to damage from Hurricane Katrina and so far the oil companies responsible have largely evaded accountability for the damage and cleanup. *~*~*~* A new poll by the Environmental Voter Project found that t



Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: A review

Trust Exercise has won the National Book Award for fiction for the year, and, in my opinion, it is a well-deserved recognition of a remarkable work. It is a book that engages both emotions and intellect and I found it easy to lose myself in it. The story is set in a sprawling southern city that is never named but sounds an awful lot like Houston to me. Moreover, the narrative tells the stories of a group of students attending an acclaimed high school for the performing arts unlike any other in the region and that would be Houston's High School for the Performing Arts. Choi's students attend high school in the '80s and her description of the social environment of the period seems spot-on. These are theater students who are continually evolving and learning who they are in relationship to others.  Part of their learning process takes place in the class of their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley, during "trust exercises" in which two students sit knee to kne

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2019/Poetry Sunday: When the Winter Chrysanthemums Go by Matsuo Basho

When the Winter Chrysanthemums Go  by Matsuo Basho (Translated by Robert Hass) When the winter chrysanthemums go, there's nothing to write about but radishes. ~~~ My winter chrysanthemums have gone and I have no radishes. But there are a few other things I can write about. The Meyer lemons, for example. They are ripe and ready to be picked, along with the last of the Mandarin oranges.   The bounteous flowers of the loquat tree are mostly spent now, but they promise a plentiful crop of the delicious fruits next year. We had a couple of nights of freezing temperatures in November and I would have thought that would be the end of my cape honeysuckle for the year, but it surprised me by surviving that and continuing to bloom. Likewise, I thought the jatropha would be gone but it, too, has thrived and continues to bloom. The flowers of the blue plumbago are sparser now but some are still there. And the purple oxalis loves the cooler weather of fall and

This week in birds - #382

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Anhinga photographed at Brazos Bend State Park. These birds look prehistoric to me. It's very easy for me to see birds' relationship to the dinosaurs when I look at them.  *~*~*~* The Arctic is melting and that is very bad news for all of us. It is the source of several serious problems to the atmosphere including an increase in carbon dioxide. *~*~*~* Also, the heating is causing the melting of Greenland's ice sheet , which has accelerated so fast since the 1990s that it is now shedding more than seven times as much ice each year sending global sea levels higher and higher. *~*~*~* Another problem for the atmosphere and worsening global warming is the immense amount of methane that is escaping from oil and gas sites nationwide. Meanwhile, the current administration is weakening restrictions on offenders.  *~*~*~* It seems that orcas are like humans in that the lives of young orcas are en

Throwback Thursday: Something to think about

I just realized that I completely forgot to mark the tenth anniversary of this blog which actually occurred exactly one week ago on December 5. But in honor of that, here's one of my past posts from 2015. It still has some relevance I think. ~~~ Tuesday, January 13, 2015 Something to think about With age comes wisdom - or so I've heard. But my own experience in life often makes me question that. Still, we'd like to believe that we do learn from our experiences and maybe even become just a wee bit wiser as we get older. A friend sent me this email of  "Lessons that we learn as we age."  See if any of them ring a bell with you. ~~~ Age 5 : I've learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing "Silent Night." Age 7 : I've learned that our dog doesn't want to eat my broccoli either. Age 9 : I've learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back. Age 12 : I'

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A review

Harry Bosch is less of a jerk in this latest book than he has been in the past. Is it possible that he is finally mellowing as he nears 70? After all, he has been retired from the LAPD now for four years, time to chill out a bit.  Or maybe it is the influence of his latest "partner" Renee Ballard. Ballard isn't really his partner, of course. She is a 30ish detective with LAPD. She works the midnight shift known as the "Late Show" and she has hooked up with Harry before to work cases. He has become something of a mentor for her and she is certainly a worthy successor to his years with the police department. She is every bit as obsessed as he ever was. One of Harry's early mentors has recently died and the opening scene of the book finds him attending the funeral. At the reception later, the widow gives him something that her husband had taken with him when he retired from the department. It is the murder book for an unsolved murder that took place more

Poetry Sunday: The courage that my mother had by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is a sad fact of life that we often do not fully appreciate our parents until it is too late. It is certainly true of me. I never really appreciated the courage with which my mother faced life and the many challenges of her life until it was too late to tell her how much I admired that. So now all I can do is try to live with at least some of that courage, hoping that she has passed it on to me even in my ignorance. The courage that my mother had by Edna St. Vincent Millay The courage that my mother had Went with her, and is with her still: Rock from New England quarried; Now granite in a granite hill. The golden brooch my mother wore She left behind for me to wear; I have no thing I treasure more: Yet, it is something I could spare. Oh, if instead she’d left to me The thing she took into the grave!- That courage like a rock, which she Has no more need of, and I have.

This week in birds - #381

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This female Rufous Hummingbird seems to have settled in to spend the winter with us. In recent years, we almost always have had at least one Rufous with us for the winter, often more. So the hummingbird feeders stay filled and ready for visitors. *~*~*~* The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas has dodged another bullet for now.  This week a Texas judge granted a temporary restraining order to the opponents of a crowdfunded project to build part of President Trump’s border wall, siding with the butterfly conservancy that sued over its projected environmental impact. The restraining order  involves a three-mile stretch along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County, where a hard-line immigration group led by Stephen Bannon, the former chief White House strategist,  wants to build an 18-foot-tall wall on private property. *~*~*~* A paper published by the Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed science jour

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: A review

Here we have another modern writer who eschews standard English punctuation. There are no periods in her book. Sentences are delineated by an indentation as at the start of a new paragraph. There are no capitalizations at the beginnings of sentences; only proper names are capitalized. Interestingly, she does use question marks at the end of her questions and she uses commas to define clauses. But the effect is of one long, uninterrupted flow of information. It reminds one of the works of many poets. Indeed, at times it seems almost a hybrid of prose and poetry. The quirkiness did not bother the Booker Prize committee which awarded Girl, Woman, Other this year's prize (along with co-winner Margaret Atwood's Testaments ). Bernardine Evaristo thus became the first black woman to win the Booker. Pity they diluted the honor by making her a "co-winner". After the first few pages, Evaristo's idiosyncratic punctuation choices didn't bother me either. I was lost

Poetry Sunday: At Day-Close in November by Thomas Hardy

Before there were houses built in my neighborhood some forty years ago, there were tall pine trees, many reaching a hundred feet or more into the sky. Many of the lots still have some of these trees in their backyards. I find it hard to imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land.  Our lot does not have pine trees. When we moved here thirty years ago, there were a couple of magnolia trees on the lot. One of the first things we did after moving here was to plant trees, live oaks and red oaks. Today those trees spread their limbs over our front yard and reach for the sky. I'm sure the children who live in the neighborhood cannot imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land. Thomas Hardy addressed that in this poem: And the children who ramble through here Conceive that there never has been A time when no tall trees grew here, A time when none will be seen. Let us hope that there will not be a time when none will be seen.   At Day-Close in N