Showing posts from August, 2019

This week in birds - #367

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's that time of year again. The time when our birds begin to look decidedly...disheveled. All their old worn feathers are falling away and they are growing shiny new ones for the coming season. This molting Northern Mockingbird does not look happy about the process, but in a few weeks, he'll be well-dressed again with every feather in place.  *~*~*~* Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the world's largest intact temperate rainforest. Nearly twenty years ago, the federal government imposed logging restrictions on it in order to preserve it and keep it intact. The current resident of the White House has now instructed his Secretary of Agriculture to exempt the 16.7 million-acre forest from those restrictions in order to allow it to be logged.  *~*~*~* And in other news of our government's stewardship of the environment, the administration has proposed a plan for loosening the curbs on methane

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal: A review

J. Ryan Stradal's popular first novel was called Kitchens of the Great Midwest . This second one might well have been called Kitchens of the Great Midwest With Pie and Beer, but the title-pickers decided on the more original The Lager Queen of Minnesota .  The story centers around three women, sisters Edith and Helen and Edith's granddaughter, Diana. They are part of an incredibly bland Midwestern family, and, frankly, I had a hard time distinguishing between the three as I read their stories. I kept getting them all mixed up. The story begins with Edith and Helen growing up together. Edith early on showed an affinity for baking pies. Helen was fascinated with beer. For her sixteenth birthday, all Helen asked for was a bottle of beer. When she opened her gift from her parents and found a bottle of root beer, she had a tantrum and threw the bottle through the kitchen window. Later in the day, Edith, who by then was 21 and married, went and bought four bottles of beer of

Inland by Téa Obreht: A review

I read  Téa Obreht's first novel, The Tiger's Wife , in 2011 and found it wonderfully imaginative with beautiful writing. It was set in the homeland of the author's ancestors, the former Yugoslavia, and told the story of a young doctor, a pediatrician, who had been set on the course of her life's work by her beloved grandfather. He told her stories that were based on the folk tales of the area and that incorporated the supernatural and the superstitious. They were a major influence on her life. Now, finally, Obreht has produced a new book that is every bit as beautifully written and imaginative as her first one and it, too, contains elements of folk tales that border on the supernatural, as well as the actual historical events of the area about which she is writing. But she's no longer in Eastern Europe. Her historical fiction now takes us to the American Southwest, mainly Arizona Territory in 1893. And again she has given us some truly unforgettable characters.

Poetry Sunday: Peak Summer by Eric Nixon

We are certainly in "peak summer" here in Southeast Texas. The days are long, hot, and humid, and yet on some mornings when I first venture outside there is a breeze and a freshness to the air that promises an end to this our most unpleasant and longest season. "Hold on," it seems to say, "autumn is coming." Peak Summer by Eric Nixon We’re steeped deep in summer And everything around me Seems to indicate it’ll never end But still I’m spending time Looking for the subtle signs Trying to figure out when We’ve reached peak summer When the billion green trees Start to dull ever so slightly When the bounty of vegetables Found at all the local farm stands Start thinning in quantity and quality When the Halloween candy Appears in the supermarkets And the  Back To School!  signs Show up in the big box stores When the sun sets a little earlier And gets a little more noticeable Each night, night after night Until you start thinking about How much daylight you

This week in birds - #366

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's not just the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that are passing through here on migration now; we're also getting Rufous Hummingbirds . I've seen females and first-year birds, like the one about to have lunch at one of my feeders, this week.  They sometimes have to contend with interlopers like that bee who is also having a sip. *~*~*~* The lungs of the Earth are burning . The Amazon rainforest, so essential to the production of oxygen and the sequestering of carbon dioxide, is ablaze with fires that have increased by 85% since the beginning of the year. Scientists cite three causes, all of them the result of human activity: (1) Deforestation, much of it illegal; (2.) Farming activities; (3.) Droughts that are being made more frequent by deforestation and climate change. The current president of Brazil is not inclined to do much to fight the fires since he wants to raze and develop the whole region, but

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves: A review

Telling Tales is the second Vera Stanhope mystery by Ann Cleeves and it is every bit as wonderful as the first. Once again we are introduced to strong and believable characters and the indomitable investigator who is able to ferret out their deepest, darkest, most closely held secrets in the pursuit of her quarry. In this instance, Inspector Stanhope is sent to Yorkshire to re-investigate a case that went badly awry. Ten years before, a fifteen-year-old girl, Abigail Mantel, had been strangled and her body left in a ditch there. The local police led by Inspector Caroline Fletcher had quickly settled on Abigail's father's lover, Jeanie Long, as the likely murderer. After all, Jeanie and Abigail had had a fractious relationship after Jeanie moved into the household and Abigail had only recently convinced her father, Keith, to toss Jeanie out. Moreover, Jeanie had been unable to provide a witness to prove that she had gone to London as she claimed on the day of the murder. Sh

The Obama reading list

Former President Obama has continued his practice of sharing his summer reading list with us. It's always fun to compare his reading habits with my own to see where they overlap. His reading material tends more to nonfiction than my own, but it is refreshing to realize that he is also an enthusiastic consumer of great fiction. His list last summer included only five books , three fiction and two nonfiction, and I had read (or planned to read) and enjoyed the three fiction and one of the nonfiction. I was gratified that we were so in sync. This year's list contains works by eleven different writers , including, at the top of the list, the collected works of Toni Morrison, and our reading tastes are somewhat less in sync this year. I can only claim to have read one of Morrison's books, Beloved, which I read eleven years ago. I feel that I did not fully appreciate that book at the time and that I need to read it again. I would also like to read her other works. Second o

Poetry Sunday: Crickets by Sue Owen

Here are some of the sounds that I enjoy in the summer landscape: birdsong (of course!), frogs, cicadas, and crickets. Sue Owen, also, has an appreciation of the sound of crickets on a summer night. They inspired her poem.  Crickets by Sue Owen Some summer nights you can hear them getting all worked up over this idea of cheerfulness and song. Deep in the grasses where they hide, there is a need to be heard in the darkness, even if their voices are so small they sound like a door creaking on its hinge, or the squeak a drawer makes when it opens up at last. It seems as if the damp air and dew are trying to hold their song down out of sheer gravity, but neither dampness nor darkness makes them stop. In fact, the crickets like to show off their song, to let it lift up off the earth the way that all notes rise to the stars, and float up through the thick night, as if their joy itself were the only light we needed to follow.

This week in birds - #365

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The beautiful and sweet-singing House Finch was originally from the southwestern part of this country and down into Mexico and Central America. But through the years, it has expanded its range eastward and is now found in most of the contiguous 48 states. Where you see one House Finch you can almost certainly see another. They tend to travel in pairs and family groups. Here a pair wait for their turn at the feeder.  *~*~*~* The magnitude of the harm that would be done by weakening the Endangered Species Act as the current administration in Washington wants to do truly boggles the mind. This comes as there have been repeated warnings from scientists that the biodiversity on this planet is at risk and, indeed, that this ultimately poses a threat to the continued existence of humans.  *~*~*~* Well, that didn't take long . I reported here last week that the EPA was planning to allow usage of so-called cyanid

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok: A review

Searching for Sylvie Lee is a tragedy wrapped in a mystery. Sylvie Lee is the older daughter in a family of Chinese immigrants to America. Her life in this country and with her parents has been complicated. When the family first came to America, the parents soon realized they were not equipped to take care of baby Sylvie because both had to work to survive and they had no family here to help them. So, they sent Sylvie back to her grandmother who had emigrated to The Netherlands and was living with a cousin and her husband there. Sylvie spent the first nine years of her life in the care of her grandmother. Only then did her mother return to The Netherlands to claim her and take her back to America. By then, her parents had had a second daughter, Amy. Part of the bargain for having Sylvie rejoin her family was that she would help to care for Amy. But that was okay because she adored Amy and Amy adored her. Sylvie had many problems to overcome, but she became a super-achiever. She

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2019

What's blooming in my zone 9a Southeast Texas garden this August? Here's a look. Sunflowers, of course. Crape myrtles, ditto. Wedelia, a rampantly growing ground cover.  Coral vine.  Crinums.   Hamelia patens, aka Mexican firebush or hummingbird bush.  Lantana.  Ornamental potato vine.  Vitex, aka chaste tree.  Evergreen wisteria. Autumn sage, Salvia greggii.  Butterfly ginger.  Jatropha. Texas sage, blooms of which are triggered by rain, or, in this case, the sprinkler.  Esperanza, aka yellowbells. Ruellia 'Chi Chi'. Blue plumbago.  Turk's cap, 'Big Momma'.  Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'.  'Pride of Barbados'.  Cestrum.  Milkweed.  Cypress vine.  Justicia 'Orange Flame'.  Water lily. What's blooming in your garden this month? If you leave a comment, I'll be able to visit and find out! Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for thi

Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith: A review

Here is yet another remarkable first novel. Sarah Elaine Smith is a published poet and I think it shows in the vivid prose of this book, but this is her first work of fiction. It is a work of empathy and compassion for the flawed characters within it. Even when they behave badly or stupidly, their creator enfolds them in her generous understanding and, with that, she encourages her readers toward the same attitude. "See?" she seems to say, "they are only human and they are doing the best they can, just like all of us." Her narrator is a 14-year-old outsider named Cindy Stoat. Cindy lives with her two older brothers, Virgil and Clinton, in a ramshackle house in rural Pennsylvania. The father is absent. They have a mother but she comes and goes and is seldom on the scene. The electricity has been turned off because of unpaid bills. They are basically on their own and frequently hungry.  They live a feral existence. (Shades of Where the Crawdads Sing !)  They hav

Poetry Sunday: Small Kindnesses by Danusha Lameris

My older daughter brought this poem to my attention last week and it proved to be just the antidote I needed for a week of truly horrible and depressing events. As I read it, I could feel the gloom lifting just a little and leaving that crack by which the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen once wrote. I think, in the end, if there is anything that will save us as a species, it might be those small kindnesses that we do for each other; the things that we do automatically without thinking because we know in our deepest heart of hearts that they are the right things to do. Because "Mostly, we don't want to harm each other", and that sentiment may be "the true dwelling of the holy".  Treasure those acts and those moments. Small Kindnesses by Danusha Lameris I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic p