Showing posts from January, 2020

This week in birds - #387

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : I photographed this Red Crossbill at Rocky Mountain National Park in late October after an early snow a few years ago. There were several of the birds in this pine tree. You may be able to discern another one just in the lower right corner.  *~*~*~* So, a 30-foot section of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico was blown into Mexico by a 30-plus mph wind this week. And in other wall news, it seems that the structure is vulnerable to flash floods which are a regular feature of the "rainy" season in the desert. Consequently, it will be necessary to have large storm gates to allow the water (and, incidentally, migrants) to pass and the gates will have to be open for months.  *~*~*~* The unprecedented bush fires in Australia have released about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide, effectively doubling the country's greenhouse gas emissions for the year.   *~*~*~* Sadly, the story that I r

The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts by Karen Armstrong: A review

Karen Armstrong, for those unfamiliar with her work, is a former nun and British writer who has written extensively on religion and religious themes. I've read and learned a lot from a few of her many books, including A History of God , to which this current book seems almost a sequel. Armstrong, who is 75, is now an ambassador for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.  The Lost Art of Scripture could almost serve as a textbook for a course in comparative religions. In it, Armstong takes us on a tour of the scriptural foundations of most of the major religious thought of humans. It is a fascinating and lengthy (more than 600 pages) journey. We visit India for the origin of the Vedas. And we revisit to pick up on variations of Hindu texts and the evolution of Jainist thought and of the beginnings of Sikhism. It is a rich and wide-ranging history that could fill - and has filled - many books by itself. Then we see the beginnings of Buddhism. The Buddha never wrote a

Poetry Sunday: Song by Edith Wharton

Occasionally one comes across a poem that says exactly what one would say if one were a poet. Here is such a poem that speaks for me. This one is for Bob. Song by Edith Wharton Let us be lovers to the end, O you to whom my soul is given, Whose smiles have turned this earth to heaven, Fast holding hands as we descend Life’s pathway devious and uneven, Let us be lovers to the end. Dear, let us make of Time a friend To bind us closer with his cares, And though grief strike us unawares No poisoned shaft that fate can send Shall wound us through each other’s prayers, If we are lovers to the end. Let us be lovers to the end And, growing blind as we grow old, Refuse forever to behold How age has made the shoulders bend And Winter blanched the hair’s young gold. Let us be lovers to the end. Whichever way our footsteps tend Be sure that, if we walk together, They’ll lead to realms of sunny weather, By shores where quiet waters wend. At eventide we shall go thither, If we are lover

This week in birds - #386

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Bald Eagles are becoming an almost common sight in our area, especially in winter. This one was photographed at Archbishop Fiorenza Park in Houston. ( Image courtesy of ) *~*~*~* It's not exactly a surprise to learn that 2019 capped the hottest decade in Earth's recorded history . The past five years are also the hottest on record. *~*~*~* The massive wildfires in Australia are fueling the anger of environmentalists there who hold their government at least partially responsible for the disaster because of its climate change denialism and lack of action. The environmental movement has been energized by this anger. *~*~*~* Spain's new government has declared a climate emergency , which is a step toward enacting ambitious plans to combat climate change.  *~*~*~* We tend to think of earthworms as a good thing for the environment, but not necessarily when those critters are

The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith: A review

The Siberian dilemma as stated by Moscow investigator Arkady Renko is simply this: If you fall into a lake in Siberia in winter, do you stay in and die quickly or do you climb out and let the hypothermia kill you a bit more slowly? The question always is to act or not to act. It's a question faced almost daily by Renko in his job as an investigator and, even though he knows that to act is often dangerous and most likely won't accomplish anything, he can't help himself. He acts to solve crimes and bring criminals to whatever bit of justice he can achieve or, in some cases as in this tale, he acts to prevent an innocent party from being punished. He knows the system is corrupt and he is thoroughly cynical about his prospects for success, but still, he keeps trying. He keeps striving. This time out, Renko is worried about his lover (former lover?), the journalist Tatiana Petrovna. Tatiana had headed off to Siberia in search of a story about the oligarchs who control the

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller: A review

I enjoy reading historical fiction and Andrew Miller's book, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free , came highly recommended. The book began with great promise. Set in the early 19th century during the wars between England and France, it tells the story of a British Army officer and veteran named John Lacroix. We meet Lacroix when he is returned wounded in body and spirit to his estate in Somerset after a harrowing retreat across Spain. At this point, one is reminded of Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe series (which I loved!), but that is not what Andrew Miller is about. Instead, he brings us a kind of psychological thriller featuring a cat and mouse game with Lacroix playing the part of the mouse. At first, however, the mouse does not know that the cat is pursuing him. Lacroix is nursed back to health by his faithful housekeeper, but he proves to be half-deaf from his injuries. Moreover, he is suffering from what we would term PTSD. Instead of returning to his regiment, Lacroix

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves: A review

During my recent struggles with health issues, I took comfort in returning to some of my guilty reading pleasures. One of the chief among these is the Vera Stanhope mystery series by Ann Cleeves. I've been working my way through this series and this is the seventh entry. So far I've found every book to be tightly plotted with well-drawn characters and plenty of social commentary and philosophical observations on human nature to go along with the puzzle of the mystery.  And they are puzzles. I can never guess who the perpetrator is and that held true in The Moth Catcher as well. Cleeves had a previous career as a probation officer and it seems obvious that that experience has informed her understanding of the UK criminal justice system and those philosophical observations on human nature that I mentioned. Here, she gives us the tale of two very different human beings who are brought together by their interest in moths. One is a recent college graduate, a young ecologist w

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton: A review

This book has languished on my TBR list for quite a while and I'm not sure why I haven't read it sooner. Now that I have read it, I regret that I didn't read it the minute that I got it. It is a terrific book, the first novel by this author, but one would never guess that for it is an assured and self-confident bit of writing. Sexton gives full-bodied life to her characters without either sentimentalizing them or making them into oddities. These are ordinary people whose struggles we can identify with. The author is a resident of New Orleans and that is where her novel is set. Part of the appeal of the narrative is that she deeply understands her city and its culture and she delivers it to us with clear-eyed descriptions which allow us to see it with all of its richness as well as its deeply ingrained flaws. She tells her story through the lives of three generations of a New Orleans family, a quintessential New Orleans family of Creole and African-American heritage. S

Poetry Sunday: Mighty Forms by Brenda Hillman

I've never experienced an earthquake, but I imagine it could be terrifying. To think that the solid Earth could crack and open up and swallow structures and people. Yes, I think it would be terrifying. But poets make poetry of anything. Brenda Hillman makes a poem about the experience of an earthquake.  Mighty Forms by Brenda Hillman The earth had wanted us all to itself. The mountains wanted us back for themselves. The numbered valleys of serpentine wanted us; that’s why it happened as it did, the split as if one slow gear turned beneath us. . . Then the Tuesday shoppers paused in the street and the tube that held the trout-colored train and the cords of action from triangular buildings and the terraced gardens that held camellias shook and shook, each flower a single thought. Mothers and children took cover under tables. I called out to her who was my life. From under the table—I hid under the table that held the begonia with the f

Hospital stay

If you have noticed my absence, let me explain. I've been in the hospital. I'm home now and hoping to soon be back into my usual routine. In the meantime, please keep me in your thoughts. 

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney: A review

I was a bit confused for the early part of this book. I couldn't decide if it was going to be a serial killer murder mystery or a heist caper. Turns out it was both and the author, whom I had not read before, skillfully wove the two stories together. In the end, everything was interconnected. Liam McIlvanney's novel is set in Glasgow in 1969 during a brutal winter. Not only is the city having to deal with the beastly weather, it is also going through a phase of urban renewal which has devastated much of the city and left blocks of old tenements empty before their demolition. It is in these derelict tenements that over a period of months the bodies of three raped and murdered young women are found.  The detectives at the Marine Police Station investigate the crimes. The killer is dubbed "The Quaker" based on a perception of his religiosity and those assigned to the investigation are the "Quaker Squad". (It should be noted that the novel is loosely based

Poetry Sunday: To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year by Philip Appleman

Today, let us celebrate those who do the necessary work of collecting our refuse and thus keeping our neighborhoods nice and tidy. Philip Appleman wrote a poem about them. So here for the garbage collectors in Bloomington, Indiana and in my town and yours... To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year by Philip Appleman (the way bed is in winter, like an aproned lap,     like furry mittens,     like childhood crouching under tables) The Ninth Day of Xmas, in the morning black outside our window: clattering cans, the whir of a hopper, shouts, a whistle,  move on  ... I see them in my warm imagination the way I’ll see them later in the cold, heaving the huge cans and running (running!) to the next house on the street. My vestiges of muscle stir uneasily in their percale cocoon: what moves those men out there, what drives them running to the next house and the next? Halfway back to dream, I speculate: Th

This week in birds - #385

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Greater Yellowlegs photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. *~*~*~* A conservative estimate of the number of animals killed in the Australian wildfires is over one billion. *~*~*~* So it turns out that 2019 was only the second hottest year on record , just less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit cooler than 2016.  *~*~*~* While the apocalyptic Australian wildfires have dominated the environmental news, Indonesia has been suffering some of the worst floods in its history . At least 66 people have been killed and thousands more have been forced to flee their homes. *~*~*~* Here is a listing of species declared extinct in 2019, although some of them had actually probably been extinct for years. *~*~*~* And still, the good fight goes on to save species from extinction. Lebanese conservationists are working to provide protected areas for migrating birds where they