Showing posts from May, 2020

Poetry Sunday: The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

I have featured this poem here before in 2018, but as events unfolded over the past week, it's the poem that kept coming to mind. It has never seemed more apropos. The Second Coming  by William Butler Yeats 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 blank and pitiless as the sun,    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.    T

This week in birds - #402

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : An Eastern Kingbird perches on a bare limb keeping a lookout on the surrounding area. The kingbird is well-named. It definitely sees itself as king of all that it surveys and unhesitatingly defends its territory from anything deemed a threat, up to and including eagles. *~*~*~* The recent collapse of two dams in Michigan should be a warning to us that there are thousands of such run-down dams in our country that could create catastrophe and untold deaths if they collapse. It's all a part of the neglect of our infrastructure that has gone on far too long.  *~*~*~* The recent incident in Central Park when a white woman called the police about a black man who was birding there brings home the fact that many black men feel uncomfortable birding in public parks because they are always subject to being falsely accused. The birder had asked the woman to leash her dog and, in fact, birders in the park have for

The End of October by Lawrence Wright: A review

I vowed that I would not be reading any pandemic-related or apocalyptic novels during our current public health crisis, so how exactly did I end up reading this book? I saw the review in The New York Times and the writer's name caught my attention. Lawrence Wright is a respected journalist and has written a number of well-received and occasionally award-winning nonfiction books. His most recent was a love letter to Texas called God Save Texas, another one of those books that I had always intended to read but still haven't got around to it. Wright lives in Austin. His latest book was described as "eerily prescient." It was mostly written in 2017 with the final work on it coming in 2019. But the description proved correct; reading it was a bit like reading the daily news reports of the coronavirus pandemic. Having it all put together in a coherent narrative really made the sequence of events of the actual pandemic more understandable for me.  Wright is, as I said

Beast in View by Margaret Millar: A review

Many years ago, around the 1980s as I recall, I was a huge fan of the writing of Ross Macdonald, especially his series featuring hard-boiled detective Lew Archer. During that time, I think I must have read all or most of those books and enjoyed every one. Little did I realize at the time that Macdonald was married to an acclaimed writer of psychological thrillers named Margaret Millar. Millar's books were much-honored and her book Beast in View won the Edgar Award as the best book of the year in 1956.  There was a reference to her book in an article I read recently about classic mysteries and I was intrigued. The fact that she was married to Macdonald caught my attention, but the book sounded interesting and I decided to make Millar's acquaintance. The book fully lives up to the article's praise of it. It is a tightly plotted, suspenseful tale with a surprising twist at the end. It evinces a feeling of the sinister throughout. Millar obviously knew what she was doing.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride: A review

This book was a hoot to read. Seriously, it gave me several belly laughs which were therapeutic and cleansing, I'm sure. And yet, as I reflect on it, I realize that it was, in a very real sense, a story about grief and how we deal with it. The book is set in South Brooklyn and at the center of it is the Five Ends Baptist Church. The time is 1969. Humans have just set foot on the moon for the first time and soon the previously most hapless team in all of major league baseball, the Mets, will win the World Series. It is a time of miracles, in other words. The protagonist of this story is Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of that aforementioned Baptist church but in this neighborhood in Brooklyn, no one is called by his/her legal name. Everyone has nicknames. The deacon is mostly known as Sportcoat, or, somewhat more derisively, as Deacon King Kong after a locally made hooch which he freely imbibes called King Kong. Deacon Cuffy/Sportcoat/Deacon King Kong is just one more miracle. He has che

Poetry Sunday: Fictional Characters by Danusha Laméris

I came across this poem last week by a poet I had never heard of and I just sort of fell in love with it. I love the image of fictional characters getting fed up with the stories they have been written into and stepping out, " roaming the city streets  rain falling on their phantasmal shoulders."  And wouldn't we all at times love to step out of the story we are living and leave it all behind... all its heat and toil nothing but a tale resting in the hands of a stranger, the sidewalk ahead wet and glistening. Fictional Characters by Danusha Laméris Do they ever want to escape? Climb out of the white pages and enter our world? Holden Caulfield slipping in the movie theater to catch the two o’clock Anna Karenina sitting in a diner, reading the paper as the waitress serves up a cheeseburger. Even Hector, on break from the Iliad, takes a stroll through the park, admires the tulips. Maybe they grew tired of the author’s mind, all its twists and turns. Or were

This week in birds - #401

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Common Nighthawk perches on a barbed wire fence in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. This picture was taken during spring migration a few years ago, but this year's flight of nighthawks has now reached my area. I've heard them in the skies over my yard on several occasions in the late afternoon this week. Flying insects, beware! *~*~*~* Dam failures in Michigan this week  caused a deluge that flooded a Dow Chemical plant  and made the release of toxic chemicals into the environment a possibility, although the company put out a statement saying that the flooding had been kept under control and mixed with water in their containment ponds. They stated there was no danger to the public. *~*~*~* Climate change is making another Dust Bowl such as occurred in the 1930s more likely to occur again.  They could become a regular feature  every twenty years or so. *~*~*~* In Maine, there

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez: A review

Reading this book reminded me in some ways of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking . Like Didion, Julia Alvarez's protagonist Antonia Vega lost her beloved husband less than a year ago and she's finding it very difficult to cope with life without him and just to get on with it. Antonia is a recently retired educator and a writer who lives alone now in rural Vermont. Her late husband, Sam, was a much-respected doctor who was an integral part of the community, caring for the locals as well as for immigrants, mostly undocumented, who came to work the local farms. Antonia herself is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and that is an essential part of her self image. Since her husband's death, she finds herself more and more coming to embody his attitudes and his caring nature, while during his life, she played the "bad cop" to his "good cop." She muses at one point that Sam is taking over, that she is becoming Sam. Well, she

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves: A review

After plowing through several consecutive books with heavy themes, I decided it was time for something a bit lighter. I settled on a tale about a triple murder as told by Ann Cleeves. This is the eighth and latest book in the D.I. Vera Stanhope series and it is a very good one. And, of course, the tale isn't primarily about three murders; it's about Vera and her A-team of Joe, Holly, and Charlie, and how they work together to solve puzzles. This is a particularly complicated puzzle because two of the aforementioned murders had occurred back in the 80s, the remains only recently discovered. They were discovered because Vera was selected for a public relations stint.  She was assigned by her boss to make a presentation to convicts at a local prison about how crime affects the victims. She went, grudgingly, to give her spiel and in the audience was a former copper named John Brace. John Brace was a bent copper who had finally received his comeuppance in relation to a schem

Poetry Sunday: In the Park by Maxine Kumin

Time is both a finite and a relative concept. Objectively, sixty seconds make a minute, sixty minutes make an hour. But subjectively, some minutes drag for us and one of them can seem like an hour. And if, for example, you are confronting a grizzly bear that lies/lays on you for a time, that time, if you survive to reflect upon it, could certainly feel like the forty-nine days of the Buddhist bardo, that time between death and rebirth. Maxine Kumin describes such an encounter in Glacier Park.  In the Park by Maxine Kumin You have forty-nine days between death and rebirth if you’re a Buddhist. Even the smallest soul could swim the English Channel in that time or climb, like a ten-month-old child, every step of the Washington Monument to travel across, up, down, over or through —you won’t know till you get there which to do. He laid on me for a few seconds said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell about his skirmish with a grizzly bear in Glacier Park.  He laid on me not doing anyth

TWIB next week

"This week in birds" is taking the week off. It will return next weekend.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2020

What's been blooming in my zone 9a garden near Houston in May? Here's a look: May is the month when the old southern magnolia tree in the backyard is in its glory. It almost makes us forget what a messy tree it is the other eleven months. The pot of pansies on the patio, on the other hand, are well past their glory which came in the winter months. And still, they hang on even unto May. 'Belinda's Dream' rose on its second cycle of blooms.  'Old Blush' antique rose. 'Julia Child' rose.  Pink Knockout. 'Lady of Shallott,' a David Austin rose with gorgeous squashy blooms and a wonderful rose scent. 'Caldwell Pink' rose, an antique polyantha, with just a bit of bluebonnet in the background. This sunflower was planted by the birds. The ones I planted are not blooming yet.  Oleander. This pot of petunias on the patio are plants that "volunteered" in the garden this year. I believe they

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis: A review

I read Carolina De Robertis's previous book, The Gods of Tango , and liked it quite a lot and so I was eager to read her new offering.  The previous book was about a woman who was unable to fulfill her life's ambition to play the violin simply because she was a woman. So, after emigrating from her home country to Argentina and finding herself in difficult circumstances there, she ultimately made the choice to live as a man and play the violin for tango bands. The current book details forty years of the lives of five women beginning in Uraguay in 1977. These five women are lesbians who came together for friendship and support (and occasionally sex) in a hostile society. They were unable to be themselves, to live their lives openly and honestly. I think I am sensing a common theme in De Robertis's books.   As a queer woman herself, it is likely the De Robertis has faced some of the prejudice and discrimination that the women in her novels have faced. Thus, she is perha