Showing posts from January, 2021

Poetry Sunday: February by Edith Nesbit

We have made it through January and Monday the calendar turns to February. Edith Nesbit vividly describes this month which is still mostly brown and gray. The trees stand brown against the gray, The shivering gray of field and sky; It's still winter, even here, but by the end of this month things will begin to green up and spring will be right around the corner.  February by Edith Nesbit The trees stand brown against the gray, The shivering gray of field and sky; The mists wrapt round the dying day The shroud poor days wear as they die: Poor day, die soon, who lived in vain, Who could not bring my Love again! Down in the garden breezes cold Dead rustling stalks blow chill between; Only, above the sodden mould, The wallflower wears his heartless green As though still reigned the rose-crowned year And summer and my Love were here. The mists creep close about the house, The empty house, all still and chill; The desolate and trembling boughs Scratch at the dripping window sill: Poor da

This week in birds - #436

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Black-necked Stilts foraging at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. *~*~*~* President Biden has stopped the construction of the wall along the southern border, but it will take a major effort to remediate the cultural and environmental damage that was done by the construction carried out by the previous administration. *~*~*~* Billions of cicadas like this one have spent seventeen years underground and now they are set to emerge all across the eastern United States  bringing swarming numbers and loud mating calls to major towns and cities. *~*~*~* Monarch butterfly populations in the west have declined by 97% since the 1980s and in the east, they are not much better off, down 80% in the last fifteen years. There are ways we can help, one of which is planting milkweed , their host plant, but research indicates there is a right and wrong way to do that. *~*~*~* "The Prairie Ecologist" has info

Jack by Marilynne Robinson: A review

I had not read any of the books in Marilynn Robinson's acclaimed Gilead series prior to this one. In fact, I had never read anything by her. So I have no way of knowing if this is typical of her writing, but this novel just jumps right in, without any explanation or introduction, to a scene of a man and a woman walking on a street and having a philosophical/theological discussion. We don't know who these people are, where they are, or what time period they are living in. Moreover, once this first section finishes up, the narrative moves on to another scene of these same two unknown characters in a cemetery at night. It develops that the man, who is apparently a vagrant, had gone there to sleep, whereas the woman, for whatever reason, was visiting the cemetery when the guard locked the gate for the night and she was unable to get out. They meet up and they spend the night together wandering the cemetery and once again having their esoteric philosophical/theological discussion. E

Call for the Dead by John le Carré: A review

I had planned to reread some of John  le Carré's books this year even before his recent death, but his passing clinched it for me. I decided to start with this one, which is the first in his George Smiley series. As I got into reading it, I realized I had not actually read this particular book before. No matter. Le Carré meticulously describes George Smiley. He is short, somewhat fat, wears glasses, is past middle age, in fact, close to retirement. He is the absolute living embodiment of the anonymous man. You would never give him a second look. He is (was) married to the beautiful Lady Ann Seacomb, and he can never quite figure out how that happened. Why would such a woman be interested in him? But Ann has never been faithful to him, and when we meet George, she has abandoned him and gone off with a Spanish race-car driver.  George is a member of England's foreign service. He is a spy, but his job currently is mostly pushing papers. An anonymous letter had been received at the

The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips: A review

In 1591, Mahmoud Ezzedine is content in his role as the trusted doctor to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He has a wife whom he loves and a young son whom he adores and a profession that gives him satisfaction. He would happily spend the rest of his years in this life, but then he is jolted out of his existence. The sultan receives a letter from Queen Elizabeth of England requesting his help in the religious conflicts - Protestant vs. Catholic - of the day. The sultan decides to send a diplomatic mission to England to assess the situation. It is rumored that Elizabeth is ill and may die. It is determined that the sultan's doctor should be a part of the mission. Much as he might wish to, there is no way that Ezzedine can refuse the assignment. Ezzedine finds England dirty and underdeveloped as compared to the advanced Islamic society. His one pleasure in the country is getting to know and becoming friends with an English doctor with whom he shares his knowledge about various herbs

Poetry Sunday: The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

The young poet, Amanda Gorman, whom most people probably had not heard of before, practically stole the show at the inauguration on Wednesday. Her poem that she shared with us seemed just about perfect for the day. Moreover, her appearance at the event caused her two books, not even published yet, to zoom to the top of the best sellers list on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I think the young woman may have a future in poetry. Here is that remarkable poem in its entirety. ( The emphases are mine .) The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade We've braved the belly of the beast We've learned that quiet isn't always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always just-ice And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished We the successors of a country and

This week in birds - #435

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Willet photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. *~*~*~* President Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20 and immediately issued a flurry of executive orders several of which made environmentalists who have spent the last four years fighting a holding action very happy. As he had pledged, his first act was to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord . He also rescinded the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was a bit of a poke in the eye for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who has been a staunch defender of the project. He also directed federal agencies to review all the previous administration's decisions over the past four years that were " harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.” Reversing those harmful decisions will take time, but a start has been made. *~*

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar: A review

  This book had not been on my radar at all until I read President Barack Obama's annual list of the best books of the year. This title appeared as one of his favorites. That was a sufficient recommendation for me and I put it on my list. As I started reading it though I found myself very confused. I had understood that it was a novel and yet it read exactly like an autobiography/memoir. Had I been mistaken? But there it is right on the cover - "a novel." I looked at Goodreads and discovered that I was not alone in my confusion. A number of other readers had thought they were reading a memoir. The book, in fact, reads like a series of personal essays. The essays illustrate different aspects of the narrator's personality and background, a background many parts of which he shares with the author. Both are American-born writers, playwrights who have won a Pulitzer Prize. Both identify as part of the Muslim world and culture, even though neither is devoutly religious. The

Poetry Sunday: Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field

The migration of birds has always been a mysterious thing. Although much more is understood of it today than was in the past, we still wonder, how exactly do they know when it is time to go?  There are a lot of wintering geese here in January but soon enough, in a few weeks, something will tell them to head north again. And just like that, they will be off. Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field   Something told the wild geese It was time to go, Though the fields lay golden Something whispered, “Snow.” Leaves were green and stirring, Berries, luster-glossed, But beneath warm feathers, Something cautioned, “Frost.” All the sagging orchards Steamed with amber spice, But each wild breast stiffened At remembered ice. Something told the wild geese It was time to fly. Summer sun was on their wings, Winter in their cry.

This week in birds - #434

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Vermillion Flycatcher photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. *~*~*~* One really has to feel for the new Biden administration. What a mess they are being left with and where do they even start to clean it up? The transition team says the damage to the government's ability to address climate change has been even greater than they realized and now they will be starting from scratch to reverse all that in order to meet the administration's goals. *~*~*~* 2020 was effectively tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record. The New York Times has a global map that illustrates where the hottest of the hot spots on Earth were. *~*~*~* Even so, greenhouse emissions from the U.S. actually decreased by about ten percent last year . This is almost entirely due to the effects of the pandemic, but if it could be sustained it would help the country achieve its goal for reducing emissions. *~*~*~

World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: A review

A challenge I have set for myself in 2021 is to read more nonfiction books. This book was my first effort at achieving that challenge.  Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the American daughter of immigrants. Her mother is Filipina and her father is Indian. When she was growing up, her family moved around quite a bit in this country and she got to know different regions of the country well. She was always interested in the natural world and she was able to observe and gain some insight into it. She learned enough to realize that she preferred to live in an area where winters were not quite as harsh as in some of the eastern and midwestern areas where she had lived. It was for this reason that, as an adult, she turned her gaze southward. And that is how she and her husband and their two young sons ended up in Oxford, Mississippi, where she is a professor of English and writing at the University of Mississippi. Nezhukumatathil is a poet who has published four collections of poems to some renown.  N