Showing posts from July, 2021

Poetry Sunday: Sea Fever by John Masefield

John Masefield was an English poet born in 1878. He was poet laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967. This is one of his most famous poems. I love the rhythm of it. It may be best read out loud to appreciate that rhythm. See if it does not evoke for you the lonely sea and sky and the image of tall ships. Enjoy!    Sea Fever by John Masefield I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask

This week in birds - #461

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Cooper's Hawk keeping a close eye on my backyard from a neighbor's pine tree. *~*~*~* A new study tracking the planet's vital signs has found that many of the key indicators of global warming, such as carbon emissions, ocean acidification, and clearing of the Amazon rainforest, are getting worse and are either approaching or already exceeding key tipping points in the global climate crisis. *~*~*~* Utah's Great Salt Lake is not so great anymore. Its water level has reached a historic low and it is expected to continue to drop in the coming months. This could prove disastrous for the millions of birds that rely on the lake.  *~*~*~* Meanwhile, California's Salton Sea, once an idyllic lake, is shrinking and has become a home to dangerous algal blooms, endless dust, and toxic air that is making residents sick. *~*~*~* Wouldn't it be great to have Shazam for birds so you can point your phone app t

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain: A review

  This is billed as Paula McLain's debut thriller and thrilling it certainly is. It is a dark tale set in the early 1990s and featuring a female San Francisco police detective whose job has been searching for missing persons, particularly missing children. Usually, these children are young girls, teenagers, or young women and their stories all too frequently end in tragedy. Then, an unspeakable personal tragedy hits this detective who is named Anna Hart and she flees San Francisco and heads to the town where she grew up, Mendocino. But even there, she finds that the local police, including its chief with whom she went to school, are working on a case involving a missing teenage girl. Cameron Curtis is the daughter of a former movie star who lives in the area and her disappearance has many similarities to a historical case, the disappearance and murder of Jenny Ledford, a girl from Anna's high school. Jenny had been in Anna's circle of friends. Anna cannot help herself; she

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji: A review

The original Japanese version of this book was published in 1987 during the early "honkaku" movement in Japanese mystery novel writing. In the foreword to this English version, published May 21, 2021, writer Shimada Soji explains that honkaku means orthodox. It is orthodox in the sense that it is a throwback to the golden age of Western mystery writing in the first half of the 20th century. It is a homage to writers like Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, to name just two of the most famous.  Honkaku refers to detective stories that are not only literature but to a greater or lesser extent also a game. They generally are "locked room" mysteries or at least take place in isolated locations. This one, for example, takes place on a virtually inaccessible island that has no means of communication with the outside world. The time is March 1986 and the great communication revolution has yet to take place. Honkaku books feature extremely complicated plots and that is c

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

  1941 London. England has been at war for two years. German bombs are still falling on the country. Psychologist/detective Maisie Dobbs' contribution to the war effort is to work for British intelligence services evaluating potential candidates for undercover work in France and elsewhere. Meanwhile, she continues to carry on her private detective agency business with the invaluable help of her assistant, Billy Beale. At the same time, her private life has taken a definite step forward. Her adopted daughter is the light of her life. She stays with Maisie's parents at her home in Kent and Maisie goes there on weekends. Also, she is in an affair with American Mark Scott which seems very promising. Mark better watch his back though. Men who fall in love with Maisie usually wind up dead! During this period of the war, British intelligence services were employing young boys as runners to deliver messages around London. These young kids ran past decimated buildings and dead bodies, s

Poetry Sunday: The Gardener by Ken Weisner

Thanks to Deb Nance for suggesting the poem for this week. It is a lovely tribute to the gardeners of the earth who bless each humble sprout that grows in their green patch. The poem is dedicated to Kit, the poet's wife, who has evidently inspired his admiration for gardeners. I admit I am not as staunch a gardener as she apparently is, particularly when the temperature gets above 95 degrees, but, like him, I can admire those who are " purified by labor, confessed by its whisperings, connected to its innocence." The Gardener by Ken Weisner For Kit You get down on your knees in the dark earth—alone for hours in hot sun, yanking weed roots, staking trellises, burning your shoulders, swatting gnats; you strain your muscled midwestern neck and back, callous your pianist’s hands. You cut roses back so they won’t fruit, rip out and replace spent annuals. You fill your garden dense with roots and vines. And when a humble sprout climbs like a worm up out of death, you are there

This week in birds - #460

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : He looks a bit raggedy now but give him a few weeks and this molting Northern Mockingbird will have new feathers and will be sleek and beautiful once again. *~*~*~* Some of the western wildfires are so big and intense that they create their own weather systems . There have been incidents of fire tornadoes, as well as more commonly clouds, haze, and other phenomena. Smoky haze from the fires has even reached as far as New York City.  *~*~*~* The lower 48 states cannot look for any relief from the heat in the coming week, according to meteorologists. Another "heat dome" is expected which this time will reach parts of the central and eastern United States that were largely spared from the previous such phenomenon. Early estimates are that the contiguous states will have temperatures that reach ten to fifteen degrees above normal.  *~*~*~* Torrential rain resulted in massive flooding in central China this week,

Transient Desires by Donna Leon: A review

  Donna Leon published her first Guido Brunetti mystery in 1992. Twenty-nine more have followed. This is the thirtieth in the series. A few years ago I was seriously addicted to this series and I read the first thirteen entries in order. Then I tired of it and moved on to other things. When I read a synopsis of this latest book, my interest was piqued once again and I decided to read it. It goes a bit against my nature, but I have to admit I am never going to read all the seventeen intervening books in order, so why not read number thirty? Guido won't mind. In fact, in reading this book, it seemed to me that no time had passed and nothing had changed between number thirteen and number thirty. All the well-known characters are still there and the main character, Venice, seems not to have changed at all. Government corruption, bureaucratic inertia, rampant nepotism, and rising seas still plague the city. The tourists are still as badly behaved as ever and immigrants both legal and il

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith: A review

  This is the second of Patricia Highsmith's books that I had on my reading list for the summer. (The first was The Talented Mr. Ripley .) This book was actually her debut novel published in 1950. It was adapted as a screenplay for the classic 1951 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Many years later, I saw the movie as the late show on television one night. It made quite an impression on me at the time, although I can't now recall how closely it followed the book. My vague recollection is that there are differences, but don't hold me to that. The basic plot of the book - and the movie - is probably pretty well known by most people. After all, it's right there in the title of the book. Two strangers meet on a train. One is a successful architect named Guy Haines. He is unhappily married and hoping to convince his wife not to oppose a divorce. He is anxious for a divorce because he is in love with someone else who he hopes to marry. He is on the train to travel to his ho

Poetry Sunday: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Perhaps before we can truly know kindness we have to have been in need of kindness. We have to have felt loss and sorrow. When kindness is shown to us in these circumstances, we learn how to show it to others. At least that seems to be what Naomi Shihab Nye tells us in her poem. Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept

This week in birds - #459

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in flight. He hasn't yet developed the long iconic tail feathers of his species but you can see the beginning of the "scissor." *~*~*~* Reservoir levels throughout the West are dropping drastically as the prolonged drought continues unabated. Many are at historically low levels already. The unprecedented heat is further stressing the water supply and the surrounding landscape.  *~*~*~* The UN has drafted an ambitious plan to halt biodiversity loss and cut the extinction rate by a factor of ten. The plan involves eliminating plastic pollution, reducing pesticide use, halving the rate of invasive species, and eliminating $500 billion of harmful government subsidies. The goal is to help halt and reverse the ecological destruction of Earth by the end of the decade. *~*~*~* An aggressive male  Mute Swan , a nonnative species, was set to be euthanized in Brick Township, New Je

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson: A review

This is the first of Ragnar Jonasson's three-book series featuring detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police. Jonasson made the unusual decision to write the ending of Hulda's story first, and so in this book, we learn how it all turned out. The two later books will provide her earlier backstory. It's an interesting strategy and since I haven't yet read the other two books I can't judge how well it works overall but the story in this book worked well. It could easily be read as a standalone. We meet Hulda when she is 64 years old and she is being forced to take early retirement by the department. This is very much against her will as she doesn't have much of a life outside of her job. She dreads the loneliness of no longer having the job to look forward to each day. She is told that she must leave in two weeks. During that time she will be allowed to work on one cold case of her choosing. She knows which one she will choose. The previous year the bo

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2021

Welcome to my very wet zone 9a garden near Houston. Our unusual summer has continued with almost daily rain. (Too bad we can't send some of it out west where our friends really need it.)  Our summers are typically very hot and humid but mostly dry. Sometimes very dry. This summer we still have the heat, although not as hot as we generally experience, but it is the rain that has been the real feature of the season. The plants have loved all the moisture but some of them have taken a real beating from the torrential downpours. Then a few days ago we had a wind storm that broke limbs, blew plants around, and generally made a mess of things. Bottom line: My garden isn't looking so good right now. Still, there are blooms. Here are some of them.  Blooms of the Texas sage are triggered by rain, so there have been a lot of blooms from it this summer. Zinnias, of course. And more zinnias. Black-eyed Susans. Gerbera daisy. And more gerbera daisies. Buddleia 'Miss Molly.' A rain-d

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: A review

  I read and reviewed Alex Michaelides' first novel, The Silent Patient , last year. I mostly enjoyed the experience and so I was up for another ride with him this year. The Maidens is his latest effort and frankly, it almost seems like a ripoff of the earlier book. Once again we have a psychotherapist who tries to solve a mystery. This time it is Mariana Andros, a young woman who was widowed over a year earlier when her husband drowned off a Greek island. She is still mourning that loss when she receives a distraught phone call from her niece, Zoe, who is a student at Cambridge. Zoe is frantic because a young woman, a fellow student who she knows has been murdered. Mariana rushes to Cambridge to support and protect her niece. Now, I'm not familiar with Cambridge, so I'll have to defer to Michaelides in his description of the culture and society there, but if it is correct, then I think the school is ready for a bit of an update to bring it into the twenty-first century. W

Poetry Sunday: Hummingbirds by Jonathan Greene

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird with Hamelia patens blossom. From Jonathan Greene, an appreciation of those amazing flying jewels, hummingbirds. I do indeed consider myself blessed by their visits.  Hummingbirds by Jonathan Greene Can fly every which way. Taught helicopters to rise straight up from the ground. What does not work for us works for them: being overly industrious, overeating, surviving a sweet tooth, a non-stop exuberance. No down time to sing alleluias, even after arriving at a distant home, having crossed continents. Never thinking to preen to show off a ruby throat, iridescent feathers. Consider yourself blessed by their visits.

This week in birds - #458

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Two Cattle Egrets in their breeding plumage explore a field in Brazos Bend State Park. *~*~*~* Birds are still dying in significant numbers from an unknown disease in at least ten states. Scientists have been able to rule out some causes such as chlamydia or West Nile virus but so far they have not been able to identify exactly what the disease is or from where it might be emanating. *~*~*~* It will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to learn that the month just past was the hottest June on record for North America . Satellite data show that temperature peaks are higher and they last longer than they have historically. *~*~*~* It will also not be a surprise to most readers of this blog that the analysis of recent record-breaking heat in the West indicates that human-caused climate change has played its part . An international team of climate researchers states that it would have bee