Showing posts from August, 2021

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy: A review

  Once there were wolves in Scotland but no more.  The official record shows that the last one was killed in 1680, although there are some reports that a few remained up until the 19th century. In her new novel though, Charlotte McConaghy imagines a project of reintroducing wolves in Scotland and the kinds of reactions and problems that might result. Heading up the fictional Cairngorms Wolf Project is Inti Flynn who describes herself as a "bad-tempered Australian who finds it hard to hide contempt and sucks at public speaking." Maybe not the ideal personality for a project dependent upon establishing good public relations. Inti had previously worked with wolves in Alaska where she had assembled her team of wolf biologists who will help her with Cairngorms. The biologists travel to Scotland along with the fourteen Alaskan gray wolves they have trapped to be released in Scotland. Wolves are apex predators and as such the biologists hope their release will help to control the de

Poetry Sunday: Autobiography of Eve by Ansel Elkins

A few days ago, I reviewed The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. The book begins with a line from a poem called "Autobiography of Eve" by Ansel Elkins. I had not heard of the poem or the poet and, of course, I had to go and read the entire poem. I loved it and so I am sharing it with you here today. The poet is quoted as saying that her poem is "an ode to sex, desire, rebellion, and so-called fallen women." I read it as the story of a woman seeking to control her own life and her own body. As such, it could be said to be the autobiography of all women. Autobiography of Eve by Ansel Elkins Wearing nothing but snakeskin boots, I blazed a footpath, the first radical road out of that old kingdom toward a new unknown. When I came to those great flaming gates of burning gold, I stood alone in terror at the threshold between Paradise and Earth. There I heard a mysterious echo: my own voice singing to me from across the forbidden side. I shook awake— at once

This week in birds - #465

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This week's "Bird of the Week" from the American Bird Conservancy is the Tennesee Warbler which does not in fact live in Tennesee although it passes through there on migration. The bird nests in boreal forests and thickets and winters in open woods and hedges in Central and South America. *~*~*~* Floods have dominated the environmental news this week. Flash floods in Tennesee and North Carolina took more than a score of lives. Scientists found that climate change contributed to the record rainfall that led to violent and deadly flooding in Germany and Belgium   last month. The floods were a 400-year-event, meaning that in any given year there was a 1 in 400 chance of such an event occurring. And New York City had its rainiest hour on record on August 21 when 1.94 inches of rain fell from 10 to 11 p.m. In total 4.45 inches of rain fell that day, followed by 2.67 inches on August 22. *~*~*~* The New York T

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw: A review

  This book was an unadulterated joy for me to read. Short stories are not generally a favorite genre of mine but I'm glad I was able to overcome my prejudice and just read for enjoyment.  Deesha Philyaw's collection consists of nine short stories. The only things they have in common are that they are all about Black women and the women's lives are connected in some way, however tangentially, to the church. The church, of course, has long been a central touchstone of Black culture in America and its influence permeates the lives of people, even those who are not regular churchgoers. All of the women in these stories want more from life than the church can offer. The roles they are meant to play in the family and community as women have been defined by the church and instilled in them by the churchgoing maternal figures in their lives, but those roles do not take into account the individual woman's body and sexuality and her goals for her life. In the first story, for ex

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght: A review

  Blakiston's Fish Owl is the largest owl in the world. The females who are bigger than the males of the species can weigh as much as ten pounds and wingspans of more than six feet have been measured. This giant among owls lives in remote forests along the Russia/Japan/Korea border, a habitat that it shares with the Amur (aka Siberian) tiger. Both of the creatures are endangered and this area is among their last refuges. Wildlife biologist Jonathan Slaght first visited this Primorye region of eastern Russia as a member of the Peace Corps when he was nineteen years old. He was overpowered by the incredible terrain of this remarkable habitat that was home to an amazing diversity of animals. Later, when as a graduate student the time came for him to choose a subject for research and dissertation, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to study those magnificent fish owls and by uncovering the secrets of their lives to be able to get governments to protect them. In order to secure the

Poetry Sunday: Penny by Barbara Crooker

As a person who's been owned by many cats over the years, this is a trip I've had to make more times than I can count. It never gets any easier. PENNY by Barbara Crooker She wasn’t a good cat. Wouldn’t let us pick her up or cuddle on the bed. Sometimes she’d permit petting, but only if she was in the mood, and on her own terms. If she was perched on a chair, perhaps you might approach. But now, at fifteen, she’s stopped eating and drinking, sleeps all day. Instead of wrestling the white Christmas Teddy, taking him down to the bottom of the stairs, she’s huddled next to him on the landing. Will even let me sit with her and stroke her fur. I think she’ll slip from us peacefully, but she’s starting to stagger, can’t use the litter box, and her cries are terrible to hear. So I take her to the vet–the place she hates most in this world–because what else is there to do? There’ll be no return trip. I hold her in my arms, a fur-wrapped bag of bones. She’s gone beyond fear. It’s not lik

This week in birds - #464

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :    Photo by Gualberto Becerro, courtesy of American Bird Conservancy. The American Bird Conservancy's "Bird of the Week" is the beautiful  Aplomado Falcon , a hunter of open savanna, prairie, desert, and grasslands. Today it is a resident in parts of Texas but was largely extirpated from its range in the U.S. in the 1950s. *~*~*~* In the midst of all the chaos in world news this week, suffering Haiti has probably not received the attention it deserves. First, it was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds. That was on Saturday. A couple of days later Tropical Storm Grace drenched the country while emergency crews were still trying to find and dig out survivors of the quake . And of course, this followed the political upheaval following the assassination of Haiti's president a few weeks before. Here is a list of vetted organizations that are helping in the country. If you are in a posit

The Vixen by Francine Prose: A review

  Francine Prose has written a very funny, indeed often hilarious, novel about an execution. Specifically, it is the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, after having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet Union. But I suppose it's wrong to say it is "about" the executions. It's really about people's reactions to the executions and how the fact of the event was used by certain people for their own purposes. The protagonist of the story is one Simon Putnam who was a recent Harvard graduate at the time. He had studied folklore and myths and he was obsessed by a particular Icelandic saga of revenge. He had hoped to continue in graduate school but his application was turned down and in 1953 he was living with his parents in his childhood home on Coney Island. For some unknown reason, given his stellar training in folklore, he was having trouble finding a job. The Putnam family was Jewish and Simon's mother had known and grow

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert: A review

  The white sky of the title would come about because we have sprayed light-reflective particles into the atmosphere making the blue skies look white and theoretically helping to deflect solar radiation thereby cooling the planet. It's just one of the ideas for geo- or bioengineering that are explored in Elizabeth Kolbert's latest book. Our species has been so successful in modifying the environment that we have become the dominant influence on the natural world and we have named the geological epoch in which we are now living for ourselves. We are living in the Anthropocene and our hubris, it seems, knows no bounds. Today's scientists are exploring ways to affect the Nature of the future in ways that will correct the damage that we have already done and continue to do to it. Thus, they consider ways to shield the planet from solar heat, control and eradicate invasive species, or direct the flow of rivers in what we consider to be more beneficial or less destructive ways. A

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2021

Happy August Bloom Day and welcome to my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas. After all the rain that I reported on last Bloom Day, it suddenly stopped a few weeks ago and had been very dry since until today. Today we finally did get substantial rain which the garden and the gardener much appreciated. In spite of the uncertain weather conditions, I do have a few blooms to report. The Texas sage, aka purple sage, is in bloom. The 'Pride of Barbados' has been attracting scores of butterflies of many kinds this month, but of course, when I went to take pictures there were none there. The watermelon pink crape myrtle blooms on. Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan. Tropical milkweed. Blue plumbago, of course. 'Julia Child' rose. Hamelia patens , Mexican firebush. The beautyberry has finished blooming and is now producing its berries in purple... ...and in white. Yellow canna. My old orange canna. When the Duranta erecta blooms mature, they produce yellow berries that are calle

Poetry Sunday: Trying To Remember by Eric Nixon

Most of my great ideas seem to come when I'm lying awake in the middle of the night. In the night, behind my closed eyelids, anything seems possible and I can visualize the implementation of my plans right down to the smallest detail. And everything works perfectly. In the morning, in the light of day and the press of daily life, it's impossible to remember what it was about that idea that was so great. Or even what the idea was. Life goes on and tonight I'll lie awake and make my plans once again. Tomorrow I'll try to remember. Trying To Remember by Eric Nixon Trying to remember The great idea I had That I came up with Just yesterday But sadly, sitting here Under the ornate tin ceiling Of the busy cafe With the sound and smell Of jaunty piano music Swirling together in concert With the thick layering Of freshly ground coffee Punctuated by the occasional Clattering of plates And the steady background Droning of scattered conversation Inside While I look out the window A

This week in birds - #463

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  Brown Pelicans on Galveston Bay.  *~*~*~* I'm sure that you will not be surprised to learn that last month was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. *~*~*~* According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report issued this week, humans have heated the planet by 1.1 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century mostly by burning coal, oil, and gas for energy. At this point, we cannot stop global warming from intensifying over the next thirty years and we have a very short window for preventing the most harrowing future. *~*~*~* Another study released this week revealed heat-related health problems experienced by tens of millions of Americans last year. These, too, are expected to intensify in the future.  *~*~*~* Legislation to restore and strengthen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. *~*~*~* The February freeze in Texas brought

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi: A review

Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria and raised in London. Now she lives in Prague. Her novels, as far as I can tell having now read two of them, are set in some other country of her own imagination. Place always seems to be ambiguous. In 2019, I read her book,  Gingerbread , which began in a magical country called Druhástrana. The location of events in this work seems even more enigmatic, except that we know they happen on a train. It's a train called Lucky Day and at one time it was used in tea smuggling. And is tea smuggling a real thing? Who knows? In Helen Oyeyemi's world apparently, it is. I have mentioned here before that when I commit to reading a book, I am going to read it all the way through, even if it turns out not to be an enjoyable experience. I know readers, including one who lives in the same house with me, who consider this a stupid philosophy. After all, life is too short for bad books. But I tend to choose my books pretty carefully and I read them for a reason.

A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsey Davis: A review

  Lines from a Bob Dylan song kept running through my mind as I was reading this. Remember "When I Paint My Masterpiece"? It's the one that starts "Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble..." and it goes on to mention several famous sites in Rome. The streets of 89 C.E. Rome may not have been filled with rubble exactly, but they often seem to have been strewn with quite a lot of the less salubrious effluvium of city life. In other words, you had to watch your step. With these kinds of meticulous details, Lindsey Davis paints vivid pictures of ancient Rome in her historic mysteries. The reader can easily imagine herself on those streets. Several years ago, Davis had a series featuring private detective, or "informer" as she styles the profession, Marcus Didius Falco. The first in the series came out in 1989 and the twentieth and last book was published in 2009. I read and loved them all. Falco was and is a great character, tough and full of sardo

Poetry Sunday: Life Expectancy by Billy Collins

It's not a birthday ending in zero but I do have a birthday coming up tomorrow, August 9. In recent years, these events more and more make me reflect on the time that I've lived and what might be left. It's pretty certain that the years that are left will be fewer than those already lived. And if that thought depresses me, I can turn to Billy Collins who always has a way of cheering me up. LIFE EXPECTANCY by Billy Collins On the morning of a birthday that ended in a zero, I was looking out at the garden when it occurred to me that the robin on her worm-hunt in the dewy grass had a good chance of outliving me, as did the worm itself for that matter if he managed to keep his worm-head down. It was not always like this. For decades, I could assume that I would be around longer than the squirrel dashing up a tree or the nightly raccoons in the garbage, longer than the barred owl on a branch, the ibis, the chicken, and the horse, longer than four deer in a clearing and every cre

This week in birds - #462

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Purple Gallinule , photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. *~*~*~* During the previous administration that was extremely hostile to science, hundreds of scientists and policy experts left government service. The Biden administration has been unable to quickly fill the jobs with qualified people and this has hampered their efforts to formulate plans to combat climate change. *~*~*~* This is rather terrifying. Climate scientists say that their research has shown "an almost complete loss of stability over the last century" of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), better known as the Gulf Stream. The collapse of the Gulf Stream would have catastrophic consequences for climate around the world.  *~*~*~* Siberia's permafrost is thawing and that has generated a surge of methane emissions from thawing rock formations. This is important because methane, of course, is

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson: A review

  The events of the third book in Ragnar Jonasson's "Hidden Iceland" series take place in the winter of 1987-88, ten years before events in The Island and twenty-five years before The Darkness . In this one, we finally learn about the tragedy that has haunted Inspector Hulda Hermansdottir of the Reykjavik police and has contributed to making her own life a tragedy. We begin in eastern Iceland, perhaps the most remote and isolated section of a relatively remote and isolated country. Far off the beaten track is a farmhouse belonging to a sheep farmer and his wife, Einar and Erla. Einar's family had owned the land for generations and he loved it there. Erla was a city girl who gave up that life for love of Einar but she has never been truly happy on the farm. Erla spends her time reading books that at least allow her to be an armchair traveler. She has constructed a dream world for herself that allows her to tolerate her lonely life. Back in Reykjavik, Hulda is undergoi