Showing posts from December, 2021

This week in birds - #482

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Cactus Wren photographed at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center near Fort Davis in West Texas. *~*~*~* How about we start the new year with some good environmental news? There actually was some in 2021. Here are five positive developments in the year just ended. *~*~*~* The Revelator gets into the act by listing twelve stories from 2021 that presented solutions to various environmental problems. *~*~*~* Another good news story and a personal favorite of mine is the creation of wildlife highways to keep animals safe from traffic. These animal crossings are being implemented right around the world and that is a very good thing. *~*~*~* Unfortunately, it's not all good news this week. Colorado is burning . High winds are driving wildfires, creating massive destruction, and tens of thousands of people have had to be evacuated. *~*~*~* Along the Texas-Mexico border, land that was seized by eminent domain during the

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden: A review

  The title of the book is a reference to the Lakota calendar system that includes images showing the most significant events of the year. David Heska Wanbli Weiden is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota nation and he has written a book that explores the Lakota culture, especially that on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  His vehicle for this exploration is his character named Virgil Wounded Horse who is a kind of local enforcer on the reservation. People hire him to deliver their (or his) idea of justice if they feel that they have been failed by the legal system. Virgil lives with his teenage nephew, for whom he is the guardian. The boy's mother, Virgil's sister, was killed in an automobile accident some years earlier.  Virgil is not concerned about his nephew's use of marijuana, but when heroin makes its way to the reservation and the nephew becomes involved, his work as an enforcer takes on a personal dimension. He is determined to discover where the

My best reads of 2021

By the end of 2021, I will have read 102 books, a paltry total compared to many of you. Of that number, I rated one-third of them, 34, as five-star reads. It was a very good year for reading.  Trying to whittle that number down to a manageable group that I can list as my year's best was not easy. I had to establish some guidelines. I decided that I would only include in my list books that were published this year or last. That eliminated six so only helped a little. I decided to choose one book from each month. That made the comparisons a tiny bit easier. Then I bit the bullet and made my choices. So here it is - my best of the best for this year with links to my reviews should you care to read them. I feel compelled to add that I also had a great many books that I rated at four stars (I didn't actually count them.) and they only missed the cut by a little. As I said, it was a very good year for us readers. We had a lot of quality to choose from. January - Homeland Elegies by

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart: A review

  Gary Shteyngart has written a pandemic novel. Set in 2020 and beginning in March, the calamity that is COVID-19 was already well underway in the world and in this country.  At a country house surrounded by four one-bedroom bungalows in upstate New York owned by the Levin-Senderowskys, a Russian-born novelist and his Russian-born psychiatrist wife, five friends gather. There is a woman who is an extremely successful Korean American app developer; a man who is a struggling Indian American writer; a woman essayist from the South who specializes in provocative pieces; a man who is a world traveler with several passports; and finally, an actor who is never named but who may appear in a television show written by the novelist. The five join the Levin-Senderowskys and their precocious adopted Asian pre-teen daughter who is obsessed with K-pop. They will be together at the estate for the next several months as they try to wait out the pandemic. Sasha Senderowsky is the Russian-born novelist.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: A review

  I wasn't sure I was going to like this one at all. It started slowly for me and I found it hard to get my head around the story Anthony Doerr was telling. But I kept reading because it's what I do and, in the end, I was handsomely rewarded. In fact, the story just about blew me away. Doerr gives us five different stories of five different characters that take place over a period of centuries. They might in fact be five separate books, but all of these characters are connected in a special way. They are in many ways very similar characters, one might even say the same character. They are all outsiders who embark on what Joseph Campbell would call the hero's journey. They all have challenges and they suffer on their journeys but they all achieve a final homecoming. And each of the characters is fascinated by an ancient text, a supposed work by Diogenes called Cloud Cuckoo Land  (actually an invention of Doerr's) . It is the story of Aethon and all of his many adventures

Poetry Sunday: Bare Tree by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Occasionally I will find a poem that just stops me right in my tracks. It can seem as though the poet was addressing me directly.  The first sentence of this poem, "Already I have shed the leaves of youth, stripped by the wind of time down to the truth of winter branches" caught me. I thought, yes, that's me; no leafy branches to hide me anymore. And after exploring the imagery of the bare branches, the poet delivers her final line: "Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone, so fragile and so fearless have I grown!"   Anne Morrow Lindbergh definitely knew a thing or two about the experience of being an old woman.   Bare Tree by Anne Morrow Lindbergh Already I have shed the leaves of youth, stripped by the wind of time down to the truth of winter branches. Linear and alone I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own, a frame through which another's fire may glow, a harp on which another's passion, blow. The pattern of my boughs, an open chart spread

This week in birds - #481

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Pine Warblers are always welcome winter visitors. *~*~*~* It's been a week of strange and often deadly weather events throughout this country and indeed right around the world. Among the worst of the events was the series of tornadoes that swept through the Mid-South of the country one night earlier this week, killing a still undetermined number of people. *~*~*~* But that was hardly the end. On Wednesday, more than twenty tornadoes hit the Midwest leaving at least five more people dead. *~*~*~* A warming world is adding fuel to these tornadoes, making them stronger and more deadly and apt to occur at any time, even in December. Cautious scientists always tell us that individual weather events cannot be connected to climate change, but common sense and the preponderance of evidence argue for that connection. *~*~*~* There was also much disturbing news from both of our planet's poles this week. Rising temperat

Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones: A review

  Historians of the Middle Ages, roughly from the fall of the western Roman Empire until the dawn of the modern era in the 16th century, take considerable umbrage when the period is referred to as the "Dark Ages." They will argue that in spite of the barbarism and ignorance that were certainly a part of the era, it was not dark at all. It was in fact a period of considerable enlightenment that brought the Carolingian Empire that was produced by the sophisticated culture of the Germanic tribes, the legacy of the Roman Empire that continued brightly in Byzantium, and the many contributions of Muslim culture and writers throughout the Mediterranean area. Dan Jones will certainly make that argument and he does in his latest book, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages .  The book is 656 pages long and yet it feels concise and approachable for the general reader like myself. Jones organizes the vast and complicated historical record of the era into a compelling story

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2021

It's been a warm and dry December so far here in zone 9a just outside of Houston and even though my garden shows the effects of its trials over the past year it still manages to give me a few blooms.   Yes, it really is December but this normally spring-blooming hydrangea is very confused. No confusion here. If it's December, I have to have a few pots of red cyclamen around the yard. Can't have them in the house because my evil cats eat them.  This yellow canna has done its best this year. It's almost ready to rest but still has a bloom or two. This old orange canna is basically undaunted by anything. The firespike blooms have been open for a while and are almost at the end - literally. The cosmos bloomed all summer, then reseeded itself and is now blooming again. Likewise this four o'clock. They bloomed all summer and have now reseeded. The warm weather encourages them. Pink Knockout rose - a constant bloomer. 'Julia Child' rose is almost as constant. '

Poetry Sunday: The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

This poem by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1900, starts on a rather desolate and pessimistic note. The land itself is "spectre-grey" and offers little spirit, even as the poet himself feels spiritless. But then he hears the joyous sound of a thrush's song and the song causes him to recognize the existence of emotions beyond despair and isolation. Birdsong can do that for us. The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-grey, And Winter's dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires. The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth Seemed fervourless as I. At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead I

This week in birds - #480

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  The Sandhill Cranes are back to spend their winter along the Texas coast. *~*~*~* New Zealand has the right idea. They are banning smoking for the next generation and the plan is to ban it outright by 2025 . *~*~*~* Balmy Hawaii was under a rare blizzard warning this week . Meanwhile, 65 weather stations across the country recorded record high temperatures. Meteorologists attributed the latest spate of weather extremes to a stuck jet stream and the effects of a La Niña   weather pattern in cooling Pacific waters. *~*~*~* And in the Pacific, that Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic detritus is being colonized by coastal species that are adapting to the newly created territory. Nature finds a way. *~*~*~* There may be some relief on the horizon for drought-stricken areas along the West Coast. Storms are expected to bring some heavy precipitation to the parched area.  *~*~*~* The population of North Atlantic right whal

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: A review

  Having finished with William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience may have prepared me for reading Jonathan Franzen's latest. It is a book with strong religious themes and each member of the Hildebrandt family around whom he builds his story experiences religion or rejection of religion in his/her own individual way. Franzen has said that this book is the first in a planned trilogy that, in a nod to Middlemarch, he calls A Key to All Mythologies .  This is a very different book from his others that I have read. For one thing, it is long, nearly 600 pages and it builds very slowly. It is set in the 1970s and the feeling of it is mellow, definitely lacking the acerbic manners of some of his previous novels. The Hildebrandt family lives in suburban Chicago in fictional New Prospect. It is comprised of husband Russ, wife Marion, and four children: Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson. Russ is the associate pastor of a local liberal church called First Reform where there is a p

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: A review

  It is the 1960s in Harlem and Ray Carney is a furniture store owner there. He also has a side business as a fence. People bring him stolen goods and he either buys and sells them or passes them on to others who will. At one point, in a conversation with another character named Pepper he describes himself as an entrepreneur. Pepper replies, "That's just a hustler who pays taxes." Ray is a family man. When we meet him, he has a wife and daughter and another child on the way. They are his incentive to maintain respectability and legitimacy. He is, in fact, considered a man of standing in the community. But there is another influence that keeps pulling him in the opposite direction. His name is Freddie.  Freddie is Ray's cousin and he is the one who gets Ray involved in all kinds of illegal schemes and heists. The book is divided into three sections; one is set in 1959, one in 1961, and one in 1964. The first one details the major heist of a hotel that Freddie sucks his