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Poetry Sunday: Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams

I love the look of the deciduous trees in winter after they've shed their leaves and stand naked under the sky. The trees in our yard are mostly evergreen - live oaks and magnolia - but we do have some that shed their leaves, notably a red oak that is a particular favorite of mine. Of course, it never sheds all of its leaves, as Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in Greek myth, was well aware. But in the present day, the "disattiring" of the trees is basically complete now. Winter, if not actually here yet, is waiting on the doorstep and the trees "stand sleeping in the cold."   Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.

This week in birds - #528

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Maybe my favorite of our winter visitors, the American Goldfinch has returned to us and that is always good news. *~*~*~* The United Nations projects that the world population of humans has now passed 8 billion , with much of the growth coming from the developing nations in Africa. *~*~*~* Humans love to give names to the various epochs of their history. Will future generations designate our time as the "Age of Extinction" ? *~*~*~* Mauna Loa is blowing its top. The Hawaiian volcano has erupted for the first time in nearly forty years. *~*~*~* Could the mighty Mississippi River actually dry up ? It is difficult - and scary - to imagine but long stretches of it have in fact run dry. And out West, the Colorado River faces a similar fate . *~*~*~* Bats, it seems, have quite an amazing vocal range .  *~*~*~* There is a supervolcano at Yellowstone in northwestern Wyoming and it has a plentiful supply of magma sto

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson: A review

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  In her latest book, Kate Atkinson gives us 1920s London. It was a fraught time and place with a multilayered society full of drugs, the sex trade, mob wars, and the posh clubs that were the center of it all. Overseeing all that was Nellie Coker, Ma Coker. Nellie was the shrewd owner of a string of nightclubs. When we first meet her, she has just been released from a stay in prison. Even so, though she exists in a dangerous world and has enemies all around, she is the queen of all she surveys.  Nellie was indeed Ma to six duplicitous children who, in addition to all of her business interests, kept her on her toes. We see many of the events through the eyes of the eldest child, Niven.  He is a rather enigmatic character, home from his recent service in World War I. His character was essentially forged by his experiences in that war, especially his time in the Somme. In addition to Nellie and Niven, there are a multitude of other characters, almost too many to keep track of, but Atkinso

Poetry Sunday: November by Elizabeth Stoddard

We say goodbye to November this week, the month that is home to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. The old year is fading fast. It's all downhill from here. Actually, I like this time of year, the last few weeks before the calendar moves on. "Autumn charms my melancholy mind," as Elizabeth Stoddard expresses it in her poem. And as I look around at the silent trees, I am reminded that "the loss of beauty is not always loss." November by Elizabeth Stoddard Much have I spoken of the faded leaf; Long have I listened to the wailing wind, And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds; For autumn charms my melancholy mind. When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge: The year must perish; all the flowers are dead; The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled! Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer, The holly-berries and the ivy-tree: They weave a chaplet for the Old Year's heir; These waiting mourners do not sin

Note to my readers

"This week in birds" is taking a Thanksgiving break. It will return next Saturday. And may I say one of the things I am thankful for is all the readers who turn up here each week to read it. It is my pleasure to present the weekly round-up of news from the world of Nature, but it is worthless without you readers. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: A review

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This book was, in many ways, a depressing read but then it is primarily about the Great Depression of the 1930s and its effect on the lives of ordinary people. The story is told through the character of Elsa, a young woman from West Texas, who was forced into a loveless marriage after getting pregnant. It was the way things were done then and, in some cases, still are. Elsa was a gangly, rather unattractive young woman, but she had great reserves of courage and moral strength. She would need all of that when she was abandoned by her feckless husband and had to make a life for herself and her two children. The marriage may have been loveless in regard to her husband, Rafe, but there was plenty of love from her in-laws, Rafe's parents, Rose and Tony. They recognized her quality and worth and supported her. In return, they became the beloved parents she had really never had. As the middle of the country became the Dust Bowl, Elsa, like thousands of others, had to make a decision of wh

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: A review

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  In 2020, I read and loved Lydia Millet's last book, A Children's Bible , so obviously I was going to read her new book as well. This one was a different kind of story, but Millet has lost none of her edge as a writer. The protagonist here is named Gil. He is an extremely wealthy forty-five-year-old man. His wealth is inherited and he apparently has never actually held down a job except for a very short time as a bartender. He seems to feel quite guilty about his wealth and he tries to expiate that guilt by doing a lot of volunteer community service type work.  Gil was orphaned as a child and was raised by his grandmother, but she, too, died when he was still a teenager. Now, he has no family and few friends and no really strong ties to Manhattan where he lives. He surprises those who do know him by deciding to move to Phoenix. Even more surprisingly, he decides to walk there! A 2500-mile walk will take about five months and will allow him to experience life as he never has be

Poetry Sunday: Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman

"Bless his/her heart!"  That's an observation that one hears not infrequently in the South and those of us who grew up with it are well aware that quite often it means exactly the opposite. Richard Newman understands.   Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add “Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say whatever you want about them and it’s OK. My son, bless his heart, is an idiot, she said. He rents storage space for his kids’ toys—they’re only one and three years old! I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned into a sentimental old fool. He gets weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came someone else blessed her office mate’s heart, then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts of the entire anthropology department. We bestowed blessings on many a heart that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart. Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting much tip, for which, no

This week in birds - #527

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Everybody's favorite backyard bird - the Northern Cardinal . *~*~*~* Indonesia, one of the world's largest consumers of coal, a major pollutant, has agreed to sharply reduce its use of the fossil fuel in response to what is essentially a $20 billion bribe from developed nations. *~*~*~* We may still have more than our share of deniers in this country but in other parts of the world, people are well aware of the changing climate and freely acknowledge it. *~*~*~* Four dams on the Klamath River will be destroyed to improve the habitat for native salmon. It is the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. *~*~*~* How can we prevent the extinction of amphibian species in a changing climate?  *~*~*~* A new study has found that weather disasters of one kind or another have occurred in at least 90% of the counties in this country within the last eleven years. *~*~*~* The dainty little Piping Plover is the Amer

Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer: A review

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  When I read the first book about this character in 2018, entitled simply Less , I loved it and him. Apparently, my tastes have changed somewhat since then because, in this latest entry, I often found him quite irritating and didn't like him so much. I still mostly enjoyed reading about his misadventures, but I sometimes got quite impatient with him, and, in the end, debated with myself about what rating to give. Arthur Less, as we meet him this time, is in a committed if somewhat fraught relationship with his lover, Freddy Peleu. Things are going well for him professionally as well. He has achieved some moderate success as a novelist and the future suddenly looks if not rosy at least a light shade of pink. But with Arthur, disaster is always just around the corner, and as he sees it peeking around that corner, he decides to take action. He has been offered a series of literary gigs that will take him on an extensive tour of the country and provide funds to alleviate his current f

Poetry Sunday: Autumn Fires by Robert Louis Stevenson

No need for autumn fires here just yet, although we are experiencing cooler and somewhat more seasonable temperatures. But leaves are falling, summer flowers are dying back, and in all other ways, autumn is definitely on our doorstep. Of course, in most of the country, it didn't stop at the doorstep but barged right on in, and there, those autumn fires might be quite welcome. Autumn Fires by Robert Louis Stevenson In the other gardens    And all up in the vale, From the autumn bonfires    See the smoke trail! Pleasant summer over,     And all the summer flowers, The red fire blazes,    The grey smoke towers. Sing a song of seasons!    Something bright in all! Flowers in the summer,    Fires in the fall! 

This week in birds - #526

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's just about time for the return of the Sandhill Cranes . This picture was actually taken a few years ago. I haven't seen any of them yet this fall, although there probably are some around; I just haven't encountered them. *~*~*~* The U.N. Climate Change Conference was in session this week and a proposal was submitted that would tap private funds to provide assistance to developing countries for clean energy development. *~*~*~* This story documents some of the changes taking place on planet Earth because of climate change. *~*~*~* The world's four biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are primarily responsible for the planet falling short of its climate goals. *~*~*~* The intergovernmental body charged with protecting and conserving marine life in the Antarctic Ocean has ended its annual meeting with little progress made . *~*~*~* The "gloomy octopus" is the actual common name of a species

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman: A review

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  What an unadulterated pleasure this book was to read. Okay, it is not great literature, but then everything one reads doesn't have to be "great literature." Some reads are just for fun and The Thursday Murder Club was terrific fun. The setting is England, always a great place for a murder and for eccentric retirees. In this case, there are four retirees who make up the core of the cast of characters. They meet each week to review cold murder cases. Joyce, Ron, Elizabeth, and Ibrahim are nearing their eighties, but their enthusiasm for life and their curiosity are undimmed. The group of four live in the village of Cooper's Chase. It is a quiet retirement village and the residents are keen to keep it that way.  The group's leader/organizer is Elizabeth who has a somewhat mysterious background as (possibly) a spy. She has a wide network of friends and acquaintances who are willing to do favors for her. She excels at getting things done. Elizabeth has a friend name

A Heart Full of Headstones by Ian Rankin: A review

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It seems that fate and all his bending of the rules over the years may finally have caught up with John Rebus. As this book opens, we find him on trial for some unnamed misdeed. Well, there are plenty of those in Inspector Rebus' past. Rebus has never let a minor point of law keep him from putting the bad guys away. But now, in retirement, he is finally being called to account. As he awaits his trial, we get some of the background that has led him to this point. We find Rebus in a reflective mood. He muses about his career and about his relationship with the notorious "Big Ger" Cafferty. Both are older now and "Big Ger" is confined to a wheelchair, but he is still the head of his crime "family." Rebus and "Big Ger" always understood each other and managed to operate within their respective spheres without ever stepping on each other's toes. But now it seems that "Big Ger" needs Rebus' help. A former employee of his has vanis

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: A review

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This is an account of  Việt Nam’s twentieth-century history as experienced by one family, the  Trần family, and as set, of course, against the background of war.  Trần Diệu Lan was born in 1920 and she was forced to flee her family farm with her six children when the Communists came to power in the north and instituted their program of so-called "land reform." At mid-century in  Hà Nội, her children head off down the  Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight first the French and then the Americans for control of their country. It was a conflict that tore her country and her family apart. This is the first account I have read of that conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese. It was really the defining conflict for my generation and it behooves us even now to try to understand what happened and how our country was drawn into it. The multigenerational tale is told mostly from the point of view of women - grandmothers, mothers, and their children. The writer says that some of it is ba

Poetry Sunday: At day-close in November by Thomas Hardy

When we moved to this house thirty-four years ago, the large yard, front and back, was bare except for the grass and a couple of small trees. We immediately got to work to change all that, planting trees and making beds for shrubs and perennials, and setting up a vegetable garden. The yard today would be unrecognizable to one who knew it only from thirty-five years ago. In the front yard, the tall live oaks and red oak spread their limbs in a protective canopy, and I'm sure that the children who walk by our house every day on their way to and from school cannot conceive that there was ever "a time when no tall trees grew here." But we set every tree in our "June time and now they obscure the sky." At day-close in November by Thomas Hardy The ten hours’ light is abating, And a late bird wings across, Where the pines, like waltzers waiting, Give their black heads a toss. Beech leaves, that yellow the noontime, Float past like specks in the eye; I set every tree in

This week in birds - #525

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A common sight in Southeast Texas in the summer and fall - a pair of Cattle Egrets in a field. *~*~*~* Maui is leading the way ! A new ordinance has been implemented there that will control outdoor illumination at night and will help keep migrating birds safe. *~*~*~* The prolonged drought has reduced the mighty Mississippi River to the status of a small stream in places and it has revealed shipwrecks , some of them from many decades ago. The shrinking of the river is having a serious impact in many places along its course.  *~*~*~* What is the cause of these "fairy circles" in the African desert? Many theories abound . *~*~*~* Environmentalists breathed a sigh of relief with the victory this week of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the presidential election in Brazil. He has promised to protect the Amazon rainforest and restore Brazil's leadership in environmental matters. *~*~*~* Exposure to PFAS "for

All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers: A review

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                                                                        Twenty years ago in Wakarusa, Indiana, six-year-old Margot Davies' friend and neighbor, January Jacobs, was kidnapped one night. Only hours after her parents awoke to find that she was gone, her dead body was found in a ditch. Her kidnapper/killer was never found and brought to justice. Now, twenty-six-year-old Margot is a big-city journalist. Her life was scarred by the murder of her friend. She always had nightmares that it could have been her.  Margot has returned to her hometown to care for her sick uncle and she finds that the town is just the same as she remembers with the same stifling atmosphere. Then history repeats itself. In a neighboring town, five-year-old Natalie Clark has gone missing under circumstances eerily similar to the January Jacobs case. The similarity becomes even stronger when the child's body is found.  Margot is consumed by her interest in the case and its similarities to that of