Thursday, December 12, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Something to think about

I just realized that I completely forgot to mark the tenth anniversary of this blog which actually occurred exactly one week ago on December 5. But in honor of that, here's one of my past posts from 2015. It still has some relevance I think.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Something to think about

With age comes wisdom - or so I've heard. But my own experience in life often makes me question that. Still, we'd like to believe that we do learn from our experiences and maybe even become just a wee bit wiser as we get older.

A friend sent me this email of "Lessons that we learn as we age." See if any of them ring a bell with you.


Age 5:

I've learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing "Silent Night."

Age 7:

I've learned that our dog doesn't want to eat my broccoli either.

Age 9:

I've learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back.

Age 12:

I've learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again.

Age 14:

I've learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up.

Age 15:

I've learned that although it's hard to admit it, I'm secretly glad my parents are strict with me.

Age 24:

I've learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice.

Age 26:

I've learned that brushing my child's hair is one of life's great pleasures.

Age 29:

I've learned that wherever I go, the world's worst drivers have followed me there.

Age 30:

I've learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it.

Age 42:

I've learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don't know how to show it.

Age 44:

I've learned that you can make someone's day by simply sending them a little note.

Age 46:

I've learned that the greater a person's sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others.

Age 47:

I've learned that children and grandparents are natural allies.

Age 48:

I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow.

Age 49:

I've learned that singing "Amazing Grace" can lift my spirits for hours.

Age 50:

I've learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone.

Age 51:

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Age 52:

I've learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills.

Age 53:

I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die.

Age 58:

I've learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.

Age 61:

I've learned that if you want to do something positive for your children, work to improve your marriage.

Age 62:

I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.

Age 64:

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.

Age 65:

I've learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you.

Age 66:

I've learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision.

Age 72:

I've learned that everyone can use a prayer.

Age 82:

I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.

Age 90:

I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch - holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

Age 92:

I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.


We all have a lot to learn. Let's keep learning!

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A review

Harry Bosch is less of a jerk in this latest book than he has been in the past. Is it possible that he is finally mellowing as he nears 70? After all, he has been retired from the LAPD now for four years, time to chill out a bit. 

Or maybe it is the influence of his latest "partner" Renee Ballard. Ballard isn't really his partner, of course. She is a 30ish detective with LAPD. She works the midnight shift known as the "Late Show" and she has hooked up with Harry before to work cases. He has become something of a mentor for her and she is certainly a worthy successor to his years with the police department. She is every bit as obsessed as he ever was.

One of Harry's early mentors has recently died and the opening scene of the book finds him attending the funeral. At the reception later, the widow gives him something that her husband had taken with him when he retired from the department. It is the murder book for an unsolved murder that took place more than twenty years before. There is no indication of why he took it or whether he was working to solve the cold case.

Renee, meanwhile, wakes in her tent on the beach where she sleeps to find that another beach person nearby had burned alive in his tent when a heater tipped over igniting the structure. Since she is the first detective on the scene, she takes charge of the potential crime scene but soon the guys from Arson show up and take over. They are ready to write it off as an unfortunate accident, but Renee isn't so sure. She finds anomalies that she thinks require investigation.

Connelly even manages to work his other famous character, the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, into the mix when Harry helps him out with a pro bono case he had been assigned to defend involving the murder of a judge. Turns out his client didn't do it and Harry helps him prove that prompting the ire of the detectives who had worked the case. Another reason for Harry to be persona non grata with his old department.

As they work these cases together, they come to realize that there is a connection between the death on the beach and the case Haller was defending. Once they put two and two together, the ultimate solution becomes easier.

As for the cold case Harry inherited, he finds to his disappointment that his mentor's feet were definitely made of clay, but Harry finds a way to finally solve the case and bring justice to the victim.

This is a complicated plot involving the three cases, but Connelly as always manages to keep us on track with his step by step procedural. He really has no peer that I know of when it comes to police procedurals. Having read all the Bosch books and all the Ballard books, their "partnership" makes a lot of sense to me and I trust Connelly will continue with it. That being said, this book would also work perfectly well, I think, as a standalone.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Poetry Sunday: The courage that my mother had by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is a sad fact of life that we often do not fully appreciate our parents until it is too late. It is certainly true of me. I never really appreciated the courage with which my mother faced life and the many challenges of her life until it was too late to tell her how much I admired that. So now all I can do is try to live with at least some of that courage, hoping that she has passed it on to me even in my ignorance.

The courage that my mother had
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.
The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.
Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

Friday, December 6, 2019

This week in birds - #381

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

This female Rufous Hummingbird seems to have settled in to spend the winter with us. In recent years, we almost always have had at least one Rufous with us for the winter, often more. So the hummingbird feeders stay filled and ready for visitors.


The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas has dodged another bullet for now. This week a Texas judge granted a temporary restraining order to the opponents of a crowdfunded project to build part of President Trump’s border wall, siding with the butterfly conservancy that sued over its projected environmental impact. The restraining order involves a three-mile stretch along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County, where a hard-line immigration group led by Stephen Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, wants to build an 18-foot-tall wall on private property.


A paper published by the Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed science journal, documents that the early computer climate models of the '70s, '80s, and '90s were actually impressively accurate.


At the UN climate conference in Madrid this week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who led a congressional delegation, told the gathering that the commitment of Congress to taking action on climate change is ironclad.


As sea levels rise, there are some places on the coast that it will be impossible to save. One such place is likely to be the Florida Keys.


A study found that Australia's threatened bird species have declined by 59% over the past thirty years and migratory shorebirds have declined by 72%.


As forests around the world become more fragmented, the danger to the continued survival of the species that depend upon them is increased.


Ross's Gull is rarely found in the lower 48 states and after an incident this week it is even rarer. One of the gulls turned up in Seattle where it was seen and documented by several birders. But then the bird was caught and devoured by a Bald Eagle. Nature at work.


A study of penguin populations in the Antarctic identifies some winners and some losers as the climate changes. Chinstrap Penguins, for example, are having a harder time adapting than species like the Gentoo, apparently because the Chinstraps have a more specialized diet than the Gentoos. 


The current administration in Washington has deployed a surge of park rangers to help patrol the southern border of the country, leaving many national parks, which are already understaffed, seriously depleted of personnel to protect them.


A new study found that the Great Auk was driven to extinction entirely due to human activities, namely overhunting, rather than by any environmental change. 


More frequent and severe wildfires in the Sierra Nevada region pose a threat to the roosting and foraging habitats of Northern Goshawks in the area.


A study of 52 bird species that died when they collided with buildings in Chicago over the years has shown that the size of the birds has decreased over the past four decades while their wings have gotten longer. The changes appear to be responses to a warming climate.


Researchers discovered an unorthodox but effective method of attracting diverse fish species to reinhabit devastated coral reefs. They broadcast the sounds of a healthy reef and it worked! Fish swam to the area once again.


The Recovering America's Wildlife Act of 2019 advanced from the House Natural Resources Committee this week. It will likely pass when it comes up for a vote in the House, but will it ever be considered in the Republican-controlled Senate?


Did you hear the one about the electric eel who is powering the lights on a Christmas tree? It's happening at Tennessee aquarium where an electric eel named Miguel is demonstrating the ultimate in renewable energy this season. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: A review

Here we have another modern writer who eschews standard English punctuation. There are no periods in her book. Sentences are delineated by an indentation as at the start of a new paragraph. There are no capitalizations at the beginnings of sentences; only proper names are capitalized. Interestingly, she does use question marks at the end of her questions and she uses commas to define clauses. But the effect is of one long, uninterrupted flow of information. It reminds one of the works of many poets. Indeed, at times it seems almost a hybrid of prose and poetry.

The quirkiness did not bother the Booker Prize committee which awarded Girl, Woman, Other this year's prize (along with co-winner Margaret Atwood's Testaments). Bernardine Evaristo thus became the first black woman to win the Booker. Pity they diluted the honor by making her a "co-winner".

After the first few pages, Evaristo's idiosyncratic punctuation choices didn't bother me either. I was lost in her big, busy narrative featuring a large cast of female characters all related in some way to roots in Africa or the Caribbean. These are mostly mixed race women with ancestors in both the black and white world and we follow them as they come to terms with what that means in our modern world.

These characters wrestle with gender issues as well. There are women who were born female, women who were born male but now identify as female, lesbians, heterosexuals, bisexuals, almost any sexual permutation you could think of is represented here. All are representatives of the human condition and are written about as such.

Moreover, women are represented at all ages, from teenagehood to old age. The oldest character is 93.

This polyphonic novel features the voices of at least a dozen primary characters and it seems utterly impossible to neatly sum up, but if there could be said to be a central character, it is probably Amma, a black lesbian 50ish playwright, who has a new play being produced at the National Theater in London called "The Last Amazon of Dahomey". Several of the other characters have relationships with Amma and others are drawn in some way to her play. On opening night, many are present for what turns out to be a great triumph.

The stories of each of the dozen characters that we come to know are told in time frames that drift back and forth between the past and present and each story is marked by its multicultural sensitivity. While Evaristo tells her characters' stories with sympathy and with grace, she also does not hold back from occasionally tweaking them for examples of hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Their full humanity is on display.

I thought this book was a remarkable accomplishment. The writing is lyrical, poetic, and it shines throughout with a wit and a vitality of spirit. The plot is loose; one might even argue that it doesn't have a plot but that doesn't really detract from the richness of the story. It is evident why the Booker Prize folks liked it so much.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Poetry Sunday: At Day-Close in November by Thomas Hardy

Before there were houses built in my neighborhood some forty years ago, there were tall pine trees, many reaching a hundred feet or more into the sky. Many of the lots still have some of these trees in their backyards. I find it hard to imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land. 

Our lot does not have pine trees. When we moved here thirty years ago, there were a couple of magnolia trees on the lot. One of the first things we did after moving here was to plant trees, live oaks and red oaks. Today those trees spread their limbs over our front yard and reach for the sky. I'm sure the children who live in the neighborhood cannot imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land.

Thomas Hardy addressed that in this poem:
And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.
Let us hope that there will not be a time when none will be seen.  

At Day-Close in November

by Thomas Hardy

The ten hours' light is abating,

And a late bird flies across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

This week in birds - #380

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Each morning when I step out the back door of my house, I hear these birds calling all around my neighborhood. It is an Eastern Phoebe, the bird that announces its name with its call. Many spend their winters in this area, but I don't remember there ever being quite as many as this year. A symphony of "phoebes" - not a bad way to start my day.


This week there was yet another bleak report on the status of the planet in regard to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising in spite of repeated warnings from scientists. China and the United States, the two biggest polluters, further increased their emissions last year.


There was a horrific tale out of Texas this week, where a woman was killed by feral hogs. This was only the fifth recorded instance of a fatal wild hog attack in the country since 1825. Feral hogs are an increasing environmental problem in many parts of Texas.


A study of the remains of salvaged bodies of seabirds on the Bering Sea shows how the ecosystem of the sea is being changed in this era of global climate warming.


Africa's vultures are under attack by humans who do not understand their vital importance to the ecosystem. They are often killed with poisoned bait. Now, South Africa is establishing "safe zones" for the birds to try to protect them. 


There was another explosion at a chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas this week. It is a plant that has a long history of environmental violations. It had been out of compliance with federal clean air laws for years. So why hasn't it been shut down, you ask? Good question!


The fish in the waters around Iceland have long been a staple in the economy of that country. But now the warming waters are causing some species to move away in search of cooler waters, creating a crisis for the economy as well as the diet of Icelanders.


Image from The New York Times.

This is the plastinated heart of a blue whale that died in Newfoundland in 2014. It is being prepared to go on exhibit. Blue whales, as far as is known, are the largest animals ever to inhabit the planet and they feed on some of the smallest, krill. New research on them shows that when they make their dives, their great hearts can slow to only two beats per minute. This allows them to stay underwater longer. 


The Sumatran rhinoceros is now extinct in Malaysia. The last animal, a female, has succumbed to cancer. The last male died earlier this year. It is estimated that only about 80 of the animals remain, mostly living in the wild on Sumatra.


Our great national treasure, our national parks, are in trouble. They suffer from being loved too much (overcrowding), from climate change of course, and from invasive species. But perhaps the greatest threat is that the government does not provide adequate funding to care for them. 


Did you know that in vitro fertilization for frogs and toads is a thing? Well, it is and it is offering hope to save some endangered species like the Puerto Rico crested toad, seen here.

Puerto Rico crested toad at the Fort Worth zoo. Image from AP.


The threatened woodland caribou of the boreal forests of North America have declined rapidly in recent decades in western Canada, including in the oil sands areas of Alberta. Conservationists fear that restoring the habitat of the animals will not be enough to save them.


A seabird called the Short-tailed Shearwater had a mass die-off in the Bering Sea earlier this year. (See above) Now, the birds were two weeks late in arriving at their winter home in southern Australia and they have arrived in greatly reduced numbers from the past.


Arizona tribes including the Navajo Nation, environmentalists, state and federal agencies, river rafters and others have significant concerns about the proposal to dam a Colorado River tributary in northern Arizona for hydropower. The Navajo Nation owns the land where the dam would be located, and the projects won’t move forward without the tribe’s approval.


The fires raging in Australia have killed many of their iconic koalas and have ravaged their critical habitat. But fears that the animals are nearing extinction seem overblown, according to scientists.


There is an Amazonian tree that has leaves the size of a human body. It has now been described and identified as a previously unknown species. 


And just in time for Thanksgiving, Wisdom, the oldest known Laysan Albatross, has returned to her nest site on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She is at least 69 years old and has hatched more than 35 chicks since she has been known to science. Wisdom - one more thing to be thankful for.