Sunday, December 16, 2018

Poetry Sunday: It sifts from Leaden Sieves

This wonderfully descriptive poem by Emily Dickinson chronicles a winter snowfall. She captures in a few words the movement of the snow and the way it settles upon the winter landscape, obscuring the familiar and making everything look different and strange. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the poem is that it never mentions the word "snow" and yet we instinctively know what the poet is referring to and her words capture the spectral beauty of a new snowfall perfectly.

It sifts from Leaden Sieves 

by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road -

It makes an even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain -
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again -

It reaches to the Fence -
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces -
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack - and Stem -
A Summer’s empty Room -
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them -

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen -
Then stills its Artisans - like Ghosts -
Denying they have been.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2018

The host of this monthly meme, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, likes to remind us of this quote from gardener and garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence: "We can have flowers nearly every month of the year."

That's true enough but the pickings do get a little slim around this time of year. Most of what I have to show you this month are some pots of pansies and violas scattered around my patio. But in mid-December I'll settle for that for I do love pansies and violas.

In addition to the pansies and violas, the firespike (Odontonema cuspidatum) has been in bloom for about a month and continues to offer a bit of bright color in our gray December.

Likewise, these happy little gerberas are real day-brighteners. (Excuse all the pine straw in the picture. When the wind blows from the north as it has this week, my neighbor's pine trees spread their bounty all over my yard.)

 More gerberas - and pine straw.

 And still more gerberas.

The Turk's caps are still in bloom as well.

And the blue plumbago still has a few blossoms, although it will soon go to sleep for the winter.

A few of the lower buds on the Cape honeysuckle survived the light freeze and frost which we had just before last Bloom Day and they are now in bloom.

The jatropha is a tender perennial that dies back to the ground each winter, but this one lives on the south side of the house in a protected spot and it escaped the frost and continues to send out flowers like these.

Thank you for visiting my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas this month. Although the blooms are sparse, each one is treasured.

Happy Bloom Day!

This week in birds - #333

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

White-throated Sparrow perched in a crape myrtle tree. The seeds of the crape myrtle are a major source of food in our area for members of the sparrow and finch families in the late fall and winter, one very good reason why gardeners should not prune those trees until late winter or early spring, if at all.


The Audubon Society's 119th Christmas Bird Count starts today, December 14, and continues through Saturday, January 5. It is one of the largest citizen science events of the year and provides much valuable information about the winter population and location of birds. 


Climate change is beginning to bite farmers in our midwest and even many who have been reluctant to accept the science are beginning to be alarmed and to advocate for measures to combat the problem.


At the U.N. climate summit in Poland, as nations urged action to counteract climate change, the U.S. delegation pushed for more use of fossil fuels, eliciting derision and laughter as well as some protests.


Wolves have been returned to the wild in Denmark after an absence of 200 years and scientists are trying to assist the human population to learn to live in peace with them.


It's been a while since there has been any good news to report about coral reefs, but, recently, scientists have found some glimmer of hope in their data. There is some evidence that the more heat-tolerant and robust parts of the reefs may survive and be able to adapt to the new climate. 


The prevailing winds play a big role in the migration of birds. It appears that the changes in those winds caused by climate change may make it harder for North American birds to migrate south in the fall but could make spring migration easier.


And speaking of migration, the blog "Cool Green Science" has a list of ten "snow birds," birds that disperse to various parts of the continent in winter. Some of them may show up in your area. The blog post includes some wonderful pictures of those birds.


A stand of 500-year-old blackgum trees is being slowly killed by encroachment of rising sea water in a primeval New Jersey forest. It's a preview of things to come in many areas near the sea.


The American bison is an important icon in the spiritual belief system of several Native American tribes and they are working to bring these animals that are so vital to them and to the environment back from the brink of extinction.


Earth has a vast underground ecosystem that contains billions of organisms and is twice the size of the world's oceans. Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with billions of micro-organisms that are hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.


Scientists have long studied birds in the parrot family and they have come to the conclusion that the long-lived and clever birds are as different genetically from other birds as humans are different from other primates. In fact, their genes may give parrots the claim to being the humans of the bird world. (Or perhaps humans are the parrots of the primate world!)


A concerted conservation effort in Nepal is making a difference to the survival prospects of the nation's endangered vultures. Finally, the population is slowly increasing.


The native bees of North America are vitally important to the pollination of plant life on the continent and these bees are particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticides.


The current administration in Washington, in its continuing war against the environment and the health and safety of its citizens, is attempting to weaken federal clean water rules designed to protect millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams nationwide from pesticide runoff and other pollutants. Environmentalists say the proposal represents a historic assault on wetlands regulation. 


Persistent warming in the Arctic is pushing the region into “uncharted territory” and increasingly affecting the continental United States, scientists reported this week. The Arctic has been warmer over the last five years than at any time since records began in 1900, according to the new report, and the region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.


Hummingbird gardens in Mexico City provide refuge for seventeen species of hummingbirds that are endemic in the area and they provide an opportunity for scientists to more easily monitor and study them.

Milkman by Anna Burns: A review

I had seen and heard quite a bit of comment about Anna Burns' book, not all of it complimentary. In fact, there were a couple of reviews in the national publications that I read that were downright negative. Then the Man Booker Prize committee chose Milkman for their prestigious award for 2018. Inquiring minds wanted to know: Who was right - those negative reviewers or the Man Booker people? So, I decided to read it myself and decide.

I found out right away that the book is somewhat challenging to read, at least at first. It is written in a stream of consciousness style with sentences that seem to run on, paragraphs that often go on for pages, and seemingly neverending chapters. Finding a place to stop, or at least to pause, is not easy and that can be somewhat annoying for those of us who are unable to sit down and read straight through a book but have to stop occasionally to do other things. But I managed to work around the problem by making my own artificial stopping places.

The narrator of this stream of consciousness storytelling is an eighteen-year-old girl in an unnamed country and city, although it soon becomes clear from the context that it is Northern Ireland and most likely Belfast. The story takes place in the 1970s during the "Troubles."

The narrator (who also is unnamed) is a nonconformist in a society that seems to value conformity above all else, with everyone thinking and behaving the same. She initially draws attention to herself because she likes to walk around town reading books as she walks. Her choice of reading material is generally 19th century novels. It is her way of rejecting and expressing her hatred of the 20th century in which she lives and withdrawing from her oppressive society.

That she is a walking reader is bad enough but then a local "renouncer" (IRA) leader, who is in his 40s and married, notices her and seemingly becomes obsessed with her. He turns up everywhere she goes and talks to her, making clear his interest in her, although he never touches her. This man, for reasons that are not clear at first, is called the Milkman, although he isn't a real milkman.

The neighborhood soon jumps to the conclusion that the narrator has become the mistress of Milkman. Her own mother makes the same assumption. Everyone treats her as though this were a fait accompli and they react to her accordingly. Her mother engages in long harangues about her "fallen woman" status.

Meanwhile, the narrator continues an affair with a young man from another part of town, her "maybe-boyfriend" with whom she has been in a secret relationship for almost a year. Her family is completely unaware. He is never allowed to come to her house.

None of this sounds like a likely source of humor and yet this novel is often very funny. One can feel the narrator's frustration at being so misunderstood and being trapped in a suffocatingly self-righteous society which inflicts its own brand of political oppression on its members, but she writes of it in a light manner that makes it possible to actually laugh wryly at it all.

While I was reading this book, I was also watching HBO's series My Brilliant Friend and I couldn't help noting the similarities in the oppressive patriarchal society of 1950s Naples and 1970s Northern Ireland. Lenu and Lila in Naples adopted an affectless demeanor to deal with the violent atmosphere in which they lived. Milkman's narrator, too, does not show emotion as she wanders around her dangerous city. It is their way of dealing with the almost unbearable stress of their daily lives.

So what was my conclusion after all that? Did I agree with those negative reviewers or with the Man Booker committee? 

On the whole, I come down on the side of the Man Booker folks. The book is extraordinary in its storyline and its telling of what is essentially a tragic story in a manner that is often exceptionally funny. The humor makes the whole thing bearable and the story even more human. It takes a very good writer to do that.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars      

Monday, December 10, 2018

My Year in Books (according to Goodreads)

I read 30,195 pages across 89 books
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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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52 pages
We Should All Be Feminists
656 pages
Lethal White
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
339 pages

people also read
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
How to Be an Urban Birder by David Lindo
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people also read
How to Be an Urban Birder


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing
4.63 average
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Autumn by Ali Smith
My first review of the year
it was amazing 
I finished this book a couple of days ago but just couldn't immediately think what to say about it in a review. I wasn't even sure how I felt about it. It really was unlike anything I had ever read before.

After giving it much thought - and there truly is a lot to think about here - I came to the conclusion that the book is brilliant. The more I thought about it the more I liked it. In that, I found myself in agreement with the Man Booker Prize c
Autumn by Ali Smith
it was amazing
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd
Blood Trail by C.J. Box
The Rat Catchers' Olympics by Colin Cotterill
The Written World by Martin Puchner
1984 by George Orwell
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
Artemis by Andy Weir
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
it was amazing
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon
Below Zero by C.J. Box
The Devil's Cave by Martin  Walker
To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey
it was amazing
Another Man's Moccasins by Craig Johnson
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr
Solar by Ian McEwan
it was amazing
Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman
Circe by Madeline Miller
Macbeth by Jo Nesbø
Nowhere To Run by C.J. Box
Dressed for Death by Donna Leon
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
it was amazing
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Calypso by David Sedaris
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon
The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
it was amazing
Racing the Devil by Charles Todd
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Prince Of Fire by Daniel Silva
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Resistance Man by Martin  Walker
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
it was amazing
Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson
Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
There There by Tommy Orange
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin
Don't Eat Me by Colin Cotterill
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Billy Boyle by James R. Benn
Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
it was amazing
The Tangled Tree by David Quammen
Acqua Alta by Donna Leon
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
it was amazing
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
IQ by Joe Ide
The Witch Elm by Tana French
As The Crow Flies by Craig Johnson
Quietly in Their Sleep by Donna Leon
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Shell Game by Sara Paretsky
The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
Godsend by John Wray
it was amazing
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
How to Be an Urban Birder by David Lindo
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
The Children Return by Martin  Walker
Florida by Lauren Groff
A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson

A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson
My last review of the year
really liked it 
Time to check in once again on Sheriff Walt Longmire and the quirky residents of Absaroka County, Wyoming. This time there is definitely something rotten in the county but at first it is not clear just what it is.

The action kicks off with an old lady telling Walt about the angels that have been helping her out by doing repairs and chores around her house. It seems that she leaves out a list of the things she needs to have done and somehow they al