Thursday, August 16, 2018

A natural woman

Carole King by way of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 1942 - 2018.

Thank you, your majesty. I needed that. RIP.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2018

Welcome to my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas. Here are some of my plants that are blooming this month. If you visited my garden on July Bloom Day, you will have seen many of them before.

 Tropical milkweed.

 Texas sage. Its blooms are triggered by rainfall and since we've had a fairly wet summer, this large shrub has been in bloom for much of the season.

 Butterfly ginger.

 Portulaca, aka moss rose.


 Evergreen wisteria, a late summer to early fall bloomer. 

 Blue plumbago, usually one of my most dependable bloomers, has not done as well this year. I don't think it has liked our weather.

 The muscadine vines have been very happy and are full of grapes.


 This is a pale pink gomphrena called 'Pinball.' It has carried a profuse load of blooms right through the summer.

 Four o'clock.

 Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum,' aka black-eyed Susan.

 The beautyberry shrubs are loaded with berries - both the traditional purple... 

 ...and the white cultivar.

 The large almond verbena shrub is covered in these unpretentious but wonderfully scented blossoms. They perfume the entire side of the garden where they live.

 A few of the daylilies are reblooming.

 Pentas, a butterfly favorite.

 Native sunflowers.

 I have these little marigolds in beds scattered all around the garden.

 The summer phlox is well past its prime but some of the plants are still blooming.

 The pomegranate tree is full of these fruits.

 Justicia orange flame.

 The basil flowers are still nourishing the bees.

 Coral vine. Its heaviest bloom is in the fall.

 Joe Pye weed, a native plant that I love to grow.

 The purple coneflowers have been disappointing this year, perhaps due to the weather. They were glorious last year.

 Anisacanthus (flame acanthus) with bee.

 Duranta erecta, aka golden dewdrop, so called for the yellow berries it develops after the blooms are done.

 Hamelia patens, Mexican flame bush, a hummingbird favorite.

These dinner plate-sized hibiscus blossoms only last for one day, but they are spectacular while they do.

That's it for this Bloom Day. I hope you enjoyed your visit. Don't forget to visit our host, Carol at May Dreams Gardens and see a list of all the other gardens that are participating in this month's meme.

Happy gardening and happy Bloom Day to all.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A review

The story is well known by all the literate or movie-going world. It's a story told by Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest who moves to New York in the early 1920s to seek his fortune in the city selling bonds. He rents a cottage in a (fictional) village called West Egg on Long Island. That cottage just happens to be next door to a gaudy mansion belonging to an entrepreneur named Jay Gatsby. Just across the water in the village of East Egg is another mansion which belongs to fabulously wealthy Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy, serendipitously, turns out to be a cousin of Nick's. 

And Daisy is the first love of Jay Gatsby. The time is 1922 and the Great War is over, but five years before and before Gatsby went off to fight in that war, he and Daisy had a passionate affair and were deeply in love and planned to spend their lives together. But once Gatsby went away, they gradually lost touch and Daisy met Tom and married him and they had a daughter together.

Now Gatsby is back and purchased his mansion, where he gives extravagant parties, in the knowledge that Daisy is just across the water. At night he stands on his dock gazing longingly across at the green light that shines all night on the Buchanans' dock. 

Gatsby's origins are mysterious as is the source of his wealth, but we gradually learn that he was born and grew up in poverty and that everything he has acquired since has been a scheme to attract the attention of his beloved Daisy.

Tom Buchanan, though extremely wealthy, is an extraordinarily unpleasant man, a bully who is serially unfaithful to his wife and is currently conducting an affair with a working-class woman named Myrtle whose husband owns a garage.

Through Nick's efforts, Gatsby and Daisy reunite, but, ultimately, she is unwilling to leave her life of luxury with Buchanan. Recklessly driving Gatsby's car on the night she makes this known to him, she hits Myrtle who has walked into the road. The woman is killed and Daisy speeds away.

Myrtle's husband believes that Gatsby was driving and goes to Gatsby's house and kills him and then kills himself. Daisy and Tom are free to continue their lives of decadence and excess.

The end.

I first read this book many years ago - I can't remember exactly when - and was underwhelmed by it. I couldn't really see what all the fuss was about. Reading it now, all these years later, my reaction is a bit different and the book has risen in my assessment.

The novel seems a very focused and deliberate piece of writing and there are themes and symbols there that I simply don't remember noticing when I first read the book. For example, there is Tom Buchanan's casual racism and misogyny and his proto-fascism.

In the first chapter of the book, when Nick first meets Tom, there is this conversation:
"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Coloured Empires' by this man Goddard?"
"Why, no," I answered, rather surprised by his tone.
"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be - will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved." 
I can't remember that that made much of an impression on me at all with my first reading and yet now it stands out like a flashing neon light on the page. This is representative of Tom's opinions as expressed throughout the book. What an awful man he is!

In fact, there are really no likable characters in this short book. Nick Carraway comes closest, but even he is not someone that one would choose as a friend. The writing is polished like a crystal; the language is rich but the characters are cold and distant. By design, I think.

The edition of the book that I read this time had a foreword by Fitzgerald's granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, which gave some familial context to the writing of the book. But, best of all, it had an introduction written by Jesmyn Ward, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Her introduction helped me to see things that I had not seen before and to understand the book in a new way. Her introduction was my favorite part of this reading experience.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly: A review

I read the first Harry Bosch mystery, The Black Echo, five years ago, in August 2013 and I was hooked. I came late to my addiction because that book had been published more than twenty years before in 1992, but I've been chasing Harry ever since, usually reading three or four of the books each year. 

And now I've finally caught him! Two Kinds of Truth is the most current entry in the series, so now I'll have to wait around until Michael Connelly produces another one. 

Harry is well past his time with the LAPD and well into his 60s. He's working now for the police department in the small city of San Fernando, a suburb of Los Angeles, reviewing cold cases. But, one way or another, he keeps getting pulled back to his days with the LAPD.

This time an old case of his, one that he had cleared thirty years before, is being reviewed. The man he arrested for the rape and murder of a young woman was convicted and sent to death row where he has remained for the last thirty years. But DNA evidence that had not been available thirty years before now seems to indicate the the man convicted was not guilty of the crime. Harry is not buying it. He is convinced that the man was guilty and that the new evidence has somehow been faked and the whole thing is an elaborate scam. 

The team that is reviewing the old case includes one of his former partners, Lucia Soto. The team comes to San Fernando to interview Harry and he is immediately defensive and irascible and imputes biased motives to the investigation. In other words, Harry is being Harry.

In the middle of his interview with the review team, he gets called out because the SFPD has caught a double homicide. Since the department has limited staff, they need all hands on deck to help handle the case and that includes Harry. So for the first time in several years, he finds himself working a current case.

At the same time, he is reviewing material from that old case and trying to figure out how the defense team set up the scam that he is certain is being worked.

The current case involves the murder of two pharmacists, a father and son, at a small independent farmacia. Harry immediately develops the theory that the murders are the result of some nefarious activity on the part of the son, but he is wrong! Gasp! 

In fact, it turns out that the hit was because of a complaint that the son had filed because his father was providing opioid painkillers based on falsified prescriptions. And the complaint filed with the medical society had landed on the desk of - wait for it - another of Harry's old partners, Jerry Edgar. Jerry is able to assist Harry with some information that helps him when he goes undercover to try to break up the drug ring. A drug ring run by Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

Meantime, Harry hires his half-brother, Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, to protect his interests in the old case that's being reviewed. With Haller and his investigator Cisco on the case, we can be pretty sure of how this one is going to end.

So we have two story-lines: the old case that's being reviewed and the current double murder case. Both of the stories could easily have been pulled from today's headlines, especially the Russian-run opioid drug ring. Connelly deftly handles the two plots and never lets us get lost in the weeds. After more than 25 years of writing these mysteries, I think he's finally got the hang of it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars      

Poetry Sunday: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a much-honored American poet, having won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She is also very popular, which does not always follow from being honored by critics and their like. I think her popularity comes, at least in part, from the fact that her poems honestly celebrate pure pleasure and the intelligence of the senses.

This is one of her poems that I particularly like. She speaks for/to me when she writes, "I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention..."

If I have learned nothing else in my life, I have learned how to pay attention. 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Friday, August 10, 2018

This week in birds - #315

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

Eastern Kingbird photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast.


The Weather Channel has a series running about the effects of climate change and the potential for conflict and the migration of people as a result of water shortages caused by those effects, particularly in places like the Middle East.


The current administration in Washington has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations. Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the two-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats.


Climate change is responsible for many new and difficult conditions for both man and beast, but wind is one of the most overlooked of those elements. An increase in the force of spring winds is not yet the stuff of earnest discussion among the majority of folks in North America, but in some places it is having a deleterious effect on the efforts of birds to nest.


The New York City EcoFlora project is an effort using citizen scientists to document the plant life around the city. It was started last year by scientists at the New York Botanical Garden and it has turned up a few surprises along the way.


We've heard that the loss of habitat is a serious problem that is contributing to the decline in population of many grassland birds, but the fragmentation of habitats may be just as problematic.


A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, which former administrator Scott Pruitt had refused to do last year, despite mounting concerns about its risks to human health. The court said that federal law requires that the EPA ban the use of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it, saying that there was “no justification” for Pruitt’s decision to allow farmers to continue to use chlorpyrifos “in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.”


Birds of the Mojave Desert have suffered a major population decline over the last century because of the changing climate.


In a bit of potential good news for birds and other at-risk species, there is a bipartisan bill before Congress called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act which would provide $1.3 billion a year for at-risk species and offer significant benefits for the country’s approach to conservation. If it becomes law, it could protect many more species of birds. 


Over the last 50 million years, whales and dolphins lost a gene called PON1. For most of their existence, that gene was not necessary, but in a changing world, it appears that its lack is something that will make the creatures more vulnerable to pesticides and could, in fact, doom them to extinction.  


Least Terns nesting on Sand Island off the coast of Alabama were safe from predators but not from humans playing volleyball on their nesting grounds. The thoughtless humans decimated many of the nests and destroyed eggs. The Audubon Society of Birmingham managed to save some.


Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has confirmed that a rare bird, the Baird’s Sparrow, has been found actively breeding at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, the first time the species has been documented reproducing in the State of Colorado. 


Wild rice is a food staple of Ojibwe communities across the Upper Midwest where it is also used in their traditional ceremonies. But the production of the rice depends upon the weather and that is being threatened by climate change.


“Partial migration”—where some individuals within a population migrate and some don’t—is common among birds and is speculated to be a step on the evolutionary path to complete, long-distance migration, but scientists know very little about how it actually works. A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances tracks where American Crows go during the winter and shows that, while individuals are consistent in whether they migrate or stay put, partial migration might give them enough flexibility to adapt to changing environmental conditions. The study found that most crows in both the eastern and western parts of the country do migrate some distance to breed.


Saving the endangered steelhead trout could be a key to helping to heal some of California's regional water woes.  A coalition of private and public entities hopes to re-invigorate vital watersheds in California’s most densely populated region thus creating a friendlier habitat for the trout as well as providing more water for other needs.


This is one of the most hopeful stories I have read this week: Scientists are working to create a material that could replace plastic and that would self-destruct or break down for reuse. They are, in effect, designing the death of plastic. Considering the huge problem that plastic is for the environment, we can only wish them well in their effort and hope that they will succeed very soon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson: A review

Hidden somewhere in Walt Longmire's closet must be one of those special suits that cartoon superheroes wear. A red, white, and blue cape with matching tights perhaps. He certainly gives every indication of being one of the Indestructibles in this entry of Craig Johnson's series about the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. He endures a blizzard with gale-force winds and temperatures of forty degrees below zero, a forest fire that traps him in a lake and forces him to go underwater to survive, days with little food and less sleep, confronting a mountain lion, being shot, nearly falling off a mountain - the list goes on and on. But, in the end, he's left alive, sitting on his front porch enjoying pleasant spring weather with his friend Henry Standing Bear, his deputy/lover Vic Moretti, and his daughter Cady.

We only get that one glimpse of pleasant weather. It seems that all of these Walt Longmire stories take place in winter when a blizzard is blowing through the Wyoming mountains. And winter seems to last for much of the year. The action in Hell is Empty takes place in May but winter is still most definitely on the scene. 

The action opens with Walt and his deputy Santiago Saizarbitoria (aka Sancho) helping to transport three convicts, murderers all, on their way to their assigned prisons. Transporting convicts across rugged country in a van...hmm, I wonder what could go wrong.

A full force of law enforcement is involved, including FBI and other local sheriffs and prison guards, but, soon enough, what we expected happens and the criminals escape, killing or wounding several of the lawmen in the process. Walt and Sancho were not present at this time, but they soon realize that something is wrong and find the scene of carnage and the convicts gone, taking hostages with them.

One of the convicts is a particularly bad character, a sociopath whom Walt has lately learned had, ten years earlier, killed a young man named Owen White Buffalo. Walt has history with the White Buffalo family, particularly Virgil White Buffalo, who we met in a previous book and who we eventually learn was Owen's grandfather. Part of the reason for the convicts being taken through that part of Wyoming was that the killer had promised to show them where he had buried the victim.

With a storm on the way and communication with the outside world patchy at best, Walt leaves Sancho in charge of the wounded and heads out on his own to track the sociopath. Sancho fills a backpack of supplies for Walt and includes the book he was currently reading, one that was on a list recommended to him by his co-workers. It is Dante's Inferno. Let's see, wasn't Virgil the guide through the different levels of that Hell? I wonder if there could be a connection...

I won't really bore you with the plot. In fact, there isn't much of one except that Walt pushes on through fire and ice, and refuses to give up when any sensible human being would have stopped and waited for the back-up which was on the way. He chases his prey up Cloud Peak, where he's been before in this series. It might as well be named Mystic Mountain, because every time he goes up it, he seems to have a mystical experience involving the spirits of long-dead Indians. Spirits which he refuses to acknowledge or discuss once he gets off the mountain.

This novel was written as a thriller and had very little of the sardonic humor that usually makes the series such a pleasure to read. Moreover, there was little or no interaction with the supporting characters that are so much a part of these stories. It was just all Walt, Superhero, all the way through. It wasn't bad. The connection between Dante's Inferno and that Virgil and Walt's Inferno and Virgil White Buffalo may have been laid on a bit thick, but I found it interesting. The sections featuring Walt's conversations with Virgil White Buffalo were the most enjoyable parts for me. On the whole, though, this was not one of my favorite Longmire stories.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars