Monday, June 26, 2017

Shadow Prey by John Sandford: A review

My considered opinion is that Minneapolis detective Lucas Davenport is a jerk. He's one of those guys who sees himself as a gift to women of all shapes, sizes, and kinds. He excuses his behavior as a Lothario by saying that he just LOVES women. And so he moves back and forth among a gaggle of women giving them the precious gift of himself and, quite often, his sperm. 

He has a more or less steady girlfriend with whom he has a child, but when a NYPD lieutenant comes to Minneapolis to assist in the investigation of a series of killings that may be related to one that occurred in New York, he just can't help pursuing her and eventually falling into bed with her, in spite of the fact that she is married and has two teenage children. 

He's supposed to be in the "intelligence" section of the Minneapolis police department and yet he drives around town in his Porsche in order to meet with his contacts. Not exactly the discrete behavior one might expect from one in such a position. His co-workers and superiors seem in awe of his abilities as a detective, but, frankly, I don't see much evidence of sharp detective work. He just seems to blunder around until information falls into his lap.

This is the second book in this series and, so far, they read like the fantasy of a man in mid-life crisis. It occurs to me that I just might not be the prime audience for whom these books are being written.

All that being said, this is an interesting story which explores the fraught relations between the Native American community of Minnesota - and, by extension, America - and the police and larger community. 

Here we meet Sam and Aaron Crow, two aging Sioux radicals who have planned a terror campaign against government officials whom they deem enemies of Native American people by virtue of crimes they have committed against the People - crimes for which they have never been punished. The Crows aim to see that punishment is meted out before they die.

They have sent their followers out to various locations around the country to dispense justice with ceremonial stone knives which they wear around their necks. A slumlord in Minneapolis, a rising political star in Manhattan, a Federal judge in Oklahoma City, all fall to the knife. But then two Native Americans in Minneapolis, a drug-addled teenager and a social worker, also are killed in the same manner. Has the killer turned on his own people? How can all these murders be related?

One feels a great deal of empathy for the Crows. Their cause seems righteous on many levels. The men whom they sent their followers to kill had committed crimes, often heinous crimes, against Native Americans. But can such violence ever be justified? Maybe when there is no hope of receiving justice through the courts? At least within the pages of a book, we can cheer such retribution without any actual blood being spilled.

But what of the murder of the teenager and the social worker? Their killer is a psycho feeding off the energy of the Crows' campaign. And that may be a natural consequence of such violence.

So, all in all, a good story, but I just cannot like the main character. This is a very long-running series. This book was published in 1990 and it's still going. I wonder if Lucas Davenport ever grows up during all those years.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Poetry Sunday: More Than Enough

Summer is officially with us now, although it arrived unofficially where I live several weeks ago. And with summer comes a wealth of blossoms and berries and seeds: "Season of joy for the bee. The green will never again be so green, so purely and lushly new..."

I think Marge Piercy has caught the spirit of summer, the spirit of plenty, perfectly. 


More Than Enough

by Marge Piercy

Related Poem Content Details

The first lily of June opens its red mouth. 
All over the sand road where we walk 
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading 
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense 
the scene drifting like colored mist. 

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy 
clumps of flower and the blackberries 
are blooming in the thickets. Season of 
joy for the bee. The green will never 
again be so green, so purely and lushly 

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads 
into the wind. Rich fresh wine 
of June, we stagger into you smeared 
with pollen, overcome as the turtle 
laying her eggs in roadside sand.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This week in birds - #261

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


Eastern Kingbird photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

*~*~*~*

June 19-25 is designated as National Pollinator Week, in honor of those hard-working animals that pollinate over 75% of flowering plants and nearly 75% of our crops. Pollinators include hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has lots of good information about invertebrate pollinators and how members of the public, and gardeners in particular, can help them.

*~*~*~*

In the absence of leadership from Washington, many states and cities are doing their part to try to pick up the slack in the fight to slow and control human-caused climate change. Four cities are at the forefront: New York City, Houston, Miami, and San Francisco. You'll note that all of these cities are on a coast and must deal with the reality of rising sea waters.

*~*~*~*

A new study examines the impact of agricultural expansion on the habitats of migratory shorebirds in Indonesia. Mangrove swamps are extremely important to these birds but mangrove cover has declined by some 85% in the last fourteen years. The authors of the study are asking the government to protect these areas and the shorebirds specifically.

*~*~*~*

Parks Canada photograph
The woodland caribou of Val d'Or in Quebec are one of only seven remaining woodland caribou herds in the province and this herd has now dwindled to only fifteen animals primarily because of logging and industrial activities in their boreal habitat. The government is now considering a plan to round the herd up and send them to a zoo as a conservation measure. Protecting the habitat would, of course, be a better solution, but perhaps the government believes itself unable to do that.

*~*~*~*

A Chilean expedition into the Atacama Desert has discovered the first known breeding site of an elusive seabird, the Ringed Storm-Petrel. This petrel is endemic to the western coast of South America. The size of its population is undetermined.

*~*~*~*

Without strong action to stop it, global warming is expected to spread days of extreme heat of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and higher right around the world in coming decades. This will cause significant shifts in many cities and create new challenges for them.

*~*~*~*

The current president's administration is considering a proposal that could essentially let some plants and animals go extinct so that cash-strapped agencies can use available funds to help other more viable ones. (Of course, the reason those agencies are cash-strapped is because the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to adequately fund them. It's not like the money isn't available; it's just being thrown at building more planes and ships and guns and financing our permanent worldwide wars.)  

*~*~*~*

And speaking of deliberately throwing a monkey wrench into the wheels of government, a new report details the paranoia and stifled work that exists in today's EPA. The administrator Scott Pruitt is busily hamstringing his own agency's law enforcement and regional offices; he has banned employees from taking pen and paper into meetings out of fear of information being leaked; and his office suppressed plans for an agency Earth Day picnic because it seemed too combative(!). 

*~*~*~*

Another traditional name for the Bobolink is Ricebird and a new study of the isotopes in the bird's feathers shows just how accurate that name is. Throughout much of the year, the birds eat grass seeds of many kinds, but as they prepare to migrate northward, they fill up on rice. Unfortunately, this puts them at greater risk for poisoning by pesticide. The Bobolink's population is declining, probably at least partly due to the effects of pesticides. 

*~*~*~*

It seems that the United States is not the only country with an environmental minister who is more interested in protecting industrial interests than the environment. In Poland, the environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticized for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of the protection of UNESCO’s natural heritage statusBiałowieża, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. It also boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

*~*~*~*

The warming of Antarctica is creating an insect and plant invasion. Scientists say that as temperatures soar in the polar region, invading plants and insects, including the common house fly, pose a major conservation threat. 

*~*~*~*

After 42 years on the endangered species list, the Yellowstone grizzly bear — whose numbers have grown to more than 700 from fewer than 150 — will lose its protected status, the Interior Department announced on Thursday.

*~*~*~*

The nutrient-rich feces from more than a million gulls feeding at landfills in North America may threaten the health of nearby waters, fertilizing algae and weeds and contributing to algal blooms, which creates additional costs for local governments that have to clean up after them.  

*~*~*~*

The government of Costa Rica has announced the designation of the Área Marina de Manejo Cabo Blanco (Cabo Blanco Marine Management Area), as a new marine protected area (MPA)The MPA is on the Nicoya peninsula of the country's Pacific coast and has been established to safeguard the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen and their families, as well as the rich  in Cabo Blanco National Park which includes humpback whales and four species of sea turtle (including the critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle).
*~*~*~*
When we think of eggs, most likely we envision a chicken egg, but, in fact, eggs come in many different shapes and there is a reason (science) for that. The Atlantic gives us an "eggsplainer".


Friday, June 23, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris: A review

If you are planning a road trip this summer and need an audio book to entertain you along the way, I can strongly recommend David Sedaris' latest. It is a compilation of excerpts from diaries that he has kept for twenty-five years, from 1977-2002.

In his introduction to the book, Sedaris outlines the difference between the kind of diary that a person imagines s/he will keep and the kind that a person actually keeps. One imagines, he says, that one will address topics of great import, such as political and social injustice, but what one ends up writing about is petty things - "questioning fondue or describing those ferrets you couldn't afford."

The Sedaris diaries are very personal. The only political or national issue included in them is the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01, an event which he watched on TV in Paris. Other than that, he regales us with tales of his experiences with hitchhiking around the country and about his relationships with his various family members; his journey from being a wastrel to being a respected and famous writer; his coming to terms with his homosexuality and meeting his life partner, painter Hugh Hamrick.

In 1977, David was hitchhiking around the country, smoking pot, taking acid, and earning his money by doing odd jobs and manual labor. He picked and packed fruit in the Northwest. He often took jobs as a dishwasher. His home base at this time was still the family home in Raleigh, North Carolina, which he shared with his parents and five siblings. Some of his most acerbic writing concerns that family. At one point, he was thrown out of his home by his father and spent time living in a run-down apartment where he used an ironing board as a dining table.

Even during his drug-using days, he was a keen observer of the world and the people around him. He reports these observations to us with a sardonic and sometimes caustic wit. 

His reflections about his siblings are especially stinging at times. I noticed a marked difference in his impressions of his two sisters. He depicts his sister Tiffany as a loser, a mentally disturbed personality destined never to fulfill the promise of her early life. Amy, on the other hand, can, it seems, do no wrong. Everything she touches turns golden - at least in David's eyes.  

He brings his sardonic wit to bear on neighbors, people he meets on planes or trains, his co-workers at the manual labor jobs he does, in short, everyone that he meets on his journey through these twenty-five years.

Even after he begins to gain some success and recognition as a writer, he continues doing the menial jobs. It seems that he does them as much to gain material for his writing as he does for money. And a rich source of material they are! 

These vignettes are funny, but sometimes bittersweet, sad even, and often they gave me pause as to just what kind of person David Sedaris is. In the end, I found his recounting of his extraordinary life with the crazy jobs, the eccentric family, his rise to fame as he conquered his drug addiction and focused on writing, to be a tale of somewhat dark humor. The writer sometimes struck me as not a very nice person. I'm not sure he's the kind of person I would want for a friend. (What would he write about me? Nothing flattering for sure!) But as a sharp and scintillating observer of human folly, he has few peers. And that makes this Audible Audio book a perfect companion for a long road trip.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

   

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos: A review

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1990 and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction of 1989. Incredibly, it was the FIRST Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner by a Hispanic writer.

Oscar Hijuelos was born in the United States to Cuban immigrant parents and, in this book, he excavates Cuban history, especially Cuban musical history, to tell a story of a family and the culture from which they came.

Latin music was all the rage in mid-twentieth century America and many practitioners of the art of the habanera, the rumba, and the mambo followed the trendy vogue from Cuba to America to seek their fortunes. Among these immigrants were the brothers Castillo, Cesar and Nestor.

They arrived in New York City in 1949. Cesar was a dashing songster with a passionate quivering baritone voice and the good looks to capture the hearts of his female listeners. Nestor was quiet and introspective with a touch of melancholy in his soul. The melancholy was a result of his lost love back in Cuba, a woman whom he celebrated in a bolero called "Beautiful Maria of My Soul." Over the years, he would constantly rewrite that song, finally ending with 22 different versions of it.

There were plenty of examples of Cuban musicians who had made it in America that the Castillo brothers could emulate. In fact, there was an embarrassment of riches of examples. Which one would they choose? The glamorous crooner Miguelito Valdez who sang with Xavier Cugat? Machito, the leader of a popular Afro-Cuban band? Or perhaps Desiderio Arnaz with his congo drum, singing voice, and his quaint accent?

Desi Arnaz and the Castillos had much in common. They came from Oriente Province. Desi had once worked with the same orchestra as Cesar back in Cuba. Desi was a forerunner of the Castillos in America, having arrived here in the 1930s and established himself in the clubs and dance halls of New York. By the 1950s, of course, he was perhaps most famous as the husband of Lucille Ball and as "Desi" on "I Love Lucy."

In the '50s, the Castillos and their orchestra, The Mambo Kings, were establishing themselves in New York. They put out 78 RPM records that sold for 69 cents apiece, and they played to adoring audiences on the East Coast and other parts of the country, dressed in their flamboyant flamingo pink and black suits. They were locally well-known but never became famous nationally.

Finally, in 1955, the Mambo Kings had their fifteen minutes of fame. 

Desi Arnaz had seen them perform in New York and he invited them to appear on the "I Love Lucy" television show. They played his cousins from Cuba and they performed Nestor's song, "Beautiful Maria of My Soul." Cesar strummed his guitar and sang, Nestor played his trumpet, and Desi Arnaz joined in to harmonize. It was in many ways the high point of their careers and their lives.

We get all of this - and much, much more - through the memories of Cesar at the end of his life. He's living in a hotel in New York, after a life devoted to music and sex. The memories that he shares with us are of both. We see his performances with Nestor and other members of their band. We experience their lives on the road and their lives when they return home - Nestor to his wife and two children and Cesar to...Nestor's wife and children and whatever woman he is involved with at the moment.

Cesar never marries but there are always women in his life. He loves women. He loves making love to women and he remembers every one of them in great detail and regales us with those memories. In the end, his memories seem almost equal parts sexual and musical, maybe with a slight edge to the sexual.

In fact, that was perhaps my one complaint about the book. I loved the lush language of the novel as Hijuelos explored the arc of the lives of his two main characters, the sensitive and soulful Nestor and the blustering and charismatic Nestor. But every few pages along, there would be another unabashedly sensual description of Nestor's sexual encounter with yet another woman and a vivid detailing of his remarkable sex organs. Okay, we get it - he's hung like a horse and is an indefatigable lover! That aspect of the story just got a bit boring with all the repetition.

Nevertheless, it is a richly told, tragicomic tale of the immigrant experience and it brings to life that era when the mambo was king. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday in the garden: Milk and wine lilies


While I was out of town for several days, my milk and wine lilies started blooming. I came home to find that I had missed the first flush of flowers, but a few of the plants still had blooms and there are more on the way.

Milk and wine lilies are so called for a fairly obvious reason - the color of the flowers is a milky white with a wine red stripe. This lily is from the crinum family and is one of the most common plants found in old southern gardens and sometimes in old southern cemeteries. They became popular around the turn of the twentieth century and were widely grown at that time. One reason for their popularity, other than their beauty, is that they are tough as old boots and virtually impossible to kill. They grow well in a variety of soils, thrive on neglect, and tend to multiply to the point of becoming almost obnoxious.

There are about 130 varieties of crinums and they are natives primarily of the tropics and of South Africa. I grow four different kinds in my garden and all of them flourish here.

The milk and wine lilies will rebloom throughout the summer. They are undeterred by drought. Funnily enough, they also will do well with wet feet. What a versatile plant! 



Monday, June 12, 2017

A pre-Bloom Day look at the garden

I will be on the road later this week and away from my garden on June 15, or Bloom Day as it is known to garden bloggers around the world, so here is a pre-Bloom Day look at what's blooming in my garden this month.


It's almost summer and the summer phlox is in bloom.



There are lots of white blooms in the garden this month. They help to bring a note of coolness to my hot garden space.

There's almond verbena with its wonderful scent. Too bad I don't have smell-a-blog.

The white crinums are blooming.

And so is the white 'Texas Star' swamp hibiscus.

And the datura, sometimes called devil's trumpet or moonflower.

But here's the real moonflower, and, yes, it's still blooming, too. 

The beautyberry bloom is not much to look at; the real attraction is the colorful berries that come later.

This pretty little white flower is blooming in my wildflower bed. I'm not sure what it is called, but I think it is some kind of alyssum.

Also in the wildflower bed is this prairie coneflower.

And this black-eyed Susan.

Speaking of coneflowers, here's the purple one.

And the red one.

Many of the sunflowers are at their best and brightest just now.

This pale one is another bloomer in the wildflower bed.

This one is a native wildflower, as well. It is fully twelve feet tall and covered with these blossoms.

The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) is blooming.

And so is the angel wing begonia.

Justicia 'Orange Flame'.

The 'Lady of Shallott' rose has been a real winner for me.

I love this little ornamental pepper. It was a "volunteer" in the garden, reseeded from a plant that I had last year.

More from the wildflower bed - blanketflower.

Blanketflowers, sneezeweed, and black-eyed Susans.

Also in the wildflower bed - I don't know its name but I think it is some kind of scabiosa.

And here's a poppy, also from the wildflower bed. Love poppies! 

Its popular name is horsemint and butterflies love it.

A red coreopsis, also from the wildflower bed.

And speaking of red, here's 'Darcy Bussell' rose.

The 'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendrum bloom will soon be completely open.

The dependable blue plumbago.

'Belinda's Dream' rose, a bit past its prime.

Anisacanthus wrightii, aka flame acanthus, is blooming and that makes the sulphur butterflies happy. 

The crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet' is starting to bloom.

i've never grown hostas because I was convinced they wouldn't do well here, but I decided to give them a try this spring. So far, so good, and as a bonus, I get this pretty flower. 

The summer garden would not be complete without marigolds.

'Pride of Barbados.'

Delphiniums.

Behind the garden shed, the big elderberry shrub is blooming.

Cypress vine, a ubiquitous summer bloomer in my garden.

Yellow yarrow.

Dahlia.

Variegated Turk's cap.

On the patio table, a pot of portulaca, aka moss rose, brightens the space.

This 'Endless Summer' hydrangea has all blue flowers, except for this one pink one. What's up with that?

Blue potato bush.

And finally, our recent rains have induced my Texas sage shrub to flower.

It has covered itself in these luscious blooms.



And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be taking a short "blogcation." I hope you'll miss me and that you'll come back when I return in just over a week.