Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Reluctance by Robert Frost

I've read a lot of Robert Frost over the years. He's long been a favorite of mine for his expression of feelings about Nature and country things. Having grown up on a farm, I can identify with many of his poems. But in all the time I've been reading him, I don't recall ever coming across this poem until last week. I like it very much, especially that last stanza. The man did have a way with words. 

by Robert Frost
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

This week in birds - #378

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

Migrating Sandhill Cranes converge on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico by the thousands at this time of year to spend the winter there. I photographed this pair during a memorable trip in late October a few years ago. 


The city of Venice is in a constant battle against the encroachment of the tides, but this week has seen it being hit by the highest tidewaters in over 50 years. The event is expected to cause millions of dollars in damage.


What's a conservationist to do when faced with the dilemma of one threatened species feeding on another threatened species? That is the case with Caspian Terns that feed on endangered salmonids along the West Coast river systems. The solution has been to try to lure the terns away from areas inhabited by the fish.


An investigation by the AP has revealed at least 1680 dams across the country that pose a potential risk.


The Interior Department has disbanded its Invasive Species Advisory Committee which for the past 20 years has coordinated the federal government's efforts at controlling pythons and other invasive species threatening the country's ecosystems. A department spokesman said it is part of a cost-cutting move. Apparently, they don't consider the cost of the damage that invasive species do each year.


In other news of our current administration's war on the environment, the EPA will limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking. Columnist Paul Krugman has some thoughts on this administration's lax attitude toward pollution and the environmental destruction that it wreaks.


A New Zealand poll has named that the endangered Hoiho Penguin as that country's bird of the year. Meanwhile, in their neighboring country of Australia, the bird of the year as determined by a public poll is the Black-throated Finch, also an endangered species. 


For nearly half a century, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis has meticulously tracked butterfly populations at 10 sites in north-central California. He has single-handedly created the longest-running butterfly monitoring project in North America and learned much about the fluctuation and decline of those populations in the process.


The Sea of Okhotsk wedged between Siberia and Japan has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, making it one of the fastest-warming spots in the world, according to data from the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth. That is bad news for the fish - and the fishermen and economy - of the area.


How can a creature without legs jump? It's a mystery, but some species of snakes manage to do it and scientists want to know how they accomplish that feat.


You can't find Passenger Pigeon pie on the menu anywhere these days. That's because humans ate the birds to extinction in the last century. And there are other species that have been so avidly devoured by our ancestors that they disappeared from the face of the planet.


Birds are no dummies. They are endlessly adaptable and able to take advantage of circumstances that will benefit them. Take the example of the Rough-legged Hawks. These hawks prefer to nest near Peregrine Falcons to take advantage of the fact that the falcons drive off other predators that might compete for the small rodents that the hawks prefer to eat.


This is a silver-backed chevrotain, commonly called a mouse deer. It is the smallest hoofed animal in the world and it had not been seen by scientists for nearly thirty years until this image was captured by a trail camera recently in southern Vietnam. It is thought to be one of the rarest animals in the world.


Thousands of migrating Steppe Eagles have been counted at stopover sites northwest of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The area had been suspected to be an important stopover for the birds and that is now confirmed.


Cutting the speed of ships would have huge benefits for humans, Nature, and the climate according to a recent report. It would reduce greenhouse gases as well as pollutants that make us sick and it would reduce noise that can harm marine mammals, in addition to potentially reducing collisions with whales. 


Autumn is the favorite season of many of us, partly because our favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, comes in the middle of it. But there are many pleasures of this time of year. Margaret Renkl has an appreciation of some of them. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - November 2019

Here in Southeast Texas, we were not exempted from the effects of the Arctic front that enveloped much of the country this week. We had two nights of freezing temperatures, unusual for us this early in the season. The freeze put an end to some of the blooms I had intended to include in my post.

Things like my Cape honeysuckle which had bloomed beautifully for a few weeks. But it can't take temperatures below 30 degrees F so the blooms are faded now.  

The bees were very sorry to see it go. So were the hummingbirds. 

The almond verbena was also affected by the freeze. The large shrub was full of these sweet-smelling flowers. 

Fortunately, I had recently added a few plants for winter color. These cyclamen, for example.  

 They are unaffected by freezing temperatures.

 My winter garden wouldn't be complete without the sweet-faced pansies.

 And their smaller-bloomed cousins, the violas.

 The snapdragons add their splash of bright color to the mix.

This salvia is a recent addition as well. It was in a protected area and its blossoms survived the freeze.

The Mandarin oranges were ready for harvest and my helpful daughter picked them for me.

The Meyer lemons, though, were not ripe yet. Citrus fruits don't continue ripening after they are picked so these have to stay on the tree a bit longer. Fortunately, it seems that the temperatures didn't get so low that the fruits were damaged.

There are several clumps of chrysanthemums scattered around the garden.

 They come in various colors - like this pink.

 And this gold one.

These beautyberries also provide a bit of color in the garden. Several of my shrubs have already had their berries picked clean by the birds, but this one is still loaded.

 Autumn sage doesn't mind cold weather.

Blue plumbago does, but some of its blooms have survived. The blooms seem to get bluer as the season advances.

The purple oxalis has continued with its blooming.

In a clear sign of the season, the muscadine grapes are beginning to turn color, as are the leaves of the vine.

Our autumns usually are the briefest of seasons between our long, long summers and our very short winters and they normally don't include very much really cold weather, but the climate is changing and the norms we have come to expect in our weather are changing, too. We had a very light frost on Halloween night this year and a killing frost this week, three weeks earlier than usual. I wonder what our winter will be like.

I hope you are enjoying whatever season prevails where you are and that you and your garden are thriving. Happy Bloom Day!

Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens for this monthly meme.

Throwback Thursday: Confronting Evil

I recently came across this post that I wrote almost ten years ago in December 2009. It blew me away to remember that I once felt like this; to remember that I had utter confidence in the leader of our country to try to do what was right and just, whether or not I agreed with his interpretation of that. Those were simpler, more innocent times.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Confronting evil

I'm not a big fan of David Brooks and I admit I don't often read his column in The New York Times, but a couple of days ago, he wrote one which had a title that intrigued me. It was "Obama's Christian Realism."The gist of the column was that President Obama's thought processes are revealed by his speeches and that his public speeches, taken as a whole, have reflected a remarkably consistent philosophy throughout. It is essentially that there is evil in the world which must be confronted, and, as Brooks states it, that "life is a struggle to push back against the evils of the world without succumbing to the passions of the beast lurking inside."

This is what Brooks calls the liberal internationalist approach. It is an approach that demands that we, as a nation, act in concert with others to achieve our aims. From this philosophy grew our backing of NATO and of the United Nations and of many regional alliances around the world. It is an approach to international relations that served this country very well for more than fifty years and was really only abandoned in this century by the Bushies. President Obama now seeks to return us to that more solid ground.

Brooks reminds us that Barack Obama spoke out against the Iraq war in 2002 and he was booed for his efforts. Throughout his political career, regardless of the opposition he has faced, he has steered by the stars of his understanding of what is right and of human nature's core struggle between love and evil. He is a serious and complicated man, a man who is able to hold two opposing ideas in his mind without succumbing to frustration or self-destructiveness.

I don't always agree with this president. I often wish that he would be more forceful in dealing with some of the more infuriatingly self-centered and self-serving politicians who pontificate in the Senate. I wish that he would act more swiftly to right some of the wrongs that have become ingrained in our system of government over the past eight years. But I am resigned to the fact that he will act with all deliberate speed on his own schedule and that he will not engage in the kind of partisan retribution that has marked the worst of our politics in recent years, even if I might want him to, because it is against his nature and he believes it is wrong.

No matter what the outcome may be, it is comforting to have the country in the hands of a "Christian realist" who is able to see not only good and evil in black and white, but all those confusing shades of gray in between.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Doxology by Nell Zink: A review

I have read several books this year that have dealt in some way, at times just tangentially, with the 2016 presidential election. And now here's Nell Zink's contribution to the oeuvre, although that portion of her story comes at the end of a fairly long novel dealing with the history of American politics and culture beginning in the late 1980s, as experienced by two fairly clueless young people who moved individually to New York City from different parts of the country.

Pamela grew up in an upper-middle-class white family in Washington, D.C. She had all the privilege that such an upbringing entails, but as she neared the end of her high school years, she rebelled against the plans her parents had for her. She did not want to go to any of the colleges they suggested; she had a different vision for her life. And so she packed a few things, took what money she could scrape together, and took off to New York to pursue her vision. She had no contact with her parents after that for many years.

Daniel came from a fundamentalist Christian family in the Midwest. He managed to complete college before he fled, but he, too, made his way to New York and the two young people met there through another friend that Pamela had made, Joe Harris, who was destined to become a rock star.

The three of them are devoted to music and they play together in small, anonymous bands before Joe becomes famous. Pamela and Daniel become lovers during this period and eventually, an accidental pregnancy changes their lives. They decide to marry and when their daughter, Flora, is born, the three of them together raise her during her early years with Joe providing babysitting when the parents are at work.

During this time Joe continues to pursue his musical career with Daniel as "manager" and finally he hits the big time and starts raking in the big bucks. Then comes 9/11 and everything changes.

Pamela and Daniel are concerned for their young daughter living in the toxic air that has enveloped New York in the wake of the attacks. Pamela contacts her parents and asks to come for a visit. They take Flora there and they are all joyfully welcomed. After some time Pamela and Daniel return to New York, but they leave Flora with the grandparents and there she stays for the rest of her upbringing, occasionally making visits to New York to stay with her parents. (Why the parents so easily agreed to this is one of the mysteries unsolved by the narrative.) The remainder of the story focuses on Flora.

She grows up with a fervor to save the planet. She attends George Washington University and pursues her interest in climate change and soil erosion. She becomes increasingly politicized and, when no other jobs present themselves, in 2016 she joins the Green Party candidate Jill Stein's campaign. She knows that the campaign is a joke, but of course, it can pose no threat to Hillary Clinton and she just needs to build her résumé.

Flora meets two men on the campaign trail who are destined to impact her life. The first is a cynical middle-aged Democratic strategist who understands clearly the existential threat that the Republican candidate poses. The second is a young idealistic former Sanders supporter, now a staffer on the Clinton campaign. 

I don't want to give away the entire plot here. Zink's novel is a very ambitious and wide-ranging delineation of the events of the 1980s up to the current day. And mostly, I think she delivers on her objectives. I found the first part of the novel dealing with Daniel and Pamela more compelling, but that may have been only because I found it easier to identify with them. The story lost some of its steam for me in its second half, but, on the whole, the author dealt with the madness of our political times with intelligence and humor and she has produced a very good and readable book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Auguries of Innocence by William Blake

I spent much of last week reading Olga Tokarozuk's Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead in which the narrator is obsessed with the poetry of William Blake. As I was reading the book, I often dipped into the poetry of Blake to better understand certain quotations and the atmosphere of the book.

Blake was a visionary of his times and, like most visionaries, the world was not ready for him. He was unappreciated in his lifetime. Today he is considered a seminal figure in the history of English poetry.

His poem that I am featuring here is longer than the ones I usually present, but I found it irresistible. It perfectly expresses the sentiments of the narrator Tokarozuk's book. It contains several very well known lines that I didn't necessarily know came from Blake.


Auguries of Innocence

by William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves &; Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing 
The Game Cock clipd &; armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright 
Every Wolfs &; Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul 
The wild deer, wandring here &; there 
Keeps the Human Soul from Care 
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife 
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men 
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity 
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night 
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar 
The Beggars Dog &; Widows Cat 
Feed them &; thou wilt grow fat 
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue 
The poison of the Snake &; Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot 
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes &; Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent 
It is right it should be so 
Man was made for Joy &; Woe 
And when this we rightly know 
Thro the World we safely go 
Joy &; Woe are woven fine 
A Clothing for the soul divine 
Under every grief &; pine
Runs a joy with silken twine 
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made &; Born were hands 
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity 
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight 
The Bleat the Bark Bellow &; Roar 
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death 
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear 
The Soldier armd with Sword &; Gun 
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy &; sell the Misers Lands 
Or if protected from on high 
Does that whole Nation sell &; buy 
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age &; Death 
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out 
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell &; Death 
The Childs Toys &; the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 
The Questioner who sits so sly 
Shall never know how to Reply 
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace 
When Gold &; Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply 
The Emmets Inch &; Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile 
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please 
If the Sun &; Moon should Doubt 
Theyd immediately Go out 
To be in a Passion you Good may Do 
But no Good if a Passion is in you 
The Whore &; Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate 
The Harlots cry from Street to Street 
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 
Dance before dead Englands Hearse 
Every Night &; every Morn
Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

Saturday, November 9, 2019

This week in birds - #377

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

A flight of White Ibises off South Padre Island, Texas. 


More than 11,000 scientists from around the world are once again attempting to get the attention of governments and persuade them to take effective action to fight climate change. In a report published this week, the scientists declare a "climate emergency" and outline six major steps that could be taken to address the situation. 


However, the denialists currently in charge of our country's government refuse to acknowledge any such emergency. This week, they took the first steps to quit the Paris Climate Agreement.


In the U.K., the government has halted shale gas extraction (fracking) because of fears of generating earthquakes.


A warmer and wetter climate, the result of global climate change, is benefiting some species of birds on the grasslands of the Canadian prairie.


A contagious form of cancer that affects mussels originated off the Pacific Coast of Canada but it has now been spread, apparently as a result of human activities, to other species in Europe and South America. 


These are "ice eggs", a rare phenomenon that is the result of a very particular set of weather conditions. They occurred on a beach in Finland recently. The largest of the "eggs" was football-sized.


This story might be stretching the definition of "environmental" news but I couldn't resist. On the other hand, if we consider the universe as our environment... 

NASA's two explorers, Voyager I and Voyager II, have now traveled beyond the heliosphere, more than twelve billion miles and 40 years into their journeys. When Voyager II crossed that frontier of interstellar space, it sent a faint signal from the other side, a signal which NASA scientists have now decoded. It gives me chills just thinking about it.


Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the current iteration of our EPA has taken steps to weaken rules governing toxic water pollution from coal plants.


Purple Gallinules have become quite common in our area in recent years, but they are great wanderers, sometimes finding their way up the East Coast and even into the Canadian provinces. Recently, an immature bird has turned up in Central Park in Manhattan to the great delight of birders there.


Anyone who has ever spent time around guineafowls might think the phrase "pea-brained" was coined to describe them. They have tiny brains not only compared to mammals but compared to other birds as well. But a recent study of the Vulturine Guineafowl of eastern Africa found that the birds live in complex, many-layered societies, in spite of their lack of braininess.

 Vulturine Guineafowl image from The New York Times.


Turtle Doves in the U.K. have suffered a 51% decline in population over the last five years. It is now Britain's most endangered bird. But wildlife-friendly agriculture funded by the government is offering some hope of a recovery for the birds.


Mexican archaeologists have made the first-ever discovery of pits that were built around 15,000 years ago for the purpose of trapping mammoths. They have found two pits that contained 824 bones from at least 14 mammoths.


The most threatened member of the gull family is the Black-billed Gull. About 300 of the birds have established a colony with 130 nests in a derelict building in Christchurch, New Zealand. The bird is endemic to New Zealand and is only found there.


Installing wind turbines and solar panels in the U.S. Midwest instead of other parts of the country would deliver the biggest cuts in climate-warming emissions and improvements in public health, according to a study published on Tuesday.


The National Parks Conservation Association has released a list of the 12 national parks that are most threatened by oil and gas drilling. Some of my personal favorites are on the list.