Saturday, July 14, 2018

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2018/Poetry Sunday - July by Helen Hunt Jackson


by Helen Hunt Jackson

Some flowers are withered and some joys have died; 
The garden reeks with an East Indian scent 
From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent; 
The white heat pales the skies from side to side; 
But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content, 
Like starry blooms on a new firmament, 
White lilies float and regally abide. 
In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed; 
The lily does not feel their brazen glare. 
In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share 
Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread. 
Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head; 
She drinks of living waters and keeps fair. 


The water lily does not feel the brazen glare of the hot July rays. "She drinks of living waters and keeps fair."

And what else is blooming in my garden this July?

The milk and wine lilies will wilt in the hot rays, but in the early morning they are fresh and lovely.

'Ellen Bosanquet' crinums seem unaffected by the heat.

And so do the blue plumbagos.

The purple oxalis blooms best in cool weather, but even in midsummer it puts out a few of its pretty little blossoms.

Dahlias are definitely summer flowers.

The crocosmia is nearing the end of its bloom cycle.


Last year's marigolds reseeded themselves this year and the volunteers have been blooming their hearts out all summer all around the garden.

It's called blue salvia but it sure looks purple to me.

Purple coneflowers.

Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' - common name black-eyed Susan.

Anisacanthus - also called flame acanthus.

'Caldwell Pink,' an antique rose.


The strange little blossoms of the buttonbush are much sought after by pollinators of many kinds.

 Snapdragons - still snapping.


Jatropha - just about to bloom.

Four o'clocks.

Hamelia patens with a bee attendant.


Crape myrtle.

Yellow cestrum.

Duranta erecta's blooms are almost always covered in butterflies, but naturally when I went to take this picture, there wasn't a butterfly in sight.

We've had a pretty wet summer so far and the Texas sage, whose blossoming is triggered by rain, has already had several bloom cycles.

Justicia 'Orange Flame.'

The blossoms do look like flames, don't they?

'Lady of Shallott' rose. 

It's called Joe Pye weed, but it's not a weed; it's a lovely plant, a favorite of butterflies.

'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendrum.

Tropical milkweed.

Summer phlox.

It wouldn't be summer without sunflowers.

Purple basil, beloved by bees.

Cypress vine. I got my start of this plant many years ago from my mother. It reseeds itself prolifically every year and whenever I see it, it reminds me of her.

'Darcy Bussell' rose.

The groundcover called wedelia.

Red columbines still bloom under the magnolia tree.

'Pride of Barbados' (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) - one of the more colorful members of the pea family.

With the weekly rain showers that we've had, it has been a struggle to stay ahead of the weeds in my garden and I fear I am losing the battle. But the rain that encourages the weeds has also helped to keep the flowers healthy and blooming, so I guess I'll take that trade-off.

Thank you for visiting my zone 9a garden this month and I look forward to visiting yours in turn. Thank you Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting us.

Happy Bloom Day!

This week in birds - #311

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

It's that time of year when the birds in my backyard are often seen in varying states of undress - like this uncomfortable-looking Northern Mockingbird. One might think it is a reaction to the heat and perhaps it is in part, but this is a normal annual process called the molt. The birds lose their old worn feathers and grow bright shiny new ones that will see them through next winter and spring. All birds go through it, so if you see birds in your area looking decidedly disheveled, don't be concerned; soon they will be well-dressed once again.


As might have been expected, the new Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has proved hostile to using the Clean Air Act to control the emission of greenhouse gases. His record on environmental law in general has been inimical to using current laws to protect the public and the environment.  


Southern California has already experienced extreme temperatures this summer that have obliterated all kinds of long-standing heat records. The heat has also brought more misery by causing power outages in some areas so residents have had to face the heat without any air conditioning. Climate scientists have long warned us that this day was coming. It seems that it is here.  


If there is any bright side to the heat wave that has swept over North America it may be that the extremely high temperatures have finally convinced some people that manmade climate change is happening! A long-running survey of American attitudes to climate change has found that 73% of people now think there is solid evidence of global warming. A further 60% believe that this warming is due, at least in some part, to human influences. But one wonders what these new converts to the idea of climate change will think when winter comes.  


A new study of gulls by the British Ornithologists' Union found that urban gulls were more adept at stealing food from their cohorts than their rural counterparts. Food stealing, an exploitative process known as kleptoparasitism, is regularly employed by various gull species in order to acquire food at a reduced effort and is an important strategy in their tools for survival.


Wildlife corridors are increasingly essential for the survival of many species as climate change and human development alter ranges. It is important to protect these corridors and one of the first steps in doing that is to map the shifting habitats. That is being done by a University of Montana ecology professor and his team. 


The "awkward botany" blog has a post on the various native milkweeds that grow in Idaho. There are actual several different species of milkweed that grow throughout North America.


The Yellowstone ecosystem is in serious trouble. But how are we to address its problems - and those of other national parks - when the government in charge of protecting it seems uninterested in doing so, or even hostile to the idea of protecting and preserving public spaces?  


Another ecosystem in trouble is the marine environment of the Pacific Northwest where orcas are starving and disappearingNot one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales there in the last three years.


Why do we need to save wolves? And if we can agree that it is important to save them, how do we do it? What do wolves need to thrive?


It turns out that getting rid of invasive rodents on islands is not only good for the ground-nesting seabirds on the islands but also for the coral reefs around those islands and the fish that live there.  


Hummingbirds today are only found in the Americas, but the origin of their species has proved to be something of a mystery. However, recent discoveries have traced their evolution back to Europe where no nectar-feeding species are to be found today.


The Irish parliament has passed a bill requiring the country to divest from all fossil fuels, to take place "as soon as practicable," likely within five years. This will make Ireland the first country to divest from fossil fuels


A new study published in The Condor makes the point that it is not just specific plants that make an environment a desirable habitat for a particular bird but that the soil and topography of the place are important, also.


The drought affecting the Rio Grande River is bad news for the endangered silvery minnow. The little fish does not reproduce well in years that the river does not flow strongly. Several bad years in a row could push the fish closer to extinction. 


The ancient shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico was so fertile that its outline can still be seen from space.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer: A review

This book won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction Nominee and an Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction. Is there an award for best comic novel? If so, this book should be a contender for that, too, because it is hilarious. I'm talking laugh-out-loud, coffee through the nose, tears rolling down the cheek funny. I don't know when I have enjoyed reading a book quite this much.

It took me totally by surprise because I was not familiar with the writing of Andrew Sean Greer, although this is his fifth novel and he is apparently greatly admired in literary circles and by some of the best writers of the day. I definitely want to become better acquainted with him in the future.

Less is Arthur Less, a writer who has so far had a mediocre career. His first book was a moderate success, but he has struggled to follow that up with anything of comparable or greater success. 

But it is not just his writing career that isn't going well. Life, in general, is a challenge for Less. He is a homosexual man about to reach his 50th birthday, "too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books." He is further described as "the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these."

He has reached this low point because of a crisis in his personal life. His lover of the last nine years, whom Less refused to commit to, is about to marry another man. Prior to that relationship, Less was for many years the lover of an older man, an acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who had encouraged him to write.

Less receives an invitation to his former lover's wedding and he cannot face it. In order to have an excuse for declining, he dredges up all the invitations he has received to participate in literary festivals, award ceremonies, and various other literary events around the world. He accepts all of those invitations and embarks on an around the world trip that will take him to New York (he lives in San Francisco), Mexico City, Turin, Paris, Berlin, Morocco, India, and Kyoto.

But before he leaves on the trip, there is one further humiliation. His current writing project is a novel called Swift, but his publisher hates it and declines to publish it. 

And so off he goes, his life at low ebb, wearing his treasured blue suit that was hand-tailored for him years ago in "humid moped-plagued" Ho Chi Minh City.

Arthur's wanderings take him from one disaster to another. They are harrowing but outrageously funny and they are lovingly described with sentences of such lyrical beauty as to make one want to read them over and over again. The chief delight of this book is simply experiencing its language, but a close second is getting to know and love the character of Arthur Less. 

For he is entirely lovable. He exudes a warm humanity and he is excellent company on our shared travels because, in spite of all the unpleasantries he experiences, he never wallows in self-pity. (Except perhaps when he contemplates that 50th birthday. That does seem to be a bridge too far even for his imperturbable nature.) Arthur Less connects with people, especially young people. That is his great gift.

As Arthur is winding up his world tour in Kyoto, he receives news of a crisis which impels him to phone his former lover and mentor, the prize-winning poet, who advises him that turning 50 isn't all bad: "It means now people will think your were always a grown-up. They'll take you seriously."

And so, having weathered the dreaded birthday and the wedding of his former lover, Arthur heads home where he will be surprised by love and where we will finally learn the identity of the mysterious narrator of this story. A delicious ending which leaves us happy to know that this character that we've come to care about is in good hands.  

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Monday, July 9, 2018

Racing the Devil by Charles Todd: A review

It is 1920 and the Great War has been over for a couple of years, but it continues to affect people's lives as both civilians and those who served in the military struggle to come back from the ongoing effects of that conflict. That is nowhere more true than in the remote villages of England which lost nearly a whole generation of young men in the terrible trench warfare in France.

Inspector Ian Rutledge still struggles with the repercussions of his experience in those trenches. He suffers from PTSD (shell shock in that day) and is haunted by the spirit of Hamish McLeod, the young Scottish soldier whom he executed for insubordination and refusal to follow an order on the field of battle.

Rutledge does, however, seem to have made some progress in dealing with his psychological problems. Hamish is still there and his voice pops up in the narrative from time to time, but it is not the overwhelming presence that it was in some of the earlier books and that is a relief. Rutledge continues to be constantly on guard to hide his problems from others, even friends and loved ones.

The story here harks back to the eve of the disastrous Battle of the Somme. Seven English officers, fans of motorcar racing, meet up in a makeshift bar in a deserted barn in France and make a pledge that, if they make it through the coming battle and the rest of the war, they will meet in Paris one year after peace breaks out and celebrate their good fortune by racing motorcars - their own or borrowed ones - from Paris to Nice. Five of them survive to fulfill the pledge but something happens as they race down to Nice. One driver is forced off the road and seriously injured. At least two others have close encounters with disaster but are able to avoid it.

Back in England a year later, the rector of a village church on the South Downs is forced off the road one night and killed as he drives the car of one of those five officers. The rector was a much beloved man in the community and seems to have had no enemies, no one who would want him dead. Was it a case of mistaken identity? In the darkness, did the killer think his victim was the English officer who owned the car?

In the midst of this investigation, Rutledge learns that another of those English officers has recently been run off the road and killed. That only confirms the conclusion that he has reached after roaming around the countryside and getting to know this insular community as he interviews people; the thing which the crimes have in common is that last supper before the battle in France. That must be the key to the mystery.

As usual, he finds the people of the village close-mouthed and unwilling to share much information and he has to call on some of his sources in London and in the intelligence world to get the facts that he needs to find the solution to the crimes. But, of course, he gets there in the end.

This particular entry in this long-running series seemed rather static to me. I found it hard to keep engaged in the story. The things that I liked about it were the (as usual) plentiful historical details of the period and the ability of the writing team of Todd to convey the despair and brokenness of society following the war. In short, though this was not one of my favorites in the series, it was still an interesting read.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Poetry Sunday: In Summer Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in 1872, the son of former slaves. Dunbar's father had escaped slavery in Kentucky through the Underground Railroad and went on to fight in the Civil War in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first two black units to serve in that war. After emancipation, his mother moved to Ohio with other family members including two sons from her first marriage and it was there that she met and married Paul Dunbar's father.

Paul Dunbar was a successful poet, novelist, and playwright. He was something of a prodigy and he published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton, Ohio newspaper. His life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis. He died in 1906 at the age of 33.

Dunbar wrote poetry both in standard English and in what was referred to at the time as "Negro dialect." Here is one in standard English that is very evocative of this time of year. I love his descriptions of Nature and his conjuring of the feelings that summer calls forth in him, especially the last lines:
"‘Tis wealth enough of joy for me
   In summer time to simply be."

In Summer Time

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow’rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and path ways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds’ song and the water’s drone,
The humming bees’ low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
‘Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.

Friday, July 6, 2018

This week in birds - #310

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

Common Gallinule preening itself at Brazos Bend State Park.


All-time heat records have been set around the planet over the last week. Numerous places in the Northern Hemisphere, even places that normally have mild summers, have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded.


One of those places is Canada where the sweltering combination of heat and humidity has been linked by health officials to the deaths of 33 people across southern Quebec.


Republicans in the Senate are seeking a massive revision to the Endangered Species Act. The bottom line of their overhaul would be to shift responsibility for the protection of endangered species to the states, so we could theoretically end up with 50 different sets of laws, with some states potentially choosing to have no protections for threatened species. 


The current administration in Washington is also seeking to revise protections for the endangered red wolf. Their plan would allow the wild population of the wolves to fall to 15 individuals. This could be a fatal blow to a species that already could face extinction within eight years, according to scientists' estimates.


Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage have caused the oxygen levels in the Baltic Sea to sink to a 1,500 year low. This causes "dead zones" that curtail habitats for creatures that live on the sea floor, affecting fish stocks and often leading to blooms of toxic algae.


Thirty years ago, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to Congress that the age of climate change had arrived and urged action to combat it. Hansen's warnings were prescient and his predictions have proved eerily accurate, but still our Congress refuses to act while every county in every state has heated up since then, sea level is rising, heavier rains and stronger storms are happening, and countless species of plants and animals are struggling to adapt. 


A year and a half into the tenure of the current president, there still have been no nominees to head the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The lack of leadership has grave consequences for the future of public lands. One could almost conclude that this administration doesn't give a flying fig about the care of public lands. 


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put out its annual list of threatened and endangered species called the Red List. It has found that more than 26,000 of the world's species are now at risk of extinction.


The northern white rhino, which is already essentially extinct, could potentially be brought back from the dead by the miracle of science. The first rhino embryos have been created in a test tube and the two surviving female rhinos (the last male died in March) could have the embryos implanted through in vitro fertilization. If the procedure works, the species might be saved.


One of the last and largest populations of the beautiful Yellow-naped Parrot live on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Ornithologists are seeking to protect the charismatic bird from the pressures of habitat degradation and threats from the illegal pet trade.


It's been a tough three months for whales along the coast of Washington and Oregon. Since April 3, there have been 16 cases of whale strandings along the coast according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Protected Resources.


Barn Owls look out at the world in much the same way that humans do. Although possessing simpler brains than primates, they process information about things moving in their environment in a similarly complex way


America's cash-strapped national parks are plagued by delayed infrastructure repairs and upgrades. Now, the administration in Washington is proposing to slash funding for the parks even further.


Inbreeding presents an additional challenge for the already endangered Northern Spotted Owls. Scientists are searching for ways to increase genetic diversity and prevent further decline of the species. 


Let's end the week on a note of beauty: Here are some wonderful pictures from "This Week in Wildlife." Enjoy!