Saturday, March 23, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

I've actually featured this poem before but it's been a few years and I think it is time for it again. It is, after all, still Women's History Month and what better way to celebrate that than a poem by a woman. A phenomenal woman. 

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Friday, March 22, 2019

This week in birds - #346

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

The vanguard of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration has been passing through this week. The adult males, like the one above, arrive first. Later, the adult females and first-year birds will appear.


There has already been severe flooding in the Midwest this spring, but scientists warn that this is likely only the beginning. They are predicting unprecedented levels of flooding in the coming months that could imperil as many as 200 million people. Scientists say that climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather that contributes to the surging flood waters. 


A new data analysis by the Associated Press shows that in the last twenty years the country has been twice as likely to have record-breaking heat in summers as it is to have record-breaking cold in winters.


A new study of white-tailed deer numbers in the eastern U.S. indicates that the arrival and establishment of coyotes in the region has not caused an appreciable decline in the species.


An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last month shows that climate change is an issue of concern to the public. Nearly two-thirds of those polled indicated that the Republican attitude toward climate change was "outside the mainstream" and that Democratic positions are "in the mainstream." 


This week a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in the West. The ruling temporarily blocked drilling on 300,000 acres of leases.


The hobby of birding is booming, but, unfortunately, it remains mainly a hobby of white people. Efforts are underway to encourage more diversity in birding and there have been promising results. 


The biggest spring migration in years of Monarch butterflies has been passing through Texas recently. Unfortunately, the milkweed has not yet gotten a growth spurt. The plants in my yard only have a few leaves and I watched one day this week as three migrating Monarchs hovered over them looking for a place to lay eggs. I need to visit the nursery and see if I can find some fully grown plants. 


Melting glaciers on Mount Everest have recently exposed the bodies of climbers who perished there and whose bodies were subsequently entombed in ice. I suppose that is one advantage of global warming.


Elephants are increasingly coming into conflict with humans in agricultural areas. Often the problem is that the areas that are being farmed have minerals that are needed as a part of the elephants' diet, or else the fields lie on the animals' route to those minerals.


First-year birds of some species are known to assist their parents in raising a new brood. This may happen more often when sufficient mates are not available. The Brown-headed Nuthatch is one such species.

  Brown-headed Nuthatch at a feeder in my backyard.


Canada clear cuts a million acres of its boreal forest every year, and a lot of that wood is used in the making of toilet paper.


Thousands of fossils dating from over 500 million years ago during the huge burst of diversity of life on Earth known as the Cambrian Explosion have been unearthed in China.


Illegal killing of Hen Harriers continues to be a big problem in the U.K., particularly around grouse moors. The harriers prey on the grouse and so do humans. Humans do not like the competition.


A recent study suggests that global forests are absorbing more carbon dioxide as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations increase, but they are unable to keep up with runaway CO2 emissions.


A wet winter has resulted in a super bloom of poppies in Southern California. The remarkable bloom can actually be seen from space and it has drawn so many tourists that at least one town has been forced to bar access to one of the most popular areas for visitors.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.
All that yellow on the mountains is millions of poppies in bloom.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: A review

I have not read Taylor Jenkins Reid before, although she had written five books previously, to some acclaim. If this book is an indication of her talent, then I definitely need to be reading more of her.

The format of the book is that of an oral history/television documentary. One character speaks, giving a perspective of some event, then another character speaks with his/her perspective. And on and on until all relevant characters are heard from. It is a highly effective way of telling this particular story.

And this story is about the formation, the road to fame and riches, and ultimately the breaking up of a very successful 1970s band called The Six. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll - it is all here in abundance. One wonders at some points how anyone ever made it out of that decade alive.

Daisy Jones is an L.A. girl, a fixture on the club scene of the late sixties. Estranged from her family, she lives a wild life, fueled by drugs, as a groupie to various rock stars, but she also has a voice and a talent for writing lyrics and she dreams of becoming a rock star on her own. She sings at the Whiskey a Go-Go and she begins to get noticed.

A band that is beginning to get noticed around the same time is The Six, led by the charismatic Billy Dunne. Billy is a talented songwriter and singer, but he has a drink and drugs problem like so many of his contemporaries. His girlfriend, Camila, gets pregnant, and that really puts Billy into a tailspin for a while. He's not ready to be a father. But as the birth of his baby draws near, he realizes he cannot face this little person as a drug addict. He goes to rehab and gets himself clean. Finally, when his daughter is three months old, he is ready to meet her.

Billy's was a rare (in the world of rock music) successful rehab, mainly because of the willpower of Camila in staying with him and supporting him and because of his love for her.

The strength of Camila is one of the anchors of the band and of this story and it is matched by the strength - of different kinds - of the other women in the story. Daisy Jones, Karen from the band, even the peripheral female characters, they all have their own unique strengths and they are unafraid of showing that strength and standing on their own two feet, asking nothing from anyone. What woman wouldn't love such badass female characters! 

Both Daisy Jones and The Six really take off in the world of rock music when the two of them come together and Daisy and Billy combine their songwriting and singing talents. They combine to produce the top album of that era and for a while, the band is at the pinnacle of fame and the music charts. But, of course, it can't last.

The trajectory downward is precipitous as the band breaks apart with everyone going in their own directions. How and why this came to be is the story that the interviewer and maker of the "documentary" wants to tell. Just who that interviewer/producer is is revealed only at the end of the narrative. I admit I didn't see it coming.

Jenkins has said that the hardest part of writing this book was writing the lyrics for the songs, several of which are included at the end of the book. They're not bad.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Friends in High Places by Donna Leon: A review

Donna Leon has a new book in her Guido Brunetti series. It is the 28th book in the series. It opened on The New York Times best sellers list. 

It sounds interesting and I would really like to read it, but I am committed to reading the books of the series in order and I'm only up to number nine. At the rate I am going, it will be years before I can legitimately read number twenty-eight.

On the bright side, that means that I have a lot of entertaining reading ahead of me. My pleasure in reading this series has increased with just about every book I have read. That trend continued with Friends in High Places, published in 1999.

This book once again features the pervasive corruption that is so much a part of Venetian society, at least in Leon's fictional Venice. Commissario Brunetti receives a visit from an official from the Officio Castato, the registrar of buildings in Venice. He is there to determine if there was a permit for the construction of Brunetti's apartment on the top floor of a historical building. 

After the visit and Brunetti's inability to provide any documentation, nothing further is heard from the office for months and Guido and his wife Paola consider what levers of influence they might be able to pull to stave off hostile action by the bureaucracy. Will they have to bring in the big guns of Paola's father, the very wealthy and well-connected Count? Thus we see the irony that even the upright and very honorable Commissario is willing to employ extralegal means to protect his family and home. It's the Venetian way.  

Then one day, Brunetti receives a phone call from the Officio Castato official at his office, but the call is not in regard to his apartment. Instead, the official, Rossi, wants to discuss with him something that he has discovered, something that evidently involves illegality. The phone call is cut short and Rossi is supposed to call Brunetti back but he never does. Then Brunetti learns that Rossi has been found dead after apparently having accidentally fallen from some scaffolding outside a building. 

Brunetti has questions about the "accident" because he knows that Rossi was deathly afraid of heights and he doesn't believe that he would ever have willingly gone onto the scaffolding. He determines to investigate further and in so doing he opens the lid on an unsavory brew of official corruption, drug dealing, unprincipled money lenders, and petty thuggery. 

In seeking a resolution, Brunetti once again has the assistance of the indispensable Signorina Elletra, a wizard with the internet back when the internet was still in its infancy and when Brunetti himself was still learning how email worked. And once again we get to visit with the Brunetti family as they sit down each day to one of their simple but delicious meals, all described in loving detail. Good stuff! A fun read.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Poetry Sunday: For a Coming Extinction and Place by W.S. Merwin (with update)

(Update: There is a lovely remembrance of Merwin in the NYT opinion section of March 19. Here's a link.)

We lost another great poet last week. W.S. Merwin died at his home in Hawaii on Friday. He was 91.

Merwin was not once but twice named as poet laureate of the United States. He was also a winner of the National Book Award and of two Pulitzer Prizes. 

In addition to being a poet, he was an environmental activist who cared deeply about conservation issues. His poetry often reflected those concerns. Here are two such poems.

The first is a kind of request for forgiveness from those animals, represented by the gray whale, that we have sent to The End. In the fourth stanza, he lists some of those other animals and asks that the whale add his voice to theirs and "Tell him that it is we who are important." Not a very humble way to ask for forgiveness, is it? Rather hubristic. And human.  

The second one strikes quite a different note. It speaks of the end of the world (for humans) and of how the poet would want to spend that day. He would plant a tree:

 in the earth full of the dead
 and the clouds passing

 one by one
 over its leaves

I admit I love that image of the tree that lives on when we are gone.

For a Coming Extinction

by W. S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day
The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important



by W. S. Merwin

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

Saturday, March 16, 2019

This week in birds - #345

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

The Cedar Waxwings are still with us. They are generally the last of our winter visitors to head north and will likely be here for another month at least. The flock in our neighborhood is smaller than in recent years, numbering, at a guess, somewhat less than a hundred birds. The flocks do usually get bigger as spring progresses and birds from farther south join up with the ones who have spent their winter here. 


The Guardian has a guide to America's five new national monuments, one of which - the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Jackson, Mississippi - has particular meaning for me.


An Interior Department official speaking to a group of companies in the oil exploration business last month lauded our president's skill at sowing "absolutely thrilling" distractions that keep the public's attention away from the administration's efforts to open up large portions of the Atlantic to oil and gas exploration. And so we trade our birthright for one shiny object after another.


Costa Rica has a green new deal plan that could serve as a model for other countries and provide an example of a positive approach to the massive problem of human-caused global climate change.


Male Painted Bunting image courtesy of Audubon.

The Painted Bunting is such a gaudy bird that one would think it would be easily tracked and monitored, but, in fact, its migration route and where it spends winters is a bit of a mystery. Scientists are employing tiny geolocators attached to the birds to try to solve that mystery.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) is a treaty meant to ensure that trade does not imperil the survival of threatened and endangered species. However, over a quarter of the species threatened by commercial trade, including songbirds like the Black-winged Myna, are not protected by the treaty.


The Prairie Ecologist writes about what we know about managing soil carbon in prairies. Apparently, it isn't enough.


A lesser-known but rather spectacular migration of colorful butterflies is taking place in California. A massive swarm of a billion or so Painted Ladies has been passing through southern California. For most, the destination is Oregon but some go farther north. 

A Painted Lady on lantana blossoms in my own backyard.


The fight against encroaching invasive species of plants must be taken to each yard and garden. Many such plants are introduced to the ecosystem because they are planted in landscapes by householders and their landscapers.


Vision is the most important sensory system for birds, and it is more highly developed in birds than any other vertebrate, including humans. 


More than 1,200 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians worldwide face almost certain extinction without conservation intervention, according to new research. 


Many Native American tribes do not have legal recognition by the federal government and must struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and to protect their lands and ecosystems. California is a leader in seeking to address the problem.


On Friday, the government moved to allow more oil and gas drilling, mining, and other activities on land protected for the threatened Sage Grouse. Such activity would almost certainly disrupt the struggling species' breeding and further threaten its continued existence. 


Elizabeth Hargrave has a passion for birds and for game playing. She put the two together and invented a board game called Wingspan. The game was published Friday by Stonemaier Games and is available to the public. The game's scientific integrity is based on information collected by eBird.


Mowing or pruning back milkweed during the growing season increases its bushiness and makes it more useful for Monarchs and other milkweed butterflies that depend on it.


I gave up on broadcast news three years ago. I no longer listen or watch - I get my news through other trusted sources. And here's one of the reasons why I find broadcast news utterly useless: Climate change is an existential threat to this planet. You would think that a "news" organization might take note of that. In fact, the coverage of the problem by radio and television news is getting worse. Much worse. In 2018, climate change coverage decreased by 45 percent over the previous year! By this time next year, it won't even get a mention. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2019

It's March in my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas and that means...

The snapdragons are snapping.

The redbuds are budding.

And many kinds of bees and other pollinators are very grateful.

Underneath the redbud, this old azalea is having a moment.

And the coral honeysuckle is blooming just in time to feed all the hummingbirds passing in migration.

The Carolina jessamine is jazzing it up.

They all tell us that spring is almost here. 

White is the color of many of the blossoms of spring.

Like this plum tree.

The little pear tree that we planted last year is enjoying its first season of blooms.

In an untamed corner of the backyard, the wild blackberries are blooming.

Indian hawthorn.

Ornamental potato vine.

Meyer lemon.

Mandarin orange.

And a viburnum, variety 'Spring Bouquet.'

This is a plant that seeded itself in my garden. I didn't know what it was at first, but it looked interesting so I decided to let it grow and see what developed. What developed was a mass of these pretty little yellow-centered white flowers. It is a wildflower called Philadelphia fleabane.

This is another wildflower that migrated to my yard and which I decided to let stay. It is Texas groundsel, a member of the very large aster family. I think it is quite pretty.

And then there are the old stand-bys, holdover bloomers from previous months.

Turk's cap.

'Peggy Martin' rose has been in bloom for a couple of months already and still hasn't reached its peak.

The gerbera daisies continue.



Purple oxalis.

As well as the wild oxalis that comes up as a weed in my garden beds around the yard.

The feverfew has been blooming for two months.

Winter's pansies are still hanging on.

But elsewhere new and fresh life is beginning.

Like this Japanese maple that is just beginning to show buds.

It hasn't really been much of a winter here. We've only had a few nights of below freezing temperatures, but it has been an extremely gloomy season with lots of rainy overcast days. The sun is a very welcome sight when it makes an appearance and soon enough we'll be having nothing but sunny days and we'll be wishing for rain again. The weather never manages to get things just right for gardeners.

I hope the weather where you are is benevolent and that you and your garden are enjoying it. Thank you for visiting my garden this month. I look forward to visiting yours. And thank you, Carol, at May Dreams Gardens for hosting us.

Happy Bloom Day!