Monday, June 30, 2014

The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

The Locked Room (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Each of these reissues of the 1960s-70s Swedish crime series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo has an introduction by a current-day crime fiction writer. This eighth in the ten-part series is introduced by Michael Connelly. In his opening paragraph, he assures readers that, if they are about to "hop aboard" and read this book, they are in for a great ride. He did not lie. This is my favorite Martin Beck book so far.

It has all the elements that I find so interesting about the series. Sjowall and Wahloo use the vehicle of the detective novel to examine Swedish society, and, in a larger context, Western society, of the late twentieth century. They do it with the clear-eyed irony that such an endeavor demands and they achieve their goal with a wry humor. These mysteries are always meticulously plotted and, while they examine how crime happens, they also manage to explore how a city, a country, or a society can be complicit in those crimes.

The writers show the police at their incompetent worst and yet they manage to also convey the doggedness with which these ordinary men - and they are almost all men - pursue the solving of crimes. Even when they quite literally don't have a clue, they keep pushing, probing, poking through the detritus left by criminals until they come up with some sort of a solution. Even if, as in this case, it may not be the correct solution.

The start of this tale is all about a bank robbery. Stockholm is experiencing a rash of bank robberies in 1972, and so, in late June, when this one takes place, it seems a part of this epidemic, possibly planned and committed by the same "gang." One thing is different. In this case, one of the bank's customers tried to be a hero and accosted the robber - who promptly shot and killed him.

Meanwhile, we learn that Martin Beck, who was shot and seriously wounded at the end of the last book, is just about to return to work after many months of recovery. When he gets back on the job, he is assigned a locked room mystery.

A corpse was found in an apartment in a room that had all windows and doors locked from the inside. The corpse had lain there for a couple of months before being discovered. When it finally was examined, it was discovered that it had been shot, but there was no weapon in the room. It is a mystery that will require all of Martin Beck's famous intuition, as well as his dogged persistence, to solve.

The main priority of the Stockholm police, however, is solving the rash of bank robberies. In pursuit of that goal, the special team assigned mounts an operation which turns into a scene straight out of one of Peter Sellers' old Inspector Clouseau movies. It is laugh-out-loud, rolling-on-the-floor funny and still gives me chuckles every time I think of it.        

In the beginning, it seems that the "locked room" corpse and the bank robberies have no links, but, as Martin Beck, in his solo investigation, runs down every lead, it finally becomes apparent that there is a point where the two cases overlap. Finding the evidence to prove it may be a different matter.

This story has great momentum. There is never a dull moment or a false step by the writers. The action never lags, and it makes the reader look forward with keen anticipation to the next entry in the series, while at the same time regretting that there are only two left. It really is that good.

Yes, definitely my favorite so far.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Poetry Sunday: An Insider's View of the Garden

When Maxine Kumin, a former poet laureate of the United States, died in February of this year, she left behind a large body of work that attested to her love of plants and gardening. I share that love and one of the clearest expressions of it that I have seen is this Kumin poem about her vegetable garden.

An Insider's View of the Garden
by Maxine Kumin

How can I help but admire the ever perseverant
unquenchable dill
that sways like an unruly crowd at a soccer match
waving its lacy banners
where garlic belongs or slyly invading a hill
of Delicata Squash -
how can I help but admire such ardor? I seek it

as bees the flower's core, hummingbirds
the concocted sugar water
that lures them to the feeder in the lilacs.
I praise the springy mane
of untamed tendrils asprawl on chicken wire
that promise to bring forth
peas to overflow a pillowcase.

Some days I adore my coltish broccolis,
the sketch beginnings
of their green heads still encauled, incipient trees
sprung from the Pleistocene.
Some days the leeks, that Buckingham Palace patrol
and the quarter-mile of beans
- green, yellow, soy, lima, bush and pole -
demand applause. As do dilatory parsnips,
a ferny dell of tops regal as celery. Let me laud onion that erupts
slim as a grass stem
then spends the summer inventing its pungent tulip
and the army of brussels sprouts
extending its spoon-shaped leaves over dozens of armpits

that conceal what are now merely thoughts, mere nubbins
needing long ripening.
But let me lament my root-maggot-raddled radishes
my bony and bored red peppers
that drop their lower leaves like dancehall strippers
my cauliflowers that spit
out thimblesize heads in the heat and take beetles to bed.

O children, citizens, my wayward jungly dears
you are all to be celebrated
plucked, transplanted, tilled under, resurrected here
- even the lowly despised
purslane, chickweed, burdock, poke, wild poppies.
For all of you, whether eaten or extirpated
I plan to spend the rest of my life on my knees.


"...unquenchable dill
that sways like an unruly crowd at a soccer match
waving its lacy banners..."

What an image! And what, in this week of the World Cup, could possibly be more au courant?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

This week in birds - #114

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

The iconic - and "authorized" - gull of the Texas Gulf Coast, the well-named and raucous Laughing Gull.

"More than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed. Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture as farming shifts northward in a warming world. Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil." These conclusions, as reported by The New York Times, were some of the scarier points that were made by a big bipartisan report about global climate change that was issued this week.


National Pollinator Week has just passed and there was a White House announcement about making greater efforts to help honeybees, but, as many pollinator fanciers are pointing out, pollination is not just about honeybees. It is probably not even mainly about honeybees. Native bees, butterflies, birds, bats, even reptiles and amphibians play a major role as well. We need to be doing more to protect all of these creatures that are invaluable to our survival. That includes making sure that we are not planting ostensibly bee-friendly plants that are actually bee-toxic.


The Supreme Court this week upheld (on a 7-2 vote) the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. 


A permit for the Shiloh IV Wind Project in California will allow that facility to accidentally kill up to five eagles, mainly Golden Eagles, over a five-year period without incurring penalties under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.


"Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens" writes this week about the very useful buttonbush, a native shrub that is very valuable to wildlife and that should find a home in more landscapes.


A heretofore unknown population of rare Sarus Cranes has been located in northern Myanmar.


Biologists are finding that migratory birds that nest in Arctic Alaska are building nests earlier due to the earlier snowmelt caused by a warming climate.  


The first Tufted Puffin seen on the Atlantic Coast since the 1830s has been sighted on Machias Seal Island on the Bay of Fundy.


"Charismatic Minifauna" has a post about orchid bees, a large and shiny bee, one of those native pollinators that we need to protect.


Birds that nest in high salt marshes, such as the Black Rail, are being threatened by the rising sea levels.


Recent finds of the eggs of pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs, indicate that they were social animals that nested together, not unlike some birds today.


Around the backyard:

1998 - 2014

I lost my best backyard buddy today. Charlie had been with us for almost sixteen years and he was my constant companion when working in the garden or just sitting in the backyard watching the birds. He was benevolent toward the birds, who could often be seen hopping within a few feet of him, and other small animals. Except for rodents. In his earlier life, he was death on paws to any mouse, mole, or even rat that came within his reach. In recent years, he'd just about given up hunting them, but earlier this spring, he did bring me the gift of a mole.

He was my sweet friend. The backyard will not be the same without him.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The once and future All-Star

We made what has become our annual June trip to Minute Maid Park the other night, courtesy of our thoughtful son-in-law, to see my Astros play the Atlanta Braves. It didn't turn out too well for the Astros that night. We weren't able to bring them any luck, but they bounced back the next day, beating the Braves 6-1.

They actually seemed pretty flat in their play that night, but perhaps that was due to the pitching that they faced. One guy on the team, though, is never flat. Winning or losing, he's always hustling and it shows in his results. He's leading the major leagues in hits and in number of games with more than one hit. He's also leading the American League in stolen bases and is near the top in batting average. In the field, he's only had two errors all year. About the only statistic where he isn't among the leaders is home runs. He only has two, but that may be related to his physical stature - at 5'6" he's the shortest man in baseball. He only plays like he's 6'2".

His name is Jose Altuve and this is his third full year in the major leagues. He's already been an All-Star once and he seems destined to be one again this year. Of course, since he plays in Houston and the All-Star voting by fans is essentially a popularity contest, he's only fourth in the voting so far, but even if the fans don't vote him in, the players almost certainly will. If they don't, surely the manager will pick him because somebody from the Astros has to go and who else is more deserving?

If he doesn't get to go, it won't be my fault. I've voted for all the members of my family, using their email addresses. So, we've added over four hundred votes to his total!

Voting continues until July 3, so if you haven't voted yet, you, too, can vote for Jose Altuve and help make him an All-Star again.  Just access the online ballot and follow the prompts. (Unless you are a member of my family in which case - trust me - you've already voted. No voter fraud rules apply here.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dubliners by James Joyce: A review

DublinersDubliners by James Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't really do short stories as a general rule. Never been a great fan of the genre. But I was recently reminded that 2014 marks the centennial of the publication of what many consider to be the greatest collection of short stories in the English language, Dubliners. Having never read it, I decided there was no time like the present and grabbed it off our bookshelves where it had languished for years. Some members of the family had read it and praised it highly. I was still a bit skeptical.

A few years ago, I set myself the task of reading Ulysses. It was a long, hard slog, but I made it all the way through to the last glorious chapter, Molly Bloom's soliloquy, and that made it all worthwhile. Well, Dubliners proved to be a much easier, more accessible read, nothing really difficult about it at all. The only thing that caused me to stumble a bit was some of the now archaic language used. It made the stories sometimes seem a bit stilted, but I was always able to understand the meaning.

It is ironic, almost beyond belief really, that a series of British and Irish publishers and printers deemed this book offensive and immoral. It was completed in 1905 and Joyce struggled for almost ten years to find someone who would be willing to publish it. Reading these stories today, they seem so mild. It's very hard to understand what anyone could have considered offensive or immoral about them. But those obviously were very different times.

As I started reading the stories, I found them anachronistic and had difficulty relating to the characters, but the more I read the more I realized that even though these characters lived in the world of a hundred years ago, human nature hasn't changed. The strengths and weaknesses of the Dubliners of the early twentieth century are really not demonstrably different from those of Americans in 2014.

The stories are deceptively simple tales of the everyday lives of ordinary people in Dublin. I recognized some of the characters here who reappeared later in Ulysses. I think that book might have been a bit more understandable if I had read Dubliners first. Ulysses, too, of course, is the story of everyday life. One day - June 16 - in the life of Leopold and Molly Bloom and their compatriots. James Joyce seems to have been fascinated with that subject and with portraying life as it was lived and showing his characters with all their warts.

The Catholic Church and, in particular, its priests play an important role in many of the stories here. Of course, that Church played a major role for both good and ill in the Ireland of the time, and, indeed, still does today. That much has not changed.

There are allusions in some of the stories to the desire for independence and the movement to keep the Irish language alive and vibrant, ideas which would continue to burn brightly and result in a conflagration in the years to come.

The characters are real and their stories are humorous, sometimes brutal, sometimes bawdy, often tragic. Joyce said that his purpose was to write a moral history of Ireland, and I'm certainly not in a position to say that he didn't succeed. It is an unflinching portrayal of a city and a people that he obviously loved.

The stories begin with the death of a priest and death hovers near throughout all of the following stories. Then there is the final story, "The Dead," which some critics will tell you is the best short story written in English. I would certainly agree that the language is amazing and beautiful, as in this last paragraph which describes Gabriel watching the snow at night.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right, snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon the part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Such a simple scene told in simple words, but one must admit, the man could write.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Winter kill, summer life

Our winter 2013-14, like much of the rest of the country, had some very cold spells. Throughout January, February, and even into March, there were numerous periods of several days in which nighttime temperatures fell to 20 degrees F. or even lower. This caused the loss of a few plants in my garden, although many fewer than I would have expected. Most of them, even the ones that retreated to their roots, have come back with flying colors. There were other effects of the cold, not immediately obvious, that have continued to reveal themselves months later.

One prime example is something called the citrus leaf miner. For the past couple of years, this tiny insect has been a real pest on my citrus trees. They cause the new leaves to twist and curl and look extremely deformed and ugly. During this past winter, all of my citrus trees suffered severe die-back from the cold. Some of them died all the way back to the ground. With spring, they all came back - but the leaf miner didn't. This summer the new citrus leaves are smooth and green and beautiful.

Likewise, in the vegetable garden, during the past few years, we have had a plague of leaf-footed bugs. They have been a serious pest on ripening fruit, especially tomatoes, sometimes rendering them unusable. This year, right up until the middle of June, I had not seen a leaf-footed bug in the garden. Unfortunately, recently, they have begun to show up, but at least we had a wide window of opportunity during which we were able to harvest perfect vegetables with none of that telltale damage.

Some of the other effects of the winter cold have been less welcome.

During most summers and autumns, we are host to large numbers of Mediterranean geckos which scurry around on the ceilings of our porches at night chasing insects. They are charming little critters and we enjoy watching them.

Mediterranean gecko

This summer the numbers of the little reptiles have been considerably reduced. They are still around but there are many fewer than in recent years. I can only surmise that perhaps many of them succumbed to the cold during the winter.

The same thing seems to have happened to one of my favorite gardening buddies, the green anole.

Green anole displaying his throat pouch.

Last year the little anoles were everywhere in my garden - literally hundreds of them. I could hardly take a step in the garden without disturbing one. This summer, they are rare. I might go an entire day in the garden without encountering one. That makes me sad.

I'm also concerned about another of my backyard favorites, the box turtle that we named Sammy.

Sammy the box turtle in summer, 2013.

Last year, Sammy, like the anoles, was ubiquitous. I saw him most days during the summer. He had been here for the previous two summers as well, but so far this year I haven't seen him at all. Did the winter cold get him? I may never know, but I'll keep hoping that he might still show up.

Global climate change is a strange phenomenon. While the planet as a whole is getting hotter, the physics of climate change can cause extreme weather in many places, and that includes extreme winters in areas that are not used to them. Last winter qualified as an extremely cold winter for us, even while the southern hemisphere was suffering through a record hot summer.

The lesson of such weather seems to be that there will be winners and losers. My citrus trees are definite winners, although they suffered short-term damage. I can only hope that the little critters that I love which apparently suffered setbacks in their populations will be able to make a comeback. In fact, I have every confidence that they will.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr: A review

Destroyer Angel (Anna Pigeon, #18)Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Long-time fans of Nevada Barr who have followed her Ranger Anna Pigeon series over the years know what to expect by now. There will be bad guys who have no understanding of or respect for the wild environment. They will present a terrible danger to Anna and/or her friends, and Anna, with limited resources, must find a way to rescue them and/or herself and save the day.

Anna and Paul, her husband, are now living in Colorado, where Anna is a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, but, in this entry to the series, Anna goes on vacation without Paul. She and two friends and her friends' two teenage daughters head off to the Iron Range of upstate Minnesota for an autumn canoe trip. One of her friends is a paraplegic, a former mountain climber who was injured in a fall from a mountain. The other one is an engineer who designs outdoor equipment. Their trip is to be a test of new speciality camping equipment that she has designed to make the outdoors more accessible to those with physical limitations.

Arriving at their destination, they make camp near the Fox River. Anna, who is never at ease with people as much as she is alone in Nature, decides to take a solo canoe float along the river one evening. While she is away from camp, four armed thugs invade the space and take the two women and two teenagers captive. It seems that the equipment designer is fabulously wealthy and the thugs plan to hold her and her daughter for ransom. The paraplegic and her daughter seem to have no value for them and it is unclear whether they will let them live, but in the end they take them along, also. Not before kicking and crippling their old family dog who tries to protect them. They leave the dog for dead and head out.

Anna hears the commotion and hurries back to camp. With no weapons, she can only watch from hiding as her friends are carried off. She finds the dog and manages to improvise a splint for his broken leg. Then, carrying the dog -  no one gets left behind on Ranger Pigeon's watch - she heads out after the group.

Anna is aided by the fact that the kidnappers are city boys who are unfamiliar with Nature and some of them are frankly afraid of it. The dark holds terrors for them. This is where Anna begins to channel Jack Reacher.

With no weapons at first and no food, Anna maintains a relentless pursuit. Her friends, knowing that she is out there somewhere, manage to leave behind some valuables, including a knife. One night, she is able to kill one of the bad guys when he goes into the woods away from the group. She howls like a wolf which spooks the others and real wolves answer her which spooks them even more.

One down, three to go.

There's very little mystery here. It seems pretty clear early on just what is happening, although it isn't entirely certain until close to the end who the instigator ("Mr. Big") is. The only suspense is how Anna will use what she finds in Nature and what she can improvise to hunt down the bad guys and save her friends. Anna is indomitable and invincible in the best tradition of the heroes in thrillers (See Jack Reacher again.) and we know she is going to win in the end and that she will be able to bring all of her friends, including the dog, out of those woods alive.

I've always liked the character of Anna Pigeon very much. She's been through hell and back in her personal life and in her career as a ranger in most of the major national parks around the country. Through it all, she has never lost the anchor which saved her when she was at her lowest point - her love and respect for Nature. That always shines through in each of these stories. It's clear to this reader that those sentiments are deep and sincere and emanate from the experiences of the writer Nevada Barr herself, a former ranger herself. Although this wasn't my favorite Ranger Pigeon story, it still has those qualities in abundance, and that is the thing I like best about this series and is why I continue reading it after all these years.  

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Monday, June 23, 2014

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A review

One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a good thing the writer and/or publisher decided to place a Buendia family tree chart at the beginning of this novel. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to keep track of all the Jose Arcadios, Aurelianos, Amarantas, Ursulas, and Remedios that keep recurring throughout the multiple generations of the family that we meet in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Even referring to the chart with each new chapter, it was not easy to keep them all straight.

But then there is nothing easy about this book. I first read it many years ago - in the '70s or 80s, I think - but when Gabriel Garcia Marquez died in April and I was thinking about the books of his that I had read, I found that I really couldn't remember much about this one except that famous opening sentence and the broadest of outlines of the story. So, I determined to read it again...and found it just as difficult as the first time around.

Difficult, yes, but it is an amazing work of literature. What an imagination the man had!

Marquez tells the story of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. The patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula Iguaran travel from the coastal town of Riohacha, through an interminable swamp, to find the spot where they will found their family and their town. One son, Jose Arcadio, is born on the trip. Another, Aureliano, was the first person to be born in Macondo. Still later, a daughter, Amaranta, is born.

Jose Arcadio inherited his father's headstrong, impulsive nature. He eventually left the family to chase his dream, but returned years later claiming to have sailed the seas of the world. He later marries his adopted sister Rebeca.

Aureliano was thought to be able to predict the future and his premonitions always seemed to come true. He became a revolutionary, a constant warrior against the government. During his wars, he managed to find time to father seventeen sons by different women. All the sons were named Aureliano and all of them were murdered by unknown assassins before they reached the age of thirty-five. The original Aureliano was the colonel about whom that famous first sentence was written.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(Spoiler alert: The firing squad doesn't get its man. Aureliano lives to a ripe old age.)

Amaranta, the daughter, grew up as a companion of her adopted sister Rebeca - who was actually a cousin. She learned to hate Rebeca because she became a rival for the affections of one Pietro Crespi during their teenage years. Amaranta never married and, at the end of her long life, she died a virgin.

All three of these characters were loners. Solitude might have been their middle names and that continued to be true of all the Jose Arcadios, Aurelianos, and Amarantas who followed.

Throughout the history of the family, incest is a recurring theme. Ursula lives in fear that a Buendia child will be born with a pig's tail because of this inbreeding. Finally, in the seventh generation, the final Aureliano is born with a pig's tail, but by then Ursula is no longer alive to see it. That Aureliano doesn't last long. As an hours-old infant, he is devoured by red ants before the town of Macondo itself is destroyed by a "biblical hurricane."

The Buendia family history is a human tragicomedy. The story does have its moments of humor spread throughout the tawdriness and the pathos. It has, in fact, all the rich variety of life and death, love and lust, war and peace, and all the other universal themes that are present in the history of humankind.

While deceptively simple in its delivery, One Hundred Years of Solitude blends the everyday with the miraculous. Thus, we have a young woman, hanging out laundry to dry, suddenly and inexplicably ascending into heaven never to be seen again.

Moreover, members of the Buendia family routinely live well into their second century, some reaching the age of 125 or even 145. And the spirits of the dead continue to hang around Macondo. It is a mythical and magical world and yet it is populated by ordinary people with commonplace concerns and passions.

Finishing this book, the reader is overcome by something that must be akin to battle fatigue. It is an overwhelming story full of so much detail that it seems impossible to absorb it all. It is difficult to say that one actually enjoys reading such a book and yet there is no denying that reading it is a stunning experience that leaves the reader with a sense of the profundity as well as the ultimate meaningless of life.

Perhaps, years from now, I will remember the distant afternoon when I finished this book for the second time and will discover that I am able to recall just a little bit more than the general outline of the tale.        

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Poetry Sunday: Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night

The Librarian of Congress has announced that the next poet laureate of the United States will be Charles Wright. Wright is originally from Pickwick Dam, Tennessee. Coincidentally, I was in that area at the time that the announcement of his appointment was made, but I didn't hear about it until later.

I must confess that I am not familiar with the work of the man, who is a former professor at the University of Virginia and the author of 24 collections of poetry, but he is a much honored poet. He is described as taking Nature and spirituality as his major themes. In truth, I think that could be said of about ninety percent of poets.

I found this example of his work in Good Poems, American Places, selected by Garrison Keillor for his NPR feature "The Writer's Almanac."

Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night

by Charles Wright

I've always liked the view from my mother-in-law's house at night,
Oil rigs off Long Beach
Like floating lanterns out in the smog-dark Pacific,
Stars in the eucalyptus,
Lights of airplanes arriving from Asia, and town lights
Littered like broken glass around the bay and back up the hill.

In summer, dance music is borne up
On the sea winds from the hotel's beach deck far below,
"Twist and Shout," or "Begin the Beguine."
It's nice to think that somewhere someone is having a good time,
And pleasant to picture them down there
Turned out, tipsy and flushed, in their white shorts and their turquoise shirts.

Later, I like to sit and look up
At the mythic history of Western civilization,
Pinpricked and clued through the zodiac.
I'd like to be able to name them, say what's what and how who got where,
Curry the physics of metamorphosis and its endgame,
But I've spent my life knowing nothing.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

This week in birds - #113

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

Canada Geese have become ubiquitous in many parts of the country where they previously did not appear in summer. When we visited Mississippi last week, we found that they had made themselves at home there, too.

A small group of Canada Geese swimming in the Tennesse-Tombigbee Waterway in northeast Mississippi.

Geese are grazers, of course, and there is plenty for them to graze on here. 

Nearby an Osprey kept watch over it all, guarding its nest.


June 16 - June 22 is designated as National Pollinator Week. Our food supply depends on a healthy population of pollinators and the USDA has information about resources to help these critters that are so important to us. Furthermore, the Xerces Society has plant lists to help pollinators in every region of North America.


President Obama is proposing to expand a Pacific Ocean sanctuary to protect marine life. The proposal would create the world's largest marine sanctuary and would double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.


Birds are very efficient gardeners, often carrying seeds great distances and dropping them to grow and colonize new areas. It is believed that this is how the acacia tree was spread from Hawaii to the island of Reunion.


A severe black fly outbreak in northern Wisconsin has caused 70% of the loons nesting there to abandon their nests. These voracious insects also have caused problems for those trying to establish a new flock of Whooping Cranes to nest in the area.


Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois has signed legislation that bans the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads. These microbeads can cause serious pollution of waterways.


The population of California's rare Tricolored Blackbirds has dropped by 44% since 2011.


"Bug Eric" has an interesting post about unusual beetles called eyed elaters, so-called because of their very prominent eyespots.


For the first time in 110 years, a California Condor has been spotted in San Mateo County, California.


And speaking of National Pollinator Week, bats are important pollinators. One of the plants that they pollinate is the agave that is used in the production of tequila. So, if you are fond of tequila, thank a bat!


Researchers have found that caterpillars that feed from many different plants are more likely to be eaten by birds than those that specialize in eating only one species of plant - such as Monarch and Queen caterpillars on their milkweed plants.


Photographers intent on getting pictures of Nature at all costs have the potential of doing great harm to the species or the habitat that they are trying to photograph. It is always important to be sensitive to the critters that you are trying to capture in your lens and if the animal appears stressed, back off.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My own personal Bloom Day

I missed Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (June 15) and also Bloomsday (June 16) this month because I was on the road, and so I am declaring this day, June 20, the last day of spring, as my own very personal June Bloom Day.

June is a month that is full of blooms in my garden, so let's get right to it.

Daylilies like this one might be considered the backbone of my late spring garden and there are many in bloom this month.  Here are a few more of them.

The pretty little alstromeria also is beginning its bloom this month. 

Next to the little goldfish pond with its water lilies in bloom, the Pepto Bismol pink flamingos guard their domain.  

Along the back fence, the trumpet vines lift their blossoms. 

June is a big month for the roses. Here is 'Molineux' - which obviously needs to be deadheaded!

'Belinda's Dream' after an afternoon shower.

'Darcy Bussell' was moved in early spring and pouted for several weeks, but finally she seems to have settled in and is beginning to bloom.

'Litchfield Angel'

The pomegranate is flowering.

Several of the lantanas around the garden are full of color now. Here, yellow.

'Dallas Red'

The purple trailing lantana is always a favorite with butterflies.

As is the almond verbena. Its scent is heavenly!

Feverfew also is a favorite with pollinators. Note the colorful little fly on the left.

Among the wildflowers, the blanket flowers are still colorful.

So are the prairie coneflowers.

Esperanza is beginning its summer into fall blooming period. Here is the mahogany variety.

And here is the traditional yellow.

The mixed gazania daisies by the patio continue to brighten their space.

The yellow cestrum was late to get going this year, but now it is in full swing.

This hybrid purple datura that I started from seed last year is doing well, in spite of the fact that insects really like it, as you can gather from the holes in the leaves and the blossom.

The first of the brugmansias - angel trumpet - to bloom was this one that I also started from seed last year.

My old angel trumpet that I've had for many years has now joined the bloom parade.

'Montrose Purple' vitex

American beautyberry has a rather insignificant blossom, but the berries in the autumn are real eyecatchers for as long as they last before being devoured by the birds and other critters.

Blue plumbago is one of my favorite and most dependable summer bloomers.

My variegated abelia likes its new spot under the old magnolia tree and is rewarding me with lots of flowers.

Old-fashioned 4 o'clocks - Mirabilis jalapa.

Summer phlox, another old-fashioned favorite.

Wedelia is a rambunctious ground cover that also offers pretty little daisy-like flowers.

Wax begonias are personal favorites. I like to use them in various spots around the garden for summer color because they are so trouble-free and dependable. Here they live in a pot on the patio table.



The swamp hibiscus which is called 'Texas Star' (at least in Texas!) is in bloom. It also comes in a white variety which hasn't started blooming yet. These plants live by my little pond and they bloom all through the summer and into the fall.

It's been an interesting spring. It started out dry, but recently we have started having regular rains. We can only hope that they continue into the summer, but if I had to predict, I'd say the chances are not good. Nevertheless, we enjoy and appreciate the showers while they last.

Happy summer to you all - or, in the case of my readers in the southern hemisphere, happy winter! Whatever season prevails where you are, I hope it is good to you and your garden.