Sunday, November 27, 2016

Poetry Sunday: One Perfect Rose

Dorothy Parker certainly had a way with words and a quirky sense of humor. Both are displayed to full effect in her poem "One Perfect Rose."

One Perfect Rose

by Dorothy Parker

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose. 

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Not perfect perhaps, but still nice for November.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

This week in birds - # 233

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

The Whooping Cranes of the Canada/Texas migratory flock are returning to their winter home at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Meanwhile, the young birds (called colts) from this year's hatch from the eastern (Wisconsin/Florida) migratory flock are being encouraged to follow adult cranes on their migration route rather than being led by ultralight aircraft as they have been in the past. It is hoped that this method will prove to be more successful in establishing the birds in a viable eastern flock.


The newly-elected administration in Washington plans to strip NASA's Earth science division of funding in order to eliminate its climate change research.This means the elimination of NASA's world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds, and other climate phenomena.


Arctic scientists are warning that the increasingly rapid melting of the polar ice cap risks triggering 19 "tipping points" in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe. The effects could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean and could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.


Peru's Manu National Park has been proclaimed as the world's top diversity hotspot. It has a greater variety of terrestrial species than any other known place on Earth.


Yellow Rails, like all members of their family, are secretive and elusive and a challenge to see in the wild, but one spot where your chances of a sighting at this time of year are better than most is the wetlands of Louisiana. The birds flock to those places on their fall migration.


The Hudson River might seem to be a most unlikely place for a humpback whale sighting, but, in fact, a number of the huge aquatic mammals have been reported there recently. The river has been cleaned up and the quality of the water improved since the passage of the Clean Water Act 35 year. Perhaps that has something to do with the return of the whales to the area. Sadly, a humpback whale in British Columbia was less lucky in its choice of places to explore. The dead whale was found tangled in an old fish net at a defunct fish farm.   


Archaeological evidence indicates that turkeys were domesticated at least 1,500 years ago. Not these guys though - they are still wild in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and in many areas around the country. They have reclaimed much of their former range.


The ongoing devastation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf continues. The oil has killed the plants that held the soil in place causing some wetlands to literally sink beneath the waves. It is unlikely that we will ever know the true extent of the damage this ecological disaster has inflicted on the region.


Greece frequently gets a bad rap and is looked on as the "sick man of Europe," but, in fact, it has been one of the most successful countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new progress report by the European commission.


A bird's plumage is one of the traits that signals its health and vigor to potential mates. But a recent study of Northern Cardinals just published in The Auk indicates that the meaning of female birds' markings may vary from one place to another, even within the same species.


The elimination of invasive pests on Macquarie Island in the sub-Antarctic region has meant a rejuvenation of the population of threatened seabirds, such as the albatrosses and petrels that nest there.


We may not consider the negative effects of road salt on the environment in places where it is used in winter, but research has determined that it can change the sex ratio in frog populations, thus reducing their size and viability. This, added to all the other challenges that these amphibians face, could prove very detrimental.


One interesting effect of the severe drought in New Jersey is that lowered water levels have revealed some old villages that existed before some of the reservoirs were filled with water.


Still more trouble for the endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers. They are being threatened by avian malaria carried by mosquitoes that have invaded their ecosystem because of a warming climate.


The Ruddy-headed Geese of Patagonia have been in an alarming decline, but the species exists in good numbers offshore in the Falkland Islands. Scientists have been studying whether the population of the endangered geese in Patagonia could be enhanced by a transfer of some of the Falkland birds, but their research indicates that such a transfer is unlikely to be successful. The two populations have apparently not interbred in the last million years, even though they are only separated by some 450 km.


Bolivia relies on its glaciers and large lakes to supply water during dry times, but what happens when even those dry up? That's what is happening. Bolivia, along with the rest of the world, has heated up and all of its water reserves are drying up. A drought emergency has been declared in the country.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: A review

The man called Ove is fifty-nine years old and all he wants in life is to die. His sole purpose for living, the only thing he truly loved, left his world six months before when his wife of almost forty years, Sonja, died.

Ove is a man for whom life is black or white. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. Ove adheres to the right way, the way his father taught him. His ambition is to be as little different from his father as is possible. Most of the rest of the world does things the wrong way and this makes Ove the irascible man that people see him to be.

Sonja saw the world in bright hues. She was interested in the people around her and lived to make their lives better. She was a teacher who was assigned to teach ADHD children "before ADHD was invented." She took to her job with passion and belief in the children's ability to learn. She got them to read Shakespeare. 

Sonja loved cats. Ove didn't.

Ove and Sonja had lived in the same neighborhood, the same house, since their marriage. Ove was known as the curmudgeonly neighbor who everyone saw as a bitter man. Sonja was the loving woman who everyone loved in return. And Ove loved her, too. He lived for her. 

And then she died.

We get to know Ove in a series of vignettes from his life. Each chapter of the book is a separate vignette. They might almost be a series of short stories, but, taken together, they give us the full picture of a man called Ove. We learn that tragedies in his and Sonja's lives gave him every excuse for being bitter.

As we meet him, Ove has made the decision to end it all and join his beloved Sonja underground. He makes repeated attempts to fulfill his aim, but inconvenient life keeps interrupting him.

His most inconvenient interruption comes when a new family moves in next door; the "Lanky One," a Swedish man, and his very pregnant Iranian wife and their two young daughters. They accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox in the process of moving in and, from then on, their lives are inextricably intertwined as Ove grudgingly shows the Lanky One the right way to back up a trailer and the right way to do other things around the house. Even as he struggles to evade their clutches, the wife, Parvaneh, continues to seek him out and treat him as a friend and the children see him, and draw him, as a man of many bright colors. 

This quirky novel, the debut of Fredrik Backman, was first published in Sweden in 2012, to very little notice, but it became a sleeper hit, and since then it has been translated into 38 languages (one of which, fortunately, was English) and it has become something of an international sensation. The New York Times called it one of the most popular literary exports since Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It could not be more different from than dark thriller. 

This is a sunny and hopeful book. It was a wonderful choice for my Thanksgiving week reading. Is it great literature? Probably not, but I loved it! I often found myself laughing out loud and then a few minutes later my cheeks would be wet with tears. It combines hilarity and poignancy in a marvelous cocktail of emotional reading.

Of many favorite moments in the book, one that resonated deeply with me was Sonja's explanation of the evolution of a long relationship.
"Loving someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren't actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it's cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home."
Yes, exactly. How could I not love this book?

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Melanchroia chephise, aka White-tipped Black

Not a butterfly but a butterfly-like insect, the Melanchroia chephise is, in fact, a moth. Its common name is White-tipped Black. You can see why.

This pollinator is particularly drawn to Eupatorium plants such is this white boneset. It doesn't even seem to matter that many of the blooms are well past their prime.

The larva of this moth is one of the caterpillars commonly called inchworms. (The ones that "measure the marigolds" - remember that old song?) Its host plant is the snowbush and it is sometimes called the snowbush caterpillar.

On the day that I took these pictures, there were at least a dozen of the moths on the plant and they were joined by several butterflies including a Common Buckeye and a Queen.

There were also other pollinators present, like this bee that you can see on the upper left side of the picture. Boneset plants really are magnets for all kinds of pollinators.

In the United States the White-tipped Black is found mostly in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, although there have been a few reports of them being found as far north as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Illinois.

Here is a map showing the counties where the insect has been reported in Texas. My county is one of those bright blue ones near the upper part of the lower right solid blue section. The insect is primarily of Central and South America, being native all the way south to Paraguay.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart: A review

"The essence of wisdom is to know when to be doing, and when it's useless even to try."   -  Mary Stewart in The Last Enchantment

Seldom in Mary Stewart's telling of the Arthurian legend has it been useless for Merlin to try to affect events, and never when he's tried has he failed. But in this third installment of her series, Merlin is winding down. He feels his powers waning and longs to be able to pass off those powers to a worthy successor.

Fortuitously, he finds such a successor - a most surprising successor. Or perhaps the successor was brought to him by his god, even though Merlin had believed that the god had withdrawn his hand from his life.

This story, as in the two previous books, is once again told entirely in Merlin's voice, and after a while that makes for a pretty static narrative even when he is describing very active events. Arthur, in Merlin's telling, is never less than virtuous, honorable, magnanimous, and noble. Most of the men in his immediate circle are equally righteous. Except for the ones who betray him, of course, and they are scurrilous and malicious, without redeeming social value.

And the women. Ah, the women! Mostly they are either weak or entirely evil. I suppose that is one of the things that began to bother me about these legends. To borrow from a previous presidential campaign from several years ago, it's the misogyny, stupid!

So, on the one hand we have noble, upright men, except for a few bounders who are easily disposed of by the sword, and on the other, we have women who are either weak or evil. And that, in a nutshell, sums up the Arthurian saga.

And yet, I loved these stories when I was growing up and one of my favorite movies, which I saw countless times when it was in the theaters, was "Camelot." I didn't see any problems with the tales then. They were just swashbuckling romances and everything about them was good. Since then, you might say life has somewhat changed my perspective.

Careful writer that she was, Mary Stewart rigorously researched all aspects of the Arthur/Merlin saga, and she managed to weave most of the themes and major characters into her retelling of them.  She gives us the two Guineveres, Melwas, Nimue/Niniane/Vivien, and, of course, Morgause and Morgan. 

Moreover, she gives us the founding of Camelot itself, and the story of the bringing of peace to the land through Arthur's unstoppable force of arms. He never loses a battle and he is always heroic. His people love him for it, and they are in awe of his wizard, Merlin.

The Last Enchantment begins with Arthur established on the throne and takes us through his two marriages to two women named Guinevere. The first one ended in tragedy. The second one, as the story ends, is still in force, even though it has been a lonely one for Guinevere with her husband constantly away from home and on the battlefield. 

But having watched "Camelot" to the point of having memorized all the lines all those many years ago, I feel pretty confident in saying that this one, too, will end in tragedy.  

My rating: 3 or 5 stars

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gardening as metaphor

Laser eye surgery last week put a real crimp in my reading schedule. As it happened, the book I was reading at the time was not exactly scintillating so I didn't feel the loss as much as I might have. 

I did resent the fact that I wasn't able to work in the garden for a couple of days, because before I was interrupted I had been on a roll, completing some of my fall chores such as weeding, adding compost to beds, cutting back perennials, moving plants, adding new plants, and doing general clean-up. 

Even on the days when I wasn't able to actually work though, I spent a lot of time in the garden, mostly contemplating life and the garden and changes that I wanted to make in both, and being aided in my meditations by my two eager garden helpers, Oliver and Perkins (aka Purrkins).  



They are six-month-old novices but eager to learn and especially good at helping me dig holes and at chasing fallen leaves.

Once I was able to get back in the swing of gardening, I had a lot of herb plants on hand that I had ordered from Grower's Exchange and bulbs from Southern Bulb Company, a company that specializes in bulbs that will actually grow in our area. So, I got busy planting.

Now, planting bulbs, in particular, is an act of faith for me.  My record with the finicky tubers is spotty to say the least. Often, I've lovingly placed bulbs in their planting holes and they've never been heard from again. Sometimes they'll show up and bloom for the first year, but then, after that, I only get foliage, and sometimes I only ever get foliage. But gardeners are by nature eternal optimists so I keep making the attempt.

This time around I've tried to be careful to only choose bulbs that I have at least had some success with in the past; bulbs like Narcissus tarzetta 'Grand Primo' and Leucojum aestivum 'Snowflakes.' These both bloom in the spring. 

I've also added red and yellow spider lilies to the mix. It'll be almost a year before I know whether those plantings were successful, because they don't bloom until the fall.

Now all I can do is wait and hope. Each bulb is tucked into its little planting hole along with a dollop of the food that it needs to grow. It will be a few months or even a year before I see any results from all my labor.

That is the essence of hope, isn't it? We plant seeds - or bulbs - and try to nourish and encourage them, but often we see no results at first, and that's when it is easy to become discouraged or even to despair. At some point, when we've done everything we can, we just have to have patience and faith that what we've done will take root and grow and some day flower or bear fruit.

There is that famous saying by the much-quoted Anonymous in regard to gardeners: "Who plants a seed beneath the sod, and waits to see, believes in God." Or, if not God, then at least Nature. But perhaps it is the same thing.

All of my sitting and contemplating over the last several days has persuaded me that there is hope for my garden and that gardening really is a metaphor for life.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Poetry Sunday: The Thanksgivings

In a few days, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving once again. It has always been my favorite among the major holidays, probably because of my childhood memories of the day when many among my extended family would gather at our house. My mother spent most of the day slaving in the kitchen to provide a feast for us all, and, of course, I never appreciated any of that until it was much too late.

Now, on Thanksgiving, our extended family who live in the area gather at our house for the feast. But everybody brings at least one special dish for the meal. My brother-in-law even brings the smoked turkey, so I only have to prepare the dressing (old family recipe) and the rolls and maybe one or two side dishes. And after our feast, my husband, sometimes with help from the daughters, loads the dishwasher. Things have improved in that regard since my mother's era.

We tend to think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but maybe we don't realize just how American it is. Long before our country's beginnings, many Native Americans celebrated a Thanksgiving ceremony, and, often, there were traditional prayers of giving thanks that were spoken or sung as a part of the ceremony. Here is one of them. 

The Thanksgivings

Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer

by Harriet Maxwell Converse (1908)

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.

We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.

We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.

We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.

We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.

We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.

We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.

We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.

We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.

We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.

We thank Him for His goodness in making the forests, and thank all of its trees.

We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.

We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.

We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests. 

We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.

We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.

We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music, and hope they will be privileged to continue in His faith.

We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this occasion. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This week in birds - #232

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

One day this week, I distinctly heard my first American Goldfinch of the season as it flew over my yard, giving its flight call. Another day, late on a very windy afternoon, I thought I heard a flock of Cedar Waxwings down the street in a neighbor's tree that is a favorite of theirs every year. But usually we don't get waxwings for a few more weeks, so was it really them or was it wind? The parade of winter birds continues.  


Saying that the "fragile and unique" Arctic ecosystem would face "significant risks" if drilling were allowed in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas, which lie off Alaska, the Obama Administration has ruled out drilling for oil or gas in the pristine Arctic Ocean. The Department of the Interior added in its statement that the high costs of drilling combined with the low price for oil would probably discourage fossil fuel companies from wanting to enter the area anyway.


October is tied as the third warmest October on record and 2016 is still on course to clock in as the hottest year on record. Also, among other climate change effects, Washington D.C. expects its heat emergencies to nearly double by 2020.


The goals set by the Paris agreement on climate change are achievable and would slow global warming, but they likely will not keep the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius as hoped. However, a recent report states that a shifting mix of energy sources that favors renewable energy and more efficient energy use will put the targets within reach. The United States will not be leading this effort though. It is now likely that China will assume the leadership in seeking to control global warming. Even though the federal government will be in the hands of climate change deniers, many states on their own will be taking steps to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.


BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 has entered deeply into the land animal food chain. Scientists have found traces of the oil in the feathers and guts of Seaside Sparrows.


Well, that didn't take long. Last year birder Noah Strycker set a global "Big Year" record when he found 6,042 species of birds. But that mark has already been passed. This year, Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis has recorded more than 6,100 species so far and he still has more than a month to go.


The saola is a forest-dwelling bovine that roams the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. It is rare, endangered, and very elusive - so elusive that it has never been seen in the wild by scientists, which makes it especially difficult for them to formulate a plan to protect and save it. It's a bit like trying to save a unicorn.


"Bug Eric" gives ID tips on how to distinguish between two types of beetles: the darkling beetle and the ground beetle.


Fossil evidence found in China reveals a prehistoric bird that has iridescent feathers. The dino-bird lived 120 million years ago and scientists speculate that the pretty feathers were used to attract mates.


The "Rattling Crow" blogger introduces us to the Carrion Crow, a bird with a complex social system.


Temperate grassland ecosystems are the least protected biomes on the planet. Since 2009, 53 million acres of grassland, an area the size of Kansas, have been converted to cropland across the Great Plains. This has dire consequences for the animals and plants that depend upon these ecosystems.


Cirl Bunting photo by RSPB.

One of the UK's most endangered songbirds, the sparrow-sized Cirl Bunting, has made a remarkable comeback and is no longer on the brink of extinction. Since 1989, the population has grown from just 118 pairs to 1,078 pairs this year.


Some sandpipers, such as Western Sandpipers and Dunlins, eat the diatom-rich film or slime along seashores, according to a new report, once again confirming that if there is a niche, Nature will fill it.


A new paper argues that old methods of assessing risks for species have not kept up and, based on new technology, hundreds more species of birds are at risk of extinction. 


The "10,000 Birds" blogger writes about finding solace in birds in troubled times.


Every year the dazzling display of fall foliage draws many visitors to the northeastern U.S. to view it. But why do leaves change color? And why do they drop? The "Conserve Wildlife" blog explains it all.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2016

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.  
- Benjamin Disraeli

Gardens are comforting places, places that can remind us that Nature goes on amidst all the "trials and passions" that human society can visit upon us. My garden has especially been a place of comfort to me in recent days, a place that I have turned to often for solace in troubled times. 

The garden is well into autumn now. Leaves are falling and mornings are brisk and cool. Daytime temperatures have been in the 70s F. But still the last blooms of autumn hang on. Let me share some of them with you. 

The bronze chrysanthemums that lived in a pot by my front entry last autumn were planted in the ground when they stopped blooming and now they are blooming once again.

The bronze Esperanza, too, is still putting forth blooms.

As is the yellow variety of Esperanza, called "yellow bells."

White mistflower is very attractive to all kinds of pollinators.

And so is the coral vine. Its blooms are always covered in bees. You may be able to see some of them here.

The purple trailing lantana is at its best in the fall.

The Cape honeysuckle rested for a while but now it is in full bloom once again.

This ornamental pepper sports fruits in many different colors, a veritable bouquet.

And here is 'Cashmere Bouquet,' also called Mexican hydrangea, a member of the Clerodenrum genus. It can be highly invasive.

Firespike is just now beginning to get going with its blooms.

Crossvine is a profuse bloomer in the spring but it also puts out a few blooms in the fall.

And Turk's cap is an almost year-round bloomer in my zone 9a garden.

I never, ever have any luck with lavender, but I never learn my lesson and I keep trying. This one at least is blooming for me and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I may have finally found a winner.

Speaking of winners, blue plumbago never quits unless we have a killing frost. In that case, it rests for a while and comes back strong in the spring.

'Old Blush,' an antique rose variety.

Pink Knockout rose. Many of my Knockout roses have succumbed to rose rosette disease over the past 12 to 18 months, but this one so far seems to be immune.

The ground cover, wedelia, sports a profusion of these little yellow daisy-like flowers.

Firecracker fern is covered in its firework-like blossoms these days.

The lemons are ready for harvest. There's a bumper crop of them this year.

Mandarin oranges are ready, too. We have plenty of them, also.

Several of the weird little blooms of the shrimp plant are hanging on. These blooms can last for weeks.

Pink oleander is getting in one last flush of blooms.

An over-zealous garden helper pruned off all the blooms on my hamelias several weeks ago. What was he thinking? But the undaunted plants are now putting out more blooms and they'll probably be covered in them again by the time we get our first frost.

The tropical plant, jatropha, will bloom until first frost and then go to sleep to awaken again in the spring.

What would autumn and winter be without pansies to brighten our gray days?

And, of course, I must have some of my favorite winter flowers, the sweet little violas.

And so the garden winds down its year but continues to bloom. One can only hope that the gardener will be able to do the same.

Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting this monthly meme, and thanks to each of you, dear readers, for visiting my garden this month.

Happy Bloom Day!