Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wednesday in the garden: Painted Lady butterfly

A couple of weeks ago, I showed you pictures of a butterfly called the American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis). This week, I have a very similar butterfly with an almost identical name, the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). Both are members of the Nymphalidae or Brush-footed butterfly family. Another very similar member of that family is the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). I can find all of them in my garden throughout much of the year, but they are particularly abundant in the autumn.

The American Painted Lady and the Painted Lady are almost impossible to distinguish with the naked eye (at least with my naked eye) in the field. It is only with a camera that can stop those fluttering wings for an instant that you can see the differences. The difference is mainly in the pattern of white spots on the forewings.

All of the Vanessas have a lot in common. For example, there is their fondness for marigolds. And all of them are beautiful.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan: A review

Jennifer Egan has given us something completely different this time. After A Visit from the Goon Squad, her multi-award winning book of 2011, we who loved that book might have expected some sort of futuristic science fiction opus as her next work. Instead, she has chosen to go back in time.

She has written a historical fiction work, one set during the World War II period. Such a traditional novel may seem a great departure from Goon Squad and it is. But it still features the same inventive attention to language and a setting that is so fully imagined and described that the reader feels as though she's walking along that beach, working in that wartime shipyard, diving alongside the ships being built in that shipyard.

The main protagonist here is Anna Kerrigan whom we meet as an eleven-year-old girl in 1934. She is with her father, Eddie, as he meets with a gentleman gangster named Dexter Styles on Manhattan Beach. Eddie is seeking a way to make more money to support his wife and two daughters, the younger of whom is severely disabled and needs an expensive wheelchair.

Styles apparently takes Eddie on as a bag man for his "business" but soon enough Eddie disappears, leaving Anna, her mother, and her sister whom they both adore.

Anna grows up and World War II comes along to interfere with her plans. She ends up working at the shipyard in service to the war effort, but her great dream is to become a diver. The first woman diver to work in the Naval Yards.

I was fascinated by Egan's descriptions of the various subcultures in a New York City that has been radically transformed by the entry into World War II. From the hierarchies of the crime syndicate of which Dexter Styles is a part, to the uppermost tier of New York society that his wife comes from, and the world of the military and of commercial diving where Anna battles her way through all the obstacles thrown up by society to prevent a woman from becoming a full participant. 

The fates of Anna, Eddie, and Dexter are inextricably intertwined from that day back in 1934 when they first met on Manhattan Beach and those connections continue to advance the story. Each of these characters has his or her secrets and their secrets shape who the characters are and how they interact with the world.

The novel has other settings besides New York, but, primarily, it is a novel of that great city in that period. We visit its tenements, its highbrow retreats, its nightclubs; but mostly we visit its harbors, the port of New York. Our focus is on the sea as a workplace and as a gateway.

We see the freighters docked at the piers and the battleships being built at the Brooklyn Naval Yards. We see that the local fisheries and oyster beds of the time are thriving, and the society of the area is a rich mix of all who participate in these activities and those who serve their needs. Anna comes of age in this society and we experience it through her.

Egan has given us a rich portrayal of life in this era with an emphasis on the strictures with which young women had to contend in order to participate fully in that life. I loved reading about Anna and I can't think of one negative thing to say about Egan's book.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The nail-biter Series

Five hours and seventeen minutes. That's how long last night's fifth game in the World Series lasted. It was almost 1:00 in the morning by the time it ended here in Houston. But Astros fans went home happy. Our team had won 13-12.

This has been an aggravating, heart-stopping, nail-biting series all the way. Every game has been in doubt seemingly up until the last out, because these teams, the Dodgers and the Astros, just don't quit! 

They've been playing baseball since March. The players must be exhausted both mentally and physically, especially after last night's game. But they don't quit.

I've been a baseball fan since I was twelve years old and an Astros fan for almost forty years. It's really the only sport that I follow. The others are just background noise in my life, but baseball is the main event. This year's Astros team is the best I've ever seen. Not only are they good but they are a lot of fun to watch. This entire baseball season has been pure joy for me and for all long-suffering Astros fans. But I can't take much more of this!

I haven't even been able to bear to watch much of the series because it is so stressful. I just stay glued to the Astros website's gameday feature and follow the games that way. I find that slightly less heart attack-inducing. 

Most of the news websites that I follow have raved about what an exciting Series it has been so far. Well, I could do with a little less excitement about now. A score of 10-0 with the Astros in the lead in the first inning would be most welcome. I could actually stand to watch the action then.

The sportswriters and commentators all spend a lot of time on the exploits of the stars of the game.

In the case of the Astros, that's people like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Justin Verlander. They deserve all the accolades they get. But I especially appreciate some of the lesser known players.

Two pitchers in particular deserve attention - Charlie Morton and Mike Fiers. 

During the dog days of summer when three-fifths of the Astros' starting rotation was on the disabled list, Charlie, who wasn't even supposed to be a starter this year, and Mike, who was the fifth starter, took the mound every five days and pitched their hearts out. They both ended the season with win totals in the mid-teens, even though Fiers flagged a bit toward the end of the season and didn't even make the cut for the playoff roster. But without Morton and Fiers, the Astros wouldn't be where they are now.

Charlie Morton has pitched in the World Series and has pitched well, although the Astros lost the game that he started. Not his fault though - that loss as well as the second Astros loss are all down to an exhausted and shaky bullpen.

So, two more games (possibly) to go. At least we get a chance to catch our breath today, but it all begins again with everything on the line tomorrow night.

The Astros may win this Series, or they may lose. But one thing we know for sure: They won't quit. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Poetry Sunday: All Souls by Michael Collier

Will you be going to a Halloween party this week? Do you love the opportunity to dress up and become someone else for a night? 

Michael Collier wrote about such a party and the souls who love disguising themselves, those who can honestly say, "We love what we are; we love what we’ve become."

All Souls

by Michael Collier

A few of us—Hillary Clinton, Vlad Dracula,   
Oprah Winfrey, and Trotsky—peer through   
the kitchen window at a raccoon perched   
outside on a picnic table where it picks 

over chips, veggies, olives, and a chunk of pâte.   
Behind us others crowd the hallway, many more 
dance in the living room. Trotsky fusses with the bloody   
screwdriver puttied to her forehead. 

Hillary Clinton, whose voice is the rumble 
of a bowling ball, whose hands are hairy 
to the third knuckle, lifts his rubber chin to announce,   
“What a perfect mask it has!” While the Count 

whistling through his plastic fangs says, “Oh,   
and a nose like a chef.” Then one by one   
the other masks join in: “Tail of a gambler,”   
“a swashbuckler’s hips,” “feet of a cat burglar.” 

Trotsky scratches herself beneath her skirt 
and Hillary, whose lederhosen are so tight they form a codpiece,   
wraps his legs around Trotsky’s leg and humps like a dog.   
Dracula and Oprah, the married hosts, hold hands 

and then let go. Meanwhile the raccoon squats on   
the gherkins, extracts pimentos from olives, and sniffs   
abandoned cups of beer. A ghoul in the living room   
turns the music up and the house becomes a drum. 

The windows buzz. “Who do you love? Who do you love?”   
the singer sings. Our feathered arms, our stockinged legs.   
The intricate paws, the filleting tongue. 
We love what we are; we love what we’ve become. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

This week in birds - #278

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

A Black-bellied Whistling Duck stands atop a snag at Brazos Bend State Park. These ducks are most likely the commonest duck species in this area. Every evening around dusk, scores of the birds fly over my yard from west to east headed toward their roost for the night. I'm sure they make the trip in reverse in the early morning hours, but I'm not outside to see and hear it. And, yes, they do whistle - incessantly - when in flight.


Winter in the United States is coming later and later. The first frost now arrives, on average, more than a month later than it did 100 years ago, according to more than a century of measurements by weather stations nationwide. 


Our current president is reversing protections for two national monuments that were established by two Democratic presidents. The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah will lose protections under the president's plan. Conservationist organizations will be filing suit to try to stop the actions. 


The government this week prevented three scientists from the EPA from participating in a conference in Rhode Island by presenting their climate change-related research. The scientists were not allowed to speak because their research does not support this administration's theory that climate change is not happening or is a Chinese hoax or whatever...


The budget resolution passed by the Senate would make it easier to sell off public lands. The new budget rules provide a shortcut for any bill in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that raises a billion dollars in new revenue to offset proposed tax cuts. The fast-track provision allows for those bills to pass without reaching the 60-vote threshold usually required to end debate in the Senate. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite - none of these lands would be safe if this becomes law.


The current administration in Washington made history Tuesday in proposing that nearly 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico be made available for companies wanting to purchase federal oil and gas leases — the largest offering ever in the United States. This is essentially the entire area of the Gulf's Outer Continental Shelf that is not already under lease. And, yes, the Gulf is still suffering from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst in our history.


Not only might there be fewer public lands in the future if the administration has its way but it could cost a lost more to get into them. The National Park Service has proposed drastically increased entrance fees for popular parks, ostensibly to help with maintenance costs.


The berries of the northern spicebush are a favorite with migrating songbirds and the birds that find them to eat are generally fatter and healthier than birds that eat berries from exotic shrubs. It seems like a good reason to plant more spicebush in our gardens.


Climate change could lead to sea level rises that are larger, and happen more rapidly, than previously thought, according to a trio of new studies that reflect mounting concerns about the stability of polar ice.


A half-century of conflict has finally ended and Colombia is regaining control of vast biologically rich areas that had been havens for rebel groups. Now, scientists are racing to create plans for conservation and sustainable development to head off an influx of illegal loggers and miners.  


U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross sent a report to the White House on Wednesday containing recommendations on whether to change the boundaries of 11 marine sanctuaries to allow more oil and gas drilling, but the report was not made public. I think I can guess what that report says and I believe I am beginning to see a theme here.  


As the North Atlantic right whale nears the end of a year of dangerously high mortality, federal ocean regulators are calling for it to remain listed as endangered, according to a report released Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's five-year review of the species states that the right whales are experiencing low reproduction, declining abundance, and changes in the availability of food.


A new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study has shown that Golden-crowned Sparrow chicks can name their tune in just one note – even before knowing the song. The research suggests that week-old Golden-crowned chicks, despite not yet learning their species' , can distinguish that song from another sparrow species' based on its introductory whistle alone. Clever little birds!
In a year of national disasters, from monstrous wildfires to monstrous hurricanes, many endangered species have been pushed to the brink. It is problematic whether some will be able to recover.
Climate change and resultant rising seas could mean that New York City will experience Superstorm Sandy-type storms and flooding every five years by the middle of the century. In other words, they could become common.
Audubon has a list of several native trees that have brilliant fall colors and also provide food and shelter for birds. They are trees that make the world better for humans and wildlife as well. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday in the Garden: Bordered Patch butterfly

I was out in my garden at mid-afternoon today, a bright, sunny but cool afternoon. A perfect October day.

I had my camera with me and I was taking random pictures of butterflies. There are lots and lots of them in the garden at this time of year. I had the usual Monarchs, Gulf Fritillariies, various sulphurs, and skippers and then I ran across this beauty.

It was something completely different. I had never seen one in my garden before. It is a Bordered Patch butterfly.

My go-to butterfly guide, Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, helped me to identify it. It also informed me that this is not a regular member of this area's butterfly fauna. (No wonder I hadn't seen it before.) It is a tropical species that ranges from southern Arizona and Texas through Central and South America to Argentina. It wanders northward during the summer months, sometimes reaching Kansas and Nebraska. Houston lies at the extreme eastern edge of its range. I feel very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to get these images.

The butterfly was the only one of its kind present. It was feeding on a bed of marigolds. The guide book says they have a preference for sunflowers. In fact, one of its common names is Sunflower Patch. They like to nectar on white and yellow flowers. Today, lucky for me, this one compromised on a yellow and orange bed of marigolds. 

Sunset Express by Robert Crais: A review

Well, that was fun.

The World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole, is back on his home turf of Los Angeles after a sojourn in Louisiana in the last book. In Louisiana, he met Lucy Chenier, who, along with her young son, is still a part of his life. 

In Los Angeles, high-powered defense attorney Jonathan Green is defending millionaire restauranteur Teddy Martin who is charged with his wife's brutal murder. Green hires the WGD to try to prove that an LAPD detective named Angela Rossi planted evidence - namely the murder weapon - to make Martin appear guilty.

Elvis' investigation doesn't go the way Green wants it to. In fact, he proves just the opposite. Angela Rossi seems clean and dedicated to her job and it looks like Martin is guilty.

Green thanks Elvis for his work and moves on. But soon it appears that some of the people interviewed by Elvis are unaccountably changing their stories to make it appear that Rossi is untrustworthy and Green's appearances on television news imply that the evidence was planted and that his client has been framed.

Meanwhile, Elvis is distracted because Lucy and her son are coming for a visit.

Adding yet another twist to the story, we learn that Elvis' partner, Joe Pike, has a history with Angela Rossi. She was a rookie cop just as he was leaving the force and apparently they had a relationship. Joe is fully convinced that Angela is a good cop, not dirty.

The supporting cast of characters here is interesting, from the upright little old lady who is the mother of the convict who holds part of the key to the mystery, to the slimy group of lawyers and investigators in the Green orbit. Angela and her partner, Dan Tomsic, are compelling as well, and one hopes to see them again in later Cole and Pike mysteries.

Lucy and her son, Ben, serve to soften the characters of Cole and Pike and give them a deeper dimension, but I could have done with a bit fewer sloppy moments of touching and significant glances between Lucy and Elvis. Their deep and abiding love seems to have come on a bit quickly and it's hard to take it completely seriously. We'll see how this relationship develops - if it does - in future books.   

Crais, as always, writes with a light and bemused touch and he moves his plot along with breakneck speed toward a bang-up conclusion. These books are popcorn for the brain, but one needs a little popcorn in one's life.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars      

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: A review

This one has been on my "to be read" list for months. I kept skipping over it thinking the time wasn't right or I wasn't in the mood for it. Then, last week it was announced as the Man Booker Prize winner for 2017. The time was not going to get any more right; time to read.

I had read countless professional reviews of the book and they were all raves. Moreover, the reviews on Goodreads, which normally represent a diversity of opinion, were almost universally five-star. I was intimidated before I even opened the cover, thinking that I had to love the book - or else!

Then I read it and I didn't love it. 

I didn't hate it. It's difficult to put into words my reaction to the book. It is undeniably a creative and poetic telling of a tragic story. One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the scenes of Abraham Lincoln with the weight of a country at war on his shoulders grieving over his recently deceased greatly loved 11-year-old son, Willie. But the manner in which the story is told, while innovative, seemed often tedious and pretentious to me, as if the writer were saying, "Look at how clever I am to have imagined this!" 

I guess what I'm saying is that I prefer my storytellers to be a bit less...obtrusive.

So, first things first: What is the bardo? Maybe Saunders' usual audience is familiar with the term, but I wasn't, so I looked it up and found that, in Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo is a "state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death."

Saunders reports the events leading to the death of Willie from typhoid in February 1862 using facts and excerpts from contemporary news accounts, statements, and books, as well as some fictionalized accounts. The effect is somewhat like a collage of randomly pieced together narratives.

Willie's body is embalmed and laid to rest in a crypt in Georgetown. Lincoln returns to the crypt on two occasions to remove the body from its casket and cradle it on his lap while weeping and whispering to it. These scenes are utterly heartbreaking. 

Meanwhile, Willie is in that "state of existence between death and rebirth," not accepting that he is dead, unable to move on. And there is a supporting cast of seemingly hundreds of ghosts in the same state who wander in from all over the cemetery. They observe the grieving and the confused little boy and try to help in their own slightly comical and sometimes menacing way. They serve as a kind of Greek chorus describing Lincoln's visits and interspersing tales of their own lives and misadventures.

Yes, a very creative telling, but after a while that numberless and cacophonous ghostly chorus lost its charm and only seemed tiresome and monotonous to me.

The best parts of the novel for me were when the focus was on Lincoln and his grief. More than just a president, he seemed a stand-in for Everyman - and Everywoman - who has had his/her dreams and hopes shattered by circumstances and who has been left feeling betrayed by fate, alone and isolated. But then that motley crew of ghosts would come storming back onto the scene and my irritation would mount.

Bottom line: My assessment is that this is a challenging read and I can understand why critics loved it and why the jury for the Booker prize selected it. But for me, reading is about enjoyment and my enjoyment of the work was less than optimum, so I can't join in the majority opinion.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars    

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Poetry Sunday: So We'll Go No More a Roving by Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron, may have been a rake and a wastrel but give the man his due: He could write a nice poem. 

Just listen to the lilting rhythms of this one.

So We'll Go No More a Roving

by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

So, we'll go no more a roving 
   So late into the night, 
Though the heart be still as loving, 
   And the moon be still as bright. 

For the sword outwears its sheath, 
   And the soul wears out the breast, 
And the heart must pause to breathe, 
   And love itself have rest. 

Though the night was made for loving, 
   And the day returns too soon, 
Yet we'll go no more a roving 
   By the light of the moon.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

This week in birds - #277

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

I didn't take this beautiful picture. (I can only wish.) I stole it from Allen Wildlife photographers. It is a Purple Gallinule, one of my favorite birds, and the picture was taken at Port Aransas on the Texas coast. In recent years, Purple Gallinules have extended their range northward and they are becoming more common all along the coast.  


Republicans moved closer to opening oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with a Senate budget vote late Thursday, setting off a new political scramble over the future of the pristine habitat in northern Alaska. The ANWR consists of about 19 million acres of pristine land in northeastern Alaska. The refuge, one of the largest in the United States, is the nesting place for several hundred species of migratory birds; home to wolves, polar bears, caribou and other mammals; and spawning grounds for Dolly Varden trout and other fish.


Remember those pictures of oil-coated wildlife from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? They were heartbreaking. But in fact research has shown that contact with even small amounts of the oil made birds sick, and the effects of that spill still reverberate throughout the Gulf region. 


Americans are still dying in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from the effects of Hurricane Maria. Throughout Puerto Rico, much of the drinking water is contaminated by sewage. Residents are beset by water and food shortages and, in many instances, lack of adequate medical care. 


Meanwhile, Ireland has been hit hard by Hurricane Ophelia. Typically, in the past, such storms have weakened and dissipated over the cold North Atlantic but, with the heating up of the ocean's temperatures, the storms are becoming stronger and lasting longer. Northern Europe must now be prepared to deal with such events. 


New Zealand is holding a "Bird of the Year" contest. Will it be the Kea or the Kiwi? The Bar-tailed Godwit or the Hihi? You can check the pecking order on the leaderboard here.


The beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker has been in a long-term population decline and the reasons for it are unclear, but Kenn Kaufman writes that, even in the best of times, these birds go through periods of boom and bust.


"The Meadowlands Nature Blog" gives advice on how to get your backyard ready for winter birds.


Our current president has said he is pulling us out of the Paris climate accord, but the administration is sending officials to Germany next month for the next round of negotiations regarding the deal, which begs the question, what gives you the right to be a part of negotiations for a deal that you've chosen not to participate in? Awkward.


Climate change is creating a shortage of appropriate food available to birds in the Galapagos Islands. Scientists are predicting a decline in the population of the islands' famous Nazca Boobies because of the food shortages. 


A new study has shocked scientists with the findings that three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years. This has serious implications for all life on Earth since insects are an integral part of that life as pollinators and as prey for other species.


Canada Warbler image from The Auk.

Canada Warblers, like many species of birds, like to nest close to others of their species. This points to the need to keep adequate appropriate habitat intact so that the birds do not become overcrowded.  


"Stokes Birding Blog" has advice on how to ID those hard-to-distinguish sparrows that can look so much the same to the casual observer and also how to attract them to your feeders.


The Interior Department is preparing to set aside a decades-old ban on development in federally protected wilderness areas by pursuing a controversial proposal to build a nearly 12-mile road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in ­Alaska. Environmentalists, several native Alaskan tribes, and other critics warn that the road could disrupt the habitats of a variety of animals, most notably migratory birds that use the refuge as a crucial stopover on their marathon journeys along the Pacific Coast of North America. 


Methane emissions from Alberta's tar sands are much worse than have previously been estimated, according to a new study.


The national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges of this country make up one of our most beloved and iconic social institutions. Together they represent perhaps the greatest accumulation of collective wealth and beauty in the world. Yet our political leaders neglect these lands with shocking recklessnessAt the present moment the trails and roads, the bridges and buildings and other infrastructure on our national parks are crumbling. The Park Service reports a deferred maintenance backlog of roughly $12bn. The Forest Service, for its part, is grappling with mounting maintenance needs estimated at about $5bn. All this as public land visitation rates continue their steep and constant climb. We should insist that our politicians make the maintenance and protection of these precious lands a priority. And if they refuse to do so, we must be willing to vote for politicians who will! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Paraprosdokians

Have you ever heard of paraprosdokians? According to Wikipedia, "a paraprosdokian (/pærəprɒsˈdoʊkiən/) is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part."

Here are some examples from a five year old post of mine. They still make me chuckle.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


A friend sent me this today. I guess it must be making its way around the internet. It gave me a chuckle. Maybe you'll find it amusing, too. (I especially like #3 and #14.)
Winston Churchill allegedly loved paraprosdokians which are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous. Here are a few I've collected.

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.
6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
8. They begin the evening news with 'Good Evening,' then proceed to tell you why it isn't.
9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. My desk is a work station.
11. I thought I wanted a career; turns out I just wanted paychecks.
12. In filling out an application, where it says, 'In case of
emergency, notify: ' I put 'DOCTOR.'
13. I didn't say it was your fault...I said I was blaming you.
14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut... and still think they are sexy.
15. Behind every successful man is a woman and behind the fall of every successful man is usually another woman.
16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
18. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
19. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.
20. I used to be indecisive; now I'm not so sure.
21. You're never too old to learn something stupid.
22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
23. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
25. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
26. Where there's a will, there are relatives.
And my favorite is...
I'm supposed to respect my elders, but it is getting harder and harder for me to find one!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: American Painted Lady

Free Fire by C.J. Box: A review

I read the previous book in this series several weeks ago and the ending left me hanging, wondering how the main character, Joe Pickett, would respond to the changes in his life. He had just been fired from his job as a game warden for the state of Wyoming. He had finally run afoul of bureaucratic politics once too often. 

The job had defined who he was as a person. What would he do now?

The answer was that he would become a ranch foreman for his wealthy father-in-law. But, of course, that didn't last long.

Soon, the governor of Wyoming came calling with a proposition for Joe. There had been a spot of trouble in Yellowstone National Park. A lawyer had shot and killed four people, environmental activists who worked for the company that had the contract to provide visitor services at the park. He admitted to the killing, turned himself in to the rangers, and said that he had shot the people because they had insulted him.

When the justice system attempted to prosecute the man, he pointed out that the killings had taken place in a small fifty-square-mile area of the park where there is no legal jurisdiction - a "free-fire" zone where it is possible to actually get away with murder. And he did. He walked free, much to the anger and frustration of all the authorities and the community.

The governor is outraged, but he also suspects that there is something more going on in Yellowstone, something that precipitated the murders, rather than the alleged insult. He wants Joe Pickett to go there as his representative (unofficial) and investigate. He'll be back on the state payroll as a game warden, with an increase in pay, and he'll have a free hand to handle the investigation however he sees fit. Which, to Joe, means that he can get his friend, Nate Romanowski, to help.

Joe doesn't have to think about the offer for long. He accepts and heads out to Yellowstone, with Nate to follow.

The story line details how Joe proceeds with his investigation in his usual bumbling way and it emphasizes the continued tensions between federal employees at the park and state employees, with, as usual, the feds (most of them, anyway) playing the role of bad guy. Joe does find allies among the federal employees and they slowly piece together the story behind the killings in the "Zone of Death".

The governor's instinct was right. There is something very rotten in the state of Wyoming.

Box moves his plot along toward an inexorable conclusion and in the process provides a lot of information about the history and the geology of Yellowstone and the laws governing the area. It turns out that the "Zone of Death," the free-fire zone, really did exist. 

Some of the most interesting parts of the book involve the explication of the geology of the place. Having just this past week been reading about the caldera and the super volcano that underlies Yellowstone and that will one day erupt once again, my reading of this book seemed fortuitous and reinforced some of the information I had learned. 

Yellowstone is truly a fantastical place and this book, while fiction, gives a good sense of that, as well as furthering the saga of Joe Pickett and his family.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2017/Poetry Sunday: Autumn Flowers by Jones Very

First, a poem about the beauty of late-blooming flowers.

Autumn Flowers

by Jones Very
Still blooming on, when Summer-flowers all fade,
The golden rods and asters fill the glade;
The tokens they of an Exhaustless Love,
That ever to the end doth constant prove.
To one fair tribe another still succeeds,
As still the heart new forms of beauty needs;
Till these, bright children of the waning year!
Its latest born have come our souls to cheer.
They glance upon us from their fringed eyes,
And to their look our own in love replies;
Within our hearts we find for them a place,
As for the flowers, which early Spring-time grace.
Despond not traveller! on life's lengthened way,
When all thy early friends have passed away;
Say not, " No more the beautiful doth live,
And to the earth a bloom and fragrance give. "
To every season has our Father given
Some tokens of his love to us from heaven;
Nor leaves us here, uncheered, to walk alone,
When all we loved and prized, in youth, has gone.
Let but thy heart go forth to all around,
Still by thy side the beautiful is found;
Along thy path the Autumn flowers shall smile,
And to its close life's pilgrimage beguile.


And now, here are some of those late-bloomers from my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas.

The coral vine is at its best just now.

Marigolds that have bloomed all summer continue to brighten my days.


And more lantana.

And still more lantana.

Hamelia patens with bumblebee.

'Coral Nymph' salvia.

'Coral Nymph' with pink Knockout roses and porterweed.

Porterweed alone.

Rudbeckia black-eyed Susan.

Turk's Cap.



Duranta erecta, golden dewdrops.

Bronze Esperanza with bee.

A bank of blue plumbago.

And, of course, what would October be without a few chrysanthemums sprinkled in. 

Even though many of the summer flowers have faded, we find that each season does have gifts of its own. As the poet wrote:
Let but thy heart go forth to all around,
Still by thy side the beautiful is found;
Along thy path the Autumn flowers shall smile,
And to its close life's pilgrimage beguile.
I hope that autumn flowers are smiling at you this Bloom Day. Thank you Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting us once again.

Happy gardening.