Thursday, November 30, 2017

Monarchs of November

Female Monarch visiting the milkweed in my garden this week. 

November has been a very good month for viewing Monarch butterflies in my garden. All of 2017 has, in fact, been a good year for them. All year long there has been a constant stream of the beautiful butterflies visiting my flowers, but in November, that stream became a torrent as fall migration picked up and millions of them headed toward the mountains of Mexico for their winter. 

That's not just my observation. All across the continent, butterfly watchers have been reporting increased sightings of Monarchs this year. It seems the population is on the rise again.

The real crunch, though, comes in the winter. Recent winters have been devastating to Monarchs because of a combination of nasty weather and illegal logging in the mountains where they spend the winter. The insects are actually capable of surviving fairly cold temperatures but when those temperatures are combined with prolonged inclement weather, that can be deadly for them. Thus, the coming months will be crucial for determining if this resurgence of the Monarch population continues.

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy my daily encounters with the butterflies.

Earlier this week, I tried to determine how many Monarchs were in the garden on one sunny afternoon. I counted six, but there were probably more that I didn't see. It's almost impossible to get a completely accurate count because they won't hold still for it.

As they pass through, the Monarchs often leave a deposit with me in the form of their eggs.

I took this picture of a Monarch egg a few years ago. You can actually see the tiny embryo inside. 

Those eggs quickly hatch into hungry, hungry caterpillars. Like these.

In the fullness of time, caterpillar becomes chrysalis.

And chrysalis becomes a butterfly.

And the circle of life for the Monarchs of November is complete. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: A review

Emily Fridlund creates a palpable sense of dread from the very beginning of her fiction debut, History of Wolves. We feel that something terrible will happen. Has happened. By the second paragraph we come to realize that the victim of the terrible thing that will happen, or has happened, is Paul, an innocent four-year-old child. It is a nauseating realization.

Our guide through the events is Madeline, aka Mattie, aka Linda, a fourteen, then turned fifteen-year-old girl who became Paul's babysitter one summer. She narrates the story from the vantage point of age thirty-seven, but she is seeing the tragedy of that fateful summer through the eyes of a teenager and still trying to make sense of it all.

Linda, as she was mostly called, grew up in the woods of Minnesota beside a lake. It was an isolated spot that had once been the site of a commune, but, by the time that we meet Linda and her parents, only they are left living in a rundown, ramshackle, unfinished cabin and eking out a living by fishing, selling crafts, and doing odd jobs. 

For a child, it was, in many ways, an idyllic existence. She grows up solitary and unsupervised, able to ramble through the woods or paddle her canoe across the lake on her own. She also grows up lacking social skills and unable to decipher people and their actions. 

She is obsessed with wolves, although she's never seen one in the wild. When her teacher invites her to participate in a competition called "History Odyssey," she makes her presentation about wolves. When one of the judges asks what wolves have to do with humans, Linda replies that they have nothing to do with them; they avoid humans whenever possible. That might also be true of Linda and her parents.

When a new family moves into the cabin across the lake, everything changes for Linda. She starts by spying on them. Then she meets the mother and young son one day while walking. By this time, the father is away in Hawaii doing his job as an astronomer of charting the heavens. Slowly, Linda becomes obsessed with the family and becomes a part of their daily life. She's hired as a babysitter for the boy.

Early on, Linda has a feeling that something is a bit "off" about the child, but she's a teenager with limited knowledge and experience. How is she to interpret what she sees?

When the father comes home for a visit on Memorial Day weekend, the "offness" becomes even more pronounced. Something seems obviously wrong with the child but the parents keep insisting that everything is fine. Who is the teenage babysitter to argue?

This is a novel of many themes: teenage sexual yearnings, a teacher accused of pedophilia, religious fanaticism, child neglect and/or abuse, how children are pawns of their parents'/caretakers' religious/political/social dogma, how the state rewards or punishes acting on primal urges. They are all explored through a narrative that goes back and forth in time, from teenage Linda's terrible summer to twenty-six-year-old Linda's time with her lover in the Cities and, finally, to thirty-seven-year-old Linda looking back and trying to understand. For the most part, I thought this back and forth narrative worked very well and helped to keep the tension of the psychological thriller high. It was only at the end that I felt a little bit let down. But until that final moment, I was with Emily Fridlund's Linda all the way, hanging on her every word.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars   

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Confessor by Daniel Silva: A review

Art restorer Mario Delvecchio, aka Israeli agent/assassin Gabriel Allon, is engaged in the meticulous and tedious task of restoring a Benini altarpiece in a church in Venice when his friend and fellow Israeli agent Benjamin Stern is murdered in Munich. Benjamin was a history professor there who had been in the process of writing a book. The subject of the book had been kept secret by him, but all of his notes and the draft of the book were stolen from his apartment by his killer; thus, it seems likely that the book was the motive for his murder.

Soon, Gabriel/Mario is contacted by his Israeli handler, Ari Shamron, and is sent on a mission to Munich to find out what happened to Benjamin and who killed him.

His investigation leads him to London, to an investigative reporter there who was apparently collaborating with Benjamin on the book. Shortly after Gabriel meets with him, the reporter, too, is murdered. Obviously, the subject of the book must have been explosive.

Following the clues that he has and his own intuition based on his knowledge of his friend Benjamin, Gabriel learns that the book dealt with the Catholic Church and the Church's complicity with the Nazis during World War II. During the time of Pope Pius XII, the Church failed to stand up and condemn the Nazis for their treatment of Jews and other minorities and it failed to give sanctuary to those who were trying to escape. After the war, it assisted some of the Nazi hierarchy that had survived to escape from Europe and the Nuremberg trials. Evidently, Benjamin had collected hard evidence of this complicity.

Meanwhile, in Rome, a new (fictional) Pope Paul VII has also been agonizing over this history and wants to release all of the information about what happened during those years. He wants to make all the documents public and to ask the Jewish community to forgive the Church for its failures. He wants to confess.

There are powerful forces within the Church that oppose the pope's desire to come clean and they are willing to go to any lengths - including assassination - to stop him.

If this sounds a bit like a Dan Brown novel, that's because it is. Secret societies within the Catholic Church have been popular subjects for several writers in recent years and this is Daniel Silva's take on them. He devised an interesting plot with which to explore the subject and his character, Gabriel Allon, is sympathetic and one wants to see him succeed. 

But - and of course there is a but - this is the third book in the series and already the stories seem to be quite formulaic. The reluctant assassin is pulled from the job he loves as an art restorer and sent on a dangerous mission to engage and destroy the enemies of Israel. Along the way he meets a beautiful woman who becomes hopelessly, helplessly attracted to him and follows him on his mission. He overcomes many seemingly impossible obstacles, finally enduring horrible, life-threatening injuries in the course of chasing his quarry. But he still manages to overcome all barriers and to prevail. 

Any series does inevitably use a formula and it must be a real challenge to keep the plots fresh and the stories unique. Unfortunately, this entry just seemed a bit stale to me and it is my least favorite of the ones I have read so far.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Poetry Sunday: The Beautiful Changes by Richard Wilbur

Every season is a season of change. Each has its own distinctive sights, sounds, scents. 

Autumn, of course, has changing colors as the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs turn color and fall to the ground. It has the sound of migrating geese passing overhead and the scent of dead vegetable matter slowly turning into compost or, sometimes, of the leaves being burned. One of my neighbors was burning leaves this week. While it is not a good use of Nature's gifts, I have to admit that it presents a lovely scent. 

Richard Wilbur wrote about the beautiful changes in Nature and the changes in the "valleys" of our own minds. 

The Beautiful Changes

by Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies 
On water; it glides 
So from the walker, it turns 
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you   
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes. 

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged 
On a green leaf, grows 
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows. 

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder 
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

Friday, November 24, 2017

This week in birds - #282

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

I heard a small flock of these wonderful birds flying over my yard earlier this week. They were so high up that I could only barely see them with the naked eye but their distinctive calls identified them. They were Sandhill Cranes in migration. Many of them spend their winters along the Texas Gulf Coast. I photographed these two at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico a few years ago.


TransCanada’s $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead from the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday, clearing the last regulatory hurdle in a nine-year effort to build a line to carry thick crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. However, the five-member commission rejected TransCanada’s preferred route and voted to approve an alternative plan that would move the pipeline further east. The route of the new pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude, would circumvent more of the state’s ecologically delicate Sandhills region.


Meanwhile, in South Dakota, the spill from the Keystone pipeline there could be much more damaging to the environment than has so far been acknowledged.


The family of birds called rails (proper name Rallidae) almost always have the adjective "secretive" in front of their name. And because of that little adjective they are perhaps not as well known or as appreciated as they should be.

The American Coot is one member of the Rallidae family, probably the most commonly seen member in our area.


A population of finches on the Galapagos Islands has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species. This is the first example of speciation that scientists have been able to observe directly in the field. The new species has been created by mating between two separate species of finches. This new finch population is sufficiently divergent in form and habits from the native birds to be differentiated as a new species, and individuals from the altered populations don't interbreed.


Wildlife photographers always risk bringing harm to the creatures whose images they are trying to capture. The best way for them to protect their subjects is to imagine themselves in the place of those subjects; to learn empathy by thinking like the animal and imagining the feelings of those animals. It's a matter of learning to practice ethical behavior through empathy.


An important migration stopover site in China for the rare and endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper is at risk of being developed. The loss of the wild site would be a severe blow to the prospects for the continued survival of the species. 


In this Thanksgiving week, "Bug Eric" is thankful for bugs because life on Earth as we know it would be virtually impossible without insects. 


California and ten other states are going to court to try to stop the current administration in Washington from more than doubling the entrance fees to popular national parks. They argue that the fee increases would limit public access to the parks for low-income people, making the parks not truly "public" any more.


Analyzing the DNA found in bird poop is opening up a whole new field of research for scientists. This new method is able to tell the scientists much about the ecosystem in which the bird lives. One surprising thing learned so far is that albatrosses eat jellyfish. This had not been known before because the jellyfish is digested quickly and so does not show up when the scientists examine stomach contents. But the full story is revealed in the poop!  


Rehabilitating injured wildlife offers a view into the harm that humans do to the environment. Many, probably most, of the creatures brought to rehab centers have been injured through contact with humans.


The Northern Harrier of North America is doing relatively well and is not considered to be threatened or endangered; however, the related Hen Harrier in the UK is still persecuted there and has completely disappeared from some areas of the country. 


A new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of the global migration phenomenon. Six species were studied at different sites in Alaska and the findings of the study will offer a baseline for analyses in the future.


Migration is an important survival technique for birds. A study of Eurasian Blackbirds found that birds that migrated to the south for the winter were more likely to survive long-term than other members of the species that stayed put farther north. 


The Wild Turkey of North America is an impressive bird but its colors are mostly brown, gray, and black, not calculated to astonish the eye. The Ocellated Turkey of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, northern Belize and northern Guatemala, however, is a technicolor bird with iridescent feathers, not likely to be overlooked.

Stock photo of Ocellated Turkey from the internet.


The delta plain of the Mississippi River is disappearing. The lobe-shaped arc of coastal land from the Chandeleur Islands in eastern Louisiana to the Sabine River loses a football field’s worth of land every hour. Though land losses are widely distributed across the 300 kilometer (200 mile) wide coastal plain of Louisiana, Atchafalaya Bay stands as a notable exception. In fact, new land is forming at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: A review

Chinua Achebe was the first African writer, published in English, who received wide acclaim by critics and others in the West. He was really the forerunner who paved the way for such modern writers as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Achebe was Nigerian and was from the Igbo culture which he wrote about in Things Fall Apart, his first and what many consider his best book. It was published in 1958, the first of a trilogy.

Things Fall Apart tells the story, in three parts, of an Igbo (called Ibo in the book) man named Okonkwo. 

The first part establishes Okonkwo in his village/clan and describes how he was a respected member of that community because of his prowess as a wrestler and as a warrior who had taken heads of his clan's enemies in war. As we meet him, he is a successful farmer of yams, the primary crop of the area and he has three wives and several children. He is a brutal man who beats his wives and children, but that is exactly what is expected of men in this society. His wives live only to serve him.

Part two covers Okonkwo's fall from grace after he accidentally kills a fellow clan member and is ostracized from the village for a period of seven years. During those seven years, he takes his family and goes to the village from which his mother came and lives among them. Although his mother's family treats him well, he is not happy there and waits impatiently for the seven years to end so that he can return home.

Part three finds him and his family returning home, but it is a home village that has changed in the interim. Soon Christian missionaries arrive on the scene to proselytize and try to turn the villagers away from their traditional gods. Okonkwo deeply resents the Christians and wants the village to rise up in war against them, but many villagers, including Okonkwo's oldest son, are converted to the new religion and want to go to the schools run by the missionaries.

This then devolves into a tale of a clash between cultures, between animism and Christianity, between colonialism and traditional culture. It also is a tale of an unabashedly misogynistic society that does not value women except as objects to gratify men's sexual desires and to bear and raise their children.

It is a society where many children are born, but many, perhaps most, die in their first few years. Moreover, it is a society that is superstitious about twins, seeing them as a bad omen; consequently, they are abandoned in the forest when they are born and left to die.

To modern sensibilities, Okonkwo is a thoroughly unlikable, even despicable,  character and yet he is completely a creature of his time and place. In the end, it is impossible not to feel a bit sorry for him as he sees his world crumble around him and he is cut adrift from all that he values.  

Achebe interweaves Igbo folk tales and proverbs into his novel and in this way gives the reader a greater understanding of the traditional culture and how it operated. I found the story disturbing because of the misogyny and the devaluing of children's lives that were so much a part of this society. And the tale seemed dated - which, of course, it is. But, on the whole, I found it interesting and a worthwhile read. In the end, it gave me an even greater appreciation of the work of Adichie whom I much admire.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars   

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson: A review

The last book I read was Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere. Then I opened this book and read the first sentence: "They used fire, back in the day." I had to chuckle. What a segue! Perhaps I had been fated to read this book next.

That first sentence is spoken by a gravedigger, attempting to dig a hole in the middle of a Wyoming winter. He's referring to the practice of building a huge bonfire on top of the spot where a grave was to be dug in hopes of thawing out the ground enough to dig.

The gravedigger has a lot of miscellany about the disposal of earthly remains that he happily shares with Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County as he digs and Walt stands by watching and freezing. In fact, it is a constant irritating stream of information, until finally, Walt can stand it no longer.
I turned and looked down at him. "Do you ever shut up?" 
He tipped his battered cowboy hat back on his head and took the final swig, still smiling. "Nope."
Like Jules, all the characters in Craig Johnson's books are never at a loss for words. Not for them the strong, silent Westerner stereotype. And the dialogues between these characters are a pure delight to read, often laugh-out-loud funny. 

This is the second book in the series. I read the first only a few weeks ago and couldn't wait to continue with the next one. I think I may be falling in love with Craig Johnson/Walt Longmire.

The action in this book is only a few weeks after the ending of the first one. (The grave that Jules is trying to dig is for one of the leftover bodies of that book.) The case begins with the death of an elderly woman at the Durant Home for Assisted Living. The death appears to be from natural causes, but the former sheriff of Absaroka County who is a resident at the home insists that it is murder and Walt decides to take a closer look.

An autopsy reveals that the old sheriff was right; the woman was poisoned.

The victim's name was Mari Baroja and she was Basque. Looking into her history in search of a possible motive for her killing gives Walt a view into Basque customs. He also learns of an appalling history of domestic abuse which the woman endured from her violent husband. But in the early 1950s, while the former sheriff now in the assisted living home was in office, that husband disappeared, leaving Mari with three children to raise.

And raise them she did, although the oldest, her son, was killed in Vietnam. Her twin daughters and the son's daughter survive her. Now, Walt finds that Mari's land has a methane drilling operation on it and the old woman in the Durant home was, in fact, a multi-millionaire. Reason enough perhaps for her descendants to wish to hasten her demise.

Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that, and soon the number of dead bodies is mounting and Mari's granddaughter is the victim of a vicious attack. 

Never mind, Walt will sort it all out with the help of his friend Henry Standing Bear, his foul-mouthed deputy Vic Moretti, his brand new deputy Santiago Saizarbitoria, and assorted other friends and helpers. 

One thing is for sure: Walt Longmire will never be "without company."

My rating: 4 of 5 stars      

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Annie Proulx nails it

Annie Proulx was recently given the National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about the unique times in which we live and the challenges we face. The speech is brief and well worth reading in its entirety. As she does so often in her work, she has spoken for us all and she has absolutely nailed it. 

Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…
I thank the National Book Award Foundation, the committees, and the judges for this medal. I was surprised when I learned of it and I’m grateful and honored to receive it and to be here tonight, and I thank my editor Nan Graham, for it is her medal too. 
We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending. 
To me the most distressing circumstance of the new order is the accelerating destruction of the natural world and the dreadful belief that only the human species has the inalienable right to life and God-given permission to take anything it wants from nature, whether mountaintops, wetlands or oil. The ferocious business of stripping the earth of its flora and fauna, of drowning the land in pesticides again may have brought us to a place where no technology can save us. I personally have found an amelioration in becoming involved in citizen science projects. This is something everyone can do. Every state has marvelous projects of all kinds, from working with fish, with plants, with landscapes, with shore erosions, with water situations. 
Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. We still believe that we can save ourselves and our damaged earth—an indescribably difficult task as we discover that the web of life is far more mysteriously complex than we thought and subtly entangled with factors that we cannot even recognize. But we keep on trying, because there’s nothing else to do. 
The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet WisÅ‚awa Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to a happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales. 
Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

Poetry Sunday: This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

The book that I recently read, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, made reference to this poem and, since I wasn't familiar with it, I looked it up. I found myself nodding and smiling in recognition and some chagrin as I read.

Ng's book was about mums and dads, especially mums, and about how families shape us. Philip Larkin made the same point and a lot more succinctly, summing it all up nicely in that last stanza.

This Be The Verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Friday, November 17, 2017

This week in birds - #281

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

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker image from WhatBird.

And yet another of our winter birds made its first appearance in my neighborhood this week. I've been hearing the squeaky call of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker all around my yard, although not actually in my yard, all week long. The birds favor the huge pine trees that stand in my next door neighbor's backyard.


The Keystone Pipeline had a leak that spilled about 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota this week. It was in an agricultural area of the state and apparently the oil has not gotten into the waterways. Coincidentally, the public service commission in Nebraska is set to announce in a few days its decision on allowing the pipeline to be extended through that state.


An entire flock of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrots disappeared following the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Conservationists have been searching for them since. Some individual birds have been found alive and some are known to be dead, but, as yet, many are not accounted for.  


Global carbon emissions have been flat for the past three years, but this year they are on the rise again. They are up by about 2 percent. Most of the increase is attributable to China.

Donald Trump, Jr., the mighty elephant hunter, holding the trophy severed tail of the elephant he's just killed.

In their rush to undo every accomplishment of the Obama administration, the current administration in Washington announced this week that they would allow the importation of elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Obama administration had implemented a ban on such imports in 2014. 

However, after a storm of protest, the president tweeted on Friday that he was putting the announced action on hold until he could "review all conservation facts." 

Here's a thought: Perhaps he should try reviewing all the facts before he announces an action.


A new study of birds in California reveals that, in an adaptation to the warming climate, many of the state's birds are nesting at least a week earlier than they did a century ago.


We know that many bird species as well as other kinds of animals have made the successful transition to city living. Now we learn that bats, too, are finding the city a welcoming place and perhaps a haven from some of the diseases that have plagued them in recent years. Bats seem to particularly like Washington, D.C.


Chaco Canyon in New Mexico contains a concentration of ancient Pueblo culture structures that were abandoned around 1200 AD. The site is as close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu, but recent years have seen drilling pressing closer to the park’s boundaries, now aided by the current administration’s work to accelerate oil and gas development. Scientists and conservationists fear that drilling in the area could destroy important archeological information and artifacts.


At one time, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America and, quite possibly, the world, but their abundance did not protect them. They were hunted to extinction, the last one dying in a zoo in 1914. Now, a study of their DNA has shown that they possessed a unique genome that made them well-adapted for their preferred life style.


John Rakestraw writes about two subspecies of Cackling Geese and describes the subtle differences that allow them to be differentiated.


Natural forest restoration is a lot more successful than human engineered restoration. That's not too surprising since Nature has been doing this a lot longer than we have.


Many seabirds are accidentally killed by commercial fishers. The deaths could be reduced or perhaps prevented by some simple changes to equipment or technique.


From the Everglades to Kilimanjaro, climate change is destroying world wonders. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has announced that there are at least 62 world heritage sites that are already being damaged and are at risk from the effects of climate change.


It's an uphill battle for survival for the endangered African Penguin. They are being put at risk by oil spills, commercial fisheries, climate change, disease, and predators. Rehabilitation of injured or ill birds is an important factor in trying to optimize the species' chances for survival.


Allopreening, i.e., the preening of one bird by another bird, is uncommon in the avian world, but it does occasionally happen and "The Rattling Crow" was able to snap some pictures of Common Moorhens in the act.


The colorful Jackson's climbing salamander was discovered in Guatemala in 1975 and had not been seen since. It's continuing existence was in doubt - until a forest guard recently sat down to have his lunch on the edges of the Finca San Isidro Amphibian Reserve. There he found what dozens of previous surveys could not – a small juvenile salamander, black and gold. It seems that the species is still alive and well; perhaps not numerous, but it does exist.

The pretty little salamander that the forest guard saw. Long may it live and climb.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: A review

I am bereft. I have exited the world of Mia Warren and her various relationships and I feel a bit lost and unmoored.

The world of Mia and her daughter Pearl and the Richardson family and all their associations in the planned community of Shaker Heights ("Most communities just happen; the best are planned.") have been the society in which I have been living these past few days. My sojourn there gave me a lot to think about and I didn't want it to end.

We visit Shaker Heights in the mid-1990s and meet the Richardson family on a day of tragedy for them. Someone has set fire to their comfortable home and uprooted their comfortable lives. In fact, someone set not just one fire but "little fires everywhere", pouring accelerant on three beds in the house and setting them ablaze.

Mrs. Richardson was in the house asleep at the time and we first encounter her standing on the sidewalk in front of the house in her robe and slippers as the firemen work to contain the blazes. Along with her are three of her four teenage children, Trip, Lexie, and Moody. They are soon joined by Mr. Richardson who has returned from work when notified of the fire. The fourth and youngest child, Izzy, is not present and is unaccounted for, and suspicion soon rests on her as the starter of the fires.

Slowly, the author draws us into this family's story and we learn about their tenants in a duplex rental property in another part of the Heights. Mia and Pearl Warren had moved in eleven months earlier. Mia is an artist, a photographer, who has led a vagabond existence for several years. She and Pearl travel in their Volkswagen Rabbit wherever Mia's inspiration takes them and at each new location, she begins a new photography project.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl has begun to long for some stability and roots and, when they came to Shaker Heights, Mia promised her they would stay. Now, all these months later, the two families, the Warrens and the Richardsons, have commingled. Pearl has become a fixture in the Richardson household and she and Moody are best friends. Meanwhile, Izzy is drawn to Mia and is learning about her art, helping her with it almost every day after school.

Soon, the community of Shaker Heights is divided over a child custody battle. Bebe Chow, a Chinese immigrant, had given birth to her daughter, May Ling, a year earlier. She was alone and without resources, working a minimum wage job, and she was in over her head, suffering from postpartum depression, and unable to properly care for her baby. Realizing this, she wrapped the baby in blankets and left her in a cardboard box at the door of a fire station. 

The firemen found her, of course, and delivered her to social services and social services, in turn, delivered her to the McCulloughs, a rich white couple who had tried for years to have a baby. They were ecstatic.

The McCulloughs showered their love and their considerable worldly goods on the child, whom they named Mirabelle, for a year. By then, the birth mother, Bebe, was in a better place financially and emotionally and she wanted her baby back. The ensuing custody battle had wide-ranging and unexpected reverberations that would eventually touch the Warrens and the Richardsons and change the course of their lives.

This is a novel about families, about class and race, adolescence and sexuality, about art, and about what defines an individual's sense of right and wrong. But most of all it is about motherhood, about what makes a real mother: Is it blood or is it love? The author gives us nuanced and sympathetic portraits of all her characters that help us to see all sides of the moral questions which the book asks.

At one point, Lexie, the blond, white "girl-next-door" Richardson who has a black boyfriend, says, "I mean, we're lucky. No one sees race here." That is the fantasy of the Shaker Heights world and it is not even close to the truth, but in the 1990s, it could serve as an innocent delusion. Part of the magic of this book is that Celeste Ng draws us in and even makes us a part of that delusion.

There is, in fact, a lot of magic in this book which is why I was so sad to turn that last page.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2017

November. It always sneaks past me. Barely has it begun when I look up and it's Thanksgiving. Somehow, I always think I have more time to prepare, but suddenly there it is! Sigh. You'd think I'd learn after all these years.

And here we are, in the middle of the month already, and, yes, there are still a few blooms around the garden. Let me show you.  

November is the month when Cape honeysuckle shines.

The plant is covered in these bright blossoms just now.

It's also the month when yellowbells (golden Esperanza) is at its best.

The bronze Esperanza is a little past its prime but still has a few blooms and its contingent of bees.

The trailing purple lantana is covered in pine needles from my neighbors' large pine trees, as, in fact, is everything in my backyard when the wind blows at this time of year.

The yellow lantana rested for a while but now it, too, is blooming again.

As is the peaches and cream lantana.

'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendrum is sending out what is probably its last blooms of the year.

The weird little blooms of porterweed always seem to be covered in butterflies like this tiny skipper.

The groundcover wedelia is in full bloom.

'Coral Nymph' salvia.

Salvia greggii (autumn sage).


And more marigolds.

Blue potato bush (Solanum rantonnetii).

And a relative, the ornamental potato vine (Solanum jasminoides).

The fragile-appearing blossom of Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Queen,' which is actually not a bit fragile but practically indestructible.

Blue plumbago, another indestructible.

The tubular blossoms of the flame acanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) are a magnet for nectar sippers like hummingbirds and butterflies.

Butterflies like this Monarch, passing through on its way to the mountains of Mexico for the winter.

The delicate little flowers of convolvulus 'Blue Daze'.

A second generation tithonia. This volunteer plant was reseeded from its parent that was planted in the spring.

The funky blossoms of the shrimp plant.

Golden dewdrops (Duranta erecta).

Past its prime but still blooming - chrysanthemum.

Yellow cestrum. The plant has been blooming since spring.

And then there is this. Several of these interesting mushrooms have sprung up next to beds bordering my patio recently. I haven't been able to identify them yet, but I find them quite pretty in their own unique way.

There you have it - your Bloom Day tour of my Southeast Texas garden. Thank you for visiting and thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting this meme each month.

Happy gardening.