Sunday, December 31, 2017

Poetry Sunday: The Passing of the Year by Robert Service

And so we come to the last day of the year, and, yes, there's a poem for that!

Robert W. Service, the "Bard of the Yukon," marked the passage of the year with this poem, published in 1912. More than a hundred years later, although much has changed, we still reflect here at the ending on all the events of the year that is passing - the good and the bad, the praiseworthy and the blameworthy.

Regardless of it all, I can still say with the poet:
"I thank God for each day of you;
There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!"

The Passing of the Year

by Robert W. Service, 1874 - 1958

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
     My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
     And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
     Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
     With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
     You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter’s chime
     Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
     You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
     And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
     Let us all read, whate’er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
     Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
     For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
     What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
     So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
     That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
     What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
     What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
     What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
     What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
     What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
     What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
     The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
     And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
     Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
     Old weary year! it’s time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
     My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
     And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that’s true,
     For we’ve been comrades, you and I --
I thank God for each day of you;
     There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

Friday, December 29, 2017

This week in birds - #286

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

Mountain Chickadee on snow-covered pine tree, photographed at Rocky Mountain National Park. Note the white "eyebrows" which mark the bird as a "Mountain" Chickadee.


The Interior Department has rolled back an Obama-era policy aimed at protecting migratory birds, stating that it will no longer prosecute oil and gas, wind, and solar operators that accidentally kill birds. The new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which was issued on Friday before Christmas, marks a win for energy interests that described the policy aimed at protecting the birds as overreaching.


Type the words “climate change” into Google and you could get an unexpected result: advertisements that call global warming a hoax. That's because groups that reject established climate science are using the search engine’s advertising business to their advantage, gaming the system to find a mass platform for false or misleading claims. And speaking of sources of misinformation, our current president apparently doesn't know the difference between weather and climate since he tweeted that we could "use a little bit of that good old Global Warming" to ameliorate our cold winter weather. Scientists took time to explain the whole thing to him, but I doubt that he heeded their words. 


Another casualty of Hurricane Harvey's passage through Houston was our famous Waugh Bridge Bat Colony. Tens of thousands of bats lived under the bridge and their daily emergence at twilight to hunt for insects was a popular viewing event for residents and tourists. Fully half of the bats were estimated to have been killed or displaced by the floodwaters. As the waters rose, residents desperately tried to save them but it was not a perfect solution. 


"Living Alongside Wildlife" has information about species that have gone extinct in 2017. 


On a more positive note, here is a list of twenty species that were discovered in 2017.


We know that coral reefs are in danger of disappearing from our oceans because of the effects of global climate change, but there is hope. New super corals bred by scientists to resist global warming could be tested on the Great Barrier Reef within a year as part of a global research effort to accelerate evolution and save the “rainforests of the seas” from extinction.


It's shaping up as another winter to remember for fans of the Snowy Owl in the eastern part of the country. It looks like another big irruption of birds south from Canada is underway. 


BirdLife has a list of ten birds that have been saved from extinction. One of them is North America's own Kirtland's Warbler. Especially good news about the Kirtland's comes from Wisconsin where a record number of nests were found this year, a decade after the first bird was recorded in the state.


Birding is a distressingly white hobby. Birders of other races sometimes encounter racism in the field even as happens in other life activities. It is important to be aware of this and to support people of any race who want to participate and to let those who show prejudice know that it has no place in our hobby. Birds don't care about their watcher's race or ethnicity and neither should we. 


Emerald Ash Borers not only kill trees but also change the composition of the invertebrate population that lives on the ground under those trees.


New Zealand's famous flightless parrot, the Kakapo, was eaten almost to extinction by invasive predators. A long-term conservation effort has brought it back from the edge of extinction but still more must be done to eradicate those invasive predators and provide safe havens for the bird if it is to ever again have a stable population.


The "Incidental Naturalist" has an appreciation of Turkey Vultures. As one who is also an admirer of these most necessary birds, the angels of death, I found the article interesting.


Neonicotinoid pesticides are deadly for bees. Bumble bee queens that are exposed to the pesticides are slower to start colonies in the spring, if indeed they even survive their exposure.


A Utah representative has introduced legislation that would further reduce protections for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It would remove the monument from the administration of the National Park Service and would have it managed by a newly created “management council” of seven people, including four local county commissioners and one Utah state representative.


A new study estimates that the carbon sequestered in Earth's vegetation could be more than doubled if habitats could be restored to their original state.


Here's our annual Wisdom update: The Laysan Albatross known as Wisdom, the world's oldest known breeding bird at 67, has returned to her nest on the Midway Atoll and has laid an egg! Congratulations and best wishes to the plucky bird. How sad it would be to have to report that she had not returned.


And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here's a video of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese on the Platte River in the midst of their great migration.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: A review

In her latest book, Lisa See has given us a portrait of the Akha people, one of the minority hill tribes of China. The Akha live in the mountains of Yunnan province and, traditionally, their lives are ruled by ritual and superstition. And tea. Their lands are home to ancient tea trees that produce leaves that are greatly valued by tea nerds and connoisseurs and the Akhas' lives revolve around the growing, harvesting, and production of those tea leaves. 

The story of the Akha is told through the life of one of the daughters of the tribe, Li-yan. We meet Li-yan as a child living with her extended family of parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, all of whom are involved in the production of tea. Li-yan's mother is one of the most important members of their community because she is a respected healer and midwife. Li-yan is expected to follow in her footsteps.

When she is twelve, Li-yan meets a boy named San-pa and is immediately infatuated with him. She falls in love and when she later sees him as a sixteen year old, she begins "stealing love" with him in the Akha terminology or, as we would say, having sex. 

Soon the inevitable happens. Li-yan is pregnant, but her family has previously rejected San-pa's proposal of marriage because the two have incompatible birth days and San-pa is an undesirable partner for her. He subsequently left Yunnan, headed to Thailand to try to make his fortune so that they can marry. He did not know that Li-yan was already pregnant.

Part of the belief system of the Akha involves the concept of "human rejects." These are infants that are born in less than optimal circumstances, who would thus require extra care and resources of the tribe. Such babies are to be smothered at birth.

We are provided with a heartbreaking example of this early in the book when one of the village women has twins. The ritual requires that they be smothered by their father and then their bodies wrapped and taken into the forest and burned. The next day, both mother and father are banished from the village and must make their way alone in the world. Li-yan assisted her mother, the midwife, at this birth and witnessed the killing of the children.

When she became pregnant, she realized that her baby would be a "human reject" because it had no father, but she and her mother manage to hide her pregnancy. When the time comes for her to be delivered of the child, they go to a secret grove of tea and camphor trees. The mother/midwife fully intends to smother the child according to ritual, but when she is born, Li-yan picks her up and cradles her to her breast and a new plan is hatched.

They pack the child in a basket and Li-yan heads out with her on a perilous trek through the forest to the nearest city where she will leave her at the door of an orphanage. In the blanket in which the baby is swaddled, her grandmother tucks a tea cake, a cake of pressed tea leaves wrapped in paper with the outline of the mountains of her birthplace drawn on it. This memento will stay with her, even after she is adopted by a couple in California and becomes a fortunate child named Haley. Eventually, the tea cake will lead her back to the mountains of her birth.

Meanwhile, her mother, Li-yan receives help from a teacher to pursue a higher education, the first from her tribe to do so. She ultimately becomes a tea trader and her prosperity helps to raise the fortunes of her entire tribe.

This was a fascinating story, told compellingly. There is so much information here about the superstitions of the Akha, the tea industry, concurrent Chinese history, including the Cultural Revolution and the one child policy, and the evolving of China, as well as the Akha, into a market economy that it could have become completely overwhelming, but See manages to feed it to her readers in reasonable portions. That being said, I did feel that the story dragged a bit from the middle toward the end, and there was an awful lot of fortuitous coincidence involved in the resolution of the tale. Still, it was a resolution devoutly to be wished, so why quibble? There's nothing wrong with an occasional uncomplicated happy ending! 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker: A review

I decided to take a break from my serious reading to catch up with Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges from the idyllic village of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of France. This is the fourth entry in the popular series.

Billed as mysteries, the books are as much travelogs and gourmet cookbooks. Bruno is an accomplished chef who enjoys cooking for his friends and promoting the famous cuisine of the region. One of the staples of that cuisine is foie gras and that plays an important role in this story.

First, one has to be aware that Chief of Police Bruno tries never to arrest anybody. He always tries to mediate disputes which arise within his jurisdiction, and that is mainly the kind of action which the police get there. Petty disputes.

In this book, the dispute is between the local farmers who produce the birds for foie gras and animal rights activists, including PETA. There is also a new and inexperienced magistrate assigned to the area and she is a vegetarian and is hostile to the whole idea of force-feeding animals. At one point, one of the characters smugly (a lot of the characters in these books are smug, including Bruno) explains:
Kasimir grinned. “If there’s any cruelty, blame Mother Nature. Ducks and geese always stuff themselves to swell their livers before they fly off on winter migration. That’s how they store their energy. Everybody knows that.” From the look on Teddy’s face, it didn’t appear to Bruno that he knew that gavage, the force-feeding of the birds, was also a natural process. He glanced at Annette. She also looked surprised. 
One could point out that those ducks and geese are eating as much as they can to provide the energy that they need to survive the long autumn migration and they are eating naturally when they do so. They are not having their beaks forced open and food shoved down their gullets. Also, another character states that the farmers take care to do "minimal" injury to the gullets of the birds which they force feed, and I had to wonder just how much injury a human considers "minimal" to a bird's gullet and how does he judge that.

Sorry, Kasimir and Bruno, I'm with Annette and PETA on this one. I won't be ordering up any foie gras.

But that is an aside. The main action in this book involves the ETA, Basque terrorist group, and an archaeological dig on a St. Denis property.

This area is the location of many important finds related to Neanderthal and Cro Magnon groups and the dig described here is searching for evidence of interaction and possible interbreeding between those groups. It looks very promising. Then one of the students working with the archeologists digs up a body that is definitely not a Neanderthal or a Cro Magnon. It's a body of a man who has been in the ground for perhaps twenty-five years. He had his hands tied behind his back and had been shot in the head. Bruno and the other police authorities suspect it was an execution by the ETA.

Serendipitously, there is a meeting scheduled in St. Denis between French and Spanish authorities to discuss Basque terrorism on their border and how to deal with it. Will the ETA try to disrupt that meeting? Bruno and his cohorts must plan for the worst case scenario.

This series provides pleasant enough reads. I do enjoy the travelog aspects and, in general, the descriptions of food, but I do get rather irritated with some of the smugness of certain characters and with Bruno's dithering over his love life. Women seem to be constantly falling over themselves to seduce him. Which one will he choose? As someone else noted in their review, he reminds me of no one so much as Stephanie Plum wringing her hands over having to choose between Ranger and Joe. I got so irritated with her I finally had to stop reading that series. Not there yet with Bruno, but be forewarned, Martin Walker!

My rating: 3 of 5 stars    

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Joy to you

Happy Winter Solstice! The shortest day of the year. It's good to know that after today, each day will get just a little lighter. I choose to see that as a metaphor for our future.

Blogging will be sporadic - more likely nonexistent - over the next week as we entertain out of town guests and celebrate the holiday season with friends and family.

Whatever holidays you celebrate at this time of year, may your days be filled with joy, peace, and love.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: A review

Nadia and Saeed are a young couple living in an unnamed city in an unnamed country in an unnamed part of the world. They are also living in an unspecified time, although it is a time when social media and the internet are integral parts of their lives and when drones hover in the air spying on the happenings below. The place where they live is about to be riven by conflict between militants and the government, a most uncivil war.

The reader is left with the impression that their home is somewhere in the Middle East, although truthfully, for all we know, it could just as easily be Detroit or Memphis or Des Moines. We do know that the two have brown skin and that Saeed is a committed Muslim who prays regularly and that Nadia is independent and non-religious, although she wears the black robe of a Muslim woman as a kind of disguise.

I think all of this non-specificity is meant to make the characters into kind of Everypersons, someone with whom every reader can identify. There is also a surreal and magical realism element to their story, all of which made it a bit difficult for me to...assimilate. But in the end, I felt it all worked pretty well and my frustration with some of the vagueness of the story was secondary to the fact that I felt empathy for the characters and through them I was perhaps better able to understand the plight of refugees.

For this story is about refugees and the mass migration of people from one area of the world to another because of political and religious conflicts, as well as for economic and climate reasons. The device which the author uses to get his refugees from one place to another is one of the aforementioned magic realism elements - a kind a magic door which they pass through.

Saeed and Nadia originally pass through one of the doors in their city and end up on the Greek island of Mykonos, where they live for a time in a crowded camp of other refugees from various parts of the world. Later they pass through another magic door and come to London. Once again they are in a community of world refugees, a community that is resented and hated by nativists who harass and try to push them out. In time, an agreement is worked out to allow the refugees to live their lives and to receive some minimal support and assistance from the government.

Soon, however, Nadia and Saeed again grow restive as they also seem to be growing apart and they decide to try door number three. This time they find themselves in Marin, California. They set about making lives for themselves there but continue to grow apart and to pursue different directions in their lives.

This is a story that is drenched in sadness and loss, but is also hopeful as the migrant refugees keep overcoming barriers and striving toward something better for themselves. It sympathetically explores the contemporary migrant experience that is so much a part of our world. There is much violence and bloodshed in the story but it mostly occurs offstage so we only hear about it second-hand. It was a story that gave me much to contemplate and left me to acknowledge the truth of a couple of lines from the book:
“We are all migrants through time.” 
“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A review

"A woman's lot is to suffer," seems to be the philosophy of life of Yangjin, the matriarch of the Korean family that we meet in Min Jin Lee's novel. It's a philosophy that she repeats often to various characters, especially to her daughter, Sunja, and it's a philosophy that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for all the women in succeeding generations of her family. Boy, do they suffer!

They suffer, but they are tough, and through it all, they persevere, accepting and never seriously questioning the cards that fate has dealt them. In fact, in their lives, there is little time for questioning. They are too busy working to eke out a living for themselves and their families.

Pachinko tells the story of this ordinary and honorable family. It's a story that begins in Yeongdo, a fishing village near the southern tip of Korea, in the early 20th century. It starts with the arranged marriage of the aforementioned Yangjin to Hoonie, a young man with a club foot and cleft palate and therefore not a likely candidate for a brilliant marriage. But this marriage works out well. The partners grow to love each other, are respected in their community, and they produce a beloved daughter, Sunja.

After Hoonie dies prematurely, Yangjin and her daughter keep a boardinghouse, and one day a handsome young Presbyterian minister stops to rent a space. It turns out that he is quite ill and the family and their two women helpers nurse him back to a semblance of health.

Meantime, 16-year-old Sunja has become infatuated and has an affair with a dealer in the local market, who turns out to be married and is a well-connected member of the Yakuza, the Japanese gangsters. Inevitably, she becomes pregnant, at which point her lover reveals to her that he is married and has three daughters in Japan. He offers to buy a house for her and her mother and to maintain them there, but Sunja is mortified and runs away from the relationship.

For a young unmarried Korean girl in the 1930s to be pregnant was a major scandal. It would be the ruination of her family. 

Sunja confides in her mother and her mother, in turn, talks to her boarder, Isak, the Presbyterian minister, about her situation. Isak, in gratitude for all they have done for him, offers to marry the girl and take her with him to Osaka where they will live in his brother's house and where he has a position as a pastor. This is how they come to be immigrants in Japan during this fraught period of history.

Korean immigrants in Japan are looked upon as little more than vermin by the Japanese. They are discriminated against and shut out of virtually all traditional occupations. In order to survive, they have to devise non-traditional ways of earning a living. For Sunja and her sister-in-law, this involves the making of kimchi and later other kinds of foodstuffs and selling them in the local market. Eventually, Sunja's two sons, the one whose father was a Yakuza and the one whose father is Isak, will find another way.

Pachinko is a kind of pinball-like game that is ubiquitous and vastly popular in Japan and the pachinko parlors do not balk at hiring Koreans. First, Sunja's younger son, Mozasu, and later, after he drops out of university, her older son, Noa, find work in such parlors. Both are adept and hard-working and the pachinko parlors become the means of raising the family out of poverty.

It was interesting to read of the Japanese culture and the Korean culture in Japan of this period, just before, during, and after World War II and on through the late 1980s. The discrimination against Koreans did not relent. Even though Sunja's children and grandchildren were born in Japan, they were not considered citizens of Japan. They were required to apply for alien registration cards every three years and were rarely granted passports so that it was almost impossible for them to travel out of the country. (Still, I suppose that is gentler treatment than they would receive in Trumplandia where they would be summarily deported.)   

This is a big novel that covers a lot of different themes including Japan's colonization of Korea in the early 20th century, World War II as it was experienced in East Asia, the coming of Christianity to the area, and the changing role of women, to name a few. But the narrative is propelled through time and history by the tumultuous lives of its characters; one might even say the heroic lives of its characters. As one of those characters observes:
“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage” 
Indeed. Min Jin Lee has shown us that courage quietly and beautifully with this novel.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Poetry Sunday: Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man by Alice N. Persons

I have featured this poem here before, but it was several years ago and I think my readership may have changed during the interim. At any rate, as I watched the busy UPS man - and sometimes woman - going up and down my street and often stopping at my house on his/her rounds last week, it brought the poem to mind once again. What would we online shoppers ever do without our UPS and FedEx men? Is it any wonder that we have a crush on them?

Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man 
by Alice N. Persons
you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you’re like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present
(why, it’s just what I’ve always wanted!)
and then is considerate enough to go away
oh, UPS Man, let’s hop in your clean brown truck and elope!
ditch your job, I’ll ditch mine
let’s hit the road for Brownsville
and tempt each other
with all the luscious brown foods—
roast beef, dark chocolate,
brownies, Guinness, homemade pumpernickel, molasses cookies
I’ll make you my mama’s bourbon pecan pie
we’ll give all the packages to kind looking strangers
live in a cozy wood cabin
with a brown dog or two
and a black and brown tabby
I’m serious, UPS Man. Let’s do it.
Where do I sign?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

This week in birds - #285

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

I photographed this Black-billed Magpie on a snow-covered pine tree in Rocky Mountain National Park a few years back. Over in Australia, this bird's cousin, the Australian Magpie, has been voted the Bird of the Year, beating out the early favorite, the White Ibis, and the Kookaburra. The winner was not without controversy. Apparently, Australians take this vote seriously!


In addition to drastically increasing the fees to get into national parks, the National Park Service, under the direction of the current administration in Washington, will reduce the number of free days available to visitors in 2018. In 2016, there were 16 free days. In 2018, there will be just four: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 15), the first day of National Park Week (April 21), National Public Lands Day (September 22), and Veterans Day (November 11).  


New research has confirmed that the unprecedented deluge created by Hurricane Harvey as it hit Southeast Texas in late August was made three times more likely by climate change. The resultant catastrophic flooding left 80 dead and 800,000 in need of assistance, which has arrived at a glacial pace. Recovery continues.


Yes, it's that time of year again. Time for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. It takes place from December 14 through January 5 and you can participate! Just go to the Audubon website to find out how.


Golden Eagles are practically extinct in northern England after decades of persecution by gamekeepers, the spread of commercial conifer forests, and inadequate food supplies. There are none in Wales. Birds are being released by conservationists in Scotland in hopes that some will spread out and fly south to repopulate those eagle-less areas. They are being released at a secret location south of Edinburgh.


Research published in Science Advances on Wednesday details some of the detrimental effects that living near hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites has on human populations. For example, researchers found that pregnant women who lived within two miles of such sites are more likely to give birth to babies of low birth weight and that have more health issues.  


On Monday, the National Butterfly Center filed a lawsuit in Washington D.C. against the Department of Homeland Security demanding that it conduct federally required environmental assessments, and follow the constitution and legal due process before attempting to build a border wall through the 100-acre nature and wildlife sanctuary in South Texas. (Knowing how this administration works, they probably now will change - by executive order, of course - what federal environmental assessments are required.) The Butterfly Center is home to several endangered species besides all the butterflies.

Seabirds nesting in Alaska are having a harder and harder time finding food for and raising their chicks because of the effects of climate change. The question becomes, can these seabirds adapt fast enough to survive a melting arctic?

In Peru, a previously unknown species of antbird has been discovered and documented. It is called the Cordillera Azul Antbird. It lives in the outlying Andean ridges and, like other birds there, is threatened by loss of habitat.

Scientists have identified two million species of living things. Nobody knows how many more of them are out there, but it is likely that tens of thousands, mainly insects, may be vanishing before we've even had a chance to meet and get to know them.

Another consequence of climate change may be changing wind patterns which could significantly weaken the winds available to wind farms in North American and Europe but may strengthen the winds in Australia.

Scientists have discovered the fossil remains of an ancient giant penguin with a body length of about 5.8 feet that roamed the waters off New Zealand soon after the dinosaurs’ demise. Kumimanu biceae, newly described in the journal Nature Communications, is one of the oldest penguin species yet found.


Never let it be said that there isn't money in birds! Early in 2017, a single Black-backed Oriole showed up in rural Pennsylvania, about 5000 kilometers from its usual home in Mexico. A recent study by a Sydney team of researchers was able to quantify the economic impact of the vagrant bird on the area. It was worth an estimated $223,851 to the economy from bird watchers from all over flocking to see it.


Cooper's Hawks are able to survive and thrive in urban settings. An examination of the population dynamics of these birds in urban Albuquerque, New Mexico, found that they were not just thriving but were out-competing their rural neighbors and pushing them out of their nest sites.


From the department of Ewww!: Researchers in Japan have documented interspecies sexual interaction between snow monkeys and sika deer. They say it may be a "new behavioral tradition," but I say it's just "Ewww!"


Finally, here's a link to the winners of the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition. The pictures are just glorious - definitely worth a click. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2017

For the first seven days of December, my garden was still full of blooms and butterflies.

Blooms like these brugmansias.

And the Cape honeysuckle.

The bright marigolds.

And butterflies like this Tropical Checkered Skipper.

Then, last Friday morning, we woke up to this:  

The snow was just a memory by mid-day, but the next night temperatures dropped below freezing. That put paid to about 99% of the flowers in my garden and I've hardly seen a butterfly since. 

Here is what is left:

A few late chrysanthemums.

Some orphan marigold blossoms that were in a somewhat protected spot.

More orphans.

Of course, my antique rose bush, 'Old Blush,' can always be counted on to have a few blossoms.

As can the 'Darcy Bussell' rose.

The blossoms of the shrimp plant got a bit bitten but survived the freeze.

As did a few stray wedelia blossoms. This one was growing next to one of my rain barrels and got some protection from that.

And in the wildflower bed, this plant never missed a beat. It has been in bloom for several weeks and I've tried repeatedly to identify it, but I've been unsuccessful. It grew from a packet of mixed wildflower seeds that I planted. It's a low-growing, sprawling plant. The leaves and the flowers look as though it might be a member of the milkweed family, but that's just a guess.  

Here's a closer look. What do you think?

The loquat had just started to bloom and was unaffected by the freeze.

But, truthfully, much of my garden looks like this black and shriveled Hamelia shrub now.

But there is hope. The Carolina jessamine is full of buds and they'll be opening over the next several weeks to brighten my winter.

I hope your winter and your holidays are bright. Thank you for visiting my garden today and thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting this monthly meme.

Happy holidays and happy gardening. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson: A review

Maybe there is time to sneak in another guilty pleasure book before the end of 2017. After all, it's not like I have a queue full of award-winning current literary books that I need to finish. Oh. Wait.

Well, anyway, I also had this third Craig Johnson book in my queue, so I might as well tick that box, right? Problem is, this one turned out to be more guilty than pleasure.

The premise is that Sheriff Walt Longmire and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, along with Dog, take a road trip in Henry's baby blue classic Thunderbird convertible. They head out to Philadelphia where Henry is to exhibit some of his historical photographs at a museum and Walt is to visit his daughter, Cady, the Philadelphia lawyer, and Dog is to, well, be a dog.

They arrive in the big city, where Walt is met at Cady's apartment by his deputy, Victoria Moretti's mother, Lena. (Vic, you see, is originally a Philadelphia girl and all of her male relatives - her father and various brothers - are in the police force there.) Before Walt even gets to see Cady, she is assaulted and suffers serious injuries that result in a subdural hematoma that leaves her in a coma and with an uncertain future. 

The rest of the book is spent with Walt waiting for Cady to wake up and trying to determine the motive for the attack on her and who did it. In this endeavor, he is assisted by the Philadelphia police, particularly the Moretti boys, and, of course, Henry.

The reason for the attack and for subsequent deaths, as bodies start dropping all over the place, turns out to be quite complicated and the logic not that easy to follow. Moreover, the things that I really like about this series - the humor, the description of the Wyoming setting and the relationships between the regular cast of characters there - are mostly missing from this entry. Vic does eventually show up in Philadelphia but it would have been better if she'd stayed in Wyoming.

Plus, it just seemed very unbelievable to me that the Philadelphia police would simply defer to this unknown sheriff from Wyoming in the investigation, even if the Morettis do vouch for him. And Walt and Henry charge around the city like natives, finding their way with no difficulty. That hasn't been my experience with unfamiliar cities. 

About halfway through this book, the whole thing just went off the rails for me. It started reading like a romance novel instead of a mystery/thriller. It was extremely awkward and offputting and felt wrong, and the plot never recovered as far as I was concerned. 

This was definitely my least favorite of the Walt Longmire books I've read so far. I know Johnson is capable of better than this. Let's hope he achieves it with the next book.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars   

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Poetry Sunday: The History of Red by Linda Hogan

This past week I was inspired to look at poetry written by Native Americans and that is how I came to meet Linda Hogan.

Hogan is an award-winning, much-honored Chickasaw essayist, novelist, poet, environmentalist and eco-feminist. Her writings reflect her political and spiritual concerns and often deal with the environment, with historical narratives including oral histories, and with the relocation of Native Americans.

I came across this poem of hers which I particularly liked. It resonated with me, I think, because I grew up in the red clay hills of Northeast Mississippi, part of the ancestral home of the Chickasaws. Red clay like "the human clay whose blood we still carry." I hope you will find it meaningful, too.  

The History of Red

by Linda Hogan

there was some other order of things
never spoken
but in dreams of darkest creation.

Then there was black earth,
lake, the face of light on water.
Then the thick forest all around
that light,
and then the human clay
whose blood we still carry
rose up in us
who remember caves with red bison
painted in their own blood,
after their kind.

A wildness
swam inside our mothers,
desire through closed eyes,
a new child
wearing the red, wet mask of birth,
delivered into this land
already wounded,
stolen and burned
beyond reckoning.

Red is this yielding land
turned inside out
by a country of hunters
with iron, flint and fire.
Red is the fear
that turns a knife back
against men, holds it at their throats,
and they cannot see the claw on the handle,
the animal hand
that haunts them
from some place inside their blood.

So that is hunting, birth,
and one kind of death.
Then there was medicine, the healing of wounds.
Red was the infinite fruit
of stolen bodies.
The doctors wanted to know
what invented disease
how wounds healed
from inside themselves
how life stands up in skin,
if not by magic.

They divined the red shadows of leeches
that swam in white bowls of water:
they believed stars
in the cup of sky.
They cut the wall of skin
to let
what was bad escape
but they were reading the story of fire
gone out
and that was a science.

As for the animal hand on death’s knife,
knives have as many sides
as the red father of war
who signs his name
in the blood of other men.

And red was the soldier
who crawled
through a ditch
of human blood in order to live.
It was the canal of his deliverance.
It is his son who lives near me.
Red is the thunder in our ears
when we meet.
Love, like creation,
is some other order of things.

Red is the share of fire
I have stolen
from root, hoof, fallen fruit.
And this was hunger.

Red is the human house
I come back to at night
swimming inside the cave of skin
that remembers bison.
In that round nation
of blood
we are all burning,
red, inseparable fires
the living have crawled
and climbed through 
in order to live
so nothing will be left
for death at the end.

This life in the fire, I love it.
I want it,
this life.