Wednesday, February 28, 2018

(Almost) spring blooms

Finally! My garden has a few (almost) spring blooms opening up.

Carolina jessamine.

Bees of all kinds do love those jessamine flowers.


More poppies.

And more poppies.

And still more.

Purple oxalis blooms just beginning to peek out.

Sweet alyssum.

Loropetalum chinense (Chinese fringeflower).

I love these fringy fuchsia-colored flowers.

Daffodils, of course. Some in yellow.

And some in white.

Scabiosa (pincushion flower).

The flowers are actually a bit more blue than they appear in the image.

These flowers just confirm that spring really is beginning to peek over the horizon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: A review

This (mostly) delightful little book had languished in my reading queue for quite a while. Time to move it on up and tick that box.

This was the writer's debut novel, first published in 1989, and it has enjoyed continuing popularity over the years.

The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Mexico. Rebellion and revolution are abroad in the land. Pancho Villa and his army of followers have captured the imagination of many, while the government's army pushes back against them.

The Garza family with its three daughters, Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Tita, live quietly on their ancestral lands outside a small village near the border with the U.S. The daughters pursue their own paths in life, but as we and they learn Tita's path has been preordained for her. The family tradition is that the youngest daughter is not allowed to marry and that she must devote herself to caring for her parents in their old age. In this case, there is only one parent, Mama Elena, since the father had died years before. Mama Elena is the family dictator, a formidable force to be reckoned with.

Inevitably, Tita falls in love with a young man named Pedro and he asks for her hand in marriage. He is informed that Tita cannot marry because of her destiny as caretaker of her mother. He is instead offered the sister Rosaura as a wife. In the end, Pedro agrees to that marriage because he believes it will at least allow him to be close to his beloved.

Tita is a gifted cook, and, learning that she will not be able to marry, she immerses herself in the art of cooking. Cooking eases her emotional pain.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, but the months occur over a period of some twenty years. The passage of time is not always evident at first - only on a deeper reading of the chapter. Each chapter begins with one of Tita's unique recipes and her discussion of how to prepare it. My daughter told me when she read this book she was seized throughout with the urge to cook.

In the fullness of time, running water and electricity arrive in the area. Children are born and grow. People move on or die. Tita's mood changes affect the food she prepares, sometimes to the detriment of those who consume it. She continues to suffer emotionally and eventually has a kind of breakdown. Then, she meets a wonderful man, a widowed doctor, who wants to marry her. But her heart still belongs to Pedro, who by this time has proved himself to be something of a jerk, in my opinion.

Esquivel's employment of magical realism in the telling of this story adds to the charm and the interest of what could otherwise have been a rather ordinary romance novel. She mixes the ingredients of her novel as a cook would mix the ingredients in a recipe and the result is a tasty dish.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars    

Monday, February 26, 2018

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward: A review

Back in October, I read Jesmyn Ward's latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing, set in the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Bois Sauvage and the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. It occurred to me then that I had never read this earlier book, also set in Bois Sauvage, also a National Book Award winner. Ward seems to be making a habit of that.

I thought the book I read in October was amazing, but, if anything, this one is even better. It certainly packs even more of an emotional wallop. At least it did for me. I found that I could more easily empathize with these characters.

The story centers around the Batiste family, a dirt poor - literally - African-American family living on land on the bayou outside of Bois Sauvage inherited from grandparents. The family comprises a widowed father, three sons, and a daughter. Our main protagonist, the one whose eyes we look through, is the daughter, Esch. She is the third child of the family, now fourteen years old. The difficult birth of her younger brother, called Junior, resulted in the death of the wife and mother of the Batiste family and left it bereft. The father has become a heavy drinker and the children are mostly in charge of bringing themselves up. Nevertheless, this poor family is rich in love and caring for each other, as we will learn in the twelve days covered by this novel. 

It is late August 2005. The Gulf Coast is weighed down by oppressive heat and a sense of dread. It has been an active season for tropical storms and now another one has made its way into the Gulf from the Atlantic and is gathering strength in the warm waters there. Esch's father is concerned about the coming storm and is doing his best to prepare. He is old enough to remember the killer Camille that devastated the area in late August 1969. People who remember still talk about it and the Batiste children have grown up hearing those stories from their parents.

The sense of foreboding grows day by day as weather forecasters report that the storm is intensifying, but meantime, the Batiste children continue with their daily lives. Esch's oldest brother, Randall, is a gifted basketball player and is preoccupied with trying out for a basketball camp. The second brother Skeetah (Jason) cares only for his pit bull fighting dog, a bitch called China who gives birth to five puppies as the novel begins. Skeetah hopes to earn his fortune with this animal. Junior is a child, only concerned with play. But Esch has suddenly taken on some very adult concerns.

Esch started having sex with her brothers' friends when she was twelve years old, because it was easier to let them do what they wanted than it was to resist. She was a child. She didn't know she could say no. Now, at age fourteen, she realizes she is pregnant. What can she do? She is trapped.

Esch is such an interesting character. She loves literature. At one point, she recounts that in the previous year, her class had read William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and that she was the only one in the class who understood Vardaman's one sentence chapter, "My mother is a fish." She is very proud of that. Moreover, she is now obsessed with Greek myths and keeps a volume under her mattress to read in bed. She particularly likes the story of Medea. She identifies with her because Medea had a brother named Jason, too. Reading all of this, truly, one's heart breaks for this child.

All of these concerns, though, are suddenly forgotten or at least pushed aside. Katrina has landed.

I read the last two chapters of this book, which cover the coming of the storm and its aftermath, in a blur of tears. The Batiste family's experience was that of so many thousands of others. They never thought the waters would reach as far as their home, but then water comes sloshing through the floorboards and over the doorsills. And it keeps rising. They seek refuge in their attic. The water rises with them and threatens to drown them there, but they escape through a hole in the roof, helping each other, clinging together, refusing to leave anyone behind. Even the dog.

This is harrowing reading, as is another section earlier in the book that describes the violence and cruelty of dog fights. A writer who can make poetry of the brutality of dog-fighting and of a monstrous killer storm is, as a famous spider would have written in her web, "Some writer!" Jesmyn Ward is some writer.

After the storm is over and the Batistes are still alive, Esch picks up shards left in its wake.
“I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.” 
Yes. Yes. Yes!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Poetry Sunday: The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

From her profile in Poetry Foundation magazine: "Nikki Giovanni is one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences: from child to young woman, from naive college freshman to seasoned civil rights activist, from daughter to mother. Frequently anthologized, Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride and respect for family. Her informal style makes her work accessible to both adults and children."

Here's something completely different from what is usually featured here, but I would agree with the Poetry Foundation assessment that it is unique and insightful, as well as accessible. Enjoy!

The Laws of Motion

by Nikki Giovanni
(for Harlem Magic)
The laws of science teach us a pound of gold weighs as   
much as a pound of flour though if dropped from any   
undetermined height in their natural state one would
reach bottom and one would fly away

Laws of motion tell us an inert object is more difficult to   
propel than an object heading in the wrong direction is to   
turn around. Motion being energy—inertia—apathy.   
Apathy equals hostility. Hostility—violence. Violence   
being energy is its own virtue. Laws of motion teach us

Black people are no less confused because of our   
Blackness than we are diffused because of our
powerlessness. Man we are told is the only animal who   
smiles with his lips. The eyes however are the mirror of
the soul

The problem with love is not what we feel but what we   
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something. Just as publicity is not production: seduction
is not seductive

If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all   
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power. Any desirable object is
bought and sold—any neglected object declines in value.   
It is against man’s nature to be in either category

If white defines Black and good defines evil then men
define women or women scientifically speaking describe
men. If sweet is the opposite of sour and heat the
absence of cold then love is the contradiction of pain and
beauty is in the eye of the beheld

Sometimes I want to touch you and be touched in   
return. But you think I’m grabbing and I think you’re   
shirking and Mama always said to look out for men like   

So I go to the streets with my lips painted red and my   
eyes carefully shielded to seduce the world my reluctant   

And you go to your men slapping fives feeling good   
posing as a man because you know as long as you sit   
very very still the laws of motion will be in effect

Friday, February 23, 2018

This week in birds - #294

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

Chipping Sparrows are always welcome winter visitors in my garden.


There were record high temperatures this week along the East Coast, including an 80 degree day on February 21 in Newark, New Jersey, that made that the highest temperature ever recorded there in the month of February. 


In July of last year, part of the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctica peninsula split away revealing an ecosystem below it that had been hidden for 120,000 years. Now scientists are racing to explore the marine life revealed by the calving of the ice shelf. 


Image from the Academy of Natural Sciences. 

This week was the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet, a bird once so numerous that flocks in flight blotted out the sun. If such a population can be utterly extinguished, perhaps the lesson for us is that anything can be. Even us.


It sometimes seems that the aim of the current administration in Washington is to destroy everything that has been protected by previous administrations. In this endeavor, no one has been more effective than the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He is systematically dismantling the agency and making it impossible to continue its purpose of protecting the environment. 


There is hope, however, in the fact that the administration has often been "sloppy and careless," in the words of one critic, in its assault on environmental rules. A cascade of court standoffs are beginning to slow and even reverse the EPA rollbacks, thanks to what has been characterized as the administration's "disregard for the law." 


Did American Flamingoes once roam wild in Florida? They have been showing up there over the past 70 years, but many have argued that these are escapees from zoos or wildlife parks. Others make the case that they could be a returning population from Mexico, Cuba, or the Caribbean and that they are simply reclaiming a lost part of their natural territory. 


The U.S. Climate Alliance is a group of states that has banded together to  commit to continuing to honor the Paris Climate Accord, in spite of the fact that the federal government has chosen to trash it. This week New Jersey joined the alliance.


And, in other news of resistance to the climate change deniers, more than one million trees have been pledged for "Trump Forest," an effort by environmentalists to offset the president's curtailing of Obama-era clean energy initiatives by planting ten billion trees around the globe.


A project called Safe Wings Ottawa will be exhibiting a thousand dead birds at Ottawa City Hall on Monday, February 26. They are the bodies of birds that died in collision with the glass windows of buildings in the city in 2017. All were collected by volunteers. The aim of the exhibit is to bring attention to the problem of glass for birds; they can't see it and crash into it. The hope is that it will encourage innovation in finding solutions to the problem.


Coffee plantations are good habitats for a diversity of bird species, as long as the coffee is grown in shade under larger trees. 


Image from the Shelby County Reporter.

It's a male Northern Cardinal but it isn't red. It is a bird with a rare pigment mutation that causes its feathers to be yellow. It has been making appearances in Shelby County, Alabama recently where it has been photographed by several birders.


The tropical island nation of Seychelles will create two huge new marine parks in return for a large amount of its national debt being written off, in the first scheme of its kind in the world. Swapping debt for dolphins and other sea life is an innovative plan that offers a win-win for the country and for the environment.
The Moas of New Zealand are long extinct, but a study of their fossilized droppings has given clues as to the extent to which they shaped the native landscape of the island by assisting in the spreading of fungi, which was one of their favorite foods.
A tick that is native to Asia has been found on sheep in New Jersey. It is not clear how the insects came to be there, but they represent a potential threat of becoming another invasive species.
With the rise of sea levels on one side and the encroaching industrial and housing development on the other, California could be in danger of losing its salt marshes, an important habitat for many endangered species.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley: A review

The writing of Walter Mosley harkens back to masters like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James Cain. The best of noir.

This book was Mosley's introduction of his character, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins. We meet Easy in 1948, three years after the end of World War II. He is a black man who had been raised in Houston and he had joined the army to fight Nazis during the war. He spent much of it sitting behind a typewriter, but when he had the chance, he volunteered to go with Gen. George Patton's Third Army into the heart of Europe. He fought his way through the rest of the war, including at the Battle of the Bulge, and returned home to Houston, but like many African-Americans in the South during that period, he found the atmosphere stifling and chose to move on. In Easy's case, he moved to Los Angeles, along with many others from Houston's Fifth Ward. As we meet Easy, we find that many in his circle of acquaintances in LA are former Houstonians.

I felt an immediate empathy for Easy Rawlins because of the Houston connection. His descriptions of neighborhoods and streets were places I hear about frequently. No doubt they've changed in the last seventy years, but they are still there. Moreover, there was the Patton's Army connection. My father, too, was in the Third Army and I grew up listening to stories about the Battle of the Bulge and the other lesser known battles that he fought in. As a result, Rawlins seemed very familiar to me.

Easy has just been fired from his job at an aircraft factory when we meet him. His white boss thought the uppity black man was not showing him sufficient deference. Without a source of income, Easy stands to lose the small house he is so proud of since he won't be able to pay the mortgage. 

I loved Mosley's description of that little house and lot, because it revealed so much of Easy's character. He takes pride in the order that he keeps in the house and the care that he gives the plantings around the house - the fruit trees, the perennials with their bright blooms, even the pot of African violets on the porch. This is a man after my own heart.

So, Easy has to come up with a way to earn some money fast. He goes for a drink in a friend's bar and in walks fate in the portly form of a white man dressed all in white. It seems that Easy's friend has paved the way for this man to offer him a job. The two talk and the man offers him a substantial amount of money to find a woman. She is a blonde named Daphne Monet and she has a real penchant for black jazz clubs and, incidentally, for black men.

And just like that Easy Rawlins begins his career as a private investigator.

He soon finds himself knee deep in a web of lies and murder, harassed by the police and threatened by sociopathic villains. Easy is not a violent man and he feels himself a bit out of his depth and needing someone to watch his back. He phones home, to Houston, and gets in touch with the girlfriend of one of his former running buddies, Raymond "Mouse" Alexander. He's not sure if Mouse will get the message, but just in time, he does turn up.

Whereas Easy is a pacifist, Mouse does not shy from violence and he likes Easy well enough to be just the back-watcher he needs.

Just like those earlier noir novels, this one's plot winds and wriggles around like a snake in hot ashes. So many complications, so many interconnections, and so many lies. It soon becomes clear that virtually none of these characters, besides the protagonist himself, is to be trusted.

Mosley's writing is really excellent and truly did remind me of the best of the noir masters that I have read. It makes me really happy to know that he has produced thirteen (and counting) more of these Easy Rawlins tales. And they are all just sitting there waiting for me to enjoy!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Great Backyard Bird Count

The annual late winter count of birds is over. I spent a part of every day of the four-day weekend counting the birds in my own backyard. 

I did my count while working in the yard, so I can't say that I was entirely focused on birds. Still, the count was pretty successful, with a total of twenty-eight species turning out to be counted. Unfortunately, as always, there were some species that show up regularly in the yard but didn't make an appearance during the weekend and so don't appear on my census.

The first birds to appear on my count were, not surprisingly, the ever-present White-winged Doves.

And the last one, recorded late yesterday, was a particularly colorful Pine Warbler. Looks like he's about ready for spring.

In between, here's a list of everything that I saw in, around, or flying over my yard.

Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture 
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Wren
Carolina Chickadee
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

This is the eighteenth year that I've done this count and this species count is about average for most years, but the actual total of individual birds was fewer this year. I'm not sure what, if anything in particular, that means; it may just be the randomness of birds wandering or my lack of attention in doing the count. Time will tell. But it is always a revelation to me to see the number and variety of species that pass through my yard at any given period of time. It's a reminder, as if I needed one, that Nature is very much present as an actor in my garden and in my daily life.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler: A review

Parable of the Sower was published in 1993, but Octavia Butler was eerily - scarily - prescient in the mid 2020s world that she imagined. Who could have dreamed twenty-five years ago that this broken and divided country would elect a president who promised to "Make America Great Again" by eliminating the space program and getting rid of all environmental, health, and labor protection laws and opening up the nation to be carved up by large corporations and the greedy wealthy? Well, Octavia Butler did. If she were alive today, I wonder what she would think, seeing her vision come true.

This book was planned as the first in a trilogy (the "Earthseed" trilogy), but after completing the first two books in the series, Butler reportedly suffered from severe writer's block in relation to the third book and was never able to complete it. Nevertheless, we have the first two, and, judging by this initial entry, that was a remarkable achievement.

Once I started reading this book, every time I had to put it down because duty called me elsewhere I couldn't wait to get back to it. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about what I had read. I even laid awake at night thinking about it. Perhaps that tells you everything you need to know about what an impact the book made on me.

If the book were first published today, it would be categorized as YA lit, because the protagonist is a teenage girl, but at the time that it was published, the term YA had not yet been thought up by some media-savvy publicist. So, it was just considered as dystopian literature.

It is the mid-2020s and 18-year-old Lauren Olamina lives with her family in a walled middle-class community in a Los Angeles suburb. It is a California that is barely recognizable. Society is disintegrating under the pressure of global warming, wealth disparity, and economic stagnation. All communities have fortified walls to keep the predatory gangs out. Police and firefighters will only come when called if the caller will pay them, and when they come, they are just as likely to arrest the person seeking help or to pillage the home as they are to actually take action to assist.

Many people are leaving, trying to make their way north to Oregon, Washington, or Canada in search of a better and more secure life, but the borders between states and between the countries are guarded and patrolled to ensure that the unwanted immigrants do not make it through.

In the midst of this anarchy, Lauren's community is attacked and overrun, most of the people, including what remains of her family, killed, and the houses burned. Lauren had prepared for such an eventuality by putting together an emergency pack to get her on her way. (She had planned to leave anyway and go north with the other emigrants.) Now she is forced to start her trek before she had planned and she heads north with a couple of companions.

Lauren is a special person. First of all, she has a disability called hyper-empathy which means that she feels the pain that she witnesses inflicted upon others. In the violent world in which she lives, this is a serious disability indeed. If she is put in the position of having to fight for her life, how will she manage if any pain that she inflicts on her opponent is felt equally by herself?

Also, Lauren is a visionary. She has an idea for a new religion/philosophy of life and she hopes to found a community based on her ideas. She calls her vision Earthseed and she writes verses expounding upon it. It is a philosophy of self-sufficiency in which god is understood as change, but a change that can be molded and shaped by the individual.

We follow the teenage Lauren as she continues north, more people join her group, and she starts teaching them her Earthseed verses and attempting to mold them into a community.

This was a powerful and affecting read, one that I am sure I will still be considering for a long time to come.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars         

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Poetry Sunday: To Be In Love by Gwendolyn Brooks

It's a bit late since Valentine's Day was last Wednesday, but here is a poem by American poet Gwendolyn Brooks that tries to express what it means to be in love. 

The person in love no longer experiences things only through his/her own senses; the world is experienced through the senses of the loved one as well. Love expands our awareness of the world and makes us more open to empathize with both the joys and sorrows of others. Love, in short, makes us better, more complete human beings.

To Be In Love

by Gwendolyn Brooks

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well. 
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue. 
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

This week in birds - #293

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

Franklin's Gull (note white dots on black wingtips) photographed on a pier at Rockport, Texas.


Are you counting the birds in your neighborhood this weekend? Yes, it's the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count. The count is now a worldwide event. It used to be limited to North America but was expanded in recent years and reports are now received from far-flung places on every continent, except possibly Antarctica.


It is feared that a reorganization of the Interior Department, planned by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, will muddle the responsibilities of various sections of the agency and will reduce the role of science in agency planning.


The number of oil and gas rigs in the United States increased by 38% last year. This is expected to have a significant climate impact since the oil and gas industry is a huge source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.


A new study of wildfire management that appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology this week makes the point that the wrong kind of management can actually devastate wild bird populations. The study was based on findings from California's destructive and expensive year of firefighting.


Researchers have found that bees seem to prefer fields with borders. Interestingly, croplands with more divisions actually benefit pollinators more than increasing crop diversity.


A new study demonstrates that the nesting success of the Louisiana Waterthrush -- a habitat specialist that nests along forested streams, where the potential for habitat degradation is high -- is declining at sites impacted by shale gas development in northwestern West Virginia. This is believed to be evidence that "fracking" to extract shale gas is impacting the breeding success of songbirds, possibly because of the pollution of water which it creates.


Polluters in the United States are facing fewer consequences these days. Scott Pruitt's EPA has fined those that flout regulations 49% less than the past three administrations.


Meanwhile, the Interior Department appears to be in a state of all-out attack on the public lands which it is supposed to protect. One prong of that attack has been the promotion of "multiple use" of public lands. This essentially means opening up those lands to mining, oil and gas drilling, and the grazing of cattle.  


Plastic of all kinds and sizes is turning up in great quantity in the previously pristine areas of the European Arctic. This detritus of human occupation is causing great harm to the wildlife, especially seabirds, that live there. 


Using genetic and fossil data, lepidopterists have produced a new and improved evolutionary tree which, they claim, more accurately reflects the evolution of butterflies and how the various species are related to each other.


Science is slow. It rests on painstaking research with accumulating evidence. This makes for an inherently uneasy relationship with the modern media age in which people often take their "news" from such sources as Facebook and Twitter. This is especially true of issues that are politicized as climate change has been. A prime example is the recent winter that has been colder than usual in many parts of the northern hemisphere. Climate change deniers have taken that to mean that global warming is not happening, and, in fact, that we may be entering a new ice age. They tend to ignore the fact that there is a southern hemisphere of the planet that has experienced record HIGHS in temperatures during these same months. It's called cherrypicking your facts to make them fit your conclusion.


An Oregon State-led research analysis of bird diversity in the mountains of southern Costa Rica has concluded that old, complex tropical forests support a wider diversity of birds than second-growth forests and, thus, such old-growth forests have an irreplaceable value for conservation.


A massive oil spill in the East China Sea that resulted from a collision that sank an Iranian tanker last month is threatening some of the most important fishing grounds in Asia, from China to Japan and beyond. The oil condensate that is leaking is especially insidious because it is almost invisible. 


A study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers has found that the survival of the Sharp-tailed Grouse will likely be negatively affected by the predicted increased temperatures across the Great Plains which will reduce appropriate nesting sites.


Global warming has caused the world’s oceans to rise over the past 150 years. Warming seas expand, and water from melting glaciers and ice sheets have had nowhere to go but into the oceans. The rising seas have slowly and steadily eaten away at coastlines. But a new study finds that in recent decades, the pace of sea-level rise has picked up and coastal real estate could be under water faster and faster in the coming decades. Sea-level rise could double its rate within the next century, with disastrous consequences for coastline communities.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2018

Shhh! My garden is still sleeping.

The shrubs have been pruned back.

Winter clean-up is underway.

There's a bit of green to go with the brown in spots.

Undaunted by our colder than usual winter, the little leucojum blooms right on schedule.

These sweet little blossoms do give the gardener hope.

When they are the only thing blooming in the garden, they are precious indeed.

But everything else is sleeping still.



Hold on! Spring is just around the corner.

It's nice to be able to visit Carol of May Dreams Gardens and find that some gardeners do have actual blooms this February. Happy Bloom Day to you all, whether or not you have any blooms.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz: A review

I love a good mystery. That's why I read so many of them. What I don't like is gimmicky mysteries. I especially don't like mystery writers who don't play fair; who use tricks, games, wordplay like anagrams, etc., to mislead and misdirect their readers. 

I'm looking at you, Anthony Horowitz. I am most seriously displeased.

I had had Magpie Murders in my reading queue for months, but decided to read it now because of a television show. 

We had just finished watching the third and final season of Mackenzie Crook's wonderful gentle comedy about metal detecting, Detectorists, in which magpies play a major part in the plot. Can you say "serendipity"? It seemed the universe was sending me a message so I decided to get on with it and read the book. I had read mostly glowing reviews and my expectations were high.

At the beginning of the book, we meet book editor Susan Ryeland who has a new book from her publishing house's most popular author to read. That writer is Alan Conway and he writes a very successful mystery series featuring detective Atticus P√ľnd. She starts reading the manuscript of the new book and we read along with her.

I was perfectly happy with this mystery and quickly burrowed into the small village atmosphere, following clues, sniffing out red herrings, trying to zero in on a suspect. It was a nice homage to the sainted Agatha. I cut my reader's teeth reading her books, so this was a trip down memory lane for me.

Then, halfway through the book, the manuscript ended. The problem was that there were pages missing - the important final pages that identified the killer and gave the denouement. The editor, Susan, set about trying to find the missing pages. But in the interim, the author Alan Conway has died, apparently as a result of suicide, and Susan doesn't have a clue as to where the missing pages may be.

As she looks for them, she finds herself examining the life of Alan Conway and the known facts about his death. The result is that she becomes convinced that his death was not suicide but murder and she sets about trying to solve that mystery. She intuits that there are clues hidden in that manuscript she was reading. 

And so we get the gimmick of a mystery within a mystery. But that is just the beginning; we also have tricks, games, anagrams to solve. Horowitz pulls out every trick in his considerable bag of them and proudly spreads them all out for us to admire.

Much of this book seemed self-referential. Susan Wyeland seemed like a stand-in for Anthony Horowitz, and she was, frankly, unconvincing as a woman. Throughout, there are all these little asides referring to things that Horowitz has worked on. At one point, Susan mentions that a particular character has watched every episode of Poirot and Midsomer Murders. Well, me, too. In fact that is where I first encountered Horowitz and grew to admire his work as a screenwriter.

Magpie Murders seemed like the tongue-in-cheek creation of a writer eager to show off his cleverness and wow us with his literary connections. It did not seem like a work written with a reader in mind, a reader who the writer wanted to entertain. And, in the end, I wasn't.    

My rating: 2 of 5 stars