Sunday, September 29, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Analysis of Baseball by May Swenson

As September fades into October, our thoughts turn Well, truthfully, for some of us, our thoughts have been on baseball for the last six months. Those were fun times, but now it gets serious.

It's been a remarkable season for my favorite team, the Houston Astros. They've set a new club record for wins and several of the players have set individual records of various kinds. In addition to all that, they are just a fun team to watch. For those of us who suffered through those years of 100+ losses, the last three seasons of 100+ wins have been sweet indeed.

And now we come to the playoffs where anything can happen and usually does and all of those 100+ wins mean nothing. Or at least very little. Baseball is a game where yesterday's hero can be today's goat and vice versa. But there is always another game tomorrow, a chance for redemption. Until there isn't.

May Swenson understood.

Analysis of Baseball

by May Swenson

It's about
the ball,
the bat,
and the mitt.
Ball hits
bat, or it
hits mitt.
Bat doesn't
hit ball, bat
meets it.
Ball bounces
off bat, flies
air, or thuds
ground (dud)
or it
fits mitt.

Bat waits
for ball
to mate.
Ball hates
to take bat's
bait. Ball
flirts, bat's
late, don't
keep the date.
Ball goes in
(thwack) to mitt,
and goes out
(thwack) back
to mitt.

Ball fits
mitt, but
not all
the time.
ball gets hit
(pow) when bat
meets it,
and sails
to a place
where mitt
has to quit
in disgrace.
That's about
the bases
about 40,000
fans exploded.

It's about
the ball,
the bat,
the mitt,
the bases
and the fans.
It's done
on a diamond,
and for fun.
It's about
home, and it's
about run.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

This week in birds - #371

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

A member of the very large wren family of birds, the Rock Wren is a resident in the Big Bend area of Texas, which is where I photographed this one.


There was another warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week. They issued their latest report on the status of the world's oceans and it is not good. They are heating up so rapidly and their chemistry is changing so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to people who live along coasts.


Climate change refugees are likely to become more widespread in the coming years. Already the effects of climate change are one of the major factors driving people out of Central America.


The decline of many bird species could be reversed with appropriate action from governments, businesses, and individuals.


One species of bird that is doing very, very well (thanks to the Endangered Species Act) is the Bald Eagle. It is doing so well, in fact, that many are moving into more urban areas in search of territory. 


A federal judge in Alaska has temporarily halted logging in the Tongass National Forest, the nation's largest national forest.


Italian authorities have closed roads and evacuated homes near the Mont Blanc glacier after experts warned that a section of the glacier was in danger of breaking away.


Little Stints are shorebirds that nest in the Arctic and winter along coasts in Africa, India, Europe, and elsewhere. They are declining because the wetlands that they depend on are being degraded by the effects of climate change.


Unless dams along the Snake River are removed, it is feared that Chinook salmon could die out in the Columbia River drainage area of Idaho within twenty years. 


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act to protect vulnerable species, so, of course, the president's nominee to head the agency is a woman who is opposed to the Act.


When habitat corridors reconnect longleaf pine savannahs, species that had been lost to the savannahs begin showing up again.


A report on the status of the implementation of the Paris Accord on climate change shows that some countries are making good progress in meeting their goals, but others still have a long way to go.


An underwater museum of sculptures by famous artists helps to protect fish off the southern Tuscan coast.


Saltmarsh Sparrows are losing habitat to the rising sea levels and as they are forced to nest farther inland, they are more vulnerable to predators such as rats. This combination of effects could drive the vulnerable species to extinction.


Atlantic Puffin image from Audubon.

Seabirds like this Atlantic Puffin depend upon a healthy population of forage fish for their survival. 


Restoring the coastal marshes in California, as well as elsewhere, could go a long way toward preventing disastrous floods.


Sydney, Australia loves its birds, the more raucous the better it seems. The loud and bold Kookaburras are particular favorites of some. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves: A review

Another excellent Vera Stanhope Mystery. This is the fourth in the series and they just keep getting better.

The overweight and out-of-shape Vera who likes her drink maybe just a little too much has recently had her annual physical and the "child doctor" told her she needed to make some lifestyle changes. That couldn't have been much of a surprise, but what kind of changes can Vera tolerate? She tried yoga but found that her mind wandered and she couldn't concentrate on the downward-facing-dog. She settled on swimming. It was something that she sort of enjoyed and she could fit it in before work every day. Or as often as she chose. She joined a local health club at an out-of-the-way hotel where she wouldn't run into any colleagues and committed to doing ten laps - well, more nearly eight - in their pool each day. Then, a few minutes in their steam room and a latte and she was good to go. But then one morning she found another woman seated in the steam room. When she looked more closely, she realized her companion was dead.

Natural causes? Of course not! A close look revealed a ligature mark on the neck. The woman was strangled. Vera has a murder to investigate. Who needs swimming laps? She is in her glory!

The victim was Jenny Lister, a middle-aged social worker who lived in nearby Barnard Bridge with her eighteen-year-old daughter Hannah. Digging into her background, searching for a motive for the murder, Vera and her team discover that Jenny had a connection to a notorious case involving a mother who drowned her son. She was the supervisor of the social worker who worked the case, Connie Masters. After the child's death, Connie was sacked and recently she had moved with her young daughter to a community near Barnard Bridge. Suspicion falls on her as one person who might have resented the victim, but Vera isn't buying it. And then the situation is complicated by another murder, this time of a young man who worked at the hotel. What did he know that led to his murder? 

The story is told by a third-person narrator, primarily from Vera's perspective. We also are privy to Vera's unfiltered inner dialogue which is depicted in the book in italics (although her public dialogues have minimal filters as well). Occasionally, the narrator also gives us the perspective of Vera's sergeant, Joe Ashworth, and her DC, the very ambitious Holly Clarke. Another detective, Charlie, and the crime scene manager, Billy Cartwright, round out the Stanhope team. She is hard on them, but they recognize that, as Cartwright at one point expresses, she is the best detective they've ever met. 

It is great fun to follow as this team fans out to gather the information that will eventually add up to a solution to the crime. Vera has a problem with delegation and so she works right alongside her team in gathering that information. In the end, it all comes together in the middle of a disastrous flood as Vera and Joe rush to try to prevent yet another murder. Good stuff and highly entertaining.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars    

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Democracy by Leonard Cohen

Offered without comment except to say I can only hope, because "I love the country but I can't stand the scene".


lyrics by Leonard Cohen 

It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.
It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

This week in birds - #370

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

A Long-billed Curlew walks along the beach in Galveston.


An alarming analysis published in the journal Science this week reported that the number of birds in North America has fallen by 29 percent since 1970. That means that there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in our skies than there were only 50 years ago. As the head of the National Audubon Society stated, this represents a "full-blown crisis". It is not only the endangered species that are in trouble, even more common robins and sparrows have had steep losses in this period.


The Winter Finch Forecast is out and it is predicted that this will not be an irruptive winter for those birds. It seems this has been a good year for the conifers in Canada and the North and it is likely that the birds will be able to find the food they need there without having to fly farther south.   


The attempt by the current administration in Washington to build a wall along our southern border threatens to damage or destroy archaeological sites there. It's unlikely that these wall-builders care much about archaeology.


The ongoing effort to reestablish grizzly bears in the Northern Cascades could be complicated by the administration's changes to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.


A Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been designated for the waters around Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. This will be part of a massive MPA planned to include St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha Islands, as well. These islands are sometimes referred to as the "Atlantic Galapagos".


We know the devastating effects hurricanes can have on humans and their structures, but what about their effects on Nature? Birds, for example. Birds are very resilient creatures and when a hurricane has a catastrophic effect on a species, it is usually because that species has already been pushed to the brink by human activities.


It is unclear whether insects are buzzing around more often and in greater numbers recently or if weather radar is simply becoming more efficient. What is clear is that swarms of insects are showing up as undulating blobs on weather radar screens around the country.

Those blobs are not rainstorms, they are actually images of swarms of dragonflies caught by the National Weather Service radar in Cleveland.


Wilderness areas help to protect biodiversityThe global conservation community has been urged to adopt a specific target of protecting the world's remaining wilderness areas to prevent large scale loss of at-risk species. 


Most plants on the prairie have very deep roots, but a recent study indicates that those deepest roots are not used for bringing water to the plants, so what the heck are they used for, the "Prairie Ecologist" wonders?  


80,000-year-old Neanderthal footprints found in France are helping archaeologists to fill in some of the gaps in knowledge about the culturally and socially complex lives of our closest extinct human relatives.


A nesting Magpie recently proved to be a deadly menace in Australia. These birds vigorously defend against anything that they see as a threat to their nests, swooping on the perceived interloper and pecking at it. Unfortunately, a 76-year-old man on a bicycle recently was perceived as such a threat and was swooped on by the nesting Magpies. He swerved off the road trying to avoid them and crashed into a fence post, suffering severe head injuries. He later died of those injuries.


Greater Sage-Grouse numbers have been falling drastically across the West. Montana recently reported that its population of the birds has fallen by 40 percent over the past three years. 


A small population of the ‘Alalā, the Hawaiian Crow, has been reintroduced to their native habitat and they are learning to live in the wild. A pair of the birds actually built a nest this spring and the female sat on the nest while the male fed her, in the way of these crows. Ultimately the nest was unsuccessful, but scientists see it as a hopeful sign that the birds are acclimating. 


The effects of global warming are disrupting the breeding activities of grassland birds like the Little Bustard, a vulnerable European species.


Tennessee, like many other states, has instituted the practice of allowing wildflowers to bloom unmolested along the verges of its highways as a way of providing sustenance for butterflies and pollinators. I'm happy to say that Texas is a pioneer in this effort. The rights-of-way beside our roadways are glorious in their beauty during wildflower bloom seasons.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess: A review

This is another book that falls in the "beach fiction" category. I seem to have read several of those this summer. That wasn't really planned; it just sort of happened that way. 

For this one, the year is 1987. We head out to the Truro section of Cape Cod where most of the action takes place, but we start in New York where 25-year-old Eve Rosen is a bright young editorial assistant at a publishing house. It is a dead-end job and she is bored, so when she has an opportunity to leave it and take a position as a research assistant for the summer for Henry Grey, a well-regarded New Yorker writer, she jumps at the chance. Grey and his poet wife, Tillie, spend their summers in a Truro bungalow that is a magnet for writers and intellectual types. Their handsome son, Franny, also spends time there. And the bungalow is where Eve's new job will take place. 

We learn that Eve is a wannabe writer herself, but she hasn't actually finished a story in years and she hasn't had anything published since college. She has a younger brother who is a math prodigy and he is considered the genius in the family, a genius who suffers from some psychological issues. He absorbs their parents' interest and concern and Eve's talents are not valued by them. They seem to be waiting for her to find some man to marry who will take care of her. But for now, they will permit her to live with them at their home on Truro while she pursues her summer job with Henry Grey.

Eve becomes infatuated first with Franny and then with Henry, which makes for some awkwardness. Henry proves to be very seductive with thoroughly predictable results, while his wife is off pursuing her own pleasures. Meanwhile, the couple continues planning their big end of summer book party where the guests come dressed as a favorite literary character and everyone gets to try to guess who they are. The choice of a character to impersonate can tell much about how the person sees him/herself. Or not, in some cases. All of the action of the summer seems pointed toward that party. 

Dukess' book is full of literary references and she evidences a real love of many of the classics of literature. She also shows a love a language, although I did find one example that set my teeth on edge. She referred to someone "honing in" on a subject. One sees that more and more and my online dictionary even says it is an acceptable alternative to "homing in". Well, it isn't acceptable to me! It's just wrong and annoying.

I was interested in the plot of this novel and its depiction of the book scene, but in the end, it seemed to me that there was not much there there. At least, there wasn't much that contained a fresh perspective. And after I finished and thought back on the story, I realized that none of the characters had really engaged my interest. They just didn't make much of an impression on me. On the whole, the book was a light beach read, something that can hold the attention for the afternoon but is not destined to be remembered and savored.  

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Travelers by Regina Porter: A review

When I opened Regina Porter's book and found at its beginning a list of 33 characters, I was immediately tempted to close it up again and reach for another book in my reading queue. But the book had been highly recommended as my "kind of book", one that I was sure to enjoy, so I persisted and immersed myself in this generational story.

All of those 33 characters turned out to be members of or connected to two families, one black and one white, and the story is a portrait of race relations in America beginning in the Jim Crow era of the 1950s and ending during Barack Obama's presidency in 2010. Moreover, as well as traveling through time, the characters travel around the world in the space of these decades. Buckner County, Georgia is central to the story, but various characters spend time in New Hampshire, New York City, Los Angeles, Vietnam, Brittany, Berlin, and the list goes on. Over time, the families become blended and interconnected through love/sex/marriage until the differences hardly seem to matter anymore. If they ever did.

The story hops and skips through time, never taking a linear course. There is no beginning, middle, and end as such. Everything blends together - like the families - over time. The story washes over the reader and finally, when one is able to view it as a whole, patterns emerge. Because of the structure of the story, it is almost impossible to summarize the plot. (Is there even a "plot"?) These characters drift together and apart through the North and South, suffering tragedies and the occasional triumph but mostly just existing in what we might call "normal lives". Porter's tale is essentially one of ordinary people who are looking to make a meaningful connection in life, one that will help them feel less alone.

I found that the proliferation of characters was never really a problem for me. If I ever began to feel confused about a particular relationship, I simply kept reading and soon I was able to make the connection I needed. Porter's writing made that easy. Her prose borders on the poetic at times. It is occasionally leavened with humor but is always filled with empathy and caring for her very human characters.

All in all, I found this another remarkable debut novel. Porter has written an intimate family portrait that could be about any of our families. It was an engrossing read. I'm glad I persisted.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2019/Poetry Sunday

Once again Carol of May Dreams Gardens is hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for us and I am happy to welcome you to my zone 9a garden just northwest of Houston, Texas. 

Our plentiful rains of the spring and early summer are a faded memory here in mid-September. We have transitioned into a very dry late summer, as we hope for the respite of autumn rain - preferably not accompanied by a hurricane. Most of my plants are looking a bit worse for wear as they endure the long, hot, dry days, but many still manage to produce blooms to brighten the garden.

 September is time for asters.

 And more asters.

The purple oxalis has been resting for much of the summer but now it is producing blooms again.

 The gaudy flowers of the crape myrtles continue - in watermelon red...

 ...and in pink.

 Esperanza, aka yellow bells, reaches for the sky.

 The blue plumbago plants are a bank of blossoms now.

 Even Joe Pye weed has decided to have another go at blooming.

The milkweed has done well but has had very few Monarch visitors this summer. And I've seen no eggs or caterpillars.

 The jatropha has had perhaps its best summer ever.

 And the 'Lady of Shallott' rose has been a winner.

On the fence that separates the front and backyards, the evergreen wisteria has been blooming its heart out.

 Even the Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' still has a few blossoms.

 And so does the vitex that has bloomed beautifully all summer.

 The Hamelia patens, aka Mexican firebush, is in its glory now.

 And the oleander still sends out a few flowers.

 In the goldfish pond, a single water lily bloom hides among the leaves.

Firespike sends out more blooms as the weather gets cooler, but it is getting a head start now.

They bloomed in early spring but even now that they are dry the blossoms of the hydrangea are still beautiful.

 In fact, I like them just as well now as when they were new and fresh.

 'Pride of Barbados' is past its main flush of blooms but still has a few.

And they are very attractive to butterflies like these Giant Swallowtails. 

In other non-blooming news from the garden:

 The Meyer lemon crop is coming along nicely.

 As are the Mandarin oranges.

Many of the white beautyberries have already been devoured by hungry birds. 

But never mind. There are still plenty of the purple ones left. 

The golden dewdrop berries of Duranta erecta are already being eaten by the birds as well.

Earlier this summer, my little Japanese maple lost most of its leaves to a fungal disease. Undaunted, it is now producing a second crop.
 Just in time to drop them in the fall.

And in the goldfish pond, there is a new contingent of tiny goldfish, just added after the last of my old fish succumbed a few months earlier. And the goldfish have as their companions lots of these tiny tadpoles. Yes, the frog population of my garden seems to be doing quite well.

 And that makes my little buddy happy!


September brings a beauty of its own and dreams of the seasons to come...

September Flowers

by Joseph Narusiewicz

September wild flowers grow free
Purple, yellow, lavender, all beam joy
Fall is starting to turn the sumac
A walk can be such a wondrous trip

The air is crisp and vibrant
Touches of red show in the maples
Geese land in slews and ponds
Oaks seem so noble and strong

Hills filled with lush life
Songs of an autumn moon
Radiant sun brings azure blue
Birch and elm reach for love

Greens of summer still rule
This path has many wild flowers
The lake will soon freeze
Meadows will cover with snow

Rain has made everything vibrant
Moss and pine trees grow mellow
Mushrooms glow with sunlight
Soft breezes make the leaves dance

Blue birds gather on a fallen tree
Squirrels gather their acorns
Great Cottonwoods loom like giants
Old logs, field grass, daisies

I sigh amidst the September flowers

This week in birds - #369

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

Three immature Brown Pelicans stand on a road in the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Both Brown and White Pelicans are present in the refuge.


Every year on September 11, there are two soaring beams of light turned on over Lower Manhattan as a tribute to those that died in the attack on this date in 2001. Unfortunately, these lights are deadly for birds, bats, and insects that are confused by them and can circle around them until they are completely exhausted. A tribute that kills thousands of migrating birds does not seem an appropriate way to remember those who were lost that day.


There are now places on Earth that have already heated up past the 2 degrees Centigrade that climate scientists say represent a danger point and these zones are growing. 


We know that the asteroid that hit the Gulf of Mexico off of Yucatan 66 million years ago was the beginning of the end of the Mesozoic Era and the dinosaurs. But now, by drilling into the Chicxulub crater, scientists are getting a better idea of just what happened after impact. 


Beekeepers are suing the EPA over the agency's approval of the use of pesticides that harm bees. The lawsuit, filed this week in the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, names the agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, as defendants.


Meanwhile, a new study published in Science magazine indicates that exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides may be contributing to steep declines in songbird populations. The researchers found that White-crowned Sparrows that were so exposed lost weight and delayed their migration, unlike birds that did not have that exposure.


Extreme weather events have displaced a record seven million people from their homes during the first seven months of this year. This puts 2019 on a pace to be one of the most disastrous in almost two decades.


The "Prairie Ecologist" takes us butterfly hunting.


Two newly discovered species of electric eel pack a pretty hefty jolt at 860 volts. While not strong enough to kill a healthy human, it is certainly sufficient to get the attention of the scientists who handle them in their studies. 


Antarctica has only one known native insect - the Antarctic midge. The midge spends more than half of its life frozen. The scientists who study them are hoping that understanding the insect's survival strategy might have implications for managing human health issues.


The latest pick to run the Fish and Wildlife Service follows the trend of former industry lobbyists being selected to run government agencies. The nominee, Aurelia Skipwith, previously worked for agricultural giant Monsanto as well as other agricultural businesses.


New Jersey has been trying to re-establish a population of Bobwhite Quail, which had been extirpated there, in the state. They are looking at making bigger releases of the bird to try to help the process along.


It is feared that a new heatwave "blob" may be developing in the Pacific Ocean that could cause deadly algae blooms and kill sea lions and other marine mammals like a similar phenomenon that occurred in the same area in 2014-2016.


The current administration in Washington plans to scrap the Obama-era definition of what qualifies as "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. It would return the country to the standards put in place in 1986Critics say the rollback will speed the conversion of wetlands and headwaters, which provide critical habitat for wildlife and support the nation’s drinking-water supply.


The bright colors of poison dart frogs serve a purpose; they are a warning to predators to steer clear of them. A study shows that the differences in markings matter, but that in spite of those variations, the differently-marked frogs thrive.


Birders can make their yards more welcoming for migrating birds - or indeed for permanent resident birds - by planting native plants that provide food for them and by encouraging the insects which are devoured by birds. A balanced ecosystem is the best way to welcome the birds.