Friday, July 31, 2020

This week in birds - #411

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

A pair of House Finches share a meal at my feeders. I almost always see these birds in pairs or family groups.


2019 was the deadliest year on record for environmental activists around the world. There were 212 murdered worldwide, sometimes by their governments and most often by those who want to exploit the environment. Colombia, with 64 deaths, and the Philippines, with 43, accounted for more than half of the deaths. 


The Northern California Esselen Tribe has regained at least part of its ancestral lands after 250 years with the purchase of a 1200 acre ranch near Big Sur. The land will be used for educational and cultural purposes.


If an animal or plant relocates into a new area because the warming climate has pushed them there, should that species be considered invasive? Scientists are studying that issue.


The US exiting from the Paris Accords on climate is bad enough in itself, but it could have a ripple effect, emboldening bad behavior in other countries as well.


Can trees be immortal? Well, since we are not, we'll never be able to definitively answer that question, but we do know that many of them can live for thousands of years.


Racial injustices in the United States are being exacerbated by climate change as the killer heat that has become common in many areas disproportionately affects people of color.


The barbaric method of using glue traps to catch birds is still carried on in France. Now the EU threatens to fine the French unless they stop the practice. 


Monarch butterflies continue to decline in numbers. The primary reason is that the migrating butterflies are threatened all along their route across the continent.


Swifts are birds that live their lives on the wing. They eat and even sleep in the air. Just about the only time that they come down to earth is during the nesting season.


The population of the woodland caribou of Canada's boreal forests continues to dwindle. Predation by wolves is often blamed for the decline, but the real reasons are a lot more complicated


Buff-tailed bumblebee on apple tree blossoms. (Image from The Guardian.)

A shortage of some key food crops is being caused by the loss of bees. Both apple and cherry production has been hampered by the absence of wild bees. The bees face a panoply of hazards from climate change to pesticides and ultimately to loss of habitat. 


An analysis has found that migratory river fish around the world have plunged in population by 76% since 1970. This catastrophic loss of population was even worse in Europe where populations are down by 93% and for some groups of fish like sturgeon and eel, both of which were down by 90%.


An ambitious conservation project aimed at saving the Amazon has been launched by scientists with the support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The Science Panel for the Amazon consists of 150 experts, including climate, ecological, and social scientists, economists, indigenous leaders, and political strategists mostly from Amazonian countries.


The beautiful little Rufous Hummingbird makes a long migration flight twice each year, but a study has found that the timing and route patterns of that migration vary according to the sex and age of the birds. 


Light pollution from artificial lighting disrupts the sleep patterns of birds and that, in turn, disrupts their foraging abilities, as well as their abilities to avoid predators and to find a mate. 


The only known wolf pack in the state of California has some new members. A new litter of pups has been produced bringing the total number of animals in the pack to 14.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Wrecked by Joe Ide: A review

This is the third in Joe Ide's IQ (Isaiah Quintabe) mysteries. I accidentally read it out of order but it didn't inhibit my enjoyment of the book. In fact, this is my favorite of the IQ books I've read so far.

IQ's fame in East Long Beach has grown considerably. He has solved some high profile cases and now he is recognized wherever he goes. But he still takes the small neighborhood mysteries as well and solves them in return for bartered products or services. This does not sit well with his new partner, Dodson, his friend and former sidekick in some less salubrious past activities. Dodson has turned a page in his life. He has a wife and a new baby and he needs to be able to support them and to have the respect of the community. His demand as a partner is to be in charge of finances and to make sure that all cases in the future are accepted on a cash basis. IQ agrees but his heart really isn't in it. People in the neighborhood still expect to be able to barter with him and he's never going to turn them down.

Isaiah is approached by a young woman named Grace who wants to hire him to find her missing mother whom she hasn't seen in years. Grace is a painter and she offers Isaiah his choice of her paintings in return for his PI services. IQ knows nothing about art but he knows what he likes and it isn't Grace's abstract paintings. But he does like Grace. In fact, he likes her very, very much and wants an excuse to spend time with her, so, of course, he takes the case. Dodson fumes.

Grace's mother, Sarah, it turns out, is playing a dangerous game of her own. She is a fugitive from justice, wanted for the murder of a man who was presumed responsible for the death of her husband. Her husband had been a soldier in the Iraq war and he spent time at Abu Ghraib. There he took or at least came in possession of some disgusting and incriminating pictures of the torture that took place there. The chief torturer and star of the tapes is a former CIA sadist who is now the multimillionaire owner of a security business and some of the other torturers featured in the pictures now work for him. Sarah has those tapes and is blackmailing the man and threatening to make the pictures public if he doesn't pay her a million dollars.

The narrative starts with a bang with IQ in the clutches of the torturers and after that introduction, it goes into the backstory of just how that came to happen. The story is one of nonstop action as IQ and Dodson try to find Sarah and at the same time handle some other lower-profile cases. Meanwhile, IQ is also still trying to find a way to bring justice to the killer of his brother. It all makes for an intense and colorful tale with characters that are well-described and seem altogether believable. I was all in pulling for this modern-day Sherlock and Watson.

Joe Ide is a fine writer and he seems to have a winner in this series. I look forward to reading more in the future.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poetry Sunday: Summer Rain by Amy Lowell

When I was a young child, we lived in a house with a tin roof so I understand what Amy Lowell is referring to in her poem. Many nights I was lulled to sleep by the hypnotic sound of rain hitting that roof.

The house that I live in now does not have a tin roof, but at least we did finally have a bit of summer rain falling on it Saturday, courtesy of Hurricane Hanna that was churning in the Gulf south of us. It was rain that we badly needed. We could use more, but I'm grateful for the "cool, silver rain" that did fall. 

Summer Rain

by Amy Lowell

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

Friday, July 24, 2020

This week in birds - #410

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

This Red-bellied Woodpecker having a nosh on my suet cake appears to be molting, judging by the raggedy appearance of its feathers. This is the time of year when the molt is well underway and it's not at all uncommon to see bald-headed or nearly bald birds and others in various states of undress. In a few weeks, all those bright shiny new feathers will be in place and the birds will be sleek and well-dressed once again.


Public lands such as national parks are being inundated with visitors wanting to get outside safely during the pandemic, but those visitors are trashing the parks and also possibly making the spread of the virus more likely.


National Moth Week continues through Sunday night, the 26th. Visit the website to learn how you can participate by reporting your observations.


Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act this week. The act is intended to fund infrastructure repairs on public lands as well as funding some land acquisitions. 


Polar bears are likely headed for extinction by the end of this century if current trends in climate change continue unabated.


The Pebble Mine project in Alaska was blocked by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 largely over concerns for the risks that the project posed for salmon. The current administration has now reversed that decision and allowed the gold mine to continue, full steam ahead.


The great climate migration in response to global warming is already underway worldwide. It may not have affected this country to a great extent yet but it almost certainly will in years to come.


The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots bills itself as a nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered parrots and their habitats. The group maintains a captive breeding program to help increase the population of birds such as the endangered Spix's Macaw that is extinct in the wild. But there is some concern about the ethical practices of the organization and its lack of transparency.


A new report concludes that the United States is failing in its duty to protect its most important fish habitats. There are insufficient protections for a healthy future for U.S. waters and the problem has only gotten much worse in the past three-and-a-half years.


Fishing boats that discard some of their catch at sea are impacting the feeding habits of seabirds and not necessarily in a good way.


Over the next two decades, plastic waste in our oceans is expected to triple in volume. So far, efforts to reduce such waste have been notably ineffective.


Chinese Crested Tern in flight.

A decade long effort to restore a critically endangered seabird is having an effect. The global population of the Chinese Crested Tern has doubled in that time


Federal regulators have put a new roadblock in the way of plans to demolish four massive hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River on the Oregon-California border. A coalition has been planning for years to demolish the dams in order to save salmon populations in the river that have dwindled to almost nothing.


The American paddlefish and Russian sturgeon were not supposed to be able to breed and create hybrid offspring. But Nature found a way and now we have the "sturrdlefish."


Wasps can spoil a summer day but they do have their role to play. It would behoove us to get to know them a little better and maybe give them the respect they deserve.


Seabirds that feed on the surface of the ocean, like kittiwakes and fulmars, are more likely to ingest plastic waste than diving birds like murres and guillemots.


Global climate change is affecting local climates as well. New York City, after years of having a humid continental climate, is now considered to be in the humid subtropical zone which requires that summers average above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and winters stay above 27 degrees Fahrenheit on average.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A review

Mexico in the 1950s. Noemí Taboada is a twenty-something party girl living in Mexico City, the daughter of a rich family. She wants for nothing, except perhaps independence. Her role, as seen by her parents, is to find and capture a suitable husband and settle down to producing grandchildren. But Noemí has other ideas. She may be a flighty and flirty young woman who enjoys her effect on the men in her circle, but she also has a more serious side; she wants to go to college to study anthropology.

Her father sees no need for that but since she is stubborn in her desire for an education, he offers her a deal. He will allow her to go to college and study anthropology if she will do one teensy little favor for him first. 

Some months earlier her orphaned cousin, Catalina, had married a handsome English-Mexican named Virgil Doyle and they moved to his family's country estate and a house called High Place. Now Noemí's father has received a paranoid sounding letter from Catalina that accuses her husband of poisoning her and speaks of voices in the walls of the house and an overall aura of rot and decay. He asks his daughter to go and visit Catalina and find out what's going on. If she does this, she can go to college.

It seems like a good deal to Noemí, so she's up for it and off to the country she goes.

She finds High Place to be an imposing and gloomy pile and once she's inside she finds that Catalina had not exaggerated. It does exude an air of rot and decay. The walls are covered in mold and the Doyle family itself is pretty moldy. In addition to Virgil, there's his less attractive cousin Francis, Francis' mother Florence, the ancient family patriarch Uncle Howard, and various silent and robotic servants. Then, of course, there is Catalina who is confined to her room with (alleged) tuberculosis. Noemí finds that she is hardly allowed any time with her cousin and almost never alone. 

Then the hallucinations and the sleepwalking begin. Soon Noemí hardly knows whether she is waking or sleeping. She sees ghostly presences and hears voices and that mold on the wall of her bedroom seems to be moving...

Moreno-Garcia sets her creepy, eerie atmosphere with great attention to detail. One can feel the damp and smell that mold and shudder at the silent gloom of that huge house lit only with candles and oil lamps. The sensible thing for Noemí to do would have been to run as far and fast as she could and get help to rescue Catalina. But, of course, she doesn't do that. Plucky Noemí will rescue her all on her own. Well, she does at least find an ally in Francis, the least objectionable Doyle. 

I saw a positive review of this book in The Washington Post and then looked at the reviews on Goodreads, most of which were five-star raves. Well, I'm always up for a good gothic. Didn't I like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? And isn't one of my all-time favorite books Rebecca, a book which I read over and over again in my twenties? But, sadly, Noemí is no second Mrs. DeWinter, Francis is no Max, and Florence, though certainly creepy enough, is no Mrs. Danvers. And Moreno-Garcia is no Daphne du Maurier. She goes overboard on the creep factor of the Doyles and their gray, funereal house, but her characters are just words on a page. They never came alive for me and consequently, I couldn't care about them. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book, I was rushing through, just wanting to get to the end. Far be it from me to criticize anyone's rave review of a book. Read and let read is my motto. But I just couldn't "get" this one and I was glad to see the end of it.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 


Monday, July 20, 2020

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride: A review

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, now likely extinct, was the largest woodpecker endemic to North America. Twenty inches long with a wingspan of thirty inches, it was an impressive sight in flight, so impressive that folks who saw it were known to exclaim in awe, "Good lord!" And so, the story goes, it became known colloquially as the Good Lord Bird.

The Good Lord Bird was a denizen of the forests and swamps of the southeastern United States. It's unlikely that it ever lived on the prairies of Kansas except in James McBride's imagination.

McBride imagines the bird there in the middle of the nineteenth century, sharing "Bleeding Kansas" with the abolitionist John Brown and his "army." In his telling, the woodpecker became a talisman for the abolitionist. He carried its feathers as a good luck charm, a symbol of hope.

Like many, I suppose, I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of John Brown and his campaign to destroy the institution of slavery. I am aware of the broad outlines of the story but never troubled myself too much with the specifics. In this book, James McBride introduces the man himself to people like me and makes him a real person not just someone who exists on the dusty pages of history books. He does it by showing us John Brown through the eyes of a young boy, a Black child who first met him there in Kansas and rode with him for the next four years until his 1859 raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, a raid that likely hastened the beginning of the bloody Civil War that would finally put an end to slavery in this country.

The boy, our narrator, is Henry Shackleford. He met John Brown one day when the man came to town for a haircut. Henry's father was a barber and while he worked at the head of his customers, Henry worked at their feet, cleaning their boots. On the fateful day of their meeting, a ruckus arose as it often did in the presence of John Brown. In the ensuing melee, Henry's father was accidentally killed, leaving the child an orphan. Brown took him with him when he left, telling Henry that he was now free. 

Because of the way Henry was dressed when he met him, Brown thought that he was a she, a young girl named Henrietta, and Henry/Henrietta dressed and passed as a girl during all the years he was with Brown.  He became a favorite of Brown and particularly of Brown's son Frederick who introduced him to the Good Lord Bird and gave him a feather from the bird to wear in his hat.

Henry/Henrietta, who Brown soon dubs Onion, is a rollicking good narrator. His storytelling reminded me of no one so much as Huckleberry Finn. In fact, I think Henry and Huck would have been fast friends.

Brown led his ragtag army around Kansas and Missouri, with the pro-slavers always hot on his trail. There were many skirmishes along the way, with Brown always convinced that the Great Redeemer was on his side. As Henry observes:
“He was like everybody in war. He believed God was on his side. Everybody got God on their side in a war. Problem is, God ain’t tellin’ nobody who He’s for.”
Henry travels with Brown to Boston and Philadelphia and along the way, he meets Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and sees free Black people walking the streets dressed in fine clothes. It is a revelation to him.
“I come to the understanding that maybe what was on the inside was more important, and that your outer covering didn't count so much as folks thought it did, colored or white, man or woman.”
But by this time the Onion had pretended to be a girl for so long that he was attached to the idea.
“I had thoroughly been a girl so long by then that I'd grown to like it, got used to it, got used to not having to lift things, and have folks make excuses for me on account of me not being strong enough, or fast enough, or powerful enough like a boy, on account of my size. But that's the thing. You can play one part in life, but you can't be that thing. You just playing it. You're not real.” 
But Onion rationalizes that lying about who he was didn't really matter because to white people: 
“Being a Negro’s a lie, anyway. Nobody sees the real you. Nobody knows who you are inside. You just judged on what you are on the outside whatever your color. Mulatto, colored, black, it don’t matter. You just a Negro to the world.” 
And so the road inexorably leads to Harpers Ferry and the Brown army's date with history. They ensure that Henry/Onion escapes out a window before the final battle begins and he is aided and hidden by conductors on the Underground Railroad, but once Brown is captured and tried and sentenced to hang, Henry longs to visit him to say goodbye and to confess. A janitor at the jail where he is held makes the visit possible. As Onion confesses his deceptions, a strange transformation comes over Brown.
“The old face, crinkled and dented with canals running every which way, pushed and shoved up against itself for a while, till a big old smile busted out from beneath 'em all, and his grey eyes fairly glowed. It was the first time I ever saw him smile free. A true smile. It was like looking at the face of God. And I knowed then, for the first time, that him being the person to lead the colored to freedom weren't no lunacy. It was something he knowed true inside him. I saw it clear for the first time. I knowed then, too, that he knowed what I was - from the very first.” 
Brown admonishes Henry, “Whatever you is, Onion," he said, "be it full.” 

By the time Henry nears the end of his narrative, I have completely fallen for John Brown. Maybe he was a wild and crazy old man but in spite of all his warts and foibles, he was a hero for his times, a larger than life warrior for justice. We need all of those we can get wherever we can find them.

As Henry summed up his understanding of John Brown, after all the satire and humor of his narrative, I was reduced to tears.
“The Good Lord Bird don't run in a flock. He Flies alone. You know why? He's searching. Looking for the right tree. And when he sees that tree, that dead tree that's taking all the nutrition and good things from the forest floor. He goes out and he gnaws at it, and he gnaws at it till the thing gets tired and it falls down. And the dirt from it raises other trees. It gives them good things to eat. It makes 'em strong. Gives 'em life. And the circle goes 'round.”
Even in death, John Brown gave life to the movement he espoused and though the struggle for justice goes on, the "dirt" from all those mighty trees that have fallen continues to nourish and make us stronger. And so the circle goes round. 

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Poetry Sunday: Invictus by William Ernest Henley

In honor of the memory of our hero, Congressman John Lewis.


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Friday, July 17, 2020

This week in birds - #409

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

"You talkin' to me?" A Barn Swallow on its nest.


On Wednesday, the president unilaterally weakened one of the nation's bedrock conservation laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, limiting the ability of the public to review and protest federal infrastructure projects.


Monsoon rains have been flooding South Asia, displacing millions of people in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, and Nepal and killing scores.


Koalas can suffer from a form of chlamydia that is very similar to that suffered by humans. Researchers are hoping that by studying the disease in koalas more effective treatments may be developed.


Andean Condor image from The Guardian.

Andean Condors are the world's largest soaring bird with a wingspan of up to ten feet. They are able to soar for up to 100 miles on those wings without ever flapping them.


Dam removal has started on the Middle Fork Nooksack River in Washington in order to boost the population of endangered fish species in the area by providing more room for them to spawn.


White-throated Sparrow image from The New York Times.

Birdsong can change and evolve over time and that seems to be what has happened with the White-throated Sparrow of the northern boreal woods. Over the past twenty years, its song has subtly changed.


As expected, the administration is joining in the appeal of the recent court decision stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline.


In 2017, the most recent year for which complete worldwide data are available, global emissions of methane soared to a record high. Experts warn that those emissions are expected to continue to rise.


One of the problems is abandoned oil and gas wells that continue to leak methane and which ultimately end up costing taxpayers to clean them up.


From the Bureau of Displaced Birds:

A lone Sandhill Crane has been hanging around North Carolina's Outer Banks, which are far from its usual range.

A Bearded Vulture, one of Europe's largest and rarest raptors usually found in the mountain ranges of the continent, has made its way to the Midlands of the UK.

A Brown Booby has been thrilling birders in County Wicklow in Ireland. It is the first live Brown Booby to be recorded in Ireland.


How did the thistledown velvet ant - which isn't really an ant at all but a wasp - get its white fluff? One might suspect that it's another case of mimicry when a creature is trying to look like something else as a matter of protection, but new research indicates that might not be the case with this wasp.


Rising seas are bringing water into communities at record rates and creating an extraordinary rise in coastal flooding in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


A deteriorating tanker moored off the coast of Yemen threatens to spill its 1.1 million barrels of oil into the sea which could create a spill four times worse than the Exxon-Valdez spill and wreck the environment and people's livelihoods for decades.


The EPA has declined to tighten smog regulations in spite of pressure from conservation groups and court decisions.


Shorebirds that use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway in their migratory travels are subject to being hunted in many places along the way. This is a major threat to many, especially threatened or endangered species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.


The proposed construction of a wall along the Arizona-Mexico border will restrict access to a popular hiking trail on public lands in the Coronado National Memorial in southern Arizona. 


Fish in the northernmost parts of the planet have adapted to survive in very dynamic conditions but global warming is presenting them with challenges they haven't previously faced and research shows some of them are declining.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.: A review

James Baldwin seems to be having a bit of a renaissance these days. Through films and documentaries, his life and his life's work have been brought to a new generation. The work of current-day African-American writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jesmyn Ward reference Baldwin and pay homage to him.

But what relevance really do his life and writing have for today's challenges? Eddie S. Glaude Jr. has spent much of his adult life studying Baldwin and he aims to answer that question for us. Indeed the full title of his book is Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.

Glaude refers to our present-day situation as the "after times," a phrase he borrows from Walt Whitman's description of the country after the Civil War. The calumny that marks today's discourse coming out of the highest institution of our national government would seem to fit such a juxtaposition.

Glaude takes us back to the beginning of this fraught era in our history which seems much longer than only four years ago. He was disenchanted with the Obama presidency and with Democrats whom he believed took Black voters for granted. He called on those voters to follow an "electoral blank-out" in the 2016 presidential election. He encouraged them to turn out in record numbers in November of that year and cast a vote for "none of the above" because what difference really was there between the parties and he knew that there was no way that voters would actually put a buffoon like Trump in the White House. In this book he writes, "I was wrong, and given my lifelong reading of Baldwin, it was an egregious mistake."


Baldwin never thought of himself as a spokesperson for a movement; he preferred to call himself a witness. And he witnessed a lot and recorded it in his fiction and nonfiction beginning in the 1940s right up almost until his death in 1987. Those forty-odd years saw the rise and blossoming of the civil rights campaign of the 1960s and the martyrdom of many of the champions of that movement, including most devastatingly for Baldwin Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder. Baldwin suffered deep depression after that event and a loss of hope that America would ever achieve the goals espoused by its founding documents. In the years after, his despair even led him to attempt (perhaps half-heartedly) suicide on two occasions.

But in the end, Baldwin found a way to channel his sorrow with the world and continue his role as a witness, particularly through the nonfiction writing of his later years. His writing always contained at its core a stubborn moral purpose and he was able to bring that clarity of vision to a country that seemed riddled with contradictions. In part, his clear view of his country was occasioned by him living abroad in many of those years. He lived in France for much of that time and also in Turkey. From that vantage point, he was able to see his country as it really existed in the world, without the clouding of day-to-day life events to influence it.

He saw that a motivating factor for many Americans, especially white Americans, was fear. He wrote: "They do not really know what it is they are afraid of, but they know they are afraid of something, and they are so frightened that they are nearly out of their minds." He could have been writing about today's America.

One could definitely see the United States of the past almost four years as a country out of its mind. Glaude writes of our current president: "Contrary to what he declared during his inaugural address, Trump did not stop the 'American carnage.' He unleashed it."

Fear is a part of Black Americans' lives as well but they know what they are afraid of: A society that still does not acknowledge their full humanity in all of its institutions. Racism and bigotry, led by purposeful ignorance, still play an outsized role in our national life even as they did during Baldwin's life and they make it difficult if not impossible to ever achieve justice. Again, in the words of James Baldwin:
Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy of justice.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2020

July has been a tough month for the garden and the gardener so far here in zone 9a in Southeast Texas. Our daytime temperatures have hovered in the high 90s Fahrenheit while the daily heat index has been closer to 110. There has been little rain and it's been a challenge for my sprinklers to keep up. My plants are showing the strain.

In spite of all that, I do have a few blooms to show you from some of my tough plants that laugh at the heat. 

(Full disclosure: Some of these pictures are from my archives, but all are images of plants currently blooming in the garden.) 

 Crape myrtle (of course).

 And more crape myrtle.

 'Laura Bush' petunia.

 Summer phlox.

Hamelia patens, aka Mexican firebush. 

The Anisacanthus wrightii is beginning to bloom which makes the bumblebees happy. 



 Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum,' aka black-eyed Susan.

 Echinacea, purple coneflower.

 Joe Pye weed. It isn't a weed at all but a very useful native wildflower.


 Milk and wine lilies (crinums).

 More crinums.

 Native sunflowers.


 Justicia 'Orange Flame.'

 Evolvulous 'Blue Daze.'

 Almond verbena.

 Duranta erecta.

I have never had any luck with buddleias. I'm not sure why, but for some reason, they don't seem to like my garden. The soil or climate? My brown thumbs? Anyway, I decided to try again this year with 'Miss Molly.' So far, she's alive and even putting out a few blooms. Hope is alive.

The datura 'Purple Ballerina' is almost done but still putting out a few blooms.

 The blossoms of 'Pride of Barbados' are just as hot as the weather.

And, of course, the hot, dry conditions don't bother the water lilies at all.

How are conditions where you are this July? I hope you and your garden are flourishing. Thank you for visiting mine and I look forward to visiting you in turn.

Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting us this month and every month. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Wife by Alafair Burke: A review

I didn't much like any of the characters in this book with the possible exception of the kid Spencer, and that at first made it hard for me to get "into" the story. But at some point along the way, the plot grabbed me and I was all in for the rest of the ride through all of its twists and turns.

The unreliable narrator has become so prevalent, especially in the psychological thriller genre, that it is almost a cliche. Alafair Burke uses the technique quite skillfully in this novel. It is impossible to tell at first whether we are being lied to or not. Is this person trustworthy? Can we rely on what she is telling us? In fact, can we rely on any of these characters? Are they all hiding secrets that they will say anything to keep hidden?

Burke is certainly a talented storyteller and once she had hooked me, I loved following her character-driven plot right up until that final twist at the end. I never really saw it coming.

Angela and Jason Powell have been married for six years and live in Manhattan when we meet them. Jason is a popular economics professor at NYU. He is also a bestselling author and has a growing media and consulting career, all of which have been parlayed into considerable wealth. The Powells live a comfortable and charmed life. Angela is a stay-at-home mom to Spencer. The only seeming blemish on the perfect picture has been the attempt to have a child of their own. Angela suffered three miscarriages in the attempts.

Spencer had been born before their marriage and is part of the deep, dark secret of Angela's past that she assiduously hides.

Angela was a bit of a wild child as a teenager and when she was sixteen and walking along a dark road at night after a party, she was kidnapped. She was held and brutalized and raped for three years by her captor. For the last couple of years, another girl was held along with her. Finally, neighbors got suspicious and contacted the police, but the kidnapper escaped with his victims, including a baby who had been born during their ordeal. When the cops caught up to them, the kidnapper was shot and killed, but not before he had shot and killed the second girl.

Angela's parents took her and the baby home and hid the fact of her kidnapping from neighbors. Their story was that she had simply run away from home and now she had returned.

Angela eventually found work with a caterer and it was at one of the parties that they served that she met Jason. A couple of years later they were married and living that charmed life in New York. Then it all fell apart.

An intern at NYU accused Jason of sexual harassment. When that news became public, another woman named Kelly Lynch, a consulting client of his, accused him of raping her. While all of this was being litigated,  Kelly disappeared. When her dead body was found, Jason was arrested for her murder.

Burke skillfully builds the tension and she does play fair in that there are clues throughout the narrative, but they were well camouflaged and I was only able to see them in retrospect as I neared the end and things became more explicit. This book confirmed me as a Burke convert. I'll be looking for more of her work.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars