Friday, April 30, 2021

This week in birds - #448

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

The Eastern Kingbirds have arrived in the area, along with tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and, allegedly, Baltimore Orioles, although I confess I haven't yet encountered any orioles. Nevertheless, my oranges are out and waiting for them!

*~*~*~*

Scientists have counted more than 25,000 barrels in waters off the California coast that are believed to contain DDT-laced industrial waste. It is believed that this may help to explain the extraordinarily high rate of cancer in adult sea lions in the area. Some of the barrels may have been languishing there for at least 70 years. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972.

*~*~*~*

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats employed an obscure law in order to resurrect Obama-era regulations on limiting emissions of methane. The regulations had been wiped out by the previous administration.

*~*~*~*

Native American lawmakers in Montana have called on President Biden to help craft a plan to reintroduce bison to the landscape in and around Glacier National Park and the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge. The request was presented in a letter addressed to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

*~*~*~*

Advances in the use of weather surveillance radar are making it possible for scientists to better track and understand the nocturnal migrations of songbirds. This, in turn, is helping them to advocate for protections for the birds as they fly, particularly the effort to turn off lights in highrises at night that can be deadly for the migrants.

*~*~*~*

In the last fifty years, humans have become more aware of the role of whales in the environment and of the need to protect them. Considerable advances have been made during that time increasing public awareness and protections for them, but there is still much work that needs to be done.

*~*~*~*

Most of us are probably at least somewhat aware of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened and endangered animals, but did you know that they also have a green list? It exists and it is cause for hope in what sometimes seems like a losing battle.

*~*~*~*

Trees are our friends and allies and planting them seems like a good thing, but the Prairie Ecologist makes the point that the planting needs to be of the right kind of tree for the particular environment in which it is placed.

*~*~*~*

Among all the other problems they face, the endangered Swift Parrots of Australia have a sex ratio problem. They produce more male than female chicks which leaves many males without mates when they get to maturity. Swift Parrot mothers are able to know the sex of their chicks while still in the egg and it seems they are sexists that prefer and offer more protection to the male chicks, thus more of them survive.

*~*~*~*

Bobcats are thriving in many parts of the country and that includes New Jersey. The population there is still small, estimated at 106 animals, but it is growing.

*~*~*~*

The administration's infrastructure plan includes money to fund the chronically underfunded Superfund that is charged with cleaning up toxic sites.

*~*~*~*

One important element in any plan to combat global climate change is the need to protect healthy ecosystems in our public lands.

*~*~*~*

A rehabbing eagle that had been shot in the leg. She recovered and was able to be returned to the wild.

The Chaco Eagle, also known as the Crowned Eagle, is endemic from southern Brazil to central Argentina. It is endangered, with possibly only about 1,000 adult birds left in the wild and they face a wide variety of dangers including drowning, electrocution, shooting, poisoning, and habitat loss.

*~*~*~*

What is more powerful, a $27 million a mile wall or a $5 ladder? You may not be surprised to learn that it is the $5 ladder, combined with a little human ingenuity.

*~*~*~*

Here's an interesting story (at least to me) of how meteorites made a 22-million-year journey from the asteroid belt to southern Africa, landing in Botswana, and just how scientists were able to figure out where they came from and how long it took.

*~*~*~*

Drought is too small a word to describe what is happening in the western part of our country because of global climate change. "Megadrought" or "aridification" more accurately describe the process and there is some hope that using more accurate descriptive words may actually help to spur action to slow or reverse the process.

*~*~*~*

Mangroves help to protect the southern tip of Vietnam from the encroaching sea. People there are undertaking a conservation effort to protect and restore mangroves as a way of increasing protection for remaining coastal lands.

*~*~*~*

Conservation efforts have aided much of the wildlife that lives in Puget Sound but orcas are still struggling there primarily because the Chinook salmon which they eat are also struggling.

*~*~*~*

During the massive Australian wildfires last year, heroic and harrowing efforts were undertaken to save plants and wildlife. Among those was a scheme to protect a stand of ancient Wollemi pines.

*~*~*~*

The celebrated cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. are threatened by the encroaching rising seas and by land subsidence. A recently created Tidal Basin Ideas Lab has commissioned five landscape architecture firms to come up with plans to protect the area.

*~*~*~*

What would you consider to be the most photogenic bird in the world? It might not be the Tawny Frogmouth but according to researchers in Germany who surveyed social media, this perpetually angry-looking bird is it! One does have to admit that it has a striking and unforgettable appearance.



Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood: A review

 

The Life of the Mind might have been more accurately called The Life of the Uterus because that is the locus of the action in this book. It is particularly focused on the events in the uterus of the protagonist who has suffered a miscarriage and been treated with the drug that induces medical abortions in order to clear the uterus of the debris from the miscarriage. She was told to expect bleeding for about ten days, but weeks later, she is still experiencing the after-effects. Then later her best friend decides to have an abortion. So, yes, uteruses rule in this tale.

But perhaps I am being unfair because the protagonist whose name is Dorothy also thinks a lot so her mind is engaged. She thinks a lot about the miscarriage although she doesn't particularly grieve about it. Mostly she thinks about it because she hasn't told anyone except her partner. She has withheld the information from her best friend, the one who later decides to have an abortion. And she has withheld the information from her therapists, both her first therapist and the second one that she sees to complain about the first one. Second-guessing her actions seems to be second nature with Dorothy. She can't seem to make a decision without reviewing, rethinking, and replaying it in her mind.

Dorothy is an adjunct professor at a private university where she teaches two to four courses per semester including one course called Writing Apocalypse. Her students are encouraged to write about an apocalypse to come. The context for the course seems to be global anxiety perhaps in regard to the environmental crisis or a political crisis or maybe both. It isn't altogether clear. But Dorothy herself seems less concerned with any of that than she is with what she terms "disappointed cynicism, hatred of groups and existential damage that manifests as useless contrarianism and resignation." Her mind focuses on this and her thoughts swirl endlessly and claustrophobically around this center.

As for the novel's plot, there really isn't much of one. The writing is incisive and it moves along at a fair clip, but nothing much happens and there doesn't seem to be any defining moment of truth or crux to it all. Indeed, at one detour point in the narrative, Dorothy goes to an academic conference in Las Vegas. Why? There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for it and it doesn't reveal anything new to the reader. It's just a distraction.

Moreover, a considerable portion of the narrative is spent describing scatological matters and Dorothy's hygiene, or lack of same. The first sentence of the book finds her sitting in a public toilet and musing over the fact that she is still bleeding from her miscarriage after six days. And that sort of sets the tone for what is to follow. Again, why this emphasis? Perhaps the writer did it for its shock value, but it's all a bit disgusting and I couldn't really see that it served any great purpose.  

Disaffected and dissatisfied seem to best describe Dorothy. She leads a rather bleak life but it was hard for me to work up much empathy for her, in spite of the fact that we share a name. Smallwood's writing is fairly stream-of-consciousness in style and the story is undeniably creative, unique even. But I do like books to have a point to them and this one just didn't seem to. Then, again, maybe pointlessness was the point.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars   

Monday, April 26, 2021

Girl A by Abigail Dean: A review

 

I generally try to avoid books about the suffering of children and animals, especially when that suffering is caused by deliberate torture, so what am I doing reading - and enjoying - this book which is about the confinement, starvation, and torture of seven children over a period of years in a "house of horrors" by their parents? Perhaps there really are exceptions to everything.

This book grabbed me right from the first chapter and it was propulsive reading from there right through the end. It is a psychological family drama with a bit of thriller thrown in as the reader wonders how and if these children will ever escape their captivity. Well, in fact, we know they did because the book begins with the mother's death in prison and learning that she had designated her oldest daughter Alexandra ("Lex") as the executrix of her will. Lex is now a successful New York-based lawyer and she returns to England to fulfill her executrix duties.

We learn that Lex is Girl A. The children were designated by letters of the alphabet to protect their identities during the trial. Lex, who was a teenager at the time, is the one who was able to escape from the house and summon the police. Subsequently, all the surviving children were adopted, each by separate adoptive parents. Lex was adopted by one of the policemen who investigated the case. He and his wife provided a safe and loving home which gave her a start toward a successful life.

When the police swarmed the family's home after Lex's escape, (Spoiler alert) the father, who was quite mad and the main perpetrator of the abuse that the children endured, killed himself by taking poison. The plan had been for his wife to follow suit, but she didn't do it. Thus, she was the one to survive and stand trial and be sentenced for the horrors.

The children who survived learned to cope with their past in various ways. Lex and her older brother were the most successful in putting it all behind them and getting on with their lives. The youngest was still a baby at the time and never remembered any of that earlier life. It was the middle children who had the most difficulty. Now, with the death of their mother, they are all drawn back in to greater or lesser degrees because they have been jointly left the "house of horrors" where they all lived together plus twenty thousand pounds in cash. Lex must oversee the disbursement.

The author provides a multi-layered view of this whole tragic family drama. It is quite well written, especially for a debut novel. It contains an absorbing study of the characters involved and the bounds of human endurance, resilience, and the instinct for survival. Although the story is dark, bleak, and often heartbreaking, it was relieved from the first by the knowledge that Lex and others had survived and had made successes of their lives. I think that is what sustained me while reading this narrative and actually allowed me to enjoy it. Overall, it is a memorable start for this writer.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Poetry Sunday: Democracy by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was arguably the best and most famous African-American poet of the twentieth century. His poems spoke for people who, even one hundred years after the end of slavery, were not fully free, were not fully able to participate in what we like to think of as our democracy. His poems speak for any who are denied full participation in the political and social life of the country. They still speak for people who cannot wait for things to "take their course" because what good is freedom when they are dead?

Democracy

by Langston Hughes

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
  Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
 To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

     Freedom
     Is a strong seed
     Planted
     In a great need.

     I live here, too.
     I want freedom
     Just as you.

Friday, April 23, 2021

This week in birds - #447

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

The Barn Swallows are nesting.

*~*~*~*

President Biden has pledged to slash the country's greenhouse gas emissions by one-half by the end of the decade. The action is part of an aggressive push to combat climate change and to persuade other countries around the world to take similar steps. 

*~*~*~*

Hope is the thing with feathers as Emily Dickinson once told us. It is also an essential element in saving the things with feathers, as well as the rest of Nature. Hope and conservation go hand in hand.

*~*~*~*

The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf happened eleven years ago and its effects are still being felt. We have learned a lot about the ecology of the Gulf and about the risks of deep water drilling in the past eleven years, but are we now any safer from another such disaster?

*~*~*~*

And what about the animals that were rescued from that disaster eleven years ago? Many of the birds were taken to Georgia to avoid the ongoing spill and to be rehabilitated and now one of those birds, a Brown Pelican, has returned home. Over a decade after its traumatic ordeal, the bird made the 700-mile flight back to Louisiana where it was photographed in March.

*~*~*~*

Achieving the goal for greenhouse gas emissions that has been set by President Biden will require eliminating the use of energy produced by burning coal. 

*~*~*~*

An important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be the actions taken by individuals. Although our individual actions may seem insignificant, they do add up and they do have an effect. One important action individuals can take is to give up their manicured lawns and opt to grow native plants instead.

*~*~*~*

Another goal to help combat global warming is the 30x30 plan. The idea here is to protect 30% of Earth's land and water by 2030. This would include not only public lands but private as well.

*~*~*~*

In Monmouth County, New Jersey, authorities took the occasion of Earth Day this week to open a fish ladder that is meant to facilitate the migration of herring species that live in salt water but do their spawning in fresh water. The ladder will aid them in getting from the sea to the fresh water of Wreck Pond where they spawn.

*~*~*~*

The narwhal's tusks are a bit like tree rings in that they provide a record of the animal's diet. Recent analyses of the tusks are showing an accumulation of mercury - not a good thing - and a change in diet as sea ice retreats.

*~*~*~*

What passes for "normal temperature range" is changing as the global climate warms and NOAA is making adjustments to reflect these changes. The last time the agency had updated its Normals was in 2011. 

*~*~*~*

Masked Crimson Tanager in Ecuador.

Male birds are generally brilliantly colored and the brilliance of their feathers is supposed to reflect their health and their worthiness as a mate,  but male tanagers have a trick that allows them to appear to be more attractively colored than they truly are. 

*~*~*~*

The tyrannosaurus rex has long been thought of as a solitary hunter but recent discoveries at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument reveal a different story. It seems likely that the giant dinosaurs hunted in packs. Imagine a pack of tyrannosaurs!

*~*~*~*

The Florida reef gecko is the most endangered reptile species in the United States. Its continued existence is threatened by rises in the sea level.

*~*~*~*

You can chalk this one up to karma: A suspected poacher in South Africa was trampled to death by a herd of elephants last week.

*~*~*~*

New projections show that Lake Mead on the Colorado River could sink to a new record low later this year as a result of the continuing megadrought in the region.

*~*~*~*

Earth has amazing tools to protect itself. As we attempt to reverse the effects of climate change, our greatest ally in the effort is the planet itself.

*~*~*~*

This just boggles my mind and hurts my heart: In Idaho, a Republican-dominated state Senate committee on Tuesday approved legislation allowing the state to hire private contractors to kill about 90% of the wolves roaming the state. It is hard to imagine any action that could be any more wrongheaded.

*~*~*~*

In spite of border walls and other depredations along our southern border, recent sightings of jaguars on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border are raising the hopes of conservationists for the recovery of the species.

*~*~*~*

Margaret Renkl reminds us that we are creatures of Nature, born to be wild, and it is never too late to become a naturalist.


 




Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mona by Pola Oloixarac: A review

 

How do I even begin to review this book? How can I sum it up? It is an Argentinian writer writing about a Peruvian writer who lives in California and is nominated for a prestigious Scandinavian literary award so she travels to a small gray village in Sweden near the Arctic Circle where she hobnobs with other writers from around the world all of whom seem to engage in the insufferable and self-important behavior that one might expect from a group of pretentious posers. It is (I think) meant to be a satire on literary festivals and prizes and in that regard, it is quite successful. It is somewhat less successful in making the namesake narrator known to us but that may be because that narrator doesn't really know herself.

Here's what we know about Mona: She is a prolific user of drink and drugs to the point where she loses herself and loses memory. On the day she is to fly out for the Scandinavian literary festival, she wakes up with extensive bruises on her body and no memory of how they came to be there. She is apparently involved with two different men one of whom may - or may not - be responsible for the bruising. Throughout the days that follow she will be receiving texts from these men, some of them threatening, and she ignores them all. During the festival, she takes care to hide her bruises but she is haunted by the fact that she cannot remember how she got them. Her affect is cynical and sardonic. She presents a tough gal exterior to the world but underneath all that she is a mess and she keeps getting flashes of a violence which she cannot explain.

The depiction of the international set of writers at the festival is often quite amusing. The writer employs stereotypes of many of the nationalities represented such as the Japanese, French, Colombian, Swedish, Icelandic, etc., for comic effect. Mona herself cannot quite believe that she belongs in such company and that she has been nominated for the prestigious prize. She has no expectation that she will actually win and she continues to be tormented by demons that she can't really understand.

Oloixarac gives us a unique view of the literary world and a memorable character study of a disaffected writer. There was much that I really enjoyed about the book but in the end, I felt that the narrative didn't quite come together. The descriptive style became a bit vexatious, including the extensive use of stereotypes, and I found the ending less than satisfactory. I had not read Oloixarac before. This is her third book and her first one, Savage Theories, in particular, was highly praised. She is a talented writer and I would be interested in reading more of her work. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia: A review

 

Gabriela Garcia's debut novel gives an account of five generations of women from four different countries: Cuba, the United States, Mexico, and El Salvador. Each generation of women has in common their victimization by brutal men and, in some cases, by brutal governments.

The first woman in the line is María Isabel from Camaguey, Cuba. It is the nineteenth century and María Isabel works in a factory that rolls cigars. She is the only woman working there. Each day, while the workers roll the cigars, a reader reads for them from a book. María Isabel falls in love with the reading and with the reader.  The reader gives her copies of two books, Cecilia Valdés and Les Misérables. (These books will make a reappearance in the story generations later.) The couple marries and their daughter is born on the same day that her father is brutally executed by the state for alleged crimes against the government. The daughter is named Cecilia.

Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century in Cuba, a time of revolution. Cecilia's daughter, Dolores, has two daughters of her own, Carmen and Elena. Carmen emigrates from Cuba to Miami. Elena stays put. There is a rift in the family wider than the 90 something miles between Cuba and Florida. That rift might have been attributed to politics but in fact was much more complicated than that.

In Miami, Carmen raises her daughter, Jeanette,  and in Cuba, Elena has a daughter named Maydelis. The two never meet or have contact until Jeanette reaches out as an adult.

It is Jeanette who is actually at the center of this generational story. It is her story that reveals the rest of the family story. When we first meet her, she is in recovery from an addiction to painkillers and she is emerging from an abusive romantic relationship. One day, she watches as ICE officers arrive in her neighborhood and take her neighbor, an El Salvadoran refugee whom she barely knows, into custody. Later she sees the woman's young daughter dropped off after her day at school. She doesn't know if there is anyone to care for the girl and she decides to go next door to check on her. When she finds the child alone, she persuades her to accompany her to her apartment until her mother comes home. She cares for her for a few days but is incapable of following through with her caring. She contacts the police who come and pick up the girl, who is named Ana, and send her to Texas where her mother, Gloria, is being held in an immigration facility prior to being deported. 

Gloria is bullied by an immigration official into signing away her rights to a hearing regarding her refugee status and she and her daughter are deported to Mexico and told they must find their own way back to El Salvador. There is nothing but brutality waiting for them in El Salvador and Gloria makes the decision to try to make a life for them in Mexico. (As with the books, Ana, too, will make a reappearance in the novel as a teenager back in Miami, looking for the woman who she thinks of as her benefactor.)

Meanwhile, Jeanette has made a decision of her own. She wants to go to Cuba to meet her grandmother, her aunt, and her cousin. She wants to find her roots. Her mother is vehemently opposed, but Jeanette is determined and does manage to make her way there and meets her relatives. She also finds the copies of Cecilia Valdés and Les Misérables on her grandmother's bookshelves and realizes that the old and rare books are probably quite valuable. How will she use that knowledge?

The stories of each of these women are distinct enough that this could be a collection of discrete but linked stories.  But they are held together by blood and by the common theme running through their stories. They have each been unlucky in love and have had to struggle to make their way in the world. They have been weighed down by tragedy, in Jeanette's case the tragedy of her addictions and abuse. Each of the women's stories in the María Isabel line is layered and nuanced; we learn of their strengths and of their failures. The story of Gloria and Ana is less well-developed and the reader could have wished for more from it. There would seem to have been a wealth of possibility there for more refinement of that aspect of the tale. As it is, all we really learn of them is the trauma of their history. 

Overall, with minor quibbles, I thought Garcia did a good job of presenting these women's lives to us. Her first novel was a very promising effort.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Saturday, April 17, 2021

Poetry Sunday: Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I'm currently reading a biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark. I'll be reading it for quite some time yet for it's about a thousand pages long and I'm only up to her twentieth year when she was a student at Smith College. It is rich with the most minute details of Plath's life. She was a prolific journal keeper. She was extraordinarily explicit about her experiences. She maintained correspondences with several people who kept her letters and all of this material was available to Clark in writing her book.

I've never read very much of Plath's poetry. I did read her one novel, The Bell Jar, which I found fascinating. But of course, it was the poetry for which she was primarily famous. Clark makes reference to several of her poems in the text of her book. One that she particularly references is this one, "Lady Lazarus."

Throughout her early life, in her journals and correspondence Plath made frequent reference to suicide. It was obviously a thought that returned to her time and again and, tragically, she did eventually commit suicide in 1963 at age 30. "Lady Lazarus" is generally accepted to be an expression of her suicidal thoughts and impulses. She writes of attempts at suicide and says:

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.

Sad. If only she could have seen that living is an art, too, a more complicated and difficult one than dying. 

Lady Lazarus


by Sylvia Plath



I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

Friday, April 16, 2021

This week in birds - #446

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

A Double-crested Cormorant perches on a post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast.

*~*~*~*

A recent study suggests that only about 3% of the world's ecosystems remain ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and an undisturbed habitat.

*~*~*~*

Even if we manage to drastically cut greenhouse emissions it will take time before the change translates to an improvement in the atmosphere. That is because those gases already added to the atmosphere persist over a long period of time. The decades of accumulation of such gases will take centuries to completely dissipate.

*~*~*~*

The European bison as firefighter? Maybe, at least in a manner of speaking. It seems that the bison loves to graze on the shrubs and underbrush that feed wildfires and reintroducing them to areas of the continent where they had become extinct could help in fighting or even preventing those fires.

*~*~*~*

We hear a lot about the loss of population of Northern Spotted Owls in the northwestern United States but the problem extends into Canada as well and now that country is taking aggressive measures to try to prevent the bird's extinction there.

*~*~*~*

An environmental accountant writes that Zimbabwe and Namibia have vastly overstated the value of their ivory stockpiles and he argues that the proposed sale of those stockpiles could generate further poaching

*~*~*~*

It seems like a no-brainer that planting more trees could benefit the atmosphere since trees absorb carbon dioxide and excrete oxygen. But a growing number of scientists are warning that high-profile programs aimed at planting billions of trees can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, and push people off their land. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

*~*~*~*

Another example of how evolution works: The common foxgloves introduced to the Americas have modified their flower length over time in order to accommodate a pollinator group they had not previously known - hummingbirds. The long bills of the birds benefit from the longer flowers. In its native Europe, the plant is pollinated by bumblebees.

*~*~*~*

The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council along with Republican governors are gearing up to fight Biden administration plans for counteracting global climate change.

*~*~*~*

The organization Shorebird Stewards has received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will help it to increase protection for shorebirds and for the horseshoe crabs whose eggs they feed on.

*~*~*~*

There are thousands of abandoned oil wells that dot the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico. They present a danger to humans and to wildlife but getting the oil companies to clean up after themselves is not easy.

*~*~*~*

A new report details the grave risk to endangered American rivers from dams, mining, and global heating but environmental activists say the rivers can be saved with the appropriate actions.

*~*~*~*

More and more cities are joining the "lights out" movement to turn off city lights in order to protect migrating birds. Philadelphia is one of the latest to sign on to the action.

*~*~*~*

The Biden administration is declining to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline before federal regulators complete a new environmental analysis. This is a disappointment to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that has fought the pipeline for years. It is, at least for now, a victory for the pipeline owners and drillers.

*~*~*~*

A livestock drug called Diclofenac was banned in Asia because its use had led to the deaths of millions of birds, but it has now been approved for use in Spain and Italy with predictable results. Rare European vultures that feed on livestock carcasses that have ingested the drug are dying. 

*~*~*~*

The New Zealand minister for climate change has announced that the country has become the first to introduce a law that will require banks, insurers, and investment managers to report the impact of climate change on their business.

*~*~*~*

Conservationists are looking for ways to reverse the damage done to the environment along our southern border by the construction of a wall.

*~*~*~*

One of the first Superfund sites in the United States remains one of the most polluted. For years, miners extracted lead and zinc from the ground beneath the Tar Creek area in northeastern Oklahoma. The resulting environmental and human health threats led the federal government to declare 40 square miles of the area a Superfund site in 1984. But 50 years after the mine was shuttered, the region’s toxic legacy still seeps from boreholes into the water and drifts in the wind from tailings piles. 

*~*~*~*

Wisconsin has lost almost as much acreage to wildfires in four months as it did in all of last year. This threatens to be one of the state's most devastating wildfire seasons as hundreds of blazes rage on.

*~*~*~*

It is hoped that a new urban wildlife refuge, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, will help to alleviate generations of environmental racism that has led to the pollution and degradation of the Mountain View community, home to mostly Chicano residents.

*~*~*~*

A National Weather Service station in Massachusetts was evacuated on March 31 and plans are to demolish it this month. The reason? The rising sea levels from climate change threatened to devour it.

*~*~*~*

The New York Times offers a guide to some of the best places in the country for birding during this migration season.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2021

Blooms are still sparse here in my post-February freeze Southeast Texas garden, but, happily, many of the plants that I had feared had been lost have started to come back. Slowly, but they are coming back. I'm glad that I have been slow to replace them.

Meanwhile, my roses are in the pink!


My 'Old Blush' heirloom rose is beginning to blush once again.

Here's a close-up of some of its blossoms.

'Belinda's Dream' rose is just as dreamy as ever, covered in these big, squashy blooms.
 
'Peggy Martin' was hit hard by the freeze and seriously knocked back. I cut her way back afterward and now she is all the way recovered and just about to be in full bloom.

The pink Knockout, too, is doing its best to live up to its name.

I do actually have other colors of roses in my garden but only the pink ones are in bloom at the moment.

That yellow flowering plant next to the bottle tree in the back garden is a wildflower called Texas groundsel.

Here's a closer view. It has been in bloom for more than a month and the blossoms are beginning to fade. But its color has brightened my otherwise somewhat drab garden for all these weeks.

Speaking of wildflowers, this fleabane is blooming next to the fennel.

My amaryllis blooms were mostly victims of the freeze this year, but this one persisted and is now doing its best to uphold the family honor.

My succulent collection spent the winter in the garage. Now that they are back in place on the patio, this one is celebrating with some blooms.

Serendipity is one of my favorite gardening partners. Every year this old petunia manages to reseed itself somewhere in the garden, often in surprising places. I've noticed a few of its plants already this year and this one has begun to bloom.

Another petunia has been added this year. This purple and white pinwheel blooms in a pot near my front door entry.

Still more wildflowers. This native oxalis (violet wood sorrel) is actually a weed in my garden. It sprouts up everywhere, mostly in places where I don't want it. It loves growing among the liriope that edges many of my planting beds. But in a spring when flowers have been hard to come by, even the oxalis is welcome. 

The oxalis also found a spot by my little meditation buddy.

Even weeds can be pretty.

In previous years, my crossvine looked like this in April.

This year it looks like this. But it's alive and I do have hopes that it will eventually return to its former glory.

My first blue plumbago bloom of the year.

This yellow gerbera blooms next to a heuchera in a pot on the patio.

My first salvia to bloom this year is this purple autumn sage.

The yarrow was just about to bloom in February when the freeze came. It was killed back to its roots, but now it's back and pretending nothing ever happened.

As I was taking the picture of the yarrow by the goldfish pond, I saw this little guy in the pond, struggling to pull himself up onto the rocks, so I gave him a helping hand (or net). He soon continued on his way to take care of whatever box turtle business had brought him out on this April day.

It's not a bloom but I am happy to see my little Japanese maple tree coming back and adding its color to the garden.

There is a 40-year-old azalea that lives under the redbud tree in my backyard. When the freeze came, it was full of buds and would have been in bloom within a couple of weeks. The freeze killed all those buds and all the leaves on the plant. I thought the plant itself might be a goner, but then ever so slowly it began to put out new leaves, and then, wonder of wonders, one flower bud appeared. And here it is, fully open now, my one azalea bloom for the year, proving once again that as long as there is life there is hope and sometime there will be blooms. 

Happy Bloom Day! I look forward to visiting your April garden and seeing your blooms.

(Linking to Carol of May Dreams Gardens.)