Sunday, July 27, 2014

Beasts of the field

I was visiting my parents this weekend, and we decided to go to the farm and look for red-headed woodpeckers.  We did see at least one, maybe two, but the chances for photos were slim.

What we did see were the two four-footed beasts who are common in the fields:  deer and cows.  And what's more, they were being cute.

This fawn crossed the field despite our presence, looking for Mom.  It bleated once, and Mom responded.  Once they were reunited, we saw them off and on at the edges of the clearing, wanting to eat but also stay out of the sun (and out of view of the weird people), I suppose.

When we first arrived, all of the cattle were in the shade of some trees at one edge of the field.  When we left, they had moved up and across, toward their sources of water.  I've always been amused by the way a herd will just decide it's time to move, change fields, go on a ramble, etc.  

One cow, "Ol' Number 2," really took her water seriously, hopping right into the spring and getting her fill.

My Dad and my Uncle both asked me about the hail I had pictures of in one of my Las Vegas posts.  It must have been a sign.  I didn't know at the time that we would see hail again, today!  

Severe thunderstorms have been working their way through the area for the last couple of hours, and we had about five minutes where decent-sized hail stones rained down on our town.

What a weekend!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The God of Small Things

So here's a Booker prize winner.  I had a copy at one point, I know I did.  But it wandered away, and I only recently found another copy at a really awesome used bookstore in Dayton, OH.  I said I'd read this for my 2014 challenge if I could find it, and well, here's my review.

This is quite a counterpoint to A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  Written about the same time but set 10 years earlier in a different part of India.  A wildly different form of writing - playful, experimental, toying with the sounds of words, and injecting the rhythm of Malayalam into English.

Where Mistry's story lets the characters' humanity shine through, Roy uses artistry.

The plot is a fairly hackneyed set-up - an affair between castes - but the resulting consequences dwell on big questions.  How responsible are children for the results of their actions?  Even when they've been manipulated?  How do unbending social constructs protect and destroy individuals?  What motivates people either to fall in line or rebel against their given roles?  How have modern political systems grafted themselves on to cultures that greatly predate them?  

She also provides an almost incidental but damning critique of Western-driven cultural tourism.

Many parts of the book seem trippy or dream-like, but this is because much of it is told from the viewpoint of children.  Not precisely in their words, but in their style of perception.

Final Call:

In the end, this one ended up being one of my all-time favorites, much in the same way The English Patient  has.  One of the few books I would gladly reread.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Outside Las Vegas: Mount Charleston & Red Rock Canyon

When we left Corn Creek, we drove up into the Mount Charleston area.  A road follows Lee Canyon up into the higher reaches of the mountain.  We were above 8,000 feet when we turned around due to some interesting weather ...

This was hail!  And the temperature plunged down to 40 degrees!  We were starting to get worried about dents in our rental car, so down the mountain we went.

On to the third destination of the day: Red Rock Canyon.  Here, the weather was a very nice 80 degrees.  This is a gorgeous little place, lots of stratigraphy!

 The main attraction is a loop road that leads to quite a few hiking opportunities in and around various rock formations.

Here's one of the denizens of the area, some kind of extra-pointy lizard. 

And every once in a while I remember my camera has a timer function when we're near something to sit it on :)

So we had a really nice day, with a 60 degree swing in weather to boot.  On the bird front, I was able to see white-throated swifts in Red Rock Canyon, which were another life bird for the trip!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Outside Las Vegas - Corn Creek Station

On the last day of our trip to Vegas, we explored the area around the city.  We visited Corn Creek Station, which is part of Desert National Wildlife Refuge; Lee Canyon, which is on Mount Charleston, and Red Rock Canyon, which is just west of the cushy Vegas suburb of Summerlin.

We have been to Corn Creek before.  At least five years ago, before the current and very nice visitor's center was constructed.  Right outside the visitor's center, three or four small birds were working over a small shrub.  The picture isn't super impressive, but I am including it because this is the first time I have seen Verdin!

Corn Creek is a literal oasis.  Several springs emerge here and support far more vegetation and wildlife than the surrounding desert.  One of the springs has been cemented into a pool.  Many birds were enjoying this feature.

As we walked around the area, Justin asked me if roadrunners lived here.  I told him I no idea.  And then, within 15 minutes, we saw one!  And the weirdest part of all is that it was at the top of a tree (roadrunners are not graceful fliers, or tree climbers, as it happens).   

Corn Creek has a gorgeous setting, nestled between very desolate-looking mountain ranges.  Temperatures were approaching 100 degrees while we were there, but the path offered some shade and just the sound of water made it seem cooler.  

Part of the original settlement at Corn Creek included an orchard, and a few of the trees are still around (you can sort of see it behind the cement pool in the picture above).  In particular, a peach tree was full of overripe fruit, that attracted a continual parade of feathered critters.  

Those included this female Lesser Goldfinch, and the brilliantly-colored male Bullock's Oriole.

According to my records, this is my "life" Bullock's Oriole.  And I also saw life Black-Chinned Hummingbird and Gambel's Quail but did not get photographs.  Although I swear up and down that we saw Gambel's Quail in New Mexico, it just must have not made it on my list.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Celebrating the Fourth

We celebrated July 4th in Vegas.  (July 4th is also our wedding anniversary!).  When we initially got our hotel room, we didn't realize that we'd have great views of both big fireworks displays in Vegas.  But, we did!

These pictures were taken in less than ideal conditions - hand held through a dirty window.  But.  This was vastly preferable to us over being out in the 100 degree streets with thousands of other people jostling for the best view.  Especially when it began to rain 5 minutes after the fireworks ended!  

Our hotel room had some sectional sofa pieces that we turned into a shape where we could sit and watch the first display at Caesars, and then scoot to the other side and see the ones at the Linq.  Pretty neat!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Birds of the Flamingo

We had a few extra minutes Thursday, so we walked up to the Flamingo. I had almost forgotten that they have a courtyard with quite a few water birds.  

Most of them are exotics to North America, but they did have a few California Brown Pelicans.  This is an angle where the bird looks particularly comical.  This one was doing a version of what I figured was panting, with the big pockety part of its bill flapping back and forth.

And here we have a type of whistling duck (white-faced, maybe? the exact name escapes me).  This duck was actually making its namesake noise from time to time.  And then, of course, you know the Flamingo would have to have flamingos.

Not super-thrilled about the whole live-animals-as-decorations aspect of this exhibit, but I still couldn't resist a spin through.  They're there already and I didn't contribute financially to their continued imprisonment.  That's about the best I could do.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A short trip to the desert

I find it hard to believe I have been married for five years, but it's true!  To celebrate, we usually take a trip over the long weekend to celebrate, and this year Vegas was our destination.  Three days, in and out.  Quick trip, but lots of good times to share!

We flew out Wednesday night after work.  Our flight was delayed, which was aggravating at first.  But, it also meant that we were treated to almost two hours of the setting sun from the plane.  As we neared Vegas, it got really gorgeous.  Then we landed, at 9:00 at night, where it was still 107 degrees!

One of the newest attractions in Vegas is a giant ferris wheel called the High Roller.  It was more or less beside our hotel, so we got lots of looks at it.  Its engineering amazes me - a miracle of tension and what I'm assuming are the strongest cables in the world.  We didn't ride it, heights are not our favorite things.

Something we did do, was have a few drinks at Hyde in Bellagio.  The lounge/club is immediately behind the dancing fountains.  Which are one of my favorite things in the world, so I was extra happy.  Believe it or not, you can earn free drinks here by playing MyVegas on Facebook.  One free drink doesn't sound like much, but they have an amazing cocktail menu (and one drink will run you $18+), so this was a really great reward.  One of the highlights of the trip!

About a Boy

A Fine Balance was emotionally exhausting, so I went for something lighter as a breather.  I just picked this up at  a library book sale.

And for a book that has bullying, attempted suicide, failure to launch, serial womanizing taken to extreme lengths, and more - this is pretty light reading.  But there are a lot of redeeming qualities.  Hornby has a way of just laying a conflict bare in snappy, casual language.  He's great at building characters.

Marcus, especially, is just fantastically done.  You can hear him maturing as the pages turn.

Final call:

It should only take a few hours to get through this.  For that, it's worth it.  Certainly some memorable characters and a laugh out loud moments.