The scene is like something out of a Mills & Boon novel, with a suitor so besotted by the object of his desire that he chooses a present he knows she will love, and takes the trouble to gift-wrap it himself. But there is no romantic music or candle-lit seduction and the lovers are not human. Rather they are balloon flies, little insects that swarm over water and marshy areas throughout Britain during the summer months and conduct a courtship ritual with a macabre twist. The males are not predators themselves — they subsist peacefully on a diet of nectar — but they will do anything for their greedy, protein-crazy inamoratas. Trapping other insects, usually smaller flies, as nuptial gifts, they wrap up their prey beautifully in silk produced by special glands on their forelegs. Male digger wasp trying to mate with a fly orchid flower in a nature reserve in the English countryside The bigger the present and the more elaborate the wrapping, the more time the male … [Read more...] about Butterflies with eyes in very private place explored in new book
Lying in wait book
By the time our dahabiya moored at Daraw, just north of the Aswan Dam, and we stepped down on to the bank, watched by a few idle cows, I was tiring of Agatha Christie. If you say you are going sailing up the Nile, everyone – absolutely everyone – cracks a gag about someone getting murdered. But gripping as it is, Death on the Nile isn’t a good book about Egypt. The river is only tangentially relevant to the story. As with all Christies, it could be anywhere. Like many a visitor to Egypt before us, we started with the pyramids of Giza. “They’re a bit of a tourist trap but they’ve got to be done,” a friend advised before I went. Standing in front of the Great Sphinx, with the pyramids looming behind, it was hard not to agree. Under the burning sun, the monuments, the sky, the sand and the yellow-brown admin buildings all seem to have been made from the same substance, as if the architecture were simply dusty air crystallised into solid form. In … [Read more...] about Sailing the Nile in style
I was an easily frightened child, and nothing scared me more than certain picture books. Something about the static images, the simple words and the unseen menaces hidden between pages made books much more sinister than, say, movies, and quite a few volumes that now seem perfectly innocuous were banished from my bedroom shelves. I had forgotten about this youthful phobia until I saw “The Babadook,” the debut feature by the Australian director Jennifer Kent. Or rather, until I came home from the screening, went to bed and woke up in the throes of the kind of nightmare that was the reason I had shunned those books in the first place. The Babadook is a black-hatted, long-taloned, snaggletoothed figure — a sort of monochrome, pen-and-ink Freddy Krueger — who lives between the bright red covers of a story that shows up in the house of Amelia (Essie Davis) and her 6-year-old son, Sam (Noah Wiseman). Their household is a creepy place, even before the visitor … [Read more...] about Go Read a Book, Kid. It Couldn’t Hurt You.
Once again this year, we plan to endure the challenges we know lie in wait at busy air terminals and other obstacles between Zion Canyon and our beloved New England, but upon landing my mind will be on other things: islands, lighthouses, lobster boats, back roads, old cemeteries, sugar houses, old barns, farmers’ markets, fall gardens and stone walls. Each are a chapter in a pantheon of personal passions that have been part of my life; each something I grew up with, but will never take for granted. Stone walls are a good example. In 1871 the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a “Statistics of Fences In the United States.” At that time, it noted that in New England and New York State alone, there were 252,539 miles of stone walls, enough to circle the globe ten times, and to build all the pyramids of Egypt times one hundred. It has been calculated that such an effort would have required an army of 15,000 workers 243 years to accomplish. The “when” … [Read more...] about Why stone walls are so pervasive in the northeast
The nation's 41st president was a member of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston for more than a half century. HOUSTON — The spiritual home for the past half century to George H.W. and Barbara Bush began its final goodbye Wednesday as the 41st president's body was carried inside with echoes of Hail to Chief still ringing in the air. And mourners, some dressed in their Sunday finest and some in the clothing of blue-collar workers, streamed in by the hundreds to pay final respects to a fellow Houstonian and onetime leader of the free world who died Friday at 94. Larry and Nancy Buffington joined the seemingly endless line of mourners because, they said, Bush exemplified the image of a national leader. “This makes me homesick for the values and integrity that belongs in the White House,” said Larry Buffington, who was in line outside church in Houston for more than four hours. Nancy Buffington, who met the 41st president several years ago … [Read more...] about George H.W. Bush lies in repose at his Houston church of 50 years