Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Languishing Lagamorphs

Though separated from rodents by their dentation, lagamorphs (in an order which includes pikas and rabbits) can be equally cute. This pika did not languish (it lives up here, after all and needs to collect a hay stack for the long winter),

but the rabbits we saw throughout Wyoming and South Dakota seemed to lie around a lot, in the middle of the trail, in the prairie dog town and in the shade.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Book Catch-up

Desperately needing to get away from non-fiction and food books, I picked up Andrea Camilleri's Sicilian murder mystery Excursion to Tindari in the guest bedroom of the siblings-in-law. It was a great read while waiting for the train and escaping from Economic Botany. Despite my stated desire of avoiding food books, I salivated at the detailed descriptions of the detective's meals and thought they added to the passions portrayed in the book. I was also pleasantly amused by the constant digs at the Italians. Altogether highly recommended for those who enjoy a character centered mysteries.

I bought my mother Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for her birthday. I then decided that, even though the book was for my mother, and I wasn't reading food books, I needed to read it before handing it over. After all, it isn't every day that one of my favorite novelists writes a book on my favorite subject. Like many such books, it dismayed me, "This is the book that I was supposed to write," yet I still very highly recommend it. It will receive a complete review and discussion of ideas here one of these times.

While still in Canada, I scored a Canadian copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read it completely as a fan and not a critic, and, not surprisingly, adored it. I was actually overall very impressed with some characters ended, and look forward to discussing with other fans. The Canadian, lay-out, by the way, is not as nice as the American.

Last week I hit the library looking for the two of the seven Harry Potter books I don't own so I could sit down to a true H.P. marathon. Instead of H.P., I decided to pick some featured unheard-of-by-me new novels. From the juvenile fiction section, I pulled Before the Lark by Irene Bennet Brown. The heroine is a 12-year-old in Kansas City with a harelip who decides to take on farming in Kansas in 1888. Despite a conclusion that is far too tidy, I enjoyed it and would lightly recommend it for Prairie Quilter, Sunflower Spinner, Lindsey, and others who liked young-adult prairie fiction. If you happen to read it and find the same version I had, do not be turned off by the glaring error in the book jacket: "It is 1888, and Kansas, just to the north of them, is still pioneer country" (my emphasis). The author's geography is very detailed (and they clearly head west from Kansas City), and given that I felt a flaw of the book was how much the author wanted to inform readers, including characters thrown in just to inform about immigration or Kaw people or cleft-palate surgery, I assume the glaring error is from someone at the publishing house.

In the adult section I found Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan. Like most good historical fiction, this book left me feeling completely ignorant and amazed. I began the book knowing absolutely nothing about the Mughal Empire. Upon completion, I looked up a few characters (on wikipedia, of course) and found that the characters were real people and the major events have been well-recorded. I know more for having read the book, and I want to know more: Sundaresan was definitely successful. Given an outline of recorded history, the story is the motivation: how and why these characters behaved this way. I think it is here that Sundaresan shines. She did make the characters believable with plausible motivations for irrational acts. The book is not perfect-- something is amiss with the pacing, and there is an issue that the hero and heroine are not particularly sympathetic. Still I would highly recommend it for Moonbeam, Janet, Sunflower Spinner and those fond of novels like The Red Tent. If I owned my own copy I would give it to my seattle-sister-in-law for her birthday.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Anyone Can Cook"

Since first alerted to it by Hellx back in April, I have been looking forward to Ratatouille. Not surprisingly, I adored it, and would have to list it at the top of the animated rodent pieces I have seen this year. I'm not sure if it will lead to more rodents with discriminating palates as a sib-in-law suggests, but I really do hope it will lead to greater appreciation of food among humans, for after, all, I agree with the dead chef . . . anyone can cook.

"Passions of a Suburban Gardener"

Between Ecuador and the Road Trip, I read Dominique Browning's, Paths of Desire. I loved the concept of a path of desire (apparently a landscape arcitecture term for the places where people actually walk instead of using the paths laid for them) as a driving force in both garden maintenance and life. However, the book overall disappointed me. Perhaps it was because the story wasn't all that great and I was really craving good fiction rather than home (and life) improvement woes. Perhaps I could never get past the idea that Browning, an editor at Home and Garden, actually felt that she was speaking to the challenges that face suburban gardeners everywhere. As her Long Island acre with a dense woods of 100 year old trees, ability hire arborists and other "helpful men" as necessary and attitude of "why do all of the neighbors need their own swing sets?" were well outside my suburban gardening experience, I just couldn't swallow that she was representing "the passions of a suburban gardener" as the subtitle suggests.

Image from Amazon, which you can link to here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Smaller than a moose . . .

Mystery animal #2 was a timberwolf. It ran across highway 2 in northern Wisconsin and the Mister and I had momentary reactions that included, "that's a strange shaped deer" (it was that big), "what a large dog!", "that's a giant and really grey coyote" and "It really was a wolf, wasn't it?". It was. Very cool. No photos.

The Recent 8,552 Miles

Congratulations to Jennifer (Sunflower Spinner), her answer of 8,432 miles, only 120 miles (less than 2%) off of the actual odometer reading of 8,552 miles wins her and and a guest of her choice a fabulous meal at our place in West Virginia.

The runner-up prize, awarded jointly to Prairie Quilter and Glenn (at 8,431 Glenn was technically closer than Prairie Quilter at 8,888, but I like P.Q.'s guess better) is a great meal at our place at West Virginia.

Janet, Irene and the siblings-in-law are all awarded consolation prizes of tasty meals in West Virginia. Prizes must be redeemed in person.

So where did we go on this great adventure? Essays to come, but for those of you who are list readers:
Visiting Phase:
Economic Botany Conference (Chicago), Cousin Wedding (KS), 80th birthday celebrations (central Kansas), Woodland Evening (Lawrence KS), rhubarb crisp with the Mister's parents (central Kansas), rhubarb crisp with my parents (CO), croquet tournament (CO), hospital to see brand new baby, Rocky Mtn. National Park, prairie dogs of Wyoming, Big Horns, visiting Crow Elder friends (Crow Res, MT), Little Bighorn Battlefield, Devil's Tower (WY), Black Hills, SD (Custer State Park in Particular), Wind Cave, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Minuteman Missile Site, Corn Palace, Pipestone National Park (MN), good friends in Madison, Wisconsin State Capitol, Chicago (Siblings-in-law), Crazy Friend Wedding, relatives (small town IL).
Travelling Phase
Kettle Moraine State Forest (WI), Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Green Bay (4th of July), Door County, Northwoods, Apostle Islands and Bayfield, Canoeing on the Manotowish, Porcupine Mountain Wilderness (MI), Keweenaw Peninsula, Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Agawa Canyon Train (Ontario), Toronto, Canada's Wonderland (crazy roller coasters), Niagara wine region, Niagara Falls, Finger Lakes (NY), Corning Museum of Glass, Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Mister and I arrived home at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday. Guesses for final mileage and mystery animal number 2 can be made until tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Chipmunk with Discriminating Palate

Before we set off on the Summit Loop in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness, the Mister and I carbo-loaded with some rice cakes, not just any rice cakes, but the the really good ones (genuinely: brown rice with tamari and seaweed). The woods were full of frisky Eastern Chipmunks. One such critter ran over to us, sniffed the ground, took a piece of rice cake, and spit it back out.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Brief bear blog. The Mister and I are sitting out on our motel balcony in Copper Harbor, Michigan looking out over Lake Superior and drinking Michigan wine (well, sorta Michigan wine; wine made in Michigan from California grapes), when two bicyclists enter the parking lot. Ever the eavesdroppers, we look up when they say, "Was that a bear?" and, indeed running past the bottom of the staircase is a full-grown black bear. We run down the stairs and watch it disappear into the shrubbery while assuring the bicyclists that they are not crazy.
A great end to a great day (although I notice that darkness and Michigan wine are not enhancing my typing skills).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Porcupine Plans and Mystery Animal 2

I'll admit that in my fascination with the squirrel family (including chipmunks, marmots and prairie dogs) and animated rodents (usually mice and rats), I didn't give much thought to the possibility of seeing a porcupine until we were well into Wyoming and even then I had to check that they were rodents (they are).
So, after seeing three dead on the roads of Wyoming and Montana, we started looking for live ones at Devil's Tower.
The Mister has a rather magical way with wildlife. I've seen more animals with him than in all of my life previous. If anyone could see a porcupine by force of will, it would be the Mister and it would have been at Devil's Tower, where we hiked late into the evening and every pine made sounds (bark beetles?). But no.
So we still haven't seen one of the second largest rodents in North America alive, but two people yesterday mentioned seeing live ones recently and tomorrow we are headed to the Porcupine Wilderness, so we'll see.
Completely unrelated, we have a new mystery animal. Over near the Michigan border yesterday, a mammal bounded across the road. While unlike the teaser animal (answer to the teaser in the comments below), this animal we had seen in zoos. It's larger than a white tailed prairie dog, smaller than a moose, faster than a golden mantled ground squirrel and slower than the a pronghorn antelope.

Halfway Challenge

Exciting game here on Sparkling Squirrel: how far will the Great American Great Lakes road trip lead us? Big prize (probably dinner with the Mister and me in West Virginia) to the reader who comes the closest to the actual total mileage of our summer road trip.
Useful information: today marks 5 weeks into our trip, which will likely be about 8 weeks.
We hit 5,000 miles last weekend at Chicago.
While that was halfway time-wise into our trip, we intend for it to be less than halfway, distance-wise.
According to mapquest, we are 994 miles from home by the shortest driving route.
We are not taking that route.
We have campground reservations for the next two nights in the Porcupine Wilderness and no definitive plans beyond that, other than taking prairie dog to Canada. We may try to hit the U20 Wold Cup finals in Toronto, we'll definitely sample Ontario wine.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Teaser Continued

The creature was kind enough to pose for this photo. It is quite the cutie.