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Imagine a relaxing pine forest with a soft carpet of orange needles and gentle green boughs waving in the breeze. Wood ears grow on fallen logs, and little insects scurry around the ferns and the air is filled with the slightly spicy smell of pines. There are whistles, songs, and clicking squeaks–not unlike the chatter of squirrels and the familiar melodies of passerine birds, but when a chipmunk darts by, you realize that it is no chipmunk at all but a weird miniature running pheasant. Then a further shock comes when you see the miniature pheasant has teeth and claws—it is a tiny dinosaur!  You are in a Cretaceous pine wood, and though, there may be primitive birds somewhere, the rustling all around you and the darting russet forms running through the undergrowth are little dinosaurs. Is that crashing noise coming towards you a larger predator?

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Paleontology lets us travel to the past and reconstruct such scenes with increasing accuracy.  As we gain further fossil evidence and our grasp of zoology, biology, and genetics deepens, we can see further into this vanished world.  However, sometimes a literal piece of the past falls directly into our hands.

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Look at this incredible piece of amber obtained in a market in China!  In addition to beautiful yellow-orange amber and glistening air bubbles, there is a gorgeously preserved ant, some bits of bark & plant matter, and…some sort of weird feathered tail!  This is not a recent piece of amber, either, it comes from an amber mine in northern Myanmar, but it really comes from a pine forest 99 million years ago in the Cretaceous: the world I described above.

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The tail seemed like the tail of a small bird, but CT scans revealed eight vertebrae from the middle or end of a long narrow tail which was not fused into a bird’s pygostyle (an anatomical feature which allows birds to move their tail feathers as a single unit like a fan).  Scientists realized that the amber contains the feathers, skin, and soft tissue of a dinosaur—a juvenile coelurosaur—about the size of a sparrow.

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If one of these things got into the office and the office manager had to remove it, I suspect people would say there was a bird in the copy room.  Yet it was definitely a dinosaur. The best preserved fossils of this sort of ecosystem come from East Asia—China, Mongolia, and Myanmar. Look at the hints of Chinese ink drawing which have found their way into the paleontological drawing of a coelurosaur below.

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As scientists unravel the secrets trapped in the amber, we will be learning a lot more about this particular dinosaur, but other wonders may lie ahead.  Myanmar is emerging from isolation, civil wars, and turmoil to rejoin the community of nations.  What else lies buried in that mine or others like it?

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Drop everything: Pantone has just announced the color of the year for 2017!  Although the “color of the year” is nakedly a publicity ploy by Pantone (a New Jersey branding corporation), it is also relevant since large groups of industries work together to put the color everywhere in clothing and consumer goods.  Additionally the color of the year really does represent the zeitgeist of an era (if not through mystical aesthetic convergence, at least through talking and writing about it). I had some reservations about the color of the year last year (the only year with a dual winner: cool pink and gray blue), yet the contrasting/complimenting nature of the shades ended up representing the divisive political, gender, and class battles of 2016 perfectly while still evoking the lost conformity of the 1950s. Maybe it is better not to speak of the bleeding liver color of 2015, which was suited only for haruspices and die-hard Charles Bronson enthusiasts.

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Marsala (Color of the Year 2015)

This year’s color is back to being a single shade—a mid-tone cabbage green named “greenery”. Yellowish greens are among my favorite colors (or maybe they are my favorite colors) so I love greenery.  I think it is magnificent, and any devoted readers who want to express their affection for Ferrebeekeeper should feel free to send me shirts, cement mixers, or three-wheel mini cars of the verdant pastel hue.

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The Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute (snicker) writes  “Greenery bursts forth in 2017 to provide us with the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political environment. Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose.”

I personally do not feel especially optimistic for 2017: I believe the nation is headed off in a profoundly wrong direction, and, additionally, nothing particularly good is happening in my personal life.  But how do we learn other than through terrible mistakes? (well…aside from, you know reading and thinking, and nobody in America is likely to do those things).  Plus you never know, maybe popular culture will seize on flounders or eclectic zoology/history/aesthetic blogs as the flavor of the year for 2017. We need to keep an open mind and be ready to seize on opportunities.

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Populists and fascists generally push policies which create a “sugar rush” of short term economic euphoria and froth crony capitalism (before state intervention, protectionism, and price fixing set in and create economic death spirals). Perhaps greenery–which, now that I look at it, is also the color of money—will represent this short lived false dawn. When the real slump arrives and recession and scandals shake the nation, Pantone can choose some different colors. Spray-tan orange, blood red, concrete gray, or gold and black .

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In the meantime let’s enjoy Greenery: a color which I really do uncritically love.  I think this shade would be perfect for room painting and some craft projects. Maybe I will make some yellow-green flounder drawings too.  Above all I plan to see lots of Greenery in the garden (which I also plan to write about more).  Also, the color of the year announcement kicks off the end-of-the-year holiday season, so I will put up some festive posts while we enjoy eggnog and ornaments and remember the tulip bulbs in the ground, waiting to burst forth come spring.

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My art theme this year has been flatfish, and I have made quite a lot of them.  I think the results are very strong, but the slightly ludicrous subject leaves me at a disadvantage when I am trying to explain my work via the unforgiving medium of tweet or elevator pitch.  Nothing vexes a group of high-fashion socialites quite like blurting out “I mostly paint elaborate symbolic flatfish!” The most obvious quick explanation is to make a joke about how I have been floundering (which is certainly true in many ways), however there is a lot more to this favorite subject than that.

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The Pleuronectiformes (flatfish) are indeed flat–like paintings and drawings–which makes them an ideal medium for compositions.  They are a favorite prey for humankind–which perfectly suits my theme of hooks, lures, traps, and beguilements (which seem to be taking over ever more in human society as we proliferate and jockey for resources).  Flatfish also provides an immediate environmental theme–for they are quickly being fished into extinction (like almost all of the ray-finned fishes).  Yet flatfish are no innocents.  Like many large fish, these animals are all highly sophisticated predators. In order to succeed they make use of their own subterfuges.  Flatfish blend in. They can literally change colors like chameleons.  I sort of think of them as the middle class of the biome, squeezed between the little shrimpkins, copepods, and minnows they gobble up and the rapacious pelicans, dolphins, humans and suchlike superpredators who in turn hunt them with beaked hooks, sonar, and cruel nets.

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Above all, flatfish are asymmetric–which means I can draw both of their expressive eyes without being forced to contemplate a lot of elaborate piscine bending.  Their asymmetry also makes them stand out among all of the vertebrates. The universe has twisted them at adolescence–but it has given them an indefinable topological advantage as well.  Also look at their little irregular paisley eyes.

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Of course Meg Miller thinks I have gone crazy, and perhaps she is right.  But after a while staring in the windows, “outsider artist” is the only card left to play.  You never know, I could still leap out of the substrate and start gobbling shrimp any day now.  Kindly check out my flatfish on Instagram and write me about your thoughts on the subject.  Flounders are sad, but they are comical too (which is unusual in visual art) so everyone has an opinion.  Please let me know how these flatfish make you feel!

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It’s been a while since we wrote about pigeons (after all, turkeys take up most of the national bird bandwidth in November).  Let’s get back to the subject with a brief examination of the fanciest of all fancy pigeons–the beautiful fantail pigeons!

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Whereas wild pigeons have about a dozen feathers in their tail, fantail pigeons have thirty to forty feathers in their tail.  As indicated in their name, they can fan these ornamental feathers up in a magnificent ornamental crest–like that of a peacock or a turkey.

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Darwin mentioned fantail pigeons in the first chapter of “On the Origin of Species” as an example of the rapid changes which artificial selection could render to an organism.  Even though fantail pigeons seem to be a human creation, they look like they take a great and justified pride in their splendid appearance.  I think the fantail which is the normal pigeon color of grey with iridescent trim is particularly spectacular!

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Working Title/Artist: Strigilated vase with snake handles and lid Department: Greek & Roman Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 05 Working Date: second half of 2nd century A.D. photography by mma, DP146531.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 4_2_08

Here is a marble vase crafted by unknown Roman master artisans in the latter half of the 2nd century A.D.  Two beautiful sinuous snakes coil around the edges of a sumptuous ogee shaped body.  The snakes’ bodies form the handles for the vase which is covered in lovely double “S” curves (as is the lid which is surmounted by a finial).  There are no inscriptions on the vase, so it is unclear if it was a funerary vessel, but the shape was a characteristic one for cremated remains.  Likewise, snakes had a religious significance in classical society. They were regarded as sacred to the gods below the Earth.  These serpents certainly have knowing expressions appropriate for chthonic intermediaries who know the secrets of the underworld.  However snakes have always looked like that to me.  Can you imagine carving this…out of stone…by hand?  I am pretty good with my hands, but the idea of all these perfect matched curves is beyond me.  Whoever this vase was originally meant for, it is now a monument to the master makers who lived nearly two thousand years ago.  It is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art right here in New York–hopefully it will there sit on an elegant plinth while adoring crowds coo at it for another 2,000 years…yet the future has a disturbing way of eluding our hopes.

The November eclogue of the Shepheardes Calender is the best and strongest, but, alas, it is also the most mournful.  It is an elegy for a dead shepherd maiden.  The poetry actually accomplishes what some other parts of the work do not: it marries the allusions of ancient Rome and Greece with the Christian worldview of Early Modern England. Additionally  the poem alloys the Chaucerian English (which Spenser always looks back towards with such longing) with the modern English he used for writing and speaking.  The best parts of the poem anticipate metaphysical poetry…and maybe even some of Victorian verse.  If you listen to the sad yet thunderous music of the lament there is also not a little of Shakespeare in it: it is strange to be reminded that he had powerful antecedents and did not spring like Minerva from godhead.

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Shepheardes Calender XI: November.

Edmund Spenser

THENOT. COLIN.

Colin, my Dear, when shall it please thee sing,
As thou wert wont, Songs of some Jouisance
Thy Muse too long slumbereth in sorrowing,
Lulled asleep through Love’s misgovernance.
Now somewhat sing, whose endless Sovenance
Emong the Shepherds Swains may aye remain;
Whether thee list thy loved Lass advance,
Or honour Pan with Hymns of higher Vein.

COLIN.
Thenot, now nis the time of Merry-make,
Nor Pan to herie, nor with Love to play;
Sike Mirth in May is meetest for to make,
Or Summer Shade, under the cocked Hay.
But now sad Winter welked hath the Day,
And Phoebus weary of his yearly Task,
Ystablisht hath his Steeds in lowly lay,
And taken up his Inn in Fishes Hask,
Thilk sullen Season sadder Plight doth ask,
And loatheth sike Delights, as thou doost praise:
The mournful Muse in Mirth now list ne mask,
As she was wont in Youngth and Summer-days.
But if thou algate lust light Virelays,
And looser Songs of Love to underfong
Who but thy self deserves sike Poet’s Praise?
Relieve thy Oaten Pipes, that sleepen long.

THENOT.
The Nightingale is Sovereign of Song,
Before him fits the Titmouse silent be:
And I, unfit to thrust in skilful Throng,
Should Colin make judge of my foolery?
Nay, better learn of hem that learned be,
And han been watred at the Muses Well:
The kindly Dew drops from the higher Tree,
And wets the little Plants that lowly dwell.
But if sad Winter’s Wrath, and Season chill,
Accord not with thy Muse’s Merriment;
To sadder times thou maist attune thy Quill,
And sing of Sorrow and Death’s Dreriment,
For dead is Dido, dead alas and drent!
Dido, the great Shepherd his Daughter sheen:
The fairest May she was that ever went,
Her like she has not left behind I ween.
And if thou wilt bewail my woeful Teen,
I shall thee give yond Cosset for thy pain:
And if thy Rimes as round and rueful been,
As those that did thy Rosalind complain,
Much greater Gifts for Guerdon thou shalt gain,
Than Kid or Cosset, which I thee benempt;
Then up I say, thou jolly Shepherd Swain,
Let not my small Demand be so contempt.

COLIN.
Thenot, to that I chose, thou dost me tempt,
But ah! too well I wote my humble vein,
And how my Rimes been rugged and unkempt:
Yet as I con, my Cunning I will strain.

Up then Melpomene, the mournfulst Muse of nine,
Such cause of mourning never hadst afore;
Up grisly Ghosts, and up my ruful Rime,
Matter of Mirth now shalt thou have no more:
For dead she is, that Mirth thee made of yore,
Dido my Dear, alas, is dead,
Dead, and lieth wrapt in Lead:
O heavy Herse!
Let streaming Tears be poured out in store:
O careful Verse!

Shepherds, that by your Flocks on Kentish Downs abide,
Wail ye this woful Waste of Nature’s Wark:
Wail we the Wight, whose Presence was our Pride;
Wail we the Wight, whose Absence is our Cark.
The Sun of all the World is dim and dark;
The Earth now wants her wonted light,
And all we dwell in deadly Night;
O heavy Herse!
Break we our Pipes, that shrill’d as loud as Lark:
O careful Verse!

Why do we longer live, (ah why live we so long?)
Whose better Days Death hath shut up in Woe?
The fairest Flower our Girlond all among,
Is faded quite, and into Dust ygo;
Sing now ye Shepherd’s Daughters, sing no mo
The Songs that Colin made you in her praise,
But into Weeping turn your wanton Lays.
O heavy Herse!
Now is time to die: Nay, time was long ygo.
O careful Verse!

Whence is it, that the Flowret of the Field doth fade,
And lieth buried long in Winter’s Bale?
Yet soon as Spring his Mantle hath displayde,
It flowreth fresh, as it should never fail.
But thing on Earth that is of most avail,
As Vertue’s Branch and Beauty’s Bud,
Reliven not for any good.
O heavy Herse!
The Branch once dead, the Bud eke needs must quail:
O careful Verse!

She while she was, (that was a woful Word to sain)
For Beauty’s Praise and Pleasance had no Peer:
So well she couth the Shepherds entertain
With Cakes and Cracknels, and such Country Cheer.
Ne would she scorn the simple Shepherd’s Swain;
For she would call him often heam,
And give him Curds and clouted Cream.
O heavy Herse!
Als Colin Clout she would not once disdain:
O careful Verse!

But now sike happy Cheer is turn’d to heavy Chaunce,
Such Pleasance now displac’d by Dolor’s dint:
All Musick sleeps, where Death doth lead the Daunce,
And Shepherds wonted Solace is extinct.
The blue in black, the green in gray is tinct:
The gaudy Girlonds deck her Grave,
The faded Flowers her Corse embrave.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with Tears besprint:
O careful Verse!

O thou great Shepherd Lobbin, how great is thy Grief,
Where bin the Nosegays that she dight for thee?
The coloured Chaplets wrought with a chief,
The knotted Rush-rings, and gilt Rosemaree?
For she deemed nothing too dear for thee.
Ah, they been all yclad in Clay,
One bitter Blast blew all away.
O heavy Herse!
Thereof nought remains but the Memoree:
O careful Verse!

Ay me that dreery Death should strike so mortal Stroke,
That can undo Dame Nature’s kindly Course:
The faded Locks fall from the lofty Oke,
The Flouds do gasp, for dried is their Source,
And Flouds of Tears flow in their stead perforce.
The mantled Meadows mourn,
Their sundry Colours tourn:
O heavy Herse!
The Heavens do melt in Tears without remorse:
O careful Verse!

The feeble Flocks in Field refuse their former Food,
And hang their Heads, as they would learn to weep:
The Beasts in Forest wail as they were wood,
Except the Wolves, that chase the wandring Sheep,
Now she is gone, that safely did hem keep.
The Turtle on the bared Branch,
Laments the Wound, that Death did lanch.
O heavy Herse!
And Philomel her Song with Tears doth steep:
O careful Verse!

The Water Nymphs, that wont with her to sing and dance,
And for her Girlond Olive Branches bear,
Now baleful Boughs of Cypress done advance:
The Muses that were wont green Bays to wear,
How bringen bitter Elder Branches sere:
The fatal Sisters eke repent,
Her vital Threed so soon was spent.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with heavy Chear:
O careful Verse!

O trustless State of earthly things, and slipper Hope
Of mortal Men, that swink and sweat for nought,
And shooting wide, do miss the marked Scope:
Now have I learn’d (a Lesson dearly bought)
That nis on Earth assurance to be sought:
For what might be in earthly Mould;
That did her buried Body hold;
O heavy Herse!
Yet saw I on the Beere when it was brought:
O careful Verse!

But maugre Death, and dreaded Sisters deadly spight:
And Gates of Hell, and fiery Furies force;
She hath the Bonds broke of eternal Night,
Her Soul unbodied of the burdenous Corse.
Why then weeps Lobbin so without remorse?
O Lobb, thy Loss no longer lament;
Dido nis dead, but into Heaven hent:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Muse, now cease thy Sorrow’s sourse,
O joyful Verse!

Why wail we then? why weary we the Gods with Plaints,
As if some Evil were to her betight?
She reigns a Goddess now emong the Saints,
That whylom was the Saint of Shepherds light;
And is enstalled now in Heavens hight.
I see the blessed soul, I see,
Walk in Elysian Fields so free.
O happy Herse!
Might I once come to thee (O that I might!)
O joyful Verse!

Unwise and wretched Men to weet what’s Good or Ill,
We deem of Death as doom of ill Desert:
But knew we, Fools, what it us brings until,
Die would we daily, once it to expert:
No Danger there the Shepherd can assert;
Fair Fields and pleasant Layes there been;
The Fields aye fresh, the Grass aye green:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is,
O joyful Verse!

Dido is gone afore (whose turn shall be the next?)
There lives she with the blessed Gods in Bliss;
There drinks she Nectar with Ambrosia mixt,
And Joys enjoys, that mortal Men do miss.
The Honour now of highest Gods she is,
That whylom was poor Shepherds Pride,
While here on Earth she did abide:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is:
O joyful Verse!

THENOT.
Aye frank Shepherd, how been thy Verses meint
With doleful Pleasance, so as I ne wot,
Whether rejoyce or weep for great constraint?
Thine be the Cosset, well hast thou it got.
Up Colin up, ynough thou mourned hast:
Now ‘gins to mizzle, hie we homeward fast.

COLIN’S EMBLEM.
La mort ny mord.

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The first known farmers were apparently…ants. Leafcutter ants have been growing fungus on chopped up leaves for at least 50 million years. It is an amazingly long time.  Yet, when one thinks of the astonishing range of different “breeds” of animals and crops which humankind has created through artificial selection during the 10 millenia or so years since we started farming, the ants seem a bit lackluster.  For all of their workaholic zeal, ants are not as relentless as us in selecting for traits in their crops.

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Yet, as we learn more about the ants and their empire, the amazing extent of their symbiosis with the plants they use is beginning to become more apparent to us.   Because of the vastly greater timeline of their endeavors, they have coevolved in astonishing ways. An example of this can be found in the homes of Philidris nagasau, a species of leaf cutterant native to Fiji.  These ants literally grow their homes out of Squamellaria, an epiphytic plant which grows on tropical trees.

The Economist described the mechanism through which the ants grow a home (or, alternately, the way the epiphytic plant obtains an army of insect servants):

P. nagasau worker ants harvest seeds from their epiphytic homes, carry them away, and then insert them into cracks in the bark of suitable trees. That done, they patrol the sites of the plantings to keep away herbivores, and also fertilise the seedlings as they grow by defecating into hollow structures called domatia that develop in the bases of the plants’ stems. As a Squamellaria grows, its domatium swells (see picture) and develops galleries that can accommodate ants—which then move in. This, and the plant’s habit of growing flowers that generate nectar long after they have been pollinated, provide the evolutionary quid pro quo that makes the relationship between insect and epiphyte work.

It is incredible that the ants grow their own houses.  Yet, as one looks more closely at familiar domestic arrangements with this story in mind, they start to seem less familiar.  Is farming really as unique as we make it out to be, or does it resemble mutualistic arrangements found throughout the natural world.

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We would never say we co-evolved with goats, cows, and horses: their domestication seems like a one way exchange to us. Yet an outside observer might look at our leather sofas, cheeseburgers, cavalry charges, or angora sweaters and come to a different conclusion.

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The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple or Thiruvarangam is a colossal temple to the Hindu god Vishnu (or, more specifically, it is dedicated to Ranganātha, a reclining form of Vishnu).  Located on an island in the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu, the temple is one of the most illustrious (and largest) temples in India. The complex includes 21 monumental ornamental towers (including the 72 meter (236 foot)  Rajagopuram), 39 pavilions, fifty shrines, all within a 156 acre complex which includes six miles of concentric walls.  The shrines, walls, and towers are bedecked in stunning stone statuary painted in all of the brilliant colors of South India.

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The story of the temple’s creation is steeped in Hindu myth: Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu completed his devotions to Vishnu by worshiping a mysterious idol.  After killing Ravana and returning victorious from Sri Lanka (as detailed in the Ramayana) Rama gave this sacred statue to King Vibhishana.  The king planned on taking the statue to Sri Lanka, but when he set it down while resting on an island, it became rooted to the spot.

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The temple itself was built by the Chola Dynasty, India’s longest lived dynasty.  There is a further legend of the temple’s construction: a Chola king chased a parrot into the deep forest and found the idol overgrown by jungle.  He built the complex around the statue and the temple was maintained and expanded by the great dynasties of Southern India–the Chola, Pandya, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties.  The oldest parts of the building seem to date back to the 10th century AD, but written sources do not accurately convey the precise chronology.  The great temples of South India are themselves primary historical sources, but alas, they are not as particular about dates as historians might like.

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It is difficult to even begin to describe the sumptuous beauty and complexity of the ornaments of Sri Ranganathaswamy.  The colorful and intricate statues of the figures from Vishnu’s lives and incarnations have an otherworldly and alien beauty not found elsewhere.  Nor will I attempt to  describe the meaning of Vishnu’s iconography (although if you are as smitten by his reclining beauty as I am you can read about Ananta Shesha, the many headed cobra god which serves as his divine couch).

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I’m sorry i didn’t write a post yesterday.  I had a cold, and while I managed to stumble through my workday, I just fell asleep when I got home.  I’ll keep today’s post short and sweet by concentrating on two things which everyone loves: turkeys and money.  Turkeys are a personal favorite animal of mine–they are large beautiful galliform birds which I have written about at length.  Now I don’t know nearly as much about money, but what I have heard makes me think I would like it.  So, as an early Thanksgiving treat, here are some coins with turkeys on them.

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The first two examples are quarters–from Louisiana of all places (my native West Virginia, a place filled with wildlife, got stuck with a bridge.)

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The third example is apparentlyfrom Saba. At first, I thought Saba sounded made up–but then I noticed that the coin had “five” written on it in Dutch.  Sure enough this is an island in the lesser Antilles, and you can totally buy something there for this amazing turkey coin.

Autumn3.jpgI’m sorry.  November is flying by on russet wings and still I have posted no photos of autumn color!  i meant to write about beautiful autumn foliage, but, with one thing or another, I never managed to get out of New York. So…the only thing to do was to head out to my garden in Brooklyn and take some leaf pictures at home.

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Autumn gardens have their own chaotic beauty of fallen leaves, brown spots, and jagged red vines.  Plus it has been warm this year so there are still plenty of flowers.

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However the queen of the garden, as always, is the ornamental Kwanzan cherry tree, which is nearly as beautiful covered in glowing yellow leaves as it is in summer wearing bright grass green…or even in spring when it is a lambent pink cloud.  I love that tree!

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