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Dirona albolineata (photographed by http://www.naturediver.com)

It has been far too long since Ferrebeekeeper featured any miraculous molluscs! Therefore, today we are going to return to a timeless favorite topic and feature a predatory nudibranch sea slug that looks like a rogue lace jabot. This is Dirona albolineata (a.k.a the alabaster nudibranch) a predatory slug which lives in the cold rich waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska down to San Diego. The translucent slug grows to a length of 18 centimeters (7 inches) and hunts tiny invertebrates of the coastal zone such as bryozoans, little arthropods, hydroids, ascidians, and, um, lesser mollusks.

The beautiful little milky slug is generally whitish but specimens have been found which were pale pink, peach, or lavender. As a simultaneous hermaphrodite, the slug has an unusual mating ritual where he/she/it meets another alabaster mollusk and both parties copulate both as male and female (they each fire a reproductive dart into the other’s body and both parties leave the union fertilized). The leaf like appendages upon the slug’s body are known as ceratae. These scales are protective and serve as armor or as a diversion (under extreme duress, the snail can jettison the twitching scales in hopes of diverting a predator), however they also greatly increase the snail’s body area and help respiration/gas exchange. Or to be more plain, the ceratae are like a cross between gills and plate mail for this translucent hermaphroditic mollusc.

Here is a tiny watercolor painting from the little moleskine book which I always carry around. After my trip back to the family farm, I was flying back to New York City through Charlotte airport when a great summer thunderstorm swept through the Piedmont with walls of water and bullwhips of lightning. This is what I painted as I shuffled around different gates and tried to comprehend the various announcements. The image, of course, has nothing to do with these circumstances: I would interpret it as a pair of elves in festive pink and purple outfits visiting the honkytonk district of Bugtown (while a 1960s spider in red pajamas and a black cape capers on the roof of an inn). Although the image is unrelated to being trapped in an airport, it does seem to have some of the anxious energy and strange unknowable characters which one encounters in such a scenario. I wonder what that ferret/civet in the lower left corner is doing with that long jar of while liquid?

I promise I will blog more about the kindly yet strange wild goose, LG, who lives on my parents’ farm (there has been a big change in his life!), but first let’s get to what everyone cares about most–princely secession within the aristocracy of a distant foreign federal republic (where royalty isn’t even an official thing).

“What on earth are you talking about?” you might well be saying. “‘Unofficial aristocrats of a distant federal republic?’ Is this some weird version of the Nigerian Prince scam?” I guess the answer to that rhetorical question is: maybe?

Behold! Here is Omo Oba Utienyinoritsetsola Emiko, the brand new Olu (king) of Warri (a tribal nation of Nigeria’s southern Delta, which was subsumed into greater Nigeria during unification in the 20th century). The new olu was crowned on August 21st, 2021 after the death of his uncle (the previous king). Kings, emirs, and other hereditary aristocrats have no actual authority within the Nigerian constitution, however some such noblefolk still possess substantial cultural and religious clout. Accordingly, King Emiko used his new royal authority to reverse a curse cast by one of his ancestors upon the nation of Nigeria. He also remarked upon the power and importance of women and suggested that Nigeria needs to diversify its economy beyond reliance on oil. It is a promising start by the (American educated) ceremonial king.

Yet King Emiko’s coronation did not proceed without incident. King Emiko’s mother was a Yoruba woman and thus born outside of Warri nobility. Some traditional minded Warri, (including the sons of the previous king) felt that this fact might disqualify Prince Emiko from the throne. Also, just prior to the coronation, the ancient crown of Warri went missing and police were summoned to discuss the matter with the late king’s sons. The crown is said to date back to the time of the first Olu of Warri who ruled from 1625 to 1643 and received the gilded headdress from the king of Portugal in exchange for organizing a port for slavetrading at Warri.

Fortunately, the crown was quickly discovered (just after the police became involved). The coronation day was a day of celebration and happiness. Thus far the new king has evinced a forward looking philosophy and it is hoped that he really can use his cultural capital to dispel some of the curses which linger over Warri. If such is his intention, perhaps his majesty should himself hide that crown: I personally wouldn’t want anything from House Aviz OR House Braganza (the Portuguese throne also changed dynasties during the period between 1625 and 1643). Anyway hopefully this little news bulletin has clarified the original source of royalty in the Delta region of Nigeria and answered some questions about the role of kingship in the modern world.

The Soybean Field (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) Watercolor on paper

One of the great pleasures of traveling is new things to draw and paint…except, of course, for when artists travel back home, in which case they get familiar subjects with which they have wrestled for a long time. Such is the case with the subject of today’s featured drawing (which I actually drew last Wednesday). Here is the soybean field on my parents’ farm which lies just to the north of their house and farmyard. Perhaps a soybean field does not sound particularly exciting to you (as opposed to crops of known beauty such as winter wheat or sunflowers), however I have always found its mid-tone blue green to be alluring and weirdly mysterious. When you look at the entirety of the fields, all decked in this same viridian, the effect is something like a green three dimensional lake. And even if the wind does not ripple the soybeans quite as majestically as it plays upon the wheat, there is a similar wave effect (albeit one which is completely beyond my ability to capture with watercolors). I have painted or drawn the soybean field many times, and I feel like August was right time to do so (with everything looking fulsome and verdant). I also got to include the apples on the tree (which was literally breaking beneath their weight), a single wandering pilgrim goose, the purple cone flowers in the field by the pond, and a few pink wisps in the clouds from sunset, which was on its way. Of course the picture sadly fails to capture the true beauty of the scene (although maybe I got a little closer to capturing the allure of the soy), but it was certainly a delight to sit and look closely at this scene which I have been watching for 40 years.

Buried among today’s ghastly news stories was an interesting micro-nugget of potentially good news: the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Lab in California managed to trigger a 1.35 Megajoule reaction by firing an ultraviolet laser array into a tiny target of nuclear fuel. Now Doc-Brown-style engineers/mad scientists might scoff at that number since 1.35 Megajoules is about the same amount of kinetic energy as in a Con Edison Truck rolling down a gentle hill. However the National Ignition Facility is meant to test colossal forces in tiny, manageable packages (it is putatively designed to model the extreme temperatures and conditions of nuclear weapons without requiring actual nuclear testing).

The real purpose of the National Ignition Facility is to try to leapfrog the moribund engineering quest for usable fusion energy. I wrote an overly optimistic piece about the place over a decade ago and have barely heard anything about it since then aside from a story about how they finally got their laser array to work right back in 2012. To briefly recap the methodology of this process, here is a simplified description. Scientists fire a burst of extremely intense energy through the futuristic laser array for 20 billionths of a second. This energy is theoretically meant to vaporize a small gold capsule containing deuterium and tritium. If lasers strike the gold correctly, the disintegrating gold releases a high-energy burst of x-rays which compact the capsule and force the hydrogen isotopes to fuse. On August 8th, for the first time, this process mostly worked and the reaction actually yielded 70% of the energy used to fire the lasers (an enormous improvement from the previous 3% maximum which had been the benchmark for years).

Apparently the breakthrough involved improving the size, shape, and microscopic surface preparation of the capsule (classic engineering stuff!). Nuclear engineers are quick to point out that the result still leaves us a long way from figuring out how to produce the clean abundant energy which humankind desperately needs to solve our (rapidly growing) problems and needs. Yet they also have a long-absent glint in their eyes and a new spring in their step. This is real progress in the search for a goal which has proven maddeningly elusive. Let’s keep an eye on the National Ignition Facility, and, maybe, just maybe this would be a worthy place to spend some more of our national budget.

Hello everyone! I am back from the family farm and ready to get to work blogging. I am sorry that Ferrebeekeeper has lain fallow for the last week (and seen scarce cultivation in the weeks before that) but maybe I can channel vacation energy into some thrilling new posts (and answer some long-neglected comments) before the daily grind reduces me back into an empty husk. Also, although I did not find anyone to take over writing while I was gone, I found some authors who expressed excitement over the idea of some iconoclastic and thought-provoking guest posts…so prepare yourself for that treat!

Speaking of treats, today features a topic which I haven’t written about for a long time: turkeys! When I was a child, I had a special fondness for the great birds, and the noble fowl still delight me (even if I have said almost everything that I can think to say about them). Fortunately when I stepped out of the study and out into the farmyard, I encountered the material for a new turkey post–in the form of new turkeys!

My parents keep a lovely flock of pilgrim geese (along with the remarkable tame wild goose named LG, who just showed up one day). Despite some run-ins with predators and the multitudinous snares of the world, the geese have been flourishing to such a great extent that my mother has been selling goslings to other hobby farmers and poultry enthusiasts. One such enthusiast had his own flock of hand-raised birds, and rather than paying for goslings with the coin of the realm, he obtained his geese through the most ancient custom of barter. Here is what he traded for his goslings: three adorable turkey poults–already grown to graceful near adulthood by the time I made it to the farm.

They moved deceptively quickly for my poor phone camera

These turkeys are much smaller than any I have seen so far and are currently about the same size as a large chicken–an extreme contrast with the huge double breasted bronze turkeys which my parents raised five years ago which puffed up to seem like mastiffs or cassowaries (although maybe the surly disposition if the bronzes called such comparisons to mind). I could not ascertain a breed for these little turkeys per se, though my mother thought the farmer mentioned a heritage of red bourbon turkeys in their lineage. Whatever the case they were sweet and affectionate and evinced a particular fondness for my dad, whom they followed around like puppies when he was near.

To my eyes they seemed too pale and too small to be red bourbon turkeys. It is hard to tell in my pictures but they are pale orange buff on top of a French vanilla color. I think of them as the orange creamsicle turkeys, although perhaps they would not appreciate being affiliated with such tasty imagery (it is also possible that they are “buff turkeys” a reconstituted breed meant to approximate a vanished lineage). I am sorry that I obtained limited photos of the three birds, but I promise to follow up with adulthood photos of them later in the year (maybe for November when the internet and society reward turkey-themed content). In the meantime I wish the little birds well and I hope that they survive the foxes and great-horned owls so that we can see what a little creamsicle tom looks like when he puffs up and fans out his feathers. Speaking of which, hopefully one of the turkeys is a tom! it is hard to tell turkey gender until they reach full maturity. It would be sad if they are all hens (although turkeys do have an elegant but shocking cell bio solution for such a contingency).

Dangit, out of all of these pictures, did none come out right?

Hi everyone! Kindly forgive me for the terrible paucity of posts during the last week. I am back home, visiting my family in the rural fastnesses of old Appalachia/the post-industrial hinterlands of the Ohio Valley. It is so beautiful out here in August, when great cumulus clouds blow up over the soybean fields and oakwoods. Anyway, expect some pictures and posts about country living when I get back to my workstation in Brooklyn. In the meantime here is a drawing from my little moleskine sketchbook to tide you over.

Naumachia (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) watercolor and ink on paper

This is my vision of the fearsome naumachia, the naval gladiatorial combat of the ancient Greco-Roman world. In order to sate the Roman audience’s lust for novelty (and, um, blood, of course), the masters of the ancient games would sometimes flood the amphitheaters and host miniature ship battles on these tiny lakes. In my version there are some sea monsters thrown into the mix (and a saucy sea goddess sitting on the proscenium arch with a eurypterid in one arm and a merbabe in the other). In the upper left a port city carries on the commerce of the time, while the ruins of the even more ancient world can be seen in the upper right. In the lower right corner of the painting, citizens stumble around a peculiar lichyard with a tall mausoleum. Prdictably the pleasure garden in the lower left corner is quite empty. Perhaps it is for exclusive use of the nobles (or maybe I forgot to draw anyone in there). Why didn’t I at least include a peacock or some other ornamental garden beast? Last of all, a group of celebrity heralds, ringmasters, and spokespeople direct the attention of the audience from center stage. They could almost be mistaken for the game masters…and yet there is something curiously pupeetlike about them too, isn’t there? Who is really directing this theater of maritime carnage and for what purpose?

Fortunately this is a fantasy of the ancient world and the maritime devastation, pointless posturing, and savage competition have nothing to do with the way we live now…or DO they? [sinister chord]

On an unrelated note, I will be on vacation a bit longer. I truly apologize for how few blog posts I have posted lately and I solemnly vow to do better when I return from the countryside rested and refreshed. For now, check out my Instagram page, and I will see if I can find a fresh act to throw into the amphitheater for your delectation while I am gone. Perhaps the great science-fiction author, Dan Claymore, can once again tear his vision away from the dark world of the near future and take the helm. Or maybe I can find a skipper…er… author with entirely fresh perspectives (and a different moral compass) to sail Ferrebeekeeper to uncharted realms. So prepare yourself for anything…or for nothing at all.

The Olympics games continue in Tokyo and I wanted to put up a brief post to honor the festival (before going off to watch some more of the drama on television). This year’s Olympic controversies have featured plenty of questions about appropriate costumes, which strikes me as funny, since the original ancient Greek games were a largely nude affair. However, even in the ancient games there were exceptions. This 5th century Attic vase shows one of the most grueling non-nude events–the hoplitodromos–the race in armor.

A red-figure vase depicting an athlete running the hoplitodromos by “the Berlin Painter”, ca. 480 BC (collection of the Louvre)

Participants wore a heavy bronze helmet, metal greaves, and carried a heavy wooden shield (which was issued by the game organizers so as to prevent cheating). The hoplitodromos was thought to be so fundamentally different from fully nude footracing that no athlete could win at both, however, the greatest Olympic champion of classical antiquity, Leonidas of Rhodes, proved such opinions wrong by winning the premier short races and the hoplitodromos for 4 Olympics in a row.

The point of today’s post is not really to rhapsodize about Leonidas of Rhodes (whose glory remains undiminished after 2200 or so years), and to enjoy this exquisite red-figure vase by “The Berlin painter” an unknown master artist whose work still remains, even if his name has not survived. Of course, the Berlin painter was not really from Berlin (although his work wound up there), but was an Athenian of the golden era. Whatever his story was, he certainly knew how to portray the fatigue and the emotional pressure faced by ancient athletes competing in the armor race (we know that the figure on the vase is an athlete because he has neither sword nor cuirass…nor even a loincloth).

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