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Strange Ocean World (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, colored pencil on paper)

Strange Ocean World (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, colored pencil on paper)

Well…it was another day that got away.  What with work and dinner and the grind, I failed to write about beaked whales.  Don’t worry: those magnificent diving experts cannot escape our pen forever, but, in the interim, we must fall back on my daily doodle book (which Ferrebeekeeper cognoscenti know is a little moleskine sketch book that I carry around and draw in during my spare time).  I have a big sarcophagus-shaped pencil tin too—which is full of colored pencils and markers to bring my drawings to life.  The first sketch however (above) only required one “Blue Denim” colored pencil.  It’s a little unclear, but I think it is a picture of the future oceans filled with bathyspheres, synthetic ocean life (to replace the fish we are recklessly killing off), and ships driven by fanciful propulsion.  Synthetic beings and post-humans fly through the weird clouds of this strange ocean world.  In fact, maybe it’s not Earth at all, but somewhere else entirely—an ocean world of oddly familiar alien marvels.

City with Glowing Crystal (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink on paper)

City with Glowing Crystal (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink on paper)

Next is another troubling pastiche of nature and technology.  A happy monster ambles by a shambling city while a gambling demon tosses dice at a magic crystal.  Reptiles and weeds fill up the foreground as strange elongated opossums creep in from the sides.  It’s just like now!  This might as well be a CNN photo about the 2016 election.  This image may need to be colored in.  What do you think?

Succulent Fruit (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored Pencil and Ink on paper)

Succulent Fruit (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored Pencil and Ink on paper)

Finally, thanks to enthusiastic comments from my favorite readers, I included more fruit.  One of my tasks at my new day job is overseeing the fruit supplies for a big office full of desk jockeys who spend all day looking at important documents.  Because of ancient precedent, almost all of the fruit is bananas, and my colleagues beg piteously for different fruit.  I have provided their wants…in this fantasy drawing which shows a succulent world of juices, seeds, and glowing tutti-fruit color. It could also be that there is a statement here about our world of agriculture, selective breeding, transgenic alteration, and over-consumption…or possibly it is just a fun doodle I made at lunchtime.  As always, thanks for looking at my little artworks. I treasure everybody’s comments (though I realize I have been slower than usual to respond).  Let’s keep enjoying the rest of summer. I’ll keep drawing (and the post about beaked whales will appear soon). Cheers!

Gros Michel Bananas

Gros Michel Bananas

A half a century ago, bananas were more delicious. They were creamier with a more delectable tropical fruit taste. When they ripened, they stayed ripe longer instead of swiftly turning to black slime. Since they lasted on the shelf when ripe it was possible to sell them ripe–as opposed to today’s bananas which must be purchased all green and hard and nasty. I realize that this description makes it sound like I have fallen prey to golden age syndrome—wherein a bygone time becomes a misremembered quasi-mythical standard against which today is unfavorably compared (a well-known problem for certain political parties and demographics)—yet I am not embellishing. The bananas of yore were better because they were different. If you recall the earlier banana post, you will remember that there are numerous strange and magnificent varieties of bananas in Southeast Asia—delicious miniature bananas, red bananas, purple bananas…all sorts of fruit unknown to us. For long ages, across many lives of men, farmers hybridized wild species of bananas and selectively bred the different strains into different varieties called cultivars. The most delicious and salable cultivar was “Gros Michel” (Fat Michael) which I described above. “Gros Michel” was so ideal for farming (and so tasty) that it became pretty much the only banana cultivated. Vast plantations around the world produced only “Gros Michel.” It grew on large 7 meter tall trees (21 feet) which produced abundantly.

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I even have a family story of how my paternal grandparents got together during World War II. He finally expressed his interest in her by giving her a banana—which were rare and precious during the war. Grandma was suitably impressed and made a somewhat ribald poetic metaphor concerning the banana’s shape–which left grandpa with no doubts about her feelings…which is to say I am considerably in debt to “Gros Michel”, despite the fact that I have never tasted one.

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So what happened to Gros Michel? Is there by chance a terrifying horror story which provides us with a useful moral lesson about our tastes, our habits, and the fragile nature of the foundations of civilization?

Well, as it happens there is such a story!

Banana Tree with Panama Disease

Banana Tree with Panama Disease

In the 1950s, a fungus Fusarium oxysporum attacked the Gros Michel bananas. It was known as “Panama Disease” and it wiped out entire plantations of fruit in Africa and South America. The blight spread with horrible speed through the great monoculture farms. All Gros Michel bananas were clones, so the contagion spread unchecked. There were years where there were almost no bananas in Europe, Africa, and the Americas: whole empires turned to ashes and rot. To save their livelihood banana growers burned their groves and moved to a new dwarf banana “the Cavendish” which was unsatisfying—but which resisted the terrible killing fungus. Gros Michel disappeared from the commercial world…although there are tantalizing rumors that it exists still in the ancestral homeland of bananas—Southeast Asia. It has even been said that Chinese billionaires import luxurious Gros Michel fruits and have lavish banana parties where they eat magnificent tasting bananas and laugh at the feeble little green bananas of the west.

dsc_1801banana_shopWhatever the truth of these tales, what is certain is that the banana growers outside of Asia immediately fell back into their bad habit of monoculture. The Cavendish is just as vulnerable to blight as its predecessor. Indeed many monoculture crops (crops like wheat, rice, and potatoes) are potentially vulnerable to unexpected disease because of the perils of overreliance on certain favorable strains. It is a somewhat sobering thought for people who eat!

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Naturally I love my readers with all my heart and I wanted to present a spooky Halloween treat to you for today’s post. I started out by writing an essay about the nature of reality, but it was filled with cubicles, creditors, skin cancer, and dead oceans.  To be honest, the dystopian sci-fi novel which is waking life was way too scary to be any fun (since it turns out that reality is completely horrifying).  As a back-up plan, I have returned to my old stand-by: strange creepy mascots.  Because of capitalism, nationalism, and the savage tribalism at the heart of humanity, our world is filled with weirdos and sad actors who are paid to don rubber costumes and act like bears, pelicans, and sundry bobble-headed freaks. Or, alternately, mascots can be animated or digitally created characters which are deeply wrong on an existential level.  Here are some of these mascots and these are their stories:

makoolaidLet’s start with a punch from the past. I remember being appalled the first time I saw a Kool-Aid commercial.  I mean Kool-Aid man is a being who is a fragile glass pitcher who crashes through a brick wall.  He then pours himself out into delighted children who drink his very essence like the Eucharist and go into a sugar high.  What the hell? How did marketers come up with this and how is it a thing we all immediately understand?

masDSC01192The New Orleans Saints’ primary mascot is Gumbo, a McGruff-style weeping hound with a blood-red tongue who is actually fairly lovable (as such things go).  However, Gumbo has recently been teamed with Sir Saint, a gruff football villain with elephantitis of the chin.  Sir Saint was one of the original Saints mascots during their first seasons of loss and misery and, for some reason he has been brought out of retirement to cast a shadow over this halcyon era.

0cubs1908-03Long ago, a wandering mage/bar-owner cast a curse upon the Chicago Cubs when they ejected him from the stadium for bringing his beloved pet goat to a game. Yet even before the curse, the cubs walked in darkness–as demonstrated by this image from 1908 which shows them with a nightmare bear.  Bears are scary enough, but this one looks like a rabid muskrat or a bear shaman who got trapped in a hell dimension.

malogosPast posts have touched on the subject of how bizarre Olympics mascots are.  Yet even Wenlock and Mandeville cannot compete with Shpitzik, a sentient fire-wielding cactus who was meant to represent the Israeli Olympics team.  Not only was Shpitzik a walking atrocity which should not exist, he was also a blatant rip-off of a character from a children’s show popular in Israel in the 1970s.  The cactus mascot was soon at the center of a giant expensive law suit.  The website theclassical.org told the harrowing story here and described the lawsuit’s conclusion (which also was the end of Shpitzik). In the final judgment, the presiding magistrate determined that Shpitzik was “’far more than a ‘humanization of a cactus” but was also a copyright infringement. He then ordered Shpitzik’s “permanent destruction and erasure from memory.”

mas4fff29d1a273eBoltman of the San Diego chargers does nothing to help alleviate the rumors that steroids are rampant in professional football.

old miss chiquitaThe Chiquita Banana was created by a famous cartoonist,  Dik Browne, who also created “Hagar the Horrible”.   The talking over-sexed banana was introduced to America as an animated character in 1944 (because apparently that year was not traumatic enough).

mas5350655833_86c067aa2d_oYou don’t have to be a sports mascot created by committee to be completely horrible, as demonstrated by these two mascots for a drug store in Kyoto.  Apparently they are renowned for making generations of children cry.

mastumblr_lci9rpn5xL1qe0wclo1_500This is “Boomer”, a (possibly retired) mascot of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I think he is supposed to be a geriatric cannon pointed directly up, but he looks like a reject from a movie about steampunk sorcerers.

pierre-the-pelicanI don’t want to seem like I’m picking on new Orleans but the newly renamed basketball team “the pelicans” just unveiled their new pelican mascot and it is widely being heralded as a creature of nightmares.  This mascot is so atrocious it made the front page of CNN and has already inspired the internet’s underemployed digital artists to create an entire history for it.

Musa acuminata flower

Musa acuminata is a species of herbaceous plant from Southeast Asia.  Actually it is a very remarkable herbaceous plant because (along with certain other members of the Musa genus), it is the largest herbaceous plant living today.  They are so large that some people call them trees—although they are not properly trees.  The plant’s aspect is disturbing—almost like something out of a horror movie.  A giant pseudostem sprouts rapidly from a fleshy underground corm embedded within the jungle earth. This pseudostem is a towering appendage made up of layer after layer of horny leaf sheaths. Giant leafs grow out from the top of it—some of them as long as a man.

Diagram of Musa acuminata

At the very top of the pseudostem sits the elaborate reproductive apparatus of the plant, a grotesque inflorescence made up of alternating rows of flowers and petal-like bracts.  The strange mass droops down from the tree and a wizened inferior ovary dangles at the bottom.  As the female flowers are fertilized they form a hanging cluster of distinctive fingerlike fruits.  These bulbous “fingers” are grouped in tiers and they angle upward giving the whole stem an alien look. The fruit of Musa acuminata is radioactive because it contains a large amount of potassium (including potassium-40).  Botanists have described the fruit as “leathery berries” (although, to my eye, the elongated fruits suggest something other than berries).

Musa acumniata inflorescence

Although the fruits have a stiff waxy covering and contain a great deal of potassium, they are sweet–so jungle animals carry the pods around, eat them, and distribute the seeds (although the plant also produces asexually by suckering off clonal buds).  Some animals are especially drawn to the fruits and scientists speculate about whether Musa acuminate evolved symbiotically with the primates of Southeast Asia.

In fact 10,000 years ago an invasive species of African primate which had somehow made it to Papua began to select varieties of Musa acuminate trees which suited their taste while destroying (or at least not propagating) the other varieties.  Soon the fruit began to change into something which fit the primates’ hands and suited the beings’ color palate.

Musa acuminata was hybridized with other Musa species (particularly Musa balbisiana) in order to create different varieties of fruits. Parthenocarpic varieties of bananas were discovered and the virgin plants were carefully nurtured and cloned. Ten thousand years of selective breeding has produced a big yellow glowing seedless fruit, far different from the little stunted green fruit. Archaeologists believe that the banana might have been the first domesticated fruit (the only other contender is the ancient fig—which did, in fact, evolve alongside African primates).  Today they live throughout the tropics and subtropics.  Banana plants are additionally used to make fiber and as ornamental plants, but their importance as a foodstuff for humankind is difficult to overstate.  Not only are the yellow “Cavendish” fruits eaten in immense quantities, but starchy plantains are consumed with savory meals, and banana wine is the dominant spirit of large swaths of Africa.  Bananas are the most popular fruit in the world and our fourth most abundant crop overall.

Cuban bananas wash ashore along a Dutch island off the North Sea after a shipping mishap

 

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