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La belle Hortense (Francine Huot) acrylic

Here is some contemporary chicken art by Canadian painter, Francine Huot.  Huot was born in Chateau-Richer,  a town near Quebec City and she came to professional painting later in life, after raising a family and making a career as a nurse. 

Look at the splendid bravura lines of jagged red, white yellow and brown which form a ball of abstract calligraphic squiggles…which is somehow a perfect hen striding through the summer countryside.  Some paintings are filled with allusions, deeper meanings, and extraordinary portents of doom and glory.  This painting is not like that at all.  It is a beautiful swift impression of a chicken.  Yet its bravura freshness and speed also convey real feelings of the darting hungry energy of the poultry yard.  It is a lovely work of contemporary impressionism.  I wonder if Huot’s life as a nurse (a profession where one does extremely neccessary things with swift economy) influenced her life painting chickens with a flurry of swordsman’s brushstrokes!

An Artist’s Conception of the Theft

Super villains have struck directly at our happy way of life! In the past week, shocking news of an unprecedented large scale crime has rocked the world of…um…breakfast, I guess.  Thieves in Quebec (so probably French-speaking, mustache-twirling thieves with horizontally striped clothes and skull caps) broke into a warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford and stole 10 MILLION pounds of maple syrup from the global strategic maple syrup reserve.  The warehouse was locked up tight and under constant video and electronic security surveillance.  The syrup was carefully removed from the large barrels in which it had been contained–so the theft was not initially apparent.  Actually this does not sound like the work of super villains so much as aliens.  What earthly purpose would anyone have with 10 million pounds of maple syrup (unless it happens to be the fuel for, say, stellar travel or wormhole lubrication)?

Sure, whatever [ed.]

In case you are dismissively waving your hand and assuming you can get Vermont syrup or something, you should know that Quebec is the source of up to 80% of the world’s maple syrup.  Maybe this crime was not the work of cat burglars or aliens, but rather an attempt by the all pervasive corn lobby to directly replace lovable maple syrup with the insidious corn syrup which is already in every other American foodstuff (but I refuse to believe that molasses farmers or blueberry growers had anything to do with this heinous act).

Contrasting forest maple with farm corn/maize, which is surely one of the definitive agricultural crops of our time, raises interesting musings concerning the history and nature of food production. The harvesting of maple sap falls into the strange gap between farming and gathering. During the spring thaw, starches stored overwinter in maple roots rise up the trunks of the tree as an energy source for the tree’s rapid budding and flowering.  The sugary sap can be harvested by “tapping” the tree—i.e. cutting a notch in the bark and filling a bucket until the buds form (at which points amino acids in the sap spoil the flavor).  Once harvested, maple sap can be evaporated down into sugary syrup which is edible (or potable?) for long periods of time.  Native Americans living in the natural habitat of the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) utilized this technique long before the arrival of the English, French, and Dutch, but the actual beginnings of the process are lost in myth (literally, each different tribe of the Northeast woodlands has its own myth involving culture heroes, trickster gods, or playsome squirrels).

Maple Sugaring (1872, Currier and Ives)

For the people of the first nations, maple was a critical flavoring—something akin to salt or sugar—which worked its way into many dishes.  Maple syrup was the dominant sweetener in Canada and the American mainland colonies (later the nascent United States) during the colonial era, but it was gradually replaced by cane sugar and molasses which were themselves supplanted by corn sweetener.  Nevertheless, maple syrup has staged surprising comebacks throughout American history.  During the years leading up to the civil war, abolitionists used maple syrup instead of slave-produced cane sugar as a sort of embargo.  World War II saw a surge in maple syrup use as sugar was heavily rationed during the conflict.  Maple sap is largely harvested from the sugar maple and the red maple which grow east of the Mississippi from Quebec down into Georgia but invasive European trees (like the monstrous Norway maple located in the garden of my previous rental flat) can also provide sugary sap—although much more is required to make syrup.  Sugar maples also provide a lovely hard pale wood used for baseball bats and pool cues–so sporting people are in debt to the tree as much as breakfast enthusiasts.

Sugar Maple Trees Turning Color in the Fall

I wonder if real maple flavor is as exotic in the tropics as tropical flavors like pineapple, Brazil nut, and vanilla are here?  The maple industry seems to be a uniquely North American phenomenon, but the maple genus itself spread across the Northern hemisphere outward from Northeast Asia (i.e. China).  Does China have a syrup industry?  Is it looking to start one?

The more we look into the great maple syrup heist, the broader the international (and interplanetary?) implications seem to become.  What is certain is that the traditional American breakfast has fallen under threat until these malfactors come to justice.  We must rally together as a people! Only the greedy and desperate would exploit this crime for personal aggrandizement.  Although, now I think of it, if your pancakes are truly dry I have some honey from my grandfather’s bee hives I could sell you, or some sorghum, or elderberry jelly. Plus I’m kind of allergic to maple anyway, and I don’t usually eat breakfast….

The Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

The genus Lynx consists of four furtive species of medium-sized wildcats which inhabit giant swaths of the northern hemisphere.  The cats are solitary hunters which prey on a wide range of animals including lagomorphs (rabbits and pikas), rodents, foxes, sheep, goats, various species of deer and chamois, as well as gamebirds such as grouses, turkeys, ptarmigans, and waterfowl.  This list is hardly comprehensive–all four species of lynx are opportunistic predators which will catch and eat all sorts of insects, reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

A Lynx Finishes Off a Hare.

Lynxes share common features such as bobbed tails, large paws, tufted ears, buff spotted coats, ruffs under the neck, and long whiskers.  All four species also utilize a common reproductive strategy.  Lynxes and bobcats mate in winter and the female then raises her litter of two to four kittens over the course of a second winter.  After one winter with their mother, the young adults move out on their own. Lynxes like to sleep in sheltered dens provided by caves, deadfalls, or hollow logs.  They are strongly territorial (although males maintain larger territories which overlap each other and may contain the territories of many females).

Baby Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Although the classification of the family Felidae is continuously being revised, the current members of the Lynx genus are as follow:

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest lynx, which ranges from Europe, across all of Siberia to China.  Male Eurasian Lynxes weigh from18 to 30 kg (40 to 66 lb) and can stand up to 70 cm (28 in) at the shoulder.  Like all lynxes, the Eurasian lynx is a stalking predator which silently shadows its prey before pouncing for the kill.

The Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) a specialist of the arctic forests of Canada which preys largely on snowfoot hares.  The Canadian lynx has huge paws which spread its weight out over the snow in the manner of snowshoes.  In winter the Canadian lynx grows a thick multilayered coat.

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is an adaptable predator which ranges from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Southern Canada deep into Mexico’s deserts.  An adaptable generalist, the bobcat can live in any type of forest, as well as in deserts, swamps, and mountains.  The successful creatures even live in agricultural or developed lands.

In contrast to the bobcat, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the world’s most endangered cat species. At present there may be fewer than a hundred left in the wild.  Once overhunted, the Iberian lynx now suffers from habitat loss (thanks to overdevelopment) and attendant traffic fatalities.  In Spain and Portugal rabbit populations (the Iberian lynx’s preferred prey) have crashed because of myxomatosis, a viral disease from the Americas which was introduced to Europe by a short-sighted French bacteriologist.  Finally, the once diverse forests of Iberia were replaced with agricultural monoculture which exacerbated the ecosystem destruction.

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

If the Iberian lynx does indeed go extinct, it will be the first cat to do so since Smilodon.  Fortunately the other 3 lynxes are all relatively secure in numbers (although habitat destruction sometimes drives them out of specific areas–particularly in Western Europe).

There is a bobcat (Lynx rufus) somewhere in there I think.

Superb stealthiness, nocturnal habits, and highly effective camouflage render the lynxes nearly invisible to humans (although people do sometimes hear their unearthly haunting yowls at night).  Because of this elusiveness (combined with their keen eyesight and hearing) lynxes have acquired a somewhat otherworldly reputation in folklore and myth.  In ancient legends and stories, bobcats and lynxes were said to hold secret wisdom hidden from the comprehension of men or other creatures.  They were animals of augury and foresight which occasionally appeared to sorcerers, oracles, and shamans with occult knowledge.  According to “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews, “The Greeks believed the lynx could see through solid objects. In fact it is named for Lynceus, a mythological character who could also do this.” During the middle ages and the Renaissance, the lynx’s ability to see without being seen was linked with the omniscient vision of Christ.

The Crest of Accademia dei Lincei

The long association of lynxes with sharp-sightedness lingered into the early modern world where the lynx’s piercing vision became a metaphor for scholarly insight and scientific breakthrough.   The world’s first Academy of Science (well, the first one which wasn’t disbanded by the Inquisition) took its name from the lynx:  The Accademia dei Lincei, (“Academy of the Lynx-Eyed”, or Lincean Academy), was an Italian science academy founded in 1603 by Federico Cesi, an aristocrat from Umbria.  Cesi was passionate about natural science (particularly botany) and he gathered a group of polymaths and geniuses together to observe the natural world and explain it by means of experiments and the inductive method.  The society was one of the first to use lenses for scientific purposes and they produced an important collection of micrographs—drawings created with the newly invented microscope.  Their most famous member, Galileo Galilei was famous the discoveries he made with a telescope—discoveries which altered the way humankind perceived the universe.  Even as the Church turned the zealous eye of the Inquisition upon Galileo, the society supported him and made sure his books were published and his ideas were disseminated (thanks largely to Cesi’s aristocratic connections and fortune).  In fact, after joining the society, Galileo always signed his name as Galileo Galilei Linceo.

Frontispiece of Galileo’s Istoria e Dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari

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