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I hope you will accept my apologies for last week’s thin posts. I am on holiday for a fortnight. This week I am at my parents’farm in the Ohio Valley, and, although it is exceedingly lovely out here, inteenet is exiguous, at best. I don’t want you to think I have abandoned you though, and so I am going to post some pictures from the farmstead throughout the week. The first is me with Rory, my parents’ new standard poodle puppy. Poodles may have a fancy reputation, but he has been jumping in the pond, runningin the forest, and doing all sorts of farm dog things (although he is also super sweet). In fact, he is probably up to mischief RIGHT NOW…so I am going to go play with him some more. I’ll post some more from the fields and bosky sells tomorrow!
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Springtime On The Farm (Walt Curlee, 2010, oil on artboard]

It’s February 2nd—Groundhog Day—one of the many feeble pseudo-holidays with which the bleak & wintry month of February is filled. Ferrebeekeeper already wrote a comprehensive and somewhat touching post about the eponymous North American marmots which give this day its special name and character. So what do I write about now (other than that Bill Murray movie)? Today as I look around the internet, seeking a new nuance on the topic, I notice that there are a surprising number of articles lambasting groundhogs for being so frequently wrong about how much longer winter will last. This strikes me as abominably wrongheaded—since the Groundhog Day scrying tradition (such as it is) is really about humans looking for shadows rather than actual marmot insight into the wildly fluctuating early Anthropocene weather. Therefore I am posting this fine work of groundhog artwork by contemporary artist Walt Curlee. The pretty painting has many virtues, but chief among them is that it skips over February entirely. The groundhog, the farmer, and the barely visible dairy cows in the background are all enjoying a lovely clement spring day. There are winsome spring flowers and delicious-looking morel mushrooms (which the groundhog seems to have his eye on). The viewer can practically smell the actinomycetes of the freshly tilled earth. Best of all, the farm is located on beautiful rolling foothills which are sloping upwards towards the Appalachian Mountains. It reminds me of the family farm in southeast Ohio.

I spend a lot of time grumbling about the ugliness of contemporary art, but this charming folk painting is a reminder that there are plenty of fine artists out there working away at what they find beautiful irrespective of what the shallow fashions in Chelsea and Bushwick dictate. Thanks, Walt Curlee. I look forward to seeing more of your farm paintings. I suppose we should also thank the groundhogs for putting up with a day of grabby mayors and inane commentary. Most of all, we should keep our eye on the future. Whatever happens, winter will not last forever. [oh, and you can buy a print of Walt’s painting here, or just check out his other works, if you like].

Soybean Field (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Soybean Field (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

I’m sorry I didn’t write a post last Thursday or Friday: I was away from Brooklyn on a whirlwind family trip to see the farmstead and visit my parents and grandparents.  Now I love Brooklyn with all of my heart, but it was a great relief to be away from it for a little while.  It was lovely to feed the thousand gentle farm creatures, to assess the growth of the plums, apples & nut trees in the orchard, and to walk back through the soybean fields into the true forest.

Parkersburg (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Parkersburg (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of writing time (and there isn’t much internet access in West Virginia and southeastern Ohio anyway).  However I have a few little drawings which I doodled while I was home.  My favorite is at the top of the page—it is a view of the soybean fields as the viewer emerges from the forest and is struck by the dazzling deep green of the plants.  Soybeans are a critical crop in numerous ways, but I never really noticed them as a child–perhaps because I didn’t yet love edamame, or maybe because I hadn’t become used to living in a world of asphalt and bricks.  Anyway, I will write a post about soybeans, but I wanted to share a quick impression of their overwhelming glowing greenness.   The second picture is a drawing from the road of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  The town is actually both much prettier and much uglier than the sketch—there are numerous picturesque Romanesque and “Jacobethan” churches and buildings, but there also some truly dispiriting strip malls along the outskirts (which I represented with a Kia dealership).  Still the town has been improving incrementally for decades—perhaps thanks to my parents’ lovely yarn shop and quilting shop (which you should totally visit if you are ever in the Midwest/Appalachian region).

Paisley (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Paisley (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Speaking of quilting, I also drew a purely abstract picture of paisleys after I became fascinated by the printed patterns of the bolts of quilting cloth. Ever since the age of the Mughals, paisley has regularly come into fashion and then fallen out of it.  Yet the concept seems to be much more ancient than the Scottish textile makers of the early industrial revolution or the Mughals.  Paisley is another subject I need to blog about—because I think it is tremendously beautiful.

Goose Pond (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Goose Pond (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Finally there is a little drawing of the goose pond.  I sketched it quickly (and from a distance) just before we drove off to the airport, but you can still see a few little pilgrim geese swimming about on it.  My parents’ flock of these creatures has succeeded beyond all measure and now it is like their farm is infested with miniature dinosaurs.  Everywhere you look there are geese busily gnawing on grass, biting each other’s tails, or jumping sadly (with expectant open beaks) beneath tantalizing green apples.  I am sorry I didn’t do a sketch that really does justice to the lovable avine miscreants, however I am afraid that if I had stood among them long enough to draw them, they would have begun to nibble on me like a big ear of corn (which is their affectionate way of gently reminding visitors that geese get hungry for corn and lovely for attention).  Thanks for looking at my drawings—now that I am back from my trip and my mind is refreshed I will try to blog about some of these new subjects!

 

The Wichita State University muscle-bound bundle of wheat

The Wichita State University muscle-bound bundle of wheat

It seems like it has been a particularly long week, so how about we unwind for the weekend with some humorously bad mascots.  Ferrebeekeeper already presented a post on farmer mascots (of which there were a surfeit in this great breadbasket land of ours).  Today we concentrate instead on characters who literally are agricultural products: these mascots are just straight up agricultural commodities.  This seems like a weak concept for a dancin’ frolickin’ becostumed embodiment of team spirit, yet, once again, the rich imagination of bored small-town teams does not disappoint.   Check out these strange beings:

Captain Cornelius of ISU

Captain Cornelius of ISU

Bennie the Bean, the mascot for the Indiana Soybean Alliance

Bennie the Bean, the mascot for the Indiana Soybean Alliance

Custom Handmade Chinese Cabbage Mascot (in case you want to advocate Bok Choy)

Custom Handmade Chinese Cabbage Mascot (in case you want to advocate Bok Choy)

This sunflower mascot is from a hospice...so I have no idea what to make of that :(

This sunflower mascot is from a hospice…so I have no idea what to make of that…

The famous Idaho potato

The famous Idaho potato

The Delta State University Fighting Okra is naturally from Mississippi

The Delta State University Fighting Okra is naturally from Mississippi

The Hillsboro Hops

The Hillsboro Hops

This angry ear of corn is from Concordia College in Minnesota

This angry ear of corn is from Concordia College in Minnesota

Most of the rice mascots I found were...problematic, but, since it is my favorite staple food, here is the Miami Rice Pudding Mascot (?)

Most of the rice mascots I found were racially problematic, but, since it is my favorite staple food, here is the Miami Rice Pudding Mascot (?)

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts doesn't actually have any sports teams, but they do have a Fighting Pickle.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts doesn’t actually have any sports teams, but they do have a Fighting Pickle.

Yeesh, those are some rough symbols to rally around.  I’ll do some hard thinking this weekend and see you back here on Monday.  In the meantime here is an anonymous corn to see you off.

[Presented without comment]

[Presented without further comment]

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

Well, it’s already Thanksgiving…2015 will be here before you know it. This year I’m staying in Brooklyn instead of going home to the fields and hardwood forests of Appalachia, but I’ll definitely miss visiting family, going hunting, and seeing all of the goodly farm creatures.  I probably should have organized things better, but to be frank, organization is really not my métier.  How does everybody do so well with all of these infernal lists, and applications, and invoices, and calendars, and spreadsheets? Anyway, to celebrate the holiday, here is a summertime watercolor picture of the family farm.  The trees look a bit crooked and a bit too green…but they were crooked and extremely green in real world (plus I didn’t realize I was sitting on an anthill when I first chose the location—so I was painting faster and faster).   Of course there was no wild turkey running through the painting–at least not that I could see—however they are supremely canny at blending in when they want to be (and I did find some feathers at the entrance to the forest).  The snake, chipmunk, and skulking frog are likewise inventions, although they are definitely out there in the woods.  I should really have painted an anthill: those guys were very much present!

Yes, like that...but bitier.

Yes, like that…but bitier.

I’m sorry I don’t have a November painting which show the beautiful browns, russets, and grays of the woodland.  The wild turkey would look extremely good against such a backdrop!  But the ants were bad enough—I don’t even want to think about watercolor in snow, sleet, and freezing rain…

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!  I hope you enjoy your turkeys and have a lot to be thankful for. All of you foreign folk will have to make do with my best wishes and imagine how succulent the turkey and mashed potatoes taste.  But wherever or whoever you are, you should know that I am most thankful for my readers!  You are all the best!

Pilgrim Geese

Pilgrim Geese!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts for the last week: I was out of the city on a family visit in the bosky hills Appalachia. It was wonderful to get out of the city and spend some time on the farm recharging my mental and emotional batteries! One of the highlights of the trip was interacting with my parents’ flock of pilgrim geese–a heritage breed of medium sized geese noted for their mild manners and gender-selected colors: pilgrim ganders are white (with maybe a few dark tail feathers) whereas the female geese are medium gray with white bellies.

Argh! Back up a little bit...

Argh! Back up a little bit…

Pilgrim geese obtained their name because they allegedly came to America with the protestant refugees who founded New England—the pilgrims–but that dramatic historically interesting story may be an invention. The Live Stock Conservancy describes the various possible origins of the breed on its website:

[A poultry researcher] found numerous references to auto-sexing geese in colonial America, western England and Normandy, France, but the breed was never referred to by a name. According to some authorities, the Pilgrim goose is related to the now rare West of England goose, another auto-sexing breed, which could possibly have arrived with early colonists…But Oscar Grow, a leading authority on waterfowl in the 1900s, claims to have developed the breed in Iowa, and that his wife named them in memory of their relocation – or pilgrimage – to Missouri during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Authorities agree that the breed was first documented by the name “Pilgrim” in 1935, corresponding with the Grow family’s pilgrimage. The Pilgrim was admitted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1939.

Pilgrim geese are able to fly short distances and they have a long lifespan (of up to 40 years—not that such an age is particularly old for humans!). They are friendly birds and intelligence shines in their round gray eyes. Goose society is very lively with lots of political squabbling and jockeying for prime mates and nesting sites. Like other domestic geese they largely subsist on grass and green shoots which they avidly graze with their serrated beaks, but they are hungry, hungry birds and they love special treats. In order to socialize her goose flock, my mother gives the birds some corn and mash in the morning and in the evening. The geese all crowd around the galvanized bin where their food is kept and inquisitively nibble on the pockets of the goose tenders. If the food does not appear rapidly enough they will point their beaks upward toward their human keepers and open them wide hoping perhaps that we might funnel grain directly down their gullet. They are extremely hilarious standing around with their bills open like big feathery ridiculous Venus flytraps!

The author with pilgrim goslings (who needed to be gathered up and put in a shed to protect them from predators)

The author with pilgrim goslings (who needed to be gathered up and put in a shed to protect them from predators)

Sumerian Farmers

Sumerian Farmers

What is the world’s most important occupation?  There are so many contenders: the brave soldiers who lay down their lives to fight oppression, the bankers who take all of the world’s money for themselves, the doctors who keep us healthy, the workers in the energy sector who keep society from falling into darkness and horror…even our leaders who bravely ensure that nothing gets done (so that society does not suddenly lurch in some scary direction).  Yet all of these professions are only possible once there is enough food.  Without farmers we would still all be hunter gatherers–and by “all” I mean the tiny handful of us who would exist.  Pre-agricultural society was terrifying because of its lack of certainty.  Humankind foraged hither and yon in hungry desperate bands.  Everyone was involved in long-running internecine wars with local tribes.  After the dawn of agriculture we were stuck with all sorts of oppressive megalithic forces: social hierarchy, ownership, organized religion—but in recompense humankind found literacy and science, the twin touchstones of wisdom and progress.

 

Thanks, farmer!

Thanks, farmer!

As spring begins the farmers are busy getting ready for the growing season.  They are out there harvesting winter crops, fixing seed injectors, tilling fields, and doing other critical things that we soft urban dwellers don’t even know about. To celebrate the importance of agriculture and give the farmer his (or her) due, here is a gallery of farmer mascots from around the internet.

Old Farmer Mascot (mascotdesigngallery.com)

Old Farmer Mascot (mascotdesigngallery.com)

Fat Cat Farmer: mascot of Stilwell High, Stilwell, OK

Fat Cat Farmer: mascot of Stilwell High, Stilwell, OK

I really hope this guy doesn't raise pigs

I really hope this guy doesn’t raise pigs

Angry Farmer (Joe Apel)

Angry Farmer (Joe Apel)

 

Corn Cob Bob should probably be the national animal

Corn Cob Bob should probably be the national animal

Does a creepy cowgirl count?

Does a creepy cowgirl count?

Travis the Tractor

Travis the Tractor

You could own the Farmer Duane costume for a mere $979.00 (facemakersincorporated.com)

You could own the Farmer Duane costume for a mere $979.00 (facemakersincorporated.com)

Of course looking over these images raises some troubling questions.  What is the difference between farmers and hillbillies?  Do farmers still wear straw hats? To what extent is farming now controlled by a handful of quasi-monopolistic corporations?  If farming is so important, why are so many of these mascots so primitive looking?

 

Farmer Mascot?

Farmer Mascot?

These questions will have to wait (or remain forever unanswered).  For now let us celebrate the ancient profession of farming and each of us prepare for the spring planting in our own lives.

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Composition of Earth's Atmosphere

Composition of Earth’s Atmosphere

The atmosphere is a combination of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide.  Recently, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been swiftly rising.  We are not currently facing Apollo 13 style asphyxiation because carbon dioxide is captured by water to form carbonic acid.  As it happens, the oceans of planet Earth are made of water.

"Humankind Embarks on Ambitious Geoengineering Project"

“Humankind Embarks on Ambitious Geoengineering Project”

Ergo, we are turning the world’s oceans into seltzer water!  The results of such ocean acidification are devastating to the ocean’s inhabitants–as became tragically apparent this week when 10 million Canadian scallops died due to the rapidly dropping PH levels along the west coast of Canada.  The shellfish farming company “Island Scallops” lost three year’s worth of scallop harvest when the PH dropped from 8.2 to 7.3 in their scallop beds of the Georgia Strait.  Scallops have shells made of calcium carbonate—which dissolves in carbonic acid—so the creatures are unable to fight off predators and disease.

WHY?? They were so young...

WHY?? They were so young…

Of course most scallops and other sea creatures are not owned by Canadian farmers—so nobody notices when they go missing (because they have perished…or dissolved).  Most of the newspapers and news sites covering the scallop die-off have concentrated on what a blow the loss is to seafood lovers and fish farmers, but, it seems to me that this narrow financial approach ignores the fact that the majority of Earth’s surface is covered in ocean.

oceans Of course acidification of the oceans is only one part of a combined attack: the poor oceans are also being overfished, polluted, and subject to rapid temperature changes. The oceans are the cradle of life, and they remain crucial to all life on the planet.  Our amphibious ancestors climbed out of the sea long ago but the photosynthesizing algae that live there still remain critical to all life on Earth (unless you are an extremophile bacteria).  These tiny creatures are part of a vast web of life which is being torn to pieces and destroyed.  So join me in mourning the dead scallops.

Farewell to All That

Farewell to All That

An optimistic artist's conception of lunar farming

An optimistic artist’s conception of lunar farming

Earth is the only known home of life.  For all of humankind’s aspirations and ambitions, we have only succeeded in walking on one other celestial body and putting a few people, rats, and ant colonies in some leaky tin cans in low Earth orbit (I’m sorry to be so brutally honest about Skylab, Mir, and ISS). This is deeply troubling since I believe humankind can only survive and redeem itself by moving into the heavens (although some of my cynical friends worry that we will only be exporting humankind’s problems and appetites wherever we go).  Whatever the case, we are not moving very quickly towards the skies.  Political gridlock, greed, and a lack of engineering and imagination have kept us from making any real progress at space-steading.   So far we have proven to be maladroit stewards who are incapable of bearing life’s luminous seed into space (although we are amassing a nifty robot fleet around the solar system, and, despite our many flaws, we keep learning).

FullMoona

This is why I was so excited to see the most recent space exploration news:  NASA recently announced that they are teaming up with the mad moguls of Google in a project to grow crops on the moon!  The space agency is constructing a tiny (approximately 1 kilogram) capsule to grow a handful of plants on the lunar surface.  The little growth capsule with its cargo of air water and seeds will be dropped off on the moon by the Moon Express (a lunar vehicle built by Google in hopes of obtaining the lunar X Prize).

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The initial project will not exactly provide much produce for a lunar greengrocer.  An online article by James Plafke describes the contents of the lunar garden canister, “Currently, the chamber can support 10 basil seeds, 10 turnip seeds, and around 100 Arabidopsis seeds. It also holds the bit of water that initiates the germination process, and uses the natural sunlight that reaches the moon to support the plant life.”

The Moon Farmer from Futurama

The Moon Farmer from Futurama

Arabidopsis is not exactly a favorite at the supermarket, but it was the first plant to be genetically sequenced and it is used in biology labs everywhere as a model organism.  In a pinch though, the basil and turnips might be good for some sort of impromptu Italian farm-style dish.  NASA will monitor the seed growth and development from Earth with an eye on how lunar gravity and radiation levels impact the germinating seeds and the growing plants.  Admittedly the microfarm is a small step towards colonies beyond Earth, but at least it is a step (and frankly the beginnings of agriculture here on Earth were similarly small and incremental).  Or, who knows? Maybe the turnips will climb out of the canister and start dragging their knuckles along the lunar plains and throwing rocks at the Chinese landers.

You never know where science will take you

You never know where science will take you

Silver Laced Wyandotte Hen

Silver Laced Wyandotte Hen

Wyandottes are a classic American breed of chicken which first appeared in Wisconsin in the years following the Civil War.  They are known for their winter hardy nature (thanks to short rose combs), their brown eggs, and their showy feathers.  They are a dual purpose breed farmed both for meat and eggs.

Endearing Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks

Endearing Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks

Wyandottes are supposed to be a docile breed, but things don’t always go as planned.  My parents obtained a straight batch of silver lace Wyandotte chickens via post, in order to restock their farm with chickens (“straight batch” means that the gender of the chicks was not determined by a trained chicken sexer—a highly experienced but deeply unlucky professional who determines whether chicks are male or female by, um, squeezing them).   Because of the luck of the draw my parents obtained a surfeit of male chicken, which, in the course of adolescence, turned into roosters and set out to fight each other for absolute dominance.  For a while, the farmyard became a miniature reenactment of ‘Highlander” with desperate roosters fighting to the death everywhere.  In the meantime the inexperienced adolescent Wyandottes became the favorite prey for foxes, owls, hawks, and weasels which infiltrated the poultry yard from the surrounding forests and grabbed the distracted fowl.

A magnificent (but probably angry) Silver Laced Wyandotte Rooster

A magnificent (but probably angry) Silver Laced Wyandotte Rooster

The Wyandottes had beautiful plumage, but by the time a single rooster emerged as the sole male survivor of their insane battle rayale, the flock was sadly attenuated.  Worse yet, the rooster (whom my parents whimsically named “Rooster Cogburn” after the movie character) had been rendered insane by PTSD and dark memories of dueling.  It was only a short while until Rooster Cogburn brutally slashed my mother (either to protect his hens, or, more likely, because he was unable to differentiate other living things from rival roosters). This in turn aggrieved my father who grabbed a pair of electric shears and snipped the rooster’s fighting spurs.  Rooster Cogburn vanished shortly afterwards, presumably a victim of the many creatures with glowing eyes who live in the woods.

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I would have to say that Wyandotte chickens are very pretty (and good at egg laying) but they are not always the ideal chickens for southeastern Ohio.  My parents switched over to buff Orpington chickens (large delicious-looking yellow-orange chickens from Southeastern London) which are bigger, prettier, and have a gentler temprament, and the state of affairs in the poultry yard has greatly improved.

A Buff Orpington Chicken

A Buff Orpington Chicken

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