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When I am back in the big city telling tales of farm life, one barnyard character is the most popular of all. His exploits are the most renowned. His stories garner endless comments. His (or her?) mysterious pan-sexual nature elicits the most speculation. I am referring to the ever-beloved LG, a Canada goose who flew out of the sky ten years ago with an injured foot and a duck concubine. When his duck flew away, LG was left forlorn and alone–a complete outcast. But his story was not over: LG ingratiated himself to both people and geese. He taught the store-bought geese to fly and eventually he worked his way up to being a goose of high status. Ultimately he became the foremost figure in the poultry lot, romantically connected to Princess (the prettiest pilgrim goose) and able to command the most corn and the best nesting spots. Here I am hand-feeding him cracked corn.

But things have changed for LG. Early this summer, a new Canada goose appeared. This new bird has a mangled wing and can not fly at all. My parents are flummoxed at how he (or she?) made it to the farm. They are equally perplexed at why the wounded goose even knew to come there for sanctuary to begin with. Because the new Canada goose has crossed tail feathers (and a mysterious unknown provenance) my parents call him (or her) “X”. I imagine him as a sort of World War I aviator figure who suffered a wound while battling with some super predator (a goshawk? A golfer?) and then clattered down from the heavens to crash land by the pond (while making sad single stroke sputtering noises, probably).

LG in the foreground and X in the background. It looks like they are kvetching about something (but it was hot and they are actually panting)

LG has taken a liking to X and they sometimes wander around the orchard, garden, and barnyard together (I hope Princess does not get forgotten now that LG finally has a chance to hang out with a friend of his own species). But LG has not given up his high status and he gets to take first choice of farmyard prerogatives and privileges.

It was hot August weather when I was home, with temperatures over ninety and one of my favorite things was watching the geese drink out of an old drywall bucket filled with water. They would stick their heads down into the bucket and go “slurrrrrrrp” then they would point their heads straight up at the sky and go “glug glug glug” and all the water would run down from the head part into the deeper goose (this sound cartoonishly ridiculous, of course, but it was strangely compelling to watch). Above is a picture of X drinking. You will notice that LG already had his fill and was regarding me beadily, no doubt calculating whether there were further advantages to be had. I will keep you updated on their status (hopefully X will heal and regain his flying abilities, but I doubt it). Who knows what they will get up to next. It is hard to believe that our skies (and, uh, golf courses) are filled up with these delightful, charismatic, lunatics!

Here is X with some other farmyard friends

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.

Today’s short post is really just a link to an animal story about Arnold, a Canada goose whose foot was injured. Kindly veterinarians took in the wounded bird and performed surgery to mend his broken limb and toes. However, as they worked on the goose, there was a mysterious tapping at the door…which turned out to be Arnold’s concerned mate! She came over to the surgery to visit and see if he was alright. The story is adorably cute and, since I know LG (my parent’s guest goose who flew down to the barnyard and assumed command of the domestic pilgrim geese and has been lording it over the place ever since), I believe it entirely.

Disturbingly, geese are like little people with wings and giant hard noses. This is obviously not disturbing in and of itself, but it upsets me because so many people I talk to just despise Canada geese (usually because the geese defended their nests against blundering humans or pooped on a moronic golf course somewhere). I keep replaying Arnold’s story…but with some anti-bird cretin calling animal control to have the waterfowl euthanized (or just illegally attacking them outright).

As we can see from Arnold’s mate and from LG, animals have feelings and plans and worries. I wonder how we can make other people see that more clearly…

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Goose/Duck figurine (Han Dynasty, ca. 200 AD) Terra Cotta

In predynastic China, when an important person died, they were well provisioned for the next life in a straightforward fashion: whatever they would need in the next world was placed in the tomb with them.  Since it would be unthinkable to live without servants, concubines, beasts of burden, and delicious animals for roasting, this meant that important funerals in ancient China were also the occasion of human and animal sacrifice!  By the time the Han Dynasty had rolled around however, the wasteful extravagance of walling up servants and throwing away food, had given way to more symbolic (and humane) customs.  Vassals and livestock were allowed to stay in this world: in their place, little terra cotta figurines were placed inside the tomb.  Here is a very pretty example of such a funerary sculpture–a lovely Chinese goose/duck.  Although the figure is rendered with bravura simplicity (it was going into a tomb after all), it is also an expressive and lovely work of art.  It is not too much of a stretch to imagine the bird craning its neck down to gobble delicious grain and bugs off the ground or whipping its head around to hiss at the viewer.  Perfect for imagining an eternity of feasting in the next realm!

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The Meijiang River is located in Hunan Province just to the northwest of Lianyuan City.  The river features the classic picturesque landscape of China: karst gorges with vertical limestone mounts, mysterious cliffs, and ancient caves.  The caverns and cwms of the region are home to many locally important spots with names which would not be out of place in “Journey to the West”:  “Immortal Village”, “Avalokitesvara Precipice”, “Sutra Cave”, “Immortal’s Residence”, and “Incense Burner Mountain”.

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The scenic valley would be an ideal vacation spot for landscape painters (if they could ever escape their dead end jobs), but it is hardly as famous as some of China’s other Karst landscapes like the vast South China Karst or the Li River.  So why have I picked out this sleepy river to dream about as winter wears on?

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Well it has been a while since we have featured a mascot post (although you shouldn’t forget that the 2020 Olympics are getting closer and closer).  I don’t want to write about pig mascots (even if that would be perfect for Lunar New Year), but there is a different gluttonous animal which jumps instantly to mind when I think of China: a sort of feathered pig which features heavily here on Ferrebeekeeper.

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I am of course talking about geese and the Meijiang River has a special mascot: a ten meter (30 foot) tall white inflatable goose!  Here are some pictures of the giant floating toy, which obviously owes a debt to Florentijn Hofman’s famous inflatable ducks.

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I guess there isn’t really much more to this post than the visual dynamism of the giant goose (which I like better than the huge bath ducks).  It is a really good mascot though! How do you top that (especially as a small provincial river)?

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In the past we have looked at Chinese goose ewers: here is a lovely vessel from a very different tradition–this gander-shaped vessel was made in Northern India during the Mogul Dynasty (ca. 16th century).  Look at the elegant sinuous curve of the striding bird and the reptilian grace of the piece.  The bird has a bit of the goose’s comic personality mixed in with the striking powerful feel of the whole piece.

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The spur-winged goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is a large waterfowl which is quite common in wetlands throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Adults are 75–115 cm (30–45 in) long and weigh up to 7 kg (15 pounds).  The bird is a close relative of both true geese and shelducks (although they aren’t really geese or ducks but have their own genus).  They are intelligent gregarious birds which live in flocks of around 50.  They look somewhat plain—their feathers are dun, sable, and white, and their faces and beaks are red–like geese badly made up to look like vultures. Yet spur-winged geese are amazing animals in several respects (I mean beyond just being geese–which live for decades, have complicated social lives, and can fly across whole continents).

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Spur-winged geese have a habit of eating blister beetles and storing the poisonous cantharidin from the insects within their bodies.  Cantharidin has a long strange history in human society which you can look up on your own (it was known as “Spanish Fly”), however it is principally notable for being poisonous: 10 mg of cantharidin is enough to kill an adult human!  Spur-winged geese–particularly those which live in and around the Gambiaare often poisonous–or at least they have flesh which is toxic to humans.

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Additionally, males have dinosaur-like spurs on their wings which they use, dinosaur-like, to fight each other for females.  These wing-spurs are not trivial.  Poultry keepers who have tried to keep the spur-winged goose with other birds have suffered losses to the fearsome sharpened wrist-spurs (and the aggressive territoriality of the spur-winged males).

Probably the most remarkable thing about the spur-winged goose though is its speed.  These birds are blazing fast.   They appear on shortlists with crazy birds like peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, swifts, and frigatebirds.  Although they cannot dive at speeds approaching the raptors or maneuver like the swifts,  spur-winged geese can really move quickly.  When the goose gets up to speed, it can travel 142 kilometers per hour (88 miles per hour).  It is as fast as the Delorean in Back to the Future (though it apparently lacks time-traveling abilities).

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So, to sum up the spur-winged goose: it is an omnivore which lives throughout the most competitive ecosystems of Africa. It has fighting spurs on its wings, can fly as fast as a World War I warplane, and is toxic. I guess I am saying that you need to respect the spur-winged goose!

mantis1As mentioned in previous posts, my parents have a majestic flock of pilgrim geese (and one peculiar Canada goose).  They have more giant beautiful bright white eggs than they know what to do with…so, when I was home for Easter, I worked in the ancient Ukrainian medium of pysanky.  This involves writing on eggs with a heated wax stylus and then dipping the eggs in progressive layers of batik dyes.  The end results have a beautiful color unlike any other art works, and the eggs are lovely in their own right—both as a curvilinear art medium and as symbols of existence (see yesterday’s post).

Most of my works here feature donuts (which is my personal symbol for the universe) and or flounder.  There are some strange alien-looking mollusks too and some stars.  However I like the radish and the mantis shrimp best.  Those arthropods are amazing creatures (although they are hard to draw with hot wax).  I need to blog about them in the near future.  In the meantime, hopefully the great serpent of the pagan Ukrainian underworld will be satisfied with this batch of eggs.

 

Sancai Glazed Pottery Goose-Form Vessel (Tang Dynasty)

Sancai Glazed Pottery Goose-Form Vessel (Tang Dynasty)

Nobody makes more beautiful ceramics and porcelains than the Chinese.  They are the best at it, and they have been practically forever (or at least for the last 3000 years).  The Chinese were also among the first people to domesticate geese, those lovely, useful (and all-too-sadly delicious) fowl with big personalities.  It follows then, that nobody has made a more beautiful ceramic goose vessel than the Chinese…and here is the proof–a magnificent gooseware vessel from the Tang dynasty, a vast empire which from 618 AD to 9017 AD spanned the Chinese coast and stretched deep along the Silk Road into central Asia.  I am just kidding about gooseware…this vessel is properly called a Tang earthenware vessel with Sancai (three-color) glaze, however I am not kidding about the vast scope of the Tang dynasty, nor about the unfading splendor of this artwork.  Look at the expression on the goose—a sanguine curiosity tinged with hunger.  Look too at the beautiful expressionism of the transparent brown blue and yellow glaze, which straddles a fine line between pure abstraction and the natural color of a Medieval Chinese goose popping out of an algae-streaked mudhole.

Sancai And Blue-Glazed Pottery Goose-Form Vessel

Sancai And Blue-Glazed Pottery Goose-Form Vessel

Of course Ferrebeekeeper has a checkered history with ancient goose art.  We have been known to sometimes get suckered by beautiful forgeries and charismatic forgers, so you will have to look at this piece carefully assay its merit on your own!

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Geese Descending on a Sandbank (Bian Shoumin, 1730, ink on scroll)

Geese Descending on a Sandbank (Bian Shoumin, 1730, ink on scroll)

Wild geese are an important symbolic motif in Chinese art and literature.  According to this weird old dictionary of symbols I am looking at, the wild goose was regarded as symbolic of “yang” virtues of “light and masculinity in nature” (whatever that means).  Wild geese were thought to mate for life and were thus regarded as emblematic of marital fidelity and bliss.  Alternately, lone geese were seen as a symbol of powerful longing—as between lovers separated by great distances (or, even more sadly, by death).  Additionally, the annual migrations of the wild geese were important markers of seasonal change (and thus became representative of the overall passage of time throughout life).

In the hands of a master, this was a heady mixture of themes, and so goose paintings often represent fundamental questions about one’s journey through life.  Here is a scroll painting from the Ching dynasty painter-poet, Bian Shoumin (1684–1752), who also went by the evocative and slightly dirty-sounding sobriquet “Old Man Among the Reeds.”  He was one of the renowned “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” and he was particularly famous for painting…geese (so maybe he was “among the reeds” simply because that is where he needed to hang out in order to best render his favored subjects).

Bian painted this painting in his mid-forties, and there is a middle-aged wistfulness and melancholy to it. The calligraphy poem at the top left reads as follows:

Just now wild geese came into the sky,

As I waved my brush before the master of the qin [zither];

Autumn sounds meld with autumn thoughts

As I stand beside I know not who.

Based on his poem, he sounds like a bit of a lonely goose himself.  The painting indeed shows a single goose staring off at the sky while a happy pair preen nearby.  It would be a sad subject, but, like an auspicious peach falling from heaven, a suitable companion goose making a beeline for the autumnal-hearted fowl beneath the poem.  Perhaps all is not lost, even for aging scholar-artists…

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