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Brackenbury Stove

Winter is a season when it is best to be reading a book beside a hot stove.  Not only are stoves appealing because they are hot–most wood stoves and fire places are also designed to look good. Wood-burning stoves made of cast-iron are among the last devices regularly manufactured in classic gothic-revival shapes (perhaps because the industry is small and specialized enough to charge premium prices for elegance).  Many of these stoves appear as though they loaded fuel into themselves and then walked out of the nineteenth century on little cast-iron legs.

To get through the winter (while simultaneously adding to Ferrebeekeeper’s “Gothic” category), here is a gallery of attractive gothic stoves.  Some of these are classic stoves from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but a surprising number are on sale now.

Four o'clock stove (ca. 1840-1860)

Gothic Fire Basket

Carron Gothic Revival Cast Fireplace

Handmade green gothic chimenea

Little Cottage Stove by Country Kiln

Dimplex Compact Electric Stove

Dimplex Rectory Fire Stove

Gothic Revival Mantle from Strawberry Hill Manor

GM Iron Antique Stove

Jotul F100 multifuel stove

Lady Gay Parlor Stove (ca. 1870s)

Panadero Gothic 400 Stove

Red Wolsey Stove

Warmland Gothic Multifuel

There is something surprisingly comforting about these stoves.  Just looking at them makes one think of warmth, shelter, and relaxation. But, with their stern arches, angular faces, and red flames, they also seem hungry, sinister, and hot.  This odd juxtaposition must go back a long way for humans who have bedded down beside wood fires for thousands of generations as we crept further into lands too cold for our tropical blood.

These pictures are good for showing the sculptural/architectural beauty of these various stoves, but they are not quite as good at evoking the proper feeling of warmth and security.  To get that sense you should imagine a dark shadowy study with the warm orange glow of embers cast across the room.  Outside the wind howls over frozen forests and fields of ice but you don’t have to go out there.

Jøtul F 500 Oslo non-catalytic clean burn woodstove

Of course you might be reading this from some southern clime, in which case you don’t need to worry about winter’s chill at all. Have a big tropical drink and go to the beach.  You can sit in the sun and reflect on how much I envy you.

In the Northern Hemisphere today is the first day of winter.  As always, this change of season occurs on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Last night was actually the longest evening of the year—so I suppose we can now look forward to the gradual return of the sun bit by bit (even as the weather worsens for the true cold of January and February).

To celebrate winter (admittedly my least favorite season), here is a gallery of winter personifications.  Each wears an icy crown and most of them look cold, haughty, indifferent, or cruel.  I am including these ice kings and queens under Ferrebeekeeper’s mascot category even though they are not really cheering for a team or a product.  “Personification” seems close enough to the definition of mascot to ensure that I won’t get in trouble from WordPress (although, as ever, I invite any comments or aeguments below).

Snow Queen (by Vladislav Erko)

Winter King and Queen (Source unknown)

Old fashioned cartoon Ice Monarch

Katy Perry? How did you get in my blog and why are you dressed as queen of winter?

Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз) “Grandfather Frost” plays a similar gift-giving role to Santa Clause in Slavic Cultures

Title Character from “The Snow Queen” by Birmingham Repertory Theatre

The Ice King, a villain from “Adventuretime” on Cartoon Network

The Ice Princess Tatiana from Dolphin Mall in Miami.  She looks like she’s saying “I don’t know where you parked your car.”

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch of Narnia (possible pretender to the throne of winter)

“snow king” card

A snow queen halloween costume available for sale online

From the Illamasqua Art-of-Darkness makeup collection (click for link)

I would hang around and make some funny comments about all of the monarchs of winter but all of the white hair and piercing eyes are starting to weird me out a little (to say nothing of Katy Perry’s vacuous stare).  Have you ever noticed how summer, spring, and fall are not represented as maniacal tyrants with wicked crowns?  I’m looking forward to getting back to those other seasons.  In the mean time have a wonderful winter!

A large Victorian gingerbread house created by the Disney Corporation as a centerpiece

Since the winter solstice is only a few days away, now seems like a good time for a festive holiday post to warm up the long cold nights. Long-time readers know about Ferrebeekeeper’s obsession with all things gothic.  To cheer up the dark season here is a post which combines the beauty of gothic architecture with the sugary appeal of candy!

Like gothic art, gingerbread has a very long tradition which stretches back to late antiquity.  It was introduced in Western Europe by Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar) an Armenian monk and holy man who moved to France in 992 AD.  Whole communities would specialize in gingerbread baking and nearly every European country developed its own intricate traditions and recipes.  In Germany and Scandinavia it became traditional to make two sorts of gingerbread—a soft gingerbread for eating (which was said to aid digestion) and a hard gingerbread which could be stored or used for building.

Here then is a little gallery of some gothic gingerbread constructions which I found around the web.  They really look too good to eat, but if you are interested in making your own version, the cooks/artists who made the gingerbread cathedral immediately below have also put up an instructional webpage.

Seriously, if you follow that link you can make this!

Another Disney Gingerbread House from the "American Adventure" Pavilion

(Image:thoughtdistillery.com/2004/12/13/74)

Even in sugar, icing, and gingerbread, the beauty of gothic architecture shines through! Best wishes for sweet thoughts and happy dreams as the nights grow long and the wind blows outside the door (unless, of course, you are in the tropics or the southern hemisphere, in which case, can I come stay with you?).

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Out of all the hymenoterans, Ferrebeekeeper has been looking forward to writing about honey bees.  Not only is honey delicious (and the striped workaholic insects strangely endearing), but honey bees have one of the most successful colony systems extant.  As noted in a previous post, a hive of honey bees is a conundrum—is it 50,000 souls working together in a city state or is it one living organism?  Unfortunately, as one reads through the writings by beekeepers, one realizes that it is not easy to answer this question—or even to write a short essay concerning honey bees.  Their societies are too complex to be readily summarized.  Writing about a hive of honey bees really is like writing about the myriad affairs of a city-state.  The bees forage in different locations, store their produce in different forms, build structures, establish castes, fights wars, and undergo succession crises.

All of that is true during the warm part of the year. As temperatures drop to around 20° Celsius (50° Fahrenheit), things change a great deal within the hive.  Honey bees do not hibernate like bears (or like bumblebees which also snuggle down in a little lined den) instead they use honey stores and teamwork to stay warm.  Honey bees do not have internal warming mechanisms like mammals, but they have each other and they have powerful wing muscles.  The bees cluster together into a ball with the queen at the middle.  Worker bees close to the queen shiver their wing muscles and thereby generate heat.  Workers at the outside of the ball act as insulation (and benefit from transferred heat).  If the ball becomes too hot it expands outward and the space between bees allows heat to escape.  If it becomes too cold the bees press inward.  Tired workers move towards the outside of the ball where they can be inert whereas cold workers on the outside move towards the inside.  You might notice I am only writing about female bees—the workers and the queen—this is because all of the male drone bees are regarded as expendable and are thrown out of the hive to die in the cold as soon as temperatures drop.

In the beginning of the cold season  the queen is not laying eggs (broodless) and the temperature within the cluster is about  27 °C (81 °F), however as spring nears a new brood of workers is needed and the interior temperature of the cluster rises to 34 °C (93 °F) in order to make egg-laying possible.  Hives with too few bees can not stay warm this way and they perish in cold winters, however adequately large hives with ample honey reserves can survive temperatures which dip deep deep below freezing. Even in large well-provisioned hives there are winter dangers though.  Moisture can build up in heavily insulated hives and form icicles which subsequently drip down on the bees in non-freezing weather and chill them (or burden them with fungi).  And prolonged deep cold can prove disastrous. The bees congregate around a single honey store when the temperatures are extremely cold and then they spread out and move to another honey deposit when the weather is better.  If the weather stays too cold for too long they deplete all of the honey and freeze—inches from abundant supplies of life-giving honey.

In our explorations of the concept of “gothic” we have touched on the reemergence of interest in medieval form which affected the romantic movement of the 19th century (here are links about how this happened in literature and architecture).  Aside from a cursory mention of the Pre-Raphaelites however, we have not touched deeply on how gothic aesthetic forms affected painting.

Abtei im Eichwald (Caspar David Friedrich, 1810, oil on canvas)

Enter one of my favorite romantic painters, Caspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840), a tempestuous German whose tragic early life drew him towards haunting gothic landscapes.  Friedrich painted melancholy scenes of emptiness and ruin: humans inhabiting his landscapes tend to be dwarfed by ancient trees, sharp mountains, and abandoned medieval buildings (or, worse, they are absent altogether).  By showing how trifling people are in the face of time and nature, Friedrich hoped to highlight what is sublime about existence.  He often painted cemeteries and winter landscapes and he has combined these two themes in Abtei im Eichwald (“The Abbey in the Oakland”) which portrays Eldena Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern destroyed by Swedish troops during the Thirty-Years War.  Insect-like mourners struggle through a snowy churchyard dominated by a great gothic arch.  Although the trees are barren, the church is broken, and the land is literally dead, there is an exalted dignity to the great abbey which ruin has somehow enhanced.

Huenengrab im Schnee (Caspar David Friedrich, 1807, oil on canvas)

Friedrich came back to this theme again and again.  Another winter cemetery work Hünengrab im Schnee (“Dolmen in Snow”) lacks even the bleak notes of Christianity which suffuse Abtei im Eichwald.  The canvas shows a prehistoric barrow covered in snow beneath ancient black oak trees.  The leafless trees and the snow on the grave of a millennia-dead Mesolithic king, give an impression of lifeless bleakness, and yet as always with Friedrich (and indeed with romantic aesthetics) the tension in the work draws the eye and leads to philosophical meditation.  Even in the stark frozen tableau there is still a struggle against hopelessness.  Friedrich always found a way to show the triumph of haunting beauty which is transcendent over darkness.

The Groundhog, Marmota monax (photo by Bill Smith)

Happy Groundhog Day!  Preliminary reports coming in seem to indicate that the nation’s most eminent groundhog oracles are not seeing their shadows today (what with the continent bestriding blizzard and all).  Oddly, this is interpreted as a sign that spring will arrive early this year.  However I tend to think those groundhogs on TV are media personalities who have forgotten their rural roots.  When I lived on a farm, the concept behind the holiday was more straightforward:  if you saw an actual groundhog on Groundhog Day, then winter might indeed end early, but if you didn’t (and I never did) winter would not be over for six more weeks.  Today most non-celebrity groundhogs did not stir from their deep hibernation chambers.  We probably still have plenty of winter left.

Groundhog Day is observed on or around Candelmas, which ostensibly celebrates the presentation of Baby Jesus to the temple:   Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Kohens & Levites to perform the redemption of the firstborn and ceremonially purchase their firstborn son’s life back from the priests (I’m not sure Jesus ever really escaped the priesthood or the temple of Solomon so maybe his parents should have gotten their money back–but that’s a different story).  Candelmas was elided with pre-Christian holidays involving the prediction of the weather by animal augury.  The holiday’s roots in America are from the Pennsylvania Germans.  Apparently in pagan Germany, the original animal weather prophets were badgers or bears.  Imagine how exciting this holiday would be if we stuffed our pompous civic officials together with a disgruntled bear who had just been prodded awake from hibernation so people could take flash photographs!

At any rate we have gotten rather far afield of the day’s celebrated weather oracle, the groundhog or woodchuck (Marmota monax) which is actually a rodent of the marmot family, Sciuridae. Marmots are large solitary ground squirrels which, like pikas, generally live in the mountains of Asia, Europe, and North America.  The groundhog is an exception among the marmots since it prefers to live on open ground or at the edge of woodlands.  The deforestation of North America for farms and subdivisions has caused groundhog population to rise.  Although groundhogs are omnivores, the bulk of their diet is vegetation such as grasses, berries, and crops.  They are gifted diggers who construct a deep burrow with multiple exits.  This burrow serves as their chief living quarters and refuge from predators.  Since groundhogs enter true hibernation, they usually also maintain a separate winter burrow (with a chamber beneath the frost line) for the sole purpose of their months-long suspended animation.

A Groundhog Enjoying a Garden

Groundhogs, however, have a deeper utility to modern humankind than as primitive weather gods.  Devoted readers will know my fascination with liver research, and groundhogs are the principal research animal used in studies of Hepatitis B and liver cancer.  Since groundhogs are prone to a similar virus in the wild, they always develop liver cancer when infected with hepatitis B.  Laboratory groundhogs have thus been responsible for many advances in understanding liver disease and pathology–including the discovery of a vaccine for Hepatitis B and the realization that immunizing against hepatitis B virus can prevent liver cancer.  Currently 350 million people around the world are suspected to have hepatitis B.  Forty percent of those infected will develop chronic liver damage or cancer.  According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600,000 people die every year from complications related to the infection (which is more than the total number of United States citizens killed in World War I and World War II combined).  Perhaps the Groundhog should be thought of as a profound benefactor to humankind thanks to its utility as a laboratory animal.

In this time of blizzards and tornadoes, yet another winter storm passed over the East Coast yesterday and last night. Here is a picture of my garden this morning, followed by a photo of the neighbor’s angry Norway Maple bare of leaves and subdued under a coat of snow.  It’s hard to believe that all of the crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are sleeping beneath the drifts.  Since I’m leaving before Spring and won’t get to appreciate the bulbs I planted, maybe it’s best not to think about them and to picture the garden this way from now on.  I can just imagine it as forever free from aphids and leaf rot and imperfection–permanently suspended under a pristine coat of white…

Argh no, it’s still a frustrating picture.  What is the point of gardening or painting or toymaking or starting anything?  It’s all just going to get ruined by the ineluctible forces of entropy.

Stupid winter!

Park Slope Garden on January 27th, 2011

The neighbor's Norway maple--for once not actively trying to kill all the plants around it

A Frost Giant pushing to end the world of order and crush all things under an endless cascade of ice...wait, a minute, how did this picture get in here?

South Florida’s ecosystem has been trying to fend off an onslaught of non-native tropical animals, most notably the fearsome Burmese python, an apex predator from the haunted jungles of Southeast Asia.  Internet surfers and reptile enthusiasts might remember the dramatic photo of a 13 foot python which burst open after trying to swallow a live 6 foot alligator whole.

Florida’s native birds, lapdogs, toddlers, and alligators will therefore rejoice at the past winter’s severity, which put a big dent in the python population (and left other non-native fish and reptiles frozen stiff across the state).  Pythons fall into a catatonic stupor if temperatures plunge too low.  In the depths of January when the mercury dipped into the thirties, rangers reported finding live snakes being methodically devoured by vultures.  Homeowners were shocked by all of the iguana-cicles falling out of ornamental trees.  Spring and summer will reveal how badly the invaders have been set back in comparison with Florida’s cold-tolerant native species.

California's governor has already implemented measures to prevent a similar infestation.

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