"Professor Dawson Turner's discovery makes it a possibility of the future that the housewife will be able to buy exquisite, succulent giant frog's legs at ten cents a pound instead of coarse, rheumatism-causing beef at forty cents a pound."
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Century 21 Exposition, or the Seattle's World Fair, held from April 21 to October 21, 1962.
The Exposition put Cascadia in the world spotlight and brought many changes to Seattle, most notably the addition of the iconic Space Needle to the skyline. It also introduced two more dubious novelties: the Seattle monorail and "Belgian waffles".
I've already written extensively on the danger of monorails to society, their only redeeming feature being that they stall so often as to lessen their threat. (The then-new Seattle monorail stalled on opening day, naturally.) Instead I'm going to focus on the waffles.
It has been widely misreported that so-called "Belgium waffles" were first introduced to North America at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. In fact, the Belgian Conspiracy chose Cascadia as the testing ground for their newest campaign of pro-Belgian conditioning. (According to Belgian pseudo-historians, the waffles were first introduced at the 1958 Expo in Brussels. This is, of course, a lie. Brussels does not exist so there never was an Expo there.)
In 1962, self-proclaimed "Belgian" chef Walter Cleyman (a typical Belgian name?) managed two shops selling gaufres de Bruxelles ("Brussels waffles") at the Fair, including a faux chalet on the Boulevards of the World, seen here:
Among the First Nations of Cascadia, tree pitch (more accurately, oleoresin) is harvested, hardened in cold water, then chewed for pleasure like gum. One of the trees traditionally used is the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), also known as the tidewater spruce since it tolerates being near salt water (according to Wikipedia, its range never extends more than 80 km from the Pacific Ocean and its inlets).
Not surprisingly, octopuses, common in the tidal inlets along the Cascadian coast, have also discovered the joys of chewing pitch, and will come out of the water and enter the nearby Sitka to obtain the tasty treat. This behavior has long been reported by the people of coastal British Columbia, but appears to have gone little noticed by outsiders, judging by the paucity of written records.
Those who have reported pitch harvesting by octopuses include the Nuxalk (also known as the Bella Coola). The Bella Coola Indians (1948) by Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith, tells the story of one man's encounter with a pitch-chewing octopus in the trees:
[The Bella Coola] believe that [the octopus] is fond of gum and frequently comes to land to obtain it. It is said that the gum is never voided, but remains in a suck within the creature's stomach. One informant stated that within his mother's life-time, a man walking near Täl·io heard a smacking sound, like someone chewing noisily. He knew what must be the cause, but idly decided to investigate. It was an octopus. The beast was clambering down from the tree, using two of its arms to help it. Not realizing his danger, the man allowed himself to be seized and carried to the shore. He had thought that it would be easy to free himself, but he found it impossible and was carried under the sea. He bit frantically at the enfolding arms, until he succeeded in freeing his own, with which he pushed up the beak of the octopus, thus killing it. He rose to the surface and returned home none the worse.
This octopus bears little resemblance to the peaceful -- and non-man-carryingly large -- Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (O. paxarbolis). Given the details, it is unlikely that it was a true arboreal species, but merely one willing to make a plunge into the Big Dry to get a snack, much like the olive-loving octopuses of Greece or the ara-eaters of Polynesia. (And as to its misanthropy, stories of octopuses both antagonistic to humans and huge -- some even capable of destroying whole villages -- are not uncommon throughout British Columbia and Alaska. But that's beyond the scope of this post.)
A more mythic story from the Comox of Vancouver Island suggests that it was the octopus that gave humans the idea to chew pitch. The details of the story aren't relevant here, and apparently there are regional variations that vary greatly, but in this version a son of Aie'len (the Sun) goes into the sky and encounters a pitch-chewing octopus in a scene oddly reminiscent of Alice and the Caterpillar (machine-translated from German with corrections by me):
When he had reached into the sky, he found a road that led through a beautiful, flat land. In the distance he saw smoke rising. He walked toward it and found an octopus lying comfortably, chewing resin. The young man asked him: "Oh, give me some pitch." The octopus replied: "What do you mean? But you can not use the resin for your teeth!" But the man asked again: "Oh, give me some pitch and your coat." And the octopus gave him both.
The coat is magical; it transforms the man into an octopus, under which guise he tricks the daughters of someone named Tla'ik into bringing him home as part of an elaborate scheme to woo the youngest one. He later punishes her father for disapproving of their marriage by spitting the pitch into the sea to create the thing that most scares Tla'ik: whales!
The story was first recorded in 1895 by the German-speaking anthropologist Franz Boas in his Indianische Sagen von der Nord-Pacifischen Küste Amerikas (in German, obviously -- "harzkauenden Tintenfische" = "resin-chewing octopus"). An English translation of Boas' work -- Indian Myths & Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America: A Translation, translated by Deitrich Bertz and edited by Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy -- states in a footnote that "it is a common Coast Salish belief that octopuses chew pitch".
The nearby Sliammon (or Tla A'min) also tell a variation of the story that includes the pitch-chewing octopus. Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands (1983), by Dorothy Kennedy and Randy Bouchard, has a version as told by Rose Mitchell, this time with the main protagonist described merely as a "small person" named Thens (Wren):
Soon [Thens] heard the sound of chewing as he walked through a meadow, and when he went to investigate, he came across Octopus, who was chewing pitch. This pitch was Octopus' power.
Thens asked Octopus for a piece of this magic pitch, but Octopus only replied, "Oh, your mouth must be like mine." Three times Thens asked for the magic pitch and three times Octopus gave him this same answer, but the fourth time Thens asked, he was given some. "You can use this pitch for anything," Octopus told him. Octopus also gave Thens a robe with special power.
That's pretty much all I've been able to uncover so far on pitch-chewing and pitch-foraging among BC octopuses. Although I did find this interesting picture and description posted by "Dru!" on Flickr in 2007:
I was lucky enough today to catch a glimpse of an elusive Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Octopus paxarbolis). I have been trying to see one of these rare creatures for several years and with great patience managed to sight one migrating from tree to tree that was unaware of my presence and had not camouflaged itself.
There is some info about these creatures at zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ but it is somewhat inaccurate. The PTO (Pacific Tree Octopus) is not only found near Puget Sound (as alleged on Zapatopi) but is also found along the western coast of BC as far north as Bella Coola. The Canadian population has not been critically endangered in the same way the American one has, although the PTO is red-listed in BC because of its dependence on undisturbed pathways from its aquatic spawning grounds and its forested habitat.
The range (north to Bella Coola, BC) matches the area where pitch-chewing octopuses have been reported, and that tree does look like a spruce. I'm going to have to disagree with Dru!; this isn't O. paxarbolis, but some other semi-arboreal or normally non-arboreal species -- possibly a juvenile Enteroctopus dofleini -- caught in the act of foraging for spruce pitch. (Also, the eyes don't look like those of O. paxarbolis. Perhaps Sitka has the same effect on octopuses as Spice has on the Fremen of Arrakis.)
Now you can help tree octopuses get their favorite Halloween treats: candy corn and shrimp!
Just download and assemble the special box. Then on Halloween say "Trick-or-treat for Tree Octopus!" and ask your neighbors for candy corn or shrimp. When you have filled the box with treats, hang it on a branch in a forest where tree octopuses dwell. Tree octopuses enjoy the challenge of removing treats from the box!
As a follow-up to my previous post about Oppian's poetical description of olive-loving tree octopuses, here are the other surviving reports from the Old World of octopuses coming out of the seas and and going into the trees...
In his History of Animals, Aristotle notes in passing that "the octopus is the only mollusc that ventures on to dry land; it walks by preference on rough ground". This, of course, isn't true: snails and slugs are all mollusks who have also ventured out of the sea. However, Aristotle's confusion over the membership of the phylum Mollusca notwithstanding, this does show how land-going octopuses were well known in the ancient world.
Pliny the Elder repeats in Naturalis Historia the observations (first published by Trebius Niger) of Lucius Lucullus, the proconsul of Hispania Bætica, who described a giant polypus (an older term for octopus) that was terrorizing Iberian fish-picklers by coming out of the sea and robbing their salty stores. This story is particularly notable to tree octopus fans since the thief used a tree to gain entry:
At Carteia, in the preserves there, a polypus was in the habit of coming from the sea to the pickling-tubs that were left open, and devouring the fish laid in salt there -- for it is quite astonishing how eagerly all sea-animals follow even the very smell of salted condiments, so much so, that it is for this reason, that the fishermen take care to rub the inside of the wicker fish-kipes with them. -- At last, by its repeated thefts and immoderate depredations, it drew down upon itself the wrath of the keepers of the works. Palisades were placed before them, but these the polypus managed to get over by the aid of a tree, and it was only caught at last by calling in the assistance of trained dogs, which surrounded it at night, as it was returning to its prey; upon which, the keepers, awakened by the noise, were struck with alarm at the novelty of the sight presented. First of all, the size of the polypus was enormous beyond all conception; and then it was covered all over with dried brine, and exhaled a most dreadful stench. Who could have expected to find a polypus there, or could have recognized it as such under these circumstances? They really thought that they were joining battle with some monster, for at one instant, it would drive off the dogs by its horrible fumes, and lash at them with the extremities of its feelers; while at another, it would strike them with its stronger arms, giving blows with so many clubs, as it were; and it was only with the greatest difficulty that it could be dispatched with the aid of a considerable number of three-pronged fish-spears. The head of this animal was shewn to Lucullus: it was in size as large as a cask of fifteen amphoræ, and had a beard, to use the expressions of Trebius himself, which could hardly be encircled with both arms, full of knots, like those upon a club, and thirty feet in length; the suckers or calicules, as large as an urn, resembled a basin in shape, while the teeth again were of a corresponding largeness: its remains, which were carefully preserved as a curiosity, weighed seven hundred pounds. [Chapter 46, Book 9.]
Aelian's On the Characteristics of Animals contains a similar encounter with a pickled-fish-marauding octopus that took place in the Greek colony Dicaearchia -- this one using the sewers instead of a tree to infiltrate a human settlement, but worth quoting nonetheless:
Octopuses naturally with the lapse of time attain to enormous proportions and approach cetaceans and are actually reckoned as such. At any rate I learn of an octopus at Dicaearchia in Italy which attained to a monstrous bulk and scorned and despised food from the sea and such pasturage as it provided. And so this creature actually came out on to the land and seized things there. Now it swam up through a subterranean sewer that discharged the refuse of the aforesaid city into the sea and emerged in a house on the shore where some Iberian merchants had their cargo, that is, pickled fish from that country in immense jars; it threw its tentacles round the earthenware vessels and with its grip broke them and feasted on the pickled fish. And when the merchants entered and saw the broken pieces, they realised that a large quantity of their cargo had disappeared; and they were amazed and could not guess who had robbed them: they saw that no attempt had been made upon the doors; the roof was undamaged; the walls had not been broken through. They saw also the remains of the pickled fish that had been left behind by the uninvited guest. So they decided to have their most courageous servant armed and waiting in ambush in the house. Well, during the night the Octopus crept up to its accustomed meal and clasping the vessels, as an athelete puts a strangle-hold upon his adversary with all his might gripping firmly, the robber -- if I may so call the Octopus -- crushed the earthenware with the greatest ease. It was full moon, and the house was full of light, and everything was quite visible. But the servant was not for attacking the brute single-handed as he was afraid, moreover his adversary was too big for one man, but in the morning he informed the merchants what had happened. They could not believe their ears. Then some of them remembering how heavily they had been mulcted, were for risking the danger and were eager to encounter their enemy, while others in their thirst for this singular and incredible spectacle voluntarily shut themselves up with their companions in order to help them. Later, in the evening the marauder paid his visit and made for his usual feast. Thereupon some of them closed off the conduit; others took arms against the enemy and with choppers and razors well sharpened cut the tentacles, just as vine-dressers and woodmen lop the tips of the branches of an oak. And having cut away its strength, at long last they overcame it not without considerable labour. And what was so strange was that merchants captured the fish on dry land. Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be characteristics of this creature. [Chapter 6, Book 13. Translation by Alwyn Faber Scholfield, 1958.]
Aelian also mentions the olive-loving semi-arboreal octopuses that Oppian described:
Fisherfolk assert that even octopuses come ashore if a sprig of olive is laid upon the beach. [Chapter 37, Book 1.]
If a field, or if trees with fruit upon them are close by the sea, farmers often find that in summer Octopuses and Osmyluses have emerged from the waves, have crept up the trunks, have enveloped the branches, and are plucking the fruit. So when they have caught them they punish them. And as quittance for what the aforesaid fish have reaped they provide the owners of the pillaged fruit with a feast. [Chapter 45, Book 9.]
And sometimes they [polypi] have been seen leaving the sea, and going on dry land, especially towards any rough or rugged ground; for they shun smooth places: and of all plants they especially delight in the olive, and they are often found embracing the trunk of an olive with their feelers. They have also been discovered clinging to such fig-trees as grow near the seashore, and eating the figs, as Clearchus tells us, in his treatise on those Animals which live in the Water. And this also is a proof that they are fond of the olive, -- that if any one drops a branch of this tree down into the sea, in a place where there are polypi, and holds it there a little time, he without any trouble draws up as many polypi as he pleases, clinging to the branch. [Chapter 103, Book 7.]
From these stories and descriptions we can piece together a possible history of Old World tree octopuses: Being naturally curious, the octopuses cautiously explored the sewers and other manmade waterways in search of the fish they no doubt saw humans take from the sea. Upon finding the fish, they became emboldened by the added deliciousness of the pickling process, and were willing to risk venturing across dry land to get to the preserves. When humans tried to stop them with walls, they quickly learned to use the trees to their advantage. This led to their discovery of olives and figs, with which they quickly became so enamored even pickled fish no longer interested them.
Could humans have played a similar role in the evolution of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Perhaps octopuses originally came ashore looking for the salmon they saw humans catching. When they discovered the humans' smoked salmon -- so unlike the fish they were used to, and so very, very tasty -- they wanted more than they could steal from the humans, and thus took to the similarly flavored redcedar trees under the mistaken belief that "tree fish" -- naturally imbued with the smoky redolence of the woods -- dwell there. Not ever finding these mythic fish, they eventually gave up their quixotic search, but, having become accustomed to their arboreal life, continued to call the trees home.
Well, it's one possible explanation, anyway.
Four years ago I predicted that the technology of "cultured meat" -- meat grown in a vat from tissue samples, which is being promoted by the NPO New Harvest -- would inexorably lead to celebrity cannibalism:
C-level celebrities, unable to make any money in the crowded reality TV market, will turn to peddling their own flesh to pop-culture-obsessed gourmands. I think it's safe to augur that Kenny Rogers Roasters will start serving actual roasted Kenny Rogers and that an all-in-one George Foreman Grill/Meat Maker will let you grill up some George Foreman.
This turn of events will darken as unauthorized celebrity tissue samples find their way into the meat market. Big-name celebrities will be targeted, with stalkers and opportunists trying to steal medical biopsies from doctors or even samples directly from the source. In this black market of celebflesh, counterfeiters will flourish, leaving many celebrities torn between feeling violated by meat pirates and offended by being falsely portrayed as too stringy.
In time, these celebrities may find it wise to give into fan demands by offering up their officially licensed flesh as a gourmet alternative -- think "Newman's Own Meat". Increased pressure to perform gastronomically will lead to scandal over the common usage of "meat-synching" by celebrities of subpar flavor. There may even emerge a new kind of celebrity who's known only for how good he or she tastes, resulting in a generation of kids whose highest ambition in life is to be considered delicious.
Many of you called my prediction ridiculous, or disgusting, but were unable to argue against my logic. Well, now my prediction is off to an early start with the threatened introduction of tofu flavored like actor George Clooney.
Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA (presumably now standing for "People Eating Tasty Actors" -- hopefully I'm not late with that obvious joke), unveiled their plan to use Clooney-sweat, harvested from a gym towel acquired by a PETA operative, to engineer artificial Clooney-flavoring which would be added to tofu, creating what they're calling "CloFu".
While not quite vat-grown Clooney-meat, it is a harbinger of the looming intellectual property concerns raised by the easy availability of people's DNA -- a trail of which we leave wherever we go in our biological detritus of shed skin-flakes, finger grease, and lost hairs. If Clooney doesn't have a patent on his genome (or at least the genes that give him his flavor), can he legally do anything to stop PETA from making CloFu, or future New Harvesters from offering ClornDogs, ClooStew, chicken cordon Cloo, or other Clooney-based entrées? Or what if someone applies for a patent before him? Or if patents on DNA are ruled invalid?
It's a Brave Cloo World we're entering. Make sure to bring a bag lunch.
Update 2009-03-20: It occurred to me on rereading this post that the link I made from PETA's proposed artificial Clooney-flavoring to the cultured meat industry as envisioned by New Harvest might seem tenuous to the uninitiated. However, last year PETA president Ingrid Newkirk offered a $1 million prize to the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012." That, in one year's time, Newkirk could go from "let's replace immoral murder-meat" to "let's enjoy the sweet, sweet, sweat taste of George Clooney" just illustrates the dangerous allure of celebrity cannibalism.
In a previous post on olive-eating tree octopuses, I mentioned octopuses from Palau that are supposed to give birth in trees. I didn't have access to the cited source of that claim, and the details given were scant, but I have found some older reports of arboreal octopuses from the region.
Throughout Polynesia is found a species of tree known as the screw-pine (Pandanus odoratissimus), or by one of its many native names, the ara. It can reach a height of forty-five feet and can grow near the water, although it's also found on hillsides. Islanders have many traditional uses for it: its wood is used for buildings and making walking sticks; hooks on the leaves for shrimp angling, and the leaves themselves for thatching and garments; and it has large, edible fruit. But the ara is particularly renowned for its fragrant flowers, which are used to scent cocoanut oil or are threaded and worn as perfumed necklaces.
In his books, Life in the Southern Isles (1876) and Myths and Songs from the South Pacific (1876), English missionary William Wyatt Gill reported that octopuses would come out of the water and climb the ara trees "for the sake of the sweet-scented flowers and fruit." In his Jottings from the Pacific (1885), Gill notes that "The octopus, doubtless attracted by the fragrance, climbs up the screw-pine to feast upon the flowers." He justifies this claim with a self-referential quote in a footnote:
Mr. W. Wyatt Gill, in his valuable and interesting book on the Pacific, Life in the Southern Isles, stated that the octopus occasionally climbed trees to eat the fruit. Mr. Henry Lee, F.Z.S., an authority on this class of animals, thought Mr. Gill must be mistaken in this statement, as no one had hinted at such a thing except old Aristotle. He asked Mr. Gill to make inquiry on returning to the Pacific. Mr. Gill has sent a letter fully confirming his previous statement, attested by many native eye-witnesses, students and missionaries, who had no object in inventing such a story. The tree is a species of pandanus, of which there are three representatives in the Hervey group of islands [Cook Islands]. The screw-pine (Pandanus odoratissimus) has scented flowers on the male tree and hard fruit on the female tree. It is for this flower that the octopus climbs, attracted probably by the scent. [...]
It is on both of these low coral islands [...] that the terrible octopus, having left the sea, travels over the sand and rough coral, to feast upon the fragrant and sweet-tasting flowers of the pandanus tree.
Attracted doubtless by the dense odor of the flowers, the strange octopus often leaves the sea, climbs the ara, and feasts upon them. This remarkable act of the cuttle-fish ["octopus" and "cuttle-fish" were used as synonyms prior to the 1900s] has been observed many times by both natives and missionaries.
According to The Caroline Islands (1899) by Frederick William Christian (who also reports on the octopuses' arboreal tendencies), the ara is known in Japanese as tako-no-ki (タコの木), or "the tree of the octopus". Whether it was given this name because of the octopuses' fondness for it or because the tree's tufts of leaves coincidentally resemble octopuses is not mentioned.
However, that resemblance does suggest that what might have originally attracted these octopuses to the ara trees was not the scented flowers -- which octopuses would have trouble smelling outside of the water, not having air-adapted noses -- but rather the appearance of fellow cephalopods frolicking in the branches. Spying these mirages from the tidepools, the first octopuses bravely journeyed into the Great Dry to see what all the hubbub was about; and what could have been a foolish mistake instead serendipitously led to their tasty discovery. Like the Lotophagi of Greek mythology, these Ara-Eaters might have lost all interest in returning to their watery home, wishing instead to stay in the tree tops eating the heavenly ara flowers.
I've been unable to find more current references to these curious cephalopods. Could it have just been a passing food-fad among some non-arboreal octopuses? or could a unique species of Polynesian tree octopus have gone extinct, like so many other island species unable to cope with habitat loss and invasive species? Perhaps, if we're lucky, the Ara-Eaters can still be found on some forgotten atoll, lazily munching away, unconcerned about their fate.
If you're in Polynesia and have any sightings to report, let me know.
Late addition: Here's an earlier report from an article in The Friend (Oct. 12, 1873):
At Manihiki and Rakaanga and many other low coral islands lying about four hundred miles from Mangaia, the poulpe or sea-spider [octopus] is accustomed to leave the sea and travel over the sand and broken coral to climb the pandanus-trees which grow on the beach, in order to feast upon their sweet-scented and sweet-tasted flowers and fruit. At dawn these curious fish may be seen in clusters on the outspread branches of the pandanus thus enjoying themselves; but as soon as their sharp eyes perceive the approach of their enemy, man, they instantly drop on the stones beneath, and hasten back to their proper element.
Perhaps the arival of many more humans has scared the Polynesian tree octopus back into the seas?
CORRECTION: Palau and the Caroline Islands are in Micronesia, not Polynesia. Sorry for the geographic blunder. The Cook Islands, however, are in Polynesia.
UPDATE 2010-11-19: For more from Micronesia, see: Nicharongorong: Tree Octopuses of Micronesia.
UPDATE 2012-12-29: I acquired an original copy of Gill's Life in the Southern Isles.
In a 5-4 decision last month the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the U.S. Navy in a dispute over the training use of sonar that ecologists claim is damaging the hearing of whales, causing them to die in mass strandings. The majority opinion, while acknowledging the "ecological, scientific and recreational interests" of protecting whales, nevertheless concluded that the public interest unquestionably lies in preparing for war in order to secure peace, and that whales are expendable.
But in a recent editorial in the Hattiesburg American titled "Squid supremacy must not rule seas", Dorothy Rose Myers of Hollywood, California, exposed the true national security threat at stake:
Whales are the only natural enemy of large squid. Squid will eat anything in the ocean, multiply by the millions and usually inhabit the depths of the ocean where whales like to feed. Without whales, squid will devour everything in the ocean and there will be a world famine.
... When the squid have eaten everything at the bottom of the ocean they will begin to rise and devour everything in each successive layer until they are supreme in the ocean. Squid supremacy trumps military supremacy. And squid will inherit the earth.
Surely the U.S. Navy must be aware of this threat. How could they not have noticed the increase in giant squid sightings in recent years? Or the swarms of aggressively predatory Humboldt squid (known in their traditional waters as Diablo Rojo -- "Red Devil") moving ever Northward? Or the now-common squid attacks on racing yachts? This suggests an ominous possibility: Could the U.S. Navy be in league with squid kind? Could the Navy's sonar technology actually have been intended to be cetacidal in order to eliminate their decapodal ally's natural enemy: the whale?
Before you dismiss this theory of a coming "Squidpocalypse" made possible by the (intentional?) actions of the U.S. Navy, consider that Ms. Myers is no mere armchair conspiracy theorist. She came to understand the mind-set of the upper echelons of the U.S. military while serving as a Pentagon employee during the Eisenhower administration.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower is, of course, famous in paranoid circles for his 1961 farewell address to the Nation, where he warned of the danger of the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the Military-Industrial Complex. Little did Eisenhower know that his fears would not only be realized, but now compounded in the form of a Military-Industrial-Squid Complex.
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