Thursday, March 7, 2024

A chameleon (or salamander) shifting trees -- this is cereal, guys!

I read a bit in Karen Russell's novel Swamplandia! today. The narrator, Ava Bigtree (a White girl whose family has adopted an Indian surname and dresses as Indians as part of their alligator-wrestling act) is traveling in the Everglades with an eccentric known only as the Bird Man. When they unexpectedly encounter a park ranger, the Bird Man seems to transform:

[T]he Bird Man put on a big grin that made his face unrecognizable to me. It rejiggered his features so that they were at their most ordinary; even his eyes seemed pale and normal. Who had I been traveling with this great while? How could you change so completely when another person showed up, like a chameleon shifting trees? I was impressed (pp. 252-53).

Any reference to chameleons catches my eye these days, and this was a somewhat odd one -- not "changing colors" but "shifting trees." I guess the idea is that moving to different surroundings -- shifting trees -- might prompt a chameleon to change to a different color to maintain its camouflage. But this would only make sense if the two trees were different colors. This theme of two trees with contrasting colors has come up recently. In "Fighting in ash-mud and putting out the blazing white tree," I include a picture of John Opsopaus's Star card and quote him on the significance of the two cypress trees on the card:

[T]he dark cypress (with its serpent) is the Tree of Knowledge and the white cypress (with its bird) is the Tree of Life.

The white cypress with its bird is the Tree of Life. The name Ava has various origins, but as a modern name it is generally held to be a variant of Eva, meaning "life." So Ava Bigtree is White, her name suggests the Tree of Life, and she is accompanied by the Bird Man and (though it is not mentioned in the excerpt quoted above) by her pet, a young alligator which was born bright red. On Opsopaus's card, the serpent in the dark cypress is red, and the bird has the head of a lion. In recent syncs, the chameleon has been red and has been associated with the lion-headed serpent and with lion-headed creatures with wings. (See "An old pre-dator, chameleons, and le Demiurge" and "Red chameleons, manticores, and vampires.") In another recent post, "Chameleons everywhere," we see a bird and a chameleon together in a tree, on the cover of a book called Lemurs, Chameleons, and Golden Plates.

In "Leaves of gold unnumbered," the golden plates were associated with leaves of gold in two poems by Tolkien. One of these two poems was quoted again in "Baggu ash-ni fire-dwell a gog ifluaren bansil este repose," in connection with another pair of differently-colored trees: the Two Trees (gold and silver/white) of Valinor and their scions in Gondolin. I put particular emphasis on the line in the poem which says the golden leaves "are falling in the stream, the river flows away."

In Swamplandia!, a few pages after the "chameleon shifting trees" reference, Ava Bigtree uses very similar imagery in describing how her memories of her deceased mother seem to be slipping away:

Even the few facts I did have about her last weeks tended to float away from me like shining leaves on water the more I tried to get a picture together (p. 256).

Opsopaus has a white tree and a dark one; Tolkien has a white tree and a golden one. Can this discrepancy be bridged? In my "Fighting in ash-mud" dream, I found a small fire smoldering the hollow of a tree. I stoked this fire, with the result that another tree became engulfed in white flames but was not consumed. The first burning tree could be considered both "dark" (because the fire was a small one, mostly just smoldering, with few flames) and "golden" (because such flames as it did have were the ordinary yellow-orange color of a wood fire). When the fire "shifted trees," it -- like a chameleon -- also changed color, becoming white.

So now the chameleon has been symbolically identified with fire -- an idea already latent in the existing "red chameleon" theme -- and specifically with a white fire. From this idea of a fiery lizard, it is no great jump to the idea of a salamander, and specifically a white salamander, though one also associated with "leaves of gold." I just posted, for reasons unrelated to any of these themes, "Hofmann's haiku: The Broo Jerroo." This is a haiku that seems at first to be about chameleonic gelatin ("The blue Jell-O / It is yellow"), and its author is the master forger Mark Hofmann, whose most notorious forgery is a letter in which Joseph Smith's leaves of gold are guarded not by the familiar Angel Moroni but by a folk-magicky trickster spirit in the form of a white salamander:

the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure [i.e., the golden plates] & would not let me have it . . . the spirit says I tricked you again

In "Swords of Mars, two-mouthed chameleon-cat-men, and kings' stories engraved on stones," I write parenthetically "Half man, half chameleon, and half cat -- I'm cereal," linking to the classic South Park episode in which Al Gore, in a parody of his global warming shtick, tries to raise awareness of the deadly threat that is ManBearPig -- "half man, half bear, and half pig" -- and keeps repeating "I'm cereal" instead of "I'm serious."

In my "Fighting in ash-mud" dream, literal cereal came up. I needed a blanket to put out the tree's white fire, and I thought I could get one by finding a suitable word on the side of a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Then, hours after the dream, a conspiracy channel I subscribe to on YouTube, which had never ventured into the field of breakfast cereals before, posted a video about what's written on the side of a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Flat yellow Corn Flakes are synchronistically adjacent to leaves or plates of gold. Frosted Flakes differ from Corn Flakes in that they are frosted with white sugar, so we have the gold/white duality again. The mascots of these two cereals -- a bird and a large feline -- suggest some of the animals that have come up in connection with the chameleon. The other cereal that has come up on this blog recently (see "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name") is Hidden Treasures. This is also a golden plates-adjacent name, and in my quote from Hofmann's salamander letter, the plates are referred to as "the treasure."

4 comments:

William Wright (WW) said...

In my last post on Treasure Planet, I ended by including the music video for one of the songs from that movie. In the video, the boy wakes up and then eats a bowl of corn flakes.

The story of the movie (just as the book Treasure Island, which it was derived from) involves finding hidden treasure.

Craig Davis said...

In the days when the Al Gore episode was more commonly known, I used to joke about Kelloggs' new product Super Manbearpig Cereal.

Craig Davis said...

Actually, I think my exact phrasing was "It's totally super Manbearpig Cereal!"

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Super Cereal, with real fruit flavors! Half mango, half berry, and half peach! It’s tasty, it’s nutritious, and it very definitely exists.

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one

I was listening to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon, and when it got to the part where Nephi says they "did live upon raw meat ...