The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This past low action-filled week focused on the consequences of Cherry discovering a marimo ball (or maybe two) in a “decorative aquarium”, newly-purchased by Violet Cheshire. Faced with the prospect of revealing to Violet the potential dangers involved (and explaining why zebra mussels are dangerous) with the possible chance Cherry might upset Violet and lose her job, Cherry first consulted with Mark over the phone. In contrast to Mark’s rather excited expressions, he offered sober, calming advice that the situation was no big deal until Violet wanted to get rid of the marimo ball(s). He provided detailed instructions on safe disposal. Reading the room correctly, Cherry simply told Violet that her business would professionally clean the aquarium for free when it came time. This is fine for the short-term, but Cherry did Violet no favors by not educating her. And therein lies the rub, because Violet is not one for taking advice from a hired hand. As Mark apparently found time to talk with Cherry, he appears to have also found time to write about bobcats, as we see below:

A subject having nothing to do with either story line is getting to be an unusual occurrence in the Sunday strips. And I almost missed the “Mark Trail” logo in the title panel, it was so well constructed. One of Rivera’s better designs. I also liked Rivera’s use of “night cam” panels, both for their design contrast and for their visual reinforcement of information about the bobcat’s hunting time.  These two panels in grays show that Rivera could apply a similar look to her dailies, though she clearly prefers to depend on color. However, since newspapers print the dailies in b/w, going with the grays could add more aesthetic options for Mark Trail and give it a depth and solidity it does not normally show in newspapers.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

If you missed the strips this past week because you were too busy trying to solve the Asimov Quiz in the newspaper, consider your time well spent. Perhaps. We are undecided whether this was a silly side-trip, a repeated bit of satire, or a hint of further problems down the road. In any event, this past week portrayed a telephone conversation in which Cricket Bro, while on some kind of “dawn surf patrol”, woke Mark up (at some ambiguous part of the morning) to motivate him into joining up to promote and sell NFTs. Mark went into auto-lecture mode explaining his climate change reasons for refusing to buy into the scam, which, unsurprisingly, went over Cricket Bro’s head. CB finally hung up. Now, wasn’t that something? Okay, then here is a follow-up: Sunday’s nature chat.

And not a moment too soon! For those who might have come to this story a bit late, Rivera expands on her original Sunday zebra mussels chat from August 8, where they were described as hidden travelers on imported “marimo” balls, a popular fish tank accessory that apparently get periodically dumped into toilets and flushed into rivers, enabling their spread. A fair point, by the way. Rivera expanded on this topic over time to highlight the main distribution method of zebra mussels: ships. As others have pointed out, these invasive mollusks also existed in the ballast that ocean-going ships pumped into the Great Lakes (for some reason, Rivera fails to mention ballast in her discussions). And it is also true that private boat owners are also partly responsible for helping to spread zebra mussels by not cleaning their boats between trips. However, since the current story focuses on zebra mussels, why devote another Sunday strip to this topic? I mean, Mark’s point about personal responsibility could easily be worked into the daily strips. I’m guessing this Sunday panel was done several months ago and only now published.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Well, the mailbox was not exactly overwhelmed with responses to my little contest. So unfortunately, nobody had the winning answer for the new car. I may have forgotten to mention that. Well, better luck next time.

Speaking of unfortunate, this past week was like watching a man haunted by his own frustrated sense of justice and need for revenge, and… oh, that is what this past week was, come to think of it. Cherry dropped Mark back off at his fortress of safety (Cliff’s fishing lodge). Aside from some campy innuendoes, Mark spent time this week grumbling about how the world would be so much better if Duck Duck Goose ships quit bringing zebra mussels into the waters of Lost Forest. The week ended with the lightbulb in Mark’s brainpan flashing on as he came up with an idea for frightening either the ship(s) or the ship’s owners into vacating Lost Forest waters. Mark was not talking about stopping boats everywhere; just in his own backyard. Does this make Mark a NIMBY? Well, he certainly knows that he can’t save the entire world in one fell swoop, so maybe cleaning up his own neighborhood is a good enough place to start. But it still looks like “kick the can” down the river. In the meantime, check out today’s Sunday nature chat.

Another clever title panel, based on a not-too-surprising subject. Today’s topic provides the context to Diana Dagger’s remark yesterday about poinsettias being stolen from Mexico in the early 1800s. The name “Poinsettia” certainly shows a Eurocentric bias that ignored its contemporary Mexican roots, so to speak. We can give the Aztec name a pass, but the Mexican name above (or its translation, “Christmas Eve Flower”) is quite nice and a shame to not be retained north of the border. The history of the plant’s distribution, naming, and cultivation is a complex topic. It is possible that the Americans and Europeans were ignorant as to whether Mexicans cultivated the plant. It’s also likely that Poinsett sent back a cultivated version of the plant without making that clear. But just as likely he didn’t care. It became a source of long-running national animosity. A good discussion can be found here:

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

In case you missed this past week, one of the more interesting events was the extension of Cherry’s save-the-bees storyline for a second week. Yet not too surprising, given how the first week ended. The big climactic confrontation between Cherry (and her pro-bees coalition) versus the Sunny Soleil Society’s anti-bee position—as implemented through their proxy, Honest Ernest—culminated in a rather tawdry yelling match based on hyperbolic claims, rather than the issue at hand. Furthermore, there seemed to be no real incentive in trying to work out a practical compromise. Kind of like Congress, in other words. Mark’s appearance last week and his involvement this week helped ensure this situation devolved into a brief and less-than exciting fight. The whole point of Cherry’s storyline was to save the bees. But, as others have also pointed out, we didn’t get to see bees saved. We didn’t really get to see any ending at all. Why not? Was Rivera riffing on the Trail Tradition of Mark immediately jumping back home once the current danger has been resolved? If so, Rivera jumped the gun. But let’s jump to the hot topic of the day:

At least let’s give Jules Rivera some fist pumps for bringing Mark more into current environmental concerns (as opposed to just the usual poachers, animal kidnappers, and other small-time riffraff), even when she is heavy-handed about it. BTW, the title panel today is a good concept, though I think the burned tree letters look more like tuffs of wheat. Still, the overall effect is dramatic and clear enough.

It is understandable that, living in California, Rivera concentrates on forest fires, as opposed to bringing in additional areas of concern, such as the polar icecaps. I’m not here to be political or nitpick over the numbers. I am not a scientist, though I have watched some on TV. However, while the scientific consensus supports Mark’s overall position, they may not support some of his reasoning.

If I’m reading it correctly, EPA data ( show energy production (electricity) and land utilization (farming, development) make up the largest economic contributors to climate change, followed by industry, transportation, and others.  So, greedy corporations are not the biggest contributors, but are far from the smallest. In fact, I think governments around the world are the actual biggest contributors, as they pass the laws and policies under which virtually all economic production functions. When there are lax laws, there will be those who take advantage.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This week saw the conclusion of the drawn-out and melodramatic confrontation between Mark and the two “persuaders” sent by the Duck Duck Goose Shipping Company to stop Mark from prying into their business. Well, as far as Mark knows, it’s just about zebra mussels. However, the two goons did not see fit to waste much time talking. One gathers, from their hokey attire and clumsy technique, that discussion is not a part of their job description. While they spent a lot of time banging on the door to Diana’s B&B, demanding access, Cliff and Diana got hot and sweaty inside, and it wasn’t from proximity to each other.  But why the near-panic? The odds were on their side, after all.
When Mark’s testosterone levels reached their max, he decided to open the door, only to be met with a haymaker from the smaller thug, so-named Boffo. Mark returned the compliment, which made a more lasting impression. Diana’s shovel to the head of the second guy must have had a similar result, as the Saturday strip showed our three madcap adventurers speeding away in Mark’s station wagon. What we didn’t see was the time after they downed the invaders. Was there any inspection of the two hoods? Did they snap photos to post on SnapChat? Did they even take the goon’s shoes to slow them down? Not as far as I can tell. Instead, they zipped out of there as if a tsunami was right behind them. Mark and his companions seem to have no larger understanding of the Big Picture at this point. While the gang speeds on to Cliff’s fishing lodge to hide out, let’s take a look at today’s nature strip.

[edited] My guess for the topic today was frogs, but garden clubs won out. I reckon that’s a nice enough lead-in to Cherry’s upcoming week. So, what is all that lightly-drawn vegetation we see in several panels? Are they symbols of future growth? If Jules is doing the coloring for Sundays, then I suppose we must see these as metaphors of representative results of a garden club. Mark, quit being such a Vanity Queen and let Cherry have her own time in the Sunday Spotlight once in a while!

Not to carp too much, but wouldn’t more “action” in these panels (e.g. gardeners doing the activities they are mentioning) be more effective at making Rivera’s points than a bunch of static “photo-op” poses?

Well, Cherry and her gang of green-thumb commandoes have a midnight date with a statue and a bunch of bees. Remember? And I’m looking forward to the action and the fallout!

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Well, dear readers, let’s get up-to-date on the events of the past week:  Mark, Cliff, and Diana are holed up in Diana’s B&B, where they have been viewing Mark’s underwater photos of zebra mussel infestation on the Duck Duck Goose cargo ship. Diana focused on her own laptop, perhaps doing research, or maybe checking up on her NFT valuations.

They seem to think their lives could be in danger if Duck Duck Goose Shipping discovers their whereabouts. Mark takes on the role of Crisis Catalyst by assuring everybody that none of the bad guys even knows his name. Of course, the timely “bamming” on the front door announces that dark forces have, indeed, learned about him. With a shovel and their own determination, Mark, Diana, and Cliff intend to make this their own Alamo Moment. For zebra mussels.

It is logical, of course, for them to hunker down and try to solidify their field work with some good investigatory research. But I’m not sure we are seeing that. In fact, Diana urged Mark to quickly upload his photos to some web site where they can be publicly viewed, to protect themselves. This reminds me of the “solution” that the Herp Hacienda Gang used to defeat Cricket Bro’s sitting on Aparna’s animal air tracking app:  They stole it and uploaded it to a public server for anyone to acquire. The fact that Duck Duck Goose’s concerns are completely different from Diana and Mark sets up an interesting plot crossroads, where it is possible both groups will continue to work at cross purposes, unaware of the other’s true motives. We’ll see what happens on Monday, but for now, it’s the Sunday Nature Chat!

As usual, Rivera gives us a nicely designed title panel and a timely subject for the season. The turkeys are well drawn. They are found in neighborhoods and other public places, not just in country fields. I often see them walking around the university campus. Okay, turkeys are an easy subject. I’d like to see Rivera use Sundays to bring reader attention to lesser-known animals and nature topics.

However, the popular tale about the turkey being considered for the national bird (or on a coin) is just fiction. Turns out that Ben Franklin was only making a comparison to the bald eagle in a letter to his daughter, Sarah; but that seems to be as far as it ever got. And by the way, Mark, George Washington never threw silver dollars across the Potomac.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

If you are up-to-date on the strips this week, feel free to skip down to the Sunday strip. For those of you who missed some—or most—of this week, Cherry and a surprisingly available Mark were working on all things gardening. A work van pulled up, out of which stepped “Honest Ernest”, a Good Ol’ Boy in yellow coveralls, who turned out to be the exterminator hired to kill the bees in the Sunny Soleil Society’s garden.  In fact, this entire week of strips (about 5 minutes “in Trail Time”) was devoted to Honest Ernest first annoying, then shocking, the Trails (and us) with his phony “aw shucks” patter and sociopathic attitude. The Trails mostly just stood there, mouths agape; though Cherry once again put forth her weak bees defense, repeating her earlier failure to convince Violet and Caroline (Ernest’s wife). Once Ernest left, Cherry recovered enough to reiterate her intentions to raid the garden overnight with the help of her Garden Mafia to remove the bees to safety. Surprise of surprises, Mark offered to help, apparently indifferent to his current zebra mussel assignment.

All in all, there was little action, though the introduction of Honest Ernest is an important angle to the story. Maybe this week could have been compressed into just three or four days, allowing Rivera to use the other days to portray Cherry meeting with her Black Rose Society colleagues as they prepare to raid the garden. But, at least we can see better why Cherry’s defense of the bees went nowhere with the Sunny Soleil Society. It wasn’t just Cherry’s lack of persuasiveness, but the ignorance and delusional attitudes of the social-climbing members of the Sunny Soleil Society. Their pretense of sophistication was revealed by the cynical glibness and threatening attitude of Caroline’s rube of a husband. But, it’s time to move on to the Sunday nature strip. See you in three weeks, Cherry!

As Mark channels his inner “John Lennon” in the last panel (nice pun, Mark!), the Trails serve up a second helping of Sunday Bees; this time, the friendlier domestic version. Rivera’s tradition of making the Sunday title panel thematically link to the current subject continues, as does the tradition of linking the subject to the current storyline. This is not  her best title panel, but it’s still a good tradition. Cherry continues to serve as the Second Banana. Frankly, most of this information has already been discussed in the daily strips. But repetition is generally a good instructional method. So, do you agree that the Sunday strips are generally better drawn than the dailies? Not sure why. Well, we might have a different opinion on the hands.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Rivera diverted from the main storyline (Remember, it is the search for Zebra Mussel smugglers!) this week.  She expanded on Diana Dagger’s earlier confession to Mark and Cliff that her friends back home had diverted her income into trendy and controversial NFTs.  This week’s strips feature (I think) a mini-parody of the world of NFT Development, as seen through the machinations of Cricket Bro; his financial backer and co-conspirator, Professor Bee Sharp; and one very hungry caterpillar, er, goat (okay, the goat isn’t exactly eating the lab coat, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make the Eric Carle reference).

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the week was something that confused and angered numerous readers.  This was the Thursday strip, wherein Professor Bee Sharp appears in the foreground viewing photos, while in the background stand silhouettes of the Professor and Diana. She is arguing against having her salary automatically invested into NFTs.  Some readers thought the panel was confusing (or that Rivera had lost her mind, in general), presenting Diana as if she was suddenly in California, instead of Lost Forest.  Clearly, the image is deliberately ambiguous and permits of several interpretations:  Is this a scene playing in Sharp’s head while he reviews the photos? Is it just a flashback to an earlier conversation Rivera stuffed into that panel, mainly for its artistic effect? Is this distinction at all significant? Why portray this shadowy scene as if they were physically in the same space at the time, when we clearly know that was not the case? Ruminate on that as we move on to a ruminant in today’s Nature Talk!

Another interesting title panel for a non-surprising subject. It would have been clearer for Mark to point out that the cliché of goats eating anything is not accurate. So forget feeding them your empty cans; they are just herbivores. I’m not sure I can go with Mark’s attempt at acronymic humor in the last panel, though they may be the greatest buttinskies of all animals . On the other hand, the image of a goat “testing” Mark’s shirt in the central panel is both relevant to the discussion and humorous. I think we have to recognize Rivera’s bias (as it were) to focus on goats, themselves, rather than on their additional existence as resources for human consumption (fabric, cheese, meat, etc). It’s a reasonable approach, as Rivera only stated she was delivering a few “fun facts.” There’s only so much you can cram into a Sunday strip.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Gather round the campfire, one and all. It’s time for Uncle George to update you on Mark Trail’s actions this past week. As you may recall from the prior weeks, Mark’s ethical dilemma led him to abandon Diana during their zebra mussel investigation of a cargo ship.  Mark’s old friend Cliff, who piloted the rescue boat, showed up to give him a lift. At Cliff’s fishing lodge, Mark revealed his assignment to Cliff and his military veteran buddies. Not much happened there, but Mark and Cliff decided to seek out Diana and try to restore Mark’s professional relationship and continue the assignment.

But as Mark began his apology to Diana, he and Cliff were suddenly blindsided by Diana’s sudden emotional breakdown and admission that her selfish actions were brought on by troubles back home. Seems her friend(s) and business partner(s) are putting her salary (as a producer, we assume) into a modern investment vehicle known as a Non-Fungible Token (NFT). This highly speculative and unstable commodity is also linked to virtual currency, both of which exist on large server farms that gobble mountains of electricity. All of that usage affects the environment and local utilities. Diana’s anxiety is understandable (But who knew that she had a moral compass?). So what to do? And more importantly, how will Jules Rivera develop this major plot twist? Will it link to people in Mark’s previous assignments? Does it have anything to do with the Duck Duck Goose shipping line? Or will Diana’s troubles simply do a quick fade, like so many past characters of the Trailverse? Maybe we’ll find out in the coming days; but for now, it’s time for the Sunday Nature Chat. Now, who’s up for toasting marshmallows?

Not a surprising subject today. That anti-skunk smell formula is one The Humane Society favors, but comes with a special caveat that Mark forgot to mention: “Caution: Do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as the mixture could explode if left in a bottle.” That is definitely something to keep in mind. In fact, it is a really good idea to read their entire recommendation:

Avoiding a skunk is always a good idea. In fact, avoiding all wild animals is always a good idea. In spite of what some blockhead visitors to state and national parks believe, wild animals are not pets or your friends, no matter how cute they look.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Somehow, Cherry blew through six days of comic strip panels just getting the members of the Black Rose Garden Club to agree to help her save the bees from the Sunny Soleil Society’s more fatal plans. Somewhere along the line, the members’ preoccupation with pancakes melted away. Well, Cherry never did get around to stating what her plan was (if she had one), as we will almost certainly put Cherry’s story aside for two weeks while we return to Mark’s adventure. Nevertheless, some progress was made. At least they got out of their tool shed meeting room and started walking to the bee statue.

Now, I give Rivera a lot of credit for trying to give other Trail family members more time in front of the comic strip camera. Running two parallel story lines is not a simple thing, especially in a comic strip. And Rivera has sometimes found ways to link their stories together, even if indirectly. Do you like the fact that Rivera runs parallel storylines? Do you think Cherry and Mark should participate together in the same storyline once in awhile? While you ponder your responses, we’ll move on to the Sunday nature talk!

Well, it’s Hallowe’en, so I suppose bats are an obvious subject. But bats don’t go “bump” in the night, do they, Mark? After all, you told us about their echolocation capabilities, too! Anyway, for old Trailheads who might still be around, it would have been cool to see Professor Gabriel Chavira (the bat researcher from a few years ago) make a cameo appearance in the last panel.

Okay, Mark. It’s all very well to tell us to work together to save the bats. Exactly how do we do that, Mark? Blast more caves in hills? Gabriel would have had something practical to suggest, rather than stand around a smoke-free campfire and sing “Kumbaya”. At least there are no Dracula jokes.