A bit of banana yellow in the concrete jungle.

UNITED STATES—When you are out in the jungle you can’t be too picky, but like around the campfire the other night as the fireflies pulsed and the Araucana wilderness buzzed with an eerie electronic vibration, as of radio tubes with that fireplace glow in the center. You can’t be too picky about the sloppily washed enamel tin dishes and cups.

“Clem, what kind of sloppiness is this?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, you sure got some foul verminous stuff left on there after running ‘em through the wash last night.”

“Well, my name ain’t Clem if those ain’t but harmless water marks.”

“They could hatch microbes and the microbes could be the death of you out here.”

“So many things in this here hallucination have already been the death of me, Clem.”

“I’m not Clem, either.”

“Oh,” the first spat out some chew tobacco that cost three day’s salary in the company store. “Let’s just be the two Clems and make things hard for the bounty hunters.”

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was banana. Allied Fruit dealt for its first decade mainly with small local growers to purvey its bananas. Sam got the idea way before the guys in Boston got the idea. Sam got it by the time he made his first 10,000 dollars and started Chamelecon with a few hundred acres.

In 1910, or thereabouts, in seeking to gain more effective control over the quality and supply of bananas, Allied began to invest in the construction of its own industrialized banana plantations.

Algernon Sutter III announced, “These magnanimous places of work for the ignorant isthmus dweller will rain blessings of Christendom down on the hoi polloi. A scale such as farming has never seen… and export driven,” he added as a footnote. “Yes, the modern and successful company is one that controls the growing of its own fruit,” wrote yes-man Andrew Preston to Vice President Lorenzo Dow Baker during discussions regarding the shift to Company-controlled production. Nothing comes out of the sky, you know. Sam Delaney had been a decade ahead of them buying banana plantation land, but none of the underlings disabused Sutton of the notion that he alone had discovered the key to the kingdom.

When deciding go whole hog into the production process and establish its own banana farms, the Company both redefined and embarked upon a new relationship with the environments of the Caribbean Basin. Dedicated to metamorphosizing dense tropical jungle wastelands into large-scale plantations, Allied Fruit shaped this relationship through the application of steam shovels an a damn-the-torpedos outlook that was a product of both the ghostly incense of history and, eventually, its own deep and ongoing encounters with the environment that produced more and more of the coveted yellow fruit. It led to a lasting and pleasurable hubris of man over the earth’s unfathomable forces.

When European migrants arrived in the New World (present-day United States), they were quick to label the land they encountered as ‘virgin,’ ‘wild,’ and fundamentally ‘unimproved.’ “Huckabee, this is what we started out with,” Officer Childers held forth on the topic to one of the many Ivy League vice presidents. “Who the hell ever used the word settler? We were drifters, wanderers, fortune hunters, loners, adventurers, seekers, mercenaries, outcasts, the dregs and syphilitics of the old world.

Generally disregarding signs of Native American usage, these early marauders perceived the lands of the New World as a tabula rasa. This was a moral and physical wasteland fit only for conquest and fructification in the name of progress, civilization, and Christianity. The people seeking to transform the environment, sweated and toiled to create from the wastelands landscapes that produced agricultural surplus, trade goods, and reflected a tamer, more European version of nature. We were wrong, of course, this land was so lustily endowed by monument and surplus, that after what was left, there were still going to be overreaches, dramatic beyond dramatic.

Early understandings of Native American land use escaped the dim discernment of the Europeans. Traditional Indigenous practices of hunting and gathering were believed to neglect the true productive potential of the land, the glorious green fuse.

In one of his sayings the Puritan Roger Thayer declared:

“Only through the application of roads, fences, plowing, and other sedentary agricultural practices termed as ‘improvements,’ could the huge potential of these lands be tapped. Countryside that had been improved held value in the eyes of the new settlers, those that were not were considered sterile plains. Given what settler-invaders perceived to be a lack of proper improvements, they categorized Natives as ‘uncivilized’ and ‘savage.’ Settlers went so far as to view their takeover and control of the environment as a form of philanthropy. From their own perspective, it was incumbent on them – as a duty and a right – to ‘liberate’ the landscape and its people from an uncultivated state in order to transform it into a new version of Nature which reflected an advanced form of civilization.

“My son, it certainly helps a whole boatload to have these convenient beliefs,” Childers said.

In implementing tried concepts of land-use and environmental design, the wily squatters brought themselves into direct contact with the landscapes that they sought to make fruitful. There was a biblical zeal in all this. In this process, a cyclical dynamic formed between ‘human culture’ and the responsive resistance of the environments which they sought to alter and bring under their own control. As a silent partner in this process, the jungle itself presented certain lure for settlers to push deeper into ‘virgin’ landscapes. The essence of climate patterns, topography, and soil composition created circumstances that were vital in determining the limits into which the push of human culture could extend.

To be continued…

Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)