A ghostly hike

I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not saying they don’t exist, and I’d love to see one (except in my own residence). We love to go on ghost walks pretty much everywhere.

We even requested tickets to the nightly locking-up ceremony at the Tower of London, which is reputedly one of the most haunted places on the planet – given the number of people who went in but never came out. I really wanted to see the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who reportedly runs around carrying her severed head under her arm, but no luck. Not even a glimmer.

Ah well, I keep persevering. When my hiking buddy suggested a look at an abandoned railroad tunnel colloquially known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel, I was in like a dirty shirt.

The official name was the Merritton Tunnel, in honour of William Merritt, the ‘father of the Welland Canal system’. It was built in 1875 as a way to cross the third version of the Welland Canal, the famous transportation canal system by which cargo ships traverse from the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Lake Ontario, and then down to the lower Lake Erie. The tunnel was placed between locks 18 and 19, and spans 713 feet (including stone work capping the ends).

Historic photo of the newly-constructed Merritton Tunnel, source unknown.

It’s astounding to envision hundreds of men excavating the tunnel with picks and shovels. People died during the construction, including a 14-year-old boy, and two employees were killed in 1903 at 7:03 a.m. when two trains, Engine Number 4 and Engine Number 975, had a head-on collision about one-third of a mile from the tunnel’s western entrance. It was reported that both engines in “full steam” at 22 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound like much in modern times, but the two firemen for the trains were gruesomely injured; one died instantly, the other in hospital just a few hours later.

The tunnel received its more colourful name from a young paranormal investigator, Russ (last name undiscoverable) who visited the tunnel several times. He reported intense feelings of fear, dizziness and something like an electrical charge; on one occasion he states that something invisible was barring their access to the tunnel and that he and his group felt their lives would be at risk if they proceeded.

Russ believed he saw a bluish mist at the entrance, which transformed its appearance from a pretty little girl to a dog/wolf to a demon. His compatriots apparently didn’t see it, and photos from the visit are said to be explainable as pictures of Russ’s own breath in the chilly tunnel. From what I could find, Russ planned on selling his story to the movie industry, and perhaps got caught up in his own haunted creation.

Ghost tours are occasionally run at night, which would be an eerie experience indeed, as the tunnel is quite chilly, as well as partially flooded. Water drips constantly from the ceiling and the footing is very uncertain.

My buddy and I visited in broad daylight on a hot summer day. After a long walk down an old factory access road, one looks for an indicator marked on a metal railing.

Then it’s a steep skid down a bush-studded hillside to where the old railway tracks used to run. I wouldn’t want to try this after a good rainfall.

Unfortunately vandals have rather spoiled the entrance with graffiti, and we saw a fair bit of garbage around the entrance.

As soon as you enter the arched tunnel, you can see substantial flooding on the left side — it runs the entire length of the tunnel.

There are still remnants of the wooden parts of the tracks, but they’re very worn and really slippery from the pervasive moisture. The footing in general is quite treacherous. There are no lights inside the tunnel, so a good flashlight is essential.

The water along the side wall is at least a foot deep — not something to stumble into in the dark!

There are ceiling supports in several spots to shore up the collapsing roof, and we had to duck under them to move onward.

Supports also run to the walls in a few places; we weren’t sure what they were for. Between those and the water dripping down, however, you’re left with the distinct feeling that you don’t want to linger too long.

The far end of the tunnel is completely flooded, and impassable. It looked several feet deep, with no hint of what might be underfoot in the cold water.

We didn’t experience any feelings of dread or being watched by something. As we returned to the entrance, I took this photo of what looks like mist just inside — not surprising given the chill of the tunnel meeting the heat of the day outside. It does look vaguely bluish, I will admit.

According to records, a total of 107 men were killed during the construction of the tunnel and the canal, so the Blue Ghost Tunnel seems like the kind of place that would be haunted. It would be interesting to see at night, if you’re up for seriously wet and chilly discomfort; if you decide to try it, please do wear hiking shoes with a good tread and be very careful while you’re walking through. All kinds of debris litter the water, and I can only imagine what could be caught by falling into it. And if you experience any kind of haunting there, please do let me know 🙂

All photos by me (unless otherwise specified) and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

Time capsule fall festivals + photographic art

Fall festivals are some of our favourite activities — they combine great atmosphere, perfect weather for strolling, good food, beautiful colours, fallen leaves to shuffle through. Last year most festivals weren’t running, so this year’s batch are especially welcome.

The two we’ve attended so far couldn’t be more dissimilar; the only common denominator is that they perfectly captured a period in time, one in the late 1800s, the other a modern-day take on art-in-the-park.

I’m on the mailing list for the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton, Ontario. If you’ve been following my blog you know that it’s already one of my favourite places to chill out as well as take photographs, and I’m always excited to hear about special events. In early September I received notification of something really intriguing, called “Seeing the Invisible”, i.e. Augmented Reality Art. The marketing described it as:
“Visitors will engage …through an app downloadable to their smartphone or tablet and encounter 13 unique and interactive artworks dotting the…landscape…This cutting-edge AR platform forges new links between the RBG landscape and global artists, harnessing the power of art to connect people to the natural world.”

None of our group really had much idea of what to expect, though, until we got to the first piece of art. With the special app installed on our phone or tablet, when we were in proximity with the artwork, we were prompted to activate it, and suddenly we could see the image on our device: an enormous boulder floating in the air, which we could walk around, lie or crawl under, and have our photo taken with if so desired.

The artist was El Anatsui from Ghana, who produces works of art out of thousands of bottle caps wired together with copper, “thereby catalyzing the transformation of familiar, mundane objects into startlingly poetic works of art”.

There were thirteen art pieces in all, each with specific meaning and style. Some were accompanied by music; some could be walked into to see something different on the interior than the exterior. This piece by Timur Si-Qin was called Biome Gateway and represented a temple cave that connected the garden we were walking through with a parallel landscape on the inside:

The interior was quite startling, a “virtual sacred locus of contemplation”:

One of the most interesting pieces was a massive doughnut-shaped symbolic representation of the number zero and its impact on mathematics.

Apparently the work was originally created for the city of Abu Dhabi, with its diverse population embodying coexistence and peace. The surface of the entire piece is covered in geographic coordinates that represent all the countries of the world. I really liked the concept of this one.

My personal favourite, by Israeli artist Ori Gersht, was called Forget Me Not. It featured a large, visually spectacular arrangement of flowers:

,,, which, when a visitor was close enough to ‘touch’, then exploded, scattering petals through the air of the large lawn where the artwork was located:

It was meant to evoke the creation of the universe and the transience of everything on earth, and included a commentary by three scholars offering different interpretations, but I just enjoyed the effect of walking amid the flower fragments, which lingered in the air for quite a while:

The exhibit was specifically chosen to take place in botanical gardens, to connect nature, art and technology without disturbing the natural environment. It opened simultaneously in only eleven gardens around the world, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to be close to the only exhibit in Canada. If you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps finding a location you can reach, visit the Seeing the Invisible website.

The very next day we traveled back in time at Pioneer Day in Jordan, Ontario.

Jordan is a small community along Twenty Mile Creek that was the first Mennonite settlement in Canada. The settlers had come north from Pennsylvania in 1799, and with the rich soil they soon developed a flourishing agriculture community.

Today the village is charming and trendy in the midst of one of the premiere icewine destinations in Canada, but the festival celebrating the early pioneers in the Niagara Region has been running for 55 years, long before the region became a mecca for wineries. My father used to take us when I was a child, and I remember cool fall days watching apple butter being made in huge kettles over a wood fire, the scents of apples and wood smoke, crisp sausages on buns, and a great family day overall.

My hubby and I have continued going sporadically over the years, but this year in particular it seemed like a nice fall activity to do. There’s a brand new and very modern museum on the site, which perhaps detracts a bit from the back-in-time feel that I used to love as a child, but there were still plenty of old-time enjoyments.

An 1800s steam engine still going strong at the entrance
The Lincoln Concert Band added a nice musical backdrop to the event
Apples are still cooked down into thick, lush apple butter, although the fire underneath is a little less rustic than it used to be
Bushels of fresh apples waiting their turn
A replica of an old covered wagon — pretty uncomfortable looking, on the whole
A sample lesson in the original 1859 schoolhouse – a docent inside recruited children as volunteers for the lesson
A local blacksmith was creating heating metal in these coals to produce fireplace pokers
A very old headstone in the small Haines Cemetery, which holds the remains of early settlers
Freshly-made apple fritters drew a long lineup
One of the shopfronts in a quaint strip across from On the Twenty hotel, which is affiliated with the winery by the same name

The two festivals couldn’t have been more different, but they book-ended a lovely weekend in fine October weather. Let me just say, thank goodness for the coronavirus vaccines that are allowing us to gradually return to normality and the opportunity to attend events again.

I’m also very pleased to announce that some of my photographic art is now available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products through my site on Fine Art America. If you’ve liked my work that you’ve seen in my blog posts, I’ll just mention that I’ve introduced a special collection called Gothic Dreams — art for anyone who has a darker side that especially comes out in October 😀 Please do check it out!

The rich heritage of our Indigenous citizens

In Indigenous culture, staghorn sumac has been used for a number of medicinal remedies, dyes and tobacco blends

In Canada today, September 30th, is now officially the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It was chosen to coincide with an earlier commemorative day begun in 2013, Orange Shirt Day. It’s a step towards our country’s acknowledgement and reparation for of the awful legacy of our Residential Schools.

I began learning about the Residential School system through presentations by the Indigenous counselor at the college I was working at. As time has passed, more and more information has come out, including the grim discovery of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children who disappeared through those schools, after the kind of suffering that makes its way into horror movies.

It saddens me that so many lives were damaged by that reprehensible period in our history, but also that the rich culture of our Indigenous people has been rejected, a way of life that is close to nature and could teach us a lot about respect for the world around us. I was introduced to a little of it at the seminars.

One thing I particularly remember is a lovely daily ritual of gratitude to the Earth and its creatures. I found this document online which sounds like what I experienced, if you’re interested in finding out more (Source: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian).

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) has released a Indigenous Culinary Directory of places in Canada offering Indigenous culinary experiences. As the directory states, “We want to make it easy for the world to find and fall in love with our Indigenous culinary community.” Scrolling through the PDF, I can say that the food looks amazing, and I’m only sorry that the seven locations in Ontario aren’t anywhere close to us, but hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to try one out some time.

You can learn much more about Indigenous history and culture on the Government of Canada’s website dedicated to today’s event.

I wore an orange top on my hike today in honour of the event, and I saw a smattering of others doing the same; in future years I hope the practice will have much wider support.

A World of Gratitude

“I live in the space of thankfulness – and for that, I have been rewarded a million times over. I started out giving thanks for small things, and the more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased. That’s because – for sure – what you focus on expands. When you focus on the goodness in life, you create more of it.” Oprah

How many days have you had in the past couple of years where you don’t want to look at the news?

I read it online most mornings just to keep an eye on the state of the world, and mostly my little corner of it. When it becomes overwhelming, I’ll take a news-free day (or two) to decompress.

The pandemic has turned our world upside down, but we have so many things to be grateful for. This past Tuesday, September 21 was World Gratitude Day, and this week’s post is dedicated to the healing power of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives, even the tiny ones.

You may already practice gratitude, but if you’ve only heard of it and thought it was bogus, I can tell you from personal experience that it works.

For the last few years in which I was working at a Monday-to-Friday job, it became harder and harder to get up in the mornings, achy and tired from the fibromyalgia, and push myself into a functional state. One particularly dreary morning I decided to try saying aloud five things that I was grateful for – anything I could think of off the top of my head. I was grateful for having a decent job with a pension, for a great hubby, for a car that was running well…I don’t remember them all, but by the end of my little recital I did actually feel better.

I’ve done this many times over the years, and my impression is that it’s like a reset button, breaking you out of a mental loop that keeps replaying everything that’s bugging you – which, if you think about it, is both non-productive and depressing. If you pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re in one of these loops, you’ll notice that your dissatisfaction keeps building until it poisons the entire day. How much better to snap yourself out of it and keep moving forward?

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude will lower your stress level, which benefits your immune system. it will improve your self-esteem (tell that severe inner critic which exists in all of us to just shove it!), improve your sociability (which your boss will appreciate), and help you sleep better (now that you’re not grumbling and beating yourself up). Concrete physical benefits include greater cardiovascular health and lower rates of inflammation. Life serves up both good and bad, but understanding how to mentally balance them will improve your resilience.

On days when gratitude is hard to summon, find other ways to break the cycle. My favourite method is to go out into nature and let the trees, the wind, the birds all wash away my frustration and resentment. I’m so grateful to live on such an amazing planet, with so much beauty to look at:

The silken interior of a milkweed pod
Autumn crocus glowing with sunlight amid a carpet of blue plumbago
Pumpkins for sale at a local farm market

World Gratitude Day was developed in 1965, out of a conversation at a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the meditation room of the United Nations building. A spiritual leader named Sri Chinmoy suggested a day of thanks that the entire world could celebrate.

If you’re uncertain on how to start, you may want to check out Gratefulness.org, a wonderful and thoughtful place to learn more and even participate in a global community. I particularly recommend watching the 5-minute “A Grateful Day” video on their World Gratitude Day page. It’s a beautiful and profound statement on why we should be grateful to be alive.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. E Jurus

Have a Day of Imagination

Imagine that you’re spending the summer in a villa on Lake Geneva in 1816. The weather is terrible – it will become known as ‘the year without a summer’. In April the year before, a little-known volcano in Indonesia, Mount Tambora, erupted so powerfully that its ash cloud reached almost 27 miles high, into the Earth’s stratosphere, and it’s still affecting the world’s climate over a year later.

The days are dark, cold and rainy. Stuck inside the villa for the most part, your host Lord Byron suggests that, to pass the time, everyone there should come up with a good ghost story.

This is easier said than done – writers usually work from inspiration, not on command. Then one night you all spend an evening of discussion about the nature of life, and whether a corpse could be reanimated by applying enough electricity, based on the discoveries of Luigi Galvani just a few decades previously.

The gloomy weather and macabre discussion infect your thoughts. Perhaps you have a vision such as young Mary Shelley did:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

That imagined scenario prompted her to produce one of the most original horror stories ever written, Frankenstein.

What a rich life we lead when we use our imagination.

As kids we have nothing but our imaginations; we haven’t experienced much by the age of four, or seven, or even ten, so we make up wildly creative worlds to play in.

If we retain that capacity for crazy ideas and creative mental leaps, as adults we can come up with amazing concepts.

In the 1820s, Charles Babbage created his Difference Engine, basically a mechanical calculator, but it was the forerunner of our modern computers.

J.R.R. Tolkien created such a powerful alternate world, Middle-Earth, in his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stories that he continues to inspire generations of fantasy writers and readers to this day.

Albert Einstein famously developed the theory of relativity by first imagining what it would be like to travel so fast that he could catch up with a beam of light.

Several years ago at work I was on a committee to organize the annual Appreciation Day for staff. The morning schedule always included a team-building activity based on that year’s overall theme. One of the most successful activities we ever devised was inspired by the Harry Potter theme: build a dragon.

All the materials were provided. Since the activity was only 30 minutes long, we decided to give the teams a head start by demonstrating how to build the core of the dragon quickly with shoe boxes and tape; after that they could create the rest of the dragon as they wished. We had a big table strewn with all kinds of decorative materials, from pipe cleaners to feather boas, for them to use. There were no rules; we’d be judging the dragons based entirely on how cool and interesting they looked!

After the demo, we waited nervously to see if the teams could come to a consensus on how they wanted their dragon to look, or devolve into arguments, or decide the whole thing was too lame.

The room quickly erupted in sound and motion. It was clear that the teams were fully engaged and having an absolute blast.

When time was up, the creativity blew our committee away. Each dragon was completely different, and some departed entirely from the body mock-up we’d offered. We did award a prize, to much cheering, but I’m not sure it mattered because the staff had already enjoyed themselves so much.

In the past year, people were extremely creative during the pandemic lock-downs because there wasn’t much else to do while we, much like Mary Shelley and her companions in 1816, were stuck inside, but there’s no reason we can’t continue to think that way as the world slowly begins to move on.

There’s an event coming up this Saturday in New York City called the Day of Imagination. It’s described as “an ode to idealism — a space for the presentation of the most thrilling, ambitious, wildest “dream projects” of musical artists from across the world” – and it gave me the idea for this blog post.

While we’re still dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic and the continual bad news in the media, how about taking a break for our own personal Day of Imagination?

Regularly taking the time to engage our imaginations is healthy, even critical. It’s well known by science that stretching our brains is something we need to do, especially as we get older. For example, as reported by CNN, a study by neurologists in 2015 found that “people who engaged in artistic activities… were 73% less likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as mild cognitive impairment, that lead to dementia.”

If you took an entire day to just live in the realm of your imagination, what would you do?

Would you buy some materials and paint a picture, or go out into nature and photograph all kinds of little details you’ve never noticed before?

Would you read a book in a genre that’s new for you? Play with Lego blocks? Do some free-form writing in a journal? Start that vacation scrapbook you’ve been planning for years?

Would you, just for fun, do something way outside your wheelhouse? Maybe you might try your hand at writing a ghost story, or a horror story?

Albert Einstein, in an interview for the Saturday Evening Post in 1929, said, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Step away from the troubles of the world for a day, whether it’s by yourself, or with friends or family, and spend a day being like children again. Sometimes they’re smarter than we are.

What do rising global temperatures mean for all of us?

When I was growing up, fathers made skating rinks for their kids every winter. Once the snow began falling my dad would make the wall for the rink, and then I tried to be patient while he decided when it was cold enough to flood the space and let it freeze. New ice skates were common gifts under family Christmas trees.

There was always enough snow to make snowmen and snow forts, and ‘snow days’ were regular occurrences. By the time I was married just ten to fifteen years later, my hubby and I bought cross-country skis to enjoy winter more instead of grumbling about it, but we rarely got enough snow to use them.

Within the past thirty years, according to the World Wildlife Fund, “the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95%.” Within less than one lifetime, my hubby and I have noticed a significant change in our local weather, and we live in a very temperate zone. Changes in other parts of the world have been much more dramatic.

WWF predicts that by 2040 there might be no ice in the Arctic. That’s a horrifying thought – our majestic polar bears would then literally have no place to survive. Here in Canada we’ve already been experiencing dramatic shifts in temperature, from frigid polar vortices in winter to heat waves in the summer, which this year have led to catastrophic fires in parts of the country.

I’ve been extremely worried ever since the Greenland Ice Sheet began seriously melting several years ago. According to WWF, “if it melts entirely, global sea levels could rise 20 feet.”

Read more at “Six ways loss of Arctic ice impacts everyone”.

August’s stunning report by the IPCC told us that over the next 20 years the temperature of our globe is expected to increase by at least 1.5°C. That may not sound like a lot, and like you I wondered why that amount is so significant, so I did some research.

That increase in global temperature would result in extreme hot days “in the mid-latitudes” (which includes most of North America and Europe above the equator, and below it most of Australia and about the bottom third of South America), becoming 3°C hotter (5.4°F) than pre-industrial levels.

There will be more droughts and heatwaves; hurricanes will become stronger; there will be more wildfires, more insect invasions, more disease, less food. If you want to watch a truly frightening film about what our future could be like if we don’t start making changes, watch Interstellar (2014).

So what can be done? Following the KAIROS climate action calendar, I looked at Day 10, which says to “learn to laser talk”? I had no idea what that meant, so more research was required. The LASER acronym appears to mean “Leonardo Art & Science Evening Rendezvous”, and represents an international program of gatherings with artists, scientists, and scholars presentations and conversations. Apparently there have been quite a few regarding our global environment and climate change, which you can read and watch to start your own conversation.

I found examples on the website of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), as well as a great overview resource about Climate Change and how to solve the growing problems, CCL Canada LASER Talks Booklet updated November 2020. I encourage you to download the PDF – it’s 38 pages long but so well organized that it will be easy for you to sift through the information. You’ll have a much better understanding of the economic issues and viable solutions.

Sections I found especially useful were:

  • “Carbon Pricing 101”, which explains the heavy costs associated with carbon pollution and how they tend to land on we individual taxpayers instead of on the corporations that generate the most greenhouse gases.
  • Six ways of pricing carbon pollution, how that could be done more appropriately and how that would take the burden off middle- and lower-income citizens.
  • There’s an interesting section on Canadian Family Wealth Distribution. The document tells us that “the top 1.0 % quintile of Canadian families possess more than a quarter of all wealth in Canada” and pay the least taxes toward the federal budget. The same applies to Canadian corporations. The income from more equitable taxation could be used to invest in better sources of fuel.
  • Data about where Canada’s damaging emissions come from.
  • Why Canada’s relatively small percent (<2%) of global greenhouse gas emissions still really matters: global responsibility and cumulative impact, the leverage we could gain from being leaders in environmental recovery, the increase in jobs, lower costs from dealing with climate disasters, and what should be foremost on the minds of all Canadians: improved health.

We still live on a beautiful planet. Let’s ensure that future generations do too.