‘Bergy’ Tidbits

Ice forms on Niagara Falls when it’s cold enough – photo by E. Jurus

My family lived on a farm north of Lake Superior for a couple of years when my brother and I were kids, so I’m very familiar with cold and snow. Our small community usually saw the first snowflakes fall before Halloween, spent all winter under a feet-thick white blanket, and didn’t see grass until April. I remember that the coldest day we saw during that time registered at -52oF (before Canada switched to the Celsius system), and there were a number of days when either the teacher (who lived in one of the towns at least 30 minutes away in good weather), or we students, or both couldn’t make it to school because the roads were clogged with snow.

But that life pales in comparison to what the people in Newfoundland experience, ranking in the top dozen lists of Most Snowfall (outside the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia), Biggest Blizzards and Most Days with Snow on the Ground (Snowiest Places in Canada). Newfoundland also sits somewhat enviably on the edge of Iceberg Alley, where the massive frozen chunks we call icebergs break off glaciers in Greenland and make their way southward along the prevailing currents until they eventually melt in warmer waters.

It was one of those icebergs that gouged out the starboard side of the enormous ship Titanic on the evening of April 14, 1912 and sank the world’s most famous passenger liner. Not the way the crew and passengers wanted to go down in history, by any measure.  

Icebergs are strange creatures, so much so that many places speak of them almost as if they’re alive. When they break off from their parent glacier in spring and summer, the process is called ‘calving’, and the hundreds of bergs that drift down the eastern coast of Canada are referred to as an annual migration.

Although the icebergs travel through salty ocean waters, they themselves are composed of the purest water on Earth – most of them, anyway. There are big sheets of frozen salt water that form in fall and winter around Greenland, and also break up into chunks when the thaw sets in.

Officially, though, an iceberg is a piece of freshwater ice at least 15 metres long (about 49 feet) with 5 to 15 metres (16 to 49 feet) sticking out above the water’s surface. that chunked off either a glacier or an ice shelf and floats about in open water. These pieces of ice are classified by size: bergs are either small, medium, large or very large – imagine coming face to face with a behemoth over 600 ft long and 246 tall. And because almost 90% of an iceberg’s mass is below water, you’d dearly want to avoid the part you couldn’t see!

Smaller chunks of ice from between 5 to 15 metres long are called ‘bergy bits’, while those smaller than that are called ‘growlers’. They’re all dangerous. If you think of how much the Ice Age glaciers transformed North America as they moved, carving out lakes and mountains, you get a sense of how, despite the size of the early great transatlantic liners (the RMS Titanic was 971 feet long), in a collision it was the iceberg that was the ‘immovable object’.

The iceberg that the Titanic ran into was believed to have been, according to eyewitness reports, between 50 to 100 feet tall and 200 to 400 feet long. The below-water section of it, which is what tore open the huge gash in the ship’s hull, may have been half a mile in length (over 2500 feet). When the ship’s spotters first observed the gigantic piece of ice headed straight for them at 11:39pm on that fateful night, it was only about 900 feet away, i.e. practically on top of them. Only 30 seconds later, the ship felt the impact as the helmsman frantically tried to get out of the way but the iceberg slowly ground its way past.

News quote from the era, Titanic Museum, Belfast Northern Ireland – photo by E. Jurus

So when you read about the modern-day men in Newfoundland who snag and fish out such huge chunks of ice, usually weighing several tons, (“The Iceberg Cowboys Who Wrangle the Purest Water on Earth”, “Iceberg harvesting is a swashbuckling new industry in Newfoundland and Labrador”), you may wonder if they’ve lost their minds. Many of the bergs they harvest have calved from the very same glacier that produced the one that sank the ‘ship that couldn’t be sunk’, Sermeq Kujalleq. The Titanic ran into its destroyer in Iceberg Alley, when the ship had almost made it all the way across the Atlantic and was already telegraphing Newfoundland’s Cape Race station to announce its impending arrival in New York.

The slipway where the RMS Titanic was launched on its doomed voyage is marked with the placement of the huge lifeboats that only rescued a few of the 2,240 passengers, Belfast, Northern Ireland – photo by E. Jurus

The Titanic disaster is one of the most studied in history, but still remains an enigma. That year there was an abnormally large number of icebergs in Iceberg Alley. Numerous sightings by other ships were radioed or telegraphed to the Titanic but the captain ignored them and didn’t reduce speed. And many wonder why the spotters didn’t sight the behemoth until it was too late to avoid.

The intrepid berg catchers go out in large fishing boats and with any luck can clamp an iceberg and slowly feed it through a grinding machine into storage tanks. But if the boat can’t get close enough (remember the nasty part hiding in the dark sea waters), they have to transfer to a small motorboat, wrap it in a net, haul it on board the bigger boat and hack it up into chunks. It seems to be fairly lucrative work – the pure water apparently has an amazing taste (if the taste is anything like the water we kids used to scoop out of streams that ran across those farms up in northern Ontario, I believe it – I’ve never tasted anything as wonderful since) and is used for premium Iceberg Vodka, Iceberg Beer, bottled water and fizzy ice cubes. In 2016 Newfoundland introduced a tax on iceberg harvesting.

I’d love to visit Antarctica, where 93% of the world’s mass of icebergs float around, just to see the magnificent beasts. (For some wonderful photography, check out this article in the National Geographic Resource Library Iceberg.) That’s a very expensive trip, though. A better option might be to travel to Greenland, where you can also go iceberg-watching. There you can see 5 kinds of ice:

  • White ice, which is relatively young with many air bubbles that allow light through and give it the dazzling snowy colour
  • Blue ice, which is older, from the Greenland Ice Sheet. It’s heavier, more compressed, and with a blue cast.
  • Black ice, which is clear but looks black as it floats on the water. It’s feared because it’s so hard to spot and because its weight drags the most dangerous part below the surface, where it lies in wait for unwary ships.
  • Dirty ice, which has accumulated mud and sand from blowing storms.
  • And there are the aforementioned saltwater ice chunks to content with as well.

A late friend of mine was lucky enough to hear and see an iceberg calving many years ago. When hubby and I were in New Zealand, checking out Mt. Aoraki, we witnessed several small avalanches and were struck by how noisy they were – I can only imagine the sound of an entire berg leaving home. Maybe one day we’ll get to witness it for ourselves.

In the meantime, here are a few fascinating facts about the babies that attack ships:

Different shapes of icebergs
By Romain – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=114073584
  • Each year, between 10,000 to 15,000 icebergs are calved, most of them from the Antarctic continent, which also produces the largest glaciers.
  • The ice in icebergs can be more that 15,000 years old.
  • Icebergs can contain up to 10% air bubbles by volume, and when the bubbles are released as the bergs melt, they make a fizzing sound called ‘Bergie Seltzer’.
  • We tend to think of icebergs as huge chunks just floating placidly through the water, but as they melt they can actually flip over, or even capsize. The largest bergs can create earthquakes as powerful as an atomic bomb.
  • One can tell if an iceberg is going to flip if any birds sitting on it suddenly take flight. It’s believed that the birds have such a keen sense of balance that they can detect gradual movements in icebergs long before people can see them.
  • Along with white, blue, black and dirty, icebergs can also be green, yellow and striped, depending on their water composition and algae that might be inside.
  • Icebergs are also classified by their shape: tabular (with steep sides and a flat top), non-tabular, dome, pinnacle, wedge and dry-dock (where a slot or channel has eroded into the body of the berg)
  • The largest Northern Hemisphere iceberg on record was seen in 1882 near Baffin Island. It was 8 miles (13 km) long, almost 4 miles (6km) wide and held enough water to give everyone in the world a litre of water daily for four years.
  • The Hibernia off-shore production platform, 315km away from Newfoundland, was designed to withstand the impact of an iceberg in excess of five million tonnes. It has a reinforced concrete caisson made of high-strength concrete reinforced with steel rods and pre-stressed tendons (multi-strand wires or threaded bars made from high-tensile materials), surrounded by a wall with 16 wedge-shaped concrete teeth to break up the impact of such an iceberg.
  • The Antarctic ice sheet, which actually covers a desert below it, is at least 40 million years old.
  • If that ice sheet were to melt, it would raise the world’s seas by over 60 metres (almost 200 feet) – which is one of the many reasons that global warming is so dangerous for our planet.
Non-tabular iceberg off Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean
By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46736000

Any photos taken by me in this post may not be used without my express permission. E. Jurus

Hunting the famous Green Chile Cheeseburger in New Mexico

As confirmed foodies, my hubby and I enjoy trying local specialties wherever we travel, even within our own continent (within limits; if it’s squiggly or slimy it’s off the table). When we’re between trips, I enjoy reading articles about places to go and things we can look forward to, including food. The other day I ran across this article at foodandwine.com, We Found the Best Fast Food in Every State, and They’re All Local Obsessions. I was curious to read what it had to say about the state of New Mexico, where we spent a couple of great weeks in the fall.

One of New Mexico’s claims to fame is the green chile cheeseburger. It’s not a complicated dish – just a juicy burger with white cheese and a heaping addition of chopped cooked green chilies – but it has one of those great flavour combinations that can quickly become addictive. In the state there’s a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, complete with mouth-watering photos.

So even though chili peppers and I don’t get along all that well, when we went to New Mexico in the fall we had to try some.

I read a lot of recommendations about the best places to find one. Some weren’t along the path of our planned itinerary, but I made note of a few. For us the thrill isn’t in lining up with throngs at the famous places on lists, though – it’s in just trying the legendary dish in different locations and seeing what you get. And when you stumble across a really great serving that you weren’t expecting, it’s a very happy day.

For example, several years ago, while combining a week of golf along the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama with a couple of days in New Orleans, we had lovely beignets in New Orleans at the market by the waterfront, but a few days later some really superb ones at a breakfast joint across the border in Alabama.

The article mentions Blake’s as the place to go for green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, and if I’d seen the article before we left home, we probably would have tried it. We saw the signs for Blake’s Lotaburger all over the place as we drove around the central and southern part of the state. One of the recommendations we did spot, and try out, was a place called The Original Realburger in Santa Fe. It’s one of those small, unpretentious places that I suspect tourists rarely visit, but we did have a very delicious green chile cheeseburger there for our first-ever tasting.

Great food wasn’t hard to find in New Mexico, and we did enjoy some higher-end restaurants here and there.  However, on the day we went to the ABQ Bio Park in Albuquerque, we decided to grab a light lunch at their Shark Reef Café, and the Green Chile Slider Stack seemed a good size for me. Not only did it fit the bill portion-wise in a country that oversizes everything, but it was absolutely yummy!

So as much fun as it is to peruse restaurant lists and fantasize trips around them, don’t be afraid to try out places that aren’t on the lists. You may get some wonderful surprises. If you can’t wait until a trip to New Mexico to try a green chile cheeseburger for yourself, here’s a basic recipe that looks comparable to what we ate; feel free to mess with as you choose 🙂

All photos are by me and may not be used without my permission. E. Jurus

New Year’s Eve at a Zoo

Cougars and tigers and spectacled bears, oh my! The Nashville Zoo is small but fun, especially around holidays.

Nashville, Tennessee is a great place to be for the Christmas season; I’ve highlighted some of their special events in a previous post (A year of light). There’s always lots of entertainment and wonderful food to round off your experience. We travelled down there once again on December 27th, for the first time since the COVID pandemic closed borders just a few short weeks after our previous visit. Usually we go in time for Christmas, but the massive winter storm that blanketed much of North America kept us housebound for the big day, watching the snow fly past and hoping our power didn’t go out (it didn’t). By Boxing Day the entire Buffalo area was still closed and digging out, so we went through Windsor/Detroit instead. The roads were clear and dry, but hundreds of other people were doing the same as we were, making up for lost time, so the border crossing from Canada into the US was extremely busy.

Nevertheless, we made it to our cousin’s in good time, and spent New Year’s Eve with him instead. I could live in Tennessee, I think. The weather and landscape looked like late Autumn here in Ontario — lots of dried leaves on the trees and around the sidewalks, and mild temperatures that required just a light jacket. Living in Fall conditions from October to March would make me a very happy camper 😀

We tried several new restaurants during this visit. Two that really stood out were 1) Hogwood BBQ in Franklin — fabulous Colorado Sandwich (“Certified Angus Beef Brisket, fresh jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, Spicy Red Sauce, and house-made cheese sauce on a grilled potato roll”) followed by Nana’s Banana Pudding (very creamy and rich)…

and Edessa Restaurant in Nashville, almost right across from the entrance to the Zoo. It serves very delicious Turkish & Kurdish food, and is hugely popular as a result. We didn’t have to wait long to get seated though, and the staff are extremely helpful and friendly. We all had the Chicken Noodle Soup to warm up after a cooler-than-expected afternoon visit to the Zoo, and I followed with the Iskender Kabob, with shaved pieces of meat (shawarma) in a rich tomato sauce over buttered bread that soaks up the delicious juices, and thick yogurt to go with it all.

Just what we needed to fortify us for a return to the Zoo for the night-time event! We were glad we’d toured most of the zoo during daylight, though — it allowed us to orient ourselves when we went back later.

The Nashville Zoo emphasizes naturalistic habitats for its denizens. While nothing can replace the wild for the animals, so many species on our planet are critically endangered that zoos may be the last refuge for them. The section called Gibbon Island is a little slice of woody heaven for the siamangs (below) and gibbons, who were in fine singing form.

The meerkats were adorable, either digging in the dirt or sitting in their characteristic sentry pose.

The red pandas, which aren’t actually pandas, but more closely related to weasels and raccoons, were one of the prettiest creatures there…

as was a magnificent Sumatran tiger.

I think the raucous pink flamingos got the most attention, constantly following each other around their enclosure and picking fights. They weren’t bothered at all by the proximity of the visitors, even though we were able to get close enough to see their very beautiful plumage.

Paths throughout are quite lovely, and although relatively small, the zoo is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

But at night, the grounds are completely transformed by Zoolumination, running from November 18th, 2022 to February 4, 2023. Over a thousand stunning custom-made silk ‘lanterns’ in a myriad of shapes and vignettes, light up the darkness, illustrating Chinese lore and legend.

There are illuminated signs describing each scene.

The lighted shapes are incredibly detailed and gorgeous. Here’s a close-up look at two of the cranes.

Even the wooded paths between scenes are decorated.

All the scenes are full of colour and life, glowing vividly against the darkness.

Winged tigers look you in the eye…

silken peach blossoms guide you along,

and sea creatures cavort both above and below the water of a small lake.

A massive Chinese dragon…

leads the way to a breathtaking replica of a 9th-10th century Lantern Festival in Chang ‘an, the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty. According to the description, on Shang Yuan night, people would stroll the city, “admiring the lanterns, eating sweet rice dumplings, guessing lantern riddles, shooting off fireworks…dancing, stilt walking…and enjoying other folk performances”. Walking the path past the brilliantly-lit scenes was like stepping back in time to a glittering festival.

How wonderful it would have been to enjoy the festival live, centuries ago, amid the grace and culture of the Tang Dynasty.

Beyond the festival, our path continued into North Pole Village, where we enjoyed lovely and traditional scenes to wrap up the season.

It was a truly magical way to spend part of New Year’s Eve, especially for families. The paths are almost completely handicapped-accessible, although one rope-and-plank bridge proved to be a bit tricky for someone in a motorized wheelchair. Standard wheelchairs and motorized scooters are available to rent for a low fee on site, and although they can’t be reserved in advance, there were quite a few in stock.

The photos I’ve posted are just a small handful of all the things to see during this time at the zoo. If you’re looking for a great place to spend some of the December holidays in the future, I highly recommend Nashville. Stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center if you can — it’s a special holiday destination all on its own. Maybe a resolution to make for 2023 that’s going to be a lot more fun than most New Year resolutions 😉

All photos were taken by me, are posted at a lower resolution and may not be used without my express permission. E. Jurus

Our perceptions of the world around us

Gardens are inherently soothing spaces

Guests to my home, the one hubby and I have carefully decorated together, invariably make one of two comments: a) they find it very relaxing, and b) it reminds them of Indiana Jones’ house in the famous movies. Both of those reactions are exactly what we were going for.

When we bought our house early in our marriage, neither of us had a really strong sense of style. The house is a pretty standard 1960s raised bungalow; what we liked about it was all the large windows and flowing spaces that give it a feeling of airiness. But how to put our mark on it? After months of waffling, I decided to cut photos of rooms that I liked out of decorating magazines, using only my gut response without analysis. When I’d assembled enough of them, I could see that they all had one thing in common: they were all decorated in earthy tones with natural textures.

There were two other influences after that. The first was a visit to the home of friends of a friend. It came about when hubby and I were deciding where to travel to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. My long-standing dream was to visit Egypt, which became possible that year while the political situation there was relatively quiet. Hubby was kind of on-board, but still had some reservations, so a good friend of ours suggested we go and talk to good friends of his, who’d not only been to Egypt but had travelled to many countries and could give us a broad perspective.

Their house was wonderful, full of artifacts from their travels. Walking inside it immediately made one want to pack bags and set off on an adventure; we loved it so much that we decided to bring the same feeling to our own home. After that visit, we did book a tour of Egypt and had a sensational time.

But it was Indy’s house in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that put the final touches on the feel of our home. We buy a piece of artwork in every place that we visit – a brass hookah in a market in Cairo, a heavy bell from a small antique shop in Bangkok, a carved mask in Bali, a hand-woven basket in Botswana – and although these pieces don’t have the archeological weight of Indy’s collection, when visitors to our home make those comments, we feel we’ve achieved what we set out to.

I bring this up because just this morning I read an article about how we use more than just five senses when we react to different environments. In 5 senses? In fact, architects say there are 7 ways we perceive our environments, we learn that architects design buildings that appeal to more than just sight, sound, smell, taste and feel. They also take into account our unconscious response to a place’s environment – its setting (wide open, as in a desert landscape, or tucked away inside, say, a forest) and ambience. Small spaces with lower ceilings tend to feel cozy, for example, while cavernous spaces can be overwhelming.

On a personal level, I find very noisy, busy spaces really tiring. Here’s an example from several years ago that struck me on the spot. Hubby and I were Christmas shopping at our large local mall, which was full of people bumping into each and a lot of general hubbub. We stuck it out to get the last of our gifts, but on the way home we decided to stop at a Harvey’s joint and pick up some hamburgers. There was hardly anyone in there (probably all at the mall!), so it was nice and quiet, and the interior was quite cozy on a cold December night, with lower ceilings and a few holiday decorations, and I noticed how quickly I relaxed inside – so much so that it felt like the perfect soft wrap-up to a hard, crazy day.

I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ deliberately. Have you ever noticed how very soft clothing, like a cozy sweater or hoodie, can instantly relax you, as compared to something stiff or scratchy? My home is decorated with furniture and colours that make me feel the same as putting on a soft sweater. It seems to resonate with our guests as well.

On our travels, hubby and I have encountered all kinds of ‘spaces’, some that are awe-inspiring, some that are soothing, and everything in between.

View from our over-water bungalow at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort

We had the great fortune to be able to stay in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti several years ago. Air Tahiti Nui was offering a fantastic promotion, with flights to Tahiti and New Zealand as well as three free nights accommodation in Tahiti, and for a fairly low price I was able to upgrade us to a hotel with those bungalows you see in exotic photos. It was a remarkable experience. The sound of water gently lapping against the pylons supporting the bungalow was so soothing, we’d shut off the air and open the windows at night, and just drift off into the best sleeps we’ve ever had.

Classic pub decor in London, England

British pubs are the epitome of coziness, with lots of wood, homey decor, and often fireplaces that burn warmly during chilly weather. The food is always comforting, the beer and tea always hit the spot, and the ambience is always welcoming when you need to rest your weary feet after several hours of touring.

A small section of Victoria Falls from the Zambian side

For a sense of awe, it’s hard to beat Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, during high water season. Since we live within easy drive of Niagara Falls, to be honest I was wondering how much we’d be impressed with Vic Falls, but it’s famous and we went to see it. You can hear Mosi-oa-Tunya, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ in the local language, well before you can see it, but as we walked along the stone-paved pathway to the Falls and got our first sight of them, my jaw quite literally fell open, just like you read about. We were there in April, right after the rainy season, when every second millions of gallons of the Zambezi River cascade 330 feet down into a snaking chasm, sending a thick mist over 1,000 feet into the air and making so much noise you can’t hear each other speak.

The intricate spiritual spaces of Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico

Recently, we were awed by several places in New Mexico – the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, the striated rock walls in the wide open desert landscape, the massive and spiritual ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Park, and the enormous radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (you may have seen those in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster).

Being in nature tends to be very soothing and refreshing. There are numerous theories why, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, whenever I need to decompress I go for a walk in one of our local gardens or wooded areas, and I’m certainly not alone in doing that.

The architecture article even mentions our perceptions of time as being a factor. Driving across wide-open spaces tends to feel longer because our destination always seems to be so far away, or while flying across an ocean I’d add, while crossing denser spaces feels shorter, presumably because we have frames of reference that indicate movement. That may also be why rooms crowded with stuff feel smaller and less relaxing than rooms with less clutter.

It’s a fascinating perspective on how and why different people and cultures live, now and far back in time, the way that they do. I remember visiting a church in Austria that was so crusted with gold inside that it felt anti-spiritual, more about the excess of money thrown at it than the religious experience. Hubby and I drive past the mammoth, ostentatious homes built along the Niagara River that are clearly more about showing off than living comfortably. Next time you go out and about, notice your reactions; they may guide you in making your home a sanctuary from the chaos of our modern times.

All photos are by me and none may be used without my permission. E. Jurus

Working hard, so a little sharing

The month of November has almost drawn to a close, and those of us trying to produce 50,000 words of a new novel for National Novel Writing Month re writing frantically by now. This year I’m working on Book 3, the final chapter of my Chaos Roads urban fantasy/sci-fi trilogy. Even though I’m still setting up Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, for Kindle publication (soon, check back for more info!), the last part of the story is taking wonderful shape and I want to finish the month with it well along its way. For this week’s blog, then, I’m sending any interested readers over to my Author Blog, where you can read about a movie-inspired visit to Carlsbad Caverns, where some of the underground scenes in 1959’s classic A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was filmed. My hubby and I spent some time in New Mexico recently, and the Caverns were one of the highlights! I hope you enjoy reading about them, and I’ll catch up with you in two weeks. In future posts I’ll also share more of the wonders of a state that everyone, to a person, asked why we were going to visit. Oh, so many great reasons!

Cheers, Erica