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!

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.

For love of our global home

Here in southern Ontario the heat of August has finally broken, and it’s been an absolute delight to be able to open the windows of our houses to let fresh air back in.

We’ve had hot summers before, so this year’s wasn’t anything new, but around the world the signs of climate change are unmistakable – melting polar snow, widespread forest fires, increasingly powerful hurricanes.

A study of impacts globally during the past 50 years (1970 to 2019 ) from weather, climate and water extremes, has shown that climate-related disasters are now five times higher than they used to be, with an enormous cost to the local economies. It’s been estimated that the fires in British Columbia this summer cost $600 million dollars just to fight them, much less the lives lost, compromised health and damages to homes and business disruptions.

Last month the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released an assessment of the current dire condition our planet is in: we must take action immediately in order to prevent a catastrophic future in as little as twenty years. Some of the changes that have already happened will take hundreds of years to reverse..

Lots of people are working on the problem, but it’s our job as average citizens to understand the seriousness of the issue, to value what we’ve been blessed with until now and to help in any way we can.

KAIROS Canada, a coalition of religious organizations across denominations, along with advocates from around the world interested in human rights and the preservation of our planet, has designated September as Climate Action Month, and as a graduate in ecological and environmental science myself, I’ll be following some of their initiatives throughout the month.

If you’re wondering what you can do, KAIROS’ 30-day Challenge Card will give you some ideas:

You can download the 30-Day Challenge ACTION Card for yourself and track your actions.   

Today I’m fulfilling Actions 2, 6, 18, 20 and 27 all in the same post. I engaged in some Forest Bathing today in a local conservation area called Woodend on top of the Niagara Escarpment to absorb all the healing aspects of a simple walk in the woods and to collect samples of the beauty of nature all around us to share with you. Here’s just a little of what I found.

Cool, aromatic trails through the forest
Tiny flowers have amazingly elaborate structures
Clearings contain a complex layering of inhabitants, through which white butterflies dance from flower to flower
Throughout the area massive blocks of dolomitic limestone create jumbled landscapes
Nearby, this bark-less fallen chunk of tree has strange markings — maybe trails of subcutaneous insects that once lived there?
Another fallen trunk sports a collection of woodland fungi
Forest bathing is all about taking a break from everyday life and letting the sights, sounds, scents and healthy atmosphere of a forest replenish you. It’s important to notice all the layers; here the trail underfoot is dry and cracked from the heat and limited rainfall of the past few weeks.
Wild rose shrubs dot the airier edges of the forest, now sporting their rose hips, or haws, for the transition into autumn
This fallen trunk houses an ethereal spider web and accessories of dried leaves
A patch of bright red berries on the sunny forest fringe
Wild apples (crabapples) hang temptingly for the region’s white-tailed deer population
A wide path cut through part of the woods draws visitors in with its peace and shade

All of that in one tiny corner of our world, free for anyone to enjoy. Imagine if in twenty years or so none of that was there.

Bees, for example, are in great danger of disappearing, and that would be disastrous. Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants – including more than 100 different food crops: fruits, vegetables, forage for dairy and beef cattle, herbs, spices, nuts, medicinal plants and the many ornamental plants we love in our gardens. Without the humble little bee flitting around, working away, we all face starvation.

Forests clean our air. They also shelter thousands of species of animals around the world. According to Reset.org, one 100-year-old oak tree every year binds about 5,000 pounds of carbon and gives off enough oxygen to support eleven people. At the same time, the roots absorb about 40,000 liters of water from the soil every year, which it “sweats out” through the leaves to work like a giant air conditioner. On top of that, the tree filters about one tonne of dust and pollutants from the air.

Without trees, we all face climatic disaster.

I think a lot of people believe that humans are the only important species on the planet, but they’re so wrong. Earth is a massive interconnected system that depends on millions of creatures, both plant and animal, to function properly. Without all of them, humans are doomed.

How can you help? By supporting everyone who’s working so hard to change things for the better. Recycle, sign petitions to our governments, support the plants and animals we have left.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that more than 37,400 species of all kinds are currently threatened with extinction, but the actual number is even higher because there are many more species that simply haven’t been assessed yet – or even discovered!

International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, www.iucnredlist.org/

Every species counts. One petition that came to my inbox today illustrates the importance of everyone making their voice heard so that our governments realize we want them to preserve our planet, not big business.

Would you allow someone to dismantle your own home bit by bit, until there was nothing left to shelter and nourish you? Of course not. So let’s not let big business do that to our global home.

All photos by me and all rights reserved.

Steam heat

We’ve been living in a regional sauna lately — heat warnings most days this month. I go out as little as possible when the weather’s like this, mainly for groceries and to water our drooping garden plants.

By late August I’m longing for cool autumn weather — which looks like it’s still pretty far away — so for this post I’ll share some photos I took on one of the rare rainy days a couple of weeks ago, up at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. My brother and I spent some time strolling Hendrie Park, until the rain became torrential, lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us. We felt sorry for the two wedding parties there that day!

Just looking at these photos makes me feel cooler; I hope they affect you the same way 🙂

Widespread cloud cover took the edge off the heat while we walked the pathways.
Magnificent rust-toned sunflowers nodding way over my head
I like the contrast of these fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers with their huge shiny leaves
An explosion of colour against cool green leaves
Dragonflies welded together in a mating dance landed briefly by this crimson water lily
These soft creamy day lilies reminded me of sheer lacy curtains waving in a summer breeze
Spot the Monarch butterfly
Pale lavender roses epitomize coolness
The stormy sky reflected in a pond shortly before the rain blew in

Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping cool while this month burns its way into the history books.

My alternative to Christmas in July

The first hole of Royal Portrush, where the Open Championship was held in 2019, on a typical damp, chilly day

My hubby and I were in New Zealand on October 31 several years ago, and it was one of the oddest Halloweens we’ve ever spent.

October is a Spring month below the equator, and flowers were blooming all over the place – lots of white or pink flowering trees on front lawns. There wasn’t a pumpkin or anything orange in sight.

In Christchurch on the South Island, our overnight stop, Halloween was pretty much a wash. There were a couple of perfunctory Halloween events, which were sold out, but nothing public was decorated – no glowing jack-o’-lanterns on front porches, or corn stalks, or string lights, or anything for us to drive around and enjoy.

The local grocery store had some cute themed signs at the entrance, but it soon became obvious that trick-or-treating is not a thing in New Zealand: we couldn’t find a single package of Halloween candy on the shelves. Rather dejected, we bought a box of marshmallow cookies and went back to our Top 10 holiday park unit to watch vintage horror movies on the telly.

In the New Zealand media there was some talk of moving their Halloween celebration to the end of March, and we could see their point: at least there would be cool weather, fall colours, and the opportunity to grow pumpkins for pie and jack-o’-lanterns. I’ve never seen anything come of that, however.

Christmas, too, is a little topsy-turvy ‘down under’, taking place smack dab in the middle of their summer, when it’s hot and people go to the beach. So apparently it’s quite a thing in both Australia and New Zealand to celebrate “Christmas in July”, taking advantage of their cold season, and possibly even some snow, to celebrate a second time more atmospherically.

We’ve been to a ‘Christmas in July’ party here at home, where the host strung Christmas lights along the pool fence and served barbecued turkey, but it’s never really caught on in Canada – except on the Hallmark television channel.

My hubby and I have our own version of Christmas in July, and it’s called Open Week – as in the July week when the Open Golf Championship is played somewhere in Great Britain (it rotates through several different courses in England, Scotland and Ireland).

I love Open Week – this very week, as a matter of fact – for several reasons.

Number One is watching the golfers battle some of the nastiest golf weather on the planet. It’s rare to see the sun out during the tournament; more often than not it’s chilly and overcast. Sometimes there are gale-force winds and pouring rain.

I enjoy this because our summers here in southern Ontario are usually unbearably hot and humid, so I spend Open Week sheltered inside the house, not with a fire in the hearth but with the air conditioning blowing, and pretending that I’m in the cool damp of the tournament.

Number Two is the golf. The Open is always full of drama – at least in part because of the wild weather, but also because the courses are challenging and the players can’t just pound it down the fairway. They have to use every ounce of strategy they can devise, often trying to rescue themselves from a pot bunker that’s deeper than they are tall or thick fescue grass that will ensnare their club as they try to hit out of it, all of which makes for great golf.

Number Three is the British food that I make all week long. This is where the ‘Christmas in July’ part comes in.

There aren’t really any decorations to put out, but there’s slow-cooked oatmeal with cream and brown sugar, along with a slice of buttered toast and a cup of tea, for breakfast. For afternoon tea there might be fresh-baked scones with crème fraiche and strawberry jam, shortbread cookies, Eccles cakes and Hobnobs (round oatmeal wafers with a top coat of chocolate). At dinner, while we watch a replay of the day’s rounds (which were played in the wee hours of the morning by Eastern Standard Time), we’ll have hearty food that makes me think of cold weather and my favourite season, Autumn – maybe Shepherd’s Pie, a good curry dish, Sausage and Cider Stew, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.

Just like at Christmas, we enjoy a little license to have extra desserts – Raspberry Trifle, or perhaps layered deep-chocolate cake with thick chocolate frosting, sliced and sitting in a creamy pool of pouring custard. I could be an honorary Brit just based on our shared love of sweets, of which they make some of the best.

When you combine the 149-year history, tradition and atmosphere of the tournament with great food and a little break from our day-to-day lives, you get something special. If you’re a non-golfer, it might not be your idea of an alternative to Christmas in July. But if you need a break from a long hot summer, find some excuse to chill out for a week, literally and mentally. And if you’re one of the people who love summer and everything about it, well, to each their own 😉