Inspire Me! blog

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

3 great reasons to love Autumn

Fall colours in the Niagara Gorge October 2022

Colours, cooler temperatures and lots of leaves to crunch underfoot — these are some of my favourite things about autumn. I don’t do well in the hot and humid summers we typically get, although this year’s wasn’t bad at all, to my great relief. When the thermometer’s hitting 32 degrees Celsius or 90 Fahrenheit, and the humidity’s also that high, summer can be like walking around in a steam bath. A lot of people become ill in those summers, and I’m invariably hiding inside to avoid throbbing migraines brought on by the blazing sunshine and heat. I start to relax when Autumn sets in.

There’s something so cozy about our Autumns, snuggling into a toasty sweater or hoodie and strolling along hiking trails or through farm markets. As soon as pumpkins show up, I’m bringing home four or five in different colours to decorate our front porch, and I start cooking hearty stews and baking cakes to have with a cup of hot tea.

Southern Ontario has been blessed with glorious fall colours this year. That isn’t always the case; what’s needed are

  • cold snaps (without frost, according to experts) to tell the trees that winter’s coming and it’s time to stop producing the green chlorophyll pigment which produces energy from sunlight and settle into their dormant winter state, and
  • enough rainfall to nourish the trees so that they keep their leaves long enough for the other pigments to shine once the chlorophyll disappears.

Normally we southerners have to go farther north in our province to see such vivid colours, and in many years the leaves are all on the ground by Halloween, which is fun to walk around in but a little depressing. We’re not guaranteed such splendour, and when I was out taking these photos, a lot of other people were out making the most of the beauty as well.

This October, Mother Nature had her entire palette out.

Moving into November, the trees were about half-bare, creating a fabulous carpet of crisp fallen leaves to walk around on. It’s a simple pleasure, but a profound one, and the first few leaves on the ground every year are a harbinger of autumn pleasures.

Once the leaves start to fall, we get to appreciate the sculptural art of the plants themselves. The mottled bark of some trees…

…the colours and shapes of giant leaves as they pack up for the winter…

…ripened berries offering food for birds and animals that winter here…

…the mellower autumn sun highlighting the shapes of plants getting ready for sleep…

So for those of you who don’t have the magic of Autumn on your doorstep, I hope these images will give you a little virtual taste of it.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. A selection of my best photos are available for purchase in a number of formats on my site at Fine Art America.

Conquering the pestilence of malaria, a modern-day bogey

Wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Pestilence, aka Death, is one of the terrifying Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a group of End of Days riders described in Chapter 6, verses 1-8 in the Book of Revelation of the Bible. They each ride on a colored horse and represent some aspect of impending doom.

In the Book, a heavenly being called the Lamb opens seven seals that portend the Second Coming of Christ. Biblical analysts are divided as to whether the passage was meant to be an actual prediction, some sort of moral allegory, or a commentary during the period when the Christian Church was being heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire.

However you look at it, it’s scary stuff that has provided great fodder for fantasy/horror novels, as well as on television in the Sleepy Hollow series.

The rider of the white horse wears a crown, holds a bow, and rides as a conqueror. Opinions on its identity is also divided between Christ and the Antichrist. The red horse is fiery, and its rider holds a large sword and causes War. Riding the black horse, the rider carries a set of scales to measure wheat and barley, and is believed to represent Famine, possibly as a result of War.

The fourth horseman is described as riding a “pale” horse and is given the name Death. He’s closely followed by Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and has the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and also by the wild beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7-8). Chloros is the actual description for the horse in the Bible, Greek for a yellowish-green but with an ashen cast – it was translated into “pale”, the hue of the very ill and dead.

Many widespread plagues have killed millions of people throughout history, but in modern times we’re much better at conquering them, thankfully, even though they still strike fear into humans. Happily, one of the long-standing diseases plaguing much of Africa, Asia and South America – malaria – now has a new foe in the battle: a vaccine!

My hubby and I have been travelling for decades to countries with a variety of endemic diseases, most of which had prevention through some form of vaccination, either oral or through injection. Malaria, however, wasn’t one of them, and it’s a scary disease that has been killing more than 400,000 people a year, even though insecticides and netting for beds have been widely in use.

Malaria is a parasite, transmitted through a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasites travel to a person’s, or animal’s, liver through the bloodstream, where they reproduce and cause all kinds of problems. They manifest primarily as an initial period of intense chills, shivering and fever, followed by sweating, headache, muscle pain, and other increasingly worse conditions. Symptoms usually don’t show up until ten days to two weeks after infection, so it’s one of those sneaky delayed diseases.

Preventative medication works – hubby and I have taken it many times – but it’s always been a cumbersome regimen. Up to now, travellers have had to start taking the medication for one to two weeks before arrival in the country where the disease is present (depending on the drug), all the way through the trip, and for four to eight weeks after returning home, to make sure that all the parasites you might have picked up have been killed in all stages of their life cycle.

Quinine was the first medication created to treat and prevent malaria. It comes from the bark of a tree in Peru called cinchona, and as early as the 1600s was brought back to Spain by Jesuit missionaries. Tropical outposts of the British Empire mixed quinine with soda and sugar to mask the bitterness of the quinine, and then put it into gin cocktails to get soldiers to take it – hence the classic Gin and Tonic. Now you know what gives tonic its somewhat bitter taste – never been a favourite of mine, but I do know some people who like the cocktail.

Malaria, once you’ve gotten it, is never fully cured. Symptoms can recur for years. One of the pharmacies I worked in as a technician years ago had a number of older war veterans as clients who continued to suffer bouts of the disease from time to time.

As a form of pestilence, malaria ranks with the best due to its pervasiveness. At one time it infested every continent except Antarctica – even Canada and the U.S., where it flourished in swampy areas that mosquitoes love to breed in. In my province of Ontario, it spread through early settlers from Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) to Cataraqui (now Kingston). It was so common that it was considered unusual if a newcomer didn’t develop ‘fever and ague’ within a year or two of arriving. In both countries, drainage of large tracts of marshy breeding grounds was the main weapon in eradicating malaria as an endemic disease, but other countries continue to battle it.

You see the scale of the problem, and why the development of a vaccine is such great news, and is being hailed as “world-changing”. It’s the work of scientists at Oxford University, and trials have shown up to 80% protection. In addition, it’s not expensive to produce and can be widely deployed, lessening the number of people who get it and then infect more mosquitoes. It’s expected to prevent 1,7 billion cases and save 10.6 million lives.

So, knocking on wood (literally) as I write this, we’ll hopefully force the fourth Horsemen to remove one piece of pestilence from his roster.

For more information on the fight against the disease, visit the website of Malaria No More.

All maps are biased

If you’re a traveller, physical or armchair, you’ve examined a map or two. Schools have to change their maps as countries and boundaries change. But we rarely think about how each country or territory is delineated – we just accept that what we’re looking at on a current map is gospel.

However, borders have not only been wrangled over throughout history, they continue to be to this day. A website called Metrocosm offers an interactive map that shows current disputed borders, Mapping Every Disputed Territory in the World. According to their accompanying article, “at least 124 countries (or “would-be” countries) are involved in a territorial dispute of some kind”.

Maps are inherently biased – they show what the map-maker chooses to show.

Have you ever drawn someone a map to get to your house for a party, for example? In doing so, you choose your reference points – things that will allow the reader to orient themselves – and leave out unimportant details. You’ll probably indicate several major streets that surround your home, perhaps indicate a couple of landmarks that will help drivers navigate, and offer some details about your abode to look for, such as a brown brick, 2-storey home with white shutters, or a 10-storey beige apartment building. You’ll list your house number, or the street address of your apartment/condo, but you won’t list every other building number, or the fact that there’s a bus stop or fire hydrant out front (typically).

So, ultimately, you’re giving them edited information. The same holds true for all map-makers. Every piece of information about a location can’t possibly be included, and choices are made regarding what should be listed.

When it comes to larger concerns like border divisions, the map-maker has even more choices ahead. The size of the map dictates how much information can realistically be included, and the larger the landscape, the harder it is to lay it out accurately if on a flat, i.e. two-dimensional map, because, of course, we live on a big roundish ball.

Cartographers have wrestled with this dilemma since the 3rd century BC, when Greek philosophers and astronomers determined that our planet is round and were actually able to calculate its circumference. The problem was solved by the creation of globes, a more accurate representation of the geography of the Earth.

The laying out of empires, countries, territories, provinces, states and other political divisions has fluctuated regularly over millennia. Massive empires have risen and fallen, like Alexander the Great’s, which now covers many smaller, independent countries.

Map of Alexander’s empire and his route — By Generic Mapping Tools – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=656066

WWI changed the world’s map considerably. The Russian Empire broke into Poland, the Baltics, Finland and Poland, while the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created the countries of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. (Watch a descriptive video on the Business Insider website.) Since then, Yugoslavia itself has split into seven different countries.

So how do map-makers keep up? With a great deal of frustration, possibly. However, digital maps can be easily changed. Globes, however, are time capsules of the world situation when they were created.

According to a fascinating article on Afar, The Politics of Globes, there’s actually no governing body to oversee the legitimacy of maps, as inconceivable as that might seem. And so cartographers can draw anything they want, and maps have often been used as political propaganda.

For example, a map of the world create in 1910 by cartographer Arthur Mees used large flags to show how “Great Britain has built up a great empire, because, wherever her influence has gone, she has planted the seeds of freedom…”. In reality, the “freedom” part was hardly true. Indigenous cultures, in particular, are still fighting the effects of colonialism, including right here in Canada, and would hardly have agreed with Mees’ portrayal of the empire.

By Mees, Arthur, 1850-1923 – Mee, Arthur. 1910. The Childrens' Encyclopaedia. Vol. 2.Cornell University: Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46308345

When my hubby and I visited Zimbabwe and Zambia, we were well aware of Britain’s exploitation of the former country/region of Rhodesia, which was demarcated by the British South Africa Company.

Bisected by the Zambezi River, the region was split into Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and was overseen by the infamous Cecil Rhodes, the company’s founder and managing director. His activities were so reprehensible that there have been campaigns to change the name of the prestigious scholarship in his name at Oxford University. In October 2019 the head of the scholarship program, Elizabeth Kiss, stated that changing the name would be “running away” from the colonial legacy, while campaigners insist that there should be no celebration of the man who basically started apartheid. (You can read more about the Cecil Rhodes controversy on the BBC website.)

Today, you can walk across the bridge that Rhodes built to cross the Zambezi and link the two former regions, now separate countries. You’ll need a visa to cross the border, and there are interesting things to see on either side, including very different view of the spectacular Victoria Falls, which explorer David Livingstone named after his queen, but which is called something quite different in the local culture.

Victoria Falls Bridge straddles the Zambezi River, joining Zambia and Zimbabwe – photo by E. Jurus and all rights reserved

As people returns to travelling around our globe, whenever you consult a map or cross a border, remember that you’re dealing with many layers of history and shifting politics, and that the situation you see today may not be the same in twenty, a hundred or a thousand years.

The golden days of late summer

I’ve never been a fan of Summer — too hot and humid for me (at least in my neck of the woods), and the contrast of light and shadow is harsh. Late Summer is alright. The daytimes are mellower, the nights are cool enough to open the windows at night for a fresh breeze, and the odd day holds a promise of fall weather.

Just as we start to change our clothing over, so do gardens. The sunflowers have shed their golden collars and are going to seed.

Chestnut trees are bursting with ripening nuts.

The vegetable section of our local teaching botanical garden is lush with fall produce.

The garden is displaying a little trickery — the eggplants have turned white…

…while the peppers are deep purple.

A rainbow of onions are free of their soil beds.

Apparently, once artichokes bloom, the artichoke itself becomes inedible, but the flowers attract bees and can be dried for arrangements.

Monarch butterflies are enjoying the gardens as well.

The afternoon sunlight has a gentler tone at this time of year.

In the rose garden, some of the blossoms are beginning to fade a little.

A few of the lotus flowers have begun dropping their leaves, leaving just a seed pod and a lacy frill of stamens behind.

But soon the autumn coats will come out, flaunting their gorgeous colours to make the evergreens look even richer.

Now’s the time to get out and enjoy Nature’s last glorious party before the winter sleep!

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