“Sometimes we gazed through a succession of arches, its course very like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral. The great artistic sculptors and builders of the Middle Ages might have here completed their studies with advantage.” Chapter 16, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne
I was introduced to Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre through the awesome movie made in 1959. My dad and I would watch it every time it aired, on Sunday afternoons; it was one of our favourite things to do together. As I later found out, the movie retains the overall premise from the book, but otherwise differed substantially to make it such an exciting visual adventure. According to Wikipedia, the script-writer, Walter Reisch, said that “The master’s work, though a beautiful basic idea, went in a thousand directions and never achieved a real constructive “roundness”.” 1
Reisch changed the professor who instigates the journey to Scottish, and his nephew, who accompanied him on the great adventure, to one of his enthusiastic geology students. The professor was still crusty, and played with panache by James Mason, while the student was played by a young and handsome Pat Boone who got to lose his shirt for female viewers, and the beautiful Arlene Dahl was added for a love interest deep in the bowels of the earth. The script was delightful, the actors wonderful and the special effects superb, and Hollywood produced a movie that can be watched time and time again.
One day I’d love to go to Iceland, to visit the volcano mentioned in the book and movie: Snæfellsjökull. It’s a real place, and though I have no plans to get inside it, I’d love to see it in person. None of the movie was filmed in that country, and Verne himself never actually went there to gather background material for his novel, but the landscape is such a vivid part of the viewing and reading experience.
Some of the underground scenes were filmed in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, in a massive cave called the Big Room, and my hubby and I made a point of going there on our recent vacation. We’ve been to other cave systems, including Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and Luray Caverns in Virginia, so I wasn’t sure how impressed we’d be with Carlsbad, but given how much I love the movie, it was a must-see.
The park lies about twenty minutes away from the small city of Carlsbad, out in the Chihuahuan desert, which of course looks nothing like Iceland, but it’s what’s inside the mountain that you drive to the top of that matters (although the desert is full of things to see as well).
The caverns have been forming for about 250 million years, from an area that was once part of an inland sea. As a result, the limestone of the area was full of carbon-based fossils, which transformed into a really unique interior as tectonic movement shoved the former reef over 4,000 feet into the air.
To visit the Big Room, which is one of the most accessible parts of the Caverns, you take an elevator down 750 feet from the Visitor Centre at the top deep into the mountain. (Hopefully you’re not claustrophobic.)
Disembarking at the bottom into a spacious underground room, follow the sign to the self-guided tour. The trail, though very walkable, is 2km long (1.25 miles); if you can’t manage the entire thing, there’s a shortcut.
Let me say that the Big Room is one of the most spectacular things my hubby and I have ever seen, and through 24 different countries, that’s saying a lot. Mother Nature always wins, and Carlsbad is no exception. The handful of photos below give you only a sense of how magnificent Carlsbad is; you really have to experience it yourself. They’re all taken without a flash, showing the drama of the shapes that have formed over millions of years, and are continuing to transform.
The Big Room is so massive that it’s impossible to take a photo of the entire thing – about 4,000 feet long, or 11 football fields. It’s the largest single cave in the U.S. by volume, rising up to over 200 feet high. I couldn’t find information about where exactly the filming took place, but it was a brilliant choice!
Great art, in whatever form, inspires people to explore further, and we’re so lucky to live in a world that provides the opportunities. For more information about Carlsbad, visit the NPS website.
All photos were taken by me. They’re posted at lower resolution than the originals, and may not be used without my permission. E. Jurus
Hi everyone. I’m taking a break this week, as I had to have some minor surgery yesterday and am recovering. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure or possible inspiration, the photo above is one that I took at the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico recently. See you next week.
Tickled orange! I’m coining a new phrase to describe how I feel every September and October.
Orange is one of my favourite colours, in small doses. That may sound contradictory, but a little orange goes a long way. A friend of mine loved the colour so much that she wore orange outfits frequently and painted her entire living room tangerine – attractive, but I couldn’t visit when I had a migraine.
The colour sits between red and yellow on the spectrum, meaning scientifically that our eyes perceive it when through light between 585 and 620 nanometres. (For sci-fi novels that might be important.) It’s named after the classic citrus fruit whose juice makes Screwdriver cocktails and Creamsicle martinis so delicious.
Orange as an English word comes from the Old French for the fruit, pomme d’orange, which in turn was derived sequentially from Italian arancia, based on Arabic and earlier roots.
Artists as far back as ancient Egypt used an orange colour for skin tones on their famous murals, made from a reddish-orange mineral called realgar, an arsenic sulfide compound that would have been very toxic to work with, as so many of the early pigments were.
Orpiment, a related yellowish-orange mineral (also toxic), was more in use by medieval times, as it had been an important trade good in the Roman Empire. It was common in illuminated manuscripts.
Interestingly, it was also in use as a medicine in China, despite its toxicity. Its name was a contraction of the Latin word for gold (aurum) and colour (pigmentum), and coupled with its yellowish tinge, medieval alchemists thought it might help them make gold, and ultimately the Philosopher’s Stone.
In the late 15th and early 16th century, Portuguese merchants brought the first orange trees to Europe from Asia, along with the Sanskrit word naranga, which eventually morphed into our current English name.
The old Latin word for orange fruits was pomon, and by the 18th century orange was sometimes used to depict the robes of Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance; she was a popular subject in paintings and sculpture. her name came from the, the Latin word for fruit.
Initially oranges were an exotic delicacy in Europe, England, and even North America, but they became more common thanks to the invention of the heated greenhouse in the 17th century. Wealthy homes had buildings of this type attached; they were called orangeries. There’s a well-known one at Kensington Palace in London (the official London residence of The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, including Princess Diana), where you can enjoy a lovely Afternoon Tea.
A French scientist discovered the mineral lead chromate In 1797, which led to the invention of the synthetic pigment chrome orange. The Pre-Raphaelites in Britain loved the colour, using it particularly to paint shades of red hair. The Impressionists prized orange for depictions of the sun and its reflection in water, especially because they understood colour theory and how beautifully orange and blue compliment each other. Some painters used it straight from the tube, like Renoir, while others mixed their own custom hues, like Cezanne.
Toulouse-Lautrec used orange regularly to represent gaiety in his paintings of Parisian clubs and cafes in turn-of-the-century Paris, while for Van Gogh orange, together with yellow, captured the glorious sunlight in Provence. He often contrasted his yellows and oranges with blue and violet, apparently writing to his brother that he was “searching for oppositions of blue with orange, of red with green, of yellow with violet, searching for broken colours and neutral colours to harmonize the brutality of extremes, trying to make the colours intense, and not a harmony of greys.”
In modern times, orange’s visibility has made it a popular colour for certain kinds of clothing and equipment, like life jackets that can easily be spotted by search-and-rescue, vests worn by cyclists and highway workers to avoid being hit, astronauts to highlight them in space and against the blue of the ocean when they splash down.
On the flip side, it’s also been used for prison uniforms to make escapees easier to spot. The ‘black boxes’ on airplanes are actually bright orange so they can be found more easily, and some warning icons used orange to indicate danger.
Orange, like all colours, has a split personality. In Paganism, orange represents energy, attraction, vitality, and stimulation, and Buddhist monks are famous for their saffron-orange robes, but in Christianity, orange represents the Deadly Sin of Gluttony, because of its association with fruitfulness. It can be a decidedly vivid colour, as in the clothing of various cultures around the world.
As a wall colour, it can be unexpected, spicy and pungent, especially when used in a normally sedate setting like a monastery.
But the ubiquitous fall fruit, pumpkin, produces a mellower colour of orange that, for lovers of the flavour, instantly makes our mouths water.
International orange is a deep, medium orange hue used by the aerospace industry to differentiate certain objects from their backgrounds, surroundings or other objects. It’s the colour of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to increase its visibility in fog.
If you’ve ever wondered why some street lights have an orange tinge, it’s because of the type of bulb. Most street lights are high-pressure sodium vapour (HPS), which give off a warmer light that I, for one, find soothing on the eyes. However, studies have shown that whiter lights give drivers better peripheral vision, leading to improved braking speeds. Sodium vapour lights are more efficient than the other bulb options, like incandescent, and have a much longer lifespan.
In colour psychology, orange is considered optimistic, energetic, dynamic and stimulating. It attracts attention without being too aggressive. It symbolizes adventure (probably another reason I love it 😉), spontaneity and creativity, although for some it represents exhibitionism and insincerity.
For me, orange represents all kinds of good things – the warmth of a wood fire in chilly weather, pumpkins (as in pies and jack o’lanterns during my favourite time of year), autumn leaves (after the green chlorophyll wanes) and sunsets.
I also like sweet potatoes (as in fries with spicy aioli dip), and carrots (such a useful and healthy vegetable), although before the 18th century, carrots from Asia were usually purple, while European carrots were either white or red. It was Dutch farmers who bred an orange variety, possibly as a tribute to William of Orange, ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands).
In nature, orange colours can represent toxicity, or just indicate the presence of a gorgeous Monarch butterfly.
Orange has become synonymous with Halloween, especially in combination with black, which it complements wonderfully.
If you haven’t been a fan of the colour orange, I hope it may now start to tickle your fancy. There are so many shades to love, and its appearance on trees signifies arguably the most beautiful, sensual season in the year — the season of cozy sweaters, wood smoke on a cool day, celebrating the spookiest date of the year with a big helping of goofiness (and treats), the warmth of a Thanksgiving table surrounded by friends and family … and pumpkin spice lattes!
All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved by me. E. Jurus
Having just read about a peculiar “Euro-Western” phenomenon called “plant blindness”, I wanted to write about how important it is for authors to pay attention to the world around us. Even when you’re creating your own fantasy world, the way that our environment functions can provide essential clues for populating your fictional world.
Plant blindness is defined as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment�leading to: (a) the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere, and in human affairs; (b) the inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of the life forms belonging to the Plant Kingdom; and (c) the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration (Wandersee & Schussler, 1998a).” Plant Science Bulletin, Issue: 2001 v47 No 1 Spring.
The venerable maxim about taking time to stop and smell the roses may yield a clue about why people might be plant-blind: they’re too busy to notice their own environment and the small delights it holds. Studies have shown how beneficial nature is to our mental health; I routinely spend time walking around gardens and natural spaces to decompress, whether it’s from the gloomy pall permeating news media lately, or irritating neighbours, or any other stressor in my life. There’s just something about hiking through the woods on a nice day, or basking in the glow of sunlit flowers in a garden, that’s both soothing and reviving. It reminds me that there are still places of quiet and tranquillity in a chaotic world.
Flowers in particular are such a gift to us — we need to appreciate their wonderful beauty. So in homage to plants, and with thanks to the many gardeners who create amazing places to restore our souls, I offer these images from several gardens I visited today. Maybe they’ll inspire a setting for one of your novel’s scenes, or just soothe your soul if you’re having a stressful day.
All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E Jurus
Did you know that there are 171, 146 words1 in use in the English language, plus another 47,1561 obsolete words? For writers, language is a rich and delightful playground. Like the great old radio dramas (The Shadow, Philo Vance, Dimension X, and the famously infamous War of the Worlds), we use ‘theatre of the mind’ to engage the imaginations of our readers.
The Foley artists who created the sound effects that helped radio audiences see the action and the settings in their minds used all kinds of techniques to replace the lack of visuals. Authors describe the action and settings, providing prose keyed to readers’ five senses, and one of these revolves around colour imagery.
I’ve always loved the lushly-coloured old movies filmed in Technicolor, ever since I first saw The Wizard of Oz, made in 1939.
The Technicolor process was actually a series of improvements beyond the British film industry’s Kinemacolor, starting in the 1930s. The three-color version was known for its new highly saturated color, and was used by Hollywood for the blockbusters pictures, like the Wiz, The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Gone with the Wind..
For The Wizard of Oz, the colour of Dorothy’s shoes was changed from silver in the books by L. Frank Baum to ruby specifically to take advantage of the new colour advances. It was a small, but wise decision – those ruby slippers became ultra-famous and iconic. In 1989, to honour the 50th anniversary of the movie, Harry Winston Co. even created a replica version, decorating them with approximately 1,500 carats in rubies and an additional 25 carats in diamonds. They’ve been valued at $3 million.
Colours are one of the ways we understand the world and appreciate its beauty. For writers and graphic designers, colours play a key role in how we get a message across with pizzazz. In honour of Earth Month, we’ll take a look at the colour Green.
I’ll bet you could easily name a dozen versions of green just off the top of your head – lime green, mint green, grass green, jade green, olive, emerald… A simple walk through a spring garden, such as the one I did the other day, will yield myriad shades of green:
Green is a complex colour, created by combining the two primary colours of blue and yellow. It has many shades and connotations.
When I think of the colour, it immediately makes me think of nature, freshness, renewal.
“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.” William Blake
Interestingly, though, there are negative associations with green as well: greed, envy, poison. For someone with allergies, the greens of springtime might conjure up visions of hay fever. It’s all in your perspective.
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on.” William Shakespeare
A few shades of green have been so iconic that they’re become famous and instantly recognizable. One of the earliest of these was Nile Green, also sometimes used interchangeably with Eau de Nil. I can tell you categorically that the waters of the Nile are not green (though perhaps they once were, when the Pyramids were young), and the origins of the nomenclature are murky. The best that I’ve been able to unearth is that somewhere in the haze of Egyptomania that gripped the fashionable world after Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, a light-to-medium green with perhaps a slight bluish undertone came to represent the exoticism of the Orient, and in particular Egypt.
A stunning pendant made around 1900 by a renowned French jeweller, George Fouquet, in collaboration with Alfonse Mucha, the Czech artist who captured Art Nouveau style, and now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, epitomizes the colour and the Egyptomania style.
The Benjamin Moore paint company quite aptly describes Nile Green as: “Classic and subtly shaded, this green conveys mystery and Old World elegance. “ If I was writing a scene set in the 1920s or 30s, I’d likely include the colour to evoke the flavour of the era, and perhaps even add a tone of mystery, in the same way that red is often used to bring out a sense of horror or dread.
Another shade of green that will be instantly recognizable to a lot of people is Harrod’s green.
The olive-toned green, always paired with elegant gold lettering, has an air of poshness that few other brands in the world have managed to represent so thoroughly. Created by Minale Tattersfield Design Group in 1967 as a way to unify the department store’s disparate packaging in its 300-plus departments, the signature look has taken on a life of its own, as all good branding does. Harrods, like any business I’ve ever come across, is extremely protective of their brand, and will sue any other brand that even approximates the Harrods lettering font.
Producing green tints for artists’ paints has been challenging throughout history. The first pigments, used in cave art 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, were made from a combination of chalk, burnt charcoal, soil and animal fat, and the colour palette was limited to red, yellow, brown, white and black. As painting progresses, there was an ongoing effort to produce more colours, and to improve the stability of the paints.
Artists and dyers began to experiment with extracting colour from natural materials, like flowers. You might think that it would have been easy to achieve a nice green, since it’s all around us in nature, but that wasn’t the case. If you look at the photo below, which I took at the Awanacancha Textile Centre in Peru, which is a cooperative of families dedicated to preserving the traditional methods of dying and weaving, the only green colour you’ll see is a rather drab sage.
A vibrant green, like the almost fluorescent shade on this lizard in the Amazon jungle, was much harder to create.
Blue, a colour that rarely appears in plants, was much easier, although very expensive – it was made from the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli, which for a long time could only be mined in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. Also called ultramarine blue, it’s the colour that we all associate with the robes of the Virgin Mary in medieval art.
Red came from red ochre, plentiful in iron-rich soil, and is still in use today. Black was originally called ‘bone black’, as its source was indeed charred bones.
Yellow was another challenging colour, for which the artists who loved it went to strange lengths to achieve. J. M. W. Turner, famous for his dreamy 18th century landscapes, used a watercolour paint called Indian Yellow, which apparently was sourced from the urine produced by cows who were fed only mango leaves. (It was soon banned as animal cruelty; the cows became badly malnourished on their forced diet.) Vincent Van Gogh was arguably the most famous painter using yellow, and he used a synthetic compound called Chrome Yellow, which contained lead and was known to cause delirium.
In ancient times, the colour green was made using malachite, a vibrant green mineral of various shades. Verdigris, the greenish coating that develops on weathered copper and bronze, was used by the Greeks, and was also subsequently created artificially by exposing copper plates or strips to acetic acid (such as that found in vinegar).
In 1775, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a bright green pigment named after him. It became enormously popular, but the arsenic used to make it ended up poisoning both artists and customers. Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom in his home on the island of St. Helena, where he spent many years in exile, contained Scheele’s Green, and historians believe that’s what caused his death. It was replaced by Paris Green in the late 19th century, which was more durable but still contained arsenic, and was sometimes used as an insecticide. It may have caused Claude Monet’s later blindness, perhaps the ultimate nemesis for someone who dedicated his life to capturing the world around him in his art.
I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war-to the dread rattling thunder
(Shakespeare, The Tempest)
For writers, a well-chosen word or turn of phrase can magically create an image in a reader’s mind. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but we can’t use that many to create our mental pictures or we risk losing our readers in a mire of details.
So when I’m looking at scenes that I might use in my books, I’m also thinking about whether I could describe the scene well enough that my readers can envision what I’m writing about. I’ve actually discarded ideas because I felt I couldn’t capture them adequately in words, whether the details weren’t vivid enough, or too fleeting, or I’d just need too many words to describe it.
In honour of Earth Month, and the many beauties of our world that have enriched stories for eons, here are some of my favourite scenes of green from my travels. Pick your favourite and let me know how you’d recreate it with words!
All photos by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights reserved. E. Jurus
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.”– Buddha
Irony: “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result” (Oxford Languages)
As in, how ironic is it that someone who has no green thumb at all loves taking photos about flowers? Or maybe it’s cause and effect.
I’ve always had a love of flowers – no one ever had to tell me to stop and smell the roses.
To me, flowers are Mother Nature’s paintings, and there’s no human artist who can rival Her. It’s one of the reasons I’m rather obsessed with taking pictures of them. I’m endlessly amazed at their tiniest details. And every garden is like a little piece of the original Eden, waiting for us to experience its magic.
I find walking along garden paths very soothing. It’s as if the gardens are in their own realm, separate from the hustle and bustle of the world around them. Once you enter them, you leave cares behind and give yourself into the hands of the sunshine, the breeze, the glorious blossoms that seem to say, ‘Here I am; look how beautiful life is.’
I’m very fortunate to live in an area full of fruit trees that blossom in early May. The masses of thick blossoms are only on show for a couple of weeks, so it’s tricky for visitors to time it just right, but for those of us who live here, we have only to drive a couple of miles outside the city into the rural areas to check on the progress.
Lilac gardens are multi-sensory, as much about the wonderful scents as the pretty panicles bobbing in the breeze. They invite strolling, sniffing each different variety’s unique aroma as you go, like clouds of delight on a branch. I can only imagine how captivating they must smell to bees and butterflies.
Wherever we travel, I try to visit a garden. They tell you a great deal about the place they’re located. You’ll find them in my writing because their contents speak volumes. When I’m writing, I look for ways to express an idea as succinctly as this wild orchid in the cloud forest in Peru. It has a subtle beauty – nothing that smacks you in the face, just sits there quietly and evocatively.
In Ireland my husband and I visited the magnificent garden at Powerscourt Estate. Its many moods revealed themselves as I wandered around with my camera – formally lovely near the manor house,
blowsy and almost pagan down by the lake,
serenely celebrating the glories of autumn in the Japanese Garden.
At Kylemore Abbey, on the west coast of Ireland, the garden has a job to do, producing fruit and vegetables, but still in the loveliest way possible.
This week I visited one of our local gardens, looking for signs of life after a cold winter. I was amazed by the variety of flowers bravely poking their heads up in our fickle early-spring weather. It was like a party thrown by Mother Nature herself to celebrate the change to a new season.
Gardens are special places for me. They calm my soul when it’s troubled or needs a pick-me-up. They give me a reason to get out of the house and get some exercise. The flowers and plants inspire me artistically — the way they express so much in a blossom, in its shadings, its complexity, in where it chooses to reveal itself. If you can look at the photo of the lilac earlier in the post and almost smell its aroma through your screen, or see such vivid detail in your mind’s eye through my writing, then I’ve done my job well.
Ultimately, flowers make me smile, and that is perhaps one of the greatest possible gifts.