What You See Is…?

When scientists began to take a closer look at the natural world all around them, they did not always agree on what they saw. They did not always accurately understand what they saw. They often jumped to conclusions, especially if they were still influenced by the belief in spontaneous generation. The old, traditional belief that living things could come from non-living things-–still held by many––caused some especially heated debates.

130px-Jan_Baptist_van_Helmont_portraitIn 1620 Dr. Jan Baptista van Delmont wrote and published a paper to prove that living things DID come from non-living things. Based on what he, personally, had seen, he wrote a recipe for making mice! (Why anyone would want to make mice, I don’t know, I guess he wasn’t concerned with that.)

According to Dr. van Delmont, if you put a piece of sweaty, smelly underwear in an open mouth jar and added some wheat, in twenty-one days full-grown mice would emerge. This was considered scientific observation at that time; not quite the way Maria Sybilla Merian handled her observations of the transformations of caterpillars into butterflies and moths. She studied the caterpillars carefully, documenting with notes and paintings all of the changes that occurred. In fact, she thoroughly documented the entire life cycle…proving that caterpillars did not just ooze up out of the ground, but came from eggs that the butterflies and moths laid. Her method of research is still used today.

150px-Jan_Baptist_van_Helmontmouseies 3

Chasing Caterpillars is with Beta Readers!

My manuscript about the life and time period of Maria Sybilla Merian is finished. Now I wait for comments from my beta readers.  I feel like it must be similar to the caterpillar now in the chrysalis stage.  One “life” of the book is finished, the middle one is in progress, the final transformation is in the future.

It has been quite a journey, starting with the day my daughter came home from the university and said, “Mom, there’s a lady you need to write a book about.” I remember looking up from the computer, asking who. When she replied, “Maria Sybilla Merian,” my immediate response was “Who?”   And that’s the exact same response I get when I mention Maria Sybilla.

I have learned an enormous number of things while researching her life. I had many questions beyond the typical ones, such as: Is it easier to carry buckets of water uphill or downhill? Turns out I didn’t need to know that answer because there was a well located right in front of their house in Nürnberg. Another question was: How did the residents of Amsterdam get drinking water? Not the canals because they contained seawater.  Answer: They had to buy their water from a waterboat! And: How hot IS it in Suriname? Answer: Energy Draining! Yet, at the same time the trade winds blow nice breezes. The result is that if you are in the sun it’s pretty bad, but it’s very nice sitting in the shade. No wonder so many people take breaks to sit in the shade!

I managed to travel to Germany and to Suriname, which was great. I love traveling. Didn’t get to be a tourist, but I still loved it.

Thank you, Maria Sybilla Merian.

recently emerged butterfly and chrysalis

Dispatch from Suriname: Paramaribo Likes You, Too

Paramaribo Architecture

Image via: Oskari Kettunen aka "aokettun" on Flickr

Picture wooden buildings with red tin roofs, many buildings with peeling paint, interesting architecture…that’s a start. People are very friendly here, and ask me how I like Paramaribo. And when I say I do, some say, “Paramaribo likes you, too.”


Dispatch from Suriname: Fresh Papaya!


Image via Janine aka "janineomg" on Flickr

Got up this morning when I heard the birds singing and people talking out on the porch downstairs. My first order of business, after breakfast (discovered I absolutely LOVE fresh papaya!), was to find the bookstore and buy a map… Next on my list was to book a trip into the rain forest (Monday).

Wandered around a bit; found the Palm Garden and the Presidential Palace…and the big wooden church of Sts. Peter and Paul… If I get a little used to the layout of the city and where things are today, then I can zero in on something tomorrow.

Today it rained — a SUDDEN shower that lasted maybe two minutes. I happened to be enjoying a cold drink out on the porch of TwenTy4 at the time.


Speaking to the Springfield Writers Guild

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, I spoke to a local writers group about the biography I am writing of early artist/scientist Maria Sybilla Merian.  I talked about the various types of research I have done for the book, including travel to Germany and visits to various museums for information.  Then I talked about my experience with crowd funding and two of those websites, explaining what crowd funding is and how it is done, differences I found on two of those site, and what all needs to be done before you push that “publish” button.   And lastly, I spoke about why I need to travel to Suriname, South America, for that last bit of on-site research in order to complete the book.

I enjoyed visiting with all the people who came up to talk with me afterwards, too.