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.
In 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.
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.
I have my ticket! (happy dance)
I will be going to Suriname in March 2012!
The whole thing is sooo small and so different from what I’ve known as a microscope. And the lens is so tiny! I don’t know how in the world Leeuwenhoek ever discovered all those things he did using this! (Now to figure out what I can try to look at using it. — Any ideas?)
Last year I contacted Al Shinn about making a replica Leeuwenhoek microscope for me. Leeuwenhoek was a compatriot of Maria Sybilla Merian’s, and he made around 500 very small microscopes.
Mr. Shinn and I talked last week, the results being since he is so busy that I would buy one on eBay. (Yes, I had seen three on eBay.) The little replica microscope I purchased was made by a man in the UK; it is on it’s way and I can hardly stand the wait! I will post a photo when it arrives.
I’ve been trying to improve on what little Dutch I know, mainly adding to my vocabulary. And I’ve discovered something baffling. Words that have an interesting sound are more likely to be retained. For instance, the word “fietsen” which means to bicycle. Now I don’t plan to bicycle in the rain forest. Or even in the city of Paramaribo, for that matter! And I’m sure I won’t find anything in the old Dutch records of 1699-1701 about bicycling, either. Yet that word clings to my brain while more useful words just slide right off. What’s up with that?
Writing this part has been going well…until I realized I needed to address the slavery issue in Surinam in 1700.
Stuck big time! It was not a good situation and I really didn't want to go into it. But I cannot ignore it since Maria Sybilla didn't. I believe that I have finally found my solution, and will see if I can write it today so I can go on with her story.