Explore the Elements: Thomas Cook Photography Competition

Thomas Cook is running a photography competition. The rules are simple: post four photographs, each one representing the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Click here for Competition Details.

My blogger nominations are listed below – but hurry as the competition ends on 16 March 2015! (In my defence, I only heard about it a few hours ago!)

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EARTH, WATER, FIRE & AIR IN ONE PHOTO

Amber embodies each of the four elements – so my photo entry is the same for each category. Read to the end to understand my rationale and the relevance of this photo. (Higher res version here)

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EARTH

Over millennia in countries all around the world, sunlight and warm air dried the slowly flowing resin secretions from ancient trees to form a magical stone-like fossil that would later be found by humans as they wandered along lake shores and beaches.

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WATER

Depending on the location and type of tree, the amber was washed down from the forests by flooding rivers or raised to the surface amidst a myriad of rocks by the action of glaciers. (Amber is lighter than mineral stone and generally floats in salt water but not fresh water.)

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FIRE

Amber nuggets come in a wide range of colours and degrees of transparency from fiery clear yellow-browns to cloudy opaques based on their internal structure, impurities such as air bubbles, insects and plant fragments, and weathering caused by air, light and changes in humidity and temperature.

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AIR

Not just known for their good looks, these semi-precious ‘gems’ are believed to have medicinal properties and can build up an electrical charge when rubbed due to their electromagnetic qualities. (Amber was called ‘elektron’ by the ancient Greeks and may be the origin of the word ‘electricity’.)

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Since ancient times, wearing amber jewellery or holding a piece of amber in your hand has been thought to impart a sense of healing and inner peace by drawing out negative energy from the body.

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Amber was also burnt like incense in ancient China as it gives off a musky pinewood scent and does not melt.

In fact, burning samples is one way to check if you are dealing with real amber, ‘young’ resin (copal) or a glass, plastic or other fake. (Alternative tests involve comparing density (or specific gravity), light refraction, fluorescence, or electrostatic charge and observing how the sample stands up to scratching, acetone, or being jabbed by a very hot needle.)

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Numerous legends have been created over the years to explain amber’s origins.

In the Baltic, for example, Lithuanian folklore claims that the queen of the sea fell in love with a fisherman but her father did not approve and punished his daughter by destroying her amber palace and turning her into sea foam.

In the Mediterranean, an Ancient Greek myth tells of a boy born to a female sea spirit and the god of the sun who was adopted by the King of Ethiopia. One tragic day, the young prince drove his biological father’s chariot through the sky and ventured too close to the surface of the Earth. This caused the rivers and lakes to evaporate and scorched the vegetation, creating the Sahara desert in Africa. The prince’s sisters (who happened to be trapped inside poplar trees at the time) were so sad that they wept tears that dried up in the blazing heat and became amber.

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Amazingly, the first discovery of true amber in Australia occurred less than a decade ago along beaches in Far North Queensland – even though these fossils probably formed millions of years ago.

Imagine if we could find amber made from the blood red resin of the Eucalypt tree I photographed in the Gold Coast hinterland? What a great excuse for a beach holiday to Burleigh Heads!

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My blogger nominations are:

Note: I forgive The Sicilian Housewife for not nominating me or giving us more notice!

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Sources: (Accessed 15 March 2015)

Photo credits: Pip Marks (Only the tree photo is submitted for judging under the #ExploreTheElements competition. Maybe I can buy some real amber beads or a trip to the Gold Coast with the prize money?!)



Categories: Travel

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5 replies

  1. GORGEOUS photo and beautiful story with it too.
    Thank you for forgiving me!!!! Actually I avoided nominating people I knew would probably beat me in the contest! 😉 😛
    Anyway good luck!

    • Thanks & good luck to you. The background to my photo is not quite so beautiful as it nearly killed me walking to the top of the mountain. Someone asked me to take a photo of this tree for them on the way down and I was happy to oblige as I desperately needed a rest!

  2. Wonderful info about amber – I didn’t know it was burnt as incense. (I remember seeing photos of the amber room in — was it the Hermitage?) Thanks for the mention, I’ll look up the contest. And, slow on answering, had a couple of sick-days … oh wait, can retirees phone in sick? — Sandy

    • Hope you are recovered now then. I think it is the Summer Palace at Pushkin. I’d love to see it as all of the amber for the room was still hidden away when I visited ‘Leningrad’ (which explains how long ago it was!)

      • You are well traveled! And speaking of ‘Leningrad’ I was just thinking recently about cities that have changed their names. (maybe I heard the song “You Can’t Go Back to Constantinople”?) Recovery is coming slowly, thanks for the well-wishes. I need ’em! — Sandy

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