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Take a Writer's Retreat in Canada with Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto, but the celebrated Canadian author is also a longtime seasonal resident of Pelee Island. The land mass sits in Lake Erie, between Sandusky, Ohio and Essex County, Ontario, and is filled with rare plants and animals, including many migratory bird species. Soon, it will also be home to a brand-new writer’s retreat, with Atwood as a confirmed instructor.

Dawn Kresan, a Canadian writer and editor, has launched an Indiegogo campaign (with a goal of $25,000 Canadian) to raise start-up costs for the Pelee Island Book House and Writers' Retreat.

“It has been my dream to create a writers’ retreat on Pelee Island for over a decade,” she writes on Indiegogo, citing the island’s beauty, wildlife, and robust arts community. “Taking part in a Pelee Island writing retreat will give authors the opportunity to focus on their work, free of distraction.” As for nature lovers, they can participate in an annual retreat sponsored by the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO), which will host a nature writing workshop.

Sadly, the Indiegogo campaign doesn’t cover participants’ admission costs. Writers will have to shell out as much as $1200 for a 7-day retreat, and $800 for a 5-day one. The sticker price covers cottage accommodations, meals, ferry transportation to and from Pelee Island (you’ll have to pay any other travel expenses yourself), and writing workshops. The 7-day retreat offers two master classes with an instructor, while the 5-day retreat offers one. And if you want to save money and focus on solo writing time, you can skip the classes and opt for a lower-cost, self-directed 6-day residency.

The retreats and residencies will begin in the spring of 2017. Atwood’s first retreat will run from May 23 to 29. She doesn’t lead every single excursion, so if your heart is set on fine-tuning your craft with your favorite author, schedule your time accordingly. (A full list of instructors is posted on the retreat’s website.)

Looking to devote some serious time to a manuscript, and possibly work with Atwood? The retreat's admission details are available online. You can also contribute money to the Indiegogo campaign, which ends in a month, and receive reduced prices on future bookings as well as other perks.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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This 1940 Film on Road Maps Will Make You Appreciate Map Apps Like Never Before
Douglas Grundy, Three Lions/Getty Images
Douglas Grundy, Three Lions/Getty Images

In the modern era, we take for granted having constantly updated, largely accurate maps of just about every road in the world at our fingertips. If you need to find your way through a city or across a country, Google Maps has your back. You no longer have to go out and buy a paper map.

But to appreciate just what a monstrous task making road maps and keeping them updated was in decades past, take a look at this vintage short film, "Caught Mapping," spotted at the Internet Archive by National Geographic.

The 1940 film, produced by the educational and promotional company Jam Handy Organization (which created films for corporations like Chevrolet), spotlights the difficult task of producing and revising maps to keep up with new road construction and repair.

The film is a major booster of the mapmaking industry, and those involved in it come off as near-miracle workers. The process of updating maps involved sending scouts out into the field to drive along every road and note conditions, compare the roads against topographical maps, and confirm mileage figures. Then, those scouts reported back to the draughtsmen responsible for producing revised maps every two weeks. The draughtsmen updated the data on road closures and other changes.

Once those maps were printed, they were "ready to give folks a good steer," as the film's narrator puts it, quietly determining the success of any road trip in the country.

"Presto! and right at their fingertips, modern motorists can have [information] on any road they wish to take." A modern marvel, really.

[h/t National Geographic]

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