February 17th, 2016
What event brought this Blue Jay feather to the forest floor to rest upon the worn and weathered leaf? Both leaf and feather have been shed by their host, used up and cast aside. Both were highly sophisticated pieces of nature’s technology, unrivaled by any technology man touts today.
Consider the feather. Not only an instrument of flight but also of insulation, waterproofing, camouflage and communication. Feathers can conceal or attract. They can be vibrantly colored without using pigment. They can store water or repel it. They can snap, whistle, hum, vibrate, boom, and whine. They are a near-perfect airfoil and the lightest, most efficient insulation ever discovered. The falcon is a great example of the marvelous engineering of the feather. The falcon has been clocked at over 150 miles per hour as they dive after prey and at the last second they pull up mere feet above the ground. The stress involved in those maneuvers has been measured at 29 Gs. Air Force pilots most often pass out after enduring anything over 9 Gs.
Now consider the leaf. This leaf once housed the food factory of a tree, the greatest of plants. Through a process known as photosynthesis this leaf was the meeting place of carbon dioxide (wafting in from the air), water (drawn up from the ground), and sunlight. All are brought together in the presence of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll traps the sunlight and uses the energy to split atoms of water (H2O). Where there was H2O now there is H plus O. The O (oxygen) floats away into the atmosphere as oxygen gas. At the same time the hydrogen from the water is combined with the carbon from the air and with some complex maneuvering are transformed into simple sugars, fats and proteins a.k.a. plant food.
So how did they get here, the feather and the leaf? We can only guess. Possibly, the Blue Jay met a Cooper’s Hawk in a furious burst of blue and black followed by a slow methodical dispersal of feathers dropped from a tree branch where the hawk finished its meal. Maybe the tree that supports the branch was once nourished by our now worn and weathered leaf. The end of the story is ultimately the same as all stories. Both leaf and feather decompose into the base elements we are all constructed of and in that way nourish future lives and begin other untold stories.