3 min read

On a Wing and a Prayer

On a Wing and a Prayer
One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.

So said Paul Valery... Italo Calvino spoke in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium about the lightness of a wing as opposed to that of the feather.

Well, I've been neither/nor this week – a lead balloon came down to visit. Lead balloons are kind of heavy, they have no lift in them, and they're dull, and they're grey, and they're leaden, and they like to hang around, and they like to invite mopey friends like Eeyore along – "pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old, grey and stuffed"  – and pretty soon gravity starts mixing things up as well.

Luckily I was close to my pen and my drawing book and between the waves, I picked them up, and began drawing the problem away – quite magically, it actually helped!

With sprouting wings on my mind, and drawing away my world of problems, I came across a couple of other feathery references. In a serendipitous way it felt like a mini-murmuration, like a virtual 'happening' drawing itself together in the cloud.

NY Times readers post their drawings of birds.

Throughout the summer birding project, we have been encouraging new birders to try different ways to observe birds. Sketching is one way to deepen your observation skills.

Too right. Sketching and checking. There are some very cool drawings of winged creatures in here, from serious talent out there – just people hanging out with birds. Check it out:

Bridging Blake and Darwin with a single-hair brush.

Elizabeth Gould (July 18, 1804–August 15, 1841) found working as a governess “miserably-wretched dull.” Artistically and musically gifted, boundlessly curious about the world, she had grown up painting and collecting specimens. Now in her early twenties, she felt life must have more to offer than the lonely occupation of looking after small children with whom one “cannot communicate a single thought or feeling.”
Elizabeth painstakingly painted the minutest details with a single-hair brush.

An amazing (and also tragic) story about an under-recognized illustrator on Maria Popova's lovely site The Marginalian... Like I say serious talent. Here's the link to the article and drawings:

The Wondrous Birds of the Himalayas and the Forgotten Victorian Woman Whose Illustrations Rewilded the Western Imagination
Bridging Blake and Darwin with a single-hair brush.

There's no need to be blue.

Turns out blue feathered birds aren't blue at all (they may get sad, yet there's no blue pigment) and it's all about magical microscopic refractory-trickery that makes them appear blue. I found a couple of beautiful feathers, and a little fallen chickadee nest in my walks - and sure enough - it's true!

blue-no-blue - curiously its only on half the feather

Once again, there's always a greater magic afoot. Science may help us understand how (Light Scattering. Microscopic air pockets in the feathers absorb all wavelengths except the blue which is refracted). The why is hermetic and the hidden intelligence remains out of view, as usual.

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Lead balloons with wings all around.