September 29, 2017

A Million Stars in Broad Daylight

Yesterday, I (Joel) was out hiking with some friends, and we passed from bright sunlight into the shadow being cast by Mount Temple.  We looked up at the sharply etched silhouette of the east ridge, and were stunned, because in the glow, it looked like the stars were out.  There were millions of points of light!

We looked through the binoculars, and the "stars" were all moving, dancing in the air. What were they?

I figured it out today: on the return trip from another hike in the high country, with my face towards both the sun and the strong west wind, I passed through a patch of fireweed, the answer was sudenly all around me...

Fireweed seeds dancing in the wind

Seeds.  Fireweed seeds.  They are the size of a fleck of cracked pepper, and come with their own parachute of fluff -- the lightest fluff imaginable.  On warm fall days, the seed pods split open, and the wind picks up billions and billions of seeds.  They are sent skyward, flying over the mountain tops, to land wherever the wind carries them.

So we didn't just see stars: we saw shooting stars!

ps: a few years back, I tried to count how many seeds were in just one pod on a fireweed plant. Here's what I came up with.