6:44 a.m. 41 degrees, wind WNW 3 mph. Sky: solid, mousy gray, an all-night
rain prolongs dawn, stalls sunrise, which creeps in obscurity over the
eastern rim . . . a drab, dank, dismal morning. Permanent streams: loss of
clarity, flow freighted with silt, a hillside revision. Wetlands: reeds
dense brown, pines on the far shore a somber green. In between,
uninterrupted streaks, a landscape drained of color and joy. One blue jay
(must be lost) calls, flies in the open, more gray than blue, dripping.
Pond: cold rain on thin ice. I skim a rock: long slide, wake and twang,
throbbing ice. Milkweed seeds soggy and plastered, dangle out of the pod .
. . limp laundry left on the meadow line.
Blue of a blue jay, an optical illusion. A structural color, a scattering
of light. Not a pigment. Transparent, gas-filled spaces (called vacuoles)
in the barbs—collectively the vane on either side of the feather
shaft—bounce light back at the viewer. The result is a blue festival:
indigo blue, madder blue, china blue, porcelain blue, Gobelin blue, Dutch
blue, sky blue, baby blue. Take away light, turn off the sun . . . a gray
bird. Without light refracting off the vacuoles, nearby *melanin *cells, a
brownish pigment, render the jay (or bluebird or indigo bunting) an
uninspired gray. Today's jay: dripping wet, drab as the sky (although more
animated). Even jay's crest . . . an ashy gray. What's not an optical
illusion: white cheeks, black wrap-around scarf, barred tail and wings,
white-tipped wing feathers.
There are colors we don't see, sounds we don't hear. And then there's the
blue jay . . . a chromatic illusion, a Penn and Teller trick. Now blue, now
gray, now blue again . . . the nonchalant renderings of *our* small star.