|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
HE explanations of this morning account for the formation
of clouds. A continual evaporation takes place on the
surface of the damp earth as well as on the surface of the
different sheets of water, lakes, ponds, marshes, streams,
and above all the sea. The vapors formed rise into the air
and remain invisible as long as the heat is sufficient. But
since heat diminishes as the height increases, there comes a
time when the vapors can no longer be kept in complete
solution, and they condense into a mass of visible vapor,
into a fog or cloud.
"When, after a chill encountered in the upper strata of the
atmosphere, the cloud-mist reaches a certain degree of
condensation, little drops of water form and fall in rain.
At first very small, they increase in volume on the way by
the union of other similar little drops. Their size on
reaching us is proportioned to the height from which they
fell, but never exceeds the limits suitable to the part rain
is intended to play. If too large, the rain-drops would fall
heavily on the plants they are to water, and would lay them
flat on the ground, dead. And what would happen if the
condensation of vapor, instead of taking place gradually,
should be sudden? There would no longer descend from heaven
 but heavy columns of water, which, in their
fall, would strip the trees of their branches, crush the
harvests, and make the roofs of our houses fall in. But, far
from taking this devastating form, rain falls in drops as if
passed through a sieve placed by design in its passage to
divide it and weaken the shock. On rare occasions, it is
true, rain does reach us under so strange a disguise as to
strike the ignorant with terror. Who would not be frightened
when it rains blood or sulphur?"
"What do you say, Uncle?" interrupted Emile; "rains blood or
sulphur? For my part, I should be dreadfully afraid."
"I too," said Claire.
"Is that true?" Jules asked, in his turn.
"True. You know well I only tell you true stories. There are
rains of blood and sulphur, at least in appearance. It is
proved that showers have been seen of which the drops left
on the walls, roads, leaves of the trees, and clothes of
passers-by, are red spots like blood. At other times, with
the rain, there has fallen from the sky a fine dust, of a
beautiful yellow, resembling sulphur. Did it really rain
blood, sulphur? No. This so-called rain of blood or sulphur,
causing foolish alarms, is ordinary rain stained with
various sorts of dust raised from the ground by the wind. In
the spring when, in mountainous countries, immense forests
of fir-trees are in blossom, every breath of wind carries
clouds of a fine yellow dust contained in the little flowers
of the fir-tree. You can see a similar dust in all flowers,
especially the lily."
 "It is that dust that daubs your nose yellow when you smell
a lily too close," declared Jules.
"Exactly. It is called pollen. Well, in falling at a
distance, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by rain,
the pollen gathered up from the forests by a breath of wind
causes the so-called sulphur-rain."
"Your rain of blood or sulphur isn't at all terrifying,"
"Of course not; and yet whole populations have their hearts
frozen with fear at the inoffensive fall of a whirlwind of
pollen or red dust. They believe themselves visited with
plagues, precursors of the end of the world. Ignorance is a
pitiful thing, my dear children, and knowledge is a fine
thing, even if it only served to deliver us from stupid
"In future," said Jules, stoutly, "it can rain sulphur or
blood; if any one is afraid, it will not be I."
"There can also fall from the sky, with or without rain,
various mineral substances, such as sand, for example, or
powdered chalk, or dust from the roads. There is even
mention of showers of small animals, caterpillars, insects,
and very young toads. The marvelous feature of these rains
disappears if one considers that a violent blast of wind can
carry with it all light substances encountered in its
course, and can transport them long distances before letting
them fall again.
"At other times a rain of insects is due to something else
besides transportation by the wind. Some kinds of
grasshoppers, for example, gather together in immense swarms
to go to another district when
 nutriment fails them. The
emigrating band flies, as at a given signal, and passes
through the air in the form of a great cloud that intercepts
the daylight. The migration continues for days at a time, so
numerous is the host. Then the voracious swarm alights, like
a living storm, on the vegetation of some distant province.
In a few hours grass, leaves of trees, grain,
prairies—everything is browsed.
The soil, as if ravaged by fire,
a blade of grass left. Sometimes the people of
Algeria die of hunger. The grasshopper has devoured their
"Volcanoes cause cinder-showers. Volcanic ashes is the name
given to the calcined dust thrown up to a great height by
volcanoes at the moment of their eruption. These powdered
substances form enormous clouds, which produce in the
daytime a darkness like that of the darkest nights, and
which, falling to earth at a greater or less distance,
stifle animals and plants under their showers of dust."
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