Jay has discovered a mystery in the ashes.
The sun sails past, imperceptibly fast.
Fueled by the fire of Helios, fern-shaped shadows dance in the dust of the ancients,
and a thousand fresh forms rise from the ashes of last year's dead.
With their earliest words, humans spoke of the power of fire.
Phoenix, consumed by the flame, and reborn from its ashes.
Immortal, or the very epitome of mortal?
Yes, there is a mystery in the ashes.
Long before man wove words into pictures,
long, long before those words took form on the page,
there lived a longleaf forest in the sandy hills of Caroline.
And each day, the sun rose high overhead, and the heat of her flames warmed the forested sands, and the pines grew tall and strong.
And in the space beneath those stately pines thrived all manner of living things.
And some days the heavens opened up, and down poured buckets of live-sustaining water.
And the next day, the sun passed high overhead,
and her life-giving warmth and light descended again.
And once in a while, fire came down with the rain and consumed all but the thick-skinned trees.
And the next day, the sun passed high overhead, and the rains came again.
And the next, and the next and the next.
And the seeds in the sand awoke, and felt the live-giving warmth of the sun
and all manner of living things thrived again in the land of the longleaf pine.
Not just plants, but animals, too, found life and protection in the wide open spaces beneath the mighty pines.
Among the animals were egg-layers,
reptiles first, and later the birds,
depositing their mysteries beneath and upon the sun-baked sands.
Today, Jay discovers anew one such mystery.
A mystery that is far from new,
played out upon this forest floor since the early days of the forest,
ages and ages before a human shadow first cast its pall over this sacred ground.
Jay's mystery is an ancient story indeed.
The story of a strong, swift flyer, a predator of insects,
consuming them on the wing by the hundreds in an evening.
This amazing creature travels to these pine woods each summer from half a world away to breed and rear its young.
Returning for the abundant insects and the safety of the longleaf forest to lay its eggs.
Not to nest, for this creature needs no nest. Not even a slight depression in the sand.
No, this creature simply lays its eggs on the bare forest floor as it finds it.
As the common nighthawk, Chordeiles minor, attends its eggs, its plumage bears witness to the timeless cycle of fire and renewal in the land of the longleaf pine.
Over a thousand thousand Carolina summers, the pearly white sand, the gray and black ashes and the reddish brown needles of this timeless place are emblazoned upon its feathered cloak and the precious eggs themselves;
a shield against danger, ensuring the cycle of life continues.
And should, by happenstance, danger approach too close, mother will lure it away, leaving naught but a mystery behind in the ashes.