Drive almost anywhere in rural North America and you’ll see old barns: old red barns. Why are barns almost always red? Just ask the Farmers’ Almanac.
Hundreds of years ago, many farmers would seal their barns with linseed oil, which is an orange-colored oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant. To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, it was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red.
OK, that makes sense: effective and plentiful/cheap, rust makes an excellent paint additive, especially when covering a big area. But why is it plentiful? Just ask Smithsonian Magazine.
As soon as the star hits the 56-nucleon cutoff (56 being the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus), it falls apart. It doesn’t make anything heavier than 56. What does this have to do with red paint? Because the star stops at 56, it winds up making a ton of things with 56 nucleons. It makes more 56 nucleon-containing things than anything else (aside from the super light stuff in the star that is too light to fuse).
The element that has 56 protons and neutrons in its nucleus in its stable state?
Iron. The stuff that makes red paint.
Well, that’s kinda cool. What could seem further apart than stars and barns? And yet, they’re connected.
Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.
It’s not just barns: It’s *all* connected to stars. And it’s not exactly breaking news. Even so, I don’t go around seeing every thing and every one as stardust in a new format. Or the me in the mirror as today’s expression of a “pattern in flux.”
The body that is with us all our lives is always changing. We are quite literally not who we were years, weeks, or even days ago: our cells die and are replaced by new ones at an astonishing pace. The entire body continually rebuilds itself, time and again, using the food and water that flow through us as fuel and as construction material. What persists over time is not fixed but merely a pattern in flux.
We rebuild using elements captured from our surroundings, and are thereby connected to animals and plants around us, and to the bacteria within us that help digest them, and to geological processes such as continental drift and volcanism here on Earth. We are also intimately linked to the Sun’s nuclear furnace and to the solar wind, to collisions with asteroids and to the cycles of the birth of stars and their deaths in cataclysmic supernovae, and ultimately to the beginning of the universe. Our bodies are made of the burned out embers of stars that were released into the galaxy in massive explosions billions of years ago, mixed with atoms that formed only recently as ultrafast rays slammed into Earth’s atmosphere. All of that is not just remote history but part of us now: our human body is inseparable from nature all around us and intertwined with the history of the universe.
– Schrijver book blurb on Amazon
Would it make any difference to spend even a minute every day appreciating this perspective? Just askin’.
If you give National Geographic your email address you can read the whole transcript of the interview with Karel and Iris Schrivjer about their book: Living with the Stars.