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Real Life Fantasy: Atasifusta IRL

WHOA.

A grove of Draceana cinnabari in Socotra, off the Yemeni coast.

That sums up what I have to say about these astonishing and beautiful trees. There are several different types of trees that produce a blood-red resin or sap, known colloquially as dragon’s blood–but it’ll look to Weeks fans like red luxin from the Atasifusta.

For those of you needing a refresher on the mythical tree from the Seven Satrapies, here’s a snippet from The Black Prism:

“…Each pillar was a full five paces thick— atasifusta, the widest trees in the world— and none narrowed perceptibly before reaching the ceiling. The wood was said to have been the gift of an Atashian king, five hundred years before. Even then it had been precious. Now they were extinct, the last grove cut down during the Prisms’ War.

Draceana draco in the Canary Islands

“…What made the atasifusta unique was that its sap had properties like concentrated red luxin. The trees took a hundred years to reach full size— these giants had been several hundreds of years old when they’d been cut. But after they reached maturity, holes could be drilled in the trunk, and if the tree was large enough, the sap would drain slowly enough to feed flames. These eight giants each bore a hundred twenty-seven holes, the number apparently significant once, but that significance lost. On first look, it appeared that the trees were aflame, but the flame was constant and never consumed the wood, which was ghostly ivory white aside from the blackened soot smudges above each flame hole. Gavin knew that the flames couldn’t be truly eternal, but after allegedly burning day and night for five hundred years, these atasifustas’ flames gave little indication of going out anytime soon. Perhaps the flames nearer the top were a little duller than those lower as the sap settled in the wood, but Gavin wouldn’t have bet on it.

“When the wood wasn’t mature, it made incredible firewood. A bundle that a man could carry in his arms would warm a small hut all winter. No wonder it was extinct.”

So we have, in summary, three primary species of dragon’s blood/Atasifusta trees that exist today.

There’s the Dracaena draco tree, native to the Canary Islands:

The Dracaena cinnabari tree, native to Socotra (an archipelago between Yemen and Somalia):

From an article in The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2013/11/the-galapagos-of-the-indian-ocean/100634/

This variety, native to Socotra, has a fascinating past, and an uncertain future. Just like Brent’s Atasifusta, these stunning trees are being threatened by human intervention. National Geographic (objectively the best periodical ever) has published a compelling article about the island, and the trees.

And finally we have the Croton lechleri, or sangre de drago, found primarily in Ecuador and Peru:

. . .

It’s worth noting that sap from these trees has been used IRL for a long time as traditional medicine, as incense, and as a pigment; it is also sold by contemporary online retailers as ‘natural medicine.’ I found several images of trees that have endured scarring from humans collecting the resin.

It’s tough to say (at least for me) whether this is bad for the trees and/or harmful to their ecosystems at large. I mean, it looks pretty bad, right? But I also wrote this post while eating pancakes and maple syrup. So there’s that. We’d love to hear from anyone who knows more about these gorgeous plants!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Stay home and stay safe.

Real Life Fantasy: Orholam’s Wink

Several readers have pointed out recently that Orholam’s Wink–or Neptune’s Wink, as it’s sometimes called–is a real thing. It is a meteorological optical phenomenon that (long story short) happens when sunlight is refracted by our atmosphere at a particular angle. You can see this phenomenon live and in-person… If you’re in the right place. At the right time.

Thanks Reddit user MandalorePrimus

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the right place is sea level, and the right time is sunset, or sunrise.

From The California Sun (click photo for link)

The timing for sunrise is a bit tricky, since you’d need to be staring at the horizon at sea level on a cloudless morning just before the sun begins to peek out over the horizon.

I don’t know about you, but I need more sleep than that. Also I live near a west-facing coast, so watching for the wink at sunrise is…impractical.

I digress.

The print/online magazine Physics World has an article about this lovely little gift from our atmosphere, shared in 2015.

The article is worth a read; it’s an explanation of the green flash, but it’s also a story from astrophotographer Pete Lawrence. In it he explains, “The atmosphere acts like a prism, refracting different wavelengths by varying amounts.”

A prism, hmmmmm? You think Pete is a Lightbringer fan?

Real Life Fantasy: Sun + Water – Heat

Hey, look what’s back–Real Life Fantasy!

It’s been a while, so in case you’re not familiar: Real Life Fantasy is a feature where we explore phenomena in the Seven Satrapies that have crossed the spectral plane into the real world.

Or something like that.

This time around we’re looking at some optical physics: what happens when sunlight shines through water molecules in the atmosphere. While most of us are familiar with how water droplets refract sunlight–

Wing-Chi Poon – Jasper National Park, Canada

–here’s what happens when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere.

Lt. Cindy McFee – Public Domain

The photo above shows two pretty awesome sights: the first is diamond dust, those white specks hovering above the person’s head. Those are tiny ice crystals in the air, reflecting sunlight at just the right angle for the camera to capture it.

The second phenomenon, seen in both the photo above and below, is a parhelion, or sun dog: bright spots, usually diamond-shaped, flanking the sun.

As explained in the Wikipedia entry, parts of the 22° halo (the arcs passing through each sundog), a sun pillar (the vertical line) and the parhelic circle (the horizontal line) are also visible.

Similarly, there exists a fog bow, or “white rainbow,” which happens when light is refracted through… wait for it… fog.

(I snapped this picture a couple years ago, standing in my backyard. Yep, that’s a barn. Look closely and you’ll find faint colors in the fog bow.)

Looking at these photos, I can’t help but wonder what it looked like to Gavin and the Third Eye…

Show Spoilers

Something prickled on his skin, the lightest of touches. He looked over at the Third Eye.

She was grinning like a little girl. He didn’t understand. Then something touched his arm. He brought it close, but it melted before he could get a look at it. Snow?

It was cool tonight, but it wasn’t cold enough for snow. Not even close.

He could smell it now–the familiar mineral, chalky odor. Blue luxin.

More hit his upturned face, his arms. It was snowing.

“Blue delights in order,” the Third Eye said. “I know you can’t see it, but every flake is blue. Utterly beautiful, Lord Prism. I’ve never seen so stunning a harbinger of doom.”

-The Blinding Knife, p162