In Greek mythology, an Athenian craftsman named Daedalus took his son Icarus flying. Literally. He built two pair of wings from wax and feathers. They took off from the island of Crete.
Daedalus told Icarus to stay away from the sun, but the kid didn’t listen, got too close, and the wax melted. No more Icarus, but they did name where he landed the Icarian Sea.
A long time went by. In 1979, Paul. B. MacCready, a U.S. aeronautics engineer designed a human-powered (pedals and propeller) airplane named The Gossamer Albatross. Bryan Allen, an amateur bicyclist, flew it 22 miles across the English Channel. Too bad Lance Armstrong was only eight years old.
The 1903 flight of Orville Wright, piloting The Wright Flyer I for 120 feet doesn’t count. He used an engine.
Science studied creatures with wings, but were not always helpful. A myth of unknown origin still exists that scientists “proved” that bumblebees can’t fly. Good thing no one ever told these useful pollinators.
My creature of choice is the giant swallowtail butterfly, mostly because there are citrus trees in my back yard, and a swallowtail came to visit them.
Butterflies are fun to watch. They are very good fliers, even upwind, but they often seem more like a child’s toy, often seeming to bounce through the yard on an invisible string, never quite touching anything except an occasional flower. The one who visited last month laid an egg on the top of an orange tree leaf and fluttered on her way.
Swallowtail eggs are round, egg-colored and the size of a pin head. The process of the egg turning into a butterfly is maybe the greatest feat of engineering in the insect world.
The egg hatches into a caterpillar resembling a bird dropping, hardly cosmetic but a very good disguise against any self-respecting predator. It becomes an eating machine, growing rapidly and efficiently until one day it assumes a position under a branch, suspends its front end from two short strands, and hangs there motionless. Soon, a butterfly crawls out, hangs upside down until its wings spread and dry. Then it flies off. Just like that.
Three years ago, I got to watch and take pictures. Not this time. One morning it was gone, all of it, and all I could do was mentally wish it “Bon Voyage.” Then I thought about it a lot.
Probably the most remarkable thing was the terrible solitude and silence surrounding the entire process. No help, no friends, not even any companionship. It never saw its mother, who laid one egg and went on her way. It settled into its chrysalis all alone, hatched out alone, and after its wings were ready, walked to a takeoff point on legs it never had before, and flew off confidently.
I don’t know if watching events like this would make an atheist believe in God. But for anyone already believing in a Higher Power, this would be a powerful reinforcement.