Is it not curious to think that there is really no such thing as colour in the leaf, the table, the coat, or the geranium flower, but we see them of different colours because, for some reason, they send back only certain coloured waves to our eye?
Wherever you look, then, and whatever you see, all the beautiful tints, colours, lights, and shades around you are the work of the tiny sun-waves.
Again, light does a great deal of work when it falls upon plants. Those rays of light which are caught by the leaf are by no means idle; we shall see in Lecture VII that the leaf uses them to digest its food and make the sap on which the plant feeds.
We all know that a plant becomes pale and sickly if it has not sunlight, and the reason is, that without these light-waves it cannot get food out of the air, nor make the sap and juices which it needs. When you look at plants and trees growing in the beautiful meadows; at the fields of corn, and at the lovely landscape, you are looking on the work of the tiny waves of light, which never rest all through the day in helping to give life to every green thing that grows.
So far we have spoken only of light; but hold your hand in the sun and feel the heat of the sunbeams, and then consider if the waves of heat do not do work also. There are many waves in a sunbeam which move too slowly to make us see light when they hit our eye, but we can feel them as heat, though we cannot see them as light. The simplest way of feeling heat-waves is to hold a warm iron near your face. You know that no light comes from it, yet you can feel the heat-waves beating violently against your face and scorching it. Now there are many of these dark heat-rays in a sunbeam, and it is they which do most of the work in the world.
In the first place, as they come quivering to the earth, it is they which shake the water-drops apart, so that these are carried up in the air, as we shall see in the next lecture. And then remember, it is these drops, falling again as rain, which make the rivers and all the moving water on the earth. So also it is the heat-waves which make the air hot and light, and so cause it to rise and make winds and air-currents, and these again give rise to ocean-currents. It is these dark rays, again, which strike upon the land and give it the warmth which enables plants to grow. It is they also which keep up the warmth in our own bodies, both by coming to us directly from the sun, and also in a very roundabout way through plants. You will remember that plants use up rays of light and heat in growing; then either we eat the plants, or animals eat the plants and we eat the animals; and when we digest the food, that heat comes back in our bodies, which the plants first took from the sunbeam. Breathe upon your hand, and feel how hot your breath is; well, that heat which you feel, was once in a sunbeam, and has travelled from it through the food you have eaten, and has now been at work keeping up the heat of your body.