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ELINOR GOULDING SMITH has written many books and light articles and has been a contributor to the ATLANTIC since 1943

What makes the rain?

When airplanes fly very high, water collects on the wings and roofs. When the plane banks, this water slides off and falls on the earth in the form of rain. The next time it rains, if you listen, you will probably hear the airplane.

What is wind?

There is no such thing as wind. I he next time you’re out on a windy day. if you look sharply, you will observe for yourself that you can see absolutely nothing. However, all things have periods of quiet and activity, exactly as you do when you sleep and when you play. On the days when the trees and flowers and grass are very active and excited, we call it “windy.” It is interesting to observe that usually when the trees and flowers are moving around a lot your hair and clothing do the same thing.

How can a bird fly?

A bird flies by taking a very deep breath and flapping his wings very hard. His body is covered with feathers, and as you know, leathers are very light. This helps him, too.

Where does coal come from?

Coal comes out of factory chimneys in the form of soot. This is because factories burn coal, but not all of it is burned, and the hot gases from the flame carry the particles of soot up the chimneys and out into the air. There the soot floats around until it rains. The rain washes it down onto the earth, where it collects. When a whole lot of it has collected in one place, and got sort of tamped down, we call that a “scam of coal.” Sometimes when it has been there a long time, dirt forms over it, and grass starts to grow, and the seam of coal gets covered up. and then, to get it out, miners have to dig a hole in the ground.

Why does the ocean have leaves?

The ocean is full of very big fish, like whales and sharks and dolphins. and they thrash around a whole lot when they swim. This stirs up the water and causes waves. You can observe this same phenomenon when you take a bath and thrash your hands and feet around.

What makes rocks?

Rocks are formed in two ways. One kind of rock is made of real hard clumps of dirt that got stuck together and just got hard. The other kind is chunks that break off mountaintops and fall down.

Why does a thunderstorm turn milk sour? The air is full of particles of poison, and most of these poisons have a bad. or sour, taste. During a thunderstorm the air gets very heavy and pushes these particles of poison down from the upper atmosphere, and consequently there are more of them around at earth level. When a carton of milk is opened, these bad-tasting particles fall in in greater quantities than usual, and this sours the milk.

Where does wood come from?

Wood is a form of plastic that is made in factories. It is rolled out in big flat sheets and then cut lengthwise into planks. Before the plastic is fully hardened, the planks are rolled between two enormous rollers that are grooved in special designs, which are thus imprinted on the plastic planks. This is called graining. The finished planks are stained with dyes made in the colors of the autumn leaves of certain trees, which is why the woods are called maple, cherry, birch, and so forth. The finished planks are sent to carpenters, joiners, and other craftsmen to be made into houses, furniture, salad bowls, and so forth.

Why do people live in houses?

People didn’t always live in houses. During the golden age of man, long, long ago, people lived in caves, which they found simply everywhere. These caves were absolutely free. In those days nobody had to pay rent, or pay off mortgages, or pay any taxes, and therefore they didn’t have to work as hard as people today. Unfortunately, as the earth got older, most of these caves were sealed up by accumulated soot and dirt and dead leaves, and today there simply aren’t enough caves to go around. For this reason, people are iorced to build houses to live in. The few caves that arc left are now so rare that people actually pay admission just to go in and look at them.

What makes the snow fall?

Snow doesn’t fall. In the winter, I when the ground gets very cold, moisture trapped under the earth freezes, and in freezing it expands. These frozen crystals arc forced up through the earth and appear on the surface of the ground as snow. When it is so cold that these snow crystals are light and powdery, the wind blows them around until it seems as though the air is literally filled with whirling snowflakes, which gives rise to the old belief that snow “falls.”

What exactly are stalactites?

Stalactites are very long, thin, pointed conical rocks which, because of their shape, force their way through the ground and down into the roofs of caves, where they hang suspended.

What exactly are stalagmites? Stalagmites are stalactites which have finally loosened from their precarious place in the roof of the cave and fallen down to the floor of the cave, where they remain with one end plunged into the dirt and the rest sticking straight up. Too many stalagmites can eventually make a cave practically uninhabitable, or at least very difficult to walk in.