The last feather I saw was a curved downy fluff next to Mr. StripeyPants on the bed. The two comforters are filled with the down of the goose. One is cinnamon, new and soft and fresh. The other, faded pink, old and wearing thin. We have patched the mauve one several times. But alas, there is another tiny hole somewhere. And once in a while, we see a feather or two dropped on carpet, or stuck in the thread of the flannel sheets.
I don’t have my feathers out since I moved in with Liz. With 3 cats, it’s impossible. They love to grab them between their teeth, carry them around like a mouse, shake their heads, munch a little, and drop them near their food bowls. I used to have a circle of feathers on my altar in my old apartment. I would fill a blue glass antique bottle with sand I collected from the Atlantic or Pacific, and push the hollow tips of the feathers down into sand crystals, making a semi-circle of color.
I have found owl feathers before on walks through the woods. The 2 prize feathers are Bald Eagle, given to me by an explorer friend who kayaked in the Northwestern corner of Washington State. One is white, a tail feather. I had never seen one that close before she gifted me with it. She had gotten permission from one of the Native American tribes she was visiting to pick a few up from the forest floor. She said she saw hundreds of eagles flying the area on that kayak trip.
I keep thinking of the feathers flying from the mouth of the hawk in the Galway Kinnell poem when the hawk eats the jay. And I remember one of our readers talking about seeing the actual act, hawk devouring jay, last month on a walk through the city. The closest I have come to seeing a bird of prey hunt, is an osprey on the finger of Long Lake up in the Boundary Waters. I was on a week canoe trip and my two friends had gone off hiking for the day. I stayed behind on a gravel bar beach, slipped my journal out of the waterproof covering, and wrote.
I looked up from a line to see an osprey dive under the water like a rocket, and shoot back up to the sky with a fish in her talons. I will never forget that sight. What comes naturally to her is my treasure. I watched her on the lake for what must have been 30 minutes. Then she flew off into the distance. I didn’t see her again. Some days I long for the solitude of a trip like that, to be away from civilization as we know it, on bodies of water or untrampled earth. Something about the water though, and there is a lot of it here.
Water. Fluid. And in Winter, firm.
It’s warmer this morning, rising 6 degrees since I arose from sleep. It’s supposed to reach above freezing. Then drop again later in the week. I don’t see as many feathers in Winter as I do in the Fall and Spring. Summer is best for feather hunting.
The coolest feathers I have ever seen are from the Great Grey Owls that dropped from Canada to the area around Duluth a few years ago. Liz and I drove up (along with hundreds of other birders) just to get a glimpse of the wide-faced raptors. We must have seen 30 – 40 of them that weekend, perched in elms and birch, swooping low to the ground, the way they hunt, and, sadly, one deceased in the middle of the road.
It was still warm, had been hit by a pick-up truck minutes before. We stopped to offer prayers, and a closer look at her wings, talons, and feathers. We’ll never be that close to a Great Grey again.
I read later that the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota had a ton of calls about Great Greys that year. They had been hit by cars when they were hunting low across country roads. And then, just as quickly, they were gone. Back to Canada. I don’t think they’ve ever traveled this far South again.
-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, February 16th, 2008
-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – LIGHT AS A FEATHER