Feathers of a Bird

By Corinne H. Smith

“The question is not what you look at but how you look & whether you see.” ~ Thoreau’s journal entry, August 5, 1851

Wednesday is garbage pick-up day on my street. The recycling truck comes first, usually before breakfast. The regular truck follows a few hours later. My routine is to put the recycling bin out at the curb when I hear the noise of the truck a block away. Then I know I have time to gather the week’s other garbage into a bag or two.

Last week, I placed the recycling bin on the sidewalk just as the sun was coming up. Then I headed back to the house along the driveway. I looked down to admire how green the grass was turning, now that Spring has come and our days are warmer. Suddenly I spotted a white and gray feather lying in the grass near the macadam, all by itself. I picked it up to inspect it. It was blue-jay like, except that it had no blue.

feather1

I brought the feather into the house to look at it again. I made the mistake of showing it to one of the cats, who wanted to chew it. I took the feather away from her, washed it off, and put it on a shelf out of her reach.

The recycling truck came along and took our plastics away. When I went out to pick up the empty bin, I looked down at the grass again. Wouldn’t you know, I saw ANOTHER feather! It was very similar to the first. Why hadn’t I seen this one when I spied the other? I had no idea. I brought it in and put it on the shelf, too.

feather2

A short time later, I dragged two full garbage bags out to the street. Again, on my return trip, I looked at the grass. And again, here was yet another feather!

feather3

Okay, now I began to worry. Next, I expected to stumble upon a dead body. Now that I had found three feathers, I widened my view and searched for more. I soon found an all-gray feather in the front yard, and another striped one on the other side of the driveway. Thank goodness, I had found no dead bird. But there must have been a mishap of some kind. Maybe a stray cat had chased it and nipped at it. Maybe the neighborhood hawk had carried it away. Maybe the bird had gotten too close to a branch and scraped itself, jarring loose a few feathers. I’m not sure that this last scenario ever happens. But then again, I’m not a songbird. How could I know?

A few days later, when I mowed the lawn, I found another gray feather. This brought my total to six. I could study them and look at them more closely, as Mr. Thoreau would have done. The colors suggested that they may have come from a mockingbird. On its own, each multi-colored feather looked like the others. But if I put them side by side, I could see the variations in color. I could see which way the feathers curved. They had come from various parts of the bird’s body. This led me to believe that the hawk was involved, and that the story of these feathers was one of a small yet everyday tragedy.

feathers

The first feather, the smallest and brightest, is already my favorite. Whenever I pick it up. I imagine that I feel a life force pulsing from the shaft. This is impossible, I know. The bottom of the quill is tinged with red, too. With remnants of blood? This makes it even
more real, and gives me a connection to the animals, to both prey and predator. I could stare at these feathers for hours in wonder, imagining. Had they belonged to a mockingbird? A nuthatch? A robin? How could I ever know for sure?

It seems like a decent enough exchange: trash for treasure. Even a simple act like taking out the garbage can offer us new discoveries, if we only pay attention. How else could I end up with a collection of six maybe-mockingbird feathers? And what will I find on my next trip to the curb?

4 Comments

Filed under General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

4 Responses to Feathers of a Bird

  1. Your feathers are from one of my favorite birds….a mourning dove…..we have many coming to our feeders here at the farm and roosting in a nearby white pine at night. Very pleasent to wake to their soft call on summer mornings. I have watched doves outfly a pursuing hawk in straight high-speed flight, but have also watched them hit and hawk killed while on the ground feeding. They seem to naturally shed a lot of feathers and I often tuck found feathers into my hatband.

    • Ah! This makes sense, Michael. We have a nesting pair somewhere close. I witnessed their neck-entwining courtship ritual on our deck railing a few weeks ago. I’m sad to think one of them is now gone. But I have feathers to remember.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Daniel. These are interesting sights and little mysteries to come upon, without warning.

  3. I had a similar experience weeks ago while hiking. I found a tree with a lot of little feathers on the branches and a lot of them all around on the ground. I thought “Here it happened a tragedy”. Probably a big falcon attacked a nest with chicks. I look at carefully but there are only little white feathers all around. No dead bird, no nest on the branches… Nothing!

    “The question is not what you look at but how you look & whether you see.” I could say more: “…even if you don’t see anything.”