Though wild country is not far from town here, it always surprises me to find obvious evidence of wilderness.
This morning on our dog walk, I passed through a very tamed grouping of trees, elms I think, with their tall, tall heads waving majestically into the sky. It's a park-like setting, with big cushion-y wood chips beneath my sandals, nice benches strategically placed, a plaque dedicating the space to all those who lost their lives on 9/11.
It's a solemn spot, and the plaque just seems to punctuate that feeling.
Rarely does anyone sit here.
But the dog has led me nearby. As I amble along, I see a feather sticking upright in the wood chips. It looks a bit like a small branch, tumbled amongst other branches.
"Oh Boy am I ever lucky," I tell the dog. And the feather, brand new, perhaps molted only the night before, becomes mine! When we get home, my suspicions are confirmed: an adult male Great Horned Owl primary wing feather (thank you Google!)
It isn't lost on me that owls, mythically connected to the world between life and death, are just the bird to have presiding over a space reminding the living of the dead.
It's been a long time since I found a Great Horned Owl feather, in fact, it's been about 24 years, and I know this because I collect feathers, and remember the sites and dates where most have been found.
If I was a scientist, I would have long ago categorized my discoveries, but over the years, I've managed to identify most of what I've found, and for some reason, each one arrives in what I would consider an auspicious way. Each one, in some way, marks a change or a passing of energy, or perhaps a transformation of energy.
When I look back on the collection, I can also recognize what particular feathers seemed to herald.
I recall the tiny brilliant yellow feather I found while hanging out the laundry one summer day. I picked it up and tucked it into the open weave of the laundry basket, then continued hanging out t-shirts. Suddenly, as I was reaching to pin up a corner, I discovered a bright yellow parakeet watching me closely, side-stepping down the laundry line as I worked.
My brother caught her, we popped her into a cage we had and suddenly we were parakeet owners.
Eventually we found her a home in a nearby town. When we met the couple who answered our ad, it was obvious she was going to Club Med for birds--they adored her on sight and promised to lavish "Tweety" with all the attention they gave their 19 other parakeets.
Several weeks later they sent us a batch of photographs and a newsy letter informing us that Tweety was a he, not a she, and had several girl friends. We also learned that hard times had fallen on the family, with a major job loss and then a diagnosis of a life threatening illness.
It was as if we were receiving a letter from relatives.
At first it was disconcerting to have all this information about people who were simply strangers, but then I realized that the word "stranger" didn't aptly describe this couple. Perhaps no one who had ever met them considered them strangers.
They were open, joyful and ir-repressable and didn't seem to know anything but kindness, and so, it was how they functioned; from a place of deep kindness, no matter where they were or who they were with.
We wrote back and forth for some time. Eventually, we got a condolence card, with a tiny brilliant yellow feather taped to the inside. It was just to say that Tweety had died. After that, there were no more letters, as if their obligation to us had ended.
But I wonder now and then what has become of this couple; if he got his job back, if the life threatening illness was defeated, if the 19 parakeets missed Tweety.
A tiny bright yellow feather. A Great Horned Owl's wing feather. Someone who picks them up and begins a new story.