Photograph by Jeremy Parker, near Reno Nevada October 2015
telling of wings and nests
mostly found grounded
but now looking up,
I have written in earlier posts about finding feathers. I have chosen to believe when I find a feather, it is one way God says he is with me and providing for me. A feather is also a symbol that small things are important. My 9 year old granddaughter came to me this week with this feather. She said, “Granmary, this is another feather to go with the others.”
I am grateful for this girl and her generosity. It is important for me to remember that what I do and say is seen and heard. Small things are important.
How quickly our front porch nest scene moved from the wrens’ nest building to those beautiful little spotted eggs to incubation and hatching. Hatchling to nestling to fledgling bird, now this one last photo captured the moment before down wisps waved in the wind and became flight feathering. The next time I saw the nest the tiny beaked face lifted above the little scraps of wings, tumbled over the edge and in one scurry disappeared into my Katy Ruellia at the porch edge. Now I only see a still, silent nest although I hear wren song in the trees.
No empty nest pathos
Is that a triumphant note I hear?
On to living and singing
Until nest time next year?
I have never been fond of palm trees in my garden landscape. To me, as close as we live to the coast, they seem much more at home near the ocean, fitting right in with the sand and sun and waves. However, I adore ferns, and grow several different varieties in our wooded back yard. But as you see here, there is definitely a friendly relationship between these ferns and the large palm where they so happily grow. I noticed this cluster of ferns when I took my 6 month old granddaughter out in her stroller for a walk one morning. This palm is the centerpiece of a small pocket park in their neighborhood. I don’t think I had ever truly paid attention (sorry, Mary Oliver!) and been astonished at the sight, and certainly had never talked about how these graceful little ferns happen to find enough to grow on in what seems to be just a notch left by palm fronds as they age and break off.
In this case, the palm’s growth habit (aging?) creates a little pocket where debris and leaves collect. The point where the palm fronds once attached to the trunk – called boots – collect leaf litter that composts to create a growing medium that ferns love. This is a natural occurrence in areas like ours where wet, humid conditions favor the ferns.
The ferns are epiphytes. This means they are growing on another plant that serves as a host, but they don’t get their nutrition directly from the host plant or cause any it any harm. Spanish moss is another common epiphyte.
Another little fern called the Resurrection Fern can be found growing on a palm trunk, although the most common choice for this fern around here are the large old live oaks where the fern grows along the branches looking like brown moss until it begins to rain. Then it transforms into emerald lace! (See my previous post http://tinyurl.com/TheOldOakTree)
I am glad I paid attention to these feathery green surprises. One day tiny spores were floating around and a puff of wind carried them to just the right spot to root and grow. I am reminded of the lovely phrase used by Hildegarde of Bingen: A Feather on the Breath of God. Maybe we can learn to let go enough to be shown just the right place to grow. And it just might be an unlikely place, an extraordinary place, one we would never have known to dream of.
Tell about it.” ~ Mary Oliver
When I find a feather, I have long believed that it is a sign – God sending me a reminder that he is with me, and that small things can be important in helping me know that. I find feathers often and in strange places. Once, a tiny feather blew across and stuck to my windshield on a drizzly day. One afternoon when I sat on my back porch, praying through a troubled time, I looked up to see what seemed to be a snowflake because of the way it drifted down to the flagstone path. I looked up to see a dove on the edge of our roof – her bit of breast feather fluttering to the ground.
No wonder then, that I like Luci Shaw’s poem, Magnificat, published in the collection titled The Angles of Light.
“I am singing my Advent to you, God: How all year
I’ve felt your thrusts, every sound and sight piercing
like a little sword – the creak of gulls, the racket
as waves jostle pebbles, the road after rain –
shining like a river, the scrub of wind on the cheek, a flute
trilling – clean as a knife, the immeasurable chants of green,
of sky: messages, announcements. But of what? Who?
Then, last Tuesday, one peacock feather (surprise!)
spoke from the grass; Flannery called hers “a genuine
word of the Lord.” And I – as startled as Mary, nearly,
at your arrival in her chamber (the invisible
suddenly seen, urgent, iridescent, having put on light
for her regard) – I brim over like her, quickening. I can’t
stop singing, thoroughly pregnant with Word! ”
Lucy Shaw, Magnificat, part of collection published in
Angles of Light
I write a great deal about vision, particularly attentiveness and seeing with the eyes of the heart. Most of my posts here on Stones and Feathers are related to that in some way. But one does not require perfect physical visual acuity to acquire keen insight. I know a man who is legally blind due to a genetic retina degeneration that presented suddenly when he was 10 years old. His vision is severely limited. He lives in a world of shapes and blurred edges. The blurred photo above represents this although it still has more detail than he would find. However, he has a sharper awareness of his surroundings than anyone else. Seeing with his heart gives him a depth of understanding and perception that many whose eyes work well never develop. I have seen him meeting challenges in getting his education, dealing with issues of transportation because he does not drive, working with his hands in his kitchen and garden. I watched his face as he repeated marriage vows to the love of his life. I admire his determination and faith. I love the hugs only a son can give his mother. I am grateful for his inner vision.
if it must be dark outside
there can be light within
can you see what I see?
inside the shadows
for numinous brilliance
written in gratitude for my son, Ben Parker
I have previously written about my love for feathers, how a long time I ago I began to recognize the finding of a feather as a small signal that God is present. Often when I pray for myself or others I pray for hiding under the shadow of His wing. It is very simple, I choose these tiny found objects as reminders of how God has been and will be with me. This is not the only reminder, there is evidence all around me in my home and garden. Recently as I was reading passages in the Old Testament which speak of the stone markers erected to remind both present and future generations of God’s help, I realized these and my feathers are doing the same thing – simply saying “remember!”
“Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—”the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” —1 Samuel 7:12, NLT
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood. —Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
This blurry photo is one of those that I am tempted to discard because it is less than I set out to accomplish, then allow it to draw me back for a “think about it” moment. I captured the image standing at my kitchen sink, which produced mostly a silhouette of the busy little bird, wings frantically buzzing while snatching tiny tastes from the feeder. I watch for him, but I seldom glimpse his full glory even though I am inches away because he is on the move.
A hummingbird garden is not a still garden. The arrival of hummingbirds at our feeders brings the scene alive with dashes of color as they whir and whirl about, darting in for a sip of nectar, wheeling out to sit momentarily on a twig, then barreling back full speed to catch another drop or two.
It is in those moments of perching stillness that I find these tiny creatures giving me a deep life lesson. In all their quickness and industry, it is only as I catch the still seconds that I can see their feathers, really absorb the rich brilliance of their unique coloring. If there were no stops and stilling, however brief, how could they continue their pace, how would energy continue for gathering of nourishment?
“The hummingbird goes a step beyond – they are perpetual motion. I remember when I first saw a hummingbird still. It was startling. As it can be for us – it can be startling for us to be still. Yet we must.” ~ David Arms
The above words quote an artist who uses birds, and hummingbirds in particular often in his work, which calls me to come home, and be still.
“Hope is that thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
That sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.” ~Emily Dickinson
For many years now, I have believed that when I find a feather, it is a reminder to me that little things are important, and that I am kept in the shadow of God’s wing. I have found feathers in the most unusual and unexpected places, when I wasn’t really looking. When my mother was dying, I went out to the car to drive back to sit with her. When I got to the edge of the lawn, I had to step over the median. When I looked down, I found a large black and green duck feather sticking straight up out of the grass. A wisp of a feather floated by and stuck on my windshield on another occasion when I sorely needed the reminder.
I had a little feather that was a wonder to me for years. I don’t remember where I found it or exactly when, although I kept it in a little birthday reminder book that was given to me in 1987, the year we moved to Indonesia. I put it there in the beginning because on that page there is a drawing of that same feather, right down to the size (tiny) and colors and markings (black and white). I was amazed at that. Usually the process is different…you find the object, then obtain or make its resemblance.
The other special thing about that feather was that it lived between the pages of the birthday calendar book where my oldest son’s name is written, January 13, his birthday. And that it was still there, through 2 moves in Jakarta, an international shipping, and the busy household shuffling of my kitchen desk every day. Feathers usually don’t stay. They drift in and blow away.
But this little feather stayed between the pages and always caused me to smile when I came upon it. It reminded me of joy in small things, of hope … of lines of poetry and scripture, and that gifts can come when you open your hand and heart, and sometimes, the door. I gave the feather to my son on his birthday last year, telling him I hoped it would serve as a reminder of the same things for him. (This story was posted in the blog last September.)
I still find feathers. And they are still reminders for me of joy and faith…and that I am under the shadow of His wing. A favorite author, Leigh McElroy, likes finding feathers too. She reminds me that God may wink or whisper in the way He reminds me of His presence, and that He delights in delighting me with the littlest of things. The opening scene in a movie loved by many tells a story of a feather found and kept.
On this last day of February, warm days and cool nights call us out to the garden. We have been pruning the results of last month’s hard freezes, tilling soil, and clearing paths as we ready for planting. A pair of cardinals watches us as carefully as we watch them. They may have already chosen a nest and we don’t want to threaten them into moving. In the tangle of barren branches their quick flashes of color make us run for a camera. Bold and bright red with his black mask, the male is darting from porch to tree. We see his mate less often, but sometimes glimpse them together. Non-migratory birds, most cardinals live within a mile of where they were born. They are song birds and the male uses its call to attract a mate, but unlike most northern songbirds, the female also sings. She will often sing from the nest, perhaps a call to her mate. Cardinal pairs have song phrases that they share. As we listen carefully, on these first sunny days of late winter, we hear the song. It sounds like ‘cheer, cheer, cheer’.
Gray days and gray thoughts feel so different according to where I am standing. If I wrap my shawl of worry around my shoulders and stay inside I may never see my red feathered friend or hear his song. Only as I go out, look up, and open my heart am I able to find the song and share it.
“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” ~ Emily Dickinson