Small Miracles and Metaphors

It has been raining for weeks in my neck of the woods. My cells feel saturated. This time of year usually puts me in an introspective frame of mind where my thoughts just string themselves together like prayer beads.

The other day I watched a crow peck at a nut that it had dropped to the ground from an overhead telephone wire, watched as it craftily maneuvered the shell with claw and beak to reach the meat inside. It was a miraculous success; I wanted to applaud.

I remembered a quote from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. She said: “Even miracles are mundane happenings that an awakened mind can see in a fantastic way.” This week I offer my thoughts about small miracles in the form of birds and feathers.

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by feathers. I was two when I met my first spirit guide, a mythical bird-like creature I called Snigwig. It lived in our side yard, and I watched its five legged, blue feathered, saddled body from the arm of the couch next to the living room window. My family received my stories about my new friend and our adventures together with the bemused indulgence often afforded children without siblings. The only other person who reported seeing this special being was the town drunk. I’m not sure he was telling the truth, but he’s dead now, so I can’t ask.

I no longer remember when I stopped seeing this guide, but birds have continued to bring me comfort, joy, courage, and support.

Birds are the connectors between the heavens and the earth–flying in the ether, walking on earth, and living in the trees in between, grounding spirit to earth. Their feathers are magical metaphorical gifts. When I find a downy little feather, I’m reminded to be gentle with myself, to take little steps, to know that it’s okay to be a babe in the woods. Big feathers remind me of my power and my ability to soar like a raven, to see life from a broader perspective.

Each time I take a walk along the creek or in the woods, I come back with a special gift of a feather; it has happened with such regularity that I no longer question it. Often I find a feather waiting for me just as I reach a turn-around point in my walk. One step short and I wouldn’t have seen it half buried just off the path. Occasionally the feather is lying in a tiny patch of sun, and its sparkling iridescence catches my eye. In the next moment, as the sun spot fades, all that remains visible is a patch of leaves and twigs.

There are times a feather seems placed right in my path. Once as I followed the creek path near the water, I found an owl feather projecting from the top of a cattail, nose high from the ground, gently swaying about in the breeze. Feathers have drifted down in front of me from trees, floated over to me while I squatted by the creek, and with a different magic, given by friends who know this proclivity of mine.

The type of feather is significant. When I stray from serenity and am caught up in the busyness of life, a pure white Crane feather comes my way. If you’ve watched a crane you know the focused, patient, and serene feeling it conveys.

When I’m in touch with the intuitive, magical side of my nature, a shiny black raven feather appears and reminds me of the laws of nature, the psychic realm, shape shifting, and being in two places at once.

Not long ago I wandered along the path near a creek, feeling very small and vulnerable. I bent to straighten my sock and found the tiniest piece of baby fluff, a black pin feather, the owner of which I could not place. It was so absolutely sweet, delicate and child-like that it reminded me that I am perfect just the way I am, however small and vulnerable I may feel.

Another day while walking through vineyards, awe-filled by the astounding beauty of a pre-autumn California morning, I breathed the heady fragrance of lush purple grapes. As I bent to pick a small cluster of juicy grapes, I found at my feet a double feather of the palest beige, variegating into dark brown, ribbed with gold highlights and flecks of grey. It was soft, billowy, stunning to behold, and very reflective of the beauty of this area where I live. That feather sits on my altar next to my bed, and when I forget for a moment that life is beautiful, a quick glance at that wondrous feather restores my faith.

The notion of specific lessons or gifts to be gleaned from particular birds intrigues me.

I sat on a large piece of driftwood on a deserted beach. The overcast early February sky and the glassy water beyond the breaking waves were the same indistinguishable silver gray. The Pacific Ocean rumbled in and out; it frothed and sputtered and crashed about in a way that irritated me. Everything irritated me. For a month, I’d tried and failed to complete a particular task and I was in a dour mood. I had come to the beach to find peace of mind, and it wasn’t working.

I saw a dense dark cloud moving at an alarming rate from North to South. I squinted myopically as this cloud mass approached, and realized that it was a flock of pelicans coming to land not far from where I sat.

In a flurry of squawks and flapping wings, these larger than life birds with their immense wing spans, swooped down and lit in the wet sand of the receding tide. The unlikelihood that anything as big and bulky as a pelican, let alone a flock of them, could actually become airborne again without effort was belied by their just as sudden departure en masse.

In that moment, I felt a little more optimistic at the likelihood of completing my own task. I mean, it wasn’t as hard as becoming airborne. I walked over to an object protruding from the sand before the next wave would carry it off, and retrieved a stately gray-brown pelican feather—just a reminder of the moment.

When I open myself to the special messages of birds and their feathers as they cross my path, my life is enriched.