Saturday, while hiking with my friend Renate, I found a scattering of small blue jay feathers. I’d been feeling tired and not very much like I wanted to get out, but we’ve barely been able to hike for months, and the weather was bright, so I went. And then I found the feathers, a special little gift from….well, you know. The Universe. God. The Great Spirit.
Feathers are my special talismans, as I’ve written here before.
I have always been a spiritual sort. Not particularly religious, since I’ve been arguing doctrine and various forms of worship as long as I can remember, studying each one and absorbing what it said, then studying another. The way people worship makes me feel tender and gentle, but sorting actual doctrines is for those much more detail oriented than I. All I know is that something lives beyond us. A force for good, for hope, for faith and honor.
My passion for feathers began with a single visitor on a winter night when I was a young wife and mother, a little isolated and lonely, living away from my mother. My ex-husband worked in a city up the road a piece and lived with my grandmother during the week. I was an aspiring writer with practically no money, two small boys and not much contact with the outside world. As I’d spent the past ten years in a roar of conversation, as a student, in restaurants as a bartender and server, and in newspapers as a reporter, I craved contact with the outside world, and sometimes, my ex would invite people home with him. A day laborer, a construction buddy, a friend.
That October night, it was a laborer, a wanderer who wasn’t terribly clean, but told wonderful stories and ate my ordinary stew as if it were perfection itself. I was studying meditation and Native American spirituality through that period, and I was also a passionate gardener and birdwatcher. My favorite birds were blue jays, because I wanted to learn to be bold and beautiful and strong enough to write my books. We talked about some of these ideas, and the man pulled from his pack a perfect, beautiful blue jay feather. “I found it the other day,” he said. “It must be for you.”
I was very young, deeply honored. It seemed a blessing, a way for the universe to tell me that if I stayed the course, I could make my dreams come true. Blue jays were my favorite birds, so this feather, even more than a hawk or an eagle or one of those other power birds was very important to me. A direct hello.
After that, it seemed my blue jay feather then seemed to attract other feathers—a friend brought me a parrot feather from South America, and I found dove feathers and my boys brought me feathers they found in the garden. Over time, they seemed to arrive as special answers to prayers or worries, reassurances from the universe that all was well, that I was cared for. I kept them in a jar—dove and robin and parrot feathers; someone gave me turkey feathers in a fan, and I found an eagle feather at the zoo and kept it—but the only blue jay feather I had was the first one. I made it a special binding.
A year or two later, our family went through a dark season. A good friend was murdered, and I took it hard. The economy took a bad turn, my husband couldn’t find a decent job, and it was difficult for me to leave my very young sons to work outside the house. I was struggling to figure out how to sell my fiction, but it appeared it might not happen. We struggled with money, with the need for dreams, with the way life can take terrible turns without warning. We at least moved closer to my family, and I was happy to be with my sisters and mother again.
That spring, a blue jay family nested in a tree near my backyard. I was overjoyed. The arrival of those birds made me feel that perhaps God did care—particularly–about me. The boys and I watched with excitement as the birds built their nest outside our dining room window. We knew when the babies were born. We heard them, quite clearly.
And one magical afternoon, my youngest came running in to say the babies were on the fence. We rushed outside and watched in giggling delight as the two babies struggled to take flight. The mama dive-bombed us if we got too close, but she didn’t seem to mind if we watched from a distance as she nudged one, then the other off the fence. The babies squawked and protested and flashed their brilliant wings. It was magical. Powerful. Amazing. My sense of faith, of hope, was restored.
The next morning, on my back step, was one baby blue jay feather. Left in thanks. I tucked it away with the other one, trusting that all was well. Within a few months, I sold my first book.
Time went on. My career and my family—and I–grew up. It was good.
But as life is life, there came a dark season. There was illness; challenges with children; death swept away beloved pets and parents and grandparents, another good friend. As will sometimes happen under such pressures, my marriage collapsed.
We all put ourselves back together, piece by piece, created a new way of relating to each other. I hiked into the next chapter of my life, this one populated with people from all over the world, and with my own wanderings.
One day I realized that it had been a long time since I’d found a feather, and as if the universe wanted to tease me, walking in a park not a week later, I found not just one blue jay feather, but dozens. Obviously, a bird had been killed probably by a coyote, but I knew that Native American spirituality would honor that, and I knew the gift was somehow important.
I picked up a handful of them, feeling both disturbed and pleased. Uneasy and excited. That evening, I asked a Navajo friend what that might be about, and he advised me that there was something good coming, but first maybe, it would be something upsetting.
Well, so it was. Another mini upheaval, which made me realize I desperately wanted to move back home to Colorado Springs. I’d been traveling back and forth for three years, and had found new friends, new pastimes, a hiking group, a church, and even volunteered at a political organization. I dated. Everything in my life had moved but my actual house. It was time.
And then, I met someone. Capital S Someone. You know how that is. You want to think it’s wonderful, but gosh, all those ups and downs are just not as easy as they used to be. Only fools rush in and all that. I was quite strongly resisting him, continuing with my plans to find a house, helping my son figure out where he would live (like that blue jay mother, I had to do a little nudging with my youngest!).
One morning, my Someone took me to breakfast at an organic café in a little town I adore because I was thinking of renting a house in the area. Over a breakfast of thick French toast and apples, I told him my special history with blue jay feathers, told him that they were my special signal that the universe was listening, answering prayers, offered me blessings. He’s not an overtly spiritual person, but doesn’t discount signs and such things. He listened kindly without judgment. We walked up the skirts of Pikes Peak a little ways, and came back down to a park near his home and walked some more.
In the sunny bright day, he stopped suddenly, bent over, and picked something up. “Isn’t this a blue jay feather?” he asked. His blue jay feather eyes twinkled.
Overhead, flew a jay, cawing: this one, this one, this one
"Um," I said, "Yes it is.” I tucked it away in my bra, close to my heart, where it wouldn’t get lost.
We were living together within the year. The weekend after I moved in, we went to the mountains, and we had to take a long trek to fetch some orienteering flags. We kept seeing a beautiful red-tailed hawk overhead, flying through the brilliant skies. A good omen in my lexicon of faith, and I took it as a pleasant little pat on the head—the universe saying, “Yes, sweetheart, this is a Good Thing.”
But we had to tackle a fairly difficult climb to gather some orienteering flags. As we headed back down to the car in the gilt light of late afternoon, we were dusty and tired and sweaty, in that perfect state of post-hike bliss. The hawk had followed us, circling, chatting now and then. Something on the path caught my eye, and there was one of his perfect, pale red and dark-striped feathers. An honorable offering. The real thing.
It was so unbelievable that I should find a hawk feather—beloved and honored in Native American medicine—while walking with my Christopher Robin that for a minute I couldn’t really believe the evidence of my eyes.
But there it was, perfect and newly shedded, lying right in front of my right toe. I picked it up.
The Great Spirit, flying over in the body of that enormous red-tailed hawk, chuckled. I laughed, and again tucked a feather—this one enormous–next to my heart. I bought it home and put it in my study, next to the blue jay feather. My love feathers, as they all have been, one after the other, evidence of the deep love and support of that benevolent loving Force.
Oh, and by the way, my story in the Dragon Lovers anthology is called “Dragon Feathers.” J
Do you have a talisman of faith? Or a story of reassurance? Or some inexplicable happening that made you remember, “Oh, yes. We are not alone”?