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Ode to Feathers

They float on air, on water, on breath, settling on branches or leaves, the ground or the surface of a lake as they gently depart the bodies of their makers. They contain magic of light, of shape, depth, contour, structure, precision, sensitivity and function. They serve their makers as nothing else can, or would, or will, or should, like nothing else ever in the world invented by any other being. Each one has its place, position and job to fill while still attached to the body that grows them. Each one has at least one partner, of a very different shape, structure and position, that helps it to feel what’s needed by the body in this moment, and the next, and the next. They come in Every. Single. Color of the rainbow, but all colors are not made equal, nor is any color perceived equally. The fluids and particulates, the shape of the light and shadows around them, as well as the structure of the eyes that perceive them determine what is seen, and this is its very own magic. This is where the goddess resides, in the mystery of light, chemistry, and perception, in the hollows of the shaft, in the spaces between the tiny undulations and indentations that weave and interlock, dancing inside of sub-microscopic ringlets.

To the human eye a canary appears to be yellow, but what does another canary see? People who produce television shows for public broadcasting might put a canary – – or a parrot, or a cockatoo, or a tanager – – under a blacklight and tell you, “Now…THIS is what the other canary (or parrot, or cockatoo, or tanager) sees when they’re defending their territory from intruders, or looking for a mate.” But those people deceive you. Because, you understand, the winged ones can see in parts of the light spectrum that human eyes are not built to perceive. Can you imagine a color you’ve never seen?


I can’t.

The multitude of uses to those who make them and live by them is nearly as long as the uses that have been created by humans. None of our creativity does them justice, though.

Feathers are a world unto themselves, a micro-cosmos of interlocking wonder, of bending and flexing and stiffening against currents of air, of water, of heat, wind, love, conflict, hunger, sorrow and joy that we cannot, that we are not allowed to imagine. They are ineffable, mysterious, pulsating imperceptibly in their seemingly silent, keratinized state, and yet. And yet.

They muffle, reflect, absorb, and protect;

They skip and snap and flip and flap;

They straighten and curl, they molt and unfurl;

They flutter and lift, they shade and they sift.

A whole world teems within their confines

Of spores and mites and bacteria and lines

Of shape, whether positioned at the tail or the nape,

They carry and wedge, through the wind

Or to an alpine rock ledge.

You, feathers.

Carriers of mystery

Workers of magic

Messages from angels

Bringers of warmth

Builders of skill

By flight and by quill

The oil rolls off

The owls’ velvety soft

You carry the bodies of dinosaur kin

And we get to live among you, us in mere skin.

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  1. Beautiful prose – I am now certain that with each lift, each flight, each dance of the winged one is that of a holy instant where a magical miraculous peace abounds. Thank you for expanding my knowledge of the mystical bountiful feather. 🥰

  2. Wow. This is your portal to human eloquence paralleled only by the magic and mystery and pure functionality of feathers themselves. There was only one short paragraph that seemed out of place or incomplete, starting with “The multitude of uses …” Otherwise I was transported on the wings of your words, flying through feather language in ways not previously known. This is a piece you would be well advised to publish in “Emergence” or some other nature/environmental journal, and then to read aloud on NPR. Truly, my fine feathered friend, truly.

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