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From the air

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I was poking along with my dogs the other day, trying to find relief from the heat in the shade of an oak in my yard. The dogs snuffled through the grass, hoping to catch the scent of a chipmunk or whatever other small rodents live under the shed where I keep my lawnmower.

My eyes caught a splash of white. At first I figured it was the flowering top of a weed that had grown higher than usual, taking advantage of the hot, dry weather—a time when the grass doesn’t grow and, in fact, shouldn’t be mowed.

It turned out to be no weed. Rather, it was the tip of a blue jay feather.

What an exquisite piece of art it is. The inside of the feather is a duet of charcoal gray and silver, but the outside is something I look at without growing tired of it. The feather itself is made up of fine strands about the width of a human hair. On this feather, they grow out from both sides of the quill shaft at about a 45-degree angle.

The top half, which is larger, is gray close to the tip of the quill, but as the feather grows wider, a navy blue takes over. And the bottom half is all blue—lighter on the left, darker on the right—with narrow vertical strips of black that are barely visible close to the tip but dark at the other end of the feather. And although the small strands of each feather grow away from the quill at that 45-degree angle, the bars run just about perpendicular to it.

The end of the feather, though, is white: in my mind, the definitive white, not the 98 different shades of white that can be found in any paint store. Turning the feather changes its appearance as the light hits it at different angles. At one angle, the blue edge of the feather seems to glow on its own.

Where I live, the days are pocketed by moments when the rattle and hum of society grow quiet. All I can hear during those moments is the wind and the birds: the blue jays, crows, cardinals, robins, finches, sparrows and mourning doves. I am glad to call them my neighbors, glad so many of them choose to live in the two 60-foot oaks on my property. As I sit writing this on my back porch, a robin keeps flying into the heart of a big rhododendron not 40 feet away. It flies in and the leaves all bob around. Then it flies back out. A few minutes later, back in again. Feeding its young, no doubt. I make it a point to stay away, give the birds their space.

Finding the blue jay feather, and being surprised by the beauty a closer look revealed, reminded me of the time I found a dead hawk in my front yard. I don’t know how it died; I’m guessing it either struck some utility wires or maybe hit a window. When I picked it up to look closely at it, I was amazed at its coloration. I have no way to describe it. The only thing I’ve seen in nature to rival its beauty was the color of brook trout. They shined like jewels. The hawk’s coloration, for some reason, reminded me of American Indians. And there was a psychedelic element to it too—not a glow-in-the-dark, shape-shifting, trippy vibe; rather, a sort of enhanced beauty, as if my eyes had learned how to see more, see better.

I spend a fair amount of time outdoors, but I really should spend more time in the outdoors: at the sides of ponds, in the middle of meadows with their wildflowers, at the top of a wooded hill facing west at sunset, or under the dark blanket of a clear night sky in a spot streetlights can’t reach. The blue jay feather was a reminder. I will be a fool not to listen.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 1st, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
Aug. 1st, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
Aug. 1st, 2011 01:56 am (UTC)
Exquisite is exactly the right word to describe this post, with perfect timing, as well.
Aug. 1st, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
I like the way the finches fly, a sort of bob-bob-bobbing that says to me that they're having fun.
Aug. 1st, 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
Thank you for lifting my soul with your words.
Aug. 1st, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
Kind words indeed! Thank you.
Aug. 1st, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
Beautiful. (Your post and the feather)
Aug. 1st, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you! As I was writing, I kept thinking about how words were falling well short of describing the beauty of that single feather.
Aug. 1st, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
What's even more amazing is that the blue doesn't exist. It's a structural color, which is to say that it depends purely on the structure of the feathers to become a sort of refractive prism. The feathers themselves are brown from melanin. (All iridescent bird feathers work this way.)
Aug. 1st, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
Wow. That makes it even more of a little miracle, doesn't it? Thanks for passing that along.
Aug. 1st, 2011 11:47 pm (UTC)
"I really should spend more time *in* the outdoors." Well said, PJV. I agree!
Aug. 2nd, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
That's what taking a course from Simpson about the Romantics does to you.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 02:14 pm (UTC)
That's what happens to your head after you take a course from Simpson about the Romantics.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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