The feather

on the second anniversary of school shutdowns due to COVID-19

Bleak days. A long, rain-spattered, windswept season, gray as ashes, as stones, just as hard, cold, and immovable. Day to day to day the green promise of spring seems like a dream barely remembered; naked tree branches twist skyward as if beseeching the heavens for renewal…

We go through the motions, automatons numbed by a pandemic not quite past and the ripple effect of unprovoked war on the world stage, as if we’ve somehow fallen through a wormhole to eight decades ago… what year IS this?

I am tired, my colleagues at school tell one another. So tired. Some don’t know if they’re coming back next year. Some don’t know if they’re going to stay in education at all. Our principal is leaving in four weeks.

The children have seemed shell-shocked most of this year. Maybe I seem the same way to them, especially now that masks are optional and I find myself not recognizing some of them; I’ve never seen them without masks before. I don’t know their faces below their eyes.

As I walked the hallways last week, I had a sense of dragging myself over a finish line, except that there is no finish line. Not now, not yet…

But even in the bleakest, rain-spattered, windswept season, when gray goes grayer still, bits of brightness are always swirling. Maybe as tiny as a feather, a soft semiplume shed from a creature with the gift of flight. It might appear to be half one thing and half another… it might have the appearance of dark, wispy, wayward hair as well as a tapered tip dipped in fiery red, altogether like an artist’s brush with which we might, we just might, begin to dispel despair by painting our moments as we will…

So much symbolism in a feather. In the bird that releases it.

It is said that when cardinals appear, angels are near.

I don’t know about that.

I just know a cardinal feather is a symbol of life, hope, and restoration. And courage. And love. And sacrifice…

Falling from the grayest sky
Ethereal, riding the wind
Alluding to nearness of angels
Tiny trace of a nearby cardinal that
Has lost a bit of his insulation
Ephemeral, perhaps, to him
Restorative tincture, to me

Semiplume cardinal feather photographed by my friend,
E. Johnson, 3/11/2022.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

19 thoughts on “The feather

  1. Fran, I love everything about this post. That is an amazing photo! I have never seen a cardinal’s feather before; I adore it. Your description of the feather is so moving. I love that whole paragraph! Wow! I love how you went from the contrast of the cold grayness to “automatons numbed by a pandemic” to “unprovoked war” to “a wormhole” to “I am tired” to “shell shocked” to “dragging”, to “bleakest” to “brightest swirling” to “tapered tip dipped in fiery red to we might, we just might, begin to dispel despair by painting our moments as we will…” You described some of my feelings and I haven’t even taught since the pandemic started. I am outraged, angry, sickened… about the innocent Ukrainians being bombed, fleeing their home, and the children… The war bothered me so much that I had to write a poetry draft about the children.

    I love how you changed the mood of your post to positiveness and included the mood change in your Feather acrostic, which I love. Great word choices in your poem “Ethereal, Alluding, Ephemeral” and my favorite “Restorative tincture, to me”. Yes, “restorative tincture” is what your post and poem has done for me as I hope it did for you. Thank you.

    The other day I heard a cardinal early morning and then later before darkness. I immediately smiled and felt lifted by his song, and I looked up to try to find him in a tree, but I couldn’t find him. Cardinals always lift me so maybe there is something to that saying, “When cardinals appear, angels are near.” Thank you for your inspiration and the gift of your writing that always lifts me-joy. Thank you for your honesty and emotions in your writing. Powerful and moving!

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    • Many thanks, Gail, for your thoughtful and uplifting response. I love the cardinal’s song, too. On Easter Sunday, 2020, my husband and I rode to church to record his sermon for our congregants, as COVID had just shut everything down. Sitting on the steeple, all alone, was a male cardinal singing his lungs out. It echoed across the whole landscape… one of the most joyful, radiant, spiritual Easter moments I have ever known, without the people, the hymns, the choir, the lilies.

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  2. Oh, Fran, the photo of the feather on the water is serene. Your comment that you don’t know their faces below their eyes really struck me. It gives the image of little chicks hatching, that last piece of shell shedding right where the mask has been. Those little chicks develop feathers that come in after they’ve had a chance to adjust to the world in their baby plumes. The invisible finish line that is there every day but always comes back is felt and understood universally. Peace is what we need. I was just remembering my visit to Rockport with the church chimes playing in the evening and how comforting that was. I need more church chimes playing hymns from steeples in my life in charming towns while I’m out for evening walks.

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    • The feather is actually on a windshield. I find it so stunning, with those little droplets clinging. The actual fieriness of the red doesn’t come through. Such a perfect analogy you make, those little chicks emerging and the clinging shell where a mask would be. Peace – yes – we need it more than anything. We don’t even know how much we crave it. Real peace, not just the absence of worry…something akin to embers of joy, slow-burning and never too hot or spent…I adore church chimes, have loved them all my life. I could hear my church’s chimes at home when I was a child. My current church needs to have work done on the carillon so it will play again. Last summer, though, as I walked the neighborhood, I could hear the chimes of the church just up the street and I stopped just to listen…then sings my soul ❤

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  3. Oh so beautiful – again, Fran! I share your need for spring and the restlessness of school and the promise of a finish line. I especially loved your line: Restorative tincture, to me.

    Your photo is exceptional. Thank you always for the inspiration.

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    • So glad that line is meaningful to you, Joanne – I struggled with it the most. I knew I wanted “restorative” and finally settled on tincture as it means not only a tonic or medicine, something to help heal, but also means “color” – both meanings were right, here. Thank you for your words, always.

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  4. There is so much poignant beauty in this post, Fran. I am struck by these lines, “I had a sense of dragging myself over a finish line, except that there is no finish line. ” – I know this is true for so many. The world and it’s unending pain, so relentless. I adore finding feathers and I have never had the exquisite joy of finding a cardinal feather – what a gift! I agree with your assessment – ” a cardinal feather is a symbol of life, hope, and restoration. And courage. And love. And sacrifice…” Your poem is precious – love the use of ethereal and ephemeral, they roll over the tongue so softly – as a poem about feathers deserves. Keep finding the beauty in the midst of all that we are enduring.

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  5. Love your honest post and the movement in this slice from feeling despair to dispelling despair. The feather on the windshield is exquisite and a restorative tincture indeed. It reminds me of the tree just outside my kitchen window, often laden with raindrops that I think of as jewels. I enjoyed a bit of a break from some of the bleakness as two boys, ages five and almost three, kept us distracted and busy and in the moment, celebrating giant strawberries and treasured deliveries.Thanks for sharing this symbol of life, hope, and restoration with us.

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    • Raindrops as jewels – a lovely image, Ramona. They often catch the light and play with it, as diamonds do. No bleakness when two little boys are around – just joy! I can see the happy, busy scenes in my mind…

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  6. We don’t have cardinals but I think I have read/heard more about them than any other bird! The feather is absolutely gorgeous especially with the dew/raindrops on it. I think it’s the ‘no finish line in sight’ that is dragging everyone down and ongoing bad news being superseded by something even worse…so well crafted as always!

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  7. Just wow, Fran! Your writing coupled with that stunning pic evokes so much emotion. You put into words how so many feel. This line gives me hope- “ But even in the bleakest, rain-spattered, windswept season, when gray goes grayer still, bits of brightness are always swirling.” Thank you for this.

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    • I had to write to that feather, Cindy – especially when I realized it came from a cardinal. I almost feel it could be framed and hung on the wall – it’s so evocative. Thank you for your words 🙂

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