The thing about feathers

Cardinal feather in Fall narrow
Northern Cardinal feather                                                                 photo by Kris Haig



Emily Dickinson and I share a thing about feathers, apparently.


‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – (314)

‘Hope is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet—never—in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of me.

— Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


I have a haphazard collection of feathers gleaned over several decades and trotted back and forth across the country in a series of moves. There is one from a Brown Pelican (huge!), one from an American Goldfinch, one from a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, many unidentified feathers, and my latest find—a Northern Cardinal. It fell to the ground beneath the feeder we stock with black oil sunflower seeds, which seem to be a kind of crack cocaine for Cardinals and other finchy types.

This particular feather is slightly drab, suggesting that it came from a female or a juvenile.

But I find it beautiful and mysterious. It weighs less than nothing, yet would keep the bird warm through the harshest Pittsburgh winter. It is as exquisitely detailed as any fine painting. It is a marvel.

And it speaks to me of the power hidden in small things—to call us back from interior distractions, to awaken our sense of wonder, or just to make us smile.

So thank you, Mama Cardinal (or Junior), for dropping this lovely gift for me, which I now have kept “flying” by hanging it in my studio window. May you be blessed, and may I remember to keep that feeder filled.

Cardinal feather in hand


Kris Haig @ Sadie’s Bethel Beadery


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