Sometimes I wander on the wooded path behind my house when I’m struggling with a writing project, or with anything else. A walk under a shady canopy can take me into another land, especially when I’m the only human on the trail.
Earlier this afternoon I walked down the path alone. Squirrels darted across branches, hurling themselves from pine to oak. I heard what I imagined were deer stamping behind the thick privet; a small herd has taken up residence in this dedicated green space. I gazed into the underbrush, then turned my eyes to the path in front of me, where I noticed a small feather on the ground. I picked it up.
The feather was dun gray tinged with brown—probably not very interesting, the bird from which it came. I slid my fingers down the feather’s length to the tip, then touched the pointed end to a fingertip, feeling its sharpness. As I brought it closer to my eyes to inspect the hollow shaft, an image of an old-fashioned quill pen flicked through my mind. How must it have felt to write that way, with words flowing through a feather that had once held a swan aloft?
Of course, such pens were much larger and more attractive than the feather in my hand. I let it go and watched it float in a spiral toward the ground.
As I walked on, I saw another feather of the same kind, then another. What had happened here? Bird attacking bird? A cat? Violence—or molting? A bicyclist whizzed by as I gathered the feathers, thirteen in all, into a makeshift bouquet. I scanned the ground and underbrush for other signs of what had happened, but I couldn’t discern the meaning of this story.
I wondered: How many stories do I overlook in a typical day? I’d almost walked right past this one. And of those I notice, how many resist interpretation, resting instead in mystery?
I retraced my steps, walking slowly toward my house. In my right hand, I could feel the feathers drag the air, their unexpected weight tugging at my imagination.