Blurbs of a feather strung together, by Joanna Hannigan

My article was published in SKIRT Magazine – Category ‘Winging It’ 

I’ve developed my own way of winging it when undecided or perplexed about a predicament—I search for a feather. Regardless of the season or weather conditions, I’m never disappointed with the results of a feather quest. A feather found heralds the imminent arrival of an answer to a conundrum. Indeed, in dream analysis, finding a feather means easing a burden.

Feathers have floated to me over the tops of office cubicles, have materialized as I crossed the doorway of a coffee shop at an indoor mall, and have graced the path before me at parking lots, amusement parks, and the entrance to a movie theatre after dark. Feathers have appeared in all sorts of places: atop Yankee Doodle’s cap, at the heart of a dream catcher, in Dumbo’s trunk, and inside the pillow that eases us into Dreamland. These common, delicate items are the subject of fairy tales, poems, movies and songs.

As observant beings, we notice recurring patterns. It may be an object, familiar song, or scent that stops us in our tracks—and makes us wonder about the coincidence and its implications. An unexpected scent may immediately reconnect us with a person we’ve lost. A song, not heard in years, may trigger a memory long forgotten. A feather that grabs our attention can make us hopeful we’ll soon receive an inspiring message or inner truth. The Internet is full of stories that suggest the arrival of a feather is a message from the hereafter in general or from someone who has slipped the mortal coil and wants us to ‘lighten up’ or follow a different path.

Is finding feathers a spiritual or esoteric act for me? Hardly—philosophically, I’m more in synch with the feelings expressed by dancer Diana Morales in the musical A Chorus Line. She reveals in the song Nothing that she “dug right down to the bottom . . . and tried and tried”—to feel like an ice cream cone melting or a bobsled whooshing. The magic of improvisation didn’t work for Diana. The mystical intoxication felt by transforming a feather into a sacred symbol, replete with meaning, doesn’t work for me. Via molting, birds shed feathers as we shed skin and hair. Via sleuthing and paying attention, I find a feather and solve a problem.

Do birds feel the loss of this bit of fluffy down, this waterproof plumage, composed of protein, fat and water? Are they as attached to their feathers as airline travelers are to their luggage? Bird feathers (as opposed to horse feathers) are shed, plucked, stolen, and inserted in hats, coats, magical capes, and feather dusters. Mature feathers create the lift needed to keep the bird aloft and its skin waterproof, and it camouflages the bird from predators. The feathers I find serve entirely other purposes.

Feathers represent freedom, truth, speed, lightness and virtue. To Native Americans, feathers symbolized the power of the elements and allowed communication with Spirit. Aztec, Druid, African and Siberian Shamans wore feathered cloaks to help envision ascendancy to higher realms. A feather makes an arrow fly true and helps a fly fish lure (properly tied) catch the biggest trout in the stream. So what can a feather do for you? And perhaps more important, do we find feathers or do feathers find us?

Unexpectedly, a brown feather with silver tips lay on the floorboard of the backseat of my car. Could it have blown in through the sunroof? An artificial purple feather, about the length of my hand, turned up in a book I was considering buying in a used book shop. It was pure serendipity. Purple is my favorite color. I bought the book, read it, and by carefully studying other books this author wrote, solved three problems.

If I don’t believe in feather magic, or divine intervention, why do I keep seeking feathers? It’s simple. My theory is that a feather quest fills me with purpose, actually distracts me from the problem I’m facing—or am unable to face or solve. The quest propels this chick to cross the road, ford the stream, and reach new summits. My right brain is engaged; reality shifts ever so slightly. I leave behind all thoughts about work, family, lovers, the past, and the future. I remember the youthful joy I once experienced exploring and discovering. Senses are attuned; my heart sings; my nose absorbs intriguing scents. I become a feather bloodhound.

When I spot a feather(s), for sometimes as many as seven or nine appear, my quest ends.  I note the color, shape and placement of the feathers, and often take a picture. I seldom retrieve the feathers, but I do thank the bird that donated the feather. Like freckles on a girl, or calluses on a farmer’s hands, my brain translates the code of the feathers and unlocks the key that enables me to qualify the quandary. The answer, like water off a duck’s back, rolls and quacks its way into existence. It was always there, waiting for me to take the time to weigh the problem, to focus, and cross beyond normal boundaries. Lighten your load—set out on a feather quest. The search may inspire you to head in a new direction; the feather may contain a message meant for you alone. #