Wet Feathers

by Katie Birchenough

It’s time to take out my old dogs, Loofa and Jasmine. I love going out with them for even a brief walk in the driveway beneath the twelve majestic redwoods, silent sentinels witnessing the passage of time, their bark as topographic as mountain ranges and canyons on relief maps of Earth. Dwarfed by their towering presence I become a girl again, small and curious, eager to come upon life’s next mystery—a miracle of nature I’m unable to explain because I either resisted learning about science in school, or my human language is so limited.

Today, feathers on our neighbor’s lawn at the end of the asphalt catch my eye. The dogs sense something different too and perk up, their noses channeling information beyond my capabilities as we all approach with reverent curiosity. The dogs know so much more than I do—their wisdom is connected on levels I yearn to understand.

This scattering is the remains of a mourning dove. But…whose feast? Owl? No…owls ingest the feathers of their prey. Cat? Maybe. No bones. No blood. Only smells beyond my senses and wet feathers in the dewy grass. I’ve never seen wet feathers like these before. They’re plump, succulent, laden with drops of precious water, and weighted enough not to be blown away in today’s soft breeze.

Mourning doves are so plainly beautiful, like Amish women in their simple clothes. Yet these feathers seem magically bejeweled, their subtle iridescence glistening in the dappled light, as if enticing a body to put them on and swirl out to the ball just for one night of enchanted abandon.

Standing there, I wonder: When I’m gone, what trace will I leave to reveal my essence? Will it be my sneakers and shawl by the back door awaiting my body for the next walk? Will it be my lovesweat silhouette imprinted on our flannel sheets? Will the inner peace I seek finally come to rest in my countenance?

Whatever remains, I hope I echo the simple elegance of these wet feathers that are holding the only water on a morning during drought.

Katie Birchenough has lived near Asheville, North Carolina since 1997. Much like the Cowardly Lion, she set out seeking courage, and found a teacher, a resident wizard in her writing community.

About Wet Feathers—I originally wrote this piece while living in California in the early 90s. I dusted it off after several classes and had another go at it with the help of two writing buddies.