It is only a dropped feather?

Bird Droppings March 27, 2020

It is only a dropped feather?


Dr. Michael Garrett (1996), a Cherokee Indian from North Carolina, intertwined his native thoughts in his lessons as he taught college:


If we consider the eagle feather with its light and dark colors, we could argue that ‘the dark colors are more beautiful and, therefore, naturally more valuable,’ or vice versa. Regardless of which colors are more beautiful, or necessary, or valuable, the truth is the bottom line: Both colors come from the same feather, both are true, they are connected, and it takes both to fly. (p. 103)


A seemingly inconsequential event that of a bird dropping, the leaving of a feather only to be found along the way by someone like me or you. I am always amazed at how special something as simple as finding a feather becomes. Maybe back when I started this morning’s venture of rising early,  journal, read, and write, it was a way for me to drop feathers, and it seems nearly every day one or two emails reinforce my thoughts. A student’s mother introduced me to Kent Nerburn’s works, Small Graces (1998), and as I began reading his thoughts and found other books he had written, a deeper understanding of Native thought and spirituality took hold within.  A simple book, The Wisdom of the Native Americans (Nerburn, 1999), added to my understanding.


All birds, even those of the same species, are not alike, and it is the same with animals and with human beings. The reason Wakan Tanka does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly alike is because each is placed here by Wakan Tanka to be an independent individuality and to rely upon itself. (Sioux, date, p. 136)


Birds and feathers have been along my life journey. It has been some time since we had several large ferns on our front porch and I was checking the fern and forgot about the nest of purple finches who had adopted our ferns and front porch. Three babies sat there looking at me as I checked the fern for moisture surprising me as much as I them. There were three tiny babies sitting huddled in a fern basket all expecting breakfast and it was only me. As I think back, I am not sure who was the most scared, me by the shock of three hungry mouths gaping, or those tiny birds with a big hand poking in checking the moisture of the fern. Kent Nerburn one of my favorite authors had this quote in one of his books.


“We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit.” Chief Dan Brown  (Nerburn,1999)


It has been a few years since my first trip to Piedmont College and I am sure there will be many more to come as I am working on my doctorate at Georgia Southern, but I am still in communication with several faculty members at Piedmont involved in the Foxfire program. However, that first trip was one of meeting the Dean of Education for acceptance into the School of Education when I was working on my master’s degree. It seems I had forgotten a small piece of getting accepted into the education department. I had already completed the program classes in the Master of Arts in Education and officially had not been accepted in the program. That aspect of my journey, something you are to do first, rather than last, get accepted into the education school. I was called into the Dean’s office and her first comment was how to get on my blog site. After some discussion, I was accepted as I sat with the Dean and Assistant Dean of the education department after an interview.


As I left the education building and walked to the parking lot, a flock of geese met me walking along, weeding as they do across lawns at Piedmont back before the lake was drained, 50 or so Canadian geese scurried about looking for tender shoots in the morning coolness. As I walked, a bit of down crossed my path a tiny feather. I picked it up and my immediate thought was of Forrest Gump sitting on a bench waiting for a bus and the feather that starts and ends the movie (cite the film). I thought deeper as I saved the feather and still have it pressed in a book on my shelf. So often that little bit, that tiny piece of fluff that we often miss – it does not have to be a feather, it could be a kind word, a handshake, or certificate from first grade for spelling everything right – can provide the catalyst for the next day and for some, a lifetime. As a teacher, parent, grandparent, and friend many times we are the ones who have to drop a feather now and again, a tiny piece of fluff to keep another person going. Kent Nerburn has over the years addressed the spirituality and philosophy of Native thought in his writings.


“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren, and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish, and trees.” Qwatsinas, hereditary chief Edward Moody (Nerburn, 1999, p.51)


In primitive societies, a feather can be a very sacred and holy thing. The Aztecs made the cloak for the king from Quetzal emerald green, iridescent feathers and no one else could even own one of these feathers under penalty of death (cite). Native Americans would use feathers as signs of bravery and honor, awarding an eagle feather for counting coop, which is not killing your enemy, simply touching and riding away and other great acts of bravery (Hunt, 2010). I am intrigued as we now wage war often from an office with drones and smart bombs, what a battle that must have been back in the day to see a brave ride in touch a few people and ride out.


Humanity has come so far in today’s world as we “nuke em” with no need to touch, no need for honor, nor for a bit of fluff blowing along the ground. As I walked about my yard a few nights back getting some exercise along with my wife, who was checking her plants to see if any bulbs were sprouting, a feather caught my attention. It was a black tail feather from a crow. My day was made as I placed it on my desk with a hawk feather and owl feather from previous walks since it is the tiny pieces that count on our journeys. So, for today, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks; Namaste.


My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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