Sunday, June 6, 2010

For the Birds

Early this spring I discovered a visitor in my backyard. A pigeon, brightly plumed, who followed me around like a lost puppy as I filled the feeders. He decided to stay on as a regular. Lucky for him the cardinals are finicky diners and toss down three perfectly good seeds for every one they deign to eat. He was friendly and even though he was four times larger than the other regulars, everyone seemed to like him and the congregation went about their days happily singing and snacking. But then a curious thing happened. On Friday, during a particularly trying moment, I looked out the window to the sky, as is my habit, and there was my pigeon on the fence with another pigeon at his side. A white pigeon with black stripes. No fooling. They have returned together each morning and afternoon since.

White pigeons are a result of a recessive gene anomaly that breeders force...similar to the mad science of puggles and ruffled tulips. White doves are typically sacrificed or, in less bloody terms, released during rites of passage ceremonies. The context of events defines the symbolism of white birds, but most commonly, they represent love, the soul, peace, forgiveness, and deliverance. But what to make of a white pigeon with black stripes? The dark and the light, the known and the hidden, the right and the wrong, all on the back of one bird; the entire weight of the world held up by a feather.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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