Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 23: Flicker Feather

I confess that when I'm walking around in the great outdoors, if I find a cool feather I will sometimes pocket it. Technically this is illegal. According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act: "Unless and except as permitted by regulations, …it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means, or in any manner…to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, …possess, offer for sale, sell, …purchase, import…any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird…"

That said, however, I've got a small feather from a northern flicker sitting in a little vase on my desk. It's a miniature work of art--about five inches long, dark brown vanes with white edging on the wider side, and a bright yellow shaft with a white quill. Sharpened, it might make a good pen for a gnome. The underside has a yellow sheen. Here in the east, our flickers are of the yellow-shafted subspecies. When a flicker flaps past, that yellow underside is obvious. Out west, you see the red-shafted subspecies. Same basic bird, but the underwing shines pinkish-red when it dips past. They both have the characteristic white rump spots--usually the diagnostic marking that gets noticed as the bird dives into tree cover. 

Maybe because grey tones seem dominant right now, today I've been especially noticing my feather. The hints of spots on its edges are like parts of a Rorschach ink blot test. What do they make me think of? The sharp piercing cry of the flicker as it calls from the trees outside my window in spring... the squadrons of migrating flickers I see on Monhegan each fall... the subtle beauty of this woodpecker as it pecks for ants on my mother's lawn... And the yellow shaft is a really deep gold, almost like an egg yolk or a summer sun. A little bit of brightness next to my books and file folders.

In the spring I'll probably release it to the wind, atone for my law-breaking. But for now, my eyes need it here. 

Small flicker feather
picked up in last summer's woods,
shaft a slice of sun.

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