Underneath all those cleverly protective, water-resistant, aerodynamic, heat-retentive feathers, there is indeed a lot of down. Oh, sure, it’s insulation. But I think it’s largely for snuggling little ones.
I also suspect there is good reason for all our bird-related child-rearing terms: we say that expectant mothers possess nesting instincts, that a careful parent is a mother hen, that being protected is taken under someone’s wing, that when our off-spring grow up, they spread their wings and fly away, leaving their parents to be empty-nesters. Birds are good at this mothering and rearing stuff. And back in the day, most people had backyard chickens to look to as examples.
In my chicken-keeping friend’s backyard, I see all that and the wonders of feathers’ beauty and function. I love white on white (and oh, that perfect touch of black in just the right places!) And then there’s all those layers overlapping and enfolding each other. Like an embrace.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind being taken under a wing now and then. Warm, protected, and downy underneath… .
In a friend’s backyard flock, there is a plain little hen who lays the most gloriously blue-green eggs. She also turns out to have this other glorious color trick: in full sun, her humble black feathers transform into iridescent jewels. Optical wizardry.
The astonishing thing is that she is such a very under-appreciated genius. This unsung color hero is the beleaguered lowest girl in the pecking order. She has to be fed separately to make sure she gets enough to eat.
I will not make the obvious comments about social injustices and the blindness of gallus gallus domesticus (or the rest of us). I will merely say that over and over again I have been made to see that things I thought ordinary are in some way most extraordinary. Keeping eyes, ears, mind, and heart open are hard to do, but the rewards can be astounding.
Bless you, “Vinnie,” for both your avian beauty and your patient perseverance. Look carefully, friends. Good things often come in plain-seeming packages.
Cecilia lives in a straw bale house in Arizona, way out in the desert. When she looks out her bathroom window, she sees a big patch of cholla cactus covered in spines and fruit or flowers, depending on the season. Often it sports added charm in the form of a cactus wren. These speckled birds have figured out how to navigate some of the meanest, most aggressive cactus spines there are, and to nest and feed and rear their young amongst them. Talk about making lemonade out of a potential lemon; they represent a kind of existential optimism that I admire, and so does Cecilia. She wanted to look at her wall and be reminded of that everyday, and so this painting was born.
I love being able to make a small dream come true like that. Thank you for trusting me with your vision, Cecilia, and for the challenge that was this painting! And I mean that–those spines are not only a tactile challenge, but possibly the most complex visual I’ve ever executed. And that’s saying something!
Merry cholla one and all. Keep on keeping on, no matter what your personal spine factor may be… .
Helen Davey, an Australian musician now living in Switzerland, composes and performs music in response to artworks that move her. I am so honored that she chose my painting, “Still Waters.” It is now part of her new body of work, “Project 52, Sound-Paintings.” That title says it all: a full year of one-a-week compositions inspired by different artists. Check it all out on her Facebook page, and on her Blog, and enjoy more of her music on Soundcloud.
As for my tri-colored heron, I was out with a camera stalking the natives, and he was patiently going about the business of breakfast. The sea and sky were indistinguishable in that still, overcast dawn. He kindly chose a handsome point of rock, and stood stock still – not a feather out of place, not a blink of that reptilian eye. He shot out once, like lightening, then bolted the proceeds down that long, long neck. Then all was still once more.
Thank you, Helen, for the audio love, and for sharing your gifts. And as always, thanks to you all for reading my blog!