Today, I have the pleasure of sharing with you a story written by one of our readers, Cyndie Morrell. Now, it’s all hers…
Dedicated to my mom, Faith Booth, who encouraged rather than ridiculed me when I started planting feathers in the pot full of dying foliage that graced the lobby of her apartment building.
Plant Your Feathers
By Cyndie Morrell (McAuliff)
As we walked up the hill toward home, the sound of the crows calling fell down around my ears from the treetops. I was oblivious to the sound of Zeeks voice. The bold, black birds had me mesmerized. Night was descending upon us. The wind whipped leaves around our feet. I heard them chant again; “You’re CAWWWGHT CAWWWGHT”. I knew as they mocked me that they spoke only the truth. I was caught. Caught listening again to this man who loved the sound of his own voice, who knew all the answers.
Suddenly there was a commotion in the sky. Two of the birds clashed above our heads. They beat their wings at each other. Their frantic screaming pierced the oncoming night. They pecked and prodded at each other with beaks and feet. As they pulled apart, I saw one rip at the other with its talons, pulling feathers from its wing. They fluttered to earth, those one, two three, four, five, six, seven blue-black crow feathers. I scurried to gather them before they got lost in the leaves or carried away by the wind.
One of the crows landed close to me as I reached for the last feather. It looked me in the eyes and screeched at me. He bobbed his head up and down and danced closer to me, yammering away, talking to me in a language that I wished to God I could understand. He told me a thing or two, I’m sure. Then he took winged flight and perched himself, not too far away, at the top of a nearby lamppost … to watch me.
Zeek was watching me too. He had finally stopped talking. I was intent with purpose. I sat without thought to where I was, laid the feathers gently in my lap and began to rummage through my purse. Eventually I found a wrinkled but unsoiled handkerchief, unfolded it and wrapped it gently around the seven perfectly shaped ebony feathers. My hands were trembling. “Seven crow feathers” I thought. The feathers were still warm. One had a drop of blood at its base. They were charged with the energy of the piece of human virtue that each one held. They were so alive to the touch! I sat very still, a quiet reverence enveloping me.
Zeek sat beside me. I asked, almost with a whisper, “Which bird is that, Zeek? The one on the lamppost? Do you know? It’s not the one that lost the feathers. Is it?” Zeek shook his head. “No. The one that lost the feathers is long gone.” he said. “That bird up there on the lamppost is the culprit that tore those feathers out. ‘Twas as if he came right down here and watched you pick em up and wrap them in that hanky too. Seems to me as if he had something to say about that, Cyndie.”
I looked into the troubled blue eyes of my faithful friend Zeek and then up at the regal, raven colored crow-bird perched precariously on the lamppost. “I think he gave me those feathers Zeek. Think he wanted me to have them and then he gave me directions about what to do with them. I think he’ll watch to make sure I understood him, too.” Zeek arched his eyebrow, questions forming in his eyes. He started to talk and I reached to put my finger gently against his lips. “Let ME talk, Zeek. Please. I’ve got to tell somebody. Please. Let me tell you the story.” Zeek closed his mouth, folded his hands in his lap and looked at me with rapt attention in his piercing blue eyes. He was always willing to listen when I asked. He was good that way.
I sat very still for a moment. The feathers wrapped in the hanky, vibrating in my hand. I put them gently into my purse. The crow on the lamppost started to talk again and I looked up and said out loud “I hear you, I hear you. I’ll get to it soon. I promise.” He quieted, that bird. And then he did an odd thing. He left his perch and flew down to join us. He also looked as if he was ready to listen.
“Remember I told you that I went on a wondrous journey.” I said to Zeek. “That I traveled alone for months, a seemingly troubled and lonely soul looking for solace. That when I came back I was at peace inside my own skin again. I told you that a tremendous gift had been given to my spirit. Remember?” Zeek nodded. The bird danced in the grass.
I began, “Near the end of my journey, far to the west of here, I was invited to a spiritual gathering. It was a sweetly calm midsummer’s day. This gathering was a bit different than the ones that I usually attended. Most of the souls that had come together on this sacred ground were descendents of the old Americans, of the first inhabitants. It’s always been an honor to be invited amongst them. My soul was strangely quiet that day. I felt ‘ready’ going in.” As Zeek and the bird watched me I reached inside my purse, found the feathers wrapped in the hanky and curled my hand gently around them. I felt their essence.
After a moment, I continued,”I was wandering aimlessly through the gathering, soaking up the sun. The invitation had come from someone I hardly knew and I hadn’t seen him yet. I had eaten good traditional food, watched the painted dancers petition for rain and I’d wandered through the craft displays. It was late afternoon and it was warm. I moved slowly with no direction, watching the ground. Unconsciously searching I think for a stone or a pebble to put in my pocket. A piece of this place to keep for remembering. At my feet I saw a crow feather. As I bent to reach for it a thought of Tom, who was always picking up feathers and putting them in his cap, ran through my head. I felt the soft delicacy of the rounded edges caress my fingers. Tears came to my eyes as the Tom thoughts washed over me. God I missed him. He would have liked this place. We’d have been at peace here. Suddenly, I was afraid I would always miss him. Thoughts of Tom seemed to have followed me to the ends of the earth. I started to give in to them again.”
“A deep resinous voice penetrated through the rolling thunder of grief laden thoughts in my head. “You should plant that feather,” it said. I looked up into eyes that captured the depths of a soul unlike any I had ever seen before. Eyes as black as the feather I held in my hand. A face as old as wisdom. I stood still. Caught. Cawwwght. I was mesmerized. A thought, no, a question wrapped itself around his words. I spoke it aloud. “Plant the feather?” He nodded. “Plant the feather?” He smiled and nodded again. “Why would I plant the feather?” I wondered and asked aloud. “To restore a soul. And, in the case of that particular feather,” he replied, “perhaps to have a part in keeping one alive.”
“My oh my, Zeek, I must have been ready. My willingness surprised even me. I sat right down there in the dirt and started to dig a hole with my fingers. The dirt was hard and dry to the touch as I scraped at it. He hunkered down beside me and took my hand between his, wiping away the dirt from my fingers. “Not here.” he whispered gently. And he tugged at me to pull me to my feet. He kept ahold of my hand and moved forward. I followed him. Of course I followed him. With one hand wrapped around the crow feather and my other hand held firmly in his, he led me across the field filled with people. Past the dancers and crafters, by the sweet-smelling corn roasting over wood-smoke fires, around the tables laden with food. Once in a while he’d nod an acknowledgement at someone who haled him. But, he trudged with purpose. People moved respectfully out of his way as he pulled me and my feather along behind him.”
“We crossed a field full of wild flowers and came finally along a dirt path to the front door of a wooden out building. I’m not sure if it was a dwelling or an office. Doesn’t matter. I never went inside. He stopped and moved aside, pointing. “There.” he said. “Plant it there.” I saw that he’d indicated an old earthenware pot filled with dirt and feathers. All different kinds and colors and sizes and shapes of feathers, their tips reaching toward the sun as if it held the light of life. “And as you plant it, if you’re a prayerful person…” He paused and looked at me. “Are you a prayerful person?” he asked. I nodded and he said, “Then ask the Great Spirit, to please restore a piece of a soul.” And I did near to exactly what he’d said. I lowered myself to my knees and gently pushed that crow feather into the soft, moist red-brown dirt. And, as I did I whispered “Oh Great Spirit whose voice I hear on the wind, please restore a piece of a soul.” I ran my hand up over the feathers. I caressed their tender delicacy. They seemed alive. They were emanating an extraordinary energy. I pulled my hand away and then as if they had a mind of their own, my fingers reached to caress their beauty and wonder again. The significance of what I was asking became clearly apparent to me; asking the Creator to restore a piece of the human soul. I knew what it was to lose pieces of yourself and I knew also what it was like to be restored. I was overwhelmed with emotion. My shoulders shook, and I began to cry. God how I cried.”
“The great gentle Indian ran his gnarly fingers through my hair and rested his hand on my shuddering shoulder. Then he did something that no one had ever done before. He wiped the tears from my cheeks with his fingers and brought them to his lips. “Mmmmmm” he said. “Sweet nectar from the soul.” I realized that he had tasted my tears and found them palatable. Finally, I just sat right down in the dirt next to that feather pot. My back resting against the old weathered building. He sat beside me in the afternoon sun.”
“Cyndie,” Zeek whispered my name. I looked up into his piercing blue eyes. “What did he mean? Restoring a piece of the soul? Do you know?”
“Sure I know, Zeek.”
“How do you know?”
“I asked him and he told me.”
“What did he tell you, Cyndie?”
“Well, I was as curious as you are about what I had done. Although I was confused and depleted emotionally and perhaps a little befuddled by the heat of the afternoon sun, I still wanted to know about the prayer I’d prayed and just exactly what it was that I’d asked the Creator to do. I looked into the ink-black eyes of the old Indian and said, “At your request and with your direction, I have called upon my Higher Power to restore a piece of the soul. Whose soul, may I ask? And, why? And, exactly what am I asking?” I searched his face. He reached and brushed wisps of hair from my eyes. He smiled a tender, knowing smile and he asked …?”
“Have you ever felt as if you’d lost a piece of yourself? Ever wake up and feel as if something was missing?” I nodded. “If you haven’t,” he said, “Then I’m not sure if I can really explain what I mean.”
“I used to drink.” I said. “A long time ago. I’d drink for days or weeks at a time. Then one day, I’d come-to and it would seem as if something inside was gone. Things I used to be able to do, I couldn’t do anymore. Like going to work or cleaning the house or even bathing regularly. I came-to missing things like dignity, integrity, self respect. I lost the ability to be responsible, dependable, to be loyal to anything. I’d come-to and it was as if someone had slit me open and taken something good right out of me. It was as if holes were being left inside of me. Because I felt so empty, I tried to fill the holes with alcohol. I know that alcoholism exacts a heavy price, that it strips a person of anything that is good or decent. Before I stopped drinking, it seemed as if there wasn’t anything left of me but alcohol and a heartbeat. There is substance to me today. Sometimes I feel nearly whole. So, I also know what it is to be restored.”
“He asked, “Did you ever wonder what happened to those pieces of you?”
“I assume that they drowned in a bottle of alcohol.”
“He looked at me very intently, searched my face with those wise old eyes. Made sure that he had my complete attention. “If they had drowned,” he said, “they would have died. They would not have been restored. You would not have been restored.” I looked at him long and hard, waiting. I knew there was more.”
Next he asked, “Can you tell me the difference between tangible and intangible?” I nodded, and then thought a moment before I spoke. “I believe that tangibility gives perceptible substance. You can see, hear, feel and/or touch things that are tangible. Intangible is the opposite. Although there may be substance, it is not perceptible to most folks.”
“Give me an example.” he challenged.
“The best example is The Creator.” I offered. He raised his eyebrow and I continued “Lots of people I know believe without seeing. They’ve never heard or felt God. They dare not imagine His face. Yet, they revere and fear Him. Or, they love and obey Him.”
I stopped and looked at the old Indian. I wanted to call him by name. “Your name? Would you tell me your name?”
“Sure” he said. “It’s Bernie” Heh. Of course it was.
“I’m Cyndie” He nodded and tucked the information away.
“Bernie, I have looked and listened for tangible evidence of the Creators existence. And, I have not been disappointed. I see His face in the hot red flames of a wood-burning campfire at night and in the gnarled knots of an old wise tree. I have heard His voice on the wind and in the words of children and wizened old folk. His compassion and grace caress the faces of humanity all around me. I feel His touch as His arms envelop me in the endless dark of a long and lonely night.” I looked up into the craggy, weather-beaten face of the old Indian. I finished by saying, “Tangibility, I believe, is up to the one who perceives it.”
“We sat quiet for a while, Zeek. That old Indian and me. Listening to the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees, the bees buzzing in the wild flowers in the field. The sun beat down upon us. It was waning though. Evening would come eventually to enshroud the gathering like a dark warm cloak.”
“Planting feathers!” Zeek insisted. “What about the feathers Cyndie?” The crow jabbered at me too.”
“Eventually the Indian began to talk. He started by saying, “I believe you are perceptive, that your mind is open. Try wrapping your mind around this idea then, Cyndie.” I noticed that he’d used my name for the first time. “You were drinking, and the day came when you lost your dignity, and you thought it was gone forever.” He paused and then asked, “What if, you only dropped it? What if you were stumbling along, perhaps in a blackout, confused and befuddled by the alcohol, and what if your dignity simply just fell away? What if it just fell right off of you onto the sidewalk? And lay there. Maybe the next day it got walked over or pushed along by a pair of shuffling feet on their way to work. Maybe some rain fell on it or some old drunk guy peed on it.”
“EEEWWWWWWWWW” I said “YUCK!!”
“Exactly!” he whispered. “Exactly! So, what if someone could see your dignity lying there on the sidewalk? What if in their preceptors of tangibility it looked like a beautiful diamond or a fleck of gold? What if they watched it get trampled and trod upon? What if they watched it get washed nearly away by the rain and then watched it get peed on by the old drunk guy?” He had my attention. I waited. “What if, just what if, the birds could see your dignity? What if the birds saw a bright sparkly gem of virtue and they thought it a shame that it was being so badly abused and battered? What if one of those birds saw it lying lifeless and dying and he couldn’t help but pick it up … and tuck it under a wing?”
I could imagine that. I could almost see it in my mind’s eye. It fit in my head like an idea that had always been there. Someone just had to wrap words around it in order to bring it to life.
“I believe” he began again “With everything that I am and all that I stand for, in this particular truth. I believe that every time a human being loses one of his virtues or principals, a piece of humanity or a basic goodness … I believe, that it simply falls away. I think that although virtues seem intangible to us, that they are like gemstones to the birds. I believe that they see sparkling pieces of humanity dropped everywhere and that the birds are joyous at the sight. I believe that the Creator gave them the ability to see and to be drawn to the diamond-like essence of purity, kindness, unconditional love, the red sapphire-like depths of passion for life, the golden brilliance of unselfishness and honesty. Imagine seeing the sparkling essence of deep-topaz loyalty or emerald-green love-of-the-earth lying discarded on the sidewalk. Would you just leave it there? I know I wouldn’t … I couldn’t. I’d have to pick it up. And, if I were a bird I think I’d tuck it under my wing to keep it safe.”
“Me too” I said aloud.
“But you know Cyndie, there are lots of people losing their virtues all over the place. As the world gets meaner and colder, as drugs and alcohol have their way with more and more people, as things get sadder and bleaker, it seems as if more and more pieces of humanity fall to the earth. And, the birds pick them up. As many as they can. But there are soooo many. And they get heavy to carry. And you’d think that that might be a bad thing except that … well, what if every time one of those birds dropped a piece of humanity, or a virtue or some goodness, what if they dropped it back to the earth, attached to a feather? And what if that is the Creators intention? That when a feather is dropped to the earth with a virtue, what if then, finally then, the virtue becomes tangible to humanity, to us? I believe you referred to it as giving it ‘perceptible substance’, Cyndie.”
I asked, “This feather that I planted, it holds a piece of someone? Is that what you’re saying, Bernie?” He nodded. “Who? Which piece? Why did I plant it?”
“Cyndie, I don’t know whose soul or what piece exactly. That’s the beauty of it. It’s an anonymous piece of humanity. It only manifests itself to the degree that, IF you believe, then it exists somewhere.”
“Believe what exactly? Please.” I asked impatiently.
“Bernie reached to hold my hand. He opened it and placed my palm flat against the cool earthenware surface of the feather pot. As he held it there he asked, “Can you feel anything? Anything besides the texture of the pot?” I tried. I wanted to feel something. But I didn’t. I shook my head no. “Good, I didn’t think you would.” Bernie said. And, I’ll have to admit that I was glad that I wasn’t supposed to. I wanted to please this old Indian. To get whatever it was that the Higher Power had sent me here to learn from him.
“He asked, “When you ran your hand up over the feathers, you felt something then, didn’t you?” And he guided my hand up the side of the earthenware pot and over the tips of the feathers. Zeek, it was as if they were alive! I mean, really and truly alive. They radiated grace and hope. The energy they emitted was charged with spiritual fortitude. I pulled my hand away. Not as if to recoil, but because it was as if I was caressing the face of Goodness. I felt overwhelmed again.”
I told the Indian, “I feel spiritual energy coming from those feathers unlike any I have ever felt before. True goodness. And they look as if they are reaching up into the light. To gather strength, perhaps. Or, to emit hope.”
“He asked another question, “By the back door where your grandmother lived, or, in the house where you grew up, do you ever remember seeing, a pot of dirt that just wouldn’t grow anything? No matter what was planted in it, Zinnias or Geraniums, Ivy or Ferns, maybe even a Cherry Tomato plant, that dirt wouldn’t grow anything. Even if you added fertilizer or plant food, lots of water and morning, afternoon or noonday sun. Nothing grew. And, the pot sat by the back door … waiting”
“I’ve seen lots of empty planters in my day Bernie. Discarded dirt. Dried and put aside. Kind of, barren and bleak. As a matter of fact, I’ve created a number of pots just like that, myself. I have a way of killing houseplants. So, the plant dies and I throw it away. But, for some reason, I keep the dirt and the pot, just in case. In case of what? Who knows?”
“Well. Some of us believe, Cyndie that all dirt was designed to grow something. That same spiritual guide, Roland, the gentleman who told me about the feathers, he insisted that old barren plant dirt, moistened and set in the sun, would grow back pieces of humanity. He was sure that feathers planted with a prayer behind them would grow back the gem of human virtue that the feather held. He believed that this ritual restored souls.”
I looked at him quizzically. Looked to be sure he was serious. “A little far-fetch, isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded. “I thought so too.” he said.
“But then one day I was walking down the road thinking about my friend Bob. I loved Bob. He had been my friend for a long time, since we were kids. Bob was suffering. Suffering with the misery of a life filled with bad decisions. Bob needed help. He was on his way down for the count. I could see the life draining out of him. The saddest thing was that Bob couldn’t see it. He couldn’t muster the honesty it took to look at his life and admit he’d made a mess of things. I believed that the circumstances he kept choosing for himself were going to kill him. It made me sad. I felt powerless to help him.” (I thought about my friend “Broken-Down Bob”, Zeek. I’d left him at the bus station. I wondered about his soul, about his honesty.) “So” Bernie says, “I’m walking down the street, thinkin about Bob and I step on a crow feather. I’m not sure if it registered. I kept walking and a couple of steps further on I walked over another crow feather. A thought tickled my brain. I spied another crow feather in the grass by the side of the road.
“Thought to myself, ‘Why that’s all a bunch of hooey!!’ as I walked over the fourth crow feather.
“I wanted to ignore them. I was tired. I wanted to go home. But, that little mustard seed grain of faith that my spiritual guide had planted was working its way to the forefront of my brain. The thought would not be denied. I knew that I had to give it its due. I let my God-center and my faithful heart have their way with me. I went back and picked up the feathers. I found seven that day. Seven perfect crow feathers. They felt almost alive to the touch. It was weird. I hadn’t expected that. I took them home, planted them in the pot that my neglected Geraniums had died in. I moistened the dirt, put the pot in the window. I said a perfunctory prayer and I forgot about it, kind of.”
“A week later, I heard that Bob was in the hospital. I nearly thumbed my nose at the powers-that-be but the anonymity idea of the feathers in the feather pot, kept me in check. Selfishly though, I had wished that those feathers would restore Bob’s soul.”
“A week later I heard that Bob was in Detox. A month later he was seen in a Program at the Salvation Army. A couple months later, I heard he was in school for his GED. Then, I saw him and I knew. He HAD been restored!! His skin was pink and clear. His clothes were clean. His eyes sparkled with hope. He was filled with enthusiasm that was tempered with a quiet dignity and humility. He offered all credit to God and to the folks that had helped him.”
“Cyndie, I went home and looked again at that feather pot. I ran my fingers along the tips of the feathers and the energy that emanated from them gave me a great sense of reverent hope. I was grateful. I had become a believer. I wasn’t sure if it was my feathers, or perhaps someone else’s feathers, or maybe just a good dose of reality, that had restored Bob’s soul. But I would never pass up another feather. I was quite sure of that.”
“I grinned into his eyes, Zeek. And then because it had been a long and emotional day and I was warm and tired, I yawned. The sun had gone down. I felt content. It was time to go home and reflect. Bernie sensed my need. He pulled me to my feet. Led me down the dirt path, past the drummers beating out tunes for the painted dancers petitioning-still in the firelight, past the tables that bore evidence of a fantastic feast. We stopped and he pulled ears of corn out of the still smoldering wood-smoke fire and then he led me to his old black pick up truck. There was a Basset Hound sleeping in the cab. His name turned out to be Lazarus.
We rode in reflective silence, chomping on corn, listening to the heartfelt lyrics of old country ballads coming softly from the radio.
As I reviewed my day, as I thought it through, tried to recollect it all so as not to forget it, a thought occurred to me. “Hey, Bernie?”
He looked at me, his eyes, dark as coal, alive in the dashboard lights. “Yeah?”
“I got a question.”
“Shoot”, he said.
“Way back this afternoon, when you first told me to plant that crow feather, and I asked why, you said a strange thing. You said, ‘To restore a soul. And in the case of that particular feather, perhaps to even keep part of one alive.”
“Yup.” He grinned the biggest grin I’d ever seen. “And I’m really glad that you remembered too.”
“What did you mean, Bernie? About it being a particular feather?”
“Ok Cyndie. Here’s the rest of the story. I’m sure I’m supposed to tell it to you because you asked.”
“Wow”, interrupted Zeek. “I forgot he even said that.” The crow that had been pecking at the grass around our feet all along, got closer to me. He pulled at the strap on my purse with his beak. He jabbered a song I nearly understood. I reached out to see if he’d let me touch him. My hand caressed his wing. Then he danced away. “Thank you, Thank You!” I whispered. He bobbed his head and squawked a “Your welcome.”
“So what was so important about that feather?” Zeek asked.
“Well, this is what Bernie told me, Zeek.” “About a month after I met up with Bob, I attended a spiritual gathering, much like the one we attended today. I happened across my spiritual guide Roland, and had the opportunity to tell him of Bob and the seven feathers. He listened very intently, nodding all the while, knowingly, as if he wasn’t surprised at all. When I was finished with my tale, he asked a question. He asked, “What kind of feathers were they, Bernie?”
“Crow feathers.” I replied. And his face changed. He looked a bit taken aback.
“How many?” he asked.
“Seven.” I replied.
He raised up his face to Father Sun in the sky. He said “Thank you” in his native tongue. Then he bowed his head to the Great Mother Earth and said, “Thank you.” again.
“He made sure he had my ear, Cyndie. He didn’t say anything til he was absolutely sure I was listening. “Legend has it” he began, “that the crows carry pieces of the soul to the next world. That they find the pieces of dead and or dying souls, those that are losing their sparkle and have been cast aside and they carry them to the world of the Great Spirits. There they can be restored completely. Planting crow feathers here means that a dying soul could be restored here. Seven crow feathers restore a dying soul, to this world, for sure. Means that that someone still has work to do here. That their journey in this world will go on. The Great Spirit let those feathers fall in hopes that someone like you would come along and know to plant them. You’ve done good my friend. You have restored a soul to this world.”
Zeek broke into my litany. With hope in his voice he asked, “How many crow feathers are in the hanky, Cyndie?”
“Seven, Zeek. The crow here, he gave me exactly seven feathers. Then he asked me to go home to the feather pot by the door and plant them. Shall we do that now Zeek?”
Zeek got up off the grass and pulled me up after him. “I wonder whose dying soul the bird wants to restore.” he mused.
I looked into those too-smart-for-your-own-good, know-it-all eyes and I thought, “I hope it’s yours.” The crow, soaring above our heads, loudly voiced his agreement.
(© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY CYNDIE MORRELL MCAULIFF. Please do not redistribute / repost this anywhere else. If you like it, you can link to this post. Thanks!)