Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poetry Friday: Owl Feathers

A few Poetry Fridays ago, I wrote about a bear that had been visiting my dreams.

Maybe something similar has happened to you. Every morning, while the tea is steeping, a blue-jay comes to rest on the butterfly bush outside your kitchen window. Or you keep seeing red-tail hawks circling every time you take your dog for a walk. For three nights, you dream about jellyfish. Perhaps, suddenly, you notice foxes everywhere -- in advertisements, songs, peeking out from the raspberry bushes in your back yard, on people's license plates (1FXY LDY).

When this happens to me, I begin to wonder if the animal is trying to tell me something.

A few weeks ago, Sam and I were walking in a nearby field.


Sam says, "What will we find today?"
We found two feathers, a few yards apart.


Guesses were: hawk, turkey, and owl.
Research and Facebook friends confirmed these were probably barred owl feathers. Exciting! Hadn't I heard an owl call earlier that month, when I woke at 5 am to drive Julia to a field hockey tournament?

That night, I was cleaning out an old file of papers. A greeting card, opened but still in its envelope, fell out of the file. It was from my favorite professor from graduate school, Muriel Becker. Muriel was a legend in the New Jersey education scene, but she was also a huge fan of good writing, particularly science fiction and fantasy. Because Muriel passed away many years ago, I checked the postmark. The card had been sent in 1993. Nice, I thought.

[There is a literary award in Muriel's name. One of the winners passed away this week, poet and children's novelist Walter Dean Myers.]

It wasn't until the next morning that I connected card to feathers.


A card from Muriel, sent around the time
of my graduation from Montclair State University,
where she trained generations of English educators.

I choose to believe that the owl feathers and card were meant to tell me that Muriel's spirit is around. I'd been thinking about a work-in-progress during my walk with Sam. Maybe this was Muriel's way of saying: I like this idea! Keep working on it.

The practice of taking nature walks is a nourishing one for me, as a human being and as a writer. That's why I'm such a fan of Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's book FOREST HAS A SONG.


Cybil Poetry Award winner! Available at B&N.

The poems in Amy's book take a path through a year of seasons. Along the way, the reader finds seeds, fossils, and ferns. There are things to see, hear, smell, and touch on this nature walk. And there are animal visitors.

I'd like to thank Amy for giving me permission to post a poem from FOREST HAS A SONG today.

First Flight
by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Mommy, I'm scared to be this high.
     All owls are scared on their first try.

My tail feathers feel so tingly with fear.
     You can do it. Calm down. Careful now. Steer.

I can't see a thing through all this black.
     Just go to Spruce and come right back.

FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP--WHOOOSH!
FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP--SWOOOSH!

Look, Mom! I made it! Wow! I can fly!
     I knew you could. You were born for sky.

From FOREST HAS A SONG (Clarion, 2013)
Posted with permission of the author.

Do you think the feathers Sam and I found tumbled from the sky when a juvenile owl took its first flight? Or maybe they are Momma Owl's feathers, shaken off as she followed, just-far-enough behind.

As I transcribed Amy's poem today, the words of the poem had a different meaning for me. I'd been feeling like the little owl -- afraid of trying something new with my writing project. And there was the memory or spirit of my mentor, Muriel, saying "You can do it... You were born for sky."


Thanks for taking a walk with me
on Poetry Friday. We're celebrating
Independence Day and
honoring the work
of Walter Dean Myers
at Heidi's blog this week.
Stop by My Juicy Little Universe
for more poetry links.
If you'd like to learn more about animal spirits or animal medicine, I recommend the book ANIMAL SPEAKThe Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, by Ted Andrews.

19 comments:

Irene Latham said...

I love Amy's poem so much! What a great sentiment, being born for sky. Aren't we all?? Also, I have just learned that owl is my Mayan nahuales (spirit animal). I am writing an owl poem today, in fact. :) Have you read the verse novel CAMINAR by Skila Brown? If you haven't, you want to. Happy day!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

Laura, I am moved by this post and excited to learn more about spirit animals! Our daughters have loved reading about them in books by Laura Resau. Thank you for including my poem; may your book fly into the hands of many many grateful children. Your mentor is flying alongside you... xo

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

One of my favourite poems from Amy's book!

Author Amok said...

Irene, I'd love to know more about Mayan nahuales. Thanks for the book recommendation.

Amy -- thanks for letting Owlet visit today. (Your last comment gives me chills. Yes!)

Tara Smith said...

Love Amy's poem. And your story sent chills down my spine - so many connecting threads between the feather, the discovered note, and the passing of Walter Dean Myers. Listen to Muriel s' voice....

maclibrary said...

One my favorite poems. I love the connection between the poem, your walks , the owl feathers, and signs lovely.

LInda Baie said...

Love your story of personal connections, Laura. There are times when I wonder if my personal choice is really choice, or a strong hand unseen? So happy to hear about your book! Happy Independence Day to you & yours!

Tabatha said...

Beautiful feathers you found, Laura. Your card from Muriel and the poem by Amy fit together like barbs of a feather. I'm excited to hear about your new project...

Jeannine Atkins said...

So much beauty here. Thank you, Laura and Amy!

Carol Varsalona said...

Laura, connectins happen for a reason. Yours were vividly portrayed in this post. Thank you for sharing your rich experiences and Amy's poem.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

"You were born for sky." What a great line! Thanks to both you and Amy for reminding me of my OLW for 2014-- flying. It got lost when I was distracted by other things, but now you've put me back on track.

Liz Steinglass said...

I love the connections and your shift in point of view as you reread Amy's poem.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

I think one of the things that distinguishes poets from "regular people" and even from other writers is a kind of intense openness to connections of all kinds. It's part observation and part discernment: "I notice these signs; I begin to see meaning in them." That's why I wouldn't limit myself to one spirit animal or even to an animal...sometimes I perceive messages from my spirit vegetable or mineral!

Lovely post, Laura.

Monica said...

Amy's poem is lovely. And yes to nature walks!

Julie Larios said...

This poem is a perfect example of why Amy's book won the Cybil for Poetry this year! Impeccable formal elements plus kid appeal, plus it's great to read aloud, plus there's a line to live by: "You were born for sky." Thanks for posting it, Laura. Love your feathers, too!

Carol said...

Definitely sounds like the universe is speaking to you! Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing! I love FOREST HAS A SONG and this poem is one of my favorites. Those last few lines are speaking to my heart tonight. Thank you!

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

Hi there Laura, I've been meaning to find Amy's book here in our libraries for the longest time. It does sound like a book that will speak to one's sensibilities. Thank you for highlighting it.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Way late to this party, but I am a true believer all about these connections. Have them all the time!

I love Heidi's notion about poets possessing "intense openness to connections of all kinds". Amy's poems are a way to inspire these connections, aren't they?

Wishing you more inspiring animal visitations... We are enjoying several resident barred owls in our new neighborhood!

Jen said...

I must have read this post before because reading it now - well, it's very familiar. Feathers, cards and all. I've always loved how you pause to listen to the messages presented to you. Your choice of poem to accompany the post is perfect!