The Thing with Feathers


by John Tyler Connoley

June 15, 2004


In the past couple of weeks, several people have started conversations with me about hope. Maybe it's the spring season that makes people think of hope, or maybe it's a need to reaffirm our trust in the future despite an "annus horribilis" (as Queen Elizabeth II would call it). Whatever it is, hope is fluttering in on the breeze. This spring, I'm not all that hopeful about the global-political climate, but there are lots of little things that give me hope in the future.


A healthy puppy: There's nothing like a new life in the house to make one look forward to tomorrow, whether it's a puppy, baby, or even a goldfish on your desk. Watching that little being grow. Watching her change every day. Hoping that healthy baby will grow into a healthy adult.


We acquired a five-day-old puppy about seven weeks ago. She was an orphan, so we had to bottle-feed her for the first two weeks. During those initial few days, I thrilled at watching her finish a bottle of formula, knowing strong eating meant another day of life. Seven weeks later, she's running around, chewing our other dog's ears, fighting with her stuffed animal, and generally being a joyful pain in the neck. She had her first vaccinations the other day, and the vet said she's on track to being a happy hiking companion someday. I'm also hoping she'll let us sleep-in again one of these Saturdays.


A tomato plant: Every year my ninety-year-old Grandpa plants tomatoes next to his house, and every year I think that's a good sign he intends to be around in late summer. I've heard the same about planting tulips in the fall. They're a commitment to surviving the winter so you can see the blooms.


This year we planted twelve tomatoes at our house: six Belgian Giants and six Sweet One Hundreds. Two of the Sweet One Hundreds have died, but the rest are growing strong. We also planted eight basil plants, and I can already taste the Caprese salads we'll make with those Belgian Giants, layered with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese topped with olive oil and cracked pepper.


Besides having plants outside, I now have them around my desk as well. I moved the office into our sunroom at the back of the house. We painted it a happy blue, and we're starting plants in pots. We have a couple of jade plants, a type of Nile plant, an avocado seed, and two baby dwarf bananas that should actually fruit someday. I trust that if I give these little sprouts the right kind of attention, I'll soon have as many healthy green "friends" in New Mexico as the ones I left in Indiana.


A bird feeder: One of my friends, who says he envies me my hope in an afterlife, has more bird feeders than anyone I know. I think this is an indication he has a great deal of hope in this life. Putting out those little houses full of seeds, the bright red hummingbird feeders, and the oranges (for Orioles) is an act of faith that the birds will return. It's a signal that he believes in tomorrow, and probably the day after that.


After visiting my hopeful friend's house, and seeing all his birdfeeders, I decided to follow his lead. I hung a little wooden feeder in a tree outside our front door, and the birds love it. I have to fill it every day, which may turn out to be more expensive than I'd expected. I guess hope is sometimes that way. We often get more or less than we hoped for. Hope can also be like my other feeder.


I hung a feeder on a fence outside my new office window, and so far the birds haven't found it. So, I'm going to talk to my bird friend and see if he knows how to give the birds an indication that it's there. I guess sometimes our hopes require a little creative energy to realize. And sometimes we need a friend to help us fulfill them.


It's the middle of June today. Depending on how you count it, it's either the beginning of summer or the end of spring. But either way, we're still in that transitory period where we're convincing ourselves that the beach days of July and August are on their way, and the cold of winter is really gone. Particularly this June, coming out of an awful global-political year and looking forward to a bloody presidential campaign season, we could all use a little boost of hope. I've found some in the form of new life, green things, and winged creatures outside my window.


It makes sense that hope, which Emily Dickinson called "the thing with feathers," would have an affinity for growing seeds and flitting birds. I like having hope around, so even though it's the time of day when I usually listen to the evening news, I think I'll take the puppy out in the yard, see how the tomato plants are doing, fill the birdfeeder again, and let the thing with feathers out to stretch her wings.


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Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

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