With the weather growing cooler every day we're seeing more birds hanging around Casa PBW: lots of tiny wrens, baby blue jays, young doves and our camera-shy neighborhood cardinal and his lady. The sandhill cranes are gone until next spring, but a couple of big, snow-white herons have been hanging out in my neighbor's yard.
Aside from hustling to keeping the feeders stocked, I like our feathered fall visitors. They fill the mornings with song, fascinate the pups with their antics, and entertain me to no end. I never understood bird watchers until I moved to the country; now I'm looking through bird sites to see what sort of woodpecker lives in my oak tree, and if the big speckled guy who perches on the fence post and screams like a diva with a wedgie is a hawk or something else.
Yep, it's official: I've become a bird nerd.
Birds bring more than live entertainment to my back yard; now and then they also drop some feathers, which I spot when I'm out walking the pups. Mostly I find blue ones, which must be from the jays because they're constantly picking fights. But this past week I've been finding a new type of feather almost every day, starting with this one:
I'll guess this came from one of the mourning doves; they frequently come back to visit their favorite nesting spot and they're the same lovely gray-brown color. At the time I found this one I was thinking about one of the protagonists for the trilogy pitch I was working on, and how I plan to develop his character. Because everything is about writing, I started relating the feather to the character. Like the doves he's very dignified, quiet and watchful, but also makes some bad choices. There's also this subtle but stubborn defiance about him that I really admire. I tucked the feather in my day journal so this weekend I could add it to his character worksheet; it would make a great visual jog to help me remember my protag's dove-like qualities.
The next day in almost the same spot I found this:
I'm not sure what bird it came from, but the coloring of the feather made me think of the protagonist for my second book in the trilogy, who I'd developed but hadn't yet nailed down to my satisfaction. The colors -- white on top, and gray and black on the inside -- reminded me of how deceiving appearances and perceptions can be, and how little people know who we are beneath the surface. It helped me look again at what my protag has been through in the backstory, and figure out how those events have changed him. Thanks to the feather and my character building, I came to the conclusion that my protag is concealing (and struggling against) a dark side no one knows about but him.
I was also getting the feeling that the cosmos was sending me some kind of weird, daily-updated message about characterization.
I hadn't yet decided on the hero for the third book of the trilogy, so I didn't need any more feathers. Of course the cosmos ignored me, and on the third day left this, again in the same spot I'd found the other two:
At first I didn't think this one was even real; I've never seen a zebra-striped bird in the yard. The shape reminded me more of a spear point than a feather. Spear = warrior, naturally. The stark colors seemed very tribal and primitive; almost as if the feather had been hand painted. The arrangement of the black and white intrigued me; I thought of the visor on a knight's helmet, and how the world looks through it. All of those elements came together like puzzle pieces that I didn't know I had in my head, and then I knew instantly who the protagonist for the third book was.
Interesting side note: for years I've resisted reading the much-lauded Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I own a copy, but every time I've gone to read it my own contrariness and skepticism held me back. I don't like most things that are very popular with literary writers, and that bunch has praised this book to the heaven. I assumed it would be another groaning yammerfest on art versus anything practical I could use, because really, how much can birds help with writing?
Now please excuse me while I go grab that book and (probably) eat my chapeau.