Our White Dove
I have always loved Advent time and it was a major celebration each Sunday leading up to Christmas when our children were growing up. The Waldorf schools so beautifully bring the children to gratitude and consciousness for the gifts of the world by honoring each of the kingdoms of nature over the weeks of the first three Sundays and then honoring all of humanity and the birth of the holy Child on the last. Oh, how our children loved animal Advent Sunday! They would bring nearly every animal on the place in to pose by the Christmas tree, one year including, dogs, cats, guinea pigs (a brief cameo appearance of our very tame pony, Cricket) and two very large turkeys.
This past Sunday, the 15th, was for the Sunday animal kingdom. It was our delight to have Nicki and Rocco’s family with their four young children to celebrate with us, to each honor the animals with candles and celebrate the coming season with songs, good food, and a trip to the White Feather Ranch little cedar forest to get a sweet Christmas tree for us, (riding out to the front acres in the 80 years old antique Dodge truck of course!). Grandpa Gordon read a favorite family Advent story, “Rufusi Ryneker, the fine red fox, from the Seven Year Old Wonder Book, by Isabel Wyatt.
Gordon lit his candle that evening for all the world’s birds and especially the doves and the flocks of doves we have had for over 25 years. Our doves have become the signature bird song at the ranch, they love to coo day and night. Ours are laughing stock (no pun intended) originally hailing from Africa and it is delightful to learn that doves not only coo, but have a throaty, hearty laugh as well!
Twenty some years ago our sons, Gary and Cameron, built a dove cage as a birthday gift for their father. It needed to be tall with room for the birds to freely fly, sturdy, and with a cement base to discourage wild animals getting in. And it has worked well in all those regards all this time.
When Gordon was a young lad growing up in a sleepy eastern Arizona town of Safford, their neighbor had homing pigeons. For a while Gordon did too. Sometimes they would send the birds out on a local train to go a few towns down the tracks and then the train attendant would turn them loose to fly home. Some things were a lot more friendly and accessible in those days. Gordon’s fascination with the birds, as well as his fascination with flying airplanes would always be there for him throughout his whole lifetime. It has been a particular comfort and pleasure to have doves all these years, most of them grey ring necked doves, but often a few white ones among them.
In 2013, we only had one white dove. At the time of our son’s sudden death in Norway in March, we were trying to stay grounded and find our bearings again on every level. His funeral and cremation was a week later and we were keenly concerned with the timing of events there. We wanted to be as aware and conscious through every ritual that was taking place in that land so far away.
That day it was warm enough that I could go outside for an hour at dawn. I watched the sun rise, aware of every cloud,of the rays of light piercing the dark and making the pine needles and leaves of the trees briefly golden and glistening.
With a breaking heart, I gazed with rising hope at the sun, still shining for us all. As it is possible to take in the light by looking directly at the sun in the first glimmers of the dawn, I gazed at it long and then back at the doves who were awakening and beginning to sing. The lone white dove, a female, sat quietly on her branch. Others flew and fussed around her, but she didn’t move.
As I looked at her, her white feathers turned a rose magenta pink. Of course, they did not actually do so, rather I soon realized it was the ‘after image’ color created by my own eyes after staring at the rising orb of the sun. I was amazed how long the color image would last, well over five minutes. At least three times I would gaze and meditate and pray looking from the sun back to the bird. She never stirred. With her feathers fluffed out she was quiet and still the whole time. She was showing me there was another side. A ‘reflection’ of this whole hard event on another plane, in another’ color‘ and there would be more that I could awaken to over time. It was a sign of hope amidst the pain and sorrow, a sign that was so welcomed on that day.
During the months that followed, we realized that she was exceptionally quiet and felt she must be old or ill. Toward September she would sit in the sun on her favorite perch nearly all day, but then at the last minute she would go down and feed, and she always made it to the nest boxes to roost at night. When I went in the cage, she would fly up to the top with the others.
As the drama of my heart journey and surgeries was unfolding I would often watch her and felt ‘she is dying’, and thought of bringing her in to care for her. But soon she would go eat and drink, and I felt she was where she needed to be. One evening, just at sunset I went out the back door to watch the fading light, and exactly at that moment I saw her fall from her perch and dangle by one foot. Had I not seen her at just that moment she would have soon died hanging there. Instead, we were able to go to the cage and Gordon rescued her, her toes had been caught in a slit in a bamboo branch that was part of their perching tree.
She became a gentle focus and reminder for me to ponder. In between my first two hospital stays I watched her again in her quiet stance, wondering when she might die, and when I might die.
Then the long ordeal began with the emergency bleeding and nearly crossing over and I wasn’t to be home for over three weeks. When I finally did get home, one of the first things I asked about was the white dove. Gordon who had been spending so much time at the hospital, had not paid a lot of attention as he has automatic feed and water for birds.
He reported she was gone.
“But how?” I asked. He didn’t know.
I queried logically, “She must have died and is somewhere on the floor of the cage.”
But Gordon replied it was not so. He had searched the cage carefully.
I then went out and looked for myself. We asked the neighbor who had come to check on the barn cats while we were gone if she had by chance removed the bird. No. She hadn’t been near the cage.
There has never been a dove escape from this cage, nor a wild animal able to get in to harm the birds. There were no evidence of any such event. The white dove had disappeared without a trace and to this day we don’t know how it happened.
This dear, gentle white dove had carried me through some of the hardest months of my life, from our son’s death to my own near death and surgeries. What a significant period of time for me, for us, she had quietly witnessed and been present.. and now she had disappeared, utterly completely, not a feather left in her wake.
How do we explain it? We can’t.
This ranch was named White Feather Ranch with two lovely thoughts behind that choice. One was a constant, joyful reminder from my mother, Lola, that when you find a white feather its a lucky, or special day! Lola shared this with our family as we grew up and all the young children she worked with so magically over so many years. White feathers have appeared at just when really needed countless times for ever so many family members and friends over the years. Just before my surgery time we ate at a nice little restaurant in Fair Oaks and walked back to the car to find a white feather there waiting in the top of a round wooden post.
The other special thought about the white feather is from Egyptian mythology where it is told that when we die our heart is measured on a scale to know the deeper mission of our life. On one side of the scale lies our human heart and on the other the white feather of Maat, that is the ‘white feather of Truth’. Both are stories of hope and renewal and that is how it came to be named White Feather Ranch. We now add to it the gentle life of our last white dove, (for this flock) and how she inspired us and has left us with a very special mystery which, as mysteries do, warms and leaves one open with wonder and hope.