Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Several years ago, I was doing some afternoon computer work in the upstairs office when, ever so gradually, an incessant tapping sound filtered into my consciousness. It seemed like it was coming from the basement, but I was the only one home- YIKES! I carefully walked downstairs and instantly saw that an orange-beaked bird was the cause of the tapping. But WHY was it doing that? Was it some kind of bird morse code that I was going to have to decipher? I have a habit of looking at random occurrences in my life through a symbolic lens. Although my realist, rational side said that this poor bird was just in love with his/her reflection, my creative side couldn't resist coming up with something more meaningful and useful. So, my mind went to what basements represent in dreams: the subconscious. Why was this bird tapping on my subconscious? Some theories formulated but never really stuck meaningfully for me, so I went back to work.
A few years later, the feathers started appearing. On my daily runs, I would find anywhere between 5-10 feathers on the sidewalk of various sizes, shapes, and colors. Or a random feather would fall from the ceiling without even a trace of down coat or pillow fight to be seen. And then there was the time I was in a park and it looked as if ALL of the seagulls decided to molt right then and there. The final straw was when a student gave me a feather encased in a glass ornament for Christmas. Again, my rational mind wanted to chalk it all up to coincidence, but my penchant for finding deeper meaning, not to mention my gut, was telling me to find the message. Was I being guided to "lighten up?" I had been feeling quite heavy and stuck lately. At this point, I acknowledged that it would behoove me to at least start "collecting" the feathers via camera in an effort to show whatever higher power speaking to me via bird plumage that I was at least pondering potential messages.
Here are a few samples:
By the following spring, I started seeing a specific kind of large bird soaring overhead everywhere I went. They were so beautiful! They would circle in a flock like synchronized air swimmers. Up until this point, I really didn't consider myself a "bird person." Sure, I had parakeets as a kid (several sets, actually- always one blue, named Garfield, and one yellow/green, named Parry), but the poor dears remained locked in their cell together, flying only when we would let them out during routine cage cleanings. I at least knew the main birds of Michigan- Robin, Blue Jay, Cardinal, Turkey. So, when I started noticing these giant birds, I immediately assumed they were Eagles. To the computer I went seeking the symbolic meaning of Eagles, and of course I was going to resonate with the description: courageous, don't accept status quo, look at things from a higher perspective, etc. For some reason, reading about Eagles just didn't resonate with me. Maybe it was because of the way "Sam the Eagle" was always portrayed in the Muppets?! It took several more weeks before I could really get a CLOSE look at one of these birds that hovered over me wherever I walked or drove. This was not an Eagle. This was a TURKEY VULTURE.
Admittedly, I was really disappointed that this was the bird that seemed to be following me around; seeing a Turkey Vulture up close made me shudder reflexively. Also, I couldn't seem to get beyond the cultural portrayal of Vultures instilled in me from a young age- Vultures symbolized death and ugliness, not courage and strength. I consulted the great wide web once again to see what other cultures had to say about these winged scavengers. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Turkey Vultures symbolize so many beautiful traits and characteristics that I could totally get behind, starting with their scientific name, Cathartes Aura, which translates as Golden Purifier.
What do they purify? Contrary to my learned assumptions about the bird, Turkey Vultures don't kill other animals. They soar and glide with wings outstretched (or Unfolded, if you will!) while looking for animals who have died or were killed by other predators. Eating/processing carrion protects the health of the environment and other living animals. This can be seen as processing things that are no longer needed and turning them into something that can be used for future growth. Their ability to glide on air for so long can be seen as looking at issues in life from a higher perspective or different angles and to use a higher consciousness when making decisions. It doesn't require a whole lot of energy for them to move this way in the sky. Imagine how much energy you might save if you could view your own life from a higher perspective or from various angles. In certain spiritual traditions, Turkey Vultures represent a promise that hardships are necessary, temporary, and have a higher purpose. As I described before, Turkey Vultures often fly in flocks, soaring in a spiraling circle. This is because they cooperate with each other and communicate about where food is, not only within their own family, but they also send word out to other roosts too. They're like collaborative teams that swoop in to clean up the community.
Processing things and turning them into things to be used for future growth (for myself or others). Looking at things from higher perspectives to come up with answers without wasting energy. Seeing (for myself or others) hardship as meaningful stepping stones in life. And working with others to make the community a better place. This summary of Turkey Vulture symbology pretty much sums up what I want to be doing with my life! Do I really think that birds are literally following me and sending me "messages?" Probably not. I have, for instance, heard that thanks to conservation practices, Turkey Vulture populations are thriving in recent years, so that's probably why I'm seeing them everywhere. But after going through the journey I've just outlined and following my right brain down the path of creative life-engagement, I can say that the insight I have gained is far better than anything my rational mind could ever have produced. And yes, I will keep cluttering my phone with feather pictures. Cheers!