A Gift of the Birds

The feather that Sue predicted I would find, with "Take Back Our Woods" trailwalkers.

The feather that Sue predicted I would find, with "Take Back Our Woods" trailwalkers.

"Take Back Our Woods" trailwalkers walked the trails of Wawayanda for ten days during the black bear trophy hunt, from dawn to dark, as a form of protest and in hope of saving bears from being shot. This is some of our story.

When the Forest Sends Us Signs

I was walking down the trail during the hunt, when I saw the bright yellow feather. I had never seen one like this and right away I picked it up. When I reached the others at the trail head, I looked for my friend Sue. It was last year that she and I had gone looking for a bear trap – just hours after my father passed away – and at his deathbed I had asked him for a blue jay feather.

Sue and I never found the trap, but as I was leaving her house, I looked down and there it was – a blue jay feather – a sign that my father was watching over me.

Today on the trail, I showed Sue this new yellow feather...and I was surprised when she said, “I can’t believe you found that feather!” I asked her why and she told me this story: She was walking up the trail with a ranger the day before, and they came upon this same yellow feather. He picked it up but then dropped it back on the ground. She asked him why he did that, and he said “it’s illegal,” but that she could pick it up if she wanted. So Sue went back, but couldn’t find the yellow feather, and she told him, “Don’t worry, my friend Cathy will find it.”

And sure enough, I did! Sue’s prediction came full circle. I showed everyone the yellow feather and then told them the story of my father’s blue jay feather. We all agreed there’s something magical about birds, both as signs of protection, and that we are being watched over.

When we are in need, the Forest will send us signs. And on this day, we were in need.

The Bear Pendant ARlene sent to me.

The Bear Pendant ARlene sent to me.

WHEN THE BEARS FIRST BROUGHT ME HERE YEARS AGO, I met my friend Arlene. Arlene taught me a lot about bears, and I always say that she’s the reason I’ve never been lost in the woods. Arlene had a necklace with a bear paw I’d always admired. Once she told me that as she was driving past the reservoir, a bald eagle flew right past her car. This is the sort of story Arlene, resident flower child, would casually tell. When the hunt began, I received a package. I was shocked to see that it was her own bear pendant. I put the pendant on and did not take it off.

The rest of the hunt was an exhausting blur; ten days of hiking, worrying about the bears, being harassed by hunters, threatened by police – and worst of all – facing our own emotions. Throughout it all, we noticed one thing: We were followed by ravens.

Ravens, bringers of magic.

In Native American lore, Ravens are the secret-keepers, shapeshifters and healers. In Europe, symbols of wisdom and prophecy. To the Irish Celts, the Raven was a symbol of the Goddess Morrigan, protector of warriors. In Norse mythology, two ravens served the god, Odin. Now to us, they are the Watchers of the Woods, and we were both honored and comforted by their hollow and other-worldly calls...

My dad in his army days. He loved birds, and he loved our bears. He was proud of all of us.

My dad in his army days. He loved birds, and he loved our bears. He was proud of all of us.

I COUNTED THE DAYS OF THE HUNT till there was just one day left. Why is it, when an ordeal is coming to an end, the final moments feel the most ominous? The night before the final day, I asked my father to help us keep our remaining bears safe.

Now, walking down the trail before dawn on the last day, I felt afraid for all of our animals. But every so often, I felt I could see my father walking ahead of me. He was young, and wearing his army uniform. He always loved birds and his eyes were blue, like the blue jay. My father’s young, alive self waved to me, and I felt a calm come over the trail. But all day, I counted the hours. Then suddenly, 10 days of shooting was over, and we could go home and rest.

Or so we thought.

Sunday morning didnt bring rest, it brought chaos. The story broke about the Rockaway Boy Scout master who went into a cave that morning, only to be pulled inside and trapped by a hibernating bear. She eventually released him, but Monday’s drive back to work was surreal. My thoughts were still in the woods. I was wearing Arlene’s bear pendant and thinking about the fate of the Rockaway bear as I passed the reservoir. And that was when I saw the huge bird. It wasn’t until I saw his white head as he soared past that I realized exactly Who He was – the bald eagle, one last sign from the Forest for our beloved bears.

smudging the trail.

smudging the trail.

Epilogue ~ A week after the hunt was over, I walked the trail again with some friends. This time we weren’t there to take it back from the bear hunters, but rather from the shadow hanging over it. We smudged the trail, relieving it of the evil that came to us in the form of men with shotguns just a week before.

Walking back, I felt uplifted, as though I were floating. I left an apple as an offering to the bears who were taken from us. And I thought of feathers spiraling slowly out of the sky and landing at our feet.

IF WE LISTEN, the Ravens will share their secrets. I believe a sign for one of us is meant for all, because we are all connected through the spirits of the bears and by our desire to protect them. There are survivors somewhere deep in the woods of New Jersey, and their presence makes us stronger. Life magic is stronger than death magic. The bears are the great kings and queens of our Forests, and we are vowed to protect them, always.

This post is dedicated to everyone who loves our bears. We are all connected.
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