by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen~
For many years I collected feathers. Walking along the trails, near my home or far away, whenever I spotted a feather, I brought it home. Together with rocks, shells, bits of wood, and other nature memorabilia, they helped to create a sense of the outdoors inside. The feathers meant a lot to me.
Then one day, while trying to identify a feather my granddaughter had found, I stumbled inadvertently across a government website with information about feathers.
I learned that it is illegal in the United States to collect feathers.
The reason for this law regarding all feathers is to protect migratory and endangered birds from being killed in order to collect and sell their feathers.
I was devastated. All these years, I’d been breaking the law. Suddenly my collection of feathers became more complicated.
My grandchildren love those feathers, but I explained to them what I had learned. My granddaughter, aged 6, suggested that maybe we could keep just a few.
For months I struggled with what to do. And I stopped picking up feathers. I still saw them, but I left them beside the trail.
At first it was painful to leave them behind. I felt deprived. But over time, as a plan of what to do developed in my mind, it became easier to just notice the feathers and leave them be. And instead of picking them up, I took a picture to take home with me.
This summer, I took my grandchildren and the feathers to one of my favorite trails near my home. I let them each pick out three or four of their favorites to keep. The remainder we returned them to their home, the natural world. We made sure to hide them, so someone else wouldn’t pick them up.
That trail now holds a special magic for me, for I know that treasures are hidden out of site along the way. It gives extra meaning to walking there.
And in the meantime, I stopped photographing the feathers. They are now just something ephemeral for me to hold in my mind’s eye for as long as they will remain. They are one more gift from the sacred space of the more-than-human world. They are a prayer, a connection, an unspoken message for me to carry in my heart.
T’shuvah has happened.
Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit, and is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma’yan Tikvah.