The Columba livia is most often referred to as a plain ol’ “pigeon” but I prefer one of its other common names – rock dove. Makes you think of them differently, doesn’t it? Amazing how much power a name has on perception. Maybe a rose by any other name smells even sweeter?
As I am living in an urban area for the moment, and today felt more wistful than usual for the woods, I find my eyes have grown keen to see nuggets of nature where I find myself … and my mind has grown keen to blow them up into huge, pensive, metaphors.
Which gets me back to the rock dove.
I read that the rock dove “originally lived in high places—cliffs, ledges, and caves near the sea—that provided them with safety” but that “they have adapted to roosting and nesting on windowsills, roofs, eaves, steeples, and other man-made structures.”
I feel a bit like the rock dove, and maybe you do too. I too am dwelling in a city but my sense of “home” lies elsewhere. As I’ve hinted before in other writing, I have found a better sense of safety and sense of self in “high places” – alpine forests and mountains. And I know it is just geography or topography, but I feel (like the rock dove) a bit out of my element when I’m not there.
However, the rock dove has impressively adapted to find a taste of their longed for high places where they find themselves now – they have made a cliff ledges out of windowsills. In doing so, they have adopted the mantra (as Mumford & Sons said) to “learn to love the skies I’m under.” By doing so, they become a role model to us all for making the best of what you are given, and to find the good in all that is given.
The rock dove is often seen as a pest in cities, in fact they almost are treated like rats with wings. I am not sure why this is, perhaps we have just forgotten how to see rightly, perhaps it is just further indication that this is not where they feel most at home either. Regardless, they persevere, and that is something.
They are seen as common creatures, but if you truly stop to consider them rightly, if you permit them, they could just bring you to awe & can render you wonder-struck. And here is example how:
Rock doves, when on the ground, are a bit awkward, and lack grace. But, when in their true element, when in flight, everything changes. Typically they fly in a flock, and with incredible synchronized movements, this cloud of darting, feathered forms turns on a dime, in silent communication of direction. In fact, it seems that the flock is a single organism instead of dozens of individuals. They are surprisingly elegant and fast in flight, especially when you consider how they appear with wings folder, waddling almost drunkenly on the ground. When on the wing, they are all sharp lines, and pointed wingtips – they can be a blur when they want to be. I love watching them in flight, one of the great reminders in life to stop and look up. It also causes me to pause and look in – what is my version of flight?
These birds are also noted for their homing ability. They can be taken far from their nest and still know how to get back. I find great comfort in this. That maybe I too can find my way back to myself even if I get far off course. That I can return “home” even after being a long distance off for some time. That I can allow myself to wander without the fear of misplacing myself forever.
Some would say these birds are ugly. I, instead, see them as the opals of the feathered kingdom. They are most often mostly grey (which happens to be my favorite color, but that isn’t really relevant here). However, they usually have a ring of iridescent throat feathers. So, they are only seen rightly when they are in the light. To put it differently, what appears bland is made beautiful in light. Do you ever feel that way? Depressingly bland? Well, I feel in light we all have some iridescence (at least I hope this is true).
I remember my first and most intimate encounter with rock doves – about 10 years ago in Piazza San Marco – Venice, Italy. This is that famous square where people feed pigeons (or at least used to, I believe it is no longer permitted to feed the birds there). Back then, you bought a tiny paper bag of corn kernels, tentatively poured a few in your hand, and held your hand out wondering if they’d trust you enough to approach.
You should not have wondered. Before you have time for a moment’s doubt, you are accosted by the feathered creatures. Maybe you would find this horrifying or unhygienic, but I could not stop laughing. I was rapturous with joy at these creatures who were so eager to alight my hands, arms, and shoulders to get a little morsel of life. I want such eagerness of living, such fearless trust in pursuing something. And this was all just for a bit of corn.
So, here is to thankfulness for the rock dove. Here is to praise that the rock dove gives us a taste of nature in cities, and teaches us lessons about ourselves. Let us pause to consider the rock dove rightly. Let us stop to look both up and in at ourselves and wonder: are we being fearless enough to take flight and go after our version of corn kernels? Are we willing to adapt to love the skies we’re under even when away from our longed-for high places?