feathered head dresses

I’ve been thinking a lot about birds lately, about the mystery of their migrations; their unerring return each spring.

Our Cooper’s hawk is back from the dry barrancas of Zapotecas, its familiar kek-kek-kek vying with argumentative crows and cooing mourning doves at dawn. Improvisatory arboreal architects are at work big time.

Humingbird hangs its timid sac of cat fur and melaleuca leaves on a spike of palm.

Crows strip fresh tar paper off a neighbor’s roof with giddy joy…Hawks cart heavier loads of urban detritus to the pines, creating castles of thatched twiggery.

There’s sex and magic in the air, a synesthesia of feathers and song. Guatemalan poet Humberto Ak’abal, lauded as a “Mayan Basho”, describes it in Poems I Brought Down from the Mountain

 (translated from K’iche and Spanish by Miguel Herrera and Robert Bly.)


In the high hours of the night
stars get naked
and bathe in the rivers

Owls desire them,
the little feathers on their heads
stand up.



En las horas de la noche
las estrellas se desnudan
y se banan en los rios.

Los tecolotes las desean
se las paran las plumitas
que tienen en la cabeza.

To the south, plucked in the rainforest, ritual feathers made magic in Brazil (above).

Under the volcanoes on the shore of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, José Catú embroiders imaginary, rainbow birds on a length of striped cotton he has woven on a backstrap loom.
Susan Dworki
Susan Dworki

Such embroidery is usually women’s work in Santiago Atitlan, stitched on red and white striped cotton. But Jose enjoys riffing on the old style, sitting in the sun,letting his fingers follow wherever his mind’s eye leads him across the purple cloth. Perhaps a tourist will come along and buy it. Perhaps he will sew it into a pair of  traditional pants for himself. Right now, his attention is focused on the birds.

Top left photo: Roiro ri, a headdress worn during various rituals by men of the Kayapo-Mekragnoti culture, Fresco River, Para, Brazil. Photo E.Z. Smith. Courtesy Adam Meckler
Top right photo: Saipa, a headdress worn during the initiation into adulthood ritual by shamans and adultmen of the Titio culture, Para de Oeste River, North Para, Brazil. Photo E.Z. Smith. Courtesy Adam Meckler

Note: for those that want to follow the bird trail more, check out this piece from the Times: What Do the Birders Know?.

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