I couldn’t tell where the feathers came from. There were no trees, no power poles, or other perch from which they might have descended; just the bare Mojave Desert sky, uncharacteristically overcast. There were four of them, then six, then a dozen, arcing and twirling lazily toward the ground.
Had a peregrine or a prairie falcon swooped and caught one of the Eurasian collared doves that flock in my neighborhood, knocking a few feathers loose from its inflight prey? Had a hawk’s talon scraped them off a quail’s breast? I glanced at my dog, Heart, at the other end of the leash, briefly imagining she would nod, mutter, “huh,” and confirm the oddness. But she was lost in thoughts of her own, sniffing after side-blotched lizards beneath the desert milkweed.
The feathers were beautiful and plain, a dun-gray color slightly darker than the sky, each of them the length and width of a fingernail. They pirouetted and eddied in the light wind. I craned my neck again to find where they’d come from. I failed again.
Sometimes the small pieces of a desert life provide their own creation myths. Sometimes they don’t. Walking a few days beforehand, Heart had doubled back forcefully to sniff at a bit of fluff. It was downy rabbit fur, and the sticks were spattered with gore, and a pile of coyote scat lay nearby.
“Clearly, Holmes,” I explained to Heart, “an unfortunate hare happened upon this sample of coyote dung, sniffed at it, and exploded.” She gave me the merest ear flick.
One morning when she was new to me, that odd Mojave overcast having reached its full and appropriate flower as a slow, soaking rain, we walked out at 8:30 in the morning. I had my phone to my ear. I talked with a close friend as we walked. A mile from the house, Heart froze at roadside, stared off into the creosote. I didn’t see why for a few long minutes, but I was distracted and glad to stand. It took a moment for them to resolve out of the blur of creosote and fog: a pair of coyotes, then three, then four, out doing a few late morning rounds under cover of the sheltering gloom. One of them, a seeming youngster, approached to within 20 yards of Heart in apparent guileless curiosity. A moment of curious air sniffing for both young dog and young coyote passed, and then the wild ones loped casually across the road in front of us and into the National Park.