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the Wanderling

One day, when I was around ten years old or so, I went for a hike deep into the desert unescorted. When my Uncle discovered I was gone he went looking for me. During my walk I happened across the carcass of a dead rabbit and was fascinated by it for some reason. When my Uncle found me after cresting a small hill he saw me squatted down with the carcass. Joining me quite comfortably in a circle with the rabbit were three what were, because of this incident, to eventually become my Totem Animal --- VULTURES. From what he was able to discern from his initial vantage point I was neither afraid of them nor were they remotely afraid of me. As well, and he swore this to be true --- although I have absolutely no recollection of it and construe it as a possible total misinterpretation of facts --- that the vultures and I were sharing meat from the carcass between us.

During those years my Uncle spent a lot of time traveling in and about some very isolated sections of the desert and interacting with the indigenous populations thereof because of various, as he called them, "art" related ties he had with them. During many of those travels I went along. It was on one of those trips, following the vulture incident and at the suggestion of his wife, a Midewiwin Medicine Woman that was held in awe by most that came within her presence, that I, as a very young boy, was introduced to things Shaman: [1]


We were on one of our excursions deep into a remote part of the southern New Mexico desert to visit a very strange man my Uncle was somehow associated with. After arrival the two sat together in the shade outside the man's shack and talked for a good part of the day while I either played with the dogs or sat in the cab of the truck fiddling with the radio.

Just as we were leaving the man came up to me and handed me a huge long black with white feather, the biggest, longest feather I had ever seen.

It was nearly as wide as the span of my hand and it's length was as long as I, a ten year old boy, was tall. Tied to the quill shaft, which was much, much bigger around than any piece of schoolroom chalk, was a small, double strand of leather string with ten colored beads attached, one for each of my years he said.

He told me the feather once belonged to a very magnificent bird that was very important to his culture and the desert's well being, but now it belonged to me. [2]

Soon my Uncle and I were on the long dusty road back, and, as kids are wont to do on occasion, I was leaning out the window, flowing the feather in the wind as we sped along. Suddenly the feather was whipped out of my hand and I watched it as it blew high into the sky, caught first in the turbulance from the truck, then by the desert breeze itself, only to disappear from sight altogether. True, it was only a feather, but for some reason it's loss affected me in a deep, sad sort of way.

The next morning my Uncle and I got up and went out to the truck to do a few errands. Laying alone in middle of the pick-up bed near the back of the cab in a very fine smooth layer of dust was a long black with white feather, with a small, double strand leather string with ten colored beads tied to it's quill. Left in the dust also, were what appeared to be several very large, clear footprints of a huge bird along with scratches and talon marks on the tailgate as though, if even for a short time, a giant avian had roosted or landed there.(see)

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A couple of quick comments regarding the giant feather, estimated to have been nearly as large as a wing feather from the twenty-five foot wingspan Teratorn, Argentavis Magnificens, with a feather measurement of 1.5 meters in length (60 inches...that is, FIVE FEET) and 20 centimeters wide (8 inches). When the feather was first given to me, even though it was of a huge size, I, as a young boy with a vivid imagination, did not fully grasp the ramifications of it all. For me at the time, it did not seem impossible that a bird could not be of any size, so a feather as long as I was tall did not seem at all that improbable. It was only into high school and beyond that it came to me that I had been in the presence of something truly remarkable. I never saw the bird the feather came from, nor have I ever seen a second or other feathers of such large size, but for a bird to have required such an enormous feather in the first place, it would have to had been truly a giant creature. For the Shaman to have imparted something so rare, meaningful, and valuable to me, a mere ten year old boy with then no history or background, speaks volumes. [3]

For those who would question the validity of the existance of a feather of such size in the first place, as stated in the closing sentence of the Legend of the Giant Bird:

"The loss of the Buffalo would have a devastating effect on the migratory habits of birds of such size. Not everybody makes the connection, but it is pretty simple stuff, without the herds, migration became very difficult and many of the young birds as well as some of the adults died on their way south. We are talking twenty-five foot wingspan Teratorn type birds, animals so huge they couldn't hunt in woodlands or heavy foilage. They needed large open area suchs as the Great Plains or the Argentine Pampas to navigate and hunt."

"The loss of the Buffalo would have a devastating effect on the migratory habits of a bird of such size." In confirmation of just such an event, Dr. Richard Laub of the Buffalo Museum of Science, found evidence at the Hiscock Site in New York of the California Condor having ranged as far as New York prior to the demise of large animals that provided their food supply:

"In 1984, while recovering bones from an ancient spring at the Hiscock site, Laub first thought one was from a cervid (deer-like) animal because of its size. Examination of its structure in the lab revealed it was from a bird, perhaps a large vulture. He sent it to David Steadman, then with the New York State Museum, who identified it as the humerus of a California condor. Both men were excited by the discovery, since fossil condor remains had previously been found only along the Gulf Coast and along the Pacific Coast into northern California. Two additional bones found in the next two years confirmed the presence of the condor in Ice Age New York. The condor, we now know, was a very tough bird that was adapted to a wider range of climates than previously thought. The article on the occurrence of the condor at the Hiscock site by Dr. Steadman and co-author Dr. Norton Miller that appeared in Quaternary Research (vol. 28, 1987) states that its reduced range (today it is found only in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California), rather than being the result of climate change, may be due instead to the diminished supply of large carcasses at the end of the Ice Age."(source)

Dr. Steadman and co-author Dr. Norton Miller state in Quaternary Research (vol. 28, 1987) that the condors reduced range, rather than being the result of climate change, may be due instead to the diminished supply of large carcasses at the end of the Ice Age.

To learn the fate of what happened to the giant feather go to Meditation Along Meteor Crater Rim. See: Wing of the Giant Bird. See as well, if you have not done so, Footnote [2].


PENDEJO CAVE: The Ancient Ones





Where Is It Now, What Happened To It?






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My uncle's wife was a powerful curandera in the tradition of la Catalina, and like la Catalina, held in awe by most that came within her presence. Tall and straight-backed, with perfect posture and beautiful skin, instead of taking steps she appeared to almost glide when she walked. In restaurants and public places people were reluctant to sit near her table and the help was afraid to serve her. Some have said they had seen a glass of water slide across the table to her hand without her even moving her arm.

Upon hearing the story regarding myself and the vultures she was certain, at least as she viewed it from her own perspective, that if my uncle had not come across the the circle when he did I would have flown off with them, or, if not then, the six-foot wingspan raptors would have carried me off with them as if I was one of their own (again, her perspective).


Years later my uncle told me something he had never told his wife nor discussed with me. The distance I traveled that day, from the point I started to the location he found me, was way to far for me to have covered given the time, especially considering the level of my own abilities, the terrain, heat of the day, etc. He told me he had tracked me some distance quite clearly, then my tracks suddenly just ended as though I had disappeared into thin air. Knowing I didn't have a large supply of water or any at all he continued to look in areas he thought I might seek out and just happened across me --- many, many miles from where he had last seen my tracks. How I got there he couldn't say with any amount of certainty. However, he told me, and he kept it a secret from his wife even to the point of burning my shirt, that my shirt below both shoulders as well as part way down the back and along my sleeves were punctured in spots and appeared to have what he called grip marks on them. So too, my skin had red abrasions almost like minor scratches as though my arms had been clutched by something. He told me he was sure I had been carried off and if he hadn't happened across me I may had been carried off even further, maybe even never to be found.

In that my uncle was not able to get me to tell him verbally --- OR I was unable or unwilling to put into words my experience of what happened that day --- my uncle suggested I sit down and draw whatever pictures came to mind that related to the event. All of those drawings are long gone as are any finite memories of same, except for one. I remember it clearly as if only yesterday because of the striking comparison my uncle made between one of my drawings and an ink and watercolor drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci. They were nearly identical, desert landscape and all. The major exception was that where Leonardo's drawing depicted a lake with a shape similar to a bird, my drawing, although having a similar shape, was instead, a SHADOW of a giant bird.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Bird's-Eye View of a Landscape. 1502.
Pen, ink and watercolor on paper. Windsor Castle, Windsor, UK

The above incident occurred while I was a young boy. In later years, without getting into all of the details here, but as an adult the following transpired as presented in the source so cited:

"As to the period of time I was on the promontory and didn't move, eat, and apparently didn't drink any water for days --- as the two teaspoons a day were unconsumed and continued to add up in the water jar to such a point that it held the equivalent of at least five days of water --- and what happened during that period that I have described above as a deep meditative state that sort of melded together varying aspects of samadhi, nirodha, and shamanic journeying is, well, a story for another time. I will tell you that the birds continued to get larger, going from vultures the first day to condors the second. Then, as I write above, the distinction between days and time began to fade as I fell deeper into a meditative state. However, during an area of transition between the total completion of the fading into the deep meditative state I remember something that must have been on the third day. On that day, no longer were there vultures or condors, but an enormous bird of even larger size perched on the promontory with it's back toward me and tailfeathers spread in such a fashion that I was able to walk up on it's back and sit."(source)


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The quote below refers to the specific feather discussed in "The Boy and the Giant Feather" and is found in the book FOSSIL LEGENDS OF THE FIRST AMERICANS, Adrienne Mayor (2005), Princeton University Press, Chapter 3: The Southwest: Fossil Fetishes and Monster Slayers, page 163:

"According to Pleistocene bird specialist Tommy Tyrberg, a Teratornis fossil preserved in a dry desert cave could have cartilage and feathers. 'Even a wing of Gymnogyps (californianus) amplus, the large Pleistocene subspecies of the California condor, could be described as having man-sized bones. Remains of this bird have been found in at least six New Mexico caves.' Several very well-preserved Teratornis merriami remains have also been discovered in Dry Cave, Eddy County, and other caves in southern New Mexico, and teratorn skeletons have turned up in southern California, Nevada, Oregon, and Florida. A Native American fossil story that circulated on the Internet in 2002 claimed that a black-and-white feather, nearly sixty inches long with a quill the diameter of a stick of blackboard chalk, was made into an amulet by an old shaman in southern New Mexico. Whether or not that story is true, a feather of that size could be plucked from the remains of a mummified teratorn in a dry cave."