I've always had a special relationship to pigeons. On my first visit to a zoo at five years old, my mother asked me which animal I liked the best. I said, "The pigeons!" I'm sure she looked at me aghast, then asked me, "Why?" I said, "Because they are the only ones who are free in the zoo." Classic Baby Jacqueline! Growing up in the city, I've always appreciated the pigeons, and found them full of character and beauty. I thought it was so silly when people called them flying rats, because I like rats too! They're so smart and full of personality! But I digress.
Fast forward a million years to when I first moved to my little town of Collingswood, New Jersey. I didn't have so much as a tree on my former city block, so the flora and fauna were a completely new thing -- even cardinals and blue jays were new to me! One day there was a strange bird sitting above my door with an enormous ruff around their neck like an Elizabethan member of the court. I thought to myself, "What strange new wild bird is THIS?" and then they flew to the railing and I saw that there was a band around their ankle. Long story short, it was a fancy pigeon that must have escaped from a breeder. I bought some pigeon food and we became friends. I was able to get close enough to record the letters and numbers on the leg band, and contacted numerous fancy pigeon clubs about this lost soul that I started calling Pidge.
Pidge would come and visit when I was on the porch, and always rested above my door. I guess it felt like a safe space. They would come close, sitting on the railing, and coo, but they never wanted to be held, or perch on me. I didn't see them with any friends, not even the Mourning Doves that they were most like. I kept on trying different pigeon clubs with their number, and wondering what I was going to do when the weather got cold (build an aviary? Contact a sanctuary?) and then Pidge vanished. No body, no feathers on the ground -- absolutely nothing.
I was a lot sadder than I thought I would be. I had gotten so used to Pidge welcoming me home after a day of work, cooing at me as I brought food in the morning, and yes, I even missed cleaning up after them. They would watch me and stay close as I did this, like they knew I was caring for them the best I could, like they had someone watching out for them. Did someone take Pidge? Did the cat who was the boss of our street get them? Did they find another place to live? I'll never know, but I think about Pidge all the time. This painting is a little homage to my dear Pidge, the most unexpected friend I met in my new town.
And speaking of birds of a feather, have you seen the work of Mother Pigeon? I am so inspired of her advocacy work for pigeons, her installations, and her moving and soulful soft sculpture pigeons. One of my dear hopes is to run into her when I'm on a visit to NYC some time soon. <3
image: Birds of a Feather, available in the shop!