Benjamin and I were taking the backroads from Delaware to New York when I saw a pheasant on the side of the road.
He was standing tall and his bright colors jolted me.
Prior to this glimpse of a lovely creature, I was in the throes of a panic attack.
I used to love driving, but I don’t feel the same Americana freedom and romanticism that I used to experience. Instead, I fixate on the insane physics of it- my soft tissue encased in crushable metal, traveling 75 miles per hour with other vehicles, thundering trucks surrounding, my body speeding.
I don’t see the horizon, the wide expanse of this nation. I feel driving as sterile as a video game that I don’t want to play, but I need the ocean and the woods, so I must sign on and join the game. The backroads are a little better. Trips take longer, often twice as long, but it’s mostly slower, quiet, and peppered with more interesting things to see like neighborhoods and state parks.
Still, even on a less traveled road, things happen, and on this particular trip, a big truck turned too close to us. I felt a tightening of breath, a folding of my torso, blurry vision, and an inability to think clearly. It’s embarrassing, because even while it’s happening, there’s a voice in my head scolding me, telling me that I should be able to control it, but it usually takes an hour or so for it to fully subside.
This time, because of that gorgeous bird, it ended faster.
My breath and heartbeat returned to normal because of his shockingly beautiful colors, the rarity of seeing him.
I know there were ecological factors contributing to his appearance. We were on a road that cut through his habitat of high grass. But I like symbolism. I look for it. I am fascinated by how various cultures interpret animal sightings, so when we were finally home, I looked up a few things.
I discovered that the pheasant teaches balance, when to express or blaze in beauty and when to refrain or hide in the shadows. Because he flies in bursts, he encourages reaching for goals and achieving heights, but he also reminds us to stay grounded and protect our passions.
Before our trip to Delaware, I told myself that I’d spend the remainder of summer learning the business of writing. I’d research publishing companies, explore agent profiles and figure out how make my peace with having a “social media presence.”
It’s autumn now, and I did spend the summer doing this.
The pheasant was one of the last birds we saw on our trip of many, many bird sightings. He was a gift for me, an image I will keep in my brain as I try to balance the creative act of writing with the business of getting my writing into the world. He will be a comfort, a reminder of my own strength and ability to get through challenges. Thank you, Mr. Pheasant.