Monday, November 15, 2010

M is for Moulting

M is for Monday
M is for Moulting
Moulting is for the birds!
And reptiles
And arthropods
And dogs
And ...
Moulting Otherwise known as shedding
And I spell it the old ou way, because it is an olden process
biologically uniting many species, many points of view.

Moulting sounds like mold, but isn’t
it is instead about staying fresh and replenishing your featherage.

A bird’s second moult is known as an eclipse moult
birdwatchers often refer to a bird as being in 'eclipse'.

Hidey, our eldest chicken, is in fact experiencing this momentous moment in her life cycle.  And despite her being a dinosaur in my backyard that cost $1.75, with feet that are hands going backward in biological time, and her brain being the size of a lima bean, she’s having a lot of palpable bird feelings about the moult:  “I’m not quite myself.  I need to be alone”. It seems an inconvenient, awkward and disconcerting time for the bird; feathers are falling out all over the place and leaving unsightly gaps in the coverage.  Her limited flight capacity is now more limited.  Her social life is considerably affected.  

As care-giver of this chicken and as mother of two adolescent boys, I can not deny the correlation between this bird moulting display and the human adolescent’s turbulence. Both having to deal with extreme accelerations in bodily change.  A similarly in-between moment in appearances, the essence of pubescence. The body getting slammed with the new shapes and sizes of replacement parts with hormones dictating random undercurrents.
One of our adolescent humans has great gapes in his teething arrangement now,
and very long thin feet. Whereas, the eldest is very epidermally challenged.
And the mother herself could be, well, pre-menopausal - an amazing catchall for changing yet again.

So this moment of Monday (while procrastinating about something) we meditate on moulting also known as shedding or sloughing.  Now sloughing is a word of superior sonic capability to the Ranger’s ear. This is what a loofa sponge, or partially decomposed cactus, is able to do for you! To gently abrade a layer of microbes and dead skin. Sloughing is a procedure, which facilitates the casting off of old skins, the way a snake will rub itself over the ground to rid, renew and expand.
Yet, slough (same spelling, different vowel sound) is defined as “a place of deep mud or mire”  …  a “slough of despond” – a state of depression.  And if we may dare to compare again, this feels to be one of the layers of adolescence that we must in some way contend with, in order to find their independent way through the “deep mire” in the search for identity.  So if sloughing can become a process, maybe the great “slough of desponds” is one we can hike out of, like the swampy lowpoints along the trail.

Okay okay, back to moulting 

For the developing bird, the new feathers that emerge are called pin feathers.  As the pin feathers become full feathers, then other feathers are shed.  A cyclical and somewhat symmetrical process.  The pin feather is also known as a "blood feather” and actually has a blood supply flowing through it which makes it very sensitive. (Just as is the chicken, Hidey, is about her feelings).  And you guessed it, the adolescent humans too can be extra sensitive, as though you just touched them right on their new blood feather.

Interesting how the process of regeneration and maturation of the new feathers requires preening in order to stimulate the blood flow of nutrients along the feather shaft and remove a waxy coating.  Preening delivers each feather from one phase of development to another.  For the adolescent human as well, it seems important to put in extra work in front of the mirror.  Preening to figure out if the smell is going to fit.  To adjust to the latest, to get things situated.

Until reading about moulting in order to better understand my chicken’s predicament (and accidently my blood children’s too), It really hadn't occurred to me how many different kinds and uses for feathers there are on one bird.

For instance, feathers needed for flying involve barbs, interconnected by miniscule barbules.  It’s a complex communication of multiple of elements making it possible to steer and veer and scoot around in the air. Whereas, birds downy underlayer lets the tiny barbs fly loose and free, unconnected to eachother, thereby better entrapping warm air at all odd angles next to the skin.  Just say “duvet” and doesn’t sound loving?  Imagine all the warmth, insulation, and nurturance that birds the world over have provided us with.

 What is beautiful and vulnerable about the bird moult, is that this purposeful loss is made so absolutely obvious. The ancient DNA clues are embedded somewhere in us as we humans grapple with our own changes, both inside and out.  A visual signifier helps us to acknowledge the phases that we must go through in order to earn renewable health.  And when we shed or moult, we must grow it back ourselves; i mean we can put on clothes and buy a coat, but we still need to feel good in our skins.  And while you are moulting, while you are coming and going at the same time, well it is hard to do.
Hmmm Mmmm   m
is for moulting and
We must now come to an end of our Monday meditation on
Or sloughing it off.
May your own exfoliations be invigorating as autumn plays itself out.
And may the Ranger learn to patiently teach maintenance to her adolescents
(Instead of yelling at them) about all those shedded socks on the floor of the bedroom
or the hair clogging the shower drain, because it’s just moulting.

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