In search of ponies: Easy living comes at cost

Sharna Johnson

He wanted to be with us.

It was one of those bizarre instances that feeds theories — perhaps he sought refuge with us because of hunting season, or maybe he was a lost pet — but the answer was never known.

He flew into the yard a short distance away then waddled to our feet confidently.

And when I reached down to pick him up, he stood fast, allowing me to scoop him onto my hand.

The novelty of the moment won out and I held the dove, seizing the opportunity to examine him up close and marveled at his sparkly eyes and feathers, which from a distance appeared dull, but up close had opalescent layers of gradient color.

As the fascination ebbed and reality returned, I again realized it was not normal for one to be holding a wild dove in one’s hands.

I set him down on the ground, but rather than fly away, he sat and looked at me. And when I walked away, he waddled a few steps in my direction.

I came to regret the decision I made in those next few moments, but predictably, I scooped him up again and set about situating him in a cage.

He continued to interact with the humans, enjoying the attention, but after a few days I noticed the cat was spending an inordinate amount of time “napping” near the cage and the dove was developing bald spots.

In reality, the stress was causing him to pull feathers out, so I moved him to a closed, cat-free room and a couple hours every day I hung his cage on the porch in the sun and fresh air.

He had toys and treats and liked attention, but it still wasn’t enough.

I knew because the balding continued.

And as he somehow managed to pull almost all the feathers from his neck and even the top of his head, I knew I had to let him go.

But I feared it would be wrong to just cast him into the wild, featherless and with an unsafe affinity for humans.

I ended up sheepishly taking him to the zoo and handing him, contained in a box, to a worker who said they would try to turn him back into a normal dove again.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Aristotle said.

A still debatable scientific concept, the phrase is often used to describe the philosophical theory that when something is taken away, something else takes its place.

I never knew what happened to the dove or if the mission was accomplished, but the experience got me thinking.

Some birds are happy as can be in the gilded cage, content to have their needs provided and sacrifice whatever modicum of freedom they might have had otherwise.

Then there is the bird who would take the cold, the struggle for food and the predators over the comforts of the cage.

And then there’s my little dove, somewhere in-between, a want and desire to be there but just not able to live in the cage.

It’s funny because his reaction is not unlike ours — the more comfortable and easy our lives become, the more we cause our own problems.

For him it was pulling out feathers; humans, in the absence of sheer survival needs, challenge themselves with gym routines or bungie jumping or create conflict and self-destructive patterns — all easily found in today’s society.

For humans, I suppose we’re just not designed to have it easy. Wired for problem solving, if there’s no nut to crack or wheel to invent, the energy must go somewhere.

Perhaps the feather pulling was exertion of same energy he would have used hunting for a meal or fleeing a predator.

Nature may abhor a vacuum but he’s evidence there is no replacement for freedom, or for that matter, lost feathers.

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at