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That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Upheaval

"Compassion is not helpless pity, but an awareness and determination that demands action," said the Dalai Lama. In today's Feathers, Mary Sojourner shows how action is essential not only to compassion, but also to hope.


I am lucky, more accurately blessed, to live a ten-minute drive from a little dirt road in a surviving few acres of Northern Arizona ponderosa forest. A narrow and rocky social trail runs parallel a few hundred feet from the road. I won’t tell the location and I’ll alter details so that the compulsive Googler or Instagrammer won’t be able to find this place.

A social trail is a path eroded into the earth by human or animal use. It can also be known as a game trail, use trail, bootleg trail, or desire path. Eleven years ago, when I first moved back to Flagstaff, this trail did not exist. There were only third-growth ponderosa, Gambel oak, pine stumps, wild grasses, and flowers. There were few walkers or bikers on the dirt road.

Six months after I returned to Flagstaff in 2010, Instagram began to colonize the Internet. Google Maps had arrived years earlier. The corrosion of secret places was well begun.

I had once lived for twenty-three years in a cabin just off the little dirt road. I had no indoor plumbing or central heat. Those of us who lived in the dozen or so cabins used a central shower shack and, a little further up the driveway, a two-room outhouse.