The Thing with Feathers | By Victoria Price

Our second annual trip honoring the life and legacy of my father, Vincent Price, came to an end a week ago in Malibu. Last year, Camp Vincent, as we have fondly all come to call it, brought a wonderful group of people from all over the world together to explore London and the beautiful surrounding British countryside. This year, we traveled from New Mexico through Arizona and on to Southern California on an epic road trip in celebration of my dad’s life and joy-filled generous ethos of living.

 Arizona Rest Stop with our faithful Sprinter (which I drove!)

Arizona Rest Stop with our faithful Sprinter (which I drove!)

I am looking forward to sharing some of my most joy-filled experiences (and photographs) from this year’s trip in coming blogs and podcasts. But for now, I want to write about the most unexpected gift of this year’s Camp: Hope.

In the middle of our trip, we shared Election Night in Winslow, Arizona, at the beautifully restored La Posada, a former Harvey Hotel. By the time the bartender closed down, sending us all up to our rooms to watch the final results or fall asleep, the exuberance we had all been feeling for the the first four days of our adventure together had all but dissipated. When we joined up with one another the next morning in stunned silence at the election results, our little group felt more like funeral attendees rather than the happy campers we had all been 24 hours earlier.

My father was an outspoken liberal — greylisted during the McCarthy era because of his pre-war activism on behalf of Spanish Civil War relief; a longtime supporter of Native American causes who served for fifteen years on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; a recipient of numerous awards for his outspoken advocacy against racism, religious prejudice, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. He publicly spoke out against the conservative presidents whom he felt undermined arts and education in this country. He used his celebrity to denounce prejudice and injustice — most famously in this PSA announcement from the 1950s.

My dad raised me to follow in his footsteps. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News with my parents, and talking about Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. My godfather’s advocacy for animal and environmental rights also galvanized me. From the time I was very little, I wanted to do my part to make the planet a better place for animals and humans alike. That said, my dad often felt afraid of the possible consequences of his advocacy — and warned me that my own activism could come back and harm me. I grew up feeling both called to speak out and work for social justice an also to be afraid of what might happen if I did. 

Never did I feel both sides of that two-edged sword than I have since Election Day. Never have I realized more clearly that it is time for that split in me to heal. By the end of Camp Vincent, it had.

On Wednesday morning, I called our little group together in the beautiful courtyard of the La Posada — with tall corn planted in concentric curves representing the circles of life, and we all held hands. I talked about the place where we were heading — Hopi — a place I have long FELT (not thought of but FELT) as the Center of the Universe. A place of such immense spiritual power and energy. A place and people that have survived everything nature and man have thrown at them for over a thousand years without losing their beliefs or traditions. Warfare, internal strife, disease, migration, alcoholism, poverty, and now even the effects of social media. Hopi still stands. I told them how perfect it felt to me to be going there on this day. And I read them a poem that is very very important to me -- and one that always makes me think of my dad. It is called "A Ritual to Read to Each Other".

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
— William Stafford

We all hugged one another and headed out to Hopi feeling much more hopeful. When we arrived at Second Mesa, we were greeted by our guide, Gary, with whom I have visited Hopi many times. He began our day by sharing three things that touched me deeply. His grandfather’s definition of the world Hopi, the Hopi creation myth, and the Hopi model of true interspirituality. They were EXACTLY what I needed to hear. 

Gary told us that his grandfather used to say that Hopi is a thing you become. He reminded Gary of all the ways in which his quick anger and his youthful follies took him away from who he was at his core, Hopi. For to be Hopi is to be a peaceful and civilized person — or more literally, a “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi way.” Gary told us that, instead of berating him for what he was not, his grandfather reminded him that he had his whole lifetime to come back to who he already was. A whole lifetime to return to being Hopi. Hearing that helped me so much. Not just because I tend to be hard on myself for all the ways I fail myself, but also because it made me feel that all of us who find ourselves either not “behaving, mannered, civilized, and peaceable” ourselves, or encountering another individual who we feel is not showing to their own behaving, mannered, civilized and peaceable humanity, can fundamentally trust that, one day, we will all return to being who we already are — Hopi . . .human.

 Gary with my nephew, Jody Price, and Seanetta (who came all the way from Edinburgh)

Gary with my nephew, Jody Price, and Seanetta (who came all the way from Edinburgh)

The next thing Gary shared was the Hopi creation myth. He told us that, before this world, there have been three others, all of which we have destroyed through our greed and warfare. At the end of each world, there is always a group who recognizes the imminent destruction of that world, and they are the ones who escape to begin the next world. At the end of the Third World, which existed in darkness below the surface of the earth, this group spied a tiny crack in the darkness, and they sought to find a bird that could fly into the next world to see if it was habitable. Finally a rock wren made it through and succeeded in finding this world, a world in which, Gary told us, the wren met a solitary man who invited us to live here. A man he referred to as our Landlord. 

What I found so hopeful in that story was the cyclical idea of destruction and rebirth. The fact that we continue to be given the opportunity to live in a place where we are allowed to discover our humanity. No matter what — that holistic cycle of healing will keep happening! Lastly, Gary shared the ways in which the various clans, all of whom have different spiritual practices, find a way to get along by sharing the responsibility for the religious and spiritual care of the whole tribe. In essence, Gary told us, their model uses a whole calendar year, during which each clan oversees a part of the religious calendar and the rest of the clans participate. This is the equivalent of everyone in the United States practicing every religion for a few weeks each year. For example — we would begin the year celebrating Jewish rituals, move on to Muslim then Native American then Buddhist then Hindu and end with Christian. And then do it all over again. This is such a beautiful and true and viable model of inclusion. (Of course, I am simplifying all this — but in essence, this is what happens . . . and has been happening for hundreds of years.) Has this prevented bloodshed and destruction? No. But has it made Hopi one of the places on the planet most fully in touch with the core of what it means to be both spiritual and human. And that was EXACTLY what I needed to hear.

 Campers & Petroglyphs

Campers & Petroglyphs

At the end of our day with Gary, we went out to the second largest petroglyph site in North America — a place that, although I have visited it numerous times, never fails to blow me away. A huge rock canyon filled with the traces of our human instinct to be mark makers, to represent who we are and where we have been in images and symbols. After walking around and looking at the pictographs and pottery sherds from the thousand year old trading site, Claire, a new Camper who had just joined us for the Arizona leg of the trip, asked if we could spend a few minutes in silence. We all stopped where we were and got very still. What I heard was profound.

First I heard the Sound of Silence. Because Silence does have a Sound, and it is beautiful. Then I began to hear myself, the movement of my bones, the sound of my own breath. As I stilled my own body, I began to hear beyond it. I heard the insects and the grasses move. I heard the wind against the rocks. And then, beyond that, I heard what I really needed to hear. I heard Hope. Hope in the call of a tiny Rock Wren. The littlest birds do, of course, have the prettiest songs, and this one echoed off the rock canyon and out into the sky and then wafted down to us. The Rock Wren called to us, over and over, reminding us that Hope had saved us before, and it would save us again. That same little wren who had flown through the tiny hole to discover the next world was still hear singing her song of survival. 

That sweet song reminded me that what this country has really chosen in every election has been Hope — Hope for change or for safety or for prosperity or for healing. Whether I find that Hope in a particular candidate or not, someone does. In every election, some feel hope and some feel despair. But whichever side we fall on during this cycle, I think we can all agree that Hope is perhaps the most essential part of our very humanness. In that beautiful moment, listening to that Rock Wren, I realized in the most fundamental and beautiful way that each of us has the opportunity to hang our hats on that Hope and see it as something that can unite rather than divide us — as the conduit to our becoming Human.

 Moonrise over the Petroglyphs

Moonrise over the Petroglyphs

By the time we all left Hopi, each of us felt more hopeful and more human. On Friday night, when we visited the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College, I felt moved to share my parents’ original vision for the Mary and Vincent Price Art Gallery.

I posted it on social media, and though I got many likes and loves, I also got some very angry responses. At the same time, a few things were surfacing in my own life that were getting under my skin. By the time we reached the last day of Camp Vincent, I felt exhausted and heavy. We were due to head out to the beach where I grew up for a memorial in honor of my father.  It was a day to which I had been looking forward since I had planned it half a year ago. But all day long, I felt as though my head, my heart, and I weighed thousands of pounds. I felt underwater in weights. I wondered how I would be able to show up in joy and love for this meaningful moment.

When we got to the beach, I suggested that each of us take 45 minutes to wander around beachcombing, something my father and I loved to do together, and something I always still do on the beach. I told them to look for me at the base of the ruins of the stairs that used to lead up to our house. (When Governor Reagan made all the beaches public, the decision was made to put a wrecking ball to all the homes on this beach — a decision that devastated us all.) This beach was OUR Hopi — our spiritual home and the place where we an our friends came together in love and hope and joy. At the time it was devastating, but the fact that I can now always visit this place that has felt as much like home to me as anywhere in the world, I now see as a gift.

 With my dad, looking for rocks on the beach.

With my dad, looking for rocks on the beach.

As I walked along the beach by myself for those 45 minutes, I talked to my dad, holding his hand like I used to, and telling him about our week. He told me to look for moonstone and skipping stones, just like we used to do together. I found both — enough to give to every camper. The kind of bumper crop I never have found there. I felt as though my dad had put them all out for us. But whenever I picked up a stone that wasn’t quite good enough to be a skipper, I swear I heard him playfully remonstrating me, telling me to find a good one. First that made me laught, but by the time I reached the base of the stairs, I was in tears. Like something deep and old in me was releasing. And for the first time all day, the heaviness started to lift. 

I sat down and faced the setting sun with my back to the stairs and thought about our group. I thought about how we had felt so much like a family all week. I thought about understanding, probably for the first time in my life, why family is so comforting. And I felt such gratitude to have been with them during this journey. And all I could feel was Love. 

By the time I turned around, everyone was building the altar I had thought I would have to “direct”. They were kneeling on the ground with marigolds and kelp fronds, rocks and artwork, things they had brought with them that meant something to them — connecting them to my dad.

 Peter, Nancy, and Bryan: Building the Altar

Peter, Nancy, and Bryan: Building the Altar

That was when I really started to cry, realizing what a gift I was being given by these wonderful individuals — the gift of connection and community. We all held hands again, and I shared how I was feeling — and then so did everyone else. By the end, most of us were in tears. We looked down at the sweet altar and marveled at how my dad had brought us all together as strangers from around the world — and through that, we had ended up friends and family. 

 My dad's altar at the ruins of the former steps up to where we lived. . .

My dad's altar at the ruins of the former steps up to where we lived. . .

In that moment, just as we were about to drop our hands, we all felt something, and we looked up. Right above us, directly overhead, a huge V (for Vincent!) of brown pelicans flew over us. Right as they passed us, the V dispersed and they flew out over the ocean — my dad’s beloved Pacific Ocean, where we had scattered his ashes. We all looked at one another in stunned silence. And then I shared the poem my dad always used to say to me on the beach when I was a little girl: What a wonderful bird is the pelican . . . His beak can hold more than his belly can!


A huge smile broke out on my face and that smile stayed with me as we all walked back up the beach, looking for skipping stones to send our love and wishes for my dad, along with our hopes for the safety and healing of the whole wide world, skipping out to sea.

Hope, Emily Dickinson wrote, is the thing with feathers. 

That perches in the soul - 

And sings the tune without the words - 

And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - 

And sore must be the storm - 

That could abash the little Bird 

That kept so many warm - 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 

And on the strangest Sea - 

Yet - never - in Extremity, 

It asked a crumb - of me.

Hope, this past week, was the thing with feathers that reminded me that, to be human requires that we all feel our connection to the birds and animals, the rocks and ocean and sky, as well as to one another — through our differences and our doubt, through our failures and our fears. Hope was the Rock Wren, reminding me that it is up to each of us to do our part to save this Fourth World. Hope was the V of pelicans, reminding me of the simple joy of being with my father walking on the beach looking for rocks, and reminding us all that, though we are not related by blood, we all share one father, one planet, and are one family. 

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the would, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops. At all. 

May we all remember our Hope and let it unite instead of divide us. May that unabashed little Bird continue to keep us all warm within the heart of Love.

The Thing with Feathers


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