The Strange White Doves: True Mysteries of Nature

The Strange White Doves: True Mysteries of Nature

by Alexander Key

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In the behavior of animals, an author discovers the limitless possibility of nature

In a wild stretch of countryside where only the toughest creatures can survive, an author witnesses a miracle: a white dove. His young companion chases after the bird, catching it easily with his bare hands—a second miracle. He takes it home as a pet, and there they find the third miracle of the day: the dove’s mate, who traveled hundreds of miles to reunite with her vanished beloved. But how did she know where to find him—and what does her journey tell us about the mysteries of the wild?
To the author, the miracle of the doves is too remarkable to be explained by instinct. He suspects they share a kind of telepathy, and he begins to see signs of other unspoken mysteries everywhere he looks—from insects on the ground to branches on the trees. Life is a mystery, but the answers await us if, like the doves, we know how to listen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497652545
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 93
Sales rank: 707,275
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Alexander Key (1904–1979) started out as an illustrator before he began writing science fiction novels for young readers. He has published many titles, including Sprockets: A Little Robot, Mystery of the Sassafras Chair, and The Forgotten Door, winner of the Lewis Carroll Shelf AwardKey’s novel Escape to Witch Mountain was adapted for film in 1975, 1995, and 2009. 

Read an Excerpt

The Strange White Doves

True Mysteries of Nature

By Alexander Key


Copyright © 1972 Alexander Key
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5254-5



The first miracle, on that curious day of miracles, was in being at exactly the right place at the right time—and having Zan with us. Without young Zan, it would still be a mystery. Had we reached that particular spot in the mountains a minute later, we would not have seen what we found there. Had we missed it, we would have missed the big miracle that came later. Not only that, but you would not be reading this book, for I would not have been able to write it.

Fate, I'm willing to believe now, had been prodding us all that morning. It made us take a certain timber road when we almost chose another. It threatened rain that never came, and forced us to load the truck and start homeward early. At the final instant, as we wound through the high valley, it sent a single shaft of sunlight down through the crowding forest. That ray of light fell directly upon the small white object just ahead, making it stand out brilliantly against the shadowed mountainside. It was startling, and uncanny.

Bob, our woodsman friend who was driving the truck, grunted and put pressure on the brakes. The truck began to slow down. I told myself the white object couldn't possibly be anything but a piece of paper. Then, with a shock, I realized it was moving.

"Why, it's a bird!" said young Zan, my son. "It's a dove—a white dove! But what's it doing here?"

"Dunno," Bob mumbled. Carefully, quietly, he eased the truck to a stop. "Never saw nothin' like that in this country. Hit shore don't belong here."

We had come upon a variety of wildlife that morning, which was one of the reasons Zan and I always looked forward to our October trips with Bob. October is wood-gathering time in the Carolina highlands, and we were returning with our first load of logs for the fireplace. Behind us in the gold and crimson forest there had been breathtaking glimpses of a world few people ever have a chance to see. But nothing we had encountered was as extraordinary as this.

We were in wild country, far from people. Here, where one expected to find grouse and deer, the sight of even a common barnyard pigeon would have been surprising. But a white dove?

For several seconds we sat staring at it incredulously, wondering what peculiar circumstance had brought it, or driven it, to this high and remote corner. Fifty feet ahead, and well above the narrow road, the white bird was still moving along the steep slope of the mountain, skirting a thicket at the forest's edge. It seemed to be perfectly all right, though obviously our presence was making it nervous. Momentarily I expected it to spread its wings and take off.

Suddenly Zan whispered tensely, "Let me out! I'm going to catch it!"

"Don't be silly," I told him and started to explain the impossibility of catching anything winged with only one's bare hands. Difficult enough in an enclosure, in the open it is practically impossible. But before I could give him the benefit of my hard-earned wisdom, he was out of the truck and swiftly crossing the road.

"All he needs," Bob said dryly, "is a little salt to put on its tail."

We watched Zan scramble up the slope. The dove, instead of flying away as he approached, neatly sidestepped and darted into the thicket. Zan plunged in after it.

At thirteen the boy was a lean, wiry, and intense person, but not especially quick. At least I had never thought so. In fact, I considered him rather bumbling. But suddenly Bob gasped, and I saw Zan straighten, carefully holding something white in his hands. So much for my experience and wisdom! The impossible had been accomplished. I thought it was just luck at the time. In the coming months I was to change my mind.

Anyway, that was the second miracle. The third was not to happen until late that afternoon.

On the way home we examined the bird and found nothing wrong with its wings. Its tail feathers, however, were bedraggled and worn.

"That means," said Bob, "that it's done a heap of walking. But since its wings are all right, I figger it's just plum' tired out from flying. An' it could be that a hawk gave it a bad time. Shore must have come from a long ways off."

At home, the immediate question was what to do with the dove now that we had it. It was a beautiful creature, and Alice, my wife, exclaimed over it with delight. Then sadly she reminded us that we had neither an aviary nor a dovecote, but that we did have cats.

"But, Mom," Zan wailed, "I caught it, and I sure want to keep it. Can't I?"

"We'll decide that later," she told him. "Right now, put it in a place where it will be absolutely safe. Then help Bob and your father finish with the wood."

We found a sturdy packing crate in the garage and turned it into a temporary cage, with a piece of heavy wire secured over the top. I was sure it would resist attack from any predator.

Bob drove us back to the high forest. Again we loaded the truck and returned to the lower valley and home. By the time we had finished stacking our fireplace logs in a corner of the yard, the sun was poised over the gap to the west of us. Wearily we went into the studio to have coffee and relax.

The studio, where I alternately produce books and pictures, is a big room with a broad sweep of windows that look out over a walled terrace. I had momentarily forgotten Zan's dove when a flash of white outside caught my eye. At the same moment Alice cried, "The dove's escaped! There it goes!" And there it went—straight past the windows, flying so close that we could see it looking in at us. It vanished somewhere on the other side of the house, in the area of the garden.

To Zan, who looked a little sick at his loss, I said, "You caught it once. If you hurry, maybe you can do it again."

In an instant he dashed through the kitchen and raced outside. I didn't really believe he could catch the bird a second time. The odds against it seemed far too great. But I had hardly reached the kitchen when he came panting back into the house. Again the impossible had happened. He had the dove in his hands.

The third miracle? No, the fourth.

The third miracle had already happened. When we went into the garage and lifted the cover from the cage, the first white dove was still there. Zan had caught the bird's mate, for we now discovered that it had a small crest on its head, showing it to be a male.

The big question is, How did the second white dove know where to find its mate?



I will never forget my feeling of blank astonishment when we opened the cage and found that the first dove was still inside. Following it came a growing wonder.

How had the second dove known where to come?

Had it seen Zan capture its mate, then followed the truck to where we live?

I thought back carefully and knew it couldn't have happened that way. I am a fairly good observer, and so is Zan, and we are always on the watch for what may be around us in the mountains. As for Bob, he is an experienced woodsman and hunting guide, and his sharp blue eyes miss nothing. In fact, his vision is remarkable, for I have actually watched him shoot an ordinary piece of string in two at thirty yards with Zan's little .22-caliber rifle. That string, by the way, was thinner than the head of a pin, and he did not use a telescopic sight. Now a white object stands out clearly in the fall woods, and down in the open lower valley where we live it can be seen for a great distance. So I am absolutely certain that one of us, especially Bob, would have spotted the second dove had it been anywhere around.

That dove was not around. It did not appear until more than four hours after we had put the first dove in its cage. When it came, it appeared very suddenly, apparently sweeping down from the sky—and flew directly past the studio windows, close, as if to attract our attention. It even turned its head and looked at us as it went by. Then it flew on and landed in the garden, where Zan was able to catch it almost immediately.

Several things about this seemed remarkable. The more I thought about it, the more remarkable the whole thing became. It almost seemed that the dove wanted to be caught—by the right person, that is. Perhaps the most remarkable part of all was the exact pinpointing of its mate's location in such a vast area.

In the four hours before it arrived, the second white dove could have flown more than a hundred miles. But suppose the bird had been closer than that and needed to travel only a fraction of that distance. How did it know the proper direction to take? Perhaps it made only a good guess—but if so, how did it know the exact place to stop?

Could telepathy have had anything to do with it?

For a while I thought that explained the happening. But doubts came. There were far too many questions to be answered that way.

If not telepathy, what was it that brought the second dove to my studio window?


Something in me rebelled at the word. I have seen too many curious things in nature to have much regard for such an explanation. Instinct is one of the most overworked and misused nouns in our language, and it is always being slipped in somewhere to hide an ocean of ignorance.

Intuition seemed a much better word. Everyone is intuitive to a certain extent, though very few people could ever hope to match the second dove's performance. It aroused in me a great curiosity. Was the bird a freak, or were other creatures able to do the same thing? If they could, the world of nature was not at all the way I had always supposed it to be.

I have never seen a happier pair of birds than those two after we put the second dove in the cage with the first. They billed and cooed like long-lost lovers and did not seem to mind in the least the smallness of their box. Zan, of course, wanted to keep them, and so did I. But winter was approaching; there was the problem of building a safe and adequate dovecote, and on top of that there was the possibility that someone might come at any time and claim them. Anyway, we had cats.

Where did the doves come from? Despite all our efforts, we were unable to find out. A few people in the farming areas had pigeons, but a white dove was a curiosity. Finally we decided that after the birds had plenty of rest and food, we would turn them loose in a safe spot. Since they had managed to find each other, surely they would be able to fly back to their original home.

So one morning, as soon as Zan was off to school, Alice and I took the doves across the meadow behind the house and left them by a logger's shack at the edge of the woods. Since they had been caged for a week, I didn't expect them to fly off immediately. They would need a little while to get their bearings and become accustomed to being free. In the meantime the open shack would give them shelter.

Through the day we checked on them with the field glasses, but at sundown they were still there.

"What's the matter with them?" Alice asked worriedly. "Why don't they leave?"

"Maybe they like it there," I told her.

"But they can't stay—not on the ground like that! Something's bound to get them!"

I was worried too. Besides having its share of foxes, our valley has wildcats as well as other predators.

But the doves were still near the shack the next morning, unharmed. Nor did they make any attempt to leave that day.

As the sun dipped low again, Alice said, "We'll just have to catch them and put them back in the cage. They'll never last out there another night."

That evening Zan happened to be away somewhere with the school band, so we tried to catch the doves ourselves. They cooed a greeting at our approach and allowed Alice, who has a way with birds and animals, to come very close—but not quite close enough. I could not even get near them. With the coming of darkness we were forced to give up.

We slept badly that night. When the morning mists had cleared, we looked for the doves. Miraculously, they were still there.

When Zan returned from school, we hurried to the shack. He caught both doves in a matter of seconds, scooping up one with his left hand and the other with his right.

I was flabbergasted.

What sort of power did he have over them?



The game warden for our area, who lives farther down the valley, was finally able to find a good home for the doves with a distant friend who was something of a naturalist.

As for the small mysteries concerning them, I have often thought that the first dove was stolen and carried some distance in a car, from which it escaped. Possibly its mate was unable to locate it until it stopped moving and reached the stationary point of our home. But no matter. Our heads were reeling with bigger mysteries.

I thought of the many stories of wild geese I had been told by hunters and woodsmen. Geese, according to most of those tales, will always find a wounded mate, no matter how far away it may be taken from the place where it was caught. Certainly I know of a number of actual cases that would seem to confirm this observation. The question is, How does one bird manage to locate the other?

"Oh, it's just instinct," I was always told. A truly remarkable thing, instinct.

Every creature capable of feeling and emotion, be it a worried gander or a worried human, has much the same instinctive reaction in the face of a tragedy that suddenly separates it from its mate. All else is forgotten while it searches. But there has to be more than instinct at work when the search takes it directly to the lost one.

As far as geese are concerned, I'm sure their remarkable eyesight and hearing would explain many of the stories I had heard. But not all.

Suddenly I remembered my experience with the seventeen squirrels.

Once, when I was living in a small stone house in an Illinois town, a very friendly gray squirrel began accepting handouts in the form of pecans. He was so quiveringly fond of those pecans, and so unselfish about them, that he couldn't keep the good news to himself. One memorable afternoon he brought his friends. The first was a timid little fellow who barely found the courage to take the proffered nut from my hand. As he scampered away, another squirrel, seeing that no harm had come to the first, came forward for a handout. Behind him appeared another, and another, and another....

Yes, seventeen different squirrels gathered in the yard and came one by one up the steps to receive an offering. The question is, How did the friendly squirrel tell the others about the big deal with the pecans? Did he chatter loudly in squirrel language, saying, "Hey, there's a soft touch over at the old stone house! The guy has more pecans than sense. Come on, fellers, I'll introduce you to him!"

Maybe it was something like that. I know there are chatter signals that squirrels use to inform one another about food. However, seventeen squirrels are a lot of squirrels, and hardly more than half of them could have lived within chatter distance of my house. Did the friendly squirrel go all around town and round up hungry acquaintances?

I suddenly remembered another unusual experience.

At that time I had another studio home on a stretch of Florida coast that abounded with wildlife. In front of the house a panther regularly patrolled the water's edge at low tide, and behind it a wildcat lived in the palmettoes, not too far from a family of raccoons. Birds were everywhere. The marshes on either side were full of clacking rails, and in the mornings the edging mangroves would be covered with egrets, looking for all the world like great white blossoms that had opened during the night. Our daily visitors included an eagle, several ospreys, herons of all kinds, and ibis—great flocks of wood ibis that would do precision cartwheels high overhead, often for most of a morning.

In this semitropic abundance, Zan's favorites were the raccoons. He tried to tame Mama Coon by leaving scraps of food out for her every evening. But not until he discovered her taste for sweet rolls and doughnuts did she finally overcome her shyness, and begin appearing at the screen door at suppertime with her family, now grown. If we were a trifle late with the bakery sweets, Mama Coon would summon us by seizing the edge of the door and banging it impatiently against the framing.


Excerpted from The Strange White Doves by Alexander Key. Copyright © 1972 Alexander Key. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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