My pandemic tattoo: the quail

Let me introduce you to my pandemic tattoo.

When Dan and I spent a week in Grand Junction, Colorado, we fell head-over-heels in love with Gambel’s quails. Neither of us had seen them before — they mostly live in the Southwest, but Grand Junction has a very desert-like climate — and there was a family of quails running around the property.

It took us a while to figure that out, however, because quails are famously shy around people. Apparently that’s even where we get the verb “to quail,” meaning to cower. I read that even if you lovingly hand-raise a quail from an egg, the minute it gets a chance at freedom it will make a break for it. They will never love you, which makes me want to try even harder.

For the first day or two we kept hearing this same haunting bird song (a cry, really), but I could never find the bird with my binoculars. Eventually we caught sight of the papa quail when he perched high on a bush, and later in the week I saw (through a window, scarcely breathing) the hen quail and all of her babies scouring the underbrush for insects.

I knew that I wanted a tattoo to commemorate this horrible pandemic we’re living through — but the tattoo couldn’t be too obvious. I chose the quail for two reasons: 1) because Dan and my time in Grand Junction was a sort of half-hearted work-cation to stand in for all of the travel we usually do year-round; 2) because quails will go to any length to avoid people, which felt like a fitting metaphor for the past 6+ months and counting.

The photo above is from phase 1, where my favorite tattoo artist Cambria worked up the lines and shading. (The tattoo is on the back of my right arm, which is difficult to photograph.) This is also Cambria’s design, based off of a concept I provided.

The photo below is a fresh one now that the quail is colored in. As always, I gave Cambria free reign over the colors, and it’s better than I could have pictured it. In person the colors read as rusty brick red, mustard, and more of a blue than a teal.

And yes, so artfully hidden in this photograph is the beginnings of another tattoo — it’s a surprise for my grandmother Hazel, who is currently at a rehab facility following a double-fractured sacrum. Please send her all the love you can muster.

P.S. If quails are notoriously shy, you can imagine how easy they are to photograph. Below is my best shot from that trip to Grand Junction — once again, papa quail is perched in a spot where he can squawk at his babies if a predator is in the area.

Earlier tattoo pictures and stories:
Baba Yaga’s house in color (January 2020)
Baba Yaga’s house, line work (December 2019)
Nesting doll (August 2019)
Cuckoo clock, color (April 2019) 
Finch and satellite (February 2019)
Cardinal (November 2018)
Cuckoo clock, line work (September 2018)
Lavender and key (August 2018)

Hello, gorgeous.
Subscribe to
Word from the West
Invalid email address
You can unsubscribe at any time. Promise.

One thought on “My pandemic tattoo: the quail

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.