Earth Day: Ode to Turkey Vulture

vulture stamp

“Full moon in Scorpio!” my darling daughter advises me Saturday afternoon. “Can you feel it?” Uh, not really. Maybe tonight? “3:25AM.” Okey dokey.

Sure enough, 3:25AM I find myself wide awake. The doggies stir and I decide to let them out to pee. Why not? Immediately the moon sears through the back yard onto my face. Yep. I’m feelin’ it now. OK, back to sleep, doggies, back to sleep. We tumble back into the warm bed.

Somewhere in this general timeframe, under the lunar influence, no doubt, (the ever-talented) David Perry posts about his illustrious encounter with not one, but three rats. If you haven’t read about that, do. Not to be missed. Not at all. Shortcut: he kills three siblings in a single whack and leaves them on the fence lined up as dinner for the local crows. Mmm-huh. Would I kid you? And what do I leave as a comment? “I would have expected turkey vultures.”

OK, I’m getting the picture. Intense energies. Death. Rats. What’s next?

Like clockwork, next morning I see a cop car out front, slowing down. Now what? I open the front door for a wider view and smile. Small town charm. He’s slowed down for a dead animal on the street. “Cat?” I call. “Nope. Possum.” Strangely, I’ve never actually seen a possum even though I’ve known for decades they were around in all the neighborhoods I’ve ever lived in the Bay Area. I go out and pay my respects. Interesting critter. Kinda cute in a toothy sort of way.

Within the hour I look out and there is a turkey vulture also paying his respects. Sort of. I fleetingly think back to my recent comment on David’s post but shrug it off and go about the day’s business and I don’t think much about this again until I happen to glance out the window late in the afternoon and there is a second turkey vulture, landed on the fence across the street with his wings fully outstretched. A twenty-five pound bird with a full four and a half feet wide wingspan? Now they have my attention. I am in total awe and run for my camera. By the time I’m at the door this one is gone and I’m left as my focus the one on the street delving into the possum dinner. I step outside and begin snapping, taking baby steps closer, knowing the inevitable will occur, and, of course, within steps the vulture flies up into a large cedar and observes me safely from above. Fine. I’m standing here until you come back down. The standoff goes on for a goodly five minutes, until he resigns himself that I’m not leaving. He unexpectedly soars down the block and then back again over my head. OK, I can go with this. Snap. Snap. Two seconds later I notice a second vulture joining this activity and can you imagine my surprise when a third suddenly shows up, seemingly out of nowhere and I am now the triangular focus of three huge vultures swooping overhead in wide block-long circles, each flying closely and deliberately over my head as part of their path. I am elated. Clearly they have engaged me in this activity and for several long group of seconds I am no longer Earth bound, but part of a vulture dance, only sky-focused as they repeatedly, blessedly fly into my camera’s range. I am keenly aware of their surfing air currents in the process, and I have to think they are having fun! Who knew?

turkey vulture

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

One. Two. Three. And then they are gone, as suddenly as they appeared.


I am laughing out loud, overjoyed to have participated in these unusual moments.

Within seconds one returns, most likely the one that started it all, and he resumes his interest in the possum. And I am left to ponder the turkey vulture and my brief wonderful exchange and to contemplate his place on the planet Earth, which I have now been doing for two days. For, indeed, the turkey vulture has made a survival art out of recognizing what has lost its usefulness on the planet, and he proceeds to clean it up. He rolls up his proverbial sleeves and sets to work upon what we would find the daunting work of the unthinkable. Yes, he impassively confronts what we would find most distasteful, not fun at all, and makes it his business to make short work of it, and be nourished in the process. What a metaphor for the Greening of the planet. If we were to take it upon ourselves as the turkey vulture to set about facing the uncomfortable mess we find ourselves in and make it our business to not only set to the task of cleaning it up, but also to be nourished in the process, what might we accomplish?

Love and Earth Day blessings,

Little note: I promised Ewa in the Garden to join her in an Earth Day post, after she posted this fascinating photo from South Korea from folks there trying to help this beautiful planet we all share.

20 Responses to “Earth Day: Ode to Turkey Vulture”

  1. What a great story. You’re the first person I’ve ever known to extol the turkey buzzard. I wondered how you were going to tie it to the Earth Day theme, but you did it wonderfully. Nice post!

  2. Thanks, Pam! They really got under my skin and needed their voices heard. Interestingly enough, they have no vocal cords, thus no call! They can hiss, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I have to admit that turkey buzzards have always given me the willies, but after reading this, I’m willing to give them a little more credit. I can’t promise to watch them eat road kill, but maybe I’ll stop saying, “Yeewww…turkey buzzards!!” when I see them.
    Anita Bruzzese

  4. Kathryn, this story is a real treat, and very interestingly told. Thank you for including us in your grand adventure, and a personal thanks for the nod and link to the ratty post.

    You consistently bring good things to light, and I’m grateful for your unique insights and stories.

  5. Welcome, Anita! As you well know I’ve done my best to represent neither turkeys nor buzzards. I take heart in knowing somewhere in the Midwest is a woman who will look more kindly towards our scavenger brothers as a result of this humble post. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Kathryn xox

  6. David, thank you kindly. Good luck in the Mousies! Kathryn

  7. That was beautifully written, even distasteful as the subject matter was. I don’t know of anyone who could have made that sound as good as you just did! Nature at work. If you’ve seen the movie “Michael Clayton” as we just did on DVD, the lawyer, George Clooney/Michael Clayton describes his lawyerly status as that of a janitor. He cleans up the messes people make of their lives. Thus we have the buzzards, who clean up the detritus of inevitable death. We all have our place on this earth.

  8. Indeed, Brenda. As gardeners we face death all the time. We turn dying forms into compost. Death is simply transformation, literally changing from one form to another. As you know our bodies are made of stars. I loved when Eckhart Tolle told Oprah last week, “The opposite of death is not life. The opposite of death is birth.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for visiting. Kathryn xox

  9. Beautifully tied together and fascinating post!
    If I had to encapsulate full Moon in Scorpio, I
    would say “transformation”, so very fitting!
    Gorgeous poem too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Yes, full Moon in Scorpio definitely made its presence and full force known, Antonia. Thanks for the heads up to help me recognize it. Nice to see you here this morning! Love, M.D. xoxox

  11. Hi Kathryn, thanks so much for bringing me here. I had glanced at the title of your post and it sort of caused me to skip over it, sounding slightly yucky. I should have known better, with your skill and wit with words. As a child I had a book titled ‘Ole Mistah Buzzard’, about a wise old vulture who presided over the furry creatures below. He was a beloved figure, Were you not afraid that the birds thought you looked like a good meal? Live possums, BTW, are very scary to me, having confronted them in the garden at night, they bare their teeth and hiss menacingly. Yikes.
    Frances at Faire Garden

  12. Frances, Thank you! No, for some reason I made peace with turkey vultures when I lived on four acres in the woods at the end of a dirt road. I don’t recall the details, except that I was totally embraced by nature. It is interesting that so many have that association with the turkey vulture. I suspect we, as a culture, have not fully made friends with death. (Do you think??) ๐Ÿ™‚ I was so happy you mentioned that book. I was instantly fascinated and googled it. One mention which led me to Thorton Burgess, a prolific nature writer for children with roots in New England very similar to mine. The Adventures of Ol’ Mistah Buzzard. I strongly suspect that those readers who have children or grandchildren to read to would be well advised to track down some of Burgess’s books and give them a try. If anyone does, please report back to me. Warmly, Kathryn xoxo

  13. Hi,
    This a great Earthday post. very poetic. You remind us that all things have their place in the natural world and all are beautiful.

  14. Hi, Philip! Amen! Kathryn

  15. Dearest Kathryn, I adore your verve! Finally had a moment to check out your colorful post.. I love your poetic voice!

  16. Oh, Joey. So nice to hear your voice here today! Thank you! Kathryn xoxo

  17. Kathryn,
    What an event! Such huge bird coming so close ๐Ÿ™‚ Great post.
    Thank you a lot for bringing my post to attention ๐Ÿ™‚ and thanks for David’s rat story ๐Ÿ™‚ not to be missed, really ๐Ÿ™‚
    I am little behind reading – a lot to catch up. Luckily its weekend coming,

  18. Hi, Ewa! You are so welcome! Thanks for suggesting it! Kathryn

  19. What a lovely romp. I love it when we cross paths.

  20. Indeed, David! ๐Ÿ™‚ Love, Kathryn

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