My son Ben and grandson Rowen, however, have developed quite an affinity for the turkey buzzard and Ben even managed to find a children’s book celebrating the bird’s contribution to creation (yes, all creation needs its garbage collectors, I grant you, but that doesn’t make them beautiful).
Yesterday, I saw these birds in a different light.
There’s a large water tower adjacent to the house of my friends where I’ve been staying. Yesterday was the day of Stu’s funeral and before we were to leave, I was standing outside basking in the warmth of the sunlight on an otherwise cold winter’s day. Looking towards the water tower, I noticed at first one and then another and then another of the buzzards alight on the rail surrounding the tower, with their wings outspread.
It was an oddly-compelling sight and for the life of me, I could not figure out what they were doing in this seeming defiance of gravity and balance. They actually held position as long as I watched and presumably beyond. I found myself going into the house only to come back out and see if they were still at it: they were.
In the morning, Turkey Vultures are often seen standing on tree limbs with their wings outstretched to the sun. They are a very lightweight bird with long hollow bones filled with air. As the sunshine warms them, the air in their wing bones expands, warming them up and making it easier to fly. Cathartes aura, the Latin name for Turkey Vultures, translates as Golden Purifier or Cleansing Breeze. American Indians called these birds the “Peace Eagles” and regarded them as a symbol of strength in accepting difficulty. Turkey VultureAnd now, as I contemplate the uplifted wings of the turkey buzzard, I am reminded of the meaning of its Latin name: cleansing breeze . . . eating carrion may be the work of the garbage collector of the bird world, but the cleansing breeze of their work is indeed an occasion for wing-lifting, bold posture thanksgiving.
Fly well, Peace Eagles, fly well.