The vultures love to ride the rising heat.
They see it shimmer in the air
high above road and prairie.
Brown clouds rising on the horizon.
Haze dulls the air. Bits of ash fall,
and come to rest on every surface.
Miles of blackened ground.
Within days, new green seeps up
from the black; indomitable grass,
life that can’t be arrested, even by fire.
There’s dying back in fall, then still cold
of winter, and now this slow explosion.
Even when I cough and tear,
I love the smoky smell of prairie spring.
Here’s some cool footage of the prairie burning, from the air.
The turkey vultures were late this year. I’ve recorded their spring arrival on March 18, or as late as the spring equinox, but it was the 30th and I’d only seen three solitary birds yet. The weather was favorable for them, and prairie burning had begun. Where were the vultures?
I was beginning to worry. Had something happened to them? On other continents, vultures have been greatly stressed due human-introduced toxins. I hadn’t heard of such difficulties in the Americas, but turkey vulture’s range is so extensive, who knows what could happen that I wouldn’t hear about. Did inclement weather delay them?
Maybe because of Saturn retrograde, I’ve been having difficulty moving forward these past couple weeks. We finally got the sewer fixed (blessings on those who work on sewer lines), but it’s still a struggle to move the crap out of the house. I was going to clean things up while Kevin was on a business trip, but . . . I did other things instead, I guess. Still have to take the laundry to Emporia, and I left a big bag at home inadvertently. Clearing, cleansing, completing, the hardest part of life for us, I don’t know why. And it impacts the beginning stages of the next project.
For all these reasons, I was getting pretty worked up about the vultures. What if they were disappearing, like honeybees and monarchs? I need their gifts, desperately: the force of transporting that which has expired to its next incarnation, making room for new life. I got teary at the laundromat, thinking, I don’t know if I can get by without them.
(It didn’t help that, while folding laundry, I stumbled onto this sad Amanda Palmer song.)
I looked for them whenever I went by their roosting spot in Strong City. Yesterday the sun was setting as I took the kids home from Girl Scouts and soccer. It was just the time in the evening when they should be settling down. Where were they? I told the girls they were missing. Rowan said, “Are those vultures?” They were on her side of the car, though, and I couldn’t see them while driving. But they went right over us, low, and yes. “Yes! Two! Three!” And they glided into a nearby tree to join three dozen others already perched, as if they’d been there forever.
The turkey vultures have returned, and the cycle of life expanding, contracting, and rebirthing itself can roll on. Thank you, friends, for coming back.
I have half-composed a lengthy post about Mogwai, and my ailing cat, and the nature of consciousness, but I’m pressed for time to go massage participants in the fabulous Brave Voice workshop hosted by Kelley Hunt and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, so we’ll just have to be satisfied with this poem. Ciao.
Wait. Take a breath. Slow down. Read it slowly. Okay. Go.
A Certain Place
There is a certain place on a certain road.
When you get there, it will not matter
whether you are wearing red, green, black, white,
denim, lace, stripes, or nothing at all.
It won’t matter what name you call yourself,
or how hard you worked to get there,
who helped you, who loved you,
who didn’t help or love you,
or how much money you gave to charity.
It won’t matter whether you got there
on foot, by wheel, or by wing.
Don’t explain yourself. Just stand
and listen to the bell tolling. Feel the wind
in your bones, wind that carries
the vultures through their circuits. O beloved
feathery escorts to forever, now I am here.
Here I am.
(Note from Veronica: Here’s a quaint poem from Rachel, who lived back in the early twenty-first century, in the days of casual driving. I like to think we might have been friends, had we lived in the same time. I share with her a love of rainbows and vultures.)
Vulture Girl Drives Through a Rainbow
I’m driving to town, going to the bank to fix some problems,
looking for a place to sell some watches which I have
recently inherited. There were too many to keep, though
I am wearing on my wrist one very elegant, oversized (for me,
small of wrist, as it is said was also my ancestor who has unknowingly
bestowed upon me his collection of watches) timepiece which
uses the natural movement of my body as its power
source. Automatic seems too rote a word for this fine thing.
I’m appreciating perhaps for the first time the admiration
some carry for a watch. I open my heart to let go.
To hold tightly to a fine, precision time-measuring
device, oh, too cruel the irony. I imagine
that my barely-known ancestor, the one with the small wrists
like myself, a former doctor who saw lives end as well as begin,
was a man of enough wisdom to enjoy a nice watch simply.
There is a new force in me of late, or an absence of something
which was once there, a dissipation of attachment to the material
which formerly held me. Ever clumsy at transformation, I have been
assured that my ancestor would have approved of my
changing these fine things to pure medium of exchange.
It is fitting. I’ve long claimed the vulture as my totem,
feathery escort to the next place, teacher of the love of the end,
which marks the beginning. I’ve never loved life more than now,
this year closing to fall, but I intend to love it simply.
May I be eaten by vultures when I no longer inhabit my body.
There is no death.
I’m driving to town on a sunny mid-afternoon,
and I see a rainbow, which is uncharacteristic for this place,
a place where sun, rain, and horizon synchronize and synthesize rainbows
casually as a summer storm, but late in the day, as the rain
clears over before the sun sets. Today there has been no rain.
The rainbow growing brighter. Will I move through it?
Which I believe is impossible, or rather
that it is not how one usually sees rainbows. Anything
is possible. Anything is possible. The rainbow is always there,
always everywhere, a phenomenon of the sun and earth and
her atmosphere, of light and waves and air, of sphericality.
The eye being only one part of many, which happens to catch the
visibility, upon occasion, of an event which is always happening.
Driving and watching this rainbow, growing brighter, closer,
I see rain from the clouds behind it, rain
which hasn’t fallen on my home today, and, being in
the east, will not. This is uncharacteristic, as storms
move west to east. Driving into a storm which
quickly changes from tiny sprinkles to big plopping drops,
wipers wiping as fast as they go, the
rainbow no longer visible, or visible only behind.
A freak storm, manifesting on the other side of me
from where it never was.
Driving out of the rain, it’s only been a few miles and
it dissipates back to droplets, then the windshield is dry.
Then vultures, a hundred or more, gliding
high, high, neat rows as if in formation. They ride the heat
rising off the highway, or the currents in front of a storm.
They always leave earlier than other migrants,
well before the freeze: they need the warm air
to lift them to flight. Year after year I’ve missed
their autumn leaving, only noticed they were gone.
I’d sought fruitlessly to study the midwestern leg of their long,
long, migration to where the seasons turn upside down.
O blessed day, today I am selling off
the watches and seeing a rainbow and high up the
vultures, circling slowly to the south. O blessed blessed
creatures who see air, effortless gliders, dark eaters of that
which is left behind, my heart beating gratitude for your
luscious, lovely gift.