The dogs made more racket than usual this morning. The sun had come up bright against the snow white world outside. They yapped and hollered at the trees in a greater frenzy than I’d heard in a while. Even my big dog, Tucker, not much of a barker any more, joined in with his “Hey”! “Hey There”. I threw on my coat to see what all the excitement was about.
I followed their gaze to a trio of Turkey Vultures perched high atop several next- door trees. The enormous birds did not loom from their perches in the familiar, cartoon-caricature-downward-survey-of-the-ground-image I associate with 1940's black and white Disney shorts. Instead, they faced away from the dogs and me, east to the newly-risen sun. Their wide wings were extended, bent just slightly. The first thing I thought of was a trio of Batmen planning a surprise attack. They were huge. Mannish to me. This spooky suggestion of dark power any way you looked at it, rattled me. Something seemed about to happen, for good or evil, I knew not which. The soundtrack running through my mind was a low throb of synthesized sustain as dogs, squirrels, and other backyard creatures quieted and, I have to say, took cover from or took in what was both impressive and ominous.
I ran around the house to get a view of them from the front. What happened was that the music in my head lightened instantly. George Harrison. “ Why, little darlin’, here comes the sun!”, I said out loud. Guess all creatures great and small manage to find a best vantage point in relation to what warms them. I’m sorry I didn't have a camera, but this image gives you an idea. Imagine bare branches and snow, but the sky was this blue!
I remembered that Turkey Vultures are considered by many to be “lowly” birds given their reliance on carrion and road kill for sustenance; the way they frequent dumps and death grounds. Forget all that. This was sun worship pure and simple. A triumph of light over darkness, life over death. As black as vultures are, the underside of their wing is a pearly grey. Beautiful, really. Of course they must have been freezing. It was 15 degrees outside.
I yelled to as many of my family members as I could, to come take a look. I stopped short of waking my neighbors from their Sunday morning slumbers -- but barely. I went out several times in the succeeding hour and the great birds continued to warm themselves, never moving. The dogs lost interest. Eventually,I had to move on to other pursuits of the day.
You might be able to tell I’m fond of encounters that carry dark and the light all at once. For me, this first-in-my-lifetime view of really big, dark winged birds seeking the sunlight was creepy. And cool. I sure hope they warmed up enough to carry on, find some relatively fresh dead food on the wintry landscape, and make it though another January day. I'm grateful to any creature whose work it is to help clean up. They deserve a sunny morning and a break from their labors.
So it’s the heart of winter. Lot’s of us worry about hitting patches of ice and falling down. Be careful. Just don’t forget to look up from time to time.
Beth for the Poplar Grove Muse