Monday, February 26, 2018

Possum Views Vultures


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Victorian German Pennsylvania
She was a mail order Bride

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Happy sunshine a week or so ago...and who should I see, sitting in an toherwise empty field, but three enormous turkey buzzards standing on the ground, backs to the sun, wings stretched out so big, so long, the pinfeathers all poking out with its pale trim! They were apparently catching some back-warming rays after a long cold spell, all peacefully facing north, unconcerned about the highway beyond.

Cars racing about, as they do every day, none of the occupants paying any attention at all to the sight of these huge birds who are, for once, at rest, not performing their endless spirals on updrafts, not searching for the smell of death, the scent that signifies a nearby vulture meal.
                                                          "Glorious Battle"






Reality = Not so much




We have a lot of turkey vultures in this valley, more than anywhere else I've ever lived. When we went to Gettysburg, many years ago, the guide  the crowd on the walking tour spun quite a tale. It was about the hoards of vultures who came after the battle, crowding in huge, never-before seen flocks to feast upon the dead, both animals and men. Believable, as vultures have amazing olfactory abilities. I'd imagine they also communicate, group to group, in some way.

"Hey Eddie! I hear there's big doin's down the valley. A reg'lar banquet! Folks flyin' in from everywhere! 'Nuff for ever'body!*"

"Thought I smelt somethin' tasty on that hot wind blowin' up from the south. Let's spiral up this here thermal and go check 'er out!"



Our guide, after allowing us to savor that creepy fact for a few minutes, then went on to add that this was the reason why there were still so many turkey vultures in the area, even now, 150+ years after the mad-house convulsion of slaughter that was the Battle of Gettysburg. 

This left me metaphorically scratching my head. What do these still persistent armies of scavengers live on during the long generations since the marvelous three days of the legendary banquet? Do the vultures hang out with their young, telling and retelling their nestlings about the "thrilling days of yesteryear," as they dream of another episode of The Big Kill?  

Cathartes Aura is their (poetic, I think) Latin designation, which means Cleansing Wind. You might be interested to learn that a group of vultures on the ground are called a "committee" and as I ponder some committees I've watched in action--especially lately in our Congress--I think the name is apt. In flight, a group of vultures is called a "kettle." On the ground, at supper with a host of family and friends, they are--wait for it!--called a "wake."  


~~Juliet Waldron






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* with apologies to Cheech and Chong

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ground Hog Day Mea Culpa



The lambs are born now in the cold and snow. The days begin to lengthen. Light candles for Her, Mother Earth is tilting us in the northern hemisphere toward  the sun once again.  


It's cold as hell today--not so much the temperature, but the wind chill, a howl out of the west. The birds motor through my offerings of black oil sunflower seed and I had to go outside with wet hair to refill their feeders and scatter more on the ground. 

The squirrels are (mostly) in hiding today, but another tree is being taken down in the neighborhood, and that's not good for the local wildlife. I'm still guilty as hell about the big silver maple we cut in autumn, as the wreckage of furry and feathered lives was visible (and audible, with squirrel on squirrel violence) all around. Precious housing units were abruptly gone and there were bloody fights over what remained. Humans don't realize what we do when we cut a tree--all that food, all that shelter, all that flood control--is instantly lost.



We worried that the dead branches that this kind of tree produces continually--silver maples of any age seem to be constantly in a state of semi-decay, with debris-filled holes and marching ants--would land on our roof or solar panels.  It's the second tree we've cut in the 30+ years we've lived here, but still it felt as if a giant hole had been punched in the canopy of green life with which we've surrounded ourselves. We love the trees and all that co-exists in their sheltering arms, so this removal was a tough decision.





Juliet Waldron



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