“Hung there in the thermal
whiteout of noon, dark ash
on the chimney’s updraft, turning
slowly like a thumb pressed down
on target; indolent V’s; flies, until they drop.
Then they’re hyenas, raucous
around the kill, flapping their black
umbrellas, the feathered red-eyed widows
whose pot bodies violate mourning,
the snigger at funerals,
the burp at the wake.
They cluster, like beetles
laying their eggs on carrion,
gluttonous for a space, a little
territory of murder: food
Frowzy old saint, bald-
headed and musty, scrawny-
necked recluse on your pillar
of blazing air which is not
heaven: what do you make
of death, which you do not
cause, which you eat daily?
I make life, which is a prayer.
I make clean bones.
I make a gray zinc noise
which to me is a song.
Well, heart, out of all this
carnage, could you do better?”
A friend of mine is very fond of Turkey Vultures; she’s not a birdwatcher, but is someone who loves nature and the out of the doors and all animals. Knowing my love of birds, she often mentions vulture sightings to me. I like to give her a gift at Christmastime and struggle to find something appropriate. Kathy is hard to describe. She’s almost twenty years my senior, a child of the 60’s and a hippie at heart, yet she was raised in a very wealthy family from what I understand. We work together at social services and her pragmatism and forthrightness with our clients is sometimes startling to me. I’ve known her for many years, yet feel that I don’t really know her at all. Suffice it so say that she is not easy to shop for. One year as a *gift* I brought her along on a winter birding trip at Barnegat Light to see Harlequins and Short-Eared Owls. We froze our butts off and the short-ears were a no-show, but Kathy was a trooper standing out on the jetty.
Following a day spent kayaking in the Pine Barrens a few summers ago she told me that she considers Turkey Vultures to be her totem or spirit guide. She sees them often during her meditative walks through the Barrens. Finally knowing that she had a *favorite* bird I then set out to find her the perfect vulture-themed gift. Not! Turkey Vultures, it seems, are not the poster-child for avian beauty or affection. This year, though, I think I may have hit the jackpot with Letters from Eden by Julie Zickefoose. There’s an essay all about tv’s and pencil sketches and even a personalized inscription that Julie wrote special for Kathy.
I did a little digging around on the Web to see what I might find about vultures as totem birds and learned that the vulture is a powerful totem, bringing purification and signaling an end to hardship. I also found a creation story about how the vulture saved the world (which I’ll inlcude below) and a neat American Indian Trickster tale about vultures.
In the earliest of times, the sun lived very close to the earth – so close in fact that life upon the earth was becoming unbearable. The animal world got together and decided to do something about it. They wanted to move the sun further away.
The fox was the first to volunteer, and he grabbed the sun in his mouth and began to run to the heavens. After a short while, the sun became too hot, burning the fox’s mouth, and he stopped. To this day, the inside of the fox’s mouth is black. Then the opossum volunteered. He wrapped his tail around the sun and began running toward the heavens. Before long though, the sun became too hot, burning its tail, and he had to stop. To this day the opossum has no hair upon its tail.
It was then that vulture stepped forward. Vulture was the most beautiful and powerful of birds. Upon its head was a beautiful mantle of rich feathering that all other birds envied. Knowing that the earth would burn up unless someone moved the sun, the vulture placed its head against it and began to fly to the heavens. With powerful strokes of its wings, it pushed and pushed the sun further and further up into the heavens. Though it could feel its crown feathers burning, the vulture continued until the sun was set at a safe distance in the sky away from the earth. Unfortunately, vulture lost its magnificent head of feathers for eternity.
I wonder how common it is for people to think of having an animal or bird as a spirit guide. Totem animals are those that a person feels connected with or particularly drawn to. I don’t know that I feel such a connection to a particular bird or animal, but wonder if you do. 😉