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Location: Midwest, United States

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Turkey Vulture

I’ve been cycling quite a bit this month. I try diligently to ride five days per week (weather being the wild card) over miles and miles of somewhat neglected asphalt.

One can’t ignore the road kill.

Out here in corn country, there’s quite a bit of carnage along our back roads. Each corpse leaves an impression as I coast by. Some sights are sad, indeed, like the two young raccoons expired side-by-side. Family tragedies are always harder to bear. The possums and raccoons generally have it the worst. I imagine the blinding lights and roaring engines that seemingly appear from nowhere wreak havoc on a midnight forager’s brain.

There are oddities, too. A stretch of road alongside a flooded field was a graveyard for, literally, hundreds of frogs. There must have been a dark night mass migration. Why? To what purpose (the end, after all, was evident)? There was nothing more than a strip of suburban homes on the other side. What did the frogs seek? Was it something truly worth dying for?

And there was the turkey vulture.

I rarely see turkey vultures ‘round these parts. They generally roost farther south. Came to learn that the population is growing by double-digits in northern Illinois. I’m glad for that. I find them intriguing. From the neck down, they’re gorgeous. And they’re large, gliding on wings spanning six feet. They soar effortlessly surfing updrafts, wings forming a graceful “V.” They don’t exercise those wings much, opting to be kites instead. Their plumage is of earth hues, soothing and subtle. From the neck up, well, it’s a different story. Their heads are feather free. One recoils from the mottled, wrinkled skin and impassive eyes. The visage is sinister and...well...they won’t be winning any beauty contests...ever. And I marvel at the mysteries/creativity of adaptation. What good are feathers on the head of a carrion-eater who sups with his head buried deep in entrails? Ugliness is next to cleanliness in the vulture world. We humans often favor beauty to the exclusion of all other considerations. Vultures are more pragmatic...and they soar magnificently.

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Blogger June Calender said...

Right, "ugliness is next to cleanliness" -- a fine line about the turkey vultures. Very good poet.

Recently driving to and from central Maine -- albeit on well traveled roads -- I was astonished at the almost complete lack of road kill. Are New England critters more cautious than those in the Midwest? or are there just fewer of them? I was NOT saddened by their absence.

Sat Jul 30, 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't resist.

A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess says, 'I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'

I'm a sucker for a good pun.

Sat Jul 30, 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Observing road kill on a bicycle coursing over back country roads is its own unique experience. There's time to observe, there's the scent of death and opportunity to mourn. It doesn't constitute my favorite aspect of cycling, mind you. But, in some respects, it's a profound aspect.

I always check my carrion, Lilith. Less hassle that way from the TSA.

By the by, I received the full "hands-on" treatment at the airport in Warsaw, Poland. Felt kinda nice.

Sat Jul 30, 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Yvonne Osborne said...

Vultures provide an invaluable service to the environment. We'd be in a smelly predicament if they ever become endangered. I didn't know why they have naked faces until I read "Song of the Crow" (a rather amazing book)but it now makes perfect sense. Lovely picture, by the way.

Sun Jul 31, 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger PattiKen said...

I remember reading once that frogs are harbingers of important ecological messages. For some reason, apparently they are on the front line when it comes to the negative consequences of our cavalier treatment of the environment. Makes that mass grave of frogs pretty scary, doesn't it?

Sun Jul 31, 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger secret agent woman said...

Vultures (but we say buzzards) are exceeding common here and unnerve me when they decide to circle over me. I always wonder if they know something I don't.

Mon Aug 01, 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

You've piqued my interest, Yvonne. Tell me more about the "Song of the Crow"! By the by, I hold crows in high esteem.

So true, Patti! Our amphibians sounded a warning years ago about the consequences of "endocrine disruptors" in our surface waters (not that all that many of us seem to care).

Giggle/snort, SAW. I've thought the same when carrion eaters crowd next to me.

Fri Aug 12, 10:00:00 PM  

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