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Monday, October 04, 2010

Turkey Vulture

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My leather clogs are soaked with dew and yesterday's rainfall through to my socks, and my backside is damp from the roughhewn rain-sodden bench, which is unsteady on the soft ground of the meadow. Low sun shines on my back and on the path’s thick wet grass that needs mowing. In October, the mower forgets his way through goldenrod that have lost their stars. White and yellow moths have flown away. Bees have no flowers to woo and have disappeared. The fire of sumac is flickering out, flame by flame. Yellow leaves on the tallest poplars around the pond applaud the parade of clouds marching past. Oh look! They have never done that step and roll before. Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap. Some in the meadow are falling asleep, unimpressed, while the chickadees keep fee-beeing and squeaking their high pitchpoints, and tree swallows treet their trits then swallow them in gurgles.

What have I come here for? Where is my place? A tippy bench at the center of things. So like a human. It takes long to quiet, shoulders hunched, hands warming under my thighs. Ah, just relax, kid. You think too much.

I don’t hear him coming, no treets, sqawks or screeches, but a shadow betrays him, like my brother’s thumb-hooked hand silhouette on the projector screen. I’ve seen them for days, since the neighbor bow-shot a deer and gutted him, leaving the entrails for wild animals in the field. I have seen them from the kitchen window, perched in the highest poplar branches like hunters in blinds, patient. But this morning, they are six-foot kites crisscrossing a gentle sky, scouting. Silent as arrows. He, my personal turkey vulture, could be scoping me, in my black crow hooded jacket, still as death. But I do not imagine this is so. Instead, I am certain that he is showing me how to scout, scope and scavenge. Why else does he arc over the pines and back under the sun, like a slow motion boomerang? Why tip and turn just there where the cloud parade ends, showing off the flourish of his wing-tip baton? What possible reason could he have for spreading his wing feathers like a sumac branch directly above me, floating down so close I swear I can feel him tap a message of longing on the wind’s drum? If he does not mean to demonstrate the silent way of seeking sustenance, why are we here?

You can listen to a podcast reading of this piece here.

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51 comments:

Ginnie said...

Even your prose is poetry in action, dear Sister!

Lorenzo said...

Oh, Ruth. Why did I open this comment box? Speak if your words will be more beautiful than the silence goes an old Arab saying that I am fond of quoting. I cannot now bring myself to disturb this beautiful contented silence you have created in and around me. It did not take you long ¿did it? to apply the lessons you drew this weekend from Rilke and Cézanne on love and attention in perception. I will now retreat into that marvelous attent and attuned silence, which I trust you will grace with a podcast of this post.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Boots. Now there is something I like very much about the phrase "poetry in action". That gets me going . . .

And now I'm happily about to read about your interview . . .

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, your words are always, always welcome beauty, and this morning they float on the wind and play the air drum gently, right into the magic of my morning meadow worship service.

Claudia said...

So beautiful, Ruth. An intense moment of contemplation so exquisitely shared with us! Thank you.

Bonnie said...

I feel honored to have been privy to your contemplations about nature, survival and sustenance. They felt private, personal and as if whispered to me on the wind. Exquisitely articulated dear Ruth.

Ruth said...

Claudia, thank you. I added six-foot to kites, because I wanted to be sure readers who have not met turkey vultures before understand their immensity. They are intense, in such a quiet way, which is a wonderful lesson.

Susan said...

Appreciating what is NOT beautiful in nature and making us see the necessity of it is only one of your many talents. I do believe you have a real love for turkey vultures and their economy.

I loved how you tied the sumac leaves to the vulture's spread wing feathers. You are right...they are very similar.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, you read this, and me, very well, that this was an intimate experience. I went to the meadow in the morning yesterday feeling silly and awkward. I left after being purified by tears and one beautiful, preening, scavenging, immense bird. I'm glad you felt the magic through my rendering.

Ruth said...

Susie, my dear friend, you live on about the same sized plot of land, and I know you witness many wonders of the natural world there. You observe very closely, much more closely than I do. But I'm learning from you. When the turkey vultures landed on our barn roof a couple of years ago, watching Don grill some meat rather longingly, I studied a little about them then. I admit that before that, I had spurned them a little, thinking of them as dirty scavengers. What I learned boosted them in my esteem so much that I prize them among my favorite birds. After all, they clean up dead animals, almost before they have a chance to stink. They preen themselves for a full 30 minutes afterward. And what comes out, in their feces, is incredibly clean.

Yesterday while writing this piece, I looked up "scavenge" and saw this, which is very interesting:


1.
to take or gather (something usable) from discarded material.
2.
to cleanse of filth, as a street.
3.
to expel burnt gases from (the cylinder of an internal-combustion engine).
4.
Metallurgy . to purify (molten metal) by introducing a substance that will combine chemically with impurities.

I had only thought of scavenging as the first definition. But I love it now, in vulture terms, as cleansing of filth.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, your wish was my command. I've linked to a podcast of this, just recorded. Thanks.

Claudia said...

Oh, Ruth, what a fantastic experience it was to hear your voice, to hear you read this text! You have a very young, sweet, and expressive voice with a marvelous intonation. I felt privy to a very special moment. Utter bliss.

Patricia said...

I love how you combined the images with your text. Poetic!

George said...

Perhaps I can say nothing at this point, simply this: I read your words, lifting each beautiful image from the page with my eyes. I then listened to your voice and knew that the observer and the observed had become one in that quiet moment in the meadow. And what next? I simply wondered if could return from such a mystical place and find words that would fully express what comfort there was in sharing this moment of reflection with you.

Ruth said...

Truly, Claudia, if you feel an extension of the bliss I felt in the meadow yesterday, through reading and listening, something magical has happened.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Patricia, so much.

Ruth said...

George, I receive your return of this beauty I experienced, manyfold, knowing you felt that through my expression of it, and reading your nearly silent words, which speak to me in the same quiet longing for sustenance. As I wrote to you at Transit Notes, I was relieved recently when I felt so much joy that I became frustrated at my inability to express it. Suddenly I realized it need not be expressed. And all the pressure dissipated. May peace expand today through this miracle of a lesson from my beloved turkey vulture.

Char said...

amazing creatures - vultures. so beautiful and graceful in the sky and so ungainly and awkward as they go about their business. isn't that they way we humans sometimes are? graceful in some areas and awkward in others? vultures - not always pretty but they serve a great purpose....and, so are we. though i could do without the bald head that they have.

Char said...

ps - beautiful write

Kamana said...

beautiful words. beautiful images.

ellen abbott said...

Beautifully written. I felt as if it were me sitting there.

Jeanie said...

A year or two ago, we won a silent auction item to go on a raptor watch with a fellow from the DNR. There were four of us, plus our guide, and we saw hawks, owl nests, and many others. But the turkey vultures captivated me -- their wings are so beautiful against the solid background of the sky. Sounds like a wonderful, meditative time, my friend~

caroldiane said...

lovely evocative words as always, Ruth. The soaring of the turkey vultures is something I have only recently shared. When we were living in the country this past two years, they became constant in the sky in the afternoon. Now back in the city, it is the family of crows that occupy my bird watching out my window. Thank you for the podcast too - great to be able to listen to you. xo

ds said...

Why, indeed, if not to learn even from death, or the cleansing of death? I love that moment when you in your crow-hooded jacket and your personal turkey vulture are one; I love that the mower "forgot" the goldenrod stars. And I join the little birds in their clapping.

Thank you, Ruth.

Claudia said...

I keep coming back...

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, We have Turkey Vultures by our house,they are social among themselves,playful and wonderful to watch.
This Saturday i just happened to wake up to hear an owl calling in the middle of the night. I jumped to the window to try to locate where it was calling from. I think there were two calling to one another. What a beautiful call they have. I feel so lucky to have heard it.

Vagabonde said...

This is a very beautiful piece. Just as I was saying in your last post that Cezanne wanted to bring the exterior into the interior with his paintings you do the same with your words. I can close my eyes and remembering your words I can see a painting of you and the turkey vulture – it is art. Nice.

Oliag said...

If I could write I would want to write like you:)

You make me think quite nicely of turkey vultures and I can't say I have before....

A beautiful prose poem dear Ruth...

Terresa said...

Enjoyed your prose poem, Ruth. Loved the "slow motion boomerang" -- as always, such a delight in words, my cup is filled.

Lorenzo said...

Popping back in to let you know that hearing the podcast of this prose poem makes the embrace even deeper. There is so much I could highlight, the piece is so perfect and whole, that it is hard to call attention to single parts over others, but I was especially struck by the imagery in the ‘goldenrod that have lost their stars’, ‘fire of sumac is flickering out, flame by flame’, the ‘step and roll’. The line ‘the tree swallows treet their trits then swallow them in gurgles’ seems to contain an entire concerto.

You gently place the reader on that ‘tippy bench at the center of things’. Each one of us can draw our own lessons on scouting and scavenging in the sublime and thoughtless silence. And the ending, with the vulture tapping ‘a message of longing on the wind’s drum’ primes us so well for that concluding question “If he does not mean to demonstrate the silent way of seeking sustenance, why are we here?”.

Apart from considering this just a brilliant piece, I also take pleasure in the light you cast on the image of the vulture. Vultures get a bum rap in our society and need to change their PR agent. Perhaps it is atavistic, like our fear of serpents, to scorn and feel repulsed by those birds, but they can be spectacular. I remember a few years ago visiting some friends on the Tajo River here in Spain, on the border between the provinces of Cuenca and Guadalajara. One of the treats that summer was watching how the vulture emerge from their cliff caves a couple of hours before sunset and circle above the entire area. They are majestic birds with enormous wingspans. One afternoon, my friends took me to the top of the cliff, to lay down and, rather tremulously, peer out over the edge so we could see them from above as they darted out of the caves in droves. I do not know if it was the anxious wait peering down the dizzyingly high vertical bluff for the vultures to emerge for their dusky hunt, or the primitive fears we associate with these creatures or just the sheer beauty of seeing one after another gliding out of the mouth of the mountain just a few feet below us, but my entire body was shivering by the time the last one had flown out into the late afternoon sky. I can still feel that chill now.

Ruth said...

Char, perhaps they wish we would not watch them go about their business, the way I'd rather not have anyone watch me eat. :)

When three of them perched on the roof of our barn a couple years ago, I was awed by their size. They paced and spread their wings out occasionally. Our barn is quite large, and yet, it seemed dwarfed by them. I am so fond of them that I confess I can now find nothing about them that is ungainly, though that is how I once felt.

And isn't that also how it is with people we meet? At first there seems nothing in them to attract us, but when we begin to know them, we don't see how they look but only feel who they are, in such beauty.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Kamana.

Ruth said...

Ellen, thank you, and if it makes sense, I think we were all sitting there. It felt like the center of the universe.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, oh what a treat, to go out with him, just the four of you. It must have been quite an education, at least it would be for me, knowing so little about birds in the wild. I have never seen an owl, though we hear them here, even one yesterday right in the spruce near the house. Either I don't have enough patience (so far), or I just haven't had much luck with certain birds in my watches.

You know, my feelings about death are changing -- observing it in Nature, even in people . . .

Ruth said...

Hi, Caroldiane, crows are fascinating too. As you found in your nightwatch with your inner friends, I feel that watching, and watching with, these bird friends can teach me much wisdom. They lift me out of myself and into a mindless plane. I need this balance, and I forget to go out and just take it.

Ruth said...

Dear DS, how did you know? I just commented to Jeanie that I am observing death differently these days. You somehow often, if not always, manage to see . . . me.

Ruth said...

Claudia, I love your presence here.

Ruth said...

Cathy, about once a year we hear the same, and it is a privilege. The first time was our first winter at the farm. One was near the house and the other more distant. They spent a long time calling to one another. It was that day we learned that my childhood classmate (grades K-12) had died suddenly of a heart attack at Laguardia airport. I felt certain that he had come to say good-bye.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, I won't argue with you, because I have no doubt that I was especially open and eager to take my lesson from Rilke and Cézanne quickly into my life. But it is not always so. We sometimes look for what does not come. It was such a gift Sunday, and coming here and writing it out, felt all a piece of the same cloth. I'm grateful that you and others felt the miracle of connection through what I've posted here. I really do feel that it is all one thing, and I just close my eyes and thank the presence that is in all things.

Ruth said...

Sweet Oliag. You touch me, my friend. You bring tears. We fly together, you and I. When you sail, I fly with you.

Ruth said...

Terresa, thank you for those simple and complete words that can't be beat: my cup is filled.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I'm truly humbled and grateful for the time and attention you have given this piece. I really feel that what I felt Sunday, coming on the heels of the work Rilke and Cézanne had done in my heart's soil, somehow breathed into this writing, in a way I can only describe as being of one piece. That you found it connected with your own heart makes me a firm believer that if we do as Rilke described, and just love the apples, something will come of it that others will feel and connect with and extend the piece to the universe of their own souls.

And you've done this same in return, with your recounting of the cliff above the Tajo River. I could feel the heart rush of peering over and watching the vultures emerge from the caves. I was there with you, just as you were with me in the meadow. Is it not a miracle? And isn't it something to do, again and again? This, this, is why we are here.

Deslilas said...

Beautiful poem and so nice to hear your voice ( and also your previous odes to quinoa and garlic...)
I've brought this summer a tiny sumac from Sweden ( growing near the trunk of a huge sumac in the garden of my daughter). It has lost all its leaves, I thought it was dead but some weeks after new green leaves have appeared...
We have lots of red and black kites around our lake in Radonvilliers.

Ruth said...

Bonjour, Daniel! Thank you, and thank you for listening to the podcasts. I am finding this such an easy thing to do, recording these poems, and it makes me happy that you listened and enjoyed.

Your little sumac survived! How sweet is that, extending your daughter's garden to yours, from one soil to another, which must be quite different in France. Sumac are hearty devils, they just keep sprouting and sprouting and thriving. It's good that I like them, and soon I think they might overtake this property.

So, my friend, are they kites, or are they kites? :)

Montag said...

Your podcasts are wonderful. Of course, it helps that you have a very good voice, and it's easy on the ears.

Inspiration!

Montag said...

Your brief remarks on "scavenge" are very interesting. It takes the "sc-" of "scarey" and the "-venge" of "revenge" and gives us something that goes beyond them both.
"Scavenge" can range from ignorance to intimacy. Thanks.

Ruth said...

Montag, thank you for listening to the podcasts, and for thinking they are wonderful. As you and I keep thinking about, and planning (you more than me at the moment, the planning part) a poetry web site, maybe recordings are something we can think about including. I would really like to hear your voice as an added layer to your beautiful poems.

Leave it to you, my friend to scavenge "scavenge". I know that language intrigues you, as it does me, but you actually do something about it. Ignorance to intimacy . . . what a tremendously inspiring phrase. I think I'll adopt it, if you don't mind.

Marcie said...

WOW! You've romanticized and made even a turkey vulture sound beautiful and filled with magical grace. Love your words!!!

deb said...

Ruth,

I waited until I had just the right time to listen to you gift this prose poem.
I take great comfort in knowing that some of the noise in my head has been silenced by this prayer. That is what is feels to me. I hope you don't mind me saying that.

and I smiled when I saw that we both used the word tipped , well , perhaps I used tipping, but sometimes that is how I feel. Often times.

I went for a hike , exploring light and green and birdsong . There is a park near me that I've only recently discovered. An old quarry turned conservation area. And I think sometimes there's much to learn just in the beauty of that itself. Transformation and transition and possibility.

Ruth said...

Hi, Marcie, thank you very much. I do think I find turkey vultures in the sky romantic.

Ruth said...

Deb, your comment is such a gift. They always are, for you take in a post and let it sit in you, then you respond. That means so much to me!

You taking comfort here, as you've described, is music to my ears.

Yes, tipping. That parked tipping feeling, like you're certain you'll fall over into the ditch. I know it well from my many stops on country roads for a photograph. Your warm autumn photos are still working in me, just the best reaching out.

It's wonderful to hear about the quarry turned conservation area-park! Just the other day, I drove by the quarry near us and felt that sadness of the earth scarred. I love that you observe the way you do.

Thank you, Deb.