catching a thermal

A hundred or so Turkey Vultures moved onto my street, behind my neighbor’s house where there are some very old trees and a thicket of undergrowth. They roost in large community groups and often stick to a certain spot for some time–they’ve been there, now, since early Autumn. They feed on carrion, and I have to say the roads in our area have been exceptionally clean of small dead creatures this winter. They are gruesome looking when hunched over on their branches, these two-feet-or-taller birds with their wrinkly naked heads and creepy, crooked beaks–a fine homecoming to our road on a gloomy winter evening. But in flight, they are a different matter all together. They have a five foot wingspan with a beautiful fringe of silvery flight feathers on the underside of their brown-black wings. Watching twenty or thirty of them riding thermals over the tall pines, over the snowy landscape–gliding, still, unflapping–is the essence of calm beauty. They lack the normal vocal organs of a bird, and so they don’t screech or call out. They simply float, silently, with their silver fringe fluttering in the breeze.

I was watching them one day, and a thought occurred to me. These creatures are so beautiful when they are doing what they do best–flying, floating, circling on an invisible current of air. They are so lovely and free looking, even more so than their frantically flapping, tiny friends who are blessed with comely breast feathers and melodic voices. And I wonder, when do I look that free? What am I doing when, if observed unawares, I am a shining, peaceful thing? When do I slip out of everything physically unbeautiful about myself? I know that when I’m elbow deep in pots and mulch and dirt and new plants, I am free. When I’m picking basil and chives in my garden, chopping fresh veggies from the market, a glass of red wine at my elbow and a warm summer evening coming in the windows, I feel glowing. When I am walking in the woods through filtery sunlight, or making love to my partner, I am floating on my own personal warm current.

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