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Soaring through the summer heat

Lead Summary

HCP columnist

It was hot out, but not so hot that if I held my arms out to my side to cool and tilted my head to look up at the sky, I could see a lone turkey vulture soaring high above the creek valley fields, and think that I felt just a wee bit cooler.

I imagined that I too was flying. I felt the warm breeze across my face.

I could hear the hot rustle of walnut, sycamore and locust leaves in the summer heat, but somehow I felt cooler. Perhaps I could learn from this bird.

When I first caught sight of the vulture, it was way up the creek, just crossing over onto our land.

I watched as it flew, gliding without a single beat of its wings from one side of the creek valley to the other, a lazy series of S turns as it headed south to the river. I was amazed again at the beauty of the flying vulture, even though, as it drew near, I could see that its wings looked tattered against the grey clouded sky.

But it did not matter that its wings appeared to be torn.

It passed over my head with such grace that I turned to watch it head farther south, down along the creek.

I stood still, watching until it was completely out of sight.

With an almost six-foot wingspan, I could see it still soaring a long way off, and only when it passed over a far-away hill did it finally disappear.

It was then that I realized that many minutes had passed, and I had not seen it move a single muscle. No doubt its eyes had kept a sharp lookout for vulture edibles below, but without a single beat of its wings, it had soared for not only minutes, but miles, as I stood in the field below and cooled. Economy of movement.

Again, I really should take lessons from this bird.

It also occurred to me how odd it is that the vultures are so majestic in flight and how downright ugly they are up close.

Greg and I often come across them along the creek, gorging on unmentionables that the water has washed up after a flood.

We have noticed that their red, featherless heads are perfect for delving between ribs and retrieving what only a vulture could consider a tasty delight, and their curved beaks are well suited for picking apart their often stringy meals.

I have also noticed that they often soar over the creek valley in groups of 10 or more, and when we come upon them eating their meals, they look as though they were at a family gathering.

In short, they appear to be quite sociable. I have watched a gathering of them completely surrounding a meal. They will occasionally hop back and forth, and pick and pull here and there, but they appear to be very content, knowing that there is plenty to share.

Sometimes, a newcomer to the meal will flap its wings to ask the others to spread out a bit and make room, but I have never seen one chase another completely away.

Once again, I can – and should – learn from these birds.

And just as I stood in the field below with my arms outspread, I have often come across a vulture perched on the top of a phone pole or on the highest branch of tree, way above any leaves, with its wings outstretched, taking in the breeze.

I do not know if it is cooling off or basking in the sun, but I do know that it looks content in its stillness. Again, I can learn from this bird.

But I am not a vulture. Standing in the field, the bird out of sight, I drew in my arms and turned to pull another weed, and climb the hill to take the laundry in from the line, and water the strawberries as the sun passed over the hill behind the cabin.

And yes, the goats’ hooves still needed trimming, and the supers on the hives had been ready to come off for the past week. Things still needed to be done.

But if you happen to come across me this week, down in the field or even walking along the street uptown, and you notice that my arms are outstretched, just smile as I pass by and know that I might just have learned something from the turkey vulture after all.

I am soaring through the summer heat.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio.

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