West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More snow. And vultures.

This time it’s my own driveway I get to shovel. It’s not nearly so pleasant here, though. The driveway, like nearly everything else in the apartment, was cheaply made a long time ago and scarcely maintained since. It has a certain amount, as we say in the business, of topographic variation. And then there are the vultures.

I’d never given much thought to vultures before I came to live here. I’d see them every once in a while lifting from something ghastly at the side of the road, or circling high up on thermals above the town. Now I spend a lot of time thinking about them, because upwards of 65 of them roost all winter in the trees behind this house.

They first showed up early last spring, a few days after an elderly neighbor passed away. It sounds like something out of magic realism: three days after Rosamunda’s death, the vultures came to roost in the trees behind Pilar’s house. They stared down at her with dark intelligent eyes and muttered among themselves like shipwrecked sailors. And I don’t mean to make light of the woman’s death. What I mean is to point out the unsettling coincidence. If it were magic realism, the vultures would be some sort of portent of worse things to come. They certainly felt like a bad omen in the long emptiness of last spring, after Matt’s departure. As it’s turned out, they’re just a nuisance. Thus far.

When they first came, my car was parked in the driveway under the overhanging spruce boughs. Overnight, it was whitewashed and reeking. I spent three hours with a hose and a scrub brush, getting it clean. That night the vultures left again. I parked in the street for a month to stay out from under the trees. A late snowstorm and a town parking ban forced me back into the driveway one night, and that very night the flock came back. This time, as well as a reeking coat of whitewash, they left several small rib-bones (squirrel, I rather hoped) entangled in the windshield wipers.

The situation hasn’t really improved since then. I park on the street whenever I can. The flock has grown. When I come home late at night, I can hear them in the trees, rattling their feathers and shifting among the branches. When I work at home on a sunny day, I can see the shadows of their wheeling flight crossing the blinds as they leave in the morning and again at evening as they return. They cover the back lawn with their filth and feathers and bits of unspeakable far-gone meat. As the snow melts, a charnel stink rises out of the back lawn. After I shovel the driveway here, at least the part under the trees, I feel like I should sterilize my shovel.

I was talking to my mother a few days ago, about some troubles I’ve had with a friend. She (my mother) told me something very important: not everything in life has a lesson attached. Sometimes, for no reason, life hands you—and here I paraphrase; my mother doesn’t talk this way—a shit sandwich. Maybe the vultures are another example. There’s no reason for the vultures to pick these particular trees, this particular house. Shoveling rancid vulture snow isn’t my personal penance for some past sin; it’s just what I need to do in order to keep the driveway clean, and so I shovel it.


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Some lovely writing here. Thanks for sharing.


At 6:05 PM, Blogger Susan said...

Thanks for reading! --S.

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