Aug 1, 2005

Where the vultures roosted

Then I thought about the buzzards, for no real reason, about how awkward they looked settling down on the eucalyptus branches. There was no buzzard smell, only the trees smelled and so I would always think that death smelled like eucalyptus. The trees were planted out as a wind break, shallow-rooted, weak-wooded and fire prone, planted along the California coast and foothills and along our fence line leaving a perpetual litter of decomposing leaves and shattered limbs.

We didn’t call them buzzards, though. They were Turkey Vultures. I don’t know why I remember them as buzzards.

The first buzzard I ever saw was circling over us after we crossed the barbwire fence under the No Trespassing sign into the field and over the edge of the ravine. They think, one of the older boys said, that we’re dead, so we ran around and waved our arms and yelled like little boys very much alive, but the buzzard still circled. He was undisturbed, idle in a way that scared us, that seemed to say he knew something sinister, or that he saw the future and there we were dead in the long grass where we weren’t supposed to be and he was circling down, to clean us away.

In the comic books, the vultures appear in the desert where mirages lead men to wander after their own footprints. The men move in circles and the vultures move in circles and by the vultures the men know they are lost. I’ve never seen vultures in the desert though. I’ve always seen them by eucalyptus trees. Maybe it was the trees made me think of them.

They were big black birds, blacker in the dusk, with naked turkey heads. They came in a flock, 50 or so in a gliding community or carrion-eaters, each picking out a branch along the east fence line and dropping down heavily, trying to fold in their wings and legs and heads to nest for the night. They were ugly, they smelled like crushed eucalyptus leaves and they looked, mostly, awkward. That’s what I remember.