Ben, Ben’s friend Alexander and I attended a program on birds of prey at the Waterloo wildlife area today. It was a splendid day for an adventure, and while Ben kept saying he didn’t "want to see the hawks,” he ended up being thrilled. (What he really wanted to see were frogs and lions, and Alexander hoped there would be a crocodile.)
We saw a screech owl (who was molting), a great horned owl, a turkey vulture and a hawk. The audience was small and the speaker put each bird on her gloved hand and walked around the room with it: because we’d arrived late we had a bird’s eye view of each bird, sitting on the floor at the back of the room: she even turned toward us with each bird as she made her way across the back of the room.
The boys were thrilled. Afterward, we ran and walked the trails a while with Kai, his older brother Al, and their mom Carla—another Peachtree School family. I was grateful to Carla for telling me about the presentation. Alexander came along because he’s spending more time with us—his baby brother Oliver is still in NICU, his mom is worn out from pumping and trying to hold a wired, tiny baby, and his Dad is exhausted juggling the demands of job, home, and family involved with medical technology. Neil said tonight when he picked Alex up that Oliver may get to come home this week.
All of the birds we saw today were in rehab for one reason or another: the hawk for example was blind in one eye and had congenitally missing talons on one foot, so couldn’t survive in the wild. The saddest was the vulture.
Turkey Vulture at Waterloo
Stolen chick, someone’s coolest pet for a while:
perfectly healthy but too close to humans.
The times he has broken free
he’ll ride the thermals for a while
but he looks for people walking
instead of carrion.
Coming down from his death watch,
he finds some hiker,
or maybe a farmer plowing,
and he follows them, hoping
for a gift of death to sustain him.
The humans get spooked
thinking he might know something.
So they call the DNR
and he comes back
The wildlife guide tells his story.
He stands on her forearm: huge,
odd with his naked head, alert,
this bird who can eat anthrax and thrive.
He tries to fly with silver edged strokes
so powerful the speaker’s
notes are swept into orbit.
Up, off the podium
and around, then down
to the floor the cards fly,
as he realizes the tether
holds him to her hand after all.
When he fixes each of us
with his dark polished eye,
it’s easy to think he knows
which of us may be already dead.