Navel Gazing on Vulture Day 2011: Swap
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We're coming down off a buzzard high today. Another East Coast Vulture Festival has come and gone. Alas.
This year's fest was only an afternoon affair for kids and parents. There were buzzard crafts and walks to a buzzard roost. My friend Wanda came down, and let me tell you, she's an ace photographer. Here's one from the buzzard lookout:
If I didn't love Polish Mountain so much, I'd change my desktop image to that one right there! If you're reading this, and you're Goth to the core, I don't think Wanda will mind if you steal it.
When I dress up in the big buzzard costume, I get my picture taken about 100 times with little kids, with teenagers, even with grownups. And I never get to see the pictures. As "Buzzy," I don't talk, so I can't ask for photos to be emailed to me. Therefore it's extra special to me that Wanda snapped this candid portrait of me, Buzzy, with my devoted fans.
Some kids are more devoted than others.
Human nature being what it is, some little kids are frightened by a big, tall buzzard with shiny wings that flutter in the wind. Others are curious, and still others just want to wrap their arms around you and hug you. Yesterday there was one teeny little tot, just barely toddling, who wanted to "feed" me. She kept bringing over leaves and stones and holding them up to my "beak." It was so cute I wanted to die with that being my last memory. Another little "Cindy Lou Who," hardly more than two, asked me, "Is this a costume?" And when I nodded yes, she soberly whispered, "I won't tell anyone."
On the other hand, the 4th grade Girl Scouts wanted to know why the vulture was wearing skinny jeans. I guess I got lazy. I didn't want to wear the tights.
Some kids played "blind buzzard's bluff" with me, and others just tentatively touched the feathers. The adults who run the festival greeted me as a long-lost "Buzzy" friend. Some of them literally never see me out of the costume, since I park two blocks away and walk up the street wearing it.
From my point of view the weather was perfect for this year's festival. It wasn't cold, but it was breezy, and that helped to get oxygen into the costume. I still couldn't breathe and see at the same time, but at least I could breathe when I wanted to. That isn't always the case in this challenging mascot gear.
When the festival ended at 5:00, I started back toward my car and took the vulture head off midway. I walked by a tree with about 30 vultures sitting in it and more honing in. Looking to disprove the heretic that says these birds smell bad, I stood straight under the tree to take a whiff. The ground had white droppings on it, but there was no odor at all. None. Nada. Zip.
I looked up and saw a buzzard looking down at me. Not for the first time, I felt like I must have been a vulture in a former life ... and that being human is a step down. Anyway, I caught the buzzard's eye and said, "Swap." As in, swap lives with me.
At that moment the tree exploded, and every vulture in it took off. I guess I spooked them -- or maybe the thought of swapping lives with a human was so unappealing that they couldn't get away fast enough. I prefer to think it was the latter.
I put the Buzzy costume in the car, wiping a tear, and drove up to say goodbye to the other members of Church of the Holy Thunderbird. Literally, some of them had never seen me outside the costume before. As we were all standing there congratulating ourselves on another successful Vulture Day, the most enormous kettle of vultures any of us had ever seen filled the sky from horizon to horizon. They were dancing on the breeze -- more buzzards than any of us could count. It seemed to me that they were just having a good time up there, riding a roller coaster of wind gusts. We all stood transfixed at the glorious sight. Then the buzzards dispersed, and in a moment the sky was nearly empty again.
Life is both nature and nurture. I think of the kids growing up in Wenonah, having a fun day based on the quiet birds that winter in their town. I think of the pickup basketball game on the school playground, being watched by two dozen vultures perched on the water tower, and the boys not paying any mind to the vultures at all. And then I think of the kids in Staunton, Virginia, who are fearing and hating buzzards, trying to scare them off with dogs and paint guns, complaining about the vomit and the odor, and the possibility that their kittens will be whisked off for dinner. Which children will grow up with the view that all of Nature has beauty? Which kids will grow up less fearful of everything?
I have come to love New Jersey. Don't tell Mr. J or my kids, but as soon as both daughters are out of the house, I'm going to contact a realtor in Wenonah. I think Mr. J would like it there, and it's only just a little farther from Philly than Snobville. Fifteen miles as opposed to five. But what a difference those ten miles make!