This afternoon the vulture couple sit stoically on the limbs of the long dead tree in the preserve.
The rain was torrential as we watched from the dry confines of our home, they stood soaked to the feathers with nowhere to hide, knowing they couldn’t out fly or out climb the purging clouds, so they set soaking wet and stared at us.
And then I knew, just looking at them, that while I felt sorry for them perched in a downpour they felt the same for us, we unable to know the joy of flight.
They sit on the barren tree staring at what we cannot fathom. They are strangely beautiful creatures and utterly odd looking as well. Their black plumage is entrancing, more so when put on display by extended wings. But inevitably it is their head and neck that draws the eye. Gray against the ebony of their bodies, and wrinkled as if wearing a chain mail balaclava. We can only imagine how strange we must look to them. And with the mutual nod we retreat to the house as they lift into the waiting sky.
From watching them in flight I know that great egrets fly with their hinge neck folded in while Sandhill cranes extend theirs.
By listening carefully, I know the cry of the male limpkin, his lower than his female partner, while the cry of the hawk only creates fear in those who might be its prey, and the male Cardinal shows infinite patience calling out for a mate who never arrives. I can see and hear all of these but I cannot begin to tell you why for when I asked the birds, all replied with a variation on “that’s just the way things are, but why do you want to know?”
This morning as the bell signaled the end of morning zazen the whistling ducks took up their song, circling the wetland as if inviting me to photograph them.
They quickly grew bored waiting and flew off to a place I do not know, can not imagine.
Perhaps they will return this afternoon, circle in a duck like pose as I capture them with the long lens, and this will satisfy them for another day, but perhaps they will not return and punish me again for my morning absence.
They circle slowly each in its own tier of a near cloudless sky, their wings still as if frozen, riding the breeze, dipping and rising, going nowhere, needing nowhere, riding, riding, looking down at the wetland, and circling, until with a shift in the breeze the vulture vortex shifts east, and you watch them shrink, thankful that they are simply out for a flight, and not finding a meal in the reeds and trees where all the other birds live.