It was a crisp, clear, October morning, which was unusual because around here because summer usually lasts into November and then the temperatures plunge because the weather likes to skip fall entirely. For some reason the car was in the shop so I was walking to the bus, which annoyed me in spite of the nice weather. And then I heard “Woof!” and I stopped and turned, expecting to see a small dog, but instead there was a cluster of black vultures in someone’s yard. If you’ve never heard one black vultures bark like dogs. It’s pretty funny. I wondered too if the people who lived in that house were home and if they were what they thought of a bunch of big black birds tearing apart some roadkill in front of their chrysanthemums. A group of vultures, by the way, is called a “venue”. Vultures get a bad rap, mostly because they’re associated with death, but somebody’s gotta clean up the garbage and we should be grateful they’ve stepped up. Their digestive systems can destroy anthrax and cholera, unlike some other carrion eaters who spread these diseases, and vultures fill such an important anthropological niche they’ve evolved independently on different continents, and like crows and ravens vultures are very intelligent. They’re smart enough to have figured out that it’s a lot easier to catch your food once it’s stopped moving.
In myth and legend vultures run the spectrum. The Cherokee believed the vulture’s bald head was a sign of shame, although really it’s just practical–they wouldn’t have to worry about getting rotten meat stuck in their hair, and we all know how annoying that can be. The ancient Egyptians regarded the vulture as a nurturing mother, but they also associated it with death. That’s not surprising. What would be surprising is if they didn’t associate it with death, which reminds me of a joke. A psychiatrist shows an ancient Egyptian a picture of a bird and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist pulls out a picture of a tree and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist pulls out a picture of a tree and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist says, “Obviously you’re obsessed with death.” The ancient Egyptian says, “Whaddya mean? You’re the one with all the morbid pictures,” but that’s another story.
Then there’s the story of the founding of ancient Rome. Remus thought the hill where he wanted to build a city was the lucky one because six vultures flew over it, but then twelve vultures flew over the hill chosen by Romulus, and Rome turned out pretty well.
Yeah, I felt pretty lucky to be walking by the venue down an avenue.