Keep Calm And Carrion.

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.

 

12 Comments

  1. Ray V

    Interesting story.

    Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That is absolutely brilliant, and not only do I think so but the two other people I’ve told it to thought so as well. Thank you so much for that.

      Reply
  2. Allison

    The day my dermatologist told me the lump on my scalp was malignant, I walked out to the car to find three vultures (aka turkey buzzards) sitting there. “Not today, f***ers,” I told them. They cut out all the bad cells a few weeks later and that was that. Cancer of the hair follicle is something of a wimpy cancer as cancers go.

    I also dressed up like a vulture for Halloween some years ago. It was one of better efforts.

    And finally – did you know that when they feel threatened, vultures’ defense mechanism is to projectile vomit?

    That’s all I have to add.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Some people might call that TMI, but I’m absolutely fascinated. Of course I’m one of those people who thinks the buzzards that follow the family are one of the funniest parts of As I Lay Dying.
      Also you really should share pictures of your Halloween buzzard costume.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    I like Ray’s joke and I love this post. Carry on, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s jokes like Ray’s and comments like yours that keep me carrying on.

      Reply
  4. BarbaraM

    I always learn something when I read your blogs!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Sometimes I do try to include some real facts along with the made up ones.

      Reply
  5. Jay

    I feel lucky to have learned some vulture facts today.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I feel lucky to have been able to pass on some vulture facts. And–true story–driving to work after I wrote this I passed by another venue of cultures. Luck abounds!

      Reply
  6. Red

    Their heads are bald because… guts, blood and brains in the feathers? Gross!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Well, it’s not as bad as having guts, blood, and brains in their feathers would be. And I guess I’m one of those weirdos who thinks their bald heads makes them look intelligent. Like Telly Savalas.

      Reply

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