Tuesday, February 01, 2005


When I first came to Iowa, I met my first vultures. A flock of turkey vultures lived in the woods between our camp and Lake Ahquabi, and on any given day you could see them circling high overhead, riding the thermals. I loved watching them up there, so big and lazy, watching me back. I learned that they lived in a "town" in the forest as one huge extended family group.

Once, for lack of anything better to do, I convinced a group of kids to help me ambush them. We lay on our backs on the top of the burial mound in the warm sun and waited to see if they would notice us.

I never imagined that the vultures would actually come. I never imagined that the kids would be able to lay still for that long.

They came, circling lower and lower, wings wider than my arm span, growing immense as they descended from the sky.

I knew I had to do something, but I was entranced. They came closer and closer until finally one of the girls couldn't stand it any more and sat up. The vultures panicked, flapping frantically to regain the sky.

See, all that lazy circling comes at a price. The vulture is far-seeing, but it takes them tremendous effort to reach the height that makes the vision possible. But once they do, they can soar for hours without flapping their wings. I guess life's always a trade-off, even for the scavengers.