Balancing Buzzards

By Brenda Clem Black

I’ve never cared for turkey buzzards. I cringe and look away when I see them munching roadkill on the highway, their naked red heads exposed to the world. My husband says the consummate scavengers have a job to do and should be respected for doing it.

“But why do they have to be so repulsively ugly?” I keep asking him.

            After living in a valley for most of our lives, we moved to a mountaintop aerie in the Ozarks that put us near the clouds above the forest. A magnificent flock of large birds make their home on our mountain. In early morning, they fly together in loose formation, east to west as the sun makes its way across, then circle and pass again. They seldom flap their wings, but stay aloft by riding wind currents. Mostly they glide, though somewhat wobbly, floating on the wind. Then suddenly the glorious raptors stretch their wings upward into a V and soar across the sky at breakneck speeds. Their amazing aerial acrobatics are fascinating to watch.

            “What are those graceful birds?” I asked my husband when we first observed them.

            “Turkey buzzards! The ones you hate,” he gleefully replied.

            I didn’t believe him, but after consulting Google and catching a glint of a red head now and then, I knew he was right. I started to think about opposite traits and compensation. Did the universe make the turkey buzzard ugly to compensate for its majestic flying skills? Or give the vulture gracious flight to make up for its hideous physique and disgusting work detail?

Does the beautiful balance the ugly? Is it enough?

I wondered about my own compensatory skills.

I have a garden center. I’m no beauty digging in the dirt, sweat pouring down my face in a hot greenhouse. No one wants to look real close at me doing my job either, but there are deeper deficits than how I look. The universe gave me plant allergies, asthma and other thorns, then plopped me in a greenhouse to do my life’s work.  My stamina and physical prowess are lacking, but that weakness is balanced with a curious, strong mind and can-do attitude. I am a graceful bird in flight as numbers fly off the pristine page when I balance the nursery’s books. Working in my HEPA-filtered, air-conditioned wheelhouse, my tenacious mind stays focused as I efficiently dispatch all those pieces of paper.

Likewise, my writing requires long hours of sitting, using my brain to weave words into stories. Creating is addictive. It steals my sleep, my family time, my cooking and cleaning time, and eventually my health. Suddenly, I realize how much I look like that turkey buzzard---sitting at the keyboard in my two-day old red pajamas---hunch-backed, cross-eyed, plucking at words.

My task is to balance myself again, to keep my strong mind from ignoring my weak body. My body needs to move. Physical movement grounds my churning mind, reminds me that I belong to the earth. I need to touch it and feel it---to find my place among its critters. I can’t live in my head. I need the balance of my body in order to soar.

In the evenings on my Ozarks mountaintop, the turkey buzzards appear in the sky again. They aren’t in formation at this time of day, not searching for prey. They come to play. The changing thermals of the setting sun beacon them. They glide with the wind wherever it takes them, sometimes spiraling with updrafts until they shrink into small dots. They chase each other, they dive-bomb, they float. My husband has named some of them---GotchWing, Streak, FF (for Frittered Feathers).

If I’m still sitting at my keyboard in my writing room at the back of the house, I can’t see them. They call me out anyway. Their enormous shadows pass over the trees, Hitchcock-style, telling me it’s time for a brain-break, time to balance work with play.

I hit “Save” and join my husband on the deck.