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Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Venue of Vultures


A month or two ago, Calliope wrote about seeing a stork on the way to her beta and how we look for signs. There was a moment many years ago, on the Rosh Hashanah that came a few months before we conceived the twins were I begged for a sign while doing Tashlich at the river and on the walk back to the car, saw the elusive Jamocha, a bird of some fame in the D.C. area who goes by a plethora of names.

He is the brown bird seen sometimes around Swain's Lock and I while others call him other things (he's the sort of bird that everyone knows and everyone seems to have taken as their own by giving him a pet name), my brother and I call him Jamocha. Seeing Jamocha made me feel as if everything would eventually be alright. It seemed like good luck to see Jamocha in this moment when I really needed to see him, even if nothing actually happened that day or soon after.

Right after I read Calliope's post, I had to go to the RE--I think it was day 3 blood work and as I pulled out from my house, I thought to myself, "it would be really good luck today to see a stork. Or an incarnation of Jamocha. Maybe one of Jamocha's cousins." I took a route through Great Seneca Park, which was a little bit like cheating because of course you're going to see birds as you pass through a state park. Though this is what I saw.

Not exactly the same cuddly, baby-related bird as a stork nor a beloved symbol of goodness like Jamocha. They were also feeding on a dead raccoon. My day 3 blood work, by the way, not so hot. Maybe the birds were a sign.

I have seen vultures in Maryland maybe 5 or 6 times now including the time I saw them on my way to my RE. The first time I saw them, towering over a dead deer in my development, I truly thought that I was hallucinating. I was driving to work at 7 in the morning and the vultures wouldn't get out of the road. They were two feet tall and stared at me as if I were bothering them. I mean, I was bothering them. I was trying to drive to my middle school and they were trying to eat their breakfast.

Everyone at work kept pointing out that vultures don't live in Maryland and I must have dreamed up this early morning prey-a-thon. This bothered me for two reason. (1) They were implying I was crazy and had mistaken a family of wren for a venue of vultures. (2) The sea snake incident.

When I was on my honeymoon, I was snorkling near the shore when a snake slithered into my line of vision, swam across my path (while I tried to swim backwards in slow motion and horror), and disappeared deep into the ocean. When I told Josh, he pointed out that snakes do not swim in the ocean nor do they live near beaches. And while everything about his reasoning sounded correct, it still didn't explain what I saw. It was a snake--sort of like a two foot garden snake--except underwater and slithering across the sand.

A quick google search at home yielded pictures of the black and white banded snake eel. Finally, with proof, Josh believed me. But seeing something that no one else sees does not bring the elation usually portrayed in film when the single boy spies a dragon or some girl catches a fairy. It brings about a strong wave of self-doubt as well as a sinking suspicion that you'll forever be left in a state of agreeing to disagree.

By 2:30 p.m., I finally agreed with my coworkers at school. I must have seen things. Vultures do not exist in Maryland. The only reminder that they had been there at all was the picked clean skeleton of a recently dead deer.

The ChickieNob and Wolvog were in the backseat of my car while Josh trailed behind in his own ride, a brief side trip to visit a preschool before he headed off to work. And there, on the side of the road, a small gathering of 8--10 vultures, munching their way lazily through another deer carcass. I motioned in my rear view mirror towards the side of the road, as if one has to draw attention to a venue of vultures. I watched Josh turn his entire body toward his driver's side window, gaping at them as we passed. Vindication.

At the school, our friend--the security director of the building--nodded in agreement. They were most likely ravens or vultures--both were common in this part of Maryland. I have to be honest, I'm not sure which one I wanted them to be.

A quick search at home brought me two pieces of information. A group of ravens is called an unkindness while a group of vultures is called a venue (though, when they're circling, they're called a kettle of vultures). Choosing entirely on name, the ravens seemed more apropos as a sign. An unkindness. A slight. A reason to choose school number one over school number two.

But an image search brought me to a local news story complaining about the vultures that are destroying roofs in upper Montgomery County. The same black birds, grey heads, strange beaks.

They may not have been a stork or even a sign at all. But we still went with school number one.


I received a mid-day phone call from my brother who wanted me to add an addendum to this post informing people that Jamocha is a crane. He felt as if (1) I was not giving Jamocha due respect by removing part of his identity and (2) I made it sound as if Jamocha was a stork by comparing him to Calliope's bird. So my apologies to Jamocha. I think it's nice when a bird can bring two people together as such. I mean, Jamocha has no idea that we just spent eight minutes chatting about him. Or her.

My brother would also like everyone to know that he has seen vultures in MoCo on numerous occasions. This last fact is in no way meant to freak out my mother.


Ellen K. said...

Like the nerd that I am, I ran to get my Sibley Guide to look up your vulture, which is all over the south Atlantic seaboard. Seeing them now in the metro DC area is likely an effect of suburban sprawl -- they're following the deer.

Sibley aside, I also read birds as symbols -- I think that is universal, as birds live closest to the heavens -- and so I would have gone with school 1 too. Anything a little more Beatrix Potter-ish.

calliope said...

That it is called an unkindness really got to me. So apt.

As for a followup on "my stork" I haven't seen him since the day of my beta. In fact there is now a new bird in my backyard and after consulting some nature type people I have learned that it is a turkey vulture. Now THAT is apt.

Beautiful post and so true- I think we all look at signs to validate.

Beagle said...

I already live my live by fortune cookies. Now if I add birds, I may not be able to leave the house!

Loved this post.

Southern Comfortable said...

Terrific post. I haven't seen any vultures around northern VA or DC, but I did see what I'm almost certain was a bald eagle last Saturday while driving along the GW parkway. I'll take that over the vultures-- or the unkindness of ravens-- any day.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

Wow, I see vultures everyday! I live down a very rural road so there is always road kill for them to wait for.

During our positive cycle there were lots of things that happened that my husband insisted were signs. I, on the other hand didn't want to view them as that until I got a positive test. If it hadn't been positive I would have cursed them as mind tricks.

Jendeis said...

There are totally vultures around DC. I've been seeing them since I was little.

What I've been interpreting as signs are more manmade. For example, (and thus proving my utter insanity), I always feel better when I see a license plate with my maiden initials on it. It just tells me that this is where I'm supposed to be at this time.

LJ said...

I know that feeling - where you are sure you saw something. But you have no confirmation and then no one else believes you. Just sucks. I'm glad that you got confirmation in both of these.

Lori said...

At first I thought this post was about some of the anonymous commenters we've seen lately. :-).

Aren't you glad it was a snake and not a cricket on your honeymoon?

Heather said...

Your update cracked me up!

loribeth said...

ROFL, Lori, I was thinking the exact same thing!!

On "signs," the week I found out I was pg, I also began spotting. And, after a rainstorm, saw a double rainbow. I took it as a "sign" that everything would work out. Guess not. :(

Michell said...

The first time I saw a group of vultures I was in Chico, Ca. Except their heads where pinkish red. Kind of ugly. I couldn't believe I was seeing them there. Yes I do think we look for signs before and after the fact to validate ourselves. So sorry that your CD 3 labs weren't what you had hoped.

soapchick said...

I actually like vultures. I me crazy. When I lived in Spain, I visited La Ermita de San Frutos several was located in a "vulture sanctuary". They are on the endangered or protected species list there. I would actually lay on the ground near this ancient church and watch the vultures fly above. From far away they are actually very beautiful! Ever since then I have had a thing for vultures. ha ha.

Sharon said...

We don't have vultures where I live in Northern Australia. I would be more likely to see a cockatoo or another parrot... beautiful!

We also DO have sea snakes - they are extremely dangerous. You were lucky.

Jess said...

That is cute that your brother was worried about the stork!! Aw! :)

Sorry about your day3 bloodwork. Bummer.

Anonymous said...

You're such a coward, Mel. I didn't call you names but as you stated in your post, even invited thoughtful people to do, I offered a difference of opinion regarding the advisability of turning infertility into a cottage industry. That seems like a legitimate perspective. And yet you felt compelled to remove my post. You may regard this as an extension of your home but if you can't take the heat, maybe you should get out of the kitchen.

Barb said...

Black Vultures and Turkey vultures are BOTH found in Maryland. Turkey vultures (the ones with red on their heads) are much larger and more common. Down here in Fla, the black vultures are very very numerous. I can't believe people poo pooed you. :( They probably see them a lot more than they think, but they don't pay attention. If you look up, they're often circling very very high in the sky.

As for the crane.. are you talking about a sandhill crane? The ones with the red on their heads?

Sorry. I'm an animal geek. Don't worry.. the purpose of the post was not lost on me. :)

Sunny said...

Ignoring the not so friendly bird that is hanging around.

On Tuesday, the night before my beta, I read a psalms in the Bible. I thought, that was nice but something said to read one more. The first verse said, I will bless the Lord at all times. Right there I knew I would get a negative. So easy to bless with the good but really hard with the bad. I was getting a glimpse of what I would need to do.


PaleMother said...

Hi Mel,

It's funny you should post about signs and animals ... a medium friend of mine taught me about animal totems some time ago ... while I was doing IF treatment, in fact. On those early morning drives for monitoring, a drive that I came to appreciate for the peace, the head-clearing, the beautiful quality of the early morning light (I was never even remotely a morning person until IF), I would look for signs, too. Birds have often been a sign for me (in Native spirituality, birds are messengers from heaven and other realms). The cycle that we conceived, I had some weird/amazing coincidences/signs. But I was in the two week wait and I told myself I was wishful thinking, passing the time with mind games. I didn't dare believe it. If AF showed, then not only would I *not* be pg and onto IVF (a very complicated next for us), but the signs that part of me really wanted to believe in (I like a little poetic metaphor with my suffering, thanks) would be blown, too.

But I didn't write to tell you about me. I wanted to point you to this site (I have copied the entry about vultures from here you below):

Even if you don't believe in such things as Animal Totems, it's a very well written site. The symbols are lovely and thought provoking. There are decks of these animal medicine cards and even if you don't believe in or are wary of fortune-telling, drawing the cards randomly can be a nice daily reflection in the same way that inspirational books give quotations for daily reflection can be helpful.

The thing about animal totems/Native American spirituality is ... it often has a positive appreciation for things in nature that otherwise have a bad rap in places like modern suburbia. Things like Vultures. So while at first you might think something (a sign, a life event, your perspective, your emotional reaction) is negative, animal medicine makes you think again.

In copying this entry for you, I am not reading anything into your vulture-sighting ... just thought I'd share their description of the vulture (couldn't resist) ... because as a writer ... I think you will appreciate both the interpretation of the symbol and the surprisingly positive meaning they find there. I love thoughtful surprises like this. :) I thought Hmmm ... vulture as cleaner of messes ... if ever there was an emotionally messy challenge ... IF would be a big one. My two cents is ... it's not a bad sign at all. ;)

The Vulture

The vulture is a member of the raptor family. They feed exclusively on carrion and perform a very useful function by disposing of potential sources of disease. The Pueblo Indians saw the vulture as a sign of purification and the Greeks considered it to be a symbol of transformation. As old decayed flesh was removed new life emerged. These amazing birds are vital for the health and well being of mankind and all other life forms.

The Andean Condor is the largest of the vultures with a wingspan of up to 12 feet. In North America, the Turkey Vulture is the most common. The California Condor however is now on the verge of extinction. It once had a range from British Columbia to Florida but has now been reduced to about 60 individuals. Some native tribes believe that this reduction is the cause behind the increased number of diseases and viruses of unknown origins now affecting mother earth.

Vultures are adaptable and have a keen sense of smell which they use to locate food. Because the vulture has weak feet and short talons they cannot tear or grasp their prey as other birds do and must rely on the remains of another's kill for their food source. Their trust in the creative force to provide for them is unshakable. This trust is one of the main teachings they offer those that hold this medicine.

Although the vulture is a somewhat homely bird in appearance they are magnificent in flight gliding through the heavens with a grace unsurpassed by most other birds. They ride the thermals and wind borne currents with little effort soaring for hours without flapping their wings. They know how to use what is available to them to the fullest extent and teach us how to be resourceful and innovative with what we have.

When this medicine is fully developed those with this totem can accomplish great things in life. Resourceful and patient they have the ability to stay focused on their goal despite influences that try to distract them. They have the ability to initiate the pure force of spirit into every thought they have and every action they perform.

Many people don't like vultures because of an impression that, since they feed off carrion, they must be unclean birds. The truth is that vultures are actually quite clean, and they perform the valuable service of eliminating the remains of decaying animals. This is one of the gifts the vulture holds for us, the cleaning up of messes. Many times we create physical and psychic messes that we don't want to deal with. The vulture can guide us to the efficient and joyful resolution of such problems. If vulture has flown into your life you are being asked to remedy a messy situation and turn it into something positive.

If however, messes seem somehow to always be around you, eventually you will end up with a reputation for attracting and creating problems. This can put you in a bad light, like the vulture. Learn from vultures example and clean up your act to avoid getting an unfavorable reputation.

Stacie said...

The part about this post that I love the most is that your brother reads your blog and comments! That is really neat.

I look for signs, too. I definitely can tell the frame of mind I am in when I see one, because if I am upset or sad, all of the signs are negative. If I am happy, then it is amazing how many postitive signs I see.

Bea said...

Sorry your bloodwork was not so hot.


In Due Time said...

I often look for for signs hoping someone lets me know that everything is going to be okay. I've heard bloggers talk about butterflies and ladybugs for good luck, so now every time I see them I smile.