Thursday, June 5, 2014

In the Shadow of Vultures: Literary Symbols Revisited

While reading another book by Kate Atkinson, my upper body in the shade of the deck’s roof, my shins toasting in the sun’s radiant heat, the shadow of a large bird drifted along my legs. I lifted my eyes in time to see him, a Turkey Vulture with red beak naturally camouflaged to mask the bloody work he’s made to do all his days. Another soon floated by, deck-high, as if to take a closer look at what might lie inside the screens.

In truth, that bird has little interest in me unless maggots become my intimate companions. I know this, and perhaps that is why my thoughts caught the currents of sadness in an otherwise perfect breeze, gentle and kind, barely strong enough to stir my hair, a lover brushing against my exposed skin before wafting away.

Last Light. Photo by Al Griffin

It’s the damn bird. Through no fault of its own, a vulture connotes deeds dark, stenches foul, and mortality glossed. It’s the vulture’s lot in life to leave us musing about the great hereafter, about a past we cannot recover moment by moment, in specific detail. We are left to color inside the lines of what we remember from so long ago. And now, because of that dreadful bird, my crayons are gray, steel, and black, colors we associate with unknowns, impenetrable spaces, unfathomable sorrows.

A memory rises, and I try to follow it until I remember that we are the architects of our memories and our happiness. I think it wise to move into full sun. Barn swallows, song birds, and gulls now corral my thoughts.

That buzzard dwells in detritus, performing janitorial duties for us all, but eagles soar above the trees on the hills beyond and song birds sing me to joy. The sun is warm; the breezes kiss. I have today, and that is enough.

Reading Challenge:

Read about the ways writers color in the outlines of experience, shaping tone with references to birds, rain, clouds, colors, and light.

Writing Challenge:

Color in your own outline.