Saturday, August 31, 2013

Corpse, Crows, Gull and Vulture

Early morning: a crescent moon high in the pale blue sky, with Jupiter trotting happily behind his shoulder. Some of the beach in the clear, some still in dense fog.

The weather cleared yesterday, and we had one of those rare, early-fall days here: there's no sense of loss or decay on this coast, with the onset of winter, for the simple reason that nothing is preparing to die. Winter here is nothing worse than a long cold shower. So when the light goes golden, and the spray from the surf is hanging in the air, lit up with the setting sun, you get the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” without death behind it: you could believe that war has vanished from the world, and that no parent and child will ever be parted. The pelicans framed their antediluvian profiles, black against the gold, slowly flapping their ancient wings, with their pterodactyl heads drawn well back, and the quadrilaterals of their wings shifting from diamond-shapes to Tennessee outlines and back again: each with its neck proudly bared to the knife.

In the Middle Ages it was thought that pelicans tore open their breasts to make themselves bleed, and fed their young with their blood: hence the pelican was an image of Christ. There is something about the deliberate motions of the bird that makes this plausible: it does not seem quite of this world.

We paused on grassy bluff, where we could look back at the cliff above which our condo is perched, and the little beach at its foot. The corpse of something was there on the beach – a large fish? – a small seal? – and a couple beach-crows were at it, dodging the surf from time to time. A seagull watched them, perched on a rock a couple of yards away, but never disputed the corpse with them. As we watched, a turkey vulture came slowly, slowly down, in great circles, till he was skimming the little beach and practically brushing the rock walls with his huge wings. Eventually he settled on the gull's rock, a little farther back, and observed the crows at their work. He was remarkably small, with his wings folded: not really much bigger than the gull. We expected him to drive off the crows, but he just watched, for a long time. Eventually he stepped down, going carefully behind the gull, and sidled up to the grey lump, whatever it was, that occupied the crows. He never pecked at it, or interfered with the crows: all three of the bird-kinds resolutely ignored each other. He just looked it over, a long, patient contemplation, while the crows darted in and out. He did not seem to like the surf much, and retreated from it a couple of times. And then he took to the air, unfolding again into a huge, magnificent bird, and rose in circles, as slow as he'd come down. He circled a while and then vanished. The gull never moved.

We went on our way: when we came back that way, an hour or two later, the tide was was slightly higher, and everything was gone: corpse, crows, gull and vulture. Not a sign of any of them.

The numen seems to be coming back into the world. I am still at a sad loss to know what exactly I'm doing here; I've run far past the end of my marching orders, but the emptiness that distressed me yesterday has passed. We're going home today, and I'm glad of it: I have massages and painting to do. But it's clear as the morning that I must do some hard thinking, over the next few days.


Beth Lowe said...

Wonderful description. I am often amazed by the patience of birds. It doesn't quite seem like they should or would be patient for some reason. I hope you find some peace soon, my dear. Hang in.

Zhoen said...

"Eh, not tasty enough to get cawed at, not that hungry."

Could use the long cold wet.

Deep thought. Answer:42.

am said...

"... there's no sense of loss or decay on this coast, with the onset of winter, for the simple reason that nothing is preparing to die."

Thank you for this clear vision of the Pacific coast at the end of the summer -- the time of year I have most often chosen for a visit to the ocean somewhere in Washington, Oregon or California.

As I was reading your post, I remembered the time we saw the small perfectly intact corpse of an juvenile orca whale on the beach on the Washington coast. Then there was the time I saw a group of vultures standing in a circle around the partially eaten corpse of a deer in Northern California. I remembered a troubled young man shooting with a rifle at gulls. Another time a single crow skip by us like a child, and we laughed together during an agonizing time. The last time I was at the ocean was in 2008, but the Pacific coast is never far from my mind.

In the past few days, I have realized that much of my thinking is dominated by old ideas that don't serve me, much less anyone else. The thought that the numen seems to be coming back into the world is a new idea for me.

Although my memories can be a source of creative thought, many of my old ideas about my memories can paralyze me. Thanks again for a new idea.

"Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." (Anonymous)

am said...

Oh well. You know that I meant "a juvenile orca whale." Now there is one of my old ideas, ripe for release. I have to be perfect.

mm said...

Wishing you good thinking. And, when the time is right, doing. Happily plans come in all shapes and sizes.x

Kristen Burkholder said...

As we live our lives on opposite coasts...
i loved the "winter here is nothing more than a long cold shower" with no death behind it. Here, in Maine, we know death is coming and begin preparation for final hours already in September. I hate spending my favorite season, autumn, thinking of little else other than the summer that went by so quickly, and the long cold winter ahead, and do we have enough of this and do we have enough of that...
lots of hard thinking on this beach too.