I’ve always liked vultures.
These giant birds get a bad rap. For some reason that’s never been clear to me, we admire hawks and raptors which swoop down from above and sink talons into unfortunate mice and bunnies, but abhor buzzards which do nothing but act as efficient waste disposal units.
It has to do with our fear of death, I think.
In Nepal bodies are wrapped in green bamboo leaves, placed on a bier and lit on fire so the ashes sink into the river. In Tibet my friends, the vultures, dispose of the bodies, carrying the bones high overhead and then dropping them onto the rocks below to release the tasty marrow. In my culture, the body is encased in steel guaranteed to keep the embalmed flesh sparkling fresh for eternity.
There are exceptions of course, many people today in the U.S. are cremated. Ed Abbey had friends secret his body in the red rock country he loved and leave it for rodents and vultures. This appeals to me, though I doubt my friends would be keen on the request. My husband, Jack, wants me to build him a bier with a sail and set it aflame on the ocean. Of course he also thinks I’m going to throw myself onto this funeral fire. Why, as he asks, would I want to live without him?
I meditate on the vulture occasionally. The naked, leathery head we find so ugly which is perfect for the job the bird has evolved to do. The way the big black birds spread their wings to the sun and perch like statues for hours after a rain. The hopping dance they do when interrupted in a meal. They call to mind old women lifting their dull-black skirts, turning their wrinkled faces on long saggy necks. What? They seem to be thinking, we’re busy here!
So today, ‘V’ is for vulture. A reminder that this life I’m living will end. A reminder to spread my wings to the sun while I have the chance. A reminder to lift my metaphorical skirt and hop around a bit while doing my life’s work. A suggestion that I not worry about my saggy neck or wrinkled face. I am, after all, like the vulture, perfectly suited to the task God gave me in this life.