Sunday, January 6, 2013

Partial Completion

Hi, there!

Well, it's begun; I have had my first dream that involved not finishing my thesis. Of course, I HAVE finished my thesis, as you know, but I still have dreams about not having finished high school, so these things don't have to be realistic. I'd rather not spend the rest of my life having thesis-anxiety dreams, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens.

But that's not what I wanted to tell you about.

One of my fictional characters also gets a master's degree in conservation biology (complete with completed thesis) but does not anticipate making research a part of his career because he does not want to focus his curiosity on things nobody knows yet, he'd rather just focus on learning what he does not know yet. That sounds about right to me, though I don't want to rule out doing research. But today, for example, I think I solved a mystery that will likely surprise and interest the scholarly community not at all, but pleases me enormously.

I figured out what the vultures at the end of the street are doing.

A lot of turkey vultures, perhaps twenty of them, collect around the far end of our street in the afternoons. We've seen them on our afternoon walks several times now, flying low just over the pine trees. At first we thought something must have attracted them by dying, perhaps a deer shot by one of the farmers. That could have happened, but none of them seemed to be landing anywhere, and I do not remember such collections of vultures around the dead deer we did find some years ago (apparently the farmers here can shoot deer on their land regardless of hunting laws and often do so for population control. They leave the bodies to rot).

It was late in the day when we'd see the vultures, less than an hour before sunset, and I'd heard that turkey vultures use communal roosts, they don't just sleep wherever they happen to be at the end of the day. I didn't see how the birds had time to fly off to somewhere else to roost before they lost their light, so I'd guessed that they had established a new roost on our street. Now, I'm sure.

I went for a walk by myself right at sunset, and I saw the vultures, but I didn't just see them flying around. I heard groups of them taking off through the trees, as though they had been perching together but had flushed for some reason. They circled around and then vanished. I spotted another group sitting in a tree, four of them, and then saw them joined by a fifth. Another group flushed and flapped and vanished. Most of the trees there are loblolly pines, growing thickly together, and it is hard to see the big birds. They just blend in. I think dozens of them could be in there, collecting as the sun heads down and the light yellows, then getting ready to sleep as they sky turns pink and red above them.

Or will they sleep? Do vultures sleep all night? How much do they sleep? Maybe they just sit up and think about things? I think they are pretty, when they fly, the way the light shines through their feathers...the naked heads are a bit of a downer, but you can't see the heads from a distance. I admire vultures' bigness. And they are sleeping at the end of our street! The new neighbors!

I'd gone out walking with plants on my mind, and I had my bag full of field guides and magnifying lenses and everything, but I got rather distracted by animals. I passed the one cut-in from the creek, where a few dilapidated boats quietly rust, and startled a great blue heron into flight. When I passed the second cut-in I saw another great blue heron, likewise flying away from me to the west, exactly as the first one had done. A small group of ducks near the intersection with the main channel flew also. I couldn't see the ducks themselves, only the bright ripples of their wakes, and I could hear their winds and their cries.

After I finished watching the vultures for a bit, I continued on and walked out down the farm lane as far as the little bridge over the creek. It's the only really good place to see the sunset around here, and today was a good sunset, as though Jackson Pollack had gotten all enthusiastic with the reds and yellows. Skein after skein of geese, flying low, in messy, shifting, interlocking V's flew over, honking, flying east to west, from the pond in the old gravel pit out to Newport Bay, where a lot of them sleep. Small, chirpy birds, some kind of blackbird, maybe, flew over, too, much lower, heading upstream, I don't know why. They went very fast. The water was very calm, the tide high and slack.

I noticed tracks in the sand and spend a while drawing them and following them, but I couldn't figure out what gait the animal was using before I began to seriously lose the light. Reluctantly, I went home. As I was walking away down the farm lane I heard a complex moving whistle above me, low and pulsing, and moving overhead faster than I could have run.It only lasted a few seconds. More birds, perhaps? Otherwise the evening was so quiet I could hear the blood moving in my own ears.

My friend, I do not know what to say to you these days, this blog notwithstanding. There are many things I have in me to say, but I don't know which things you want to hear about. I think of you often. The new year begins on something of a melancholy note for me, though I cannot name the source of the feeling. A vague discomfort...perhaps it is only the short days and a bit of dehydration. I hope you are well.

The tracks belong to a large raccoon, I decided.


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