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Walking with Vultures

From the BookShelf Writers

The BookShelf Writers consist of four Estero Bay women who have been writing and critiquing together for over five years. For more samples of their work, please visit www.the bookshelfwriters.com

Each issue, this column will feature one of the BookShelf Writers: Debbie Black, Catherine “Kiki” Kornreich, Judy Salamacha and Susan Vasquez.

March 1, 2024

By Susan Vasquez

Vulture flies above Morro Strand State Beach

When I was teaching elementary school, I would often ask students to classify nouns and verbs. Thumbs up for a word that had a positive feel, thumbs down for the negative. Every once in a while, one might pop up with a neutral reaction, but most words we use have a good or bad reputation. Think about it. Bedtime? For my students, always a negative. Cake? Thumbs up. Vulture? Ask most adults, the reaction will be negative.

I want to form my own opinion about vultures. Wherever I walk, there they are. I may be hoping for an eagle-sighting, but the truly reliable are the vultures. You can count on them everywhere in nature. They glide by me, sometimes far up in the sky, sometimes quite close. Nature gives me more than enough information to show the importance of these creatures. If I valued living things for being dependable, these vultures, even though they are present at the end of other creatures’ lives, would be given high scores. If skill is what impresses me, I can watch them command an entire section of the sky on my walk, claiming the air before they claim whatever brings them to the ground. 

That, of course is the issue. The service they perform in nature is yucky. We don’t like to be reminded of this necessary job as we walk in the beauty of a calm beach day. But their service is important, and we shouldn’t blame them for being given the job of refuse collectors. They scavenge. So do I. I pick up shells, then discard them. I collect a smooth rock, use it for a mile or two as a worry bead, then place it at the trail’s end. Maybe vultures pursue habits that many think of as grizzly, but can’t we just as easily thank them for keeping our trails and walkways clean? There’s a good side to picking at the bones of life, a sort of nature’s way to keep house.

I look forward to jaunts with local vultures. Perhaps because I walk where many creatures live – and die – vultures capture my attention each day. I love to see the long spread of their wings as they hover over the sage. I had never known the effortless grace of their flight before my walks on the beach. They make me take notice with a persistent presence and a command of the salt-sprayed fog. 

Beach weather can change fast. Even when winds come up and blow the sand, I walk and vultures glide. The flying sand doesn’t seem to change their daily romp along the coastline. Nor mine. Over many years of walking, we have become trailhead friends.

As I walk, they seem to play in the sky and frolic on the land. Maybe they don’t see things that way, but as I have come to know these friends with feathers, I see their antics. They share with me their freedom by dipping and swaying with air currents I will never explore. Once, one came so close, I heard the push of a wing as the vulture coasted inches over a dune, just one more trick to make me wish I could be as playful in the air.

Walking with nature can be surprising, but my walks with vultures have taught me lessons about what we must see and accept. I am grateful for their company, even when vultures are doing what comes naturally. My beachside walks have treated me with a new respect for the word “vulture.” Thumbs all the way up.

Susan Vasquez has taken walks in many of the world’s most interesting spots, but especially enjoys her strolls around Estero Bay. She is the author of four books, blogs at One Small Walk and is a member of the Bookshelf Writers, four Estero Bay women whose writing can be found at  http://www.thebookshelfwriters.com

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