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The Turkey Vulture

I’ve been cycling quite a bit this month. I try diligently to ride five days per week (weather being the wild card) over miles and miles of somewhat neglected asphalt.

One can’t ignore the road kill.

Out here in corn country, there’s quite a bit of carnage along our back roads. Each corpse leaves an impression as I coast by. Some sights are sad, indeed, like the two young raccoons expired side-by-side. Family tragedies are always harder to bear. The possums and raccoons generally have it the worst. I imagine the blinding lights and roaring engines that seemingly appear from nowhere wreak havoc on a midnight forager’s brain.

There are oddities, too. A stretch of road alongside a flooded field was a graveyard for, literally, hundreds of frogs. There must have been a dark night mass migration. Why? To what purpose (the end, after all, was evident)? There was nothing more than a strip of suburban homes on the other side. What did the frogs seek? Was it something truly worth dying for?

And there was the turkey vulture.

I rarely see turkey vultures ‘round these parts. They generally roost farther south. Came to learn that the population is growing by double-digits in northern Illinois. I’m glad for that. I find them intriguing. From the neck down, they’re gorgeous. And they’re large, gliding on wings spanning six feet. They soar effortlessly surfing updrafts, wings forming a graceful “V.” They don’t exercise those wings much, opting to be kites instead. Their plumage is of earth hues, soothing and subtle. From the neck up, well, it’s a different story. Their heads are feather free. One recoils from the mottled, wrinkled skin and impassive eyes. The visage is sinister and...well...they won’t be winning any beauty contests...ever. And I marvel at the mysteries/creativity of adaptation. What good are feathers on the head of a carrion-eater who sups with his head buried deep in entrails? Ugliness is next to cleanliness in the vulture world. We humans often favor beauty to the exclusion of all other considerations. Vultures are more pragmatic...and they soar magnificently.
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Last summer DW and I were cycling near the location shown on the cover of this link (the Princeton canal path)and passed a person with a telephoto lens taking pictures of something. Curious, we stopped and he showed us one of the bald eagles mentioned. Beautiful.

When we vacationed in Alaska there were many, many eagles fishing in the streams. They actually sorta looked like vultures. Not as majestic as the one on the ride.

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