To have one’s bones picked clean by vultures and live on, with wings.

While this reincarnational idea is more poetic than a statement of my personal future expectations, it is just one among many pondering points in an essay by Radford English prof Rick Van Noy. There were so many out-takes from the piece I am helpless to do justice in summarizing it. Find the essay in the archives of Appalachian Voices here.

For those like me–this includes perhaps a few Fragments readers–who have an inexpressible awe and respect for even the “ugly” parts of the natural world (spiders, snakes, and bare-headed buzzards), I highly recommend this piece. A few small bites from the author about vultures to whet your appetite, so to speak…

Vultures are “Nature’s flying janitors”.

“Raptors hunt with intent, while vultures, members of the stork family, wait for accidents.”

They fly in packs…”nature’s version of a street gang.”

“Their cousins bring babies, but they are the undertakers.”

Van Noy’s account of visiting the Radford, Virginia vulture roost with his children is predicated around what he sees as the solemn fact that his town is making great efforts to discourage over a thousand vultures from making their home near town. And it is not for reasons of health or safety that the masses feel such repugnance.

The author gives us a different view of these birds through the eyes and words of others who have watched and wondered about them, including Cormac McCarthy, Robinson Jeffers, and Edward Abbey. And after pondering the world of vultures with Van Noy, perhaps the next time you watch the dark shapes of these “tearers of flesh” you will hold them in higher regard than the squinty-eyed, sinister, sloop-shouldered cartoon caricatures you’ve harbored in error all these years.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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