By Tom Poland
A searing, sweaty summer day … just as my friend leaned over to pick up his dropped keys, his glasses slid onto the asphalt and cracked. “Damn. If it weren’t for buzzard luck, I’d have no luck at all,” said he.
You’ve heard it. Maybe uttered it. Man sees the buzzard as a harbinger of ill fortune, a bird deserving pessimism, suspicion, and phobias. I plead guilty. Title my photos “Buzzard Luck.” One of two tenant homes burned, and the fire killed the tree, rendering it a fine bare-bones perch. My journeys take me past picturesque dead trees across Georgialina, and I see buzzards in them. Buzzards love things dead, trees included.
A burnt house and dead tree. Buzzard luck atop buzzard luck, and more abuse for a bird that keeps rotting carcasses from spewing out pathogens. The buzzard, what a hero, yet so many hold it in derision, deeming it evil even. Well, cart off that dead deer yourself. Pitchfork that rotten possum into yonder ditch. Drag off that greenish, gummy, curdling cur. Hold your nose!
We’d be in a fix without turkey vultures, which sparked colorful sayings. “All the buzzards will come to the mule’s funeral.” Heard that one? It means all the relatives will attend a rich person’s funeral.
Writers find the derided bird symbolic and thus the noble bird flew into Southern literature. In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, wrote, “They climbed up through rolling grasslands where small birds shied away chittering down the wind and a buzzard labored up from among bones with wings that went whoop whoop whoop like a child’s toy swung on a string and in the long red sunset the sheets of water on the plain below them lay like tidepools of primal blood.” —Blood Meridian
In “Under Buzzards,” James Dickey imagined buzzards in “heavy, heavy summer … tell me black riders, tell me what I need to know about my time in the world.”
These circling winged creatures have long fascinated me. As a boy I stared spellbound into the Georgia blue watching buzzards until dizziness took hold. Seems I saw more buzzards in my days of roaming pastures and fishing farm ponds. When I think of youth I see buzzards, hear whippoorwills, and taste fried chicken. Feathered all.
A few years back, down yonder in South Georgia, near Valdosta, I drove down a dirt lane and stirred up a wake of buzzards feeding on a wild hog carcass. A committee or volt, as some call it, burdened pine limbs as the wake fed and a kettle circled overhead. Most buzzards I’ve seen in one spot.
From my deck one afternoon I enjoyed the fragrance of a tea olive. Then lazily circling buzzards honed in on a house across the street. “Something’s dead,” I thought. Later they drifted afar but they gave me a notion, a story about buzzards that smell cancer and circle victims’ homes, perching on the roof as prophets of doom. If true, people would be aghast to see buzzards. “God, here come those black-feathered bald demons.”
Superstitions fly alongside buzzards. If you see a lone buzzard, make a wish before he flaps his wings; it’ll come true. If you see the shadow of a buzzard without seeing the bird itself, expect visitors. If you see buzzards flying on high, a storm’s coming and they aim to rise above it.
When I see buzzards, I see nature’s recycling of life runs on unabated. So, carry on you carrion-eating black-feathered, bald birds. Carry on and keep our Southland clean. Haunt our roadways. Circle in our skies, and if some woman eats your brown-spotted eggs as I’ve heard, more power to her. Maybe, just maybe, she’s found the antidote to buzzard luck.