Buzzards and Following a Lost Crowd

Growing up on a farm, I learned to watch for buzzards. One or two soaring overhead is no cause for concern but when you see a kettle of them, swirling around, you begin to grow uneasy, wondering if they smell a wild animal or one of your cows. A buzzard will sniff out a dead animal then begin to circle, both to determine the location of the carcass but also to signal to others that a meal has been found. Soon, three, four, twenty will begin gliding up and down, around and around.

I only recently learned that they are terrible fliers but excellent gliders. The images around Halloween depicting one sitting on a dead tree is with good reason. Apparently they are so clumsy with their giant wings that they seek out trees with no foliage in which their wings could become tangled. But give them good air currents and they can glide for six hours with little need to flap their wings that span six feet. They can also smell carrion from over a mile away…I’m glad I do not share that ability.

One day I watched ten or twelve of them swirl about and, suspending what I know about them, got tickled at the idea that maybe the first buzzard got it wrong. Maybe he had a cold, or she was simply enjoying the feel of the wind, but in their aimless circling, others saw the call and joined in the flight. Then others spotted them from far off and took up the cause, wondering when the lead bird would dive to dinner. What if they all were circling around and around, all assuming that the first bald headed giant had a clear sense of why they were there and they were content to follow.

Once when my brother and I were young, we were standing to the side of a large crowd of passersby. I don’t remember the where or the when but I do remember my brother nudging me and saying, “Watch this.” He then stepped out into the middle of the moving crowd, stood still, and looked up. Pretty soon, people walking by looked up too. Most of them looked as they continued moving but a few would stop and pause, trying to figure out what had captured his attention. I watched as around him people shifted their pace and attention because of his own. They didn’t want to miss whatever it was that seemed so interesting.

As I observe the current cultural and political patterns in our country today, I can’t help but think of the buzzards that day or my brother standing in the midst of that crowd. I am beginning to think that the boy who cried wolf no longer is a good parable for us these days. I see “news” outlets and activist groups on either end of the spectrum cry “wolf” again and again with their followers happy to join the panicked, whirling circle. Regardless of whether or not a carcass awaits, people are delighted to merely be caught up in the anxious action of looking for it.

When my brother looked up to nothing and others joined him, they kept moving out of a fear of looking stupid. Today I think people are afraid to keep moving out of a fear of looking like they aren’t joining in. The validity of the action is not as important anymore as the action itself. We aren’t afraid of missing out. We’re afraid of being left out and misjudged because, “if you aren’t with us, you’re against us!”

Honestly, it’s a bit exhausting to watch. I think I’ll start looking for the buzzards who sit alone on dead limbs, away from the rolling kettle of others. I like a bird who has learned to trust her own nose more than the soarings and wanderings of others.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Michele Millholen says:

    Great perspective, Mary! I think I will also choose the tree. The “buzzard behavior “ really mirrors what our culture has embraced and appears to be driving a lot of the “for us/against us” way of life we are now living. Maybe observing from the tree and not blindly following the crowd can be a way to stay above the fray and help us to act not out of fear but out of love.
    One last thing — I learned to trust my own nose by listening to and trusting God who is wisdom and truth.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!


    1. That still small voice is worth the work it takes to hear it.


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