Saturday, April 18, 2009

WAKE FOR A WAKE

One of the collective nouns for a group of sitting turkey vultures is wake—as in “a wake of vultures.” Today, unfortunately, the word can also be applied in its more common usage in regards to the favorite sunbathing spot of my buzzard neighbors who roost across the river. The photo at the top of this posting was taken yesterday morning. Here’s how that same spot appears today…notice the empty space? Alas, the vultures’ preferred sun-greeting site has been cut down. Much as I hate to admit it—and as bad as I feel for the loss to the buzzards (and the handiness it was to me for taking their occasional photo)—the old sycamore had to go. The huge tree had been dead for several years. (There’s a rumor of intentional poisoning, but only speculation without proof.) You can’t tell it from the photos, but the tree actually stood between two houses, which are themselves no more than a dozen feet apart. An ancient, massive sycamore—easily six feet across at the base, maybe more, with a crown, where the vultures liked to perch, seventy feet above the base. The main trunk divided into several sub-portions about twenty feet up, and in typical sycamore fashion, numerous large limbs extended outward and upward in every direction—including over the tops of both houses. Make no mistake…this was a dangerous tree given its location and weakening structure. The tree's weight would have been measured in tons…and a considerable number, at that. Not just a tree that might just drop a big limb and damage a roof, but a tree that could quite literally crash down and flatten two houses—easily killing anyone unlucky enough to be inside at the time. Still, I hated to see the old monarch go. Short of actually counting the growth rings, I wouldn’t know how to estimate that sycamore’s age—though it was certainly in the hundreds of years. There are numerous sycamore around here and along the river; I can probably see a thousand without moving from my front deck. But this fallen giant was the king, the “big daddy” sycamore of the neighborhood. I wish it could have been saved…but cutting it down was the right thing to do. Yet I do wonder what the vultures will do. I’ve never understood why most mornings they flew across from the island, past dozens of equally suitable sycamores—huge, tall, washed by morning sun—to sit in this particular tree on my side of the river. I'm sure they had their reasons. But when the light and heat source is located 93 million miles away, why does a few hundred feet one way or the other make a difference? I wondered if they missed their favorite sunning perch this morning. So I looked and saw they were scattered in clumps or two or three birds among various trees on the island side of the river. (No need or application for a collective noun there.) And maybe they're just as happy not having to move so far for their morning sunbath. Buzzards are rather inscrutable. Nevertheless, today my black-robed neighbors and I—each in our own way—might just hold our personal memorial service for the fallen sycamore, a requiem botanica. The river which for centuries supplied water to the roots of the lamented giant can whisper a dirge…while a threnody might be furnished by the wind, which once swayed the great tree’s green branches. And come sunset, as the white-throated sparrows sings his vespers, in good and proper Irish fashion, I'll give the vanquished tree a wake.

24 comments:

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Home from work. phew. Nd to see your amazing photos is wonderful. And did you know that a bunch of crows is known as a "murder of crows"? Odd, huh?

And as to you question as to what you refer to me as? I so appreciated every compliment. :-)

Question? Wonderin why it is you don't seem to meander over to my blog and leave a comment. Is it that you don't care for the content, I am just curious is all. It is fine either way.

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Yes…and did you know it's a "sloth of bears," and a "siege of herons"? Geese on the ground are a "gaggle" but when in the air, a "skein." I love these old terms and have at least one book on the subject. Stuff like this is what makes the language rich.

You know…I have no idea why I don't comment on your blog; actually, no excuse. I do read it, as I do others and never comment there either. Don't have a problem with the content, either. It's just habit, I guess. And herewith, I promise to do better…and you feel free to harass me if I don't, okay?

BTW, I'm glad you're okay with my comment. I did mean it as a compliment. I appreciate your spirit and heart and responses here.

Lynne said...

They say that change is good for us, it shakes things up, make us think differently, more creatively. I wonder if that's true for other species as well.

Ok. I had to google threnady. I've never heard that word before. You can bet I'll work it into conversation at work in the laboratory tomorrow!

Gail said...

Hey Grizz-

Phew, glad it was okay to ask and you were way cool with your reply. I will be looking for you at my place in the days ahead. (wink-wink)

I never heard any of those other words for groups of whatever. And of course you have a book on such things - I would have been surprised if you didn't. :-)

The sky here right now is ominous. Deep gray landscapes across the sky atop a lighter gray back ground, a peek of burgandy and dark steel blue spattered here and there - the trees are still, filled with birds and such settling in noisliy for the night - it is a symphony of impending darkness. I absolutely love it.

No need for TV, just me out on the upper deck, a glass of buttery and oak chardonnay, watching night fall.

Love and peace
Gail

Jayne said...

Several blogs I've read today have featured turkey vultures. :c) Who knows why they choose to roost where they do. A shame about the old sycamore, but as you said, dangerous to leave it as it was. Just last week, with high winds, we had an area family lose their 18 year old grandson when a massive oak fell onto the house and over his bed. Very sad.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

As you might guess, I often loathe change and fight it tooth and nail. Sometimes. Occasionally I astonish myself (and those who know me) by up and embracing change. Whether this is due to undiagnosed multiple personality disorder or recessive common sense, I couldn't guess. (Depends on which side of the fence I'm on at the given moment.) I do know the tree is gone and the vultures will have to get over it and sunbathe elsewhere. Also, that it had to come down for the safety of those living under its deadfall.

"Threnody" is a sort of lamentation. I know the word through music. I suggest the next time you burn a casserole or dent a car fender, you announce to your significant other your intentions of going elsewhere for a quiet threnody. The look on their face is apt to be priceless.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

In the days before the Internet and its instant ease of Googling any subject and coming up with a truckload of research (some of it even correct) one had to have books and also make the occasional foray to libraries in order to learn such esoteric things. (This would have been during the Pre-Mesozoic Information Period…well before your time.) As anyone who's ever helped me move can—and will!—attest, I have books. Lots of books. Lots and lots and lots of books. And at least one on the subject of collective nouns is James Lipton's (the guy who now hosts "Inside the Actors Studio") "An Exaltation of Larks." I believe I also have a couple of older volumes on the same subject.

By the way…I loved your description of the gathering dusk, especially "it is a symphony of impending darkness." Great line!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

I'm becoming a real fan of turkey vultures since moving here four summers ago and find out there was a buzzard roost directly across the river from the cottage. I wave and greet them cheerily each morning when I go out to check feeders.

But that dead sycamore was a real and ever-increasing danger. Sooner or later it would have toppled—with no place for it to fall except on those two homes. I'm glad it has been taken care of, in spite on my affinity for buzzards and ancient trees.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Here we call a lot of rooks a parliament of rooks.
It is always sad to cut down a tree but sometimes it is inevitable. We are about to do the same and I hate it. As to whether the birds care - maybe they feel like us - when a tree goes it leaves a gap in the view for a while and you miss it, then one day you find your eye has adjusted and things are alright again - and of course the surrounding vegetation often does wonderful things when it has a bit more light.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…


Now see, I've always heard "a parliament of owls" and "a murder of crows," an "unkindness of ravens," also "a conspiracy of ravens."

But my reference book does indeed list "parliament" for rooks, and also the alternatives, "a clamor of rooks" and "a building of rooks." (BTW, I think there's been at several mystery novels with these collective nouns for their titles. I know I've read a couple.) I do love these old ways of description, many coming from the countryman.

Trees must come down sometimes. There's just no getting around it. But I hate to see the old boys go…and could never be a logger. I could, on the other hand, and so paradoxically, fell my own trees for building. Just as I'm perfectly willing to kill my own chickens, butcher livestock, hunt or fish and dine on the results. I don't enjoy the killing part, but I it keeps me honest, connected to reality, grounded in truth and the truth of my actions. There is no reality in going to a grocery and buying a shrink-wrapped steak for dinner—no equating this sanitized "thing" with a once-living creature.

I think it's important to never forget where our food and shelter materials originate. A loaf of bread requires a living plant and a farmer who'll plant the seed, nurture and harvest the crop, winnow out the chaff; then a mill and another man to grind and turn these wheat "berries" into flour; and another to bake the bread. So simple, a loaf of bread…yet so much has gone into its making before you spread it with jam and have it for a snack.

KGMom said...

On the subject of collective nouns for birds--I am convinced someone made them up, thinking of the bird the noun described, and then just having a bit of fun. Exaltation of larks--can you think of a better collective noun.
Sometimes, I have had fun coming up with my own--since I love puns. Not for birds, mind, but for various occupations. A rant of journalists? A shout of preachers? A grope of proctologists (sorry about that one).
On your vultures--perhaps it was the view! It's always location, location, location.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I'm sure many of the "cuter" ones are modern. Of course they were all made up at one point or another…but some of them are pretty old. A gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, a shoal of fish.

I like the idea of your new ones for occupations. (The preachers one is especially good.). How about "a staggering of winemakers," a "wrenching of chiropractors," or "a hammering of carpenters?" (I could get into this!) For birds, maybe "a waddling of penguins." "A hammering of woodpeckers?"

giggles said...

Appears as though that tree was HUGE!! Hope there will be some good use of the wood of it....

Roll call: NEW! White throated sparrow! Nice sight compared to the house sparrow (of which we gratefully only have a couple)and chipping, which I like and we seem to have many of them.

Went on the second outing of the (fledgling) "PA Young Birders Club" (hopefully to be successfully modeled after the "Ohio Young Birders...") Rufous sided towee, red-bellied and downy, ruby crowned kinglet were the most notable... I confess. I'm more excited than some of the kids, I think!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

That tree was huge! A genuine monarch. I have a number of sycamore in my yard, and the riverine woods along here is filled with sycamore. The biggest one in my yard is five feet in diameter; the buzzard tree was six or seven—and that's the bole about five feet off the ground.

I have white-throated here, too—plus several other sparrows. The white-thoat may just be my favorite of all birds; certainly one of the top five or six. I love it so because it's the bird of northcountry trout waters. You here them singing back in the jackpines. Whenever I hear one, I'm transported to those sparkling streams— the sky is blue, the wind soughs through the Norways and balsams, and the trout are rising. All from a plaintive bird melody. Such magic…

"I confess. I'm more excited than some of the kids, I think!" Hey, too much excitement is wasted on the kids. Don't let them have all the fun. Get excited. Life and the adventures it offers ought to be exciting—if not, do something else.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

ya, that was a great line! :-) thanks for noticing.

My son has a million books too. WHen he studied in Prague, in teh Czek Republic for one year as part of the NYU's English Scholars program opportunity, we helped him ship books over to Prague because he is simply lost, alone, unable to live without his collection. Thank goodness he did narrow it down but goodness, all the way to Prague!!! And Back!!!! Oh what Mom's do for their sons huh, well, you know. :-) You know indeed.
He is an amazing young man - gentle, and all good things -

Hey, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. :-) Nothing like me complimenting myself ey? Heehee

Keeping it humble now - nah, I think I'll perch on this proud moment for a bit - yup, I am perched - like an eagle or a crow or an owl or a bat, - wait, then I would be upside down, or a finch, - again - upside down, or a wood-duck - gottta love that wood-duck!

Love and laughs
Gail

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Still sipping that chardonnay, are we? ;-)

Yeah, I know about moving books. Everyone I know knows about moving books…my books. But like your son, I get hinkey without my books around. Have to have my book fix. I know some people live without books…I just don't understand how—or why.

BTW…if you were perched like a bat, you'd be asleep.

Gail said...

Hey Grizz-

I laughed right out loud at that list line!! :-)

and ya, just a glass or two - mmmmmmmmmm.............

Sleep well-

Peace and love
Gail

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I will…thanks. But I gotta get up early and be off for some early morning business. No birds or squirrels or fun stuff tomorrow AM. Just feed my goose and go.

Carolyn H said...

It's hard for me to see an old tree go. Partly, it's because they've been around for so long. Partly it's because what replaces them is usually something non-tree and manmade. But as you say, sometimes a tree simply has to go, and as this one was already gone, it was time to take the shell down. The vultures will find another place. i hope it's nearby so you can continue to see them.

Carolyn h.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

This huge old tree simply had to come down. No matter how much you care about such trees, this one was going to fall—either with help or on its own. And located as it was between two houses, if on its own, likely taking one or both buildings out. Since a person who's very sickly and house-bound lives in one of those in-jeopardy homes, chances were if the tree fell naturally at least one person—perhaps several more—would have been killed.

We haven't really had but a single sunny day here since the sycamore came down, so the vultures haven't had time to pick a new sunning perch. I hope its within sight…but will just have to wait. Who knows how buzzards choose these things?

The Solitary Walker said...

Mmm... What's the collective noun for a group of bloggers I wonder..?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

You know, I ought to be able to come up with some appropriate insultingly factious witticism…but I'm shocklingly incapable, possibly due to insufficient caffeine.

"A blustering of bloggers?" Nahhh.

"A ranting of bloggers?" Not universal.

"A prattling of bloggers?" Huh-uh.

"A blathering of bloggers?" Well…

Nope, gotta have more coffee.

The Solitary Walker said...

Strangely, 'a blather of bloggers' was the one I came up with too when I thought about it in an idle moment this afternoon...

I also thought of some much ruder, far less complimentary ones, which will definitely remain unprinted!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Great minds work alike…

(I had a ruder list, too.)