7/2015: I leave my driveway in rural Wisconsin around noon, taking my dog on a walk. I get to the edge of my property where I had re-planted a white pine that was going to die. The tree is now thriving. I pause there and look back at my house. I see four low flying turkey vultures flying in tight formation, gliding over my home about 150 feet or so away. This is quite an unusual sight, and it immediately occurs to me that it could be an omen. Because I feel it could be a death omen, I decide it is not an omen unless the birds fly directly over me. This seems highly unlikely as it appears they are going to circle back. But in the very moment I make the decision of what is or is not an omen, the birds turn as if on cue and fly straight toward me, still in tight formation – like four fighter jets. This feels numinous, and I’m more than surprised. I watch them for a moment, realizing that this is an omen. Still thinking it could be a death omen, I decide I’m not going to just stand there and wait for judgment. They’re closing fast as I turn and begin to walk away from them. Perhaps a second or two later, I see a shadow, and easily calculate that the birds must be directly overhead. I decide to confront the omen and look for them in the sky. They are nowhere to be seen. I glance in all directions and they simply are gone. I am dumbfounded.
I consider myself to be an alert observer, a practitioner of mindfulness, and highly discerning. I realize that what just happened has no explanation, or if it does, I am not in a position to perceive it. And that may be the point. I take my dog for a walk, and when I return I call my friend Larry, telling him I believe I just saw a death omen. While Larry is not in any way psychic, we are lifelong friends and he accepts that these things happen around me. He suggests that the omen could be for my dog Maya. (Note: Maya died in 12/2016 at the age of 14, so probably not.)
About a week later I take this experience to my shamanic group, also relating that I am losing weight. (At 6 feet 6 inches in height I weighed 139 pounds – about 25 pounds off my lifetime normal. I was referred to the Mayo Clinic 10/15 to 12/15 for unexplained weight loss, at which time I weighed 137 pounds. They diagnosed sarcoidoses in my lungs and esophageal candida, which is quite rare and they indicated was a result of dysbiotic gut flora.)
The four of us, including myself, all saw that Vulture was a power animal for me and not an omen of death. Vultures have very powerful digestive systems, and Vulture tells me that he is the bird of the sun.
One month later, 8/15, I decide to go for short walk. I knew it would rain but decided not to bring an umbrella. I can see the storm clouds gathering fast and decide to head home, hastening to get back to the private road that I am responsible to maintain. I feel all will be safe walking on that road, only .2 mile from home. It is raining, the wind is blowing and the clouds are low in the sky. About halfway back, between two stands of balsam fir (very near where I lost sight of the four vultures), it happens. First, to my right, a flash of light and an immediate LOUD clap of thunder, then immediately to my left the same thing: a flash of light and that immediate and incredibly loud clap of thunder. I’d been focusing on my spirit helpers and on Presence, and feel protected. I ask for an explanation, and get: “You’ve been seen by the weather spirits.” It feels like an invitation.
Again, one month later (9/15) I’m dog sitting across the street from my house. The three of us are enjoying the outdoor sun in their large and open fenced-in yard. A single vulture circles low in the sky directly east. I get that strong numinous feeling as before. I think: “It’s so unlikely that the vulture will circle me. That would be another omen.” The vulture moves in my direction and does circle directly over me, very low in the sky. Both dogs bark. I look reflexively down at them for just a moment, then look back into the sky. The vulture is gone. Again – how is that possible?
I reason that there must be some perceptual sleight of hand going on, and if I saw this from the proper angle it would probably make sense. But I only see things from my angle. That’s the whole point of our experience – it happens from our perspective. When I take a shamanic journey on this, I’m told that this is reminiscent of the scene from Dances With Wolves where the totem wolf is there and then gone, like Power calling out to me.
I’ve made it a life’s work to read the symbols of dreams and omens, and often it comes easily. This time Power, or Soul, is making me work. I’ve made changes, tightening my routines (and non-routines). Impermanence is a friend. Of course I will die, maybe sooner than later. Our time is precious.
I’m writing this in 4/2018, so I obviously have not died (yet). Last summer I saw my pulmonologist, who was concerned I hadn’t seen him in over two years. He told me he did not feel the Mayo Clinic’s diagnosis of sarcoidoses was solid, that there were “other” possibilities. He said he wanted to see me every three months. It seems clear to me he is concerned about lung cancer. I have not, and probably will not, go back to see him. Sometimes the miracle is not getting the disease, at least not until you’ve done what this life is hoping from you.
Last winter I was down to 130 pounds, and could easily have been rubbed out by harsh weather. I had difficulty, but winter was very kind – way above average temperatures and little snowfall.
I’ve gained about 12 pounds. Since that first vulture sighting, I’m much more aware when one or more are in the area. In Saint Croix Falls, I lead a weekly meditation group at the library. There are often large numbers of vultures. For example, last Tuesday, even with winter snow still heavy on the ground, there were about 50 vultures on the tree limbs across the street from the parking lot. I feel light and solid watching them. Turkey vultures remind me of the sun and of my impermanence at the same time.
Enough time has passed so that I feel comfortable writing about this, and I have permission from the spirit of Vulture to do so. The message seems to be that a genuine sense of impermanence can exist simultaneous with the light and vitality of living. I am old enough to live or die (36 remarkable years with chronic pain), and should act accordingly. It is an important area of exploration. Impermanence has pushed me to explore more deeply into shamanic mind and living with awareness of awareness (conscious of consciousness). The alert field of stillness. Seeing the Beloved in all things. This is easier to do when I am rested and more naturally vital. But I am not always well-rested, and my Life will challenge me with a variety of circumstance. When I am able to accept difficulty as “it just is,” then I am…
We are often a culture that ignores both death and the opportunities of radiant living. I intend to live well until I cannot, avoiding a life situation where I have become helpless and only live at the expense of my family and the profit of institutions (death may be easier than dying). We do not have enough models in our culture for a good death. Our institutions often ignore the poor shamelessly and feed off those with the money or social status to pay for extended care (or perhaps the government will pay for them). The patterns we make are important. Every life weaves a pattern into the world and beyond that can inspire kindred spirits without regard to space or time. I expect Vulture will assist me with my ongoing intentions.