Turkey Vulture’s Message & A New Course Offering:Remembering Our Place in the Sacred Circle of Life


On my latest road trip up the west coast from California to Washington, I kept noticing turkey vultures in the sky. I’d never given much thought to them and often mistook them for birds of prey, but it was pretty clear that they were going to be my companions for this journey.

Turkey vultures are from the family Cathartidae, which include condors. The name comes from the Greek (κάθαρσις) katharsis, meaning purification, cleansing or clarification.

I had just resigned from my high school teaching job after 11 years, and while I was inspired by the community of teachers and students, I was


too preoccupied most days to do the work that was calling me. When people asked me what was next, I’d say that I was going to work with Mother Earth, but beyond that, I didn’t know.

Turkey vultures often work in cooperative communities for scavenging success and social interaction. Their extraordinary sense of smell (rare for birds) can detect carrion over a mile away. They also have good eyesight for spotting dead or dying animals. And they play a vital role in helping with decomposition.

This journey was part of an ongoing effort to sift through what was important to me. It had been two years since I’d made a formal commitment to Mother Earth and two years to summon the courage to break away from a “secur


e” life. I knew in my heart that this lifetime was about more than accomplishments and acquisitions. I was stepping into the unknown and learning to open my senses to the messages from the natural world.

A group of perched vultures is called a wake and a group spiraling up to gain altitude and ride the thermals is called a kettle because they look like water coming to a boil. And I understood this energy in my own decision to change paths. The play between the grounded vigil and the effervescent flight, sometimes as high as 20,000 feet, reminded me of the interplay between being rooted and uplifted toward the light, like the trees I’d sat with in the rainforest and what I hope to nurture in myself.

I camped at Usal Beach on the Lost Coast for the