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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 “secure” 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 last two days of my trip. The black sand beach, slate colored ocean, thriving tidepools, diving osprey, and bushy-tailed fox, were all offering their own lessons, but the turkey vulture was still the main teacher who was never out of sight. As I packed my car to leave, I spotted a few of them silently soaring along the slope of Redwoods. I felt in my own body the micro adjustments to the wind and the changing topography. This trip had been cathartic and purifying, and I sensed the peace of being in Earth’s sacred rhythm. I understood that like these magnificent birds, I would find my way if I kept to my strengths and stayed alert to what is calling me.

And now, months later, I am finding my way. This October, I’ll be offering a six-week virtual nature-inspired writing course through Olympic Mountain EarthWisdom Circle (OMEC) entitled Remembering Our Place in the Sacred Circle of Life. My intention for this class aligns with OMEC’s mission of helping people connect with their own and the Earth's deep mystery to recover the passion that heals us, and our world. I hope you will consider joining me. You can find more information about the course, including an outline for each week and the reading list on the OMEC website.You can also contact me by email with any questions.

From my heart to yours,

Christina Burress

OMEC Committee Member

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