A Guest Post by Maria Ede-Weaving
I have a love of birds of prey and buzzards are a particular favourite. This passion intensified when I lived on the Isle of Wight for four years; it is home to an abundant buzzard population; sightings are frequent and often at excitingly close quarters.
At one time you could not hope to see buzzards in that part of the country. They have a history of persecution and their numbers had declined but thankfully they are now rapidly rising, so much so that the south has seen their return. I remember my first sighting many years back in Cornwall, mesmerized by an enormous bird sat on a gate post wryly observing me. I fell in love then.
The fine spring weather in Glasgow today brought my thoughts back to a spring day on the Island and a memorable encounter with buzzards. Nature so often speaks to us when we need guidance and she seemed pretty insistent that day with regard to the wisdom that those wonderful birds of prey can convey. Personally, when I see them they remind me to lighten up, to cost the thermals of my own life with a greater ease and skill; taking in that bigger picture but remaining joyful regardless of what that picture might reveal. Watching them circle high in the sun’s light or rising in a vast, clear sky is an inspiring sight, a message from life that its blessings surround and uphold us always; that life is about play and fun too.
I had just been turned away from the Garlic Farm Restaurant. Despite its relatively remote setting, the farm’s café was full. The farm is situated in a beautiful valley at the foot of the downs, not far from Newchurch. That day the valley felt very sheltered and peaceful and looked perfect in the spring sunshine. Driving up the narrow lane, the banks glowed with celandine and primroses; the leaves on the big willow at the farm’s entrance just starting to unfurl in the warmth.
Being turned away proved fruitful. Returning to the car I spotted a buzzard low above me, spiralling in that languid manner that is such a characteristic of their flight. It soon became apparent that the buzzard was not alone. To my absolute joy there were five, circling low; close enough to see the stunning patterns of their feathers; near enough to witness their beaks opening, their mewing cries filling the silence of the valley. They performed the most elegant of spiralling dances, at times weaving intimately between each other, then breaking free and rising on the currents, layered in successive circles, one above the other, drifting free in parting directions only to be irresistibly drawn back together. Each time I assumed they were leaving, they lazily spiralled down to fly over me yet again, the feathers of their wing tips spread like fingers, the grace and ease of their cruising so beautiful and moving.
Falcons are like Spitfires – they have speed and energy; in comparison, but buzzards are B52 Bombers, rumbling along at an unconcerned pace! They always appear so unfazed, completely laid back even when defending territory. I once watched a peregrine hunting on Culver cliff, the impressive speed and agility of its stooping exhilarating to watch. It was eventually interrupted and forced to retreat by the subtle intimidation of three buzzards who launched into view over the cliff edge. To me they appeared on a Sunday stroll, their wing spans stretched into cruise mode. However, the peregrine found them threatening enough to move on.
Buzzards hunt from perches. They can be quite lazy hunters and would just as willingly scavenge on carrion. It would seem then that their coasting of the thermals is not necessarily vital for their survival with regard to food; for me they look like they really enjoy it. It’s fun! It’s thrilling! I like to think of them up their gazing down upon all this beauty, feeling the strength and movement of the air carry them, loving every moment, relishing how great life is.
When life is challenging us – when we are tackling our own difficult or painful issues – it is easy to become a little stuck in one gear, our range of emotions stiffening and becoming less flexible. After years of feeling our defenses up and ready for the fight, we can forget about the simple pleasure of having fun, of playing, of being silly and merely enjoying ourselves for no other reason than because it feels good. Our emotional lives can feel a little like being trapped in a Werner Herzog or Bergman movie: intense and introspective. Such moments of inner searching and confrontation can be tremendously productive and necessary and yet it’s important to let such periods go when life calls for us to do so. There can be a great comfort and familiarity in angst; sometimes it feels a whole lot easier to achieve than joy, and yet it is so vital to experience the balance and the contrast. Perpetual crisis does not reflect the flow of life; we can’t stay stuck in one emotion any more than we can stop breathing; if we try, we do damage to ourselves. Pain teaches us about compassion, depth and empathy; joy and happiness are all the more powerful when we have known the sting and cut of pain. Without contrast we become emotionally one dimensional, missing out upon the diversity of feeling and experience that life offers to us all, no matter what tragedy might befall us upon the way.
During the tough times of these last few years, I have been so guilty of getting stuck myself, letting the feeling tone of sadness or crisis become my default position. It feels good to have this challenged by the presence of others; it feels good to challenge it myself. It takes practice; it takes remembering and reclaiming the things that give us joy, throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into them until we stop thinking and just enjoy.
My beautiful buzzards know the wisdom of timing, their entrances always perfectly synchronous. And so with wing span fully and ecstatically stretched, the sun upon me, the currents beneath me…