Some thing has dragged a carcass into my path. It isn't the first corpse I've seen by this pond. The carp grow huge here and I marvel at the long skeletons strewn along the shore as I run by. Are the bodies discarded by disappointed fishermen or the prize of a lucky critter with an appetite for stinky fish? Perhaps the victims simply flop out of the water, get caught up in the rocks and suffocate.
One thing's clear, something had been snacking on this one, its bones are shiny clean, an ivory comb baking in the sun. What type of animal takes such care with its meal, not a single morsel left clinging to bone? A coyote with impeccable manners? A polite fox with a tiny fork and knife? I imagine a groundhog in medical gear, carefully conducting an autopsy with surgical precision.
Up ahead a big black bird drifts down from the sky, circling a tree instead of landing. An eagle?
I keep running, the bird's arc turns as his flight traces the coast of the pond, heading in my direction.
Our trajectories are locked together as if we are daring each other to collide. Who will flinch first? So big. A hawk?
Could this bird be responsible for the bones I had just jumped over? I imagine this dirty bird hunched over the fish, pulling on guts and spitting out scales.
Closer, close enough to see its face. The bird has a greasy red head. I realize I am playing chicken with a turkey vulture.
A shadow on my right sails ahead and I realize the vulture has a friend. The pair are searching, circling the area for easy meals. I begin to wonder if I am in danger. Ahead the vulture isn't flinching, getting too close for comfort.
Suddenly three ducks scatter from the shore to my left, splashing and squawking, and I practically jump off the trail in fear.
The vulture flies over without even a twitch of a feather or cluck of recognition. The bird didn't even have the dignity to chuckle at the silly runner beneath him, that big man stumbling across the gravel, sweating with fear and exhaustion. The vulture imperceptibly tilts its wing and rises above to join his partner. They circle and swoop and I keep huffing and puffing down the trail.
For me long runs are retros, a chance to replay my life, weigh my decisions, and dream about what challenges I want to tackle. I can't help but contrast this encounter with that eagle last December. When I watched a mighty eagle scare up a flock of geese it gave me the courage to leave my last job. Cool. What do I learn when I am humiliated by a dead fish and a ragged vulture? What's the metaphor? What is the universe trying to tell me this time?
Reality is the story we tell ourselves, a personal interpretation of our circumstances. We choose the eagles and vultures, the people we assign as heroes or villains in our mental movies. From a distance the birds are indistinguishable but as their shapes come into focus we have the choice to paint their heads with the whiteness of loyal partners or with the greasy-red scalps of our adversaries. Choose the flight of the hero, resist the urge to see your reflection in the bones, a victim pulled apart by predatory forces.
Thanks for reading. Every Saturday I type out ideas like this, pulling juicy morsels from the bones of my imagination. If you liked this meal, follow me so you can catch the next one. Stay creative.