Chance encounter with turkey vulture brings moment of clarity
by Peter Lacerenza
I was nearly attacked by a bird of prey over Easter break. In what seemed like an impossible two-second span, I found myself chin planting on an exposed boulder after having fled the advances of the angry turkey vulture. I had unassumingly stumbled upon its nest while hiking up a formation, and Mother Vulture was none too pleased to see me. I have a mild fear of winged creatures ever since my sister’s boyfriend told me about this bat that had flown into a girl’s mouth.
After crashing so gracelessly down the rocky incline, I could only manage to peel myself off of the boulder with the help of my friend. As I tried to pull myself together after the initial shock, the pain coalesced in my upper arm; a trip to the emergency room would later reveal that I had fractured my humerus. I also managed to take out a chunk of my chin, a down-to-the-bone gash that required twenty some-odd stitches. To make matters worse, I’m sure my vulture friend indulged on the fleshy tidbit of my face as I winced through our thirty-minute death march back to the car.
On the ride home, I stared out the window, more or less defeated. It was the first time that I had ever felt endangered by the natural world, even though development has culled it into the occasional park or reservation. Sure, I have been tossed around in the ocean, and have suffered from some rather unpleasant encounters with cacti, but never had I actually felt vulnerable. As much as I cursed the bird, the fact of the matter was that nature had won: human instinct, territorial buzzards, and unforeseen treachery had managed to get the best of me.
But when I thought about it more, it was clear that this certainly hasn’t been the first time that nature won. Although it has always been a force that humans have pitted themselves against since the dawn of time, it seems to have become increasingly difficult to remember the fact.
Maybe it is a certain post-modern mindset that does this. Though not an ascertainable development, issues of weather and climate have become little more than an inconvenience; something that might prevent us from going about our routine lives. At no time in history has this reality been the case, especially in light of recent climatic developments that are taking shape across the country, and the globe.
In the past year alone, we in the United States have had to cope with record droughts, and equally devastating wildfires, two scenarios that undoubtedly resulted from 2012 having been the hottest year on record. While such topics are certainly not the most enchanting—it is especially difficult to meditate on Mother Nature’s tough love from the comfort of one’s climate controlled home—they are tangible reminders that we are not playing a waiting game with climate change. The truth of the matter is that it is already here, happening before our very eyes, whether we like it or not.
In October, the unthinkable seems to have happened. Perhaps as a taste of what’s to come, Hurricane Sandy forcibly put the “City That Never Sleeps” to a watery rest, inundating the subways and subverting the lifeways that we have come to not only need, but expect. While we might be prepared for such an event the next time around, managing these crises is not so much a matter of FEMA funding as it is of cultural conscience and remembrance. We can pursue quick-fixes for now, but as strategists look to minimize the effects of what the NOAA is predicting to be an even harsher summer across the nation’s midsection, lobbyists in the United States are looking to run the Keystone XL pipeline right through it. When one considers that petroleum products from Alberta will have three times the amount of greenhouse emissions per capita than oil or natural gas, presenting a “game over” situation for climate change, this seems like self-defeating goal.
North American energy independence is certainly more attractive and patriotic than relying on foreign providers, but there is something perverse about having the province of Alberta prostituting its precious tar sands on television ads as the Plains region prepares itself for what might possibly become the second Dust Bowl.
Perhaps it is something about our contemporary mindset that makes it difficult to internalize the gravity and interconnectivity of these matters. I sometimes find others—myself included—underestimating the ramifications of their actions, simply based on the fact that there will be some unforeseen technological panacea down the road. But before we get too busy prophesizing about the Martian colony that will save us in the event of a Wall-E type doomsday, we must realize that this will only happen after some Reaganesque initiative delivers us to the Star Wars era.
If anything, we are at a point in which we are most susceptible to climate change. Even though we are able to set forth meteorological projections and attempt to sustain ourselves in an increasingly complex world, we are truly only as good as our power grids. Technology has certainly made for a lot of advances in the field, but it has stripped us of our ability to deal with climate on a human level, and has made us vulnerable in the wake of disasters. While we might make it to Mars one day, it has taken rather unfortunate encounter with a turkey vulture to realize that it is better that we not disturb the nest.