Good night, moon – and birds

'Goodnight Buzzards' may not have the same ring as 'Goodnight Moon,' but maybe it should.

It may not work as a bedtime children's book the way Margaret Wise Brown's "Goodnight Moon" did for my own son and countless other children. But after watching turkey buzzards settle for the night on a neighbor's property, I'm tempted to pen something along the same theme for a young audience not yet prejudiced against the big carrion eaters.

Harry, the neighbor, recently clued us in about his nightly guests, and last evening Charlie and I walked over to see for ourselves.

Rounding the corner from Bethel Lane to the busy commuter artery that Harry's home fronts, we saw the sky eddying with the dark spirals of more than a dozen of the large, graceful birds.

At the epicenter of the action were two towering white pines, whose ample branches seemed poised in the calm, windless evening to receive the flock.

We stood on the opposite side of the road for a wide-angle view, chatting with a neighbor in her front yard. Jill shivered slightly and headed back inside, admitting that the big birds' nightly ritual spooked her a bit. We saw no sign of Harry or anyone else watching, appreciatively or not.

The turkey buzzards ignored the traffic thrumming between us as they began to claim space in their dusky arboretum. When the road fell silent for a moment, the silken rustling of feathers and boughs wafted down. They were soothing days' end sounds punctuated by more cars and the buzzards' own squabbles over wing room.

A constellation of dark forms would populate the tree only to break up as the birds bickered and lifted off, as if from great slow-motion springs, to circle and regroup.

When this had happened three or four times, Charlie and I began wondering if we might be spooking them. After all, the buzzards had had plenty of time to inure themselves to the white noise of the road, but two stock-still humans staring up at them?

We backed off, electing to walk home through friends' yards and a woodland path rather than more directly along the road.

The birds began to settle down again as we distanced ourselves, and then they rose en masse when we turned to watch. I could almost imagine them shivering as Jill had.

From the edge of the woods, invisible against the trees, we turned once more. The buzzards settled down yet again – one by one by one – silent and almost formless shapes in the deepening dark. The trees fell and remained motionless at last.

Good night, buzzards.

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