Coming out of the cold
I was biking down the B-Line, an old rail trail now for bikes and running, Wednesday afternoon, enjoying the first rays of spring sun. It was the kind of weather where it’s just cold enough that you still need a jacket, but if you move enough, you can do without the hat and gloves and maybe even get a little sweaty.
As I reached the end of the paved part of the trail, which runs north-south, I turned east to feel the afternoon sun on my back. It was delicious.
Then, as I biked back up to my co-working desk, I caught sight of a bird — a giant bird, wingspan as tall as me — perched 20 feet up in a tree, maybe 200 yards from the trail. It stood with its wings completely stretched out — for so long and so still that the thought crossed my mind that maybe it was dead, and had gotten caught in the tree, suspended perfectly upright and wings outstretched, maybe the product of a hunter’s cruel joke.
Then, I realized that the bird — probably a turkey vulture — was soaking up some of that springtime sun, just like me. I noticed two other vultures in the trees, just north of him.
Turkey vultures have a dark, brooding air. They lurk and skulk with heads so much skinnier than their bodies that they sometimes remind me of contestants on that terrible reality tv show, “The Biggest Loser”. I once leafed through a People magazine in the supermarket and saw before and after photos of winning contestants, and was startled at their transformations. I look at these turkey vultures and wonder what sleek, stealthy birds — maybe a raven? — could be hidden underneath all that mass.
The vulture finally started to move — first, head to one side, then the other. Then one wing began to fold in, hesitantly, weighing the fatigue in his arms against the pleasure of coming out of the cold. His friends continued to hunch, folded inward and hearts collapsed, looking at the southern Indiana landscape with the kind of blood-thirsty opportunism that scavengers have in their faces, coldly masked as indifference towards the not-yet-dead.
I’ve spent so much of this winter in Bloomington trying to stay warm. My downtown apartment leaches heat through its exposed brick, running up our electricity bill so much that we started setting the thermostat at 66 degrees Fahrenheit to hemorrhage less heat — and cash.
I realized a few weeks ago how sick I was of being cold. How the cold made me hunch my shoulders up and collapse my heart, even when I wore a down sweater — indoors. Even a trip to the sauna at the IU gym only warmed me up for a few hours. By the evening, I was cold again, huddled in my down sleeping bag on the couch.
There’s something about being cold and lonesome. But now that the sun is coming out — and I’m also teaching yoga classes and finding more community as well as exciting opportunities outside of town — I feel my heart opening up a little more. The indifference and skepticism I’ve sometimes succumbed to when walking in town is softening into a slightly warmer disposition. I walk around a little taller, with my shoulder back and chin up — gaze forward and eyes open, even if what I see not quite yet bathed in the southern sun. But it will be soon.