There are only two reasons to see buzzards circling, gliding, stacked like moving mobile pieces with invisible strings in the air. The first is that there is a thermal and they are simply having fun. Or, at least, I imagine it would be enjoyable to ride the air like it were as substantial as the ground beneath my feet. I told this first reason to my little brother as we walked, shoulders hunched beneath our packs away from town. The stack of buzzards slowly descending towards the ground as we distanced ourselves from them.
“What’s the other?” he asked.
“Hmm?” My mind had lapsed in its attention, a dangerous thing.
“What’s the other reason for the buzzards?” He pointed up and I winced, never good to point at a bird, especially a buzzard.
I nodded buying time to think. Questions work well for that, too. “Do you know what a group of buzzards is called?”
“Nope, a wake.”
He wrinkled his forehead the way he always did when thinking hard. “Like not asleep.”
I shook my head. “No, like when someone dies and people come. They call it a wake.”
“Like a funeral.”
“Something like that.”
I could almost see the machinery of his mind trying to piece things together, but he was still too young, thank whatever deities remained. Soon he’d be old enough to know, but not now. I tugged my sleeve lower to cover the new bandage around my forearm.
“So, what’s the second reason for the buzzards to circle like that?”
I tried to laugh, but it only came out as a dry cough. “I’ll let you think on it and tell me, okay?”
It took him more than two miles with the buzzards barely specks of black against the late morning sky before he figured it out.