February 28, 2008

Stone me

If, instead of heading south from Ang├╝es, you go north towards the Sierra de Guara, you're more likely to see birds of prey than storks - kestrels, eagles, vultures, sometimes even sitting on a telepone pole beside the road, sometimes circling, not far above, their cloak-like wings astretch. I was once standing on a hill in Abiego, admiring an olive grove below, when I saw the shadow of an eagle sweep over the olive trees: it seemed enormous and practically on top of me, and for a second, until it left the grove behind, I almost expected to be carried off, like Sinbad by the roc.

I have never seen one, and quite likely never will, but in the Sierra and in the Pyrenees beyond them, there still survive a few pairs of Lammergeier, the bearded vulture or quebrantahuesos, shatterbones. These pick up smaller creatures and drop them onto rocks to break them open and gain access to their flesh. It's how Aeschylus is supposed to have died: not by being grabbed and thrown to his death, but by having a tortoise dropped onto his head from a great height, by a bearded vulture who mistook his bald pate for a stone.

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