I grew up in a big city where the only wildlife we had were pigeons, rats, and kids who broke windows with rocks.

On the way to school when I was eight, I saw a Cardinal and followed it. I went through alleys. I climbed fences. Lost track of time. Lost sight of the bird.

I was tardy getting to school. That’s a weird word, tardy. The only place you hear it is in a school.

But I knew why I followed the Cardinal, and felt no apology was necessary. To teachers or anybody.

It was wild. The closest thing in the city to a wild animal. If it had been a lion, I’d have been happier. But I took what I could find.

Now, after a lifetime of noticing birds and chasing them around, I realize that the city and suburbs are full of these wild animals.

Recently, on the way to work, I noticed a deer carcass at the side of the expressway. It had exposed ribs with shreds of meat on them, and there was the bumpy spinal column.

I figured coyotes, foxes, crows; all kinds of opportunists had been at work on this car-killed deer. It’s good to know there are animals in the night that make a living off such things.

As I drove further, I saw a Turkey Vulture down on the roadside grass before the next exit. It might’ve been resting there, its belly full of venison.

Aw, hell. I swerved onto the exit ramp.

I had to get to a meeting downtown, something about making TV commercials, something pretty important. But screw it. I wanted to see this vulture up close.

When I circled back to the spot where I’d seen it, nothing. The big old vulture must have spread those big old wings and took off.

But it had been there. It made the city and suburbs a better place, less humanized. A little more like a jungle movie, my favorite kind.

Okay, no vulture. I headed back. But, a U-turn wasn’t possible, so I was forced to drive miles out of my way.

I realized, when I finally got on course and was speeding toward the city skyline, that I was going to be late for my meeting.

I thought, hey I’m going to be tardy. Screw ‘em. Nobody uses that word any more.

*     *     *

This appeared in April on North American Birding. Meant to put it here, too, but have been tardy about that. Until now.

2 Responses to “Tardy.”

  1. Shawn says:

    I’d rather be late for any meeting than late for a Turkey Vulture.

  2. Marc D. says:

    “Tardy” is a good story. Here’s how I imagined the fallout:

    Teacher: Why were you tardy?
    Mike: I was watching a cardinal.
    Teacher: One demerit for being tardy. A-plus for story-telling.
    * * *
    Client: You’re late. What happened?
    Mike: I took a detour to watch a turkey vulture.
    Client: Never heard that one before. Great excuse. That’s why I hired you – you’re so creative.