Thunderbird Encounter

Thunderbird Totem

Thunderbird Totem

The Native Americans of the Southwest have a legend about an enormous bird of prey. It rode on the gusting winds of storm fronts; a harbinger of the primal forces of lightning, wind, and rain. It’s called the Thunderbird. It figures prominently in Indian artwork and can be seen adorning pottery, jewelry, rugs and muscle cars.

An avian noted for it’s size and strength it can easily snare a child in its razor sharp talons. In some stories it has been know to grab a buffalo calf then fly away, outlined by flashes of lightning and the noise of thunderous wing beats along with the terrified scream of its prey.

My story is how I managed to see one. Not by Shamanistic ritual or cryptozoological exploration, but by driving to work. What can I say? I lead a charmed life. Not winning the Lotto charmed, more like getting struck by lightening charmed. And yes, I’ve been struck by lightning-in my basement. But that’s a story for another time.

The day before the actual sighting is where this story begins. I was driving home from work, enjoying a fine summer evening. I noticed that there was a huge black shape soaring around in a farm field on the opposite side of the road.

I figured it was a pilot who flew his homemade ultralite planes all over the area. I never knew his name, I called him Gargamel. His Da Vinci like duct taped contraptions reminded me of the hygienically challenged, Hogwarts failing smurf foe’s flying monstrosities. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him flying a cat powered zeppelin or bike-o-copter.

This shadowed form was the size of a small plane, but I would have sworn the wings were flapping. This met both the cartoonish and improbable propulsion of the man’s work. Defying both the laws of aerodynamics and death’s snapping jaws. I didn’t give it a second thought, just shrugged and drove on.

The following day I drove to work down a winding country road. I took this scenic route often. Enjoying both the view and the chance to tease certain car chasing farm dogs. A stop sign signaled the midpoint of my ride. While I was stopped I took in the view, noting the huge purple thunderheads blowing in from the north.

Just then a huge shadow slid across the road. I figured Garagamel was buzzing my car. When I leaned out my window, however the sight that greeted me was like a punch in the gut. Hanging on the wind was the biggest bird I’ve ever seen. My mind had a hard time taking the sight in, I really wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first.

It was about fifty feet over my car. Jet black feathers with violet showing up in the oily sheen reflecting off them. It had a wing span of about twenty feet, pin feathers jutting out from the wings like spider legs. It had a blunt beak with serrations on the side, glass clear eyes and a crown of feathers jutting off the back of it’s head. It’s talons had to be five inches long.



I wanted badly to get out of my car, however the hind brain voice of survival told me this would not be conductive to living. . It hovered on the strong winds above me waiting, I think, for me to be daft enough to leave my vehicle.

At this point the dog previously biting my tire bolted away, drawing the raptor’s attention. It flapped it’s wings which sounded like wet rugs being shaken. As the dog started clawing at the door to be let in it drew nearer. The screen door popped open a crack and the dog scooched through tail between it’s legs.

The bird then tried to land in a tree, but it wouldn’t support the massive weight. It flapped, straining against gravity. Finally, the wind picked up and it snapped out those massive wings and took to the air. I watched it glide with the storm out of sight and back into legend.

This was back before cell phones were a mandatory piece of everyday life. So photo or video proof was not to be had. It didn’t leave a feather or a print. And no tire biting dog corpse was available for forensic examination. Just one confused man and a cowering dog both touched by something greater then themselves.

I never saw it again, but I would do almost anything to do so once more. For that half a minute it graced my life with it’s presence, anything was possible. The mold of my mundane life was smashed. A wider view was made for me that day, one in which myths flew in front of oncoming storms. And just as quickly as it came it flew away with the smell of ozone and lit by lightning. 

Author: Goth Thom

Goth Thom is a sculptor with tribal tendencies, a razor sharp mind, and great enjoyment of friends, weapons, and sculpture. He lives in the wilds of Northern Ohio.

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  1. R.I.P., Gargamel. Still sad to find out he actually did go out the way we both figured.

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    • Oh, and terrific storytelling!

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    • Go figure…

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  3. I love that you named that guy Gargamel, haha.

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