Imaginary jobs: Augur

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “No, I don’t want to be part of a dynamic team in a fast-paced environment”? You’re not alone! The recent Great Resignation was swiftly followed by the Great Scramble to Find a New Job, and by the universal realization that looking for a new job is less than no fun. But we are here to help! with a (hopefully) ongoing series of jobs you might not have realized existed (perhaps because they never did or have not for centuries). Find something to suit your skill set!

Part I: Augur

The crows in my backyard make the strangest noises: throaty, urgent, with just an edge of rudeness. They’ll flock in the trees in my neighborhood all day, these crows, calling to each other, calling to me, trying to tell me something. It’s not just what they’re saying, either, it’s the way they fly as well, it feels studied, with a pattern and a purpose. It’s quite dramatic and beautiful. And it’s all around my house, circling my world. Of course, once I venture outside of my house, beyond my block, I realize that they’re all over town behaving strangely, these crows. It’s Autumn, they’re in a tizzy.

But as long as I’m sitting in my own home, searching for meaning everywhere, it feels as thought they’re speaking just to me. I passed a man who was talking to some friends in a truck idling in front of his house. He said that every morning, when he steps onto his porch, he sees the vulture who is nesting in the abandoned house next door, and the vulture is staring down at him, watching his every move. It doesn’t bode well for his day, he fears. And maybe if he believes it, it will come true.

I’ve been studying the calls and flight patterns of birds, lately, because I’m applying for an exciting new job. I want to be an augur. I want to take the auspices. ‘Auspices’ is from the Latin auspicium and auspex, literally “one who looks at birds.” I look at birds! All the time! Every chance I get.

It’s a stressful job, I know, with a lot of responsibility, but I feel up for the task. My duties, as an augur, will involve studying the flight paths of birds, listening to how they sing or call, identifying patterns and directions, determining the kind of bird, and whether it flies in a group or alone. If a flock of birds takes into the air all at once, in a confusion of movement, in certain waves, with small sure speed, like an explosion of fireworks, I will know what this means. If a lone bird soars far above the clouds in great lazy circles, I will understand what that bird is telling me, because I will take the auspices. I will decide what is auspicious.

Of course the job of an augur is not to determine the future, but to decide if a path already begun upon is the right path to take, if a plan of action is pleasing to the gods. And the gods show us this on the wings of birds, the delicate, powerful, inexplicable, beautiful wings of birds. And this is where I think I would shine as an augur. Because I always think birds are beautiful, I love all of their calls and songs, even the ones not famous for their beauty. I like the sparrows chattering so loudly they’re shaking the quince bush. I love the catbird’s sarcastic call and the starlings’ circus whistles. I love the birds with dusky feathers as well as those with jewel-like plumage, even the vultures. Practically anything a bird can do seems like a happy portent to me, except maybe flying into a window.

So if you want some good news, you want to feel hopeful about a project you’ve started or a journey you’re taking, come to me. I will read your auspices, I will watch the birds busy in your back yard, feeding in your garden or floating dreamily high above your house, and I will find encouraging signs there. And if you believe them, they may come true.

Do you have an imaginary or outdated job you would love to do? A job you wanted as a child from some misheard line of poetry, like catcher in the rye? Do you want to tell us about it? We’re welcoming essays for the Imaginary Jobs series. Send submissions to magpiesmagazine@gmail.com.

Allegory of Air, by Jan Brueghel the Younger

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