Tag Archives: crows

observation, psychopomp

Observation 5: Food for Crows

It started with trail mix. Since I’m allergic to nuts this is something that I shouldn’t eat, but laziness convinced me that once almonds and cashews are weeded out, the chocolate chips and sulfur-infused cherries that remain qualify as dinner. The nutritional takeaway is somewhere between Snickers’ bar and frozen pizza, and my stomach is still appalled.

The pile of pieces and parts was impressive, and grew as I pressed my own dumb again and again. I couldn’t toss them into the compost bin without feeling more California than Oregon, and since my bank account says I don’t live anywhere at all, they needed to be used.  As an experiment I left a handful of nuts in a wooden bowl in my yard, assuming they’d make gourmet fare for foraging squirrels or nutria (Portland’s ROUS, for Princess Bride fans). Between compost and the sloppiness of humans, such creatures have grown accustomed to feasting on our food anyway. Ever see a bird flying with half a sandwich? It happens.

The bowl attracted the attention of one crow, who watched me very carefully from her perch on a nearby satellite dish. She watched as I watered outdoor plants, fussed with cats. She watched me right through my kitchen window, and while she monitored my activity, let the neighborhood jays feast on the contents of the wooden bowl. Crows are smart; I don’t doubt that they regularly use jays as their personal tasters. This crow also had an eye on my cats, who took turns arranging themselves in the window to try out their best bird calls on the jays. They’d have to toss aside several IQ points to try that on crows. Portland crows are big beautiful birds, and they gather in great noisy roosts all over the city. The average crow is basically larger than a cat, so the only cat this crow was interested in getting a read on was the Maine coon, Scooter, who lazily occupied an entire Adirondack chair. It doesn’t take extensive inspection to surmise that this largest cat is also the gentlest: a great big Buddha who once got an abscess because of his habit of capturing a bee in his jaws, holding it until it tickles, and then letting it go with a squeak. Really. He sulks when I kill house centipedes, and fully supports my capture-and-release spider program. Not a threat. The crow flew away.

The next day I rose to find three crows waiting for me, each arranged around the nearby satellite dish, looking into the kitchen window. I took a handful of nuts from the stockpile, and placed them in the bowl. They cawed, then took the cashews, leaving the almonds for the jays.

Now every morning starts more or less the same. The youngest crow, an adolescent who seems committed to the family unit (or maybe the crow equivalent of an adult reading comic books in his mom’s basement) starts squawking. Her squawk is different from the full throated “caw” of her parents, and she won’t quit under I wander outside dazed and toss a handful of nuts into the bowl. Note: they have to land in the bowl. For a few days awhile back I just tossed them into the yard, and the crows looked at me like I could no longer be trusted with nut distribution, and left them all to the jays. Logically one could deduce that the nuts are easier to see in the bowl from the air, but I think that’s how they know for sure they are for them and from me or my partner, and therefore safe. Or maybe they like the ritual. Within three minutes of proper bowl placement, all the nuts will be gathered, while at least one maintains watch on a wire. The adolescent will up her squawking game, furiously flapping at the crow with the most nuts stored away in her jaws. This crow will then mash up some of the nuts on the ground, gargle them, and regurgitate them into the mouth of the adolescent. This usually quiets her down. I keep an eye on the cats the whole time, as I don’t have the budget for the emergency room visit that would likely be required if one felt ambitious, and put a large bowl of water out on especially hot days for impromptu baths. We are friends.

They return the favor in unexpected ways. We used to have a neighbor who would amuse himself by rising early to stand on the sidewalk and play the same six bars on his trumpet, over and over again. Consider for a moment the tidal wave of curse words that would trail from my partner’s mouth in response to this unwanted wake-up call. The crows were equally unamused, and decided to demonstrate their feelings by dive bombing him one day, right in front of us, as we stood outside. The trumpet player screamed. Can you high five a crow? There are ways.

This is not my first friendship with crows. Awhile back I decided that I needed to get okay with handling dead things, and so I started lifting crows that had been hit by cars off of the roadway before they were pancaked flat. Crows mate for life, and form elaborate communities; when a crow is struck by a car, the full family sometimes assembles nearby to honor the fallen friend and support the widow. The ruckus is amazing. It is hard for me to imagine witnessing a friend’s death, and then watching him get brutalized again and again. The first time I lifted a crow from the concrete, the noise of outrage was deafening; when I placed the body on the green, they fell silent. I can’t say whether they understood what I was doing, but the next time they were silent the whole time, from when I lifted the dead remains to when the body touched green. I did this maybe a dozen times before I relocated to a neighborhood with fewer crows, but while I lived there I felt close to the crows, and that they remembered. It felt special, but I know that they don’t just remember me.

There have been many experiments to test the intelligence and memory of crows, the most famous of which involved men in masks who captured and tagged a small number of crows. The masks were then passed on to different people, over and over again, to see if the crows remembered the faces of the men that captured them. The crows not only remembered, but word of the offense spread, and crows dive-bombed the wearer of the mask in larger and larger numbers. It’s good to be in with the crows, and is quite bad for your health to not be.

These crow friends of mine provide a sense of security. They alert me when one of the neighbors’ crosses the street, when the mailman approaches, when the morning is getting too warm and I need to wake up before I miss it. They gobble up the bits of loneliness that inevitably afflict anyone with the occupation (or preoccupation) of writer. And they provide their own answer to Alan Moore’s query of “who watches the watchmen?” The crows, of course. The crows are always watching, observing, recording.

 

 

daydreams, poems

recording of a fallen star

ghost of some other’s fortune.

the recording of a fallen star.

captured reflection reflected (neglected) ripple trick till the stomach’s sick. sliding high from the other side a self (not quite the self), lady in red (covered head), clucking from beneath her covering:

don’t go away stranger. stay a little longer, I’ve a daisy, another daisy twisted to crown and twirled tight around and begging beats for five-petal song. what are you doing with all this waiting, this tail-chasing, this mask-making? isn’t there some something-or-other called to uncover (discover), isn’t the sum some something-or-other, and you the only one with any math?

daydreams

Two Crows, 2:36AM (1)

2:36AM

Two crows on the fence, waiting.

They tell me: Listen.

I do.

Listen harder.

Am I dreaming?

No.

Perfect.

Listen.

Fine.

Triple-lock the door.

I peak through the blinds. Two crows on the fence. Still waiting.

Caw.

Do humans turn crow as purgatory, trapped observing the living with their kind-of-a-funny-stories and toddlers tied to harnesses and watch-checking clip-cloppers stomping concrete carpets rolled out to welcome rigamortis? Do crows bring death? DEATH, not scare-the-shit-out-of-movie-goers Tarot Death, where the card is played heavy-rings slow and the actress screams her curlers free before bolting from a candle-farm table glittered with moons and stars to meet piano-to-head closed-casket FIN. Not even real Tarot Death, where the hummus is surprise expired, or a cell phone falls into toilet and spares a happy unemployed the salty sulk of job offer.

And, okay this had better not be the Big Done, I’ve only just stitched the golden eagle to my crest, I’ve only now unrolled my scroll beyond the first few lines to reveal the big a-ha. You creepy trash collectors burdening my bins, what are you waiting for? What are you ready for? What do you know?

Caw.

Will their stink of death render me gothy, prisoner of cliché adolescent silken moon POEtry, liquid black eyeliner streaking white-washed sun starved cheeks, costume coffin bookshelf dark magicians Latin names red and gold print jackets internal juke box Death in June black metal Jay-Z? Different just like everybody else, symbol to the air Ra-Ra, subversive just like everybody else (as above, so below) I’m a pirate I’m a fairy I’m a witch I’m a Tim Burton movie I’m a fucking black stain at the picnic. Look how well we all match at the funeral, parasol stars with corsets clamped. Not a spot of dust on the top hat.

They’re waiting for you, Crows, in the graveyard, by the angel statue that sometimes weeps. They’re waiting for both Thought and Memory. Come as a set, come as you are.

CAW.

Well dammit, shit, for God’s sake, can I still read Rumi with your feathers in my face? Do crows fancy dervishes, whirling God intoxicated holy holy on earthbound playgrounds? Do they fancy Freyja flickers like me, twirling hair feet in air, Loki robbed and revenge plotting, deeper in the well for better sword crafting? Do black eyes seek amber mine as you peak through the blinds, do your feathers want my fingers, have your claws pre-drawn portraits? How did you find me? Did Odin send you? Tell me: how did you find me?

Caw.

They follow me and my bike five miles over the river.

Caw.

They sit on the wire while I wait for the bus, listening to an elderly man with a handlebar moustache (I name him Frank as all old men are Frank) tell stories about Belize and Coast-a-Ree-Kah to an Asian man half-listening between iphone glances. Frank sips coffee from an uncovered mug, like he walked out of the kitchen knowing his status as World’s Greatest Dad needed announcing exactly today. Ha ha ha, sip, ha ha ha. Crows?

Caw (Listen, Descendant of Fenrir.)

Frank lowers his cup and a droplet drips from lip, the concrete BOOM drums awake my hidden fur-lined ear.

(Close your eyes.)

Eyes closed (hear first, look later, it would be too much). Ghosts, nursery rhymes trapped in sidewalk cracks, spirits hobgoblining life from the nearly-living, prism locked reflections two dimensioned in humid air, at once alert to open. Yes. I can hear you.

Holy wow how’s it going she can hear did you notice she could too rah loo skippity skip skip hey she never loved me get me out of hello hi are you still listening ha ha hooray good to –

Caw.

This is not the stuff of bus stops. I should be nude for this amniotic slip and slide, this running up the rabbit hole. Bus arrives  my eyes dart to wire, amber to black, black to amber.

We will follow you. Twenty pairs of two, each two speaking as one. Caw.

At the top of the hill we’ll be waiting. Whisper when you ask of crows. Remember to whisper.

“Ladies first,” Frank gestures to the bus door. World’s Greatest Dad.

Whisper when you ask of crows. We’ll be waiting. Whisper.

Caw.