Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Concert For Crows

A couple of years ago the crows moved into our neighborhood and the mockingbirds moved out. I've always had a fondness for corvids, and my growing intuitive consciousness that birds are dinosaurs made these noisy new folks a point of interest for me.

How many intelligent species live on Earth? It depends on where and how and why you draw the line -- but there are a lot of solid definitions of what makes a person that crows fulfill quite neatly. Language, tool-use, and some level of self-awareness actually do count in my book. They are people so far as I'm concerned.

This winter, I found myself regarding them as aliens, and once I thought of them that way? I noticed them noticing me, and I decided that as a science fiction writer, I had a professional obligation to establish contact.

I began by paying attention to them. And then, when they noticed me, I made it plain that I saw them. I began to greet crows with a, "Hello, crow."

They seemed interested. It's hard to tell, but it seemed as if there was one particular individual who had taken to me.

Then I began to drop a little bread here and a cracker there -- after making contact, not as a means of attracting them. I'd set it on the ground, gesture from it to them, and wait. Most of the time, the crow would come down and stand near the food while keeping an eye on me, maybe giving me a seemingly-friendly croak or two.

A crow started getting in the habit of sitting on the roof of my studio and cawing to the dogs from time to time. If I went and sat on my deck, the crow would fly into a tree in the neighbor's yard that would allow us to look at one another comfortably.

I don't know why I'm using the past tense for an activity that's going on right now.

If I bring a musical instrument out on the deck and play it? The crow hunches up and fluffs its feathers as if protecting itself from the cold or going to sleep and stays that way as long as I play.

So this has been going on for a while, and things are starting to get a little weird. A few months back I was walking down the street and there was a group of crows on the sidewalk. They started to prepare for flight, and I said, "Hello, crows," and they settled down and let me walk right through them.

We have a lot of folks in our neighborhood who are from rural Louisiana or Mexico, and  I started wondering if I was doing my reputation any harm by consorting with crows in public. To folks who still believe in witches and spirits and sendings, it might not look too cool...

For instance, from time to time, a crow -- possibly the crow, larger than most and a little disheveled-looking -- will follow me down the street a ways, flying in front of me and perching, then doing it again after I pass. Two weeks ago, a crow doing that dropped a bread crust at my feet.

I mean, no way, right? I have no idea whether present-giving is inside the realm of possibility here.


This afternoon, I heard bird feet on the studio roof. I step out and play some crude blues and a crow pops up at the edge of the roof, then flies to the tree and listens while I play.

A little while ago, it happened again -- feet on the roof, go outside and play a few notes, and the crow appears, and I concertize for a while. (Paper Moon, Sloop John B, Union Maid, and Let The Sun Shine In on baritone ukulele, if you're curious.)

The whole thing seemed so much like a close encounter that I went inside to tell the missus, who was gratifyingly weirded out. When I went back outside, there were three crows on a building at the end of the block. When I came out, two of them hid, but the third did some weird bowing and neck extending while croaking softly. I greeted it in a friendly fashion, and went into my studio.

When I got upstairs and looked out on the deck, the three crows were perched on my privacy wall, right there. Waiting for me. Two of them flew into the neighbor's tree, while the third -- who I think was my big slob buddy -- stretched out toward me and made these very soft, endearing croaks, black old scaly feet all fidgeting off the edge of the roof as he or she scrabbled toward me. He or she, probably she given the size, let me get within five feet before taking off. I suspect the possibility of physical contact in our future.

I grabbed the tenor guitar -- ADad tuning, which is more fun than you can believe -- and went out on the deck. All three crows were in the tree, seemingly waiting for me, and I did some improvising in major and blues scales, which is something even a bassist can do on an open-tuned instrument. The two smaller crows sat still and listened, while the big one engaged in a series of twists and contortions that had the branch it perched on bouncing around in an amusing fashion. It really felt like having an audience.

I'll have to try and get some pictures. As I've been typing this, they've been flying about and cawing to one another.

The missus is both amused by and concerned about the situation, which is admittedly pretty weird. I can hear a crow on the roof right now, and that one crow knows if they perch on the railing they can see me at work.

What exactly have I gotten myself into?


pongacha said...

A wonderful story, but be careful those crows don't peck your eyes out.

Neil Vogler said...

Did someone say Crow Whisperer?

Sean Craven said...

Pongacha, if Conrad Lorenz was telling the truth, crows are very careful around eyes. But he did have a crow regurgitate into his ear in an effort to feed him, filling the cavity with minced worms right to the eardrum.

And Neil -- the trick with this stuff is just thinking to try it in the first place. Life is full of unexplored options.

Sean Craven said...

Now that I think of it, I think Lorenz was dealing with ravens. Where's my copy of King Solomon's Ring?