A friend was telling me that one day they lost power at their house. When they checked outside, they found one very dead, very fried crow lying on the ground beneath the transformer box. Within moments, a flock of crows flew overhead, dipping and wheeling and squawking loudly. In the next five minutes, several more waves of crows did the same thing. Our friends had just witnessed a crow funeral, a not-uncommon occurrence in the corvid world. Perhaps their raucous squawking is equivalent to a tearful human farewell, but scientists are sceptical. They suggest that crow families are visiting the scene of such events so the older crows can warn youngsters, “See that, Junior? That’s what happens if you don’t watch where you’re going.” Or perhaps, they’re trying to identify the dead crow so they can be the first to take advantage of its death: “Look! It’s George. Hey, didn’t he just get married last year? Here’s your chance, Joe. His woman’s going to be on the lookout for a new mate.”
Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that crows vocalize loudly and often, and for very many reasons. A study identified 23 different kinds of crow calls, among them the assembly call (“Hey everyone, come here!”), the dispersal call (“Let’s get out of here,”) the scolding call (“You shouldn’t have done that, you’re going to be sorry,”) and the squalling call (“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”). There were many other call, not yet identified. Add to that various dialects, regional expressions, and family codewords, and a person could probably spend a lifetime researching and writing up a Crow Dictionary.
Crows also love to mimic. One story in Gifts of the Crow by researcher John Martzluff tells of a crow, probably one which had spent some time with humans. This crow flew about the neighbourhood calling, “Here boy! Here boy!”, accompanied by a piercing whistle. Dogs came running from all around and gathered at the base of a tree on a college campus where the crow perched and lectured the dogs until the bell rang. At that point, the crow began flying, with the dogs in hot pursuit, amongst the students who were changing classes, Students tripped over running dogs, books and papers went flying, and mayhem spread all around. When the dust settled, the cycle repeated itself. This crow was using his communication skills to enhance his fun and games.
The crow will never be accused of timidity, nor will she be silent when she sees something that needs noticing. Her vocalizations save crow lives, teach crow lessons, spread joy, call for help, give warnings, enhance play, to name just a few.
|My crow, like the American Crow, has a blue tongue. Her beak is wide open, and she has lots to say.|
Now the crow, so to speak, comes home to roost in my own life. The crow illustrating the title of this blog has a stream of beads coming out of her beak. When I created her, I wrote, “She is a symbol of my desire to have something to say as I grow older, and the courage to say it.”
What, in practical ways, does this mean for me? My words – and yours too – can, like the crow, give warnings that may save lives, or the planet; words can teach lessons and spread joy. Words can be used to gather like-minded people together and to call them to action. When I see a wrong that needs to be righted, when I become aware of injustice, bigotry, and reckless destruction of our world, can my words make a difference? The crow does not hide behind timidity or lethargy. Do I?
I do know that to speak up is not always comfortable or easy, especially for women who for much of their lives have been told, “Nice women don’t make waves, don’t stir the pot, don’t raise issues that are controversial.” But as I was thinking about all this, I came across the poet Mary Oliver’s words in her piece “What I have learned thus far.” She says,
“...Can one be passionate about the just,
the sublime, and the holy,
and yet commit to no labor in its cause?
I don’t think so.
...all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of –
indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.”
Powerful words, indeed. For now, I pour my words into this blog every week, believing that it’s the best way for me to labour at my passion.
But is there more? Perhaps the crow has more lessons to teach. I am listening.