Crow By Crow, non-fiction

Crow by Crow
by Joanna Streetly
from Crowlogue (a light-hearted collection of crow-inspired poetry and prose)
Postelsia Press, 2010

5:00 am
Another summer morning begins with a swoosh of wings, followed by the clatter of crowclaws on the cedar-shake roof above my sleepy head. The culprits click their tongues in a rolling stutter, before pecking at the roof—staccato, fortissimo. They are so near to my face that my eyes flinch, despite the wooden barrier between us.
“That’s it!”
Eyes closed, I leap out of bed, braining myself on a loft beam. Sore head in one hand, I pick up my crowstick with the other. The window jams, but I force it open and lean out, banging the stick against the eaves of the floathouse.
Go away! Leave me alone!”

Back in bed, heart thumping, I squeeze my eyes tight as if this will make sleep return. Instead, I listen—annoyed—to the conspiratorial oohs and aahs of crows who have merely retreated.

7:00 am
My first cup of tea. The morning water is pale and calm, moving out to sea without a ripple. The sense of calm flows into me with each breath of tea-steam. I stand in my kitchen, looking out of the window and I see two crows, black against the primrose-yellow railings of the Tuffie, our tugboat. Each crow’s feathers are fluffed out, their eyes are half closed, their beaks touching, and they look—dare I say it?—adorable. My stone heart melts; my feelings of wellbeing spread, in a grandiose way, to include fluffy crows.

8:00 am
As I wash breakfast dishes, one crow hops down from its railing perch and drinks rainwater from the small hole in the stern gunwale. I smile. Crows are always drinking here. Is this three-inch-diameter reservoir on their list of the ten best drinking holes in Clayoquot Sound? What is so special about the water—high iron content perhaps? A dash of rust?

9:00 am
My daughter, Toby, and I wander out to our floating garden to see how the brown rice lilies are doing. Every year I hold my breath waiting for the lilies to unfurl and take pride of place in my spring garden.
“Why are the flowers over here, Mummy?” asks Toby, pointing to a spot on the deck, two feet away from the lily pot. Sure enough, all four neatly-clipped buds lie severed and dull against the weathered planks.
“NO!” I cry.
A crow hops up to the highest point of my windbreak, tilts its head and regards me with a glittering eye.
“RAAH!” I yell, throwing all my rage and disappointment into this one cry, as I lurch toward the crow. It flies off, unruffled by my fury, but perhaps pleased with the overall effect of its vandalism.

11:00 am
Toby and I head into town by boat. On our walk up Fourth street hill, we dodge a round of wet, white crowfire from the tall alders overhanging the road. These trees are the daytime home of the Mainstream Mafia, a large crow-gang obsessed with divesting the Mainstream fishplant of fishfood. We keep a corvid eye out for trouble from above.

12:30 pm
We buy two cheesebuns from the Common Loaf Bake Shop and walk, paper bag in hand around the corner to our lunch spot. Swoosh, a shadow darkens my peripheral vision—a crow winging its way up the road. It perches on the hospital railing—casual—as if it’s waiting for visiting hours to begin. But there is no doubt that this bird has our paper bag in its line of sight. I dangle the bag in a come-hither fashion. The crow flies off, only to land even nearer our prospective lunch spot. Its glance is bold, impish. This crow will take whatever crumbs we leave, but its real interest is larger in scope. It wants the bag.
“Tell me Irish Grannie’s crow story again,” Toby begs. She loves the tale about my step-grandmother who had her jewellery stolen by a trained crow.
“It flew through the porthole of a boat off the coast of Malaya,” I say. “Robber crows were common back then. They still are, so watch your bun!”

1:00 pm
Lunch over, I roll up the paper bag and tuck it away. I refuse to encourage thievery. At the sound of the backpack’s closing zipper, the crow flies off and we wander into town, back past the Common Loaf. Up in the hemlock tree at the corner of the lot, two ragged young crows dip and sway on a bright green frond, their impossibly-pink mouths open wide as they beg the parent for a mouthful. I smile at the young birds’ persistence, admire the bright colours: foliage, birds, mouths, sky. This nest interests me because I watched the pair build it when the new bakery building was under construction—both projects ready by spring; prime real estate for both species. I’ve always wondered how the crows knew. Did they follow the proprietor, Maureen, up the hill from the old bakery, when she came to look at the land?

3:00 pm
Toby is in the cedar tree at St Columba church. This tree’s wide, U-shaped branch is alternately a pony, a pegasus, a seahorse. The once-rough bark has been worn smooth by the seats of many children, all with similar fantasies. While Toby is soaring her skies, I notice a crow with a large white object in its beak. Somehow, it has stolen a thick round cracker from a nearby restaurant. The crow hops towards a pile of black soil at the corner of the church garden. The soil is midden soil, speckled white with clam shell fragments. The crow lifts a large clam shell and hides the cracker underneath. It sees me watching and its nervous eyes flick over to the restaurant, then back to me. I interrupt Toby’s flight to show her what the crow has done. Hide and seek takes on new meaning as a mechanism for survival. When is this crow planning to eat the cracker? We decide to come on a cracker hunt tomorrow.

4:00 pm
Back at the dock, a fresh cluttering of empty mussel shells is sprinkled over the deck of my boat. A large white splat of crow poop is sunbaked onto the windscreen. I sigh and pick up the washcloth I keep for just this purpose.

6:00 pm
As we enjoy the evening quiet in our floating garden, we watch the crows massing above Tibbs island. Their evening pilgrimage to a safe roosting-site brings each crow of my day, along with countless others, into the crow-fold—the murder of crows. After this pre-roost sunset gathering, they will fly out to Lennard Island, to exasperate Caroline, Jeff and Tony at the lighthouse. They fill the sky just as they fill my daily thoughts. Each airborne crow represents a different feeling: anticipation, suspicion, admiration, fury, humour, annoyance, and—at this moment—relief.
I don’t wish crow-mischief on anyone else, but I’m always relieved to see them go!

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