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Monday, March 1, 2010


the old richardson place, whitehead

I've started a book I don't quite know what to make of. 90 pages into it, the only subject so far has been the writing of the book. It's supposed to be about crows by somebody who has studied them, the crows right around where she lives, suburban Seattle. I heard her talk on the radio interview show New Dimensions. I was hoping to hear something I didn't yet know about crows. I'd become acquainted with a crow family and watched them every day, saw their interactions, saw it was a hen, rooster and 5 chicks. They were all the same size. Hen and rooster only slightly larger.

I saw a lot just sitting on the porch watching them march around and peck at apple slices I'd put out in the grass for them. I saw them near and far, in the grass walking about, flying, perching and flying in the trees across the road. I've listened to them until I've discerned they have a language and it is a learned language. It's not as complex as ours, but it is a language nonetheless. I've seen the young crows only know how to make a squawk that is artless to the ear. All the various sounds a crows makes, the words or phrases or whatever they are, have been learned. They learn the calls the way old-time musicians learn songs. Somebody teaches them or they get picked up by paying attention and learn from the others.

When I think of how awkward that first year's squawk is, a sound I learned to tell the young ones by, I imagine they take their vocalizations seriously for the sound. From the original squawk to the variety of sounds that make up a crow's repertoire, a great deal of learning is behind all of what we hear of crows calling to each other all day long. They keep in touch, it seems, by calling, I'm over here. Now I'm over here. The giant is on the porch. He's harmless, but be wary. He's still a giant. They have various tones of voice that perhaps add emphasis, the way we do with tone of voice. I use very different tone of voice when I say to TarBaby, How's my cat? from when I say, Stop it TarBaby!

They use emphasis the way we do. When one crow is scolding another, like the mother scolding a youngun for begging from her too much and not making any effort to feed himself, you know she means business. This specific incident I saw was the mother crow standing on young crow's wing spread out on the ground, holding him down and barking in his face in serious manner. This particular youngun was slow to take to finding anything for himself, even when it was in front of him. Wanted mama to feed him. She scolds him and marches away with head held high like she was satisfied she got that said. The next day he'd go to her fluttering his wings that mean feed me, and she'd give him something. Or she would peck on half an apple slice and go away leaving the rest to him. I found them generous in that way. The occasional individual would want as much for himself as he could get.

I'd heard the woman that wrote this book, CROW PLANET, on New Dimensions, interested because I wanted to learn more about crows. I've learned a little bit looking out the window, but I wanted to hear what somebody who bore down and studied them had to say. I was disappointed after the radio show. She continually promised to tell me something I didn't know about crows and never did. Disappointed because I don't know very much about crows, certainly not enough to write a book about them and pass myself off an expert. By the end of the hour, she'd told me nothing new. Her talking voice is a major impediment to her credibility. She talks the valley girl talk. All the way along, I expected to hear her say something like, gag me with a spoon. It made me decide not to look at the book.

Then I bought the book. Now, 90 pages into less than 250 pages, the only subject she has expanded on is writing the book. I am of the feeling it's about 200 pages of padding and maybe 50 of substance. I have to assume the 50 pages of substance is ahead. I'm also reluctant to anticipate that much substance, if any. She writes well. It's just that the book would do better with a title closer to the book's real substance, the act of writing the book. HOW I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT HOW I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT CROWS. I don't want to be unfair, but this is all I am able to see. If further reading changes my mind about it, I'll let you know.

But there are some interesting anecdotes concerning crows. Like at an outdoor Indigo Girls concert 10 crows perched in a tree nearby and watched the stage. At intermission the crows flew away. When the show started up again, the crows came back and sat through the rest of the concert. I'm finding these are the kinds of things she has to offer about crows, stories from other people's experiences with crows, from what's been written about crows. I don't want to assume she's not going anywhere that's really informative about crows. Well over a third of a way into it and the only real theme has been writing the book, I'm getting a fair idea that's the real theme. I also may be jumping the gun. Dunno.

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