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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

MY FRIENDS THE CROWS


Weary'n wore out all day. Up til 3 writing, then up at 9 to feed the donkeys and calf. I wanted so badly to tell them by telepathy to wait a few more hours. Couldn't do that. I forced on outdoor clothes, dragged myself about the house. Birds outside were chirping at me to come out and put seeds in the feeders. Sometimes a squirrel will hang onto the trunk of a tree outside the window and stare at me, calling me to bring their breakfast. I put out seed for the crows across the street. When I take my time getting out there, they call to me from a tree in front of the house. At the first feeder, I looked in the trees overhead. The branches were alive with chickadees, titmice, snowbirds and nuthatches, all of them twittering, talking to each other, excited that the ice cream man came out of his barn for them. Jenny squeals when she sees me and Jack commits to full bray. I walked over to the crow feeding station and three crows flew into some nearby trees, not too close, far enough they feel they can get away in a hurry if they need to. They watched me throw out the seeds. Every morning when I throw seeds out for the crows, I call to them two caws. I've done it for so long that by now they know when the goofy sounding crow calls to them that doesn't know their language at all, it's their human friend with the bad crow accent. They know it's not a crow, but that doesn't matter. They know it's the ice cream man. He can't talk crow very well and that identifies him.
 
 
I love the crows most of all birds. Other birds are interesting, but crows are fascinating. I have learned from knowing a crow family that they live in families. When you see a small cluster of five or six crows flying together, it's mama, papa and the kids. Crows do not wean their young. The young ones are only able to make the basic caw sound. They have to learn their language, which takes years. There are certain crow calls only older crows know how to make. The language is complex. They have extended family, and a certain number of extended families make a tribe. In October all the crows of a given region gather in big meetings of a hundred crows, more or less. I had the good fortune to see one of their meetings at a place they thought they could not be seen. I was in a house maybe 400 yards away, seeing them through a window. If I had just opened the door they all would have flown. It was an assembly of more than a hundred crows. They were walking in a huge pack over a large meadow after the last mowing of the year. The ones in front would fly up into the air and and drop down, repositioning themselves. Some would move forward and some would move back. Marching out in front were the elder crows that walked tall and proud like roosters, like Chinese soldiers on parade. They spent quite awhile repositioning themselves in the front of the pack until they were satisfied everybody was in place. Then they went aloft in a black swarm, circling, breaking up into clusters of immediate family that flew off into the directions of their homes. I've been hoping the cow and donkey manure would attract crows to the meadow out my window. They tear apart dry cow pies that are loaded with larvae of some kind of fly. I don't know about donkey. I've not seen any crows at the old faded piles of their droppings.
 
 
Over the course of about a year I gave all my time taking care of my neighbor and friend Jr Maxwell, a tractor mechanic, welder, sawmiller and bluegrass banjo picker. He was up in his eighties, had become feeble, mind was drifting away. He did not want to end his life in a nursing home. He wanted to die at home. I wanted to allow him that. I was on Social Security, so I had the time to help him out. He was one of my very favorite people, so it was not a labor looking after him. His last wife, a Yankee twenty years younger, moved in on him when his real wife died of cancer. She thought he had money, which really tells her limitations. He had no more than I do. He worked all the time keeping her credit card bills paid the best he could. She left him because he was getting old and kept on living, didn't die soon enough to suit her. She went off to Michigan where she came from. He was devastated, so down and out I wanted to help him. I diagnosed a great deal of loneliness in him. I couldn't help him in is suffering, but I could visit him regularly, be some company, another presence in the house. For five years I stopped by on the way home from work and we sat for two hours over orange juice glasses of white liquor we sipped on as we talked. He told me his whole life over that time. Our hours together became valuable for me learning the life of someone I eventually came to see was the only man I'd ever known I could call wise without hesitation. He called himself a fool, could make a better case for himself a fool than I could for him being wise. I came to think of him as the wise fool. Thinking about it, it becomes obvious right away that a wise man in this world can only be a fool.
 
 
I sat on his front porch, an 8 x 12 cement slab with an overhang, reading, watching the cars and trucks go by on the highway while he slept most of the time. I started paying attention to the crows. I'd buy apples and slice them into eight slices and throw them out on the lawn in front of the porch, at first some distance and closer to the porch gradually. Even got to where I'd put one on the porch and one of the crows, the same one every time, would step onto the porch very cautiously, pick it up and carry it to the grass to eat it there. They walked around in the grass in front of me. They would take an apple slice in one foot and peck at it. I noticed they even shared. One would peck on a slice for awhile and then leave it for one waiting its turn. They were a family of mama, papa and four young'uns. I felt like the younger ones were in their first year. They could only squawk and some of them followed mama wiggling their wings, beak open wanting mama to feed them. She would. One of them would not eat for itself. It was at her all the time wanting her to feed it. It got on her nerves. I saw her one time jump on him. She stood on one of his wings that was spread on the ground, other foot on his back, held him down and barked in his face for a long time, telling him in no uncertain terms, stop it. Next thing, he was at her fluttering his wings wanting her to feed him and she did. The young crow didn't seem to be very healthy. It gradually learned to peck at an apple slice. Over a period of time, I was able to throw a slice to the crow and he would not jump. He ate so much apple every day that he gradually came around and seemed to be about as healthy as the others. Any garbage from the kitchen went out the back door. A crow would be scouting somewhere nearby. Open the door, step out, sling the unused food onto the ground and here they'd come. I'd watch them from the kitchen window descend the long hill behind the house in a long glide low to the ground. The only things they did not eat were watermelon and cantaloupe rinds, onions and banana peels. Possums ate the rinds. The onions and banana peels rotted into the ground.
 
 
I studied them closely, not by the scientific method, but looking for the people in them, gradually able to tell the apart. I wanted to learn more about crows, so I found a book somebody was getting attention for at the moment about studying crows. I bought it excited to have a book full of crow knowledge. The first half of it was filler, writing about the publisher asking her to do it, she didn't know anything about crows. Pages and pages of supplies she bought for her study, told about her daughter being impatient with her for hanging her underwear on the clothesline. I quit reading half way into it. She had told nothing about crows and made it clear to me she had nothing to say. I sat through a Joe Cocker concert in 1976 expecting it to get better, it could only get better. After half a concert of waiting for it to get better, I left. I've finally learned that when something starts out bad and continues to be bad, it's not going to get better. That's how it was with the book. I told myself I'm on my own. There were other crow books, but that one put me off studying crows by second hand and third hand knowledge. It wasn't long before they walked casually up to the edge of the porch. I missed that family of crows after Jr's spirit left the body. Driving by on the highway, I always look to find a crow nearby in a tree or flying, one of my old friends. Back at home I started putting out sunflower seeds across the road by the mailbox to attract the crows. I can't get to know them like I did the others, which is kind of disappointing. However, I am able to be a part of the lives of the crow family that lives nearest by. I gradually put them at ease seeing I am not about hurting them. I let them know the human in their territory is a friendly, giving them treats they can depend on. It cracks me up when I'm late and they come calling to me. I have a family of red squirrels. They used to run through the trees out of sight when I stepped out the door. Now they go up a tree just out of my reach and watch.
 
 
 
 
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