Watching the crows manage the pandemic
There is a pandemic. I am asked to stay within my home. It is different but not different: I must avoid the market, travel, time with friends and must keep my distance from other people. I do this anyways, but now people are scared and abundance becomes scarcity. Outside the birds seem unbothered.
The days blur together and it is weeks and a month and more. My alarm goes off and it is hard to get up. It takes all of my will and strength to ignore the fear. Work tries to put on a bold face. But my job is people. I see the cracks, and it is my purpose to smooth them. Relax dear resource unit, all is well, remain productive and put your fear in a compartment, like me. I am okay, I say. But I am not.
Each morning I want to lay there and do nothing: what is the point? I think maybe we deserve this and I go for my morning walk. The streets are quiet, the schools are empty, and nothing stirs but the birds. Without the rush of students going to school and the cars going to work, I feel trapped in my mind, looping through the fear that I cannot help but consume. As the woods of the walk get thicker and the houses more sparse, I look at the crows with envy.
They are together, always. They talk all day, in language we can hear and language we cannot. I see their rituals have not changed, that they continue to go to and fro, hunting, playing, talking and I arrive at home again, alone. Each day is getting worse. More people are dying, more social unrest, and little do I know a virus is the least horrible thing that I will hear of this week. It is a lot, and so I seek distraction. I cannot see people or be with people, and so I order food for the birds.
I awake the next morning and there are tears in my eyes. My phone is elsewhere because I can no longer bear to see the fear it wants to show me. The birds are what wake me, the crows cawing, but I feel I cannot move. There is no end to this in sight so I wish to fly away, like the crows. I cannot become one of them, but I can feed them. I depart on my morning walk with cup in hand, filled with peanut-y treats and I sink into the forest.
A large crow sits atop a telephone poll, surveying its territory. Her feathers glimmer in the first morning light, ink black and sleek. I try to gain its attention but it has a job to do. It ignores me and remains vigilant lest its community be at risk. I whistle and drop a handful of food, then descend wooden steps deeper into the forest, across a stream where the woods get thicker.
It is early and no one is about, part for the hour and part for fear of the virus. The crows hold quiet dominion over every path. A creature does not move without their notice. And they are careful. They see me and scatter, gentle and shy. I call after them as they soar into the distance, to a more shaded vantage point.
I leave them a treat in case they come back. I keep going and each crow I see I wave and tell them hello and offer them something to eat. I return home through the park. The hour is later and few people brave the outside. Those that do ignore the others. The playgrounds are empty, the streets are silent. I hear the crows calling among themselves and see them going about their playful business. I wave, drop some food, and keep walking. I return home, go to work, and the next morning something has changed.
I no longer wake up for myself. I think of the crows, get up, and go for my walk. I begin to wake up earlier, I awake when they do, as the suns first rays cover the mountain and then I go into the trees. I do this day, after day, after day. I cannot see people, but I can see the crows. Before they seemed disinterested, feasting only when I am far away. But now they start to wait for me.
I descend from my front steps and a crow swooshes over my shoulder. It lands on a nearby power cable and tilts its head at me. Her beak clicks in greeting. I throw some goodies from my cup and she dives with graceful ease and hops towards the food.
It caws a mirthful yell and I feel its sense of excitement. It eats a few, flies somewhere to deposit a cache, returns and then caws some more to notify its brethren. Others join, ornaments on the power lines, and deep black eyes observe me under beak and with tilted head.
Deeper into the forest I go and I hear them talking to one another. I start to understand them. The food is delicious, rich and nourishing, and they learn my routine. In turn I learn to understand when they are cawing amongst themselves about boundaries or reporting the location of quality food or the location of dangerous predators to their kin.
I learn the clicks and clacks and other sounds, indicating shades of delight or cautionary warning. They have just had children and so they are careful to teach wise lessons.
They become comfortable with me, getting closer than power cables, jumping onto street signs, trees, and wooden park fixtures to tilt their heads and study me. We start to gaze into one another and learn the contours of each others eyes and faces.
They learn that I am harmless and that I love them and I learn that they are harmless, too, and that they love me. Their feathers are black and beautiful and their eyes reveal the depths of a truth that a life time of quiet introspection has only begun to teach me. The only tension is between them, trying to distribute the morning meal with equality and within an order.
I witness battles of great scale, channeled fury in the midst of a calm forest. The rush of the stream joins with diving shriek and I see dozens and dozens of beautiful black creatures flying and chasing and talking. There is no malice but there is intent and there is territory and it needs definition. I reflect displeasure and I remind them there is more than enough for all of us. After a time it is calm again and they learn to visit me with care, so to not make me uncomfortable or to infringe upon the new lines they have drawn.
Each walk culminates across an open park field. The large rainforest pines loom around the perimeter and a few gnarly, withered birch trees provide the crows ample room for viewpoint and nest. They learn the patch where I stand and spin and distribute the bulk of the rich sustenance and as I approach it they encircle me and caw in thanks.
Dozens of them visit and it is a rush of sound and sight. The night’s rain makes it all glitter and the moment seems surreal. I look at each one and acknowledge them and they respond in kind. After our dance they guide me home, from lamp post to lamp post, and soon learn about my nest and how to honour my space. Every day we do this together, looking out for one another. And one day I am gifted the gift of all gifts.
In the midst of the park, it arrives in its unrestrained majesty, freed from its form. Its wings are limitless, stretching out beyond time and on its head a crown, splayed in red and gold into time as a mandala, contrasted in stateless bliss against a blackness that conveys all colour in the absence of one.
It is a formidable creature yet a gentle creature. It is a shy and careful creature and it is a resilient and loyal creature. It is an ancient, divine, and limitless creature. I am taken away and I am shown its stories and we laugh together and we cry together.
I learn the routines of the local families, about the crows which perch upon nearby rooftops to keep an eye on me while I am at my nest. I learn who is who, their pasts and ambitions, what makes them laugh, and how they like to play. I learn of the importance of their role, feasting on bones and death so that decay does not linger. I share everything, telling it about my family, about how my parents are not here and how I only speak to them through glass. It does not understand, but it tries.
I learn about the danger, the fear, the hatred, the powerlessness, and devastation that they feel from my kind, and I pretend to not understand, but I do. It asks me questions, wondering what I do all day and why I am here, and does not blame me although it could. I answer and ask in kind and our answers are the same.
We are not so different, we decide, and we are glad to have met one another. We are surviving. It clicks its beak and nuzzles me with kind affection and then departs. I am overwhelmed at this gift, the gift of all gifts, and I begin to wonder who I would meet if I started to look out for other people.