A Crow City – Deep Thoughts of a Bird Brain

A Crow City recently hopped up and lightly pecked us on the shoulder, blinked cutely, and began to twitter.  I instantly fell in love with its darkly funny narratives and snapshots of what I can only discern is the author.  After all, if crows can use tools, what is to stop them from figuring out photoshop?

Below are some of our favorites!

You can get your daily dose via Facebook or RSS.

Crows Learning to Fly

I’ve been following a pair of Hooded Crows living on my roof for awhile now, and on a rainy morning recently I heard them launch southward with 6 or 7 voices following them. As the rain let down a bit and the sun peeked through the clouds, I followed their distant cawing. As I approached down a side street, they came to greet me. They circled above, diving and spinning, leading me onwards to a stand of cedars towering on the edge of the foothills. There they landed, pausing only for a moment to count heads, and then launched off again down the hill and back up again. It was then that I realized that they, and what is probably a pair of their older children, were teaching four younglings how to fly!

For more photos, go here






Crow Divination: Pt 1 of 3

A cool spring rain drizzles down around my mountain abode, and a breeze drifts through my open windows carrying the scent of leaves and roses. Somewhere to the southeast, I hear the calling of my resident crows before one of them alights on my fence.  As he looks at me for a minute, I consider the meaning of his visit. Sitting half a mile above the city in the foothills of the Medvendnica, I can’t help but wax philosophical at least one day a week. Crow is also one of my personal animal totems, reigning over the inner domain, wich assists with keeping me grounded (as I am an Aquarius, that is quite the task).  Interesting that I should have a creature of flight as that which assists me with keeping myself rooted in earth.

If you have a crow as a totem, you need to be willing to walk your talk and speak your truth. You must put aside your fear of being a voice in the wilderness and “caw” the shots as you see them. Crow is an omen of change. If he keeps appearing to you he may be telling you that you have a powerful voice when addressing issues that you do not quite understand or feel that they are out of balance.When you learn to allow your personal integrity to be your guide, your sense of feeling alone will vanish. Your personal will can then emerge so that you will stand in your truth. The prime path of true Crow people says to be mindful of your opinions and actions. Be willing to walk your talk, speak your truth, know your life’s mission, and balance past, present, and future in the now. Shape shift that old reality and become your future self. Allow the bending of physical laws to aid in creating the shape shifted world of peace.

As discussed previously, Crows and Ravens (and sometimes magpies too) have been a consistent source of spiritual focus throughout history. Here, I wish to explore a few ways in which they have been seen as fortune tellers, farseers, and omens.

Divination According to Medicine Men

Crow (Law): There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with her own shadow. She kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until her shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate her. Crow is Dead Crow now.

Dead Crow is the Left-Handed Guardian. If you look deeply into Crow’s eye, you will have found the gateway to the supernatural. Crow knows the unknowable mysteries of creation and is the keeper of all sacred law.

Since Crow is the keeper of sacred law, Crow can bend the laws of the physical universe and “shape shift.” This ability is rare and unique. Few adepts exist in today’s world, and fewer still have mastered Crow’s art of shape shifting. This art includes doubling, or being in two places at once time consciously; taking on another physical form, and becoming the “fly on the wall” to observe what is happening far away.

The Europeans that came to Turtle Island were named the “boat people” by Slow Turtle. Even with the knowledge of alchemy possessed by certain boat people, none had ever seen the powerful shape shifting of shamans who utilized Crow medicine. Many boat people were frightened by what appeared to be animals coming into their camps or dwellings to discern their medicine. Crow medicine people are masters of illusion.

All sacred texts are under the protection of Crow. Creator’s Book of Laws or Book of Seals is bound in Crow feathers. Crow feathers tell of spirit made flesh. Crow is also the protector of the “ogallah” or ancient records.

The Sacred Law Belts, or Wampum Belts, beaded by native women long before the boat people or Europeans came to this continent, contain knowledge of the Great Sprit’s laws, and are kept in the Black Lodges, the lodges of women. The law which states that “all things are born of women” is signified by Crow.

Children are taught to behave according to the rules of a particular culture. Most orthodox religious systems create a mandate concerning acceptable behavior within the context of worldly affairs. Do this and so, and you will go to heaven. Do thus and so, and you will go to hell. Different formulas for salvation are demanded by each “true faith.”

Human law is not the same as Sacred Law. More so than any other medicine, Crow sees that the physical world and even the spiritual world, as humanity interprets them, are an illusion. There are billions of worlds. There are an infinitude of creatures. Great Sprit is within all. If an individual obeys Crow’s perfect laws as given by the Creator, then at death he or she dies a Good Medicine death — going on to the next incarnation with a clear memory of his or her past.

Crow is an omen of change. Crow lives in the void and has no sense of time. The Ancient Chiefs tell us that Crow sees simultaneously the three fates – past, present, and future. Crow merges light and darkness, seeing both inner and outer reality.

If Crow medicine appears in your card spread, you must pause and reflect on how you see the laws of the Great Spirit in relation to the laws of humanity. Crow medicine signifies a firsthand knowledge of a higher order of right and wrong than indicated by the laws created in human culture. With Crow medicine, you speak in a powerful voice when addressing issues that for you seem out of harmony, out of balance, out of whack, or unjust.

Remember that Crow looks at the world with first one eye, then the other – cross-eyed. In the Mayan culture, cross-eyeds had the privilege and duty of looking into the future. You must put aside your fear of being a voice in the wilderness and “caw” the shots as you see them.

Check back in tomorrow for Part 2: Divination According to the Druids

[box]Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through Animals by Jamie Sams & David Carson
Crow Augery by William L. Cassidy
Lonigan, Paul R. (1996). The Druids: Priests of the Ancient Celts. Contributions to the Study of Religion, No. 45. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.
O’Sullivan, Patrick V. (1991). Irish Superstitions and Legends of Animals and Birds. Cork: Mercier.

Obscured by Light – Remains of Winter

Sometime back in January, I was sitting in my office on a particularily cold mid-morning. Everything beyond my windows was a shade or two of grey, interrupted only by streaks of icy white cruelty. Since moving permanently to Zagreb in 2007, I had never experienced cold such as this, nor for so long.

I was pondering how many sweaters to put on when a jackdaw slammed into the north facing window. The sound was so loud I thought one of the neighbor’s kids had thrown a soccer ball at it.  I shot up out of my chair, ran over to the ledge, and leaned into the window-well to view the tiny lifeless body cushioned eight feet below in the snow beneath our pear tree.  After several moments of ringing my hands and standing there saying ‘oooh no. oh no no no’ over and over again, I finally grabbed a coat and my sneakers and went outside.

The cold immediately seized my lips for thought to speak. Each breath was like inhaling needles. As I approached the bird, I could see red trailing from his little beak. My face scrunched up in a rictus of horror. His eyes were half closed in the slumber of death. Under normal circumstances, I would have grabbed my camera and shot an entire series, but for some reason it seemed more apt to remain in the moment. I took him in my hands, checking his warm little chest for a heartbeat. His head lolled loosely on his shoulders, and as I sniffled away my first tear, should it freeze upon my cheek, I chuckled to myself upon closer inspection of the beak – it was smeared with the remains of his last berry, likely fermented in the clutch of winter. The cold and the poor food had probably addled his mind, and he misjudged his launch from the tree branch to another likely reflected within my window.

I cradling him along one sleeve of my coat, and walked half a mile into the forest to lay him to rest in the nook between a young chestnut’s sprawling roots. To this day, I am haunted by how warm his little body was.  Today, it is 24C and beautiful, and my hooded crows Kara and Kaine are busy meeting the demands of their hatchlings.

This past winter hit Bucharest equally as hard, and one of our readers captured the compelling photos in this post to document the effect it had on corvids in the area.

As he describes it, “The Remains of Winter series refers to the dead birds lying in the parks, killed by the cold weather, hunger or thirst, during one of the most bitter winters in the last twenty years. Among the children’s playgrounds you can spot these creatures lying on the ground.”

To view more Obscured By Light photography, visit the artist’s photography blog here.

Keeping Company With the Crows

To waken, give me the sounds of crows just after dawn.

I have listened at midnight to the complex trilling of the mockingbird and been mesmerized by it, as I lay in the dark letting the sound wash over me like a private symphony. And I have walked the margins of woodlands and meadows and heard the monotonous whistle of the cardinal, toning a vocal series of notes impossible to confuse with any other common bird. I have heard the chickadee employ to its own design the human nomenclature of the phoebe — fee-bee, fee-bee — and taken in the bold snicker of the blue jay in the backyard.

All these calls are the punctuation of the spring and summer days, in sound like the corresponding signals to sight — the obvious presence of the robins in a still-sodden landscape; the soprano chiming of the tree sparrows, high in the stripped branches of a small forest the long low hoot of the great-horned owl left over from the mating call of the dead of winter.

The crows are around, too, all year, at least here. But as spring comes on, sweeping swiftly toward summer, they are turning up in force on the shores of Lewis Bay, plundering among the gulls for shellfish, trailing human beachcombers for a tossed off bit of bread, a few burst kernels of popcorn, an apple core or clementine peel with a tatter of citrus still stuck to its skin.

I like them best just after dawn, when I am rising slowly out of an ocean of sleep, the waves of weariness still clinging to me like wrack, despite a whole night’s drifting on a sea of memory without consciousness or awareness without recollection. Black thoughts have no chance to penetrate the early morning hours sooner than the big black birds come fluttering or careening out of the treetops, chattering and arguing, getting the day off to a contentious — or at least, raucous — start.

Take on the day boldly, with brash attitude and imperious bluster, I say, hearing them out there, just beyond the supposed shelter of the thin walls of a two-room cottage. They already are the kings of the morning with the day barely broken, the sun still a suggestion of warmth and indifferent promise on the horizon. You might not know what the day will hold, but the crows’ clamor, too early, too loud, announces it is already something worth fighting for.

The world these days is full of arguments that I cannot suffer. I’ve ceased listening to the news, preferring the attention that comes with meditation to the information of the media. I am more content with the practice of prayer than with the prattling of politicians. And if the silence is to be broken, let it be with the garble and guts of a big black bird intent on taking over the world — its world, if nothing more.

Crows aren’t the only birds who consider themselves worthy of taking up the physical space and air time we usually reserve for our own activity. I zipped around a corner onto Bayview Avenue, down from Cape Cod Hospital, where West Yarmouth takes over the work of establishing town boundaries with the bay, and there in front of the grille of the car stood two mallards — a male and female — he strutting in a wide oblong path around her as she squatted in the middle of the lane of traffic.

[box] Read the entire story here . North Cairns Nature column runs every Sunday on the CapeCod Times.[/box]

The Crow Conglomerate (Pt.2)

[box]This Article appeared in the April 2001 edition of the now (sadly) defunct DoubleTake Magazine. View Part 1 here. [/box]

If more people in the future get a chance to know crows as I have done, they are in for a real treat. Because I must say, the crows have been absolutely wonderful to me. I like them not just as highly profitable business associates but as friends. Their aggressive side, admittedly quite strong in disputes with scarlet tanagers and other birds, has been nowhere in evidence around me. I could not wish for any companions more charming. The other day I was having lunch with an important crow in the park—me sipping from a drinking fountain while he ate peanuts taken from a squirrel. In between sharp downward raps of his bill on the peanut shell to poke it open, he drew me out with seemingly artless questions. Sometimes the wind would push the shell to one side and he would steady it with one large foot while continuing the raps with his beak. And all the while, he kept up his attentive questioning, making me feel that, business considerations aside, he was truly interested in what I had to say.

Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I think this slogan is worth repeating, because there’s a lot behind it. Of course, the crows don’t literally want (or expect) to be the only species of bird left on the planet. They admire and enjoy other kinds of birds and even hope that there will still be some remaining in limited numbers out of doors as well as in zoos and museums. But in terms of daily usage, the crows hope that you will think of them first when you’re looking for those quality-of-life intangibles usually associated with birds. Singing, for example: Crows actually can sing, and beautifully, too; so far, however, they have not been given the chance. In the future, with fewer other birds around, they feel that they will be.

Whether they’re kindly harassing an owl caught out in daylight, or carrying bits of sticks and used gauze bandage in their beaks to make their colorful, free-form nests, or simply landing on the sidewalk in front of you with their characteristic double hop, the crows have become a part of the fabric of our days. When you had your first kiss, the crows were there, flying around nearby. They were cawing overhead at your college graduation, and worrying a hamburger wrapper through the wire mesh of a trash container in front of the building when you went in for your first job interview, and flapping past the door of the hospital where you held your first-born child. The crows have always been with us, and they promise that by growing the species at a predicted rate of 17 percent a year, in the future they’ll be around even more.

The crows aren’t the last Siberian tigers, and they don’t pretend to be. They’re not interested in being a part of anybody’s dying tradition. But then how many of us deal with Siberian tigers on a regular basis? Usually, the non tech stuff we deal with—besides humans—is squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, rats, mice, and a few kinds of bugs. The crows are confident enough to claim that they will be able to compete effectively even with these familiar and well-entrenched providers. Indeed, they have already begun to displace pigeons in the category of walking around under park benches with chewing gum stuck to their feet. Scampering nervously in attics, sneaking through pet doors, and gnawing little holes in things are all in the crows’ expansion plans.

I would not have taken this job if I did not believe, strongly and deeply, in the crows. And I do. I could go on and on about the crows’ generosity, taste in music, sense of family values; the ‘buddy system’ they invented to use against other birds, the work they do for the Shriners, and more. But they’re paying me a lot of bottles to say this—I can’t expect everybody to believe me. I do ask, if you’re unconvinced, that you take this simple test: Next time you’re looking out a window or driving in a car, notice if there’s a crow in sight. Then multiply that one crow by lots and lots of crows, and you’ll get an idea of what the next few years will bring. In the bird department, no matter what, the future is going to be almost all crows, almost all the time. That’s just a fact.

So why not just accept it, and learn to appreciate it, as so many of us have already? The crows are going to influence our culture and our world in beneficial ways we can’t even imagine today. Much of what they envision I am not yet at liberty to disclose, but I can tell you that it is magnificent. They are going to be birds like we’ve never seen. In their dark, jewel-like eyes burns an ambition to be more and better and to fly around all over the place constantly. They’re smart, they’re driven, and they’re comin’ at us. The crows : Let’s get ready to welcome tomorrow’s only bird.

The Crow Conglomerate (Pt. I)

Lately, I’ve been working for the crows, and so far it’s the best job I ever had. I fell into it by a combination of preparedness and luck. I’d been casting around a bit, looking for a new direction in my career, and one afternoon when I was out on my walk I happened to see some crows fly by. One of them landed on a telephone wire just above my head. I looked at him for a moment, and then on impulse I made a skchhh noise with my teeth and lips. He seemed to like that; I saw his tail make a quick upward bobbing motion at the sound.

Encouraged, I made the noise again, and again his tail bobbed. He looked at me closely with one eye, then turned his beak and looked at me with the other, meanwhile readjusting his feet on the wire. After a few minutes, he cawed and flew off to join his companions. I had a good feeling I couldn’t put into words. Basically, I thought the meeting had gone well, and as it turned out, I was right. When I got home there was a message from the crows saying I had the job.

That first interview proved indicative of the crows’ business style. They are very informal and relaxed, unlike their public persona, and mostly they leave me alone. I’m given a general direction of what they want done, but the specifics of how to do it are up to me. For example, the crows have long been unhappy about public misperceptions of them: that they raid other birds’ nests, drive songbirds away, eat garbage and dead things, can’t sing, etc.—all of which is completely untrue once you know them. My first task was to take these misperceptions and turn them into a more positive image. I decided the crows needed a slogan that emphasized their strengths as a species. The slogan I came up with was Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I told this to the crows, they loved it, and we’ve been using it ever since.

Crows speak a dialect of English rather like that of the remote hill people of the Alleghenies. If you’re not accustomed to it, it can be hard to understand. In their formal speech they are as measured and clear as a radio announcer from the Midwest—though, as I say, they are seldom formal with me. (For everyday needs, of course, they caw.) Their unit of money is the empty soda bottle, which trades at a rate of about 20 to the dollar. In the recent years of economic boom, the crows have quietly amassed great power. With investment capital based on their nationwide control of everything that gets run over on the roads, they have bought a number of major companies. Pepsi-Cola is now owned by the crows, as well as Knight Ridder newspapers and the company that makes Tombstone frozen pizzas. The New York Metropolitan Opera is now wholly crow-owned.

In order to stay competitive, the crows recently merged with the ravens. This was done not only for reasons of growth but also to better serve those millions who live and work near crows. In the future, both crows and ravens will be known by the group name of Crows, so if you see a bird and wonder which it is, you don’t have to waste any time: Officially and legally, it’s a crow.

The net result of this, of course, is that now there are a lot more crows—which is exactly what the crows want. Studies they’ve sponsored show that there could be anywhere from 10 to a thousand times more crows than there already are, with no strain on carrying capacity. A healthy increase in crow numbers would make basic services like cawing loudly outside your bedroom window at six in the morning available to all. In this area, as in many others, the crows are thinking very long term.

,[box]This 10th Anniversary Article appeared in the April 2001 edition of the now (sadly) defunct DoubleTake Magazine.  Join us again next week for Part 2 of 3 or Subscribe so you’re sure not to miss it![/box]

Raven Minimalsim in 5 Steps

Just about every morning, I sit at my desk with a cup of black coffee waiting for the pair of hooded crows living on my roof to swoop down and entertain me. It is a ritual that, for me, is vital to the success of the day’s inspiration.

Their familiar voices echo between the empty streets right on schedule. As the  male alights on the fence, the sun glints breifly off of his Wednesday Best.  He shakes himself of the dawn’s rain and in his silhouette I am reminded of his cousin The Raven, who only visits me to steal the shiny silver twist-ties I leave on my window ledge.

This crow and his mate, however, have only recently established a home, and worry less about the accumulation of permanence and possession.

The simplicity in his stance, as he stood there sizing me up with each of his eyes at varying intervals, was Orphic and immediately evident.

I was reminded of 5 ancient wisdoms which resonate with how the natural world exists:

1. Accumulate little

The more we own, the heavier our burden.  Crows live a rogue existence throughout the year, only constructing a  ‘permanent’ nest during the spring. While we probably won’t give up our homes and apartments in preference for living like a nomad, we can strive towards a form of detachment from our shelter so that we feel at home wherever in the world we happen to be.

2. Eat simple food

The majority of what we need is found in a handful of foods such as fish, eggs, whole grains, tomatoes and olive oil. Somewhere we lost sight of this and began to manufacture a plethora of created stuff that doesn’t necessarily taste good, and certainly isn’t necessary. Crows, on the other hand, wouldn’t consider eating something if it didn’t taste right. In fact, they go through great lengths to get the food they know they should eat.

3. Dress simply.

Black goes with just about anything, but even the Crows know that texture is key. Feeling comfortable in our clothes is equal to feeling comfortable in our own skin. As our clothes are a reprentation of our inner well being, take a hint from our little friends and don’t hesitate to make that hoodie a part of your day when you need it.

4. Lead a simple, stress-free life

We get so wrapped up in complex issues in our daily lives that just don’t matter all that much. I’ve always imagined myself in 5 years looking back on a given situation to assess how impactful it truly is. Most of the time I can’t see myself remembering it much, just as today I barely think about the 100s of dramas that played out for me in 2004.  At our core, we are creatures built for hunting, building, and breeding, and those are the only things that should give us any concern even today. 1, 2, and 3 encompass the extent of the Crow’s to-do list, leaving us both with only one true challenge – our own fear.  Just as Crows must overcome their obsession with owl-shaped shadows passing overhead in order to sleep even a little,  so must we let go of whatever opresses our creative freedom.

5. Let your life be your message

“If one has wealth, it does not mean that it should be thrown away and wife and children should be turned out of doors. It simply means that one must give up attachment of these things!” ~Gandhi

The crows have proven themselves the epitome of this step by simply inspiring it’s manifestation here on this page.

Does what you do and how you live convey your message to the world?