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.

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