April 2018

Monday, January 16, 2012

The only moving thing...

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

This is my favorite stanza from Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." I like it bcause of the strong image, a dark eye moving amidst snowy white, and because of the pun on moving... moving is both a participle, describing an eye in motion, and an adjective, describing the emotional impact on the poet. Cool, huh.

My friend Todd has thirteen blackbirds tattooed on his arm, an allusion to Stevens' poem.

Todd belongs in my club of lifetime geeks. (He doesn't belong in my other clubs, though, like the expatriot Southern Baptist lesbian club or the Brain Tumor survivors' club. I don't think he's in my bruise club either. That's just me and Katie.)

I'm not sure why I started thinking about blackbirds this morning. Perhaps because our yard, covered in about six inches of snow this morning, is quiet and white, and this morning, I watched a raven fly low across the whiteness, lovely in its dark contrast with the white.

Crows are the most common blackbirds around here. Last fall, when Ann and Ellen and I were walking around the block, me holding onto the crook of Ann's arm for balance, a crow flew so close to my head that I thought I might fall. We all laughed at the surprise of it, and as we laughed the crow returned to hit me on the head with its wing.

The next morning, we read in the newspaper that fall is the season when crow fledglings (crowlings?) are learning to fly, and to protect their little ones, crows will warn off people who are close by flying at them. Ah. This was a maternal crow. Sort of like a winged mama bear. Please note that winged has two syllables here.)

Ann and I enjoy watching spring birds in our birdfeeder, so a couple of years ago we bought a bird bath. That way they could have a sip of water, with their tasty seeds and thistles. The birdbath had a blueish-purplish glaze, so that it stood out in the garden and birds would notice it.

Unfortunately, however, crows took over. Ezell's, a famous fried chicken place, is few blocks away, so crows would pull chicken out of the trash (I assume), and bring it to our birdbath to wash it off. The clear water that we were providing for local chickadees and wrens turned a greasy grey, so we got rid of the birdbath and now I suppose that crows eat dirty chicken--or more likely they've found another place to wash the grime off.

A decade ago, I think, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper that died a couple of years ago, ran a story on crows. A researcher at the University of Washington climbed up to crows' nests in the university area to count the eggs. The crows didn't like this, and everywhere the reseacher went, crows dive bombed him. University crows had talked with central district and downtown crows at the crow convention, and everywhere the researcher went in the area, crows dove at him, cawing in their crow way of yelling at him. The researcher tried hats and facial disguises, but he couldn't fool the crows. Maybe he moved to Florida and is now under FBI protection.

In another crow story, our friend Colleen once lived in an apartment with a washer/dryer in the basement. When she went down to put her clothes in the wash one morning, she heard a flapping in a wall vent, and worried because she could not get the bird out. She talked to her slummy landlord about it, but he decided to let it die first and then get it out.

Colleen returned to move her laundry to  the dryer, and the bird was still there. She wanted to let it out, but she was afraid it might poke her eyes out in its fright, so she went back to her apartment to get a screw driver to unscrew the vent, and she layered herself in coats and safety goggles, like the ones her students use in their science labs. (I know that this is beginning to sound a little like a Bill Murray movie.)

Colleen opened the vent so that the bird would fly out. The bird, a crow, did fly into the room, but she couldn't get the crow to go outside. She finally threw a towel over it and when she picked up the little bird package, she felt the bird go limp. She thought that it might have died of a fright, but it seems that it only fainted because when she took her little crow package outside, it lay there a bit and then it flew away.

Once outside, hundreds of crows cawed angrily at Colleen from their perches in the trees. They had flocked there, it seemed, to save the trapped crow. They yelled at her then, but the freed crow must have told them that she was good, and she hasn't had to dodge them like the researcher did. Still, I don't think the crow she saved left her an Ezell's chicken bone on her doorstep as a way of saying thanks.

I suppose crows don't like the expression, "eating crow"  just like I don't like the idea of a "bloody Mary." The expression "eating crow" means being humbled after a boast. The origin seems to be from an 1850 short story about a dim-witted farmer whose tennants complained about the quality of his food. When the farmer in the story says, "I kin eat anythin", his tenants feed him crow, and the story ends when the farmer says, " "I kin eat a crow, but I be darned if I hanker after it." According to Wikipendia, this line was  a knee slapper at the time.

Someow, I don't think the crows thought it was funny. They seem smart and communal, but I haven't seen any evidence that they have much of a sense of humor.


  1. Somewhere, I read that crows mate for life. And that they are smarter than we are. This fact scares me... Maybe crows and roaches will take over the world?

  2. So glad the blog is back in action, Mary. And for the record, I don't like the term Lazy Susan either. But I do have a sense of humor about other things so I guess I'm a step ahead of the crows...

  3. Great to hear from you Mary, here is an additional raven musing.(two important side notes 1. I have been playing around with the idea of bringing the word "knave" back into my personal lexicon. 2. I read many poets, but to my mind they are all knaves and tricksters compared to Hass).

    from Layover
    by Robert Hass

    I could have said a translation of the Athabascan idiom for "goodbye" is "make prayers to the raven." Anyone who has walked in a northern forest knows what sense it makes. Sharp echoing cry in the pine wood and the snow. Swift black flash of its flight, and the powerful wings. Ruthless and playful spirit of creation. World's truth in the black bead of its eye. That all crossings over are a way of knowing, and of knowing we don't know, where we have been.

  4. And I don't like the term "Plain Jane."

    But re birds, I think birds are a whole lot smarter than we give them credit for. If they ever develop opposable thumbs, we need to WATCH OUT!

  5. This entry is hilarious! I laughed out loud and scared my new cat, who is easily scared, thus, the name "scared-y cat?" We have crows who come to the Chestnut tree next to our house every summer. They seem to find other perches in the winter. But, when they are here, early in the morning, making their comments about the various people walking their dogs under them, they can be very annoying to those of us who are still not quite awake. I kept thinking: Why this particular tree? Why every summer? And, then, one day, a neighbor told me that she saw her neighbor (across the street) feeding the crows every morning. I said, "Crows are scavengers. There is plenty of stuff for them on the beach (also across the street). Please tell your neighbor to stop feeding them!" And, so it goes.
    Thanks for returning to the blog, Mary. Keep them coming!

  6. My aunt told me a totally traumatizing story about crows - some research experiment where they learned language or how to do something faster than the people in the study did. Unfortunately I cant ask her for clarification just now - she is on her way to Cuba! I think its just service trips now, but I do wonder if my hankering for going to Cuba will dissolve now that its possible to go there. Hmm.

  7. I have another interesting fact about crows. There are two species of them here in the Northwest--the only difference being that one of them has a pinion feather. Of course, it is just a matter of a pinion. (Hee, hee--get it?) I actually got this one from Susan...


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