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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Strange Death in the Valley…

before the stormThere is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.

Hamlet, V, ii, ll. 217-224

Does the same sentiment apply to crows I wonder…? I’ve seen some interesting things in the Valley, but yesterday the strangest thing happened….

The weatherman had predicted rain, snow, and wind for Thanksgiving week. Not one of those weather conditions bodes well for an old gent on a vintage Columbia bicycle. It would have been wiser, I suppose, to have stayed warm and dry by the woodstove and though a pile of thick, gray clouds marched along the southwest skyline, I thought I might be able to ride the Loop before the weatherman made good his prediction.

No such luck. As I rounded the corner on the Lower Loop road, the wind and rain struck. Then it was a struggle to sustain forward progress. To turn back would be to admit defeat, so I continued  chugging along with the consoling thought the return trip would be a “breeze.”

Sure enough Gladys got her second wind on the upper Loop road. We were spinning along quite handsomely, the spinnaker effect, as I call it, in overdrive. In no time at all we were rolling up on the Tualco Grange. It was then I saw a flash of black plummet from the top of the big maple tree that guards the southwest corner of Grange. A piece of shingle  lifting off the roof, I wondered? No, too black for that, blacker than a square of tar paper. There’s only one thing in the Valley that presents that color of black: a crow. “Ah,” I thought, “it’s swooped down to scavenge in the fallen leaves.” If so, it would be a swoop for naught: Gladys was sure to ting-a-ling the black forager quickly into flight.

The fallen object was sure enough a crow. But it didn’t take flight, nor would it ever again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A crow falls out of a tree right before me and hits the ground dead. I continued on for a hundred feet or so, bewildered, I guess, by the weirdness of the event, bizarre enough I had to turn around and investigate.

The crow lay there, a sorry black heap among the fallen leaves. Its right wing was splayed out as if it were an arm in the air requesting permission to ask a question. Left wing folded against its flank. The crow’s beak, stout as a stick, was mud-covered at its tip—some recent probing obviously. Eye closed in death. My thought was it had died in the top of the tree, stuck there, and a gust of wind brought it down just as I was approaching. I lifted the splayed wing and the crow’s head lolled about; rigor hadn’t yet set in; time of death…just now, before my eyes?

By this time I was rain-soaked; yet I gave the fallen bird a superficial necropsy. The chest feathers were matted; the deceased had most certainly sustained some kind of physical trauma recently, a chest wound of some sort, it appeared. The wound seemed to have healed, though, scarred over, and the muddy beak showed that in spite of its injury the crow had been foraging. My preliminary finding pointed to homicidal violence most likely perpetrated by duck hunters.

Crows abound in the Valley. Flocks of them. Not a visit goes by I don’t see them but to have one fall stone dead nearly at one’s feet is very strange indeed.  As I continued on down the road, swept along by the wind, I couldn’t help think of John Ciardi’s poem “About Crows”:

The old crow is getting slow;

The young crow is not.

Of what the the young crow does not know of

The old crow knows a lot.


At knowing things, the old crow is still

The young crow’s master.

What does the old crow not know?

How to go faster.


The young crow flies above, below, and rings

Around the old crow.

What does the fast, young crow not know?


And what else does the old crow know?  I guess when  it’s TIME to go.crow no more

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