Friday, June 19, 2020

Crow Chronicles

We’ve lived on Wyandot Street in North Denver for thirty-eight years.  During that time, the street has had a mixed and culturally diverse population – Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Italians, for the most part, with sprinkles of this and that.  Lately, because of gentrification, the diversity has given way to a less colorful, paler population.  But that’s a different blog post.

The crows' nest is near the top of the tallest tree

One constant has been the crows that nest in the numerous trees on our block, including the gigantic evergreen that stands in our front yard.  I’ve been told it’s an Eastern White Pine, not native to Colorado. I don’t know for sure, but it is an impressive tree. Also, I call the birds I’m writing about “crows,” but to tell you the truth I don’t know the difference between a crow or a raven. Crows?  Or Nevermore?

The birds of this story are large black flying creatures that caw and strut and cuss like sailors. A few summers ago, I was challenged by a crow on my front steps.  He dared me to walk past him.  I turned away and acted as though I hadn’t heard him. I’ve had crows wait for me at the end of the block, jammering and screeching all the time I walked or jogged in their direction.  They can be annoying, and a little scary. Years ago, we found a dead crow in our basement.  How did it get there?
This year, as the pandemic settled into Denver, a pair of crows built a nest almost at the top of our pine tree.  They were  raucous and animated about their construction project, so they attracted attention from us and our neighbors.  And I’m sure that one reason we spent time spying on birds had something to do with the lack of activity away from home caused by the stay-at-home directives. For example, occasionally we would stand in the street to try to get a better view of the birds. These bird-watching activities helped fill the cabronavirus down time, and they became a diversion for an old man who wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

I have picked up a few items of interest about crows. They are supposed to be the most intelligent bird.  They remember slights and hold grudges.  They conduct funerals and inspire poets.  They are good learners and problem solvers.  Despite attempts to exterminate them, crows are more abundant than ever.

Spring progressed and it became obvious that the crow family had increased by at least one.  That news caused a buzz in at least three of the brick homes on the street.  We tried to get a glimpse of the chick (what do you call a baby crow?), that cheeped  and squawked for another worm, but who avoided being seen even though some of us used binoculars. 

Meanwhile, the proud parents (I assume crows can be proud, they certainly can be argumentative) carried out their parental duties with fervent devotion.  They constantly flew in and out of the top branches of their home tree, making as much noise as possible.  They flew over our heads if we stared too long in the direction of their nest.  They chased squirrels and other birds.  These chases made a good spectator sport, especially when the rat-faced squirrels had to jump from one tree branch to another or make a daredevil leap to the porch roof.  If they were too slow, they risked an assault from a crow’s beak.  I cheered on the crows in their war against our common enemy, although I wasn’t clear about what the crow would do with a squirrel if he did catch one. 
Of course we couldn’t leave well enough alone and we stirred things up.  First, we had to do some major tree trimming.  We hired a crew to cut branches off the pine and an ash tree.  The way the crows carried on, you’d think we had fire-bombed their nest.  We were careful to point out the nest to the tree-trimmers and they steered clear.  But the commotion – whine from the saws, numerous strange workers tearing apart branches, one guy actually climbing in the trees with ropes and saws – flustered the crows and they swooped and cawed and generally let everyone know that they hadn’t approved of the invasion of their domain.

Eventually, peace was restored, and even the crows had to feel better about the pruned trees. 

And then we decided we needed a new roof.  You can guess how the crows reacted to the roofers and the roof project.  It wasn’t pretty.

But something unexpected happened.  For some reason, the baby crow, whom I had never seen, was found by one of our neighbors near the pine’s trunk.  The well-intentioned neighbor thought that the baby crow could be injured by the debris that was tossed to the ground by the roofers.  He picked up the chick and placed it in our back yard.  That was a mistake.  The parents were extremely pissed off by that turn of events.  They flew overhead or sat on tree branches as they scolded the entire human race.  We were dragged into the argument even though we had done nothing except order a new roof.
Watching and waiting

Watching and waiting

Today, the baby crow is missing.  We think it is in the rose bushes that grow along the alley fence.  It’s probably injured, it may be dead.  One crow (the mother?) stands guard in front of the roses, daring us to come closer, staring at us as we water flowers and throw trash in our bins.  Watching over the ground level guard is another bird (the father?) perched on a telephone pole within earshot of whatever is in the roses.  They’ve been at it for hours. Contrary to their usual behavior, they are quiet and still.  They must be waiting for something.  Is this a funeral or a long night's watch? Their perseverance is admirable. Like good neighbors, we would help them if there was something we could do. 

One watcher on the pole, one under the chair

Life goes on.  We’re overwhelmed with pandemic death numbers and killer cops and racist idiocy from politicians.  Those are important things to struggle with, to change, to challenge.  But today, for a few minutes, I think about a pair of mangy, noisy birds, who have gone silent.  I become aware that the premature summer heat wave has turned into a cool gray autumn afternoon.  



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction and is working on another Gus Corral novel.


msedano said...

Gotta hear the ending, caws it matters. the crowlette, crowlet, crowlex? Sally go round the roses, does she?

Manuel Ramos said...

Em - It looks like the waiting is over, the rose guard is gone, but still no little crow, although several new crows are flying around the area. Perhaps relatives in town for the wake?