by C.W. Allen
They were crows, not ravens — that part is important. Poe’s nemesis has no patience for the Groupthink this operation required.
They blew into town in a jeering cloud, carried by a persuasive wind and a purpose they kept to themselves. The old oak tree, older than the house (or the town), guarding the gravel drive since before the drive was there — that one suited them fine. Its leaves had gone for the season, but it was the branches they wanted anyway. Two hundred or two thousand — I didn’t stop to count them, but it didn’t really matter; they were Many. Perhaps to appear Many was the purpose after all.
This was Hitchcock, not Poe — a lurking mob, alternately pronouncing their raucous judgments and staring silent, eerie omens at all who passed beneath their perch. This time, all who passed beneath was me, crunching the gravel drive from the back door to my parking space. Before, the ancient oak seemed a kind of sentinel, shading my weathered Honda in the summer and blocking the bulk of winter’s snow. But this time, its branches made the perfect bleachers for this out-of-town crowd and left my parking space directly in their strike zone.
Slow now, quiet, don’t provoke them! My mind played panicked visions of piercing beaks and raking talons as I eased toward the driver’s door. Sometimes scolding, sometimes staring, they never abandoned their posts. Their favored offense was far simpler: to hold back their fury but let loose their disdain, littering the playing field with their rubbish. In short, my car was covered.
This is fine, I
like that cartoon dog sipping his mug of steaming denial in the flames. After all, a car with a crow-splattered roof is still a car, and work won’t wait for an emergency car wash. Besides, they were still there, and the car would soon be splattered again. I turned the key and backed down the drive, mentally counting the minutes of my commute’s delay.
If anyone snuck a photo, I didn’t see; but that was then, before we joined the pocket paparazzi and were content without peddling content.
Was it funny then? I wish I could remember. Through time and other watchers’ eyes, I see the shades of humor about it, but then it was just the clamor of crows. I told friends about the eeriness (but not the splatter), and we laughed that perhaps old Hitchcock had been on to something after all. Two days, two nights — and then they were gone, like a fleeting dream retreating from morning’s intrusion. Then, only then, was it time to scrub away their contempt.
Ravens, or crows? Did I know which then? Now I can consult my pocket crystal ball and it lectures subtleties of size and wingspan, of curved beaks and angled tails, of how to judge the pitch of their calls. But it doesn’t matter after all — to judge them by eye or ear is splitting hairs (or feathers). Black birds, scavengers, feared and revered — for keeping death’s presence, or for holding a mirror to the cleverness we covet. But if you care to tell the difference, it is this: only crows gather crowds. Only crows flock to cities. Ravens are drawn not to the crowd, but to each other — two by two, each finds the one whose presence craves theirs, and they strike off into the wild together. They cannot hear each other in the urgency of the city and the flock. To them, the wilderness is not barren, but their own sacred domain.
Now and then I hear the call of the flock, and I reason I cannot be splattered from inside their roost. Or perhaps I, too, feel an urgent opinion, an urge to add my cawing to the chorus.
But then I study wingspan and tail fans, the curve of their beaks and the pitch of their calls,
and I remember
I have found the one whose presence craves mine, and we are far too busy ruling our sovereign wilderness to bother with the urgency of crows.
So I set off on my business, content.
We are ravens, not crows — that part is important.