Striding through the neighborhood, I felt cocooned by rich fragrances the morning rainfall had released. I eyed scenes to photograph and snapped at my leisure. My injured foot, taking months to heal, was holding me up but a slower pace afforded lingering observations. Autumnal changes are often subtle, marked by overlapping cycles of life and death, of dramatic shifts in light and shadow. I am fond of the season and felt at peace with the transformations. How fortunate to be walking at all.
Then suddenly there was a thwump accompanying a light smack on top of my head. Something soft but with some heft had skimmed my head. I heard a brief, slow slap of wings through air. I came to a halt. The mysterious offender had left as soon as it arrived and was now gone. I further examined my head for any clue; nothing hurt. All was unmarred beneath my sunglasses, an accessory added in the dim hope of sunshine. I searched the pewter sky and colorful trees.
There, not three feet away, sat an ordinary crow, fluttering its wings on a big leaf maple limb as it settled down. It looked at me long enough to be a strong candidate for the culprit. I couldn’t imagine why it would want to dive into my unruly, wavy mass of hair. In fact, I couldn’t think quite why a crow would bother with me at all, a regular person strolling, except to make note of my passing with cawing and flying from look-out to look-out.
There are scores of such sentinels in our neighborhood. Their posts change by their own design but they never vacate a block for long. The crows barely note me; I nod at them as we go about our business. My husband likes to talk to them, while I study and admire their ubiquitous presence at a distance. What I know is that they inhabit a lively existence made of intricate communications and a strong social hierarchy. That they are smarter than we imagine. Can even recognize people they have seen and don’t forget bad behaviors toward them. I have read little of them and understand less.
What I feel, though, is that they are powerful, exceeding our simplistic understanding or engagement. The creatures I have seemed most connected to have been wolves and coyotes (perhaps foxes, part of the same family), both of which I have encountered. What I was sensing during my crow visitation was that this bird meant something and I was slow to get it.
Not only had it made direct contact but as I trod on, said crow hopped to other branches, then flew to the next tree, perching on a lower branch. And watching me. Well, what? I asked it. Its head tilted back and forth but held eye contact. We each became still. It is a bit hard to see small black eyes in an ebony feathered head from several feet below it–and on a rainy day–but there was that energy meeting eyes spark. I felt seen and examined even as I started on once more. It flew to yet another tree, a swift ascent in the moist cool breeze. I paused to glance at it; it glanced back. The bird was remaining a couple of feet above my eye level. It was patient, and I was its object of interest. Its intelligence was as clear and certain a thing as mine. Was it considering more swoops upon me? Seized by an urge to walk closer to a stone wall surrounding an imposing two-story house, I fought the impulse to make myself smaller. Wait a minute, this was a foolish response. It was a bird, right? The tiny current of fear passed, and my fascination resumed. But I did not dally, kept forward movement in case it thought I was too long in its territory.
Was it considering another dive? Should I stop to chat like a madwoman? Engage in a stare-down? I thought better of that, as it seemed too aggressive. I wanted it to at least emit a conversational call-out.
The visual exchanges between us continued down the block. I came to a corner. The crow paused in a ginko tree, a couple of branches higher up this time. I crossed the empty street with limping steps as my offended foot began to smart. The crow rose, elegant and efficient, only to descend to nearby branches. I slowed my steps to watch; it matched my gaze with its own. Then looked away. Back to me again. I kept expecting my crow–for it had begun to feel paired with me–to speak its language so I could respond with mine. A deeper exchange of sorts. Perhaps I was just feeling possessive since we had been trying to interpret each other as if on personal terms. It had moved from random to…something more.
Or was I feeling as if insidiously possessed by this crow? I waited for it to notify others as usually happens, or to come upon a gathering of crows. To hear their chatter increase, indignant that folks were crossing invisibly demarcated territory or just unloading urgent information. They did speak with impressive inflection and force. Their presence could seem almost imperial. But this crow was silent. It didn’t appear to be ill or abandoned. Was it alone? Lonely?
I tarried and pondered, tossing thoughts toward my crow: What message have you for me? Did you not like how I moved between the trees? Or that I have my camera at the ready? Do you want something I have? Or are you playing, a wily shape shifter intent on teasing as I enjoy the autumn afternoon alongside your kind?
And then the dogged crow rose from the tree branch and claimed a spot on a telephone line crisscrossing corners. It bent its head to look down on me as I backed up a little, raised my camera, and started to shoot pictures. I captured it, whereupon it turned its back on me, perhaps surveying farther reaches since I was moving on.Maybe it didn’t like being photographed? And so I continued on, but my head still bore the odd sensation of that soft, strong body skimming my skull. It remained with me for hours.
I got a call from my son a little while later. He seems affectionately and well-attuned to animal, mineral, vegetable worlds and, like his mother, to other worlds defined by less tangible energies. He at first concurred that the crow was being playful while doing his work of scouting possible threats. Or an intermediary? Perhaps it could be someone reaching out to me with a message? Well, I do know someone who, now fled from earth, who might consider employing a crow to smack me on the head and say hello. I have read that many consider crows to be considered tricksters, as well as keepers of life mysteries and also magical. They also have often been thought to be harbingers of doom. Crows certainly have captivated the imaginations of many a thinker and dreamer.
My crow snagged my attention, an event not soon dismissed. But all the swirling tangents of leading to dark/light, good/evil–it is more than I care to ponder tonight. I am conscious it is close to All Hallow’s Eve; it may be the joke’s on me. A crow is a crow and I, a human, and we are neighbors. But, alright, maybe more.
As I made my way home, a simple idea came forth. I have walked this neighborhood every day for two decades but very little the last three months due to my injured toe. And since resuming shorter walks I’ve tended toward a different part than the blocks this crow inhabits. So maybe it was just telling me it was good to see me again. I like that thought. If so, ditto, and may our paths cross again (though my chances of recalling this particular crow will be minute while crows recall humans well). I will head out tomorrow, see what surprising things may happen. But my crow visitation–as so often nature’s events do–reminded me how we are aligned and connected to all God’s creature cultures, each meant for its own purposes and part of the miraculous design. I feel gifted with such a moment and such a life.