Pass the feather, please

Posted by on July 11, 2012

“Storytelling is the most ancient form of education. It is about the remembering, making, and sharing of images that bind together time, nature and people. Stories, like the sacred plants, are medicine and food come from the Earth. They remind us that we do not stand alone.  Through them, we live in the body of coyote and crow, tree and stone..In this way, we confirm our relationship with all of creation.”

~Joan Halifax


Last night while on my nightly walk, an unruly commotion broke out amongst crows on the other side of the pond.  My first thought was that something was being attacked or was involved in a fight.

Within minutes, the flock of a dozen or so flew overhead, to a location in the forest just beyond the tree line. They sent up a great racket – it seemed obvious something had happened and everyone was reporting on it at once. Within minutes, the air above me filled with dark shapes – like debris in a funnel cloud, they swept in from all directions.

The mosquitoes kept me from venturing into the wood to spy, so I stood still on the road and listened as more continued to gather. It seemed to be an event of great excitement. Everyone had something to say and I was reminded of the story of Pat’s grandfather, overheard muttering at a family gathering, ‘Is anyone listening?’

I must admit a fascination with the crow. We have a family of four at my place and I enjoy watching their comical antics, as they stride about in their black knickers, nattering about this or that, and cleaning up wild berries or the leftovers in the compost bin.

In her thought-provoking book, Crow Planet, Lyanda Lynn Haupt describes a number of unusual crow behaviours and observations, and points out that humans have always written or told the stories of wild things in our own way, but that “the wild beings have their own stories to tell, and in the reading of their singular alphabet – their tracks, voices, homes, scat, feathers, presence, and absence – we may find that they sometimes to object to things we have always believed to be true.”

I’m not sure what particular tale this group was telling, but sometimes the chorus found a rhythm and the voices synchronized into a steady beat, as if in agreement.  Then the notes separated again and cacophonous clamour reigned once more.  After about 10 minutes, the din began to die down, until only a few adamant complainers remained.

In the sudden quiet, first one crow spoke…then another…and another, followed by two more.  Almost as if this was a ‘passing the feather’ ritual.

It was a council of the clans, with the old wise ones finally voicing their opinion to the quieted crowd. Their voices were stern and formidable – each speaking his or her piece, but then, I’m not sure I’ve heard docile or subservient crow-speak.

Then everyone began talking again and the raucous debate resumed for another five minutes or so. Eventually, the discussion appeared to be nearing its conclusion, so I moved on, wondering what kind of wild event I had eavesdropped upon. I’ve heard of crow funerals – and my friend has encountered crows mourning a fallen comrade at roadside –  but as this gathering seemed to be taking place away from the original point of conflict, I doubted it was a show of grief.

Later I read a story about crow trials – where rebel crows are judged by their peers – and that seemed to make some sense – if a limited human can make sense of crow life at all.

What is your crow story?  Pass the feather.

(And if you, too, have a thing for crows, do pop over to Desideratum where the incredibly talented Gwen has crafted the most lovely earrings to celebrate this intelligent may also see something else in her 12 new designs for 2012 to ruffle your feathers.)

8 Valued Thoughts on Pass the feather, please

  1. Carolynn

    Those ARE awesome earring designs. And, the sketches that accompany them are equally delightful. I like crows and think they’re a sadly misunderstood and under appreciated bird. My husband is even more fond of them than I am. We have crows living in our area and I love all the different vocalizations. It’s no wonder the crow or raven, is central to a lot of native mythology.

    • Deborah Carr

      Carolynn, birdsong is so complex, isn’t it? I am trying hard to learn the songs around me and to be able to differentiate between one voice and another, but I’m not sure language or music are my strong points!

  2. Gwen Buchanan

    Deborah, I wonder if it is this time of year that affects the crows because last night a noisy ritual was taking place over this way… they were carrying on for a much longer time than they usually do… Wouldn’t it be cool if it was some kind of meeting and introduction of all the young ones to the group!..

    • Deborah Carr

      Oooh…seasonal celebration? Ritual? There is such a strong sense of community and conversation evidenced with crow behaviour, why not celebration, too?

  3. Tabor

    I know that crows are extremely intelligent and scientific studies on this are fascinating. I did not know the other things that you wrote about, but I am not surprised. Animals are so much more complicated than we give them credit for. Crows can be such bullies sometimes. I am sorry that I did not connect on our recent trip north but we had such little time. I did see lots and lots and lots of crows on P.E.I.

    • Deborah Carr

      I’m sorry that we didn’t get to connect, Tabor…it would have been lovely to meet you. I hope you enjoyed more than the crows on PEI.

  4. Jane Tims

    Hi. I have noticed the crows are particularly noisy and social this last week. Jane

  5. Diane photographs ...

    My mother always used to say how she waited for and loved hearing the first caw from the crows each spring. She recounted how, as a girl, it was always her own harbinger of true spring on the prairies. I always listened as she told me this and wondered how she could enjoy a crow; after all, I found them ‘killers’ of baby songbirds and nothing else. The year my mother was dying of cancer, something turned inside me. I had received a call that my mother had been taken to he hospital. I phoned and the doctors gave me a report from afar but I wasn’t allowed to speak to her so I asked if he’d please pass her an important message. He agreed. Earlier that day I had heard the first caw of a spring crow and I received it with the same delight that my mother had all her years. So I asked him to tell my mom that I heard the first crow and to let her know that spring is almost here. I did get to Edmonton in time to see my mother before she died. I know cherish what I once thought of as a lowly crow. I think of her every single time I hear or see one and I welcome hearing it’s brash caw. That’s my story.

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