Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I pay close attention to crows. Whenever I hear one share her opinion with the world, often from atop a spruce or a downtown building, I turn my head to look. In which direction is she facing? From which pulpit does she preach and to what audience? The particular sound they make is telling and their vocabulary, while we think of it as audibly finite, will surprise us with its variety if we listen.
Just as their voices can give me chills, so too can their silence. There is a particular area in Guelph in which one can see a large murder of them flying noiselessly overhead on a regular schedule. Together, headed in the same direction, towards a single purpose, pumping the air with the same rhythm. I have seen this cluster head from one location to the distant other four times now and on all occasions it was during the same time of day. Strength in numbers; the hawks don't bother them.
The second time I saw this group, I caught glimpses of the first few trailing across the sky. I stood in one place and began to count. To my friend who I only imagined was beside me I said, "I'll bet there's a hundred of them". I kept counting; score after score of corvidae made its silent presence felt. And the number, to my delight, came to one hundred exactly. I imagined how impressed my (actually absent) companion must have been.
To the crows, their friends and family were as real and just as present as they were. And please, never mind that common wisdom that purports to know that animals are without a sense of self-awareness. Every crow I have heard from every pulpit is saying a number of things and one of those is voiced with absolute clarity: "I am here". We, the pretending omnipotents, walk around outwitted by gravity, muted by the immeasurability of the world and dumbfounded by the fact that we are stuck here without anyone telling us why. If this is awareness, then give me a birds' brain - I suspect that everything would be made perfectly clear if I had one.

This begs a nagging question. When we stare up in envy at a bird in flight, what are we really envious of - the creatures' ability to soar, or the apparent comfort that the creature has with itself and with its place in the world? There is comic truth is a wonderful quote I found by Blaise Pascal: "All the misfortunes of men derive from one single thing , which is their inability to be at ease in a room." Perhaps, however, one needn't a room to discover his unease. We are brought into this world cold and screaming. Few parents would push us from the nest until we're around 17 years of age. Coddled by years of comfort, the notion of stepping into wilder places can be met with trepidation, even outright terror. To which world do we belong? In which do we become comfortable with ouselves?

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