I have had several profound interactions with crows and other birds in my life, often at times of great change and upheaval. The following story is about two interactions I had with baby crows, fifteen years apart.
I found a baby crow in the yard.
Well, Jillian found her, actually. She mentioned it in an offhand way, “There’s a baby crow in the yard.”
“A baby crow?!?” I got way too excited.
I told her about another time, fifteen years ago, when I found a baby crow. It had fallen out of a cedar tree in front of the punk house in Eugene. I found it near the free box, among the piles of dirty clothes and bicycle tubes. It was a wild-eyed baby crow, and it tried to bite me when I picked it up. It only had a few of its flight feathers, the rest of it being fuzzy, downy gray and black. It’s talons were disproportionately huge, strong with sharp claws.
I wrapped it in a towel, took it inside and called the Raptor Center.
“We don’t take crows,” they said. “Put it back in the nest.”
“The nest is too high,” I told them. “I can’t even see it up there.”
“Get a cardboard box,” they said. “Nail it up as far in the tree as you can, and put the bird in it.”
So I did that. The baby crow settled into the box. It seemed content and the parents had returned. They squawked at me from above, a real ruckus. I left the crow in the cardboard box nailed up in the tree and went off to eat free food at the park or do some other punk thing. It was 1997 in Eugene, Oregon, and the anarchists ruled the day. I told the other anarchists about the crow.
“You did the right thing,” they said.
But when I came back a few hours later, Olive said, “I found a baby crow in the alley.” I told her about the cardboard box. She said she had tried to catch it but couldn’t. “It seemed like its wing was hurt,” she said.
“Where is it?” I was in a panic. “When was that?” I figured it must have hurt its wing falling out of the box.
“A few hours ago, right after you left,” she said. I ran outside to try and find it. All I found was a mess of feathers in the alley and a smug-looking cat. I was despondent. The empty cardboard box hung in the tree all summer and most of the winter, deteriorating slowly like a paper skeleton, until eventually it was just a few shards of bleached brown paper hanging from a nail. To me it was a grim reminder of my failure to accept a cosmic opportunity.
Back in the present moment, it took us a few minutes to track her down among the weeds and fallen leaves in the back corner of Jillian’s garden.
She had most of her flight feathers, with just little spurts of down still tufting out from her chest and belly. She saw me and looked right into my eyes. She let me pick her up. She didn’t try to bite me, just pushed her shiny little body against my chest.
She smelled like cinnamon and grass and that clean dusty humus that you get on your face when you go into the forest on a dry summer day. And when I pushed my nose closer against the top of her head she had that same baby smell that you find on a puppy or a human.
Jillian and I made a nest for her in the cat carrier. We put some cat food on a piece of bread and put it in there, with a small dish of water.
We looked it up on the internet: What to do with a baby crow?
Don’t give it any water, said the almighty internet, you could accidentally drown it. Let it get moisture from its food.
We took the water out of the cat carrier.
Don’t put grass and weeds in the nest, it said, they’re too dirty. Use newspaper and fresh herbs and change it daily.
We changed the bedding, laid down a layer of spearmint and lemon balm.
Feed it with a tincture dropper, said the internet, baby crows love peas and chicken. Ram it down their throat like the mama bird would. The fledgling will let you know when it is full.
We had no idea whether she was male or female but we decided she was a she and named her Frida. She ate like a horse for the first three bites and then refused any more. She just turned her little beak away and that was that.
Do this every half-hour, said the internet, and are you sure you want to take this on?
There was a wonderful story online about another fledgling, rescued by a loving and gentle family. It told of how Edgar Allen Crow stayed in their yard long after he learned to fly, and how he came in the house and was affectionate and funny. It said he was always getting into stuff and playing with the dogs. Then it told of how he had not learned to fear dogs and was soon killed by one a few houses away.
We kept reading, and learned that fledgling crows will spend as much as three weeks on the ground, and that their parents are usually watching them from above, feeding them, and protecting them until they either fly back to the nest on their own…or not.
My mind filled with images of baby crows under every leaf-pile and low branch in town, hundreds of fledglings hiding out while they learn to fly. And we humans, speeding through our big-city lives, oblivious.
My mind also filled with visions of myself as Crow-Woman, with Frida on my shoulder, staring down the world as a team. I wondered if my housemates would let me bring her home, if they would mind crow shit in the house. I wondered if she would learn to speak my name, as I had heard that crows can do.
I called my housemate and he said “I always wanted a crow of my own!”
“But it would be my crow,” I told him. “I will never cage her,” I said. “She can come and go as she pleases.”
“You would have to cage her,” he said, “to protect her. Don’t worry, I have just the cage.”
We argued bitterly over it and I hung up. Jillian made it clear that she was to be no crow lady. She said she would keep her overnight but then we would have to find somewhere to take her.
“I thought you were really excited about it?” She said.
I dreamed about Frida all night and went back over there first thing the next day. I got Frida out of her cat carrier nest and we spent the day in the grass together. She climbed onto my arm and wiggled her way onto my shoulder. I took pictures and posted them on facebook.
“I always wanted a pet crow,” everybody said.
Frida nibbled at my ear and pulled at my raven-black hair with her beak. I showed her the crow I had tattooed on my arm twenty years ago. She didn’t seem impressed. I lay on my back on the grass and she hopped around, exploring, nibbling at things, tasting the world that was so new to her.
At dusk, her parents arrived.
I knew it must have been her parents because they descended in a great squawking from above, perched on opposite trees around us, and Frida started calling back to them. She hopped further away from me and up onto a little mound of dirt at the edge of the grass. She was already bigger than yesterday, with a few more flight-feathers.
She grows faster than the blackberries, I realized. Her parents dropped down closer, still squawking at me and her. Slowly, so as not to alarm them, I moved back toward the house, onto the covered porch. I sat there at the little table for a while, reading and watching Frida as she hopped deeper into the bushes. Her parents left for a while and then came back, calmer now but still watching me. They carried food in their beaks and took turns giving it to Frida
.I rode the long way back home, weaving through the old neighborhood next to the park. I had my first kiss in that park, a thousand years ago. Gently I swerved to and fro on my bike, reveling in the loneliness, calling it solitude, letting it be strength.
I wondered what would happen to Frida, but I knew I had to let her find her own way, for better or worse. It was just a week before Summer Solstice and the sun took her time going down. Gold and salmon clouds didn’t look they wanted to rain at all.
But they would, soon enough. They would.
written June 2013 in Portland, Oregon