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    Count on crows

    Lately, I’ve been working for the crows, and so far it’s the
    best job I ever had. I fell into it by a combination of
    preparedness and luck. I’d been casting around a bit, looking for a
    new direction in my career, and one afternoon when I was out on my
    walk I happened to see some crows fly by. One of them landed on a
    telephone wire just above my head. I looked at him for a moment,
    and then on impulse I made a skchhh noise with my teeth and lips.
    He seemed to like that; I saw his tail make a quick upward bobbing
    motion at the sound. Encouraged, I made the noise again, and again
    his tail bobbed. He looked at me closely with one eye, then turned
    his beak and looked at me with the other, meanwhile readjusting his
    feet on the wire. After a few minutes, he cawed and flew off to
    join his companions. I had a good feeling I couldn’t put into
    words. Basically, I thought the meeting had gone well, and as it
    turned out, I was right. When I got home there was a message from
    the crows saying I had the job.

    That first interview proved indicative of the crows’ business
    style. They are very informal and relaxed, unlike their public
    persona, and mostly they leave me alone. I’m given a general
    direction of what they want done, but the specifics of how to do it
    are up to me. For example, the crows have long been unhappy about
    public misperceptions of them: that they raid other birds’ nests,
    drive songbirds away, eat garbage and dead things, can’t sing,
    etc.–all of which is completely untrue once you know them. My first
    task was to take these misperceptions and turn them into a more
    positive image. I decided the crows needed a slogan that emphasized
    their strengths as a species. The slogan I came up with was Crows:
    We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I told this to the crows, they loved
    it, and we’ve been using it ever since.

    Crows speak a dialect of English rather like that of the remote
    hill people of the Alleghenies. If you’re not accustomed to it, it
    can be hard to understand. In their formal speech they are as
    measured and clear as a radio announcer from the Midwest–though, as
    I say, they are seldom formal with me. (For everyday needs, of
    course, they caw.) Their unit of money is the empty soda bottle,
    which trades at a rate of about 20 to the dollar. In the recent
    years of economic boom, the crows have quietly amassed great power.
    With investment capital based on their nationwide control of
    everything that gets run over on the roads, they have bought a
    number of major companies. Pepsi-Cola is now owned by the crows, as
    well as Knight Ridder newspapers and the company that makes
    Tombstone frozen pizzas. The New York Metropolitan Opera is now
    wholly crow-owned.

    In order to stay competitive, the crows recently merged with the
    ravens. This was done not only for reasons of growth but also to
    better serve those millions who live and work near crows. In the
    future, both crows and ravens will be known by the group name of
    Crows, so if you see a bird and wonder which it is, you don’t have
    to waste any time: Officially and legally, it’s a crow. The net
    result of this, of course, is that now there are a lot more
    crows–which is exactly what the crows want. Studies they’ve
    sponsored show that there could be anywhere from 10 to a thousand
    times more crows than there already are, with no strain on carrying
    capacity. A healthy increase in crow numbers would make basic
    services like cawing loudly outside your bedroom window at six in
    the morning available to all. In this area, as in many others, the
    crows are thinking very long term.

    If more people in the future get a chance to know crows as I
    have done, they are in for a real treat. Because I must say, the
    crows have been absolutely wonderful to me. I like them not just as
    highly profitable business associates but as friends. Their
    aggressive side, admittedly quite strong in disputes with scarlet
    tanagers and other birds, has been nowhere in evidence around me. I
    could not wish for any companions more charming. The other day I
    was having lunch with an important crow in the park–me sipping from
    a drinking fountain while he ate peanuts taken from a squirrel. In
    between sharp downward raps of his bill on the peanut shell to poke
    it open, he drew me out with seemingly artless questions. Sometimes
    the wind would push the shell to one side and he would steady it
    with one large foot while continuing the raps with his beak. And
    all the while, he kept up his attentive questioning, making me feel
    that, business considerations aside, he was truly interested in
    what I had to say.

    Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I think this slogan is
    worth repeating, because there’s a lot behind it. Of course, the
    crows don’t literally want (or expect) to be the only species of
    bird left on the planet. They admire and enjoy other kinds of birds
    and even hope that there will still be some remaining in limited
    numbers out of doors as well as in zoos and museums. But in terms
    of daily usage, the crows hope that you will think of them first
    when you’re looking for those quality-of-life intangibles usually
    associated with birds. Singing, for example: Crows actually can
    sing, and beautifully, too; so far, however, they have not been
    given the chance. In the future, with fewer other birds around,
    they feel that they will be.

    Whether they’re good-naturedly harassing an owl caught out in
    daylight, or carrying bits of sticks and used gauze bandage in
    their beaks to make their colorful, free-form nests, or simply
    landing on the sidewalk in front of you with their characteristic
    double hop, the crows have become a part of the fabric of our days.
    When you had your first kiss, the crows were there, flying around
    nearby. They were cawing overhead at your college graduation, and
    worrying a hamburger wrapper through the wire mesh of a trash
    container in front of the building when you went in for your first
    job interview, and flapping past the door of the hospital where you
    held your first-born child. The crows have always been with us, and
    they promise that by growing the species at a predicted rate of 17
    percent a year, in the future they’ll be around even more.

    The crows aren’t the last Siberian tigers, and they don’t
    pretend to be. They’re not interested in being a part of anybody’s
    dying tradition. But then how many of us deal with Siberian tigers
    on a regular basis? Usually, the nontech stuff we deal with–besides
    humans–is squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, rats, mice, and a few kinds
    of bugs. The crows are confident enough to claim that they will be
    able to compete effectively even with these familiar and
    well-entrenched providers. Indeed, they have already begun to
    displace pigeons in the category of walking around under park
    benches with chewing gum stuck to their feet. Scampering nervously
    in attics, sneaking through pet doors, and gnawing little holes in
    things are all in the crows’ expansion plans.

    I would not have taken this job if I did not believe, strongly
    and deeply, in the crows. And I do. I could go on and on about the
    crows’ generosity, taste in music, sense of family values; the
    ‘buddy system’ they invented to use against other birds, the work
    they do for the Shriners, and more. But they’re paying me a lot of
    bottles to say this–I can’t expect everybody to believe me. I do
    ask, if you’re unconvinced, that you take this simple test: Next
    time you’re looking out a window or driving in a car, notice if
    there’s a crow in sight. Then multiply that one crow by lots and
    lots of crows, and you’ll get an idea of what the next few years
    will bring. In the bird department, no matter what, the future is
    going to be almost all crows, almost all the time. That’s just a
    fact.

    So why not just accept it, and learn to appreciate it, as so
    many of us have already? The crows are going to influence our
    culture and our world in beneficial ways we can’t even imagine
    today. Much of what they envision I am not yet at liberty to
    disclose, but I can tell you that it is magnificent. They are going
    to be birds like we’ve never seen. In their dark, jewel-like eyes
    burns an ambition to be more and better and to fly around all over
    the place constantly. They’re smart, they’re driven, and they’re
    comin’ at us. The crows : Let’s get ready to welcome tomorrow’s
    only bird.

    FromDoubleTake(Fall 2000). Subscriptions: $32/yr. (4 issues) from Box 56070,
    Boulder, CO 80322-6070.

    Published on Mar 1, 2001

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