BLACK NOTES BEAT

By Mary Adler

I have studied and observed crows for years, and the more I’ve learned about them, the more I admire their complex family and flock relationships. They are intelligent, create and use tools, and they teach their skills to other crows. As Rev. Henry Ward Beecher said, “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

Over the years, I have told my family and friends more than they ever wanted to know about crows. One person said, after hearing the stories I told about them, that she stopped trying to run crows down with her car. (There is so much wrong with that statement, that I don’t know where to begin.)

During the non-nesting period of the year, crows gather at night to roost together, sometimes in flocks of thousands. They are stealthy and take a roundabout way to the roosting place. They have good reason to be wary. For decades, humans have killed them, even dynamiting their roosting places at night.

Like many natural creatures, they are good and bad, depending on your viewpoint, and not everyone appreciates their beauty. But I love to watch them streaming across the sky–one small group after another–as they return from foraging to join the flock. When they are together, those who have found a safe source of food will tell the others where it is. They share, but only within their own flock.

One evening, after watching them move across the sky, I wrote this:

 

Black Notes Beat

Black notes beat

Unfurling dusk

     Across the bruising sky.

Quarter notes, half notes

Rise and fall.

Whole notes

       Rest on treetops.

An arpeggio of eighth notes

       Silently swirls,

Scribing a nocturne

     in the fading light.

Softly they spill

       to the nighttime roost:

Rustling,

       murmuring,

              settling,

                     hushed.

Now the still moment,

the last note fading,

No bows, no curtsies,

           No fear of reviews.

They need no applause to perform their works.

*****

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