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Them Crows

Little known facts. When a crow steps into Starbucks, he orders caw-fee. Albino crows are normally called “caw-casions.” This one is even local—crows are known to gather excitedly for a certain Presidential contest: the Iowa caw-cus. One more and then I’ll quit. Why do crows exist? ‘Caws.

They’re everywhere and they’re immensely social. They’re among the most intelligent of birds--of creatures, for that matter. But their infernal song is as bad as a sinus headache. They’re annoyingly familial. Sometimes older brothers and sisters help mom and dad with the little ones—I’m not lying.

Fact is, what lots of us know, when crows gather, as they can, sometimes hundreds of them, they crank up the volume to a level of a dozen garage bands, and, don’t forget, leave a horrific mess. The Bible says God responds to young ravens when they call, and that’s a good thing because when they start their infernal cawing in our trees, I’d just a soon shoot them.

They’ll eat anything—bugs, vermin, roadkill, anywhere, any shape, any time. They hang out at dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. They’re underpaid garbage-men—and women (you can’t tell boys from girls, by the way).

Native people have stories about them, dozens of stories because ravens and their little crow cousins have personalities akin to a red fox. Crows are tricksters. How about this? It’s said that a crow cut up a salmon for bait, then invited Grizzly to go fishing with him. When he took out the bait, the bear asked what it was. Crow told him he’d sliced up his own testicle, so Grizzly did the same—and died. Right then, Crow didn’t need to go fishing.

A researcher discovered that crows actually invite others to their road kill feasts, right nice of ‘em. Maybe that’s why people consider them intelligent: they’ve moved well beyond survival of the fittest. They don’t buy Darwin and they can actually be quite nice. They mate for life and stay close to their families, sometimes for years. If it wouldn’t be for that disgusting diet, we might be tempted to think of them as good neighbors, in every way. And then, maybe they are anyway.

The mountain men in A. B. Gurthrie’s The Big Sky have their beaver pelts strapped down on the canoe they’re taking down river to St. Louis, when they get to spinning yarns. An old codger name of Mefford tells Boon that crows are “the thieven-est bastards this side of hell.” He says he and a sidekick once buried some beautiful beaver pelts to keep the varmints off until they’d circle back to pick ‘em up.

“Afterward,” he says, we scared a bunch of buffalo across the place and rode away sayin’ there wasn’t a nose or eye in man or brute as could tell there was beaver underneath. “By my goodness,” he says, in more colorful language, “them crows did! Warn’t a hair left come spring.”

For the 1988 Minnesota State Centennial, the town of Belgrade, Minnesota, created a huge black crow on a thirty-foot branch atop a cement pedestal,. That crow is 18 feet tall. I’d love to know where the city council was meeting the night the idea for that sculpture passed—what roadhouse tap. It’s not particularly beautiful or moving. Just a huge crow.

Crows don’t need a blessing. They manage. They often clean up just off the highway, but you never see a dead one. Too darn smart. They thrive. Come early winter most evenings they come into town in droves, hundreds of them, then sit in trees and yak about how the day went.

Amazing. All I know is that somebody in Belgrade, Minnesota, must love crows.

So should the rest of us maybe, but you know what they say, “for some, it just don’t come easy.”

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa.
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