I see it in the branches of the fig trees. Plump green figs of late summer now reduced to shriveled orbs. Some of the leaves blackened by an early freeze still litter the grounds where I do my daily walk for work. Others have turned a familiar brown and are now drowning in puddles of rain.
Andrew Wyeth wrote : I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story doesn’t show.
I watch for signs of that bone structure everywhere now. I find it in the wintered-over planters and in the debris that has blown off of the trees that are rooted blocks away. I see it mostly in the silhouettes of the trees where the crows roost.
I have a weird fascination with crows. I chase them at dusk as they all circle and cackle before settling in for their nightly ritual of quiet communal sleep. The sheer number racing across the sky in those hours before darkness is impressive and exhilirating. If I’m really lucky, I will see them all leaving that roost in the early morning to go about their scavenger ways.
They roost in numbers ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands. The home they have adopted in Auburn is on the upper end of that range. They choose a spot near shopping centers or garbage dumps. The trees must be free of the cover of leaves and there must be a light source so that they can see a predator coming.
Most cities see them as a nuisance and employ elaborate plans to control the behavior of these wise birds. Mostly, those plans fail. Crows are known to be among the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. They use tools. They communicate danger amongst their community. They have been known to have ritual behaviors when one is found dead.
Some crows live to be 20 years old. The oldest captive crow was documented at 59 years old. The American crow population is highly susceptible to West Nile Virus and it has depleted their population in staggering numbers.
For the most part, they are scavengers. I saw a presentation several years ago by a team of UW researchers that showed an unusual hierarchy. Some crows follow the scavengers to food, then “bully” them to steal their find. A crow needs about 11 ounces of food daily. Some don’t feel the need to do the work. I’d speculate it is the older group who bully the younger ones.
They roost in winter and in early spring they disperse. I’m determined to learn even more about these creatures this year. Where do they sleep in spring and summer ? Why do they no longer need the commune for safety ? I love how smart they are. I love how family-oriented they seem to be.
There are two seasons for me:
Hiking season and crow season.
Light and dark.
Green and grey.
Warm and cool.
I’m grateful for the distraction in these winter months. My body stiffens in these cooler temperatures. I long for the cool mornings that will give way to warm, sunny days. Today, I’m putting up my map of Mount Rainier as I start planning for this next season of hiking. Until then, I’m watching my crows with delight. I’ll chase them at dusk until the early darkness gives way to longer days and sunny evenings.