Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hey guys, over here!

I couldn't hear him clearly because the doors were closed - but I could tell by his body language that the solitary crow was saying "CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW" or (in more understandable human terms) "Hey guys, over here, something's up!" I also knew without looking that the exact same scene was being repeated simultaneously in several other yards in our neighborhood.

Later that day I heard pretty much the same thing on my television set at the beginning of the local news.

My late friend Peter used to say that the weather forecast was the only reason that anyone watched such programming. The job of the news director is to come up with things to keep the viewer paying attention until then. Hence the "if it bleeds, it leads!" format.

So for them it is even better when the "breaking news" is a "Weather Alert!" and the anchors can immediately toss the ball to the shirtsleeved meteorologist who tells us excitedly that he is going to tell us something exciting later on in the broadcast.


Sometimes the calling-crow is successful in garnering the interest of its fellow travelers. The additional visitors arrive en masse, strutting and bobbing across the lawn, looking for something to entertain their little bird brains. Their attention span is pretty short -- a few minutes at the most. They begin to look bored. One or two of them fly off to the top of some distant tree. Then some unseen something sets off one of these new higher-ups.

"CAW-CAW-CAW". ("Danger! Danger!" Danger!)

Everyone's interest perks up. Crows come from far-and-wide just to be a part of the great panicky group flyaway. "CAW-CAW-CAW" is now everywhere. The black blanket that briefly covered my yard now momentarily conceals the sky -- and then, just as rapidly, splinters apart to search for the next "CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW" happening.

When the weather segment finally arrives the television screen fills with rapidly swirling clouds of bright colors. Those closest to pink are the scariest. Phrases like "at the worst possible time -- right during the morning commute", and "as much as six inches in places", hurl themselves across the room.

The "weather event" is at least two days away but a "crawl" on the bottom of the picture already announces the future closing of institutions you never heard of, in towns that you didn't know existed. Several school systems simply shut down for the duration of winter and cancel all summer vacations for teachers and students.

The program ends with the admonition to "stay tuned to this station for further updates" as well as a "final forecast at eleven."

Meanwhile my front yard has become quietly populated with various pintsized birds (finches, juncos, chickadees, tufted titmice, squirrels, and an occasional cardinal) -- more visitors but less noise. Our family room is also more subdued now with classical music from the radio providing background for reading.

At the beginning of Barbara Kingsolver's new novel "The Lacuna" a thirteen year-old boy who has just discovered the sounds of the underwater world asks, "What is the difference between talking and making a noise?"

"[It depends] On intention. Whether he wants another fish to understand his meaning.... If a fish only wants to show that it is there, it's a noise."

The problem is that it is not always easy to discern intention in the midst of clamor.

You can learn about these and other crow calls at

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