Rose caught this rather wonderful shot yesterday, just down the street from our house. I missed it—I’d been out there gawping at the hawk (ID, anyone? its coloring is throwing me off—could it possibly be a white-tailed kite?)* and had snapped a few wobbly pix, using Beanie’s head as a tripod, but then I ran back to the house to take over stirring the marshmallows Jane was melting for Rice Krispie treats, so she could have a turn. The mobbing crow came along just after I left. Well done, Rose.
The marshmallow treats were this year’s double-birthday feast, in lieu of a cake. My guys had a great day. At Scott’s request, we had a family reading of The Tempest (Act 1; we’ll continue on future Sundays). Rilla did us proud; she gave a splendid cold reading of the role of Ariel (with some vocab coaching from Rose, who prefers to stage manage). Scott was Prospero, Beanie read Miranda, and Jane and I split the other parts between us. I got to ham it up as the old boatswain, so I was happy.
Beauty, tangled and blurred: this is pretty much my life these days. Feverishly working, then wandering out to the garden where I’ll find myself kneeling, gazing, actually watching seeds grow. The radishes, especially. We’ll mark their height and one hour later, they’re taller.
But this morning something had eaten three of them to nubby stems. So. Well. I’m in suspense about tomorrow. Will there be anything left?
“Mommy,” Rilla said earlier this week, “what’s that word for what we do in the garden? I think it starts with a P.”
“Um…putter?” I guess.
“Yes! Putter. Can we go out and putter together? In the garden?”
Can we ever! Music to my ears, little girl. We slip outside together almost every morning and crouch and study. Carrots, sprouted. Lettuces, thriving. Blueberry bushes, loaded with white bells. They were my Mother’s Day present from Scott last year—the year before that, it was my milkweed; he takes hints very well—and when we bought the two small bushes they were covered with blossoms, but almost every last one fell off from transplant shock. Or something. We got exactly three blueberries last year. This year, the plants have acclimated nicely and we have high hopes: perhaps we’ll get a bowlful. They’re little fairy bushes, after all, still tiny.
Rose talks to the mourning doves and they talk back. Me, I’ve got a relationship with a couple of wary crows. I toss bread crusts onto the patio roof and they eye me, heads cocked, from the telephone wire or the enormous Moreton Bay fig on the other side of the schoolyard fence. They wait until I walk away and busy myself in the opposite corner of the yard, and then they swoop. Mornings I neglect my part, they clack at me from the neighbor’s wall.
I’m teaching Wonderboy to fingerknit. It’s slow going; this fine motor work is difficult for him. That’s part of why we’re doing it, to help his fingers become more nimble. But also for the cuddle-up-close time, and the chatter. I’m greedy as a crow about moments like that.
I did have sunflowers blooming last April, but the birds had planted those in February: overspill from the feeder. This year the feeder is in a different spot, shadier, unwatered, and I had to plant the sunflowers myself. They’re coming up nicely, taller now than Wonderboy, not as tall as Beanie.
The Monarchs arrived in late May, not long after I planted my anniversary milkweed. The milkweed is blooming nicely now, despite hordes of yellow aphids, but we’ve seen no trace of caterpillar nor butterfly yet.
Also in bloom: pincushion flower (just barely), nasturtiums galore, enough sweet alyssum to supply Rilla with endless bridal bouquets for her daily weddings, geraniums in red and pink, cornflowers, bougainvillea, ice plants in red and white and magenta, snapdragons, brown-eyed susans, thyme (whoops), cilantro (whoops), the cooking sage (whoops), and the other kind of salvia, loads of it, waiting for the bees.
Goldfinches, bushtits, purple finches, sparrows, hummingbirds, a phoebe, and the marvelous crows: our April birds. We saw a scrub jay on the sidewalk today, a block from home. I love jays, the cheeky, arrogant things. I wish they’d visit our yard more often.
Have you seen Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen? We are just working our way through, and last night we read the letter from the Crow to the sparrow. All the letters are delightful, but so far, this is my favorite.
(Click her name to read her full comment, which includes a quote.)
Pam recalls Those Calculating Crows by Ali Wakefield, a picture book about crows who count, adding:
“It doesn’t get a good review and I remember not really enjoying reading it aloud but my boys liked it and it was worth a look in the library.”
(It’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? Not all books make good read-alouds.)
Su gives props to good old Slow Joe Crow from Fox in Socks;Penny in Vermont reminded me that Tasha Tudor had pet crows who served as models for drawings in several of her books; and Beth of Bookworm Journal gives a shout-out to Kaw, the pet crow of Taran in the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander.
• Rose has taken a shine to the Handbook of Nature Study. Mind you, this is a book I have lunged for on a regular basis throughout her entire life, but this week after we read about crows in it, it was like she discovered it for the first time. I found out the next morning that she took it to bed with her and stayed up late reading about turtles and chipmunks. All day yesterday, she was reading me interesting tidbits about squirrels. And she pointed out that while it would certainly be handy to have an iPod-sized edition to carry around with us, she “wouldn’t have been able to flip through it and find random bits of interest.” Nor, she added as an afterthought, “curl up in bed with it.” She has a point there.
• Remember when the alligator lizard scared the pants off my husband? Yesterday was my turn. I picked up an old plastic pot from the side yard and saw some sidewalk chalk inside. Reached in for the chalk and the pot started violently shaking in my hand—something under the chalk scrabbling around and around. Yes, I screamed. And dropped the pot. And watched the lizard scurry into the grass. And hollered for the kids to come quick before it disappeared. And pretended to be all calm and cool and nature-mama. And lost a year off my life, I’m sure.
• Lark Rise to Candleford update: We’re a little behind. I didn’t much care for the Harvest Festival episode, the one with the plot about the constable and Pearl (not to give too much away). Didn’t buy it. But—I think this was the same episode—I loved the scene in which Alf respectfully, ruefully tells Robert Timmins why he wants to be a farmer. Loved the warm gleam in Robert’s eye as he recognized a fellow craftsman’s passion for his work, the work he is meant to be doing. But then, I just plain love the character of Robert Timmins, period. Possibly because he is a lot like my husband. Blunt, outspoken, humorous, tender, mercurial, passionate about his craft and his family. Yeah. I know that guy.
• I scored 167 points on a single word—corncrib—in Words With Friends. (Scrabble-like app for the iPod Touch.) I’m just saying. EVERYWHERE I POSSIBLY CAN.
• The crows are discarding their empty peanut shells in our birdbath. Ingrates.
• I may actually have to start a whole blog category here for crows. What’s geekier: that or bragging about a Scrabble word score?
OK, I am really enchanted by these crows. We had such fun today, watching them at work on a nest in the top of an enormous tree just the other side of our back fence. Our house backs up to an elementary school (I know, ironic) and in the schoolyard quite near the fence is a very large widespread Moreton Bay fig tree. (I think that’s what it is.) One crow went back and forth to the tippy-top carrying twigs, while another perched in a supervisory manner in a nearby eucalyptus.
At intervals we’d see four crows wheeling about between the fig and another clump of very tall eucalyptus trees on the other side of the school. Perhaps there is another nest over there.
They ate up the peanuts we left them—when we weren’t looking. When I was looking, they only made low swoops over the table, eyeing the nuts and uttering baleful remarks to the wind.
In the evening I saw one of the crows inspecting our driveway, stepping deliberately up its length beside the minivan. Probably he knows it is a reliable source of crushed goldfish crackers.
It was a quite interesting day, though we were stuck at home with the remnants of fevers-and-sniffles. A man came to investigate the scrabblings in our attic; he found two dead rats (horrors) and earned Beanie’s forever-friendship by letting the kids look at one. It was repulsive, she told me. I should think so. Rose now says she wants to pursue a career in pest control so she can see more “fascinating dead things.” There is a moral here somewhere, having to do with what happens when you strew the house with poetry and music and art, I’m sure. Apparently our mental diet has been low in fascinating dead things.
Plenty of fascinating live things in my flower garden: I did a lot of pruning today, and the middle kids had a grand time stripping leaves off the long canes of cape honeysuckle and then swishing them over one another’s heads and being indignant about how they almost knocked each other’s heads off. Swoosh! Like crows swooping low over the peanuts. I left the butterfly bush lopsided because just when I was poised for the final series of whacks, I realized there was a nice little bower behind the honeysuckle and the butterfly bush, if I stopped where I was. So now there’s a comical view from the patio, and a Secret Hideout in the back. They are stocking it with plenty of canes for knocking off each other’s heads.
Things people read today: Jane finished Don’t Know Much About Geography and began the History volume; Rose finished Tuck Everlasting and said she wasn’t sure how she felt about it but wasn’t ready to talk about it yet (I get that, especially with that book); Beanie began The Saturdays; and I finished Charles and Emma, which I greatly enjoyed. Darwin’s personality was not at all as I had envisioned it—I think I’ve imagined him more as a curmudgeonly, uninterruptible sort, very much like the grandfather in Calpurnia Tate. But it seems he was quite a teddy bear of a father, deeply affectionate with his children, so reluctant to spoil their fun by making them stop jumping on the furniture that he’d turn and leave the room rather than tell them to cut it out. And completely adoring of his wife, Emma, respecting her candor and insight even on the very serious questions for which they had quite different answers.
I loved this bit about Charles’s reaction to a wedding present—it begins with a quote from one of his letters:
“My good old friend Herbert sent me a very nice little note, with a massive silver weapon, which he called a Forficula (the Latin for an earwig) and which I thought was to catch hold of soles and flounders.” But Erasmus, who knew these things, told him it was for asparagus.
I’m poking around the stacks now, trying to fix upon which of a dozen promising tomes to read next. I’m craving a really absorbing piece of fiction, something I can fall into. There are a good many likely prospects in previous TBR posts on this blog: I still haven’t made time for I Capture the Castle, which so many of you have enthusiastically suggested, and I STILL haven’t gotten to The Elegance of the Hedgehog, nor The Thirteenth Tale, nor the second Mysterious Benedict Society book, nor In This House of Brede…not to mention this whole list of requests from my kids…plus you’ve got me all fired up to read those Patrick O’Brian books you were talking up in the comments the other day. And Girl of the Limberlost, which I did download to my iPod after your fervent recommendations.
I suppose I might get more reading done if there weren’t so many interesting things happening in my backyard.
“The crow when he sings is nothing short of a clown; he ruffles his feathers, stretches his neck, like a cat with a fish bone in her throat, and with a most tremendous effort delivers a series of hen-like squawks.”
This quote, attributed simply to a “Mr. Mathews” in the Anna Comstock Handbook of Nature Study, elicited a chorus of giggles from my flock this afternoon, when we encountered it during an hour spent informing ourselves about crows. Beanie, the nine-year-old, especially enjoyed it, and I heard her repeating it to herself shortly afterward.
This morning all our plans for the day went up in…not smoke, but mercury. Half the children have fevers and sniffles; some are worse than others. We canceled Shakespeare Club, much to the regret of the teenager and her mother (sob—we were to begin rehearsing scenes from The Scottish Play today), and although the older girls aren’t sick, we thought it best to forego their piano classes as well, lest we pass these unpleasant germs around.
Late in the morning, Rose and I spied a trio of crows quarreling on the phone wires out front. As we watched, it became evident they were fighting for a particularly choice perch on the fixture jutting out from the top of a pole. One bird claimed the spot, and the other two took turns wheeling and diving at him. He wouldn’t budge. They had us in stitches. Rose said it was like Saturday mornings on our sofa, when the children wrestle over the remote control.
We are often amused by the crows who haunt our yard, so we decided to find out more about them. Comstock was, as usual, more than helpful. (But if ever, ever, ever a book begged to be converted to a digital format, it is that unwieldy three-inch-thick behemoth!)
“The crow is probably the most intelligent of all our native birds,” she writes. “It is quick to learn and clever in action, as many a farmer will testify who has tried to keep it out of corn fields with various devices, the harmless character of which the crow soon understood perfectly….”
The kids enjoyed Comstock’s descriptions of tame crows, especially the story of one bird who “was fond of playing marbles with a little boy of the family. The boy would shoot a marble into a hole and then Billy, the crow, would take a marble in his beak and drop it into the hole. The bird seemed to understand the game and was highly indignant if the boy played out of turn and made shots twice in succession.”
Of course now we all want a crow for a pet.
After Anna Comstock, we had to see what the internet could tell us about crows. There was Robert Frost, of course, feeling cheered (as were we!) by the antics of a crow—
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
And Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows.
Comstock had told us that when a flock of crows (excuse me, a murder of them), descend upon a field, one of them always stands sentinel. Rose thinks the crow in the left foreground is probably this bunch’s sentinel.
A tame crow seems to have caught Picasso’s interest, too—
Woman with a Crow, Pablo Picasso.
When you’re talking about crows, Aesop comes to mind. We recalled the fables of the Crow and the Pitcher, and the one about the Fox and the Crow with the bit of cheese.
Crow poetry makes me think of the Scottish ballad, “The Twa Corbies”—rather a grisly tale, but gripping! Here’s a YouTube clip of the poem being read (not sung) aloud in Scots. There’s an English translation below the “more info” link. We also listened to this version sung by The Corries—still grisly, but quite lovely.
We put some peanuts on our patio table and were almost immediately rewarded with a comedy routine performed by three curious crows—the same lads from this morning?—who were terribly intrigued by these Delicious-Smelling Objects left Unattended on the Flat Thing—intrigued but too suspicious to do more than cock their heads and eye them warily from the back of a chair. Then up they’d wheel and careen around the yard, swooping low over the table but never Getting Too Close.
Rose is keeping a count on the peanuts to see if the crows get brave when we aren’t looking.