Crow Diary, or since I am not going to Paris (12/07 - 5/08)
One of the crows flies off. He lands about a hundred feet west on a fence bordering the school ground. I watch as he parachutes down from the fence to the nearby sidewalk, I want to get photos of him on the ground. I pedal over. Before I get there he hops back onto the fence. Not wanting to scare him off, I slow down and with my feet on the ground edge the bike closer. Once more he pushes off and lands on the sidewalk. I stop, lay my bike down, and sneak up. He makes his way towards the street corner twenty some feet away, wobbling as he does (you would too if you had no knees). I try to get some photos, but am having trouble with the focus. The grey sky doesn’t help. I notice him eyeing the surroundings. He moves to the edge of the walk and then moves off into the leaves and debris near the fence. With his beak he picks up a brown yellow leaf and tosses it to the side. He rummages using his beak through the small piles the wind has gathered near the fence bottom. He comes back out onto the walk, travels some steps, and then ducks back into the leaves, pushing and picking with his beak, looking.
Eventually he makes it to the corner. A twenty-foot walk is a good distanced one for someone with a stride measured in inches. When he reaches the street corner he flies off into a small tree. In a yard near a small home across the narrow street from the tree, I discover a group of crows and turn my camera towards them. They too are picking through the leaves, trigs, and debris littering the lawn, leaves once gold and red now dark after days of wet and cold seasoning, forming a dark slick in places. Beneath and amongst them lies fruit and nuts fallen from surrounding trees. The neighborhood abounds in old fruit bearing trees which have served generations of working folks. On the manicured lawns of the affluent, what has fallen has been gathered and taken away. Here it nourishes insects and provides meals for crows. It is fecund in decay.
4) Saturday 1/12/08
A day off of work. I am happy not to be schlepping some heavy stubborn piece of particle board furniture across the sales floor or waiting on some customer who is asking a cheaper price for the cheaply priced stuff he wants. Still I get up early to take photos of crows near work. Usually I arrive there on my bike a little before eight am. Often on my way I see crows in yards and trees, on the poles and thick wires above the traffic.
It is cold and overcast. I decide to walk, work is only a half mile from my apartment. Turning a corner a few blocks from my place I hear them. A group of crows are dancing above the trees, heading towards the affluent area I visited a few weeks ago. I consider following them, decide they are too far off.
While crossing a street I discover a dead possum, a young one, lying in the street near the curb. Blood has pooled around his head, likely hit by a vehicle. Grasping him by the leg I place him on the grass above the curb, seems a better place for a possum’s memory. It bothers me animals get killed by cars, seems wrong the need to get from spot A to spot B means things have to die. The young possum’s flesh colored foot resembles a child’s hand, it has lines crossing it much like a palm does, one of its digits resembles a thumb. I take photos.
A crow walks across a parking lot minding his own business. The crow picks up something, tosses it, walks a bit, finds something else. Cars pass nearby, dogs bark a way off, clouds float overhead, he picks it up, examines it, acting much as a guy foraging for mushrooms. You approach, he sees you and walks off, he is no dummy. Wouldn’t you walk off if someone a hundred times your size approached you. He strolls off in a manner that says leave me alone I’m minding my own business. If you bug him enough he flies away, saying to himself doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than bug me.
I recall a crow’s black head bent, pulling at a dead squirrel flattened in the street. As a car approached, the crow released his grip and hopped to the curb, waiting for traffic to pass and a return to scavenging. Pulling at sinew, not aware he was causing me a wince, he helped me realize even though it seems a waste something should die getting from point A to point B, it doesn’t mean things get wasted. The dead don’t leave the world. I look to the wires and as luck has it I don’t see any black sentinels today.
I walk a few blocks from the avenue to Goodwill’s parking lot. A dirty white seagull stands like a hood ornament past the upper curve of a metal light pole. Others peruse the grounds. One customer would bring bags of stale bread and bakery goods in the morning and toss them onto the lot’s asphalt surface. He enjoyed watching the gulls swoop down after the stuff. But even the gulls get tired of crappy food. They ate some of what he tossed, but not all, leaving the rest for car tires and the elements. My boss told him one day to stop it. He didn’t want to have to send someone out to clean up after him again. I don’t believe anyone would have said a thing if the guy would have thrown out less crap. I suspect he liked watching birds flock down after the stuff he threw out, squawking, scrambling, and intimidating one another to get at the stale bread more than he cared about feeding them.
The customers do their own scramble every morning. The store is an “as is” thrift store. We put goods that haven’t sold in other retail Goodwill stores out on large bin tables and charge a low per pound price for them. We have over a hundred big rolling bins on the floor, some piled with clothes, some have toys, household goods, lamps, and hardware, poking up and buried waiting. The store resembles a warehouse, with cement floors, high ceilings, and plain fixtures. Every morning, twenty to forty people gather at the front doors before we begin at 8 am. We unlock the doors and the customers push in, heading for the bins. Most hurry, their feet shuffling a fast walk, one blond middle-aged woman who is there most week days usually shouts out, the daily rush being a “hoot” for her. The doorway forces some of them against each other, usually there is a little pushing and shoving. They want to be the first one to the goods.
It is a fertile place, Portland. Attribute it to soil, a temperate climate, and a good amount of sun and rain. There is a way it rains here. It sprinkles in starts and stops. It comes down, wets the ground, and quits. I often come out mornings to a wet ground and no rain, grey clouds passing overhead, looking like it could rain any moment, then later in the day it clears up and the sun shines. Sometimes I think Portland is under a drip hose, maybe some god, a Northwest one, a logger god, takes a look in on us and turns it on and off when we need it.
I photograph the area inside the road, the highest point on Tabor resides in there. At an area that looks west to Portland’s city center, down and over Hawthorne street with its many shops, its traffic, cars, trucks, and buses making their way to and away from the city center, across the river I stop and take a seat on a park bench. The downtown looks like OZ, a mecca nestled below the green hills, the road a river of commerce pooling, flowing into the rise of buildings. The crows are in the city on the lookout, in neighborhoods where the houses stand like tombstones and small mausoleums between the trees. We are living ghosts of those who came before us. The crows ghosts of dinosaurs who wisely took to the air.
I get on the bike and ride casually over to the eastern side of the oval to find Mount Hood, pointy and snowy, sitting majestic on the horizon. Mt. Hood, even though it is sixty some miles away, plays a part in Portland’s psyche, its identity. If you take Mt. Hood out of the picture you could be looking at about any medium large sized metropolitan city in the US. Portland people like their mountain, their volcano. Mt. Tabor sounds an echo, a reminder, a small brother to those Cascade giants who are a mix of the classic elements, earth, fire, water and air. Who knows when the tic of the geological clock might bring back the fire, interrupt the blowing snow, the ripples on the lakes, displace boulders.