Friday, April 16, 2010

Dead Crow

I was pushing my youngest through the neighborhood recently in a stroller and happened to see a dead crow in the road. It looked oddly peaceful, not something I typically associate with a dead bird. The black bird looked like it may have simply been walking along the road and decided to stop and lay down. Clearly no cars had hit it and it didn't look like other city wildlife had found it yet. In addition to looking peaceful, it looked lonely. Besides no animals finding it or other crows standing guard, the street was beautifully quiet with crisp spring air and the Maxfield Parish light of dusk.

But what really made the bird seem lonely was that no one seemed to care, not even me. At first I stared at it without really considering what I was seeing. Then I realized what it was and still had no real emotional reaction to it; I see dead animals, particularly squirrels, all the time in our neighborhood. Certainly a dead crow is no different. Crows are under-rated. They aren't considered beautiful by bird standards, and their song is more of a drunken sailor trying to pick up women outside a tattoo parlor. But crows are incredibly smart. For example, crows will bury food to save for later or dig up food or items it has seen buried. They can also be trained to perform simple tasks for rewards. Though we know some birds can be taught such tricks, most in the species can't. But why some much consideration for a crow?

My son repeated "Eh!", while pointing down the road, which means Let's Go!, and I realized the abandoned crow meant more than it appeared. How quickly I, and I suspect you, had forgotten the West Nile Virus scare that really began near the turn of this millennium. News reports covered the virus, mosquitoes, health risks, and dead birds. Now, with swine flu, a pandemic of earthquakes, and health care reform, the elevated place held by a dead bird, the modern canary in a coal mine, has been lost. The dead crow no longer represents the arrival of a deadly disease worthy of regular CDC reports and hazmat suits. No one calls the local authorities and wonders whether the bird died of natural causes or a collision with a truck or a deadly disease. Now, it is just a dead crow. And I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness for it.


Jan Worth-Nelson said...

Good piece, Jake. I've always been taken by crows, sometimes loving them, something not loving them; either way, they are formidable in that they sort of demand attention from time to time. Of course it's the significance of a dead bird, specifically, you get at here, an uneasiness of our time -- it's unnerving. I took a slightly different angle in this old essay, which you've probably seen, from the early days of my trips to San Pedro. In case you haven't, here it is. It was in the Marlboro Review a couple of years ago:

Jacob said...

Jan, I remember your piece and have fond memories of my short visit with you and Ted in S.P.