The Way of the Crow



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On one occasion when Dorothy phoned, Spirit was feeling especially ornery, and cantankerous towards everyone and everything. He began ranting and crowing to sweet heaven the moment I touched the phone and said "Hello". It was terrible! I began to sweat. Huge beads of sweat began to break out on my forehead. Frantic, I dashed headlong for the pile of blankets on my bed and dove under them, phone in hand. Piling on top of me everything I could grab within reach, I tried to bring some semblance of normality to the situation. All the while, of course, I endeavoured to talk to Dorothy in a calm, level-headed manner. The heat was awful with the half dozen heavy blankets, pillows, shirts, and other assorted items over my head. Comical in retrospect, it was a very tense experience at the time, and one I wouldn't care to repeat.

However, as the years passed, and I learned more about the ways of crows, I improved my sense of humour, and learned to flow with the occasional novel situation. I adjusted to having Spirit in the cabin, and didn't give a darn whether he crowed when the phone rang. Remember, this happened before the arrival of cell phones or wireless gadgets. The cell phone would have been heaven-sent in this situation; but, then again, I would have missed a lot of interesting reactions from Spirit.

Yet, in the meantime, I did discover a method whereby I could have quiet conversations if I wished. The purchase of an answering machine allowed me to collect my messages, and answer important calls from a pay phone or another residence. Later, I made the important discovery that Spirit would rarely caw in the darkness. I was able to have quiet, peaceful phone conversations after sunset, with the lights off in my cabin.



I heated my cabin with a woodstove during the winter months, and Spirit was somewhat fearful of the size of the stove and its doors. On many occasions, when I opened the doors, he would caw loudly and run to the safety of his box. I had a fire place stove with large front doors. The movement of the doors would alert him to the possibility of danger. However, this fear would quickly pass, and he would become quite excited when I prepared a fire, although I could never determine whether he preferred a well heated room to a cool room? I didn't notice any great difference in his activity, or vocalization pattern, either way.

During our years together Spirit rarely had to contend with winter cold. Once, he was caught outside in very cold temperatures during the latter part of November. The weather had been quite mild up to that point. The forecast called for continuing mild temperatures. I had no idea that it was going to change so drastically. Winter arrived suddenly one particular night. The temperature dipped very quickly, accompanied by snow and high winds. As Spirit hadn't been exposed to such temperatures before, I was very concerned. Going outside at two o'clock in the morning, I was amazed to find Spirit sitting calmly, facing the wind and snow, with no visible sign of discomfort. I had to make a decision rather quickly, either to leave him where he was, or to bring him into my cabin. I chose to leave him outside, mainly because I realized how defensive and onery a crow becomes during the hours of darkness.15 I knew it would be difficult to catch him. Also, as he didn't seem the least bit perturbed by the weather, I decided it wasn't an emergency situation. The next day I carried Spirit into the warmth of my cabin.

I have always felt a sense of awe at the way crows and other wild birds are able to care for themselves in extreme winter weather. Scientists claim that the black feathers of the crow or raven are a distinct advantage to them in cold temperatures, since they absorb short wave energy, decreasing the temperature gradient between the skin and outer feathers. This makes those birds very well equipped for Canadian winters. Even so, knowing how I had pampered Spirit through the winters of his life, I worried about how he might weather his first storm. You can imagine the relief when I discovered how well he handled the temperatures of that particular November night. I was prepared to make an emergency rescue which would have been difficult, since he never liked to be approached in darkness, and was always quite contrary at such times. However, I noticed that If I shone a light in the area of his living quarters, he would quickly regain daylight consciousness, and lose his hostility towards me. I imagine Spirit's defensive attitude at night was a genetic thing, an inheritance from generations of crows, who were vigilant against attacks from predators such as owls who search for food during darkness.

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