Copyright 2002 by Marc Robinson

My life as a crow

Before I get started, I want you to go off and do an experiment. Watch some crows when they fly. Watch them when they caw. See how heavy their bodies seem when they hop out of the way of your car.

There. You see? Everything is work for us. We have to spend every ounce of effort, just to fly. Cawing is work. Our bodies are too heavy.

Everyone knows we're smart. Like that boy in the farmhouse who hates us, and sneaks up behind the wall to shoot us. Does he think we can't see him? That we don't know what he's trying to do? Why does he think we all sit in that old dead tree in the middle of the corn field, all facing different directions? We know he's liable to show up any moment. And if he doesn't, we caw, to draw him out. As soon as he gets close to the range he could hit us from, we leave, zigging and zagging as we fly. We have to get our entertainment somehow.

It's almost irrelevant, being intelligent. I'd much rather be a member of a species no one messes with -- the way tigers used to be, before the Chinese started paying for tiger parts. Nobody bothered a tiger. Or elephants, before people started encroaching on their territory. Maybe something inconspicuous, like a vole. Or porpoises. Yeah, that would be perfect. But almost every species has some problem. If you aren't a prey species, then there's something else you have to battle with, sometimes the members of your own species. The humans, who sit on top of the pyramid, are worst. When they aren't killing something else, they're killing each other, or at least abusing each other.

So maybe I should be glad I'm a crow. Generally, nothing bothers us. We hate red-tailed hawks, and our relatives the blue jays, and I'd kill every owl on the planet if I could. But other than that, we don't have any enemies. We're common enough that we're almost inconspicuous. We're annoying, but not enough that humans try to exterminate us.

The big problem, as I said, is that we just have to work too damn hard. God cursed us with bodies too heavy for our muscles. We have a whole theology about this, and it's one of our main topics of conversation. He put us in these bodies as a specific punishment for transgressions in previous lives. Say you're a person or animal that abuses its strength and speed. Voila: a dozen lives as a crow serves as an object lesson in conservation of energy. Not to mention humility.

The other problem -- the big problem -- is intelligence. We all hate being this smart and not having an opposable thumb. It's boring. We spend all day thinking of things we could do (mostly pranks), and then we can't do them.


The rain woke me early and I lay in bed looking out the window, which faced west so it collected the drops from the wind. I watched them accrue with even randomness on the panes. Then I dressed and went and stood on the porch. The air was colder than the morning before. The maple had spread its leaves, red and gold, in a circle on the lawn under its branches overnight.

I watched the cars drive by, the street getting darker as the water gathered on its surface, until the sound of the passing cars was paper tearing, or the speeded-up sound of static electricity on a winter night. Farther off, on the highway just below the crest of the hill, the rain was coming down hard now and the cars trailed clouds of mist that looked exactly like the plumes of smoke they'd be trailing in a few months, in winter.

I heard the door open and close and Grandpa stood next to me, smoking his pipe. "Raining right smart," he commented. When his tobacco went out, he said, "They should be here soon," and grasped my shoulder and went back inside.

They were late. I stood and watched the highway, looking for their car.