Crow-Sourcing

Where did it all begin? With …

Basho‘s raven?

Brueghel‘s winter crow perched above Hunters in the Snow?

Hunters in the Snow

Vasily Surikov‘s original inspiration for the composition of Boiarina Morozova?

Winter_in_Moscow

Eisenstein‘s spectral Potemkin crow’s nest-and-mast?

Potemkin_yardarm

Hitchcock‘s Bodega Bay jungle gym?

Hitchcock_417c

Tarkovsky‘s rear window backdrop to the Solaris mise-en-abyme Berton backstory?

geste et gesture

geste et gesture

 

Why my sudden interest in Corvus brachyrhynchos?  Because they’ve been making their presence unmistakable in recent days. Even though they’ve always been around and among us, for millennia.

You may have noticed them …

  • crow-hopping across lawns and meadows.
  • Perching on fences, tombstones, Dumpsters, or swaying tree crests and limbs.
  • Clustering on telephone lines awaiting their casting call or cue from Disney animators.

When you can’t see them you’ll still hear them –a two- or three-caw location/status update, a five-caw warning of unexpected environmental change, a seven-caw alarm call of imminent potential threat.

And when you can’t see or hear them, crows still refuse to be erased from mere human consciousness.  Small shiny objects left in the open will tend to disappear in crow neighborhoods –but don’t call them thievin’ crows, because they usually leave something in exchange.  Like a small travel tin of dental floss the size of a nickel, in trade for a shimmering, opalescent plastic pearl.  Who’s to say that’s not a fair trade?  After all, a crow needs dental floss about as much as a human needs plastic pearls.

Although their beaks don’t benefit from regular flossing, crows are prodigious eaters:

“Crows are omnivorous, and their diet is very diverse. They will eat almost anything, including fruits, nuts, mollusks, earthworms, seeds, frogs, other birds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion. The origin of placing scarecrows in grain fields resulted from the crow’s incessant crop damage and scavenging, although crows also assist farmers by eating insects otherwise attracted to their crops.”

Which brings me to scarecrows. The crows in my neighborhood don’t seem to be ravenous consumers of  grain, perhaps because there are plenty of “fruits, nuts, earthworms, seeds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion” everywhere around.  But.  As winter descends southward from the Canadian tundra and prairies, flocks of geese in their myriad thousands flee before the relentless advance of ice and snow, flying across forest, mountain and vale in search of forage and fodder.  Here in the maritime clime of the Mid-Atlantic region, tender green shoots of winter wheat have sprouted from furrowed cropland and lie exposed to the open sky.  A Thanksgiving banquet laid out before countless pairs of beady black eyes.

This particular wheat was planted in mid-October, a few weeks after the soybean harvest.  For the first few weeks the farmer didn’t particularly mind about the grazing geese: he thought that deep-rooted wheat plants would be strong enough to withstand the remorseless onslaught of close-cropping beaks.  By late November he had changed his mind: along the fringes of the fields rows upon rows of glowing green wheat clusters stood seven inches tall, but in the center … wide swaths of bare grey-brown soil clearly could be seen from the distant roadside.  The wheat had been browsed down to less than half an inch high.

At 9 AM every morning for a week he drove his pickup truck a quarter-mile up the driveway and walked out into the field, waving his arms as he approached the uninvited feeders.  Each day, the geese responded with a honking chorus of dismay and panic that reached a crescendo as they struggled into the air and flew away.  But it’s a two-mile drive against rush hour commuter traffic from his house to the wheat fields, so this clearly wasn’t a sustainable practice for the longer haul.
Time for a technology intervention.  The other morning when I looked out my back window at 9:30, I saw something beyond the trees –outstanding in the field.  Two hundred meters away.  I walked through the drizzle and mud for a closer look.  A kitschy scarecrow with clanking aluminum piepan hands.  And another one a further two hundred meters beyond.  American Gothic for the 21st Century.

Scare-combo

Long story short: no more geese in the wheat.  The crows are still around.

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