Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sentinel

He is always at his post waiting for me when I go out to tend the garden first thing in the morning.  As I head towards the vegetable plot a big black crow perched on the wire delivers a warning to his family members - Caaw! Caaw! Caaw!    Roosting in the branches of a tall spruce tree, the adults and fledglings in the flock take heed and stay where they are.

The sentinel crow pays attention as I do my chores - weeding, hoeing, raking, picking.  He quietly watches my movements, noticing when I stop to sample the cherries, test the beans and pluck some lettuce leaves. Two hours pass, the rows are weed-free, my basket is full and I'm ready for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal.  From the kitchen I  hear the clarion call: it's time for the birds' breakfast.

We've strung shiny aluminum pie plates in the garden, but the crows are not afraid of flashy round moving objects.  We installed a life-size scarecrow, but they know it's not human.  We added a wooden owl, but they figured out that it's a harmless decoy, not a threat.  Crows are smart creatures, endowed with superb hearing and eyesight, and a brain that's capable of high-level information processing.  They are territorial, communal and omnivorous.

Over breakfast, I tell Robert that the cherries are still a little too sour for harvesting, that if we held off for a day or two they would be at their most desirable stage -  dark burgundy, sweet and juicy.   This will be an exercise in delayed gratification, I reason, a worthwhile waiting game.  I recall the abundance of last year's harvest and the pie that followed....


The crows are not as particular as we are about sugar content or colour and have no problem devouring under-ripe fruit.  During the time it took me to eat my Shreddies, the flock finished off a summer feast.   Plenty of pits littered the ground, but not one cherry was left on the tree.

Alex Colville, "Seven Crows" acrylic polymer on hardboard, 1980,
Owens Art Gallery, Mt. Allison University, Sackville, N.B.
Alex Colville painted this haunting image of crows based on a nursery rhyme: 

One crow sorrow
Two crows joy
Three crows a letter
Four crows a boy
Five crows silver
Six crows gold
Seven crows a story never to be told.