Most winter mornings at Sandy Point, we are awakened at dawn by the cold cawing of the crows. Who knows what all the racket’s about? They go on and on, back and forth, calling and repeating from the poplars behind the house to the spruces across the road to the trio of stately old oaks at the foot of the driveway.
Groggily, Douglas and I grumble about them. Why are they up and about and looking for trouble so early in the day? What in the world are they shouting at each other across the frosty field? And, if they’re so smart, why don’t they learn some kind of song, or at least add to their painfully limited vocabulary?
But the truth is, we admire these rebellious subjects and their strutting, mercenary ways. By the time the sun is brightening the tops of the spruces, I’m down in the kitchen slicing up an English muffin for them while the coffee brews. I cut it into small cubes and then step outside in my bathrobe, with the pieces of bread on the wooden cutting board in my hand.
Apparently, they have trained me well.
The crows – we have a resident tribe of five, each indistinguishable from the other – are waiting. Two in the apple tree by the driveway. One on the powerline from the road. Two more patrolling the lower field, ostensibly looking for ants or whatever else might be down there but really keeping a beady eye on the kitchen door.
Hello, good morning, I say to the ones nearest the house. I scatter the bread cubes across the grass. Then, in a moment that never fails to delight my husband, I call to them. “Aaw! Aaw!” I shout sharply, trying to imagine what this might mean in their native tongue.
But sometimes, for no real reason other than that it pleases me, I revert to my own language, sort of. “Ban-diiii-tos!” I trill, channeling some hackneyed old Disney cartoon or another. “Ban-diiii-tos!”
If for some reason the crows aren’t at their posts — if, say, they’re down at the end of the road pestering the neighbor’s cat or up on Route 1 checking out some tasty roadkill — this call generally brings them on the run … er, wing. Within a couple of minutes, there they are. This is why, I blush to confess, Douglas calls me his Crow Whisperer.
They won’t come down until I’m back in the house. But as soon as the door closes behind me, they swoop in and grab up all the bread crumbs, cramming them into their greedy beaks, elbowing each other out of the way and then flapping off in a huff. They make me laugh out loud. I never tire of watching them, though I have no illusions about who’s actually calling the shots in our relationship.
The other morning, the banditos were out of sight when I stepped outside with their breakfast. I could hear them shouting and carrying on from the hillside behind the house. Peering around the corner, I saw them, all five together perched up in one tree. They were making an awful ruckus. Why?
Then, from the corner my eye, I saw a small movement in the brown grass of the field. It was a red fox, handsome, with a thick brush of a tail. He was probably hunting for his own breakfast – a little mouse or a vole, most likely. He had endured the crows’ derisive commentary, but my presence was too much for him. He glanced at me over his sleek shoulder, made a few slow, graceful bounds and was gone in the shadows of the woods.
The crows kept up their public abuse for another minute or so, then drifted silently over toward me and the muffin they knew I had for them.
I like living here, where these small dramas play out so intimately, where the characters reveal themselves in ways that make me think I know them, when, of course, I don’t know them at all.