Friday, March 28, 2014

`Thinking to Keep It There Alive'

If this Polish/Irish mongrel, whelped in the United States, were to design a coat of arms, it would include the image of a crow passant on the dexter side, the side of greatest honor. The crow embodies the virtues I value most – intelligence, resourcefulness, courage and dignity. I thought of this last week in Austin when I saw two flattened, bloody crows and a blood-spattered chunk of masonry in a downtown alley. Some write off crows as vermin, as worthy of extermination as mosquitoes. I remembered an anecdote shared by Guy Davenport in his essay “Finding” (The Geography of the Imagination, 1981): “Sir Walter Scott, out hunting and with some good lines suddenly in his head, brought down a crow, whittled a pen from a feather, and wrote the poem on his jacket in crow’s blood.” I wasn’t looking for one but that gives me yet another reason not to read Scott. 

In his journal on this date, March 28, in 1856, Thoreau recounts the story of another abused crow, one with a marginally happier fate: 

“Sam Barrett tells me that a boy caught a crow in his neighborhood the other day in a trap set for mink. Its leg was broken. He brought it home under his arm, and laid it down in a shop, thinking to keep it there alive. It looked up sidewise, as it lay seemingly helpless on the floor, but, the door being open, all at once, to their surprise, it lifted itself on its wings and flitted out and away without the least trouble. Many crows have been caught in mink-traps the past winter, they have been compelled to visit the few openings in brooks, etc., so much for food.”

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