Taylor: When the crows went dancing

When the west wind blows across the lake, it has to rise when it hits the cliffs along the eastern shore.

The other day, I watched a cabal of crows dancing in that upwards rush of air.

Traditionally, a collection of crows is called a “murder.” I don’t like that term. I suspect it was coined by someone who disliked crows and shot them whenever he could.

“Cabal,” to my mind, better fits crows’ mischievous nature. It’s also alliterative.

This particular cabal put on quite a performance.

A couple of them simply raced back and forth, just below the top of the cliffs, riding the air the way a surfer would ride a monster wave.

The rest – up to a dozen; they’re hard to count in constant motion – swooped and swirled just above the cliff edge. Right over my head. So close I could have hit them with a stick. Fortunately, I didn’t have one. So I just watched.

They flipped over and flew on their backs.

They played chicken (figuratively speaking). Two crows rushed at each other, only to swerve at the last possible instant.

They hovered on the wind, just staying still. Exactly (as Douglas Adam wrote in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) the way a brick doesn’t. Or the way Gerard Manley Hopkins’ falcon rode “the rolling level underneath him steady air” in The Windhover.

They did a falling leaf routine, flopping forwards and backwards. I had never seen crows fly backwards before, but they did it.

They soared up, and let themselves crash, falling like a bundle of lifeless feathers as if someone really had shot them. Then they spread their wings and soared again.

I found myself envying their mastery of the invisible element they lived in.

Can they, perhaps, see wind currents in a way that we humans cannot?

Long ago, I dreamed of taking flying lessons. Of becoming an amateur pilot. Of seeing the world from a new perspective.

I never did it. For all the usual reasons – money, career, mortgages, children…But even if I had learned to fly, I would never have risked the crows’ stunts. To let my wings flap loose? To let go of the controls? To tumble, loose, broken…?

I don’t have the courage to crash with my feet on the ground, let alone high in the air. I’m too afraid of getting hurt.

I wondered what they were doing.

It seemed more than just spontaneous. To have that many crows, all cavorting at once suggests an intentional gathering.

Was it a mating game?

Were they enacting some kind of a religious ritual? Crows are certainly intelligent enough to develop some common concepts of the meaning of life.

And then, abruptly, they were gone.

I didn’t see any of them shake hands with a waiting crow at the edge of the cliff as they left, so it can’t have been a worship service.

Perhaps they were just having fun. Taking a break from the thankless routines of building nests, finding food, feeding gaping mouths.

Sudden thought: Could they have done their dance for me? To tell me not to take life so seriously? To let go, to laugh wildly, to do silly things?

Would crows ever do that?

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.

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