Signal to noise

I’ve stopped feeding the crows.
They come by anyway,
asking when we are going for a car ride.

Even though they annoyed me with their incessant cawing,
and their disregard for seatbelt laws,
I liked their company anyway.
But they started pooping on the seats,
and playing with the radio, so I dropped them off
next to the donkey field.

….but that thing about voices,
do you really need me on camera?
Can’t you just imagine me,
mouth turned down like a peanut, beak journal bound,
pen clutched in my fat talon?

Where has our knowing gone?
Where is Vasalisa the Wise?
Her intuiting doll?
She’s the signal that leads you to Baba Yaga,
where more dark work needs to be done.


Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.

~ Lewis Carroll

I felt a sense of joy today, twice even. The first time was early morning, but I forgot where I was. Even though not all is right with the world, I felt a swelling of happiness inside.

The second time I was sitting in front of a coffee shop, staring up over the buildings and in to the adjacent mountains, feeling truly alive and acutely aware of the wind and cold. I watched crows playing on that wind, letting it orchestrate their dance.

It was a day of senses, and I knew it was a special day as the first thing I smelled were some week-old flowers in my office, not rotting but fragrant. As I walked inside from my lunchtime stroll the scent of stems in water and wilting lilies rose up to greet me.

Then, there was the sound of asparagus being broken and hitting a stainless pan, a light ping-ping-ping.

And my little bird Willie, endlessly calling. I finally realized, after all this time, he wasn’t calling for me, but to the Black PhoebeSayornis nigricans, hunting for the last of his sunset meal on my lawn.

Washing dishes sounds like rain. I didn’t rush through that tonight.

Not so silent spring

The last few months have been hard for me and my little family here in California. But, throughout our little trials there has been some growth, some rebirth, some change. At least there was some forward motion, that’s always good.

We lost our little cockatiel, Mr. Charms, on Feb. 22nd. He was 27 years old and had an inoperable tumor on his esophagus. Putting him to sleep was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was crying so hard as we petted him and talked to him that I thought I was going to leave my head. Maybe I did a little. I didn’t like the way they put him to sleep before they euthanized him, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. It’s how it’s done. Wild animals don’t always get the same caring, humane treatment when we euthanize them, but I believe that’s beginning to change, at least in the wild circles in which I socialize. They had to stick his tiny little head in a chamber where they administered the gas drug, and he went to sleep right away.

So much has gone through my head these last few months. I have many ruminations, all of which come and go as I’m walking out in the hills, pondering the tiny little moths, the way the wind moves the grass, the wildflowers that have no name to me; just that-neat-purple-one, that bush-of-yellow-ones, that white one up on the hill that is so full and beautiful but is too far away to get a close look. You can only look longingly or fleetingly, like at the mockingbird that sings to you from among the oak, or at the cicada (or was that a cricket?) camouflaged against a nameless tree.


I’ve mostly been a bit beaten down, and trying to get my head clear again. I’ve had two or three bouts of the flu/cold nonsense over the last 6 months, I almost wacked off the tip of my finger on a stainless steel trashcan (it’s almost healed), and then, to top it all off, I had a stint in the emergency room just a few days ago for what is probably peptic ulcers. I’m trying to have a sense of humor about all of this, I really am. But this is the glorious thing about it all…

I’ve learned to slow down. Did you know that it takes the same amount of time to get up, shower, eat breakfast, feed your critters, etc. at a slow pace as it does if you go about it in a harried, quite unfashionable way? I’m thinking I might even take up reading the Wall Street Journal, I have so much leisure time in the morning.

The other thing that I’ve enjoyed in my sick/healing time at home is observing what critters I can from my little apartment porch. There’s the resident Anna’s Hummingbird at my feeder, the occasional house finch and phoebe, and then there are the crows. I just happened to be lucky enough, on two occasions, to see two or three crows defending their nests and young. Now, I actually didn’t see their nests or their young from my vantage point, but I knew what was going on because of their <call>. It’s a frantic call, and fast flying comes soon after. One crow starts flying frantically to the west, CAW-CAW-CAW. Then, I see another one coming in from the south, CAW-CAW-CAW. Then I see it, actually I see them, a Hawk and a Raven, being dive-bombed by the crows. They looked to be more concerned about the Raven, each taking their turn flying straight up and then diving at the Raven. The Raven was obviously flying away, it had either been dissuaded by the murder of crows or had already got what it came for. What a glorious thing to see, a little glimpse of a small war close to home.

It’s been a not so silent spring. I think throughout this all I’ve emerged a bit of a victor. It’s like nature said, take time to look at me, where’s the fire? Nature healed me, and I hope it continues to be my personal shaman.

My first crow

I hesitate to use the word “my” when it comes to animals. Though many people think dominion means we own or can do what we want with animals, it actually means stewardship, or caring for the creatures of the earth and allowing them to live out their lives. I had a very personal and life affirming experience with this particular crow.

Did you know that animals feel despair? According to Dena Jones, writer for Orion magazine, “Mohandas Gandhi said that a nation’s moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. Animal behavior scientists have proven unequivocally that animals are not machines but sentient beings that experience feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, and despair.”

I wonder if they ever feel hope.

I realize now that the raven I saw steal a mourning dove’s egg from a nest in my apartment complex was more than likely a crow. Crows, industrious and intelligent, have learned to adjust to the human paving of our greenbelts. They are our thinking janitors, cleaning up our roadkill and making use of the food we waste and throw away. And now, there are more of them than ever, because we have made it more difficult for their natural predators to survive, like certain species of falcons. Not unlike pigeons.

Crows have a rounded tail, whereas a raven has a wedge-shaped tail. The raven call is more of a Brooonnnnkkkkk and the crow is the Caw-Caw-Caw we usually hear.

There wasn’t anything fantastic about this particular rescue. On May 26, 2006, I got in my car and started driving toward the market to get some greens for my own birds (I care for four cockatiels). As I made a left out my apartment building parking lot and started driving along Evelyn toward Fair Oaks I saw a man picking up what I thought was a raven from the middle of the road, but it turned out to be a large crow. I actually grin when I think about it because my former manager at my last company told me ravens were more prolific in the area, but its actually crows.

The crow had been hit by a car. I stopped in the middle of the road, got out of my car, and asked the man if the bird was still alive. He said yes, and I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said…”nothing, I didn’t hit it.” Hmmm. At this point my mission became clear that I need to take the bird to the wildlife rescue. Point is, I didn’t know where it was. I knew my friend Candy volunteered there and it was in Palo Alto, but I hadn’t figured out where it was.

I don’t know when the man who picked up the bird finally left, because I was so focused on the bird. After attempting to borrow a towel from a stranger in a nearby parking lot, I settled on removing my hooded sweatshirt and wrapping the bird in it. If you know me at all you’ll know I’m an extremely modest person. Though I had a tank top on underneath it felt very strange to not be wearing long sleeves.

The bird was laying on its back, legs and talons pulled in, and in shock. I thought it was dead but then it rolled over and cawed at me a little. I talked to it, and then I started to cry. I know, I know…from what I’ve read the best thing I can do is be quiet and remain calm but I was so afraid for the bird and didn’t want it to die.

I picked up the bird in my sweatshirt and took it to my car. As I got in I left my driver’s side door open so I could place the bird with both hands on my passenger seat. Someone honked at me because my door was obstructing the road. Insult to injury.

As I drove up to Palo Alto I cried and laid my hand on the sweatshirt, telling the crow I would do what I could for it. What happened to me next was anyone’s guess, but I just sort of let go. I was still crying, but I realized at that point that I was doing what I could but that the bird might not make it. All I could think of is that I might have given it some hope.

I took the bird to Palo Alto animal services and they had an officer take it over to the Wildlife Rescue. When I called the next day Liz, the Animal Care Coordinator (great person, very smart) told me they were able to stabilize the bird, but that it wasn’t able to stand. However, when I called back a few days later, they told me that they had to euthanize the bird, that its injuries were too great.

They say when one door closes, another opens. Now I’m volunteering with my friend Candy on Thursday nights at the wildlife rescue in Palo Alto.

To read more about Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto, visit: