Several years ago a large crow arrived in our woods and took to perching on the limb of a tree just above the spot where three of our pets lay resting, each of them gone rapidly and unexpectedly, Bridgett our cocker spaniel, lovable though described by a dog trainer as “cognitively damaged,” Boris a skiddish former apartment cat given to us by our son and Flip a woolly haired barn rescued Persian who bonded with me by laying on my stomach after I had hurt my knee skiing. The crow took to cawing at me non-stop every time I went into the yard. On the forth morning I returned a “hello”. The crow fell silent for several seconds. I said hello – hello several more times. The crow remained silent and then suddenly mimicked my greeting, “walow – walow.” I called hello several more times, perhaps four. The blackened bird mimicked my calls each time. I retrieved a piece of toast from the house and laid it on the grass. The crow flew down to get it before disappearing into the woods.
The next morning the crow reappeared. We exchanged the same greeting. I supplied the toast, the crow supplied a doorway for my imagination. This went on for the balance of the week – this exchange of greetings and toast – my wife keeping in good natured spirits as I asked her to come out onto the deck to repeatedly hear the wonder of the crow’s version of hello, hello again and again.
Though I never witnessed this I believe the crow dropped objects on our lawn over the course of these days – an egg shell from another nest, a piece of someone’s cut up credit card, a Popsicle stick appeared. There is no other way these small objects could have just arrived in our yard. I have heard that crows do this – this exchange of objects for food. We said hello for another week. Hello. Walow. Hello. Walow. Two more objects appeared, a large black feather and a piece of yellow yarn.
One last present (if indeed these objects were brought by the crow) appeared near the rear door to the house one morning. It was a sizable jar lid, something that had probably been difficult to fly any distance with. The crow was there in the tree that morning, the morning the jar lid appeared. It called walow two times in a weaker or softer voice than it had previously. I said hello two times back and then not waiting for the bread-reward the sleek shadow of the crow crossed our yard and disappeared down the long draft between our house and a creek. In that it never returned, the crow had made a two-call-goodbye of sorts. I don’t know if it had tired of the exchange, had been warned off by its group, fell to some challenge in life or was instead a messenger who had completed a role, a spirit bird with a task, a shapeshifter whose mission had been to call out some long delayed goodbyes.
It’s been seven years since the crow and I exchanged greetings but I still sometimes expect the crow to return. Perhaps it is now among the great group of crows that comes to our woods and, in their many-numbered predawn chorus, annoys me. Crows are said to live up to 20 years. I say hello towards the tree and the resting places under the tree pretty often – at least on the missing days. If I listen carefully there is always an answer – not the crow’s walow walow but other sounds, other signs. There comes the rustle of leaves, the crack of a limb, the sound of the breezes scratching the blackberries vines around, the sudden foot falls of racoons, and the scurry of squirrels. There comes the memories of the feeling of soft fur against the palm of my hand, the excited greetings, the forgivenss for being gone all day, the chasing of a string, and the return of a ball. I look towards the tree and the shrubs beneath them often and when I do there always comes – when I listen with my heart – one more – last time – again – the calling out of the words hello – hello.