Sure Signs of Spring…

March is my least favorite month of the year. Winter is winding down, but rarely leaves quietly. It’s often cold, but also wet and windy—the worst weather conditions—and even as it warms, the white snow turns dingy gray and black, uncovering a winter’s worth of dirt and debris:

Fat Tuesday
Why should the robin be the harbinger of Spring?
Why watch for flowers?
The tulip and the thrush borrow beauty from the sun;
tug their strength up from the dark earth.
Stronger still, and darker, is the crow.
Songbirds ride the North Wind south;
flowers hang their heads and retreat beneath the snow.
The crow remains.
Feathers ruffed, dark eye glaring sidelong, he stoops;
picks bits of hide and hair from the cold pavement.
A lean meal this Christmas, but Easter comes,
and Nature’s bounty blooming black from the snow.
A stiffened ear; the rack and ripe entrails—
the crow consumes all, makes ready the house for the Master’s arrival.

He waits, black as the cloth, preaching his monosyllable, fasting.

Poem, a Day Late (February 7, 2008)

As a general rule, I don’t shovel after March 1.* Invariably we get snow in March (and even April), which means that while our neighbors’ driveways still have nice straight edges and clear entry points, ours is a lumpy and treacherous mix of snow, slush, and refreeze.

When the blustery weather finally breaks (temporarily, of course), we see our first serious warm-up and venture out for a walk around the neighborhood. The curbs and gutters run with miniature rivers and rapids; last autumn’s soggy leaves and twigs form dams creating shallow pools for passing cars to splash through, and the storm sewers roar and rumble. The plowed snow along the road melts from the bottom up, creating shelves of ice that crunch and give way beneath our boots. With no talls weeds to hide it, litter appears — the soggy remains of last fall’s lunch someone tossed out the car window before the first snow. And then, after a couple days and maybe a good, hard rain, the mud forms.

Continue reading

The Dark Humour

[Blogger’s Note: This is kind of a dark post. Really did see the two crows today, and heard a story like the latter one once. But where exactly this came from, I don’t know…]

Midwinter morning. Atop a threadbare shrub along a littered suburban artery, two young crows jaw above the din. I speak no Crow, only English, and my windows are rolled against the cold, but I imagine their daring: the double-dog, the triple, the triple-dog, the dark humour hot in the veins of each, the guffaws and squawk of chicken! They cheat death daily, these two, walking the yellow lines for bits of salted flesh. It passes the time.

The light goes green; on cue, they darken my windshield, chasing each other with unexpected agility, rolling and climbing alongside the oncoming delivery van, sweeping past truck and traffic to frolic like fighter planes before a rumbling Ford moving too fast for conditions along the service road. They bank and ascend to a high bare branch, laughing breathlessly.

They eat death for dinner, these two. From a far tree two houses over, their mother calls. They flap slowly away.

I think of them now, in the long night. I think of a summer day, and two black-clad bikers crossing the plains, winding through the hills and narrow canyon roads, wind in their hair and devil-may-care, the sun warm on their leathers, the dark humour hot in their veins. They eat danger for breakfast, these two. They take turns riding the yellow lines with their feet on their pegs, boot toes turned outward to the oncoming cars, egging each other closer, closer. They play this game for long miles and hours. It passes the time.

The end was not monotonous. High in the mountains on a narrow switchback, the winner’s toe caught a fender at fifty. His leg turned to jelly. With unexpected velocity he took to the air, rolling and climbing, darkening the windshield of the car behind the one he clipped. He bounced from glass to pavement, pavement to rocky shoulder. Leather did little; flesh did less. Bone met stone and gave way.

The paramedics came and went. The volunteer posse cleaned up as best they could. The dark humour stained the pavement even after the crows paid their respects. From far away, the cries of a mother.


There are Mondays, and Mondays. The start of every work week is a challenge, and in my case, the start of a Board week (a week in which the University’s Board of Regents is meeting) is especially heavy, because it promises to be a stressful, busy, and tied-and-jacketed week.

But this Monday morning seemed particularly ominous, even for a Board week.

I drove in early to get a jump on the week’s work. I arrived on campus between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and found myself alone on the sidewalk from the parking ramp to my office save one other person, an older women with a long black coat and black knit cap, hunched against the cold. I shivered a bit myself; it hadn’t seemed so chilly when I left home, but on campus there was a dampness in the air that was hard to shrug off.

Ahead, three dark shapes flapped across the street, from one tree to the next, too quickly to identify. I exhaled a soft sigh, and watched the grey vapor float up, up in the light of the street lamp overhead. As I raised my eyes, I noticed the moon, waning yellow in the dark blue predawn haze. Suddenly a caw, and a another black shaped flapped quickly past, momentarily eclipsing the moon.

The crow had startled me, and as I reached the intersection with the silent women, we stopped and stared as from the countless campus trees ahead, scores of black crows rose in unison and passed overhead, cawing accusations and jeers. The two of us watched them pass over us, dumbstruck, and the cold settled deeper still into our shoulders. When the light changed, we hurried to our offices.

Blogger’s Note: For past posts on crows, go here. I seem to have a “thing” for them.

Summer Vacation, Day 46: Ill Tidings?

I woke this morning to a dull grey sky and great cacophony of crow voices shouting from just beyond the trees. The din continues even now. To what end? I don’t know. If flocking crows are called a “murder,” then this is the most audacious, persistent and outrageous murder I’ve ever encountered. Does this bode well for my writing? In truth, it may be just the thing …