Why ‘Crackin’ Crow?’

I’ve always connected with crows somehow. They are one of the brainiest birds on the planet and also one of the most misunderstood, according to researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’m definitely not the brainiest among my flock of humanoids, but I am an intelligent individual … and undeniably, indubitably, highly misunderstood. I am multifaceted, well-layered and one must look deep under my plume of feathers to get a sense of the real me.

Murder of crows
They hint at a sinister nature, crows do, though they are more like families than a gang of misfit thugs. Why, they aren’t thuggish at all.

“People attribute some sort of malicious intent to what crows do when they’re just trying to raise their kids like everybody else,” says Kevin McGowan, a Cornell Lab researcher who, for many decades, has studied crows in collaboration with
Dr. Anne B. Clark at Binghamton University.

McGowan and Clark revealed that crows and humans have a lot in common, including sociable lives. Contrary to a commonly held belief in crows as ominous, foreboding creatures, they are actually fascinating animals – curious and chatty, they gather data and details, keeping a keen eye on the world around them.

The magic of crows
In the late ’60s to early ’70s, I lived with my family in Sagamihara, Japan. My father – a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army – was stationed there for ease of deployment to Vietnam, leaving my mother and her brood to more normal household and academic affairs. 

On weekends and holidays, we’d walk to the train station and travel to Tokyo to visit Uncle Otto, Auntie Wakako, and our cousin, Monika. They lived in a huge mansion adjacent to a large nursery school or “yo-chien.” There were at least ten crows for every student that arrived at the gates of the school. They formed so massive a murder that the sky above grew dark under their umbrella.

“Caw, caw, caw!” they cried in symphony.

I’d sit in my Uncle Otto’s old Model T. It was permanently parked between the mansion and the school, broken and dilapidated.

“Caw, caw,” I’d screech back. 

I noticed the grass poking through the shattered floorboard on the driver’s side of the jalopy and swore I’d never get that old or useless.

As a child, I always wanted to befriend a crow. I yearned for one to recognize my face. I even read that sometimes crows bring to their human friends gifts of shiny objects, like found beads and shiny fragments of glass. How I wanted one to leave me some bling. I left them peanuts – a favorite crow snack – but the furry old squirrel would snag those and chitter noisily with glee. I used to believe the same crow followed me everywhere, watching over me with beady black eyes. If someone were to harm me, I was sure my crow friend would sound the alarm – and remember who the culprit was.

Crows have been ever present in all the places I’ve lived or visited – Frankfurt, Germany; Anchorage, Alaska; Okinawa, Japan; Vicenza, Italy; and throughout the United States. No matter where I’ve traveled, my crow friends watched from above – birds of a feather and all that jazz.

Sometimes, when I’m particularly troubled or reflective, a crow will caw as if to say, “Worry not! Go bravely into all the dark places and shine bright!” It lifts me up to hear the caw of a crow.

One evening this summer as I was leaving my office, tired and beaten, a large murder of crows flew overhead. It was one of the largest I’d seen since the nursery school in Tokyo, and it immediately brought back memories of days long gone when I’d toss small fists full of peanuts as a peace offering to these majestic black birds, reveling in their cacophonous chorus of caws.

Today I carry a bag of peanuts in my car, because one never knows when a crow might happen along.

Published by Lolo Robison

Crackin’ Crow Pottery is a Greater Lansing clay studio owned and operated by ceramic artist Lolo Robison. What’s a crackin’ crow? Simply put, it is an alliterative translation of “good crow.”

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