My adventure with a pregnant torso

I must have been born to play with clay. There’s something about the ooey-gooey goodness of it that speaks to me. Sculpting is an altogether different kind of clay play, but just as incredible.

I had the opportunity to give it a go Tuesday last week (Nov. 19) at The Florence Studio. The studio is owned and operated by Canadians Tom Rekrut and Laura Thompson, who moved to the city in 2010. Laura teaches drawing and painting, and her work is amazing. She smiles a lot and is very encouraging. Tom is the sculptor and, therefore, was my instructor. He, too, is a very talented artist. He’s a bit of a pisser, though; a curmudgeon. Apparently, he’s prone to do the work for you instead of teaching you how to sculpt, which I always find to be a challenge. Laura scolded him a few times, playfully shooing him away. “Stop doing the work, Tom, you’re supposed to be teaching her!” He argued that he was just getting it started for me. She said, “She doesn’t even have any clay on her hands yet, because you’re doing the work.” He’d tell her to be quiet. “I’ve been married to you long enough to know exactly what you’re doing,” she persisted. He growled unpleasantly, “Yeah, thanks a lot for reminding me how long we’ve been married,” suggesting that it’s been misery for him.

Laura came back to check on me a few times. She taught me to use a sheet of paper to quickly eyeball my symmetry and true-up my lines. “It’s the same as in drawing,” she explained. She taught me how the eyes see what it wants to see sometimes, referring to light and shadows and contrast.

I gave it three hours and did my best to not get irritated when Tom worked on my piece and to ignore him, at Laura’s insistence, when he’d say, “Don’t worry about making the surface smooth,” then come back 20 minutes later and say, “You really need to work on smoothing out the surface of the clay.” I watched silently as his thumbs smoothed my clay for me.

All in all, I didn’t do too poorly, and I discovered that there just might be a sculptor in me trying to get out. In the end, both artists gave me their stamp of approval.

Before I left, Tom promised to wrap my sculpture in plastic and told me to come back “Friday or whenever” to pick it up and take home with me. “We’re here every day, so come anytime,” he said. I asked, “Will it make it through Customs?” He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

Dane returned to the studio Saturday to retrieve my pregnant torso while I packed. He returned to the hotel and said, “That guy’s a dick.” He said Tom growled at him; that he’d written me off after I failed to show Friday. Laura told him to behave, but he continued to growl. Dane said, “Look, I’m just here to pick it up for her.” Laura found it, apologized for her husband’s behavior, and Dane quickly moved to extract himself from Tom’s banter, which remained sullen albeit sprinkled with a desire to chat. He brought my clay torso to the hotel but, as it turned out, I had no room in my checked suitcase or my carryon to transport what now seemed a massive artifact, so I left it there on the floor, next to the small garbage receptacle, certain it would never have made it through Border Patrol or Customs anyway.

At least I have these photos by which to remember my pregnant torso and the two lovely kooks (well, one lovelier than the other) who introduced me to the art of sculpting. The torso was modeled after a woman named Camille, by the way. There’s a life-size version of it at The Florence Studio.

Hardened model of a pregnant torso on the left (no idea who Linda is); my work on the right (needs more lean; marked “Spike” on wood base).
Foreground: My work of left side of the body (needs more twist); model in the background.
Right side of model in foreground; my work in the background.
Finally, on the left (needs more lean), my work of the back; model on the right. Mine looks more like the back of a man. My apologies to Camille.
Overview of my sculpture on the left; model on the right.

La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte – Montelupo Fiorentino

Salvatore Mirenda poses with me and the vase he helped me throw. Off screen, Dane, Salvatore’s wife Betty and son Matteo took photos and chatted with us. Photo courtesy ©TimeFramePhoto.com.

Meet Salvatore Mirenda, owner and master ceramicist at La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte in Montelupo Fiorentino. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and, more important, learning from him how to make a vase – about a fifth the size of one he’d already made, which I used as a model.

But first I met Salvatore’s son, Matteo, who speaks English pretty well. Matteo took me on a one-hour tour of La Galleria’s production facility – absolutely fascinating. There are eight employees, including Salvatore, who are responsible for all the work produced through La Galleria. Each has a specific responsibility on the production line.

Foreground: Alberto trims a very large bowl. The clay is a light grey when wet and a little lighter when leather hard. Behind him, another potter is throwing kiln stilts. In the far background, baskets are thrown round and then modified to hold magazines, flower arrangements – really, whatever one does with a basket..
Gianni’s job is to apply slip to leather-hard bowls after they’ve been trimmed.
Alberto (standing on left) and Gianni (seated) take a break to pose with me.

Then, Matteo took me to the showroom, which was stunning. The sheer volume of pots and varied designs in this room made my jaw drop. I commissioned a large spaghetti bowl and two spaghetti plates with a traditional Montelupo design. Matteo told me, “Usually, the item you make with Salvatore is limited to a single glaze color, but because he had to take care of his father the day you were scheduled to work with him, I will offer to have your vase glazed to match the design of the bowl and plates you ordered. It’s my small way to say thank you for your kindness and understanding.” That was over-and-above customer service, which is what La Galleria strives to achieve. I cannot wait to receive my souvenirs in January or February 2020.

Matteo also explained that La Galleria works directly with William-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Olive Garden on exclusive designs that are sold or displayed worldwide in their retail stores. I relayed to Matteo that, years ago, when Dane and I were dining at Olive Garden, I remarked that I loved the large Italian ceramic pots displayed throughout the restaurant. I asked the manager where Olive Garden procures its pots, but he didn’t know. Mystery solved!

I asked about Deruta pottery, and what the difference was between those and the pots created in Montelupo. Very matter-of-factly, Matteo said, “It’s different. Montelupo pottery is from Montelupo. Deruta is a type of pottery from the Umbria region. Different clay; different design.” Ho capito, Matteo.

Hand-painting glaze on a fast-drying white glaze. This pot will be bisqued then glazed again.

Montelupo is about a half hour’s train ride from Firenze – far from the tourists and the hustle and bustle. “If you want to experience a real Italian town and see the true way we live and work, you have to get away from Firenze and visit a town like Montelupo,” Matteo said. The Arno River runs through both Firenze and this sleepy little town. In fact, all the clay used to produce ceramics with the Montelupo mark is harvested and produced in Montelupo.

Montelupo Fiorentino, a comune or municipality in the Metropolitan City of Florence, in the Italian region Tuscany, about
12 miles southwest of Florence. Photo courtesy of ©TimeFramePhoto.com

I found the clay to be dryer than that which I’m used to throwing. It requires the constant addition of water, whereas the Laguna 900 clay I throw, I use as little water as possible. Another unique practice: Salvatore doesn’t use a sponge. Matteo offered to give me a sponge, but I said I’d try to make my vase without one – “Come fai a Montelupo,” I said to Salvatore, which made him laugh in agreement.

Our visit to La Galleria was truly one of the highlights of our trip to Florence. The Mirenda family made this experience memorable. I am grateful.

From Firenze with love

Couple selfie with the Ponte Vecchio in the background.

Made it home from Firenze, safe and sound. The only missing ingredient on our trip was the comfort and familiarity of family and friends; the ones you’re reminded of when you see a certain something or who would have loved to have experienced taking a class with you (you know who you are); or the people you miss seeing every single day, because they somehow always find a way to make every moment with you extra special (you also know who you are). The trip home was uneventful and smooth. I watched Shaft and Yesterday on the way over, and Beautiful Darkness, Booksmart and Bottom of the 9th on the way back, which took care of about 6 of our 7.5 hours in flight. Just to prove how shallow I am, the best line in all those movies was the part where Shaft’s ex-wife’s date says, “He’s a bad mother …” and she says, “Shut your fucking mouth!” I laughed so hard, y’all, and everyone on the plane looked at Dane apologetically. Yup, that’s me! Anyway by the time we landed at DTW and got off the plane, my butt was so numb it needed a few rounds of squats just to get the blood flowing in my glutes again.

It truly was a wonderful trip. A delicious way to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. As I’ve grown older, travel has become less about things to buy and much more about the richness of the experience – what we learn about other countries and their people; how the kindnesses of a single individual or the dismissiveness of many can make all the difference. It’s also about what we learn about ourselves – about appreciating all that we have – what we’ve worked hard and fought for – our relationships, our jobs, the challenges – our lives; and how we react to the affects and influences of other forces in our little universe.

Our hotel room – No. 511 at the Hotel Laurus al Duomo – was so cozy. Our queen-size bed was perfectly firm. Even the pillows were remarkably comfortable. The shower was too small for Dane and the water a little to tepid for me, but we made do. A concierge was available 24/7. A complementary breakfast was served each day on the 6th floor from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m., comprising coffee, tea, juices, toasts, jams, fruits, cheeses, scrambled eggs, sausages and cooked ham. The cafe and tea rooms connected to the hotel were quiet and convenient. Throughout Florence, meals were highly affordable and, for the most part, delicious. The sights were incredible – breathtaking and truly mind-boggling. It took 140 years for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore to be completed. What history and beauty! We saw riches beyond our imagination. And poverty – women – most of them advanced in years – sitting quietly or walking about wrapped in blankets and plastic bags, collecting coins from tourists adorned in high-end, high-fashion jackets or furs. We were approached by several individuals from other countries, “giving” away handmade gifts, then asking for a couple of Euros, and one man who said he has a passport and two young children and was just trying to get home; he promised he wasn’t a drug user or a bad person, he just needed a few more Euros to get home. Poverty, climate control, hunger – we saw first hand that these concerns exist in Florence just as they do throughout the United States.

I learned a lot about myself – my love of language and etymology, both English and foreign; my love of art. If I could afford to do whatever I wanted to make a living, I’d have been an artist and a writer. I have a deeper appreciation for those who chose art as their profession, whether they’re able to make it work or struggle to be true to their choice. It’s not easy.

Our trip affirmed that Dane and I are two very different individuals. Our differences sometimes irritate (me) and exasperate (him), but they’re also what makes us tick. Like most normal couples, we argue about silly little things. After 25 years of marriage, we got to know each other really well. Yet, Dane and I are still discovering new things about each other, which I love. Marriage takes a lot of effort to get right. And patience and understanding. Trust. Honesty. Commitment. Luck. It takes a lot to not lose yourself and to maintain your identity as an individual but to also remain deeply in love and in sync as a couple.

His curiosity; his desire to ponder and understand how things work are so innate to him. What appears to be his aversion to change and perplexing phenomena is prompted by his need to understand the difference, not an intolerance FOR the difference. That’s just how his brain is wired. My big, lumbering, scraggly man of a man takes time to smell and understand the roses, the stars, the universe, people and things. If we don’t get to it all, at least we got to what we did. I, on the other hand, smell the roses and all the flowers, along with the perfumes and foods – down to the precise ingredients – onions, fennel, pancetta and the aroma of coffee – commingled with the horse dung, sewage and garbage. I smell every single thing all. at. once. I am impatient. I want to walk faster, listen harder and see everything, so hurry and keep up, and say what you have to say, because I’m soaking it all in. I’m seeing and absorbing everything before time runs out, and I always feel like we’ve got to finish it all, because if I we don’t, we’ll run out of time and still, I don’t want to be pushed and I don’t want you to interpret what I’m seeing for me, so … shhh. I want to see for myself what I want to see. You could otherwise throw off my groove and once it’s in my rearview mirror, I may never, ever get the chance to see it again. When I ask a question, I’m not looking for an explanation, I’m on the fast track for the answer. If you don’t have it, just say so. Don’t explain to me what I already know; I’m not an idiot, and frankly, I’d prefer to figure it all out on my own. I don’t like being asked questions for which there is no way I could possibly have an answer, such as, “Why is he going that way?” Don’t ask me, ask HIM! I speed through life and you have to keep up or get out of my way. I’ll come back for you but I can’t stop moving forward. If you want to help me, do it well or you’re not really helping at all. Talk less. Don’t tell me what I should see or do. Yes, I readily acknowledge that I can be a difficult person, and I’ll keep going until I or we get it done. If I need to recharge, give me four, maybe five hours of sleep, and I’ll give you up to 36 solid hours. I am disappointed when my to-do list cannot be completed. I’m harder on the people I love than on others, because I expect more from them, but I am fiercely protective of them, and my love knows no bounds.

My brain is conditioned to get shit done. I work in a world where deadlines constantly nag me; where the workload is intense and where there’s little tolerance or margin for error, especially from the perspectives of our customers and taxpayers; where problems arise and I am expected to solve them. I’m sort of like mission control but on a lesser scale. I’m about process – have one that works infallibly, and stick with it. Keep an eye on and tweak it when needed. Dane’s more about the best process. Figuring it out may be a journey. When he became grumpy about not wanting espresso or any coffee with milk; that he just wanted a good dark-roast coffee, I inferred it as an intolerance for Italian coffees and became irritated by what I perceived was an inability on his part to accept that his version of American coffee doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in Italy. He explained that he doesn’t even like American coffee, based on his experience; he’s been searching for the perfect dark-roast coffee that even he has difficulty trying to explain, and for which no one – not even the good old USA – has an answer. But our son, Kiffer (the barista) did. He wanted to call Kiffer and ask for a recommendation.

Cin cin – saluté to us!

Dane’s on a different plane. Thoughtful. Deep. Philosophical. Intelligent. He reads for knowledge; keeps up with politics, world events. He doesn’t necessarily want to understand; he NEEDS to understand. I’m more like, ain’t nobody got time for that shit. But the truth is, I wish I could be more like him. He’s everything I’m not. Smarter (like genius-smart). Sweeter. Chattier (way, way, waaayyy chattier). Likable. Lovable. Got a problem? You want this guy on your team, because he’ll find the answer. He’s got people with people who’ll help him find the answer. It might take a few hours, months, years, but he’ll find the answer or tell it to you straight – no one has an answer. If they do, it’ll cost you a ridiculous amount of money, time, resources. Practical. He’s a good person. A great father. He is definitely the better half, and I adore him. My hands were made to fit in his. He tells the corniest jokes – like seriously bad dad jokes. Sometimes I tell him I don’t get it, and then I have to endure his explanation, but when it clicks, I’m howling. And the best part of that is the sheer exuberance on his face. He’ll look at me lovingly (possibly on the verge of tears) and say, “I love it when you laugh.”

I love that something as simple as a smile or a laugh can make this man so happy and that I am the one lucky enough to do that for him.

Here’s to the next 25 years together, babe.

Countdown: Firenze, Italia

In about 120 hours (or five days), Dane and I will board a plane for Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. We were married Aug. 13, 1994, and this trip is our belated celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

I lived in Italy for years and used to be semi-fluent in Italian. Not having spoken the language in more than 30 years, however, it’ll be a challenge. It’s not like riding a bike. I’ll fall back on the phrase, “Parla piu lentamente, per favore” (Please speak more slowly).

I’m registered for two clay classes by Italian masters. On Monday, Nov. 18, Matteo, a master potter with La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte in Montelupo, will teach me how to make handmade Tuscan ceramic. The following day, I have a sculpting class – my first ever – with Lilla of Artviva in the Piazza del Limbo.

The rest of the time, we’ll visit the Duomo – our hotel is within walking distance, and we’ll see it right outside our window; we’ll see Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia; and Galleria degli Uffizi. We’ll eat great food, drink great wine, take great photos (well, Dane will), hold hands and revel in each other’s company.

One hundred twenty hours. Five days and counting. When I wake up in the morning, it’ll be four days, three, two … and then the first day of the rest of our next 25 years together. I cannot wait.

Leaving my mark

My newly created Signature Writer maker’s mark from 4clay.com.


Guess what arrived in the mail today? My maker’s mark!

To say that I’m excited is an understatement. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive in the mail, and then I couldn’t wait to stamp it into something. So I pressed it into the Warrior Goddess that I started two weekends ago.

This is my second Signature Writer from 4clay.com (Socwell LLC) but my first-ever professionally designed logo. I love the creativity and simplicity of this mark; its clean lines. I love that together, the three parts of the whole represent a crow but also remind me of the gentle downward brushstrokes of Japanese characters painted with sumi-e.

The proof, created by Julie at 4clay.com.

Applying my mark to my finished work is extremely satisfying. It signifies the end of my journey with a specific work of art, and that mark – once fired – is indelible.

The city that doesn’t sleep

On weekends and as many evenings as possible, I am a potter.

During the day, though, I am a public transit marketing executive, which includes oversight of three departments: an eight-person Marketing team; a one-person grant-funded program (Clean Commute Options); and a 15-person Customer Experience unit. I’m also my employer’s public information officer. It’s a demanding and largely thankless job, but it’s also deeply rewarding, and I love it. Passionately. It gives me purpose; heartburn at times; direction and anxiety. Compassion. Perspective.

While it is this job that precludes my ability to get into a good, steady rhythm as a potter, it pays the bills – puts a roof over our heads; food on the table. Allows us to travel and recreate. It paid for the 14 10-week classes I’ve taken at the Greater Lansing Potters’ Guild; the countless tutorials with Mea Rhee of Good Elephant Pottery; and the years of private and group raku firings with Ned Krouse. As much as it gets in the way, my job allows me to be a potter, and deepens my appreciation for the arts and life. More important, the work I do is fulfilling.

This past week, my day job took me to the city that – according to crooner Frank Sinatra – doesn’t sleep.

New York City, where the American Public Transportation Authority hosted its annual meeting; Times Square, to be exact.

Don’t shoot me, but Times Square gives me anxiety. Its dense population is largely comprised of tourists. All 460,000 of them at the same time, hustling and bustling about Times Square every. single. day. That’s more than 50 million tourists a year. For being somewhat of an introvert, it’s a bit overwhelming. But it’s a give and take.

The city’s pace is erratic, chaotic, loud and crowded, but the crowds are diverse and happy. New Yorkers are inherently tough but friendly and cool. Walking along Broadway I danced around or bumped into them; I sped past those who were slower and jumped out of the way of those who were in a hurry. There is no need for apology; human contact is expected where everyone’s packed like sardines at both ends of a crosswalk, waiting for the “walking man” light. Still, I said “oops” and “ack” and “excuse me” more than ever and was largely ignored, save for the few who apologetically smiled back. The movement of this mass of people flowed as if without obstacle, though there were obstacles aplenty: construction work, barricades, delivery trucks, street performers. Horns blared, lights glared, tires screeched, all of which kind of explains why people don’t sleep around here. And yet, I did. Soundly.

I also discovered what I love about Times Square: the Theatre District. The Marquis Theatre was next door, where Tootsie, the musical, is playing. Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations is at the Imperial, and Dear Evan Hansen is at the Music Box. Across the street, at the Lunt-Fontanne, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a hit; Waitress is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Across the street on 45th, Moulin Rouge! is at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre; Slave Play is at the John Golden Theatre; Betrayal (starring Tom Hiddleston), which I really, really, really want to see, is at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre; Come From Away is at the Schoenfeld; and Lion King is at the Minskoff. A block away on 44th, Phantom of the Opera is at the Majestic; and To Killl a Mockingbird (starring favored Michigan son Jeff Daniels) is playing at the Shubert Theatre – another show I hope to see should Mr. Daniels ever decide to bring it to the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich. Frozen is at the St. James Theatre, which I could see from my hotel room window.

Further away, but still within walking distance for those who don’t mind the crowd, Wicked is at the Gershwin; Beetlejuice is playing at Winter Garden; Mean Girls is at the August Wilson; The Book of Mormons is at the Eugene O’Neill; Chicago is at the Ambassador; Hadestown is at Walter Kerr; and Oklahoma is at Circle In The Square.

On the opposite end of Times Square, you’ll find Aladdin at the New Amsterdam and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

I saw Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre Tuesday night, thanks to my awesome transit-marketing buddy, Felicia. I swear she has an angel on her shoulder. She managed to score a pair of tickets in row H for this sold-out show … eight rows from the room where it happened!

We grabbed dinner at 5 at the hotel and a half-hour before curtain, a long line of ticketholders wrapped all the way around the block. The line moved quickly, and we were seated in an orderly and timely fashion.

I took it all in, the stage and props, the costumes, the music – an eclectic assortment of hip-hop, rhythm and blues, jazz – and the lyrics – clever, witty and catchy; the choreography; everything was outstanding. Hamilton made me laugh. The foreshadowing and angst made me worry. The betrayal, the shattered friendship and broken sisterhood; the infidelities, the failed marriage, the deaths – it broke my heart. I wept for the heartache that Alexander and Eliza Hamilton endured; that those they cared about endured. The tragedies that befell this brilliant and prolific man and those he touched left a gaping hole in the history of these United States. The impact he had on our nation and its people is absolutely, breathtakingly … mind-boggling.

As told by Lin Manuel Miranda, refreshingly modern and relevant, I was drawn by Hamilton’s portrayal of love – love of friends, love between man and woman, love of family. The hatred and envy of a friend. The ambition and passionate drive of both man and womankind, in pursuit of a better life, were profoundly tangible and believable. It made me want to learn more about the story of this man; the history of our country; the acts and impacts of great and horrible leaders.

Did Hamilton leave you wondering about the story of your life? It did me. “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” Profound.

What will my story be, according to those that I will one day leave behind? Will the things I make – my warrior goddesses, plates and bowls – be part of it? Will the work I do in my day job and the people I serve make a difference? I don’t know, but I know who’ll tell my story – the people I love. The people who love me. That’s more than I could ever hope for.

Who will tell your story?

Da-da-da-da-dahh, da-da-da-da-da dia dahh!

Sunday fun day

Dane took a photo of the crow I made this past winter, which doesn’t look like a crow, really, but he’s my first stab at a crow. I’ve got another concept twirling around in my noggin, so more to come!

Speaking of concepts, I also started working on a new teapot – and then I saw one that a Japanese potter, Shinobu Hashimoto, demonstrated on his YouTube channel – so I already have a second version started and, dare I say, it’s looking pretty good. First, I’ll finish the one featured in my photo above, then I’ll move on to Hashimoto-san’s more refined version, once it’s leather-hard.

By the way, I highly recommend this potter’s YouTube channel. Check out his teapot concept at the links below – Part 1 demos how he throws his teapot; Part 2 is a trimming demo, which he just posted yesterday. He makes a couple of mistakes and says to himself, “Oh, be careful,” or “Hmm, I’m not sure what I should do now” and “I messed up and that’s not good,” which reminds us that, no matter how experienced we are at this art form, we all struggle on occasion. In Part 3, Hashimoto-san shows how he pulls a handle (a very unique method) and the making of a tea strainer. Finally, in Part 4, he demonstrates the assemblage and attachment of the strainer, spout and handle. [Note: I added the remaining two parts of the teapot tutorial Nov. 4, 2019.]

The videos are in Japanese, but that’s one very cool thing about the language of potters – it’s universal.

Made for sushi

Ahh, simplicity.

That’s what I love about these plates. They are unobtrusively simplistic. Nothing about them grabs your attention. They are the perfect backdrop for whatever sits thereupon.

They started as thick, beefy slabs of clay; stretched, rough-hewn edges juxtaposed against what would soon be a smooth, glassy surface.

That surface is Shino – one of my all-time favorite go-to glazes, especially for Japanese ware.

Shino’s orangey-brown flecks perfectly complement sushi’s characteristic colors – black nori hugging or being clung to by small, translucent grains of white rice. Curled orange shrimp and florescent-orange clumps of masago; red and pink slices of sashimi; green julienned cucumbers; pale-white slivers of ginger. Wasabi.

It’s as if sushi said, “Give it up for me, man,” and my plates – made specifically with these morsels in mind – were honored to reply, “With pleasure, my love. With pleasure.”

Warrior goddesses

Warrior goddesses are my thing. My mark of distinction. My super power. She is a work in progress but always, always, always makes a bold statement and positive impression. She elicits … well, a reaction.

One hundred percent sprung from my brain and made by my hand, I pour every ounce of my heart and soul into her making.

Like all goddesses, she is evolving. Come back for more, lovelies.

©TimeFramePhoto.com

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.