They are there in the shadowed underbrush, the little dark hollow an avian cradle of wild Rhododendron leaves and pine needles fallen to mold a few months back.
I hear the flit and fleet, the sure movements of some little juncos breaking a tiny snap, a kew and the pecks, and their alarm calls blend to the wet ground, almost a whisper.
What do they see—as I, by their heads, can’t hold more than their sound. Their slate color moves through blackened branches without a trace left behind. Not flying, but quick-hopping on skinny toes just able to hold them, cradle my lovely cradle of mud, the last of winter and a shuffled twig, they sing in fast pips. Their fragile throats trill so near and over me, standing by the flock, and I am rooted— knowing they will move on just as soon as I look away, for the juncos are the leaves filling the forest in this private season.
Wingtip to Wingtip
They span above and across the road in one long, wide ribbon, a river of bird. An arcing, undulating movement, a murmur of audible rubbing from wingtip to wingtip, a darkening stretch for a mile, more, from one undone side of the valley to the other, coming they come, forward they move, in the falling sunset, the gloaming, this wet dusk of fungus growing. Here they are, an eruption of simultaneous crows made blacker in shifting silhouette than the branches, and can one see just one beating heart, when as one their current reforms? Shuddering wider, deeper, they do not collide for more than a moment, they do not fall to the ground, they fly with purpose. The once hollow air a solid thing in their presence, rising like a heavy lump in the choked throat and touch wing to breast to arm, leg, belly, or fin, with a gasp that can’t be explained but only given-in, connected, with feather and tooth and hard-hooved foot, given-in for fear of all is lost and don’t look away or how dare you because the trees here have been cut down, the stream submerged, the cows removed or killed. Everything must change, even what it means to die. Still. They rise, express nothing but night, and my eyes, my nose, my skin, with the cold steam of my breath, know how it is… a body so large it could eat the sky, swallow the hidden moon with a mindful peck if it ever felt the need to be reckoned with, and it deserves to be hungry for we have eaten it all.
At Ruby Beach
I grabbed it in the tidal zone of voices moving back and forth the form born in water
and my fingers were cold blue from the foaming touch of a surf surging as the little feet of anxious sandpipers skittered
against the pounding and I held the small rock of ages and quieted lava not made of clay this came out of fire and seethed hissing before dormancy before the glacier rode it flat and ate it all into sand in the human palm in the pocket and the folds of my fullest raw hand
and I rub it to my lips this smooth pebble of centuries this old ocean imbedded in the tale-telling and taste of the salted and wild air my truth
Mare Heron Hake is a recent MFA graduate of NILA, where she studied in depth with David Wagoner and many other fascinating teachers. She is also a wife, mother, published photographer, and a believer in crows.
Header photo of crows in tree by maxim ibragimov, courtesy Shutterstock.