There’s a lot (a lot!) of pressure on the gazing bowl this year.
Unlike tea leaves, the assorted bits of foliage in the gazing bowl confer no psychic abilities upon the reader — well, not this one, anyway.
Handy as that would be. Especially this year.
While the future remains stubbornly hidden, time spent peering into its depths does unveil some ephemeral truths.
Pondering the ever-changing patterns gives me a different way to see the world, if only for a few moments.
This year, I’ve been finding in it metaphors for history and ideologies — one layer affecting another —murkiness in the complexity —shadows and light — one thing reflecting another.
But then, the bowl (and everything else) depends upon Nature — and I hope we all remember that in the coming hours, days, months and years, and steer our history and ideology to reflect that truth.
Geordie, who seems to think that my prognostication receptacle is actually his water bowl, has lately been hinting that the murkiness I am seeing in it is less metaphorical, and more a question of diminished drinkability.
Begging his indulgence, I think I’ll leave it for one more day and then tip it out and fill it with clean, fresh water.
As a sequel to yesterday’s post, here are some photos from this morning’s walk — just a few crows in an autumn landscape.
Most of today’s crows are not close acquaintances, but part of the mysterious entourage that follows me along the dog walking route.
As I mentioned yesterday, the autumnal rowdiness is kept in check by an absence of peanuts and a few kind words of thanks after I take their photos.
I’m not sure why they follow me, but I always get an especially warm welcome at the corner where (almost two years ago now) crows played a pivotal role in the finding of a lost dog. I always thank them when I walk by and they seem to remember me still.
This character, photographed close to home, is one of Mabel’s offspring. I can’t tell it’s one of the 2020 batch, or one of two 2019 youngsters who still hang around.
It’s a very grounding feeling to walk your own neighbourhood and see familiar faces, human and corvid, and exchange daily pleasantries.
It makes me feel that the world is still spinning on some sort of stable axis.
For humans, the 2020 autumn season is bringing with it — along with pumpkin spice — a sprinkling of existential dread.
For crows, however, it’s the normal rowdy, rollicking, freedom-from-fledglings social season.
No social or physical distancing for them.
In fact, the normal territorial boundaries are being blithely crossed in search of seasonal bounty. Any block with a nut or berry tree is a “go-zone” this month.
Contributing to the mayhem is the fact that the excitable new fledglings have yet to learn the finer points of corvid etiquette.
A certain amount of chaos inevitably ensues.
I find it’s best to employ my special autumnal version of Peanut Diplomacy at this unruly time of year.
Instead of stopping on my fall morning walks to exchange pleasantries and a few peanuts with each set of crow acquaintances on their territorial corners, a far more parsimonious peanut distribution system is in order.
Normally token offerings are made, accepted with grace, and I move on to visit new crows on new corners.
At this time of year, however, the dog and I seem to be claimed as territory-to-go and crows will follow us from their own domain and into their neighbour’s. This can result an accumulation of dozens of boisterous crows following us for blocks and/or unseemly crow brawling.
Fall Peanut Protocol is best deployed at this point.
Upon leaving the house, I offer a few peanuts to Marvin and Mavis, if they happen to be waiting, then a few more for Mabel and her gang at the other end of the block. From that point on I exchange only kind words with my crow (and human) walking acquaintances. I’m still followed, but it’s a much less fractious group.
Harmony restored …
I generally find that, by December, things will have settled down again and normal Peanut Diplomatic Relations may resume.
Besides, at this time of year, my paltry peanut offerings pale beside the bounty that nature has to offer.
As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.
By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.
I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.
A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!
I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.
On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.
They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.
The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.
For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …
Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …
Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.
Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.
Marvin poses on our fence, adding some corvid authenticity to the Halloween decorations.
Halloween in East Vancouver.
Chills and thrills, colour, crows and a bit of junk food thrown in for good measure.
It gets pretty spooky around here in late October. Being only a few blocks from “Fright Nights” at Playland, every night-time dog walk is accompanied by eerie sound effects and piercing screams floating on the chilly breeze.
In writing a corvid-centric Halloween post, I’m in no way agreeing that crows are even slightly creepy or scary. They’re so much more comforting than everything I see in the news these days, that I continue to mull the idea of a children’s book about them.
Things continue to be rather stressful around here as I, and neighbours, spend many hours writing letters to City officials in an effort to save the local poplar trees (and Marvin and Mavis’s nesting site) from destruction.
As a bit of diversion from truly terrifying international news and local activism, I’ve been pursuing a rather silly project.
My restorative therapy — training Marvin and Mavis to pose on pumpkins.
At first the orange alien was too intimidating to explore.
Motivation was needed.
Matching the colour scheme of the season, Hawkins Cheezies were the answer.* *Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that crows and raven share our human weakness for these fluorescent orange snacks. I’d tested this theory in previous years and found it to be true. Since I share their weakness for these splendid morsels, I rarely buy them. At Halloween I make an exception because you can buy them in the tiny Trick or Treat size. That way, if you only open one bag, the nutritional disaster is relatively contained.
Plus, most will be given to neighbourhood children.
Marvin was the first to brave getting up close and personal with the newcomer.
It only took him a few minutes to get quite comfy with the new landing platform.
Mavis is a lot more cautious than Marvin and, for a couple of days, she watched wistfully as he scored all the Cheezies.
Finally, yesterday, she gathered her courage and made her “moon-landing equivalent.
One small step for Mavis, a great step for crow-kind.
Sadly for them both, today is Halloweeen, and the pumpkin has to be carved and the Cheezies offered to the local children.
Maybe I’ll hold a bag back for them. Maybe two, so we can share them.
And perhaps a few Coffee Crisps, just for me …
Happy Halloween everyone.
*PLEASE NOTE: while crows will eat almost anything and, like humans, have a weakness for junk food — Cheezies should not form a significant part of their diet (or yours.) Generally I offer my corvid visitors more wholesome snacks like unsalted peanuts, good quality cat or dog kibble, occasional chopped up boiled egg and dried grubs (from Wild Birds Unlimited.)
It’s taken me a ridiculous length of time to get to this simple little blog . I’m just trying to update you on the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of the local crow families. But it’s complicated!
I tried writing it all in words and it was confusing even me, so I decided we needed a map. Voila!
Honestly, I did feel as if I could use something fancier, like the opening credits to Game of Thrones to do the situation justice but, alas, the budget is limited and so the map will have to suffice.
In the post-summer corvid reshuffle, you can see we have four families vying for hegemony* in this little corner of East Vancouver.
Let’s have a look at the protagonists in this little neighbourhood drama.
Normally, at this time of year, George and Mabel would have returned from their nesting area at the west end of the block to reclaim our alley way and my back garden.
Since the sad death of George this summer, Mabel seems happy to stay in the nesting area with the junior crow that she and George fledged the summer before last. They claim the elementary school end of the block and the alleyway to the south of our house.
ERIC & CLARA
Eric and Clara are sticking to their traditional territory which includes the south side of Notre Dame School (including the highly prized school dumpster in the parking lot), the east end of Parker Street and points west along Parker to Rossland Street. Of course, their jurisdiction includes the all-important ceremonial fire hydrant.
Sometimes they will make a sortie to my front gate if they see me coming out with the dog, or going to the car. They will also venture part way down “Mabel’s” alley, but turn back at “her” Hydro pole.
Eric takes his Block Watch duties very seriously.
They didn’t have any baby crows this spring. The nest they were working on blew away in an early summer windstorm and they didn’t seem to have the heart to start over.
THE FIREHALL FAMILY
The Firehall pair, on the other hand, had a very successful baby-raising year. They have three surviving adolescents — quite an achievement, given the long drought and tough conditions this summer. Their little population explosion has been one of the major factors causing a fluctuation in the customary corvid boundaries.
The Firehall Triplets
I imagine the three young ones will soon go off and start their own little empires elsewhere but, for now, with five mouths to feed, they’re venturing out of their usual stomping grounds.
Crowded up there on the Hydro wires.
They’ve even had the nerve to go and try pinching peanuts off Eric’s fire hydrant. Such audacity is met with firm resistance. They also come to my back fence sometimes. They’ve never done this in previous years and their visits have led to some minor scuffles with Marvin and his mate.
MARVIN & MATE
In the summer months, when George and Mabel would abandon my garden for their nest site to the west, a notice must immediately have gone up on the Corvid Craigslist. I imagine it read something like: “Temporary vacancy in well-appointed garden with well-trained, peanut-serving human.” This year our summer tenants were a crow with paint on his neck and a companion with the colourful feathers of a younger crow.
I believe that the crows that are most often coming to the garden now that it’s fall, are these same two — but it’s hard to tell for sure as the late summer moult took care of the easy-to-spot painted and the colourful feathers, leaving us with two anonymously glossy black crows. I think, from their behaviour, it’s the same two. I’ve called the formerly painted crow Marvin after Lee Marvin, who starred in the movie, Paint Your Wagon, many years ago. I haven’t yet got around to a name for his mate. Indeed, I don’t really know who’s “he” and who’s “she” for sure at the moment, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
We’re beginning that fun “getting to know you” routine, which involves a lot of “risk/benefit” calculation on their part. You can almost hear their brain cogs whirring as they try to figure out how close it’s safe to get to this crazy human and her dog.
They don’t look too dangerous …
How about from this angle?
I feel safer up on the roof.
Gradually, they’re getting bolder. Or possibly just more desperate as the weather takes a turn for the worse and they settle in for the winter. I think we’ve even got to that cosy stage where they blame me for the weather.
So, for now, things are a bit fluid — and I don’t just mean what’s coming from the sky. When a crow shows up in my garden at the moment, it’s a bit of a guess as to whether it’s Marvin & co, or a Firehall visitor, or even Eric and Clara, testing the northernmost limits of their territorial boundaries.
This time last year I was pretty sure who was who, and now it’s like starting the puzzle over. But, hey, I figure it’s good exercise for my aging brain. I’ve never tried Sukuko, but examining and sorting all of the corvid “who’s who, and where?” clues has to be almost as good.
NOTE* I have been waiting for 40+ years to use “hegemony” in a sentence. I believe I first came across it when reading about the foreign policy of Frederick the Great of Prussia for a very boring university essay in the mid-70’s. I knew it would come in handy eventually.
Every dog walk with Nina is an adventure these days. Our objectives are in direct conflict.
Nina’s goal: nab a squirrel.
My goal: avoid becoming airborne* — I hear the waiting list for new hips is long.
Nina is my daughter’s dog and lives with her, but Lily works long hours, so I do some dog sitting most days. My dog, Geordie, has a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards squirrels. Nina, on the other hand, considers it her highest destiny to one day catch one. This seems entirely unlikely as she’s a lot slower than a squirrel on the flat, and her tree-climbing capacity is negligible.
However, a girl can dream.
I know you’re out there …
Generally, we see one or two squirrels on every walk. I keep a close eye on the landscape and try to detour us away from dog/squirrel proximity.
At this time of year though, squirrels are everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. In the garden, outside of the window, velcro-ed to the neighbour’s stucco wall, up every pole and in every tree. Not only that — they seem fearless. They sit, waiting for us on the road, looking like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.
Make my day, punk.
Many of the local trees are dropping hazelnuts and walnuts, so I imagine that thought is filling their little rodent brains. The microscopic danger posed by Nina and her ambitions are as nothing to them. “Must store nuts.”
One year, the squirrels in our garden “harvested” most of the LED bulbs from our outdoor Christmas lights. Our next door neighbour still occasionally digs one up in his garden. They didn’t do it the next year, so I presume that they remembered how disappointing that particular nut harvesting effort was.
Evasive action is pointless.
If I make a quick change of course to avoid one squirrel, there are three more, making each expedition with Nina a tense and exciting operation.
This baby squirrel got “stuck” on our neighbour’s “beer bottle stucco” house wall for several hours. Nina, of course, when bonkers every time we went outside, so we had to go out of a side door to go on walks until the squirrel finally figured out how to climb down and escape.
All of the squirrel photos in the blog were taken when not in Nina’s company. Geordie is quite happy to wait while I snap a squirrel. After all, he is now trained to be patient for my endless visits with the crows, so he probably just considers the squirrel another boring delay on his walk.
Looking down as Geordie takes a leisurely pee at the foot of this squirrel’s Hydro pole.
I was sure I left that walnut in there …
I’m not sure if the squirrel in the video below had hiccups, or was making some sort of garbled announcement with a mouthful of walnut.
* I do have past experience of being airborne on a dog walk. We used to have two yellow labs (brother and sister). One day they spotted a cat scooting under a skip full of rubble by the side of the road. The grass was muddy and wet and I lost my footing and was momentarily flying. Luckily I emerged from that adventure only muddy and slightly bruised.
The clouds this morning made me really, really happy.
I was so happy, that I had to question what it was about them that made me feel so darn chipper.
Perhaps is because they made such a spectacular change from skies that have been either blue and cloudless or filled with sepia smoke for the past few months.
They weren’t just any old boring grey clouds, either. It was a symphony of mauve and lavender to begin with. Then piles of dark navy clouds budged up against candy floss threads of peaches and cream.
The clouds seem to mark the change in the seasons more accurately than the falling leaves. It’s hard to tell if the leaf drop is a sign of autumn’s arrival, or the result of the long, hot, dry summer.
All day I’ve been thinking about why the changes in the sky and the season make me feel so excited.
Partly, of course, it’s because I’m a photographer, and intermediate and changing light is always more interesting that boring old sunshine.
But I think also has something to do with “in between” spaces where more interesting things seem to happen. There’s something about seasonal change that seem to open new doors.
It’s like the edge of something and edges are always a bit exciting. One thing ends, another begins, but they get to overlap and mingle for a while. When day is turning to night, night to day, summer to fall, winter to spring: these times, with their transitional magic, are my favourite.
Of course, the other great thing about clouds, is what they’re sometimes hiding.
I could hear a sound like laughing getting closer and closer. A pair of ravens burst out of the clouds over the North Shore, flipping, diving, air-wrestling and squabbling their way across the sky until they disappeared somewhere to the south.