Friday, September 23, 2011

Brother Crow

Today, walking home from work, I became aware of a dark presence swooping in the pine trees at the side of the path. I paused to look and saw a crow which appeared to be hiding from me. Looking further I saw several crows higher up in that tree as well as a few in the next tree.

I was surprised that the crow seemed to be hiding or secretive, as I have always felt crows are very comfortable around people.

The crows called to one another from their spots in the trees, one or two flew to new higher locations atop the pines. The crow I'd been observing, stayed near, and communicated with the crow in "his" tree. My sense was that this was a special language between crows of a family unit, maybe parent and child, or two mates. The voice was a series of guttural clicking sounds, but also reminded me of the gurgling of a creek. I felt that I'd happened upon a crow family's home, or roosting spot, a private place. Maybe this would explain the crow's reticence, and "hiding" behavior when I'd passed by.

Shortly the crow came out from the tree, and began to walk on the ground, with his companion.These crows appeared to be foraging for insects, and possibly seeds, and this reminded me of something I'd read in the book, In the Company of Crows and Ravens, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell. They point out that in the natural world, the main diet of crows are insects, seeds and berries, as well as the carcasses of prey of animal predators, and that it is just when crows are led to the urban areas with easy access to human garbage that they will eat almost anything.

In the smallish city I live in, I have not witnessed the huge populations of  crows that inhabit cities like Seattle, or New York, so I know it is maybe easy for me to love the crow. I love the beauty of the crow, and as well I love the quaint way crows almost hop and bob when walking, with a jaunty air. I love the fact that crows like to be atop tall trees, and posts. I love their call, and also that they are capable of mimicking many different sounds. I once had the delightful experience of hearing a crow sing like a robin.Some people will say that crows do this to lure birds away from their nest, but according to Candace Savage in Birdbrains, this ability to mimick other bird calls is a socialization tool. According to this author crows are quite socially aware, and have been observed to protect other bird species from predators, by leading the predators away, with the call of the bird whi is at risk. Crows have also been know to watch over the young of other species of birds, but maybe this happens more in their natural environment.

Marzluff and Angell have written a fascinating study of crows. I can't do justice to all the information they provided, but would like to offer a few highlights here that I found interesting.

- Their black colour allows them to be stealthy and blend in to shadows to offer protection from  predators. Black feathers are apparently stronger than less pigmented feathers, and as well the black absorbs the sun's heat allowing crows to conserve their body heat in colder climates.The black shows up dramatically, allowing crows to show social signals.(p.47, Marzluff; Angell)

- In the desert, crows forage for food in early mornings, or late in the day, when the temperatures are more tolerable to their dark plumage.

- Crows have a very wide range of calls, for use with predators, their mate, family members, and as well the young have special calls to get attention.

- Crows mate for life.

- Crows watch over their sick and dying.

- Yearling crows often stay with their parents as "helper" crows and help with the care of the next young.

- Crows sun themselves in order to soak up those rays, and they are observed to be blissful when lying with wings outstretched to catch the sun's warmth on every part of themselves.

- Crows play in purposeful. funfilled ways. They will roll nuts over and over again down a slope. They've been observed playing with tennis balls, after watching humans play tennis.Their play may be for practising some skills, but also appear to be primarily for fun.

- Crows and ravens have a brain size, in relation to their bodies, which is more comparable with certain mammal, and primate brain sizes. In other words they have very large brains, larger than other birds, except for macaws and parrots. This larger brain size allows them to have the ability to learn, and they are considered a problem solving, cognizant bird.

- Crows and ravens are "corvids"  - according to the scientists who study crows, they were one of the first birds, and have been on the earth for 35 million years, when songbirds evolved into several prototypes - wrens, thrushes, jays,and crows. (p.82, M & A)

-  Due to the crow's and raven's large body size and the ability to eat a wide variety of food, they could travel long distances and may have been the first bird to find it's way to North America, from Asia, Australia, and Europe. M and A speculate that they may have shown the other song birds the way to the new world.

- Ravens and crows were here before the first people arrived in North America, crossing the Bering Strait; along with other possible entries. They would have followed these people, and their dogs; eating the leftover kill from the hunt. Ravens had been following other mammals such as wolves and eating from their kills before the arrival of people.

- The early people to this continent developed a reverence for ravens and crows.

- When Europeans began to arrive in the 1500's, they had some superstitions about crows that coloured their feelings towards this bird. During the plague in Europe, crows had scavenged from  the corpses of plague victims (there were such numerous deaths, that corpses were allowed to just accumulate unburied), and this had naturally repulsed the observers of this. People began to connect crows and ravens with death.

- Crows and ravens have a commensal relationship to humans, they feed on our waste.Unfortunately, humans are taking over large areas of the natural environments - clearing forests, destroying wetlands, and building suburbs, and shopping malls. We humans create enormous landfills, and so natually the crow is attracted to the urban centers. Crows tend to live where they are born and grow up, so we will be seeing more densities of crows unless some intelligent problem solving takes place.

- Some problem solving ideas that have been tried, and are working are introducing predators of crows, such as hawks and falcons. These predator birds acted as a deterrent in Hull, Quebec which had a serious problem with crow populations. In Japan, some ideas that are being tried are better waste containment, such as waste bins with tops that are fastened; garbage bags with spices such as chili, to deter foraging; and as well huge balloons, with eyes, attached to buildings - a "modern scarecrow".These are alternatives to simply killing crows to reduce populations.

In their preface to In the Company of Crows and Ravens, M&A, asks us to think about the "ethics of killing crows and other cognitive creatures", and as well to think about whether we are "conquerors or stewards" of nature.(p. xvi)

My very basic understanding, in very simple terms, is that as humans we would do well to work to help crows return to their more natural environments; and to use creative deterents, rather than attempting to kill crow populations, According to the authors of the book I've been reading, killing the crows doesn't  work in reducing the population, as more will keep coming if we attract them with poorly designed waste disposal systems.

 One last quite from M&A; "Keeping corvids wild keeps our relationship with them interesting. It may also keep our relationship with nature, in general, healthy. ...people and crows share a remarkable ecological, evolutionary, and cultural history. These fascinating birds may have played a large part in sustaining our connection to nature... Their complex voices, insightful problem-solving behaviors, and curious prominence provide an intriguing and convenient means to link urban people with wild nature." (p. 300)

Can you see the crow atop this pine tree? Can you see the other crow?  Here in the small city where I live, crows tend to live in a more natural way.I think I'm fortunate to observe them as they are meant to live. I think they are also fortunate to live a life as though in the wild.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chestnut Trees

 There are several chestnut trees, on the university campus where I work. I think our city may have chosen chestnuts and oaks as  alternative trees to plant in place of the wonderful elms we traditionally have used to line our streets, and grace our parks.We are a city known for the beauty of our parks, and especially the green spaces we have created. This is a city on the prairies, and there were no trees here to speak of before our original city planners designed a man made lake and extensive surrounding park.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pots of Marigolds, Geraniums, and a Painted Entrance

My nearest neighbour has a row of wooden planters filled with marigolds. I just love them, they are bright and cheerful. Marigolds always have seemed like a flower garden staple to me. I like them because they are easy to grow and hardy, as well as pretty. I also think people plant them around vegetables to prevent certain pests, but I'm not quite sure about this.One type of marigold, I especially like are the large bright yellow ones, but I don't see them grown too often it seems.

The day I took these pictures it was 29 degrees out (celsius), and now the temperatures here are 17 to 20 in the daytime, and going down below 0 at night..

The condominium where I live has two large pots at the front, and this year a young woman in our building planted some geraniums.Her mom had given her a few seedlings and they really did very nicely.

Well, I just thought it would be fun to post these pictures from a sunny, lovely day. I wanted to post the marigolds for my friend Geraldine who had a beautiful close up of a marigold on her blog this week. And then I added the geraniums because they're pretty.

Wishing you a good weekend wherever you may be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life with Herbert and Arthur

Herbert watching a family of mourning doves in our lane. Yes - my cats go on the kitchen counters.
This summer when I had my vacation I enjoyed time recharging, reading, walking, and spending time with my two felines Herbert and Arthur. I think they may have enjoyed having me home more. Afternoons often involved me lying on the couch with a book, and the cats sleeping nearby. I sometimes would look up to find my youngest cat watching me intently, and in his eyes I sensed a gentle, friendly intelligence .My Herbert is older and less inquisitive, but truly a wonderful companion.

The kitchen cupboard is a great place for looking out.

Two fledgling mourning doves out my kitchen window.
This summer I observed a family of mourning doves out the kitchen window. The fledglings were fun to watch, as they would huddle together on the power lines, and sleep together in the tree in my neighbour's yard. The parents seemed to take shifts watching over them, as they slept. When the babes woke up, and the parent came down to visit, the fledglings seemed to overwhelm it, with a great fluttering of wings and soon the adult would retreat back up to the power line, or just away. Maybe the parent was seeking food for the young, at this time.Maybe the parent needed space away from the overdemanding babes.

One of the adult mourning doves sitting in watch over the sleeping fledglings. I think these two doves were awesome parents.There seemed to be always one of them on the power line watching.    
Here the cats were watching a large dragonfly on the wall next to the window. Late July, for one week we had a huge population of large dragonflies in the city. Many people commented on it, it was very significant.

The cats often seem to act in a synchronised way. Here they turned away from the window suddenly, as there was a noise outside in the apartment hallway. My son describes their movements at these times as "raptor like", and this does seem a good way to describe their quick movements. Cats are predators by instinct of course.

Arthur is looking for his favourite toy. It's feathers and beads attached to a plastic line which I run with, and he loves to follow, pounce, and practice his hunting techniques. Herbert loves this now and then too, he was a tremendous mouser as a younger cat, and still likes to chase and play.

This is Herb's favourite sleeping and lazing spot, in the sun, on this homemade cat furniture.

Just a different perspective of the cat furniture I designed, and an aquaintance built for the cats. I wanted something more stable than some of the cat trees I'd seen in stores, and that both cats could sit on at once. Arthur likes to hide in the bottom now and then.

This is the cat tree I bought used, but it's a bit tippy. Arthur still does like it.

Arthur looking adorable on the fridge.

My dear, sweet Herbert looking played out.

I think I'm lucky to live with two such lovely animals - they keep me company; and all they ask for is their meals, to be played with every day, and to be loved - and oh yes, Herbert loves being vacuumed, but that's a story for another day...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall Images

Tonight, here in Saskatchewan we are expecting frost. People are covering their flowers and vegetable gardens. Temperatures are expected to warm up by the weekend, but this is our first cool week. I am wearing a sweater while I work at the computer. We haven't turned the heat on in our apartment building, as it is too early.

I enjoyed a walk home from work this evening, and walked past this lovely tree.

This is a tiny garden planted by university students on campus.

I think this rose is gorgeous. It's part of a flower display I pass every morning on my walk to work.

I know I am fortunate to be surrounded by such peace and beauty. Wishing you peace and beauty where you are, too. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I was riding on the bus, that Tuesday morning, on my way to work. As I was sitting in my seat going over my plans for the day,  I became aware of the radio and the announcer saying that the air space over the United States had been closed. The bus was empty, and I went up to listen at the front seat. I asked the bus driver if he knew what was happening. He looked back at me, and said an airplane flew into the World Trade Center. We both listened quietly, and there were no words for us to express the shock we were feeling.

I went into work, and asked my employer if she'd heard the recent news, and she had as well. Everyone went about their work quietly that day, with a sense of shock and disbelief, careful to keep this from the children at the daycare for the moment.

One of our families called us, to report that their children's grandmother who worked at the World Trade Center, had contacted them to let them know she was okay. She'd been late that morning and hadn't been in the building when the planes crashed into the building. This seemed a miracle to us.

I went home, and watched the news, and for the next two weeks I found myself needing to watch the news whenever possible. Living in Canada I had always felt connected to the happenings in the United States, and this was such a shock and heartbreak for me.

As I always remember what I was doing when I learned of the assassination of President John Kennedy (having lunch with my family as a young child, we were having tomato soup) - I will always remember  September 11, 2001. What happened that day was an unspeakable tragedy. It also changed our world . We were never the same.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Melfa Road, Vancouver, 1981

Bernice and John lived in a small one bedroom suite, in the married couples residence for students, at UBC. The residence was a highrise building on campus, situated within walking distance of the university's main academic buildings. Surrounding the highrise, were small cottage like residences for students and their families. These buildings had originally been family barracks for military families back in World War II. As well there were more modern townhouses for students and their families.

Bernice felt that the absolute best part of living in the highrise was the view seen from their window up on the fifth floor. Another wonderful aspect of the student residence, was the top floor which was a study lounge, and the windows on all sides allowed a stunning view of the lights of the campus at night.

Everything about living on campus, and attending classes at UBC, felt exotic and lovely to Bernice. She and John had come to Vancouver from Saskatchewan, and the lushness, and beauty of  the university grounds was a dramatic contrast from life on the prairies.

When Bernice walked to classes in the morning she followed roads lined by pines and fir trees. In the early morning she was  amazed to find herself walking through thick clouds of fog - which sometimes hid fellow walkers.

When the baby was born, John was away in Victoria, completing a summer class required by his degree. Bernice stayed awake most of the night before, walking, embroidering, sometimes rocking on her knees on the bed, before she decided it was time to go to the hospital. Her friend and classmate, Jane was waiting to hear from her, and ready to drive to St. Paul's Hospital, and as well act as birth coach.

Bernice came out to the living room of the suite to find John's younger brother, Teddy awake and concerned. She waved goodbye, and headed out to Jane who was waiting with her car. The drive seemed as though it might never end, as they made their way through morning rush hour traffic. Bernice felt a sense of anticipation, mixed with fear that something might happen before making it safely to the hospital.

Things seemed to slow down in the labour room. A monitor was attached, nurses and doctors appeared and disappeared. Jane seemed to be hiding an apprehension, or it seemed that way to Bernice. The birth didn't seem to be following the sequence as described in the prenatal classes, and books. Bernice lost a sense of time, and self.

The chief obstetrician appeared, and gruffly stuck his fist into Bernice, and seemed unhappy. The baby seemed to be a transverse breech, it seemed he couldn't be turned. A stretcher appeared, Bernice was moved onto it, and she seemed to speed down several halls.

Walking beside her was a man, asking her if she wanted a general anesthetic or a local. Bernice was aware local might be preferable, but found herself only thinking about what might be fastest. All she could think was "Please let's get this child safely out." She asked, "Which is fastest?" the man said, general was abit faster. Bernice said "General". She has faint memories of arriving in the delivery room, and of being put to sleep.

Later her friend Jane, came to see her as she woke up, and with a gentle smile on her face, told her the baby was fine, he looked good, all was well. Bernice whispered "God bless you", before returning to a foggy sleep.

John returned that morning by ferry, and was the first to hold their son. Only after he'd seen the baby did Bernice think to ask to see him as well. All it took was holding the baby, and looking on his face, and seeing into his deep, dark eyes, and Bernice was in love. The following week was spent back and forth from her room to the intensive care nursery where this child was staying until he gained weight. All she could think of was him. Lines from a song came to her as she walked the halls, and nursed her son, and expressed her breast milk. It was an old song from her parents record collection, and the first words were "I'm just a simple man, money have I none. But I have silver in the moon and gold in the morning sun."

Later, when things went bad between her and John, and he moved out, Bernice was allowed to stay in the married residence for a few months. John would come over three evenings a week, and spend time with their small infant son, bathing him in the plastic baby bath right up on the kitchen cupboard.He would play with him, and blow bubbles for him, and read to him. Bernice would go up to the study lounge on top of the high rise, and look out at the lights, and read. Sometimes after a few hours she would return to the suite to find John asleep in a chair, with his infant son sleeping against him.