Shane loved to feed the birds. He would watch out his window as the cardinals flew from the feeder with a single sunflower seed or a grackle shoveled its way through the mess looking for exactly the right morsel.
One day he noticed a crow overhead, simply watching. Shane didn’t know why it chose to be alone or why such a big bird didn’t simply bully its way through the other birds. He grew concerned that it had no food or friends. He left a salty nut for the crow, such was his sorrow for its situation.
The next morning the nut was gone and two crows were in the tree, croaking and flying from branch to branch. They ceased their play when Shane came into view and looked down at him expectantly. That day he left two nuts, such was his gladness at seeing the newfound friends frollicking.
On the third day there were three crows. Shane understood then that there were many crows living a beautiful life of play and food and kinship, rising above the houses and farms to giddying heights grokking their laughter for no one but themselves. He left many nuts that day. He wanted to live beneath them and be a part of their world.
Soon Shane had an entire murder of crows greeting him every day, cavorting around the yard, always curious for the sake of being curious. From both books and observation he learned about them. He learned to tell them apart from their habits and their size. And they learned about him as well. They could tell Shane apart from the cruel boys down the street with their pellet gun and from the woman who would throw rocks at them when they alighted in her yard. Shane was theirs as they were his and they began to follow him.
When he left on his bicycle they flew above, and when he stopped at his destination they sat watch, guarding him from cats and boys with bad intentions.
As Shane grew, there were times when he became sad. Sometimes he felt so sad and angry that he couldn’t stand it. At these times the crows would circle above him, croaking in the way that crows do. They performed a ritual, unseeable to people, in which they called up the sadness into the sky and ate of it. Sadness didn’t hurt crows nearly as much as it does humans and so they ate of it when enough had been drawn off and distilled in the space between the trees.
For Shane’s part, he knew that his spirits rose and the anger drained from his face and his fists as he watched the easy flight of the crows he thought of as his. They would perch on his windowsill and bring him tidings of good or ill fortune.
For his part Shane would see to the care of the crows who were ill or injured and he learned the ways of a doctor, splinting wings and administering fluids, keeping them in relative security of his home until they were well again. And when the crows neared the end of their lives they would huddle on the ground while the rest of the murder croaked their song of passage. Shane would come and sit watch alongside them, and when the end finally came it was Shane who wielded the shovel, wrapped the bird in white linen and interred it, plucking a feather from its wing. He inserted the feather in the hollow of a mighty oak that the crows favored. In the morning following such an event the feather would be gone and there would be sprigs of holly and the blossoms of honeysuckle on the disturbed ground.
There came a time when Shane left his family’s home and went out into the world. He bid farewell to his crows with a heavy heart and he believed that he needed the crows much more than they needed him. But as he drove away he saw the entire murder following behind him. As the miles fell away beneath the wheels of the car the birds turned back, one by one, until finally there was one remaining. As he arrived at his destination it landed on another grand oak, and Shane knew that despite all his worries he was not alone. In a matter of days another extended family of crows had arrived and accepted into their lives the crow from his home.
His life proceeded along these lines. Shane did many things in his life, and had loves and friendships and children. He was good at all these things because he had learned that life and death are part of the same cycle. In its turning it travelled through the grand spiral of time towards a brilliant white light, distant but pregnant with promise.
Shane did his best to live in the world, but he knew his share of sadness, grief and anger. The crows did their best to clear it away so that it didn’t clutter his life, for it is crows who are responsible for the cleaning of soiled time.
One day when he was a very old man Shane was walking through the woods. Things suddenly felt strange, as if the world was no longer the world. He could hear the crows overhead, and for the first time, the music in their calls. He looked above, behind and around himself and the branches were weighted with birds of all sorts and the crows had gathered around him, looking up and in their deep dark eyes he saw sympathy and he saw love.
The sound of dark wings beating brought him to his senses and a crow many times his size came to rest on the ground before him. It groomed itself, watching him as it ran its beak over its feathers, surveying him and assessing his character. Then it bowed to him, turned around and presented its back. Shane knew the favor it offered and was only too pleased to gently climb its huge, soft back. He wrapped his arms around the sides of its neck and sighed with pleasure as he felt himself taking flight.
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