Of all animals in the animal kingdom, crow has long existed as a sort of enigma for humans, a strange and uncertain messenger, a harbinger, or symbolic connection, to the spirit world. From ancient times to today, crows continue to perplex us with their clever innovations, their manufacture and use of tools, their problem-solving abilities, their strange cries.
Is it any wonder that these birds should be so mysterious and feared? With their black bodies and hoarse voices piercing the skies these omnivores have usually been found near carrion or leading other animals to prey. In urban environments they might be found hidden among the treetops, or feeding upon the refuse left behind by humans.
As Abram describes, humanity is today primarily detached from nature by technology (2010:267). What is the consequence of our disconnection from our storied relationship with birds, and corvidae in particular? Where many folk tales demonstrate lessons to be learned from crow, have we lost some elemental part of our connection to nature, by losing our connection to crow?
If I were to develop this portfolio further, I would include more stories and imagery, and I would particularly include more engagement with the YouTube videos I found. For the researcher, YouTube provides a remarkable online repository of amateur videos featuring crows, many of which depict their wonderfully playful, intelligent, and curious personalities.
As a highly visual person, with a linguistic competence in time-based media, I would enjoy editing together a narrative that incorporates these videos into a scholarly film that explores both the cultural and scientific basis for crow intelligence. I would further enjoy engaging with this material within an anthropological context.
Of all the videos I have seen, I think I especially enjoy watching ‘Mischief’ the raven, in the “Ravens can talk!” video (Talons and Teeth). It seems so clear to me that the raven is enjoying a pleasurable game of ‘repeat after me’, while coyly teasing her handler. How does the raven know that this game will be appreciated and rewarded? The raven is capable of terrific mimicry, even emulating the tone and pitch of a cough.
I think, therefore, it must be possible, that the raven is also able to read emotion. Emotion is strongly carried through breath and voice, and birds communicate through voice as much as humans do, if not more, as their song reaches across every landscape to communicate messages to other animals, not only birds.
What messages do birds, and corvids, in particular have for us? If we could listen, and learn their language, what could these winged creatures, whose intelligence rivals chimpanzees, tell us about our environment, and our connection to it?
These questions lead me back to my experience on an otherwise peaceful walk along the streets of Vancouver, so many years ago. What was the crow trying to tell me, when it attacked me so, unprovoked? Was I walking too near its nest? I hardly think so. Did I offend it in some way?
Many studies have shown that the intelligence of crows extends to a long memory, and that crows communicate messages about people to be wary of with other crows. Fortunately, however, only one crow seemed to have taken an issue with me. Could it be that the crow had been watching me all along? Was it aware of my actions, in some respect, and did it somehow disapprove?
Surely, I will never know, but if by chance I could happen to meet that crow once again, I would certainly want to look it in the eyes, and ask this question. I don’t know if I would receive any sort of an answer, and I might risk being attacked again, but I would happily chance it anyway.
Through the process of assembling this portfolio, what really impressed me is how truly intelligent corvids are. From their complex problem-solving abilities, to their capacity for spoken word and mimicry, to their seeming desire for human connection (Saball, YouTube), corvids (crows, ravens, rooks, and jays) have qualities that are strikingly consistent with those depicted in a variety of tales in myth and folklore.
Where the crow once served as messenger to humanity, as seer and connection to the spirit world, the crow today is generally removed from human-contact, aside from seemingly-random interactions like the one I had with a wild crow in a residential environment.
How can we begin to integrate crow into our daily lives, and should we? As many studies show, crow population is increasing proportionate to increasing urbanization. Perhaps crows are learning to live with us, more than we are learning to live with crow.
Among the many questions this project raises for me, one this is for certain: I would really enjoy an opportunity to further study the crow, to find further links between the folkloric tales of the past and the true nature of crow today. The crow remains an enigma, a mystery I wish to encounter and explore. I love its dark nature, its strange caw, and wish to look deeply into crow, to see the rainbows in its feathers, and watch it soar high up in the skies.