Justin Lawrence Daugherty on What the Crow Does
Daugherty wonders if our animals create us at Used Furniture Review. I.Chinese mythology tells a story of the crow in the birthing of the world. Ten sun crows roosted in ten different suns orbiting the Earth, where they perched on red mulberry trees, with mouths opening up at the ends of their branches. Each day, one sun crow would drag a carriage across the sky, driven by Xihe, the mother of the suns. The crow would return and another would depart. The crows would descend from the heavens and eat two types of grass they particularly liked and would be gone from Xihe for long periods. She became jealous and blinded the crows so they could not fly to the earth, digging their claws into the rich dirt, eating the grasses. Blinded, the crows became confused and all ten flew out from the mulberry tree on the same day, dragging their suns behind them, burning the world to ash. Xihe dispensed the archer, Houyi, and he shot down all but one of the sun crows.
II.The crow, long before humans walked the earth, surveyed the world, observing and evolving to fit perfectly in their ecological niche.We have spent a lot of time, recently, trying to know the crow. The crow, in many ways, is like us, insofar as we have conferred humanness onto its skills and intelligence, imposed a certain likeness to us that we find both admirable and detestable.Some species of crow top (human-created) avian IQ tests. The hooded crow, of Israel, may take to a lamp post or the end of a dock, a piece of bread in its mouth, and begin to shred the morsel with its talons, dropping bits into the water. As small fish come to the surface, the hooded crow will snatch them out of the water. The crow is intuitive, inventive, like us. It persists.
The crow fashions tools. Scientists studying the Caledonian crow found that a captive female, confronted with the task of retrieving a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe, will bend a piece of wire into a hook and remove the bucket. The crow learns and adapts. It finds a way.The crow identifies human faces that appear harmful to it and warns members of its group. Researchers, led by wildlife biologist John Marzluff, went out onto the University of Washington campus, wearing caveman masks, and captured crows and released them. When those scientists emerged again, wearing the caveman masks, seven birds scolded them as they walked along the same paths as before. Then, thirty percent of the crows recognized and scolded them. Then, nearly all adult crows recognized the danger around them and sounded their cawing alarms to each other when confronted with the presence of these caveman faces, a desperate attempt at preserving lives. A threat emerges and the crow perceives, remembers, and warns other crows. It sees us for what we are, what we leave in our wake. Who better than the crow, a synanthrope, an animal that has evolved to coexist with us, an animal saddled with the reputation as Death’s messenger, to scold and remind us of the dangers we wield?
The crow will engage another crow, midair, in a kind of joust to establish hierarchy. The crow takes and stores food away for the winter season. The crow will make knives of wood and will drop a nut in a street and wait for a passing car to crush the shell so that it may be eaten. The crow uses us, our Toyotas and Hondas and Fords, our Michelin and Goodyear tires, our tired feet pressing gas pedals, our distracted minds driving between work and home and work. In the world of the crow, human toil does not matter. All our sweat, iPhones, salaries, soccer practices, pictures of our children playing in sandboxes, kisses stolen from lovers, broken fingernails, broken tibias and ulnas, lip gloss and mascara and male anti-balding products, time spent waiting in DMV lines, time spent turning grey hair black or brown or blonde, time spent hiding wrinkles and burning away fat and keeping the heart beating, beating. We, like dangling bread crumbs and hook-bent wire, are tools. All our lives, for the crow, amount to one crushed nut on the pavement.
Image: Carmen Spitznagel at F-Stop Magazine