I have lately been perfecting the art of insomnia.
Like a very long list of other things I miss about being young (intact memory, unwrinkled skin, etc. etc.), a seamless eight or nine hours of sleep at a stretch is a thing of the past. The new eight is five, and it’s garnered in shifts. Weary all day, I’m out cold by 9 pm, only to wake bolt upright around 1 or 2 am.
That’s when the Ponder & Worry List comes out and after three or four hours of ruminating on things that can’t be fixed at all or at least not in the middle of the night, I fall back asleep around 5 am. Which is right around the time Ben Franklin would have my alarm clock set to go off. Ben Franklin and the crows, that is.
We have a murder or twelve, or seemingly twelve thousand, crows (other birds are “flocks”, crows are a “murder”, a name which came about because a group of crows will sometimes kill a dying cow) in our neighborhood. No four-and-twenty blackbirds for us – it is Crow Central (Corvus brachyrhynchos, or American Crow, if you want to get technical) here the moment the sun comes up.
The CE admires the crows and will cheerfully (this is a person who sleeps at night, so he can be cheerful) remind you that this was their territory long before it was ours. In fact, the area where we live was formerly covered with acres of lemon orchards up until development crept in around 1980. The crows are likely still lamenting their loss, and perhaps that’s why they gather each morning and evening to yell at us.
Yell, they do. Prolifically. According to the Rutgers University Science, Medicine and Technology forum at http://sci.rutgers.edu/, crows “have complex vocalizations, including mimicry of other birds, and their communication with each other have many of the characteristics of language.” Bully for them – but could they kindly stuff it until after 8 am for those of us trying to grab twenty winks?
Like pretty much anything else once you delve into it, crows are truly fascinating. And many people are fascinated by them. There are numerous web sites devoted to studying crow behavior and crow research. There’s even one dedicated to crow divination (http://www.jcrows.com/crolang.html), which explains what crow calls and appearances at various times of the day might portend.
Mark Twain wrote of crows: “…I never saw such a bird for delivering opinions. Nothing escapes him; he notices everything that happens, and brings out his opinion about it, particularly if it is a matter that is none of his business. And it is never a mild opinion, but always violent–violent and profance…”
Did you know that crows are very social and have a tight-knit family? That they use 25 different calls? That crow couples are thought to mate for life? And that the longest-lived crow survived to 29.5 years of age? His relatives are probably the ones tromping around on our roof each morning and I am assured of many years of dawn-heralding cackling and cawing to come. According to the divination site, a crow call from the East between 6:00 and 9:00 am means that my wishes will be fulfilled. What I really wish for right around then after a wakeful night is for a murder of crows…and I’m not talking about a flock.
Will I ever get any sleep? Quoth the raven, “Nevermore”.