By Phil & Jack Rosette
My wife is a great organizer, for things important to her, anyway. Twenty-plus years of nursing probably has something to do with that. I find our three honeymoon photo albums on the bookshelf right between the wedding album and the one dated 1990. Boy, we sure took a lot of pictures back then, I think as I take the last of the three honeymoon albums to the desk and start thumbing through it.
Like the albums, the photos are in chronological order. I find that, in fact, we were in Laramie, Wyoming on August 23rd, 1989: the same day Herman Blackclaw (a.k.a. Crow Stalker), died in that same town. A quick thumb to the back of the album and I see we were in Las Vegas three weeks later, on our way home and pregnant.
We were in Laramie three days, but I remember spending only the first night in the tipi. My wife’s notes back me up on this. I look at the pictures. Both the inside and the outside of our tipi were decorated with paintings. Inside, a headdress of eagle feathers and silver, red and yellow beads hangs high on one side. Opposite is painted a large white owl. A metal cooking pot sits in the center of the split-log floor, and skins of animals act as rugs. There is also a small table with a couple of candle holders on it, but not much else. Outside, images of bison, eagles and horses expertly circle around the outside of the tipi. Over the entrance is the image of a brave holding high over his head a hatchet in one hand and a bow in the other. The brave is staring up to the sky, and above him is a black bird in flight.
Weird is fast becoming the new norm.
I take the photo album downstairs to my desk. The Jeremy-Julia charm sits on top of the baggie, right where I left it, and it seems content to stay put if it’s not inside; not ‘bound’ as the legend says. Looking closer, nothing appears to have changed; it still weighs the same and looks the same from what I can tell. If this thing possesses magic, it isn’t clear to the naked eye. It is nothing more than a gift from a crow; a sign of gratitude to me, for effectively providing its murder an easy meal. Or is it?
I did watch the first three of Crow Stalker’s videos a few days ago. I could follow it through subtitles and now know what some of a crow’s basic movements mean, like looking at you with only one eye, and turning their back to you. He explains how crows ask questions with calls and head movement simultaneously. Pitch and repetition indicate important differences that they had to learn. The videos are short so I replay them several times until I think I can hear some of the subtle differences. Now I need a crow to test them on.
Since my mind has mostly gone to the birds in recent days, I look forward to returning to the park the next morning. It is cold outside, unseasonably so for late July. Taking my coffee on the back deck, I had to grab a jacket. The pockets were full of dog treats from the last time I wore it to take Gracie and Joker to the park. Forward thinking.
The chills in my shoulders make me mistake the smoke from my cigarette for the fog of my breath. Is it really this cold, or is it just me? The dogs pawing at the door to be let inside seem to think so. I put the smoke out, gulp down the rest of my coffee, and head back inside. As I approach the door, off in the distance, I hear a familiar, chilling sound.
Caw! Caw! Caw!
I turn around at once. Nervously, my eyes dart from tree to tree, perch to perch. The chills have proliferated; I am trembling all over.
Caw! Caw! Caw!
I turn away from the door, and the dogs follow me. I scan the whole backyard, looking up toward the roof, around the fence, in our bushes, in the neighbors’ yard, yet see nothing.
‘You got something for me, Jeremy?’ I cry out in frustration. It has been a couple of months since the last time I saw him, though I swore he called after us in the park when the dogs burst after that fawn. Despite all my recent research, I feel unprepared to greet this animal again.
Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!
Five! Curious. I’ve only ever known him to speak in groups of three. What’s more, these don’t seem like the happy caws I heard when he dropped off his nametag. From Crow Stalker’s videos, I recognize the short bursts of monotone caws as ‘companion’ calls. He wants me to come with him.
‘Where are you?’
‘I can’t follow you if I don’t know where you are! Show yourself!!’
I wait for a reply, but receive none.
I wait for about two minutes, but no response. Exasperated, I finally walk back into the house. ‘Come on, girls,’ I say to the confused but excited dogs. ‘Let’s go to the park.’
At this, they fly inside, whining the whole way. They run circles around me as I attempt to fix their leashes. It takes a couple of the treats in my pocket to get them to sit still for ten seconds. Once I have them on the leashes, we step outside.
I open the door and let go of the whiny dogs. They know the park routine well enough to wait expectantly outside the car for me to open the door for them, instead of sprinting away to get lost in suburbia. I flip the lock and close the door, but instead of dashing to the car, the dogs are frozen in place. I look up and understand why.
There he is, perched in the oak tree directly in front of our house. The dogs are both in prone position, waiting. I feel the blood rush from my face. My chills return. The bird repeats himself.
This is not a companion call; this is an alarm call. He turns his head to the side and looks at me with one eye – the focused stare of a binocular creature – then does a shimmy motion with his neck. Follow me.
Before I can reply, he spreads his wings and swoops down, flying in the opposite direction. Gracie and Joker dutifully chase him through the front yard and across the street.
‘Gracie! Joker!’ I call after them, but to no avail. ‘Dammit, Fatso!!’ The bird has left me no choice. I hop in the car as fast as I can and try and keep pace with the three flying animals.
Fortunately for me, Jeremy heads straight down the long street, so I am able to catch up with them after about a quarter of a mile. The crow flies low to the ground so the dogs can play catch-up – thankfully, on the sidewalk and not on the road. I pull up side-by-side as the fork in the road ahead approaches. Their tongues flap in the wind, and their leashes drag behind them like broken chains. I momentarily consider the irony of being in a car and chasing dogs, but that thought is cut short when the bird leads us all to the left.
A brief drive down this road leads us to a dead end. Jeremy heads left again, along the fenced-in sidewalk that leads to a wooded area in the back of the neighborhood elementary school. That bird just took three left-turns to get here, I reflect. He easily could have just flown over top. He wanted to make sure I could follow. Recalling the alarm in his voice when he called from my oak tree, I shudder to think what he could be leading us to.
The dogs, by now having sprinted at least a mile, start to slow down to a trot, which gives me time to park in the dead end and try to catch up. Alas, they still have four feet to my two, and are able to run into the woods after the bird faster than I can pursue them. I lose sight of all of the animals as they enter the trees. The cold air rasps in my lungs and exits in clouds of thick haze.
Having lost my eyes, I turn to my ears to guide me. I hear the crow again – Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH! Caa-AAH! – and expect to hear barks, but instead hear whimpers and whines. Worried, I start to run.
I see Jeremy perched on a branch above a small clearing. The dogs are no longer focused on him, and as I approach I find their rear ends poking out of a structure – a tipi! Perhaps constructed by some elementary kids playing fort defense, or some teenage couple looking to steal away. My dogs are fully engrossed with whatever is inside.
I call the dogs again. They start toward me, but the whimpers continue. They return to the tipi, and I follow them. As I turn the corner to peer inside, I hear Jeremy’s calls behind me – Caw! Caw! Caw! – and the wind from his powerful wings bristles my hair as he flies away. His job is done.
Inside the structure, a white dog lay still: broken, curled up, and whimpering. I gingerly scoop it up and return to the car as fast as the wind could carry me.