But I already knew. Far back in the darkness of the egg, Id felt the blows that landed in the forest and sent a tremor through our tree. Id thought it was some dark force of the weather. But I knew now it was not only a beast but a beast human, Keeyaw the Terrible, doom of the trees, and I knew there must be others, all sorts of Keeyaw-looking creatures, chopping and mauling, driving a wedge into the pulp of the woods. But no. There was only one. One old, hairy curse on two legs, Keeyaw, the grim reaper of our trees, hunkered over the roots of the Giants, assailing them with his anger and dragging them away to the underworld. The thud of that beast working was like the struggle of my own beak, trying to muzzle my way out of the eggshell, or the clap of the flicker, drumming away at the bark, or the rhythm of the wind, my mothers song, the pause of nightfall. The noise of him felling trees goes far back in my mind, to a time before sound and memory, where the boggy water never stirs.
I didnt know if my hearing was getting better, or if Keeyaw was getting closer. But the crack of his ax grew tremendous. With each blow, our tree quaked, and the wind scattered his hammering and brought it back again as if he were attacking all of the giants of the woods at once. Get up," I said. "Get out there and look." No ones coming," said My Other, kicking his claws to get back up. "Hes too close." Close? Hes chopping us down."
Crows and their cousins in the corvid family, ravens, jays,
and magpies, have spent hundreds of thousands of years taking advantage of
Theyve been known to perform pitch-perfect imitations
of explosions, revving motorcycles and flushing urinals.
- Michelle Nijhuis, "Shadow Creatures"
Fall of the Giant
Fly off! Fly!
It was our mother. But from where? Where? Who could tell with the wind chasing her calls?
I saw her, a few trees away. She appeared on one branch, then another, then in an altogether different tree. But it was just the yes and no of the wind heaving her perch and whipping her feathers into a confusion of leaves. Why didnt she swoop onto the nest and stuff food into us?
Fly! she kept calling. Fly!
So what choice did we have? Though Id never left the deep of the nest, I reluctantly climbed up to the fatal jump. There was no way we could survive it, but Our Many must have known there was no way wed survive the falling of Our Giant either. And to die at least trying, even though you couldnt fly yet, was a way to fly off to the Tree of the Dead. Any death before that was no death at all, but only a quick flight into whatever fate befell youflies and maggots and stiff feathers and dust. The only way to become a true crow was to fly. Until then you were nothing, without a name; flying was all.
My Other was still in the deep of the nest, trying to stand back up, while I picked my way through the hurling twigs and stuck my beak into the headwinds. They howled yesss across my face. They howled yes and no in biting, utter cold. Id never felt anything like it. But then, this was my first experience beyond the bowl of our nest. As our tree bent, the underworld was thrown into view, first one side of our nest, then the other. I was so scared and astonished, I would have kept going if it werent for my enormous bony feet holding me back. Below was a mad sea of branches thrashing every which way. What lay below all the layers of bushes and vines I could not see. But I was hungry to fly. Or fall. Or eat the air. I had to wrap it in my wings, if you could call them that, just bare bones and points. For this very reason, infant crows are discouraged from the edge of the nest. Some just cannot overcome the urge to lunge out and grab hold of the wind and plummet, or whatever the feeling is that takes hold of your wings, even though there are no feathers anywhere yet to fly.
Excerpted from Song of the Crow, © 2006 Layne Maheu. Reprinted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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