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  • Mj Pettengill

A Crows' Path


Crow, Corvid, CCO Image

What is all this talk about crows? Where does it come from, and how does it fit in the narrative of the Etched in Granite Series? That is something that some of you may have asked, while others may not have given it much thought. Let’s unpack this; shall we?


I will begin by pointing out the stigma of crows and ravens as they have been assigned to a sinister and dark role throughout human history. They are associated with death in mythology and classic literature, signifying doom, gloom, and a turn of bad luck. Think about it, a group of them is called a “murder.” How creepy is that?


On the other hand, some choose to perceive something much different from that old story regarding crows. I happen to be one of those people. I have observed their behavior directly and, from a scientific and folklore approach, studied them.


One of the fascinating studies carried out by wildlife biologists indicates that crows remember faces. This is not a memory that lasts for a short period, this is for years. They pass the information on from one generation to the next, actually learning from their peers that a specific person is dangerous to them.


I have firsthand knowledge of this act of remembering. I live and work on a farm. Over five years ago, using a pellet gun, my farming partner shot at crows who were stripping blueberry bushes. Of course, I was horrified. I prefer to use other methods to deter birds and other creatures. We share the space.


So, I am uncertain of exactly how many times the birds were in the line of pellet gunfire. But, I did put an immediate stop to it. Yes, crows are smart. Yes, they remember faces. From that time on, whenever the pellet gunman is outdoors, and the crows are nearby, they give a shoutout to each other—a clear warning that the dangerous human is nearby. It is remarkable how they do not fail to sound the alarm.


I, on the other hand, have not broken our trust bond. I spend time working in the fields and outdoors in general. When I hear them, I stop and acknowledge their presence. I have several bird and small critter feeding stations, so as observers, they know that I am an ally. Being aware of their discomfort relating to the blueberries, I have taken special care to reassure them that I am not that kind of girl. On the hill—the scene of the crime—I put out cracked corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.


Usually, when I go outside, the alpha crow comes to roost in a high branch, looking down upon me and signaling for the others to fly through. They might linger high in the surrounding trees before leaving. I always welcome them.


The sound of crows cawing in my surroundings invokes a prominent voice in the soundtrack of my childhood. It must have been profound because whenever I hear crows, the call comes through the ears of my inner child before reaching my present state. I find myself considering their presence before being fully aware.


Wherever I am, I seek a crow sighting. There is comfort in knowing that a crow is nearby. I do not have a conscious, logical explanation. When I drive, I take note of crows when they flush out of the trees, crossing the path above me as if leading the way. I do not wish to be superstitious, but after penning the first book in the EIG series, I started to rely on seeing them. I noticed that I always saw at least one crow when I was on my way to a meaningful event. When I do spot a crow, which is ninety-nine percent of the time, I will say, “Thank you for your presence.” To me, especially after writing them into my life, crows are reassuring, wise, and a good omen.


Let’s refer to Nellie in Book One.

Darkness fell upon my spirit. I took flight from my body and sat beside my friend the crow in the great white pine and watched from above. —May 23, 1873.

This passage illustrates the power of the crow in Nellie’s world. Not only does she acknowledge its presence, but she also leaves her body and joins him. He is an advisor, a witness, an ally.


Now, a crow reference from Sarah in The Angels’ Lament.


A shiny black crow ruffled its feathers and looked down from its perch—a long, jagged branch—above where the old Indian woman stood just moments before. I strained to see her, but she was gone. —September 5, 1872.

This is at the cemetery when Sarah has returned home to bury her mother. Of course, we can connect the dots between Sarah and Nellie. The crow is both a link and a powerful symbol in their stories, with or without their full awareness.


In Down from the Tree, it is almost a relief when the crow shows up for Samuel. This is not just one but two crows. The primary crow, the watcher, serves as an archetype for courage and rightness. With so many upheavals, having a crow present to keep one in line, to stop and think before jumping quickly to conclusions, can only be advantageous.

It is fair to say that the crow is likely one of the most essential symbols in Samuel’s narrative. He shows up when Samuel is at his most vulnerable point when his mother is passing. Providing courage, guidance, and protection, the watcher is invaluable.

It was at that instant, the crow made his presence known to me. We didn’t make a formal pact; he simply showed up. I called him the watcher because from the moment he arrived, to the day that I write these words, he has always been present. Perhaps he may have been so all along, but I was not fully aware of him until that day.
He joined me on the path, flyin’ in close with his wings cuttin’ through the air, somehow takin’ the lead. He made me feel safe, and I expected it. He was oddly reliable, and as Mamma would say, unplanned treasure. —June 30, 1878.

I remember the period immediately following the death of my mother, a crow flew overhead. I heard the wings flapping from quite a distance away. I had never been aware of the sound of birds’ wings being so distinct, so raw, and almost edgy. I remember looking up when I heard them and being dismayed. My senses were heightened, and it took the crow flying overhead to awaken to it. This was the world without her in it.


Throughout Down from the Tree, Samuel forms an alliance with the watcher. He knows that he is guided, guarded, and protected when he sees one or more crows. They are the sign that whatever he is embarking upon, he is safe.


It is his continued bond with the crows, that crosses time, life, and death, bringing him and Nellie together and strengthening as he grows. This takes us to the next book, The Crows’ Path. Where will it lead?


One by one, other crows joined the watcher until there were too many to count. Together, they rushed over my head like a river in springtime.

—Samuel Hodgdon, July 1, 1878.

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