Tag Archives: ecofantasy

Corvus Rising

Adobe Photoshop PDFCorvus Rising is a fantasy tale told in part from the point of view of crows, about an extraordinary yet nearly extinct group of humans who speak their language. Together, humans, crows, ravens, and a multitude of other birds, unite and take a stand against the destruction of an enchanted island.

The story opens as Jade Matthews, a gifted painter with a vivid imagination, awakens from a nightmare in which a band of crows has broken into her bedroom through a large window. She fears that the crows are looking for her most treasured possession: a strange medallion given to her by the mother she never knew. The medallion seems ancient, carved from stone or a very hard wood, depicting a human hand and a bird wing clasped in friendship.

Jade’s husband Russ is a biology professor at the local university, as is the Jesuit priest and noted ornithologist, Alfredo Manzi. The priest serendipitously discovers the enchanted Wilder Island, home to an unusual population of blue-eyed crows and ravens. He meets Charlie, patriarch of the great Hozey clan–one of the many old families of crows on the island, known to the crows as Cadeña-l’jadia–land of misty marshes and green forests.

Charlie informs Manzi that he is not a freak, that there are others like him, others who speak Patua’–the language of the crows. Charlie tells Manzi about his old friend Charlotte, trapped in an insane asylum for years because she cannot speak human languages, though she is fluent in Patua’.

But there is more to the island than blue-eyed crows. Manzi discovers a rustic chapel built by the man for whom the island was named; an old hermit, coincidentally a Jesuit brother of the 1800’s named Maxmillian Wilder. The chapel completely charms Manzi, built from living trees and vines, with a roof that resembles an upside-down bird’s nest. He finds the old hermit’s bones in the chapel, and a strange medallion carved from a very hard wood or stone, with the image of an intertwined wing and a human hand.

Coincidentally, with Manzi’s discovery of Wilder Island, his superior, the Father Provincial of the North American Society of Jesus in Washington DC, learns that the Order owns the tiny uninhabited Wilder Island, located in the middle of one of America’s biggest rivers. And that a wealthy developer in the city on either side of the river would like to purchase it for development.

With the Father Superior’s blessing, Manzi makes the island his home, just in time to stave off the advances of the developer who plans to build a gambling resort. Turned down by the Jesuits to purchase the property, he turns to a condemnation lawsuit under US eminent domain laws, recently expanded to allow for public use to include commercial development.

The threat to the island is dire. With the financial backing of the Father Superior, a tree-hugging attorney named Kate designs a land trust-the Friends of Wilder Island, to defend it and deflect the developer’s condemnation suit. Manzi invites his colleague Russ Matthews and his artist wife Jade, and his helper Sam Howard to join the land trust and name it Friends of Wilder Island.

Although he risks exposing his strange ability to speak with crows to other humans–a secret he has kept hidden his entire life- the Friends of Wilder Island Land Trust puts Manzi right in front of the entire population of the city, as he tries to unite them against the destruction of a unique wilderness.

While the humans argue over the merits of wilderness preservation and economic development, Charlie the blue-eyed crow and the Great Corvid Council take matters into their own wings. Fanning out in all directions, the crows and ravens gather a multitude of birds of all feathers to take a stand and defend Cadeña-l’jadia, ancestral homeland to the great Hozey clan, and the beloved Bruthamax, the old Jesuit hermit who came to the island centuries ago.

So… what’s a Corvus?

Say what?
Say what?

Short answer: crows and ravens are members of the genus Corvus.
Long answer: <click here…>

Oh, by the way…

Corvus Rising is available as a paperback, and at the Amazon Kindle Store. <right here>

Don’t have a Kindle? Click <here> for free app for your computer, iPad, tablet, smartphone…

The Keystone Pipeline and Eminent Domain: legal theft of private property

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Private Property and the Public Good

In 1985, Susette Kelo, of New London, Connecticut, lost her home via eminent domain to development by Pfizer, an American multi-national pharmaceutical corporation. It happened, thanks to a divided U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v City of New London (1985), which expanded the definition of ‘public good’ to include increased tax revenues and jobs to the local community. Prior to 1985, ‘public good’ meant things like hospitals, roads, airports–in other words, things that benefit the public.
The sole beneficiary of Kelo v City of New London was Pfizer Corporation. After demanding and destroying the homes of private citizens, however, Pfizer built nothing, provided no new tax revenue, and no jobs. But Pfizer did rip the taxpayers off for tens of millions of dollars. Evidently the ‘public good’ in ‘economic development’ meant the Pfizer Corporation.
No matter what the politicians, corporations, and their lawyers concoct to redefine public good, we all see it for what it is: pickpockets finding a legal way to steal.

keystone.map2_-270x300The Keystone Pipeline

In  today’s news, eminent domain rears its ugly head as an unintended consequence of the Keystone Pipeline project. No matter which side of the political divide you’re on, the government having the right to take your private property to a developer is complete and utter nonsense. Why anyone supports this debacle that will graetly benefit a private corporation in Canada, with dubious to non-existent benefits to U.S. citizens, as well as the potential destruction of our landscape is beyond rationality.

Canada has rules, you see, prohibiting oil pipelines snaking across their land. But not ours. Taking advantage of the absurdity of the Supreme Court decision as well as weakened environmental laws (thanks to the GOP), the non-USA company, Trans Canada Corporation plans to build this controversial pipeline project all across the midsection of our land, and is filing condemnation lawsuits for the property they’ll need for the pipeline all along the way.

Before they even have the permits to build the pipeline.

Trans Canada Corp used the same Supreme Court decision to condemn private property that Pfizer Corp used in the City of New London. Moving oil across a continent is considered ‘for the public good,’ evidently.

These suits are very expensive for a private citizen to fight. Some people, like the Crawfords in Texas, are fighting and have taken to the internet to get some help from the rest of us. A group of Nebraska landowners banded together and have filed suit against their state for selling them out.

Neither God nor Money Can Stop It…

In my ecofantasy novel Corvus Rising, the iconic and enchanted Wilder Island is threatened by an condemnation lawsuit brought by a wealthy developer who has asked the local government to condemn the island under eminent domain and sell it to him. He plans to scrape it clean of the thousands of native birds on the island, as well as all the wild wilderness of  trees, and build a gambling resort open to the public.

That there is a humble yet consecrated chapel on the island, or that the island and the chapel are owned by the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church, is irrelevant. Neither God nor the wealth of the Vatican can stop Eminent Domain.

Neither in Corvus Rising, nor in 21st century America can even the uber-wealthy Catholic Church stop eminent domain.

As Bad as Citizens United

The one way around eminent domain is public outcry. Let’s hold on to each other’s hands on this rare issue upon which we are not divided. We must stand together, across the political divide. Stand with the Crawfords and all the others in the path of the Keystone Pipeline.

That’s what the birds did, the heroes in Corvus Rising.
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Angry Crows…

Respecting the Earth and All Its Inhabitants (Book Excerpt)

Cover

Excerpt from Corvus Rising, by author, geologist, and artist, Mary Simmons.

Written from the perspective of a group of intelligent crows and ravens, the Corvids, Corvus Rising sheds light on the environmental destruction taking place in our world in the name of progress, economic development, jobs and greed.

Simmons wants readers to realize the importance of preserving and respecting nature and the environment.  “Corvus Rising presents the issues humorously with a suggestion that just maybe one day animals will get fed up enough to fight back.” —Editor Post, Living Green Magazine

Alfredo picked up his mic, leaving his partially eaten lunch on the table. “Why do we need wilderness at all?” he said to the crowd. “I would like to answer that with a quote from Edward Abbey, noted author and outspoken defender of wilderness.”

He pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and read: “‘The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.’”

A few people clapped. Alfredo smiled as he closed the notebook and put it back in his pocket.

“Too bad most of us will never see it!” a man in the back shouted.

“Somewhere along the way,” Alfredo said, ignoring the heckler, “we gave ourselves dominion over the Earth, which has all but severed our connection to the web of life. We built great cities, where we concentrated power and wealth, while we impoverished our spirits and our wild lands…”

CorvusRisingCover2The crowd had grown. A few crows collected in the trees surrounding the bandstand, staring down at Alfredo. Or was it his lunch?

“Cities weigh heavily on the hearts of men and women,” he continued, “and we must be able to escape them, even if it is just in our imaginations. In wilderness, we find ourselves. As we cherish one of our last wild places, let us become aware of our connection to it and impose surrender upon ourselves.”

“Surrender?” the man at the back of the crowd shouted. “Never!”

”Yes,” Alfredo said, “Surrender. The old hermit, Brother Wilder, surrendered to the wilderness we are now trying to preserve. He chose this wild island as a refuge from the world of cities and men, and spent his life in solitary contemplation of the glory of creation.”

“Who has time for that?” the man in the back shouted.

“Some of us have to actually work for a living!” someone yelled.

Anger surged in Alfredo’s chest. “While most people do not desire such lengthy solitude, it is through these pristine and unaltered wild lands that our spirits connect us to the Earth. As we gaze upon our island from across the river, its wilderness lives within us all; let us not now throw it away for a few pieces of silver.”

The crowd cheered and many clapped. A small crow dropped from the sky onto the table, and beaked a noodle from Alfredo’s plate.

Alfredo turned off his mic and said, “Well, hello little fella!”

“Don’t you know me, Jayzu?” the crow said, looking up.

“Of course I know you!” Alfredo said in a very low voice. “Grawky, JoEd!” He smiled and put out his hand. JoEd brushed it with his wingtip.

“Grawky, Jayzu!”

Nine more crows dropped down to the table, all talking at once.

 

Mary Simmons is a geologist by education and an artist by avocation. Simmons holds a Masters in Science in geology, worked for the US Geological Survey, and has published several scientific papers. Based on her background and expertise in geology, Simmons has a deep interest in the preservation of wilderness and creatures in the face of human development of land. As for her creative side, Simmons enjoys writing, making pottery and jewelry, and painting. Simmons uses clay and ground up rocks from the local landscape to make potters clay and glazes. She currently resides on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. For more information on her book, Corvus Rising, please visit http://www.authormarycsimmons.com/

Source: http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/04/29/mother-nature/respecting-the-earth-and-all-its-inhabitants-book-excerpt/#U3MiyIMB9CPflWBQ.99

Sentience and the Art of Everything

A Guineafowl Pufferfish, Hawaii
A Pufferfish

A recent blog post, And then it was Art, featured a delightful video of a pufferfish creating a work of art in the sand, as if he could somehow visualize what the final piece would look like. That’s what artists do—we create a physical manifestation from an internal vision. Who knew a little fish could do that too? Surely it is not a sign of high intelligence and sentience in humans, but merely an instinctive mating ritual in the pufferfish.

Heretofore, I’ve been guilty of a quite bigoted attitude, you might even say species-ist, against pufferfish everywhere. I have in a most unaware manner, equated art with superior intelligence and sentience, and discounted the very idea that this tiny fish could be either. For most of my life I have bought into that dogma.

Until the pufferfish came into my life.

What if the pufferfish is actually highly intelligent as well as aware?—but how would we know? When the standard of intelligence is set by us, and has everything to do with our anatomy?

So what is sentience, exactly?

Well, the definition evolves over time, but has nothing to do with intelligence…

 

And:

sentience (ˈsɛnʃəns) n.

1. the state or quality of being sentient; awareness

2. sense perception not involving intelligence or mental perception; feeling

 Some say that the ability to plan, visualize, and construct is a sign of sentience. That sounds like architecture, actually. Art and engineering combined if we do it; instinct if another animal does.

Just because we can’t hear it scream…

Sense perception means the ability to feel pain and loneliness. And to suffer. I wonder if there is a living creature anywhere that does not feel pain? Or loneliness. Everything that lives probably feels pain. I’m thinking maybe microbes don’t, but how do I know?  Just because they’re microscopic?  Am I again being species-ist, also known as myopic?
BlackCanyonMoss2
Moss Rocks!

EcoArt

Maybe art and sentience have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Consider also the lush green moss gracing a quartz and pretty pink feldspar rock called Orthoclase.  As if the moss was painting on the rock. Can we even consider sentience in a plant?

 

If you take a closer look, past or within the velvety green luscious amazing moss, there’s a few other creatures in the rocks. As it turns out….moss is an allotrope, meaning it’s a primary plant producer upon which the food supply of the entire animal world depends.  Contrary to popular belief, moss does not eat rocks, it attaches to them in order to get water; it’s energy is derived from the sun, as is true of all plants.

BlackCanyonMoss3
Symbionts
So what’s the lighter green stuff? Not moss, not even plants. They’re the rock eaters, the lithotropes, aka lichen—microbes that feed off the chemical compostion of rocks, or whatever they attach to. Lichen form a symbiotic relationship with the moss. Some are pale green, some are yellow, orange, they’re all amazing.
crustose_lichens_lg
Crustose Lichen
Are these creatures aware of their artful expression of living; their unique and endless variations of a verse in the great song of the Universe?
Am I?
Are you?

 

 

 

Eco Art

ow.ly/Ed3Uj

Moss Is:

 

http://agillenlifescience.pbworks.com/w/page/34864162/Autotroph

Isn’t

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endolith

The Little Pufferfish Who Could

…build her a castle

Art in the Sand

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Click on image for extraordinary video: Art of the Pufferfish

I am totally charmed. Who knew pufferfish are masters of art and architecture?
The scientific powers that be attribute the whole thing to a mating ritual and the sole purpose of the pufferfish’s activity is to impress a female.
Not me, though.

Mission Accomplished

I am impressed. Thoroughly and completely.

I feel a certain kinship to this pufferfish, who pulls his vision from the sand. I work in clay—rarely if not never do I sketch things out first on paper. It’s not that I cannot draw, it’s that paper is but two dimensional, and clay is three. For me, it’s just easier to ‘draw,’ so to speak, with the clay in the first place.

DSCF0224
Archimedes Flight, 2006, Ceramic sculpture by Mary C Simmons

The pufferfish didn’t draw it all out first either, for obvious reasons. No paper, no writing utensils, no thumbs…just an internal vision that drove his entire body in the performance of art. That’s how I do it too, engrossed in my task and operating from an internal vision that informs my hands to construct the compendium of details that comprise the whole.

Art and Sentience

We humans draw a firm boundary between ourselves and the rest of creation, based on a standard (set by us) of intelligence and sentience, which undergoes periodic redefinition to exclude all of creation except us. Originally defined as the ability to feel and perceive, the definition was expanded to include an ability to suffer. Once we started noticing that all animals have that ability, self-awareness became the defining quality of sentience.

I can’t imagine how the pufferfish created his art without an awareness of himself in his oceanic landscape of water and sand. Why is it that the creation of art is an instinctual mating ritual in the animals, but a sign of sentience and intelligence in us?

satin-bower-bird-nestUntil the pufferfish first maps out his sculpture on paper or via computer graphics, or when the bowerbirds use differential equations to construct their nests, they’ll never even approach us intelligence-wise. Cool that we get to not only set the standard, but keep changing it as well so as to exclude all that is non-human. But why?

I am over-awed and comforted by my kinship with the little pufferfish creating a work of art the same way I do—from an internal vision, using his physical body. I doubt very much, however, that I could create this or any piece of art with my nose. From that perspective, the pufferfish is quite a bit more talented than I am.

 

ANIMAL ARCHITECTURE, book out April 2014 087.jpg
Animal Architecture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Heaven, Cow Heaven

FirstCut
First Cut

I live at the foot of the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Snowmelt provides an amazing amount of water to the Gunnison River Basin, as is evident by the acres and acres of hay pastures and small herds of grazing cows. And a few horses. A few thousand humans are scattered across this landscape, which provides a natural and spectacularly scene of pasture and mountains.
The valley of the North Fork of the Gunnison hosts a surprising population of artists, organic farmers, vintners, amid happy cows munching on red clover, alfalfa and grass. Less visible, yet as happy as the other bovines, goats, pigs, and chickens have found a good life here.
As have I. Everything I need to nourish body and soul: they grow peaches here, for one. The landscape is astonishingly beautiful. Organic farming, always a plus.
And this is cow heaven. No feedlots here, no concentration of a large number of animals on a small piece of land.
This is good.
I want my future beef to be happy, well fed on grass, and gently ‘processed.’

Animal Screams

Fortunately for me and the ranchers, a few very small meat processing facilities are located in the valley. Small is good. I loathe and despise the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, where cows are mired in manure and urine-saturated pens and fed a mixture of grains, hormones and antibiotics. But this is not happening here in Cow Heaven. I gaze out on these pastures of cows and grass, idyllic in the full height of summer glory. And it is good.

Pigs+to+slaughterThen I heard the screams. An animal in complete, shrieking terror being offloaded into a slaughter house that I had assumed by it’s very smallness would fulfill the destiny, the very birthright, of cattle born in this valley. A respectful peaceful death…

Mere words are so very flat and lack the dimension to describe the dreadful horror of this animal’s last experience as a living creature. It was unbearable. How is that we humans are so cruel? To our food, each other, the landscape, the Earth?
I’m tempted to become a vegetarian, perhaps to cleanse and absolve me of this horror. But I don’t think it’s wrong to eat animals. It’s not wrong to eat anything. But it is wrong to torture our food before we eat it.

You are what you Eat

Who are we, who eat GMO corn-fed, pharmaceutically engineered flesh? Shot full of adrenaline and fear in the moments before it’s death, the animal will be cut up and packaged.

We will eat it. Far from the scene of it’s life and terrified death, the package does not resemble a living animal, whose screams are silent, but the aftermath of fear lives on in us.

feat-slaughter-house-rules

The Law is an Ass

abf0c16e325cd1f022ac3a46879258f4A look into some of the many faces of ‘the’ Law…

Man’s Law

That’s the kind of law which governs the Affordable Care Act, paying taxes, stopping at red lights, having to wait until you’re 21 to drink alcohol, as well as all the penalties accrued and assessed for violations.  Man’s Law  also includes a majority of  ‘God’s Laws’—those governing ethical behavior, e.g. the No Kill Law, the No Stealing Law—those things we all just sort of don’t do, as a rule, but just in case we forget, Moses brought the stone table down from the mountain and made it official.

Man’s Law, at least in the US, excludes any and all rules pertaining to False Gods, Swearing, Keeping Holy the Sabbath, and Honoring Your Parents. Oh, and Coveting—we do all get to covet with complete impunity.

Man’s Law governs and includes all judicial decisions. The way that Man’s Law is an Ass can be understood best in terms of a few recent US Supreme Court decisions, e.g.  Kelo v City of New London, 2005, which expanded ‘public good’ to include ‘tax revenue and jobs created by condemning and razing an old lady’s house and building a shopping center.’ Seriously. The government can condemn your property and sell it to a developer.

Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commisson, 2010. Corporations were given personhood, and therefore the government is prohibited from restricting a corporation’s contribution to political candidates, parties, PACs. Representative government becomes government not of, by, or for the people, but for those with the most bucks. The Monarchy of Money. So much for democracy

Then there’s the Hobby Lobby decision. That’s the one where a company, and presumably a private individual as well, can use a deeply held belief in God’s Law to decide which one of Man’s Laws they don’t have to comply with.

I actually like that one—I can opt out of lots of things on those grounds. Taxes—ain’t gonna pay for war no more.

But, seriously, it’s a whole boxful of Pandoras (a famous saying by former NM Governor Bruce King) that we as a country of 300 million probably don’t really want to let out.

Render unto Caesar?

…that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s—so says a gospel of Matthew.

smoking+uncle_sam_taxes

And there you have it. Man’s Law is Caesar’s Law—Caesar of course being ‘the government.’ Therefore, the “Render unto Caesar’ rule must extend  to keeping its laws. Except when it’s a privately-held corporation with deeply held religious beliefs, and then God’s Law supercedes. Good thing we don’t think God wants us to stone women of other faiths to death, or fly airplanes into tall buildings.

What if obedience to Man’s Law (or God’s Law) causes or allows suffering of others to continue? Should one steal food to feed one’s hungry children or let them starve? Is this God’s will? Should hungry people get away with stealing food?

Deities can be spectacularly subtle

In my ecofantasy novel, Corvus Rising, the Jesuit priest, Alfredo Manzi, struggles with whether to obey Man’s Law and be considered righteous and without blame, or to commit a criminal act that will alleviate the suffering of another. He prays to God, asking for guidance. Does God want us to break laws? Alfredo wonders, but receives no answer.

 

CorvusRisingCover2“Deities can be spectacularly subtle,” Charlie the blue-eyed crow tells the priest. “That’s been the corvid observation of human gods in general over the years.”
“As well as spectacularly unhelpful,” Alfredo said as he drew the outline of the grounds of Rosencranz in the sand. “Sometimes God wants us to find our own way, I guess.”
“Well, it might help if you ask a yes or no question,” Charlie said. “Then the deity could catch a bush on fire, which would be a yes answer I would think. However, silence could also be construed as consent, albeit far less dramatic.”                      
-excerpt from Corvus Rising

 

In other words, sometimes we’re pretty much on our own.

 

horns-of-a-dilemma

 

 

 

Let Them Eat Corn

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The following tale is the fourth in the series of tongue-in-beak stories I made up concerning the ancient relationship our species has had with the corvids-a group of birds whose most familiar members are crows, ravens and magpies. Though I have been accused of anthropomorphizing these birds, I beg to differ. Perhaps they corvo-morphized us.

 

Let Them Eat Corn

As the populations of all three species grew, Raven, Crow and Human strode hand-in-wing into the future. While Humans grew smarter and smarter, Crow and Raven grew wiser and wiser. By and by, humans began to take on an air of superiority over the other animals and looked down upon Crow and Raven because the birds have tiny brains and lacked opposing thumbs.

“We are best,” they boasted. “We are smart too, smarter even than Raven. Look at all the stuff we can make. Whatever the gods did not give us, we can invent. We can out-fly, out-run, out-swim, out-dig, out-build and out-tool-make all the animals on Earth.”

“But look at the mess you’ve made!” Raven scoffed. “Much of the livable places on Earth have been despoiled by your inventions, to say nothing of your greed. You lay waste to everything you touch.”

Humans wasted a great deal, it was true, but there was no real complaint from Crow or Raven. And, there was another plague on, so carrion was everywhere. Life was good.

“I believe we have erred, Cousin.” Raven said after a gluttonous meal at the landfill on the outskirts of a great human settlement..

“How so, Cousin?” Crow opened an eye.

“Haven’t you noticed our human brethren are getting just a bit too big for their britches?” Raven said. “They’re all attitude these days. This tool—making thing you taught them—that was a big mistake. Remember I warned you: ‘No good deed goes unpunished’? But no, you had to be the do-gooder. First you taught them how to make fire.”

Raven had never told Crow that he was the one who brought fire to the humans. Best let bygones be bygones, Raven thought. And why spoil his perfect non-interfering image?

“Then you taught them to cook, and then to make leather,”he railed at Crow. “And then clothing. You taught them how to till the soil and plant seeds, and how to irrigate. You taught them where to find clay, and how to make pottery. You taught them to read and write, and then, then you moved on to architecture. You taught them how to build stable structures that withstand wind and earthquakes and keep raindrops from falling on their heads. And finally,” Raven stopped to inhale. “As I live and breathe I hope this is your final teaching moment: you taught them how to smelt ore. Give it a rest, OK? Give them a rest.”

“Well, excuse me, Cousin!” Crow was offended at the tone in Raven’s voice. “I was just trying to help. Remember how skinny and cold they were in the old days? I just couldn’t stand their misery. I had to do something.”

“Next time try minding your own business.” Raven said.

He and Crow had revisited this argument a million times. Raven thought Crow spent too much time dabbling in human affairs. “It’ll end up kicking you in the butt. And mine.” Raven predicted darkly. “Leave them be, I beg you.”

Crow found Raven’s complete lack of compassion hard to take. “I don’t know how you sleep at night, Cousin, after eating at their table the way we do and then bad-mouthing them as soon as your stomach is full. You refuse to lend a wing to help them when you so easily could. That’s what’s going to come around and kick you in the butt. Taking more than you give back.”

“Bad-mouthing?” Raven said with a great deal of irritation in his voice. “You want to hear bad-mouthing? Try listening to what these ‘poor skinny humans’ are saying.” Raven mocked.

“Here’s a good one for you: ‘Crow is the harbinger of death. Where Crow goes, Death follows. Beware of Crow.’ And they have begun to fear and hate you, and by extension me because they still can’t tell us apart. After thousands and thousands of years, they can’t tell you from me. The dopes.”

 

After a few minutes of silence, Raven said in a low voice that rose with each word: “You want to know what just slays me? We corvids supposedly bring death, yet do we we kill? Maybe an egg now and then, and we could argue for millennia about whether that is really killing…but otherwise—Nope. Not us. We are not killers. Humans, now that’s a whole other story. Humans kill. Just for the heck of it.” They kill us, they kill each other—they freaking kill everything!”

Raven towered over his cousin, glaring angrily. “Yet, you continue to mollycoddle them.”

“Well, disease kills too.” Crow said, still trying to be fair to the turncoat humans. “Look at what West Nile does to us. And humans, they get more diseases than we do. Their plagues, you know, those killed millions. Wiped whole villages off the map. Not once. Not twice, because here we go on plague number three. And that was just the bubonic.”

“Oh yeah!” Raven said sarcastically. “Let’s talk about the Black Plague!” His irritation erupted into outright anger as he spoke. “They cluelessly spread a disease across Europe, letting it wipe out a sizable chunk of their population, and who do they blame? Not the stupid little flea that started all this. Not the cats who the humans foolishly killed, who otherwise would’ve eaten the rats that carried the fleas that bit the humans and made them sick. Oh, no! They never blame themselves for being relentlessly myopic and stupid. But they heap all their guilt and blame on us. Us!“

Raven stomped up and down the branch as he ranted, shaking it so hard, Crow tightened his grip, lest he fall off.

“They act like we killed all those millions,” Raven seethed. “There’s a difference between killing and eating dead things, you know!”

“For truth,” Crow agreed, nodding. He hated when Raven went off like this. But he had learned over the years that sometimes it’s best to shut the beak up.

“‘Harbingers of death’,” Raven mocked. “You like that name, Cousin? After all you’ve done for them? I’ve told you over and over and over again. No good deed goes unpunished, Cousin. One day you will mark my words.”

Crow was depressed. He’d taught humans everything they knew. They were naked,and hungry. Shivering. Without the sense to come in out of the rain.  And now, they are fat. They walk the streets of glittering cities dressed in the finest fashions and they live in fabulous palaces.

“Well, I’ll show them!” Raven raged. “No more human flesh shall cross my beak. Until they start showing a little respect.”

 

For a while, Raven and Crow stopped eating the piles of dead humans resulting from their plagues and wars and the continuous epidemics caused by terrible plumbing. The one thing Crow knew absolutely nothing about.

During the boycott, Crow and Raven took to the cornfields, which provided them with a few of the necessary nutrients.

“It just doesn’t satisfy like meat.” Raven said, turning his beak in disgust. He didn’t care for corn as much as Crow did and he longed for the eight essential amino acids found in meat protein. Nonetheless, he refused to eat human flesh, at least where they could see him.

As it happened, Raven and Crow came upon a human in the cornfield. “Shhh!” Raven hissed, and stuck a wing out. “Wait. Watch.” After many minutes the human had not moved, so Crow and Raven moved closer, walking on the ground through the cornstalks toward the immobile human.

Raven flew up suddenly, right in front of the human’s face. It didn’t even flinch.

“Well, then,” Raven said. “It doesn’t seem to be alive.”

“But is it dead?” Crow asked as Raven leaped to the shoulder of the human. “Can we eat it?”

“That depends,” Raven said as he hopped over the straw hat to the other shoulder, “on your definition of dead, Cousin.”

Crow tilted his head to one side. “I don’t think it’s real human, though it’s wearing human clothing—it’s stuffed with straw.”

“It’s definitely not human, Raven said. “But it is a reasonable facsimile.”

“But what is a fake human doing in a cornfield?” Crow asked.

“Who knows?” Raven said, as he pecked at an ear of corn. “I stopped trying to figure these creatures out about a millennia ago. And you know, I sleep better for it.” He looked at Crow pointedly, a kernel of corn stuck to his beak.

Crow kept up the scrutiny of the fake human. “Wait!” he said, leaping up to stand on the hat. He peered downward over the brim of it’s hat.

“I know what this is!” he cried out, looking down at his cousin. “It’s art! It’s a sculptural piece.”

“In the middle of a cornfield?” Raven asked. “That is odd, don’t you think?”

“Tremendously,” Crow said. “But, on the other wing, it also could be quote unquote an installation. Meaning the cornfield is part of the Great Artpiece. You know, the Great Universal Narrative. Not that I get the association between the stuffed fake human and the cornfield, though.” He shrugged. “But modern art is sometimes like that.”

Crow and Raven polished off a few more ears of corn and took to the skies. While their stomachs hungered for flesh, Raven and Crow refused meat. At least that was the ideal; in practice, well, sometimes the instinct to survive is quite irresistable. Neither Crow nor Raven ever had their priorities so screwed up that eating ever took second place to politics.

“Looky there!” Crow said, his voice rising to the high-pitched squeal that meant only one thing: meat on the ground.

The two swooped down and perched on a rotting corpse of an animal that might’ve been a truffle-hunter once. Today it was food.

“The Food Chain is Always Right,” Raven said and buried his head in the dead flesh.

Crow nodded at the ancient corvid proverb and beaked himself another chunk.

Hand

 

First Crow, First Raven, First Human…the Way it Might’ve Been

2ravensI’m a big fan of crows. Ravens too. I’m not alone. Googling ‘crow’ gets 113,000,000 hits; ‘raven’ gets 116,000,000. By comparison, ‘eagle’ gets 382,000,000; ‘sparrow’ 52,900,000.

Crows poll somewhere between eagles and sparrows, though not all 113 million hits are from crow lovers—some people like to brag about killing them. But that’s another story for another time. Nonetheless, crows and their raven cousins have accompanied human civilization since we showed up. And they were here first.

They’ve been here ten times longer than we have. Compare the oldest corvid fossil at 20-25 million years to the mere 200,000 years ago that the first Homo sapiens appeared.

snake-constellation-hydra-night-skyCrow and Raven have been with us since our beginnings and made a large impression on our earliest ancestors–for the stories they inspired, as well as a place in the stars. One of the oldest named constellations, Corvus (the Crow or Raven) refers to an old story, already ancient in the time of Aesop:


Corvus, the Constellation

Crow was Apollo’s sacred bird who he sent to fetch him some water from a nearby spring. Crow flew off with the god’s ceremonial crater in his claws. But instead of filling the crater with water, Crow perched in a tree and waited for the figs to ripen. After gorging himself on figs, he  remembered his task, but rather then returning with water, he brought Apollo a water snake and a story about how the serpent had kept him from filling the cup with water.

Enraged, Apollo threw Crow off Mt Olympus and into the heavens. He set the water snake (Hydra) to guard the cup (Crater) of water from Crow (Corvus), doomed to be thirsty forever in plain view of the Crater full of water.

urania32

Water, a snake, a cup, and ripe figs. Somehow I think the anger of the god at the disobedient crow was the very least thing this myth is about. The real meaning of the story, the one that earned it a place in the stars, has been lost.

Many of the old stories are like this one—full of symbols that no longer carry the meaning they once did. It’s high time, I thought, to re-tell the old tales, about First Crow, First Raven, and First Human. Though obscure, what is clear is that we’ve come hand-in-wing down through the ages, together. Not always in friendship, but constant companions, nevertheless

Who Are These Birds?

Accompanying the plethora of old legends, recent research into the intelligence and behavior of crows and ravens reveals an intelligent sentient, species. Interested parties might enjoy this excellent book on the subject: Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell.

Crow and raven brains are wired like ours. They assess. They dream, they plan, they make tools. They observe us as curiously and perhaps as critically and judgmentally as we observe them. We no longer revere them as gods, we might well remember that at no time in the history of the Earth have they ever thought so of us.

Ecofantasy Tales

In that light, I imagined myself to be a crow, observing the human species. From the very beginning when the poor hairless creatures shivered in the darkness … until Crow (or was it Raven?) taught them to make fire. Ever since, with Crow’s oversight and over Raven’s protestations, human civilization lurched haplessly along.

I wrote a series of stories about the interactions of our three species. Down through the ages, imagining the way it might’ve been.

Lascaux-BrokenFirst Crow, First Raven, First Human, the stories…

First Campfire   The sound of the humans teeth chattering on the ground below irritated Raven, and he couldn’t sleep…

Tan Me Hide and Teach Me to Sew  …well before the first human took a bite of the first apple from the Tree of Knowledge

The Still  Driven to drink from the Garden of Eden….


Let Them Eat Corn
…..humans grew smarter and smarter, while Crow and Raven grew wiser and wiser…

In wilderness, we find ourselves…

An excerpt from Corvus RisingCorvusRisingCover2

Alfredo picked up his mic, leaving his partially eaten lunch on the table. “Why do we need wilderness at all?” he said to the crowd. “I would like to answer that with a quote from Edward Abbey, noted author and outspoken defender of wilderness.”

He pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and read: “‘The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.’”

A few people clapped. Alfredo smiled as he closed the notebook and put it back in his pocket.

“Too bad most of us will never see it!” a man in the back shouted.

“Somewhere along the way,” Alfredo said, ignoring the heckler, “we gave ourselves dominion over the Earth, which has all but severed our connection to the web of life. We built great cities, where we concentrated power and wealth, while we impoverished our spirits and our wild lands…”

The crowd had grown. A few crows collected in the trees surrounding the bandstand, staring down at Alfredo. Or was it his lunch?

“Cities weigh heavily on the hearts of men and women,” he continued, “and we must be able to escape them, even if it is just in our imaginations. In wilderness, we find ourselves. As we cherish one of our last wild places, let us become aware of our connection to it and impose surrender upon ourselves.”

“Surrender?” the man at the back of the crowd shouted. “Never!”

”Yes,” Alfredo said, “Surrender. The old hermit, Brother Wilder, surrendered to the wilderness we are now trying to preserve. He chose this wild island as a refuge from the world of cities and men, and spent his life in solitary contemplation of the glory of creation.”

“Who has time for that?” the man in the back shouted.

“Some of us have to actually work for a living!” someone yelled.

Anger surged in Alfredo’s chest. “While most people do not desire such lengthy solitude, it is through these pristine and unaltered wild lands that our spirits connect us to the Earth. As we gaze upon our island from across the river, its wilderness lives within us all; let us not now throw it away for a few pieces of silver.”

The crowd cheered and many clapped. A small crow dropped from the sky onto the table, and beaked a noodle from Alfredo’s plate.

Alfredo turned off his mic and said, “Well, hello little fella!”

“Don’t you know me, Jayzu?” the crow said, looking up.

“Of course I know you!” Alfredo said in a very low voice. “Grawky, JoEd!” He smiled and put out his hand. JoEd brushed it with his wingtip.

“Grawky, Jayzu!”

Nine more crows dropped down to the table, all talking at once.

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