Something to Crow About
I’m booted up, caffeinated, mouse in hand, and ready to hammer out a petulant screed concerning the general carelessness in the fashion industry as concerns “seasonality.” But first, we need to address some scurrilous allegations and imputations that have been passed around about the genus Corvus.
Cattle form a “herd.” Bees “swarm.” “Geese flock.” Even Alligators only “congregate.” But when three or more crows gather together it’s a “Murder?” This terminology isn’t fair to crows. Yes, some crows can be naughty. And maybe crows poke their beaks into places they’ve not been invited, but Corvus family members are not straight-up killers like the hawks and eagles of the Falconidae. Maybe it’s because of their curiosity and willingness to go where they don’t belong that Crows, Magpies, and their cousins, the Ravens, ended up serving the mythic world as “spies for Odin,” and “messengers” for other Norse gods. Crows worked for Yahweh too; when Noah wanted to see if the world flood that God had let loose was receding, he let loose the raven to fly over the waters the way a modern day General might send forth a drone. Of course, Noah’s raven didn’t come back. Religious scholars may differ on why a free bird didn’t return to the fetid, crowded ship full of bawling, mooing, barking, howling, braying, hissing creatures, but suffice it to say that the Corvus family doesn’t need humankind to survive. After the glow of our man-made Apocalypse has faded, and the radioactive ashes have settled, the crows will still be here, along with the seagulls, cockroaches, coyotes, and raccoons. Corvids are smart birds.
I’ve seen the damage crows can cause but their crime was greed and not malice, the way a murder is. In the early 1980s, when I worked at Star Route Farm, in Bolinas, we planted out the lagoon field in pumpkins and gave the land a light sprinkling. We were confident that once the pumpkin seeds germinated their roots would soon penetrate the rich soil and reach the abundant groundwater. We speculated that we’d be able to essentially dry-farm the pumpkin patch to a successful harvest. The pumpkins germinated. As each seed sent down the radical, or first root, into the soil, the two fat, green cotyledons of the sprout pushed out of the soil into the sunlight, still wearing the now empty husk of the pumpkin seeds like little hats. A “murder” of crows passed by and saw the fresh sprouts. They wanted to fatten up on some tasty, rich pumpkin seeds so they tugged at the husk. The crows succeeded in pulling the tiny plants from the ground but each sprout was a disappointment because the oily seeds had burned up all their nutritious oil and rich flavor. The crows hopped from sprout to sprout, tugging at the seed husks until the entire crop was uprooted. The day after the crop germinated the field was bald of any pumpkin spots. Luckily, it was early enough in the season so that we could re-plant the crop. When we set out the second crop of pumpkins we used transplants instead of directly sowing the seeds, and we carefully pulled any seed husks that still clung to the cotyledons before we popped the little plants in the soil. And we put out scarecrows.
It’s not clear to me that scarecrows actually “scare” any crows, but putting them in the field like sentries does help a farmer feel like they’re doing everything they can to produce a good crop. Once the early, cold, hungry months of spring are past, there’s generally enough food around for crows to survive without worrying a garden to death. Crows are opportunistic; they’ll eat bugs, worms, insect eggs, seeds, and carrion. They’re like coyotes in that respect, always on the lookout for an opportunity. But crows are not malevolent by nature; they just fulfill a niche that awards them for being nosy, indelicate, and persistent. And, like the coyote, crows can be loud. To call a group of crows a “murder,” is to devalue the role they play in a healthy, balanced natural ecology. I suggest that we “re-brand” the crows that flock together as a “caw-cawphony” of Corvids.
I also call upon the fashion industry to rethink their tired efforts at dressing our nation’s scare crows as a gesture of respect for nature. Why, if the point of putting a scarecrow into a field is to scare off the crows from the recently sprouted crops in the spring, or from the first ripe berries and fruits of the early summer, are scare crows only given attention in the fashion press in the fall? And why are the scare crows so typically draped in dreary rags? The crows that these scarecrows are supposed to be scaring always look their best in shiny, iridescent, black plumage. Maybe the designers that plot the fall fashion lines for scarecrows want the crows to actually die laughing at the hideous overalls and straw hats that the scarecrows must typically wear. Wouldn’t it be more fun and effective to dress the scarecrows in the neon outfits that bicyclists favor? Or how about those insane golf pants that old guys wear on the links- those are scary as hell….Wedding dresses could be repurposed for scarecrows too, once the lifetime union of two souls has been torn asunder by infidelity or dishonesty and the dress simply hangs in the closet as a reminder of disappointment. Crows aren’t use to seeing these kinds of garments on the scarecrows and maybe they would find the novelty of new outfits alarming. Each winter the fashion world could have their models walk the runways festooned in the newest, most lurid and alarming styles that will soon be seen in the nation’s gardens and farms.
Andy and the Crew at Mariquita Farm
© 2022 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin
And, something to crow about…check out this article in Edible Monterey Bay, “Cactus, Citrus and Cauldrons at Mariquita Farm” by Laura Ness.