Home As The Crows Fly: a Canada Day story
In a west-coast city, there is a roost of crows. In the mornings they fly west, into the city, to eat. They coast over unceded endowment lands, over the false creek filled with real water and paddleboarders, over the bays and the lapping tongue of the Pacific. There they rest. They do not fly out above the ocean. They pass off that flight to the seabirds, the gulls and the herons and the cormorants with their corrosive shit. The crows stay on the shore and eat.
And then, at dusk, they fly east. Back to their nest. Back to sleep.
Once, though, they kept flying. As dusk settled in for the night, the crows turned east and flew. And flew – past the complex simplicity of cities and suburbs, concrete mum and chicks; over tendril lakes like staid rivers; over the mountains, treedark and snowwhite knuckling into the sky. Past all this the roost flew, and called out, small voices swelling into one united croak; and on into Alberta.
Still the roost flew, pairing off, one crow resting on its partner’s back for a short, sweet sleep and then to the wing again, to carry the other, to keep flying.
And the roost grew. New crows flew up to join, enticed by the caws and croaks like siresong, the echo of wings off the mountains, the new aircurrents made by a thousand bodies on the same path.
They spoke to each other, the crows, as they journeyed. Local crows told the story of Alberta and its rats, hunted out of the province. A reverse Pied Piper – push, don’t pull. Rodent exiles pacing just over the borders, waiting for the rathunters to sleep. Still waiting. The crows laughed, a guttural chuckle in dark throats, because rathunters don’t sleep.
Unbound by borders, the roost flew over the waiting rats, a roil of charcoal against the rising sun and up into the North.
They called out again, and ravens came. Huge, iridescently dark, the ravens’ eyes were trickster. They gut-chuckled constantly. Their wings were cosmic. The ravens told stories too, long ones, deep as the Yukon river the roost soared over and as fast-moving. Stories of creation, Turtle Island, grandmothers and breathing stones. Stories that tasted good, landed strong and heavy in the crows’ bodies, lit out along their wings.
Above black feathers the sun shone, shone on, midnight and coloured with the memory of the night lights, Aurora Borealis. Skyfire.
Over and on the roost flew its murmuration-dance like they were starlings. Over the Northwest Territories and Nunavut the struggling ice reflected the dance back up at the birds. The whole world a flow and flight of corvids.
Then down, into Saskatchewan, Manitoba.
Night again, at last, tired crow eyes thankful for the shadows. A caress of stars across their backs, the crows and ravens called out and more came. A magpie with wheat in its feathers. It told a prairie gothic story, footsteps in the field, a rustle in utter stillness and nothing ever walks out of the flat, flat horizon.
The flock flexed itself in the endless sky. The winds re-routed around it, this dark directed cloud; roostbeast. The crows flew, paired off, flew sleeping on a friend’s back. Feeding off the stories the new travellers brought, drinking the low-hanging clouds burned away by the rising sun, they flew.
The roost passed over into Ontario. The metal and glass of cities like ice, a new glacier, the skyscraping topography of people. The crows heard laughter, anger, love and traffic snake up from the threads of concrete and light: the sound of people telling stories. The crows laughed back their call and others came. Newcomer birds told a story of growth, the founding of Toronto. One road into thousands, one house into a million, village to town to city and still going. These crows said, I’ve sat on the top of the CN Tower and the view is beautiful.
And the roost grew too, a vast winged metropolis building itself across the sky, across the province and into Québec.
Là, le soleil set encore. Another nuit. Dans le noir, les lacs picked out starlight, breathed avec the passage du vent et the wings of les corbeaux.
The roost, hoarse, avec une seule voix, called and the corbeaux quebecois answered. Over the targets of circus tent tops, crows wheeled acrobatic et ont raconté des histoires nouveaux.
The pilgrim birds said, In Montreal, the summer heat is weighted. She’s lourd, ils ont dit. But the circus still happens. Le théâtre lives on. Streets deviennent catwalks and stages, des histoires dans le coeur chaud de la ville.
And then it rains.
Les corbeaux stretched their wings, dipped, rose, ont dancé like the rains était venu. They rigolent, and the sky laughed with them, and the roost flew into New Brunswick.
Storms gathered ahead of them, masses that promised thunder. The crows flew, dark beaks breaking the clouds, dark bodies sleek slick with rain. The flock amassed itself on the horizon and the storms came, broke, passed.
passed on while the crows flew as crows do. Straight.
They called again, a skyfall caw like thunder, and more came. A story this time of journeys, of roads long and long and winding, or straight stretches with brackets of pine, or green beside the gravel and pavement like an arrow onwards. From above, the roads looked like a map. From the forests, said these crows, they looked like promises.
Ravens, crows, magpies, rooks banked on eddies, climbed the lagging storms and laughed. The roost bled into Nova Scotia as the dusk came.
They flew on.
And music rose to meet them.
Drifts of bagpipes, fiddles, guitars caught in the wing-currents of the enormous family. Each flap percussive, each breath of each bird a melody. The crows made of themselves a song and let it out, and more came. A chorus. Ravenic refrain.
The new birds came as the fog enfolded the roost. Told their story in whispers that cut the mist but didn’t disperse it. Bodies grew damp as the story was told of a star-pointed hill. Of wars, a citadel defense, semaphore warnings and ghosts. I heard one playing the pipes, said one crow.
I heard them set off the cannon, said another.
The fog, if anything, grew thicker.
The roost passed into PEI almost unaware, mist-blind. But they heard the Atlantic beneath them and their legs ached for land.
The roost stretched, spread over the little island like a false night. Like the promise of morning. Crows smelled the sea and knew they were almost there. Wings shivered and flared, beaks opened to wake those sleeping.
Rock, the crows said to each other. You can feel it in the air,
as they passed into Newfoundland.
And they called, a coughing call, deepest yet. And others heard. And others, the last others, came.
A new story told by a wind-ravaged rook, feathers disjointed, a mad joy in its storm eyes. It told a hurricane story, primary colour houses that wait for the Atlantic to give them back their people. A story of wind and rain, of sharp rock frothing into ocean at the edge of the world and how beautiful that is. Love and rage. The rhythm of a nor’easter. The heartbeat of it.
Through this story, through all the stories, the roost flew until it couldn’t fly anymore. Until there was no more land to fly over, just the lapping tongue of the Atlantic. And then the crows rested. Covered the rocks with their own exhausted bodies and slept for a day while the seabirds took up the flight, the gulls and the cormorants with their corrosive shit.
The morning the roost woke, they shook out their feathers and clacked their beaks and laughed. And then, taking to the sky again, they turned west.