Stone the Crows!

26 October 2017 – It’s an old folk-expression of dismay or surprise, say somewhat vague online sources, but I’ll go with it.

Since moving to Vancouver I have been surprised by the number of crows in the city, and by the number of crow references in signage and artwork.

 

I spotted this one a few days ago while out walking with Frances in the city’s downtown East Side. The sign points the way to a drop-in treatment clinic for drug addicts. To my mind, it positions the crow as a symbol of strength and hope.

But then, I’ve fallen in love with the crow (genus Corvus, of the Passerine family). I love their spirit, their energy, their sleek minimalist beauty.

Imagine my delight when dear friends offered me this plate, purchased on their recent Alaskan cruise.

 

It depicts a raven, not a crow, but the raven is a larger member of the same genus, and I love them both. (Memories of my years travelling Arctic hamlets, and the whopping huge ravens I’d see up there.)

No wonder I purchased a crow fridge magnet at the Vancouver Art Gallery!

It makes number three in a trio that speaks to my heart — the other two being artist Michael Snow’s Walking Woman figure, and an Icelandic stamp. First I walked myself to an Icelandic adventure; now I have walked myself to Vancouver.

Hello, Mr. Crow.

I see them just like this, on utility wires.

And I see crow imagery all over town. I thought the references benign — affectionate, even. I thought Vancouver loved its crows.

Then I entered “crows vancouver” in a search engine, and …

Well, stone the crows! I was surprised by what I found.

Headlines shouted at me:

  • Murder mystery: the reason 6,000 crows flock to Burnaby [adjacent municipality] every night” …
  • Stalked and dive-bombed: Increase in Vancouver crow attacks” … “
  • Vancouver, beware” …
  • Spike in crow attacks in Vancouver’s west end” …
  • Crow attack season in Vancouver” …

Ahhhh, you get the idea.

I discover there is an interactive website, Crowtrax, where you can post an attack to the area map. In early spring 2017, it looked like this, with grey flags marking 2016 attacks and red flags for the first few months of 2017.

Good grief.

I learn that the crow/raven place in mythology goes back millennia, and is largely negative. I find two versions of an old folk rhyme, each building to the same dire final line.

Here’s the longer version, with thanks to Mind Space Apocalypse, right here on Word Press.

“One Crow for sorrow,
Two Crows for mirth;
Three Crows for a wedding,
Four Crows for a birth;
Five Crows for silver,
Six Crows for gold;
Seven Crows for a secret, not to be told;
Eight Crows for heaven,
Nine Crows for hell;
And ten Crows for the devils own self.”

But crow/raven have their defenders. That Mind Space Apocalypse post includes their position in First Nations mythology as the Trickster, with all it implies of intelligence and ingenuity.

An article on native-languages.com says crows are often viewed as omens of good luck in First Nations cultures, and are a clan animal for some as well.

Thoughtco.com writes about “The magic of crows and ravens.”

And Derek Matthews (chair, Vancouver Avian Research Centre), interviewed by dailyhive.com on 16 April 2017, says: “Crows have very human like personalities and just like us, they protect their young. If we protect our kids, we’re called heroes, and if they do it, they are called villains.”

Bottom line: in the spring nesting season, leave crows alone.

Enjoy their images in artwork instead.

For example, cuddling up to a clown, in this wall mural detail near Commercial Drive and East 1st Avenue.

Or these crows dancing with butterflies, on Hawks Avenue near Powell Street.

Or these crows guarding the doorway in an exuberant mural on Commercial Drive north of East 1st.

I like to think of crows guarding that doorway — intelligent, inquisitive, alert, curious and fearless.

Hurray for crows!

 

Notes from the Dock

5 August 2017 – Pen & paper notes, yes, how old-fashioned, how satisfying (how functional)… but other notes as well.

You’ll see.

The forecast is 30C, the heat wave is due to last at least a week. I decide to head for the water right after breakfast & just hang out. It’s a favourite stretch of water, and close to hand.

So I walk north on Cambie, walk right on under the looming bridge, cross some bike paths, jog slightly west then north again, now beside the bridge not under it …

and I’m almost there!

You’d guessed. You know my love affair with Spyglass Place. I will sink into one of those Muskoka chairs, and let False Creek life unfold around me. There will be cyclist traffic, and foot traffic, and ferry traffic, and distant car traffic on the bridge.

And there will also be, there already is, music. Because — look again — there’s that “Jazz Cats + Mice” public piano ‘way down in the curve of the landing, and an old fellow is playing it, and the air itself dances to the strains of “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…”

He segues into a succession of rags, played very stride-piano style.

His legs may need that Zimmer frame to get around (parked next to the bench), but by golly, his fingers fly all by themselves.

So I sink into a chair, adjust my hat, pull out my notepad, look around, & settle in.

To the west, long curves of the False Creek seawall, with cyclists and walkers on the path, a mum cuddling her toddler on the balustrade (his chubby little legs barely visible), and anchored boats bobbing in the water below.

Ferry boats bustle back & forth, linking Spyglass Dock with all the other stops both sides of False Creek. Passengers stream up & down the gangway.

For just a moment, a dragon boat hangs motionless in the water, the coach bellowing his critique of team efforts so far.  Then it’s up-paddles and away they go again.

Much more peacefully, a double kayak glides beneath the bridge, passing between striped pillars of the A False Creek art installation, the top stripe depicting a 5-metre rise in sea level.

There is a butterfly at my feet …

and crows up there on the railing, their peculiar rolling-pebbles chuckle filling my ears.

I exaggerate. What really fills my ears, keeps filling my ears and the ears of everyone else here at Spyglass Dock, is music. Provided by one musician after another.

Blue T-Shirt man plays a few scales, slowly, carefully, accurately.

Black T -Shirt man (the logo advertises beach volleyball somewhere) at first runs more to School-of-Sondheim. But then, before picking up his bike and riding off, he gets all bouncy with stride. (What is it about public pianos, and stride? The two seem to go together.)

Red Cap Guy plays quite a long time. It’s pretty darn E-Z listening, is what it is. He does it well, he is happy, people applaud; I tell myself not to be so snotty, and relax into it.

Then — reversal. Grey-Hair Man, who was listening so intently to Red Cap, is now at the keyboard. I pick out “Qué sera, sera, whatever will be, will be…” before he starts to doodle around, very at ease at the keyboard.

So at ease, he invites some children not just to come listen, but to imagine that they too — really! — could learn to play the piano

The kids linger, quite fascinated.

Grey-Hair moves on, Red Cap plays again, this time with classical riffs thrown in. (Debussy’s “La Mer” for example.) He stands up, steps back; Black Cap arrives, sits down, and disappears into his music.

He’s more bravura than his predecessors, with more chords, more emphasis, & more experimenting — it seems to me — with modulations and progressions for their own fabulous sake. Red Cap hangs in, listens, really listens. When Black Cap finally gets up to leave, they bump fists in mutual appreciation, chat a moment, exchange contact info.

Red Cap plays again, also doodling with chords for a while, but then drifts through some Bach and a flourish of Hungarian czarda. His fingers are up to it all.

A passing cyclist leans over just long enough to plonk a few keys …

but another cyclist throws down his bike, and gets serious.

Followed by a young boy, who with slight hesitations but not bad technique works away at his piano lessons while his family consults the near-by pillar map.

Dad sticks with the map-reading; mum and baby sister join the boy at the piano. The little girl becomes very busy exploring sound; the boy cheerfully yields the keyboard to her chubby fingers while mum praises them both.

Almost all male pianists, have you noticed?

Now a young woman sits down, settles in, props her smart phone in front of her, and begins to play and sing. I think she’s recording herself, I’m not sure.

I finally leave, her voice floating me away from the dock.

I was there a good four & a half hours; the piano was silent for perhaps 20 minutes, total.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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