Crow-Baby, Cry-Baby

Several weeks ago, on my routine early morning bathrobe-and-coffee-cup patrol around the garden, a series of raucous cries shattered my reverie, noises not terribly unlike those of the tiny fawn who once fell into our straight-sided ornamental pool and would have drowned had it not been for its frantic shrieks for help.

Instantly alert, I listened for a few moments and then began to prowl my paths in an effort to locate the source of the present cries. Determining that the sound was coming from somewhere in the tall meadow grass below the main rock retaining wall, I headed in that direction, only to have the air go silent. I stopped and stood silent, listening. Nothing. Nothing for more than a minute. I retreated to a shady area and sat on the stone bench at the base of the ancient cedar to listen again.

The cries resumed, at first mournful and plaintive, but gradually escalating to an ear-splitting screech. Once more I ventured down into the meadow. Again the air went silent.

I don’t have time for this, I thought, and returned to the house to put my coffee cup in the dishwasher and throw on my gardening clothes. My list of chores was long. It included fetching the dolly from the garage to move a dozen heavy sacks of soil amendment, well-rotted manure, and potting soil from the back of my SUV to the spots where they were needed. I grunted and tugged the dolly up and down runs of rock steps connecting the different levels of the garden, steps built many years ago with my own hands, but with no regard for how difficult they’d be to navigate with a loaded dolly. I was only vaguely aware of the squalls coming from the meadow area. I couldn’t ignore the cries completely, though. If you’re a mother, you know that feeling.

Again I ventured down into the meadow, and again the cries stopped. But now my quest had become a mission. I retreated once more to the shade of the old cedar and plopped down on a moss-covered boulder to take up my vigil.

Presently a huge black crow appeared overhead, silhouetted against the bluest of skies as it swooped in narrowing circles and landed near the top of a ninety-foot Ponderosa pine just beyond the meadow’s lower boundary. Moments later it flew away. At first I paid no attention to the crow. I kept my eyes riveted on the meadow grasses in my effort to determine the source of the distress cries. Then I heard it again. I looked up. Finally I understood. The crying baby wasn’t a fawn at all, but a crow-baby fledging from its nest high up in the pine. I relaxed. Nothing was wrong. I’m not needed here. I went back to my chores.

For two weeks I listened to the crow-baby and watched this rite of passage. At first crow-mama fed the chick in place, returning every five minutes or so, gradually lengthening the intervals to ten, then fifteen. In between snacks, crow-baby yelled, its lungs obviously developing at a faster rate than its wings.

But now crow-mama began landing on another branch a few feet away, challenging crow-baby to work a bit for its meal. Oh, how it screeched, its voice indignant and demanding. If you’re a mother, you know that behavior too. I was disappointed that she held out for less than fifteen seconds before she flew back to the nest and shoved the morsel down the chick’s throat.

Late that afternoon crow-mama finally convinced the reluctant chick to try a four-foot mini-flight to a nearby branch. So far, so good. Then she hopped to another branch ten feet away. But crow-baby was having none of that. On its own, it flew back to the safety of the nest and again took up its raucous lament. What a cry-baby! I decided the chick had to be a male. I could imagine crow-mama’s exasperation as she flew off in a wide arc over the neighbor’s property and didn’t return for nearly an hour.

Several days of rain and wind kept me out of the garden. When next I caught sight of crow-baby, he was flapping his wings hard and chasing crow-mama from the nest to the six-inch candle atop another Ponderosa pine twenty or thirty feet away. The two birds were nearly the same size now. Good for you, crow-baby. You’re finally getting the hang of it. But when mama encouraged her youngster to try another hop, crow-baby’s courage vanished. He returned to the nest and refused to budge. Soon he was yelling again, but crow-mama flew away and stayed away the rest of the afternoon. Serves the kid right, I thought.

The next day, I saw crow-baby practice a couple of times alone, flying from the top of one pine to the next, but never more than twenty feet from the nest. At his insistence, crow-mama continued bringing him his meals. Late that afternoon the two of them finally flew off together.

Over the weekend, I worked in the garden in welcome peace and quiet, glad to have witnessed the conclusion of this miracle of nature. I didn’t see a single crow. Nor did I hear any. Probably they’ve all flown down to Pioneer Park to mooch scraps from the picnickers gathered there to take in the weekend outdoor concert.

Monday passed uneventfully. I had errands to run.

Yesterday was Tuesday. I went out early to plant two azaleas I’d gotten on sale Monday afternoon at my favorite nursery. What? What’s that? Screech, screech, screech! That crow-baby was back, perched on the edge of the nest and yelling his head off.

Should’ve changed the locks.

Author: Patricia Minch, Writer, etc.

Growing up an “Army Brat,” by age eighteen I had lived in nineteen different homes in half a dozen states, Europe, and the Far East, and had traveled extensively beyond those. A National Merit Scholarship finalist in 1958, I attended the University of Texas, El Paso, and the University of California, Berkeley. Years later, I took additional courses at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, and then spent thirteen years as a self-employed editor for court reporters. An avid writer, genealogist, gardener, landscape designer, amateur architect, woodworker, and antiques collector/dealer, I am also wife, mother, and grandmother. I’ve written feature articles for local newspapers and recently completed my first book, a narrative non-fiction account of my father's experiences as a guerrilla in North Luzon (Philippines) during WWII. I currently live with my husband, a retired college instructor and Air Force veteran, in Northern California.

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