Well, rather opaque symbolism.
Here's the deal. A couple of years back, on a hot summer afternoon. various members of my family were over hanging out at the pool, doing family-summer-afternoon sorts of things.
Pamela heard a rustling back in the bushes by the rear wall of our yard. When she investigated, she found it was a baby crow, and when she tried to coax it out of the bushes, said baby crow made a mad rush around her and flung itself into the swimming pool.
Pamela, being the sort of person she is, followed the crow into the pool, and before a crowd of spectators that now included two cawing crow parents, we managed to effect a rescue that ended with the baby crow perched on my shoulder.
We have pet birds--a pair of cockatiels--though I must say they are rather less imposing than a fledgling crow. I admit that having two sets of large claws clinging to my upper trapezius muscle was unnerving, and even a young crow has a rather wicked scythe of a beak that it isn't relaxing to have poised near one's unprotected eyeball.
Nonetheless, we knew something about birds, and something about wet birds in particular. Barring the possible exception of waterfowl, what is it that a sopping bird wants most?
To be blow-dried.
We discovered bird blow-drying on a cold Seattle evening when one of our cockatiels insisted on jumping into the shower with us and then sat there shivering afterwards. Since this seemed like a recipe for overnight death, we tried gettting out the blow dryer...
She loved it. Sat there on my shoulder and leaned into the hot breeze with eyes shut tight in birdy bliss. Birds love being blow-dried, and it is entirely possible that the purpose of evolution all along has been to create a species that could construct blow dryers to serve the needs of some yet-uncreated Birdie Master Race.
So we blow-dried (blew-dried?) the crow. And, like our cockatiel, the crow treated the loud, roaring electrical device as if he had been waiting for us to get around to it.
My sister had her young son along with her, and amongst all the toddler impedimenta had brought some cooked chicken. Peeled off in long wormy strips, this morphed nicely across species into a crow snack.
Evening approached all too fast, closing our window of opportunity to reunite the crow with his parents. With the baby crow at last warmed up and fed, we took him outside. His parents flew back and forth above us, calling out, and we placed him atop a wall. They cawed for him to join them, and somehow, in the gathering dark, finally encouraged him to flap up and join them in a tree. Meanwhile, we humans all retreated into the house and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.
A few days later, the crows were back. The parents stayed well away, but Crow Baby, now a bit more skilled in the skies, flew down and perched low on our roof, calling to us. He wasn't in need of blow-drying, so we brought out some food, and as soon as we backed inot the house, he swooped down on it and ate greedily, no doubt pleased at how well he'd trained us.
That's how we acquired a rather demanding resident crow. He comes when he hears the back door open, or even swoops past us, bitching about our tardy serivce, if we go out the front door and haven't yet fed him. And eventually he showed up with a mate; and at least once a year and sometimes twice, he now shows up with a two or three clumsy babies, all calling out to be fed. (What happens to these babies in the longer term I don't know. It seems that by now we'd have a flock of twenty-some crows, but it seems that at some point the youngsters get the boot.)
My, you're saying, what a charming story--or, perhaps, What the hell does that have to do with anything? Well, if you'll stop fidgeting and drop your gum in the wastebasket, I'll continue.
We have a huge chimney attached to our house, the sort of thing a Californian looks at and, inspired by its soaring height, says to himself, Lordy, it's going to cost a fortune when that thing goes down in an earthquake. Why we have fireplaces in Southern California in the first place is an unanswered question, much less the two fireplaces attached to this massive brick tower; but I didn't design the place. (From the looks of it, it was designed on Cape Cod about 300 years ago. It has gables and such.)
The crows like the chimney--it's both high and isolated. Plus you can cary nice bits of roadkill up there and crack the bones open against the mortar.
If you're an adolescent crow, you can also lose your balance and fall down the chimney. One day we heard this odd metallic banging. When it persisted, we peeked into the living room to find a young crow in the fireplace jumping and pecking at the firescreen in an effort to get out. We opened the back door, pulled the screen aside, and watched with some trepidation as he took flight toward the interior of our house and then, neat as you like, swooped about and whooshed out the back door just as if he'd been planning the whole display.
A day or two after we returned from our recent vacation, the crows--who brought off a clutch of three babies in our absence--were in an uproar, swooping around and cawing, and apparently dive-bombing the neighbor's dog. (They aren't quite large enough to carry the dog off and eat it. Unfortunately.)
The source of all this ballyhoo turned out to be another baby crow down the chimney. But this time the bird hadn't toppled all the way into the fireplace. There is a space back behind the flue door--a deep sort of trough that reaches down a foot or two behind the back wall of the fireplace. And in this trough there is, for unknown reasons, a hand-high gap in the brickwork which is perfect for a crow, or, I suppose, for any animal that can scrunch down into a hand-high ungraspable packet, to hide.
The entrance to our flue is quite narrow front-to-back. As it turns out, it is so narrow that when I kneel in the fireplace and try to reach up the flue, my arm makes it just to mid-bicep. So it fell to Pamela, who has rather daintier arms than I, to achieve a rescue, which she mamaged over the next ninety minutes (while I figdgeted and scratched and offered no-doubt invaluable advice.) I won't describe all the machinations, though I will note that a part of our rescue strategy involved pushing nearly all of our supply of towels into the weird trough so as to raise the floor, and then harrying the crow out onto the terrycloth platform.
After we finally managed to net the little bastard, he stood on my arm as if there wasn't much unusual. I suppose that from family legend he was expecting chicken and a blow-drying, but instead we took him out to his parents, and after he regained his bearings, he flew off and the five of them finally shut the hell up for the day. (One thing for sure: we need to put acreens over the tops of the damn chimneys.)
Now, if one put this sequence of events in a novel, it would mean something. Especially as it involves black birds. (And as it happened three times. The Goldilocks formula means that we have reached completion. Or, as Auric Goldfinger observes to James Bond, Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. Three isn't just a crowd, it's a sort of storytelling touchstone.)
But what the heck does something laden with this sort of symbolism mean in real life?
And who is the protagonist? Me? Pamela?