Trigger warning: Even if you love birds and half-way decent nature writing, alt right special snowflakes should not read the following text. It might harm your delusions of dominance, or at the very least, it might make you angry or sad. We can’t have that.
I don’t know what caused the old barred owl that roosts deep in the white pine thicket to let out a single haunting scream. Perhaps the weather was ready to change, and before the snow falls, they let out their little eerie screams in the gray wood. It is an odd little ritual, but one I listen for when I know it might be snowing soon.
But it was a oddly mild day in early February, and no snow was forecast. No rain either. Just the ugly winter sun casting its sallow glares on the gray woods.
I knew they would come, but they came more quickly than I imagined. Tiny black jets zoomed sharp across the hollows and ridges until at last they found their target in the pine woods. It was a murder of crows on a mission.
The owl had stupidly positioned herself on the bow of a dead quaking aspen, and she was now exposed for the aerial attacks of the corvids.
One would distract her with its loud cawing, while one of its compatriots would zip in and peck the owl on the head.
More crows kept coming until the pine thicket had about 20 of them, each screaming its curses as the predator as a few of the braver ones dived bombed her from behind.
After about thirty minutes, the owl took flight across great hollow beyond the pines, but every crow followed her gray form, harrying her as if she were some great pestilence on the land.
A barred owl is a beautiful animal. Its soft gray feathers are streaked down the breast with darker gray streaks, and the feathers that form the dishes on its head frame the darkest brown eyes of any owl in these woods. To us, it is an impish creature with the eyes of a cocker spaniel.
To a crow, it is perhaps the greatest of all demons. During the day, the crow’s sharp eyes and keen intellect work in tandem with its more maneuverable wings to avoid the owl’s depredations.
But at night, when the crows roost in flocks in their favorite trees, the owl becomes a gray dragon of the night. She comes swooping in on soft wings and carries off the hapless crows before they ever know she is there.
The long nights of winter must the worst sort of hell for crows. Hour after hour they sit in darkness, sleeping or trying to sleep, and at any moment,the soft wing-beats of the gray dragon could come to cast some death among the canopy.
The crows’ remedy for this terror is to go on the offense. They spend much of their days scouting for owls. If they spot a large owl of any species, they will begin the most aggressive cawing and harrying of it they can muster. They will dive bomb it from behind until the owl, which usually wants to spend its days sleeping, will fly off. If the owl finds another roost in roughly the same vicinity, the crows will begin the same crazed harrying.
I’ve seen crows spend hours doing this behavior. I have come to think of it is as the primary activity of crows. They might spend some time in the winter searching for food, but they are always up for a good war on owls.
A single crow would stand no chance against an owl, but crows are intensely social and remarkably intelligent birds. They work together to drive the owl from their hunting and foraging grounds. They surely must have some sense of solidarity that allows themselves to risk injury in confronting the gray dragon.
In this way, crows are not too different from us. Our species has a strong sense of solidarity. We once banded together to throw stones and sticks at the great cats and giant snakes that preyed upon us. Later, we did the same toward the great predators we encountered as we left Africa. We spent many long nights, hoping that a Machairodont or a leopard wouldn’t come sailing in on one of our band and carry him off as silently and swiftly as the owl does with the crow. We may have spent our days looking for where such beasts made their lairs and then we may have spent lots of time driving them away from our encampments.
We’ve become good at fending off threats. We started with sticks and rocks. Then we made arrows and spears. Then we rudimentary firearms, and then graduated to machine guns and tanks. We made sophisticated cannons and then intercontinental ballistic missiles.
And now a handful of countries posses the ultimate weapons– ones that will destroy virtually all of humanity and all life if we ever use them.
Most of us have no reason to fear the predators of the night, but we still live in fear. Fear drives us into madness at times, for deep down in that massive brain of ours, there is still a terrified ape that knows that a leopard could be lurking somewhere. Our hope is that the rational parts of that brain temper the scared simian.
Right now, I see us in madness. The frightened ape mindset has taken over enough of the polity in my country to allow an absolute madman to take over. He lies to everyone, promising the moon, the sun, and the stars, but what is worse is he lies to himself..
He was elected in part to drive out the “bad dudes” as he calls them. These “bad dudes” become “bad hombres” when talking about Latinos, but they mean much the same. He speaks of the foreigner, who either wants to engage in violent jihad against Americans or steal someone’s job. Or maybe sell drugs.
He ran as a crow who sees a lot of owls. The Muslims were an owl. The Latinos another owl. The media was an owl. Foreigners in general were owls.
And now that he’s been in power just these few weeks, I think there is an owl, and that’s the president!
We need to be good crows and start cawing away.
We need to say boldly that there is an owl, and we’re not about to be taken in the night.
We must remember that as crows we can act together to stand up to an owl.
He is not our gray dragon in the night, but with his hand on the button, that gray dragon could become a mushroom cloud.
Our constitutional system, hewed from the green wood of England and transported and modified on this system, could be threatened by a man who sees the rule of law as an encumbrance to his obvious genius and popular appeal.
The gray dragon of the night could descend upon us in one crazed tantrum or with slight winnowing away of liberal democracy one tweet or executive order at a time.
But we cannot allow the gray dragon to come and take us.
This the crows know, and we must follow their lead.