Then And Now

Sometimes when I hear the crows call, melancholy and endless against the blue sky; it makes me remember standing in a field of wheat when I was thirteen years old, on a school excursion to a farm in the country. It was a year after I arrived in Australia and I still felt raw with longing for the robin redbreasts, the badgers in the hedgerows, and the heather in Scotland.

I couldn’t fathom the length and breadth of this southern land with its fields of gold so vast it was hard to imagine the entire world hadn’t been sprinkled with stardust over night. Everything seemed bigger – the trees, the sky, the distance to the horizon. The Australians were so tall, so tanned, so self-assured. I was pale, short and meek.

The wheat stood to attention, the unbending nib of a fountain pen, like palms pressed together in prayer. It swayed slightly, rustling like paper as the crows circled, hundreds of them, glossy as blackhawk helicopters over the burnished fields.

They called one another in their own dialect. Calls so full of sorrow it was as if they did not expect an answer, as if they had found themselves in a strange place, and like me, they did not expect anyone to understand them.

I watched those crows fly as my classmates gathered wheat in large wooden bowls; flying further and further into the distance until their calls sounded just like a single goodbye. And I wished I had the power to gather up the sadness of that call and use it to fly back to wherever I came from, whenever I wanted to.

Now the crows sit in the ancient maples in the laneway behind the house – midnight black wings like medieval capes. They call to one another, back and forth along the branches, defying the approaching storm. I see a single feather fall, iridescent. I run, slipping on the wet grass, catching the feather before it falls in the mud. It is a symbol, a token, of how things can change, of how the things that used to fill us with sadness, can end up making us feel like we are where we’re meant to be.

I know the unbridled, strident call of the black bird sometimes big as an eagle. I can almost feel the beat of those wings, thrusting like wind-wrenched canvas. I can see how far the crow flies across this land that I now know. That I didn’t know then.

But it still strikes me as strange that sometimes I can hear that call and remember that little girl who stood in the wheat field, bewildered and longing for home. She had no way of knowing that the land she felt so alone in would eventually mean as much to her as the place she was born.

One of the crows regards me. Like he knows me. Is it possible he shares the bloodline of those long ago crows in the wheat field? His onyx eye holds deep secrets. He knows things I could never dream of. His head bows once, twice, before he flies off. I feel like I have been granted something. Maybe it is harsh approval for making it this far.

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18 thoughts on “Then And Now

  1. The adaptability of the human spirit is endless and often surprising. I remember coming to Botswana and hating the brownness everywhere, I missed the green of the farmland in Wisconsin. Now I love the barrenness and feel I can’t quite think clearly with too much clustered around me.

    And making it this far is sometimes enough of an accomplishment on certain days.

    Lovely writing as usual.

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  2. Selma, I love that you’re analyzing the crow even as he analyzes you. I don’t know how long crows live, but perhaps he is not a descendant but the very one you encountered years ago.

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  3. “And I wished I had the power to gather up the sadness of that call and use it to fly back to wherever I came from, whenever I wanted to.”

    Selma, you know in Oz you can also click your heels together and repeat, “There’s no place like home.”

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  4. I can relate to your finding meaning in the sight of birds. I can relate to it but I could never put it into words, like you have. I just look at them.

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  5. an absolutely beautiful journey to a wheat field so different from the one I remember when I helped to gather the sheafs of wheat on a slightly rolling hill on a farm in mid-Ohio one summer and stack them into shocks for future harvesting of the grain. There, too, crows circled overhead, cawing in protest as we disturbed their feeding.

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  6. an absolutely beautiful journey to a wheat field so different from the one I remember when I helped to gather the sheafs of wheat on a slightly rolling hill on a farm in mid-Ohio one summer and stack them into shocks for future harvesting of the grain. There, too, crows circled overhead, cawing in protest as we disturbed their feeding.
    Should mention great post! Can’t wait to reading the next one!

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  7. LAURI:
    The adaptability of the human spirit is an incredible thing. I have often found that the things I rage against the most are what end up affording me the most joy. But then I’m odd like that!!

    DAN:
    I didn’t think of that, but can you imagine if it was the same one? How cool would that be? Maybe he’s been following me all these years. Kind of like a witch’s familiar. Love the idea of it!

    EMPLOYEE:
    I know, I know. LOL. Sadly, I don’t have the appropriate footwear. However, it was Mardi Gras in Sydney last weekend so I should be able to track down a pair of ruby slippers somewhere. 😆

    RICHARD:
    Looking at them is all you need to do. They are little spirits, my Grandmother used to say. Even though she was a strict Catholic she revered a lot of things in a rather pagan way. But before you ask there was no nude dancing around the campfire. LOL.

    MARY:
    Back-breaking work. Your image of gathering the wheat on the rolling hill is a beautiful one. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s like something from a Thomas Hardy novel. WOW!

    PUNATIK:
    I love the little cardinals. They are so cute. We don’t get them in Oz but I wish we did. Their colouring is glorious. I bet they know you well!!

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  8. Crows remind me of laying in bed at the cottage down east and there incessant caws would wake me for too early. Hmmmmm….
    Thanks for that.

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  9. That’s one of the few things I dislike about Australians: they’re forever inviting us to ‘Stone the Crows’ … of course, they could be talking about a ‘Rules’ football team in Adelaide! 😀

    My Grand-dad once told me: If you see a lot of crows, they’re rooks; if you see one rook it’s a crow.

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  10. NAT:
    Happy to oblige. LOL. I know what you mean. They can be noisy buggers!

    PAUL:
    You write the best reviews. Many thanks!!

    TRAVELRAT:
    I do like that saying: ‘Stone the crows.’ Reminds me of pirates for some reason. I don’t really know why. 😆

    ANTHONY:
    They probably do, you know. Birds really get it, I think. For me they are the ultimate life form. I would love to be able to fly. It would be an amazing sensation!

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  11. Selma…you write so beautifully…i’m pulled right into your stories.
    The sense of loneliness and aloneness is captured so eloquently here….and the deep reflection of a slice of a moment when you felt it stirs my own experiences. lovely.

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  12. GERALDINE:
    They are a superior life form to humans, I believe. They are in touch with the spirits of the air. I love my fine, feathered friends!!

    DANA:
    Awww, thanks so much. I really appreciate that. How kind!

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  13. This piece really resonated with me, especially right now with all the changes going on in my life. We are also surrounded by crows (which delight me to no end) and I love those racous goofballs.

    They do live for a very long time, and studies have shown that they are extremely intelligent with excellent memories. Perhaps that was one of the crows from your past, bidding you welcome again.

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  14. KAREN:
    I thought they might have lived for a long time. You can just tell they’re smart. I’d like to think it was one of the crows from long ago. How cool!

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