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.