Crows have been drawing my attention lately. Driving along the Ridge Road in the afternoon I’ve watched hundreds of them feeding and cavorting over freshly manured fields. These most intelligent of birds, these common and adaptable, ubiquitous creatures seem a blessing and a curse to humankind, and I must admit I’ve got mixed feelings about them. I’ve cursed them when they’ve roosted by the hundreds or thousands over village parking lots and covered our newest car with so much excrement that it took me three-plus carwash entries to scrub the shit from the paint and windows. And I had to thank them recently when it seemed their hillside cawing was an invitation to begin a walk toward them for a lesson to be learned. Crows speak in motions, guttural sounds, and wrinkles of the air. Their messages, if we dare to heed them, speak of mystery and surprise, of nihilism and of hope, and of getting back to basics.
There was a “murder of crows” on the hill and they were noisy (getting more so as the season progresses toward spring). The other day I took the liberty of translating their commotion, their connection to me, as saying it was time for me to start tying flies again. Sure, it’s a leap of faith to go from crow noise to the tying of feathers on a trout hook, but why not. Crows are known to be capable of recognizing individual humans (not that any crow has ever singled me out as a person of significance) and they’re capable of figuring the simplest of math problems (as I usually am, if I’ve had a night of sleep), so why not have them point out the obvious: a new fly-fishing season is approaching fast, and I’d better get back to the tying bench.
“You crows upon the reddening hill,/ Cease wrangling for a while, be still.”
About 10 years ago I bought a small painting in New Mexico. “Crow Messengers” is a watercolor by the artist David Gary Suazo. Today I took it from my wall and studied the reflection. It was like a daydream when I closed my eyes. Crows came in from the cold and settled around me like the night. Crows can drive you crazy if you let them, if you stay inactive, so I shook them off, replaced the painting on my kitchen wall and headed for the tying vise.
I tied a handful of early season favorites, not exactly trout cuisine or works of art, just “meat and potatoes” on a hook. And I tied a handful of wingless wet flies, soft hackle patterns whose lineage reaches back to the merry days of England, nearly to the fifteenth-century and the art of Dame Juliana Berners. Patterns like the Partridge & Orange, the North Country Spider, and the Orange Fish Hawk. For all my years of fly fishing, I had mostly ignored the use of these patterns and it was time to get familiar with their construction and their use. This was still early February but the strangely warm weather and the talk of crows said, “Move it, old fella; get back to the basics and prepare.”
“The clamorous crows! How basic and strangely human/ To cry their fate of death, voice love and hate–/ Long living gives them wisdom, the acumen/ To make no truce with man or beast or fate.”
[all lines of poetry are from the works of W.W. Christman, 1865-1937]