How a crow gave us hope after election day

crow-ecuTuesday afternoon, Nov 8, 2016: “There’s a crow that’s been trapped in the school since yesterday, perched atop the media gallery.” The email was from Matt Stephanson, a technician at Emily Carr University. The US election day was already filled with anxiety, and this message added a sense of urgency. I headed to the school.

The crow was perched 15 feet up, in a space between the top of the gallery and the roof of the building. The cramped area was filled with ventilation ducts, pipes and metal boxes. He looked down at me, and all the students walking to their classes. It was the busiest corner in the University. Over the course of minutes, hundreds of people passed beneath him. His mouth was open and he held his wings away from his body. He was thirsty and hot. Matt had provided a bowl of water and peanuts on a ledge below him, but they were too far away for him to comfortably reach.

”… the crow flew right by my window” said Mindy Bains in facilities. He had entered by the front door, flew through the atrium, up the stairs, through the door at the top, and landed on the Gallery. The University had brought in a ‘pest control’ company, and called the SPCA. The former had frightened the crow and failed to do anything constructive. The latter referred them to Wildlife Rescue. I requested the hydraulic lift be used to move the bowl of water and peanuts to the top of the wall where the crow could reach them. Nic Hubines from engineering did this. In a few moments the crow moved towards the water. He drank. He hopped back to his position on the wall and wiped his beak on the corner. He seemed grateful. He was perkier, had a closed mouth, and his wings were properly folded against his body. Some students stopped and admired him; some asked about his welfare.

I called Wildlife Rescue and they advised on how to lure the crow out of the building. I sent emails and texts to people on campus who might want to help. Mindy and I discussed the shortest route out of the building. The main door is hundreds of feet away. He needed a closer exit. The large photo studio, only 20 feet away has an opening window. The crow wouldn’t be able to see the window from his perch, but perhaps he could sense the outside air coming through it. We used tarps to block all other hallways. We blocked doors and directed the students away from the area. I placed a light in the photo studio to draw the crow in. Ideally, we would also turn off all other lights, but this was not possible in the situation. I put a bit of food at the entrance to the studio.

I pulled up a chair and sat beneath him, looked up and talked to him. This providing a familiar friendly face. Trudy Chalmers from the dean’s office arrived and we discussed the plan. Earlier, she had called the Public Market to ask what they do when birds enter the huge building. “We wait for them to die,” they said. Someone was listening to our conversation, “so be it!” she said.

In the evening Alex Phillips, a faculty member, came to help. Alex and Trudy arranged the window wall of the photo studio; placing screens in front of the non-opening glass so the crow wouldn’t fly into them. The screens framed the opened window to clearly indicate it as the only exit. We talked nicely to the crow, flirting with him, and pointed to the photo studio. We played crow calls from bird apps on our phones. He made a short flight over to a pipe outside the studio, but then returned to his perch. He was comfortable and not ready to leave. He cracked peanut shells and ate the nuts. After a few hours, he headed higher up onto the pipes to sleep. At 9:30pm, we decided to go home, hoping he’d make a dash for the studio during the night. I reassured myself that wild animals have wisdom from previous experiences, and that we’d help him figure things out.

At home that night, I watched news headlines in disbelief—Clinton 215/ Trump 245. The election results were being called. Friend and collaborator Simon Overstall made a Facebook post: “FUCK”

7:00am, Wednesday. The first morning of the Trump presidency. Greg and I were quiet as we drove to the University. Our hearts sank further when we saw the crow. He was in the same place on the top of the wall. We made a few more attempts to lure him. We cawed, whistled, and gave him little pep talks. He seemed interested in us but he didn’t budge. I located executive Janice Wong and Nic and we discussed Plan B.

10:45am, we met back at the gallery. Trudy, Nic, Greg and myself were joined by Terry Plummer in technical services and Matt Skinner in audio visual. The plan was to gently but directly guide the crow into the photo studio. We secured the area from any other people. The hall leading to the studio was clear. Nic turned on the hydraulic lift and the crow started agitating. Greg and Nic, both on the lift, used long bamboo poles to make small gestures behind the crow. Matt, Trudy and I each held a long pole pointing into the rafters. These would discourage him from moving onto a new perch. The crow got the message. He flew, circling around the ceiling. He did this with astonishing accuracy between the complex mechanical systems. We held our breaths! He landed on the beam just outside the entrance to the photo studio. We froze. Together we sensed that he knew this was his only option. He headed through the door. BANG! Matt dropped his pole and ran behind the crow, chasing him further into the studio. I followed. Matt quickly closed the partition drapes as the crow perched on a duct inside. The drapes secured the crow in a smaller space by the window.

It all happened so fast, we almost couldn’t believe it! We all laughed and shared our excitement. We double checked that that crow was indeed in there. He safely sat on the duct and looked around. He would have to figure out how to leave by the open window. Matt set up a laptop and webcam inside the space so that we could watch the crow but leave him in peace to examine the space.

Thirty minutes later, Mark Canning from AV called. He’d been watching the webcam feed. “I thought you’d like to know that the crow just left the building.” I felt a rush of joy! The crow would join his family and friends, and fly with them tonight to the roost in Burnaby. I shared the news with everyone. We were happy and energized.

The crow gave us a ray of hope.

_____

Thanks to Leslie Bishko, faculty member, for the photo and for #emilycarrcrow

Crow fledgling touches ground for the first time!

July 4

  • Lesson from crow mother: We help our babies leave the nest. 
  • Fledgling crow says, “I can fly!”

firstbabyfeeding

Yesterday morning there was a lot of crow activity on the corner of Woodland Park diagonally across the street from us. I could hear the adult crows—the ones who built their nest in the nearby tree—and their two off-spring from last summer. The adult crows called with excitement. I got up from my office chair to look out the window. The male adult was sitting on the baseball diamond fence scolding too-close people as they walked by. The two juveniles were walking around the lawn not far from the base of the tree that housed the nest (in the photo behind the red car).

Through the binoculars, I could see into the tree one of the crow babies perched on the nest’s edge. This year, the adult couple had a slow start with their babies. They had two nest failures; nests abandoned after damage from strong winds. They finally had success re-using a previous year’s nest in the tree at the edge of the park. The baby was flapping his wings, testing things out. The mother flew from the ground to the tree, over to the telephone wire, and back down to the ground. She seemed to be coaxing the youngster to make his first flight. The male kept guard, continuing to scold humans, while calling to the female. The juveniles walked around the grass pecking at things, seeming ready to provide back-up if needed. Juvenile crows may help their parents with nesting activities until they’re about 3 or 4 years old. This is how they learn to be parents themselves.

After the pedestrian and car traffic settled down, they stopped calling. Then, in this quiet moment, the fledgling swooped down from the nest onto the lawn. His first flight! The mother greeted him and regurgitated a bit of food into his mouth. Crows will prepare a mixture of food and saliva to feed their babies. This mix contains good bacteria for the babies health. I felt happy to have witnessed their group effort getting the baby launched! I went back to work.

After about 20 minutes, I heard the couple calling. The calls were coming from our roof. It was one of their typical calls caw-caaw—caw. The first and second caw paired with a slightly longer space between the second and third caw. The second caw slightly rounder sounding. I went up to the roof to give them their daily popcorn. Every day since their eggs hatched, I’d put a handful of peanuts and popcorn on the roof.

When I approached the edge of the deck I saw three crows, the two adults together on the neighbor’s roof, and the baby on our roof! He sat calmly and watched me put the food out. He had downy feathers on his chest and looked a bit ragged. His parents called a few times. I greeted the youngster and the parents. I felt honored—hello world!

 

reference:
Kilham, Lawrence. The American Crow and the Common Raven. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1989.

Crow fledgling and parents reunited!

June 9

  • Lesson from a crow parent: A fledgling left on his own does not mean he has been abandoned.
  • Fledgling crow says, “I’m just testing my independence”

fledge

The traffic on Venables Street was busy as I walked up the north sidewalk on my way to Commercial Drive to get lunch at a nearby cafe. I noticed a crow standing on the sidewalk with his back to me. He was facing the wall of an industrial storefront. I stopped a few feet away and looked to see if he was injured. There were windows above the wall where he stood, so I wondered if he’d flown into one and was stunned by the hit. He stood quietly with his eyes closed as though sleeping. A woman came out of the shop and we chatted. She hadn’t heard him hit the window. Then, he opened his eyes and blinked a few times. They were blue, so I knew he was a young one. He had a short tail and looked a bit rough around the edges. He turned to me and gave a squawk. Just one. I called back and he stepped towards me. I looked around to see if there were any adult crows nearby, but couldn’t see anyone. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to leave him unsupervised. I feared he may wander out into traffic. I called Greg and told him about the crow baby. He offered to come watch and to bring a cardboard box in case we needed to rescue him.

When Greg arrived with the box and a towel, I called Wildlife Rescue Association (604 526-2747) and left a message as instructed by their answering machine. I went for food and Greg stayed behind to supervise. After about 20 minutes, a woman called back. She advised that this is fledging time for crows. Young ones will experiment with flight and forays away from the nest. She said it is normal for parents to leave fledglings on their own for up to an hour. She also asked to notice if he’s pooping. If so, it indicates that he’s not been abandoned and has recently been fed. She said to watch him and if after an hour no one comes to claim him, place him in a cardboard box and bring him in, or to Animal ER, the emergency facility in Vancouver where transport animals to Wildlife Rescue.

fledge1When I returned to join Greg, the little crow had wandered down the sidewalk and was looking at a glass door. Thinking his reflection was another crow, he tried to fly into the glass. After a few minutes he gave up and flew onto the roof of a car. We were now quite worried he’d fly into traffic. He may not have the skills to avoid the moving cars. We looked again to see if any parents were nearby. We saw a crow heading south across Venables, towards a tree a few hundred yards away. She flew inside the tree. She had a nest there. We couldn’t see the nest, but this kind of flight—to a destination deep in the tree—is an indicator of a nest location. We saw another crow fly north overhead. The young crow saw this one and called to him. I thought these must be the parents and that they were looking for him. It would be a good idea to move him away from the traffic and towards the nest. So we gently coaxed the crow off the car and towards the sidewalk. He swooped down and walked over to a storm sewer drain and looked down into it. He was probably thirsty. Greg slowly corralled him into a corner against the building where he scooped him up with the towel. We carefully put him in the box, removed the towel and shut the flaps. The fledgling protested by calling and rattling around while I walked with him across Venables and towards the tree.

I found a grassy bit about 30 meters away from the tree, and well away from traffic. I put the box on the ground and let him out. He walked over to a telephone pole, as though looking for cover, and stood beside the pole for a few seconds orienting himself. He called again, and this time the parents saw him. And me. The adult male, complaining, swooped down at me. I turned around and calmly walked away from the baby, simultaneously explaining the situation to the male. I didn’t want to harm the young one, but was trying to help him find his parents. Satisfied—that I had moved far enough away or had given a good enough explanation—he turned from me and flew up onto the telephone line just above the fledgling. I watched as the female joined the baby on the ground. She touched his beak with hers and reassured him with a few quiet words.

Zen + Dogs: Dog Bowl Aesthetics

Nov 25

  • Lesson from Sugi: Even dog bowls can be “shibui”
  • Sugi says, “I enjoy a lovely piece of pottery from which to sip water”

robson bowljohnson bowl

In the summer of 2012, Greg, Tom and Sugi and I were enjoying our camping holiday on Saltspring Island touring the studios of local potters. We had visited Meg Buckley, known for her beautiful and useful large bowls and tea pots. She was spending her last summer in the house on Saltspring, moving into a condo in order to be less tied to the maintenance of a large property. She urged us to visit the Saltspring market on the weekend and to look for a small stand of pots by Lari Robson. Although we had started to avidly collect Westcoast pottery, we weren’t yet familiar with Robson.

The morning was cloudy and a bit chilly even though it was the middle of summer, so Lari was huddled over a hot water bottle wearing a toque and scarf. He tried to talk us out of buying anything, saying that, with the exception of a few mugs and cups. the pots were no good. He explained some of his techniques: wood firing and salt glazing—a particularly difficult and toxic form of glazing. Wood firing allowed for unexpected patterns and colors to grace the pots. We ignored his attempts at dissuasion and bought a bunch of things including this small gray tea cup.

Recently I’ve been reading about Japanese aesthetics in relation to pottery. Robert Carter writes about Shoji Hamada, the renowned potter and Living National Treasure of Japan. Hamada, and the English potter Bernard Leach, had profound influences on Westcoast potters: Wayne Ngan, John Reeve, Tam Irving, Michael Henry, and later Charmaine Johnson, Lari Robson and others. Robson called himself a “slave to the Leach/Hamada tradition” (Carr 2012). In the language of Japanese aesthetics Robson’s pots are examples of shibui: austere, subdued, plain, simple, serene. The wood fire kiln and the use of salt glazing allowed for unexpected irregular qualities to emerge in the final pot, events that recall mushin (no-mind). The wood kiln provided an uncontrollable atmosphere, therefore overcoming the authorship of the potter.

Soetsu Yanagi, a Japanese philosopher and friend of Hamada, writes eloquently about the inherent qualities of particularly auspicious pots from Korea, China and Japan. Yanagi discusses the differences in Song era pottery in China, and the everyday use pots made in Korea during similar periods. Song pots are especially renowned for Ru ware, a style characterized by delicacy, exact shape and flawless celadon glazing which has a color close to “the blue of the sky after rain”. (Krahl 2012). An auspicious Ru dish using the name Taizhen Woshi Pen (Great Perfected Little Dog’s Dish) dated to 1761 was used by the emperor’s dog as described in the poem inscribed on the bottom of the dish by poet Yuzhi Shiji. Charmian Johnson’s azure bowls—an example shown here—follow the tradition of Ru, having perfect form, gentle texture and translucent opulence of an after-rain sky like those we experience in Vancouver. Korean ware from the Yi dynasty (17th century) used hakeme technique to brush on a light slip as a glaze, with swift brush energy. Robson used the hakeme brush technique on this unassuming little gray cup.

A few weeks after we got back from Saltspring, we got a call from Charmian Johnson who told us that Robson had recently died! We were shocked and saddened by the news and realized that the little table he had set up at the Saltspring Market probably displayed his last sale of pots. I felt extremely fortunate to have met Robson and had come to love the humbleness of his pots.

references:

Carr, Diane. “Remembering Lari Robson” in the Potters Guild of British Columbia, Sept 2012, Volume 48 No.7.

Carter, Robert. Becoming Bamboo: Western and Eastern Explorations of the Meaning of Life. Montreal & Kingston: McGill University Press, 1992

Krahl, Regina. Ru From a Japanese Collection. Hong Kong: Sotheby’s, 2012

Yanagi, Soetsu. The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty. New York: Kodansha USA, 1972.