Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 11: Four Crows

As I started up the road on my run this morning, four crows stood together before me on the pavement. Although I couldn't see anything with my weak human eyes, something was clearly interesting them in the street. One bird was whining, probably a young bird, and I wondered if it was being given some sort of lesson. As I got closer, they hopped over to the sidewalk, still in my path. Twice more they moved just ahead of me before flying off with some complaining into the trees.

I thought of augury, the ancient Roman method of prophecy, and wondered what it meant to be confronted by four crows. The version of the traditional crow counting rhyme that I learned as a kid says, "Three crows a wedding, four a birth." While I know several pregnant young women, none are imminently due. Perhaps those crows represented the birth of a new idea, which I could use right now as I map out my August natural history column for the local paper and try to create something for the Belfast Poetry Festival with my assigned artist partner, the sculptor Beth Henderson.

If you look up the number four in numerology references, it is a positive number. So many things come in fours: four directions, four winds, four seasons, four quarters of the year, etc. Four sides creates a solid square. As I thought about them, I couldn't help but imagine those four crows together in the road as four pips on a playing card. The four of spades, a card denoting action.

Such are the things that go through my head to distract me while I run. My poet side gets the best of me, wants to read a hidden meaning in everything I see. But, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes four crows hanging out are just four crows hanging out. On my return, I passed the place where the black birds had flown into the trees. From within the dense foliage came several caws, alerting the neighborhood that the person who had seemed to chase them up the street before was back. They didn't seem overly alarmed, though. Studies have shown that crows recognize people very well, and I'm sure these crows knew me as harmless. They quieted down again by the time I got to my door.

Four crows in the road
form a square society,
no one else needed.

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