There are crows everywhere around our mountain home.
Walking through the bush I always hear them cackling and cawing and they can get quite resentful when the dog bounds through the trees disturbing them in their play or foraging.
They’re good companions on a walk. The sound of them is ancient and they lend a mystic feel to being alone on the land.
Even when the new snows densely coat the trees and make seeing anything difficult, the crows can be heard nattering back and forth. I’ve always liked them. Always been drawn to them and as I walked up the timber road recently I found myself recollecting an old story I heard a long time ago.
In the Long Ago Time, when only the Animal People inhabited the world, Creator gave gifts to all the flyers of the world. The Eagle was chosen to be the peoples’ messenger, to carry their prayers and thanks to Creator. The Loon became the teacher of love and good relationships. But the Crow felt he’d been given nothing.
He didn’t have a special color. He didn’t have a beautiful song. He did not have the strength or vision of the Eagle. When he looked at himself Crow wondered what his role was in the circle of being. So Crow began to fly about looking for purpose. He flew far and wide and searched the world for one teaching that might become his own to carry.
He visited with Mukwa, the Bear and asked for some of his teachings. The Bear took the time to try to teach him but when none of Mukwa’s gifts seemed to fit, Crow flew off in search of other teachers. For a time he lived with Moozo the Moose and with Pizheu the Lynx. One by one he visited the Wolf, Coyote, Beaver, Loon, Fish, Turtle and even the great Eagle himself.
He learned a lot of things but he couldn’t find anything that felt like his very own. Then, one day as he flew by a hollow tree, he heard someone crying. He landed on a branch and called out. Soon the Squirrel looked out from a hole in trunk of the tree all teary eyed and lonely looking.
“What’s the matter?” Crow asked. The Squirrel was very sad and depressed. But Crow was gentle with her and coaxed her to talk. Hearing her story Crow nodded in understanding and took her to see the Bear and the Turtle to hear their teachings and to receive their medicine. Soon Squirrel returned to balance and leaped about in joy again.
As he flew, Crow found other creatures in need. There seemed to be a never ending line of creatures facing some difficulty or hurt and Crow was determined to visit them in his travels. When he did, he stopped and listened to their story and then took them to the right creature for the medicine that would help them. He became a respected listener and guide.
He never became graced with a beautiful coat of feathers for his trouble. He wasn’t endowed with a marvelous song. In fact, his grating voice perturbed Human beings when they heard it, but the Animal people always feel more secure when they hear Crow croaking in the forest. Crow’s gift and his purpose were to communicate and to carry other teachings and other medicines to help people.
The Crow teaches us that we need to face life head-on, make good connections with those around us and to work with the spirit of friendship and service. When we do that, we always find a sense of purpose for ourselves. The Crow’s gift, like ours, are those around us and we grow when we reach out to them.
When I heard that story the first time all I could find in me to relate to it was the thought that it was a marvelous folk tale. But I was young and in a hurry and I could never stop long enough to reflect on a story. If teachings weren’t immediately obvious I crashed forward into something else more interesting, more vital. Or so I thought. It was only age and the tiring effects of living at top speed that allowed me to reclaim it.
We live in tough times. Technology has allowed us to move closer together at the same time it keeps us so far apart. We e-mail and text in blithe, pithy, short-form messages and we believe we’re communicating. But we’ve all learned to move too fast and we miss hearing each other’s stories and as a result we often miss the opportunity to help.
When I hear the crows I remember that old story now. I recall its inherent blessing. Our purpose here is each other. Now more than ever.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org