I live among crows. They fly in asynchronous formation through the fifty-foot redwoods that stand in great beauty beside a row of tiny apartments. This is the spot I love: the least accessible area of this large senior complex. I am a widower who seeks privacy.
In the midst of the city, this redwood grove is my sanctuary. The trees create a zone of protection from the fleet of tiny black and white cars known as the “Geek Squad,” set loose upon the neighborhood by a big box electronics store. A member of the Squad sometimes pounds on my front door while I am poaching an egg.
“Good morning, sir.” Seeing my confused expression, the intruder begins by rote: “We repair home computers. We offer hundreds of channels of cable TV. We can upgrade the sound system in your car for only a hundred and ninety-nine dollars.”
I send the young wizard away, informing him that I have no interest in modern electronics. I do not add, for I doubt he would take the time to listen, that my wife played for twenty years in a symphony orchestra. I am left with a stack of LP records and a turntable.
I wake up to the caw, caw of the crows. They navigate in wide swoops from the top of one great tree to the next. Their squawks pierce the air, obscuring the hum of the nearby freeway. I know their conversations as I know the notes of my wife’s Beethoven collection.
One late morning, a staccato of insistent cries breaks open my solitude. I step onto the porch and look up at the sound. A crow is caught, helpless, in a tangle of twine wrapped around a redwood branch. Somewhere in my mind I imagine a kite losing its way.
The screeches grip me. I run back inside to find the emergency number provided by management. I punch in each digit. A voice responds by requesting my apartment number and I blurt out, “A crow is trapped in the tree.”
“Is this an emergency?” the voice responds in a dry monotone.
“It is for the crow!”
There is silence on the other end of the line. From mine, the sound of labored breathing.
“I will send maintenance over.”
Within minutes a much younger man than I appears on the lawn. He has a wild look around his eyes and his front teeth are missing. If I had not been so desperate I would have retreated into my apartment and locked the door.
The man stands still before me. He senses my alarm and looks upward to the crow. “I’ll be right back,” are his only words, implying that I should stay where I am.
As my stomach contracts, my wife’s dying breaths break open inside me. I am at her bedside, blind, as tears drip from my chin and I cling to the chrome stand that holds the morphine drip. “It won’t be long now,” the nurse whispers.
I hear the man’s footsteps in the grass. He has a six-foot ladder over one shoulder and a professional, long-handled clipper in his opposite hand. Opening the ladder directly beneath the crow, he climbs to the top step and stretches his arm straight up, extending the clipper like a steeple.
“Don’t you bite me,” he croons. His arm remains steady as it nears the knot. The crow quiets. The man continues to speak in a soft voice as he snips at the twine.
I marvel at his ability to maintain his balance and hold the heavy clipper aloft with such precision. A miracle worker, disguised in a mask of madness.
As the man cuts, the crow begins to descend, still bound by the twine. It makes its body limp as it slides closer and closer to two human beings.
I clasp the twine and look directly into the bird’s black eyes. It stares back at me. As it is lowered onto the grass, the crow lies as still as death.
With the last few gentle cuts, the twine no longer binds the bird’s feet. The maintenance man and I step back, and the crow shivers for a moment before it flies to a high redwood branch that sways with the morning breeze.
As it caw-caws down to us I feel a sense of wonder, like being present at a birthing.
With an economy of movement the maintenance man folds up the ladder and collects the clipper and is about to walk away.
“Thank you . . .” I stammer, and he answers back over his shoulder, “Tommy.”
“Thank you, Tommy.”
I remain in the spot where human and bird connected. My mind is clear and open, a half smile is on my lips.
When I am able to move, I walk to my patio, pick up the lawn chair, carry it back to the spot and sit down. I notice only that the light has changed. That the treetops whisper in their swaying.
Neighbors pass by me on the way to their cars, walking their dogs, going wherever people go. From time to time, I wave to them. The crows provide the chorus and ride the wind.
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