The Raven-Crow Is the Word

Backstory Biernes #5, Friday, June 5th 2015: The Bird

A black raven, an albino crow–they seem to call us with their Caw! Caw! But is it simply that nevermore of Poe that draws us to them? Or is it something more ancient, hidden by the darkness of time?

These birds are scavengers when they need to be, hunters when they can be and harbingers of death seemingly all the time.

Have you ever had a raven tap your window with its beak? Did it nearly break the glass with its strength and peer at you with a single darting black eye?

No? Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Recently, I created the raven-crow logo, with which I’m sure you’re all familiar by now. I thought that with this particular Backstory Biernes, I would stray from the usual backstories of my fiction and turn to this logo, this graphic that I chose to represent my writing and my website.

Most of you are thinking by now that it is obvious why I chose the raven-crow as a symbol of my writing which is arguably horror-tinged. And you’d be right. Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven is a classic that has no doubt left an imprint on my psyche. But you’d also be wrong.

For me, the image of the raven-crow actually comes from my brother. One time many years ago, we were walking past the St. Luke Lutheran church on 85th Street in Woodhaven, Queens. We were teenagers and had already gotten into horror movies and music.

As we walked, my brother turned to look behind us and pointed out a large flock of black birds circling overhead. He told me that they were crows and that they were following him, that they were waiting for him. I can’t remember if he told me why or for what, but I had always assumed it was for something nefarious. And maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but I later started to notice them following him too.

Today, I am pretty sure that my brother was joking, but the idea has stuck with me. It was creepy and cool, and I liked it. I still do. The idea stoked my imagination. For some unknowable reason, these birds were following him. They had a hidden, sinister agenda. Only time or death would reveal it. And isn’t that the truth about everything? Time and death reveal all. Even nothingness.

This is one of the earliest memories I have involving our freaky feathered friends. And the truth of the matter is that I can’t remember which came first, my knowledge of Poe’s The Raven or my brother’s comment about his plumed pursuers.

With their iridescent black feathers, menacing beaks and piercing beady eyes, how could they not instill a morbid dread? It just seems obvious to us, doesn’t it?

Ravens and crows are evil.

But clearly, that’s coming from a particular cultural point of view, is it not? Not everyone is afraid of them. I’m not. In fact, they make me smile. My wife and I lovingly call them my “brothers.”

Clearly, the status of these birds is engendered by time, culture and fear. But I’m sure that there are cultures that do not include these birds in their pantheon of hell-spawn. There may even be cultures that revere them. These possibilities alone should be enough to dismiss beliefs about the intrinsic evilness of the winged weirdos.

There is nothing inherently evil about them. And as a matter of fact, research tells us that crows and ravens are among the most intelligent birds. Still that doesn’t preclude their evilness.

So what makes them so reviled and feared?

The answer came to me the other day when I saw a crow in my backyard picking at the corpse of one of his fallen kindred. Crows and ravens have no qualms about hunting small animals, eating carrion or even cannibalism. They represent nature’s immutability. They represent that life must go on even amid violence, death and decay.

No matter what we do, nature will always win. We will die. We will rot. But we shouldn’t see this as evil. We should accept it as a part of life. Because when we accept our fate, we are empowered by it. The raven-crow is a reminder of that. Every day counts, and we only have a few of them.

Now smile!

I will leave you on a lighter note (sort of) with one of my favorite Argentine proverbs.

Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.

I think the best translation is “Spoil your children, and they’ll take out your eyes.”

If ever crows and ravens got a bad name, it was in that saying.


Thanks for reading.


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