Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Tony Ducklow
I still think of him when I hear the loud and bossy voice of a crow. I think of him when I see a crow land on the backyard deck and tilt its head to study a curiosity. The memories of Egg return…and I miss him.
How I came to have the simp (which is what baby crows are called) is a story for another day. But he was a special bird during a summer of change and he continues to live on in my mind to this day.
I studied my small, plump, naked bird as I sat on the edge of my bed on that day in late May. He was wrapped warmly in a towel in a cardboard box.
“You’re barely out of the egg,” I said. “In fact, you’re not much more than an egg yourself.”
He looked up at me at the sound of my voice, blinking his unusually large crow eyes.
“Egg,” I chuckled. “That’s your name. From now on, you’re Egg.”
He grew quickly; gorging himself on what he determined was the best tasting food on earth – canned dog food. It was a delicacy he preferred to eat no matter how old he became. Young crows are unable to feed themselves and the food they eat must be pushed down their throats. So every daylight hour for several weeks, I had to be there for Egg.
“Aaw, Aaw!” the hungry bird would loudly squawk as chunks of dog food were scooped out of the can with the my finger. “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” he would jabber, sounding like a miniature turkey as he gorged himself.
Crows are very intelligent; as smart as a dog some experts say. Like parrots, they can be taught to talk. While Egg never learned to speak human words he always made it clear what he was saying when it came to his food. “Feed me faster, boy! Hurry up, can’t you see I’m starving?”
I was in that awkward time of life, still a boy in many ways, but moving quickly into my teenage years. The safe little world that I had grown up in was disappearing quickly. I was just finishing a year of junior high school where everyone tried to look and act much older than they really were. But summer would soon be here and I knew life would again go back to pickup baseball games, swimming, go-carts, and now raising Egg.
Every day I’d bring Egg out into my backyard for sun and exercise. When the wind would ruffle the little tufts of downy feathers on the side of his bald head I always thought it made him look like a crabby old man on a windy day.
It wasn’t long before Egg’s adult feathers came in and he was hopping and fluttering about. Crows are known for their independent and sometimes bossy nature. When I would stretch out in the grass on those warm summer days, Egg would soon be on top of me, hopping his way up to my face so he could play with and pull at his hair.
“Hey, leave my hair alone,” I’d protest.
He’d look at me as if to say, “Your hair, boy? You are mistaken. This is my hair.”
That was Egg’s personality. What was his was his, and what was yours was also his. As I walked him around the house, the yard and eventually the neighborhood, I could almost hear him proclaim, “See, boy! This is my house…my yard…my street…my park.” It wasn’t long before he was Owner of Everything.
Egg quickly learned to fly and every evening he’d land on my shoulder and we’d head into the house. But his independence grew quickly. I was taken by surprise the evening he decided he no longer wanted to come into the house at night.
As the summer wore on, Egg was my constant companion. He went with me almost everywhere, only flying off to investigate when something of interest came along. He quickly became the most popular member of the neighborhood. He had frequent visitors and admirers who were eager to be counted as his one of his friends. He had a very special greeting for anyone he recognized who came riding down the street on a bicycle. He would quietly sit in our oak tree or on the roof of our house. Patiently waiting. Then swoosh! A black streak would surprise the unsuspecting rider from behind, just skimming the tops of their head! Some riders would be so startled they’d fall right off of their bicycles!
Egg would land on top of the street corner sign; his beak open wide as if he was having a good laugh. “Ha, ha, I caught you! What did you expect would happen when you drive down my street?” He was always very proud at his cleverness and no one could stay mad at Egg for long. Soon his victims were usually laughing too.
Like many crows, Egg loved bright, shiny objects. Whenever my dad was working on his car, Egg was usually hanging around, waiting for just the right opportunity to steal a gleaming tool. One day he was very insistent on snatching a screwdriver despite repeated warnings to leave it alone. Of course, Egg never listened to anyone and soon he made his move to take the shiny treasure. My dad pushed him out of the way. Egg suddenly fell over and didn’t move.
“Oh my goodness….I think that crazy bird is dead!” my father exclaimed in horror. He bent down to take a closer look. Egg lay on his side and was as still as a stone. When he went to pick up the poor lifeless bird, Egg suddenly jumped to his feet and flew on to the roof!
“Maybe you’ll think twice before touching me again, you bully!” he cawed from above. He had been pretending the whole time!
Summer was fading away and change was in the air in many different ways. In summers past I had spent the time building tree houses, exploring swamps, or camping in the nearby woods with friends. But we did none of that that summer. In fact, we never did those things ever again.
Egg was now leaving for longer and longer parts of the day and occasionally even taking up with groups of other crows. I’d still see his black streak come shooting up and over the trees when it was time to eat. But he seemed to be growing more independent and somewhat more distant all the time. The warm summer days were fading away and things were changing.
Too quickly school started again. When I got home one day, my mother asked if I’d go into town to pick up something for her. After feeding Egg, I hopped on my bike to make the mile ride to the store. As I made my way down the steep hill into the little town of North St. Paul, I looked behind me and saw Egg in the sky following me.
“Go home, Egg! I’ll be right back!” I ordered.
But of course, Egg always did what he wanted to do despite my commands. I considered turning around and bringing him home but I didn’t want to ride my bike back up the steep hill. When I reached town and got off my bike, Egg landed on a nearby lamppost.
“Stay there, I’ll be right back.” I shouted. I didn’t know why but I felt a strange uneasiness and I had a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. I was back out the door in less than five minutes, but when I looked up at the lamppost, Egg was gone.
“Egg!” I shouted. “Egg, c’mon let’s go home!”
I looked and listened but there was no streak of black in the sky or his familiar “Aaw, Aaw.” A chill was in the air and the sound of leaves rustling in a cool autumn breeze seemed to whisper, “Goodbye, boy.” It was the end of the Summer of Egg and of many other things.
For many days after that I would hold his can of dog food high in the air and call for him, hoping he would come back home. I knew he was where he was supposed to be; with other crows, maybe even starting a family of his own. I’d read once that some crows live to be over 20 years old. For many summers after that sad day, whenever a crow seemed a bit friendlier than most, I would call gently to it, hoping that Egg had finally returned to me. But I never saw him again.
Now, so many years later, I still think of him when I hear the loud and bossy voice of a crow. I think of him when I see one land on the backyard deck and tilt its head to study a curiosity. The memories of the Summer of Egg return.