During moments like these, I can remember who I once was. Inside, I am silent, and outside, I am as still as stone. Like two gates to a common garden, my heart and mind have been left wide open. There is a deep sleep waiting behind my eyes, its weight increasing gradually and steadily. In the deep pool of shade beneath an ancient oak, I can feel my own roots growing from the bottoms of my feet, extending toward the earth below, burrowing into the soil.
In my youth, I would sit for hours beneath the trees, just observing the world around me. I was so quiet and still, the crows came to trust me. They would congregate along the chain-link fence that defined the churchyard, or sail down from the high branches of the oaks in the park to scavenge picnic leftovers. They weren’t threatened in the slightest way by my presence, and it seemed to me that they came to enjoy my company. Every morning, as I walked through the churchyard, cut through the thicket, and made my way to the bus stop, four crows followed. They would already be waiting for me on the fence when I emerged from the back door, and they would stay with me until my bus came. And when I returned in the afternoons, they would be there in the thicket waiting, and follow me back home. One might say that they knew something about me that no person knew, and rightly so. I had a relationship with them that a person cannot have with other people. They were the only others who existed within my narrative of solitude. They could come and go, speak freely, and carry on with their business of the day without breaking the connection between my senses and the world around me. When I couldn’t determine whether I saw them as a part of myself or a part of the world, it became clear that the three were bound together as one: myself, the crows, the world.
The noisy, unnaturally bright world of human beings came crashing through my walls of solitude, and for many years, I was held prisoner by a mob of people who talked incessantly, just because they felt compelled to always talk and hear each other talking. They were not the ones holding me against my will, actually, but the one they served. He was a vile creature who fed on the accolades of his followers. He charmed fools with his wildly exaggerated, or even fully fabricated tales of extraordinary strength and cunning. They were drawn to him like moths to a flame, and in their constant flapping of brittle, dusty wings, I could no longer find moments of silence and peace amongst my friends, the crows. As one year gave way to the next, and the next, I could feel parts of myself withering and dying away, like coal-black feathers dropping from my wings to the ground.
When I finally escaped the cacophony of idol-worship, it took a great deal of time for me to heal to the point that I could return to my peaceful silence. But one early-autumn afternoon, as the sunlight was tilting out of the west in a golden hue, I sat very still behind the building where I worked, and along came a crow from the cemetery nearby. He was at first cautious, because few people are to be trusted, but he began to widen the circles he paced on the pavement, bringing his path closer and closer to me. I very slowly reached inside my satchel and found some scraps of food to offer him. I gently tossed some crumbs his way, and he quickly ate every one. I threw down a few more, this time, closer to my feet. He hesitated, but eventually walked over, ate them, and hurried back to a safe distance. I waited silently. He kept watching me as he walked around the pavement, as if to say, “I’m waiting. Throw some more.” I sprinkled some crumbs right at my feet. I could see him struggling with the internal conflict of whether or not this food was worth the danger. He slowly walked over, stopping at intervals to assess the risk. Finally, he made his way over, right at my feet, and ate as quickly as he could. This time, he didn’t walk away, he flew. But he came right back. Again, he was observing me. I held some crumbs in my hand, and slowly bent forward, lowering my arm nearer to the ground. At first, he seemed to refuse to take food directly from my hand. I held it there until my shoulder began to burn, and my muscles began to cramp. He gradually crept closer and closer, watching me, but regularly looking away as if to convey that he had no interest in what I had to offer. But he crept right up beside my foot, and he clasped a pinch of crumbs right off of my fingertips with his beak. I had never been so close to a crow before. My heart leapt in my chest. But just as he snatched the benefit of his bravery, the rear exit door swung open, releasing the sounds of loud conversation, as a group of people came clomping out for their break. Before I could turn my head and look back at him, he had flown away.
Sometimes, in the dead of winter, I will sit in my grey-brown, slumbering garden, and listen to the crows talk. They call from tree to tree, from branch to branch. I leave feasts for them, but they never come to dine with me. I watch as small groups gather into a great murder in the bare, ink-slash branches that cut through the pale sky. The tallest trees grow so heavy with crows, it looks as though all of the leaves that fell throughout the autumn caught a wind and sailed back up, filling out the branches once again. To hear hundreds of crows in excited conversation together is a kind of music unlike any other. This is what my mind grows silent for. To take in this symphony of crows.