This morning I was out doing the usual early Saturday round of little chores that build up during the week. I'd earlier scattered the kitchen refuse atop the compost pile - now nearbelow the cherry tree - and was bucketing the last of the wood stove ash from the ash heap to scatter along the feet of the biwa (loquat) and natsume (jujube) trees, the blueberry bushes and the mountain azaleas that line the inner road, then to sprinkle the last of it all atop this morning's compost.
The bucket was heavy with damp ash; I was just passing head down beneath the cherry tree when a blast of raucous sound from above made me look up. There in the branchy shadows blustered Mr. Crow, who owns this turf. Japanese crows can be uncomfortably loud even from a hundred meters away, but Mr. Crow was right there, yawping in my face. He wasn't flying away, as he normally would have done from this sudden proximity; he was staying put, hopping mad on a low branch: I had entered his dark presence just as he was planning his daily breakfast selection from the compost buffet, freshly laid out for him below. There was beaksome orange peel, onion skins, tomato trimmings, cabbage core, tea leaves, broccoli stems, eggshells, you name it, all interlayered for Crow delight, what a feast it would be-- then I blundered into the picture and he became the essence of umbrage.
I just stood there staring at him; he just hopped there, flaring and glaring. Then he raised his head and let out another blast, whoa loud under that canopy of leaves. Crow had never confronted me directly in this way, or this close up; only a couple of meters separated us. This was a bit too near even for my taste. I stared at him some more. He tilted his head and fixed me with his blackest eye: was I gonna get the hell out of his face or what.
For me, the next move was clear. I'd been waiting a long time-- about 35 years, actually. "You talkinna me??" I said, in my best Nooyawkese. He looked dumbfounded. "You talkinna me??" louder this time, more ominous, more threatening, half a step forward, just like De Niro, except this was for real. The big crow beak hung open in dark disbelief, like he could not believe his ears; like he'd seen that movie too! And I was using that very trope, out here in the -- semiwild, which was Crow's alone! What was Crow culture, then, if this was also an element of the human... whatever?
I seemed to sense a deep rift in the crow cosmos; a psychic shock wave passed through me. Crow looked here and there to his heavens for affirmation, as though he'd just read all of Nietzsche or its corvine equivalent. He gave a little croak upward. Forget about the select breakfast buffet. Human and Crow had just had a cultural exchange. We had crossed a line; there had been a merging of artistic elements. If this got out, things would ever be the same.
The question now was, would Crow tell the others, or would he keep this bright secret for his own? Mumbling to himself, he flew off into the upmountain forest, likely to a distant higher branch of contemplation where he could be most alone-- as though he had to think about it. I'm sure he'll keep it all to himself, like that whole thick slice of bread he got not long ago. He'll never share this historic experience with another crow; crows don't do such things.
But humans do.