Marian Wood, crows

Marian Wood, my beloved editor for mumble mumble years, has sent a number of fascinating encounters. Although I quite like the “my life as a series of animal encounters” aspect of it, I’ve decided to post it one animal at a time and over several weeks. This way, every story gets its due. Here then is Marian’s first post:

My husband and I, a few years after we married, took the major step of visiting his parents in Fordingbridge, England—edge of the New Forest. Not a particularly salubrious encounter as my husband had actually been alienated from his parents from the age of 13 when he was expelled from his public school and ended up in Belfast with an aunt and uncle for the rest of his formal education, which ended at the age of 16 when the war broke out and he decamped to Dublin and joined the Irish Republican Army—until he found they did not issue sheets or undergarments, and he crossed the Irish Sea to join the RAF. The point is, the reunion in Fordingbridge was fraught. We had rented a car and I was the driver. One day, to put some space between us and the family, we took off to visit a quaint village along a little river afloat in Moscovy ducks. Alas, in the pull up to park, we had a huge screaming match. He saying I had mis-parked alongside the river, and me telling him to shut up since he couldn’t drive. (He could, but had no license ever since a massive car crash in Spain some eight years before.) We exited the car, still yelling at each other (not, I must say, a commonplace of our marriage). And as we stood beside the river/car, a huge angry sound—crows—approached, the air full of noise and black wings. Next thing I knew, they were bombing poor Tony, who was covered in crow shit. I was untouched. And I began to laugh like a banshee. After all, the crows had picked the right target. I have to admit I have always been fascinated by crows, but this cinched that love affair. (We managed to get over it and lasted until his death 45 years later.)

Harriet Chessman, Samoyed

A poem from Harriet Chessman (who worries that it’s too sad) in honor of a beloved dog.
Harriet is a Bay Area poet, novelist, short story writer and editor whose work has been described as intelligent and entrancing. She loves dogs.


White flash on green
biscuit blur on snow
triumphant snatcher
of gloves and toys

you breathed the Arctic
witty forager
courageous follower
of the scent, whatever –

Skunk, cat, raccoon –
the world tempting
in its fragrance
with you at the center

a twenty dollar bill,
a stick of butter,
all the shimmering

things awaiting
white teeth
eager gullet.

Your last day, you
stood to greet us
on the vet’s
green lawn

eager to be
our dog still
confiding and
ignorant of sleep.

Joyce Thompson, Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is making its second appearance in this blog, courtesy of Joyce Thompson, author of several novels and collections including her recent suspenseful and sophisticated mystery HOW TO GREET STRANGERS.  This entry is cross-posted from her own blog.


We first discovered our affinity at twilight on a central Florida beach, not far from Cape Kennedy. I’d turned out to watch the sun set and stayed to enjoy the evening cool, was lost in thought and minding my own business when a vast heron plopped down maybe ten yards away, just offshore. It was more than the splash that caught my attention. The big bird was focused on me, closely as a guy looking to get picked up at a singles bar. I could feel him poking at my consciousness.

Okay, big fella, whaddayou want?

Turns out he wanted to give me flying lessons. For the better part of an hour, he taught me the walk, that elegant high step and recoil, followed by the leap, perfectly coordinated with neck stretch and wingspread—and I tried diligently to mimic his moves, got better and better, all except the last part, where he defied gravity and left the surface of the earth while I was still bouncing along the beach. Whenever he saw he’d left me behind, he’d come back and start again.

How many times did we practice those moves? At least half a dozen before he accepted my telepathic insistence that, as a featherless biped, I just didn’t have the right stuff. We parted with affection and regret.

Cross country and fast forward, to the protected wetland where I run along a 3 mile infolding of San Francisco Bay. The slough’s a safe haven for crows, doves, hummingbirds and red wing blackbirds, egrets, shrikes, rails, cormorants, fat ducks, circling hawks and every kind of migrator, geese and pelicans most prominent among them. Leash your dogs, folks. It’s Birdland, with a slim Great Blue the genius of the place.

Seeing each other daily, we started to relate, always taking a moment to greet one another with a bow of acknowledgment that splits the difference between our native animal behaviors. Sometimes the heron would be seaward, fishing. Sometimes in spring, he stood like a statue in the wet meadow, waiting to catch one of the young ground squirrels, popping out of the underground tunnels.

One bright morning, he struck with particular force. The squirrel was big, and instead of piercing it side to side, the heron speared it head to tail, so hard that it rode far up on his beak and stuck there. The heron shook his head, trying to dislodge the squirrel, but it didn’t move. I watched him struggle until a human walker came up the path and startled him away, flying awkwardly with the weight of the skewered squirrel.

I ran on. Half a mile later, the heron swooped across the path in front of me and landed close by. His fear pierced me—the certainty that he’d starve if his jaws stayed locked.

Help me. I heard his voice inside my head.

It took a minute to get over my disbelief, another to slay self-doubt. The heron waited patiently while I figured it out, picked up a sturdy stick and crept toward him with as heron-like a gait as I could muster.

Easy. I’m trying.

 He stood quiet, suffering me to poke at the squirrel with my stick until it slid down a little. Then he shook his head furiously until the dead squirrel came flying off. When it did, the heron composed himself, fluffed and preened. He nodded slightly in my direction and then took flight.

I watched him rise and get smaller in the sky, while my mind called out to him: Come back. Come back and teach me how to fly.