Crow Apocalypse

I’m back. I guess I took a little Christmas/New Year sabbatical from blogging there, and I think it’s been restful. [True story: when I was a kid, for awhile I thought the word “sabbatical” meant the wild, unholy rituals that witches have at midnight in desolate places. So when I’d hear this or that person was “on sabbatical” or “took a sabbatical,” I would think, “Ooh–I thought s/he was Christian” and “Is that something you can declare in public?!”] I’m actually eager to be back on the blogging scene.

First, before I forget, I want to put in a plug here for my friend John R. Fultz. I’ve read some of his stories and know he is an excellent writer of speculative fiction, and he’s a great and gracious moderator of panel discussions. [See the interview with him in a previous entry on this blog.] He has a new dark fantasy comic called SKULLS up on Black Gate‘s website:

SKULLS, I’m told, will be updated weekly–every Wednesday–so let’s all check it out! John, is there any recent news on the release of your graphic novel Primordia? I, for one, am “waiting with my neck stretched out,” as the Japanese expression goes.

So, you ask, what have I been up to? During my Christmas holidays, mainly I’ve been working hard on the revisions of my book The Sacred Woods. I was blessed to have some excellent feedback from test readers and from my dedicated and outstanding agent Eddie. So I made myself a master list of changes I wanted to make, and I’ve been working through that list, crossing off things with great satisfaction when I get them taken care of. I think I am just a day or two away from being able to send the manuscript back to Eddie, and I hope he’ll agree that it’s ready to start submitting. It is absolutely true what they say in all the workshops and writing trade magazines: nothing comes out perfect the first time. Leave it for a few months, get some feedback from readers, and your book or story can be improved in dozens of ways. What I’ve been producing these days on The Sacred Woods is very much like the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings movies. All the good things that were there to begin with, plus some extra, enriching material. I hope these revisions are making the difference between “pretty darn good” and “out of the park home run.” Heh, heh. It’s my blog, so I’m allowed to have delusions of grandeur here.

This past week also marked the passing of a very dear friend:

Dave (white) and Uni (brown-and-black)

Dave the cat passed away on January 5th. Although he officially belonged to some close friends of mine, we all agreed that he was essentially my cat. He and I were closer than he and his owners were. Because I was on Christmas break, I was able to spend his last few days with him almost constantly. I camped out on the floor next to him, did my revision work at a nearby table, and I was right beside him when he finally passed from this life. He was a truly good cat.

Dave and Uni

Dave and Uni

Anyway, here’s a report on something amazing I saw on December 14th.

It was a Monday morning, and the forecast was for inclement weather (the default of Niigata — I’ve often said that if I were going to write a memoir of Niigata life, the title would be Inclement). So instead of riding my bicycle to the university, I set out walking to the bus, about a 25-minute walk from my apartment. The jet black of a winter night was slowly paling as I locked my door and tramped toward the river. As I crossed Chitose Great Bridge, the sun peered over the horizon behind me. The sky there burst into red flame. (“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”) Ahead of me, the sky was dark gray and ominous.

As I crossed over the Shinano River and left the bridge, I froze in my tracks. Above the first main intersection, the power lines were packed with huge black crows, shoulder-to-shoulder, wing-to-wing. I turned my head to right and left. This is no exaggeration: as far as I could see to both sides, about a kilometer in each direction, the rows of crows were unbroken. I was stunned. This was no mere flock of crows: this was more crows than I’d ever seen in my life, all here at once, wing-to-wing on these power lines above me. They cried out in waves of sound that rolled along that vast length, a cold RRAWWK that passed from bird to bird in the way that thunder resounds along the horizon.

I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck, trying to see the end of them, but there was no end: to my left, they stretched to Daiichi High School and beyond. To my right, they seemed to go all the way to City Hall. I paused for a long while gazing up into those glittering black eyes, listening to the rolling waves of their unmusical cries.

When I ducked beneath them and continued on my way, I halted in my tracks again. It wasn’t just one set of power lines. A block later, the next set was equally laden with crows. Again, they stretched from horizon to horizon, with no more than an inch or two between the glistening black bodies. Some wheeled in flight, looking for open places on which to alight.

My gaze jumped ahead. A third set of power lines was thick with crows. And a fourth. I kid you not, the thought that came to my mind was: Is this it? Is this the day it all ends? Does the Lord come back in the clouds? It really and truly looked like something from a movie, something that would be accomplished with CGI imaging. If I weren’t seeing it with my own eyes, I would have thought it looked fake.

And here’s a bizarre detail: on each set of poles, there were six lines, but the crows invariably chose to congregate on just three of them. Three occupied, three unoccupied. I have no idea what that meant.

Since it’s now January 9th, obviously the world didn’t end. But if you were wondering where all the crows in your neighborhood were in mid-December, I think they were at CrowCon in Niigata. I wonder if the con featured a panel discussion on the role of humans in history and literature. Perhaps the panelists debated the issue of whether humans are sometime-allies of crows, or whether they’re simply the ambulatory, unripe stage of delectable carrion.

Quoth the human: “Nevermore!”

Lest this post end on a dark note, here’s another historical photo courtesy of our friend Chris:

Oh, dear. I must have been in about 6th grade. My acne is beginning to blossom. I'm wearing the World's Best Sweater Ever. Mom looks like a startled forest animal. (This is a very unflattering picture of her.) Dad looks disgruntled.

I’m back, and the fun never stops. See you again soon!


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14 Responses to “Crow Apocalypse”

  1. John Says:

    My condolences on your loss.

    By the way, are you sure that Dave’s passing and the gathering of crows are unrelated? šŸ˜‰

  2. Lizzie Says:

    Oh, Fred, I’m so sorry to hear about you losing your pusscat. He looks like a very sweet beast (and those little peach spots on his snoot are adorable). I’m sure he was very comforted by you staying by his side and spending the last days with him, it was a very sweet and brave thing for you to do.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Lizzie. And yes, the whole thing about the crows was especially striking because I’d just heard that panel discussion of ravens in literature at the World Fantasy Convention.

      Dave was my good cat. I’m thankful that he lived a long and full cat life; I think he was about 19 or 20 years old. He’d been present for nearly my whole time in Japan.

  3. Lizzie Says:

    -and I was going to point out, as John above said, aren’t crows harbingers or psychopomps in Asian mythology? I seem to remember the Tibetans at least hold them in high esteem.

  4. I wish I had seen the murder Says:

    … of crows which you described! Maybe they were all sitting on lines that were tingling with electricity, thereby enjoying a brief time as ‘buzz’ards. (Gad! Pun fund!)

    ANYWAY: Fred will not mention it, friends, but our dear host turns 44 on Jan. 12, so let me be the first to wish my childhood friend a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I have now known Sensei Durbin for 38 of his birthdays and the pleasure and rewards remain mine.

    (A side note: Fred, I went by old homestead twice over the holidays and the place looks good. That huge branch overhanging the road just shy of the driveway looks really ominous … I bet it has a year or two, at best, left. The county needs to remove it or one day it will come crashing down!)

    Sorry to hear about Dave. Odd that the other cat is named Uni. Whenever I see those three letters they are usually capitalized: UNI, for the University of Northern Iowa. Is Uni an affectionate Japanese term or is there some other meaning?

    p.s. ā€” That sweater is simply smashing! Ohh how our parents used to dress us!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      The scary thing about the sweater is, I’m big enough in the photo that my parents couldn’t have forced me to wear it. I seem to remember consciously putting it on and thinking it was normal clothing. (Thank goodness time keeps passing!)

      I guess that low branch across the road is the Gateway to the North.

      Thanks for the birthday greetings!

      The other cat’s name is actually Umi, which means “Sea.” She had a brother Sora (“Sky”) from the same litter who died of illness when he was still very young. Because of Umi’s personality, we all just started calling her Uni. (Unless you’ve lived in Japan for awhile, I think this would be impossible to understand–I don’t even know how to begin explaining it!) Uni means “Sea Urchin,” but it’s for the sound that we call her that, not the meaning.

      • I wish I had seen the murder Says:

        You know, I think I might have known “uni” meant sea urchin — probably from Iron Chef or some other cooking show.
        This leads me to the Japanese diet (not the parliament, the actual foods the people eat!).
        I have often wondered how you do not waste away, Fred. I think maybe I should move to Japan ā€” as there is almost nothing in the way of Japanese food I would enjoy, I would be bound to shed the pounds!
        Sea urchin, squid ink soup, eel, fish livers, everything soaked in disgusting soy sauce — yechh. Oh well, I guess they do like mushrooms, so that is a starter …

  5. Marquee Movies Says:

    Hey there – I just want to hijack this site for a few moments to honor a friend of ours that we lost. Fred graduated in 1988, after being (among many things) the school newspaper’s poetry editor. He went to Japan after graduating. A number of his friends and fellow newspaper people were still in school in 1989, when the movie Dead Poets Society came out. Our friend, Julie Frank (soon to become Julie Blackwell) loved the movie and the idea of a group of friends gathering every week to share whatever we felt like sharing – she named the group the Fred Poets Society out of nothing but the greatest respect for Fred. While I had graduated along with Fred, I still lived in the area, so I went back every Thursday night to meet with some of the best friends I’ve ever had (and still do). It’s been a genuine source of sorrow in Fred’s life that this group began meeting after he left – it would have been a blast if he had been able to come. A bunch more of the members of the FPS graduated, and the meetings (not surprisingly) became fewer and further between – but we all consider ourselves still lifelong members of FPS. This past summer was the most recent meeting, and though I was instrumental in setting it up, in the end, for whatever selfish or too-busy reason, I didn’t go. This past December, just before Christmas, while on vacation with her family, Julie Blackwell died suddenly. She had a heart condition, but that doesn’t make it any less of a shock. She’s posted remarks to some of Fred’s writings here, and he’s mentioned her before – anyway, almost as the guy says at the end of Stand By Me, Though I hadn’t seen her in years, I know I’ll miss her for the rest of my life. OK – thanks for letting me say all this, Fred – I feel a bit like Jacob Marley, and it’s my penance for not going to that last FPS meeting to tell others about our friend, and to remind others to say more kind things to those in your life while you can. Thanks.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Marquee Movies. I’m very glad that you wrote that comment. Julie’s passing has been a heavy weight for me, too, but I felt somehow that I didn’t have the right to write about her on this blog since I wasn’t a better friend to her. She was a wonderful friend to me, and yes, she has left comments on this blog. I can’t express how much it meant to me that she named that group the Fred Poets Society, and how much I would have loved attending the meetings.

      Thank you for your message about how important the people in our lives are, what great gifts they are. We need to take the time for them, and love them, and let them know what they mean to us.

  6. John R. Fultz Says:

    Hey, Fred,

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved cat.

    You asked for any news of the PRIMORDIA hardcover. Unfortunately, I’m as in the dark as anyone. Archaia is still holding onto the book–which I know is completely finished, extras and all–and contractually they still have two years to release it. If they haven’t released it by then, the rights revert back to me and I can find another publisher. But I’m hoping that won’t be necessary. Who knows? The ways of publishers are mysterious and strange….


    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks for the update. I know things are very slow in the publishing world, especially now. I hope that soon Archaia will see a window of opportunity and give us this book, already!

  7. Daylily Says:

    Welcome back, Fred; we missed you! What an amazing experience, that CrowCon. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Chris Says:

    Seems January is the month for losses in 2010.

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