Monday, October 25, 2010

To Correct a Neglect

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’
     [The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe]
The bridge at midnight trembles,
The country doctor rambles,
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection,
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing.
     [Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan]
Yesterday on PBS the Nature program presented a fascinating show about the intelligence of crows—A Murder of Crows. You can see an introduction to the show here. Granted, there is a certain tension, a certain distance between Science and Poetry, but writers who prepare the narrative belong to the poetic tribes. Not this time. This pleasing program featured not one mention of the raven. Herewith the answer to the question I always ask: What is the difference between the crows and ravens? The answer: Both belong to the class of birds, Aves, the order of Passeriformes, the family of Corvidae, and the genus Corvus. Then there are forty-one species and some subspecies of the genus, of which several are ravens, the most common being, well, the Common Raven, called Corvus corax. In the United States we see the American Crow; it is called Corvus brachyrhynchos. Crows are just slightly smaller in size than ravens. They also have smaller and more curved beaks. The American Crow is susceptible to West Nile virus. They used to be quite numerous here, but we’ve noted their virtual disappearance, oh, five or six years ago. When I see one or two on a walk, it is always something I note and tell Brigitte about. Maybe they’re coming back. We like crows…

We do have a few ravens in America as well. Therefore my inclusion of a raven, one with a broken wing, into Ghulf Genes (the novel) was at least technically sound—although, to tell you the truth, appearing as it did in Pennsylvania, it was a very, very great distance from where it normally flies, feeds, breeds, and nests—in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

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