Crows have colonized Vancouver.
Superimposed on the human city is an entire crow city, divided into family territories. During the day, families work in the neighbourhoods; at night they return, 6,000 strong, to their communal roost.
Vancouver’s crows have allowed the rock doves only small slices of territory. Two blocks away from Sophia Street, doves nest on commerce-oriented Main Street. This has suited the doves; concrete building ledges are among their favourite places.
Last week on Main Street, I saw a crow beating up a dove. A few days later, I saw a dove’s flight feather on the street. A few days later, I saw some more. Grey, black, brown, white, striped, spotted – representing all the dove colour variations. Near the scene of the battle, I found a single crow feather.
Maybe the feathers mark the beginning of the fall moult. But to my worried eye, they look like casualties.
I brought home one dove feather along with the crow feather. On my table, I arranged them in a personal performative prayer for peace. During this private ritual, I prayed for their flocks and for embattled human communities.
My cat Keely, however, has a world view all her own. She knocked both feathers off the table. In a series of games, she imagined herself a mighty warrior, a powerful hunter, master of her regional ranch-territory. And she ripped both feathers to shreds.
Friends, take from this real-life parable anything you wish.
Maybe crows are like militarist “hawks,” trying to silence the pacifist “doves,” who already occupy only a narrow spectrum of public discourse.
Maybe local crows and doves play out something like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Depending on your perspective, Crow could represent either Israel the occupier or Arab League the intimidator. Or both, at different times.
Maybe Keely the cat represents large regional powers happy to use smaller warring countries for their own ends.
Maybe she represents terrible, destructive forces awakened by war. Uncontrollable inner and outer forces, damaging individuals and communities, leaving scars for generations.
The classical Greek historian Thucydides (427 BCE) wrote that war beats people down, reducing human character to some of its worst manifestations. During the Peloponnesian War,
Words had to change their ordinary meanings and had to take that which was now given to them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness. … Society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow. (History of the Peloponnesian War, 3:69-85, Revolution in Corcyra)
We see how Thucydides’ words have been enacted on the ground in the Middle East. Slogans and euphemisms dominate political pronouncements. Retaliation precedes investigation. Fear of humiliation trumps moderation.
Sad and terrible, and also understandable.
Thucydides’ words have also been enacted on the internet in North America. People freely call one another “Nazis.” Some people use “Zionist” as a synonym for “agent of evil.” Others belittle anyone who argues for peace, and vilify anyone who expresses sympathy for all human beings.
Many have gotten tired of this, withdrawing from what Rachel Barenblat called the “re-traumatizing” effects of social media. But others continue to jump on this bandwagon, in rage or glee. To use the words of Thucydides, they seem to believe that screaming epithets shows the “courage of a loyal ally” and that reflective words express “cowardice.”
Please, friends, let’s not let our inner cat warriors destroy us, like Keely destroyed the feathers. Let’s not let the hawkish inner crow conquer the entire territory of our psyches. We can acknowledge that war and images of war do raise terrifying inner forces. But if we can also be conscious of what is raised, perhaps we can leave some space for our inner doves. Because if we don’t, we risk dividing even our own local communities into camps where no one trusts their fellows.