Copyright © 2015 Jim Sizemore.
Dinner is over. I’ve washed the dishes and read the paper and watched the news on television. Now I’m sitting on my balcony looking straight out at lush treetops. It’s dusk, and a cawing crow alights on a branch in front of me. Its cries are a mighty effort even for such a large bird, and its wings recoil with each shout-out. Soon, a second crow as big as the first one lands on a wire very near the first, then a third settles on a telephone pole several yards away. The first two are mates. I know all three, having watched them now for many sun-downs. They look identical, but I recognize their interactive behavior. For a beat or two the second crow eyes the antics of the original screamer, then takes up the cawing game. Quickly, the third crow follows suit. The first time I saw this crew I remember wondering what the bond between them amounted to. Are the two merely a couple? Is the single one an offspring, returned to live — so to speak — at home? Is the furious caterwauling some sort of family argument? Or perhaps a jealous complication created by a complex domestic arrangement? Interesting, I think, how my lonely thoughts create personifications.
Minutes pass. The sun is well below the horizon and my crows have disappeared from view. I suppose they’ve gone to their nests or caves or whatever for the night. The sky continues its slow darkening. The last trace of orange streaks the western horizon. One by one all sound abandons the evening, every distant warble. For twenty minutes or more there is no movement or noise near my balcony — just early evening stillness.
For a long time I’m in a dreamy trance, then I notice a rapid movement at the edge of my vision. Wings are once again propelling in the cool night. Another “friend” of mine, a bat, has emerged to feed on night bugs. It flies directly at me, then veers into a steep diagonal climb, then swoops down and darts sharply in the opposite direction. I watch its stunting display and wonder: Does it have a mate? Is that sharp ticking noise a coded message, or simply sonar? Before I have time to think again my tiny messenger is lost in the black sky.
For me, the interesting thing about this picture is what you can’t see—and, perhaps, just as importantly, what you can’t hear. On a trip last fall to visit relatives in my home town, I spent two nights in Lexington, Virginia, which is 40 miles east of my destination. When I’m down that way, I camp in Lexington because it’s a small town situated in a beautiful spot just off I-81, in the gentle foothills where the Shenandoah Valley narrows between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains. There are lots of things to see and do nearby, in contrast to where I come from, which is also situated in a beautiful area much deeper into the mountains. My birthplace is a depressed (and for me, somewhat depressing) paper mill town very near the West Virginia line. Lexington, being a university town (Washington and Lee, Virginia Military Institute), has all the amenities that come with that, including many good restaurants. It’s a wonderful destination and not just a stopover. On my first evening there this trip, while killing time before dinner, I wandered around town with my new digital point-and-shoot camera and soon found myself in the graveyard in which “Stonewall” Jackson is buried. The historic site is in a residential area on Main Street, just a few blocks south of the business district.
I shot several pictures in the graveyard, but the one above is my favorite. I love the way the late afternoon light comes through the silhouetted trees and creates those long shadows, the darker edges of the image framing some of the gravestones. Of course I was thinking about that when I composed the picture, and that’s also when a sort of eerie-beautiful event took place. As I stood there (and I stayed in that one spot for at least five minutes), a large flock of crows began to swoop in and out between the trees, caw-cawing the whole time as they cavorted. I had seen this sort of “happy hour” bird behavior before during the “golden hour” just before sunset, a favorite time of day, it seems, for birds, photographers and cinematographers. But I had never witnessed it in quite so dramatic a setting and with such loud sound effects. (Imagine being in the middle the gathering-of-the-birds scene in that Hitchcock movie, but experiencing it as pleasant rather than threatening.) This may have been the only time while out and about photographing when I wished that I had video instead of a still camera. Another disappointment: I had hoped to catch a bird perched on the foremost gravestone, but no luck. Not one bird landed while I was there, and even if it had I doubt I would have been quick enough to capture the image. You see, I was still a pretty slow photographer at that point, consulting the instruction book for just about every move I made with my new camera.
Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: email@example.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.