The following tale is the second in the series of tongue-in-beak stories I made up concerning the ancient relationship our species has had with the corvids-a group of birds whose most familiar members are crows, ravens and magpies. Though I have been accused of anthropomorphizing these birds, I beg to differ. Perhaps they corvo-morphized us.
First Crow and First Raven had gained a vast storehouse of learned experience in the eons they flew the skies of Earth, well before the first human took a bite of the first apple from the Tree of Knowledge. In the beginning, Raven especially got a big kick out of tricking these silly gullible creatures. They believed anything he said.
“Look! Over yonder, on the horizon! It is the Great Spirit!” Raven would call out and point with one wing. When the humans looked away, Raven swooped down upon them and stole their food. Time after time.
Crow and Raven grew quite fat; they lacked nothing due in large part not to Raven’s trickery, but also because humans were so astonishing wasteful.
“They wouldn’t have to work so hard at hunting and gathering if they didn’t waste so much food.” Crow beaked an eyeball from the severed head of a Big Hairy Beast and swallowed it in one gulp. “They leave so much on the ground for us, which I for one am dreadfully grateful, but if they were more efficient, their food would go further, and they would not have to struggle so to get more.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that!” Raven said, shushing Crow with his wings. He never could leave well enough alone, could not resist wanting to be helpful to these pitiful creatures.
“You see Cousin, in a perfect world, the amount of time we Corvid should spend obtaining food needs to be inversely proportional to the time humans do. That is my famous Inverse Proportionality Rule governing work. Remember? Let’s say they work twice as hard as they have to, which translates into us doing half the work we have. Eh, Cousin?”
Crow’s beady black eyes glazed over, and Raven knew his cousin was only barely listening. But he also needed to remind Crow that his interference in human affairs nearly always backfired. “In other words, dear Cousin,” he said, shaking Crow out of his daydreams of rescue and assistance, “the more they hunt and gather, the less we have to. If they start slacking off, we’ll have to find our own food. No, Cousin. Their wastefulness is our largesse. Think about it. And shut up, please. For the good of us all.”
Crow had always tried to be helpful to the foolish humans. For instance, after they’d hunted and killed the Big Hairy Beast, he had suggested they skin it.
“Why?” the Chieftain asked. “The skin is no good to eat. Too much fur. It is tough and hard to swallow. Even the dogs won’t eat it.”
“No, Crow said, shaking his head. “You must skin the Beast before you cook him so that you can use his fur to keep yourselves warm.”
The humans stared at Crow, slack-jawed. They hadn’t thought of that; the fire in the spit always burned most of the hair off. They ate the meat, and threw the burnt hide back into the fire.
Crow taught the humans how to carefully slice through the hide up the Big Hairy Beast’s big belly and down the underside of its limbs. The humans learned how to scrape the inside of the hide with a rock, and Crow showed them where to find the trees whose bark could boiled down to produce the preservative that would keep the hide from rotting or falling apart.
“You want the biggest pieces of hide you can get,” he told them. “Stitching a lot of small pieces together would be very labor-intensive.
“Stitching?” the Chieftain asked, scratching his aching head. “What is stitching?”
“You make needles from his bones, and laces from strips of his hide,” Crow instructed the humans exhaustively and in a day or so, they had managed to not only make a few bone needles, but to thread them as well with long thin strips of Big Hairy Beast hide.
“Now,” Crow said, nodding as the humans finished poking a line of holes through the edges of the hide, “you can attach pieces of hide together, just make sure the holes line up.” He picked up a threaded needle in his beak and jammed the pointy end into the holes through the two layers of hide. The humans broke into a surprised outcry when they saw him reach underneath the hide and pull the needle through. After poking the needle in one side and out the other a few more times, Crow stood back and said, “And that, my friends, is stitching.”
The humans were sore amazed, but were also clever and deft with their hands, and they stitched together every piece of hide they could find. Soon the whole tribe had fur cloaks, and Crow was very happy to see them all warm and toasty. To show their gratitude to Crow for bringing the gift of sewing, the humans gave him the head of the very same Big Hairy Beast whose hide they all wore.
Crow lugged the head back to the tree in short flights punctuated with a drop to the ground to rest a few moments; the meat was heavy and made it hard to fly very far. He dropped the hunk at the bottom of the tree Raven, who didn’t care as much for the company of humans as did his Cousin.
“Cousin,”Raven said after they’d feasted on Beast head, “I have to thank you for the tanning lessons you gave them.”
“Why, thank you! It is good to see the poor things fending off the cold,” Crow said, ever hopeful that compassion had awakened in his cousin’s heart.
“Yes, well that too, I reckon,” Raven replied as he picked small bits of flesh from his feathers. “But the stench of burning Big Hairy Beast hair made me gag.”
And so the great partnership of humans and Corvus continued. As the years went by, Crow and Raven taught the naked and ignorant humans everything they needed to know to survive on Earth.