“Charlotte disappeared one day when she was seventeen. I hadn’t seen her in a few months. Rika and I had our first clutch that year, and I was in Keeper training, and just couldn’t get away. But the magpies all said that men in white coats drove up in a big van and took her away.
She was crying, they said, when the white coats put her in a tiny shirt with really long sleeves that they wound all around her.
She kept screaming. All the way down the road, they could hear her screaming. The white coats took her to insane asylum. That’s what the magpies told me.
I winged it over to Rosencranz, but couldn’t get in, of course; what hospital would let a crow in, even during visiting hours? So I visited every windowsill, looking for her. I peeked and sometimes downright stared into every window, more than once. For two years, I came and pecked on her window nearly every day.”
One day there she was! Just on the other side of the glass, sitting in a wheelchair with her hands folded neatly in her lap. But she didn’t see me. I pecked on the window, but she didn’t hear me. I called out her name. ‘Charlotte! Yo! Charlotte! It’s me! Charlie!’ But she didn’t look up. She just stared at her lap, and I wondered if she had gone deaf.
I kept yelling and dancing and pecking, anything to get her attention. She didn’t hear me, didn’t see me. I didn’t give up, though. Day after day, I showed up on the windowsill at the same time, trying to get her attention. But day after day, she didn’t look up. Until she did! She finally noticed me through the glass! I nearly fell off the windowsill.
‘Charlie!’ she said, with the big smile I remembered from long ago.
Of course I couldn’t hear her; the window was closed. Then she ran across the room and pasted both hands on the glass, as if to embrace me. I flapped my wings and cried out, ‘Charlotte! Charlotte!’ Great Orb, that was a wonderful day! Then a white coat came up to Charlotte and took her hands off the window, giving each one a little slap and then escorted her back to her wheelchair.
‘Charlotte!’ I yelled as he wheeled her out of the room. I pecked on the glass. I shouted as loud as I could. Another white coat came to the window, opened it, and yelled ‘Darn crows!’ as she tried to smack me with a towel. She missed.
‘Darn humans!’ I yelled back at her.
I waited at the window, but Charlotte didn’t come back that day. Or the next. I hung around, waiting and hoping for some sign of her. Days went by. I visited all the other windowsills again and again. Just as I was about to give up, there she was! I pecked at the glass, and when she looked up, I flapped my wings at her. But she didn’t get up, didn’t smile at me or say my name.
I thought maybe she hadn’t really seen me. But when no one was looking, she smiled at me. She wouldn’t come to the window, though. Probably she was afraid they would slap her hands again. She never took her eyes off me until someone came and took her out of the room.
That was eight years ago. I see her often, but through a closed window. I can’t talk to her or hear her voice. But at least I can see her.”
Charlie ended his story; crow and human sat without speaking for several minutes. The pulsating song of crickets emanated from hidden places in the grass. Several loons wandered along the bank below, pecking for tidbits between the rocks and grass. A few gulls orbited a fishing vessel on the river….
The sky had turned the color of late afternoon. “It is time I headed home to Rika and my kreegans, Jayzu,” Charlie said. “Before it gets too dark to fly.”
Charlie left Alfredo and flew out over the river. The sun hovered above the western horizon, sending shimmering hues of yellow and orange across the river…
Alfredo drew his mouth into a tight line as he watched Charlie take off and make a wide circle over the river. Twenty-five years in an insane asylum! Why was Charlotte forsaken in such a place while I am allowed to live in this paradise? Why was I rewarded, and she was punished for being Patua’?
-for a limited time (thru February 9), download a FREE Kindle version. Click <here>
The short answer: crows and ravens are members of the genus Corvus.
Bird people refer to them as corvids, because they belong to the family Corvidae, as do magpies, jays, rooks, nutcrackers, jackdaws and a few others.
Of the corvids, only crows and ravens roost under the genus Corvus. Many species of crows and ravens fly the blue skies of Earth, but in the U.S., it’s all about the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and the Common Ravens (Corvus corax).
Raven or Crow?
Though they look a lot alike, crows and ravens are not of the same species, therefore they don’t mate.
Generally ravens are bigger than crows, but unless they’re hanging out together, which they do sometimes, it’s hard to tell them apart by size. Their beaks and tails are distinctive. Raven beaks are thicker and curvier than crow beaks, and their tails are wedge-shaped, as opposed to a more ‘blunt cut’ of the crow tail.
Raven speech sounds different than crow speech. I prefer ‘speech’ to ‘calls’, because I believe they are conversing, though we don’t hear most of what they’re saying. So does Michael Westerfield, by the way, noted corvid researcher and author of Language of Crows.
Raven speech sounds more like a croaking trill. (http://www.shades-of-night.com/aviary/sounds/raven1.wav)
- Crow speech to us sounds like a series of ‘caw’ sounds. (http://www.shades-of-night.com/aviary/sounds/crow2.wav)
We Go Way Back…
Corvus is one of the oldest constellations in human history and resides within a group of constellations, the Crater, Hydra, and Sextans. In the Greek myth, Apollo flung the disobedient Corvus into the night sky in a fit of rage, where the thirsty Corvus gazed forever at the Crater–a two-handled cup full of water, guarded by the water snake Hydra. (Sextans is not part of this myth). (http://ow.ly/mBwtb)
The elements of the story have become obscure, but the age of the story–Aesop told it–illustrates the antiquity of the Human/Corvus relationship. Revered and reviled by gods and mortals, we are not the boss of them.
It began innocently enough.
There we were, innocent boomer (and beyond) children looking up to Superman, gobsmacked by his prowess and great strength. Really? You can do that, Superman? Squeeze a lump of coal into diamond? Not just once did we witness this feat, but time after time.
Unless Superman has Superhot hands, the Super Squeeze is just not going to cut it; diamond formation requires heat. The kind of heat you get when you shove rocks 100 miles or so down below Earth’s surface, where diamonds crystallize.
Perhaps somewhere along the way, a geologist sat Superman down and explained to him the facts of diamond formation, and how you theoretically could take a lump of coal and, given enough squeezing, make a diamond. But only if you add a lot of heat.
That would explain why Superman started using lightning to make diamonds.
Really little bolts, though. Hand-held, pocket-size lightning.
Lightning is very, very hot, along the order of 54,000°F, about 5 times the temperature of the surface of the sun.
But, heat alone can’t turn coal into diamond and lightning strikes at coal mines are far more likely to catch the coal layer on fire than to make a single diamond.
Am I being too persnickety here?
Perhaps I expect my Superheroes to be omniscient as well. Or at least geologically literate. But is this fair?
I, of all people should criticize an author for taking what is known about something on Earth and flying into fantasy with it? (see Corvus Rising-my book about crows who talk to humans.)
In my own defense, it is not impossible for crows and humans to communicate (see Language of the Crows), and I offer a scientific, gene-based explanation for this ability.
Fantasy fiction takes us away on the gift of tongues, illuminating the path into the darkness of the silent unknown, tantalizing us with magical journeys that reveal the secrets of our universe. Hopefully we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see.
I’m glad Superman saw the light, keeping his Superhero image intact in the eyes of geologists everywhere. In the late 20th Century, however, when cartoon characters leaped from the printed page onto the big screen, it seems that Superman lost a little know-how in the diamond department.
Alas, that Superman’s memory is less legendary than his great strength. What the cartoon knew, the “real” human did not.
That the truth of diamonds ever made it into a comic book is astonishing, however, and cause for a moment of gratefulness.
No Virginia, Diamonds Do Not Come From Coal
I am ecstatic when our scientific understanding about the Earth makes its way into cartoons, for no other reason than children watch them, the little sponges that they are. It’s very hard to dispel those childhood myths about coal and diamonds, to say nothing about the Flintstones and dinosaurs living side-by-side? For heaven’s sake, the dinosaurs had been extinct for at least 63 millions years before the first humans showed up.
Diamonds form at the base of Earth’s crust, where pressure and temperature are very great. When pressure exceeds rock strength, an intense, but short-lived volcanic eruption occurs, and molten mantle rocks are shot to the surface through kimberlite pipes at the speed of sound.
That’s 768 miles per hour!
Kimberlite pipes bring up other minerals as well, like garnets, mined for use in sandpaper products. The Navajo Volcanic Field in the Four Corners area of the Southwestern US (not to be confused with Monument Valley), a few diatremes (the eroded remains of a kimberlite pipes) poke up out of the desert floor, Shiprock being the most well known.
Diamonds almost always are far older than any of the coal layers on Earth, and the carbon comprising them is almost never from living organisms. The fearlessly curious might click HERE for exhaustive information on the chemistry and crystal structure of diamonds.
Unlearning a ‘fact’ is harder than diamonds sometimes. Superman burned an urban myth into our 21st century collective memories at an early age that to this very day most of us still carry with us.
It’s not a matter of geological correctness. It’s a matter of the truth being so much more marvelous.
“He won’t want to run into Charlie either,” Floyd said.
“Absolutely not!” Willy agreed.
“No–sirreebob,” Floyd shook his head emphatically.
“No way, Jose!” Willy said.
“Under no circumstances!”
“He’d be real sorry.”
“Might as well just throw himself off a cliff!”
“Sooner he should cover himself with honey and sit naked on an ant hill!”
“Better he should shoot himself at sunrise every day for a week!”
“Or boil himself in oil!”
The two crows looked back at Minnie. “Nope, that’d be something he wouldn’t want to do. Run into Charlie!”
–Excerpt from Corvus Rising
Floyd and Willy were born in the projection booth of the drive-in theater and spent their formative weeks watching movies. Armed with a dramatic flair and a taste for worldy cuisine, the brothers take off for the highly urbanized neighborhoods surrounding Downtown and the University.
But it was Heckle and Jeckle, beloved cartoons of my childhood, who inspired my characters, Floyd and Willy. Even my brother thought so.
Floyd and Willy are their own crows, however. Taking after no one but themselves, their adventures comprise visiting trash cans behind the exotic and mundane restaurants near the university campus, and watching game shows and movies from the windowsills of student apartments. That, and spying for Charlie, the blue-eyed patriarch of a great (as in famous and huge) crow family.
Still, it is only right that I give credit where credit was due, to Paul Terry, the cartoonist behind Heckle and Jeckle. Carried away on a wave of nostalgia and the endless tides teeming with Heckle and Jeckle links on the internet to every possible subject that has ever existed in thought, word, deed, or image, video.
Heckle and Jeckle’s wear white vests. Crow’s feathers are all black. Heckle and Jeckle’s beaks are yellow. Crow beaks are black. Is this some form of artistic license, giving crows white vests and yellow beaks? I frowned, pursed my lips and re-googled.
Heckle and Jeckle are postwar animated cartoon characters created by Paul Terry, originally produced at his own Terrytoons animation studio and released through 20th Century Fox. The characters are a pair of identical anthropomorphic magpies …
–Excerpt from Wikipedia
Whoa, wait … MAGPIES ? They don’t look exactly like the magpies mawing down on the Nanking cherries outside my window. They have the white vests all right, though their beaks are black. Unlike the yellow of Heckle and Jeckle.
As it turns out, there are several kinds of magpies. Black-billed, mostly. And like crows, very intelligent. Magpies, for example, passed the ‘Mirror test’ (recognizing themselves in mirror) before their cousins, crows and ravens did. Click here for more…
All of which is beside the point of Heckle and Jeckle having yellow beaks. It matters somehow, even though they are cartoons, that these two have some connection to reality.
The Yellow-billed Magpie
Heckle and Jeckle are Yellow-billed Magpies (Pica nuttalli)!
“Found only in the Central Valley of California….” That’s what the Wikipedia article says.
That explains a lot. Irresistibly close to Hollywood, the two magpies (will I ever get used to it?) Heckle and Jeckle winged it to fame and fortune.
I’ve since watched many H & J cartoons on YouTube, remembering some of them. It’s been many decades. Every one of them opens with: “Heckle and Jeckle, the talking magpies in….”
But I couldn’t read then, back in the day. How was I supposed to know?
I can’t believe I am alone in this. But not many people are copping to the same childhood belief, that Heckle and Jeckle are crows. It’s not as bad as finding out about Santa Claus, or the Tooth-fairy. But still…
I know there are others. You know who you are. Believing in crows all these years. This one’s for you:
“We regret to inform you that the last copy of this item was sold before we could process your order.”
“Is Corvus Rising out of print????” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Well, sort of,” I said, wondering what Out of Print means anymore. And how a print-on-demand book becomes “we just sold the last one.”
In theory, Corvus Rising is momentarily out-of-print. I cancelled my original print contract with my future former publisher for their mediocre yet expensive editing job, and the nearly complete failure to provide the elements of a marketing plan they’d sold me. The final straw that made me split the blankets–their apparent inability to keep track of book sales. So I dumped them.
As the industry re-invents itself with the advent of digital media as well as advances in print technology, the field of publishing opportunities for new authors to publish has broadened. And for predators. Many of us have been entangled with what used to be called the ‘vanity press’, but that I now refer to as the ‘charlatan press.’
The bottom line: Do NOT be swayed by the siren song of publishers who make more money selling ‘services’ to authors than they do publishing their books. The truth is out there. Look it up. But chances are, it’s not on the publisher’s webpage.
I learned a lot. It could have been worse. It’s still my book, I own the content, but not the print files. I own all the artwork for the cover, but they own the cover. I am taking time to re-edit and re-do their abysmal proofreading and prepare the files for paper and ebook printing.
I’ll republish on my own. GO INDIE!
Corvus Rises Again!
Meanwhile, Corvus Rising is still available on Amazon, except in ebook version. Though I cancelled my print contract with my publisher more than 6 weeks ago, I understand that a few stray volumes may be hanging around as they take up to at least 30 days to actually stop publishing orders. Assuming there are orders.
I will not pretend I am able to comprehend the utterly arcane workings of the publishing industry, especially Amazon. But I do understand what ‘publish on demand’ means: that one or ten thousand books are printed and paid for upon ordering. That’s how I have to buy my own books. Cash on the barrel head. No warehousing, no stockpiling…the beauty of On Demand.
Amazon currently lists Corvus Rising as available, new from them to Prime Members (Hardcover only), and used from several non-Amazon book sellers.
Before I could even wonder how Amazon has a new book of mine ‘in stock’, I about blew my coffee all over my laptop when I saw what used Corvus Rising is going for.
For $57.47 (+ $3.99 for shipping), you can get a used copy. Imagine my joy and surprise when I read that my book is a Huge Seller! Millions Sold!
Really? I had NO idea!! Nothing reported on my Amazon Author page, except the hardcover I had sent to the Paonia Public Library.
If you DON’T want the huge seller version, you can always opt for the ‘Might be Ex-Lib,’ which increases the price to $2882.62. If that’s not enough to spend on a book, you can opt for $5662.87 USED in Very Good Condition. This must be the Collector’s Item version.
The price fluctuates, evidently. Kind of like the stock market, I guess. Yesterday, $5662.87 for a used version; today $3,999.00 for new (that’s cheap at half the price!). (Click here to view the current spot price on Amazon)
I just happen to have four copies (new) on hand that I’ll consider parting with. For the right price of course (shipping NOT included). Bidding is open….
At this point, I must ask what the H-E-double toothpicks is going on? Do they know something I don’t? Has my book become so rare, so utterly priceless that it advertises for almost six thousand dollars?
Is someone trying to instigate a run on my book, driving up the price?
What happens when I re-publish Corvus Rising and post it on Amazon? Will I be competing against prior listings or will they vanish?
And what does ‘print on demand’ really mean, if Amazon and B&N have copies lying around?
Anyone have any ideas about what ‘s up with these bizarre listings on with Amazon? Anyone else have their $25 almost out-of-print hard cover book listed for just under $6K?