Charlie and Charlotte – Excerpt from Corvus Rising

 
fc5a3f4dd4439aa19a0f15b353773ddeCharlie the Blue-eyed Crow: the story of Charlotte…

 

Tell me about your friend, Charlie,” Alfredo said. “I would like to know another Patua’.”

 

Charlotte disappeared one day when she was seventeen,” Charlie began his story. “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 Rosencranz. 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.”

I admire your devotion, Charlie,” Jayzu said. “I cannot imagine.

Then one day,” the crow continued, “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 did not see me.

I pecked on the window, but she did not 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.

Though I waited at the window, 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.

I do not know what to say, Charlie, my friend,” Jayzu said at last. “I am sad for your friend, being locked away like that. Surely her family visits?”

Charlotte is alone, Jayzu,” Charlie said. “No one visits. No one can understand her. But I am telling you, Jayzu, she is as sane as you or I.”

 

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What’s a Corvus?

PeekingCrow

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.

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Corvid Speech

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)

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AmericanCrowCrow speech to us sounds like a series of ‘caw’ sounds. (http://www.shades-of-night.com/aviary/sounds/crow2.wav)
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(Corvus brachyrhynchos)

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)

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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.

Magpies?

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“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.

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American Crow

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.

magpie

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.

Googling….yellow-beak magpie……

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.

Yellow-billed Magpie

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:

Click Image for animated cartoon