And apparently in medieval times, a farmer would impale a flat cake on the horn of a cow and dance around it, singing, until the cow threw the cake to the ground; if it landed in front of her, it would be a great year, but if it fell behind her, it would be a poor year. (What I wouldn't give to see John Cleese and the rest of the Python crew do a skit about this.)
Being fresh out of cows and flat cakes, I figured it made more sense to skew toward the game played by birders known as "Bird of the Year." This game mandates that the first bird you see on January 1 is the species that becomes the theme for your upcoming year--as author Lyanda Haupt puts it, it is the one "to bless your perspective, your imagination, your spirit."
As you can imagine, this can involve a bit of cheating or finessing the rules if you're not enchanted with the first bird you see (Haupt writes in her book Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds about birders who decide their first bird will be the first one they see after an arbitrary cutoff, say, the first one after 7 a.m., the first one after a cup of tea, and the like.)
How that bird translates into a theme seems to be your own business. Haupt decided that her first bird, a starling--a species reviled in the United States for being an invasive non-native that boots native species out of their nesting sites--could be a symbol for resilience.
|Pair of young crows, cropped closeup taken from |
photo (c) by William Meyer.
Crows abound in Seattle, so this first bird lacked any foreign flair. However, it's a fabulous first bird and one of my favorite species. Smart, brave, cunning, sassy, playful, loyal, adaptable, and handsome--what more could one want from a bird? I hope a crow year translates into rolling with the punches and maintaining a sense of humor all the while.
Prominent ornithologists, however, have little patience for linking crows with dire news. Writer William Leon Dawson notes in Birds of Washington (1909) that the crow, "more than any other bird...has matched his wits against those of man, and his frequent easy victories and consequent boastings are responsible in large measure for the unsavory reptuation in which he is held."
And some painter-guy going by the name John James Audubon appears to have been an even more ardent admirer of the crow, which he calls a "poor, humble, harmless, and even most serviceable bird":
"The Crow is an extremely shy bird, having found familiarity with man no way to his advantage. He is also cunning--at least he is so called, because he takes care of himself and his brood. The state of anxiety, I may say of terror, in which he is constantly kept, would be enough to spoil the temper of any creature. Almost every person has an antipathy to him, and scarcely one of his race would be left in the land, did he not employ all his ingenuity, and take advantage of all his experience, in counteracting the evil machinations of his enemies...
"The Crow devours myriads of grubs every day of the year, that might lay waste the farmer's fields; it destroys quadrupeds innumerable, every one of which is an enemy to his poultry and his flocks. Why then should the farmer be so ungrateful, when he sees such services rendered to him by a providential friend, as to persecute that friend even to the death?"
All this makes me wonder if the crow I saw is pondering whether or not I was a worthy first-person-of-the-year to behold.