Caw, Cras, Tomayto, Tomahto
Prior to moving out to the rez I had not encountered many crows or ravens in my life. The few times that I could recall seeing them, I would stop and take notice, wondering which one it was, while questioning what the sighting meant. I had heard the folklore about crow sightings portending death, and associated a mystique with ravens thanks to Edgar Allen Poe. Though, I did not know exactly what each represented symbolically or how to tell them apart.
I remember one day, during what felt like a very tentative period in my life, walking down the sidewalk on our street in Queens, and hearing a “caw/cras” summoning me to look up. I watched as one (or the other) circled above my head in the mid-morning summer sky. It appeared closer than what was comfortable for me – completing two full rotations before flying away.
Afterwards, I found myself pondering what had just happened. Did it mean that someone I loved was going to die? Was I going to die? Was my life going to fall apart once again? I tried to temper the fear with knowing that regardless of what it meant, everything was working out for the greatest good and that, because of my faith in God I would be equipped to handle a disaster should one befall me. Reminding myself of the peace that I had at an earlier time made with death, that the people whom I love know that I love them, that I’ve followed the path that best suited me and that I had tried to be a good person along the way. So, I was ready to embrace death should that be case. My only concern was if someone close to me was going to die. And - THAT - I was not prepared for, as there can never be sufficient preparation for the passing of someone close.
Once home, I sat down and began researching how to distinguish one from the other. I tried to recall the details of the bird that I saw – did it have a wedge-shaped tail (raven), or was it fan-shaped (crow)? How big was it? (Ravens can be twice as large as crows.) I didn’t have a point of reference to base its size on, other than it seemed very large. But, I wasn’t sure if it was actually as large as I remembered it being - wondering if I was letting superstition affect my memory’s perception of its size. Next I moved onto its sound. Was it a caw (crow) or a cras (raven)? In memory, it sounded like both.
Then I came across the symbolic meaning of each. Ravens are associated with mystery, but so are crows. Ravens are also associated with creativity, intelligence, intuition, good luck and myriad other interesting attributes. Many of which, seem to be shared with crows (e.g. intelligence, intuition). It would seem that the greatest distinction is that crows are more linked to death, because they are said to carry messages between the living and the dead. Also, because they are carrion birds (as are ravens), which means they feed on dead animals. And, in folklore are depicted as picking at the remains of fallen soldiers during war time. But, to see one doesn’t automatically mean death in the literal sense. It can mean that you’re in a period of change and your old ways are dying off. They’re also associated with adaptability, which makes sense if seeing one signifies change.
It’s been a couple of years since that summer morning. Now, living here on the reservation in Idaho, I see and hear both birds multiple times a day. They are often walking around the backyard, perched on the shed’s roof, the street light in front of the house, or flying around the neighborhood. Sometimes they’re flying close enough to one another that I can immediately tell that they’re not one in the same. (Ravens are larger, don't flap their wings as often and have a wedge-shaped tail) And, I can distinguish by the sound of their call which one it is. (Ravens are more throaty, and their 'cras' can be described as croaking, think frog.) They’re almost as common here as pigeons are in New York. Seeing them does not hold the same significance as before, but it doesn’t diminish the fascination I have for their archetypal symbolism and allure. I’m just no longer searching for the meaning of each sighting.