Crows have come to roost in my consciousness again. I am of the kind that seek out the omens of a happening, a circumstance, a serendipity. Now here I am in the midst of hundreds of crows, a murder to be sure, that seem to show up in the morning and then depart again at dusk. I have been told they come from off-Island — it is rumored they come over to get relief from the predation of great horned owls. They are smaller than our locals, fluffier. They don’t caw, they sort of croak. Fish crows.

When they fly around they are often at the same height of the second-story room I inhabit. It feels like I am in a scene from The Birds as they fly towards me then swerve up or down or over. Some fly right at the window and only at the last minute do they lift themselves up to be heard as they land on the roof above me. So of course I think this must all mean something — something to do with me and my new circumstance, something mystic.

It has been a big change to move from rural West Tisbury to urban Tisbury. My new place is near the industrial park across from the Vineyard Haven cemetery. When I started to notice the crows I thought: ”This must be the right move!”

The crow has long been my animal totem. I pay attention to crows. When I lived in West Tisbury and rode a bike to work at the airport business park I discovered where the local crows lived. They were always in the same place every morning, and they always seemed to be in groups of three or four.

As I rode by I made sure to whistle at them, the same pitch and cadence each time in hopes they would recognise me. Over time it seems they did. At first they would fly away as I approached and passed by — three at the hostel, three more at deep bottom and the three or four at the airport. I was sure they weren’t the same three or four just following me to work. Rather, they were buddies of each other or family perhaps. They were the locals and I just a passerby, an intruder.

Slowly they came to accept the odd whistler on the bike who every day at sunrise rode by just as they too were waking, picking on some carrion, getting on with the day, as was I.

And now they were here again, in Tisbury. I watched them each day and thought myself lucky to be so connected to the world and to nature, with my animal totem, my talisman surrounding me. Of all the other places the crows could hang out, they chose to come here to be near me.

This naturally led me to an ego boost, citing to myself how special I must be. This attitude borders on spiritual materialism, when you start to think that their spirituality is greater than others. There is danger in that.

I watched and wondered and reveled, but then my ego was squashed when I started to notice some of them had little white pieces of something in their beaks. I watched and wondered more closely.

There is a fence that runs between where I am housed and the food establishment next door. I noticed some of the birds would land on the fence and then drop down to the ground. When they returned to the top of the fence they would have something in their beaks. Suddenly reality closed in, and all my musings of the spiritual connection to the creatures were dashed.

They were here because of the dumpster next door that was obscured by the fence. They weren’t here to demonstrate to me the mystic nature of reality, they were here for the grub.

The crows they gather, at the break of day,

they lift their silent wings, and they fly away,

they neither work nor toil in the sweating sun,

they just up and go, when the day is done.

And I am followed by a band of crows,

they seem to find me everywhere I go,

and I am followed by a band of crows,

they seem to know so much more than I’ll ever know.

Joe Keenan is a roofer, baker, musician and longtime Islander.