When the crows descend on the trees of Galesburg, many people are only inspired to complain about the droppings they find on their cars. Others, however, create art.
Junior James Sheppard turned his experiences with the flocks that cover Galesburg into a poem called “The Death of a Crow.”
Sheppard lives across the street from the courthouse. The building has an alarm that plays the sound of a dying crow to scare away the living ones.
“One night, I couldn’t fall asleep,” Sheppard said.
He began thinking about how weird it would be if there were an alarm that played the sound of a dying human, how weird it is to record something being eaten and how easy it is to walk by without really thinking about it.
“It’s this constant reminder of death,” he said. “It’s kind of a traumatic experience to hear something dying as you go to sleep.”
Although he does not think he will write about birds again, Sheppard, like most Knox students, cannot decide if watching the crows descend is “awesome” or “weird.”
For junior Kiley Harrison, there is no question.
“I’ve loved crows since I was three or four,” Harrison said.
Harrison grew up in the woods of Michigan with a father who worked as a vet and a mother who was a magnet for injured birds.
“My mother is a raven,” she said. “She’s got black hair, and she’s a little trickster.”
Birds might have felt this kinship since, according to Harrison, “Hurt ravens and crows show up around my mom.”
The family built a cage in their backyard to house the birds while the family tended to them.
“I took a lot of naps in the cages … with these crows and ravens,” Harrison said.
Because of her unique childhood, Harrison has written many poems about crows, although according to Harrison, there are “only a few I actually enjoy.”
“I think every poet has had a poem with birds in it,” she said. “The only is difference is my poetry is mainly about birds.”
She has written so many, she almost feels bad about it.
“I have a problem with writing pretty much only about birds or growing up in Michigan,” she said. “I really don’t have a choice … they just sneak in there.”
This has not gone unnoticed.
“Sometimes I feel guilty for turning in crow poems,” Harrison said. “I think [Associate Professor of English Monica Berlin] just gets tired of it.”
When the crows get so thick “it looks like they replaced the leaves on the trees,” Harrison said she could see how some could find them creepy. Still, she is always ready to defend them.
Even if Berlin is tired of reading crow poems, she also does not think of them as automatically threatening.
“It’s easy to think of the crows as, you know, ominous or the beginning of the end, I guess, like any infestation,” she said in an interview with junior Christopher Poore in his podcast, “This is Where We Live.”
“They seem symbolic of doom or the apocalypse, the crow apocalypse, but I don’t think they are,” she said. “I don’t think they are any more than a train screaming through Galesburg is indicative of the fall of America. There’s a train and it has to blow its whistle. There’s a crow and it has to caw.”
Inspiration for this story was provided by Christopher Poore’s podcast, “The Way We Live”’s first episode, “Crows,” which can be found here.