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MARTHA SEZ: Where the crows fly

August 6, 2011
This summer, every morning at dawn, when the the sky is growing light but the sun is still behind Spread Eagle Mountain, I am rudely awakened by a crow. I think it’s always the same one, a sort of boss crow who takes on the job of Keene Valley activities director.

This crow is clearly putting all he’s got into rousing the populace. Of course, the populace he wants to rouse consists of other crows. If I happen to wake up too, oh well. He couldn’t care less.

I look out the window and see him zooming around in a wide circle, cawing in a commanding manner, and soon other crows answer from the trees and start flying around too, stumbling around the sky at first, half asleep.

This particular morning the eastern sky above Spread Eagle is suffused with scarlet and gold. Sailor take warning. Someone told me that smoke from forest fires in Canada is refracting sunlight, making the sunrise more beautiful. I wonder whether the crows notice.

The crow boss has his wake-up call perfected. It starts out rasping and gravelly, rising to a high-pitched scream, urgent and insistent. No wimpy clock radios set to easy listening for these birds. The crows seem to like it. It suits them just fine. They’re all wide awake now and ready for action.

There they go, winging off at top speed over the treetops, eager to embark on whatever important crow events they have lined up for the day. Wherever they’re headed, you can bet they’ll get there fast. As the crow flies.

An old friend once criticized me for feeding blue jays and enjoying corvids — jays, crows, magpies, ravens — in general.

“Why do you always like that kind of person?” he demanded, in a snit. He was right, though, I do like them. One thing you have to say about the corvids, they may be brash, but they’ve got team spirit. Also, a lot of moxie.

As the morning progresses, more and more humans start getting up and going about their business in Keene and Keene Valley. When the crows start up, only a few cars are on the road, but gradually things get moving around town.

Thanks to my early start on the day, I’m in my car by 8 a.m., bound for the pine barrens off Buck Hill Road in Clintonville to pick blueberries. This 900-acre tract of land is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. You should stop by the Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley, or else Google Clintonville Pine Barrens for information about the blueberries and other plants that grow there, the kind of flora that flourish after forest fires.

According to, “Pitch-pine heath barrens are fire-dependent natural communities is so important, that in the absence of periodic fires, the pitch pine may be replaced by other species.”

I read that the Clintonville pitch-pine heath barrens “sit on a sand delta deposited 12,000 years ago by glacial melt water,” and that this may be the only remaining habitat of the endangered pine pinion moth.

In the pine barrens, the ground is covered with soft, springy moss — but hikers are asked to stick to the paths — and heath plants, including sheep laurel, huckleberries and blueberries. I wandered, a primitive forager, not unlike a Neanderthal or a hominid, I thought, filling my berry box. The peacefulness of the scene encouraged my mind to wander — not that it needs much encouragement. The quiet was so profound, it eventually began to unnerve me. Occasionally I heard birds, but nothing as raucous as crows cawing. Possibly yellow-rumped warblers were calling to each other from the trees.

I encountered no bears or, for that matter, anything more threatening than a mosquito while picking a quart of berries. The experience was relaxing and novel; the pine barrens is its own little world, while all around the rest of the Adirondacks hums with summer activity.

I went home and made blueberry jam, adding a cut-up apple, including the peel and core, for its pectin, to thicken it. It’s a good idea to cook the apple with the berries and sugar — 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of berries — tying the apple inside a cheesecloth bag so that it can be easily fished out at the end, although I forgot about this until the jam was done. It came out fine.

I wonder where the crows went for the day?

Have a good week!



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