A chill silence hung over the ridge where I go to gaze out on the horse farm adjacent to my condo complex. As I reached the top, my foot started a little scree of stones down the snow-free path behind me. While not more than a murmur in the mist, it was enough to disturb a single crow overhead in a bare maple. His raucous cry shattered the air, and out of a great crashing of branches, he spread his dark wings and sped down toward the shelter of the wetlands below.
His cry was answered by another, equally raucous, and then by a succession of cries, overlapping, then counterpointing, until the entire stretch of wetlands had come alive in antiphonal cawing. Surely, I thought, the very words "raucous" and "cacophony" had evolved from the vocal intercourse of crows.
Not wanting to arouse more commotion, I leaned back against a tree trunk. But instead of settling back into silence, the avian agitation persisted. I could only wonder at the meaning of their exchange.
Slowly the ragged texture of single caws fused into a darkly ominous, pulsating chorus - and grew still louder until the entire wetlands throbbed. In awe I wondered if this had ever happened before in nature and within man's hearing. I dared not move.
How long might it last? Seconds? Minutes? Long enough, at least, for me to conjure the eerie undertones of a Mahler symphony - and find that simile less ominous because man-made.
I'm sorry I stopped to think instead of feel, because I fancy that may have broken the spell. A single cry escaped at the far side of the marsh. Then another, closer. Finally, the aural tapestry began to unravel round the edges into shreds and patches of cawing. And crows became mere crows again.