Like as not, Edgar Allan Poe said all that needs saying about the raven. So I'll bring this morning's ornithological report in terms of the chickadee, a friendly morsel of a cheerio that is the official bird of our sovereign State of Maine. When I was a lad in first-grade, 1914, I was introduced to the chickadee and had no idea what it was. (It was the next school year, I think, that we were told to bring 10 cents to join the junior Audubon and get a pin of a beautiful robin red-breast, who is a thrush.) The chickadee was different.
Certain pupils (I avoid the word "students") who merited praise were asked to step forward by Good Miss Boyle, and for some reason now shadowed in antiquity I was one. We lined up, and then everybody learned to sing a happy new song that would make us smart. It was the chickadee song:
Happy and gay!
That was the chorus. The verse depended on how many boys and girls had been good that day and rhymed:
Nine little chickadees
Sitting on the gate,
One flew away
And then there were eight,
Happy and gay, etc.
This worked off the birdies till we got down to one, which rhymes with "none," and everybody was back at his seat. Because when we sang "fly away," the youngster next in line would flap his arms and make like a crow and prance around the room in flight to his seat. Next we would have arithmetic.
Which was dandy, except that nobody told me what a chickadee was. For some reason, I had never known about chickadees. So one day, having flown successfully to my seat, I raised my hand and upon recognition I said, "What is a chickadee?"
I thus learned by scornful dismissal that everybody knows what a chickadee is. All I got for my scholarly curiosity was, "It's a bird."
Well, if you should come past the doghouse in which I have lived a good part of my time, and inquire about what is a jackass-rigged hermaphrodite brig, you will find that I'm a gentleman as well as a scholar, and I will not dismiss you with, "It's a boat."
I did learn in time what a chickadee is, and it's a smart little diddle-dee-dee that hardly ever comes one-and-two-and-three-and four, but arrives in full chorus and cleans up the grub in the bird feeder before the squirrels and jays get there. I found, too, that it doesn't take long to bring a chickadee to your outstretched hand if you put something to eat on it. So I learned to fly like a chickadee, and became a very smart pupil who could count to 10 because we never had more than 10 rhyming chickadees in a schoolroom.
Three little chickadees looking at you,
One flew away and then there were two.
This past winter I was privileged to entertain some ravens. We see ravens here in Maine, and they are perfectly at home. Peterson, the authority, says they winter here, and I, also, say they summer here. For years we had a lone raven who sat on a spruce tree off the starboard bow of our house. He would let go a croak and fly across the salt cove calling, "Nevermore, Nevermore," and so forth, and then he would fly back and sit on the spruce. We saw no signs of a mate, a nest, or nestlings, but he (we assume) was always handy and available if needed.
Peterson says he looks like a big crow, and I say he does too, only more so. He is, if you like large crows, a beautiful bird who soars as well as flaps, and whose husky squawk is not to be mistaken for a chickadee. We had this lone raven for so many years I always thought of ravens in the singular, as did Poe. But this past winter I had three ravens to gladden me, and they perched on three limbs of a dowdy relic of a battered old tree.
They just sat. I don't know what they ate, or if they ate, or when. Every so often, but never together, they flew away, and then they'd come back and sit some more. I wonder if they noticed that I sometimes stood up and moved about, as when the telephone rang.
OUR present governor of Maine has been appearing on television lately, advancing his views about a referendum the people will vote on, and I notice he uses a plural outcome with his singular subject: "Everybody will have their, etc." It makes me wonder if we've been spending our school money in the right places. Such is my devotion to a single raven, masculine, that I find myself referring to these three as "the raven," and "he." That two may be Ms. is possible, but I keep telling folks what my raven says, and how he likes the weather. I think it's the weather; he says, "Nevermore!"
In this comprehensive retirement home for senior bird-watchers, where we now live, we are on the third floor, and a bird feeder is not visited if we had one. So I have only ravens in yonder limbs to keep me in touch with the migrations. And after meditation, I can say without fear of successful contradiction that a raven, if in good foliage and congenially disposed, is a good thing to have. I'm not sure anybody really needs three of the things, but time and time again I have reminded myself that three ravens are better than a lot of stuff we get on TV. Think about that.