“Oh, Daddy Daddy, wouldn’t it be cool if I could get some crow feathers?” My dad slammed on the brakes, my hair flipped forward, and I braced my hands on the back of the front seats so I didn’t flop forward. What reflexes for such a measured man!
It was hot. Sticky. Arkansas summers were always soupy. Growing up I hardly wore shoes and anything other than a threadbare t-shirt and shorts. 92 degrees with 90% humidity. You could see the air, not smog, moisture, like steam in a hot shower. You could taste it too, thick with bluegrass and switchgrass; goldenrod, honeysuckle, and snakeroot. Even the Ozark shale dust hung chalky in my mouth.
That weekend my family camped in the Ozark Mountains where I spent many summer days as a kid. These trips became a solace from my tempestuous teenage school days. Here I became a wanderer, a wild child, and on that day I made new friends. I found a murder of crows. On an overlook up the trail from our campsite I spent hours observing the flock play, sing, and dance, entranced by their personalities. Corvus brachyrhyncos zipping and chattering above me. They mesmerized me with their obvious enjoyment of the summer day, flying carefree. Being a teenager was rough and I wanted the magic of crows. I wanted to join them.
Arriving back at camp, walking stick in hand, I searched my legs for ticks. “They were amazing!” I gushed to my parents. “Like kids at a party. I want to fly, go see what they eat and follow them to their roost. I felt they were talking to me and…” on and on. Dad tinkering with the camp stove and Mom plinking on her banjo, I was not sure if they heard, but that wasn’t important. While we lazed in the creek I could think about nothing else. I went to sleep laying above my sticky sleeping bag remembering their cawing and laughing. The next morning I launched into crow antics over instant grits and cocoa. Breaking camp I obsessed about crow acrobatics.
On the way home, I splayed across the backseat while Dad drove and Mom practiced banjo. I thought about crow magic and art. Arkansas highways were always littered with roadkill. But this was the first time dark shiny feathers caught my eye. “Whoa, crow roadkill!” Could I spot another one while barreling down the highway? Yes! “Oh, Daddy Daddy, wouldn’t it be cool if I could get some crow feathers?”
He slammed on the brakes and put on the emergency flashers.
I sprung from our minivan sprinting from the shoulder to the double yellow lines. Yup, crow roadkill. I grabbed a stiff dark leg and peeled the crushed bird, wings akimbo, from the hot asphalt. “I think I’ll make some art.” A truck slowed as it passed in the opposite lane, driver squinting at me. Mom and Dad in the minivan, windows down, laughing.