Winter Crow

When I woke early one morning in the dog days between Christmas and New Year, it was still quite dark outside. As I drank my first cup of tea the blackness turned to a featureless grey; then the winter sun came over the hills, casting a glow of pink along the horizon. By eight o’clock a bright day had opened up, with a powder blue sky arcing over the sunlit valley. The snow that had fallen wet and slushy two days ago still lay on our north-facing slope; but even on the farther south-facing side of the valley, with falling temperatures, patches of snow persisted even in the sunlight.

Inside the house, the cat lounged on her shelf above the radiator, stretching out to catch as much of the rising heat as she could, looking lazily out of the window, only the tip of her tail aroused at the sight of a bird. But Elizabeth was more alert, “Look at that big black bird,” she said.

Two small horse chestnut trees grow at the bottom of the garden, slightly down the hill from us. A big crow, black against the sky, had landed on the topmost branches, a solid dark presence among the lacy network of branches and twigs spread against the sky. In a brief flurry on wings it hopped to another branch, fluffed up its feathers against the cold so it seemed even larger, and wiped its beak against a twig. For several minutes it stayed there, looking around as if surveying its territory. Then, quite abruptly, it opened its wings and soared off down into the valley.