“Watch this,” said Lefty as we headed from our private conversation spot by the barn towards his coop.
He stopped and pointed with his beak towards the big backyard where the lawn met the tall dried grasses and the tall dried grasses met a small forest. I could see parts of a little winding creek that marked the edge of the farm.
“Bãh-Chôk!” he said, not loudly enough to be considered a call. “Hãh-Tôk!” he said and then whistled as only a chicken occasionally whistles, from a warbling deep in his throat.
“Look up into the trees,” he told me.
In unison, like window blinds snapping open, what seemed to have been the silhouettes of large leaves in the magnolia and pine canopy revealed themselves to be dozens of crows. In the center was a larger bird, a raven. Even with the overcast sky, her bright blue eyes told me who she was.
“Hãh-Chôk!” said Lefty, so softly that unless you were listening for it, you would have missed it.
But The Raven With Blue Eyes did not miss it. She had been waiting for it. She looked at The Squadron Of Crows to her left, nodded, and pointed towards a spot in the tall grasses. Then she looked to her right and did the same. With one final nod towards the same spot and a powerful lunge, she swooped down from her perch.
The crows followed close behind her in two lines. They flew along the grasses, skimming the tall seed grain stalks. They were silent except for the soft slapping sound as they grazed the grasses.
At first, I thought Lefty had arranged this as an amusing trick for me to watch. But just as I was going to praise them all for their cleverness, a flash of flaming orange tipped with white appeared for only a moment. The grasses looked as if they were being pushed aside by invisible hands, and then a red fox leapt out and bounded across the lawn.
The Raven and The Crows had flushed him out.
I held my breath as he headed straight to the chicken coop, but The Raven had expected this.
“Hãh-Äh!” she called as she landed on top of Lefty’s coop, and the crows made two sweeping arcs that wrapped around to form two flying circles over Lefty’s home. They cawed down at the fox. He stopped only a few yards from the chicken ladder, looked up at them, and froze.
Then the yard grew quiet except for the flapping of the crows’ wings.
The Raven With Blue Eyes ruffled out all of her body feathers, looking as large and ominous as possible. She hunched forward and pointed her beak directly at the fox. I could feel their eyes locking.
Suddenly, The Raven screeched, “Hãh-Äh! HÃH-ÄH!”
The fox seemed to shudder, and quickly turned and darted back towards the tall grasses. It was as if he knew what would happen next.
Before The Raven had finished the last syllable of her command, the two circles of crows peeled off into two long lines as straight as arrows and dove toward the fox. As they flew over him, each crow took its turn at pecking his head. He could move neither to the left nor the right without being pecked and had to go wherever the crows directed him.
Once past him, each crow soared upward out of the fox’s sight, only to circled back to the end of the line where The Raven had joined them. They appeared relentless.
“Do you see how they have made a conveyor belt?” asked Lefty.
They had, and I wondered where he had learned about conveyor belts. The only one I had ever seen was at the neighborhood doughnut shop. It moved the fried dough through the glaze machine. But things are definitely different out in the country.
“Like on a corn harvester,” he said, anticipating my question. “He thinks he is being pursued by every crow in the world. I would almost feel sorry for him—except he would take my children to feed his own.”
We watched as Lefty’s protectors followed the fox into the forest. They easily maneuvered through the obstacles of the tree trunks and limbs and continued their pursuit. There was nowhere to run, and the fox seemed to know it. So did The Raven With Blue Eyes.
The forest was not deep, and I could see a barren winter field on the other side.
“Kã-ãK!” she called when she exited the other side of the forest and soared upward. The crows ceased their pursuit and followed her upward and upward until they arced back towards their perches.
“I taught those maneuvers to them,” Lefty said.
“You always did love to watch machines and tools when we were building together. I’m glad you have new ones out here to study.”
Like window blinds snapping shut, the raven and the crows disappeared into the silhouette of their forest’s treetop canopy.
“And speaking of building, don’t you need to get busy with building that new home while I get busy with being a father?”
He proclaimed a triumphant cock-a-doodle-do, and three pairs of little eyes peered out from the coop door. Lefty’s children peeped and cheeped and hurried down the chicken ladder to play with their dad.
When I got home, I told everyone about my visit with Lefty and how I would be building a new and bigger home for all of them, just as Lefty had suggested.
Blanche was very concerned about how we would be losing some valuable vegetable space, and so I reassured her that there was still room in the front yard for vegetables.
“No one will go hungry,” I explained. “Having vegetables in the front yard may not be exactly what other people do, but not everyone has six chickens living in the middle of their backyard garden either.”
What they really wanted to know about the most was The Raven With Blue Eyes and The Crows.
I began by telling them how Lefty had given secret signals to The Raven. My chickens were surprised to learn she supervised two squadrons of crows, not just one.
“She must have only brought one with her when she came before,” said Bessie. “That was a smart strategy.”
“Or they may have been here but remained hidden like secret agents,” said Pearl. “I would like to be a secret agent some day.”
“What is so funny?” she asked.
“Pearl, you will never be still enough or quiet enough to be a secret agent,” said Blanche.
But, of course, Pearl would never let those things stop her from trying.
“Tell us more,” said Gracie. She was eager to learn more about her friend, The Raven With Blue Eyes.
And so, I did and with as many details as I could remember.
Amelia had seemed uninterested throughout the other discussions, but when I described how The Raven and The Crows had been so well organized as they routed out the fox and drove him far away, she listened intently.
As I described each part of their flight, she held just the shoulders of her wings slightly out from her body, but it looked as if she wanted to stretch her wings all the way out. She would tilt her body just a little from side to side or upward and downward. It was as if she was flying right along with them and loving every minute of it—but she did not want anyone to know.
At the end of the story, when the crows returned to their roosts and the chickens were safe, everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Just like secret agents,” said Pearl, and everyone, even Amelia, flapped their wings with grand approval.
“Tell it again,” said Emily. Then she remembered her good manners and added, “Won’t you, please?”
Everyone nodded in agreement, especially Amelia.
And, of course, I told it all again and then went to beg more lumber and wire fencing from my uncle.