‘Ils ont oui les clliochs des egllises de paraisse.’
(They have heard the bells of the parish churches.)
Almost as if a great god somewhere has sighed, and in that celestial outpouring a reluctant nip tide rolls slowly into the waiting bay, the turpentine water oily in its steady flow to the still silent shore, the stars above suddenly revealed in ordered reflection one by one, as if some determined and crazed child is dragging them down from heaven, one by one, and stamping them in a fit of awesome childish rage into the water, one by one, until the new ocean upon the shore is awash with the sparkling stuff of heaven.
And then that child, and that great god appear satisfied with their insane but steady work.
But the day has yet begun over the Bay of Bouley.
Somewhere in that bleak break of reluctant dawn a black crow of no particular distinction reluctantly coughs, it is but the phlegm of the dark night before, a mere and momentary irritant, but in that same moment it is the sweet moment of a prehistoric dawn; for that small, insignificant but almighty irritant cough of black bird becomes the cataclysmic catalyst for the greatest universal linkage of blood, sweat and tears known to the known universe, for that solitary black bird of ill-repute is coughing up its direct connectivity to the Nordic and Norman pirates that once strode mighty foot in this mighty bay. Nay, more than that, much more than that. Older still, in the plagues and pains of time itself, cunningly captured by the giant silent stones that sentinel stand, put there by some whim or fancy that once plagued the very souls of those who gazed upon them in a time when the very stars above them occupied totally different slices of the night sky than we mere mortals know now.
That black bird knows them too. Knows them well. Old and firm friends. A goodly perch doth a standing stone make for a black bird of little but rare distinction.He knows the dreamtime; when ice covered the bay; when fire rained down from the sky; he knew, and knows them all, even when the hills melted red and flowed into the bay, he was there, and he counted them all one by one.
He was, and still is, the cold black eye of evolution. A black lurker in the black shadows of time itself.
And his cough is the cosmic starting pistol that breaks the dawn of everyday. One by one.
Then like a rolling electric storm comes the rest, a thousand motley crows coughing and barking at the rising sun as it tips the crest of the once melted, molten hills of the bay; and where there was dark there is suddenly light, and then as if that same great god had flicked some hidden switch the countless crows flap as one sweet unit – with lazy oaths – into the solar flares of a warming sun like a careless pack of cards thrown into the sky… and head east.
Not one by one, but as a distressed but still dynamic pack of black varmints with their blunt and crude airframes gaily carving up an almost blue sky like wild black print fonts let loose on an escape artist’s canvas ambitions.
As the crow flies. Due east.
And why east? Why you may ask, for master mariners as great as the great Vasco have pondered that same riddle for long centuries with no resolve. It is but a crow’s nest. So called because the navigators of old released crows to find land, fine if you want to travel east. If you want to, and many didn’t, and still don’t.
Some birds fall by the wayside, tempted by grub, worm or bright shiny thing that catches a black solitary roving eye in an open field, but a good three hundred make the good course, and land on the beach that is as east as a crow can fly without dipping its iridescent plumage into the lazy sea that it knows not, for it, that black beast of god’s perfection comes from the west, and not the east.
They settle, count them if you will, one by one, and you will make three hundred jet black corsairs there on that beach, and they settle from the witches rock to the landing place of long dead invading army. Up coast
awhile… and there they sit, like comical black statuettes awaiting some strange signal from the east, there they sit, the counting crows, one by one.
It is a signal unbeknown to the likes of you and me, for we carry not the evolutionary medicinal function that allows the simple perception of ‘time’ that the counting crows have inherited – along with the damned sky – for they hear the dreamtime, cast in the long lost bells which once shook them from their trees afore every dawn, as each parish peeled the dark night from its skin with the sound of the souls of each parish ringing the bells to wake the dawn, afore it struck.
You and me may strike a bell, but only a crow can strike a dawn. That was, and still is, a lesson.
But the poor souls of each and every parish sought to exercise the demon in their midst, by ringing their bells afore the dawn, catch the devil on the hop so to speak, drive him to the next parish if you like… and the crows watched, and counted, one by one.
Counted the bells that no longer rung for the dawn that would never come. Shipped to foreign port for base and crass profit, the bells served their false masters better melted down, like the hills of the bay so many ages before, molten and melted into the sea.
But the crows wished up a sudden storm, as wild corsairs can do, and buried that wooden boat beneath the sea, just in sight of land, and the bells sank with her. But when the tide turns, as tides do, then it glances wistfully upon those three hundred bells and a signal is sent, automatically you must please understand, to the three hundred crows on the beach.
That signal is a peel of bells.
And the crows count every one of them, one by one.
NB. In 1550 the parish bells of Jersey were sold to the French to raise money for fortifications against the…French. Legend has it that the ship carrying the bells sank in St Malo harbour in a sudden storm or tempest.
The crows want the bells back.
So do I.
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PDF: Counting Crows