by Diana Friedman
For three days now, from the safety of my window, I’ve been watching a crow eat a rat across the street. First, the bird pecks, pecks, pecks, like a woodpecker, its chiseled beak digging into the rodent’s flesh. Eventually, satisfied with the frontal extraction, the crow lifts the rat by its tail, shakes it a few times, and then turns it front to back, the way you and I might when roasting a leg of lamb.
What I should do, I know, is grab a shovel, scoop up the corpse and toss it in the trash. This is, after all, a dead rat—probably diseased—in front of my neighbor’s house, no less. But during the day, when the cars have taken their tired owners to work, when the school buses have swept away the eager children, I find myself back at my perch, transfixed by this crow and its relentless determination. I stand watching. And wondering: Why, obvious Washington D.C. metaphor not withstanding, am I so drawn to this scene?
Like most suburbanites, I am not particularly fond of crows. They are revered in Mexican folklore and protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act of 1960, but they are also urban pests; they dominate the parks and skies of my neighborhood, raid nests, and chase off the more delicate songbirds. They may be resourceful, adapting to human populations to take advantage of the plentiful shelter and food supply, but I find it difficult to see anything positive about these noisy, dumpster diving birds who will make a meal of, I guess, just about anything.
Nature, when aesthetically pleasing, is so palatable, delicious. From the environs of my suburban neighborhood, I am treated to pileated woodpeckers tapping on trees, nesting mallard ducks, an occasional heron making its home in the nearby creek. Even the squirrels, ubiquitous pests that they are, can sometimes be cute: with those big heads and funny little upright postures they use for eating, it’s hard not to think of them as chipmunks sometimes.
What could be more unpalatable than a crow picking apart a rat, though? And yet, from a distance, other scavengers are easy to admire: the hyenas and vultures, waiting for the zebra spoils on the African Savannah. Or viewed from the lens of a microscope, the tiny detritus feeders such as bacteria and fungi, laboring to break down mounds of leaf litter and animal parts.
As I watch the rat start to disappear, piece by piece, I realize this crow is no different. It’s just ugly. And urban. And in my front yard. Perhaps I have fallen into the suburbanite trap of believing I can pick and choose my neighbors: yes, thank you, we’ll take a single family home next door, three woodpeckers and a nest of cardinals, but hold the noisy neighbors and the rats and crows and mosquitoes please.
Nature, of course, doesn’t work this way, and as the crow finishes off the rat, my attraction comes to light. It is not the romance of the heron taking flight with its powerful wings, the comforting rhythm of the woodpecker drilling through bark for insects. But this affair, even in its visceral hideousness, is indeed the same: nature, urban or wild, romantic or repulsive, restoring balance.
On Friday, garbage day, when I head outside to pick up the trash that the crows have scattered on their weekly raid, I cross the street to check: not a trace of the rat to be seen. Not even the tail, which I imagine must have been pretty tough to peck through. I ask my neighbors, but no one has touched the rodent. It must have been the crow. Down to the last bite.
A thankless job, no doubt, but in the natural order of things, a job well done.
About Diana Friedman
Diana Friedman’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including New Letters, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, Sport Literate, The Baltimore Sun, Bethesda Magazine, and Whole Earth Review. She has received multiple awards, including the Alexander Patterson Cappon Fiction Prize from New Letters. Her work has been anthologized in Defying Gravity, an anthology from Paycock Press, and For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game that Connects Us All. She lives in Maryland with her family. You can find her at www.Dianafriedmanwriter.com