Tuesday, September 25, 2012

From Michael to Crows

This will take some thought:
Five hundred begins it, five hundred ends it,
Five in the middle is seen;
First of all letters, the first of all figures,
Take up their stations between.
Join all together, and then you will bring
Before you the name of an eminent king.

Saturday is Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.  Michaelmas is one of the “quarter days,” dividing the year into fourths.  They are Candlemas, Lammas, Michaelmas and Christmas.  A friend of ours resurrected a Medieval superstition that if you eat goose at Michaelmas (pronounced “mikkelmus” in England) you won’t want for money for a year.  We’ve been doing it for over thirty years.  It hasn’t made us rich, but there always seems to be enough money to get us through.  We have turned it into a potluck, everyone brings a dish to share and we supply the goose – or geese; this year we’re roasting three, and inviting quite a crowd.  We say a serious prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, and then sing:

Amazing goose, how sweet the flesh,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was broke, but now I’m flush,
I’m saved from penury.

And so on, for four verses.

Hint for the riddle: Use Roman numerals.

I had a nice talk with my agent a few days ago, after I sent her the mix of synopsis and notes on what I hope will be the next book, Watered Silk.  She likes the idea, had some questions and solid suggestions, and at the very end of our conversation she made a final suggestion that would turn the story on its head with a surprise ending.  I thought about it for a day and a half, and decided I’ll go for it.  But it does turn the whole plot sideways and I’ll have to completely retool it – I like surprise endings, but they have to fit the narrative.  This is going to be fun, sliding in clues I hope most of my readers will miss.

Wednesday there was a big gathering of excited crows on wires and tree branches right outside our third-floor apartment windows.  Last time that happened, they had cornered an owl and were making his life miserable, yelling and swooping towards him.  This time I looked out our big front window and couldn’t see an owl – or a hawk, or anything else they might find a threat.  They were yelling but not swooping.  I went out on our balcony for a better look, which surprised them and their party began to break up.  Yesterday I went for a short walk and spied a dead crow on the little grass border between the sidewalk and street right under where they had gathered.   So I guess what was going on was a crow-style funeral.  They sure mourn differently from us humans.

Answer to riddle:  David


Kirsty.a said...

I've never heard of the Michalmas tradition - sounds like a good idea

Linda O. Johnston said...

You might really have had a "murder of crows" there, Monica!

Monica Ferris said...

It's fun, Kirsty. If you like I can send you a good recipe for roast goose, plus the words to the song and the prayer.

You know, Linda, I hadn't thought about that. There are numerous witnesses to crows gathering around a single crow and after a "conversation" among themselves, attacking and killing the singleton. No one knows why - obviously the one crow offended the flock in some way. Not by stealing - crows steal from one another all the time.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I didn't mean that the crows murdered the dead one, Monica, although that's possible. But a flock of crows is referred to as a "murder of crows." I don't know why but the killing you describe could be the reason.

Betty Hechtman said...

Ever since I found out how smart crows are, they have fascinated me. I've seen them chase hawks and I've seen mockingbirds chase after crows.

Monica Ferris said...

I've seen other small birds chase crows, too, generally during nesting seasons. Which is brave of them. It's probably an act of fury or despair, as crows love to eat eggs and nestlings. A book on crows pointed out that crow babies hatch right about the time rabbits bring their young out of the nest - and baby rabbits are a staple food for baby crows. Nature red in tooth and claw - best we remember that.