From Roy Burke’s spiral bound secretary’s notebook, the second of three he filled up on his Blue Ridge vacation from 1986: Saw a deep red barn, contrasted against a green hillside, with a winding road. The shot didn’t pan out; however, I found my first wild basil–a neat little lilac-colored mint with flowers growing in bristly clusters in the leaf axils. And, next to the truck, the Common St. John’s Wort, an uncommonly pretty 5 regular with yellow petals, dotted on black around the margins. I looked and simply smiled…Over in that big clump of trees there must be a thousand crows, well maybe 8 or 10, mobbing, squabbling, and kicking up a general racket. I’m inclined to sit here for a while. Keep my wildflower books and notes up front, now; before in the briefcase in the back of the truck. Each time–tailgate down, briefcase open, briefcase shut, tailgate closed. And the Minolta in travel-ready position. The longer the camera stays zipped in its bag, the less inclined I am to stop and seize a quick opportunity.
Sittin in the shade of a big maple, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. 1220. Cool, soft breeze. This, the Western part of Augusta County radiates peacefulness. An orderly graveyard across the road, one acre, wrapped in black wrought iron fence, deeply rolling, mixed farmland dotted with well-kept old buildings. People stop to ask if I’m o.k., and seem sorta disappointed to hear that I don’t need to be aided. Green, everywhere deep greens with a thousand textures. Glowing in the midday sun. To the west, running north and south as far as I can see, foothills of the George Washington National Forest. Covered in a mosaic of regrowth. Patterns. Inviting…Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my vacation here.
Crows on power line Dade County GA 7/11/2004 photo by Roy Burke
Crows were one of Doc’s favorite creatures. They are one of the easiest birds to watch because they live almost everywhere, from downtown to the forest and most places in between. Their raucous calls(crows) to one another always seem to be delivered with the spirit of the back-row heckler or inveterate smart ass. A regular funny highlight of our back roads runs was the sight of a diligent crow or two(or three) patiently hopping out of the state route right of way as the cars passed, then heading right back for some tasty roadkill. “Must be something good there, Rob.” “I think so, Doc. Good as the Golden Corral to a crow.” At one point Doc purchased and learned to use a PS Olt crow call. I admired it so much that he bought one for me as a Christmas gift one year. But you have to be pretty savvy to try to call up/fool a crow. They are legendarily smart, shown able at various points to remember people, give gifts, and use tools. Your best bet is to lean flat against a large tree trunk and act inconspicuous as you blow the call. Most of the time the crow will spot you and call you out for the piss-poor crow imitator you are. Every now and then you can fool them into returning a companionable call, beginning an authentic crow call and response, but not often. Corvus brachyrhynchos is no fool.
Strangely enough in Doctor Flowers’ photo archives there aren’t too many pictures of crows. The one above is the only one on hand, although he kept a dozen or more archival pictures of crows from other photographers. Now-days when I spy a crow I think fondly of my friend and usually start up a conversation with the crow, an animal spirit stand-in for Doctor Flowers. “How’s it going today, Doc?” The crows seem to cut me some slack, not thinking me crazy. I’d like to think if there is a heaven, it is much like that Dade County, Georgia transmission tower shown above, my best friends and loved ones gathered on the cross beams, cackling and crowing to each other, no more care for the world below.