River of crows

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(Host) Recently commentator Alan Boye was surprised by an unexpected sight in a stormy sky.

(Boye) I am walking through downtown St. Johnsbury and people scurry about me in the late afternoon storm.

A shopkeeper leans on his snow shovel. He stares at the sidewalk, watching it fill with snow. He wears a black, stout, winter cap, pulled low.

In the darkening street, cars and trucks burrow through the storm. Each set of headlights carves a pale yellow tunnel of light into the snowy air.

I lower my chin deeper into my parka. I walk to the end of the block, turn, and then begin to climb up Eastern Avenue. It’s not yet five in the afternoon but the darkness of night has nearly closed about me. I trudge from streetlamp to streetlamp, passing from one circle of pale light to another.

If nothing else, being in Vermont during the winter means learning how to navigate in shadows. During the day the low, January sun creeps above the tree-covered hills, and barely enters the pale sky before it disappears again. Today, for example, low clouds have hung above the town since dawn. The entire day has passed like some long, gray twilight.

Wintry evenings force us Vermonters to lower our gaze; we huddle in our solitary space of light amid swirls of darkness and storm. I shuffle up Eastern Avenue looking no further than the small, insular world about my own boots.

I stop at the steepest part of the hill, and glance up in order to take a quick look at the sky. Just as I am about to turn away, I see strange jet-black shapes moving silently across the sky.

It is a river of crows. A thin line of black birds streams across the gray, snowy sky. They come out of the dusk to the south, fly just above the rooftops, and disappear into the dark north.

Crows spend the long winter nights in roosts numbering thousands of birds. At daybreak these massive flocks disperse, but each night the birds return to the roost, often following common routes through the sky.

Several minutes pass, but the moving line of crows does not end. I look around, anxious to show the miracle to someone, but there are only a few cars crawling down Eastern Avenue. I look up again. The living river of birds continues to flow across the wintry sky.

As they pass through the swirl of clouds and snow, they make no sound.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.

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