My husband has an annoying habit of taking pictures of me when I’m stuffing large amounts of food into my mouth. I’ve asked him not to do it but he’s slow to train.
So to get back at him I’ve started taking some of him when we’re out doing stuff and he’s staring down at his cell phone, scanning maps or checking an app or whatever.
I have a nice assortment – at the Eiffel Tower, the Matterhorn, art galleries, some of them just walking around unidentified locations. Over and over the same pose, him looking down with a slack jaw and a dull, vapid expression.
I may put together a whole album of them. It’s the way marriage works.
Anyway, when I saw this one from last winter’s trip to Stockhorn, I spent longer than I care to admit trying out different filters to make me look better, less jowly, less hunched, less cravenly hungry, less I don’t know what.
But there’s no filter for that. No Soft Middle-Age Soliloquy.
Anyway, the real focus of the picture is on the amazing crows, they have a way of stealing the show. They wouldn’t leave me alone, some numbskull at the other end of the tram tower had fed them french fries and there you have it.
And they were huge – muscular and imposing and peck your eyes out scary. They looked so human, one of them had actually picked up a discarded plastic cup in its beak and was strutting around as if it was navigating a fraternity party.
Years ago I remember reading The Mists of Avalon, the legend of King Arthur, but really the story of Guinevere and the other women who were the powerful mages and priestesses in the tale. They were the heroines, not King Arthur and his men. The women held deep intuitive powers that gave them access to mystical wisdom and power through their relationship with the natural world.
The big book took them from early maidenhood up through full-bloom maturity and finally into their roles as Crones, the most powerful entity of all.
Crone: def; noun, old woman, old crow.
Not a great word, certainly not very regal or appealing and definitely not sexy or even womanly. Maybe the term witch would sound better except that one’s definitely got some negative baggage as well.
Back when we were in our late 30s my sister and I used to joke about aging, we’d snicker about how we were drying up and becoming old crones. How our estrogen was dipping lower in the tank, with fuel indicators headed toward empty.
Those days we frivolously thought we had unlimited amounts of time, endless years to be feminine and fertile, we just couldn’t imagine ever losing our juice.
We belly laughed without fear. We joked about droopy boobs and wild hairs on our chins and how that wasn’t a grey hair we plucked off our heads, that was blonde.
And we screeched and cackled like crows.
And the years went by and the jokes got darker and our hoots became nervous titters when we’d see pictures of ourselves without make-up, without those generous sarongs around our hips at the beach and the pooch of our bellies exposed. The tissue paper skin on our thighs like Mom had, when did that happen?
And how when we danced or tried to hit a tennis ball there was no bladder control to speak of.
You know, most days I don’t feel any particular age at all. But then sometimes my body just feels old and when I see the unfiltered photos that my husband takes I see the real me. The insomnia and worry, the tiredness, the reality of gravity, simply being a woman who’s lived 54 years.
So I reference the Avalon stories where the crows are central characters, the harbingers of truth. They often carried the hard, clear-eyed prophesy of what was to come, some critical news from off stage that advanced the plot-line.
It’s fitting because they seem so street smart, like they’ve seen all manner of atrocity, like they’ve stared down everything possible under the sun, the dark alleys and cesspools, the graveyards and sewers, highways at night, fields at dawn.
With beady peppercorn eyes that look right into the soul and a vitality and cunning, they’re not exotic or ethereal, they’re just workaday witnesses to life as it is, unadorned without artifice.
Make-up free with no air-brush or filter.
And it occurs to me that I’m relieved to have left the Maiden behind and am now moving toward Crone.
I can admire how their feathers scruff up and the way their wings catch the air, how they test them smartly to decide about lifting-off. Not haughty like eagles or vacuously vain like the pretty birds are.
One has patchy balding spots but still hops around curiously, another has a bedraggled wing but still manages to fly. They each find a way to get up there into the sky and see everything there is to see, learn every angle and nuance of the tree-line as they follow the wild river north.
The big birds are propelled by a wild and shameless curiosity and a brazen intelligence, armoured with their sharp protective beaks and quick peripatetic reflexes. And the surprising power that is in their wings, in the assuredness of lift-off to the heavens, so unbridled, unapologetic, so free.
Screechy, irritating old crone, bossy, audacious and loud, how crazy and wonderful and brave you are in inhabiting your space, pushing against the winds of your own sky, the edges of your universe.