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The week before Thanksgiving our office in Renton got a fly-in at sunset from the Renton Crow Murder. When we had the time change to Standard Pacific the gathering down the road was now earlier. That is earlier in human time, in crow time it is the still timed at sunset. This particular day around 4:30 pm they moved down the valley and landed in the trees around our building. My office is on the second floor as many of you know from the posts on Crow Nestlings outside my window.
Only video gives you a real idea of the number of birds and how we were surrounded by them. Here are two of the best videos I took. One is from my office and you can see a slight reflection from the office lights. The other is from the other side of the building in a vacant dark office. The sunset contrast was striking from there.
Enjoy a few moments of being in the trees with the crows.
And last but not least, here is the Crow Stalker herself caught on film by a window reflection trick.
This has been a tougher week for us Baby Boomers than most of us could imagine. It is like it was yesterday even 50 years later. Every where I turn, media has another story about JFK’s life and demise. Over the years I have choked back tears when I talk of that day but now it is all flooding to the top. How come a person I never knew brings emotion similar to the deaths of my parents and grandparents?
It was a defining moment to coin a phrase. That really does not do this moment justice. Let’s go back 50 years….
It was a Friday, I was 10 years old and I was sick. Not sure what it was but I was staying at home that day in bed. My mom had some meeting to attend for her door to door sales job. She left me with toast, tea and little mandarin oranges at my bedside. That older black and white television was on and I lay there watching that feeling rather poorly. Little did I know I would be on the cutting edge of the most tragic moment in our generation’s history.
Reruns were on. I think it was I Love Lucy. Then the screen went into a news flash. Yes it was that CBS screen we have seen in the last couple of days. They did not have live cameras in those days so it was a text only screen. Flat graphics that today would be laughed at. The voice said that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The day unfolded from there and now to be truthful is a sort of blur except one other moment. I saw Walter Cronkite takes his glasses off and bite back tears to tell the nation that John F Kennedy had died.
I don’t really remember how the rest of my family reacted. I do remember sitting in my room watching his funeral go down the road in Washington DC, John Jr saluting and the veiled Jackie. I was a moth to a light bulb and could not pull away.
Let us move forward a few years. Times had changed. We were not the Leave it to Beaver – Father Knows Best type of nation any more. My generation was released from our parents dream they created in the ashes of the Depression and World War II. The genie was out of the bottle. We found that the death of our president had darker shadows all around it. Conspiracy shrouded us and the trust of our government was broken. That trust that our parents had built up from saving the world from both war and economic failure was not ours.
We found our voices to tell everyone loudly we didn’t agree with war and discrimination against race and women. For me I adopted a lifestyle so different from my parents. The day I graduated and turned 18 I moved in with my new family. They were other young people like me and we became what many of the day called “Hippies”. We lived on 5 acres and did what we could to live more in tune with nature. But more important we didn’t trust “the Man” and never hesitated to speak up that our government was not perfect. That it needed to be overhauled and listen to us.
Looking back, we made change but it really did not change in many ways.
Today, here I am at home again. Not sick but taking a vacation day not realizing I would be watching the TV. Reliving it all again and not able to stop.
I think I will go have a good cry now and then carry on with the good fight.
No crow stories this week and next. Instead, I am going to tell my story of 1963 and JFK’s assassination. Let me start today by setting the stage for you.
I was 10 years old and in 5th grade. A shy awkward girl who was dyslexic before they knew what that was but worked hard to overcome it because I loved to read and do math. I fell down on the play ground regularly and wore glasses. Do you get the picture? Today I would be a nerd and was certainly not part of the “in crowd”.
Life wasn’t all that bad though. I had good friends and teachers. Growing up in the 60s was free of fear and childhood was never scheduled. We went outside to play all day and ran through the neighborhoods like wild creatures till our mothers called our names out the back door for dinner. I walked to school rain or shine from the time I went to kindergarten until my girlfriend in High School got a car. That is right, at 5 years old I walked to school by myself or with a friend. We used to make up games of the ghost lights from cars in the dark foggy mornings as we walked to Elementary School.
The 60s are a distant place from life now. We were a middle class family and moved into a new rambler house in 1960. It had three bedrooms, one bath and a family room. Small by today’s standards and rather plain. We played in the septic tank drainage ditches for a couple of month in the back yard. Downtown Seattle was where we went shopping (no malls) and to get there we drove on city streets. No freeway existed and I actually rode my bicycle on I-5 (Southcenter Hill area) before it was opened. We had a rotary telephone on the kitchen wall with a 20 foot cord. That way you could cook and talk but couldn’t get much further than down the hallway. Our Dad caved and finally bought us a color television. It was in a blond wood cabinet and was hooked up to the antenna on the roof. I think we got about 7 channels. But I got to see “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights in full color at last. The old black and white was put into my bedroom with rabbit ears. I got a fairly good picture in my little room.
On a bookcase in the hall was a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica. I always had a curious mind and read several books a week. That encyclopedia got worn out looking up things for school papers (hand written even in High School) and a few forbidden things like sex. We went to the local library every Saturday and I usually was found reading through the National Geographic Magazines. Facinated by far away places but also seeing things that in the 60s were taboo to talk about. I spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparents. I have a fond memory of laying on my bed reading. Grandma came in and said “turn the light on or you will go blind reading in the dark”. Here I was engrossed in reading “Exodus” by Leon Uris. Remember I was a nerdy child and my mom used to joke about how I would rather be reading than babysit. My fiends loved holding babies, I was not interested in them at all.
At school we were lined up for vaccinations that were required and given to us for free. There would be an uproar now if the school touched children now. We had civil defense drills so we would be prepared for the nuclear bomb attack from Russia or Cuba. This was where we all trooped into the gymnasium and laid down on the floor like cord wood. We put our arms over our heads. The cafeteria lady said she had a good lamb leg in the freezer to feed us all. Not sure how that would have worked since there were over a hundred of us little urchins. The gymnasium was also the place of Christmas plays and fitness tests. In the fourth grade I played the moderator who was suppose to be a space person visiting earth. The fitness tests had us showing how many push-ups we could do and how far up a rope we could climb. I always climbed to the top of the rope since I was a tom boy.
Not only was I a Girl Scout and we went camping and learned all the wonder of the Pacific Northwest forests but I also marched in the Seattlettes Baton Corp. I was part of the Junior division and we won several contests plus marched in parades from the Daffodil Parade to the Junior Seafair Parade. We won the Seattle Worlds Fair Baton contest in the Junior Division. I remember a Saturday practice where the coach asked me to be the leader. I froze and shook my head no. I was too shy and so unsure of myself. Funny how she knew I was a future leader.
The Space program was super special when I was growing up. The world stopped when a spaceship was launched. They rolled out the black and white televisions into the classrooms and we watched them. I saw John Glenn do his first orbit this way in 1962. And jumping ahead beyond 1963, I have a vivid memory of sitting with my boyfriend’s family watching Armstrong land on the Moon in July of 1969. We were glued to the TV and so proud of our country and it’s accomplishments. We were fulfilling the dream that Kennedy had set us on.
So, life was simple and it was a time of innocence for us kids. Next week I will tell you how my life changed forever on November 22, 1963. Those days of Camelot ended and we were shook to our core how this could happen to our President.
Still pictures do not give justice to the crow gathering in South Renton. You see from them that there are lots of crows but there is a sound that their mass emits. Plus one picture of one spot does not give you any idea of how many crows are there and continue to arrive as the sun sets.
This is where video can give you more of a glimpse into my wonder at this sight each evening. Unfortunately, Daylight Savings is ending so I will probably be seeing the party move to another place or be in a different phase when I leave work on Monday. Crows don’t observe daylight savings time or standard time. They just know that the sun they worship is setting for the day.
Fall’s golden and red beauty with a few crows sprinkled in. Enjoy
Friday I was walking through Lincoln Park in West Seattle. I have not been frequenting this park for the last couple of years since it is usually crowded. However, my day off was foggy and overcast, so I thought it would be quiet there. I was right and as I walked along the water’s edge feeding a small flock of crows, I saw white flash by.
The two pictures show how he has an almost zebra type white and black feather pattern. I have seen a couple of other crows with white feathers but never one with this many. Here is a link to one of those prior blog posts.
The prior blog photo was taken with my old Kodak camera which is now gone. My new Nikon Camera is quite an improvement & here is a good close up I took for your viewing pleasure. I tried to get a photo of him in flight to show how much white he had on him but he was elusive and disappeared into the trees.
The Roost in Renton is visiting the corner of 16th and Lind SW every night around quitting time. Dusk seems to bring them from all directions but I see more coming from the North than South. The trees in this parking lot are brilliant red/magenta and make some vivid pictures.
Continuing the research on why they flock here to this corner I have found some more information to share. This is through the help of our Safety Manager at work and Liz Stewart from the Renton Museum. I have sent off some requests for information to others but am still awaiting responses.
First, if you read the historical information (courtesy of HistoryLink.org) on the man who platted this area into Earlington Gardens Addition, you will find he was a real estate shark. Clarence D. Hillman’s MO (mode of operandi) was to plat both desirable and undesirable land and then sold it to poor folks, some sight unseen. He did this in several areas around Seattle and made himself very wealthy.
His subdivisions ranged from Hillman’s Schoolhouse Division, Greenlake Division, Kilbourne Division, Lake Front Division near Seward Park, South Shore Addition, Woodland Park Addition, Stinson’s Addition, and Evan’s Addition. Hillman did not limit himself to Seattle. He went into unincorporated areas such as the Rainier Valley where he platted Hillman City. He also laid out Kennydale (named for his wife, the former Bessie Kenny) and Hillman’s Mountlake Terrace.
The local newspaper ran articles about buyers who felt cheated and Hillman sued the paper for libel. U.S. District Attorney Elmer E. Todd was not fooled though. He tracked Hillman’s activities, until Hillman began to use the U.S. Mail to defraud his customers. Mail fraud was a federal offense and Hillman was indicted in August 1910.
In the January 1911 trial a jury convicted Hillman of 13 counts of mail fraud and he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison. Hillman appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the conviction and sentence in 1912. Hillman served 18 months at McNeil Island. His family waited for him in the opulent Hotel Coronado in San Diego.
This brings us back to Earlington Gardens. In looking for old photos of the area my Safety Manager sent me a link to the King County Flood Web Page. There we found photos of the December 1946 flood that covered the entire valley. I am assuming this was not the first time this had occurred and that is why Earlington Gardens, Hillman plotted, never was fully developed. Here are two photos showing you how bad the flooding was. Since then extensive work has been done to protect the valley from floods. The area is now built up with many warehouses and businesses in an area that was once not practical to build on.
It is the season for the Crow Murders to flock to large roosts at dusk. This behavior is happening where ever Crows exist. I have the pleasure of observing this every fall in Renton right outside my office window.
This is a fall and winter behavior primarily. During the spring and summer breeding season they will remain in their personal territories but as the young get more independent they go to the large roosts. There are several theories on why they do this. I personally like to give my crows more personality and think they do this to share information, find mates, catch up with family they don’t see regularly and of course sleep together for protection from their enemies.
There is a good article on the University of Cornell’s web site ( http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/crowfaq.htm ) In their FAQ section they lay out what researchers think crows are doing. Their key points are:
- They gather together in a favorable spot for protection. Kind of like humans in a hotel where they are together but really don’t interact very much.
- The next comparison is “the wagon train” theory. By their being all in one place they are gaining safety in numbers. Like the Oregon trail wagon trains forming a circle at night for protection.
- Then there is the Information scenario. Kind along my assumption above where they do exchange info on where good food is. Or they follow better fed crows to their food source to gain some of the goodness.
- The next idea is around food too. They gather where a good source is so they can eat before dispersing. This would be agriculture areas or garbage dumps.
What i find most interesting in the Renton flock is they are going to the same place year after year. As I am driving towards I-405 northbound each evening, I see them flying to the area of 16th and Lind. They come in small and large groups. Some stopping along the way but in the end they gather in this several block area pecking in the leaf clutter and grass inside and outside of the parking lots there. When it gets more dark they will head to their final roost.
This phenomenon has brought me to research what was there before the current office buildings and parking lots. I do not believe the why they gather theres is the parking lot. They are using their hereditary memory passed from crow to crow to come back to this spot for some reason.
In my quest this last week or so I started drilling into the intranet for maps and history of the Renton area. I found the Renton Museum and read through their information on-line. Nothing really jumped out to me so I sent them an email explaining my research project.
From that inquiry I received the most wonderful reply the next day from their Museum Director Elizabeth Stewart. http://rentonwa.gov/rentonhistorymuseum/ She sent me the following clues. As in any research they are not the final answer but leads to follow and even raise more questions.
“Your target intersection at SW 16th and Lind Ave SW was platted sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century by Clarence D. Hillman as part of his Earlington Gardens development. (Hillman also platted and developed Kennydale and other neighborhoods in the Seattle area.) I cannot find any information that he actually built houses in Earlington Gardens; it’s possible he ran into difficulty because of its distance from Seattle or the fact that it’s so close to wetland or the fact that it had two railroads running through it and was thus less desirable property. Before Hillman, it does not appear that this land was farmland, which I thought might explain the birds returning. For the most part surrounding parcels were industrial in nature, owned by Puget Sound Power & Light, Seattle Electric, and Renton Cooperative Coal.”
I want to personally thank Liz for taking her time to send me this information. Her encouraging words made my day. In the next couple of weeks I will continue my research on the 16th & Lind property. Some areas I am working are to follow the tips she sent me, look for the Duwamish Tribe’s villages in the area, drill more into the internet for old maps and ask the building owners on the intersection, PSE, Seattle City Light & Renton Coal (not sure they still exist) for any historical info they have.
So, be sure to come back and see what I find. Oh and yes I got your attention by calling the Crow Flock a Murder in my subject line. A fun play on words.