a history of crows (guest writer gabe martinez cabrera)

black, white & redberry

(image courtesy Barbara Courouble)

My esteemed writer/filmmaker/graphic novelist/blogging friend, Gabe Martinez Cabrera, read my ongoing attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows and felt inspired to write this wondrous fable.  On his blog, Running In Circles, I am consistently amazed and inspired by his uncanny depth, thoughtfulness, and fearlessness. He writes things that make me think and feel.  This is a rare quality.  


Once, a long time ago, the world was governed by balance and symmetry.  If one thing happened, its opposite had to happen as well.  In keeping with this, there were only two types of birds in the world at that time: the Day-Birds and the Night-Birds.  The Day-Birds were black as pitch and they spent their time flying happily against the brightness of the sun.  The Night-Birds, on the other hand, were unhappy and haughty and moved grudgingly through the night like bright white fingernails across a black chalkboard.  The odd thing—odd for us but not for the people back then—was that the Day-Birds, as happy as they were, cawed and squawked as they flew, while the Night-Birds cooed in unison, making for a very pleasant song, indeed.  People back then assumed, quite rightly, that the reason why the Night-Birds sounded appealing was because inside, they were horrid little creatures whereas the Day-Birds’ ugly song reflected their wondrous hearts. Things were as they should be, people thought, balanced and symmetrical. 

At some point, however, a new Queen of Things came to power.  Now you wouldn’t think it a very great power, but the ability to put names to all the things that exist in the world is a very great power, indeed, and that power was solely in the hands of the Queen of Things, which doesn’t mean that she could escape the need for balance and symmetry.  She couldn’t. At least not yet.  

The old Queen who’d reigned before had been remarkable and bright and one of the wisest Queens ever to hold power, which meant that the new Queen had to be, by the rules of balance and symmetry, stupid as an ox and just about as wise.  Dove, the leader of the Night-Birds, an especially cunning bird who had an especially beautiful coo, was glad to see that the new Queen was lacking in this way.  She’d always been jealous of her sister, Crow, the leader of the Day-Birds, and she’d decided that the Night-Birds were too beautiful and sang too well to be relegated to the night.  So, as soon as the new Queen took power, Dove flew to her and convinced her to change the names of the birds in the sky.  Going forward, from that day onwards, Day-Birds would be called Night-Birds and vice versa.

The Queen’s advisors didn’t understand this at first.  “How,” they asked The Queen of Things, “could you rename these birds in such a way?  And if you change their names, by the rules of balance and symmetry, doesn’t something else have to change, too?” That was a good question, and the new Queen, not very bright, didn’t know what to say.  She was so flummoxed by her advisors’ questions, in fact, that she almost changed her mind again.  

But that night, for the second time in as many nights, Dove came to the Queen of Things and sang in her lovely way:  “You are different,” Dove cooed.  “You are smarter than any other Queen who has ever lived because you alone realize that symmetry sometimes requires a lack of symmetry in order to be balanced.”

The Queen of Things wasn’t sure if that made sense, but the message was so beautifully delivered that she assumed it did, and the next day, she boldly shared this wisdom at court: “sometimes, you need to be unbalanced to be symmetrical,” she announced, not sure if that was what she meant to say.  Of course, there were a few advisors who nodded their heads, but most were unconvinced.  Those brave souls argued that even if balance sometimes required a lack of symmetry, which is what they assumed the Queen meant, the fact still remained that they didn’t like Dove and her type.  They knew that a pretty song could never cover up an ugly heart.

As for Crow, she knew what her sister was up to.  She came to the Queen’s palace on that second day and tried to make her case, but she was not a very good speaker.  Her voice cracked and even the Queen’s advisors who loved Crow and who knew of her good heart, could barely stand the awful sound of her voice.  Still, Crow sang her case.  “Queen,” she cawed, “the New Night-Birds’ black feathers have always given respite to the brightness of the sun, which makes for balance, and though we cannot not sing as well as the New Day-Birds, our hearts are pure and noble.  That is balance and symmetry.”

Crow’s squawk fell on deaf ears that day.  The Queen of Things, not very bright, did what not-very-bright people do and have always done when confused.  She got angry and bullied.  “I do not like this New Day-Bird, New Night-Bird nonsense!” She screamed.  “It’s just confusing.  From now on, let us be simple: the black birds will be called after you, Crow, and the white birds will be called doves, after you, and if anyone disagrees with me, I will change his name to Nothing, which means that he will cease to exist.”

The Queen, sensing that her bullying had worked, went further still: “And as long as I’m simplifying things, from here on out, I will also change what we call these birds’ hearts.  From now on, we will say that Crows have ugly hearts, just as their song is ugly, while Doves’ hearts will be called pure—pure as their song. ” 

Dove, of course, was happy—as happy as she could be—and Crow, humble and wise as ever, thought better than to argue, which is too bad if you think about it. Though we no longer have Queens of Things, that unwise decree still stands. Doves are loved and Crows are not, and it’s all due to a silly Queen who couldn’t see past a beautiful song.  

So don’t be like that silly queen.  Go out and spend time with a crow and you will see it for yourself: they are happy and humble birds.  You just have to get past their ugly voices.    


Go to Gabe’s blog to read more about branding, writing, teaching, making films, theosophy, and parenthood (he is a new father).

About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. My elder son adores spiders, bats, lizards… all the things I have declared ugly and banished from my mind.
    I wonder how much richer our lives would be if we approached all things with equal amounts of curiosity rather than prejudice!

  2. Years ago, when my eldest daughter was six, I saw her watching our compost heap, which was about twenty metres from where she stood. Following her gaze, I saw an ugly rat partaking of the fresher parts of the heap.
    My first reaction was to attack. Disease carrying rat in the compost!
    My daughter noticed me then, turned and said, “Daddy, yesterday I saw the rat and thought it was ugly. But today I watched it, and it’s not ugly. It’s beautiful.”
    And as the rat left, I said, “You’re right darlin.”
    And I picked up a big rock, threw it at the rat, and killed it.
    Fuckin rats.

  3. Ok, sorry. That story was true, right up until the last two lines.
    Sorry, just couldn’t resist.
    The rat actually was beautiful, and so was the little fable.

    • You were freaking me out for a minute there, HP, although it would not be the first time someone expressed anti-scavenger sentiments here. But still, if you could kill a rat with a rock at twenty meters, I’d have to be impressed.

      • I’m with you.
        I have scavenged when necessary, and in some way, it is ALWAYS necessary. Another name for scavenging ir recycling. The more of us that learn to be happy with used, recycled and repurposed things the better the world will be.
        And, hmmm, sorry about the language. It’s just that my true story suddenly wanted to turn into fiction, and when that happens, ou fingers seek out the keys our highly moral selves never would. As you know.
        That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m not really a foul-mouthed ^$#*&@%) ^(%#@*&^.

        • If that’s how you see it, I am a shameless scavenger. And you’re allowed to swear all you need to around here. Even my 5 year old knows just the right moment to drop an f bomb. “I want to swing higher!” she yells at the park. “Push the fucking swing!”

  4. I know many a Queen of Things. (Not to mention the Kings) Wonderful story…reads like a children’s book. Perhaps Gabe might find an illustrator. Challenges kindness, patience and acceptance.

  5. i will say honestly that i am a little self-conscious about my fiction. not whether it is good or not. that question depends from piece to piece and reader to reader, but i think i feel self-conscious because i’m never sure what to call it. the truth is, i love the idea that children would read what i write. i don’t set out to write fables. it’s just where i land, which might be another reason why I’m self-conscious. somewhere along the line, i got into my head that i shouldn’t trust art that comes joyfully.

    well, that’s just another crazy thought–and maybe a blog post. For now, let me say thank you to Anna and to anyone else who reads my little stories–whether you be a child or a child at heart.

    be well,
    ps. shameless plug: you can find more, if you like, at http://www.thehistoryofthings.com

    • Always a pleasure reading you, gabe. This would make an excellent story for kids partially because it appeals to adults, too– as you will soon find out, parents are hungry for interesting things to read to their kids. And any fan of crows is a friend of mine.

  6. A great fable, the line “sometimes, you need to be unbalanced to be symmetrical” is great, I somehow thing the new queen’s reign was marked by people giggling behind her back. I’ll have to take a look at Gabe’s blog.

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