bird watching

bird watching
bird watching
by Anna Fonté

The word observation can mean both attention and devotion, as if watching is both a scientific and a spiritual practice, as if there were a fascial connection between eye, heart, and beyond.

I see some faces with my eyes closed. I stared so long and hard I tattooed my retinas.

My girls want the weight of my eyes. They soak up my attention, greedy sprouts sucking rain. Watch this, mama. Look, mama, look, look at me.

There’s darkness collecting on my man’s face. His eyes have shrunk back into his skull. I’ve seen those shadows before, you don’t have to tell me.

Sometimes I keep my eyes to myself, watch my own feet plodding down the sidewalk. Looking takes so much energy. Pause in the crosswalk while the driver, who does not want to stop her car for me, glides by with her eyes fixed ahead, feigning blindness, but I force myself to look at the homeless man at least a moment, at least.


Some people don’t notice crows, but I see them everywhere. Once you start seeing crows, you can’t stop.

It must be a mile high but still I recognize that tiny black beating against the blue.

One sits at the top of the redwood, a dark star atop the christmas tree. One bashful female clutching the branch while her macho swain swoops down to investigate. The mob struts up and down the painted traffic line in front of our house, swaggering like noble gangsters, like they own the whole damn street. I scatter nuts and the crows plop down, select in the best, and flap off to secret caches.

The weight of a gaze is significant: a carat, kilogram, candela, kelvin, calorie. Before I open my eyes in the morning, I feel the lone crow outside my bedroom window, watching me.

On a scale from one to ten, my eyes must open to answer.


I have met my share of narcissists. The lines have been cut, there is no answer. All inroads go the other direction. Sorry, kid, you’re on your own.

The crows didn’t expect to be noticed. Maybe they were used to being ignored. Once, they took up hardly any space at all, blurred into the background, wings hunched, the hushed and eerie echo of a caw.

Now, they are accustomed to being seen. I walk out of my house and a familiar figure rattles and flaps to greet me, with one eye as is crow custom, one eye at a time, a butterfly kiss.

I see the crow is glad to see me; the crow sees the same in me.

Seeing and being seen, being fed and feeding, the arc and spark of energy fusing, fireworks in the air. You can’t stop once you start, the eyes open and out it flows.


Being seen by a crow is like being seen by a god. No, by a tree. No: a distant ancestor. A mile-high recognition, my heart tethered to the telephone pole.

Nothing is clear or spotless. Take a microscope to the murky contents of every pore: up close, even dandelions might terrify. I can’t tell one crow from another. I can’t make promises or see tomorrow or read without glasses and from my children, I can’t hide.

But the more I look, the closer I come to seeing and the more I see, the more I see.


Click to read this wonderful poem by Mary Oliver.

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. MSB

    I have always found comfort in watching. I never thought about it as a spiritual practice but you’re right. My heart fills when I see, even if what I’m seeing is disturbing. It connects me to my world, making me feel less alone.

  2. OMG Anna. This is stunning.

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Love this essay. What is it about crows? They find their way into my writing too, but mostly in a menacing way. You have used them as metaphor in several ways. It was an “eye-opener.” 🙂

  4. Very nice writing! I often find myself counting crows and trying to pick out the odd Raven.

  5. “Being seen by a crow is like being seen by a god. No, by a tree. No: a distant ancestor. A mile-high recognition, my heart tethered to the telephone pole.”

    Le sigh.

  6. Jeffrey Coleman

    Very moving and quite beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

  7. this happened to me this morning…a crow – swooped onto the telephone pole and stared at me…i always try to quickly remember what i was thinking about right before i saw him…like the sighting is some kind of approval from the universe…ha! i’m hilarious or i’m onto something:) i see them everywhere too…along with other birds. lots of hawks. herons. woodpeckers. robins. this is a beautiful post – i like the rhythm of your words very much and the pace of your writing too, and of course, the subject matter and concepts:) thanks!

  8. If you look too close you see nothing. Something about vibrating molecules way down there. Well, it’s supposed to be science, but I don’t know if I buy it. It seems if that were true, when you died you would just disappear. Therefore I surmise there is no Higgs-Boson particle. Ta da. See how much you teach?

  9. I remember when someone cut down a big old tree here a while back. All I heard for days after that was the sound of a displaced crow. It was awful. But on a happier note, the crows are always perched in the pine trees along my favourite beach walk. Always watching… Sometimes, I think the joke’s on us.

  10. So beautiful, Anna. It’s true there is such connection in observation. A source of constant amazement if we take the time to look, to see.

  11. aubrey

    Crows are so intelligent and devilish. The converse with wit yet they stand in the middle of the street to investigate an empty juice box.

    Observation protects me from the city, and makes many things tolerable. During this time of year, it behooves one to investigate the sky. Two mourning doves are making a home amongst the peaks of my parents’ house. Seeing them might have been one of the high points of my weekend.

  12. It’s so true – as soon as you start thinking about crows and ravens they are spookily ever present. I read a lovely piece by Geoff Park – who is a very thoughtful observer of nature and especially birds in Newstead,Victoria, Australia. I’m sure you would love his blog and his recent post about a book called ‘Mateship with Birds’

    • Thank you for the link, Chas. I love to meet fellow bird watchers, especially those who watch crows. I wonder if the crows were effected by the bird flu in Australia as they were here.

  13. The lucky thing that happened to me on Friday night. I noticed on my WordPress Reader there’s a link that say’s Recommendations. So I thought, okay. Hit miss hit miss hit miss hit miss hit – girl in the hat. Great writing.

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