A Murder of Crows, Part 2

A Murder of Crows, Part 2

I peered into our once-thriving orchard that bore fewer avocado trues since the drought began. There I spotted a black object lying in the dirt. At first I thought a plastic trash bag had been tossed over the fence. As I moved closer, I realized that this was not a trash bag but an animal’s carcass. Could it be a neighbor’s cat? It looked too large.

I opened the orchard gate, descending the railroad-tie steps down the steep slope unsure of what I’d find. When I reached the bottom, I waded through the piles of dead leaves and discovered a second black object—the body of a crow. I climbed the hill to where the first carcass lay and realized it was another crow. I could not tell what killed them until I saw punctures on one’s neck and its empty eye sockets.

Poor Heckle and Jeckle, I thought. Yes, they were annoying, but they certainly did not deserve to be killed and left. The sight of them lying there dead upset me. I walked back to the house and told Don what I found.

“Hawks are bird of prey,” he noted. “Sometimes they hunt to eat and other times they just kill.”

Shortly afterwards, our gardening team arrived for weekly maintenance. When you live on an acre of land, you need help. I told them about my discovery, and the gardener’s son stepped forward and said, “I’ll help you bury them. Let me get my shovel.”

Until that morning, I’d never been particularly impressed with this young man. He did not seem to enjoy his work, and I suspected he had been forced into his profession by his parents, who worked alongside him. Together, we went down to the orchard. “Yup, it was definitely a hawk,” he said. “Look at the marks on their necks.” Then he dug two deep holes in the corner of the orchard, and we chatted about his weekend and various things while he labored away. Finally, he carefully lifted each bird into its respective grave. As he covered the graves with dirt, he said, “God be with you,” while I silently said a prayer. That morning I gained new respect for this young man.

Yet I still felt the crows’ deaths were a bad omen, and the thought gnawed at me all day. Finally, I searched for “symbolism of dead crows” on my computer. To my surprise, two answers came up. Dead crows can be messengers of death or messengers of change. I’d experienced enough death, especially during the month of May, to hope for the latter. I chose messengers of change as the meaning I would embrace.

I spent the entire day writing for the first time in months. It felt great to be doing what I loved most after a long hiatus. Perhaps these deaths, as the deaths of many loved ones, had been my inspiration.

Years ago when Don and I ventured to Africa, our tour guide identified the animals we’d see. Then she stated the monikers that defined a group of each particular animal and gave us a list. For example, we saw a pride of lions, a zeal of zebras, a parade of elephants, a thunder of hippopotami, a leap of leopards, a troop of baboons, a tower of giraffes, a cackle of hyenas, and a pot of water buffaloes. But we never saw a murder of crows.

I found one in my own back yard.



A Murder of Crows

A Murder of Crows

Memorial Day weekend brought two huge crows with their cacophonous cackling to our yard. They’d visited before, but this weekend they remained close to our home, alighting on a nearby utility pole constantly calling to each other. Their noise grew annoying as we worked in the yard, and I wished they would be quiet.

Later that day I discovered them in our bird bath located at the top of our avocado orchard. One sat on the chain link fence looking soaked while the other sat in the bird bath dipping its food into the water. 

“Don, look at these crows in the bird bath. I think Heckle and Jeckle (two cartoon crows from our childhoods) have arrived,” I said to my husband.

“It looks that way,” he said. “They seem to have taken over and scared the smaller birds away.”

Living in the hills of Southern California, I viewed the crows as representatives of the diverse wildlife that calls our neighborhood home. We’ve seen a bobcat, a mountain lion, coyotes, roadrunners, skunks, rabbits, lizards, a variety of birds, hawks, rats, mice, and a number of different snakes. When you live on the edge of wilderness, you learn to coexist with its first inhabitants.

Despite this knowledge, I was startled when I spotted a huge red-tailed hawk swooping over our orchard as I opened the window shade a few days later. I had never seen a hawk so close to our home. I stood at the window transfixed by its aerial aerobics and said, “Don, look at this hawk. It’s magnificent.”

My husband ran into the room to see the large raptor repeatedly circle our property. “That’s unusual,” he remarked. “We don’t often see hawks in the morning and rarely this close to the yard. It’s hunting.”

We both thought nature had given us a great show to start our day and never thought about its prey.

The next morning I discovered the hawk’s true mission. When I made my morning outside rounds of the yard, I peered into our once-thriving orchard that bore fewer avocado trees since the drought began. There I spotted a black object lying in the dirt. At first I thought a plastic trash bag had been tossed over the fence. As I moved closer, I realized that this was not a trash bag but an animal’s carcass. Could it be a neighbor’s cat? It looked too large.

 I opened the gate, descending the railroad-tie steps down the orchard’s steep slope unsure of what I’d find. (to be continued)



Join Me

Join Me

You’re invited to attend a Local Authors’ Fair on Sunday, November 13, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Camarillo Public Library in Camarillo, California. I’ll be there to present The Spirit of Villarosa, a true suspense story that I coauthored with the late Horace Dade Ashton and his son Marc Ashton. The book debuted on June 28, 2016 and has received much praise for its compelling father and son tale.

I will also share my award-winning memoir, What Lies Within, with area residents who wish to meet local authors and read their books. If you’re in the Ventura County area that day, please feel free to drop in and introduce yourself. I always enjoy meeting my readers.


Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti

I have never visited Haiti, but I have been there through the written words of the late Horace Dade Ashton, his son Marc Ashton, and writers Tracy Kidder and Edwidge Danticat. The first two gentleman gave me the opportunity to help them write The Spirit of Villarosa: A Father’s Extraordinary Adventures; A Son’s Challenge, which debuted on June 28, 2016.

Horace Ashton first visited Haiti in 1906, when he wished to learn more about Voudou. He wrote, “On that first visit I fell in love with Haiti in a way that haunted me for life. The breathtaking beauty of this island paradise rivaled that of anywhere in the world I had visited. I fell in love with its vivid colors and vibrant music; the rich green texture of its mountains beyond mountains; and its turquoise ocean, so clear I thought I could reach down and touch the bottom. I felt an immediate connection to this country and its people, culture, and religion that would ultimately become my home and final resting place.” (more…)

Individual Stories Become a Part of All History

Individual Stories Become a Part of All History

On Tuesday, September 27, 2016, the Friendship Connection #1 invited me to talk about how individual histories become part of all history at the Poinsettia Pavilion in Ventura, California. On a sweltering fall day, I shared my past experiences collecting oral histories for the Museum of Ventura County and presented excerpts from these interesting interviews. I also spoke about what an honor and privilege it was to help other people tell their stories in book form.


My own memoir, What Lies Within, grew out of these experiences. After all, if I could write others’ tales, why couldn’t I write my own? I did. But it took nearly ten years from when I began writing my book, a memoir of my early years, until it debuted in 2013. I squeezed it in between client projects and work for my professional organization, the Association of Personal Historians, Inc.

One project I began as a subcontractor in 2003 became my second longest writing achievement. A combination memoir/biography written by Horace Dade Ashton and Marc Ashton grew into a challenging series of tales that I helped tell. Based on recordings that the late Horace Ashton left behind and Marc Ashton’s story of his kidnapping in 2001, the book became The Spirit of Villarosa: A Father’s Extraordinary Adventures; A Son’s Challenge. This book was released on June 28, 2016, and I feel fortunate to have been part of this amazing true-life tale’s writing team.

I read excerpts from both books and answered questions about them and my life. Afterwards members purchased copies of the books, which I gladly signed.

Writing can be a lonely profession, so I really enjoy the opportunities I get to share my work by venturing out and speaking. It felt wonderful to be welcomed by such a warm, receptive audience.

Reunions Bring Out the Best

Reunions Bring Out the Best

The Alhambra High School Class of 1966 held a joyful reunion last weekend, full of chance encounters, familiar faces, on-the-go conversations, heartfelt hugs, and promises to see each other sooner, thanks to the wonderful reunion committee who worked diligently to plan it. A tremendous thank you goes to Adele Cooke, Robin (Miller) Lambert, Kathi (O’Connor) Sarkin, Gloria Van Noy, Robin Zelenitz Grant, Laurie Brown Korpal, Darlene Heylek Nosworthy, Lana Wilson Machrone, and Linda Wilson Galluppi. This hardworking team made us all feel welcome to our blue-and-gold gathering where we celebrated 50 years since high school graduation. Most of us had no idea how much time and effort these women have given over the past two years as they produced priceless memories and a touching tribute to those no longer with us. Their efforts showed in every detail, and they are greatly appreciated.

Alhambra reunion 2

I’ve always considered reunions to be intimidating, but this one was different. It was filled with fun. Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” Most of us realize that you can’t go back in time either, yet to some degree we did as we remembered and reminisced.

High school years are formative. Most teens are trying to find themselves. Many have problems of which others are unaware. This was especially true in the sixties, when we did not live in a tell-all society. I never realized others’ burdens until my 50th reunion, after many classmates mentioned reading my memoir, What Lies Within, and then shared their stories with me. Few of us had any idea about our classmates’ lives outside of school, and I found their revelations honest and sincere. Our common bonds revealed themselves in these shared moments.

Alhambra reunion Don and Libby Atwater

One favorite phrase from the evening remains with me, as people viewed each other and said, “You look exactly the same.” What a great greeting to receive, especially after you’ve added fifty years to your life! But this was said time and again to several people, who I’d recognize anywhere. Yes, we’ve all experienced the joys and sorrows that come with being alive, and many have dealt with health problems that accompany growing older. Yet we discovered the joy of being together again as one class, and for that one evening we were ageless. For this glorious gathering, we can thank our reunion committee. They brought us together and made us one.

Thank you Adele, Robin, Kathi, Gloria, Laurie, Darlene, Lana, and Linda. You produced a warm, memorable event.