The sky was sepia and thick from the smoke from the highlands where fires raged, uncontrolled and hungry like it had so many times before. Fire trucks lined the Pacific Coast Highway, which was closed south of Rocky Point. Any hope of going to Big Sur and seeing the redwoods was dashed, and the new hope was that the fire was stopped before it reached them.
I walked on Spanish Beach with Kemper and Anna, among the seaweed and the granite outcroppings, where Kemper stacked stones in little cairns as if to say “I’ve been here, and I was industrious.” He was first to spot the two crows babbling amongst themselves, perhaps about the fires, and perhaps about the little visitor approaching without caution. They hopped from place to place, not quite flying though propelled by their charcoal wings, themselves dappled with ash. They settled on a low stone, glancing at us with queerly knowing eyes, whose whole blackness belied the sentience behind them.
I told Kemper to slow, to admire the birds before he scared them to flight. He stopped, perhaps as intrigued as they were. I told him that they had been known to drop nuts on the street so that passing cars could crush them, only to swoop down and pick up the fresh meats from the cracked shells.
In his small universe, these two were the birds that I spoke of. Not those crows in Japan that had learned this behavior. But I understood then, that this beach, these rocks, these crows—these were his universe. These crows were the only oddities that his four-year-old imagination could process at the time. The sky was smoky in and of itself, like a chthonic deity. There need be no fires, only smoke. There need be no other crows, only these.
As we walked away, careful to keep a wide radius from the crows, they continued to look at us, their heads panning ever so slightly as we passed. The crows will still be there, as they are in this photograph and in his mind, fixed in eternity, a memory of a distant beach on a foreign coast, until he sees the next pair of crows flitting about the shortleaf pines in his backyard, wondering how they made the journey but ever grateful that they made it for him.