Christmas day had a ceasefire on skylight airdrops and you think the war is over. I’d describe the last two holiday days as almost peaceful; the dogs next door, quiet. I’m certain now I’m dealing with ravens and not crows. Ravens! This isn’t good. Deep down I’ve known all along, but didn’t want to admit it. Ravens have greater intelligence and physically bigger than even a big crow. Night raids are frequent and I’ve heard them ping the skylight past 10:30 p.m. But tonight I sit in a tense silence, afraid to hope the end of persistent and timed air strikes, is near. Henry and Bella tested out various methods over the last six months. Thankfully the scratch and dig on the roof above the bedroom approach was a short-lived strategy.
The good will and reprieve from a daily attempt to dislodge me from my apartment had me take advantage and brave the balcony to trim my prize Meyer lemon tree. All the birds quiet today and the silence felt unsettling. I heard a caw in the distance and wondered if I’d have to abandon my tree trimming early. Word is out I’m out on the balcony. Is the NoHo Raven king cooking up a new one? Has Henry lived so long he understands Christmas? Fewer homeless in the street? Fewer people overall, driving. Stores close early. The look on a child’s face tells the King these days are special and to act accordingly.
The ‘Tapper’, a bird who hammers away on the roof very early in the morning, is absent for the last few weeks. A strange, sad, and difficult early times NoHo story, is a blog post ahead. I’ve never seen him (most likely a male), but one day while driving on the 101 Ventura Fwy west to the 405, I looked into the distance and saw the biggest black raven; the wingspan freakishly wide I thought it was a hawk. Taking a picture while driving on the freeway unadvisable though the next time, I don’t care, I’ll have my phone on the ready. A few days later, thinking about the Tapper, I thought maybe the huge giant I saw flying over the 101 is the Tapper!
Will the soldiers fall back into formation along the battle lines drawn by their King and Queen? Is the time of good will and rest left behind for another year? Tomorrow is a renewed hope the Venice crows stay far enough away to keep the NoHo ravens from making up for lost time.
I saw them one Friday from my balcony looking east into the morning. I defiantly sat and smoked. By treat of three days notice to evict, smoking on the property is forbidden. I tried to enjoy my hand rolled cigarette free from guilt and ravens and crows, and looked out into the Verdugo hills. That’s when I see them coming. Circling high at first; slowly descending on the busy NoHo downtown, two hawks, I don’t know what kind, one bigger than the other, circle houses and streets a block away. Two fast movng preditors set the birds in the hood into a sharp, quiet alertness. All I did was smile, watch the fun, and enjoy my cigarette. The small hawk aimed its body toward a roost of resident pigeons lining Magnolia and sent feathers into the air. It darted straight into the center of the group; a moment of amusment rather than lunch I gathered.
I do smoke two or three rolled cigarettes a day, and 90 per cent of my smoking is in the car, in the street. Obviously, defending my decision to light up on the balcony is dumb, but I need that moment from time to time, to pretend I have a real outdoor space free from guilt and shame for 10 or 15 minutes. A hand rolled cigarette is often re-lit and burns slow. I’ve time to hold a complete phone conversations sitting in my car savoring the curling blue smoke. Usually I listen to NPR and watch a dying, once quiet residential street try and adjust to rapid and large-scale changes. I should quit fucking smoking, huh? But enjoy the ritual too much, and a moment of sanity and pleasure a few times a day is worth all I have to give. I don’t want my neighbors to deal with the second hand effects of my vice; forced to close a window, or drive them from their balcony, but one periodic indulgence here and there can’t be critical to ones overall health, only a temporary inconvenience. Right?
The street birds; finches, house sparrows, humming birds, and I think at least two towhee families, pepper a thin line of trees on a street in the throws of gentrification. Me in a parked car, in the street, almost daily, I try to enjoy a rollie while birds of all kinds flit from fence to bough. I use to hear the chatter and see the attention differently once when I felt like a friend and less of a threat.
The pair came, over two weeks ago, and I wasn’t in my car, but breaking laws and maybe inconvenience people, I don’t know, happy either way for a moment. Smoke curled up over the railing as they circled, navigated the neighborhood, quieting the restless and irritated ravens, and silencing anything else born with feather and hollow bones. I hope those hawks come again soon.
Any amount of rain in Southern California is a gift, and it looked like Christmas came early this year when, on December 6, 2 inches of water fell on Los Angeles and environs. Record setting amounts. Water has been scant in SoCal for the last 10 years, but when we moved here from the east in 2007 it did rain in the winter and quite hard as I recall. Since then, SoCal had two droughts to make a total of 5 drought years out of the whole decade. But on Thursday of last week, the rain took out some of the PCH near Malibu with mud slides, and it snowed hard north through the Grapevine and closed off a chunk of the 5 freeway. In North Hollywood, Vineland was a lake and Riverton a river. Rather than struggle out in the street with terrified Angelenos for parking and time, I invited Wade to stop by the apartment for coffee.
The rain really started the day before; a change in air pressure, a brisk wind, cool with clouds, and a clear scent of moisture in the air. I craved comfort food and a warm blanket. The change in weather quieted the neighborhood bird community; you could feel them waiting for the big rain. The hard rain pounded the skylight and woke me in the night. I happily went back to sleep knowing, for the first time in months, the crows had no choice but to wait, wait and wait, for the next chance to pick up a stone and drop it on my kitchen skylight. But on Thursday, rain is all I heard for 48 blissful hours. The skylight is King Henry’s weapon and last great hope to get rid of me and those strangers invading their territory. I named him King Henry and his mate Queen Isabella; the king and queen who rule the NoHo crow family.
Henry is head honcho in charge of the strategy to eliminate the problem. Several times a day for reasons unknown, except for my interpretation and theory, the king drops pebbles and stones on my kitchen skylight. I don’t know when I first began to notice, months ago I recollect. When I first took notice, stones were heard pinging off the hard plastic dome constantly. Henry had recruited his henchmen, and certainly Bella, to fly over the apartment building and rain down on a bitch. The skylight is only one of many intimidation methods these old raptors cooked up; blast me with their caws and fly menacing straight at me on my balcony, antagonize the dogs next door, and ruffle the feathers of all the smaller birds living in the area. When the rain came though, Henry and Bella’s main plan no longer had any effect.
I was grateful for the real rain while it lasted. The moment I heard the last drop fall, king and queen regrouped and solidified their reign of terror. They doubled stone-drop efforts and perched around the apartment cawing to reestablish boundary markers. All the attention stems from three persistent Venice beach crows risking even safety, to stay by my side. I write about it now publicly, but I’ve kept a written journal documenting the earliest times with birdlife in Venice. Living in Venice, I believe, had more difficult times when Agrippa ran around the neighborhood cloaked by a huge clan. He made life at the beach so crazy, I suffered anxiety and stress and even stopped riding my bike on the regular. Living in NoHo, he’s been relegated to the outer tree line of Henry and Bella’s territory, and direct access is almost impossible. He still tries everyday to let me know he’s around, today and always.