THE MURDER OF CROWS
Albatross travel in rookeries. Alligators in congregations like old women with alligator purses at church picnics. It’s a dazzle of zebras and a wisdom of wombats. A descent of woodpeckers might peck at a clat of worms, if a plump of wildfowl doesn’t find them first. A pack of wolves remain a pack if they remain still, but once they move it’s a rout. A pod of whales when swimming with a pod of walruses becomes a gam but will never swim with a hover of trout. It’s true. A smack of jellyfish, a charm of hummingbirds, and a string of ponies will never, ever meet. Goats are a tribe, giraffes, predictably, a tower, and frogs an army.
But most people still call everything that flies a flock, that swims a school, and that runs on four legs a herd. It’s a glint of goldfish and a band of gorillas, and a leash of greyhounds, which, because of no leash laws in the county where I live, often escape the rotten fence surrounding a neighbor’s yard.
Deer move in herds, unless they’re bucks then it’s a brace, like ducks are when on the ground (as opposed to the flock in the sky or a raft of ducks in water). Eagles have a convocation, elk join gangs, falcons have a cast system, while emus show up in mobs. A caught fish is a catch but miss the big one and it remains in a draft, though more commonly a school, which really should be shoal, a word corrupted in the current of time. A bloat of hippos, a cackle of hyenas, a party of jays and a troop of kangaroos. The mice in my son’s closet are a mischief, the moles labor beneath a scourge of mosquitoes. Parrots are good company, and porcupines prickle; really, a prickle of porcupines. Raccoons gaze in a gaze, but it’s an unkindness of ravens, which I suppose are a bit standoffish. Salamanders travel in a congress, which makes sense for their basic sliminess, but sharks, partly because they scare the crap out of us, move not in a school but a shiver. Vultures have a venue, and while kittens are a kindle, wild cats are a destruction. Go figure.
People. Well, people travel alone, or as a couple, a duo if performing. Add a bass player and it’s a trio, one more makes a quartet, or a foursome on the greens. We move in gangs, we travel in groups unless we’re after someone then it’s a posse. We gather as an assembly, we make up one body, we are together the population, we are as a whole a society, we are as history a civilization. We started as two, tradition tells us, in a garden of wildlife, including a dule of doves but only one serpent.
Scientists estimate there are ten million species of organisms on earth, and they all have names. Today for lunch my son and I had oysters and clams raised in beds in a river. It was just the two of us, a couple of guys, until later when we joined a group of friends to move into a crowd of others which, when the oysters ran out, turned into a mob.
Tonight, I’ll sit in peace on the porch and gaze at a galaxy of stars, completely alone.
Bob Kunzinger is a professor of arts and humanities in Virginia. His work has appeared in many publications, including Kestrel, Southern Humanities Review, Washington Post, and more. Several of his essays have been noted by Best American Essays.