Thursday, May 23, 2024

The minds of corvids, and tigers

Two books in my study caught my eye the other day. The first was this, which I bought secondhand some time ago but haven't read yet:


It's called Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-birds. The subtitle caught my eye because of The Tinleys. In that story, the two knights named Tinley are pursuing a griffin and end up on an island inhabited by numerous "griffin" (bird/mammal hybrid) species, from the diminutive titmouse (half tit, half mouse) to the domestic short-tailed chow (chicken-cow). The "wolf-birds" of Heinrich's subtitle would obviously fit right in.

In writing the above paragraph, I popped over to Bruce Charlton's blog so that I could get a link to his "Great Tits" post, and I found that his latest post there -- very recent, as it wasn't there this morning Taiwan time -- is about corvids and their remarkable minds: "Won-over by magpies in Newcastle upon Tyne," in which he mentions "that magpies (and Corvids generally) were indeed one of the most intelligent of native British birds." I had already given this post its title before seeing Bruce's post. The magpie is a black-and-white corvid, like the pied crow in my Odessa Grigorievna dream. In Britain it is, anyway; in this part of the world, the magpies are blue:


Also as I was writing the above, I had a vague memory of having mentioned Mind of the Raven on this blog before, and even noting "wolf-birds" in connection with griffins, but I guess it was in the comments, as a search came up empty. Looking at my posts tagged "Corvids," though, led me to "Precognitive dream: Carrying a pet in a room where it's raining" (August 2022), where one of my comments referenced tigers and William Blake:

Tigers are part of this, too . . . . My hippie uncle, also called William Tychonievich, used to rock and roll under the stage name Billy Tyger, a handle intended to reference both his (our) own name and William Blake. One of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell is "The crow wished everything was black; the owl that everything was white."

As you will read below, I had already been thinking about tigers and William Blake, and had already decided to put the Blake/tiger syncs in the same post as the corvid syncs, before discovering that comment.

The other book that caught my eye was one of the many secondhand children's books my wife bought in bulk some years ago: The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia DeFelice. This was also vaguely griffin-adjacent -- I am currently reading Adrienne Mayor's book The First Fossil Hunters, in which she makes the case that Protoceratops fossils in Scythia gave rise to the griffin of legend. The word glen also got my attention because it recently appeared in "'Come buy,' call the goblins" -- the next line after that being "Hobbling down the glen."

I read The Ghost of Fossil Glen today and, out of idle curiosity, looked up what else Cynthia DeFelice had written. A picture book about a highly intelligent corvid, it turns out:


This afternoon, I had some free time, so I went for a brief hike on Eight Trigrams Mountain, this being the perfect time of year to go there. We don't get much in the way of autumn foliage on this subtropical island, but sometimes I still get the chance, like Humpty Dumpty, to look down on a multicolored forest canopy.


As I was walking, for some reason one of William Blake's Proverbs of Hell popped into my mind: "The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction." Seconds after thinking of that out of the blue, I rounded a bend in the trail and passed a couple walking with their young son. The boy was wearing a T-shirt with a cute cartoon picture of a tiger, helpfully captioned, in English, "TIGER CUTE."

The tiger was a bit of a sync, obviously, but I thought at first that a cute tiger was still rather far removed from Blake's menacing "tygers of wrath." A moment's reflection, though, reminded me that the word cute had originally meant "shrewd, discerning, clever" -- i.e., wise, like Blake's tygers.

3 comments:

Bruce Charlton said...

I am not 100% sure, but I think I saw a raven a couple of weeks ago, in Forest Hall - a suburb about 2 miles from the city centre.

This would be the first raven I have seen in the wild, and they are apparently very rare in the UK numbering just in the 10,000s (mostly rural, and and mostly in Scotland).

If my identification was correct, it would not be the first to be seen here; since some local proper bird-watchers have more than once, in recent years, reported sightings of one or two ravens in the city boundaries.

I'm always on the look-out for signs of the Raven King's return to his capital city...

Anonymous said...

Can velociraptors be considered corvids, and if so, was Jurassic Park predictive programming for the birdemic?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Sorry, no. Corvids include crows, ravens, jays, magpies, stegosaurus, and jackdaws. Velociraptors are actually in the duck family.

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