The Day the Crows
Flew Backwards

by Henry Swain

The first neighbor I met years ago when my wife and I came to Brown County was Tyson Milo. “Ty” was a “character” we soon discovered, which Brown County seems to produce with regularity.

He had an intuitive connection with his plants and animals. Some said he talked to them. He was not a farmer, rather a master gardener with “green thumb” and “green forefinger.” Local residents claimed his garden grew the best-flavored produce in the county. His alignment with the natural world rewarded him for his co-membership with it. The secret to his miraculous garden was in the mixing of his natural fertilizers. He kept chickens, a mule, a few hogs, and a couple of goats.

One day I went to visit him for advice on improving my garden. His brother Jim was visiting. We three sat in his primitive cabin talking, when a chicken hopped up on the door sill, took a couple of steps inside, then pooped on the floor, turned around and flopped to the earth outside. Jim looked on with disapproval and said, “Ty, why do you let your chickens come into the house? They don’t do good in the house. They ought to be outside a scratchin.” Ty got up, fetched a quart glass jar nearly filled with a gray matter, opened the lid, picked up the poop with an old spatula, and placed it in the jar carefully screwing on the lid. This action seemed like something he might do every day.

“That was Henrietta,” said Ty, “Got her trained. She’s my best supplier.”

“What do you keep it for, Ty?” asked Jim.

“You mean Henrietta?”

“No, the poop.”

“It’s part of the mix.” answered Ty. “I keep records of different mixes of manure. They’re my secret formulas. Sometimes chicken and hog, sometimes hog and mule. Sometimes all four plus old sawdust and other stuff I think might work. Let me show you my sunflower plot at the south end of the cabin.”

Ty took us out to view a row of the tallest sunflower plants I’d ever seen. In the middle of the row, and in line with the gable of the cabin roof, was one much taller than the rest with a head the size of a bushel basket. I couldn’t believe it. It towered a foot above the peak of the gable. Even Jim was impressed.

“My God, Ty,” said Jim. “What kind of mix was that?”

“Ain’t telling,” answered Ty. “It’s got medicinal qualities too I don’t quite understand yet. You may not believe what I’m about to tell you, but yesterday morning a couple of crows got into pecking the seeds and it made them fly backwards.”

“Now, Ty,” said Jim. “That’s a bit much even for you—let’s hear it.”

“You know how the crows are early in the morning, cawing out their arguments where to fly off and feed for the day. Well yesterday, two of them stayed back still arguing.

“One flew down to the roof ridge to investigate the sunflower head, and began feasting on the seeds. They can’t normally do that for the head bends over when they land and they fall off. On the roof ridge the head was easy picking.

“Soon the other crow came down and they skirmished noisily back and forth cawing and grabbing seeds while jostling for position. The first crow began to look wobbly. The second crow knocked it off the gable end. It flapped crazily trying to gain altitude, but finally spiraled down backwards like an autumn leaf but landing hard in the dust. It didn’t move.

“The remaining crow had it all to himself and made good time gorging on the seeds. Then the same symptoms caused it to balance precariously on the ridge and fall off. It did better on maintaining altitude, but flew so erratically it went into a stall, and I swear flew backwards ten feet into the trunk of the walnut tree falling hard to the ground dead.

“I wondered about rabies, for the birds had foam coming from their beaks. I took them the vet to see if that was possible. You know what? He said the crows were drunk. Tested 2.0 can you believe that?”

Jim and I fell silent after Ty’s unbelievable story. Yet, there was the fifteen-foot tall sunflower standing above the roof. Finally, Jim asked, “How did the alcohol get into the seeds?”

“I’m not real sure, but I think it may have been my fertilizer mix. I used some bad mash from cousin Jed’s still and mixed it with chicken manure. It may have been the ammonia in the chicken manure that activated the residual alcohol in the mash.”

Back inside Ty heated a cup of hot water, dropped some sunflower seeds into it, and stirred. After a few hesitant sips, Ty looked unsteady in his chair, started to get up then fell backwards hard to the floor taking the chair with him.

Ty opened his eyes after Jim dashed his face with water. “Wow,” Ty said in a weak voice, “That stuff’s powerful.” “Where did you get the seeds?” Jim asked.

“I picked up a few that fell from the big sunflower. Thought I’d experiment with sunflower tea.”

Jim and I helped him up. Ty stood there dazed. An ethereal presence moved over him as if he had seen the face of heaven. He turned, then, unsteadily walked backwards out the door.