White Crow and the Tree of Heaven

Cheraine sat at the kitchen table nestled in the corner with the Bay window looking out at the crisp frost that glazed the sere grass on the meadow’s small hill beyond the back fence. Vapors rose from the white blades like ghosts and she imagined the grass was the spearheads of a thousand warriors, a vengeful host rising from the mists.

The housing development was built on an ancient Caddo tribe burial mound. Unlike the old Poltergeist movies there had been no haunting of the residents of Ailanthus Mound, the incorporated village named for the very mound she viewed out of focus as she daydreamed, absentmindedly spinning her coffee cup as its contents cooled. She looked down at the steam skirling up from the rim of the cup and then back out the window to the ailanthus tree, also known as the Tree of Heaven, at the top of the hill..

A murder of crows had appeared on the hill cawing and hopping about as some of them spread their wings, leapt into the air as if to fly off, and then plummeted back to the sacred earth.

The buzzer on the dryer sounded and she downed her cup of cold coffee and rose from her reveries. She headed to the laundry room where she gathered everything up and dumped it in the basket.

Folding her son’s pajamas and putting them in his dresser drawer, careful to rotate the freshly cleaned to the bottom of the pile, even though she knew he would dig his favorite Star Wars pajamas out when bedtime came, she happened to glance out the second floor window.

The crows were arranged in a circle around the crest of the hill where the lone Tree of Heaven stood, the only thing besides grass that ever grew on the hill. Ailanthus were considered an invasive species in the U.S. and she had always wondered about that solitary tree.

The town had fenced its namesake hill, Ailanthus Mound, off with a black, cast iron fence, like those around cemeteries, and planted a memorial plaque at the foot of the hill at the time of its incorporation in 1876. Rumor had it that the indigenous people, the small Caddo tribe from these parts had been displaced, their land seized in eminent domain. Cheraine grumbled at the affront as she recalled losing four feet of her back yard so the town could build an easement. God forbid the trash trucks should be seen picking up trash on the streets of the town.

She had dazed out again, allowed the scene to go out of focus, and when she looked back, she saw a white dove at the center of the ring of crows sitting beneath the Tree of Heaven.

The raucous cawing had ceased completely and every single bird on the hill sat still except the Dove — no, it was a white crow that paced in a circle like a general reviewing a battalion of Marines.

Something nagged at her mind, some memory that ached to surface. As she watched the General parade around the tree her mouth dropped open when the white crow stopped directly opposite her. Looking at it, she felt as if she were being drawn in like a close up shot in a movie.

She could suddenly see right into the ink black eye of the General as if it was a mirror. The reflection was out of time and the mists rising from the frosted grass became smoke from smoldering cookfires. The blades of grass morphed into spears planted butt first into the ground outside dwellings that appeared to be made of bison hide.

At the center of the scene stood a lone figure dressed in buckskin pants, barefoot and shirtless, his skin painted white except for the dark circles under his eyes and the red streaks that looked like tears.

The vision dissipated, like the frost and the mists, as the sun rose behind the ailanthus tree.

Cheraine shook her head and went back to folding laundry, then reached up to touch her face when she tasted salt on her lips and realized she was crying.

M. Zane McClellan

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