November 28, 2008

Murder in the Round

Every once in a while, I come across a place in the center of a city that makes me wonder whether the city planners had been drinking a wee bit too much mountain dew. And no, I don’t mean the soda. Or even the moonshine.

I walk through Elliot Park in Minneapolis on my way home from work most days. It’s an irregular piece of greenery on the edge of downtown, carved up by basketball and tennis courts, a skate park, a rec building, a ball field, a playground and a wading pool.

There are concrete paths here and there, but people mostly follow the ruts in the grass. The main path in the park forms a large circle around the playground and pool. To be perfect, it should circle a small hill, but people know well enough not to follow it anyway. Well, the children may not, as the designer was no doubt aware, but their attention spans are short enough that they never make it around three times. At least, I haven't heard of any disappearing in the park.

Just inside the path is a circle of elms, and this is where the park gets interesting to more than just a faerie-fevered imagination. The trees are nearing the end of their lifespans, and there are a few gaps, but this also means they're the tallest trees on this edge of downtown.

In the fall, tall trees and nearby food turn the park into Crow Central. Every evening, toward sunset, crows on their short migrations have to find somewhere to spend the night. Most nights, it's the park, specifically the ring of elms. I hear the park, of course, before I see it, as the normally more solitary birds negotiate settling in these massive groups. The chatter is so obviously meaningful that it's hard to fight the impression that if I stand and listen long enough, I'll begin to understand.

It's fascinating to look up and see trees, so recently opaque with leaves, now studded with large black bodies. They never quite become opaque again, though. While the elms are definitely the preferred perches, they can only accommodate so many birds comfortably. I don't know how the question is decided, but when one too many birds lands, the entire tree erupts again.

Some of the crows will swirl about to land again in the same tree. Others will depart for less-crowded, less-desirable trees nearby as new birds fly into the park. The entire sky, a post-sunset deep blue, churns like a movie shot of the bat cave--only the silhouettes above are ever so much bigger, and they carry their own music with them as they move.

This video is the closest I could find to what I see walking home. My view is obviously steadier.

Without a circle of trees to concentrate the birds, it's not quite the same. What I see and hear feels nigh unto magical. I keep meaning to the write the story that goes with it, but my descriptions can't begin to capture it. Of course, nothing can. If it could, it wouldn't be magic.

And like any good faerie magic, all that's left of the birds in the morning is shit all over the sidewalk.


Lou FCD said...

Nice. I especially like the neck wrench at the end.

Stephanie Zvan said...

The part where it settles back into reality. Whyever would you like that? :)

Anonymous said...

Eliot park (the park, not the neighborhood in which the park exists) was originally the grounds of a hospital.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Gone when they built HCMC or before?

By the way, someone at (or next to) HCMC doesn't seem to like the crows. They've played recordings of hawk cries for the last couple of years to make the crows unhappy. This does keep the crows away during the summer. However, it has the side effect of increasing the pigeon population, since apparently pigeon eggs and/or babies are crow delicacies. Idiots. I'll take the crows any day.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure of the exact timing of events, but it is a little complex. There were, I think, two hospitals in the area, one regular, one homeopathic. Eliot park is, in fact, where important dramas in the history of modern medicine played out, and these hospitals and their owners were part of that story.

But I really don't know the details. Nor are they easy to find. Research related to this was done as part of the Eliot Park Neighborhood Archeology Projects. In theory, I helped supervise some students working on that, but the particular subset of details I focused on are not part of this particular scenario. These students made a documentary or two. ... hmm. wonder if they are on YouTube...