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In Bangor it’s pigeons vs. ravens

02/05/2013

Last fall, my sister Mary phoned me from Minnesota and reported an eagle sighting near her home in White Bear Lake. It sounded pretty dramatic.

Mary routinely walks her dog Malteser  on the city “dog beach,” a lakeside off-leash play area for pets. On this day, Mary was watching her dog romp in the water when an undetected eagle launched itself out of a nearby tree and swooped over the shoreline. Did it want to lunch on Malteser?

The bird flew out over the lake and disappeared behind an island.

“It was so cool,” said Mary. “You never get to see them that close. They’re so big.”

After hanging up, I decided to go for a bike ride. It was a cold, dreary Sunday afternoon in Bangor. I rode for about an hour down to the Penobscot River and back. As I returned up a hill, I passed a cemetery about two blocks from our house and had my own amazing bird sighting.

A murder of crows.

Hundreds of crows had landed in the cemetery trees. The birds were perched on bare branches back-lit against a gun-metal grey sunset. It looked like the trees were filled with hundreds of deformed black beehives. The chorus of squawking was loud enough to drown out nearby interstate freeway noise. Then the birds started to fly. First just a couple, then more, they all seemed to follow each other but where were they going?

Since that bike ride I started to notice the overwhelming amount of crows in Bangor. Sometimes we wake up to an early morning “caw-caw-caw.” Every week I see hungry crows pick at curbside trash bags like they were at a Thanksgiving Day feast. Yesterday, I passed a lonely crow perched on a freeway guard rail like a hitchhiker needing a ride to Millinocket. In December, Jen and I witnessed a parade of crows flying past a downtown church steeple – there was no beginning or end in sight.

It’s not just living, breathing crows you see in Bangor either. A local street artist tagged the boarded windows of a vacant house near us with black birds, turning the property into haunting visual display.Was the artist making a statement about life in Bangor? The environment? Or maybe the housing crisis?

It’s hard to say.

The same artist has gained fame for wheat pasting the image of a pigeon – usually wearing a shirt or cap – on buildings, walls and other nooks and crannies around town.

The artist, who is identified only as “Pigeon,” talked about the project in a Bangor Daily News story back in 2011:

“Art is about struggling to make sense of life, and of the place you live in,” Pigeon said. “A community needs narrative. It needs stories. It needs things to connect to. I think a lot of people feel like Bangor has no story, no identity, is a ‘no’ place. But it does, and I want to try to tell that story.”

An admirable mission, I suppose.

Jen and I found Pigeon’s studio during a recent downtown art crawl. It was located on an upper floor in an old brick building with creaky stairs and narrow hallways. The room was full of serious, cutting-edge portrait work and buzzing with many friends and admirers. Of course, there was a rack filled with pigeon t-shirts and other pigeon paraphernalia. Jen bought a onesie for a friend’s new baby.

I moved over to a sales table and asked the artist why a pigeon was selected for the street art mission.

Pigeon, a young man with a stroke of receding dark hair, said he sees the birds all over the downtown area.

“I see a lot of crows,” I said.

Pigeon smiled. “I’ve done crows too. On a house up the hill.”

“Ah, yes,” I said. “I’ve seen it.  I like that one.”

I guess a busy open house isn’t the best place to engage an artist about the inspiration behind his work.

Now whenever I see crows flying over my house, I think about pigeons and hope for an eagle.

Crows in tree

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