Sarah O'Malley
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Photo by Sarah O'Malley

Before Portland, I only saw a crow in real life once. It perched on the rusted fire escape through the window of my studio apartment, which I perceived too precarious and weather-worn to ever venture onto. I took a picture for Instagram and asked my friends if I should consider the visitation an omen on such a sunny day in Washington, DC.

“Crows are magic!” said Mary. “They may be bringing you healing.” “I love crows!” said Amanda. “Crows appear to warn you of spiritual changes. They remind you to pay attention to divine signs and guide you to the appropriate path.”

I must not have been paying close enough attention, because I don’t know for sure what healing or divine signs I was meant to receive in April 2022. Maybe the crow was a spiritual guide leading me into the chaotic but formative relationship I would begin that summer. Maybe it was delayed reassurance that the major life changes from the past December were good and true. Maybe it was a forehead kiss from Mother Nature while experiencing COVID for the first time. I don’t know. But I didn’t see another one until Fall 2023.

“What’s the deal with all the crows?”

The guy from Bumble didn’t know what I meant.

“There are crows EVERYWHERE.”

It was the first thing I noticed. Crows in the air, crows on the lawn, crows on the power lines, crows in the trees. I had never seen so many at once, and I saw them all the time, blanketing the wind and earth of my new city, Portland.

Growing up in DC’s suburbs, I swore I would not get stuck in my hometown. I threatened to move away for years. But, unlike my three older siblings who at 18 began trajectories of living and schooling around the world, I went to college in my home state of Maryland and got my first “big” job in the neighboring city where both of my parents worked for 30+ years. I planned to stay for a year. Then 3. Then 5. I nearly let a few ending leases push me out when the pandemic made work fully remote, but my supervisor couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t be called back into the office “any month now.”

When I turned 30, finally changed jobs after 7 years, and rented an apartment on my own for the first time, it changed how I saw DC. It became a new place and the next two years made me fall back in love with it. I made new friends, joined new communities, created a home for myself, and came into a grounded sense of self in a way I didn’t in my 20s. Then, something snapped. I got hurt, I got restless, and I got overwhelmed. I started telling people I was moving away. Suddenly, I had done it. It felt just as impulsive as it appeared to my friends, but I know I waited patiently, hoping the dam would finally break.

When people from home ask me how it’s going, I tell them Portland is a great place to be depressed. I am comforted by the gloom, and the season has allowed me to hibernate, relieved to have abundant coffee, wet trees, and very little else. In a way, I chose Portland because it was simply somewhere else, far away, but it became the cool, dark room I needed to retreat to when the party got too loud.

DC has a fever. There is always something you’ve just missed. Everyone is up to something, and keeping tabs on the somethings of everyone else. It’s exhausting, but like a frog in a pot of water, continuously adjusting, one might not know they’re boiling. I didn’t realize how much I needed nothing to do. Here, somewhere else, I am resetting myself to factory settings. I have room to be curious, to feel, to excavate, to rebuild.

It’s easy to stay where you’re unhappy, and for years I feared I would rather carry on than take a risk, imagining myself as an old woman looking back at my present with disappointment and regret. Yet, I left. I drove a whole country away from my life. This choice was an act of self-trust of which I long suspected I was not capable. I am glad to know that doubt was a lie.

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Photo by Sarah O'Malley

Since October, I started baking again. I tried yoga. I quit yoga. I enjoyed the swings at my neighborhood park. I purchased local tortilla chips many times. I stopped drinking. I have seen a juicy, purple starfish up close. I learned how deep some wounds go, and how little they have healed. I got three tattoos. I put some friendships away. I texted my mom “Thinking of you!”

I am surrounded by choices like I am surrounded by crows, and the line between divine destiny— “signs” —and self-actualization has become blurred. Do I see the winks because I’m looking for them? Because affirmation is inevitable if I am a trustworthy friend to myself? Or, as I secretly hope, does some big love want to let me know that I am always being thought of, safe, and seen? Maybe the difference doesn’t matter, maybe it’s all the same.

As I write this, it’s March, and I am like Oregon’s rain-sodden ground. I feel full and fertile with potential, resting but preparing for a vibrant spring. I make small talk, hang pictures, and water plants. I stroll damp sidewalks with groceries, smile at dogs, and watch the crows. On the one hand, novelty is what makes magic shimmer. Maybe the normalcy of something special cheapens it. Maybe the regular cannot be mystical. On the other hand, meadows are lovely not for the rarity of their wildflowers, but their abundance. Why shouldn’t this green place of feathery black be sacred? Why not follow the signs? Why not imagine healing as a gift from friends, leading you gently with sound and wings?

Can you believe it? “There are crows EVERYWHERE.”

Editor's Note

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Obiekwe "Obi" Okolo

Guest Editor

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