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Black birds, dark thoughts and the colors of spring


Despite the damning of weathercasters by wannabe tomato growers, the past week offered a rare glimpse into the heart of Mother Nevada in all her fickle beauty.

Dark skies and raging winds have served as a battleship gray backdrop for a spring rich in rare color. Mom wallows in the lushly drunken luxury of a water-sated winter. Her attractiveness and fertility intoxicate and seduce.

But she also warns us. If you would abide close to her bosom, you must embrace her dark side. The black crows now rearing their young throughout the region act as her messengers. They clean her estate of fowl matters most foul.

Big, mean, loud and unforgiving, they are reincarnations of the souls of Nevada robber barons past who now do feathered penance for their sins as predators and scavengers. As they once were, they are again, dark shadows extending greedy wings.

We apparently dislike Mother's bastard birds. State government has declared open season on them. Bad idea. I nominate them to replace our unlikely official state featherling, the mountain bluebird.

More than any symbol I can imagine, the black crow perfectly portrays the darkside of this pretty place. If I could vote, I'd drop the happy little harbinger of happiness and make the crow our official fetish.

The crow perfectly reflects us and, figuratively and literally, eats the bluebird for breakfast.

Look above you as you drive along on a blustery afternoon. Mother Nevada's dark angels soar overhead against a quickening sky. When even hawks and eagles chicken out and stand down, the brazen crows maintain their territory.

Crunch! Thump. Just as you wonder if that big bird up there be crow or hawk, Mom jolts you back to reality via a pothole on the chunky obstacle course of city streets.

The cruddy carpeting has reached up to remind you that you cannot long escape the two-faced reality of Mother's House.

Look over there at the cheap weekly motel where people were killed and will be again. Here's a raggedy person who can't even afford that humble housing, heading instead for the shelter of the riverbank and the certain roust of some cop.

The crows are lost to your sight as you creep into the slowness of the downtown caverns. They are somehow so much prettier in the stubborn light of a winter which won't retire.

Even the streaked and splotchy stucco of the Flamingo Hilton becomes right when set against a storm sky with crows alight. What would look tired and dingy with blue above and heat bleaching downward now looks like lusty impressionist splashes in a neon-laced color cocktail. Mother Nevada's seductive spring can make even the mundane attractive, but beware.

You know you are not welcome within the casino citadel unless you have something in your pockets worth vacuuming. You know that many people working here have dangerous, low paid jobs and live one step away from the cold riverfront.

You know that they are increasingly forced to pay more and more of the expenses of the overlords from their meager paychecks. Soon, they may be stuck paying the tab for the continuing depredations of the railroad as well.

Its black engines and deep footprints cut through the hearts of our two little towns, spewing black smoke to complement the crows above and below.

The gambling overlords in their cherrywood aviaries look down upon Union Pacific's landbound, flightless bird of burden and recognize it as a kindred species.

Need a bit of the corporate welfare to which we've become accustomed? Peck away at our plantation population all you please. They've always got a little more to give in the name of a booming economy and corporate efficiency.

Crows in the sky. Carrion birds on the tracks chasing us to the shelter of the river bridges. The blackest birds oversee and manipulate from the fine-feathered nests of their guard towers.

Such is the price we pay for intimacy with beautiful Mother Nevada, the high rent for living in this lush, light and darkly seductive place.

CROW DU JOUR —  Now that it's okay to shoot pesky crows, I'll be eating hearty. Last week, I noted that the late, great Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) was knocked out of politics during the 1980 Reagan landslide partly because of misrepresentation of his abortion position by the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.

Turned out that I misrepresented the good senator's position as well, basing my comment on a news report from just after that forgettable election when Church joined more than a half-dozen liberal giants on the sidelines.

Former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan (D-Nev.), who now runs the Las Vegas Sun and other southern Nevada newspapers, thought I was wrong and called the senator's widow to find out for sure.

Bethine Church related that her husband took the right-to-life position until the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision which he afterward supported as the law of the land. However, he also sponsored a bill to allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortion services.

On ABC's Nightline after the 1980 election, Sen. Church and five other defrocked senators were displayed like talking heads on a trophy wall against a smug Rev. Falwell. Sen. Church took special offense at Falwell's campaign smearing him as a baby killer, a rant started by now-disgraced former congressman George Hansen (R-Idaho).

"Frank Church was raised a Catholic (his father's religion), but as an adult did not affiliate with any particular church or denomination.  The biography by LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer ("Fighting the Odds") says he left the Catholic Church by high school age.  His son became a Unitarian minister," according to an e-mail from Alan Virta, Head of Special Collections at Boise State University Albertson's Library.

I thank him for his prompt response to my information request, and to Gov. Mike for setting me straight as he has done in the past.

Unlike the Lush Rambos of the world, when I cook it, I eat it.

Hold the buckshot and pass the ketchup. Gimme some charred critter, properly deep fried.

Cro Magnons of the world, unite.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 5/17/98.