The Moss and the Crow
illustration by Kevan Hom
– Sammie’s Dream –
Sammie was a young moss who lived in a street crack with her family. They were happy mosses… except for Sammie. She wanted to travel the world. But there was one problem: mosses weren’t known to move much.
Sammie and her family had lived in the street crack for as long as she could remember. Grandpa always boasted that he and Grandma were some of the only plants that found a way to stay when the forest got cut down years ago. “We mosses have a stubborn streak and that’s the reason why we can grow in places where other plants can’t!” he explained proudly.
But Sammie felt stuck, not proud. She watched the cars zoom above her and daydreamed about the beautiful distant places they were traveling to. She wanted to see more of the sky than just the lightning bolt shape of blue above her head. Her parents chided her about her fantasies and reminded her to be grateful for what she had.
That only made Sammie more determined to do something. But what could a moss do? So Sammie waited. Maybe a curious raccoon would pick her up or a frog would lend a sticky tongue. Sammie waited and waited. Mosses could be very patient too.
One day, a semi-truck screeched over to the shoulder lane with a steaming hot engine. It sounded like an important part needed to be fixed, judging by the driver’s groan when he lifted the hood. Eventually, a taxi cab came to pick him up and he left the truck parked by the side of the road.
A day passed and Sammie knew that this was her chance. If she could somehow get herself on that truck before it left again, she could see the world! The truck was dirty from its long travels and she knew that if she looked hard enough, she could root herself into a caked piece of dirt somewhere safe from the wind. Ah – the ladder in the back looks like a good place! she thought.
Sammie stretched her stems and leaves towards the sky. She breathed and grew as fast as she could. In two days, the tips of her stems peeked over the side of the crack. Her parents commented on how fast she was growing, knowing nothing of her plans.
Then one night when they were sleeping, Sammie reached a stem over the lip of the crack, forced in some roots, and dragged herself over the edge. She inched her way over to the truck until she was standing below the ladder. She had to give up some of her stems to move quickly and now she only had one stem left. Exhausted and wilted, she looked up at the sky for the first time outside the boundaries of the crack. The rays of the morning light streamed across the sky as far as she could see. “The sky… doesn’t end?” Sammie gasped.
Oh no! The truck is ready to go!
Sammie threw herself into the groove of the tire tread as it started to roll. There was enough mud in the cracks for her roots to grab hold. She shot a farewell glance at her home before her world started to spin. It spun faster and faster! Sammie shut her eyes. She had never moved this fast in her life.
At some point she was so dizzy that she couldn’t hold on anymore. PLOP. Out she fell, onto the highway. The sun was high and the wind was hot. Her eyes followed the road as it snaked into the distance, but she could see no shelter nearby. Hours passed and Sammie started to shrivel and turn yellow.
Oh no, she thought. Maybe I should have never left. She wondered how her parents were and if they were mad at her for leaving. Would I ever see them again? She wanted to cry but her eyes were too dry for tears.
Just then, a shadow flickered over her. She braced herself against a few short gusts of wind from a pair of wings. Suddenly she found herself in the beak of a crow, launching up into the sky.
“I’m flying? I’m flying!” she cheered jubilantly, her wilted stem waved vigorously in the wind. They soared past farmland peppered with small barns, hills dotted with grazing cows, and creeks hiding under bushes and trees. Finally, they descended into a walnut orchard where the crow landed on a half-constructed nest lodged in the fork of a walnut tree.
– The Crow Family –
The crow passed Sammie to the beak of a waiting mother crow. The mother crow thrust Sammie into the bottom of the nest to line it along with other soft materials. Sammie looked around. The nest was large, and it was shady and moist under the tree canopy. She inhaled gratefully and was glad not to be moving for a change.
Soon, several other crows arrived to pass sticks and things to the mother crow for her nest. It’s a crow family! The mother, father and older siblings were getting ready for the mother’s new babies. And sure enough, over the next few days, one egg after another appeared in the nest. Sammie counted five spotted dark green eggs. She patted the nearest egg. It was warm.
In the following weeks, Sammie flourished in the moist and warm nest. She grew many more stems and blanketed the nest in a soft and thick green cover. She helped cushion the eggs as best she could and often sang lullabies to them before bedtime. Sammie waited in anticipation for the baby chicks to hatch.
It was during one of those quiet evenings when the crow family suddenly took to the sky at once, screeching and diving down towards something on the ground. Sammie had never seen them in such a panic nor heard such ear-splitting calls.
Then, the large black muzzle of a bear appeared over the nest. Sammie gasped and shrank into a crevice as the bear dug its claws into the sides of the nest. It lifted the nest to its mouth as if it were a huge dinner plate and then unceremoniously slurped down an egg.
The mother crow shrieked. She pecked furiously at his eyes while her other children tore at his ears with their talons. The bear roared and swatted them away. Sammie watched horrified as he proceeded to eat three more eggs.
“Nooo!” Sammie yelled. She flung herself over the last egg, wrapped herself around it and tugged it partially into the crevice with her.
Finally, other crows arrived to help and they attacked in a black swarm of feathers, sharp beaks and talons. The bear decided he had enough. He bared his fangs, shook his heavy head and jumped down from the tree.
The mother crow looked into her empty nest. She was devastated.
Sammie slowly pulled the last egg out of the crack and unrolled it from her mossy folds. The mother crow cawed in surprise. Immediately, she hopped inside the nest and turned the egg this way and that. Upon finding no cracks, she gently sat down on it.
In the days that passed, the crow family guarded the nest day and night. The mother crow never left the egg for a single moment. Sammie watched over the egg as well and continued to sing the egg lullabies.
One night, the egg cracked. The mother crow was still sleeping. Sammie watched a small beak poke through the shell. Soon, a head emerged and shiny eyes glinted in the moonlight. It saw Sammie.
“Hello.” it said.
“Why hello!” smiled Sammie.
“I know your voice,” the crow hatchling said, nuzzling Sammie. “Are you my mother?”
Sammie blinked, alarmed. Wait. The hatchling just spoke Moss! Was it because I sang so many lullabies to it? Incredible, she thought.
“No, but I’ll be your friend.” She pointed a stem towards the sleeping mother. “She is your mother.”
The crow hatchling pulled itself from the shell and headbutted the side of his mother’s wing. The mother crow woke. She looked down and cooed with relief and pride. The hatchling chirped back and then turned to Sammie.
“My mama said ‘Welcome to the world, my little Nobu.’” The hatchling stretched his wings in excitement. “I guess my name is Nobu. What’s yours?” He asked Sammie.
“My name is Sammie,” she replied, watching the mother crow as she fondly cleaned baby Nobu of the last clinging shell bits. Sammie was a bit confused and breathless that Nobu could understand her, but her heart was beating with joy. She had a feeling that they would become great friends.
– Nobu –
Nobu was brave. Within days he was already trying to fly about in the nest. Nobu’s older brothers and sisters made sure that he did not hurt himself during his flight attempts. They were particularly protective of him after the bear incident. One of them even fastened a helmet to his head made out of half a walnut shell.
“This is so much fun, Sammie. Come play with me!” Nobu hopped around.
Sammie looked at his walnut helmet. “I’d love to join. Maybe I can try sitting on your helmet?”
Nobu held still as Sammie transferred a few stems onto the walnut shell and sunk her roots into the dirt lodged in between the shell’s wrinkles. It took a while, but Sammie managed to secure herself onto the shell. Nobu looked quite funny with his helmet, now with a tuft of green on top. He danced a celebratory jig.
“Now you can go where I go!” Nobu exclaimed. Sammie quivered with excitement.
Everyday, more shiny black feathers grew. Nobu flapped his wings and practiced flying from one side of the nest to the other. To pass the time, they told each other stories. Nobu would translate everything that his parents and siblings told him about the world, and Sammie told Nobu about cars and described all the different types she had seen growing up in the street crack. She told him how she left home by hitching a ride on a truck. Nobu was fascinated.
A full month passed before Nobu was ready to leave the nest. Nobu puffed his chest and Sammie cheered as they glided down from the nest for the first time to join the older siblings. They showed him the best places to forage for walnuts and the cleanest streams to bathe and drink their fill. They were a wonderful and supportive family. Sammie started to miss hers.
As Nobu grew more independent, his parents and siblings helped him less and eventually stopped providing him food altogether. It was time to leave the nest for good.
“I’m going to be like you, Sammie. I want to see the world too. I want to see cars. Let’s go together!” Nobu said.
Sammie felt her heart thump in her chest and her stems tingled. “Maybe we can visit my family? I’d love to see them again.”
“Yes, let’s!” Nobu exclaimed.
– Home –
As Nobu bid his family goodbye, Sammie felt a pang of guilt as she remembered that she did not say goodbye to her own family.
“Are you sad to be leaving?” Sammie asked.
He shook his head. “We crows never leave the home nest for long. Like my brothers and sisters, I’ll come back to help my mother with raising her next eggs. I’ll choose a place nearby to live.”
Sammie was silent. Maybe I should find a place nearby my home too so I can be there for my family. She felt torn. Is this the end of my adventures? Would I have to say goodbye to Nobu?
As the duo soared past farmlands and hills, Sammie tried her best to remember where the father crow had originally picked her up. Finally they descended into an area where Sammie was certain her home was near.
Nobu was ecstatic to get a close look at the cars. “Oh look, another red one!” He loved shiny things.
They checked the street carefully, but there was no lightning bolt shaped crack. Instead, there was a pothole. Several large cracks surrounded the hole and it looked like the entire section of road was going to cave in. It was difficult to get close as cars were running over it.
Oh no! Sammie’s heart sank. “Nobu, quick! We need to land. I think they are in that pothole!”
Nobu made a hasty landing as soon as the street cleared. “Okay, but I will take off if I see a car coming. So make it quick!” He unclipped his walnut helmet and lowered the shell with Sammie into the pothole.
“Mom? Dad?” Sammie ventured.
The center of the pothole was dusty and bald from the constant speeding tires. Nothing could grow here. Not even moss.
Then, Sammie heard a familiar voice. “My goodness, it’s Sammie!” her mom cried. Sammie turned to see her entire family hanging upside down, bunched up under the lip of the pothole.
“Car coming, time to go!” Nobu picked the shell up in his beak and flapped away just seconds before a car came barrelling down the road.
“I’ll be back soon!!” Sammie called as she was carried away.
They looked for an opening to return, but the cars kept coming. There was a certain time, twice a day, when an extraordinary number of cars appeared on the road and their speed slowed to a crawl. This was one of those times.
“It will clear up when the sun sets,” Sammie said.
While waiting, Nobu was delighted to be able to see all the different colors and styles of cars closely as they inched slowly down the highway.
Sammie turned to him. “Nobu, I think my family is in danger. I need to stay and think of a way to help them. They can’t continue living in that pothole.” She hesitated under the realization that this could be the moment where they part ways. “Once you drop me off again, you should go on your travels without me.”
Nobu was shocked and shook his head. “What? No. I’ve known you since I was still in my egg. I’m not going anywhere without you. I want to help you save your family.”
“But I don’t want to hold you back from your travels. I don’t know how long it will take to relocate my family. It could take weeks or months! Don’t you have to return for the next breeding season?” Sammie objected.
“I’ll be fine, Sammie. Your family is in danger. We can find much better locations for them if we stay together. Seeing the world isn’t just about looking at new things.” Nobu insisted firmly.
Sammie smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Nobu. Then let’s think of something together.”
– The Move –
As they watched the cars roll over the pothole and cracks hundreds of times, it became very clear that the moss family could not survive there for even a week longer. They decided on a plan.
After the traffic cleared, Nobu dropped Sammie off in the pothole and then headed back into the skies.
“Sammie!’ Her dad’s voice thundered in the pothole cavern. “Where’ve you been?! We woke up one morning and you disappeared! We thought something must have eaten you.”
“And what is that thing you are sitting on?” Grandpa added.
“No, I’ve been fine. I actually… ran away.” She looked at the dirt as her family gasped. And then quickly, before they could ask any questions, she told them about the truck, the crow family, the bear and travels on a walnut shell.
“You RAN AWAY?! How could you?” His stems bristled.
All the guilt that she had been pushing down bubbled up all at once. “I know. I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to be gone for that long. I just wanted to see the world a bit. I missed you all very much,” she blubbered.
Her mother reached out a stem to the father. “Honey… We finally got her back. You know the thing I regret the most, was not being supportive of her dreams.” She smiled at Sammie. “I am so happy that you’ve come home.” She patted a spot on the overhang next to her. “I saved you a place, just in case.”
Sammie didn’t move. “Oh Mother…” Her eyes widened as she remembered. “Wait, you all have to move! Nobu and I saw several cracks around this pothole and it looks like this whole piece of road is going to cave in.” Sammie waved her stem frantically. “With all the cars passing by, it might happen any moment. I think we should move you to someplace safe… like now!”
Her father’s eyes widened but no one said a word.
Grandpa was the first to comment. “Nonsense. I’m not moving.”
Her mother nodded. “We know the crack eroded into a pothole, but we found a good place up here. It’s been safe. Right, honey?” She looked at the father.
Her father stayed silent.
Finally he sighed and gave Sammie a stern look. “I’m still mad at you. But…” He turned to her mother. “Sammie may be right. Honestly, I have been worrying that this place would not hold out much longer.”
Her mother looked at him startled. “You never told me!”
Her father shook his head. “I never told you because I didn’t want to worry you, especially since you were depressed about Sammie’s disappearance. But what Sammie saw up there confirms it.” He explained. He looked back at Sammie. “So how do you propose we move? Where do we move to?”
Sammie was surprised that her father agreed so quickly. He must have been worried for a long time. Relieved, she told them about the walnut orchard and how they could all move there with help from the crows.
“You want us to… fly?” The mother asked worriedly.
“It’s a crazy idea…” Her father frowned.
“I’m not going anywhere.” Grandpa insisted.
“How else would we get out of the pothole without getting run over?” Sammie reasoned.
Just then Sammie heard the familiar caw-caw of Nobu. She called out. Soon, Nobu landed with his older siblings and they peered into the pothole.
“Mom, Dad, Grandpa… this is my friend Nobu. And these are his older brothers and sisters. And, if you can believe it, Nobu learned how to speak Moss!”
Nobu lowered his head. “Pleased to meet you. I owe Sammie my life, and my siblings and I would be more than happy to help with your move.”
The other siblings bowed in greeting. Sammie smiled as she saw that each of them had donned on a walnut shell helmet as well. They lowered the shells into the pothole.
“A crow that can speak Moss? Well, now I’ve seen everything,” Grandpa shook his stems.
“For now, the crows can help us move to the walnut grove and we will be safe. They can help us find a better home later,” Sammie explained. “Please, I know it’s scary… but try to climb on?” She gestured towards the shells. Nobu picked up his helmet with Sammie on it and fastened it to his head.
“This is all so sudden.” Her mother looked around, flustered. “Our home… “
“It’ll be okay. As long as we are together, we can make a new home. Just focus on moving one stem at a time.” Her father encouraged.
“You’re right. Well, I’m not about to lose my daughter again,” she said as she slowly started to transfer herself to a walnut shell.
After she was done, her father transferred himself onto another shell.
They all looked at her grandfather. “Come on, Grandpa.” they urged.
“You all go without me. My roots are too deep.” He grumbled.
“Please Grandpa! There’s no time to lose.” Sammie pleaded. “Remember how you told me the story of how our family moved here when the forest was cut down? Now is the time when we do it again, and you can tell your great grandchildren of how we were the only mosses to ever FLY.”
Grandpa softened. “Well… that is something to brag about.”
To make it easier Nobu slid a walnut shell, turned upside down like a bowl, underneath Grandpa. Grandpa pulled with all his might, and with a few gentle pecks from Nobu – POOF – Grandpa came down in a cloud of dirt and fell into the walnut shell with pieces of asphalt still firmly attached to his roots. Nobu gently flipped Grandpa right side up and put the helmet chin strap in his beak.
“You did it!” They all cheered.
Nobu’s siblings strapped the two helmets with Sammie’s mother and father onto their heads and they flapped up into the moonlight.
“I can’t believe I’m flying!” Grandpa exclaimed.
Sammie had never seen his eyes so wide and filled with youthful wonder. Sammie looked over at her father, who seemed to be enjoying the flight too. Her mother’s eyes were tightly closed.
“It’s like your first family vacation.” Nobu chuckled. “Well sort of.”
Sammie laughed. She was glad to be reunited with her family again. “I hope they’ll like the walnut orchard.”
“I know they will. There are lots of moss families there.” Nobu reassured.
Sammie reached down a stem and patted Nobu. “Thank you.”
Nobu looked up at Sammie. “Of course, once they’re settled in, let’s continue our adventure!”
Sammie hesitated. “Actually, I think I might stay with my family for a while. It’s about time I spent some quality time with them.”
Nobu nodded. “Of course, I understand. Family is important. I promise I’ll come find you first thing when I return.”
– Afterword –
Sammie’s family never ended up moving from the walnut orchard. In fact, they settled in quite comfortably.
Sammie’s mother and father lined the nest for one of Nobu’s sisters. They were thrilled to live in the comfort of the large and moist nest and made friends with many other moss families.
Surprisingly, Grandpa didn’t want to be rooted to one place again. But he also said one flight was enough for his old roots. He got a walnut shell of his own that was carried by a snail who lost its original shell. Since snails don’t like heights or the heat, the snail was a perfect companion for Grandpa, and together they slowly explored the misty fields.
Nobu continued his travels and returned in time for hatching season. As promised, the first thing he did was find Sammie. He told Sammie and the newly hatched chicks tales from his journey. Sammie felt inspired to travel again and they decided to go on a trip together. Sammie’s father joined them too. They visited snowy mountains, tropical islands, villages and cities.
Sammie smiled at Nobu. “Now this is a proper family vacation.”
Nobu laughed, “Just wait til I take you to a race track!”
makes about 3 cups of walnut clusters
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 30 minutes
total time: 50 minutes
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup organic coconut palm sugar
2 tbsp pepitas
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
a few pinches of salt
1 large egg white
2 tsp maple syrup
2 cups whole walnuts
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup organic coconut palm sugar
2 tbsp pepitas
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
a few pinches of salt
1 large egg white
2 tsp maple syrup
2 cups whole walnuts
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse the oats, shredded coconut, palm sugar, pepitas, cinnamon and salt in short bursts until the mixture is coarsely chopped.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg white and maple syrup until frothy, but not soft peaks – about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the walnuts to the bowl and coat them well.
Pour in the oat mixture and gently fold the oats into the nuts.
Spread the oat and nut mixture out onto the baking sheet in a single layer. There is no need to separate them.
Bake for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to flip and move the nuts around so that all sides get baked evenly. Bake for another 15 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the nuts cool.
In the kitchen
A walnut can be a tough nut to crack (pun intended). Crows drop walnuts from great heights onto roads to crack them. One researcher observed crows dropping a single nut up to 16 times to crack it.
You can try using a nutcracker, hammer or even a door jamb. Using a nutcracker can be difficult if you don’t have a strong grip strength, so using a hammer may be easier. For the hammer method, give the walnut three firm taps on the seamless side and then turn the walnut up so the point is facing the sky. Then give three firm taps on the point of the nut. You should be able to pull the shell away and extract the walnut halves.
Or if you’re feeling lazy, you can just buy pre-shelled walnuts. 🙂
In the classroom
I knew from fables that crows were known for their cleverness. However, I did not know that about 40% of the 116 crow species lived with their families and worked together on all parts of the nesting process. The biggest crow family recorded in a particular study was 15 birds. That’s one big family!
During the nesting process, the father crow and older children bring the mother crow materials to build the nest, and bring food for her while she is incubating the eggs. After hatching, the baby crows continue to be fed by the older crows for at least two weeks after they have left the nest. Some studies show that baby crows stayed with their parents for up to six years.
One day I walked past a car that had lichen flourishing on the back windshield like an ornate window dressing. I paused and started to wonder. How did it start growing there and why? What kind of roadtrip has this strange hitchhiker seen? The next thing I knew, I was writing “Sammie was a young moss…” and the adventures of the moss and the crow began.