Corvus blew it
In my other life I’ve been a weather forecaster for nearly 40 years, and admittedly when the forecast goes really bad I end up eating crow! Why is it that crows get such a bad rap? They’re actually one of the smartest birds around. In fact, according to Greek and Roman mythology, crows were once the most respected birds on Earth. Back then they were exalted, highly intelligent, and had beautiful voices that allowed them to sing out glorious songs that delighted all. They had bright white feathers with gold trim on their wings and tail. They served the gods and goddesses as reliable messengers on Mount Olympus with great distinction, until Corvus the bungling crow messed it up for all crows forever.
The constellation Corvus the Crow is one of the 66 or so constellations we see throughout the year in our Marshall night skies, but it’s certainly not one of the biggest or brightest. In all honesty, Corvus is a prime example of the typically dumb and dull spring constellations in the evening sky right now. It resembles a small lopsided diamond in the low south-southeastern sky, popping out as soon as it’s dark enough, a little after 9 p.m. That lopsided trapezoid is supposed to be a crow. Corvus is just to the right of the fairly bright star Spica, the brightest star in the large but faint constellation Virgo the Virgin. As insignificant and poorly defined as it is, Corvus is one of my favorite little constellations, mainly because of its legend.
Apollo, the god of the sun, sent Corvus the crow on a very important mission to fetch water from a distant magical fountain. Apollo dispatched the great bird with one of his favorite chalices to collect the magical water. Corvus had no idea exactly where the fountain was, but he thought he knew which town to fly into. He told Apollo that he should be back by that evening, no problem.
His confidence in finding the magic fountain quickly diminished as the day wore on. Morning turned into a really hot afternoon as Corvus flew over town after town seeking the magic fountain. Of course being a male crow, he was too stubborn to ask for directions. His wings were getting tired and his throat was dry. He had to take a break. In the distance he could see a bar (or should we call it a crow bar) with an outside patio. The devil perched on his left wing tempted Corvus and he gave into it. He flew down to catch the last part of afternoon happy hour.
As he closed in clutching Apollo’s chalice he couldn’t believe his eyes. One of his childhood crow buddies was sitting at a table with a giant mug of beer and a pile of pull tabs. It was like old times! Corvus and his old friend drank and talked for hours, telling each other tall tales. As the night wore on and they emptied one beer after another down their beaks, Corvus decided to be a showoff and had the bartender pour tap beer into Apollo’s chalice. At closing time, Corvus stumbled out of the “crow-bar” and passed out on a park bench clutching Apollo’s cup, still half full of beer.
The next morning a very hung over Corvus woke up with a tremendous headache. He dumped the leftover stale beer out of Apollo’s chalice and took to the skies, resuming his search for the elusive magic fountain. After hours of clumsy flying, Corvus gave up. He decided it was time to fly back to Mount Olympus to face the music.
As he got closer to the home of the gods, he swallowed the rest of his the breath mints he bought at the bar to hide the evidence of his wild night. Corvus could see Apollo standing out on his mountainous decking waiting for him. He could even see Apollo’s angry glare from a half mile away. All the way home the wayward crow was cooking up a story about how a crazed water snake bit him while he was getting a drink of water, making him too woozy to find the fountain.
When Corvus made his landing, he almost had Apollo convinced of his extremely tall water snake tale — until he handed over the chalice to the god of the sun. Oops! Corvus forgot to wash it out and it reeked of stale beer. Corvus was so busted! Apollo went on a rampage and fired Corvus on the spot. He didn’t stop there though. Apollo banned all crows from Mount Olympus and used his magical godly powers to turn crows from their beautiful white and gold colors to the jet-black colors we see today. Continuing his temper tantrum, Apollo waved his finger in anger once again and collectively turned those beautiful crow singing voices into the caw caw we hear today.
If only Corvus had ignored the devil on his wing!
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is also the author of “Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations,” published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and at adventurepublications.net.