They watched in bleak silence while the human worked his loud, mechanical saw around the base of the tree.
It was not particularly large, or tall, but it was familiar, and sadness fell over the murder as their beady eyes took in the sight. No bird cawed, and no bird moved, not even daring to ruffle his feathers.
The tree was long dead: its cedar wood had caught a disease far before it could have the chance to grow as strong and mighty as its brothers. By some miracle, the cedar had weathered gale after gale, the nooks and crannies gouged from the trunk providing shelter to the crows even when the storms seemed unlivable.
Chicks had been raised there, taught to soar there, at its twiggy, crag-like top. The view from the cedar's peak was not the best of all of the trees alongside it, but it was safe and comfortable to drift to, just the perfect height for resting without the fear of predators. It provided a good lookout spot for food, and enough space for a few of the clan to see the valley far below, to plan their next courses, always making certain to include a visit to the dead cedar upon return.
The crows shifted nervously on their branches not far off, eerily still otherwise, small talons gripping at the old pine's bark. They looked to one another, and then to the human again, helpless to stop him from chopping down their tree. The smell of wood dust and smoke filled the air, the sound of the saw whirring and screaming in protest against the old, hard meat of the tree.
The human stopped to wipe his brow, and left the saw there beneath their hometree, walking back in the direction of his house for a glass of water.
A brave, elder crow made the first move. He swooped down and landed near to the large saw, heat still radiating from its teeth. Gazing up the length of the cedar, he saw it was already leaning, struck down by the deep gash in its base. He told his companions nothing upon his return, their sorrowful glances betwixt one another more than enough to say they already knew of the old tree's fate.
The human came back and took up his saw again, the buzzing noise assailing everybird's ears again. He stared with curiosity up into the pine some yards away, meeting the eyes of the murder. Dismissing them, he set back to work.
The hometree fell with a great, gleeful shout from the human and a sickening thunk. The saw grew silent again and the human man went away.
None of the crows moved for the longest time, and when they did finally, it was to the stump of the old cedar, hopping quietly around on the now smooth and clear surface, unable to believe what they saw. Some flew in tight circles in the air, at the exact level they might have been able to land at one time, and some sat possessively across the log, unwilling to give it up.
Grief-stricken and feeling defeated, another of the elder crows screeched and bid his flockmates follow him to leave this place, knowing there was nothing anybird could do but move on and find another hometree.
I watched in stunned silence as the murder left slowly, seeming reluctant. They flew lazily and hopelessly, gliding only from one tree to the next until I could not longer see them.
I would miss seeing them framed against the sky, at the top of the dead cedar tree, so free and so full of life. The lifeless tree had always been said to obstruct the view of the rest of the world far beneath the cliff side. I believe it will never be quite as beautiful again without the cedar.
I have never heard such a sound so heart breaking as that of a murder in mourning.