Last week we experienced our first significant snow of the year, covering the ground in about four inches of the white stuff.  After spending the entire fall season ignoring the plentitude of leaves on the lawn and a garden in dire need of attention, the snow was a welcomed sight and reminded me of one of my favorite haikus:

First snow

the neglected yard

now perfect

- Elizabeth St. Jacques

After hours of back-breaking work in their yards, raking leaves, fertilizing grass, tilling gardens, and never-ending mowing, my neighbors’ lawns and my own are, at least for a while, equal in terms of beauty.

I love the beauty of a snow-covered lawn, but I love the idea that it required no work whatsoever even more.

It’s a little spiteful, I admit.  But true.  


A while ago, I wrote about group descriptors in the animal world.  Words like a murder of crows and a pride of lions. 

I also proposed a few of my own, which I did not like very much at the time but have grown rather fond of in the warm glow of hindsight.  They include:

A gamble of poker players

A concern of mothers

A fumble of left-handers

Not bad, I must say.  

Recently, I became aware of a group descriptor that I adore:

An unkindness of ravens, also sometimes referred to as a conspiracy of ravens.     

Isn’t that great?  Jason Kottke relates an interesting story about the most famous unkindness of ravens, decreed by King Charles II (in an act of superstition) to be kept in the employ of the Tower of London now and forever more.  The current raven roster at the Tower consists of six ravens and their understudies:  Gwylum, Thor, Hugin, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, Baldrick, Fleur, and Colin. 

Then of course, there’s Poe’s The Raven, which I always read to my students (along with The Telltale Heart) on Halloween.

And did you know that The Raven was inspired by Charles Dickens' 1841 novel, BARBABY RUDGE, a story about the anti-Catholic riots in London in 1780 in which the protagonist (Barnaby) is falsely accused of participating.  Barnaby owns a pet raven, Grip, which can speak, and in the fifth chapter of the novel, Grip taps at a shutter (as does the raven in Poe's poem).  The model for Grip was Dickens' own talking raven, which was the delight of his children for years.

Quite an important raven.  Inspired a poem and a novel by two of the world’s best-known writers.  

In seeking out a good copy of The Raven with which to link, I stumbled upon an annotated copy of the poem which I found extremely amusing.  Many of the annotations are so obvious and unnecessary that I can’t help but wonder if the annotator, Michael Cummings, was trying to make me feel as if he was bludgeoning me with a literary sledgehammer.

If so, he succeeded. 

But he also provided me with some genuine chuckles, and so for that, I am appreciative.