Powis Castle, Welshpool, Powys: The crows live a parallel existence as shrine animals, stealing tributes from visitors, essential to the life of the place but overlooked
Two young crows, beaks agape, sat quietly on the stump of a beech tree I cut down on the eastern bank below the castle walls in the late 1970s. The crows waited for a parent to turn up with the remains of a sandwich nicked from the cafe down the garden. They were living a kind of parallel existence as shrine animals, dark creatures in the garden’s gloriously vivid displays of flower, stealing tributes from visitors, essential to the life of the place but overlooked.
Cultural places in the public view have a wild private life. Behind the care and hard work that sustains a garden like this and gives it aesthetic qualities that people from all over the world come to experience, there is a wild life that grounds it in place and provides an ecological context for the cultural. Much of this life, once persecuted for its wildness, is now celebrated as wildlife but crows retain that outsider, transgressive character. However beautiful the garden is, crows reveal a secret bandit territory. Common and dark, they are almost invisible and yet nonetheless tutelary.