Crow and Jay Both Learn Something
Once upon a never-not-yet, Crow was the cleverest and vainest of all the birds. He envied Jay his blue feathers, and decided to trick him into telling the secret of how they got so blue so Crow could get some blue feathers for himself.
Grabbing a small mirror in his claws, Crow flew to a branch near where Jay was perched and crackled, “Jay! Jay! I’ve trapped someone in this glass who looks just like you.”
Jay didn’t like Crow at all, but he was very curious about how anyone could be trapped in a flat glass.
“Here, let me look.”
Jay gasped and almost fell out of the tree –– that Crow had done something terrible all right, there was another Jay trapped in the glass.
Crow croaked, “You see?”
“You bet I see –– and you better let him out, Crow, or you’ll be sorry!”
“Now Jay," cackled Crow, "what can you do to make me let him out?”
Well, Jay was mad, but Crow was bigger. Jay knew he couldn’t fight Crow and win. But he knew Crow loved to bargain, so Jay said, “Maybe I can’t fight you, but I could give you something to let him out.”
“Now that would do. Here’s what I want –– I want pretty blue feathers like you.”
Jay cocked his head and looked sideways at Crow.
“That’s a secret only Jays can share!”
“Ah, too bad for your friend in the glass, then.”
“Well…let me ask another Jay. Maybe it’s okay to break the secret to save someone.”
Jay flew off to a high rocky place, where the pine trees were bent and the wind was cold. There was one very Old Jay who lived on that mountain. He told Old Jay what he saw and what Crow wanted.
“That Crow! He’s nothing but trouble! But I know how we can help our trapped friend and get Crow back without giving up our secret. Come with me.”
The two Jays flew down from the high place and over a town. They circled a street until people left for work, then circled a block until people left for errands, then a house until people left for lunch, and landed on a scaffold near the side of the house. There sat a can and a roller-pan full of wet blue paint. Old Jay told the younger, “Get Crow to come here. Tell him to chant ‘Pretty Me’ three times then take a bath in this magic water. While he’s busy you can set that other Jay free!”
The younger Jay flew back to Crow and said he’d give up the secret but Crow had to take the glass with him. So Jay led Crow with his mirror over trees and hills to the town, the street, the block, the house, the scaffold, the wet blue can and roller-pan.
“Okay Crow –– here’s the magic water we Jays use. If you chant ‘Pretty Me’ three times and take a good long bath in it, you’ll be as blue as I am.”
Crow was so excited, he put the mirror right down and jumped into the pan.
“Pretty Me! Pretty Me! Pretty Me!” he crowed as he flapped and wriggled until he was drenched in blue.
Jay couldn’t enjoy the sight.
He was peering into that mirror wondering how to set the trapped Jay free.
“Get out of my way!” screeched Crow. “I need to see myself –– I must be beautiful by now!” And to Jay’s surprise, he saw Crow appear in the trap.
“What kind of tricky magic is this?” yelled Jay. “Where’s the Jay gone? How did you get in there?”
“Ha ha, you stupid Jay, this is what Crows call a looking glass –– you see yourself with this glass! There never was any trapped bird, it was just you!”
Crow expected Jay to fly at him and attack, but Jay just started laughing.
“What are you laughing at, you stupid Jay?”
“Well, Crow, you sure fooled me. But I think we fooled you even better.”
“Oh, I got your secret, and you got nothing –– how do you think you fooled me?”
Jay whistled, “Can’t talk, people coming. Bye-bye!” and flew off.
But when Crow tried to fly, the paint weighed on his feathers and stuck them together, and all he could do was hop and drip and stomp off the scaffold, past some very surprised painters, and up the long road home.
Those house painters still talk about that time they saw a wet blue Crow walk right by, stomping and cussing a blue streak.