I love ravens. There, I’ve said it, but how can you not? They have that outsized personality, a voice that can wake the dead or be soft as silk, and watch them on the wind, playing the currents like their own personal carnival ride. How can you not love them?
On the other hand, Edgar Allen Poe described them as “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous”. You can’t mention ravens without good old Edgar getting into the conversation. The Norse god Odin had two ravens that flew around the world so they could tell him what was going on. And we think the internet is cool. The Irish say “raven’s knowledge” to indicate the mystical ability to see and know everything. This is a bird that mates for life and can live up to 40 years, yeah, they may know a thing or two.
They thrive almost everywhere, deserts to mountains, the high arctic to downtown. Ubiquitous to the point of being almost invisible. Until a couple of them are calling at the top of their lungs because they have discovered a deer carcass and need a coyote or two to open the unfortunate critter up so they can feast. Smart? Among the smartest animals on the planet (we are #1 but then we do the rating).
I had the pleasure of having conversations with a raven over a period of several months. The exchange began simply enough, we had helped butcher a bison with several friends (back in the day when we were true carnivores) and had a lot of meat in the freezer. The bison was one culled from a herd on a very large ranch (thousands of acres) south of us. This particular cow provided us with some cuts that were beyond tough, I suppose we could have made ground bison and salvaged that amount for us. We decided to feed the ravens in the area. This took place in the winter so bears were not an issue.
There is a large,old, downed pinyon trunk in front of the house that makes a pretty good feeding area for birds, so I began placing a small chunk of the bison meet on this tree trunk. A raven landed in the top of nearby pinyon and began making what are called “comfort sounds”, a softly meandering equivalent of sweet nothings. I began to mimic, poorly I’m sure, the same sounds and we would spend many minutes sharing the moment, until she/he would swoop down, grab the meat and fly off to a more private place. This continued, almost daily for several months until my unlikely friend was joined by another raven. A somewhat larger and less amiable raven. They sat closely together and the comfort sounds of my friend became a duet with me very much a third wheel. I didn’t photograph “my” raven, seemed, at the time, an invasion, an insult to whatever that connection was. Still feel that way.They are still here, nested up in the cliffs above our house this year. I smile when they chase off the neighboring red-tailed hawk, when they are just being raven.