Saturday, 4 July 2009

The nothingness of ravens

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansenphoto: Henrik Nor-Hansen
Spending a winter in the Canadian wilderness was like crossing an ocean. Weeks passed with solitude. But the ravens were always around, keeping an eye on things.

In the autumn they walked outside our cabin in the rain, controlling squirrels and men; they could walk or jump until their talons collected so much mud that it looked like shoes.

In the spring, during the mating season, they barked like dogs, or made strange imploding sounds, like an iron rod in water; a deep guttural sound and then suddenly nothing.

We often had a raven outside our window, sort of just giving us glances, as if we were of no interest. It used to scratch the beak towards the branch, then fly away.

Barry Lopez once wrote about the raven, in Desert Notes: "(...) he will open his mouth as if to say something. Then he will look the other way and say nothing."

In the autumn, before the snow, we had an old raven walking between the sheds at Tapawingo, it was a big male, and he was dying. We'd seen this raven before; heavy in the air, always scaring the smaller ravens away. Now they came back at him. He was black and shiny, almost blue in the sun, and always slipping towards death.

We had ravens around the cabin every morning, waiting for something to happen, stirring up some commotion, getting even. But they never seemed to like us out in the primeval forest; we were too noisy in the impervious thicket. We could sometimes see the ravens just hanging motionless in the wind, looking down, and the next moment it was just snow, drifting like smoke over the pines.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
Barry Lopez also wrote: "The raven is cautious, but he is thorough. He will sense your peaceful intentions. Let him have the first word. Be careful: he will tell you he knows nothing."