The dappled sunlight filtered through the trees as the warm breeze ran up the valley and across our faces. I looked up sharply from my ATC maneuverings at the sound of a series of clicks and pops coming from above our heads.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Ilva.
“Yeaahhh,” she said wonderingly.
“I think that must be a raven.”
“You thing so? What a crazy sound!” she said as the big black bird above our heads continued to pop and croak like a strange robot.
There are a few birds that have played significant roles in my life and one of them is our friend the raven. While much of colonial-European culture marks the raven as a bearer of evil (note: a group of ravens or crows is referred to as a murder of said animals) the indigenous peoples of the raven’s most common and prominent range feature it as an emblem of creation. A quick look at the First Nations Museum website (in Whistler, BC) will give a briefing on the bird’s role in lore. Their description reads as such:
“The Raven is known as a trickster or the catalyst for change, causing many changes to transpire as Raven gets bored quickly and is continually looking for things to amuse himself. Raven is quick to take action, extremely curious and at times greedy. “
The raven is also known as the bringer of light as it stole the sun from the sky.
Raven’s first came into my awareness as a ten year old traveling in the Canadian rockies with my parents and sister. A friend of ours who lived in Banff gave us the book “Raven’s End,” by Ben Gadd, which tells the story of a climber who presumably falls to his death and is reincarnated as a raven. The book takes us through the societies of ravens and the various adventures therein. I was probably about 10 when I last read this book and it would warrant another reading as I definitely did not understand it well the first time.
Later in life, I made it my mission to be able to distinguish between ravens and crows. Both birds exist where I currently live, but telling them apart in Colorado is more difficult than in BC. BC ravens are enormous, almost the size of a hawk, and while crows are smart, ravens are intelligent.
Once while driving the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, I pulled over to look at the Crowfoot glacier and ended up basically having a conversation with a raven that was in the parking lot. It was clearly there to pickup whatever food scraps the hundreds of visitors of the parkway were leaving behind, but something about the way the raven’s eyes regarded me made me want to look at it a little longer.
It tilted its head to the side and gave a little popping sound.
“Hello,” I said, “How are you.”
It tilted its head the other way and made a crowing noise.
“Are you waiting to get some food?” I asked. The bird took one hop towards me then crowed again. “Oh, no,” I said, “You’re not getting any food from me. I know you. You’re clever enough to find food on your own.” (The conservationist inside me is vigilant).
It turned its head and gave me a bit of a side eye look before waddling off towards some motorcyclist that had just rolled in.
“Did I really just have a conversation with a raven?” I asked myself. And I kind of had.
Now, something about my association with ravens from a mystical time in my childhood and my current appreciation for their almost human intelligence makes me stop and take note when a raven is around. They always seem to show up when I need to muster courage, be it from telling someone “I love you” or pushing myself on a climbing route. Climbing at Area 44 the other day, I lead more 5.9 climbs than I ever had in one day before. It was a transforming experience, and I was glad to hear that raven overhead the whole time.
To hear the popping raven call, click HERE and navigate down. On the right side there will be links to hear raven sounds.