Well, obviously the ravens of East Vancouver did not think much of my raven language skills! The very morning I published Learning to Speak Raven, they sent a tutor to teach me some new phrases.
I could hear the crows fussing and a raven making some sounds I’d never heard before as soon as I got up. Threw on some clothes (out of consideration for the neighbours) and rushed outside with my camera — but I’d missed them.
But it was my day for a lesson in raven anyway. When I took Geordie out for his walk later, my instructor returned. She landed on the neighbour’s roof and began a virtuoso performance. I think she may have been trying to show me just how little “raven” I know.
How I’d love to stumble across and old English/Raven dictionary in a thrift shop.
Or be able to take a Conversational Raven online course.
My husband is currently refreshing his Spanish skills using such an app. I can imagine him repeating Spanish phrases in one corner of the house, and me practicing my “knocking call” in another …
As it is, I have just been piecing things together from books and blogs, and from my own limited observations over the years. Lately there have been a group of ravens in our very own neighbourhood, so it’s a thrill to see and hear them on the daily walks with the dog.
Here are a few bits and pieces of video and photography to share with you some of the interesting things I’ve noticed. I’m not, of course, a scientist — so I’m mostly casting about in the dark about the significance of what I see. I’m always thrilled to hear from people who properly study these matters who can fill in the many blanks.
Before we go any further, there are a lot of videos in this post. As they won’t show up in an email, make sure to click on the BLOG POST itself to be able to see them OK.
This is the most common call that I hear ravens make.
It almost seems like an “I’m here. Where are you?” sort of call. The raven in the video above was filmed only a few metres from our house in the tall trees around one of the local schools. The raven seemed to make that call, listen for a distant answering call, and then call again.
Of course, the local crows are not pleased about the newcomers to the ‘hood and spend a lot of time and energy mobbing their larger corvid cousins, trying to get them to “move on.”
That raven call has amazing carrying power. I can hear it from what seems like miles away — over the city noises of traffic, construction, conversation and angry crows. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m always listening for it, or because it’s at just the right frequency to cut through.
Of course, in the quiet of the mountains it’s easier to hear more subtle raven calls. My favourite one is a kind of “knocking” call that sounds like water dripping into a still pool. Recently I was lucky enough to be out snowshoeing on Mount Seymour and witness the call being made at close quarters.
This raven hung around for a while, making this fabulous sound. Long enough for me to notice that when he or she made it, all of those magnificent throat feathers stick out like an Elizabethan ruff.
It made me wonder … do ravens have that fabulous feather cravat just to add visual splendour to that particular call … or do they make that sound just as an excuse to show off their feathery abundance? Always more questions than answers …
Ruff flaunting raven in mid “knocking” call.
More wondering. Do their feathers stick out like that because they have to somehow puff out their throat and make it taut to create such a hollow, musical sound? It does sound like some sort of percussion instrument.
The raven below, spotted on Mount Washington, is making a slightly different call, more of a hollow wooden sound. You may have to turn the sound up, as s/he was quite far away.
Feather preening, in between performances.
The raven in the next video is making yet another call. I call it the “wow” sound.
My raven vocalist friend.
Me, reflected in the raven’s eye. I love this image because I spend so much time watching, and thinking about, crows and ravens that it seems appropriate for me to be “caught” there.
Some playful muttering and off-camera raven commentary in this video.
Finally our raven pals got tired of being our house band and took off for other adventures.
This last video is a couple of years old, taken near the ski hill parking lot at Cypress Mountain.
This is one of my favourite snippets of raven film. It’s not very good, technically. I took it from a distance with a lot of car park noise in the background and, as usual, no tripod. But I watch it quite often and it always makes me smile. It reminds me of a scene from a Jane Austen novel. The raven couples are doing the rounds at the ball. Social rituals are observed, silent judgements are made, gossip and meaningful looks are exchanged. Meanwhile, at the top of the frame, one young single raven, oblivious to the formalities, plays in the snow.
As you see, I’m still a million miles away from that Raven to English translation program, but it’s a lot of fun to work towards it.
Marvin and Mavis stopped by for a chat over the garden fence yesterday.
I reliably see them each morning when they stop by for a breakfast snack of peanuts and kibble. They’re usually in an “eat and run” mood at that time day, being hungry and having a full crow-tinterary ahead of them.
Occasionally they stop by for a more leisurely afternoon visit. Yesterday they were in a particularly sociable mood. I almost thought that one day I might get Marvin, the bolder of the pair, to eat from my hand. Not there yet, but Marvin was at least ready to give the matter some serious consideration.
Marvin seemed particularly curious about me yesterday, and prepared to get quite close.
Mavis prefers to keep an eye on proceedings from a bit further away.
Marvin steps a little closer …
Marvin finally got to about a foot away from me and then retreated back in order to do some thinking out loud. You can see his thought process in action in the following video.
NOTE: If you’re reading this in an email, you won’t see the video that comes next.
Click HERE to be taken to the actual blog post, where the video will play beautifully.
I was so pleased to be part of such a close up performance of the lovely crow “rattle” call. I’m not sure if anyone knows for sure what this type of call means, but it really did seem as if it was part of his consideration on the subject of how much I could be trusted. It was combined with some branch pecking. This, I’ve noticed, is done when they’re feeling a bit frustrated or not sure what to do next.
You can see in this close-up how the tongue seems to move about quite a bit when they make the rattle call.
Quite a bit of rattle calling went on in my garden yesterday. I’d never seen such a long session of it up close.
Mavis keeps looking on silently from her branch.
Eventually they both came down from fence and tree and had a little hop around the back yard.
And so we passed a happy hour or two. If you read my earlier blog post, Home Décor for Nature Lovers, in which I reveal a rather laissez-faire attitude to housework, this post might help explain why that is.
After all, who can find time for dusting when there are such brilliant conversationalists hanging out right in the back yard?
“Slightly Ransacked” might be the best way to describe the look of our house.
Some people call it “charming” or “eclectic,” but I know they’re only being kind.
Clearly, I am quite unqualified to offer serious home décor tips. With that in mind, please consider the following post to be, not so much a design philosophy, but more a coping mechanism.
The thing is, I do aspire to neat and stylish home. Just … not quite enough to do very much about it.
Take this morning, for instance. The plan was: take the dog for a brisk walk and then come back and spend an hour cleaning out my chaotic closet.
But, but, but … there were two ravens in the neighbourhood. Naturally, Geordie and I had to follow them (and their trailing posse of angry crows) up hill and down dale, thus squandering my closet-cleaning time slot.
I’m sure that not all nature lovers are as domestically disinterested as me, but just in case you do face some of the same challenges, here are few things I find work for me.
This is key. When people come over (or even when you first come home yourself) you don’t want to immediately notice the clutter. So, what you need is something rather big and spectacular to create a diversion. We have some of my enormous fern prints in the kitchen and I like to think they draw the eye to their lovely forms, rather than the sink full of dishes directly under them.
This is how the kitchen looked in its pristine state, just after the renovations were completed, about 12 years ago.
How it looks today. So much messier — but at least you can chose to focus on the ferns instead of the mess.
Crows and ravens are, of course, great attention grabbers.
The bigger the better. I have them all over my house, in every form and size. (There is only the smallest chance that this advice may be biased.)
Prince Charming crow with a sort of Eames inspired crow I bought years ago at a now-closed Vancouver shop called Nood.
One of several Hermann Edler folk art crow figures I have dotted around the house.
The judgmental expressions of Marvin and Mavis here could be interpreted as criticism of the housekeeping, but we’ll just keep that thought to ourselves …
Elevate the Clutter
You can almost make clutter seem desirable if you assemble some of it into “collections.” It implies that it’s all carefully curated, rather than a random accumulation. Old printer’s trays are great for this, with their inviting grid of little boxes, all needing to be filled. We won’t talk about the dusting, except to say that once a year is more than enough.
This printer’s tray in my studio contains many treasures.
My favourite item here is a chestnut taken from the ground below a tree that grows over Mozart’s grave in Vienna. My friend, the amazing author Lyanda Lynn Haupt (who wrote Mozart’s Starling, Crow Planet and The Urban Bestiary, sent me this precious seed. We surmise that it may contain a molecule or two of Mozart’s creativity. It came with a lovely note (on the wall below the shelf) about the story behind it and came packaged in the beautiful lavender silk box at top of the shelf.
As you probably know already, I love things with a story!
Another printer’s tray in the living room, full of yet more miscellaneous treasures, displayed with a doll by Hornby Island artist, Veronica Lynn; a smaller doll by a Kyrgyzstan craftswoman; and a bird puppet by another Hornby artist, Susan Cain. Behind the herd of inherited ebony elephants are some very beautiful raku vessels by Canadian ceramicist Mas Funo. I must find a better display spot for them as they’re gorgeous and a bit lost, what with all the elephants …
Over the years I’ve collected snow globes, old tea cups, mad-eyed ceramic terriers, and plastic flowers, to name but a few. Vestiges of these collections linger in corners of the house, overlaid with a thick layer of anything crow or bird related.
Kitchen window at dusk. Lots of birds in there (including more Hermann Edler crows). I also detect the seeds of a possible ornamental cat collection …
Vintage Japanese birds with hare porcelain churn by Vancouver ceramicist, Russell Hackney.
If you just go all-out eclectic and quirky with your home décor, it’s very freeing. There is no theme or colour scheme you need to adhere to. If you find a piece of art or a vintage treasure you love, you don’t worry for a minute whether it will fit in with the rest of the décor. At our place, we already have so much of a smozzle that one more odd item really makes no difference at all.
Top Shelf: Vintage Woodwards truck (a gift from an elderly neighbour); a remnant of the mad-eyed terrier collection; drawing by my son; vintage robot box; miniature landscape by Lois Ditchburn (Phillip’s aunt). Bottom shelf: mechanical toy; vintage silver teapots; tug boat by Vancouver artist, Mark Wilkinson; Jimi Hendrix action figures; William Shakespeare bobble head; chicken portraits by Elaine Savoie and one by me; family photos.
I have a large collection of little vases, from thimble to urn-sized, so that there’s always something to display a cutting from the garden in.
I find you can study a plant for much longer when it’s right by the sink when you’re doing the dishes. Also, it cheers up the dishwashing time.
Fern tiles over the bathroom sink, so you can think about nature while you brush your teeth …
Even though the house is usually a bit of a tip, I’m always happy to return to it.
Messy as it is, there’s no place like home. We’ve lived here for over 27 years and the whole place, clutter and all, is filled with love and memories. And stories.
Wonkily hung collection of family photos in mismatched frames. One of my favourite parts of the house!
Below is a custom-made wooden toy celebrating Edgar, Geordie and Eric the Crow. It’s a love machine, so their hearts beat in and out when you turn the handle. This is one of my most precious things, and just one of many gorgeous pieces I’ve collected by Cornish artist and toymaker, Jane Ryan.
Miniature portraits (about 2×3-inches) in painted plastic frames from Valu Village. These are our previous lovely dogs, the brother and sister team of Taz and Molly.
Current beloved pets. As I get older I find I get more and more lax about “no pets on the furniture/bed” rules.
Having made this brave defence of clutter (oops, I mean collections), I may have to write a new post in the near future. We have recently acquired a copy of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which Phillip keeps reading aloud to me. You never know. By this time next year, we may be living a simple life in a minimalist paradise.
If that fails, however, I am always comforted by the words of a Globe and Mail column I read about twenty years ago. I can’t remember the writer unfortunately, but she said something like: “the homes of the most interesting people always show signs of a recent struggle.”
A little shelf by the back door is a home for some of my nature finds.
Crow and raven cushion covers, guaranteed to distract from messy areas of the home.