Just a quiet Sunday post about Edgar, the Cat of Insomnia.
I know there are many fellow insomniacs out there, and some aren’t lucky enough to have such a fine sleeplessness companion. This is why I thought I’d share Edgar’s COI technique and, in so doing, offer some vicarious benefits.
After lying awake for hours … tossing, turning, examining each individual worry in my mind like a precious stone, viewing it from every angle so it can catch the light of generalized anxiety and generally creating my own breathtaking, heart thumping prism of consternation … well, then I usually just give up and get out of bed.
While this marks another defeat in the “sleep hygiene” wars, there is consolation in knowing that the Maître d’Insomie awaits.
While Edgar is pretty quiet during the daytime, he comes into his own in the wee hours. As soon as any sleepless human staggers into the living room he starts purring and begins his important work.
Reading or knitting is discouraged by the COI (via gentle paw taps) as such things distract from full appreciation of the artistry at work here.
The best way to enjoy the service is to just sit there and breathe in and out (in and out, in and out …) with the purring.
Become one with the cat, as it were.
The slight downside is that, as you can well imagine, it’s hard to disturb the artiste when he’s in the creative flow, so I often end up staying up an hour or more longer that truly necessary.
I like to think that sitting with Edgar like this is almost as restful as actually being asleep as the various worries dull their sharp edges and fade into relative obscurity.
The peace of wild things has been so very much needed over the past weeks and months. Years.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
It can be hard to chisel those precious nuggets of joy from the daunting and somewhat featureless rock face of pandemic living —and there’s certainly no shortage of things to wake us, clammy and panic stricken, in the night. In those sleepless hours, poetry and quiet prose is a wonderful solace (along with a cat on the lap, some medium-complicated knitting and a cup of Ovaltine.)
Going to lie down where the wood drake rests, however, remains less of an option for us city dwellers.
Luckily, nature is really is everywhere — even in the the cacophonous concrete city.
It’s so easy to miss it all among all the stresses and distractions of urban life —but this is where the crow rescue squad can help. Just pay them a little attention, and they will drag your attention (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the Peace of Wild Things. Dammit.
Crows are wild things, but something … something … about them — their tight family units, that look in the eye, that tilt of the head — makes them feel like quite close relations.
It really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch (trust me) to start having conversations with them.
Hey, Mabel — how’s the family? Got one of the kids home visiting I see.
Any sign of spring out there, Marvin and Mavis?
Again, I ask myself quietly, am I spending too much time with birds … ?
And I conclude: not possible. I’d happily spend a lot MORE time with birds!
In fact, every time a see any bird — crow, sparrow, hawk or bushtit, I feel a thrill.
Perhaps it’s because where I grew up, on the Quayside of the industrial Tyne River in Newcastle in 50’s and 60’s Britain, the only birds I saw were rooftop pigeons and distant gulls. (See: Birth Of An Urban Nature Enthusiast)
It seemed to me then that things like birds and trees and squirrels and grass were just for rich people — so that’s what makes spending time with crows and all the other birds lurking in my part of the city, feel like such luxury.
And why it feels as if having a crow rescue committee for darker days is wealth beyond compare, even if I don’t have anywhere to lie down with them.
Probably not such a good idea in any case, when it comes to crows …
Well, it turns out that one of the lesser known symptoms of COVID is the complete and utter inability to write blog posts.
Like many others, we had a rather Omicrummy Christmas as the virus raced through our household, and although triple-vaxxed, we were laid low for a couple of weeks.
Fortunately it’s been mainly just medium horrible cold and flu symptoms, overlaid with exhaustion and the need for many naps and lots of Advil.
Every day I’ve thought “must write a blog post’” . . . and every day I’ve taken the alternative route of flopping in my comfy chair and watching hours of TV. Even daytime TV was not off limits! Some desultory knitting or needle felting was completed in between naps.
Throughout this period there was a tiny, slightly more active, part of my brain just itching to write a blog post. Whenever I did get outside to walk the dog, or just stand in my dressing gown in the garden, there was bird inspiration everywhere — just begging to be shared.
It seems, however, that the COVID brain cannot process inspiration.
Also, complete sentences seemed like just . . . so . . . much . . . w — o — r — k
Yesterday, however, the bushtits decided enough was enough. A committee came, literally, to my back door to FORCE me to write about them.
In case you’re not familiar with these characters, bushtits are tiny, grey, determined and objectively adorable birds. See my previous post Consider the Bushtit for just some of the reasons why.
During the very cold weather we had over the holidays they came to the garden many times a day to visit the suet feeder.
I did manage to write a few short social media posts while I was sick and one of them was about the bushtits …
The rare sight of a lone bushtit.
They travel in close knit chattering charabanc tours of 20-30. The rest of the tour group was close by. I always wonder if one of them is the Rick Steves of the gang, pointing out the local attractions. “On our left we have the famous suet feeder — but be sure to step out of your comfort zone and try the exotic delights of the hummingbird feeder. Don’t miss the bugs up there on the maple. OK, time’s up … on to the next step on the tour … no laggards please.”
It is just possible that I am spending too much time with birds … 🤪
Of course, as many of you wisely pointed out, it is impossible to spend too much time with birds!
And here’s a photo of the tour group having a refreshment break at the hummingbird feeder.
Incidentally, I’d been wondering for a while why I kept losing the little yellow nectar covers on the hummingbird feeders until I noticed them lying in the snow after the bushtits had been by. How did they get them off? Again, see Consider the Bushtit to see how cleverly they can use their tiny claws.
So what could these birds have done yesterday that was even cuter and cleverer than all of this?
For context, the weeks of snow and icy slush have been replaced this week by yet another Atmospheric River, bringing relentless rain and grey skies. Not much inspiring to look at outside, but I just happened to glance outside of my back door window and did a double take. It looked like a scene from the old Cinderella cartoon of my childhood …
This is only a small portion of the whole group. By the time I got my phone out to video them, about two thirds of the crowd had moved on, but you can see that they were making themselves very cosy under our deck, taking advantage of the heated hummingbird feeder and arranging themselves on the big floral metal shelf as if it were a specially designed bushtit drying rack.
Bushtits drying out, and apparently napping.
As you can see, this was already too amazing not to write about, but there was more!
Check out the couple snuggling together in the next video. They were pressed so tightly together, and for so long, I worried that they’d got sugar water on themselves from the hummingbird feeder and become stuck!
Sorry the video and pictures aren’t the best quality. I was filming sometimes through the window and the shadow in some of the video is the door, open just a crack to stick a lens out.
While the whole group was heart stoppingly cute, this particular couple took the cake. This is one of the chief joys of watching birds. You may think you’ve seen all the amazing things about them.
But you never have!
The delicacy of their tiny, wet, translucent, slightly bedraggled tails …
I’m not sure if they are actually shivering here, as the weather was much milder than it’s been, or if it was part of their feather drying technique. Or perhaps they were just so excited to be together …
I imagine that the bushtit delegation was sent by the other birds to overcome my inertia by dint of sheer cuteness. Now that I’ve actually found where my keyboard is again, I hope I’ll be able to make some new posts about some of the other amazing birds that stopped by over the last couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for what new and amazing things the bushtits have up their tiny feathery sleeves.
Sometimes, when everything is all just too much, it’s good to put your feet up and lose yourself in the flickering warmth of the TV yule log.
Should the hypnotically dancing flames start to lose their allure, I have a modest alternative for your viewing pleasure — soothing moments from nature on my YouTube Channel.
I’ve had a YouTube channel for ages (how passé, I know, TikTok etc) and still don’t really know how it works, but I’ve recently added a bunch of videos just so it’s a single stop easy destination for those who want to zone out for a bit with some of my collection of nature videos.
On offer we have a range of programming — including the ever-soothing ravens goofing around in the snow.
Suggested beverage to watch with this series — a nice steaming mug of hot chocolate. Don’t stint on the marshmallows.
For something a little more meditative, we have the “Gazing Bowl In Quiet Rain.” Best enjoyed with a mint tea.
If you need a burst of energy, try “Northern Flickers Having a Lively Conversation,” accompanied with a strong espresso.
You’ll find a ton of other things to keep you entertained on there, from a crow making barking and miaowing sounds, to a raven listening to their own echo. I’ve started to put some things into Playlists to make things easier to find, but ran out of time for now, so you may just have to wander around when you feel the need to escape. Just click on the second tab at the top of the YouTube page where it says Videos, and they will all appear for your distraction needs.
I’m not a videographer, but sometimes when I’m out taking photos I come across something that really needs video to convey the amazement. At those moments I switch the cameral to movie mode and do my best. I never have a tripod and I usually have at least one dog on a leash, so the quality is never going to be professional. Apologies in advance for the dodgy sound and random wobbles and lurches to left or right.
Some possible causes of technical difficulties …
Of course, the best thing to do when you feel you feel the need for nature is to head outside yourself. Whether it’s a hike in the woods, a scramble up a mountain or just a quick foray out of doors to say hi to the local crows, actual nature and real fresh air is always preferable — but circumstances can often conspire against such ventures. In these dire situations a few minutes spent with a crow parent and baby video might do the trick.
If you’d like to subscribe to my channel you’ll get notices when I post new videos.
Wishing you and yours a happy and peaceful holiday season with lots of birds and fresh air and laughs.
Marvin and Mavis are the models for some of my most popular images. Judgemental Crows, for example; that’s Marvin and Mavis . . . and I see them staring at me with that stern look every single day.
Their critical gazes always seem to imply that I’ve mucked up the service again.
Did I inadvertently press the “torrential rain” button again?
Have I gone and leaned on the “unbearable heat” lever in the climate control room?
And really, to be honest, they’ve had a few valid complaints over the last year and a bit.
How Come No-One Told Us How Exhausting Kids Are?
I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were even more thrilled than I that they were finally able to raise two beautiful fledglings this year after many years of disaster and disappointment. But of course, like all parents, they had their moments of asking “did I really sign up for this?” and it WAS a particularly challenging summer to be raising young of any species, with the Heat Dome and weeks of hot and unrelentingly dry weather on top of all the usual parent stuff.
Marvin and Mavis sneaking away to the stadium fence for a few minutes of peace.
They were busy for weeks, keeping the babies fed and alive while they learned the essential crow life skills of getting their own food, flying without crashing into stuff, not playing on the road, and avoiding getting eaten.
Mavis and one of the cute kids
Here’s one of the babies, after much encouragement from mom and dad, gingerly grabbing their own snacks from the back deck for the first time.
Once the kids finally got the knack of acquiring their own grub they became a lot more independent and free ranging. By late August they were off doing their own thing much of time and hanging out with the other neighbourhood teens.
At least they didn’t ask to borrow the car.
What Have You Done With All The Trees?
Another hot button topic for the past couple of years has been “who keeps taking all the darn trees?”
Since mid-2019 their little half block area has lost 24 big trees, leaving a big hole in their habitat, and that of all the local wildlife.
Raccoon peacefully sleeping in the old poplars
Twenty-one huge poplars were removed in summer 2019 to make way for the Notre Dame High School football stadium and were supposed to be replaced last spring. Trees WERE planted in April but most were dying even before the Heat Dome, and now they are a row of crispy sticks.
On behalf of the wildlife (and people) who are left without shade and beauty, I’ve been writing to the school and the City to see when replacement trees might be expected. We don’t have an answer on that as there’s a fundamental design flaw with the landscaping and retaining wall that needs to be resolved first.
I tell Marvin and Mavis this and they look less than impressed.
Marvin poses with one of the many dead trees at Notre Dame.
In addition to the lost poplars, three big street trees have been removed or fallen in this one half block over the last few months, making the loss of habitat and shade even more noticeable.
The plum tree shown below, further down the block, lost a limb recently and looks likely to be joining the list of the fallen any day now.
I’ve been writing more letters and reaching out to City staff and officials on the topic of street trees, as well as the privately-owned Notre Dame trees — asking to have lost trees on this block, and in the surrounding area, replaced as soon as possible.
I’m also trying to encourage the City to plant trees on the currently barren boulevard beside the school’s stadium. I hope that, once the school trees are finally replanted and thriving, a double row of trees would create a slightly pocket park-like area for our park impoverished neighbourhood, as well as providing nest sites and protection for the local wildlife.
Potential pocket park …
These proposals are crow-approved.
Who’s In Charge of Neighbourhood Watch?
Marvin and Mavis would like it known that that the ancient territorial rules, whereby each crow family keeps to its own half block, are not being taken seriously by certain crows this year.
Our fearless couple are spending a lot of time in full fierce ‘n’ fluffy mode, resolutely guarding their slice of paradise from crow rivals.
Regular flouters of boundaries include my old friend Mabel, who often makes cheeky incursions from the West. That’s almost expected as our backyard used to “belong” to George and Mabel, back in the day.
Below: Marvin deploys the “eyes in the back of the head” technique before eating his morning peanuts.
Mavis, eyes on the sky for interlopers.
I’m pretty sure some of the other crows they caw angrily at are actually the kids, trying to come home to do the corvid version of peering into the family fridge — as recently moved out young adults are wont to do.
One of today’s visitors, who definitely has the look of a returning family member.
All in all, I could sum up Marvin and Mavis’s current mood as “disgruntled.”
But who can blame them really? It’s been a tough, tough year for all of us.
This summer I gave a couple of webinars on the topic of Crow Therapy and it’s something I think about almost every day as I try to understand why, after 15 years or so, I never tire of watching and taking photos of my local crows. Somehow I feel that the crows are a key to unlocking a big mystery and I’m still working on what it is. But here’s what I’ve got so far, starting with what I don’t think it is.
Every time I write the phrase Crow Therapy I worry that it sounds just a little exploitative — as if crows, like the rest of nature, are just there for our entertainment.As if it’s something that could be packaged in a fancy jar and marketed to a stressed consumer. *
I hope it’s a more reciprocal arrangement — one in which crows can regularly jolt me out of my default setting of seeing the human race as the centre of the universe.
A little daily crow therapy reminds me that other lives— every bit as ordinary and epic as mine — are being lived alongside mine. This realization brings greatjoy, but also a weight of responsibility and I feel a constant obligation to communicate both.
Joy, I feel, is something that we’re going to need more of in the coming years — and it needs to be a different joy than the kind with which we’ve soothed ourselves up to now. We need a more sustainable source of joy — less of the kind acquired via tropical holidays and the general accumulation of material things. I’ve convinced myself at different times in my life that I’m just one Tupperware container, one pair of pants, or that fabulous kitchen appliance away from my whole life falling into place, so I’m as much in need of convincing on this front as anyone else.**
For the last few days my Twitter feed has been a rushing river of terrifying news from my own province of BC — roads and rail lines washed away, entire towns flooded, homes and lives lost in a moment. In the midst of this harrowing torrent, an ad for Lincoln cars bobs up regularly like a jolly life buoy. The ad assures me that driving a Lincoln will provide great relaxation in the face of life’s little frustrations — things liking having odd socks disappear in the laundry and (in a final touch of unintentional irony) having my umbrella blown inside out by the wind in a storm.
I am 100% sure that a new Lincoln is NOT the answer to life’s daily trials,and definitely not the way to relieve the sadness of seeing life inevitably altered by climate change and coming to terms with the difficult changes that will be needed.
But I do know that spending half an hour watching crows will help.
Or watching rain drip onto a patch of moss. Or listening to the Northern Flickers chattering.
This is a sustainable joy, free, readily available to anyone, and consuming no natural resources … and it’s the kind of joy I’m trying to rely on more and more.
I do realize that I spend so much time exploring the meandering rabbit hole of my Crow Therapy theory, that I often fail to get around to posting anything about actual crows any more. I have a musing problem, I know …
Consequently I have a huge backlog of crow news and photos, so I will try to remedy this, starting tomorrow with a Marvin and Mavis update.
I guess the one thing that I was trying to say in this post was that I mean the idea of crow therapy (and my images) to be, not just a respite from general and/or climate stress, but also an inspiration and a focus for taking action to make things better — for ourselves, for crows, for nature as a whole.
*& ** I say these things, even as I hope you’ll purchase my images, calendars, bags etc, to enable me to continue thinking about, writing about and photographing crows, so I am aware of contradictions and I am far from having all the answers.
The gazing bowl has become an autumn tradition now.
During the summer it’s the dog’s outdoor water bowl and gets refilled every day. It’s a nice bowl, but of little interest to anyone but Geordie — until the leaves begin to float down from the trees.
Once that time arrives, I allow it to fulfil its true destiny.
One day a utilitarian dog bowl; the next, a kaleidoscope of wonders.
Starting in late October (the dog is usually doing most of his drinking in the house by this time) I stop changing the water and just let the leaves and seeds fall and gather in the bowl. Some float. Some sink. The colours and composition change hourly depending on the weather, the light, and which leaves have most recently fallen.
I make visits to the gazing bowl many times a day — returning from dog walks, putting out the compost, walking back and forth from the studio. When I need something calming (more and more these days, it seems) I go outside just to lose myself in it for a few minutes.
It’s especially mesmerizing in the rain …
And, while I’m there, I always like to try my hand at “reading the leaves” — just in case I’ve managed to develop psychic abilities since last year. So far, no luck.
In fact, I generally come away with questions after letting my mind wander with the leaves and the reflections.
I wonder how soon it will be before we live in Meta world, with meta gazing bowls and meta outdoors, and real nature a privilege only for the very wealthy. I wonder if I should delete my Facebook account.
Will the COP26 Glasgow meeting make enough of a difference? I wonder if there are enough politicians brave enough to do what needs to be done.
I wonder if the trees that were meant to replace the Notre Dame poplars will ever be planted. I miss their little heart shaped leaves in the gazing bowl.
I wonder if the fritillaria meleagris bulbs I’ve just planted will bear flowers next spring. I’ve lost count of how many of these bulbs I’ve planted in the garden over the last 30 years, with very sparse results. But hope springs eternal and I like to imagine them biding their time in the soil, under their blanket of leaves, gathering strength for a spectacular showing next spring.
I’m not sure what Geordie wonders while I’m doing my gazing.
Will she or won’t she throw a tennis ball for me?
Are all humans this odd, or just mine?
Is it nearly dinner time?
Sometimes a snippet heard on the radio gets stuck in my head.
That small phrase seemed to sum everything up quite nicely, thank you very much.
Almost like a little poem.
The words came, oddly, from a supply chain expert during a CBC interview about the current unpredictability in the worldwide movement of goods. It was an interesting piece, also notable for the expert pointing out that we, the consumers, have become somewhat “diabolical” in our expectations for instant wish fulfilment.
I actually laughed when he said “a lot of vagaries can introduce themselves,” just. because it elicited the mental response, “No kidding!” I’m sure he chose those words quite carefully, seeming like a very thoughtful person. No reason why a supply chain management expert can’t also have the soul of a poet.
The phrase, rolling around like a stray ball bearing in my brain, has had me thinking in various ways about the different types of uncertainty we’ve all been living with for so long.
And how tiring that can be.
And where we can look for a little relief.
In these very vagrant times, I find some comfort in the predicability of pattern.
My daily walks around my own small neighbourhood are a pattern in themselves, repeated over the last thirty years with babies in strollers, toddlers, older kids going to school, and a succession of dogs.
And on those walks I now see the pattern of autumn unfurling like a roll of new wallpaper for the world.
The leaves are turning, berries and nuts are ripening.
Birds are returning from the north — just passing through, or settling in (like the rest of us) for a wet Vancouver winter. Just as they do every year.
One of the first returning goldfinches
Crows are doing what crows do in fall — being rowdy.
They’re always noisy, of course, but now is the time for that autumn-specific celebratory type of crow riotousness.
They gather in big groups — not just for the nightly roost, or a funeral, or in order to chase away a bird of prey — but simply to shout the odds amongst themselves. Parent crows are giddy with freedom from fledgling responsibilities, and those fledglings are now teenagers — anxious to get out into the world and find/cause trouble.
Sometimes the chaos IS the pattern.
Framing that thought in nature is comforting — although much less so when it comes to human affairs. That’s why it’s probably time for me to pick up my knitting needles and re-engross myself in that half-finished Fair Isle beret sitting in a tangle since early summer.
Just stick to the pattern and all will work out in the end, I tell myself.
Of course, I may drop a stitch or two, but at least now I’ve been reminded about those sneaky little vagaries. Maybe I’ll listen to the radio as I knit and see what I hear next …
Mavis at her customary watch on the roof — another comforting sight.
This a re-post of my original blog, first written in 2014.
I was reminded of it by the appearance of one of my images in the newly publishedBook of the Raven next to the chapter about Charles Dickens’ raven, Grip, who is said to have inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven.
And to the original post, with the addition of some newer raven images …
I have concluded that Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, is nothing more than an unfortunate inter-species misunderstanding. Let me explain …
I was thinking of calling this new crow portrait “Nevermore”. Before making my final decision, I decided to reread the famous poem that has forever linked ravens with the word “nevermore”.
The last time I read it was in the 1970s when I was studying literature at university. Steeped as I was in the poetry and prose of the English Romantic poets, I rapturously devoured The Raven, reading it as the dramatic story of a heartbroken young man, mourning the loss of his true love, receiving a dire prophecy of everlasting gloom from his nocturnal avian visitor, a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore”.
Read in that light, I’d be reluctant to link “my” handsome fellow to such a bleak and rather morbid portrait of raven-kind. But then it came to me — the whole episode described in the poem is simply a terrible misunderstanding!
The raven isn’t saying “Nevermore” at all. He’s showing the typical corvid aptitude for mimicry and repeating what he’s heard the heartsick human calling out into the darkness – the name of his lost love, Lenore. (It’s sometimes a little tricky to interpret the raven accent.) Perhaps he’s even trying to cheer up our lachrymose hero.
So really, instead of calling upon the raven to “get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore,” he should have gone out for a nice brisk night-time walk with the friendly raven for company, and possibly felt quite refreshed by morning.
So, with this cheerier interpretation in mind, I think I’ll go ahead and call my image, Nevermore. The image is for sale as a fine art photographic print in my online store.
With apologies to serious Edgar Allen Poe fans everywhere.
But, if you would like to re-read the poem and decide if you see any truth in my interpretation, here is the poem:
by Edgar Allen Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today. Nothing too serious — just a sudden tweak to the back sustained, somewhat ironically, while tying the laces on my exercise shoes.
As I’m currently housebound, it’s time to access the memory vault of recent raven encounters.
Corvid-like, I cache these recollections like an emergency rainy day fund, or a jar of home-canned apricot jam set aside for a hopelessly dark and wet morning some time in January.
In peering into the raven pantry I hope to cheer myself (and you too, if you need it) with a reminder of all the raven beauty out there. The fact that it’s certainly going on right now, even if no human is watching, is always a source of comfort to me.
Here are some highlights from three recent trips to the back country.
Raven Reminiscence 1 — Dog Mountain
Near the end of August, with the diminishing of heat and crowds, and the completion (more or less) of major home renovations, we ventured out for the first hike of the summer. The short trip up to Dog Mountain was made tricky by the latticework of wet and slippery roots everywhere. The view at the top was just becoming veiled in cloud with nary a raven in sight.
A group of walkers had wandered off, leaving their lunches and backpacks unattended at the viewpoint. Rooky mistake — and yet the bags were left unmolested, leading me to believe there couldn’t possibly be any ravens on the mountain that day.
Still, it was lovely to be up there and I was resigning myself to a raven-free expedition (it happens) when, out of the blowing mist …
And where there is one raven, there is usually a mate
Summer’s End Raven
Raven Reminiscence 2 — Lillooet Lake
Right at the end of August we visited friends who live on Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton. So much space, and the distant sounds of ravens.
On one particular early morning walk along the lake shore we heard some raven calls I’d never experienced before.
A solo raven sat in tree by the lake making a few general “Here I am. Where are you?” calls to his mate, along with some gentle “water dripping from a bamboo pipe” sounds. There were small birds skimming across the surface of the lake too and we noticed that the raven began to turn his considerable vocal talents to mimicking their cheeping calls.
Moments later some distant dog barking inspired this next bit of impersonation …
Next, we see the raven couple enjoying a quiet moment in their enviable back yard. Raven real estate listings would include “Miles of lake, hundreds of kilometres of forest, towering cliffs for soaring, few people, birds of all kinds to imitate …”
Raven pair at Lillooet Lake
Raven Reminiscence 3 — Black Mountain
The third, and most recent, experience actually involved some amateur raven conjuring.
We’d hiked up to the Black Mountain area of Cypress Bowl. It was a beautify morning with not another human to be seen. The view was breath taking, the weather was perfect.
Geordie in his happy place …
Taking it all in, I said “This is so perfect. Only one thing could make it better . . . ”
I don’t need to tell you who landed with a dignified “quork” before I finished the sentence.
Only one single feather out of place, in spite of a light breeze.
Raven obligingly posing in front of the landmark Two Sisters peaks — also known as The Lions.
We walked around the whole area for a couple of hours and every once in a while we’d see our wish-summoned ravens in the distance. As usual, there was a pair of them.
The most surprising raven thing of the summer happened when we took a last break at Cabin Lake before hiking back from Black Mountain to the parking lot.
Our raven showed up once again. Popped up, in fact …
There was a bit of a raven promenade along the boardwalk …
One of them confidently took up a post on top of a park sign.
That still wasn’t the amazing thing.
Nor was it the fact that the raven stayed there, quite unperturbed, as several hikers walked along the boardwalk inches away from him.
No, the amazing thing was that the humans didn’t seem to even notice him!!
How can anyone walk right by such a commanding bird, so close and at eye level, and not even cast a glance their way — or at least offer a respectful greeting???
My mind was a bit boggled, but then again, perhaps those people were obsessed by lichen, wholly consumed by cloud formations, or just fitness-fixated and on to the next peak.
We all have our foibles, I guess.
But I would always, always advise taking a moment to greet a raven.
Sometimes they’ll even greet you back!
And, speaking of backs, time to go get the heat pad on mine after this little delve into the repository of raven recollection. If I start feeling really low I may have to revert to watching my “ravens playing in snow” videos on repeat.