Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up

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 published Book 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:

Poe

THE RAVEN

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

Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

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

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 

Raven asking how Poe could have got it so wrong …

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cue The Ravens

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 …

Well, hello!

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 …

Me too!

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.

Some other raven posts you might like/need:

P.S. Some of the new raven images featured in today’s blog post are available as prints in my shop in sizes up to 16×20-inches.

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

The Tiniest Owl

I have been so slow at writing new blog posts — not because of a lack of things to write about, but Too Many Things!!!

I have a backlog of news about teenager crows and molting crows, ravens, some books I love and pressing local tree issues.  But I’m putting all of those on the back burner for today to write about today’s big (well, tiny, actually) happening.

We decided to squeeze in a short walk on Cypress Mountain today. I had numerous errands to do before we left, so it was a lot later than we usually like to hit the trail. A perfect, crisp, sunny day in the last week of summer holidays and it was, predictably, kind of busy, but we were happy just to make a quick jaunt up to Bowen Lookout.

The lookout was pretty crowded and I was just talking to some fellow visitors about the Whisky Jacks when I noticed, only a few feet from our heads, an impossibly small owl. I’ve seen Northern Pygmy Owls a couple of times before, from a distance, and they are SMALL. But this bird was about half the size of an adult Pygmy Owl — a little fluffier, a lot fiercer, but not much bigger than the juncoes that were hopping and clicking around.

So tiny, she would fit into the palm of a hand  — but judging by that expression, not something to be contemplated.

The lookout was busy with juncos, Steller’s Jays and Whiskey Jacks — all anxious for bits of trail mix or crumbs provided by the many human visitors.

Like their crow cousins in the city, the jays were all well into moulting madness season.

The distant raven looked pretty sleek, however.

But back to the breathtakingly small raptor. She was not content just to sit around  being cute and fluffy.

Oh no, she was there on a mission.

She’d swivel her neck in an impossibly wide scanning arc (owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees without doing themselves any damage)  and bob her head up and down, triangulating the exact position of her chosen target.

Her quarry did not seem to include the juncoes that would have been more realistic prey — she had her enormous eyes on bigger prizes — the Steller’s jays and Whiskey Jacks that were twice to three times the size of her.

She’d watch, swivel, triangulate and dive, over and over, at the relatively enormous birds. She didn’t have any success that we saw and the jays didn’t seem too worried about her presence. I wondered if her parents had left her there for the day just to practice her technique.

Day camp for baby owls.

I was so excited to see her so close that I neglected to take any wider shots to show just how tiny (did I mention how SMALL she was?) compared to the other birds. Ah well. But in the video below a Whiskey Jack lands beside her by accident and they scare each other. You can see in the blur of action at the end now big the jay is in comparison to the owl.

So, sometimes you set out on a trip, late and  with modest expectations, and the universe surprises you with a fierce and wonderful baby owl.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Tale of Two Robins

It seems that nostalgic European settlers have long been prone to naming any bird with a flash of red on the chest “robins” after the beloved little birds they remember from home.

The European, and seemingly original, robin is a small bird — part of the flycatcher family, with a red orange breast and face. The North American robin is an entirely different bird. Part of the thrush family, it’s much bigger, with a yellow beak and striking white markings around the eyes. Really the only point of commonality is that red breast.

Further afield, in Australia you can find the Flame Robin, Scarlet Robin, Red-Capped Robin — none of which are related to either the European or American varieties, except in that little flash of red breast. More homesick settlers, I’m thinking.

I grew up in the UK, so I have tended to think of the British robin as the “real” one.

In reality, the only birds I was actually familiar with as a child growing up on the industrial docks of the Tyne,  were gulls and pigeons. Lots and lots of pigeons!

But robins did loom large in my imagination. Each Christmas my mum decorated the snow-peaked ( and rock hard) royal icing on the Christmas cake with with a small flock of plastic robins, to accompany the rather frightening plaster Santa with mis-matched eyes.

Somehow, I still have a single one of these little robins, although most of his red breast paint has now worn off.

Robins were, and still are, as far as I know, featured on cards and stamps to celebrate the Festive Season in Britain. In the Victorian era, when the sending and receiving of festive greeting cards first became fashionable, the mail carriers wore red tunics and were nicknamed robin redbreasts — bringers of winter cheer, just like the birds.

The British robins stay put all year round, but are less obvious in the summer months — probably being busy with nesting and all, and are more associated with chirpy, charming and colourful company through the winter months.

Whenever I go back to Britain I’m constantly on the lookout for a robin. For some reason, the only place I ever see them close up is at the tea rooms of Portmeirion village in North Wales.

Portmeirion Tea Room robin, 2010

Welsh robin on a picnic table

Portmeirion Tea Room robin, 2019

I like to imagine they’re all there, just waiting for me, one robin generation after another.

British robins are very, very territorial, so that’s just about possible. They are so very fierce about defending their home turf that 10% of mature male birds actually die doing just that.

Welsh robin and stone wall photo collage by June Hunter
Having been in Canada now for most of my life, my Robin Reality has now switched to the North American variety, which has its own charm.

American robin in cherry tree photograph

Seasonally, the robins here are most associated with spring, when they’re the first birds to sing in the morning, and the last to fall quiet at night.

Although we think of them in connection with spring, when their courting song fills the air, they’re actually around all winter here in Vancouver. Perhaps we don’t notice them so much because they behave very differently during the colder months.

American robin camouflaged in gum tree photograph by June Hunter

Spot the robin …

In spring they form pairs and are territorial like their European namesakes, but in winter they live rather cooperatively in large nomadic flocks, sometimes with starlings and other birds, like Cedar Waxwings. They pop up in large groups whenever they find a good source of fruit on trees. Holly, juniper, crabapples and hawthorn are all robin-approved winter fare.

American robin and crabapples photograph by June Hunter

Fun fact: American robins have an extendible esophagus, which allows them to store berries harvested in the daytime for an evening snack to help survive the cold nights.

(I am reminded of the rather terrifying Horlicks TV ads of my youth, where a scientific looking graph traced the worrying arc of “night starvation” — a fate that could only be avoided by imbibing a nice cup of pre-bed Horlicks. I expect night starvation is much more of a reality for a wild robin than for a well fed child of the 1960’s.)

Once spring arrives, the flocks disperse and robins break into pairs, staking out and aggressively defending nesting territory.
When the berries are finished they’ll happily switch to yanking worms out of lawns.

One of my favourite things about the spring and summer robin, apart from the singing, is the gusto with which they take a bath. If the birdbath is suddenly empty, I assume that an enthusiastic robin has just used the facilities.

The folklore around how robins of all types first acquired that fiery red breast is strikingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic. In all versions of the tale,  the brave little robin saves sleeping humans from freezing, using their wings to fan the embers of a dying fire, in spite of the heat and danger. As a reward for their heroism, the robin is awarded the red breast as a badge of honour.

Here’s a beautifully illustrated version of the Sechelt People’s version of the story by Charlie Craigan.

Click fo enlarge

It’s nice to know that however far you travel, they’ll always be some sort of robin to fall in love with.

Echoes of If You Can’t Be with the One You Love, Honey, Love the One You’re With.

Here’s lookin’ at you …

 

 

For more posts on the joy of watching robins, and other birds, bathing:

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Along for the Trip

Good companions can make or break any travel experience.

Of course, very few of us have been doing any real traveling lately — but the past year and a bit have felt strangely like a long voyage through strange lands. Witness the popularity of seafaring shanties and the marmalade craze. I theorize that the latter was a subconscious urge to ward off psychic scurvy as we scour the horizon for post-Covid land. That could have just been me though.

This trip we’re on has involved a lot of sitting around and waiting. Waiting for new graphs and statistics, waiting for test results, waiting for vaccination appointments, waiting to see people we miss, waiting for things coming by mail, waiting for second vaccine appointments …

It reminds me of train trip gone awry, leaving you stuck in a dusty waiting room on an obscure rail line you hadn’t meant to travel on. Every once in a while the public address system crackles to life and emits a very urgent sounding, but totally incomprehensible, announcement; its purpose only to add to the generalized anxiety.

But I digress. I’m writing in praise of my travel companions, Edgar and Geordie.

There have been a couple of humans in the covid rail car too — my husband and my adult son. It’s really in no small measure thanks to the pets that we are still speaking to each other. It’s often easier to “hear” things from the animals.

“Edgar feels  that you’re freaking out and that listening to the news less would help.”

Or, “Geordie is really worried that you’ve forgotten it’s you turn to make dinner!”

Over the last few months I’ve gotten into the habit, being up first among the humans, to spend a quiet half hour with Geordie and Edgar. In part it’s “snuggle training” for Geordie, who’s early months as a stray seem to have put him off cuddles and such nonsense. I encourage him to sit by me on the couch while I have my coffee (treats are involved) and we have a quiet chat that might approach a snuggle. Inevitably Edgar wants in on the action and the three of us end up having our lovely moral boosting coffee meeting each morning before attempting anything more challenging.


I sometimes suspect that Edgar is briefing Geordie on plans for a world wide pet takeover.

Of course, even the best of friends are apt to fall out from time to time during this difficult time …

Sometimes it’s good to have another friend to share your problems with …

At the other of the day, there is entertainment to be had in seeing how Edgar and Geordie sort out their sleeping arrangements.
They each have a bed — a big one for the dog and a smaller one for the cat.
I’m sure you can see where this is going.

On rare occasions, things are arranged in a logical manner …


But much more often the arrangement is something like …


Inevitably leading to …



Once Geordie is resigned to the cat bed, Edgar, having made his point, often vacates the dog bed and wanders to his second luxury cat bed by the fire in the living room.


If I happen to be awake in the night and come upstairs for a cup of Ovaltine and some reading and ruminating, then Edgar is always up for company. He will gradually purr me back to sleepiness.


All in all, you really couldn’t ask for better cabin mates on the Covid Cruise ship we’ve been adrift in.

I hope your voyage is going tolerably, or perhaps even nearing its conclusion, but in case you’ve hit a choppy patch, perhaps Geordie and Edgar can offer companionship from afar.

 

You may also enjoy:

For yet more on Edgar, just put his name in the search bar at the top of the blog.

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Birds of Judgement

I hope you will enjoy my new Birds of Judgement series, if only because it makes you smile and because you may, or may not, see yourself or someone you know in those  faces.

But if you’re interested in the events and thinking that went into these particular images, read on. 

In a practical sense, I first started compiling a collection of angry looking birds when I was making my placard for the first of the 2019 Climate Action rallies initiated by young people rightfully worried about the future of the planet they are inheriting. The timing of the first rally in Vancouver coincided with the publishing of new research showing that bird populations across Canada and North America had declined by a whopping 29% (or 3 BILLION birds) in the preceding 50 years. Birds are, quite literally, the canaries in the coal mine of climate change and environmental degradation.

This brilliant cartoon by artist Dave Parkins, captures the issue perfectly.

I wanted to try and combine words and images in the same way, and give birds a small voice in the overall cry for Climate Action.  Anyway, see below for my sign in action at one of the demonstrations.


Earlier this year I read Esther Woolfson’s brilliant latest book, Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species.  In the chapter titled “Souls” she writes:

“Throughout history, ideas about who possesses a soul and who does not, have constituted part of the bedrock of the way we’ve thought about and treated other species.”

From Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species
by Esther Woolfson

The firm conviction that Nature is hierarchical — a pyramid with humanity at the top, and the rest of the creation below us, at our behest, is very ancient. This view of the world has led us, in many ways to to the ledge on which we currently find ourselves teetering. Apart from the looming issue of climate change, there is the small and humbling matter of how human society has been recently brought to its knees by a tiny microbe . . .

If all human project planning was preceded by the question “how would birds judge us for this?” I really think we’d all be much better off.

As I was searching through my many photographs for images of birds staring directly at the camera, I realized that I really do have a lot them.

Why is that? I wondered.

While it’s often thought that best bird photography practice is to have the bird look more “natural” by capturing them going about their business and gazing off to the side as if oblivious to human presence, I’m always happier to capture the fleeting connection (good or bad) between us.

Besides, they do say that the eyes are the window to to soul, bird or human, and we know how important these souls are in assigning importance to a species.

Looking at the birds boldly staring out of the frame reminds me of the of the late art critic, John Berger. I read a lot of his work in my 20’s and it changed my world view.  He often challenge us to consider the “gaze” in art— the gaze of the artist, the gaze of the subject and the gaze of the viewer. In other words, who’s looking at who, and how, and why?

He posed a lot of other questions too, but I often ask myself why I’m looking at birds the way I do, and why I take the kind of photographs I do.

Well, maybe not often.

But sometimes.

Every image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved — for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing. 

From Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I take photographs of birds, basically, because I feel a real connection with them and I want to try and convey that to the viewer in the hope that they can feel it too.

Sometimes it’s beauty that makes the connection. Sometimes it’s laughter.

And sometimes it’s just those eyes, staring from one soul to into another.

And if you do read into this series that birds are judging us … they probably are.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Ravens At Play

Watching ravens is always wonderful.

Watching them play has an element of the magical.

I feel really lucky  to have witnessed them playing in snow on several occasions. The lovely moment captured in the photo at the top of this post is a still from my 2019 video of ravens playing with snowballs in which one of them seems to be holding a perfectly heart-shaped snowball at about the 9 second mark.

While I’m usually out there to take photographic portraits, sometimes it seems as if moving pictures are needed to capture the moment — hence my rather amateur attempts at emergency videography. My focus is never quite 100% stable, there is often the sounds of blowing wind, or me breathing after holding my breath in order to stay still (no tripod.) Occasionally there will be a dramatic camera move. This is not an attempt at artistry on my part. It’s the dog, who is often attached to me, deciding that something elsewhere urgently needs his attention.

As we reach the end of the Snow Raven season for this spring, I thought I’d share some of my latest videos and also some of my (unscientific) theories about raven play.

First of all, sometimes people don’t really believe they’re playing at all. It’s true that part of the reason birds will roll in snow is to take a kind of bath, but I do think it’s clear that they’re also messing around and teasing each other in the process. Others have suggested that perhaps the ravens are digging around in the snow because they’re starving. In this context I know that can’t be the case, because they’re at a ski hill and if they were peckish, I know they’d be smart enough to just hop over to the nearest parking lot trash bin, or simply steal an unwary snowboarder’s sandwich.

Based on watching the ravens playing with snowballs in 2019 (see Raven Games) I can tell that the ravens in the latest video (below) are actually “mining” for suitably beak-sized ball of snow to play with. At the weather warms in March the clumping snow seams to create just the right conditions for these pre-made snowballs. Eventually one raven finds the perfect lump of snow and flies off with his buddy in hot pursuit.

The other magical thing — it’s foggy and kind of mysterious — and just listen to the other worldly raven calls coming from the forest behind the play zone.

I’ve noted that this kind of raven play often seems to happen later in the day, and mostly on days with really poor visibility. The early morning time is more about the serious business of finding food and holding motivational raven meetings. Sunny days seem to invite more soaring fun   — chasing each other, eagles or hawks, high in the sky or performing lazy, breath-taking arial acrobatics on the thermal lift of warm air rising.

But the later hours of a snow-stormy or foggy day seem to invite fun on the ground — the equivalent of a cozy snow day at home doing puzzles, perhaps. I usually see several groups playing at once. While there are only one or two ravens in my videos, it’s because I’m only focussing on  a single raven or pair of ravens — but there are usually other small gatherings and some solo ravens doing similarly goofy things in the area. And there is often a back-up band of ravens experimenting with making ethereal sound in the trees nearby.

The couple shown below are taking a break on the sidelines, with other playing ravens flying over.

One of them finally found a snowball (see top photo) and immediately flew off with it, hotly pursued by the other.

One last question I ask myself — why is watching ravens at play so darn enchanting?
At first I thought it might just be me, but the response every time I post a video of this kind is overwhelming. The snow-rolling ravens I filmed in February have been all around the world a few times by now. See below to for when they were weaving their spell on the home page of the Weather Network. The Weather Network!

How they got there I have no idea, but obviously they were popular.

So why is that? I think it’s partly because being goofy in the snow is, for people who don’t already know ravens well, very much out of character. Somehow you can’t imaging Poe’s dour raven visitor* mucking about with snowballs and doing face plants in the snow.

I think the other reason is that play on the part of any species — just they sheer reckless joy of it — is something that we could all watch a lot of these days. I know from comments on the video that many people wistfully tag friends, remarking that they look forward to similar carefree times together in a more relaxed, silly and sociable human future. It’s nice to see ravens as harbingers of joy rather than ill omen.

 

NOTE: If you feel pressing need to zone out of the endless zoom meetings and analysis of Covid curves and waves, I’ve put a collection of some of my favourite raven and crow videos all together on my hithero rarely used  YouTube page and on my web site

* See my post Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-U for a tongue in cheek analysis of the famous poem.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seeking Balance

When we talked about “finding balance” in the Before Times, it seemed different.

More aspirational. More of a long term, “I’ll get there eventually” sort of concept.

These days it seems more like an immediate and visceral struggle — with some of them going far better than others.

One moment you’re a ninja of mindfulness — listening to soothing music instead of doom-scrolling, whipping up scones, churning out preserves, finishing little projects here, starting ambitious new ones there, getting lots of fresh air and exercise, taking one moment at a time, and generally thinking, “I’ve got this.”

In short: you’re CRUSHING this whole balance thing. Easy peasy!

Marvin goes for gold in the Olympic fencing category

Unfortunately those days, for me at least, are rare — dare I say, imaginary — especially as we meander into year two of stress and uncertainty.

There are many more days when my scrolling thumb is screaming for relief, thoughts are scrambled and nerves are stretched thin enough to pluck a plaintive and off key ballad called “Enough Already.”

Balance, in other words, proves elusive.


As you may have gathered, it’s been a rough week.

I’ve recently taken up Fair Isle knitting for the first time in a long time. You really have to concentrate and, if you follow the pattern, it works out more or less as it’s supposed to, which is particularly reassuring at the moment. Another plus — it’s impossible to doom-scroll at the same time.

And, of course, there are always the crow therapists — like Marvin the fencing champion shown above. And Mavis, keeping a stern eye on me . . .

Spring is here — and just as they brought joyful visual messages during difficult times last year . . .

Crow flying against blue sky with trailing branch of blossoms

. . . my crow neighbours are painting hopeful pictures again now.

Leap of Faith

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Bonus Raven

Not having made it up the mountains this week, I wasn’t expecting to hear that heart- lifting and immediately recognizable raven call.

And yet, wandering out to the alley with the recycling and no expectations — there it was. Unmistakable. And loud.

It was so loud because it was on the Hydro pole right beside me! Dropped recycling and pelted back to the house for the camera, just in time to catch a quick shot of a crow (undoubtedly Marvin or Mavis) dive bombing the visitor.

The raven flew off to the most unlikely of destinations — the construction site where they’re building the artificial turf sports facility for the private school at the end of the street. Naturally, I followed.

The upcoming video isn’t as pastorally playful as the one I took a couple of weeks ago of them enjoying fun in the mountain snow, but I think it’s just as interesting a display of how a raven brain ticks. Our resourceful corvid friend had a bundle of something in his/her beak. I couldn’t really tell what it was, but it seemed precious. Perhaps bones. Watch how carefully that treasure is cached under whatever material is available — in this case, great lumps of grey road crush.

My favourite part is the ultra-casual “nothing to see here” saunter away afterwards.

Adding extra excitement, the flag person for the construction site yelled at me and told me I wasn’t allowed to take photos! Huh? Not wanting to get into the dubious legality of that statement, I just pointed out the raven and continued filming. Luckily for all concerned, they decided to just let the crazy corvid lady alone.

After a short site inspection, taking in the piles of gravel and some of the heavy machinery, the raven tried out the acoustics. Even before all the extra concrete was poured for the sports facility, this area was occasionally appreciated by visiting ravens for its echo chamber qualities. (See: Special Days, 2018) Yesterday’s calls , shown in the following video, reminded the crows to renew their official protests.

After a brief stop in nearby tree and being re-mobbed by crows (mostly likely Marvin and Mavis again) our visitor decided to move on.

I often wonder if the ravens we sometimes we see in our neighbourhood have just popped down from the local mountains. Vancouver seems very close from there, all spread out below, and not too many powerful wing flaps away for a raven with an urge for some urban excitement. Anyway, it makes me happy to know that, even if we don’t see them every day, they’re close.

I’m always, always straining my ears for that call.

 

 

For more ravens in the city, see:

On raven intelligence studies:

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Going Viral in a Pandemic

Well it’s been quite the week since my last post.

The video of the ravens playing and rolling in snow, featured in Raven Therapy Part 2, was also posted on social media. I thought there were probably a few people out there, feeling stressed like me, who might enjoy losing themselves in raven fun for a few minutes.

It turned out there were a LOT of people who really, really needed to see ravens being goofy in the snow last week. The first indication that things were going bonkers was when I got an email from a company called Viral Hog, wanting to “rep” my video and see if it could bring in revenue. I decided against that, but I did end up being interviewed for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Vancouver is Awesome. (You can see the CBC TV interview here. It’s the whole news show and I don’t appear until about the 10:10 point but you can fast forward after the ads.) I’m told the video was also featured on the Weather Network. In weather obsessed Canada, that is truly making it to the big time.

I’m not too savvy with figuring out the statistics for my social media — I normally just post things I like and hope other people like them too. I did manage, however, to find a thing called Insights on my FB page and it showed that it’s “reach” had climbed from whatever humble number it normally hovers at, to 3.42 million. Now that’s almost scary!

If you’ve been waiting for a reply from me, I apologize as I’ve just lost track of the emails, comments and messages on all the different platforms. I’m gradually working my way through them, but I may never get back to everyone. I think things are beginning to settle down now. Phew.

I did manage to escape back up the mountains a couple of times amid all of this. There were, alas, no more playing ravens this week — but there was magic of many other varieties.

There were, for example, the impossibly cute Douglas squirrels darting about through the snowy landscape. I think they were feeding on seeds from cedar trees as we saw lots of those shaken from the trees and lying on top of the snow.

In the video below, a Douglas squirrel gives an energetic alarm call. I’m not sure what the emergency was, since they’re generally quite fearless around humans.

And a small squirrel drama in which the protagonist drops his seed, is confused and seems to blame me …

On another mountain trip, devoid of ravens, we were amply compensated by a Northern Pygmy Owl sighting.

Almost missed it as it’s just a tiny little dot on top of this tall tree on the right.

Far away as it was, it obligingly sat there for quite a while so I could use my long lens to get some photos of it …

The perfect little tree topper. I’m tempted to try and make one out of felt for next year’s Christmas tree!

The last time we went up the mountain, we reached the view point over Vancouver early in the morning— only to find someone there ahead of us. His presence may have explained the absence of ravens.

While the ravens (and the squirrels, ironically) were keeping a low profile, someone else was furious and not shy about letting everyone know. You can hear them in this video.

And here is our tiny protester …

Our little Norman the Nuthatch didn’t return to the garden this last winter, so every time I see one somewhere else I wonder if it’s him, living his best life out in the wide world.

Much, much smaller than a raven, but in their own minds, just as majestic!

Do not mess with this bird!

You would not want this bird to collide with any part of your body …

Another bird displeased by the eagle’s visit was this vociferous Steller’s Jay.

… and furthermore …

The literal blue bird of happiness

And so, no more viral raven videos this week — just the run-of-the-mill magic of finding all different kinds of amazing beauty.

You never know what it will be until you get there.

 

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.