Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

The Raven–My Good-luck Bird

Perceptive

Awareness is in the eye

┬ęBert Gildart: Few species of birds have interested me as much as the raven, for it has been a source of inspiration in such diverse places as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Death Valley, and Glacier National Park. Most recently, the species inspired me simply by its appearance in Canada’s Jasper National Park, where I took these photographs. Let’s say the raven has become my “Spirit bird.”

The specie’s impact on me results from its manifestations of great intelligence. Start with this bird’s eyes, and it is obvious ravens posses great awareness. Continue your observations, and you quickly learn that ravens are empowered with much body language and precise calls that enable it to communicate specific needs. So acute is this demeanor that groups of people, with whom Janie and I once worked in villages next to the Arctic Refuge, have, historically, revered the bird. Many still do.

MAKE PRAYERS TO THE RAVEN

Noted anthropologist Richard K. Nelson entitled his much respected book about Athabascan Indians, Make Prayers to the Raven. The title worked for him as tribal medicine men imparted much power to raven, saying that this mythical bird even helped shape the world.

Much of this reverence has to be because of appearances, and Michio Hoshino, a very well known photographer and a friend of ours whom we met long ago at Old Crow, Yukon Territory (but sadly now deceased), once told us that people in some tribes once talked to Raven when they saw it out in the woods, especially when they are alone. “They talk to Raven,” he said, “the same way we talk to God.” In so many words, that’s also what Micho wrote in his book Moose.

Based on some of our own experiences, Michio’s observations were easy to believe. Once, as Janie and I and Burns Ellison backpacked for over a month-unassisted-through the entire length of the Arctic Refuge, we found ourselves floundering for the correct route. Which fork of the river do we take?

GUIDED BY RAVEN

That evening a raven moved into our camp, and next morning was still there. He flew ahead of us, choosing one fork in the river over another. It then lighted on a tree branch and we decided to follow, for we had nothing to loose.

For two days, our raven friend continued this pattern, moving ahead until we were abreast, at which time it would fly forward once again. Finally, we were able to find enough major features on our map that we could again orient ourselves, and we learned that Raven had led us correctly. For awhile we wondered what force had lead the raven to us. Eventually, we simply concluded that it made no difference. When you’ve spent weeks in the wilderness, unassisted and have seen no one, you have to put your faith in something. At the time, it had been Raven, something we thought might meet with the animistic nature of some of our Gwich’in Indian friends.

Again, much of our assuredness must surely be because of the bird’s demeanor-in other words, the intelligence that Corvus corax exhibits, and this is obvious no matter where you might see them.

LEARNED BEHAVIOR OR INTELLIGENCE?

In Death Valley, ravens have learned to access campers by prying open vents. In Glacier, they’ve actually learned how to unbuckle the saddle bags on bicycles left unattended-and dig out food bags.

Though some may say this is a form of learned behaviorism, we take it as a form of intelligence. To support our contentions, I began looking for citations.

Raven smarts

Countenance of the raven

Though I found examples in the books mentioned above, the example I like best comes from Sam Keen’s book, Sightings. The anecdote concerns two ravens, Hugin and Munin, and both had been trained to find cheese in film canisters, but Hugin excelled.

Munin, however, was dominant and as soon as Hugin found the cheese he’d rush in and bole over Hugin. To counteract this aggression, Hugin changed tactics by pretending to locate cheese in a canister. Then, while Munin floundered-pecking away in vain-Hugin would remove and quickly devour cheese from the correct canister. Keen ascribes this art of deception to advance learning, and Janie and I can only agree.

And, so, the species continues to fascinate me, and does so to such an extent that should I ever be reincarnated, I hereby declare my desire to return as a raven, not only my “Spirit Bird,” but also my “Good Luck Bird.”

TWO YEARS AGO, ABOUT THIS TIME:

*Acoma Pueblo

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2 Responses to “The Raven–My Good-luck Bird”

  1. Tom Janzen Says:

    I observed similar Raven behavior that leads me to believe they learn, and can adapt in real time.

    In the 1970’s I worked as a surveyor on the Alaska Pipeline north of the Yukon River working out of GMC suburbans that held all our gear, and a bountiful supply of food to keep us fueled during the cold winter days.

    One morning while parked, I watched a small band of large Ravens milling around in the snow next to our yellow suburban obviously waiting for handouts (that was a previously learned behavior since in those days there were a lot of yellow suburbans being driven by a lot of pipeliners with a lot of food in them).

    Anyway, I tossed the core of an apple I had just eaten into the snow bank next to our rig. Only one Raven saw this. Instead of immediately jumping over to it, I watched as it casually sauntered over to the area, then, when none of the other birds was watching, it poked the core deep into the snow bank with a quick stab of its beak, then quickly left the area. It returned a short time later when the birds had gone to another spot, retrieving the core, and flying off.

    This bird had clearly suffered from the bullies in the flock, and learned to keep its “finds”.

    I loved watching those birds in those years, and still do, waiting to be surprised by something new.

  2. SPURWING PLOVER Says:

    Ive read of that in ALASKA that RAVENS have their own way of having fun some will lay on their backs and allow themselves slide down snowy hillsides and of one bird that grasped a tree branch with his beak and let himself blow in the wind like a wind sock