A bird’s shrill, piercing scream erupts from the far side of our campground.
This is not the call of a crow. The voicing is dark, dusky, raspy. Soon a dark shape glides from the shadows of the trees and lands on the grass of the children’s playground in front of me. This black bird is huge, with large head, eyes like black mirrors, feather tufts between its eyes draping down onto a thick beak. I’ve seen ravens, but this one tops anything I’ve ever seen in size and guise, and soon this encounter will evolve into a very strange and magical experience.
I knew I was waxing anthropomorphic but as the bird waddled slowly across the field, it looked to me like an old person, slowly poking and pecking along to examine everything about it. Foraging birds fly in, walk a bit, then fly on to the next spot. This raven just walked, looked, poked, and cried out. What was it saying? What was it seeing? And thinking? This was an inquisitive creature. The bird cried out, lifted off, and flew to land on the roof of a distant RV. I was inquisitively hooked, and made a feeble attempt to call out with what I imagined to be a raven greeting. It seemed intuitively that this was not to be a casual encounter, and I quickly rushed to retrieve some treat that would win its attention and friendship.
It was easy to locate “my” raven, and it didn’t take long before I assumed—and convinced myself—that it was now to be a friend. It flew from RV roof to RV roof, walking their tops to inspect and peck at unseen objects. It walked over, pecked and removed objects from a roof gutter, looked at me and cried out. I tried to translate verbal words of introduction into the tossing up of peanuts, and they were immediately accepted. There is often an endorphin rush after an encouraging and promising human/animal meeting, but as I returned to our rolling home I was overwhelmed by the promise of something unique and rare.
The next morning, after a thudded landing on our roof, the raven worked its way with clomping feet from fore to aft. It gave a plaintive call, which I interpreted hopefully as, “Where are you?”
Peanuts in hand, I rushed out the door to engage once more, tossing them up and smiling at its scramble to snag each piece. Soon the bird swooped down about ten feet away, gave its usual high-pitched squawk, and walked toward me. Caught off guard, I stumbled back a bit and tossed another peanut its way.
The raven proceeded to pigeon—no, raven-toe—its way over to the bottom of our Airstream stairs. Feeling emboldened, I began to hand a peanut to the bird but thought twice about such a forward approach so early in our relationship. Then there was also thoughts about not attempting to tame wild birds to potentially wild humans.
The raven hopped up two steps, called out, and I slowly reached over its head and tapped on the door to ask Ruth to slowly open it: there was someone she needed to meet.
The raven didn’t flinch or fly away…remarkable! What was this encounter? The door opened slowly, and Ruth knelt down and introduced herself. The bird looked at her and cried a response of greeting, or so I thought.
I tossed a peanut on the stairs, which was gobbled up. After several minutes passed, and as Ruth and I stared at each other awed and dumbfounded, our next-door neighbors happened to see the goings on, and rushed to get their cameras to capture such a strange encounter. As the bird sat between us patiently observing, a now grown human flock laughed with wonder at the breach of wild bird and human protocol. A few peanuts more and the bird found air under its wings, locating another roof top to inspect. We all stared at each other in disbelief at this rare moment of interspecies communication.
The following day, hearing the raven’s cry, I looked out the window and it was sitting on the roof top of the children’s playground castle, sounding its regular call to a group of kids who’d gathered below and seemed disturbed at its presence. They waved their arms and screamed at the bird who stared back soundlessly. One boy, an apparent ringleader, looked around for something to throw at the bird and found a beach ball. I contemplated going out to teach a lesson in animal respect but held back as each of his throws fell well short of their mark—besides, the raven has wings. The bird held its rooftop ground, and watched. Throw after throw thankfully fell short and the children’s excited gestures fell short of response. Finally the boy changed tactics and walked up the stairway near the roof to complete his mission, but the raven just hopped down to the ground and continued watching the antagonistic posse. By this time, tiring of the game, the raven cried out and just walked—not flew—away, and soon it flapped away into the trees.
Once again, it was fascinating to be an observer of a clearly inquisitive bird, this time outside the field of “our” personal relationship. I felt ashamed to see another opportunity to find the raven’s rapport with humans squashed by human ignorance and insensitivity.
Day three came with a light rain and I took it upon myself to go out and attempt a feeble imitation raven call to my friend. The bird flew up on our roof directly above me and announced itself. I came prepared to toss up a couple of nuts which again were gobbled up, but suddenly overhead a bald eagle flew over. The raven took wing and flew with speed out to, and over, a dense wood and away into the gray rainy mist. The bird never returned. I felt an emptiness in my spirit in losing such a unique opportunity and experience. Pondering it at length though, I began to realize what a gift this truly was. I wondered how First Nations people would think about this encounter? Some say it is an evil omen. Some say ravens are harbingers of guidance but are only attracted to the mystical aura of a chosen few. They say that if you’ve been visited by ravens they have chosen to help you. I’m not convinced about that mystical aura bit, but am so very honored by the visitation of our winged messenger who brought light into our lives.