When I was young, I lived in the land of the ravens. The Common Raven, (corvis corax) while an extraordinary bird, was indeed common in Los Alamos. The ravens of my youth were gigantic. And a glossy black. And extraordinarily intelligent.
Ravens are also tricksters, a fact I learned when I was a sophomore in high school. That was the year I enrolled in “Dawn Patrol” English which meant I trudged past three or four ravens at 7:55 am every school day. I always said “good morning” to those birds. One day one of them returned my greeting – word for work. He (or she) said “good morning” back to me.
I spent the next few days doubting my sanity.
Finally, after asking a few carefully chosen friends a few carefully chosen questions, I learned that one of the local families had adopted a baby raven. Once the bird became an adult he (or she) flew with the local flock, but returned each night to his (or her) human family. This, I was told, was a trickster bird who spoke English as well as Raven. Ever since that day, I have held ravens close to my heart.
Ravens are scavengers and the Los Alamos flock thrived on the local landfill, which closed a few years ago. Once they lost their primary source of food, the number of ravens in town declined.
And the crows arrived to take their place.
I have nothing against crows, but I have always wanted a picture of a Los Alamos Raven.
When I discovered that the crows had filled my old stomping grounds, I decided I could make do with a picture of a crow. Even that is not as simple as it seems.
Taking a picture of a raven is not as simple as it might seem. Crows do wander around on lawns and meadows in great noisy crowds but the presence – or even the idea – of a camera leads to their rapid and raucous departure.
At the end of one of my visits home, stopped on my way out of town for a final hike along my favorite trail along the edge of the canyon. I was carrying my camera but had completely given up on both the ravens and the crows. As I walked east, into the morning light I heard the single sonorous “grk” of a raven. I froze and peered up into the trees. There she was, between me and the glare of the sun, right at the top of a dead pine tree. Ever so slowly I raised my camera, only to discover that – for some reason – the viewfinder screen had gone utterly dark.
How could this have happened?
I tiptoed under the tree, turned back, and realized that I had pushed the wrong camera button. The raven had not moved. I turned the view screen on and lifted the camera.
She was gone. In those few seconds, she had lifted herself on silent wings and left the tree. I heard her call once more from somewhere down the canyon.
And I laughed. Because, while crows are brats, ravens are true tricksters.