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.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.