Monday, January 31, 2011

Bear and the raven

When we moved to our house in the woods two and a half years ago, Morgan and I were thrilled to learn we had a family of ravens living on our property. We followed a trail that wandered past trunks of spindly balsam, sturdy poplar and peeling birch until we found the nest, a jumble of bleached branches wedged into the crook of a tree.

Each morning the ravens’ raw voices greeted us as we watched their huge black forms glide through the treetops outside our bedroom windows.

The towering balsam that grows not far from our front door became a regular perch for the giant black birds. My eyes would often be drawn way up to the top of that tree to see a sleek silhouette against the thick bushel of green needles. Their natural curiosity brought them close to the action as we hung up laundry or kicked a ball for wobbly Max. They probably shook their heads in disbelief as they witnessed each of our chaotic interactions with Murdoch, a tornado of gnashing teeth and scrabbling claws. From that perch they watched everything. And Bear watched them.

As long as I’ve known Bear, she has had a fascination with ravens. She doesn’t seem too concerned about other birds, unless they happen to be standing on the ground, then they’re fair game. I imagine Bear’s idea of utter happiness is an endless sandy beach full of loitering birds. She would barrel, barking, into their midst, sending the flock up into the air in a flurried panic and then run at full speed beneath them as they squawked and flapped madly to get away.

Ravens, on the other hand, are always in her sights. Whenever she sees that midnight black form flying overhead she gives chase with such determination I think she really believes she can fly. I imagine Bear’s pre-occupation with these birds stems from the fact they don’t intimidate easily. Ravens pose an interesting challenge to my big burly Bear, she’s not used to being teased by a bird.

I find Bear one day on the gravel road in front of our house barking at a raven overhead. I watch for a minute and see they are deeply involved in a communication I don’t fully understand.

They are two solid shadows come to life, each mirroring the other. Their blackness is almost the same, a matte finish in fur and feather. They stand out because of the way light disappears into them amidst the vibrant greens and browns and beiges of their surroundings.

Bear skips in place, her face turned up to the sky, ears flopped back, and barks as the raven hovers only fifteen feet above. Its great wings move in an intricate pattern, like a magician furling and unfurling his cape, conjuring a solid perch out of thin air. I almost expect the bird to fall amidst the unnatural movement of its wings. But then it rises up, becomes a cutout against the gray clouds and flies high above the road for a couple of wing beats as Bear gallops below, throwing her voice at the sky.

Wings twitch, change shape and the raven is a torpedo aimed for the earth. It swoops mere feet above the road, dwarfing Bear with its wings spread wide. Bear skips and barks as the raven stops in mid air, then rises with just two or three powerful wing strokes.

I imagine Bear can feel the wind from its wings as her feathered counterpart returns to the sky to fly in line again with her running form. They play like that for a while until the raven grows bored with the game and disappears into the forest, its large form swallowed by trees that seem too small, spaces too narrow for the raven to fit through.


  1. I love finding another pet lover's blog! Hello there.

  2. Wow, I bet that was fun to watch. Now I'm trying to remember the difference between crows and ravens. We have crows around here, and they fascinate me because they seem so intelligent. I listened to several "talking" to one another one day while I was out for a walk, and came home to google "crow language." Sadly, there wasn't a whole lot to learn, except that experts agree they most likely do have their own language. (duh!)

  3. Ravens and crows are very similar but ravens are bigger and have deeper voices. Also, I've never seen other birds play and just have fun the way ravens do, maybe crows do that too, I'm not sure. All I know is they are both extremely intelligent and fascinating birds.