Friday, July 9, 2010

My love, she's like some raven

When I first moved to the Vancouver area, I liked to explore the maze of trails that began right outside my door. Witnessing the salmon spawning in a creek where high school kids threw stones at them was awesome enough. But then there were those birds.

I couldn't see them at first, and to be aware of them at all, I had to go off-road, so to speak, on to a trail that wasn't very well-developed. Hell, not developed at all. After a few hundred yards of firm-packed gravel, the ground began to give way under my feet.

It was spongy, and every so often a tiny trickle crossed the path, an actual stream making its way from who-knows-where to who-knows-where.

As the forest grew more dense, it gradually got darker: Bob Dylan's "darkness at the break of noon". There were strange sounds, ominous. Creeeeeeeak, creeeeeeeak.
Creeeeeeeeak, creeeeeeeak.
It took me a while to realize that some of these old trees seemed as if they were about to give way.

I felt disoriented, not sure how I had got here. I expected to see a giant bear rearing up at me, something out of an ancient fairy tale. (Since then, bears have become much more aggressive, and confronting one in the woods is common.) I realized how Hansel and Gretel must have felt, or Little Red Riding Hood, ancient stories based on one of humanity`s worst fears: getting lost in the wild.

Then I heard it, or it came to my senses: Awwwwwk. Awwwwwwk. Awwwwwwk. Awwwwwk.


I saw something flash overhead, something dark, a shiny black, almost iridescent, but couldn't tell what it was. A bat? I hate bats, fear and loathe them almost more than anything. I'd rather encounter a scorpion.


Then a conversation. Aukkkk! Aukaukaukaukauk. AUWWKKH! Aw. Aw. Aw. Aw. Awwwwwwk.

These were not crows, or if they were, they were Supercrows. Finally I got a good look at one when it perched on a high branch for a second. I thought to myself: it's Poe's nightmare, his embodiment of evil and dread. Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary. . .

This creature was nearly as big as a chicken, with a spiky-looking ruff around its neck. Its bill was very long and pointed. It had an air of owning the place, of owning the whole forest. It was almost supernaturally shiny, so black it was blue, making me think of "raven-haired beauties" with dead-white skin, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty brought back to life.

My feet were sinking,and suddenly I was surrounded by evil-looking skunk cabbage that might have hosted trolls. I backed away slowly, step by frightened step, then turned and ran, every hair on my entire body standing on end.

Since then I have come to worship the auk-aukh as a kind of holy visitation. I even bought a stuffed animal of a raven made by the Audubon Society, which when gently squeezed emits the call of a live raven. I don't squeeze it when the grandkids are around.

But soft: what's this on the news? A white raven: how can it be? I`ve heard of Spirit Bears, of weird albino speciments popping up randomly, strangely, genetic mutations that never reproduce themselves. But the white ravens spotted on Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, seem to be forming a sort of coven.

Like the Hapsburgs I wrote about a few posts ago, it doesn`t seem possible they could mate, could actually produce issue. Their genes would be all scrambled, and they would somehow end up genetically backwards, married to themselves. But a raven, once it gets an idea into its sly avian head, can do just about anything it wants.

I own a bird, Jasper the lovebird, sweet and dependent, but once in a while he turns feisty and furious, throws a birdie tantrum, tears his cage apart. There is a theory that the dinosaurs didn`t disappear, but instead gradually evolved into birds. In case that seems far-fetched, just look at their scaly little feet, stare into that round black reptilian eye, and the theory begins to make sense.

A black harbinger of death, an aukkh aukkh in the woods, can suddenly turn even more eerie, can scare the living shit out of us by turning pure white. Some believe this is an omen for the end of the world. Others think it will magically bring humanity together.

When I go into the woods today, I'd better not go alone. I don't want to see one of these things, their feather shafts pink, their wings transparent, their eyes an eerie shade of blue. It`s just not natural.

It makes me wonder what Poe would think of the whole thing.