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The raven, er, the crow, er, the raven

CHASING THE MUSE

“The raven is cautious, but he is thorough. He will sense your

peaceful intentions. Let him have the first word. Be careful: He will

tell you he knows nothing.”

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-- Barry Holstun Lopez

The third time I hear the thud on my studio porch, my curiosity is

more than piqued. Flung from somewhere in the air, another stone like

glob falls to earth. What and where are these black moldy seed pods

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coming from?

And then I see him. The raven. Sitting tall on the railing,

peering cautiously in the window as I work. The turn of my head

startles him. He takes wing across Third Street to the tall trees

that shelter the free clinic. He studies me from that distance. I

step outside and discover the source of the noise. Another walnut

(which husband Steve assures me do not grow in Laguna). Slowly, I

understand that it is the raven who has been flinging these nuts onto

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my porch in hopes that they will crack open. His most recent attempt

remains intact. As he watches, I retrieve a hammer and softly smack

the shell. The nut splits in two perfect pieces. I set them on the

railing in clear view of my dark winged friend and wait.

My mentor and friend, Gene used to argue with me about crows and

ravens. We were teaching photography in the midst of Death Valley to

students hungry for rocks and sand. The ravens parked on the

periphery of our campsite, listening to our stories, hopeful of

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discovering misplaced food. Late night ramblings about f-stops always

ended in identification disagreements. “West of the Mississippi,”

Gene would declare, “are ravens. Crows live to the east.”

This, of course, is not true. Sibleys’ Guide to Birds clearly

places both species in the same local terrain, but the argument

persists. Raven or crow? Steve and I extend this bird discussion into

the canyons and rooftops of Laguna. Ravens are larger and lankier

with a heavy beak and a deeper voice. Crows usually travel in small

groups and feed on the ground. Crows most commonly make a carrr or

caw sound, while ravens, with more vocal variation, can be heard to

call out kraah, or brrronk.

Ravens fill the waterway of the Grand Canyon. On my recent

sojourn, they entertained everyone with their stealth and theft

antics. On the list of stolen items: ibuprofen, underwear,

anti-depressants and hormones. I expect to return one day to a

cross-dressed, laid back, pain-free highly sexual flock of birds. In

the canyon, raven stories abound, both anecdotal, and those read by

guides and passengers. One night, Sam, read from Barry Holstun

Lopez’s short story, “The Raven.”

“There are no crows in the desert,” he read. “What appear to be

crows are ravens.”

Can anybody get this right?

I have both ravens and crows in my neighborhood. The crows keep

trying to nest on my roof. They come in pairs, in flocks, they jabber

with one another, but they never light on my railing. The raven waits

and watches -- solitary and patient. I sit motionless within my

studio with equal patience. Then, with long-winged strides, he leaves

his perch and flaps to the deck. He lights quietly, leaving the fruit

untouched until he is sure that I am not a threat. His strong, dark

legs move delicately to the nut. With sharp beak, he pecks at the

fruit, pulling it from the casing. One last glance at me and he wings

over the hilltop and out of range.

In the morning, the long dark feather, black with violet tinges,

rests on my studio doorstep. Random chance? Or did he come, my new

friend, bearing a gift. A thank you for the hammered fruit. For

patience and my understanding.

“Put all this to the raven: He will open his mouth as if to say

something. Then he will look the other way and say nothing.”

-- Lopez

* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer

who thrives off beaten trains. She can be reached at

cooper@cooperdesign.net or (949) 497-5081.


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