Compelled to chat with ravens

There are ravens in Dawson City–large, fluffy, cleverly-curious ravens, whose neck looks shrouded with a fur coat rather than with feathers. These birds are big and bold and comical.
I lived in Pickle Lake several lifetimes ago, where ravens were as plentiful as snowstorms (or so it seemed). The ravens perched on the telephone wires and watched the snow banks grow closer to their feet as winter progressed, and they complained to anyone walking by in voices that were described by the Toronto Star as rusty hinges.
I am compelled to chat with ravens when I come upon them on my hikes. They are suspicious of me, not so willing to trust this newcomer, this drifter, yet every now and then, I come upon a raven willing to linger and hear what I have to say.
He clucks and croaks at me, bouncing closer with his big feet. His voice sounds more friendly than threatening. I’m not sure he was saying welcome to the community but then again, I’m not sure he wasn’t.
In Greek mythology, the raven represents prophecy, and in native culture, the raven symbolizes change–a similar thread in each.
Ravens are bigger than their cousin, the crow. Much bigger. Ravens live up to 40 years in captivity and, on average, live to 21 years in the wild. They have a wingspan of 45-51 inches with a wedge-shaped tail (whereas a crow’s tail is fan-shaped).
Ravens have a deep-croaked voice that is described as sonorous. I had to look sonorous up in Webster to be sure; deep and resonant.
Crows caw, ravens croak. Ravens are inclined to travel in pairs while crows move around in larger groups (if you are trying to discern ravens from a crow).
Ravens mate for life. They are problem-solvers and actually will create a toy from something they find on the ground and will engage in play with other members of their family.
They once were called a conspiracy when in a group, but that term has been dropped for the most part and a group now is referred to as a flock. Personally, I like the idea of a conspiracy of ravens and a murder of crows. It sounds old English–conjuring up all manner of folklore.
When I was 10 or 11, I remember the final concert of the Festival in the J.A. Mathieu Auditorium, where Tris Trethart recited Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 creation of “The Raven,” all 1,085 words.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary . . . .”
Tris won the Rose Bowl for his performance and it has stuck with me all these years, the wizardry of Tris’ story-telling that brought poetry to life.
Maybe that’s why the ravens here in the Yukon appeal to me so.
wendistewart@live.ca

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