I’m sure we could all use a short break from all the depressing news about Montana wanting to extend their wolf hunting season, or how comedian Steve Martin had to go and bring another human baby into the world at the ripe old age of 67, rather than choosing to adopt a homeless kid…or dog for that matter.
Instead, today I’m going to talk about somebody who knows how to genuinely enjoy life: namely, the raven. I took a day off the other day and went skiing. Skiing powder is the one time a human being can feel even a modicum of the joy and freedom a raven feels on a daily basis.
A skier would have to have their head firmly planted in the snow not to notice the omnipresent raven at their local “hill,” be it in the High Sierras, the Cascades Mountains or the Canadian Rockies. The fanatically practical may write off the raven’s presence as simply the result of a daily supply of scavenge-able food dropped from chairlifts by skiers and snowboarders whose cold hands can’t keep a grip on their sandwiches or granola bars. But there’s another, equally rewarding reason ski hills are favorite stomping grounds for ravens: they’re fellow fun-seekers! They like watching us glide down the mountain almost as much as they enjoy participating in their own form of winter sports.
Just as the expert skier becomes one with the snow (knowing, through years of practice, the precise angle of descent and tilt of skis needed to adjust to the texture and resistance of hard pack or powder), ravens are one with the sky, correcting for gravity, wind speed and air currents by varying the slant of their wings, fine-tuning the angle of their descent with the slightest tweak of a single feather. And they really get a kick out of flaunting their talents for us lowly, flightless, earthbound two-leggers.
Many’s the time I’ve felt I was at the top of my game on the ski slopes, only to have an acrobatic raven steal the show by performing a spectacular series of forward barrel rolls or some other astonishing feat. Once I watched in amazement as a raven swooped in and broke off a dead branch from the crown of an alpine fir tree. Clasping the branch in his talons, he handed it up to his beak (like a relay racer handing off a baton) and flew on without breaking speed. I don’t know if he was trying to impress his mate or the astounded human onlookers. Maybe carrying that branch was his way of saying, “You folks have your ski poles but I’ve got this stick, so there!”
Circumpolar, ravens are one of the only birds to feel at home in the arctic during the winter, long after about every other avian has flown the coop. They’re as comfortable scaling the summits of the Himalayas as descending into the sweltering depths of Death Valley. Ravens near and far have been raised up or reviled, tarnished or exalted, demonized or deified. But to a skier, ravens are nothing but a bunch of show-offs.
This post includes material excerpted from the book, Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport