The ravens are learning to feed themselves.  Kind of.  You would think that feeding would come naturally to any living thing.  But with these birdies, perhaps most birdies, it’s different.  As young fledgelings, they call, you drop food in their gaping gullets and they’re happy.  You put food down in front of them, however, and they don’t get it.  They don’t pick at it, they don’t look at it, they walk on it, walk past it, do just about anything but recognize it as food.

Kerry thinks it’s a cognitive thing.  Food is something that is dropped in your mouth, it’s not something lying about.

So now the new method.  Dangle the meat in their mouths and slowly lead their beaks down to the nest and drape the food on the branches.  Hopefully they get the idea and pick it up themselves.  After a few tries, they mostly get it.

Poe, oddly enough, seems to have the most difficulty.  He’s the first to take flight.  Most mornings he’s perched on the fence or the roof or the hammock, or across the street on someone’s car.  He’s figuring out the wing thing pretty quickly, but when it comes to food, he can be starving, but won’t approach to grab the meat. You have to go to him.  And he has a heck of a time positioning himself properly, in some cases twisting himself into an avian pretzel.

But you have to have faith. Earlier I’d watched one of the chickens eye the bird feeder hungrily.  After some consideration, he followed the example of the finches and hopped to the top of the fence and commenced to feed with them.  Fortunately for us and for chickens, if hungry enough, even a dinosaur can learn to fly.

Later from below I watch Kerry dangle a strip of flesh above a waiting beak.  Who’s training who?  I see us doing this day after day.  In this sparse environment,  I suddenly understand how invention leads to habit. Habit becomes ritual.  Ritual, ceremony.  And ceremony becomes religion.  Each spring, legions of our descendants will ritually feed a captive raven in the spring.  It will symbolize stewardship and love for all creatures.  We will have forgotten how it all began in the first place.

Feeding © Kerry Hardy

Health Safety Hazards

It took a few hours to figure it out.  Why were the ravens there, at that exact spot in the desert?  They were at the end of a dirt road that began at the hospital.  So we put out a late night call to one of the facility workers.  What exactly did he know about a clutch of ravens abandoned in the wash?  He abashedly explained that they had been roosting at the entrance of the hospital.  The Health Safety Officer had deemed them a Health Safety Hazard and asked for them to be removed.  Maintenance had at first resisted, but eventually caved in.

Health Safety Hazard?  Each morning young mothers trudge past that nest, their young toddlers in tow sucking on supersize bottles of soda and someone considers the ravens a health risk?  Who’s out there tackling those young hominid mothers and dragging them out to the wash?

My misanthropy ratchets up a notch.

Ravens mate for life.  They raise their young for upwards of two years.  They possess a complex language and a fierce intelligence.  They have strong social networks and can recognize individual humans and distinguish the friendly from the hostile.  They can share this information with other ravens.

They’re beautiful.

Scared young things

Is This the Way the World Ends

I’m in Hotevilla when the call comes.  There’s a propane leak at Hopi Health Care and they’ve evacuated the facility and the adjacent housing complex.  They’re afraid the whole thing is going to blow.

I drive back to First Mesa.  The hospital and housing entrances are blocked by a phalanx of squad cars.  Two fire trucks wait on the side of the road about a mile distant.  I drive past, hook a right on the airport road and park on the cracked asphalt adjacent to the air strip.  I secretly cut across the wash and desert to the rear of our house and hop the fence.

Inside, I settle down with a ham sandwich.  The neighborhood feels ghostly and empty. What do I take? I wonder. I finish my sandwich and grab my laptop and Mazie’s violin.  I load a duffle with some meat from the cow we slaughtered.  A half bottle of Hornitos.  I shoot a quick video of each room of our house (for insurance purposes).

The first editions of Stephen’s journals, the signed first editions of Cormac McCarthy books, my signed Turrells, the Heriz, my journals and family heirlooms – it’s all destined for flames, I decide.

I plop my Mennonite hat on my head and wrap my scarf around my neck.  I move the chicks outside.  I open the gate and our dog Mango steps out with me.  We’re joined by the stray pit that everyone dislikes and together – the dogs and me, violin and duffle in hand, set off across the desert. A sand storm kicks up, sending tumbleweeds skittering past.  A thunderstorm approaches.

Perhaps this is how it ends.  Behind me I’ll hear an explosion and feel the heat of an enormous fire ball.  Anna’s work and all of our worldly possessions will have blown up.  And then we’ll climb in the car with Mazie and drive west.

And that’s it.  We’ll be done with it.