Considerations

Walpi Housing is all in transition.

Kerry and Kristina are moving out next month as are we.  We have a bunch of folks over for dinner and most everybody, including Hopi, are heading out in the coming weeks.

A particular era is over.

But where will this leave Poe?  It’s clear he’s not coming back here.  Without mending and stewardship in the near term, he would be finished.  Kerry and I contemplate taking him to Bernd Heinrich in Maine, but we don’t know if he still has his aviary.

And Poe deserves…he deserves what?

At the very least to live large.

He’s not a beast. And I wouldn’t denigrate him with the word animal.  He’s a being.  On par with human beings.  And every effort needs to be made to make him whole and restore him to raven-ness, whenever, and wherever that may be.

One morning I make an announcement.  We’re taking Poe, I say.

Mazie wants to know how.

We’ve already been read the riot act by the rehabilitation community.  He’s a protected species.  It’s illegal for people to own them or have them in their possession.  It’s illegal to transport them across state lines without a permit. And as I’ve been reminded, I haven’t been trained in rehabilitation.

Thank god.  If I was trained in anything, it would keep me from doing half the things I do.

Being Poe © Kerry Hardy

Guardians

Poe ensconced with a wildlife rehabilitator in Flagstaff. And Mazie and I are camped out in Sonoma California, trying to piece together a new life out here for our family.

We’ve found house to buy. It’s big and green and old and wonderful. But after eight years at Hopi, it’s hard to imagine a life as wild and wonderful and full of serendipity as the one we now have. Is this it? After decades of wandering, are we now settling down? Where’s the adventure in it?

On a Tuesday morning, sitting in the courtyard outside the Sebastopol Inn, I call our friends Kerry and Kristina back home. I’m worried, I tell them. How are we going to make a new life for ourselves out here?

Kristina’s answer is simple. This thing that we need to do is too big, she says. We can’t do it alone. So we need to put it out there, we need to seek out our allies and be available when they present themselves.

As for Kerry, he points out that when driving into Walpi Housing in the middle of a barren desert, would we have ever imagined that it was an ideal spot for building large wooden structures, and butchering a cow, and raising a mess of ravens? Could we have even conceived of the adventures that awaited us there?

Two hours later, Mazie and I sit in the Holy Cow coffee shop in Sebastopol. I’m despairing. Will I be able to talk to the ravens in our new home? I ask Mazie.

Daad, she says, and rolls her eyes in a way to indicate that once again I’m proving myself an embarrassment.

On the wall behind her hangs a large painting of a young girl cradling a crow. And further down, another canvas of an enormous raven perched on the body of a baby. I step up to take a picture of it and an older woman sitting at a nearby table asks if I’m interested in ravens.

She’s read all about them, she says.

Bernd Heinrich? I ask.

Heinrich is amazing, she says and we high five.

I tell her the story of the wash ravens and she tells me about herself. Her name is Maryann Markus. She used to teach, but she’s retired and she’s built herself a studio and she spends much of her time drawing nests. She is fascinated by ravens, she considers them her totems. There’s something I’ve never shown anybody, she says removing a velvet pouch from her purse. Inside, a hematite figurine of a raven. I squeeze it in my hand and rub it and squeeze it again. It’s heavy and has the dense sensibility of a low rumbling current.

She looks at me. It’s yours now, she says. They’re such powerful birds, guardians really. She asks if I’ve met Michael, the owner of the coffee shop and to fellow who did the paintings. She leads me to the back to introduce us.

He’s my age more or less, introspective and gentle seeming. Michael, too, says he can’t get his mind off these birds. He’s been fixated on them a while and keeps working them, making image after image. They’re deep, intense creatures, he says, and we’re afraid to let them into our lives. He says that the image of the baby and the bird scared people, but that they misinterpreted it. I see him as a protector, he says.

I tell him about the raven in our care and how our neighbor killed and maimed two of them. How I was fed up and in a weird way it was a last straw for us. I just wanted to get out of there.

But that’s all part of it, too, he says. You can’t run from that either. He says he hopes our move here works out well and that things take a good turn with the house. Before I leave, he gives me a hug.

I walk out of his office and see one more canvas.

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Rehabilitation

For all you ravenites out there, the saga continues.

In July, our family and Kerry’s were going to be gone for much of the month.  Never and More had joined up with the adolescents from the other family groups and were spending most of their time out in the desert.

Kerry did an exemplary job meeting them in the desert, feeding them dead lizards, letting them fly off with their new found friends and capturing shots of their flying prowess.

Never and More in flight © Kerry Hardy

Pretty much every day, though, they would come home and hang in the shade of porch or visit with Poe who was still hobbled by his broken wing.

Never and More descend for a visit © Kerry Hardy

With each day, however, Poe seemed to be struggling.  It was tough with the heat, his appetite curbed, and with his siblings gone, he became less and less active.  Kerry and I agreed that with all of us gone, Poe’s chances of surviving the month were scant.

Injured Poe © Kerry Hardy

Resigned, we agreed that Kerry would took Poe down to Flagstaff and place him with a “wildlife rehabilitator.”  Which he did.  And all seemed good.  Poe settled in with the elderly woman.  And we were told that if he didn’t recover his flight, he could move to Bearizona, a wildlife sanctuary near Williams.  There he would be used as a “teaching tool.”  The ravens there were quite smart, we were told.  If they were handed a dollar bill, they would drop it in a piggy bank.  And if they were handed a plastic frog, they knew to put it in some water.

The thought broke my heart.

Poe being transported to Flagstaff © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of); June 22 evening

A final dispatch from Kerry from yesterday evening.

Gotta go hiking w/ John in a few minutes, so I went down around 4 PM to collect Broken Wing. Halfway down who should I see flying up but Never and More. They went 3/4 of the way to the house, then landed for a quick tete-a-tete– and decided to come back down! When I reached the wash, Broken Wing gave me the same affectionate greeting as usual; ran right over and perched almost on my shoes.

We headed for home and then stopped halfway there for a little snack for everyone. You can see them in their usual places– BW closest, Never deciding it’s OK to come right in on the gallop, and More lurking in the distance– probably knowing that I’ll walk over and give him some. The two fliers just leapfrogged along with us, and everyone got one last bite once we were all in the yard.

It’ll be a slow weaning away from us.  Once Broken Wing is better and they can function more freely, I’m hoping we won’t need to intercede so much.

More Catches Up © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of): June 22

Kerry Hardy, naturalist at large:

The same routine worked well once again– Broken Wing as decoy, and this time the sibs even beat us down to the wash and were sitting there waiting (I daresay their pattern recognition skills exceed those of most of our neighbors). Broken Wing apparently has a favorite seat down there; he headed right for this elevated tussock and hunkered right down– until he noticed the one last scrap of elk that I was saving for bait to lure the others over. He hopped from about 20′ away and was just about to nab it (pretty good eyesight to spot the small red morsel among the black, blue, and green objects!) when I spotted what he was up to. Two minutes later, Never and More had joined the party, and were swilling away at the water dish and getting cozy in the elm’s shade. Not a bad setup.

I was talking with Shawn this morning and he said he’d gotten a ‘call’ (i.e. complaint) about the birds. I explained that we were doing our all to rehab and wildify them, and were making good progress. This relieved him– he’d done his job and told us, and now he was off the hook.

More flyovers from the resident birds, and (so far) no sign of hostilities, just curiosity. Never and More flew several hundred yards uninterrupted on their way to the wash, and actually landed about fifty yards from the big nest tree– which had several birds sitting in it– and spent five or ten minutes just wandering around there, so I think they’re getting a handle on the raven geography of the area.

Slow progress.

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of) June 21 evening

Broken Wing is definitely the star today. I was pretty late heading down to get him tonight (owing to a flat tire on my bike ride), so I took the truck. About halfway down the road who should I see, gamely hopping back towards your house. Quite touching! and such a trooper. I picked him up and just held him as I drove; he was quite happy with it all (and even gave Lola a good peck on the nose when she got too friendly!).

The sibs greeted us enthusiastically when we reached the yard, and all three (successfully) begged a little nightcap of elk from me. I figure it’s good to keep that food connection strong so that they’ll follow me to the wash each day. Cindy was amazed (and relieved) that they had spent the whole day there, and I think she’ll be game to lead them there herself in my absence. All in all, I’d say really good progress today.

To complete the picture, the wash is a quarter mile distant from our house.  In order to reunite himself with his siblings and return to the ancestral roost, he made a beeline on foot for the entire distance.  You have to love the guy.

It also spotlights the importance of the intra-raven relationships as well as physical place.  They need to be on the ramada by nightfall.  It’s not willy-nilly choice, but rather a pit in the stomach as dusk advances and they’re not in a place considered safe.

The beauty?  When they are fully airborne and mobile and integrated, is there really any problem in a couple birds sleeping in our yard?

Here’s to Broken Wing.

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of): June 21

And the odyssey continues:

This morning Cindy couldn’t get the ravens in the cage. No problem; with enough elk meat anything is possible. I just grabbed Broken Wing, wrapped him in a towel, and headed for the wash, feeding him tidbits as I went. The sibs couldn’t stand the thought of not getting their fair share, and they flew along quite nicely. Just left all three of them down there with water, and they seemed happy. Even more interesting is that at least four ravens did flyovers, and have perched just 100 yd. up the wash in the big cottonwood. Let’s hope that they talk today.

Today’s pix: #1 is the native birds settling in up the wash; #2 is a shot from the wash of that weirdo’s unit in Walpi Housing (what’s up with that guy and all the brush?); #3 is Broken Wing, my prize decoy, enjoying a well-earned drink.

Broken Wing is getting stronger and stronger; some very vigorous flapping today, apparently pain-free. Flying in 3 days? As I walked back up I was chuckling at the irony of your being at the bluegrass fest, surrounded by world-class musicians– and diving for your computer three times a day for updates on the ravens. I’m sure this will be used as evidence when they lock you away. . .

Native Raven © Kerry Hardy

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Walpi Housing

The four wild ravens were either the other set of fledgelings or the two mating pairs.  Note the incongruity of our units in this setting (despite the groovy ramada).

And I’m fully ready to be committed on this one.  We’ve been encountering our share of bumps on the human side, starting with the forced removal from Health Care and continuing on to neighborly complaints.  But it only steels our resolve.  If we as a species are that removed from the environment around us, then it’s time to hone the edge and take it to the streets.  Time for us, perhaps, to reinhabit the wildness that is our own nature.