A New Year

Bolinas Alter

The end of one story.  The beginning of another.

On the first day of the new year, Anna and I awoke before dawn and took Poe’s remains to Bolinas.  We drove through the Sonoma and Marin darkness, past the unseen dairy and cattle hills, toward and eventually into the San Andreas fault zone.  As the sky lightened we dropped into the narrow crack that separates the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate and we crossed over to that new continent that moment by moment is shedding itself northward and away from our world.

We left Poe at the maritime shrine on the main street along with a photograph of his younger self.  Afterwards we ran on the rocky beach against the roar of the receding surf, watching the flyovers of the resident ravens and hawks.

We left Bolinas later that morning.  Driving out of town, I looked to my right.  An open meadow.  And across stretched a line of 22 fenceposts.  And on each sat a solitary raven, all warily eyeing the world.  Eyeing perhaps even our own departure.

Ravens in Bolinas

The End

A raven was born, and wounded, and lived for a short time in this world.

He was taken at night by an animal.  He could offer no defense.  I knew straightaway where to go.  I found his severed head at the base of towering redwood tree.

Poe, I write this to you.

I am so sorry I was the cause of your destruction.  You believed in me and I kept screwing it up.  You did your best and I was the one who pulled the football away.

I don’t know where a raven’s spirit goes when it dies.  But I want you to find it within you a way to forgive. But forgiveness may only be in the province of humans, an unnecessary convention unsuited to the ways of birds.   I can listen for you and your own.  I can assign meaning.  It’s only an assignation, but it’s all I know how to do.

And in the end, what all do you care for my mortal shit?  You’re birds.  You do  your justice and sup on the departed.

What Happens When You Believe

I took a bunch of pictures to share, but now even that seems too much of a bother.

I had hoped that Poe could settle in at the Salmon Creek school in Occidental.  The school is set on 20 acres of meadow and redwood forest and wetland.  It also has an enormous fenced garden where I fancied Poe could hang out and regain a semblance of self.  Mazie and I took him there in the afternoon and set him free.

He enjoyed digging and exploring with his beak.  He hopped about in the wood chips and tussled with the greenery.  Mazie read quietly beneath an arbor.  Other ravens cawed out from the surrounding forest. Lovely clouds piled high in the sky and that afternoon the light felt marvelous and true.  I called Kerry.  We both were hopeful.  Perhaps Poe’s rehabilitation could become part of a school science program.  He could stay in the garden and mend.  And kids at the school could learn what it meant to be in close proximity to wildlife and maybe they figure out how to engineer some structure that would meet the needs of a wounded raven.

You see, this was all going to work out, or so it seemed.

But school would not start for a few more days.  The afternoon waned.  We gathered Poe into his carrier and in the setting light we drove up the hill and out of the valley.  Penny, the co-owner of the Holy Cow had offered her house up as a refuge.  She had an enormous chicken coop – the chicken hotel, she called it.  And hotel it was.  Ten feet high, fifteen across, open chicken wire walls all around facing out into meadow and oaks.  Poe took to the space immediately.  He ate and preened and hopped about in the straw.  Families and ravens flying over head would call out as they headed home to their roost.  Poe listened and called out in return.

Michael and Penny and I and even Mazie were elated.  Poe was safe.  I was safe, we all were, in the august darkness.

 

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The Hideout

It’s bad.

We checked into a Best Western in Barstow late at night. We snuck Poe up to the room, drew the curtains and considered our situation.

It was basically no different than that of all the other criminals holed up in Barstow that night. We’d done wrong, had a kidnap victim in our possession, and were high on junk food.

No sooner had we passed Kingman when Kerry started getting the calls. The rehabilitator, upset and frantic, had been on the phone, accusing Kerry of having stolen the bird. She didn’t even have to waterboard him, and within minutes he was already pointing the finger at me. A century of abolitionist roots and Maine tenancy down the tubes. Sorry, Kerry.

And the rehabilitator had set to calling our house. She worried that I would release him to the wild and that he wasn’t ready. And I think she was just plain ticked that we had taken him from right under her husband’s nose.

Anna insisted that I call the woman back, but Kerry and I concurred there would be little utility in doing so. She was nice enough and had done her part, but there was little point in looking back at that phase in Poe’s life.

Besides, I didn’t want her to have my cell. And if she was really hot under the collar, she could use it to trace our whereabouts.

And lastly, we had bigger fish to fry. We were camped out in the Mojave with this dang bird that we needed to keep alive. The first priority was just getting to our destination and getting him out of the dog carrier. His life had already been hell enough.

We set Poe so he could watch us sleep and shut our eyes for the night.

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Poe hiding out in Barstow

On the Lam

So that’s how my daughter and I became fugitives.

We bolted left then right then left out of the suburban neighborhood. We got caught behind a truck trying to make a left hand turn, all the while eyeing the rear view mirror while Poe sat swaddled in Mazie’s lap.

Within minutes we were on the Interstate heading west toward California. Ten miles down the road we pulled onto a side road and released Poe into the dog carrier which we positioned again on Mazie’s lap. We got back on the highway and once we were safely past Bearizona in Williams (where I was afraid the rehabilitator might be), we pulled off once again and positioned Poe behind us, giving him a full frontal view of the road ahead.

We all felt elated – Mazie couldn’t believe we stole a raven, I was pumped that Poe had a fighting chance, and as for Poe, I think he was just glad to be free of jackhammers.

Mazie and I talked contingencies. Keep your eye out for highway patrol, I told her.  Once we crossed the border into California we’d be a measure more safe.  If we were pulled over for any reason, she would drape the sweatshirt over the carrier. If anybody asked, it was a pet animal that was easily agitated. If anyone caught sight of him and had questions, we were rehabilitators taking him to a sanctuary in California. We decided we would keep him covered when we passed through the border inspection station.

Early evening, we pulled into an In n Out and ordered Poe a cheeseburger with fries. He didn’t take to the deep fried potatoes or the bun, but he relished the cheese and beef. He paced inside the carrier, he gurgled, he peered out at the advancing road.

It was time, I decided, for Mazie to hear the talk on Huck and the Higher Law. It’s not good to steal, I told her. And it’s not good to lie. But consider Huck. He was an orphan and outcast. He habitually stole. He was profane. And given a choice between truth and the lie, he always told the lie. And what’s a lie, but a fantastical story? But as he and Jim float down river deeper and deeper into the dark soul of the country, they are increasingly surrounded by the larger lies told by all the adults around them, and the largest lie of all, that Nigger Jim was chattel, a slave unworthy of even being considered human. And as Huck’s lies and the lies of the world compound around him, the deeper truth emerges, that he and Jim, outcasts though they may be, are friends and brothers.

It’s something to think about as we fumble through our own untruths, ever into the ascending darkness.

And with that, the interstate ribbon unfolds before us. Lots of ravens drift in and out of sight, sentinels each and every one. They roost on telephone wires, pick at carrion in the road, mouths agape, cool themselves on the side of the highway. Under their watchful eyes, the three of us – my daughter and I and a fugitive raven – descend off the Plateau, past the Colorado and into the Mojave.

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Poe eating road food

It Takes a Thief

“Blame it, this whole thing is just as easy and awkward as it can be. And so it makes it so rotten difficult to get up a difficult plan. There ain’t no watchman to be drugged — now there oughtto be a watchman. There ain’t even a dog to give a sleeping-mixture to. And there’s Jim chained by one leg, with a ten-foot chain, to the leg of his bed: why, all you got to do is to lift up the bedstead and slip off the chain. And Uncle Silas he trusts everybody; sends the key to the punkin-headed nigger, and don’t send nobody to watch the nigger…..Why, drat it, Huck, it’s the stupidest arrangement I ever see. You got to invent all the difficulties. Well, we can’t help it; we got to do the best we can with the materials we’ve got.

Anyhow, there’s one thing — there’s more honor in getting him out through a lot of difficulties and dangers, where there warn’t one of them furnished to you by the people who it was their duty to furnish them, and you had to contrive them all out of your own head.”

And so spaketh Tom Sawyer in the 35th chapter of Huck Finn.

There’s the right way to do something and the wrong way.

In our case, Mazie imagines black face paint and ninja costumes.  Kerry dreams up fake transportation permits and forged documents from the Hopi Tribe.  I consider several furtive and superfluous transfers between waiting vehicles a la Mission Impossible.

In the end though, we just take him.

In our last moment before leaving Hopi, we disinter an old dog carrier from the garage and load it in the car.  That’s the extent of our plan.

A few hours later we find ourselves at the home of the wildlife rehabilitator.  We knock.

After a long wait, the husband shows himself.  His wife is gone.  He doesn’t know where she is, or when she’s getting back.

We came to visit Poe, we explain and he says that we are free to go to the back.

Which we do.  Mazie carries with her a Middlebury sweatshirt.  The air once again is filled with the cacophonous roar of jackhammers.  I step into the cage with Poe and he looks up with wearied eyes.  I whisper for Mazie to walk quickly to the car, retrieve a shred of burrito and bring it back.  I meanwhile sit with the stricken bird.  Mazie returns and we feed Poe with some scraps of meat that he takes eagerly.

And just like that I drop the sweatshirt over Poe and swaddle him in my arms.  I race across the yard.  Behind me I hear Mazie closing the gate so it is slightly ajar.  Goodbye Poe, she says.

We dive in the car and quick as can, we peel away.

 

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