The rain-soaked hills must dry a bit before my steps return to their grassy, graceful fold.
The wait. Yes. For moisuture to dry. Rain. Tears.
Patience was never my forte'. I await clarity in a covid-changed world, but there is none. Even the most base beliefs have turned tentative. Like: "spirit puts me where I need to be." I mean, how do I reckon the daily, magic company of a raven with her apocolyptic goodbye? I named her Emma, for Emma Goldman. Ravens, after all, are the proud anarchists of the bird world. All worlds, for that matter. Ask Poe. Ask the indigenous peoples. Emma, a smaller Chihuahuan Raven, frequented the airspace of Querencia Hill. When I acknowledged this, and reached out to her, she responded. She and her shy-boy mate, Noam (Chomsky), began to visit a feeding stone every morning. While Noam was all about food, She would land in the branches of the Velvet Mesquite and talk to me. She followed me on my morning walks. She landed near by and held witness to fire and drum circles. And one day when I fell hard and let out a pained scream, she came flying to me, circling with her raucous alert call, to let ears know something was very wrong. She did not stop until I stood upright.
I have observed ravens for decades; they figure large in my writings. Emma, however, compelled me to study in depth and transformed me into a full-fledged ravenphile. I read books and articles; I consulted my friend, author John Nichols who has spent hours watching them in the Sangre de Cristo high country. In the throes of a changed, pandemic world, Emma was the most fervent of omens, a hope-full, wild spirit. So how was it, on April first, while happily feeding and watering abundant songbirds and quail, I turned my head at the moment she hit a guywire at full speed, followed by a sickening vibration, as she fell to the ground.
I screamed NO, grabbed gloves, a towel and ran-stumbled across rocky grass. I rolled under a rusty, five-strand barbedwire fence to reach her at the base of the powerpole. But there was no saving. No rescue. Her broken neck wobbled at the apex of her queenly ebony wings.
Dirt-covered and dazed, I gathered her up and walked home. I lit a candle then smudged and prayed over her, as Hobo and Dulce, her buddies, looked on. Then I laid her under a tree to let nature take its course. Burial was out of the question for this Matriarch of the Sky. I turned from her body and heard Noam's faint Quork Quork Quork Quork. He was perched on a mesquite snag on a distant ridge, calling for her. Sacred Baboquivari Peak was his backdrop.
One hour passed, then two. He lifted off and flew over her resting place as the sky filled with ravens from every direction. Where did they come from? As long as Noam and Emma were on the land there were no interlopers. The hilltop adjacent to Emma's body was eventually coated with reserved, quiet ravens, forsaking their usual safe, limbed perches. I was witness to a wake. They mingled for over an hour and then as they had arrived, they dispersed in all directions.
Quork. Quork. Quork. Quork.
Noam's low-toned call reverberated from the far-away mesquite for days. He called across the hills in various octaves, beseeching an answer never to come. It is good she died so quickly, said my friend. Yes. I guess so. If there was any good in this. For the moment, I couldn't fathom how it happened that She flew into the support wire angling down from the pole. This was familiar territory. She was following Noam across the sky, with joyful calls. Was there some strange shift in the magnetic field? Did shadows deceive her?
Noam's four notes echoed across the land; forever part of the wildscape. It took two weeks for him to return to the close-in trees where he and Emma allopreened and cooed. His tail feathers were askew, my guess from some territorial challenges from outlying ravens. This made him easy to identify, however. A small comfort as I sought answers to Emma's joyous arrival and kinship; her torturous departure. To someone who ardently believed there were no accidents, this had shaken my core. I wondered if he associated me with her death? If he knew I, too, was immobilized by mourning. Ravens brains, twice the size of the crow, are capable of amazing discernment.
Coyote yaps and vulture circles ceased. I walked to her body. All organs and flesh were gone. A wing and her noble beak remained. Scattered feathers dotted the hill like newly-sprouted grass. Noam's shadow burst across the land, a haunting darkness cast from the sky, it tipped and passed through trees, across buildings. A reminder that he had not given up hope that she would return to their favorite limb to coo and preen; to reoccupy the airspace that was solely theirs. We were clearly in this together. That evening I stepped outside onto the deck as Noam approached across the hills to the north. When straight above, he tucked his wings, dove straight down and curved upward again, a quick spirit-charging dance, as if to reassure me, magic remains.
Ravens mate for life, but will sometimes form a new bond if the one left behind is young. Noam appeared with another raven within a couple of months. She was uber shy; would do the nervous hop-hop on the ground many feet from the feeding stone, something strutting Emma would never do. I am thrilled to see them. I talk to them. Leave them the occasional chicken carcass or boiled egg. I call her Rosa. Rosa Luxemburg. They take flight when I near, however, in contrast to the close-up spirit-bond held by Emma and myself. Her enchanted presence. The clucks. The outstretched, ruffed neck, knocking sounds and gurgles, usually reserved for a mate, to say, I'm a powerful female. To that I add: We are kin.
This I know. I will never see that rare, white eyelid lower over her glassy eye again, a symbol of affection. Her most of the 80-some calls in a raven repertoire will remain a mystery. Her presence that defined this land and began to define me, in a world of diminishing definitions, is gone.
I, the witness, with no clue where this mourning path leads. For certain, it continues.
|Emma and a White-winged Dove|
|Her Morning Arrival|
|In Her Ocotillo World|
|Love and Care|