I am sitting with my back against a century old red oak tree while looking in a northerly direction through the naked branches of this hardwood forest. The hike up here was slow and painful for reasons I will explain later. The snow is only ankle deep, unusual for late January, despite the fact that the temperatures haven’t broke freezing in more than a month. There is little wind today and it will not be missed. The temperature is about 6 degrees Fahrenheit and the still air bites at the parts of my face not buried underneath my thick beard.
A very large raven, hailing more than a three foot wingspan, flies into view and lands on the outer branches of a very large, nastily diseased American Beech. His weight bends the branch and as it yields under this significant size. His gnarly feet hang on to the branch as it bounces up and down and he uses he spreads his large wings to establish equilibrium. It is an old raven. He has ruffled feathers and a more than a few obvious battle scars. He doesn’t have the beauty of youth but rather the allure of age and wisdom. The raven, somehow blacker than black, also looks north. His shiny feathers are iridescent in the bright sun and he emits a loud croak, a strange sound that only ravens can summon, as if to celebrate the view looking north. Ravens are unbelievable sensitive to their environment and he senses my presence. He turns to the right and looks over his shoulder and scans the forest floor. As his eyes look from right to left his head stops when he encounters my winter camouflage silhouette. I don’t move and so he doesn’t see me as a threat. It is nice to occasionally be invisible.
The raven and I look at distant mountains. The mountains are as purple as they are in the patriotic song “America, America, God Shed his Grace on Thee”. The sky is light blue. Only a few clouds can be seen floating from the west. The white barren landscape, old farm land turned into mature forest, is dominated by the nearly uninterrupted white landscape. We both know we will never see this exact scene again and so we soak it up attempting to let it saturate every cell of our being. It’s not difficult to become part of the landscape if you are ready and willing.
Amongst the aboriginal branch of my family ravens and crows are sacred. They can be our spirit guides if we let them. They can be our eyes above in the forest if we believe in them. They can make the forest safe. They can make these hardwoods dance with laughter. They can hold our very spirit in the clutch of their feet and show us what we cannot see by ourselves if we let them. They ravens are, for all intent and purposes, one of our main connection to the roots of our very own existence. Relative to the wild earth they are what we could be if we only let ourselves become one with the planet.
As I am thinking this the raven again turns and looks over his right shoulder. He seems to look directly into my eyes. Perhaps I am not invisible at all. It is as if he is looking into the inner realms of my soul. It is as if he is reading my thoughts. And then he flies away. His powerful broad wings pump twice and then he glides away without effort. I feel a part of me leave with him.
Only a week ago I had an accident. I fell while putting a snow plow on my truck. My feet slipped out from under me, in a backwards direction, while I held the weight of the plow blade in my hands. With no opportunity to break my fall and with the heavy weight of the plow and frame in my hands I cracked my head on the plow frame as my chest hit the plow blade. To add insult to injury the plow landed on my left hand on the hard ice. All of this resulted in my getting a significant concussion, torn cartilage in between 4 ribs on my right side, dislocation of my left ring finger, a badly bruised right knee, and a fat lip, cut on the inside, that would make Rocky Balboa proud. I should have been more cautious. I should have been wearing my ice cleats. I should have asked for help before attempting this (although I have done this task hundreds of times over the years.). I spent the rest of that day at the hospital. A week later my concussion symptoms have subsided (this is my 5th concussion), my knee feels much better, my lip is still fat but well concealed by my mustache and beard, but the ribs show only minor improvement and still hurt significantly. I am told that they will take months to heel. I will need to be very patient.
The raven disappears off into the horizon. He has moved on. I believe he stopped by to give me a message. The message is to carry on; there is still much to witness and behold. There are still lessons to be learned. Battles to be won and lost. There is still much work to be done. There is still reason for hope.
Just look at that horizon. I can see the wild and glorious beauty of this wonderful planet. Before me is miles and miles of northern forest ripe with life. Much of it threatened. Much of it needing a voice. All of it deserving preservation for habitat, ecological benefits, and as a place where we all can find peace and understand our real place and niche in the grand scheme of Gaia.
There is still much work to be done.
Written for www.wildramblings in January 2015. This is Wild Ramblings 300th story/article post!