Up in the tattered crown of the tallest spruce, the surveillance team of two ravens has arrived for their daily check on our moose hunting prowess – or lack thereof. “Gluck, gluck,” one of them calls. Or is it “Luck, luck”? The very thing we’re missing.
Isn’t it enough that Sam and I are feeling pressured for hunting success, without the animal neighbours adding to it? The ravens have only paid us the odd visit over the summer but since the beginning of hunting season, they haven’t missed a day.
“We didn’t get anything yet,” I say sourly and scowl at the pressure canner I’ve set up on the porch. It’s spitting brownish water vapour from its valve, a telltale sign that my jars of veggie stew are leaking and might not seal. The flatulent smell of cauliflower swirls around me, underlined with a hint of propane. I guess we’ll have to retire the battered old two-burner camping stove we’re using for canning, but not this year.
Oh for the life of a raven, where the living is easy in fall. Lovely cool air underneath the wings, the tapestry of golden and red leaves a feast for the eyes and the next meal only a successful hunt away. Instead, here I am, flattened out on the porch with my right cheek pressed against the floorboards, trying to adjust the flame under the canner. The next batch of veggies is already waiting in the kitchen and an army of canning jars still needs to be cleaned. Then there is the part of our garden harvest we want to dry, the garlic that will have to be planted, and the willow and highbush cranberry bark I want to collect. If I ever get around to it before the snow flies.
My mind works itself into a squirrel-like frenzy while I carefully turn down the flame: clean out the chicken coop, dig compost into the harvested garden beds, finish the woodshed, do the remaining laundry, wash the windows, do one last inventory of winter supplies … by now I can’t even hear myself think anymore. Oh yeah, and the dogs would appreciate this thing called a walk. And if we get a moose, there will all the meat to deal with. Maybe it’s not so bad we haven’t had any luck yet.
Suddenly, the flame is out, I’ve turned the knob too far. Carefully, I lift the large canner off the stove – a precarious exercise since its bottom bulges out. Mental note: get a new camp stove plus a new canner for next year. The rhythmic “pft, pft, pft” changes to a discouraging “pffffff”, meaning the pressure has dropped to below where it should be. Which will make it even more likely that my jars won’t seal, that I’ll have to process them again, that I’ll fall behind in my schedule. I sigh and relight the flame.
The ravens are still up there, one is gently nibbling at the feathers of her mate. He slowly turns his head, eyes closed in bliss, as her beak doles out caresses. Meanwhile, their smaller relatives, the grey jays, swoop in on me. “Check-check-check-check,” one yells and fixes his beady eye on me. The other two hop from twig to twig, sizing me up in the nervous way of militia forces.
“Don’t you guys have better things to do?” I mutter, though secretly pleased. We throw our daily harvest of mouse corpses off the porch but always miss the grey jay clean-up commando. “Go ahead, check for mice down there.” The head honcho screeches and jerks his head, then zigzags downward. One of his cronies keeps a sharp eye on me. I pretend to utterly absorbed in the canner which has resumed its rhythmic spurting of veggie flavoured vapour.
Two grey jays are rustling around in the mouse cemetery to my left and then, finally, I get to see it: one flies up with a mouse in his beak, the long rodent tail trailing gently in the wind as the jay makes a beeline to the spruces with it. The ravens are oblivious to the rodent tidbits flying around below them, engrossed instead in more romantic activities: they are holding beaks.
What a good idea. I get up and go back inside to find Sam. Fall can’t be just all work.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.