Ravens rule the roost in Watson

Dear Uma In the 20 or so years we’ve known each other, I don’t think I’ve ever written and phoned you as often as I have since I…

Dear Uma

In the 20 or so years we’ve known each other, I don’t think I’ve ever written and phoned you as often as I have since I moved to Watson Lake.

I’m compelled to; writing it down makes it more real.

You don’t believe a lot of what I’ve been describing. I know you don’t.

When we talk on the phone I can hear that tone you get when you think I’m being too dramatic. It’s hard to imagine that living in a little town in the North could be so full of daily events, insights, epiphanies and things that make your jaw drop.

Who knew there was so much going on in a place that has maybe 800 people?

Pete wanted to get some cupboards built in his workshop.

He has plans to fill the looming darkness of winter with a new hobby — making little wooden things that involve a great many little tools and little pieces of wood and stuff that apparently demands a lot of big cupboards.

Don’t have a clue what he intends to do with the results, but he’s quite excited about getting to it. The new job starts next week; he’ll be gone for three weeks, and then home for two.

It’s a new experience for us, this dividing our life between being together and then being apart on a regular basis. Not having come up with a new hobby, and not likely to, I’m divided between apprehension about being alone here and pleasure about being alone here.

We’ve learned to not only listen to gossip, but to actively seek it in some circumstances and finding a carpenter to do this job was one of those times.

No one we talked to had a bad thing to say about Dave, (and trust me, that in itself is extremely rare here — usually the opposite is true. There is a huge enthusiasm for trashing one another while at the same time the trasher appears to maintain an excellent relationship with the trashee) except that he was always really busy and hard to nail down.

Sorry about the pun; my brain is softening and decaying a bit in the cold.

I know, I know, I’ve gone on at great lengths about the cold, and I will again because they tell me that this is mild compared to what’s coming.

My heart quails.

I never really understood that expression until now; I can visualize my heart as a small bird, shivering and terrified in my chilling chest.

Dave came over to talk about the job and we invited him in for coffee.

He’s a tall, skinny fellow; face almost covered with graying long beard, and a quiet, almost shy manner.

We sat in our trailer kitchen talking. I have mentioned, haven’t I, that we live in a trailer?

All talk, by the way, is about things local. All of it.

There is radio, satellite TV and the internet (none of which compensate for a daily newspaper), but it seems people here don’t pay a lot of attention to the affairs of the world, though Coronation Street is discussed often. 

Anyway, the chat turned to ravens.

These birds are like nothing we’ve known.

First off, they are HUGE, and if there’s a way to distinguish male from female, we’ve not found it. They’re all black, seem the same size and have an extensive vocabulary, a fearless and bold approach to life, and a twisted, intricate sense of humour.

They remind me of some people I know.

Since moving here, and into our trailer, we’ve spent lots of time watching them, and hearing stories about their exploits.

One fellow who delivers freight to businesses around town had a pallet of bags of dog food, tightly wrapped in heavy plastic, in the back of his cube van.

Intending to deliver it the next morning he left it in the back of the vehicle overnight.

The door was accidentally left open — just the tiniest bit — but enough that a gang of ravens (actually, the plural is an “unkindness,” but here they are commonly referred to as gangs) got inside and demolished the bags.

What they didn’t eat, they spread all over the floor of the van.

The businessman (his name is Buster; you’ll be hearing more about this guy) was furious mainly because the birds ripped open every bag, though they obviously couldn’t eat it all.

I’ve spent more time than I probably should wondering what he thought would have been more reasonable: open one bag at a time and finish it off before opening another? Taking some back to the nest in smaller bags for later — the bird equivalent of a doggy bag?

Noticing the door was ajar and closing it?

We related this incident to Dave and he smiled nicely, though I’m certain he’d already heard it, probably often. Not that telling local tales over and over causes them to lose their shine – quite the opposite, in fact.

Dave took a swallow of coffee through his beard and said

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing; you don’t want to have a bath with them. When they get wet, they shit.”

Pete and I sat up straighter and looked at one another with that eyebrows-going-up expression that we wear a lot these days. 

One of us had to ask, and I’m faster.

“How was it you came to be bathing with ravens, Dave?”

“I was in the bathtub,” he looked at me like I was maybe a bit slow, “and one came in to see what I was doing. They’re curious, you know, like cats.

“Pretty soon, the other two came in and they all started fooling around in the water and shitting all over the place. I was dirtier than I was when I got in the tub. Well, I’m going to get going and see if I can rustle up the boards I’ll need to get started here.”

He set down his cup with an air of finality.

Things had been explained, and it was time to go.

“No!” I leaped up “Uh, have another cup of coffee. Pete wants to talk about boards for a fence, don’t you, Pete?”

I shot Pete a look of entreaty, but he was ahead of me, pouring more coffee into Dave’s mug.

“So, Dave,” I said, when he’d sugared his brew and indications were he was going to be around for a little while longer, “how did it come about that you had three ravens living with you?”

“Well, one time my wife, Jeannie, and I were coming back from Fort Nelson and we stopped at a café to have something to eat and there was a guy in the restaurant who was telling the waitress he had three young ravens and he was going to sell them to someone down south.”

“You bought them?” Pete asked “How much did you pay for three ravens?”

Dave looked a bit taken aback. “Hell no, we didn’t buy them. He had no business robbing the nest and taking those babies. We stole them out of his car when we left.”

He looked at our rapt faces and warmed to the story.

“We had to feed them dog food from a teaspoon, they were so young. They didn’t know how to fly yet, so every day we would take them outside for awhile so they could practice.

“The wild ravens would come and visit and talk to them. Pretty soon they could fly to the top of the fence, and then they could get into the trees”.

“Did they stay around?” I asked.

“Yeah, for awhile. Gradually they just went away.”

He got up to go, leaving us with another bit of valuable knowledge about local wildlife.

Talk back soon, OK?

Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.



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