‘I think one is sitting by the nest – or is that just a patch of shade?”
I point at the tall pile of sticks that our resident pair of ravens have hardly shown any interest in this spring.
Sam gets the binoculars out of his backpack and focuses on the nest.
“Hard to tell. It does look very dark but it seems so big. Too big for a raven. Might be just shade.”
He lets me take a look. The problem with the small, lightweight pair of binoculars is they don’t magnify all that much. For some stupid reason, we always leave the big pair at home.
“Maybe they are both there?” I suggest hopefully as I stare through the glass.
There is the mess of sticks plus a dark, oblong shape stretched out on top of it – a slightly larger version of what I can make out with my bare eyes.
“Ru-ock, ru-ock,” I call, hoping to get an answer from the shady thing on the nest or at least make it move so I can tell that it must be a raven. But there is no reaction. Disgruntled, I stuff the binoculars back into Sam’s pack.
“There, it moved – look,” he says. I spin around and catch a slight movement. Or I think I do.
Ever noticed how observations of nature tend to be tainted by wishful thinking? Particularly in spring as the landscape shifts. Rocks that begin to melt out of the snow fool us everyday into cries of “moose” and “wolf”, as does the low layer of hot air that warps things into the most astonishing shapes.
Sam tends towards especially optimistic sightings: at first glance, a bear is always a grizzly, a fox a coyote and a coyote a wolf with him. Since I work the other way (“Oh look, a raven – oh no, it’s a young eagle”), we make a good team.
“Let’s look at it again on the way back,” Sam reasons. “The sun should be at a better angle then, too.” I sigh.
Every year, I agonize that our ravens might not be coming back.
It seems to me as if they settle down to domestic life later and later, and this year there is an added drawback. They always raid our compost pile for brushed out dog fur to use as upholstery in their nest. With the passing of our old dog Leshi, however, we’ve lost the greatest shedder. Nooka and Milan, mutts of dubious ancestry, part with only token amounts of fur. Mixed into the coffee grounds and tea lie the clippings of Sam’s last haircut but they don’t compare to the luxurious tufts of wool that old Leshi used to shed.
I sigh again.
After hanging out here well into the fall, our two ravens have shown a very low profile all winter. In October, they still used to sit on a rock outcrop, hold beaks and tenderly nestle in each other’s head feathers – and that was almost the last we saw of them, except for a brief visit once a month or so. My hopes of their return were raised briefly last week, when two pairs and a single raven spent an entire morning in the area, croaking and calling incessantly. But by the afternoon, all of them had vanished again.
Sam and I walk on, the soft snow folding in on itself under our boots. Walking is becoming a somewhat tricky business now: the hard crust barely lasts until lunchtime and while it’s still fairly nippy when we head out, by the time we turn around, we’re panting almost as much as the dogs. Old tracks are morphing into blurry Rorschach images, magnified by the deteriorating snow crystals.
We’re checking for new tracks, news of what’s going on, but there is nothing on the stretch of trail we walk today. As we draw close to the ravens’ nest again, the dark shape has vanished. But so has the sunshine – maybe it was just a shade after all. Just as I’m about to sigh for the third time, a raven call echoes through the woods.
“There’s one, no, two! It’s them,” Sam yells and points at the two ravens who are flying towards the nest.
Elated, I imitate their call and am answered with a long sting of croaks.
It turns out that all my worries were for nothing and that my wish has come true.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.