Sunday, October 31, 2010

Temple of Ravens

I'm sitting here at a local coffee house watching the raven ballet. There is lavender-jasmine tea steaming fragrantly at my elbow and a smooth gray overcast behind the mountains, fine and soft as flannel. The mountains themselves are half-clad in snow, patterned in Wedgwood and slate, growing whiter toward their crowns. There is a breeze, and eight ravens are riding it where it sweeps up behind the hill. They spiral in a group and then break into sets, each pair flying in tandem so matched that it appears they run on a single mind, one thought divided into two bodies.

When they break from the group, they side-slip in pairs, looping up and circling, swooping this way and that, serpentining toward earth as falling leaves do. Then they soar up again, one bird flipping upside down so that they can lock toes and spiral down, linked together in aerial dance. They are grace spinning toward earth, breaking apart only to skim high on the updraft again, banking and wheeling, trimming their wings to match each other in flight. They fold themselves back into the pattern with the other pairs of birds, playing on air. They sweep their dark wings hard against the sky, driving upward. They level out, cresting the peak of the updraft, and hang motionless for a long moment before they begin to glide and dip and wheel again.

An eagle happens into the updraft and the ravens scatter, each pair sloping down the wind to another place.

The eagle flies alone for a time, floating almost motionless as he (she?) masters the wind. The light is diffuse through the overcast, but even so, the white fan of the eagle's tail is brilliant against the soft grey of the sky. They are a heavier silhouette, the eagles; broader of wing, deeper of keel. I am close enough to see one feathered leg reach down, ruddering against the sky to hold him in place for a long moment. He wheels in ponderous grace and lazily he sweeps his powerful wings once, twice. Once more, and the slow beat of his wings has taken him away over the bare tree tops so that I can no longer see him.

And now the ravens are back, appearing as if by magic from the reaching lattice of the naked birch twigs. They weave back together, tracing an intricate plaid against the sky. They perform their spiral communion again, black chevrons against the sky, rising like sparks cast heavenward from a Samhain bonfire. They flirt and soar, lighting momentarily in the highest branches of the birch, only to let the wind lift them up and toss them high again.

Then, from one moment to the next, they are gone, vanished like smoke on the breeze. But they'll be back, seeking the wind: The temple of ravens.


beardies3 said...

That was a beautiful moving picture of feathered grace and dignity. Thank you for sharing.

Holly said...

We don't seem to have ravens here, but se do have crows.

The irridescent black feathers on a healthy bird are stunning.

AKDD said...

@beardies3: You're welcome, and so glad you liked it!

@Holly: It's true. The magpies might be the prettiest (possibly also the brattiest) of the corvids, but all of them have that iridescence: green and blue and purple, a subtle gleam against the black. Gorgeous.

MaskedMan said...

We occasionally get ravens here - I saw a brace of them the other day - but mostly, we get crows. Big, fat, sleek crows, but crows none-the-less. Generally, we don't see aerial ballets, but rather, we get the mafioso. They gather in claques, following one lead bird as he (she?) struts importantly about. They insolently eye passers-by, and ruffle their feathers threateningly at any who dawdle past. Should you make so bold as to approach, they'll resentfully relocate, then gather nearby and insult you until you move on.

I find the behavior fascinating... And entertaining. Like a bunch of wannabe gangsters, they loiter at parking lots and road verges, making a mostly harmless nuiscance of themselves. I find myself wanting to ask one "Are you a Jet? Or a Shark?"

Jenn said...

Absolutely lovely description. I could visualize their dance. Thank you for sharing this experience with us!

Dragon43 said...


Sounds like a really great moment for you. Thank you for the wonderful sharing of it.

Crow, raven, magpie, I could not tell the difference but I love to see them fly through the trees.

We have a couple of places where the buzzards come so close overhead as they sail out over the cliff that you can almost reach out and pat them as they go by.

Sophia Katt said...

I love all the Corvidae, so this was a great post to read. And where have you been, anyway? Is that book out?

AKDD said...

@ MM: We have crows, too, but they're pretty well confined to costal areas. I'm in the maritime zone, but not exactly costal. I did have one a rehab crow for a while in vet school. Very messy - like all the corvids I've known so far.

@Jenn and Dragon: glad you enjoyed it. I'm currently sitting in the same exact spot, nary a raven to be seen, so I'm glad I had them to look at out the window that day.

@Sophia: Well, it's been kind of a busy summer, what with one thing and another. I shall be sure to bore you with details sometime in teh (hopefully) not-too-distant future....

I need orange said...

Wow. What an excellent thing to have seen. Thank you for taking us along!

AKDD said...

@INO: Thanks for coming along!