Each of us has meaningful stories to tell; parts of our life passage
that have touched us, deeply. In some ways, stories like this captivate
our experience in many ways. On the first level, the stories reach out
to us to give a basic physical and emotional lesson, then -- with time,
this import deepens. And the story achieves a message of greater and
greater depth. This is the very nature of storytelling. You hear the
story and you understand it in one way, on one level. Then, with time,
you learn more in gathering the threads of the myth, as the story is
told again and again.
Here is one telling, from my experience.
Since I was young, I've had a relationship with Corvids -- the bird family of crows and ravens (also of jays, camp robbers and magpies). In our office, images of these birds are everywhere; they are in old Japanese scrolls and screens, sculptures of the Ravens are arranged, there are also European and American prints and drawings.
When I was young, I was first called to them -- the Ravens.
My family and I were visiting at an old cabin on a lake in Idaho, a family estate for an older eastern Washington family. There were no roads to this place; it was accessible only by boat. Cabins and other structures were arranged along the water. A great, dark and burgeoning forest of ancient trees, gathered behind -- they rose high into the hills, up and up, over the lake. I had explored the waterfront but I was called to the elder woods -- out back. To enter, you had to climb, as the hills went straight up. Pines arose all around me, blocking out the sun.
As I made my way -- off in the further reaches of the forest -- there was a distant calling. It sounded like hammering, a rhythm -- the ripping of saws. But it was distant, muffled in the array of the great trees. What was this?
I kept climbing, and the sounds would rise -- like the work was quickening. The next moment, it would diminish and disappear. It would be clearly there, then gone. I stood alone in quiet of the forest -- listening. The calling would start again, and I would climb higher. Soon, the grand blue arc of the lake was revealed below -- set like a sapphire in the verdant hillocks. The trees behind me got older and wiser; the forest, except for this vista out to the lake, blackened. Walking in further the sunlight was held, far back, in the nape of the hills, but strokes of lightshaft found their way, through the trees. The branches dusted the air with their pollen. It was cathedral-like, but there was the calling, like some discordant ritual choir -- that now was building into a crescendo.
I kept climbing -- following the cacophony.
Then, finally, in the deepest part of the forest, light beamed down to a open circle. There was movement, and curls of dust, like smoke. There were birds there, many birds -- and they were calling. As I came closer, I could see that it was like a meeting, a congregation of Ravens. Having never really seen these birds before, this was frightening, because they were big. Black. Loud. They were flying in to rest, lifting off, hopping, moving, and all the while, cawing. It was a call to disorder, a secret forum. The light beat down, despite the noise, through the swirling dust past the deeper sentinels of the forest.
Crawling on my hands and knees, I got closer. The scent of the fallen needles, and the old ground is still there, in my memory. The vocation continued. I edged closer, but somehow there was fear. It was a fear of unknowing -- "of what is this?"
Abruptly, I got a feeling of the sense of being watched...that subtle tickle at the back of your mind, the light twisting of the hairs on your back, your neck -- the arising sentience -- reaching out to feel everything, in danger. I was still at the edge of the clearing, the Ravens, scumbling in the forest dusting were still shouting.
Following the sense of foreboding, I turned slowly, so as to not distract the other birds. There high up, tucked far into the darkness of the branches was a big Raven, much larger than the others. Its head turned, slightly, its eyes staring down at me like an old master of the woods. It was Merlin, looking down, cloaked in black. Watching me.
He seemed to say, "Now, you have seen. What will you learn from this?". I lay there, watching -- looking, listening to the celebration. This communal gathering, with the Old One, overlooking. And then quietly, I crept away. The Old Raven, watching me, slowly, silently turning his head to trace my path.
Although I was a child, I knew that there was something symbolic here, in seeing this gathering. But it was really years before I began to interpret what this could really mean for me. Each story has its layering; at the beginning, a story is merely a telling, but successively, the tale achieves a deeper understanding, that perhaps speaks to the heart of us all.
In traveling, from Tibet to Costa Rica, from Mongolia to Japan, from Canada to Mexico; France to Italy...I have found that the Ravens are there, everywhere. They all seem to look at me with the same question -- watching me, for an answer.
To this day, the presence of the birds, both in nature and in my surroundings,
calls to me to reach deeper -- and to grasp the reminder of that day
in my childhood: "Are you here? Are you listening? Are you paying
About the attached image:
I've drawn this story, painted and scribed on a flat claystone. I found the stone on the salty reaches of the southern part of Decatur Island, where I live, some of the time. This stone is made of hardened clay, long lain under the salt water. It has been painted, etched and carved; enlarging the image will show the aspects in greater detail.