This relates my history with ravens, likely—10 years old. Six and more decades later, I still think about it—that day.

It goes like this:

I was dropped off by my parents at a summer place at that was a boat-in-only location on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. No roads to it, only by water. With them gone—Mom and Dad—I was immediately bored—and, too, I had an idea that I could walk home. I asked the people there, “where the road was, back to Spokane?” And they said that “it was back that way, over the hill.” So I walked there, up the hill. As I got further and further into the forest above the lake, it became darker and darker, an elder growth grove, old gnarled pines.

Hiking-up, I’d heard something I’ve never listened to before. From afar, it sounded like dogs barking—but a very strange pack of dogs. I’d wondered, “is this what coyotes sound like?”

As I walked further, listening to the sounds, I realized it wasn’t dogs, or coyotes, it was some kind of bird. But not the birds that I’d ever heard, except for crows.

I came to the upper section of the hillock, a copse of old trees, and there was a clearing here—and it was full of birds, large black birds, a kind of crow—but bigger. And they were the source of the noise, but they were gathered in a kind of conclave—like they were, to my mind—“in a meeting, like they were ALL discussing something.” And they were noisy—lots of cackling and chortling, very strange sounds coming out of birds. And if you know the birds, you might know that these birds have a vocabulary—they call-out ringing sounds, bell-like tones, laughing chortles, gurgles and crackling noises. Flying overhead, they make crow-like sounds, but they’re more sonorous, because the birds are bigger. What I’m talking about—here, listen to a string of varying Raven calls. Imagine this, coming along to a young hiker, who’s never heard them before.

I fell into a kind of awe, as a young naturalist, and got down on my hands and knees, trying to get closer without disturbing the conversations. I crawled—and I was thinking this was something wild—unseen by normal people. As I dragged closer, I was thinking of myself as a National Geographic explorer—but there was something tingling in the back of my neck. I was also thinking, “someone’s watching me around here, but who and where?” I looked around, an agent on a mission—nothing left, right, or behind me. But the sensation was real, there was a something.

I twisted in the grass and dust of the deep forest—and ahead of me—the birds were chattering away, all of them, in the clearing ahead of me. The sunlight beamed in streams of light in the dust, kicked up by the Ravens. But then, looking up into the trees, I noticed a branch overhead slightly quivering. I looked up—and there, in the branch overhead, just above me—there was a very large black bird. Just quiet, tilting its head. Looking at me.

I wasn’t threatened, I sensed no malice. I lay there, studying the scene, and looking at, listening to, the Raven convocation and looking occasionally up at the big bird overhead.

Since then, telling this story, there is not a single person that has ever said—“hey, that happened to me!” To that, my impression was that this was a calling, an intro to a deeply personal, symbolic revelation to me of the Raven. To that, I made a stone drawing, of sea-washed and smoothed clay, found waterside—and with brush and scratching razor tools, I could draw, both black, and the stone, scratched-in drawing.

It’s in my office somewhere, stored in the GIRVIN rare book library, one of the drawers, hidden away. I see it now and then. But I think about that experience with frequency—remembering back, the beginnings of my connection with these rainbow black birds—looking into them, their feathers, you can see glints of light, like oil on water, rainbowed black.