raven

One afternoon Theresa and her husband shared a sort of pitiful little lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and weak coffee while sitting in their ancient van (even cheap restaurants aren’t cheap in Alaska).  They parked in the middle of a corporate park of sorts, the type that has a manmade lake with three or four fountains that bubble up and over the shore, the type that eventually draw too many ducks and geese.   In Spring and Summer the place was teeming with cyclists, young mothers with jogging strollers, secretaries and lawyers with their sleeves rolled up past their elbows.  In the Winter, though, there were only a few straggling ducks, tricked into thinking the spot was warmer and more prosperous because people kept feeding them bits of bagels leftover from their breakfast meetings.

Oh, and there were ravens, too. They kind of lorded over the rough-looking geese, ducks, and black and white magpies, cawing and crowing and screaming like shocked old ladies. Usually they roosted on top of street lights, which in the zero and below temperatures were covered in ice crystals. They looked almost invincible up there, only occasionally shaking their glossy feathers and folding their sharp black beaks into their chests to conserve a little warmth.

As Theresa and her husband’s lunch hour began to dwindle down to minutes, one of the largest ravens they both had ever seen swooped down to retrieve a slice of tomato from the snowy ground. He didn’t know what to make of it, and kept cocking his head, jumping in surprise backward after gently nudging it; the texture must have shocked and confused the bird. Theresa asked her husband, “Do ravens see color?” and he replied, “I don’t know. But they can recognize human faces and here we are staring at him as he tries to eat that tomato. Maybe he’ll be embarrassed if he sees us here tomorrow.” The raven continued its odd flapping and cawing and funny little sideways glances back at the suspicious red fruit. Too big to be a berry, too squishy and full of seeds to be carrion. The look on its face said, “What the HELL is that?!! And should I eat it?”

Eventually it took the tomato to its roost on the street lamp, but Theresa and her husband never found out if it was able to eat it or not. They had to get back to their respective places of employment, and leave the wilderness of the corporate parking lot behind.

That night, after they had tucked their  son into bed and quietly closed his door, Theresa and her husband sat down to watch the news. Farther north in Fairbanks, two ravens had been electrocuted while perched on a wire, and fell down. Both of them lay stiff and still on the hard packed snow and ice below. Soon hundreds of ravens darkened the bright cold sky with eery wing flaps and mournful calls, swooping down to cock their heads to the side and flap their wings and fly back up to the trees to wait. A raven funeral, the reporter called it. Theresa and her husband decided then and there that the ravens who haunted every tree branch and parking lot were far kinder (and certainly more respectful) than some of the humans they had met while living so far north, and vowed to one another to pay more attention to them from then on.

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