Morning thoughts (7): Ravens speak on Christmas morning

Grey and misty this Christmas morning, as we walked to the touchstone down Cathedral Drive. In the woods over to the west, one of the family of ravens that lives there was calling persistently, a kind of ‘whoop, whoop’ sound. I took it to mean, in the fog, “where is everybody?” For a few seconds there was no response. But then came a lower-voiced, continued croaking, as if to say, “we’re here, we’re here, don’t worry.”

“My ravens,” I called them a few years ago when a mating couple built an impressively large nest up high in the barn where two, big, hand-hewed beams meet. That was in the spring of the year. Later, in the late fall, when we were walking back one morning and the first snow of big, fluffy flakes came down, the parent ravens and their three, young offspring flew over from the barn. And I swear, just over our heads, they danced in the snow, wheeling and soaring joyfully. It was as if they were putting on a show, sharing their joy with us. I stopped to watch, and so did my dogs, Buddy and Sophie. No barking, just watching. And then the ravens flew away into the trees on the other side of the house, where they chattered back and forth to each other for a while, pleased, perhaps with their performance.

I don’t know why, maybe because I took visitors over one too many times to admire the Raven nest, but a couple of years later they set up ‘house’ in the woods near the barn. Or maybe they were just expanding their territory into the hardwood forest that stretches far to the west alongside the old hay field being allowed to regenerate back to the forest it once was — claiming back its territory, you might say.

So much for close to a century of back-breaking work, the hopes and dreams, of the weary, struggling settlers and their children who cleared that long, winding field through the forest; and then, like most of their neighbors, ended up selling the farm too cheap to Dow Chemical almost 50 years ago. But Hope Ness didn’t become one big limestone quarry; all that land about 2.000 acres (800 hectares) of it, became Ontario Crown land, with some of it now called The Hope Bay Nature Reserve, by Ontario Parks. I count myself fortunate to have ended up living here, surrounded by that nature reserve, on a few acres of what used to be one of those farms.

And so it goes, in the life of humankind. Who knows what or who will be here a hundred, a thousand, a million years from now? But I wouldn’t be at all surprised, if I were somehow able to go forward in time, to find ravens still here.

For a while, a few years ago when the family of ravens had vacated the barn, I wondered if they moved away, found a new territory. I even hoped to a certain extent it wasn’t because I had in some way offended them. But if they left it was only for a little while. they seem at home still in the nearby forest. And when the dogs and I go for our morning walk, the ravens greet us with what I fancy may be the ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ chorus.

I mean these intelligent, interesting, talkative, fun-loving creatures no harm. To be completely honest, I’d prefer they weren’t nest robbers. I can still see the sky-blue remains of robin’s eggs I found one morning on the driveway near the house. For all I know, maybe they saw my reaction, and chose to make a territorial adjustment on that account when they left the barn.

And ravens are the last thing a cattle farmer wants to see around his herd, especially when new calves are about. Yes, it’s true, amid all its beauty, nature can be cruel.

Ah, the myriad of thoughts, some of them perplexing, that come to mind on a morning walk because the ravens were heard talking.

But having a sense of wonder is, after all, the key that opens up one’s heart, mind, and soul to the ultimate wonder: the appreciation of this sacred gift of being alive, this opportunity, this journey of being and becoming, and where it leads.