My husband, Peter, is at war with a hummingbird. I try to explain to him the essential unfairness of this. The hummingbird has a brain smaller than the end of Peter’s finger.
“This is a battle of wits!” Peter announced. I knew my money should be on Peter but I had my doubts.
This particular hummingbird incurred Peter’s wrath when it chased away all the smaller, less aggressive hummingbirds leaving only this one, brightly colored bully at the feeder. I suggested to Peter that he might be getting a little too emotionally involved. But Peter has a story to accompany every animal we encounter (including the now-banished hummingbirds) and all these stories are, coincidently, tragic.
“Did you see that coyote who is always by himself?” Peter asked me one morning. The coyotes are moving closer into town and it is no longer remarkable to see one strolling down the sidewalk. “His tail has almost no fur!”
Peter waited for me to recognize the significance of this. When I did not immediately reply, he continued, “He has been rejected by his pack. Now he is wandering alone, trying again and again to rejoin his pack and each time getting beaten up and rejected again.”
“Maybe he just likes being alone,” I countered. “Maybe he’s a lone coyote.” Peter doesn’t believe me.
But no animal inspires more sad narrative than the raven. Ravens mate for life. We see two ravens, or six or eight, but never an odd number of ravens. They are always together, always watching out for their mate. “Watch out!” they are always telling one another. “Careful! There’s a dog coming!”
Their devotion is romantic, but the raven is not a romantic creature. They are ungainly and bossy and opportunistic. On garbage day, they look for garbage cans with the lids accidently left up. Even when they are not fighting over trash, they are noisy. They make low, raspy noises that sound like a wooden stick running along the rungs of a bannister. Sometimes, they sit in a tree and say, “BRAAACK!” over and over again.
“He has lost his mate,” Peter said, one day when he heard this. “His heart is broken.”
“That raven is just fine,” I responded testily.
“That is the sound they make when they are in mourning. His mate is dead,” Peter insisted.
“It is a love song!” I countered. “That raven is singing to his mate. It is their anniversary and he is singing: ‘BRAAACK! I love you. BRAAACK! You are lovely. BRAAACK! You are as lovely as the day we met, over a garbage bin, three years ago’.” Peter was unconvinced.
Peter and I are not the most sophisticated couple you will ever meet. In fact, we are very much like those noisy, clumsy birds who hop around the garbage cans together and sit together side by side in the trees. We were almost always together and, when we were apart, we were always checking on one another, concerned about the other’s whereabouts until we were reunited.
In the evening we sit together on the patio, when the sun is setting and the clouds are huge plumes of pink and blue, and we watch the ravens who somehow manage to get into the air after a day of foraging for garbage. Once they are in the air, they look like another bird entirely. They float in the rising air. They soar in the evening sky, the two of them together.
“You are my raven,” I tell Peter. Peter smiles.
Till next time,