I was doing laundry when I heard a raven squawking with an urgency I had never heard. We have many ravens in the neighborhood, and they are big talkers, but this message was a new one. I went to the window and saw it on a low branch about eye level. It was scolding, cursing, berating, reading the riot act to someone or something on the ground, head lunging forwarding, eye laser-focused. A snake, I thought. That is my fallback threat, so I cautiously headed for the back door to get a better look. As I approached, I saw the door was already ajar and stepped outside. The raven was raising a ruckus because our black indoor cat Bennie had escaped and was on the ground below the raven. He was hunched close to the ground, ears back, taking his scolding. I was struck by the two solid black creatures in relationship. Bennie had been headed for the fence, on the other side of which were coyotes, hawks, snakes, and more, and the raven had turned him back. He scurried back into the house and the crisis was over.
I know that ravens and crows, the whole corvid family of birds, are really smart. They can perform intricate tasks, they can recognize humans and keep track of their doings. There are fascinating stories in the research literature of ravens and crows that have returned lost items to the right person, have created tools to retrieve food, and have passed on information about dangerous people (like lab scientists on a university campus) to their offspring and their offspring. And apparently they know when a cat belongs in the house and not outside, and how to effectuate getting the cat back inside. There is no doubt in my mind that the bird was stopping Bennie in his tracks and alerting me to come and retrieve the escapee. I thanked it profusely, and I believe it understood.
This gets me thinking about how we are observed by non-human creatures more than we will ever know. There is an amazing documentary movie, “The Velvet Queen,” about two photographers who go to Tibet to photograph the famously elusive Snow Leopard. One of their most significant conclusions is that they were being watched by many more creatures than they realized. There is an irony there: they are searching for something almost impossible to find, and they are being seen by many animals (maybe the Snow Leopard in fact) that they never see.
We probably see a fraction of what sees us… or smells us. Our noses are so inferior to that dog, bear, wildcat that may be nearby. Our eyesight so inferior to that hawk, eagle, raven. Our hearing so inferior to that rabbit that has frozen just feet away, camouflaged in the brush. We blunder along – whether through our neighborhood or the wilderness – announcing ourselves to receptive ears, eyes and noses. It may seem creepy, but I find it comforting to know that there are those watching me, maybe watching out for me, at least curious about me. They don’t need to confront or announce themselves. They let me go on my way. It’s a relationship, a strange one-sided one, where it is their option to connect or not with me. And I know that if they have a message for me, they know how to get my attention.