the author with Washington Pass' denizen raven, 2015

The following is a guest post written by my ski and alpine partner, Joe Hoch. Joe and I have, together, encountered many dog-sized ravens taking keen interest in our alpine activities and talk often about what their business may be on one particular day or another. I asked him to use his considerable writerly horsepower to express his theories on what they might be doing. Enjoy!

The ravens have been busy lately.

I see cruising patrol ravens every time I venture into the high mountains. Sentinels balancing on sheer peaks. I’ve been clucked at while jogging in the wheat fields of eastern Washington by a raven on the fore-running showers of a rainstorm. Spooked with my climbing partner by a half-dozen ravens flying ominously over the summit of a dangerous choss pile of a mountain we then smartly turned away from climbing. 

I’ve also noticed ravens where ravens shouldn’t be. Locales normally the domain of the lowly crow. Around my parents’ house in the foothills of the Cascades. Ravens downtown in small lowland towns. Even a raven overseeing the chaotic goings-on of a group of crows on a Sunday morning at a suburban Park ‘n Ride. 

Along with their territory, these ravens appear to be advancing their communication as well. Rather than the usual caw you might hear as a raven wings by, it’s like a new language. Strange cowbell type throat rattling, odd screeches, and even a sound that could be perfectly mistaken for a human laugh. And if you reply to them with similar noises, they’re quick to respond, circle back, check you out.  

What is bringing these proud, intelligent, playful mountain creatures, long known by humans as liaisons to other realms and dimensions…to the suburbs? And what are they so keen to communicate? 

I remember hearing an NPR story about some of the effects of Global Warming and Man’s paving and lawnifying of Earth. That pests, small rodents, and birds would be the happy beneficiaries of a tamer, warmer world filled with more trash and less large, predatory creatures.

Perhaps the smart, crafty raven is taking it’s spot atop these happily multiplying creatures. Expanding it’s domain from the wild mountains and forests to wherever it sees fit. There’s certainly plenty of trash, roadkill and waste to scavenge through. 

In fact, judging by the attitude of one dog-sized raven in the Hurricane Ridge parking lot, who stood staring down his beak the size of my hand, and forced me to move my car around him, rather than he around my car, I wouldn’t be surprised if ravens are plotting a takeover.  

We humans have certainly been showing our flaws lately, with now noticeable global warming, texas-sized islands of plastic floating around the oceans, lakes of poison tar sand run-off in Canada, endless wars…this list could go on. These intuitive birds have probably noticed the seems bursting in our plan. Maybe they’re just fed up and have a better idea how to run things around here.

I for one have started paying close attention to these large black birds, and listening intently to their attempts at communication. I’m hoping they will continue to allow my presence in their mountains. Their patrol birds seem to find me every time I claim a high peak or col from which to gaze. And I hear their calls from just around the corner on even the foggiest mountain days.

What these ravens are saying remains a mystery. Others I know who have been working on the raven language haven’t had much luck, though some communication seems to be occurring at times. But I feel we must crack this raven code and find out what they’re up to. Heaven help us if they’ve formed alliances with the hawks, and ospreys and bald eagles! And what about the marmots? Have you seen the teeth on those things? 

This may all seem outlandish and strange. The product of an overly imaginative mind with too much time to waste roaming in the hills. And you may be right. 

But I for one would rather pay attention to the raven, and figure out their plan, rather than dismiss them as rustic scavengers, or simply large crows. For the next time you hear a raven cluck, rattle or crow, it could be, that the raven crows for thee.

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