Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Love Story

photo by Dee Otter

We humans think we are so special. We think we are the only ones to feel emotion. We think we are the only ones to feel compassion. We think we are the only ones who feel love. We think we are the only ones to experience grief. We do have a massive brain and perhaps this facilitates more intense emotions, but to think we are the only creature to experience these feelings is utterly ridiculous. Elephants revisit the bones of dead herd members and will spend hours fondling them. When a bone of a hippo or giraffe is added to the pile of elephant bones those non-elephant bones are ejected or ignored. Bonobos chimps are known to mourn the death of a mate or child so intensely that the frequently die of starvation or shock. Dogs will show grief at the grave of their master. Upon finding a dead member of a flock crows will spend hours protecting the corpse, attacking any creature that approaches. They maintain this vigil for hours and then will suddenly disperse. Usually related flock members will then linger on for days.
photo by Dee Otter
 Ravens are like crows but are be more intelligent. Researchers have compared raven intellect to that of the great apes. So how do ravens experience emotion? Ravens are widely dispersed so study is difficult. People who are fortunate enough to hand raise these magnificent bird have volumes of example of their intelligence.

I lived in Alaska for about 12 years. I spent a lot of time in the woods watching ravens, owls, foxes, moose, and hawks for hours. Once spotted by these animals most would scatter, never to be seen again. The ravens would return. They were curious. They maintained a safe distance. I often brought lunch and snacks. I would unintentionally drop crumbs and the ravens watched intently and would scoop up the scraps when I left. They became so comfortable with me that when I returned I would find a raven in the next tree waiting for me.
photo by Dee Otter
Ravens mate for life, which can sometimes last for more than thirty years; they are picky breeders, selecting strong intelligent mates. The young stay with their parents for a year or more, this long adolescence is rare in the bird family. Sometimes the young remain and help the parents hunt for the next brood. These young bird find mates but do not form a bond until maturity.
I have created two prints that celebrate the intelligence and emotional complexity of common raven.

"Come Fly With Me" - Intaglio etching 5 inch x 7 inch 2011

My Narrative:
Raven’s intelligent behavior is related to mating and reproduction. Immature birds begin to court at a very early age, but may not bond for another 2-3 years (Like our adolescent dating). Mid-air spectacular displays of acrobatics are meant to show off the raven’s fitness, skills, intelligence, and ability to provide food. A bonded pair will spend hours performing complex aerodynamic maneuvers. They test each other’s compatibility, strengths and weaknesses. (Dinner and dancing) Once mated, ravens will nest together for life. I have seen this display several times and, honestly, I think they are just having fun.

“If you say the word, we will beat those birds
Back to Acapulco Bay
It is perfect for a flying honeymoon, they say
Come fly with me, let's fly, let’s fly,
Pack up, let's fly away”

Excerpt from Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly away with Me” by songwriters: Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen
 "Come Fly With Me" - Intaglio etching 5 inch x 7 inch 2011 $40

A Raven Love Story

My Narrative:
Only twelve species in the entire animal kingdom mate for life. I knew that ravens mated for life but I never fully appreciated the strength this bond until I accidentally hit and killed one of these intelligent birds, the experience made a lifelong impression.

I was driving to one of my favorite fly-fishing spots about 11 miles north of Fairbanks AK. I crested a hill and off to the side of the road was a moose carcass and an entire group of ravens. As I drove past one raven startled and flew into the path my car. I struck the bird, I had no way to avoid it. I slowed and saw the entire group descending upon my vehicle. They follow for a few miles enraged and cursing me. After several more miles only one bird followed me. I arrived at my fishing stream and had a very angry visitor; I think it had to be the mate of the poor bird I hit. It followed me the entire afternoon screaming profanities at me. I packed up and headed home and the bird followed me but stopped by the corpse of its mate. Over the next several months, whenever I drove to this fishing stream, I had this same visitor. Over time its profanities seemed to be replaced by a more plaintive call, which eventually sounded like a whimper. Each time I drove home the raven followed and stopped at the site of the accident. The bird was mourning the loss of its life partner. I never saw the bird again because we bought a new car which I used to travel to the stream. I did see the bird occasionally near the accident site but it never followed me again.

Romeo and Juliet, Paris and Helen, Tristram and Isolde, Shah and Mahal (The Taj Mahal)- these are some of the most famous and tragic human love stories.
The truth is we are not the only species capable of emotion or mourning the loss of a loved one. Ravens are capable of intense emotional bonding that is every bit as powerful as the love that we feel. 

A RAVEN LOVE STORY, Etching. 5 inch x 7 inch 2014 $40 

here are some interesting links:

a special thanks to Dee Otter for allowing me to use her wonderful photos.