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In Relation to All Things

A raven in the middle of the highway

Every day I drive the same highway to get into town. I have driven this route thousands of times and is my daily commute. I am lucky, I live in a small rural Southwest community nestled in the foothills of the Gila Wilderness. My commute is a beautiful drive through wild country with few people. I have had enough time driving this highway to have raised my daughters, driving them to and from school every day. The three of us having wonderful conversations, hardly ever being late, knowing in this beautiful, isolated place, we can stop time as we drive.  As I pass through the landscape, I can distinguish intimately trees and rocks, where animal territories begin and end, which drainages will run with the monsoon rain, and how and when the snow packs on the mountain passes in the winter. 

The route feels like an old friend…familiar.

But on this Thursday in June, driving into town, I spotted an unfamiliar site. It was a Raven in the middle of the highway. As I got closer, I could see that it was hit by a car. The bird was in the middle of the lane and about three miles from home. Knowing Ravens well from living alongside a family for twenty years, I suspected it was one of the pair that lives in the big old dead Oak tree on the ranch next to us. 

Over the years, I have watched and been a part of this family as it raised its young every season. I know it’s the same family because of their habits and calls when they visit the farm. They know me as I know them, the pair sit in the afternoons on the top bar that separates the horse stalls, preening and cooing, nuzzling each other. They know me and tolerate my presence as I sit on the ground watching in amazement at their love for one another. Two big black beautiful birds, making a vast assortment of sounds, I am lucky to witness this unconditional love. 

Springtime is when the pair disappears, only having the male come over every day to collect chicken eggs, if he can find them, before I get a chance. Then, in the middle of June, the pair will bring over their fledglings, awkward, trying to fly. It is so fun to watch them making runs, getting up in the air. I am surprised the horses and sheep do not mind them careening above their heads, tumbling and squawking loud adolescent cries. The parents are always patient and proud, making all kinds of incredible noises.

Once the babies fledge, the parents go back into their usual routine, coming over every morning and sitting on the telephone pole at the barn waiting for me to notice them. When I look up and say hello, they immediately go into this beautiful dance. It’s a coo, a dip with their body and then they click their beaks together. This goes on for at least five minutes with changes in frequency and additions of other unique sounds. The Ravens visit every day. I love these times with the Ravens. It has always healed my heart.

But now, as I was driving into town, seeing a black shape in the middle of the road, with cars whizzing by, my heart sank. Somehow, I knew who this was. 

When I picked the bird up, I realized what had happened. I could immediately feel it’s breastbone knowing the bird was desperately hungry and took a risk. It went for some morsel in the highway but was not fast enough to get away. I have never seen a dead Raven in the highway before, they are too smart to get hit by cars. But everything here in the West is in a desperate race to survive this incredible drought. Animals are risking their lives to find food and water. I could also feel the bird broke its neck when it was hit by the car.

At first, I was just going to move the Raven off to the side of the highway, but something in my heart told me to bring it back home and put it in a more dignified quiet place. I brought it out in the field next to the house and placed it in the dried grass next to Grandmother Juniper. Grandmother Juniper is the ancient Alligator Juniper that lives next to our house. She is one of the few juniper trees around in this huge expanse of grassland space in the transition zone of this montane ecosystem. She is gnarled and old and is the tree that preserves the memory of my children. They grew up playing in her branches, and for them, her branches held the mystery of the world.

After a few hours, I could hear one of our Ravens outside. It was making a strange sound that I have never heard before. I looked out the window and could see the Raven was by the other dead Raven that I placed in the dried grass previously. I stepped outside and saw the Raven was next to it and talking to the other. It would nuzzle it with its beak and coo. Tears came to my eyes as I watched this unfold and realized this dead bird must be its mate and my friend. The Raven stayed with the carcass for the several hours before night, sitting in Grandmother Juniper. 

The next morning, as I was watering the horses and sheep at the farm, the Raven flew up and sat on the telephone pole. I told it hello. It talked back in a language I have not heard before, a set of coos, clicks and head bobs. The sounds were beautiful and quiet. My heart ached for its love of its lifelong mate.

Maybe this was its way of telling me thank you for bringing its partner home. Maybe it was just lonely and wanting a friend. It sat on the pole conversing with me for a while. And then it flew away.

I can’t help but think about all the connections there are between living things around us. If we allow them into our hearts, we can learn how to be human through their devotions and unconditional love. I know, in my quiet existence at the farm over two decades, I have been taught what it means to love.

But through this, I can’t stop thinking about all the lives that have just been lost in the massive wildfire that is threatening our place in Mimbres at the edge of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. The many horrible dramas of families; mammals, birds, insects, and plants, that are in the fire’s path, trying to survive the drought but adding to that stress, trying to outrun from this massive blaze. I feel as if my concern of our material things like our house, in the line of this 300,000+ acre fire and ready to burn, is insignificant compared to this horror. It is the horror of all living things trying to survive in our world that we have created.

But life is resilient, and out of this tragedy there are lessons to learn. I somehow wish that for one day, every human being on this planet would take time and see and then listen with their hearts to the beings that surround us, and understand we are insignificant compared to the immensity of all life surrounding us. 

Just one day would change the world…

—Jennifer Douglass —

      Silver City, NM

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Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Jennifer Douglass

Jennifer Douglass is a Social Practice/Installation artist committed to visual stories and environmental activism. She lives in Silver City, NM with her husband, dogs, horses, and flock of churro sheep. Her most recent work is large mixed media installations that are centered around ideas of time, memory, and the loss of biodiversity. She recently finished a three-year position as Assistant Professor in the Expressive Arts Department at WNMU. At WNMU, she discovered through teaching art, the importance of mentoring students how to use connective thinking as a tool for creating positive change. Things that bring her joy are mentoring young adults how to be responsible environmentalists, being outside, tending to her farm, or thinking about the next big project she can bring to life.
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