Ravenous

Our old duplex had some serious downsides--rotting roof, mildewed walls, no heat in the bathroom--but but the backyard was wonderful. Oh, it was overgrown with scrub and wild rose and blackberries, but the birds loved it. We'd see juncos and jays, migrating robins and thrushes and waxwings, even a rufous-sided towhee on occasion.

When we bought a house right on River Road, we mostly had crows. Flocks of them, glossy and black, picking through the leaves on the lawn, converging on the electric wires, making rude comments about the puny humans below. Big crows, so big that more than once I found myself thinking, Could that be a raven?

Then I saw a real raven. We were down in Medford, setting up for Clay Folk and taking a break for lunch. I looked out over the restaurant's parking lot and saw this enormous black bird land on the streetlight. Chicken-sized, really, with a raggedy ruff on its throat, feathers along the top of the beak. The call was bigger, too, deep and rough, a smoker's rasp of a caw, more a croak really.

I didn't get all that close, couldn't see the eyes, didn't catch the smug, smarter-than-thou expression that caused Native Americans from Alaska to the desert Southwest to label him trickster. But if his attitude was as super-sized as his physique, I totally get it.

After that trip, I started painting ravens on serving bowls, pie plated, pitchers. Sometimes it's hard to differentiate them from crows, without the clue of size. Look for the ruff, the feathered bill, but don't be surprised to guess wrong.

They're tricky that way.