Sunday, September 8, 2019

visits from a raven

This story about visits from a raven begins with a stray cat.  She came to our back door young, pregnant, and very outspoken about choosing us to be her new humans.  A year later we were living with three cats, what Ajahn Sona, the Abbot of Birken Monastery calls, "those lovable little serial killers."

More years later, I am wondering what to do with the frequent mouse bodies that are deposited on the back porch or along the path to the cat door.  I am happy not to live intimately with mice, but still, some good could come from the nightly carnage.  So I decide to put the dead mice outside the fence atop a large stump, in hopes other creatures might benefit.  A raven comes.  Regularly.

 I am careful not to create a "human schedule" of food; a mouse appears on the stump if one appears on the porch.  Still, over the months the raven and I develop a relationship.  At one point, after the unfortunate death of a squirrel, the raven leaves one surgically severed hind leg and the tail, in perfect alignment, at the base of the cedar tree just outside my window where he/she often lands.

A month ago I was looking for images to paint on a new frame drum.  The reverse was tied with the star of the 9-fold Goddess,  and the drum's face was a fascinating pattern of light and shade.

I think I see a raven beak and one eye.  Of course.  The raven is inspiring me.  I will ask it to guide me.  (Raven lesson #1: be careful of this request from a trickster.)

I begin painting with raw earth pigments, but the image will not clearly present itself.  At one point I must decide between painting the figure I see crouched under the bird's right wing, or the left foot, which would conflict with the figure.  I say aloud, "Let the raven decide" and at that moment my paint brush catches on the lip of the water jar which when spilling knocks over the film case of cobalt blue  pigment, which cascades over the white bedspread.  Trying to catch the water jar I drop the paintbrush loaded with black iron oxide pigment, which lands on the faint image of the foot.  Decision made. (Raven lesson #2: do not paint with raw earth pigments while sitting on a white bedspread.)

I struggle with finding the left wing and finally settle on a line, only to discover it is too high and only indicates the upper layer of feathers.  Raw earth pigments are especially tricky because although they apply like coloured dust, they create an indelible  tattoo when the pigment interacts with the keratin in the outer layer of the skin. Once the mark is made it is there.  I see the proper edge of the wing further down.  Only solution is to add more of the cobalt pigment which was already used to indicate the first edge.  (Raven lesson #3: there are no mistakes so just celebrate the moment.)

The addition of cobalt becomes the theme that unifies the entire image.

But what about the eye?  I lived with two and then one Cockatiel for 28 years, and I know that birds' eyes are positioned to see from the side of the head, not the front.  But this eye insisted on looking out.  Not at me, and not away, but out toward something ahead.  The gaze very wise, a little bit sad. 
And this became the best lesson of all.  A relationship with raven is not only or even mostly a mirror for receiving insight about my life, it is about looking out together at what we share: a love of place on this good earth.

This new raven drum is offered for sale in my Etsy webstore, and can be heard being played with a felted drumstick on this youtube link.  Good voice.  Thanks for the teaching.