Midterm Elections and the Raven

Ravens have been the subject of myths throughout human history, sometimes pictured with wolves, sometimes just exalted by themselves as wise and mystical. Looking like five-pound crows, they are generally regarded as the smartest of birds. As I prepare to vote today, I can’t get a certain raven story out of my mind.

It’s a story told by Berndt Heinrich, probably the world’s leading authority on the birds, in his book “Mind of the Raven.” He has studied ravens for decades, and traveled the world to observe these magnificent creatures. But even he was surprised by some of the tales he heard.

One was a news story about a woman near Boulder, Colorado. She was working in the woods behind her cabin, when she was annoyed by a raven making so much noise it was irritating, cackling like crazy and diving low over her head. She had never heard a raven make this much noise, and wondered if it was trying to communicate with her. When it passed over her head again then flew up, she looked up. That’s when she saw the cougar about 20 feet away, crouching and ready to pounce. She weighed only about 98 pounds, so was a good target. But she called her 300-pound husband, who chased the cougar away.

In the newspaper, she said, “The lion moved his head just a little bit as the raven flew over it. That’s when I saw him. I never would have seen him otherwise. He was going to jump me. That raven saved my life.” The event was described as a miracle in the news.(1)

And up in Alaska(2), a man who had killed a deer came face to face with a bear who also felt like having some venison. Wisely, he backed away, living to hunt another day. He said, “Ravens were following me and squealing. I thought they were guiding me and telling me that the bear was still following me.”

These are impressive and heartwarming stories, adding to the bird’s mystical, mythical reputation. But the raven expert said no, that’s not what was happening. The ravens, who are carnivores, were making noise to identify the location of prey. They were hunting with the cougar and the bear, and the only thing they were trying to save the humans for was dinner!

Is this a political parable?

1. Berndt Heinrich, Mind of the Raven, p. 193. The event happened September, 1997.

2. Ibid., p.194. The event was reported in the Anchorage Daily News, December 29, 1998.