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The Crow Country

Ravens, along with crows, magpies and jays, are corvids. As a family, they are considered to be smarter than parrots; indeed, zoologists rank raven intelligence with that of chimpanzees and dolphins.


Ravens solve problems. Some decades after the City Government of Tokyo planted rows of walnut trees to soften the cold glare of steel and concrete, the mature trees started producing walnuts, lots of them. Ravens learned to observe traffic and traffic lights. Now, when a row of vehicles is stopped, ravens fly to the pavement, deposit whole walnuts, fly off, and return during the next red light to harvest their bounty, freshly cracked by cars and trucks.


Perhaps the most astonishing account of encounters with ravens is the chapter "Raven" in Craig Childs' sublime The Animal Dialogues.


Like coyotes, crows and ravens always adapt and thrive in new environments. We can learn from them.


In the early 1830's Washington Irving, in his account of the adventures of Captain Bonneville, wrote of the eloquence of Chief Arapooish of the Crow Nation:

"The Crow country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel, you fare worse. If you go to the south, you have to wander over great barren plains; the water is warm and bad and meet with fever and ague. To the north it is cold; the winters are long and bitter and there is no grass; you can not keep horses there but must travel with dogs. What is a country without horses?

The Crow country is exactly in the right place. It has snowy mountains and sunny plains, all kinds of climates and good things for every season. When the summer heats scorch the prairies, you can draw up under the mountains, where the air is sweet and cool, the grass fresh, and the bright streams come tumbling out of the snow banks. There you can hunt the elk, the deer and the antelope when their skins are fit for dressing; there you will find plenty of white bears [grizzlies] and mountain sheep.

In the autumn when your horses are fat and strong from the mountain pastures you can go down into the plains and hunt the buffalo, or trap beaver on the streams. And when the winter comes on, you can take shelter in the woody bottoms along the rivers; where you find buffalo meat for yourselves and cottonwood bark for your horses, or you may winter in the Wind River valley, where there is salt weed in abundance.

The Crow country is exactly in the right place. Everything good is to be found there. There is no country like Crow country."


After my family had moved from the wilderness of Northern Washington to Chicago's South Side, we would journey back to the family home each summer, five days camping on the road and a half day on a boat up Lake Chelan. Once provisions were unloaded, fires built and kerosene lamps filled, the next order of business was to listen to my father read "The Crow Country". And then we knew we were in exactly the right place.


Perhaps The Crow Country is where you find it. Maybe it is a state of mind. I have come to think of it as Raven Country as well.


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