Raven that is,
Raven that was,
Raven that always will be.
Make prayers to the Raven.
Raven, bring us luck.
from the Koyukon
Before Raven came, the earth was dark and cold. When he saw people living without shadows, he began a search for light. He finds it at the house of Sky Chief, who does not want to share it. Raven changes himself into a pine needle and floats down into the water that Sky Chief’s daughter is drinking. In her stomach, he turns into a baby, to Sky Chief’s delight. When the baby asks for and receives the shiny ball in the box, he turns back into Raven and flies into the sky, placing the ball where all may enjoy it. That is why Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest feed the raven.
The Raven stories of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest give us a glimpse of the customs and life of a people who depend on and respect their enviornment. The lives of the many tribes of the Northwest coast: Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida, Kwakiutl, Makah and Quileute-Hoh, and the Coast Salish (to name a few) are closely linked to both forest and sea.
RAVEN: A TRICKSTER TALE FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers
111 Fifth Ave., N.Y., NY 10003
For ages 4-8.
Illustrated. 32 pp., 0-15-265661-8.
Raven’s Great Adventure
The Innu carve strange and beautiful figures, representing people, animals, birds, fish, and supernatural characters, then paint them with bright colors. The tallest red cedar trees are selected for totem poles, and are used for landmarks as well as illustrating the legends told from generation to generation.
On one of these poles was carved a stunning Raven, but he had no beak!
The Raven in Alaska was no ordinary bird. He had remarkable powers and could change into whatever form he wished. He could change from a bird to a man, and could not only fly and walk, but could swim underwater as fast as any fish.
One day, Raven took the form of a little, bent-over old man to walk through a forest. He wore a long white beard and walked slowly. After a while, Raven felt hungry. As he thought about this, he came to the edge of the forest near a village on the beach. There, many people were fishing for halibut.
In a flash, Raven thought of a scheme. He dived into the sea and swam to the spot where the fishermen dangled their hooks. Raven gobbled their bait, swimming from one hook to another. Each time Raven stole bait, the fishermen felt a tug on their lines. When the lines were pulled in, there was neither fish nor bait.
But Raven worked his trick once too often. When Houskana, an expert fisherman, felt a tug, he jerked his line quickly, hooking something heavy. Raven’s jaw had caught on the hook! While Houskana tugged on his line, Raven pulled in the opposite direction. Then Raven grabbed hold of some rocks at the bottom of the sea and called, “O rocks, please help me!” But the rocks paid no attention.
Because of his great pain, Raven said to his jaw, “Break off, O jaw, for I am too tired.” His jaw obeyed, and it broke off.
Houskana pulled in his line immediately. On his hook was a man’s jaw with a long white beard ! It looked horrible enough to scare anyone. Houskana and the other fishermen were very frightened, because they thought the jaw might belong to some evil spirit. They picked up their feet and ran as fast as they could to the chief’s house.
Raven came out of the water and followed the fishermen. Though he was in great pain for lack of his jaw, no one noticed anything wrong because he covered the lower part of his face with his blanket.
The chief and the people examined the jaw that was hanging on the halibut hook. It was handed from one to another, and finally to Raven who said, “Oh, this is a wonder to behold!” as he threw back his blanket and replaced his jaw.
Raven performed his magic so quickly that no one had time to see what was happening. As soon as Raven’s jaw was firmly in place again, he turned himself into a bird and flew out through the smoke hole of the chief’s house. Only then did the people begin to realize it was the trickster Raven who had stolen their bait and been hooked on Houskana’s fishing line.
On the totem pole, Raven was carved, not as the old man, but as himself without his beak, a reminder of how the old man lost his jaw.
In her barrabara (a native home) at the end of a large village, lived an old grandmother with her grandson, a raven. The two lived apart from the other villagers because they were disliked. When the men returned from fishing for cod, the raven would come and beg for food, but they would never give him any of their catch. But when all had left the beach, the raven would come and pick up any leftover refuse, even sick fish. On these, raven and his grandmother lived.
One winter was extremely cold. Hunting was impossible; food became so scarce the villages neared starvation. Even their chief had but little left. So the chief called all his people together and urged them to use every effort to obtain food enough for all, or they would starve.
The chief then announced that he wished for his son to take a bride and she would be selected from the girls of the village. All the girls responded to the excitement of the occasion and dressed in their very best costumes and jewelry.
For a short time hunger was forgotten as the girls lined up for the contest and were judged by the critical eye of their chief, who selected the fairest of the fair for his son’s bride. A feast was given by the chief following their marriage ceremony. But soon after hunger began again.
The raven perched on a pole outside his barrabara, observing and listening attentively to all that had happened. After the feast, he flew home and said to his grandmother, “I, too, want to marry.” She made no reply, so he went about his work, gathering what food he could for his little home. Each day he flew to the beach and found dead fish or birds. He always gathered more than enough for two people. While he was in the village, he noted that the famine seemed worse. So he asked the chief, “What will you give me, if I bring you food?”
The chief looked at him in great surprise and said, “You shall have my oldest daughter for your wife.” Nothing could have pleased raven more. He flew away in a joyful mood and said to his grandmother, “Let’s clean out the barrabara. Make everything clean for my bride. I am going to give the chief some food, and he has promised to give me his oldest daughter.”
“Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! You are going to marry? Our barrabara is too small and too dirty. Where will you put your wife?”
“Caw! Caw! Caw! Never mind. Do as I say,” he screamed at his grandmother, and began pecking her to hurry.
Early next morning raven flew away, and later in the day returned with a bundle of yukelah (dried salmon) in his talons. “Come with me to the chief’s house, grandmother,” he called to her. Raven handed the fish to the chief and received the chief’s oldest daughter for his bride.
Raven preceded his grandmother as she brought the bride to their little home. He cleared out the barrabara of old straw and bedding When the two women arrived, they found the little home empty, and the grandmother began to scold him and said, “What are you doing? Why are you throwing out everything.”
“I am cleaning house, as you can see,” raven curtly said.
When night came, raven spread wide one wing, and asked his bride to lie on it, and then covered her with the other wing. She spent a miserable night, as raven’s fish odour nearly smothered her. So she determined she would leave in the morning.
But by morning, she decided to stay and try to become accustomed to him. During the day she was cheerless and worried. When raven offered her food, she would not eat it. On the second night, raven invited her to lay her head on his chest and seek rest in his arms. Only after much persuasion did she comply with his wish. The second night was no better for her, so early the next morning she stole away from him and went back to her father’s house, telling him everything.
Upon waking and finding his wife gone, raven inquired of his grandmother what she knew of his wife’s whereabouts. She assured raven that she knew nothing. “Go then to the chief and bring her back to me,” called raven. Grandmother feared him and left to do his bidding. When she came to the chief’s house, she was pushed out of the door. This she promptly reported to her grandson.
The summer passed warm and pleasant, but a hard winter and another famine followed. As in the previous winter, the grandmother and the raven had plenty of food and wood, while others suffered greatly from lack of food. Raven’s thoughts again turned to marriage. This time she was a young and beautiful girl who lived at the other end of the village. He told his grandmother about her and that he wanted to marry her. He asked, “Grandmother, will you go and bring the girl here, and I will marry her.”
“Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! And you are going to marry her? Your first wife could not live with you because you smell strong. The girls do not wish to marry you.
“Caw! Caw! Caw! Never mind my smell! Never mind my smell! Go–do as I say.”
To impress his commands and secure her obedience, he started pecking at her until she was glad to go. While his grandmother was gone, raven became restless and anxious. He hopped about the barrabara and nearby hillocks, straining his eyes for a sight of his expected bride.
Hurriedly he began cleaning out the barrabara, throwing out old straw, bedding, baskets, and all. The grandmother upon her return scolded raven, but he paid no attention to her.
The young bride, like her predecessor, was enfolded tightly in his wings, and likewise she had a wretched and sleepless night. But she was determined to endure his odour if possible. She thought at least with him she would have plenty of food to eat. The second night was as bad as the first, but she stayed on and secretly concluded she would do her best to stay until spring.
On the third day the raven, seeing that his wife was still with him, said, “Grandmother, tomorrow I will go and get a big, fat whale. While I am gone, make a belt and a pair of torbarsars (native shoes) for my wife.”
“Ai, Ai, Y-a-h! How will you bring a big, fat whale? The hunters cannot kill one, how will you do it?”
“Caw! Caw! Caw! Be quiet and do what I tell you: make the belt and torbarsars while I go and get the whale,” he angrily exclaimed, using his most effective method of silencing her.
Before dawn next morning the raven flew away to sea. In his absence the old woman was busily engaged making the things for the young bride, who watched and talked to her. About midday, they saw raven flying toward shore, carrying a whale.
The grandmother started a big fire, and the young woman tucked up her parka (native dress), belted it with her new belt, put on the new torbarsars, sharpened the stone knife, and went to the beach to meet her husband. As he drew near he called, “Grandmother, go into the village and tell all the people that I have brought home a big, fat whale.”
She ran as hard as she could and told the joyful news. The half- dead people suddenly became alive. Some sharpened their knives, others dressed in their best clothes. But most of them just ran as they were and with such knives as they had with them to the beach to see the whale.
His sudden importance was not lost on the raven, who hopped up and down the whale’s back, viewing the scene of carnage, as the people gorged themselves on the whale.
Every few moments raven would take a pebble out of his bag, then after some thought put it back. When the chief and his relatives came near, raven drove them away. They had to be content just watching the people enjoy their feasting, and carrying off blubber to their homes. Later, in the village, the people did share with the chief.
The raven’s first wife, the chief’s daughter, had a son by him, a little raven. She had it in her arms at the beach and walked in front of raven, where he could notice her. “Here is your child, look at it,” she called. But he ignored her. She called to him several times and continued to show him the baby. At last he said, “Come closer–nearer still.” But when she could not stand his odour any longer, she left him without a word.
Death occurred as a result of the feast. Many of the people ate so much fat on the spot that they died soon after. The rest of the people had eaten so much and filled their barrabaras so full, that during the night they all suffocated. Of the entire village, only three were left–the raven, his new wife, and the grandmother. There they lived on as their descendants do to this day.
No one knows just how the story of Raven really begins, so each starts from the point where he does know it. Here it was always begun in this way. Raven was first called Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa-yit (“Son of Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa”). When his son was born, Kit-ka’ositiyi-qa tried to instruct him and train him in every way and, after he grew up, told him he would give him strength to make a world. After trying in all sorts of ways, Raven finally succeeded. Then there was no light in this world, but it was told him that far up the Nass was a large house in which some one kept light just for himself.
Raven thought over all kinds of plans for getting this light into the world and finally he hit on a good one. The rich man living there had a daughter, and he thought, “I will make myself very small and drop into the water in the form of a small piece of dirt.” The girl swallowed this dirt and became pregnant. When her time was completed, they made a hole for her, as was customary, in which she was to bring forth, and lined it with rich furs of all sorts. But the child did not wish to be born on those fine things. Then its grandfather felt sad and said, “What do you think it would be best to put into that hole? Shall we put in moss?” So they put moss inside and the baby was born on it. Its eyes were very bright and moved around rapidly.
Round bundles of varying shapes and sizes hung about on the walls of the house. When the child became a little larger it crawled around back of the people weeping continually, and as it cried it pointed to the bundles. This lasted many days. Then its grandfather said, “Give my grandchild what he is crying for. Give him that one hanging on the end. That is the bag of stars.” So the child played with this, rolling it about on the floor back of the people, until suddenly he let it go up through the smoke hole. It went straight up into the sky and the stars scattered out of it, arranging themselves as you now see them. That was what he went there for.
Some time after this he began crying again, and he cried so much that it was thought he would die . Then his grandfather said, ” Untie the next one and give it to him.” He played and played with it around behind his mother. After a while he let that go up through the smoke hole also, and there was the big moon.
Now just one thing more remained, the box that held the daylight, and he cried for that. His eyes turned around and showed different colors, and the people began thinking that he must be something other than an ordinary baby. But it always happens that a grandfather loves his grandchild just as he does his own daughter, so the grandfather said, “Untie the last thing and give it to him.” His grandfather felt very sad when he gave this to him. When the child had this in his hands, he uttered the raven cry, “Ga,” and flew out with it through the smokehole. Then the person from whom he had stolen it said, “That old manuring raven has gotten all of my things.”
Journeying on, Raven was told of another place, where a man had everlasting spring of water. This man was named Petrel (Ganu’k). Raven wanted this water because there was none to drink in this world, but Petrel always slept by his spring, and he had a cover over it so as to keep it all to himself. Then Raven came in and said to him, “My brother-in-law, I have just come to see you. How are you?” He told Petrel of all kinds of things that were happening outside, trying to induce him to go out to look at them, but Petrel was too smart for him and refused.
When night came, Raven said, “I am going to sleep with you, brother-in-law.” So they went to bed, and toward morning Raven heard Petrel sleeping very soundly. Then he went outside, took some dog manure and put it around Petrel’s buttocks. When it was beginning to grow light, he said, “Wake up, wake up, wake up, brother in-law, you have defecated all over your clothes!” Petrel got up, looked at himself, and thought it was true, so he took his blankets and went outside. Then Raven went over to Petrel’s spring, took off the cover and began drinking. After he had drunk up almost all of the water, Petrel came in and saw him. Then Raven flew straight up, crying “Ga.”
Before he got through the smoke-hole, however, Petrel said,”My spirits up the smoke hole, catch him.” So Raven stuck there, and Petrel put pitchwood on the fire under him so as to make a quantity of smoke. Raven was white before that time, but the smoke made him of the color you find him today. Still he did not drop the water. When the smoke-hole spirits let him go, he flew around the nearest point and rubbed himself all over so as to clear off as much of the soot as possible. This happened somewhere about the Nass, and afterwards he started up this way. First he let some water fall from his mouth and made the Nass. By and by he spit more out and made the Stikine. Next he spit out Taku river, then Chilkat, then Alsek, and all the other large rivers. The small drops that came out of his mouth made the small salmon creeks.
After this Raven went on again and came to a large town where were people who had never seen daylight. They were out catching eulachon in the darkness when he came to the bank opposite, and he asked them to take him across but they would not. Then he said to therm, “If you don’t come over I will have daylight break on you.” But they answered, ” Where are you from ? Do you come from far up the Nass where lives the man who has daylight?” At this Raven opened his box just a little and shed so great a light on them that they were nearly thrown down. He shut it quickly, but they quarreled with him so much across the creek that he became angry and opened the box completely, when the sun flew up into the sky. Then those people who had sea-otter or fur-seal skins, or the skins of any other sea animals, went into the ocean, while those who had land-otter, bear, or marten skins, or the skins of any other land animals, went into the woods [becoming the animals whose skins they wore].
Raven came to another place where a crowd of boys were throwing fat at one another. When they hit him with a piece he swallowed it. After a while he took dog’s manure and threw at the boys who became scared, ran away, and threw more fat at him. He consumed all in this way, and started on again.
After a while he came to an abandoned camp where lay a piece of jade (s!u) half buried in the ground, on which some design had been pecked. This he dug up. Far out in the bay he saw a large spring salmon jumping about and wanted to get it but did not know how. Then he stuck his stone into the ground and put eagle down upon the head designed thereon. The next time the salmon jumped, he said, “See here, spring salmon jumping out there, do you know what this green stone is saying to you? It is saying, ‘You thing with dirty, filthy back, you thing with dirty, filthy gills, come ashore here.'”
Raven suddenly wanted to defecate and started off. Just then the big spring salmon also started to come ashore, so Raven said, “Just wait, my friend, don’t come ashore yet for I have some business to attend to.” So the salmon went out again. Afterward Raven took a piece of wild celery (ya’naet), and, when the salmon did come ashore, he struck it with this and kihed it. Because Raven made this jade talk to the salmon, people have since made stone axes, picks, and spears out of it.
Then Raven, carrying along the spring salmon, got all kinds of birds, little and big, as his servants. When he came to a good place to cook his fish he said to all of them, “Here, you young fellows, go after skunk cabbage. We will bury this in the ground and roast it.” After they had brought it down, however, he said, “I don’t want any of that. My wife has defecated all over that, and I will not use it. Go back and pass over two mountains.” While they were gone, Raven put all of the salmon except one fat piece cut from around the ” navel ” which is usually cooked separately, into the skunk cabbage and buried it in the fire. Before they returned, he dug this up and ate it, after which he put the bones back into the fire and covered them up.
When the birds at last came back he said to them, “I have been across two mountains myself. Now it is time to dig it up. Dig it out.” Then all crowded around the fire and dug, but, when they got it up, there was nothing there but bones.
By and by the birds dressed one another in different ways so that they might be named from their dress. They tied the hair of the blue jay up high with a string, and they added a long tail to the ts!egeni’, another crested bird. Then they named one another. Raven let out the ts!egeni’ and told him that when the salmon comes he must call its slime unclean and stay high up until the salmon are all gone.
Now Raven started off with the piece of salmon belly and came to a place where Bear and his wife lived. He entered and said, “My aunt’s son, is this you?” The piece of salmon he had buried behind a little point. Then Bear told him to sit down and said, ” I will roast some dry salmon for you.” So he began to roast it. After it was done, he set a dish close to the fire and slit the back of his hands with a knife so as to let grease run out for Raven to eat on his salmon. After he had fixed the salmon, he cut a piece of flesh out from in front of his thighs and put it into the dish. That is why bears are not fat in that place.
Now Raven wanted to give a dinner to Bear in return, so he, too, took out a piece of fish, roasted it, set out the dish Bear had used, dose to the fire and slit up the back of his hand, thinking that grease would run out of it. But instead nothing but white bubbles came forth. Although he knew he could not do it, he tried in every way.
Then Raven asked Bear, “Do you know of any halibut fishing ground out here?” He said “No.” Raven said, “Why! what is the use of staying here by this salt water, if you do not know of any fishing ground? I know a good fishing ground right out here called Just on-the-edge-of-kelp (Gi’ck!icuwanyi’). There are always halibut swimming there, mouth up, ready for the hook.”
By and by Raven got the piece of fish he had hidden behind the point and went out to the bank in company with Bear and Cormorant. Cormorant sat in the bow, Bear in the middle, and, because he knew where the fishing ground was, Raven steered. When they arrived Raven stopped the canoe all at once. He said to them, ” Do you see that mountain, Was!e’ti-ca? When you sight that mountain, that is where you want to fish.” After this Raven began to fill the canoe with halibut. So Bear asked him, “What do you use for bait anyhow, my friend?” Raven answered, “I’ll use the skin covering the testicles as bait.” The bear asked, “Is it alright to use mine?” But the raven said, ” I don’t want to do it, for they might be too wasted.” Soon the bear was urging it strongly, “Cut them off!” So the Raven, sharpening a short knife, said, “Place them on the seat.” Then the Raven cut them off, so that the Bear, crying out, fell from the boat and, dying, spilled into the waves with one last sigh.
After a while Raven said to Cormorant, “There is a louse coming down on the side of your head. Come here. Let me take it off.” When he came close to him, he picked it off. Then he said, “Open your mouth so that I can put it on your tongue.” When he did open his mouth, however, Raven reached far back and pulled his tongue out. He did this because he did not want Cormorant to tell about what he had done. He told Cormorant to speak, but Cormorant made only a gabbling noise. “That is how young fellows ought to speak,” said Raven. Then Raven towed the dead body of the bear behind the point and carried it ashore there. Afterwards he went to Bear’s wife and began to take out his halibut. He said to the female bear, “My father’s sister, cut out all the stomachs of the halibut and roast them.” So she went down on the beach to cut them out. While she was working on the rest of the halibut, he cooked the stomachs and filled them with hot rocks. Then he went down and said to her, “You better come up. I have cooked all those stomachs for you. You better wash your hands, come up, and eat.” After that Cormorant came in and tried to tell what had happened but rnade only a gabbling sound. Raven said to the bear, ” Do you know what that fellow is talking about? He is saying that there were lots of halibut out where we fished. Every time we tried to get a canoe load they almost turned us over.” When she was about to eat he said, ” People never chew what I get. They always swallow it whole.” Before she began she asked Raven where her husband was, and Raven said, “Somehow or other he caught nothing, so we landed him behind the point. He is cutting alders to make alder hooks. He is sitting there yet.”
After the bear had swallowed all of the food she began to feel uneasy in her stomach, and Raven said to Cormorant, “Run outside quickly and get her some water.” Then she drank a great quantity of water, and the things in her stomach began to boil harder and harder. Said Raven, “Run out Cormorant.” He did so, and Raven ran after him. Then the female bear ran about inside the house grabbing at everything and finally fell dead. Then Raven skinned the female bear, after which he went around the point and did the same thing to the male. While he was busy there Cormorant came near him, but he said, “Keep away, you small Cormorant,” and struck him on the buttocks with his hand saying, “Go out and stay on those rocks.” Ever since then the cormorants have been there. Raven stayed in that place until he had consumed both of the bears.
Starting on again, Raven came to a place where many people were encamped fishing. They used nothing but fat for bait. He entered a house and askced what they used for bait. They said “Fat.” Then he said, “Let me see you put enough on your hooks for bait,” and he noticed carefully how they baited and handled their hooks. The next time they went out, he walked off behind a point and went under water to get this bait. Now they got bites and pulled up quickly, but there was nothing on their hooks. This continued for a long time. The next time they went out they felt the thing again, but one man among them who knew just how fish bite, jerked at the right moment and felt that he had caught something. The line went around in the water very fast. They pulled away, however, until they got Raven under the canoe, and he kicked against it very hard. All at once his nose came out, and they pulled it up. When they landed, they took it to the chief’s house and said, “We have caught a wonderful thing. It must be the nose of the Gonaqade’t.” So they took it, put eagle down on it, and hung it up on the wall.
After that, Raven came ashore at the place where he had been in the habit of going down, got a lot of spruce gum and made a new nose out of it. Then he drew a root hat down over his face and went to the town. Beginning at the nearer end he went through the houses saying “I wonder in what house are the people who caught that Gonaqade’t’s nose.” After he had gone halfway, he entered the chief’s house and inquired, “Do you know where are the people who caught that Gonaqade’t’s nose ?” They answered, “There it is on the wall.” Then he said, ” Bring it here. Let me examine it.” So they gave it to him. “This is great,” he said, and he put up his hat to examine it. “Why,” said he, “this house is dark. You ought to take off the smoke-hole cover. Let some one run up and take it off so that I can see.” But, as soon as they removed it, he put the nose in its place, cried “Ga,” and flew away. They did not find out who he was.
Going thence, Raven saw a number of deer walking around on the beach, with a great deal of fat hanging out through their noses. As he passed one of these, he said, “Brother, you better blow your nose. Lots of dirt is hanging out of it.” When the deer would not do this, Raven came close to him, wiped his nose and threw the fat by his own side. Calling out, “Just for the Raven,” he swallowed it.
Now Raven formed a certain plan. He got a small canoe and began paddling along the beach saying, “I wonder who is able to go along with me.” Mink came down and said, “How am I?” and Raven said, “What can you do?”. Said Mink, “When I go to camp with my friends, I make a bad smell in their noses. That’s what I can do.” But Raven said, “I guess not. You might make a hole in my canoe,” so he went along farther. The various animals and birds would come down and say, “How am I?” but he did not even listen. After some time Deer ran down to him, saying, ” How am I?” Then he answered, ” Come this way, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, come this way Axkwa’L!i-i-i.” He called him Axkwa’L!i-i-i because he never got angry. Finally Raven came ashore and said to Deer, ” Don’t hurt yourself, Axkwa’L!i-i-i.” By and by Raven said ” Not very far from here my father has been making a canoe. Let us go there and look at it.”
Then Raven brought him to a large valley. He took very many pieces of dried wild celery and laid them across the valley, covering them with moss. Said Raven, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, watch me, Axkwa’L!i-i-i, watch me.” Repeating this over and over he went straight across on it, for he is light. Afterwards he said to Deer, “Axkwa’L!i-i-i, now you come and try it. It will not break,” and he crossed once more. “You better try it now,” he said. “Come on over.” Deer did so, but, as he was on the way, he broke through the bridge and smashed his head to pieces at the bottom. Then Raven went down, walked all over him, and said to himself, “I wonder where I better start, at the root of his tail, at the eyes, or at the heart.” Finally he began at his anus, skinning as he went along. He ate very fast.
When he started on from this place, he began crying, “Axkwa’L!i-i-i, Axkwa’L!i-i-i,” and the fowls asked him, “What has become of your friend, Axkwa’L!i-i-i?”
“Some one has taken him and pounded him on the rocks, and I have been walking around and hopping around since he died.”
By and by he came to a certain cliff and saw a door in it swing open. He got behind a point quickly, for he knew that here lived the woman who has charge of the falling and rising of the tide. Far out Raven saw some kelp, and, going out to this, he climbed down on it to the bottom of the sea and gathered up a number of small sea urchins which were lying about there. He brought these ashore and began eating, making a great gulping noise as he did so. Meanwhile the woman inside of the cliff kept mocking him saying, “During what tide did he get those things ?”
While Raven was eating Mink came along, and Raven said, “Come here. Come here.”
Then he went on eating. And the woman again said, “On what tide did you get those sea urchins you are making so much noise about?”
“That is not your business,” answered Raven. “Keep quiet or I will stick them all over your buttocks.” Finally Raven became angry, seized the knife he was cutting up the sea urchins with and slit up the front of the cliff out of which she spoke. Then he ran in, knocked her down and began sticking the spines into her buttocks.
“Stop, Raven, stop,” she cried, ” the tide will begin to go down.”
So he said to his, servant, Mink, “Run outside and see how far down the tide has gone.”
Mink ran out and said, “It is just beginning to go down.” The next time he came in he said, “The tide is still farther down.” The third time he said, “The tide is lower yet. It has uncovered everything on the beach.”
Then Raven said to the old woman, “Are you going to let the tide rise and fall again regularly through the months and years?” She answered “Yes.”
Because Raven did this while he was making the world, nowadays, when a woman gets old and can not do much more work, there are spots all over her buttocks.
After the tide had gone down very far he and his servant went out. He said to Mink, “The thing that will be your food from now on is the sea urchin. You will live on it.” The tide now goes up and down because he treated this woman so.
Now Raven started on from this place crying, “My wife, my wife ! ” Coming to some trees, he saw a lot of gum on one of them and said to it, “Why! you are just like me. You are in the same state.” For he thought the tree was crying.
After this he got a canoe and began paddling along. By and by Petrel met him in another canoe. So he brought his canoe alongside and said, “Is this you, my brother-in-law? Where are you from?”
He answered, “I am from over there.”
Then Raven began to question him about the events in this world, asking him how long ago they happened, etc. He said, “When were you born? How long have you been living?”
And Petrel answered, “I have been living ever since the great liver came up from under the earth. I have been living that long.” So said Petrel.
“Why! that is but a few minutes ago,” said Raven.
Then Petrel began to get angry and said to Raven, “When were you born ? ”
“I was born before this world was known.”
” That is just a little while back.”
They talked back and forth until they became very angry. Then Petrel pushed Raven’s canoe away from him and put on his hat called fog-hat so that Raven could not see where he was. The world was round for him in the fog. At last he shouted, “My brother-in-law, Petrel, you are older than I am. You have lived longer than I.”
Petrel also took water from the sea and sprinkled it in the air so that it fell through the fog as very fine rain. Said Raven, “Ayee! Ayee!” He did not like it at all. After Petrel had fooled him for some tirne, he took off Fog-hat and found Raven close beside him, pulling about in all directions. Then Raven said to Petrel, “Brother-in-law, you better let that hat go into this world.” So he let it go. That is why we always know, when we see fog coming out of an open space in the woods and going right back again, that there will be good weather.
Leaving this place, Raven came to another where he saw something floating not far from shore, though it never came any nearer. He assembled all kinds of fowl. Toward evening he looked at the object and saw that it resembled fire. So he told a chicken hawk which had a very long bill to fly out to it, saying, “Be very brave. If you get some of that fire, do not let go of it.” The chicken hawk reached the place, seized some fire and started back as fast as it could fly, but by the time it got the fire to Raven its bill was burned off. That is why its bill is short. Then Raven took some red cedar, and some white stones called neq! which are found on the beach, and he put fire into them so that it could be found ever afterward all over the world.
After he had finished distributing the fire he started on again and came to a town where there were many people. He saw what looked like a large animal far off on the ocean with fowl all over the top of it. He wondered very much what it was and at last thought of a way of finding out. He said to one of his friends, “Go up and cut a cane for me.” Then he carved this cane so as to resemble two tentacles of a devil fish. He said, “No matter how far off a thing is, this cane will always reach it.”
Afterward he went to the middle of the town and said, “I am going to give a feast. My mother is dead, and I am going to beat the drums this evening. I want all of the people to come in and see me.”
In the evening he assembled all of the people, and they began to beat drums. Then he held the cane in his hands and moved it around horizontally, testing it. He kept saying “Up, up, up” He said, “I have never given any feast for my mother, and it is time I did it, but I have nothing with which to give a feast. Therefore I made this cane, and I am going to give a feast for my mother with this wonderful thing.”
Then he got the people all down on the beach and extended his cane toward the mysterious object until it reached it. And he began to draw it in little by little, saying to the people, “Sing stronger all the time.” When it struck land, a wave burst it open. It was an everlasting house, containing everything that was to be in the waters of the world. He told the people to carry up fish and they did so. If one had a canoe, he filled it; if he had a box, he filled that; and those that had canoes also boiled eulachon in them. Since then they have known how to boil them. With all of these things Raven gave the feast for his mother.
After this was over he thought up a plot against the killer whales and sent an invitation to them. Then he told each of his people to make a cane that would reach very much above his head. So, when the killer whales came in and inquired, “What do the people use those canes for that extend up over their heads?”, he replied, ” They stick them down into their heads.” They asked him several times, and he replied each time in the same way.
After a while one of the whales said, “Suppose we try it.”
Raven was glad to hear that and said, “All right, we will try it with you people, but the people I have invited must not look when I put a cane into anyone’s head.”
Then he went away and whittled a number of sticks until they were very sharp. After that he laid all of the killer whales on the beach at short distances apart, and again he told them not to look up while hewas showing one how it was done. Then he took a hammer and drove his sticks into the necks of these whales one after the other so that they died. But the last one happened to look up, saw what was being done, and jumped into the ocean.
Now Raven and another person started to boil out the killer whales’ grease, and the other man had more than he. So Raven dreamed a dream which infomed him that a lot of people were coming to fight with him, and, when such people really did make their appearance, he told his companion to run out. After he had done so, Raven quickly drank all the latter’s grease. By and by, however, the man returned, threw Raven into a grease box, and shut him in, and started to tie it up with a strong rope. Then Raven called out, “My brother, do not tie the box up very strongly. Tie it with a piece of straw such as our forefathers used to use.” The man did so, after which he took the box up on a high cliff and kicked it over.
Then Raven, breaking the straw, flew out, crying “Ga.” When he got to the other side of the point, he alighted and began wiping himself.
Next he came to a large whale blowing along out at sea, and noticed that every timo it came up, its mouth was wide open. Then Raven took a knife and something with which to make fire. When the whale came up again he flew into its mouth and sat down at the farther end of its stomach. Near the place where he had entered he saw something that looked like an old woman. It was the whale’s uvula. When the whale came up, it made a big noise, the uvula went to one side and the herring and other fish it lived on poured right in. Then Raven began eating all these things that the whale had swallowed, and presently, he made a fire to cook the fat of the whale itself that hung inside. Last of all he ate the heart
As soon as he cut this out, the whale threw itself about in the water and soon floated up dead. Raven felt this and said, “I wish it would float up on a good sandy beach.” After he had wished this many times, the whale began to drift along, and it finally floated ashore on a long sandy beach.
After a while some young fellows who were always shooting about in this neighborhood with their bows and arrows, heard a voice on the beach say, “I wonder who will make a hole on the top so that he can be my friend.”
The boys ran home to the town and reported, We heard a queer noise. Something floated ashore not far from this place, and a person inside said, ‘I wish that somebody would make a hole above me so that he can be my friend.'”
Then the people assembled around the whale and heard Raven’s words very clearly. They began to cut a hole just over the place these came from and presently they heard some one inside say, “Xone’e.” When the hole was large enough, Raven flew straight up out of it until he was lost to sight. And they said to him, “Fly to any place where you would like to go.”
After that they cut the whale up and in course of time came to the spot where Raven had lighted his fire to make oil.
Meanwhile Raven flew back of their camp to a large dead tree that had crumbled into fine pieces and began rubbing on it to dry himself. When he thought that the people were through making oil, he dressed himself up well and repaired to the town. There he said to the people, “Was anything heard in that whale?” and one answered, “Yes, a queer noise was heard inside of the whale.”
“I wonder what it was,” said Raven.
After their food was all prepared Raven said to the people, “Long ago, when a sound was heard inside of a whale, all the people moved out of their town so as not to be killed. All who remained were destroyed. So you better move from this town.”
Then all of the people said, “All of us better move from this town rather than be destroyed.” So they went off leaving all of their things, and Raven promptly took possession of them.
Raven once went to a certain place outside of here (Sitka) in his canoe. It was calm there, but he began rocking the canoe up and down with his feet until he had made a great many waves. Therefore, there are many waves there now even when it is calm outside, and a canoe going in thither always gets lost.
By and hy Raven came to a sea gull standing at the mouth of a creek and said to it, “What are you sitting in this way for? How do you call your new month?” “Yadaq!o’l,” replied the seagull. Raven was questioning him in this way because he saw many her ring out at sea. So he said, “I don’t believe at all what you say. Fly out and see if you can bring in a herring.” This is why, until the present time, people have differed in their opinions concerning the months and have disputed with one another.
After they had quarreled over it for a long time, the gull became angry, flew out to sea, and brought back a big herring. He lighted near Raven and laid the herring beside him, but, when Raven tried to get it, he gulped it down.
In another direction from the sea gull Raven saw a large heron and went over to it. He said to the heron, “Sea gull is calling you Big-long-legs-always-walking-upon-the beach.”
Then, although the heron did not reply, he went back to the sea gull and said, “Do you know what that heron is saying about you? He says that you have a big stomach and get your red eyes by sitting on the beach always looking out on the ocean for some thing to eat.”
Then he went back to the heron and said to it, “When I meet a man of my own size, I always kick him just below the stomach. That fellow is talking too much about you. Go over, and I will help you thrash him.”
So the heron went over toward the sea gull, and, when he came close to it, Raven said, “Kick him just under his stomach.” He did so, and the big herring came out. Then Raven swallowed it quickly saying, “Just for the Raven.”
Going on again, Raven came to a canoe in which were some people lying asleep along with a big salmon which he took away. When the people awoke, they saw the trail where he had dragged it off, and they followed him. They found him Iying asleep by the fire after having eaten the salmon. Seeing his gizzard hanging out at his buttocks, they twisted it off, ran home with it and used it as a shinny ball; this is why no human being now has a gizzard.
The people knew it was Raven’s gizzard, so they liked to show it about, and they knocked it around so much that it grew large by the accumulation of sand. But Raven did not like losing his gizzard. He was cold without it and had to get close to the fire. When he came to the place where they were playing with it, he said, “Let it come this way.” No sooner had they gotten it near him, however, than they knocked it away again. After a while it reached him, and he seized it and ran off, with all the boys after him. As he ran he washed it in water and tried to fit it back in place. It was too hot from much knocking about, and he had to remove it again. He washed it again but did not get all of the sand off. That is why the raven’s gizzard is big and looks as if it had not been washed.
Next Raven came to a town where lived a man called Fog-on-the-Salmon. He wanted to marry this man’s daughter because he always had plenty of salmon. He had charge of that place. So he married her, and they dried quantities of salmon, after which they filled many animal stomachs with salmon eggs. Then he loaded his canoe and started home. He put all of the fish eggs into the bow. On the way it became stormy, and they could not make much headway, so he became tired and threw his paddles into the bow, exclaiming to his wife, “Now you paddle!”
Then the salmon eggs shouted out, “It is very hard to be in stomachs. Hand the paddles here and let me pull.” So the salmon eggs did, and, when they reached home, Raven took all of them and dumped them over board. But the dried salmon he carried up. That is why people now use dried salmon and do not care much for salmon eggs.
Journeying on, Raven came to a seal sitting on the edge of a rock, and he wanted to get it, but the seal jumped into the ocean. Then he said, “Yak!oct!a’l!,” because he was so sorry about it. Farther on he came to a town and went behind it to watch. After a while a man came out, took a little club from a certain place where he kept it in concealment, and said to it, “My little club, do you see that seal out there? Go and get it.” So it went out and brought the little seal ashore. The club was hanging to its neck. Then the man took it up and said, “My little club, you have done well,” after which he put it back in its place and returned to the town. Raven saw where it was kept, but first he went to the town and spoke kindly to the owner of it.
In the night, however, when every one was asleep, he went back to the club, carried it behind a point and said to it, “See here, my little club, you see that seal out in the water. Go and get it.” But the club would not go because it did not know him. After he had tried to get it to go for some time, he became angry and said to it, “Little club, don’t you see that seal out there?” He kept striking it against a rock until he broke it in pieces.
Coming to a large bay, Raven talked to it in order to make it into Nass (i. e., he wanted to make it just like the Nass), but, when the tide was out great numbers of dams on the flats made so much noise shooting up at him that his voice was drowned, and he could not succced. He tried to put all kinds of berries there but in vain. After many attempts, he gave it up and went away saying, “I tried to make you into Nass, but you would not let me. So you can be called Skana’x” (the name of a place to the southward of Sitka).
Two brothers started to cross the Stikine river, but Raven saw them and said, “Be stones there.” So they became stones.
Starting on, he came to the ground-hog people on the mainland. His mother had died some time before this, and, as he had no provisions with which to give a feast, he came to the ground hogs to get some. The ground-hog people know when slides descend from the mountains, and they know that spring is then near at hand, so they throw all of their winter food out of their burrows. Raven wanted them to do this, so he said, “There is going to be a world snow slide.” But the ground-hog chief answered, ” Well! nobody in this town knows about it.”
Toward spring, however, the slide really took place, and the ground hogs then threw all of their green herbs, roots, etc., outside to him.
After this he said to the people, “Make ear pendants because I am going to invite the whole world.” He was going to invite everyone because he had heard that the GonaqAde’t had a Chilkat blanket and a hat, and he wanted to see them. First he invited the Gonaqade’t and afterwards the other chiefs of all the tribes in the world. At the appointed time they began to come in. When the Gonaqade’t came in he had on his hat with many crowns and his blanket but was surrounded by a fog. Inside of the house, however, he appeared in his true fom. It is from this feast of Raven’s that people now like to attend feasts. It is also from this that, when a man is going to have a feast, he has a many-crowned hat carved on top of the dead man’s grave post.
Raven made a woman under the earth to have charge of the rise and fall of the tides. One time he wanted to learn about everything under the ocean and had this woman raise the water so that he could go there. He had it rise very slowly so that the people had time to load their canoes and get into them. When the tide had lifted them up between the mountains they could see bears and other wild animals walking around on the still unsubmerged tops. Many of the bears swam out to them, and at that time those who had their dogs had good protection. Some people walled the tops of the mountains about and tied their canoes inside. They could not take much wood up with them. Sometimes hunters see the rocks they piled up there, and at such times it begins to grow foggy. That was a very dangerous time. The people who survived could see trees swept up roots and all by the rush of waters and large devilfish and other creatures were carried up by it.
When the tide began to fall, all the people followed it down, but the trees were gone and they had nothing to use as firewood, so they were destroyed by the cold. When Raven came back from under the earth, if he saw a fish left on top of a mountain or in a creek, he said, “Stay right there and become a stone.” So it became a stone. If he saw any person coming down, he would say, “Turn to a stone just where you are,” and it did so.
After that the sea went down so far that it was dry everywhere. Then Raven went about picking up the smallest fish, as bull heads and tom cod, which he strung on a stick, while a friend who was with him at this time, named Cak!a’ku, took large creatures like whales. With the grease he boiled out, Cak!a’ku filled an entire house, while Raven filled only a small bladder.
Raven stayed with Cak!a’ku and one night had a dream. He said to his friend, “I dreamed that a great enemy came and attacked us.” Then he had all the fowls assemble and come to fight, so that his dream might be fulfilled. As soon as Raven had told his dream, Cak!a’ku went down and saw the birds. Then Raven went into the house and began drinking up his grease. But the man came back, saw what Raven was doing, and threw him into a grease box, which he started to tie up with a strong rope. Raven, however, called out, “My brother, do not tie me up with a strong rope, but take a straw such as our forefathers used to empIoy.” He did so. Then Raven drank up all the grease in the box, and, when the man took him up on a high cliff and kicked him off, he came out easily and flew away crying “Ga.”
One time Raven assembled all the birds in preparation for a feast and had the bears in the rear of his house as guests. All the birds had canes and helped him sing. As he sang along Raven would say quietly, “Do you think one of you could fly into the anus of a bear?” Then he would start another song and end it by saying in much the same language, “One of you ought to fly up into that hole.” He kept taunting the birds with their inability to do this, so, when the bears started out, the wren (wu’naxwu’ckaq, “bird-that can-go-through-a-hole”) flew up into the anus of one of them and came out with his intestines. Before it had pulled them far out the bear fell dead. Then Raven chased all of the small birds away, sat down, and began eating. Raven never got full because he had eaten the black spots off of his own toes. He learned about this after having inquired everywhere for some way of bringing such a state about. Then he wandered through all the world in search of things to eat.
After all the human beings had been destroyed Raven made new ones out of leaves. Because he made this new generation, people know that he must have changed all of the first people who had survived the flood into stones. Since human beings were made from leaves, people always die off rapidly in the fall of the year when flowers and leaves are falling.
At the time when he made this world, Raven made a devilfish digging-stick and went around to all created things saying, “Are you going to hurt human beings ? Say now either yes or no.” Those that said “No” he passed by; those that said “Yes” he rooted up. He said to the people, “When the tide goes out, your food will be there. When the tide comes in, your food will be in the woods,” indicating bear and other forest animals.
In Raven’s time the butts of ferns were already cooked, but, after some women had brought several of these in, Raven broke a stick over the fern roots. Therefore they became green like this stick. He also broke the roots up into many layers one above another.
Devilfish were very fat then, and the people used to make grease out of them, but, when Raven came to a place where they were making he said, “Give me a piece of that hard thing.” That is why its fatness left it.
One time Raven invited all the tribes of little people and laid down bear skins for them to sit on. After they had come in and reached the bear skins, they shouted to one another, “Here is a swampy, open space.” That was the name they gave to those places on the skins from which the hair had fallen out. By and by Raven seized the bear skins and shook them over the fire, when all the little people flew into the eyes of the human beings. He said, “You shall be pupils in people’s eyes,” and ever since human beings have had them.
Now he went on from this place and camped by himself. There he saw a large sculpin trying to get ashore below him, and he said to it, “My uncle’s son, come ashore here. Come way up. One time, when you and I were going along in our uncle’s canoe we fell into the water. So come up a little farther.”
Raven was very hungry, and, when the sculpin came ashore, he seized it by its big, broad tail intending to eat it. But it slipped through his fingers. This happened many times, and each time the sculpin’s tail became smaller. That is why it is so slender today. Then Raven said to it, From now on, you shall be named ‘sculpin.'”
Raven had a blanket which kept blowing out from him, so he threw it into the water and let it float away. Then he obtained a wife, and, as he was traveling along with her, he said, “There is going to be a great southwest wind. We better stop here for a little, wife. I expect my blanket ashore here.” After a while it came in. Then his wife said to him, “Take your blanket ashore and throw it on some branches.
He did so and it became Rebis bracteosum. When they went on farther the sea became so rough that his wife was frightened and told him to put ashore some of the fat with which his canoe was loaded. He did this, but was so angry with his wife for having asked him, that he said to her, “You better put ashore your sewing basket,” and so she did.
Then he left his wife and went along by himself. He assembled very many young birds, and, when he camped told them to go after cat!k!, the term he at that time applied to drinking water.
Afterwards he came to a certain place and started to make a salmon creek. He said, “This woman shall be at the head of this creek.” The woman he spoke of had long teats, so he called her Woman-with long-teats-floating-around, saying, “When the salmon come to the creeks, they shall all go up to see her.” That is why salmon run up thc creeks.
After this he went into the woods and set out to make the porcupine. For quills he took pieces of yellow cedar bark, which he set all the way up and down its back so that bears would be afraid of it. This is why bears never eat porcupines. He said to the porcupine, “Whenever anyone comes near you, throw your tail about.” This is why people are afraid of it when it does so.
Now Raven went off to a certain place and made the west wind, naming it Q!axo’. He said to it, “You shall be my son’s daughter. No matter how hard you blow you shall hurt nobody.
He took up a piece of red salmon and said to it, “If anyone is not strong enough to paddle home he shall take up this fish and blow behind him.”
Raven is a grandchild of the mouse . That is why a mouse can never get enough to eat.
Raven also made the south wind (sa’naxet). When the south wind climbs on top of a rock it never ceases to blow.
He made the north wind (xun), and on top of a mountain he made a house for it with something like ice hanging down on the sides. Then he went in and said to it, “Your buttocks are white.” This is wy the mountains are white with snow.
He made all the different races, as the Haida and the Tsimshian. They are human beings like the Thingit, but he made their languages different.
He also made the dog. It was at first a human being and did every thing Raven wanted done, but he was too quick with everything, so Raven took him by the neck and pushed him down, saying, “You are nothing but a dog. You shall have four legs.”
One time Raven came to a certain thing called fat-on-the-sea, which stuck out of the ocean. He kept saying to it, “Get down a little,” so it kept going under the surface. But every time it came up he took his paddle and cut part off. It did this seven times, but, when he spoke to it the eighth time, it went down out of sight, and he never saw it again.
As he was traveling along in another place, a wild celery came out, became angry with Raven, and said, “You are always wandering around for things to eat.” Then he named it wild celery (ya’naet) and said to it, “You shall stay there, and people shall eat you.
Once he passed a large tree and saw something up in it called Caxda’q . Raven called out “Caxda’q,” and it shouted back, “You Raven.” They called back and forth to each other for some time.
There once was a man that enjoyed watching the black Raven’s fly around, play, squawk, and chatter. He enjoyed them so much he would climb trees just to be closer to them. For many months the Ravens ignored the man, but after awhile, one of the Ravens flew from a nearby tree and landed directly next to the man.
In utter amazement, the bird spoke to the man and asked, “You have been watching us for a long time. You have tried to get close to us. Why do you do this?”
The man replied, “I mean no harm. I have become enchanted with you and all your relatives. I enjoy the play, the squawking, and I wish I could learn your language so I could understand more about you.”
Then the Raven responded, “We are honored that you want to know us, as long as you do not cause harm, we will teach you our language.”
For many months the Ravens taught the man all about the language and how the Ravens lived from day to day. The man became so educated that he knew everything there was to know about the Ravens. Many of the Ravens saw the man and accepted him as a friend.
One day, an older Raven was flying far over the man, dropped a walnut perfectly on the man’s head. It was done on purpose and all the Ravens almost fell off their branches laughing so hard the way they do. One Raven was flying and was laughing so hard he had to crash land right in front of the man.
The man was feeling bad and was hurt by being made fun of, so he asked the Raven in front of him, “Why are you all picking on me.”
The Raven stopped laughing and became very serious. “We thought you understood us, but apparently you don’t. If you did you would know that we are not mocking you… well maybe a bit, but it is done in our way of having fun. We are ‘playing’ with you and that is all. It is not to be taken seriously. You should know us better.”
The man took sometime to understand this and over time a few more practical jokes were played on the man and he in turn pulled a few “good ones” on the birds. A good time was had by all and the man became even closer to the Ravens.
Then another event occurred. A young Raven swooped out of the sky and pecked the man on the head. Then another young Raven swooped down and did the same thing. The man ran across the field and into the woods but the Ravens kept chasing him and very skillfully they flew at high speeds through the woods tormenting the man. Finally the two stopped and started to yell mean words, fighting words at the man.
Again the man did not understand, but he knew the two Ravens were very mad at him, so he decided to leave and let the Ravens be. The man went away for many months.
As he did his duties in the his tribal village, he told all the people about his adventures and what he learned about the Ravens. Some listened with intent, others just thought the man was a fool to study the Ravens so. The villagers gave the man a new name of “Black Feather” because of his close relationship to the birds, but the man objected and said, “I am no longer close to the Raven people.”
From above there was a squawking sound of a single Raven. Some of the people looked up and were surprised that they could understand the Raven, others just looked around because they could hear nothing but squawking. The Raven was speaking to the man and said, “It is true, you are closer to us than any Anishinabe (Human) has ever come. You are close, but you still don’t understand us fully. I invite you to return to us, many miss you.”
Black Feather started to follow the Raven but then stopped at the edge of the village. He looked around to make sure no other Anishinabe could hear then asked the Raven, “why do you ask me back when the two Ravens where fighting with me and were mean.”
“The Raven landed at Black Feathers feet and said, “See how little you understand us. The two young Ravens did not fight with you because you are Anishinabe, it is because they accepted you as a member of the Raven people. You should know that we fight among ourselves too. It is a part of our way of life. Instead of sulking and leaving you should have fought back.”
Black Feather stood in silence and said, “There is much about Ravens I don’t understand. Maybe we are too different people to ever understand each other. I should stop and return to my people in the village.”
The Raven again shook his head and told Black Feather, “That is your choice, but again I tell you that you have come closer to us Raven people than any other Anishinabe. Would you throw this all away just because you can’t understand us yet?”
Black Feather responded, “It’s useless, how can I ever understand you, I can’t even fly!”
A thousand bursts of laughter was heard from all the surrounding trees and Black Feather knew that all the Raven People were there, hiding and listening.
“Of course you can’t fly. You are Anishinabe and we are Ravens. But we accept you as one of us. We play with you. We fight with you. We love you and want you back. We also recommend you don’t try to fly in order to be like us, because then, you would not be Anishinabe nor a Raven but something else. We like you as an Anishinabe that understands us as Ravens. Join us or not the decision is yours.”
Black Feather returned to the Anishinabe village and bid everyone farewell because he had decided to live with the Raven people. After all the farewells and such he started to leave the village. All the Anishinabe people were there to see him off, and high over head was a thousand Raven’s.
Then from high above one of the older Ravens dropped a walnut shell and again with remarkable aim, plunked Black Feather right on the head. All the Ravens started laughing hard and all the Anishinabe were laughing too.
Black Feather laughed and looked up at the old Raven and said, “Good one.”
Author: Charles Phillip White
The Talking Raven Who Became a Hero
(Omar the Amazing Raven)
By Phil Rowe
Sitting in the shade outside his barracks on the edge of the airport in Baghdad, Corporal Terry King relaxed with a paperback book. He only an hour earlier completed a dangerous drive to bring outgoing mail from the Green Zone to the postal facility on the airfield. Now it was time to unwind from the tensions of those hazardous trips he made twice each day. Terry was a truck driver and that is far from the safest job in Iraq.
Terry paused to watch a large black raven perched high above him on a lamp post. It was a series of strange sounds that the raven made that turned his attention from the book. He wasn’t quite sure what the sounds were but it almost sounded like “turn the page already”. Surely he must be mistaken he thought on reflection.
He turned back to his book and did in fact turn the page to continue reading. So intent was Terry now on the story that he didn’t notice the raven descend to the back of the empty chair next to his. After reading a page or two more Terry paused and realized that someone or some thing was watching. He turned around and was startled to see the bird gazing back at him, its head seemingly cocking one way and then the other as it examined the human reading there.
With the book now on his lap, Terry paused to look at the bird more closely. Its shiny black feathers appeared almost iridescent. The glossy black eyes looked back at Terry in a curious way, almost as if it was about to call out or say something. And then it happened, much to Terry’s amazement. The bird spoke, actually spoke in a manner that Terry understood.
“Aren’t you going to turn those pages?” the raven asked. “I was reading too.”
“What? What did you say?” Terry asked incredulously.
“I believe you heard me. I was reading along with you but I must say you are much too slow a reader for my taste. That is a very good book.”
“Bird can’t read,” Terry declared. “And I must be hallucinating if I am actually hearing you talk.”
“No, it’s not your imagination, Corporal. I can indeed talk and I do read quite well. My eyesight is better than that of humans like you. I could easily ready the pages of your book from atop that lamp post, but it would have been more enjoyable if you weren’t such a slow reader and took so long to turn the pages.”
“Well, I’ll be,” Terry muttered. “I’ve heard of a talking horse, the one they called Mr. Ed on television, but never a talking bird. No, I take that back. I have heard parrots talk.”
“So then you should not be too amazed that a raven, like me for example, can also talk. But what did you mean ‘I’ll be”? You’ll be what? Saying ‘I’ll be’ makes no sense at all.”
For several seconds or even a minute or two Terry said nothing. He was too flabbergasted to respond. But soon Terry came to realize that this was really happening, strange as it was. He decided to continue conversing with the raven, saying “What is your name, raven? Should I address you as simply bird?”
“My name in human terms is Omar, Omar the talking raven.”
“That certainly fits. So how did you learn to speak? Did you mimic human sounds when you wanted to be noticed?”
“Yes, in the beginning I suppose, yes that’s probably how I tried to communicate with my first human contact. My first conversations where I did much more than repeat words came when I began to realize that I actually understood and could convey thoughts, as well as understand what my contact was trying to say. His name was Omar too, and I adopted that name out of respect, though it was he who added the talking raven part.”
“Who was that man? Was he an Iraqi?”
“Oh no, he was an Englishman. I encountered him in Egypt on my seasonal migrations down that way. When the heat gets too much for me here I go down to Egypt where the coastal breezes are much more to my liking.”
“The Englishman you say was called Omar? That’s unusual, for Omar is clearly not an English name. Are you sure that was his name? And what happened to him? Is he still alive and in Egypt?”
“Alas no, my first human friend was an old man and he passed away a few years ago. But his name indeed was Omar. He was a rug merchant whose mother was Egyptian and his father a British soldier. And it was he who taught me to read. In his last days his eyesight failed and I would read to him. That made him happy. I miss him.”
“Interesting,” Terry mused. “Can you speak or read other languages beside English?”
“No, only English and it took me quite a while to make the connection between spoken words and those in print, like your books. I actually welcomed the arrival of you Americans and coalition people because I heard and understood speech once more. These Iraqis seldom speak in words I can understand, but now I hear and see English. That is why I stopped to see what you were reading.”
Terry smiled and decided to ask his new raven friend some other things. “You say you have better eyesight that humans and I don’t dispute that. I know of eagles and falcons that can spot small prey at long distances, though I was not that aware that ravens like you could do that too. Could you see people who shoot at Americans? I mean, can you tell if someone is dressed differently and likely to attack a American in uniform or in a vehicle?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I have often seen from high above the scurrying of men carrying guns and rocket launchers trying to position themselves to attack your soldiers. I have also seen where roadways have been altered to hide what your people call explosive devices, improvised things that explode when trucks and even tanks approach.”
“Do you warn our soldiers? Or do you simply observe?”
“The latter, I’m ashamed to say. You are the first American I have ever conversed with.”“So would it be possible for you to fly over my truck and warn me if you see any threats along my route from the Green Zone to the airport here? If you became my friend you could show it by looking out for me.”
“I suppose I could do that, Corporal. But you have to understand that I have no particular loyalty to you or to the locals here. I am a transient and will be gone when hot weather returns.”
“All I’m suggesting, “Terry continued, “is that it would make my life a whole lot easier if I knew in advance where a particular threat or hazard in my path might be. Having you alert me to possibly dangerous roadway ahead would be much appreciated.”
“You realize, Corporal, that I might not be able to make myself heard over the roar and clatter of your truck, even if I did see something ahead of you.”
“You are right, my friend. Perhaps we need to create some signals you could use, like zooming low in front of me when I should stop or perhaps having you circle above suspicious enemy on the side of the road ahead. Would that work? Oh, and my name is Terry. Okay?”
“Whatever, Terry. First, I need to be able to identify your vehicle from up above the road. Can you place a cloth or something onto your radio antenna, something distinctive that identifies your vehicle from all the others on the roadway?”
“Yeah, I could do that. I have a bright green scarf that I could use. Can you tell colors or is everything just shades of gray to your eyes?”
“Sure, I can see colors. You are right now wearing tan and green camouflage army pants, white undershirt and a red baseball cap. Right?”
“Okay, so you can tell colors. That’s good. I’ll try to tie my scarf to the antenna atop the cab … or if that doesn’t work I’ll hang it out the right front door, either by closing the door to an end of the scarf or tying it to the door handle.”
“That should work. So? When is your next trip down the road to the Green Zone?” Omar asked.
“Tomorrow morning early, just about sunrise I’ll leave here to drive from the airport to pick up the embassy mail. The Marine guards at the embassy will load the mail pouches into my truck and I will head back here to the airport without delay. I want to get back here to get some breakfast before they stop the chow line at 9:30.”
“Chow line?” asked Omar, cocking his head back and forth, side to side. “What’s that?”
“It’s where I get my breakfast, in the dining hall over there beyond the parking area. It’s that low building toward the fence there,” Terry explained while pointing to the North.
Suddenly Omar flew up from the nearby chair to the lamppost, startled by a loud voice calling, “Corporal King. The Captain wants to see you … now.” It was the sergeant’s bellowing voice that interrupted Terry’s conversation. Soon the big burly sergeant appeared around the end of the building and motioned for Terry to get a move on. Omar watched from his perch.Terry reached his unit headquarters, paused to tuck in his T-shirt and remove his cap on entering. Another corporal sitting at a desk just outside the captain’s office greeted Terry saying,
“ Go right in, Terry. The captain wants to tell you something.”
Terry saluted and respectfully asked, “You wanted tom see me, sir?”
“Yes, Corporal King. Tomorrow morning you are to be at the U.S. Embassy promptly at 0700 hours to bring a special diplomatic pouch straight to Base Operation. There you will locate the pilot of the VIP flight bringing some State Department folks back to Washington. You will hand the pouch directly to the pilot, get his signature on the transfer forms and then take the rest of the usual mail to the normal place. Got that? Any questions?”
“No sir. I understand. Do you have the name of the pilot?”
“Not a clue, Corporal. You can ask at the dispatch desk.”
“Right, sir. Will do,” Terry acknowledged.
“Oh yes, one more thing. You will take two armed guards with you. This diplomatic pouch is high priority and mustn’t fall into the wrong hands. Sergeant Kaminski and Private Lopez will meet at 0600. Be sure you’ve checked your vehicle and have plenty of fuel.”
“Got it, sir. Kaminski and Lopez. Have they been briefed?”
“Yes, they have. That’s all, Corporal.”
Terry saluted, turned smartly and left the captain’s office. This was not the first time that he had carried diplomatic materials so he knew the drill quite well. As Terry passed by the desk of the fellow who’d greeted him on arriving a few minutes ago, the corporal said, “Good luck, Terry. This will probably be your last mail run for a while. Your orders to transfer down to Kuwait just arrived. You’ll finish out your tour over here with two months duty in Kuwait. I guess you’ve earned a cushy assignment after all the dangerous mail runs you’ve made to and from the Green Zone.”
“Really? Kuwait?” Terry exclaimed in surprise. “I never expected this. How do I rate getting out of here before my tour is over?”
“The captain arranged it, you lucky stiff. So be careful tomorrow.”
“That’s for sure … how soon am I supposed to leave for Kuwait?”
“Next week. You’ll go down on the courier flight next Wednesday, I think. Yeah, you leave at 0930. I’ll have your paperwork ready by Monday.”
“Thanks Mike,” Terry replied. He left the headquarters with a new spring in his step and returned to the chair where he’s left his book. He looked up toward the lamppost looking for his raven friend, but didn’t see him anywhere. Deciding not to sit and read any more, Terry turned to go to his barracks cubicle, somewhat disappointed that he could not tell Omar about tomorrow’s special run to the Green Zone and embassy.
Bright and early the next morning, even before breakfast or even a cup of coffee, Terry had to be satisfied with a candy bar to hold off his hunger. He checked out his vehicle, a typical desert camouflaged 6-by-6 truck with canvas cover over the cargo bed. Kaminski and Lopez soon appeared, each wearing armor vests, helmets, and carrying semi-automatic weapons.
“ You guys ready? “ Terry asked his armed guards.
“Yeah. Let’s go,” Kaminski urged. “Maybe we can get back before it gets so darn hot. All this armor we’re wearing is really uncomfortable when it’s hot.
“Sorry, guys, but this limousine isn’t air conditioned,” Terry smilingly retorted. “Okay, let’s go.”
The drive from the airport to the Green Zone security control point was uneventful. The weather was warm and skies clear, typical for this April morning. After gaining access to the Green Zone and driving toward the embassy, all three men felt they could relax a bit inside the protected area where Iraqi and coalition VIP’s work and live. It is so different from the world outside the zone.
Two armed Marine guards greeted Terry as he pulled up to the pickup point next to the embassy. First they rolled up a wheeled pushcart with several mailbags and some cartons of regular outgoing mail. Then a fellow in civilian clothes approached carrying two suitcase-size dark leather pouches, each bearing a chain and padlock plus a metal railroad type seal.
“Sign here, Corporal,” explained the civilian. “Take these pouches directly to Base Operations and get the pilot of the Washington courier flight to sign for them. You can bring the signed receipts back here on your afternoon mail run.”
Terry dutifully signed for the pouches and placed them within the truck cab. Only the regular mailbag and boxes went in the cargo bed under the tarp. Because the pouches took up so much room, Kaminski told Lopez to rive in the back of the truck with the mail. Reluctantly, the junior Lopez complied.
Then Terry took out a long green scarf. He tied it to the door handle, on the right side of the vehicle, before heading out of the security zone. Kaminski watch and was puzzled by Terry’s actions, asking, “What is that for?”
“That’s just my lucky charm. Maybe with that out there we won’t be ambushed or run onto a roadside bomb,” Terry responded as they headed for the airport road.
Shortly after reaching the airport road, Kaminski saw a raven sitting on a wall along side the four-lane highway. It flew off and headed in the same direction they were going. Terry smiled, knowing that it was most probably Omar.
“What’s that dumb bird doing?” Kaminski asked on seeing the raven fly ahead and at about fifty feet over the pavement. Terry didn’t say anything.
Traffic was light on the airport road at that early hour. Terry drove along at a steady forty miles per hour. His nervous armed associates were a bit nervous, knowing that ambushes or worse might lie ahead. They still had fifteen miles to go to reach the airport security perimeter.
“Look at that crazy raven,” Kaminski declared. Then shouting he added, “Watch out. That dumb bird is headed straight for us. It approached the windshield within a few feet before veering off to the left. Terry slammed on the brakes and stopped his truck in the left lane.“What in the hell ??” Kaminski yelled. “Why did you stop? Why here? This is a dangerous section of this road.”
Terry calmed down in a second or two, his heart beating fast and furiously. “That’s why. There’s a bomb just ahead on the edge of the pavement. Call the bomb squad on your walkie-talkie radio. Tell ’em where we are and that there’s a roadside bomb just ahead,” Terry demanded.
“What bomb? I don’t see anything ahead. All I see now is that crazy raven strutting in circles over there.”
“That crazy raven, as you call him, just saved our lives,” Terry replied. “He’s walking around to point our where the bomb is. If he hadn’t warned me we’d have been blown to bits in just seconds.”
“What do mean he warned you?” Kaminski pressed after making the radio call to the EOD (explosive ordinance demolition) alert team. “How in the hell do you know what that dumb bird was doing? He almost smashed through our windshield just a few seconds ago.”
“Believe me, Kaminski. I know. I know that bird and he just saved our butts.”
Then Terry declared, “But we can’t hang around here. The bad guys could be nearby waiting to blast us .” Then, on opening his side window, Terry shouted at the raven. “Thanks, Omar. Thank you my friend. You did great.”
Kaminski was certain that his driver was bezerk, just plain nuts to be yelling at a raven. “Are you nuts, Corporal? What do you mean that bird saved us?”
“Believe me. I know it sounds crazy, but that is one very smart raven,” Terry responded while motioning for the raven to approach. Kaminski just shook his head in disbelief as the raven flew over and landed on top of the cab.
“Omar, can you go up and look around? Are there any bad guys around that might soon start shooting at us.”
The raven flew away just a bit and circled along both sides of the road, first ahead and then behind the truck. It returned and landed on the hood of the truck. Then to the even greater amazement of Kaminski, Omar declared, “Not to worry, Terry. There’s nobody around, but I’m glad I noticed the recently disturbed dirt along the edge of the pavement. Somebody placed a big explosive device there recently. It wasn’t there when you went to the Green Zone earlier.”
Kaminski’s jaw dropped in disbelief. And from the back of the truck Lopez shouted, “Are you actually talking to that big bird in front of us? What gives? Why are we stopped here?”
Terry calmed his two armed escorts as best he could, explaining that the raven spotted what was clearly a likely explosive device that could have blown them all to bits. And then he added,
“My raven friend says there are no bad guys in the immediate area. We can wait here until the EOD boys arrive. You guys make sure no other vehicles come too close. That bomb in right up in front of us.”
While waiting for the EOD team to come and disarm the roadside bomb, Terry had to explain about Omar. The raven remained on the hood of the truck, listening to Terry and carefully eyeing the other two men in the truck.
“This is nuts, just plain nuts, Terry. I see it and I hear it,” Kaminski declared, “but I can’t believe it. You and that big bird are actually talking to each other and it showed you that there is a bomb out there.”
By this time Lopez had stopped a couple vehicles approaching from behind them and explained about the bomb. Soon an EOD team approached and took control of the area, but Terry told them that he couldn’t wait because he had to get the pouches to the airport before the plane to Washington took off.
Finally, Terry asked Omar, “Can we safely drive onto the median and then continue on to the airfield?”
Omar flew around a bit and then returned declaring that it looked clear. “Great, Omar. You lead on and we’ll follow. I have to get to Base Operations as fast as possible. Thanks again. I’ll see you outside my barracks in a bit.”
“Are you going to the chow line like you said?” Omar asked.
Terry laughed and admitted that he’d forgotten all about being hungry. “ Yes, I’ll see you after my breakfast. Let’s go.”
On arriving at the Base Operation building on the flight line, Terry and his guards entered carrying the important diplomatic pouches. The fellow behind the dispatch counter pointed out the pilot of the courier flight and Terry turned to approach the major who was filling out some paperwork related to his flight plan.
But before he could cross the room to reach the pilot the captain from his unit came up to question why Terry was a half-hour late getting to Base Operations. The two guards were still at Terry’s side. Before Terry could explain about being delayed by the discovery of a roadside bomb, Sergeant Kaminski interrupted, “You aren’t going to believe what happened, Captain. It’s the wildest thing I’ve ever seen.” Then Lopez added, “We wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Corporal King’s raven.”
“Hold it,” the captain said, holding his hands out in front of him. “Raven? Bomb? What’s this all about?”
Before answering, Terry suggested, “Excuse me, sir, let me first get the pouches over to the pilot of the courier flight. He’s standing right over there.”
“Uh, yes. Go ahead and get that done, but don’t go far. I want your explanation for all of this and your delay.” Terry and Kaminski moved over to the major and took care of the transfer of the
pouches and attendant paperwork. But in the meantime and very animated Private Lopez tried to explain the incident with the bomb, the raven and Corporal King’s conversations with the bird.
“Lopez, have you been drinking?” the captain demanded.
“No, sir, not a drop. I never drink. I don’t drink at all.”
By the time that Terry and Kaminski returned to the captain, they noticed he was agitated and shaking his head in disbelief. “What kind of bull crap are you three trying to hand me?” he barked.
“It’s the honest to god truth, Captain,” Kaminski replied. “That bird warned us of the bomb being on the edge of the road and Corporal King wisely stopped the truck. Then the EOD guys came and sure enough there was an improvised explosive device there just below the dirt. That bird saw it and King knew what the bird was telling him. But the strangest part was Corporal King actually conversing with the critter. I’ve never heard of such a thing and wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen and heard it all.”
“Okay, okay you three. You all be in my office at 1300 hours. I want a full report, the captain insisted.
“Yes, sir,” the three replied in unison.
“I’m starving,” Terry declared. “Let’s hustle over to the mess hall and see if they are still serving breakfast.”
In about an hour, by the time that Terry finished his meal and started walking back toward his barracks, the rumors were flying about the experience. It was just noon when Terry’s sergeant strode into the barracks and reached Terry’s cubicle. “The captain wants to see you, Corporal”.
“I know, Sarge. He told me to be in his office at 1300.”
“No. He wants to see you right now. Get your butt over there.”
Terry replied, “Okay, okay. I’m on my way. But why in the hell does he want me now and not when he told me earlier. Let me get my clothes changed.” The sergeant didn’t respond, except to motion with his hand, which clearly said “move it.”
On the way out of his barracks Terry noticed a raven perched atop a telephone pole. “Omar, is that you?” he called out, but the bird didn’t respond. It was then that Terry saw three more ravens flying high above. “Where are you, Omar?” Terry muttered as he continued over to his headquarters building.
When Terry reached the captain’s office he noticed that there was another captain and a lieutenant in there too. “Come on in, Corporal,” the captain said and motioned with a wave of his hand. “Have a seat there next to Lieutenant Howard. He’s from the intelligence office. Captain Cromwell, next to him, is from the security section.” nodded to the other officers and tentatively sat down. It was a bit crowded in that small space in front of the captain’s desk. “I suppose this is about what you heard over at Base Ops,” he nervously declared.
“That’s right, Corporal. We want to get the whole story. What actually happened?”
So Terry explained everything, recounting the whole story from first meeting with the talking raven, the events of the trip to and from the Green Zone and the verified discovery by the EOD team of the roadside bomb. The officers listened intently, though the lieutenant clearly showed doubt in his facial expressions. When Terry was done there was a disturbing long silence in the room.
“Can you show us this raven friend of yours, Corporal?” asked Captain Cromwell.
“I’m not sure, sir. I don’t know where he is. He usually finds me but doesn’t respond to my calls. I do know that he is very wary,” Terry replied.
“You must realize,” Cromwell continued, “that this amazing bird of yours could be a valuable asset for us. He could save lives and perhaps even perform reconnaissance that we couldn’t do in many areas. It’s important to us.”
“I understand, sir, but believe me when I say I can’t just bring him in anytime I want. It’s up to
him, not me.”
“Okay, but we want to know the very next time he comes to you,” Cromwell added.
“What are you going to do? Capture him and put him in a cage like a trained monkey? I won’t help you do that, no, not at all.” Terry replied, a tone on annoyance clear in his voice.
“We’re done for now, Corporal. You’re dismissed,” Terry’s captain declared. “We’ll discuss this and get with you later.”
After Terry left, his captain explained to Cromwell and Howard that King was scheduled to be transferred to Kuwait next week. He even suggested that they should perhaps forget the whole thing and save themselves some problematic discussions up the chain of command. “By next week at this time the whole matter could be moot.”
Terry didn’t sleep very well that night for worrying about Omar and what his superiors might choose to do with him. So before sunrise he got up, dressed and headed for the motor pool and the adjacent salvage yard. He hoped to fine Omar still roosting for the night in one of the several derelict Humvees.
The sun was just beginning to rise and twilight now bright enough that Terry could see across the open area toward the collection of battle damaged vehicles. “Omar, it’s Terry. Are you in there?” he called out. A variety of small creatures, mice or rats or something could be heard scurrying about, disturbed by the morning intruder. “Omar, where are you?”
Soon a flapping of wings and the scratching of claws on metal parts could be heard. “Yes, Terry. I’m over here in the Humvee by the barbed wire fence.”
“Oh good. I’m glad I found you. We need to talk.”
“Have you anything to eat?” Omar asked. “Have you been to that chow line thing you told me about?”
“Sorry, no. I haven’t had my breakfast yet. But oh, I do have a candy bar here in my shirt pocket. Do you eat candy?”
“Yes. I eat most anything I can find but generally prefer meat or fish. We ravens are practically omnivorous. Sometimes we capture small rodents or eat dead animals killed on the roadside, but I haven’t been out yet to see what’s available.”
“Well here, you can have this if you like,” Terry responded as he tossed his candy bar onto the hood of the Humvee.”
“You might have at least unwrapped it for me,” said Omar as he scurried over the vehicle to grab the offering.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Here, let me unwrap it.” And Terry continued, explaining about his meeting the three officers yesterday. But he hastened to add, “I won’t let them capture you or exploit your unusual abilities. I value you too much as a friend, one who saved my life on the road yesterday.”
“This stuff is pretty good,” Omar commented as he pecked enthusiastically at the candy bar. “I see from the writing on the wrapper that it’s called Baby Ruth. I never heard of food like this.”
“Listen, Omar, I have another trip to make to the Green Zone this morning, for the regular mail run. Could you see your way to escort me again?”
“Of course, Terry. Yes, I can see quite well, but to your request for me to accompany you, yes I’d be happy to go with you. I do have one minor request however.”
“Could I ride part of the way in your truck? I am intrigued by what I see in this Humvee where I spend the night and I imagine myself driving down the highway. It must be a lot easier than flapping my wings all the time.”
Terry laughed. Sure, you can sit in the cab next to me, but would it be easier if you rode on top. You could dig your claws into the canvas over the cargo box and hold on while I drive down the roadway. That would make it easier for you to fly up to check on things ahead of us, don’t you think?”
“I want to ride inside the cab at least for a bit,” Omar declared.
“Okay, but let’s do it here within the airport perimeter where it’s safe and you don’t have to be on the lookout for dangers ahead,” Terry suggested.
“Are you going to tie your green scarf on the side of the door again?”
“Yes, I’ll do that gladly. I am scheduled to leave here at 0830 hours, so look for me here in the motor pool area at that time and you can ride with me, inside the cab until we leave the fenced area. See you later. I’m headed to the chow hall now. Bye.”
Omar was waiting when Terry opened the door to his truck. He’d left the passenger side window open and there was Omar perched on the steering wheel. “You can’t ride there, my friend. I need to drive. Maybe you should sit on the top of the seat back beside me. That way you can see where we are going.”
And that’s exactly where Omar decided to ride, fascinated as he was by the things that Terry had to do to make the vehicle go and steer along the roads within the airport grounds. When they got to the security gate to leave the airport complex and head toward the Green Zone, one of the guards noticed the big black raven inside the truck cab. It was only after waving Terry on through did the guard think that he had just seen that raven everyone was talking about, but it was too late to stop the mail truck. The guard did observe the bird soon fly out of the window and then land atop the canvas cover, somehow managing to hold on as the truck sped away.
When Terry arrived at the usual mail pickup point within the Green Zone, Omar was no longer atop the truck. He had flown up onto a power line pole just outside the security check point to await Terry’s return. There was a surprised awaiting Terry as he loaded the day’s mail bags and boxes into the back of his truck. An Iraqi civilian approach him saying an important passenger would be going along on the drive back to the airport.
“Yes sir, I have room for a passenger. Who is it?” Terry responded.
“It’s the government’s minister of finance, a very important man,” the civilian explained. We are having him ride with you to prevent an assassination attempt that might occur if he traveled in his usual limousine. We will send that car on ahead of you, but the minister will be riding in your truck and the enemy will not suspect that such an important person to be riding there. I have cleared this with your headquarters.”
“Uh, well yes, I suppose that’s okay, but I have a suggestion,” Terry proposed. “It might be even safer if your minister’s limo followed me rather than leading the way. I can’t explain but it would be much safer following me.”
“Very well,” the civilian agreed. He had no way of knowing that Omar would be alerting Terry of hazards ahead.
Soon a well-dressed and distinguished looking man arrived and entered Terry’s truck, sitting himself in the passenger seat. The man was helped by the civilian who inquired about the green scarf that was tied to the door handle. “Do you want me to remove this rag?” the man asked.
“No, please don’t. That’s my luck charm that I keep there on all my mail runs. Leave it there, please.”
The minister seemed curious but said nothing other than to tell Terry that he was ready to go to the airport. Soon Terry headed out of the Green Zone security area and toward the airport road that he had driven so many times. It comforted him to see Omar flying above and ahead as the truck sped away. The black limousine followed some fifty yards behind.
They had driven no more than three miles from the security of the Green Zone when Terry noticed Omar circling high above a walled fence ahead and off to the right. That was a signal that there might be dangerous people waiting in ambush. Terry pressed the accelerator all the way to the floor and suggested to the minister that it would be wise to get down and out of sight.
“Why do you tell me that, driver?” the minister asked. “The floor of your truck is dusty and dirty.”
“Forget about the dust, sir. There might be attackers up ahead. Get down, down now.”
Dutifully but not confident that there really was something ahead that his driver knew about, the minister followed Terry’s suggesting and huddled down so as not to be visible to possible assassins along the road.
Terry was now going over 60 miles per hour and the truck bounced quite a bit over the occasionally broken pavement. The limousine soon accelerated as well but remained now a quarter mile behind. As it reached the walled area that Omar indicated gunfire broke out and a rocket propelled grenade struck the limousine. A loud explosion ensued as the vehicle behind Terry blew apart. Terry kept his accelerator pedal to the floor and the truck safely passed by the dangerous area that Omar warned about.
Terry reached for his portable radio and reported the attack, but said nothing about the minister being safely within the cab of his truck. Cautiously the minister returned to his seat, saying “How did you know that there were enemy attackers back there?”
“All I can say, sir, is that a little bird told me. Make that a big bird. Are you okay?”
The minister suggested, “Are you sure it wasn’t that luck charm of a green cloth or rag you tied to the door handle?”
“Must have been,” Terry quietly responded.
Terry dropped the Finance Minister off at the passenger terminal and then took the mail to the postal facility, as was his usual practice. Waiting for him was a message from his commanding officer telling him to go ASAP to Battalion headquarters and to report to a Colonel Addams in the intelligence office. That puzzled and worried Terry a great deal, for he felt sure that it meant he would be ordered to bring his raven friend, Omar, for some kind of examination and likely exploitation. This was not good.
He returned his truck to the motor pool, but before heading to the office of Colonel Addams he headed to the area where Omar was that morning in the derelict Humvee. The sun was high and it was getting hot. He approached the vehicle and called out Omar’s name but there was no sign of his winged friend. In fact there was no sign of life at all in the mid-day heat. Reluctantly he returned to his barracks, deciding that it would be prudent to change into a clean uniform before reporting to the colonel.
Terry put his little MP3 music player in his pocket, the kind with a digital voice recorder and barely bigger than a ten-pack of chewing gum. He hoped to be able to record Omar’s voice if they ever met again. He was hopeful but note sure at all.
Just as he rounded the corner of his barracks he spotted a pair of ravens perched atop a lamp post, the very same one where Omar first appeared several days ago. Then he heard Omar call to him. Because the two ravens looked pretty much alike from that distance he wasn’t sure right away which one was Omar. It wasn’t until one of the birds flew down and landed on the back of the lawn chair where Terry usually went to read in the shade of the building that he was sure.
Quickly Terry turned on his little recorder. And called out Omar? Is that you?”
“Yes, it is. Too bad about the big limousine getting blown up.”
“Yeah, and I don’t guess the driver survived the rocket blast. I sure am grateful for your warning me of those bad guys behind that wall. Once again you saved my life. Did you know that you also saved the life of the VIP who should have been in that car?”
“No, I didn’t. I saw that you had somebody with you, but I had no way of knowing it was somebody important,” Omar added.
“We have to talk, my friend. I have been ordered to talk with some colonel over in the intelligence section. I’m sure it concerns you and I’m worried that my superiors are intent on using you.”
“Not to worry, Terry. I’m about to leave for Egypt. It’s getting too hot around here. My friend, the one up on the lamp post there, and I are just about to leave and I wanted to stop by to bid you farewell. I don’t think we’ll meet again.”
“It’s probably for the best. I’ll be leaving as well, next Wednesday in fact. The last weeks of my tour here in the Mid-East will be spent down in Kuwait. Do you know where that is?”
“I know it well. It’s about 500 miles South of here and sometimes I go to and from Egypt that way because there’s water along the way and usually food as well. I follow the river.”
“Safe journey, my friend. I will always remember you,” Terry declared, with a sense of sadness.
He watched the two ravens take flight and climb up high in the southern sky. They gradually disappeared from view as two black specks, Terry returned his barracks. Terry turned off his recorder believing that he would not again hear his friend’s voice live.
After changing into fresh clothes, Terry headed over to Battalion Headquarters and to the office of Colonel Addams. Soon he was standing before the stern-faced colonel who began interrogating the nervous corporal about the talking raven. It wasn’t until after a long series of questions that Terry was allowed to explain that Omar was gone and not likely to return for some time, at least until the summer hot weather was over.
The colonel was not at all happy, but he finally explained that any usefulness of the bird and Terry’s relationship with it was lost forever. “I suppose, Corporal King, that we should be thankful that your bird friend saved you twice and the Finance Minister as well. That’s all. You are dismissed. Good luck.”
Terry couldn’t have been more relieved than to get that meeting over with. Omar’s departure clearly solved what could have become a stressful situation. He headed by his own unit’s office to see if his paperwork was completed and the Kuwait transfer was confirmed.
“Here you are, Terry,” the administration clerk said as he handed Terry his orders and explained the details of the transfer to Kuwait. “You’re to fly down on a C-17 transport at 0700 hours this Wednesday. Report to Base Operations at least a half hour early.”
Just as Terry was about to leave, his captain came into the room. “I heard about your close call on the trip back from the Green Zone this morning, Corporal. Was it your bird friend that came to your rescue again?”
“Yes, sir. He warned me in time to escape before the shooting started.”
“The Finance Minister told the folks in the passenger terminal all about it. He was impressed by your lucky green scarf, your good luck charm he claimed. In fact, he suggested that we give you a commendation for saving his life.
“Not necessary, Captain. The real hero was Omar, my amazing raven friend. I’m just glad to be getting out of here in one piece. That’s the important thing.”
“Well, if I don’t see you again before you leave for Kuwait I want to wish you the best of luck and a safe journey. You’ve earned the chance to get out of here and not to have to run the gauntlet to the Green Zone again.”
Terry thanked the captain for his words and returned to his barracks.
Wednesday morning Terry reported to the flight line with his duffel bag and backpack for the trip to Kuwait. He had to wait until the cargo was loaded aboard the huge C-17 transport. The loadmaster was supervising the ground crew in placing three wrecked and battle damaged Humvees into the cargo bay. Soon the vehicles were tied down and walk-on passengers permitted to board.
The loadmaster briefed the passengers and made sure their luggage was properly stowed for the flight from Baghdad to the joint Kuwait-Coalition force airport West of Kuwait City.
Soon the massive cargo door and ramp at the rear of the plane closed and the jet engines roared to life. Within fifteen minutes they were airborne.
When the loadmaster gave the word that passengers were allowed to move about the cargo bay, Terry walked over to inspect the three badly damaged Humvees strapped securely to the deck tie-downs. He looked curiously around and into the vehicles and was told that they were being taken to a repair facility to be fixed up and later returned to Baghdad.
When Terry looked within the middle Humvee he noticed something that immediately got his full attention. It was a feather, a black raven’s feather. “Was this the same vehicle that Omar had used for night roosting?” he wondered aloud. And then he spotted something else, clear evidence that this indeed was that very Humvee. On the floor on the driver’s side he spotted a Baby Ruth candy wrapper. “Oh my god,” he gasped. “This is amazing.”Terry’s assignment in Kuwait was to the repair facility’s driver section. His job was to test drive vehicles coming out of the shops before their shipment back to Iraqi bases. It was very easy duty and much safer than his previous mail runs to and from the Green Zone. But what he really thought about was finishing this duty and returning to the good old USA in just a few weeks.
Then one day, just a week before he was scheduled to fly home, he was instructed to test drive a Humvee. It was one just repaired and ready to be returned to Baghdad. Terry reviewed the list of things to check. This would be the final step before the vehicle would be loaded onto another C-17.
To his great surprise he discovered a Baby Ruth wrapper under the driver’s seat. He couldn’t believe that the crew in the repair shops had left the wrapper there. Everything else about the Humvee was obviously re-worked and fixed. Yet there it was. That brought a big grin to his face.
Out on the test track, really just the perimeter road around the airfield, Terry drove the vehicle and tested everything indicated on the checklist. He listened to some music on his little MP3 player as he drove around the course. He stopped and dutifully filled in the forms required before signing off the completion of the test. Then he parked the now-certified and ready-to-go vehicle in the lot where others stood prior to being transports back to Iraq.
Just as he got out and started to walk across the lot to the office where he would turn in the paperwork, a voice called to him saying, “Hello Terry. Fancy meeting you here. Is that the Humvee I slept in back up in Baghdad?” Right away Terry recognized his friend’s voice. Quickly he turned on his little player-recorded once more.
“Well, I’ll be,” Terry answered. “It’s you.”
“You’ll be what?” Omar responded.
“I’ll be …. nothing, I am so delighted to see you again. How long have you been here in Kuwait?”
“Not long. My companions and I took our time coming down the Tigris and stayed a few days near where the Euphrates joined it. It was hot but at least there was water and we found ample food in the marshes and lakes.”
“How long will you stay here?” asked the amazed Terry.
“Not long at all, I’m afraid. It’s even hotter here than up in Baghdad. We head West to Egypt before sunrise tomorrow, but I wanted to take the chance of stopping here in hopes of seeing you once more. “
“Well, I’m glad you did and that you have safely gotten his far,” Terry exclaimed happily.
“We almost didn’t make it,” Omar declared.
“Oh, what happened?”
“As we were flying low over Basra, down in the very southern part of Iraq, there was some sort of celebration going on. Dozens of people were firing their guns randomly up in the air. I barely escaped getting shot. One of my companions was struck and killed so senselessly. Those people are idiots to shoot like that. It wasn’t hazardous just to us either. Some of their bullets fell back down onto people in the streets. More than likely some were hit, maybe even killed. ““That’s too bad. I am so happy that you are all right. Are there more hazards along the rest of your route to Egypt?”
“Not that kind, thankfully. Our main concern is finding water and food across Saudi Arabia. There will be long stretches between oases and even the smallest of streams. We’ll take our time and hope to be there in a few weeks,” Omar explained, adding “Too bad we can’t ride in your airplanes. We would be there in hours.”
“I am confident you’ll make it okay. After all you’ve made the trip before,” Terry responded. “But will I see you before you leave?”
“I’m afraid not. We have a place on the coast just north of Kuwait City where we rest and feed on fish. We need to leave here with full bellies for the long trip over the desert.”
” At least I got to see you once more, my friend. I hope you can meet another human and talk more with my kind one day. You are indeed one very special raven.”
Omar once again bid Terry farewell and took off toward the coast. And for the last time Terry knew it would really be their final farewell. He waved as Omar headed into the eastern sky. But at least he now had more recorded conversation that he could listen to whenever he felt lonely for his feathered friend.
One morning about a week before Terry was supposed to be shipped back to the States his Sergeant called him into the Motor Pool dispatch office. Terry didn’t think too much about such a command, but when the Sergeant started talking, Terry was amazed. “Corporal King,” the sergeant began. “Is it true you used a raven to protect you on your road trips up in the Baghdad area, and that you actually talked with that bird?”
“Yes, that’s right Sarge. How did you find out about that?”
“There’s some guy from the press who’s been tracking you down and wants to interview you about that. He’s in the major’s office right now and you need to get over there right away.”
“Do I have to Sarge? I don’t want to talk to anybody about that. I though this was behind me when I came down here.”
“You don’t have a choice, Corporal. The major says he wants you over there right now. So get a move on.”
On arriving at the major’s office, Terry tucked in his shirt, wiped his hand over his forehead to straighten his hair a bit and knocked on the office door. “Corporal King reporting as ordered, sir.”
“Come in Corporal. This fellow here is Martin Kovacs from the World News Service. He wants to with you about your experience in Baghdad. It seems your reputation has followed you down here.”“I don’t have anything to say to the press, Major. I explained all that I had to the Intelligence people back up there. Are you ordering me to be interviewed?”
“No, Corporal. It’s strictly up to you whether you want to talk to the press,” the major answered.
Kovacs extended his hand and spoke to Terry in a friendly manner, beginning by saying “Your life and that of an important Iraqi official was saved by the raven that warned you of dangers along the road to the airport from the Green Zone. That makes you a hero and Americans need to know about all of this.”
“Sorry, Mr. Kovacs, but I ain’t no hero. If anyone is it is that bird, not me. And I have no idea where he is now. The last I saw of him he was headed for Egypt along with some others.”
“I understand Corporal. Your modesty is refreshing. Perhaps you can at least tell me whether or not you actually spoke with the bird. I’d been told by my associates up in Baghdad that such was the case. Can you confirm that much at least?”
“Yes, I did speak with him and he spoke we me. We understood each other perfectly. But I say again that Omar is the hero here, not me.”
“Omar? Did you say his name is Omar?” Kovacs inquired, writing notes in a little notebook as Terry said what little he intended to say.”
“Yes, that’s right, but I really don’t want to say any more. That’s all behind me and soon I’ll be back home in the States and just forget everything about this got forsaken part of the world.”
“Are you sure about this, Corporal?” the major asked.
“Yes sir, I don’t want to be interviewed or say anything more. Can I leave now?”
The major shrugged his shoulders, looked at Kovacs and declared, “Corporal King is not obliged to say anything that he does not want to, Mr. Kovacs.”
Slowly and tentatively Terry backed toward the door, saluted the major and then quickly left the office.
“Major, that man has a great human interest story to tell. Can’t you order him to answer my questions or something. I also need some kind of proof that he really did talk with the raven.
If this hits the wires it would be very embarrassing if the story can’t be proven. I am not sure I want to put this out without more information.”
“Sorry, Mr. Kovacs. I’m afraid that’s your problem. I can’t legally make him talk.”
Kovacs thanked the major for his bringing Corporal King by and hastily left the office. He wanted to catch Terry before he got away. A few yards short of the Post Exchange snack bar he overtook Terry and asked, “Wait up, Corporal. I just want to know if you are acquainted with a Sergeant Kaminski or Private Lopez. Are you?”
Terry stopped, obviously irritated that Kovacs was following him. “Yes, I know those guys. What of it?”
“Look Corporal, let me buy you a cup of coffee or a soft drink here in the snack bar. I promise I won’t badger you about this, but there is something you ought to know.”
“All right, but under two conditions. First, whatever I might say is strictly off the record. I will deny every saying anything.”
“Agreed,” Kovacs replied as they walked over to the outdoor snack bar patio. “And your second condition?”
“No notes, no secretly recorded conversations. I want to frisk you to be sure and you’re to put that bag way over at the table by the trash can there. You’ve probably got a recording device in it.”
Kovacs threw up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay … whatever you say. Let’s sit here a few minutes. I’ll tell you what I already know, much more than I explained to the major back there.”
Kovacs stepped over to drop off his bag and then went to the window to order drinks for the two of them, On returning he began, “You say you’ve heard of Kaminski and Lopez. Right?”
“Yes, I knew them briefly. They were guarding my vehicle when I picked up some diplomatic pouches from the U.S. Embassy. But I suspect you already knew that.”
“Yes, Corporal, I did. But did you know that they told me the you were part of a special team training ravens to work with our troops? They said that your raven friend was part of that project and you trained it to do reconnaissance.”
“Are you kidding?” Terry responded in amazement. No way. That’s a load of crap.”
“Is it? Then why did the Iraqi Finance Minister disclose that you and your raven saved his life on that drive from the Green Zone to the airport? He even told State Department people that you should get a medal. Did you know that?”
“We are off the record. Right?” Terry asked.
“Yes. Look, see I am not taking notes and you have already determined that I am not recording our conversation. So what can you tell me?” Kovacs pressed.
Terry took another sip of his cola and said. I tell you what. I’ll let you hear part of my conversation with my raven friend, Omar. But that’s all I intend to do. You’ve got this all wrong?”
“Don’t tell me that you actually recorded your raven talking to you,” Kovacs excitedly retorted. “Yes, yes indeed I would like to hear it. Where is the recording?”
Terry reached into his pocket and pulled out his little MP3 player and voice recording device. Then he said, “If I let you listen to this will you agree to leave me alone?” And Kovacs nodded enthusiastically. Then Terry put the ear pieces into Kovac’s ears and turned on the player. Kovacs heard the two conversations and was amazed but still skeptical.
Terry retrieved his player and returned it to his pocket. “Well, now do you believe me? What you heard were the last two conversations I had with Omar before he departed for Egypt. Are we done now?”
Kovac’s mind was racing to figure out how to glean more information from Terry. “Well, Corporal, I heard what you claim to be the raven talking and I guess I don’t have any reason to doubt your word. This is amazing. The only other knowledge I have of any raven talking was from some of Edgar Allen Poe’s writings. That was a bit of fiction, I think, about Poe’s pet raven named Grip. Back in those days there weren’t any recording devices though.”
“Never heard of him,” Terry replied. “You’ll just have to take my word that what you heard was Omar’s voice.” And now Terry was growing impatient for he sensed that Kovacs wasn’t going to let the matter drop. He decided to string Kovacs along, remembering what Omar had told him about the British officer who’s taught him to speak and read. And before Kovacs could ask more questions Terry continued.
“Okay, I’ll tell more about what Omar explained to me when I asked him how he learned to speak.” Kovacs leaned closer, his interest peaked at the prospect of Terry giving him an exclusive account, regretting deeply that there would be no note-taking or recording of this exchange.
“Yes, please do tell me more,” Kovacs urged intently.
“Well,” Terry began with his imagination now running rampant and hoping to spin a yarn that Kovacs would have to chase down elsewhere. “Omar told me that there was once, years ago, a secret British Intelligence project in Egypt. That was around the time of the Suez crisis. Anyway, the Brits captured several ravens, including Omar, and worked with them for some time to train them to speak and perform useful things for the British army. Omar was the last bird in the project before it ended and apparently the best trained. But one day he escaped when a keeper left the cage open. Yet Omar retained his ability to speak and understand English, though he never learned Arabic or other languages.”
Kovacs sat stunned at the words Terry spoke. He believed it all and felt he had to research the story more. Terry could tell that the reporter was swallowing the tale hook line and sinker. He fought the impulse to smile or laugh out loud.
“So you see, Mr. Kovacs, that’s the whole story. And now Omar is gone and free from exploitation by either the Brits or Americans. And that’s why I am reluctant to say any more about it. But remember your promise, you said all of this is off the record.”
“Yeah, sure. Off the record. That’s what I said and you see that I have taken no notes. It’s quite a story though, you’ll have to admit.”
“Yes, but it’s Omar’s and not mine. Remember that. He’s the real hero here,” Terry reminded as he stood to leave. Kovacs simply stayed there in the chair on the deck of that snack bar as Terry left to return to his duty station. Terry knew that Kovacs wouldn’t let the story go.
Within a week Terry was on his way home, back to the good old USA by way of Ramstein, Germany. It was a marvelous feeling to be away from the Middle East, the oppressive heat, dust and ever-present dangers.
When the contract carrier’s airliner landed in the wee hours of the morning at that huge and very busy air base, Terry and his fellow passengers were told to proceed to the military passenger terminal and processing center. There he could convert his military script and local currency into dollars, stop by the cafeteria for breakfast and wait for the afternoon flight to take them all across the Atlantic to the States. The only purchase Terry made at the Exchange store was a couple paperback books to read.
It was 2:00 in the afternoon before the dozens of troops were once again loaded on a plane for the flight home. They would be in the air more than eight hours on their flight to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Instead of reading, as he though he might, Terry managed to sleep most of the time, except for the meal service provided. That was another breakfast.
On landing at McGuire the passengers were herded once more into a processing center. There most could arrange for other flights to their home bases around the country. Terry hoped to be mustered out and returned to civilian status right there, but the Army had other plans for him. He would be sent down to Texas to Fort Hood for final processing and eventual discharge.
During the several stops though the McGuire processing area, Terry was accosted by a Captain Gibbs. who insisted that he accompany him to a special debriefing area. Dutifully Terry followed the captain and was told to sit in a chair opposite a standard gray G.I. desk. The captain then sat behind the desk, opened a manila folder and began, “Corporal King, you appear to have become somewhat of a celebrity. The State Department has forward to the Department of the Army a citation for your special services to the Finance Minister of Iraq.” From the officer’s name tag Terry learned the captain’s name was Anderson.
“Oh no, sir. There must be some mistake. I don’t know anything about that. All I want to do is get back home, get discharged and get on with my life. My parents are expecting me.” Terry pleaded.
“Don’t be so modest, Corporal. You must certainly know that what you did in Baghdad has been recognized at the highest levels. You are being awarded a special Iraqi government medal. This brings great credit to you and the U.S. Army. So, I am therefore instructing you to proceed to the Pentagon and to report to the office of the Secretary of the Army at precisely 1000 hours two days from now. That will give you time to be issued a new uniform, get yourself a haircut and presentable for a ceremony and photo session with the Secretary and the Iraqi Ambassador. Any questions?”
“But sir,” Terry replied.
“No buts, Corporal. This is an order. You will report as instructed. Is that clear?” the captain declared firmly.
“I guess I don’t have any choice, do I, sir?”“None at all. We will have a car take you to Fort Meade within the hour. There you will be given your new uniform and put up in the NCO guest quarters awaiting another car to bring you to the Pentagon. You may, of course, call your parents from there. Do you need any money? Have you received your pay?”
Terry’s head was swimming, he was overwhelmed by what he’d been told lies ahead for him.
“This is all a mistake, Captain. I don’t deserve any medals or to be dragged before the top brass.”
“Yes you do, son. And I’ll be accompanying you, so relax end enjoy your moment in the sun. It’ll all be over in two days and then we’ll get you homeward bound. Relax.”
The evening before Terry as supposed to go to the Pentagon for the awards ceremony he received a phone call in his room. It was from a Marylyn Cohen who identified herself as deputy assistant producer for the Night Talk television show. She invited him to come up to New York City for an appearance with show host Allen Kimball, a nationwide late night show often featuring celebrities.
“I’m sorry, Miss Cohen,” Terry explained. “I’m just not interested. Just as soon as the Army gets me out of here and finally discharges me, I’m headed home to see my family. Sorry but I never heard of Night Talk and in any case doing a TV show is not my thing.”
“But Corporal King, this could bring you nationwide notoriety and perhaps help ease your transition into a civilian career. You might even land a good job after people see you on national television. It never hurts to be known and as a war hero you owe it to your fellow soldiers to promote the U.S. Army. Don’t you agree?” pressed the exuberant assistant producer, whose job it was to line up guests for the show.
“Sorry, I am just not interested. Goodbye.” The feeling of being pushed one way and then another by all kinds of people, reporters, Pentagon officials and now TV producers was greatly upsetting.
The Pentagon ordeal was finally over by 11:30 the next morning. Terry followed Captain Anderson down the hall toward the escalators, hoping to be at last on his way out of that place. But it was not to be. Soon the two were stopped by an Army colonel who introduced himself as an assistant to the chief of intelligence for Middle Eastern affairs. Terry was instructed to go with the colonel. The captain was told to wait down in the lower lobby and advised that Corporal King might be delayed for an hour or so.
In the offices of the Intelligence section Terry was immediately confronted by four other officers, two majors, a captain and a lieutenant. There was also a gray-haired civilian present when Terry was asked to take a seat at a large conference table. The colonel sat at the head of the table and Terry told so sit on the opposite end facing the colonel. This was really intimidating for the young corporal and made less so by the lieutenant’s inquiry as to whether Terry would like some coffee, a soft drink or water. He declined.
“Well Corporal,” the colonel began. “Congratulations on being awarded the Iraqi Meritorious Service Medal. But you are not here now for further congratulations. It seems that you may have divulged classified and very sensitive information. We are here to examine your role and determine just how much information you may have disclosed.”
The civilian added, “Yes, Corporal King, we want to know what you told one Martin Kovacs of the World News Service.”
“Nothing much, sir. We chatted a bit in Kuwait and I explained to him, off the record, about my friend, Omar the raven. That’s all.”
“The talking raven you used for secret reconnaissance missions in Iraq?” Pressed the civilian.
“No sir. I never had anything to do with secret stuff like that, nothing at all,” Terry loudly exclaimed with annoyance and clear frustration in his tone. “What do you mean?”
“Look Corporal,” the colonel interrupted, “we have been told that you were part of a special secret operation to train birds, in this case ravens, to gather intelligence in Iraq. Do you deny that?”
“No way, Colonel. I don’t know anything about operations of that kind. All I did was become a friend of one raven, one calling himself Omar, and he voluntarily accompanied me on my drives to and from the Green Zone from the Baghdad airport. That’s all there was to it. “
“Do you know a Sergeant Kaminski or a Private Lopez?” the civilian asked.
“Yes, sir. They were two guards that accompanied me on one trip to pick up and deliver diplomatic pouches from our embassy to the courier flight returning VIP’s to the States. That’s all I know about them.”
“We have a report from Martin Kovacs, who interviewed both of those soldiers, that states you were a member of the special bird training and intelligence team. Do you deny that?” If you divulged anything about that secret operation you are in a great deal of trouble,” the civilian pressed in a now threatening manner.
“I do. Nothing of that sort ever happened. If there was a special team trying to use ravens like that, I never heard of it,” Terry replied. And now Terry was wishing he’d never talked to Kovacs at all. He also didn’t know why Kaminski or Lopez would say such things about him.
“All right, Corporal. Let’s try this,” the colonel suggested. “You tell us everything about how you first encountered your talking raven, how you managed to use his services and how he saved the Iraqi Finance Minister and you. We know that Kaminski and Lopez confirmed that you conversed with the bird. They heard you and saw how it warned you about a roadside bomb. Let’s hear your story from the beginning.”
Terry was now red in the face with frustration. He decided ask the lieutenant if he might have a can of cola or maybe some water. That, Terry felt, would give him a chance to gather his thoughts before yet again telling his story. The lieutenant got up and left the conference room, soon returning with a drink from a nearby vending machine.
After taking a small sip of the cola, a refreshing pause in the proceedings, suddenly Terry started talking. He recounted everything from that first encounter with Omar to the final trip with the Finance Minister. But then he paused and began laughing. The colonel and the others were puzzled and interrupted, demanding to know what was so funny. “Don’t you realize that this is a serious matter, Corporal?” the colonel admonished.
“Sorry, sir, but it just struck me how ridiculous that minister looked, in his expensive business suit down there on the floor of my very dusty truck. There was that VIP, hunched down and getting his suit all dirty and rumpled while I drove at breakneck speed past those bad guys. I just now realized how badly he looked when he later got out and went into the terminal to catch his flight.” It took Terry a moment or two to stop smiling and get serious once more.“Yes, I guess that was a sight, Corporal. But at least he was alive and safe thanks to your quick thinking.”
“No sir, thanks to Omar’s warning and probably thanks to the decision back in the Green Zone to have the minister forego his limousine for my truck,” Terry replied. “I had nothing to do with that choice.”
After Terry completed his full and detailed account of his relations with the raven, the colonel added, “Well, you certainly did have an interesting and unusual set of circumstances, but I didn’t hear anything about your participation in an intelligence project or training of birds. Do you have anything to add?”
“No, Colonel. That’s it. That’s the whole story and as I told you before I don’t know about any
secret projects like that or anything else. I was just a truck driver.”
The officers looked at each other and soon the colonel said, “We want to talk about this for a bit, Corporal. Would you please step into the next room and have a seat? We’ll be with you shortly.”
“Yes, sir,” Terry replied. He stood up and started to leave, but turned back nervously and decided to salute the colonel before leaving. The colonel belatedly returned the salute, a bit surprised that the corporal would do that, as the proceedings were not yet complete.
While Terry was out of the conference room the assembled officers discussed his testimony and concluded that Corporal King was probably actually part of any secret project. They were pretty much convinced that he was indeed just a truck driver who by chance encountered a talking bird. The civilian was the only holdout, but he acceded to the others and finally declared that they could let Terry go.
The lieutenant got up and went to call Terry back into the room. Terry was really nervous as he stood facing his interrogators. Great relief came over him when the colonel announced that the proceedings were over, that Terry could return to his unit. At last his ordeal seemed to be over.
“Lieutenant, would you please escort Corporal King to the lobby and tell Captain Gibbs that we have no further need to detain the man,” the colonel instructed. Terry saluted again, did an about face and followed the lieutenant out of the room. Soon they joined Captain Gibbs and the lieutenant explained that Corporal King was free to go.
After what seemed like an endless ordeal, Terry finally made it down to Fort Hood, Texas for his discharge and eventually arrived back home in Harlowton, Montana. Never did the rolling country just West of the mountains look so good to him. At last he could put the war in Iraq behind him, or so he thought.
Unfortunately, Terry’s old chums were frequently at him to describe what it like in Iraq, the war and what seemed to them as an exotic part of the world they never would know. His boyhood pals were grown up now, some with families of their own and others getting on in their careers.
Most were involved in ranching, though others found jobs in town. At the local cafe Terry was often greeted as a war hero, something he tried to dissuade.
Soon it became clear that he must decide on a job, career or something to do with his life now that the Army no longer provided a paycheck. All he really knew how to do was drive a truck and there weren’t very many opportunities along that line, not in his little home town. His father and mother told him there was no rush. He could stay with them as long as he liked. They were just so happy and relieved to have him safely back home. Yet he had to find something.
One day he read in a Post Office flyer that there were openings for rural delivery route drivers, the RFD folks who delivered the mail throughout the vast region around Harlowton. The notice even said that applicants with military service could receive preferential treatment in hiring. That seemed appealing to Terry, so he filled out some paperwork and applied, not really expecting to be chosen. Yet he was and could start work almost immediately. Life was suddenly good and it didn’t hurt that paychecks would again appear.
After a short period of training and learning his postal route under the supervision of the local post mistress, Terry was once more in the mail pickup and delivery business. This time he didn’t have to face the hazards of roadside bombs, bad guys shooting at him or the incessant noises of a combat theater. He quickly became intimately familiar with the 100 miles of his mail route and got to know a number of the postal patrons along the way.
He stopped to partake of his sandwich lunch at a roadside picnic area halfway along the route
one day and noticed a flock of ravens gathered around the overflowing trash barrel. He sat there in his mail truck, intrigued by their antics, raucous calls and occasional fights over choice bits of edible trash. Immediately he thought of Omar and began wondering about his old friend.
Did Omar ever make it all the way across the Saudi desert to his Egyptian destination? Was he getting acquainted with another human and conversing once more? Or was he reverting to his ordinary bird-like ways and interactions with other ravens? He would never know.
These and other thoughts often came to mind on Terry’s frequent lunchtime stops there. In fact he even mused about the whole idea of using ravens like Omar to carry little digital cameras. It might be possible, he thought, to have a little camera operated by a timing chip that took pictures every 30 seconds or so. It wouldn’t be a very large or cumbersome thing for a raven to carry, perhaps no bigger than a pack of chewing gum. It could be equipped with a memory chip for downloading onto an ordinary laptop computer. It could even be powered by a common AA battery. Omar, he was convinced, could be asked to fly over specific places to take pictures and return to his human colleague on a pre-arranged time table. Unlike a motorized drone aircraft, a circling raven would not attract attention of the enemy and therefore not to be shot at.
By Phil Rowe
Omar, the talking raven, finally reached his destination following a grueling week-long migration from Kuwait. Crossing the Saudi Arabian desert was an arduous journey, requiring stops at several oasis rest and watering places. Some were over 200 miles apart. The trip was too much for many of the several hundred ravens on the annual mass flight to escape the brutal summer heat of Iraq and environs. Dozens perished along the way.
Now it was time to rest, recuperate and settle in for the next half year before once again returning to the traditional wintering grounds up and down the Tigris river valley and around Baghdad. Here in Egypt Omar and his fellow ravens could enjoy the cooler climate along the Nile River and coastal lakes north of Cairo. Water and food were plentiful here.
One day on one of Omar’s frequent short trips up to the huge lake near the Nile River estuary, he chanced to see members of the U.S. Embassy Marine guard stopped along the shore. Their vehicle displayed an American flag which immediately reminded Omar of his encounter with a soldier back in Baghdad. Corporal Terry King befriended Omar back there and even shared a delightful Baby Ruth candy bar. Hoping that one of the marines down below might just happen to have such a treat, Omar flew down and landed near the military Jeep.
At first none of the four Marines noticed the appearance of that large raven. They were more interested in relaxing, taking a sun bath and reading some magazines. Perched atop a post just a few yards from the men Omar noticed that one of them was reading a newspaper called Stars and Stripes. And on the page opened to view was a story about Corporal King receiving an award for saving the life of the Iraqi Finance Minister.
“I know that soldier,” Omar declared. “I knew him over in Iraq. That is my friend Terry.”
One of the Marines looked over in Omar’s direction and without thinking responded, “Is that right? It says here he was able to save the minister because of a raven that pointed out bad guys along the road to the airport. Was that you?”
Before Omar could respond, another of the Marines there spoke up. “John. Are you actually talking to that dumb bird? What’s the matter with you? You’ve been out in this sun too long.”
Then Omar turned on the post and cocked his head, replying indignantly, “Dumb bird indeed. If I understand your language correctly, dumb means one who cannot talk. You can plainly hear that I am talking so I can’t be dumb. And yes, I am that bird.”With that all four Marines looked at Omar in disbelief. “The Lieutenant isn’t going to believe this guys. If we ever told him about this he’d put us in for a Section 8, a discharge for being nuts,” pronounced Private Simms, the youngest of the group.
“Hey boys,” another of the men added, “if we also said that bird can read too, I know he’d pack us off to the loony bin. We can’t tell anyone.”
“Say, bird, are you really called Omar?” inquired the one called John.
“Yes, that’s my name. What’s yours?”
The Marine who spoke first with Omar answered, “I’m Corporal John Babcock.” And then pointing in turn to the others he added, “That’s Private Simms, over there is Private Terry and the blonde one is Corporal Germaine.”
Politely and respectfully Omar replied, “A pleasure, gentlemen. What are four Americans doing here in Egypt? Are you fighting some enemy?”
“No, Omar, we are Marine guards from the U.S. Embassy. Today is our day off and we just came here to relax along the lake. There’s no fighting around here. Our duty is to guard the American embassy and it’s staff,” Babcock explained.
“Interesting,” murmured Omar.
“Say there, Omar. How did you get way over here from Iraq? It’s over 1500 miles to Baghdad,” Terry inquired.
“Tell me about it. It took me more than a week to fly across Saudi Arabia from Kuwait City. I last saw my friend Corporal King there before he left for the U.S.A. on completing his tour. Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a Baby Ruth candy bar, would you?”
“A what?” Germaine blurted. “How do you know about Baby Ruths?”
“Corporal King gave me one just before he left Baghdad. I guess it was a reward for helping him out along the dangerous drive to the airport from the Green zone. Would any of you perhaps have a Baby Ruth?”
“Sorry bird,” replied Germaine. “All we’ve got are some crackers. Here,” he explained tossing few over toward Omar. And quickly Omar dropped down from the post to grab one in his beak. Then he twisted off a small piece and swallowed it.”
“Thank you, my friend. It’s all right I guess, but I’d really prefer a Baby Ruth.”
“Not only is that dumb bird talkative,” Terry declared, “he’s picky about what we give him.”
Clearing his mouth from the crumbs of the cracker, Omar snapped “I told you I am not a dumb bird. As you can clearly hear I speak, albeit with a slight British accent. But that’s because I was taught by a British soldier here many years ago. It was he who also taught me to read, but only English I’m afraid. I never did learn the language of the locals, no Arabic at all.”
“Well maybe you should,” Babcock suggested. “That way you could inform us of any plots by terrorists or other bad guys.”
“It’s not my place to take sides in your disputes with the so-called terrorists. If I helped you then I would have to help others. No, it’s best that I remain neutral.”
“But it says right here in the article by some reporter called Kovacs that you helped Corporal King and the Iraqi minister. That’s taking sides, isn’t it?” Babcock retorted.
“That’s different. I was friends with Corporal King, Terry. And when he was in mortal danger I felt it only right to warn him. It was the least that I could have done.” Omar explained.
“Does that mean you would also help Arab terrorists too?” Simms pressed.
“No, I never became friends with any of those Arab speaking people because I don’t understand their language and they don’t speak English. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have if we became friends. Friends look out for one another.”
“Don’t you understand, bird, that you have to take sides. It’s us or them and you have to choose,” Simms continued.
“I’m not sure I agree with that,” Omar slowly and pensively declared. “One can have friends anywhere, on either side or both sides. I have no human enemies that I know of, so why choose sides. My only enemies are hawks, eagles and other creatures that would eat me.”
“Don’t people eat ravens around these parts? Haven’t you ever heard of four and twenty blackbirds in a pie?” Terry asked laughingly. The others joined in the laughter at that bit of humor.
“Not funny,” Omar responded.
“Okay, so you won’t take sides. I guess that’s your choice, but we would like to be friends with you. Is that okay?” Babcock asked. “What would it take to make that happen?”
“Of course, we can become friends. Can you get me a Baby Ruth?”
“You’ve got a one track mind, bird,” Germaine responded.
“So tell us, bird, how did you help make Corporal King into a hero?” Simms inquired.
“My name is Omar … so don’t call me bird. Okay?”
“All right, Omar it is. So tell us about this story in the Stars and Stripes. How can a bird help a GI?”
“GI? I don’t understand GI, but if you mean my friend Terry, it wasn’t much at all, really. All I did was fly up and ahead of Terry’s mail truck and look out for potential hazards, like disturbed roadside dirt, armed and apparently hostile Arabs laying in wait to shoot at Terry. And if I saw anything threatening, I’d signal Terry.”
“How did you signal?” Simms pressed.
“Well, if something suspicious in or along the roadside appeared up ahead of the truck, I’d simply land in the area and turn around repeatedly to mark the potentially dangerous area. I am light enough and don’t have anything metallic on me, so there was no chance of my setting of a bomb or improvised explosive device. If I thought it important for Terry to stop quickly, I’d fly straight toward his windshield and veer off to the side at the last second. I never spoke or shouted loudly because I knew he’s never hear me over the roar of the truck’s engine.”
“And what about the incident here in the paper about the Finance Minister?” Germaine asked.
“That was a bit unusual because the minister was in Terry’s truck and not in his limousine following behind. Some humans in the minister’s group felt it would be safer if he rode inconspicuously in the truck and not the fancy limousine. Apparently that was a smart choice. As we went toward the airport I spotted some guys with weapons behind a wall up ahead to the vehicles. I circled over the heads of the bad guys that Terry couldn’t see, but that was enough for Terry to speed up and get past that spot. It turned out that the bad guys shot at the limousine and actually blew it apart with a rocket launcher of some sort. The driver and a couple of the minister’s aides were killed, but Terry safely got past that and delivered the minister to the airport. That’s about it.”
“We could use your services at this embassy,” Babcock suggested. “And you help out in exchange for Baby Ruth’s? Sounds like a good deal.”
“I help my friends,” Omar responded.
“We can definitely be your friends, Omar. Is there anything else you like besides candy bars?”
“Yes, John … I like riding in your vehicles, or on top if I have a place I can grip onto. Terry gave me a ride around the Baghdad airport road once and then on into the city too. That was great fun.”
Simms thought about Omar, his helpfulness to Corporal King in Iraq, and the potentially useful things Omar could do for the Marines. But he also wondered if there could be more Omars out there or possibly ways of training other ravens. Soon Simms asked, “Say Omar, do you know of any other ravens with your abilities? And could you help us teach others to have the skills you obviously have?”
“Not off hand, Private. But that isn’t to say there might not be others. Ravens are pretty smart creatures.”
“Well you certainly are,” Simms responded. “I was just thinking of the possibilities if my fellow Marines could be aided by a number of talented birds like you. Is there any way you could identify some ravens with the potential for learning to speak and even read?”
“Never thought about that,” Omar replied. “But then you would be recruiting some of my fellow ravens to be on your side. I’m not sure taking sides is in our best interests. It’s one thing for me to have helps a friend. It’s quite another matter for ravens to be recruited and trained to be on your side in various conflicts. I’m just not comfortable about helping you put ravens in that position.”
“Even if we supplied all the Baby Ruths you and your companions could ever want?” Germaine jokingly asked.
“Even if I agreed to the concept, it’s not an easy thing to communicate such an abstract notion to other ravens who haven’t been exposed to human thought, languages and the like. I can say with some certainly that you won’t find any others as experienced in human communications.”
“So how did you learn?” Babcock pressed.
“Mostly out of curiosity. The British officer who taught me began by simply speaking to me. Over time, several months as I recall, I connected the sounds with ideas and thoughts. We began with simple exchanges like greetings. I think the first English words I learned were good morning. It took me two years to learn how to meaningfully converse and another to associate printed words with sounds and meanings.”
“Well Simms,” Babcock observed, “And if Omar found a few super-intelligent ravens we might recruit, it could take years to teach them even the basics. Even with Omar’s help we might not develop a flock of talking ravens, assuming they could be convinced to work with us.”
“And what’s more, “Germaine suggested, “it wouldn’t be chicken feed cost-wise to start such a program.”
“We ravens don’t eat chicken feed,” Omar chided.
“Yeah, I know you’re partial to Baby Ruths and that’s even more costly. And now you appear to have a sense of humor. I’m impressed.”
“I’ll ponder you suggestion and weigh the pro’s and con’s. I’ll let you know in a few days,” Omar declared, though his first inclination was not to do what was suggested. His main concern was not wanting himself or any other ravens to be taking sides in human conflicts.
Omar flew back down along the Nile to the grove of trees where he’d first spent the night after the long and dangerous flight from Kuwait City. He was now among dozens of his fellow ravens, males, females and recently fledged little ones.
Over the next few days of trying to communicate with other ravens, using a variety of calls, murmurs and body language signals, it soon became clear that the most rudimentary exchanges of ideas and messages, even in raven talk, was seemingly impossible. The abstractions of voice communications, between birds and humans was clearly beyond their ken. Even when Omar tried to say the few words of Arabic that he’d picked up, nothing registered with his fellow birds. He’d hoped that perhaps one or two of the most intelligent ravens might respond to words they may have heard spoken by humans. Nothing elicited even the slightest sign of recognition or understanding.
Omar even tried to communicate with other kinds of birds in the area, including hawks, vultures, doves and waterfowl. No birds responded in any fashion that Omar felt would give the slightest hint of comprehension. He soon came to the conclusion that he must be a freak. He didn’t feel special or superior, just weirdly odd some how. Was his ability a blessing or a curse? He could not be sure. Yet still he felt good about being able to talk with and even become friends of a few humans.
In a few days he chanced to fly over the American embassy in Cairo. His sharp eyes detected a couple of the men he’d met at the lake, so he flew down low and landed atop a nearby lamp post. After confirming his initial thought that the men were the same who’d hinted they might provide a Baby Ruth treat, even though they were now dressed in uniforms, Omar called out, ”Hello there, my friends. Do you have a Baby Ruth for me?”
Omar engaged his new friends in conversation, unaware that their sergeant was close by listening. Corporal Simms asked Omar, “Well my friend, have you recruited any other ravens? We sure could use the help of you and some of your raven pals.”
“No I didn’t and it’s most frustrating. I couldn’t even get one to comprehend the idea. They are just not interested or able to understand the idea of conversing with any others, not even other birds. And I tried very hard to communicate in various ways to get the idea across. Yet none showed the slightest inclination to talk or even respond to words in English or Arabic. I just don’t think it’s going to be possible.”
Simms was disappointed and simply shook his head slowing. He was not aware of his sergeant’s fascination with the conversation between Simms and the bird. Sergeant Gibbs, a big burly fellow who had served two tours in Iraq in the early stages of the war against Saddam, immediately recognized the potential value of ravens that could communicate with people. Soon Gibbs came over to where Simms and Germaine were standing.
“Were you two actually talking with that bird, or were you just joking?” Gibbs asked.
Simms responded, “Sarge, we really were talking with him. And did you know that he really likes Baby Ruth candy bars?”
“Really? Well go get a box of those candy bars and use them to lure the bird into a cage. There’s an old cage that the previous ambassador used to keep his pet parrot. It’s in the basement of the annex building. Wait up. Simms, you keep that bird here and talk to it while Germaine gets that cage. I’ll go get some candy bars. Move it, Germaine.”
But Omar, being the unusually smart bird that he is, readily understood what the Sergeant was up to. When he was left alone with Simms he exclaimed, “That won’t work, my friend. Or at least I thought you were my friend. I am disappointed by you Americans. I never thought you would try to trap me. My friend Terry back in Baghdad never would have considered such a thing and my British officer mentor would never have treated me that way.”
“Don’t blame me, Omar. I can’t be held responsible for what Sergeant Gibbs does or thinks. I don’t believe he intends to harm you though.”
“Maybe not, but I can’t be sure and now I can’t trust any of you. I’m leaving now because I no longer feel safe around Americans and that makes me sad. I enjoyed conversing with some of you and thought we could be friends. And as much as I like your Baby Ruths, I value my freedom more.”
“Don’t go, Omar,” Simms implored. “I won’t let Gibbs or anyone else put you in a cage.”
“You may say that, but if your sergeant or other superiors order you to do it, you’ll have no choice. I can’t take the chance.”
Just as Gibbs returned, carrying a half carton of candy bars, and was quickly joined by Germaine carrying a large parrot cage, they heard Simms bid farewell. Omar took flight and headed back toward the river.
“Damnit Simms, I told you to keep that bird here and talking to you. Where is he going?”
“He’s gone, Sarge. He understood you when you told Germaine to get a cage and he wanted no part of being a prisoner. I think that Omar is gone forever and may never again trust humans. I can understand his feelings.”
“You idiot,” Gibbs bellowed. “Don’t you realize how important a talking raven could be? He could have been a valuable source of intelligence for us.”