The other day we had a brief reprieve from the deep cold that has, so far, defined this winter. I seized the chance to gather wood with the chainsaw, which seems quite happy to run at -25 but becomes fickle and frustrating in colder weather. As I drove east along the coastline with the bobsled clattering along behind the skidoo, I spotted two tiny specks in the sky above the ice. Ravens. My first reaction was amazement, as it usually is when I see them in the depths of winter. Ravens are large birds, and birds are warm-blooded of course, meaning that here were two seven-pound packets of feathers, bone, brain, and flesh, with an inside temperature somewhere around 60 degrees C. higher than the frigid air through which they were flapping.
I have seen a lone raven on the barrens in absurdly deep cold, and there have been some days when a single raven is the only living thing I have seen all day, apart from my dogs. I always wonder how they can survive. How do they find food, and where oh where do they find the moisture that all living things need, in this white desert of cold dry air and rock-solid water? The same brief thought passed through my mind again as I saw those two.
Then I looked again. They were just specks, barely visible against the washed-out blue of the late-morning sky, and it was hard to keep them in focus as I peered out from the circular frame ef my parka ruff. They were not just flying. They were playing with each other as they flew along. They were dancing through the sky. Tango. Cha-Cha. From a pilot’s perspective it looked like Aerobatics 101. Barrel-roll. Chandelle. Hammerhead stall. Dogfighting, pulling into steep turns and flipping inverted.
Those two were not in a grim-faced, death-at- the-doorstep struggle… or maybe they were, for how would I know? The day was bright, and it was a respite from 40 below, with more 40-below heading this way (it is here as I write.) Maybe they had just had a nice big meal, I thought, and were celebrating. My daughters and I had come across a wolf-killed caribou on our dog run northeast, so there was at least some food for a raven still to be had. Or maybe, I thought, they hadn’t eaten in days and had no idea where the next life-giving morsel was going to come from.
I defy the dry analysts of Science, the “experts” whom we all seem to worship these days, to explain to me the “evolutionary advantage” of two hungry ravens barrel-rolling and pulling hammerhead stalls in a pale blue sky on a January morning at twenty-five below zero, 80 feet above the ice.
I carried on toward a patch of standing dry timber that I remembered seeing when I was moose-hunting one windy day in early October. I hoped it was as good as I remembered it. I lost sight of the ravens, but their mood stayed with me. It’s January. Cold. Going through firewood like there’s no tomorrow. But the days are getting longer and the sun is topping out a little farther off the horizon every day at high noon. Lighten up. Pull a barrel roll sometime, just for kicks..