Raven, Raven

February 1st, 2016

Force of Nature: Magic

Force of Nature: Magic

Another in a series of the stories about my paintings and the wild things that inspire them.

The raven is one of those wild creatures that inspire so many emotions! Over the eons, humans have attached so many meanings to ravens: magic, mystery, and foreboding. Is it just because they are so dark in color? Or because they are scavengers and in wilder places and more ferocious times would most likely be seen hanging around near predator kills or even more gruesomely, battlefields? In that light, it’s easy to understand their association with death, I suppose. But more modern study has uncovered a surprising depth of intelligence in all corvids, but particularly ravens.

In his recent New York Times article by about parrots helping vets with PTSD, Charles Seibert wrote:

 “Though the avian cerebrum possesses only the tiniest nub of the structures associated with mammalian intelligence, recent studies of crows and parrots have revealed that birds think and learn using an entirely different part of their brains, a kind of avian neocortex known as the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale. In both parrots and crows, in fact, the ratio of brain to body size is similar to that of the higher primates, an encephalization quotient that yields in both species not only the usual indications of cognitive sophistication like problem-solving and tool use but also two aspects of intelligence long thought to be exclusively human: episodic memory and theory of mind, the ability to attribute mental states, like intention, desire and awareness, to yourself and to others.

Nature, in other words, in a stunning example of parallel or convergent evolution, found an entirely other and far earlier path to complex cognition: an alien intelligence that not only links directly back to minds we’ve long believed to be forever lost to us, like the dinosaurs’, but that can also be wounded, under duress, in the same ways our minds can.”

In other words, birds like crows and ravens are smarter than we ever knew. And they feel like we feel. It’s amazing it took us this so long to verify.

For me, it’s the exactly that combination a raven’s darker elements with its bright intelligence that is so intriguing! This duality is probably at the heart of my enchantment — there’s much more there than meets the eye.

So I had never really paid much attention to them until I read Bernd Heinrich’s book, “The Mind of the Raven.” Coincidentally, these big black birds began appearing more often — or was it that I just moved to a wilder locale? Or maybe it’s just like when you get a certain kind of car and then you notice it everywhere?

Either way, now I see ravens almost every day. There must be a family living near me. From time to time I try to track their nest but they are pretty clever about keeping it hidden and I don’t really want to stress them out. Mostly I enjoy watching them fly over — and often, like Heinrich suggested, I yell out “Hello Raven!” Half the time I get some kind of acknowledgment. It feels like an especially fortuitous day when I get a barrel roll! Ravens are astonishingly acrobatic. I once watched a pair play in the wind coming up off the top of Mount Monadnock. It was an Olympian-level display of agility — swoops, rolls, dives — they even locked talons for a brief second and spun themselves around mid-air. It looked like joy — the ravens were no doubt having so much fun.

There are three things I hope to celebrate with my artwork — the beauty, mystery, and power of the natural world. It’s almost a holy trinity for me as in how each aspect so perfectly informs the other. Ravens capture this triad so profoundly: beautiful in form, mysterious by lore, and powerful in intelligence. So I paint them again and again — trying to capture a modicum of their essence.

It’s good to have goals, right?

Site by Wetherbee Creative