Introducing: The Animals


We are mortal. Edgewood’s mix of tetrapod residents changes with each arrival and sad departure. Currently, in late February 2024, we are two humans and one dog, plus the salamanders hibernating in the root cellar, the frogs & toads sleeping in the mud under the pond ice, two ravens and sometimes their various associates who come for feeding time and who hang around to watch what we’re doing. Chickadees and nuthatches gather seeds at the feeder. There are snakes down deep between the boulders in the garden, and the first of them should start to venture out in the next few weeks. We were dismayed yesterday to hear the sounds of a packrat who somehow found its way into the walls of the house. Mice are already well entrenched in the walls, and the smaller species of weasels sometimes follow them in predatorially. The garden is lousy with voles this winter; Kabuki caught one yesterday and dispatched it, her first kill (finally). She was very proud of herself. The ravens were keenly interested in this scene, and landed close to Kabuki for a good look. Ravens follow wolf packs to see what they can scavenge; sorry ravens, it’s just a vole this time, not a moose carcass.

The chief raven here is Ravena, who we’ve known since 2012, when she was a fledgling. In June of that year, an unusually cold three-day rain killed her two nestmates; Trevor found their bodies in the meadow. Ravena survived by keeping herself perched on the railing under the shelter of our veranda. Looking glum all that time, she stayed there watching us through the dining room window. We figure that in those three days, she saw enough evidence to decide that we are not dangerous, and so with the return of sunny weather, she stayed close to us.

An inexperience young raven like Ravena might need some help to survive, so I left food out for her. That sealed the deal. She’s been a part of our monthly food budget ever since. Soon she found a mate, who we named Rowan. We know, by the way, that Ravena is a female because Trevor once saw her mounted by Rowan, and we can tell them apart because Ravena has a stouter neck. Ravena has always been bolder, going so far as to eat out of my hand. Rowan is more watchful, ready to warn Ravena of any sudden danger.

Over the years, we have endured the squawking of several of Ravena’s broods. Juvenile ravens are not sonorous when begging, and begging is what they do all day. Feeding them to shut them up soon turned into stressed feelings and a rush to feed them as soon as they start squawking again, again to try to shut them up. That stress lasts for months. I think I know now how a parent raven feels trying to keep up with demand.


In summer 2023, Ravena had no brood. Something happened to Rowan. Ravena, now without a mate, started spending more time with us, keeping close, looking lonely. She and Rowan had been together for over ten years. We can only imagine the cause of Rowan’s demise, and could only imagine Ravena’s grief.

Ravena seems to have become a respected matron in her raven community. Last summer, though she had no offspring and no mate, she brought around a trio of juveniles for me to feed. I don’t think those were adoptees. She was in service as a trusted raven chaperone, taking the juveniles out for a fieldtrip to Edgewood to show them where they could get fed. “No, absolutely not! No more food for any of you, scram!”

Ravena & Co., deprived of privileges, took spite on the gardens. They’d already tried pulling the plant tags from the vegetable gardens, so I lost track of which variety was which. Since she watches me work in the garden all day, she can see what I spend time on, and what I value. So her vengeance was well directed. But I didn’t give in, so then they tried pulling up rock garden plants, even the rare ones, by the roots. Fine feathered frenemies! Matching spite for spite, I didn’t feed Ravena again that year until the juveniles were all gone, no matter how much damage they did (the finally gave up and kept away). Sorry, that’s just how it is. By late summer, Ravena had a new partner. We name him Rowan also. Not for lack of imagination, but because Rowan is just the character, no matter the actor who plays him. That’s just how it is.

Past offenses and punishments are water under the bridge. By Autumn, we were all back in friendly accord, Ravena, Rowan, Buki, Curtis, and Trevor. Regular daily feeding times have resumed, and Ravena spends her days watching me through the windows as I work in my office, monitoring everything. I wake from naps on the window bench, peer outside bleary-eyed and see her perched up in an aspen looking down at me.

Ravena and Rowan come along for strolls and hikes most days. If you see Buki and me walking along the road in daylight hours, look carefully and you’ll probably see a couple of ravens keeping up with us, flying from tree to tree as we go. Even when feeding time is over, we’re all together, a three-species procession. Now that they’ve noticed feeding-time opportunities, a flock of gray jays sometimes follow along on our walks, too, making it a four-species parade. And Steller’s jays, too, are starting to see the light.

Ravena, Rowan, Buki, lunch

We are mortal. Edgewood, according to our intentions, will go on living after any and all of us animals dies. Each of us only borrows the stuff of our bodies and minds. Trevor and I don’t own or even really borrow Edgewood. Instead, Edgewood borrows each of us residents, for a while. We are part of its system. The system is the thing; I don’t matter very much individually. I like knowing that when I die, my body will become incorporated into much else, some of it alive, some without the spark of life. Let my remains remain here.

Original [sc]ANIMISM[/sc]

The great paintings of 30,000 years ago or older at Altamira, Chauvet, and Lascaux Caves in France and Spain were created by different human minds than those alive today. The animals portrayed in, for example, the Panel of the Horses at Chauvet, were painted from memory with results full of awesome living power. Lions, rhinoceri, reindeer, aurochs, mammoths, horses, and more appear in complex, sometimes overlapping relation to each other. There is flesh and fur over bone structure, they are keen-eyed. They charge, graze, stampede, rest. They look alive. In the animist mind, they are alive.

The dating of the panels in each cave tell of the contributions of countless generations, not just a few genius artists. So those were whole cultures of people who seemed to know the animals at least as well as they knew themselves. Their paintings are a journey’s depth underground, far past the last faint filtering of sunlight. The artists had to carry their memories with them; no chance to paint from models down there. Note, by the way that human portrayals in those cave paintings are only stick figures or so vague that they it can scarcely be argued that they are indeed human likenesses. But the animals are painted in all their vitality with confident accuracy.

A few artists today can sketch out from quick memory in a few brush strokes a lively Chinese horse, a bird in flight, or a fox in mid-leap. But that ability comes with disciplined practice within traditions that train initiates in the tricks of eye-hand coordination; the admirable facsimile of models that are themselves painted facsimile. Few artists now spend much time in truly consequential relationship with animals. Could contemporary artists paint the panels of Chauvet from memory alone? I doubt any but the most unusually talented could. We’re just not animists anymore.

The animals are no longer in our minds. Lascaux is no longer possible, I’m sure. The wild animals are neglected, or extinct, or going extinct. Globally, humans and our livestock now sum up to a much larger biomass than the wild animals. The wilderness is almost gone. And now it’s in academic fashion to frown on the supposedly human-excluding preservation of wilderness. Conservation is colonialism, they say. So is that it? No more animals in our minds? Just lifeless technology, wealth, the quantitative rather than the qualitative, objects rather than beings. 21st Century human life is nasty, brutish, and so long that our population size has rushed way past the sustainable. Maybe we should try becoming animists again.

Buki and Curtis excavating snow caves

We all need more time outside of what the human world has become. Many of my blog posts will relate the stories of Edgewood’s animals, as best as I can understand and relate them. I may not have the keen mind of those cave artists of the Pleistocene, but I will try to get into the minds of the animals we have close at hand. Especially Kabuki. After seeing how much fun Buki and I have, friends have said that after they die, they hope to be reborn as my dog-friend. “Dog is man’s best friend”…that old adage needs its complement: “Humans are dog’s best friend”, which, of course, is not always true. But it’s something to strive for. Buki is joyful, inquisitive, communicative, silly, headstrong, appreciative. A beautiful little being. Her human friends have much to learn from her.

I couldn’t have asked for a better rebirth than into the life I occupy now, with good friends, including canine and corvid ones. Please read on over the coming blog posts as I share some of the stories of animal life at Edgewood. And please, share your own stories.

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