They say Raven is a trickster. These months back home in Canada have been full of raven’s tricks; full of unexpected twists in how I thought things would have played out in these first months of 2015.
January was cold in more ways than one. February was a flood of emotion and magic in Cuba, of passionate interviews with women, tears spilling from their eyes, stories spilling from their hearts; it was a collision of creative minds, searching bodies and minds, people looking for heartfelt connection. It was Spanish and upside down exclamation points, dancing, laughing and conversation about happiness. It was an experience that flooded the banks of my expectations; it made me feel full again…
March, March seems to be a month thawing itself out: the warm sun, splendid on the skin, yet ugly on the land, revealing everything the season before concealed.
My creative writing mentor, Jannie, describes in one of her poems that March is like a “loose bra strap”. That’s how March feels. The farmer’s fields with the dissipating snow look like an unshaven cheek, the grain stalks like dirty stubble. But even so, the geese return, small packs of honking pioneers cruising horizontal to the prairie landscape. March provides a homely, but determined sense of hope.
It’s my first Spring in three years. Funny what you miss when you live away for so long; the flux of the seasons never happens so dramatically in Uganda, where seasons of sun and dust are balanced with days of rain and mud. To feel the true thaw again, is something special. I was away for a long time. I’m only realizing that by being home, again. So much that was concealed under my long wintering away is finally melting and being revealed again, everything hopeful and painful, also.
Many surprises, March is a trickster month.
I learned in late February that my grandfather passed away while I was away in Cuba. My parents greeted me at the airport with the news. It was difficult to bear, difficult to contemplate. I hadn’t seen him in over two years; the last time we saw one another was in October 2012, when my father and I visited him in Regina, Saskatchewan. He died just before his 92nd birthday. He was lucky to live for so long, see so many places, and have such a loving family that surrounded him for all the years of his life. He was an incredible man, a creative force full of so many stories. He shaped me, my grandfather.
He wrote regularly to me through my adult years. Handwritten letters, then emails, at times, nearly on a weekly basis. We didn’t stop at “How are you? Good, etc.” – our correspondence was all narrative. For my grandfather, it was all nostalgia.
The summer we lost my Nana, I was traveling in Nicaragua. I missed her funeral and learned of her death after the fact. But when I came back to Canada, that summer, I traveled to Regina and spent a week with my grandfather. I asked him to give me a crash course in wood carving; it was a craft he’d cultivated over twenty-some years thanks to the urging of my Nana that he take a course after his retirement. He was a gifted carver. He respected wood, he told me. That summer, he took my request seriously and mixed storytelling with technique. “Every piece of wood,” he said, “has a story. It’s up to you to find the grain, find the shape and form that the wood wants to be.”
He was heartbroken that summer, following the loss of his wife. She had died just before their 65th anniversary. My grandfather opened up to me that summer, over cups of coffee and carving class. Many of the stories were about my Nana and his love for her. It was an education that changed me, a connection that has defined me today. I had never seen my grandfather as a well of love and emotion before; but that summer bound us together, grandfather and granddaughter.
Today I am left to contemplate what he meant to me. On a Saturday in mid-March, time slows, for a moment, and I search back in my email inbox, locating the last words we exchanged, him congratulating Atayo and I on our engagement. I dig back into email archives, all of the stories and thoughts he sent me over the years. I was lucky to be a granddaughter to such a thoughtful, creative man.
This is an excerpt from a story he published in Prairies North. It describes the year of 1985 (the same year I was born) and how he “fell in love with the ravens.”
Three Raven Stories
It was the year 1985, when my wife, Doreene, and I, lived at LaRonge, and fell in love with the Ravens.
When the boggy area adjacent to our apartment froze in the fall, I was able to take a short cut to the office building. One morning, as I was walking through the heavily treed area, a raven, sitting on top of a tree, started speaking to me. His vocabulary rose from a low guttural to a high-pitched whistle. I stopped and started to imitate him. His vocabulary became louder and more complex. Finally, he swooped down at me; I ducked, but felt the wind of his wings as he passed. The next morning he was waiting for me, and we had a repeat performance. This time I did not duck, and felt a closer rush of wings. This happened ten times, then winter set in, and I had to abandon the shortcut.
We became friends with the owner of a gas station. He used to keep a guard dog on a leash in front of the building. On day he heard much barking and commotion outside. On investigation, he found a raven on the pavement, a few feet beyond the reach of the leash, teasing the dog. This happened each morning. One day the owner installed a longer leash, unintentionally extending its reach. That morning there was a terrible commotion. On investigation, he found his dog with the raven’s foot and lower leg in his teeth. But no sign of the raven. Two months later the owner saw a one legged raven standing on top of a power pole, taunting his dog.
Another raven encounter happened on a grocery store parking lot. We turned off the street to enter the area, but were stopped at the edge of the lot by twenty ravens sitting in a circle. I moved the car up to the birds, but they ignored me completely. They were studying a black object in the centre of their circle.
When a raven speaks, the feathers on the back of his head rise up. We noted that only one raven spoke at a time. We sat and watched them for a few minutes, then backed out onto the street and found another entrance to the parking lot.
It is truly raven country.