The story starts in 1994, in my parents basement on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. My sister and I have been sat down on the couch in the basement. The mood is sad and confusing, my parents are not themselves.
“You’re Grandpa George has passed on”
They try to explain death and what this will mean going forward. Tough business when you are speaking to a 6 and 9 year old. If you show me proof that something exists, I will agree. Try showing proof that something doesn’t exist, you can’t, really.
A few years pass by and I find myself on a forested hillside in Interior British Columbia. My Dad and I are out on an annual hunting trip, the ultimate in father son bonding. Looking across the small draw we spot a raven flying low over a patch of trees.
“You see him son? Over there. It’s your grandpa, he is trying to tell you where the deer are.”
My grandfathers spirit had seemed to linger after his death, through many events and tales best left to tell around the campfire. Ask me sometime and I will tell you. But these other events, they made this all seem plausible.
Memories of my grandfather on my Dad’s side are scarce, but from what I remember and what I am told he was a man made of one part lumberjack, one part cowboy and about 3 parts redneck.
Luckily, after his passing in 2011, memories of my Mom’s father are a little more plentiful. He was a longshoreman, spent a little time in the navy, and a lot of time on a motorcycle. In his latter years as his belly grew and his beard whitened he could easily be mistaken for Santa Clause if it weren’t for the arm tats.
Between his stint in the Navy and my Great Grandfathers service in WW2, there are two items that symbolize the men of my family to me; the raven and the poppy. I always thought the two would play well in my own piece of body art one day.
Years after my move to Alberta I continued to carry with me the Northwest Coast First Nations heritage and cultural influences that surrounded my youth on the island. Although, it wasn’t until 2014 that my connection with ravens and their spiritual worth would culminate into an undeniable part of my life.
I replenish the water and food in my pack, and make out for my second solo-summit campout of the weekend. It is a grueling slog up the loose rock pile to the summit of Sunwapta, on Icefields Parkway. Within four or five hours I reach the top, and find a small wind break made of stones, just big enough to tuck my bivouac behind. I sit down with a snack and crack open the summit register, looking back I see the name of an old friend.
With great time spent alone in the mountains comes great time within your own mind. The highs and lows of every emotion have a chance to visit, as you mentally process each and every aspect of life, whether you like it or not.
Being so far from anyone I knew, so far from anything, I felt more alone than ever. My soul was full but my heart was empty and my mind knew it.
“Why am I here, should I be here? It’s hours before sunset, this will be a painfully long night.” I thought to myself.
Then I heard an old familiar sound, one that only a raven can make, and just like that I was no longer alone. He circled under the east face and caught an updraft bringing him to the summit, where he landed just a little down the ridge. I took it as a sign that I really wasn’t alone, and within 5 minutes a rainstorm blew in that pushed me into my bivy. I set my alarm for sunset and drifted off to sleep, warm and content with the old familiar sound of raindrops hitting the goretex bivouac. I awoke to a break in the clouds just long enough to eat dinner, shoot the sunset and get back to bed. The sunset was magnificent, accentuated by the storm clouds rolling all around me, and the evening was painlessly short.
Upon hiking up Mount Sparrowhawk I encountered very thick fog and cloud, making it nearly impossible to find the route on open scree slopes. At a break in the clouds I came across the raven, sitting on a rock pile, waiting. As I left in the opposite direction he jumped up with a powerful push of his massive wings and flew overhead, flying low through the cloud directly up the trail. As if to show me the way.
At the crux of Mount Burstall, a snow covered slab with high, high exposure I considered turning back. The raven flew the route and landed somewhere on the summit out of site, as if to say “catch me if you can”.
On the top of the small peak of Junction Hill, my mind was a mental jumble of life decisions that should only be a problem in the city. The raven was passing by, but seemed to hover in the wind directly above my head, just long enough to bring me back to nature and what was really important at that moment. As I snapped out of it he began performing a classic aerobatic routine of barrel rolls displaying a playful appreciation for life.
In 2014 I visited the top of 38 peaks. In 38 peaks, I was visited by the raven 37 times. There was one, that the raven did not show on, I will admit. Coincidentally it was Wasootch Peak, on Remembrance Day, confirming the connection with poppies.
Northwest Coast Native mythology states the raven as the trickster, the shape shifter and the bringer of light. By shifting shapes he manages to trick an old man and the owner of all the light in the universe to give him the sun. The raven steals the sun, and releases the light to the universe.
As a spirit animal the raven is said to bring you pending synchronicity. By mastering the ability to bend and fold time he will ensure you are in exactly the right moment at the right time. The raven represents rebirth, recovery, renewal, reflection and healing. He can signify moving through transitions smoothly by casting light into darkness.
So the next time you are visited by the raven, embrace it, and think about what he’s trying to tell you.