Colwell Cedars Retreat

      ~ merging awareness, creativity, and nature ~

Jornada of Ravens

By Joseph Colwell  Copyright 2007

          Does the shortest day of the year upset the behavior of beings other than humans? Lack of sunlight does affect the sanity of people who live in northern climes.  It even has a medical name.  But does it affect birds?  Ravens for instance.

          Driving down off western Colorado’s Grand Mesa on December 20, just hours before the winter solstice, my wife and I witnessed a jornada of ravens. A determined passage of hundreds of ravens stretching beyond human sight.  We were entranced by the view of the Gunnison River valley below us, including the snowy expanse of jagged peaks of the San Juan’s to the south, when my wife noticed ravens flying north in formation.  We see this occasionally from our house, only a few miles distant (as the raven flies) from this spot.  They fly over us from the valley to somewhere else higher up, then back again later in the day.  Sometimes they stop and circle over us, harassing any golden eagles in their way, as they casually make their journey.  This reoccurring event usually involves up to 50 ravens and only happens in the winter.

          But this undulating flow of black wings and bodies involved more ravens than I had seen in my entire life. They stretched below us in a stream as far as we could see, appearing to come from the hazy depths of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  We had to stop the truck and pull off the nearly deserted highway to watch.  We were playing a tape of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music, listening to the throbbing and powerful beat of the Little Drummer Boy.  The music fit the scene perfectly.  It was a grandeur to all senses.  The sight, even without the birds, was an expanse of majesty.  The oncoming stream of birds, flowing from the horizon, was awe-inspiring.  The music added the right tempo and accompaniment to the flight.  As we sat on the lonely road, watching the procession, I looked behind me and saw the object of their intent.  The oakbrush capped knoll behind and above us was black speckled with ravens.  They were landing on this acre of land, covering it like a carpet.  A carpet of black dots, hopping and jostling around to create a velvety, moving apparition.

          Where were these birds coming from in such a large number? I could understand a flock of geese, or more often in this area, sandhill cranes, although they would be either months earlier or months later than the end of December.  But ravens?  They live here.  They don’t migrate.  But obviously this day, this most sun starved day of the year, they were journeying to somewhere from somewhere else.  Were they climbing the mountain to search for more sunlight?

          As the music reached its inspiring crescendo, I pulsed in tune with the flapping of the wings. An intense flapping that signaled exhaustion, in need of rest from a long flight.  The column continued to come from the south, in a glorious and mysterious continuity.  They just kept coming.  And they just kept filling the hilltop behind us.

          Suddenly the column to the south swerved in unison to some unknown field of energy in their path. The birds, even those a mile or two distant to the south, swerved as one.  They turned west, then circled, then continued on their original path above us.  I looked behind and the hilltop was empty.  Either they were scared off, or this was just a resting place after all on a journey to a further goal.

          Finally, the column thinned out, then gradually ended as the last straggler brought up the rear. The jornada was over, at least for now.  I thought about comparisons with humans and how we move and migrate and flap to the trends of the times.  How a landscape like this in our modern West attracts our species in columns like these ravens.  We come and come and fill the view with our presence.But then, I threw that thought out of my mind. Let it pass unhindered like the ravens.  I was watching birds and who knows what they were thinking.  They were consistent and determined.  They knew their goal and they were achieving it.  They were moving as one, leaving little impact.  Maybe they were affected by the winter solstice and maybe not.  It didn’t matter.  They passed in magnificent indifference to the humans below.  Their jornada had passed.  Ours is in full flight.