It was cold, by heat-islander standards, and my mind was spinning: thoughts about home, about where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, frustrations and celebrations. We were three days into our Yellowstone trip and I had snuck out early for a run: through the hallway, down the steps of the Wonderland, around the corner past the K-Bar and straight across the bridge over the Yellowstone. Buildings and cars wore an early frost; steam rose from mouths and off bodies, especially mine, on its slow trot past the Tumbleweed, hotels, restaurants and rafting companies.
I crossed the bridge again on my return, eponymous water swirling below at dizzying depths. I was creeping back to our temporary digs, shedding layers and shaking off my thoughts, when I heard it: a familiar sort of cooing, then, pfffufff, a rustling of feathers. I looked up. There in the posts of the railing were a trio of beefy birds: white, gray, brown, with heads of iridescent purple and green. Knowing eyes. Hi guys, I laughed in greeting. You all from New York?
Pigeons. In Gardiner, Montana. Well how ’bout that.
-Native American Trickster God. Also known as: CHULYEN, HEMASKAS, GUGUYNI, NANKIL’SLAS, KWEKWAXA’WE, KWEKWAXAWE, TXAMSEM, WE-GYET, YHEL.
Infamous creative trickster God of North America.
In Yellowstone I was stirred by the beauty, the presence and cockiness of the raven. I had temporarily forgotten how glorious is this behemoth of a bird. We saw so many of Yellowstone’s great megafauna during our days in the ecosystem, but the creature who lingered, who lit something up in me, wasn’t bison, elk or pronghorn. It was raven.
We’d been home from the West about a week when I realized that raven was following us. Wandering the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I took a street we’d never wandered before; suddenly my daughter and I found ourselves outside the building where Edgar Allan Poe had finished writing The Raven. Days later we were on a Halloween prowl, checking out house-decorations: there they were again, ravens aplenty, adorning stairs and railings on rows of Victorian houses. The next day we found raven hiding in plain sight, in subway tiles: mosaics on the 1 train platform, a pair of corvids at play.
“Metaphor is the incarnational garb whereby Power enters the world.”
Pigeons generally don’t migrate. Neither do ravens. Yet here they were, city birds at the gates of wild Yellowstone, and wild avian tricksters, here in the collective and artistic consciousness of my city. The non-migrators had followed me. Or I had followed them.
There we were, and here we are: scavengers, rich with story, roosting in each other’s blurry niches.