Friday, January 14, 2011

Roseto Ravens

Driving down the road from Blanding to Bluff last Saturday morning was a visual delight. Nighttime temperatures have been so cold lately that the snowfall we received last week has turned crystalline. The sage and rabbit brush south of town still has scintillating flakes on the branches, and the juniper trees on the northern edge of White Mesa Ute Community remain naturally decorated with clumps of frozen flurry. That alone was truly appealing, but the angular sunrise was blindingly bright and the frosty ground cover of ice crystals sparkled like an unending carpet of diamonds. I was so enthralled with the sight that my speed must have dropped to half the prescribed rate. Before I knew it, I had three vehicles backed up behind me, jostling for position and maneuvering to get past. As the motorists blew by, speeding along their merry way, their frowns of disapproval only slightly diminished my feelings of pleasure.

Raven by Ray & Alondra Lansing

As always, I looked forward to the view from atop White Mesa Hill. This day the scene offered a long range exposure of offset mesas and monuments in contrasting shades of profound pastels. Puff clouds, and long, linear jet trails added to the picture perfect spectacle. There was less snow than just up the road, but the shadowed white patches of protected powder allowed for unusual highlights in places usually hidden or unrecognizable because of their subtle nature. I thought back to the previous week, when I found myself at this same spot at an earlier hour. Instead of this brightly lit and luminous scene, I overlooked a forbidding ocean of blanketing clouds, a vast seascape of white mist capped with gray and black tipped swells. "Wicked!" I thought out loud as I geared the Nissan down one gear and dove into the known, but currently unfathomable depths of that well. As I traveled through the super soupy mist, I lost track of where I was. I knew the road I traveled, but lost myself in space and time for a brief spell. I was lucky enough to travel the remainder of the road to Bluff alone, embraced and entranced by the ground cloud and nearly zero visibility.

This day was totally different, it seemed warm and sunny outside the vehicle, even though I knew the wind chill would be south of freezing. I topped the crest of the hill overlooking the Bluff Bench, descended into the sweeping curve, then lined out on the straightaway before Cow Canyon. Looking down the highway I noticed a moving ink spot up in the sky, in direct line to the highway. As I watched, the black dot dropped from the heavens and became a bird, and then, as I gained on it, I recognized an oversize raven. The charcoal cherub seemed unaware of my oncoming presence. It dipped out of the sky and lined out straight down the highway in front of me, on a southerly course.

The brazen bird leveled out about 12 feet above the blacktop and, because of his quick descent, sped along at an accelerated rate of speed. The meteoric maniac must have been enjoying itself because it held course, hurtling down the strip as if gaging speed by the fleeting flash of passing lines beneath its wings. I was gaining steadily on the feature creature. As I closed in, the raven looked as big as a feathered football, with a gracefully curved, pin feather wing span nearly five feet in length. The brawny bruiser looked like a stealth gunship on a strafing run. I fell in behind the feathered test pilot and for a brief space in time felt as if I were flying right with him.

The feeling was surreal; it was as if I became the bird. I experienced its elation at zipping along a personal, lonely drag strip. I envisioned its perspective and point of view. The experience was exhilarating; that big bird must have been having a blast. The acquaintance was short lived, however, because I let the car drift a little too close to the bird's back side. The massive raven must have sensed my presence, because it dipped one wing and zigged to the left, then a fraction of a second later dipped the right wing, zagged in that direction and shot off the main drag across the brigham tea and stunted brush-encrusted hillocks in the direction of Calf Canyon. Bummer! I am hoping it is psychologically harmless to imagine myself as a bird in boundless flight. If not, certify me and throw me in the proverbial bird cage.

That evening I was driving home as the sun was setting on the western horizon. Just before I exited the Bluff Bench I saw a congress of ravens freewinging it across the highway from east to west. The batch of birds were seen at the high point of the hill with the magnificent Blue Mountain range as a backdrop. The mountains are draped in a brilliant white coat of snow this winter, with deep blue stands of forest showing through in random areas. At that particular time of the evening the mountains present themselves surrounded by a baby blue aura, accented by a pink glow from the slanting rays of the setting sun. The view is spectacular. I thought I recognized my raven from earlier in the day in the midst of the group. All of the ravens present seemed to be having a grand time dancing across the sky. The beauty and tranquility of the scene, and the fact that I was going home to my family, caused me to reflect back upon an e-mail I received earlier in the day, one of those junk messages that catch your eye just before you dump them in the trash.

The message read, "Does friendship and family keep us well?" Yes indeed, the phenomenon is known as the 'Roseto effect' - firm familial bonds and being part of a tight social group can keep us healthy. It certainly seemed to be working with the local raven population. The close personal relationship they have with the land, the sky and each other, works well for them; they seem and act happy. As for the rest of us, I believe we are also well. How can one not be well in an environment such as this, with such a close knit family, good friends, open spaces and incredible scenery? If there is any place in the world where someone has a high probability of being well, this is certainly it. Enough said! Except maybe . . . Be Well!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team

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