Once Upon the Midnight Dreary… 04/24/16

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They seem so mystical and dark in the famous Edgar Allen Poe poem… Never really have I seen one before I moved out to Death Valley… Honestly, I thought they just looked like over grown crows… Well, that was until I started to observe them out here…

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These birds are definitely the mascots of Death Valley and Stovepipe Wells… Everywhere you look, if you look hard enough, you will see a Raven keeping guard of this drab territory…. In most cases, the Raven wouldn’t be at the top of the food chain but out here they enjoy superiority over weaker animals, who are too occupied with surviving out here in the desert heat…

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Let me tell you this, I can’t stand crows! They wake me up in the morning with their high pitched caws and annoying early conversations… My Mother loves them but my Mother is also an early riser who likes to hear the morning birds as she begins her day…

My Mother constantly muses about how the crows hold Parliament every morning… And she is fervently waiting for a special crow known as a “Gifter…”  Every morning the crows will be extra loud on my Mother’s property, cawing and haggling over the stale bread she has left outside for them… But there is a reason for this special treatment… It is rumored that if you keep giving to the crows that one of them will start leaving you gifts…

I guess crows love shiny things so your present could be something of value… But let me warn you, I almost guarantee the crow didn’t pay for such luxuries and that gift just may be one of your neighbor’s prized possessions… Don’t end up an accomplice and make sure that crow didn’t just go next door for a quick pick of the pocket… But it’s the thought that counts right?

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I have never appreciated my Mother’s obsession with her crows until I came out here to Death Valley…. I am of course assuming that the Raven and Crow are from the same family… They look pretty much identical, if you ignore the size and overgrown features of the Raven…

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The Raven is such a magnificent bird and I was immediately attracted to them when I came out to Death Valley… I stop to observe them almost every single day, watching them as they go through their daily rituals…

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Every morning I hear them calling, waking up their friends to start the day… God knows what they are cawing about… I could only imagine but I’m sure it’s some sort of communication about food and where they will hunt for the day…

Now the Raven caw is a lot different from the crows’ caw… it’s not as annoying, at least… Considering they are in the middle of the desert where it peaks at 130 degrees sometimes, they have to be very careful about expending too much needed energy and you can hear that caution in their voice… Their call is a very low, glottal caw… almost like when we try to clear our throat and sing at the same time… it’s a very low and heavy sound… A lot less intrusive than the crow’s caw… probably one of the main reasons I tolerate these birds more than their distant relatives… lol

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So, first thing in the morning, its a lot of roundup noise, as the Raven’s leave their nests and fly into their daily duties… As I drink my coffee in the morning and head over to the EDR (Employee Dining Room) I can see them perched on wooden light poles, the roof of our restaurant and even on the stair railings sometimes…

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They are a very cautious bird but like to test their chances from time to time… Above, this Raven has caught himself a little finch… I don’t know why these finches are here in this god awful heat, but they seem to hang around very aware of the dangers around them… Now, I have heard that these Ravens don’t usually feast on tiny birds but when it gets really hot and the pickins become scarce, that tiny meatless bird probably looks like a turkey dinner… lol…

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I’ve seen the Ravens hunting these little birds and doves that seem to fly through here and stop for a vacation for some reason I can’t explain… I guess they need somewhere to rest from their arduous trip back up north… and where’s a better place to grab a bite in the desert than where the human resides… I’m sure there are a lot of bread crumbs and scraps scattered all around here and of course water is much easier to find…

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What the Raven will do is gang up on these tiny birds… Two or three of them will chase one until it gets tired and burnt out from the heat… Then one lucky Raven will pounce on the tired tweety and feast on its’ practically meatless bones… I have seen this happen twice and it is horrible… I have actually saved a few little birds… I know it’s considered interfering with nature but I just can’t sit and watch such violence for such a small reward… And who claims that we are not apart of nature… We are from the planet earth also, aren’t we? So I interfere when I feel it’s justifiable…

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But if you are a huge bird lover and don’t like to see such things, I suggest you don’t move out to one of the most volatile environments on earth… everything seems to want to kill you out here and practically every habitant that survives out here has some sort of lethal tendency… Hence the nomenclature “Death Valley…” lol…

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So basically I get up every morning around 9 or 10am and I go to the EDR with my coffee… Sometimes I have to work lunch… So then I will get ready to go to work at 10:30 am… But if I’m working at 4:00, I will go back to The Millennium Falcon and do what ever I have to do for that day…

Some people work breakfast here… I myself don’t like the idea of getting up at 6 am… I always like to joke that if I am up at 6 am then I haven’t gone to bed yet…

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But everyday, just like all the employees who work at Stovepipe Wells, I will see my Raven buddies going through the motions of their day… I will look on top of the buildings or on top of the poles and every time there will be a Raven overlooking the property, almost like he/she is keeping guard… Checking out who is coming and going… Making sure none of the visitors are intruding on their territory and game…

Their conversations seem fruitless to us, considering we can’t understand them… and the Raven probably feels exactly the same way, as we walk around saying “hi,” eating and drinking, torpedoing through our day… seeming to feel everything we are doing is the most important thing in the world… while we ignore most of what is around us…

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They of course love to hang around the EDR, just like us humans… The dumpsters are not far from the EDR and if it’s a windy day, a bunch of Ravens will be hovered over the dumpsters hoping for something to blow out and usually something does… And more often than not, you will see a few develish Ravens helping that garbage escape its safe place… Hey, a bird is gotta do what a bird’s gotta do…Watching them do this, they seem almost domesticated until you see them tear into one of their unfortunate prey…

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Not only are they great scavengers and hunters, the Raven is also very smart… Not everyone on property is so fond of these mighty mascots… I have had a few guys come up and joke about how they just have to lift their arm and the raven flies away, thinking something is going to be thrown at them… Obviously this fear comes with experience…

Well, I started to notice that when I approach them they don’t seem to be so afraid… When I even lift my arm, they seem to notice and prepare to fly away but they decide to stay… That tells me that they know me by face or smell or something… They know I won’t throw anything at them, so they don’t fly away in fear like they do with most people…

But who knows, maybe I am imagining things or having delusions of spiritual grandeur but I feel a special connection with this bird… never am I annoyed or disgusted with them… Even when they are killing a harmless little bird…

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My favorite part of the Raven’s day is when they get ready for bed… When I’m on my way to work behind the bar in the evening, I will see a few Ravens propped up on poles and buildings, calling out… Not only do they hunt and watch over this property but they all sleep here also… And they go to bed right in front of our restaurant and saloon… so even if you are working, you can hear the clamor and ruckus of such an arduous preparation…

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Just like in the morning, you will hear that low glottal caw, calling out to all of the Ravens, informing them the day is near end and it’s time to make preparations for bed…

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You then realize how many ravens are actually in the area as hundreds of them fly and nest in two trees… One tree that is right in front of the Toll Road Restaurant and Bad Water Saloon… and the other which is not far behind the establishment…

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You wouldn’t believe the spectacle unless you actually saw it… Hundreds of Ravens fly as the sun sets, all making a huge ruckus as they gather and make room for each other in the trees… It’s so uniform and impressive… You would think there would be a lot of fighting for territory but these birds are too wise for such animalistic display… They are smart enough to realize that the needed energy they mustered throughout the day must be reserved for what ever tomorrow brings… Wasting energy on fighting only increases the risk of death in this thankless, unforgiving valley…

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Just more evidence that this bird is smarter than most and has deserved the right to reside here, fighting for survival over the many thousands of years prior…

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Only recently, if you compare time to the Raven’s adjustments throughout evolution, have these Ravens had the pleasure of having human neighbors so well set up in the middle of this unpredictable desert… We like to call them the visitors when really we are the visitors… and how can we blame a creature for taking advantage of it’s new neighbor, probably increasing it’s chances of survival out in this vast land of sand and heat…

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But yet I always forget that these mighty creatures can fly a few miles up and enjoy cooler weather up in the mountains… So maybe they have found a good balance between hot and cold out in the desert… These mountains above are directly behind Stove Pipe Wells during the colder months… So it could be 130 degrees down here but just miles away it could be 40 degrees cooler… It’s a big benefit to have wings and not have to battle thankless terrain in an unimaginable heat… And while they are flying for some sabbatical, they get to enjoy the cooler temperatures of flying high and they just may catch a cooling breeze while they are on their travels for a cooler location…

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But I guess it’s all speculation… I’m no David Attenborough but these Ravens are doing something right because I have never seen a dead one since I have been in Death Valley… I have seen my share of unfortunate deaths out in this wasteland and have even heard of many human deaths yet the Raven seems to know how to avoid such tragedies… You can determine that by the numbers nesting at night…

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But while the sun sets and I go through my zombie like routine, day after day, working for a corporation… it’s good to know there’s a cycle of life going on around me… And whenever I choose to observe it, the Raven is there for me to enjoy…

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If they are aware of me or not, the Raven is there for me when I want to forget about life for awhile… At times, you find yourself pittying this bird as it pants and moves slowly battling the desert heat… But it is the choice of the Raven, considering other, much friendlier environments are just a few miles away… Maybe they enjoy the superiority and find the competition too fierce in other locations… Maybe it’s less dangerous here considering there are a lot more predators up in the mountains and cooler climates… But all I know is I really admire these mighty birds… Not because of their predicament and not because of their beauty… I admire them because of their freedom…

If only I had wings…

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